Every NBA Team's Most Pressing Priority This Offseason
Though every squad has a handful of games remaining, plenty should already be looking ahead. Only a few have realistic title dreams, and even they can allocate some of their time toward planning for the upcoming offseason.
If each team could only do one thing after evaluating their current rosters, contract situations and summer goals, what would it be?
Atlanta Hawks: Retain Al Horford
Last summer, the Atlanta Hawks essentially had to choose between DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap during free agency. They ultimately made the correct choice by retaining the latter, and not just because the former has missed most of the 2015-16 campaign with knee trouble.
This offseason, there's not an either/or choice. Al Horford and Kent Bazemore are the two most significant players operating on expiring contracts, and bringing the big man back is of paramount importance. Lose him, and Atlanta loses the identity of the franchise.
Should Horford sign a max contract elsewhere, it will force the franchise into an unwanted rebuild—though it will have the pieces necessary to make that a relatively quick process, and there would be more hope of untapped upside.
However, re-signing Horford remains the top priority. This Atlanta squad is still on the cusp of becoming a true contender in the Eastern Conference, and it has enough pieces to continue improving with the same core.
"The city itself is a great city," the center told Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears before this year's trade deadline. "People are great. This Hawks' organization is moving in the right direction. With the new ownership, with the coach, I really feel good about the future of the Hawks."
Surely, the Hawks would feel much better about the future with him on board.
Boston Celtics: Land a Star
Just before this season's trade deadline, Jae Crowder expressed his feelings about the Boston Celtics' perceived lack of superstars, per ESPN.com's Chris Forsberg:
We just had an All-Star. So I don’t know what other superstar you want. But there’s a lot of talk about we need a superstar and stuff like that. But all five guys on the court are so locked in and so engaged that we’re one superstar. We all play together.
It’s a scary thing when a team don’t know who to match up to, whose night it’s going to be on the offensive end. And, defensively, we all fight together and play together. It’s a scary approach.
Thus far, the strategy has worked.
Only the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat have better records in the Eastern Conference, and the C's have two different players performing at All-Star levels. Isaiah Thomas' offensive prowess makes him the obvious choice, but Crowder has been even more valuable, thanks to his well-rounded abilities.
However, are the Celtics a true threat to win the title? Probably not.
That won't change until they land a truly luminary talent, which they could do via one of three methods during the offseason—signing a big-name free agent such as Kevin Durant, trading for a stud such as DeMarcus Cousins or striking gold with the pick owed by the Brooklyn Nets.
Brooklyn Nets: Determine a Direction
Joe Johnson's contract is finally off the books, which gives the Brooklyn Nets a bit of financial leeway.
If the Nets can't break their old habits, they'll splurge on the first available veteran who wants to play home games in the Barclays Center. They won't consider the future, opting for an attempt at mediocrity by pairing that decent option with Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, Jarrett Jack and the many other incumbents.
But now is the ideal time to exercise patience.
The Nets don't presently have many reliable rebuilding methods, as the Boston Celtics own their first-round pick no matter how high it might rise in the draft-day proceedings. They're left throwing money at free agents, and it can be quite difficult to tempt quality ones into joining a downtrodden organization.
All the same, they have to exhibit control and make it clear they're attempting to build for a championship, not just a shot at the playoffs. Successfully signing high-upside free agents will go a long way.
Charlotte Hornets: Retain Key Players
If the Charlotte Hornets want to run it back, they should.
This team has rocketed up the Eastern Conference standings during the second half of the season, thriving on both ends of the court, taking care of business against easy opponents and toppling giants such as the San Antonio Spurs. Everyone has contributed, from the stars (Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum) to the young up-and-comers (Jeremy Lamb and Cody Zeller) to the veteran role players (Jeremy Lin, Marvin Williams and Courtney Lee).
Next year, the Hornets should be able to add Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back into the mix, and they'll likely be affected by far fewer injuries than they've suffered in 2015-16. Throw in more growth from the youthful contributors, and you could be looking at a legitimate powerhouse in the East.
However, that's only true if they can retain their key pieces. Batum, Williams, Lee and Al Jefferson are all hitting free agency this summer, and Charlotte can ill afford to lose any of them.
Finding external pieces is a secondary priority. If the plan is to continue letting this squad grow—and that's what it should be—then the Hornets have to focus on re-signing each member of that expiring quartet.
Chicago Bulls: Commit to the Jimmy Butler Era
It should be clear that the current roster construction isn't going to work for the Chicago Bulls. They have far too many spots dedicated to veteran bigs with limited upside, they're still rather shallow in the backcourt and their wing players are largely one-way contributors.
Something has to give, and that means the Chicago front office has to shape the depth chart around its best player. That's not Pau Gasol, and it's certainly not Derrick Rose, even if the former MVP occasionally looks like his old self for brief spurts.
Jimmy Butler wears the crown in the Windy City.
Rather than squandering the prime years of the dominant 2-guard, the Bulls must find pieces who can complement his game. If that means making numerous trades and letting long-standing members of the Chicago organization walk (see: Noah, Joakim), then that's what the team needs to do.
The Bulls could well continue to enjoy mid-level mediocrity, making the playoffs when health permits and experiencing one exit after another before the NBA Finals. But the more exciting alternative is to take a step back with the hope of a future leap forward, and that only happens if everyone commits to building around Butler.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Find Complementary Pieces
LeBron James isn't going anywhere.
He may have unfollowed the Cleveland Cavaliers on Twitter, but that should be a total non-story. James is as savvy a businessman as he is a basketball player, and he's aware that leaving northeast Ohio for the second time would sully his image forever.
The Cavs will have the same Big Three in 2016-17—James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. It's the supporting cast that will look different, as Timofey Mozgov, James Jones, Richard Jefferson and Matthew Dellavedova are all working with expiring contracts. J.R. Smith and Mo Williams also have player options for $5 and $2.2 million, respectively, so they could be off the books as well.
Finding the right pieces is essential in Cleveland's quest to end the title drought. The Big Three is talented, but it can't get the job done against the league's juggernauts without proper support.
Whether that means shifting Irving to shooting guard and finding a natural point who can set up the offense, loading up with veteran shooters, acquiring a true rim-protecting presence or some combination of the aforementioned strategies, the Cavaliers will be busy this offseason.
Dallas Mavericks: Revamp the Frontcourt
Impressive as Zaza Pachulia has been during his resurgent season with the Dallas Mavericks, it's time for a youth infusion in the frontcourt. The center will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and while re-signing him could be tempting, the Mavericks must do more.
Pachulia is already 32 years old, and he's rather easily the youngest of Dallas' starting bigs. Dirk Nowitzki is soon to celebrate his 38th birthday. There's no telling how long he'll continue to play at a high level, and the Mavericks simply don't have enough untapped potential to counteract that uncertainty.
Even if Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams all opt into their contracts for 2016-17, this team is only on the books for $61.3 million, which leaves some financial flexibility in the quest for upside.
Who else on the roster is capable of pushing this team to that proverbial next level? Lest we forget, Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell are the only members of the Mavericks who have yet to turn 25. And that's how the money must be spent.
Denver Nuggets: Consolidate Assets
The Denver Nuggets are in an interesting pickle. General manager Tim Connelly has done such a good job of acquiring youthful players and draft picks that the team could have too many assets this offseason.
The frontcourt is already more than crowded by the presences of Kenneth Faried, Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, Joffrey Lauvergne and Darrell Arthur (who could opt out of his deal this summer). On the wings, Danilo Gallinari, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler and Gary Harris should all be healthy for 2016-17.
That's too many warm bodies, and we haven't even touched on the incoming rookies. Denver will have its own pick (or the New York Knicks', if that one comes earlier) and should pick up first-round selections from both the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.
There's not enough room for three more young players on this roster.
Packaging some of these assets into a better one has to be the top priority on Connelly's checklist. Whether he's shipping out Faried and Gallinari or trying to turn all three first-rounders into a top-three selection, he must do something to reconfigure this overstuffed roster.
Detroit Pistons: Keep Acquiring Shooters
Andre Drummond isn't going anywhere, and he's the centerpiece of the team's one-in, four-out system. The Pistons can match any offer sheet he signs as a restricted free agent, despite the fact he didn't sign an extension earlier in the year.
Instead, the main issue is the relative lack of shooters around him, as the Pistons would love to spread out the defense from all four non-center positions. Having Jodie Meeks back in the fold will be crucial, as will developing Stanley Johnson's perimeter prowess. But as long as Stan Van Gundy is running the show, the Detroit Pistons can't have enough snipers.
Adding just a few more marksmen would do wonders for a team that boasts the NBA's No. 12 offensive rating.
Golden State Warriors: Figure out the Kevin Durant Situation
"My initial reaction to the Warriors' potential interest in signing the Thunder's Kevin Durant was heck no," Kevin Lynch wrote for SFGate.com in the middle of February. "Golden State's run over the last year-and-a-half includes many record-pacing events and a NBA title. Why change a lineup that wins at an unprecedented pace?"
Even if Kevin Durant were willing to sign with the Golden State Warriors, that doesn't mean the defending champions would want to add him into the mix. Not only would acquiring him be predicated upon parting ways with plenty of key rotation members, but he'd take the ball away from Stephen Curry and Draymond Green while learning to play a different style of basketball.
Could he make the Warriors better?
Absolutely. He's still one of the NBA's five best players, and that's not changing anytime soon.
Would he make the Warriors better?
That's an entirely different question, and it has numerous plausible answers.
Houston Rockets: Replace Dwight Howard
Does anyone expect Dwight Howard to be back with the Houston Rockets in 2016-17?
The big man can opt out of his contract this summer, and we already have a few hints he could be looking elsewhere. Even if we ignore his team shopping him at the trade deadline (and ultimately coming up empty), there's this report from ESPN.com's Ian Begley:
Along those lines, one name to keep in mind this summer is [Howard]. Some of Howard's friends have let it be known recently that the center would be interested in coming to New York as a free agent if he opts out of his current contract, league sources say.
Whether Jackson and the Knicks would be interested in a player like Howard is another question entirely.
We also have this from Houston general manager Daryl Morey, per Sports Illustrated's Matt Dollinger:
During the front office panel, ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, who was moderating, asked Morey about re-signing Dwight Howard. Morey immediately replied: “Uh oh.” MacMullan pressed the Rockets GM on negotiations. He responded that the NBA’s max salary threshold keeps things simple. MacMullan asked, 'So you’re re-signing him?' To which Morey responded: “I just said they had the concept.
None of that sounds promising for the Houston-Howard pairing's future. And will the Rockets be content with Clint Capela serving as the lone 5 going forward?
Replacements will be necessary this offseason.
Indiana Pacers: Focus on Depth
According to HoopsStats.com, only five teams have relied on their bench for fewer minutes than the Indiana Pacers during the 2015-16 campaign.
When the Pacers have turned to their second unit, the results haven't been too shabby—No. 17 in offensive efficiency and No. 7 in defensive efficiency. But they do so with such little frequency that it almost doesn't matter. That problem may only be exacerbated this offseason.
Ian Mahinmi, Jordan Hill and Solomon Hill are all playing out the final year of their contracts, and that's not good news for the frontcourt. Mahinmi has particularly been key to the Pacers' defensive schemes, and he'd deserve consideration for Eastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year if such an award existed.
So long as Paul George is in town and healthy, Indiana will be competitive. The growth of Myles Tuner should also give it upside in the frontcourt.
But if the Pacers can't replace the contributors they stand to lose, they could be in for a long 2016-17. After the strides they've made with so many new pieces this year, avoiding that potential backslide is more important than ever.
Los Angeles Clippers: Build Around the Core
When Chris Paul doesn't play, the Los Angeles Clippers are outscored by 5.6 points per 100 possessions. When it's DeAndre Jordan who's off the court, they are outdone to the tune of a minus-4.8. And while the Clippers have posted a 3.1 net rating without Blake Griffin in 2015-16, that's largely the product of learning how to work without him during his lengthy absence.
This trio remains LAC's nucleus, and it's not going to change during the upcoming offseason. All three have one more year under contract, and it could be the last hurrah before Paul and Griffin exercise early termination options and seek new homes.
Now, the Clippers must do what they've failed to time and time again: build a convincing core around this triumvirate. We know J.J. Redick must be a part of the rotation, but is there another unabashed keeper on the roster?
Jeff Green has been a decisive negative since he came to town. Jamal Crawford is way past his prime, and Wesley Johnson may be the only backup who is consistently making a positive impact with a relatively sizable role. It's time for sweeping changes—just not to the star-studded trio.
Los Angeles Lakers: Nail the Draft Pick
As the Los Angeles Lakers move out of the Kobe Bryant era, they must keep adding young talent. This offseason, there's no better way to do so than by using their first-round pick in the 2016 NBA draft.
Unless a few teams hop past during the lottery process and force them to give their selection to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers will have one of the top three choices. And that means they'll have a shot at acquiring Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram; they should look at other options only if both forwards are already off the board.
This is one of those picks the Lakers can't afford to mess up. If they draft the wrong player and uncover a dreaded bust, it will set them back another year in an already lengthy rebuild.
D'Angelo Russell is quickly improving. So too is Julius Randle, while Jordan Clarkson has continued to show his value. Now, it's time to add another big piece to that young core.
Memphis Grizzlies: Get Modern
The Memphis Grizzlies' can't earn an NBA title if they don't change their style. Even when Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and all the key pieces are back in the fold, this team doesn't have nearly enough shooters to keep up with modern offenses.
Through their first 70 games, the Golden State Warriors pace the Association by making 12.9 triples per contest. The league average sits down at 8.5, sandwiched between the Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz. But the Grizzlies are all the way down at 6.1 three-pointers per game, beating only the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves.
This would be more palatable if Memphis were draining shots at efficient rates. But with so few shooters on the roster, the Grizzlies hit only 33.1 percent from beyond the arc. Only the Los Angeles Lakers, who are shooting just 31.8 percent on their downtown looks, have been worse.
This has to change if the Grizzlies are ever to get over the hump.
Miami Heat: Decide on Key Free Agents
The Miami Heat could make some serious noise during the 2016 playoffs, but they'll take a significant step in the wrong direction if they can't hold onto the players who got them into this position. What seems like everyone on the roster could be hitting free agency, which means Pat Riley will need to work some magic during the year's hottest months.
Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Josh McRoberts, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson are under contract for 2016-17, but that's literally it. Every other member of the current roster will hit the open market.
Of course, the Heat don't have to worry about bringing everyone back. They can easily let lesser rotation members such as Joe Johnson and Amar'e Stoudemire walk, opting to replace them with younger players and their unrealized upside.
The only massive question mark is Hassan Whiteside, who has displayed enough potential throughout the season to earn a max offer from a few different franchises. Evaluating whether he's worth the money is the top priority in South Beach. Frankly, it's not even close.
Milwaukee Bucks: Trade Michael Carter-Williams
Before undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip, Michael Carter-Williams averaged just 11.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists for the Milwaukee Bucks. Devoid of a three-point stroke and consistent defense, he just hasn't made his team better.
That's been true throughout the season, but the Bucks have stumbled upon a solution to their point guard problem in his absence. Giannis Antetokounmpo has begun to run the show, and the results have been largely impressive.
Since assuming a playmaking role near the end of February, the aptly nicknamed "Greek Freak" has averaged 19.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 2.1 blocks while shooting 52.1 percent from the field. He's even minimizing his turnovers, logging only 2.5 during his typical outing.
But the Bucks' success is even more relevant. Milwaukee has gone 7-8 during that stretch, and its net rating stands at minus-0.1. Though both numbers fail to impress in a vacuum, they represent positive strides for a team that sits at 30-41 on the season and posted a minus-4.7 net rating prior to Feb. 22.
This change is working, and the Bucks must commit to it. If that means trading Carter-Williams for pennies on the dollar—really, pennies on the nickel at this point—they need to bite that bullet.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Keep Developing
With only Tayshaun Prince and Greg Smith coming off the books this summer, the Minnesota Timberwolves don't need to make any significant changes. They can fill one of those holes with their newest first-round pick, potentially make a few cuts to open spaces for fresh faces and focus on the development of the incumbents.
Adding another high-upside first-rounder into the mix just makes Minnesota even more dangerous. This team already boasts the services of Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns, so it's not exactly wanting for potential.
LaVine has become one of this season's most improved players, while Towns has used his rookie year to assert himself as one of the best centers in the league.
As Bleacher Report's Dan Favale writes, he's already had the top inaugural campaign of any Kentucky product: "He deserves to be placed beside [Anthony] Davis already. He is the most productive rookie Kentucky has ever sent to the pros. More than that, as one of the architects of a new play style for bigs like himself and Davis, Towns is the most important rookie the school has ever delivered."
Staying the course is important here. There's no need to expedite the rebuild and attempt to compete for a championship too soon.
With patience, these young 'Wolves will get there. They possess too much talent for any other result.
New Orleans Pelicans: Find Another Star
Anthony Davis alone is not enough.
The burgeoning bayou superstar is by no means overrated because he can't carry a mismatched team that lacks talent into the playoff picture. No one in the NBA could have pushed the New Orleans Pelicans into the postseason this year, given their injury misfortune and the overall lack of ability scattered throughout the roster.
But Davis' impact did decline in 2015-16, and that's only natural. He was playing a different type of basketball under a new head coach, and the extreme lack of support only contributed to his relative downfall. Plus, we recently learned he's been playing with a torn labrum for a long while, which helps explain why he was more hesitant to work in the paint this year.
NOLA has to fix this. Before it squanders too many years of vintage Davis, it needs to lure more talent to town.
Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans simply won't cut it as the primary supporting pieces, even if each of the three can be a convincing rotation member on a competitive squad. Whether it hits during the draft, signs a marquee free agent or completes a blockbuster trade, New Orleans must find a Robin to Davis' Batman by the time he's fully recovered from his season-ending surgeries.
New York Knicks: Find the Right Head Coach
Free agency will be a big deal in New York. The same is true of the draft. But the search for a coach has to come first—both temporally and in terms of long-term importance. As Bleacher Report's Dan Favale recently explained, the choice that Phil Jackson makes while trying to hire the next head coach of the New York Knicks could have wide-sweeping ramifications:
If Jackson is serious about turning the Knicks into a sustainable power, does he give chase to defensive masterminds Tom Thibodeau or Jeff Van Gundy, even if it's a futile pursuit? Shouldn't he at least make a play for Ime Udoka, Ettore Messina or Becky Hammon, the crowning jewels of the San Antonio Spurs' assistant coaching staff?
Whatever Jackson decides, the road ahead will be a long slog for these Knicks. It doesn't matter what happens with Anthony or if they clean up in free agency. They are still rebuilding, and that takes time.
Casting a wide net in his coaching search is the only way Jackson can come close to preserving the integrity of his New York reign. This next hire, for all intents and purposes, needs to give the Knicks their identity—the direction and stability that Jackson promised to sculpt but has yet to deliver.
If Jackson restricts himself to members of his own limited coaching tree—ones who will adhere strictly to the triangle offense that has led to the league's No. 22 offensive rating and, despite its purported ability to emphasize team play over individual prowess, has been seven points per 100 possessions worse without Carmelo Anthony—it will be rather telling.
It's akin to an admission that he's more concerned with stubborn rigidity than a desire to improve this team.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Re-Sign Kevin Durant
It's no secret the Oklahoma City Thunder are far better with Kevin Durant.
This season, they've been outscored by 0.3 points per 100 possessions when he's not on the floor, as opposed to posting a 10.5 net rating when he does play. That's the equivalent of jumping from the league's No. 15 mark all the way up to No. 3.
As talented as Russell Westbrook may be—and you can legitimately argue the point guard has been the NBA's No. 2 player this year—he can't propel the Thunder to such lofty heights by himself. Having both stars is necessary during the chase for an elusive championship.
If Oklahoma City loses Durant during free agency, there's no easy way to recover. It can't just sign another free agent who's capable of replicating the former MVP's skills or impact, and there are no guarantees it would even stick around in the Western Conference playoff picture.
This team can't let its superstar escape. Every other offseason pursuit plays second fiddle.
Orlando Magic: Commit to the Young Guys
The Orlando Magic have plenty of potential at each position.
Elfrid Payton can still develop into a top-tier point guard. Victor Oladipo has used the second half of the year to blossom into a stud shooting guard, and he now looks more confident than ever as a scorer. The combination of Evan Fournier and Mario Hezonja is promising on the wings, while Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic should be entrenched at the 4 and 5, respectively.
It could be tempting for the cap-rich Magic to splurge during the free-agency period, especially with Brandon Jennings, Jason Smith, Andrew Nicholson, Dewayne Dedmon and Fournier all coming off the books. But exercising patience is imperative, since veterans could just get in the way of development.
Orlando needs to see what it has instead of blocking the growth of these myriad young guns. It can still make complementary upgrades and pursue a potential star in the draft, but acquiring a starter with limited upside would be the wrong course of action for general manager Rob Hennigan.
Philadelphia 76ers: Make the Right Draft-Day Choices
As seems to have been the case for years, the Philadelphia 76ers' offseason all comes down to their draft-day decisions. This summer, everything revolves around what they choose to do with a pick that could fall as high as No. 1 on June 23.
If he's on the board, Brandon Ingram needs to be the choice. As talented as Ben Simmons may be, the Sixers need someone who can complement Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. The LSU product's ball-handling and distributing skills would be nice, but the spacing his Duke counterpart can provide is even more of a need.
Plus, as Kyle Neubeck writes for Liberty Ballers, "He [Ingram] is over a year younger than Simmons, and a souped-up version of the type of player every team wants in 2016."
But the top pick isn't the only decision the Sixers have to focus on. They'll also be getting first-rounders from both the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, and that's saying nothing of the potential to snag one from the Los Angeles Lakers if they somehow fall out of the top three.
If Philadelphia is going to stop this perennial bottom-feeding, it all comes down to draft day during the coming offseason.
Phoenix Suns: Change the Culture
Before the Phoenix Suns worry about improving their on-court personnel, they have to alter the culture of the organization.
This is a team that's driven off Goran Dragic, essentially pushing him to demand a trade before the 2015 deadline. It's handled Markieff Morris improperly, though it did ultimately gain a first-round pick for the disgruntled power forward. It's fired former head coach Jeff Hornacek midway through a disappointing season.
Now that the Suns have sunk near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, it's tough to remember they entered the year with slightly unrealistic playoff aspirations and won six of their first 10 games. The highlight—or lowlight, depending on your perspective—had to be owner Robert Sarver blaming "millennial culture" for his team's woes.
"I'm not sure it's just the NBA," Sarver told AZCentral.com's Dan Bickley. "My whole view of the millennial culture is that they have a tough time dealing with setbacks, and Markieff Morris is the perfect example. He had a setback with his brother in the offseason and he can't seem to recover from it."
Fixing this is imperative. Before the Suns acquire more talent, they have to make their environment one that's actually conducive to success.
Portland Trail Blazers: Sign a Complementary Scorer
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have been fantastic scorers for the Portland Trail Blazers. The former is averaging 25.8 points while shooting 42.7 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from beyond the arc, and the latter is posting 20.9 per game in even more efficient fashion. During his breakout season, McCollum has knocked down 44.5 percent of his field-goal attempts and has connected on his triples at a 41.4 percent clip.
The problem is the complete lack of a consistent third option. Compared to the rest of the Western Conference, Portland's No. 3 scorer falls too far down in the standings:
|Team||No. 3 Scorer||PPG|
Though there's not a strong correlation between placement on the above table and success, that's largely because other competitive teams have a deeper stable of scorers.
The Blazers struggle to produce offense when the starting guards are off the mark. Finding a third option would do wonders in the quicker-than-expected development of this squad.
Sacramento Kings: Make DeMarcus Cousins Happy
Eventually, DeMarcus Cousins will demand to be traded away from the Sacramento Kings.
Last year, they fired his favorite head coach (Mike Malone) while the team was trending in the right direction but he was sitting out with an illness. This season, he's butted heads with George Karl and had trouble carrying the Kings to victory without enough help around him.
Most recently, he drew a one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team after yelling at Karl during a timeout.
Cousins has been one of the few positive presences in Sacramento, and the Kings must do everything possible to keep him happy. Lose him, and you're looking at a team similar to the one that's taken the court without the starting center and produced a minus-7.2 net rating. As Sam Amick wrote for USA Today, Cousins is aware of how troubling the Sactown situation has become:
The wildly talented Cousins is a lot of things, but he’s no dummy. He sees the justifiable criticism of [Vivek] Ranadive, whose refusal to stand by the only NBA coach who truly connected with Cousins, Michael Malone, in Dec. 2014 was one of the many plot twists that helped cause this mess. He sees the in-fighting on the coaching staff, with assistant coach Nancy Lieberman identified as a Ranadive confidante and thus unofficially exiled by Karl months ago.
The time may come when Cousins is seeing this Sacramento situation from a distance. For now, however, it’s yet another disappointing finish with a shred of hope that maybe, just maybe, the Cousins era in Sacramento can still be salvaged.
If that salvation is coming, it needs to begin in earnest this summer. There can be no more ill-advised moves, or else the next trade deadline will pass with Cousins on a different roster.
San Antonio Spurs: Be the Spurs
Matt Bonner, Boban Marjanovic, Andre Miller and Kevin Martin will all be free agents this summer. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Davis West could join them by exercising their player options and testing the open market.
But the San Antonio Spurs need not worry.
As circular as this reasoning may be, it's because they're the Spurs. Even if Duncan retires, Ginobili inexplicably seeks out a new team for the first time in his NBA career and West decides he wants more money, they'll be just fine. They'll manage to sign new impact players—cough, Kevin Durant, cough—or they'll just turn the incumbent talents into stars.
San Antonio's only priority this offseason is exactly the same one it's successfully achieved each and every year—remain the Spurs, and everything else will somehow fall into place.
Toronto Raptors: Upgrade at Power Forward
With Luis Scola and James Johnson serving as the only threats to hit free agency—barring DeMar DeRozan declining his player option and testing the market—the Toronto Raptors should look rather similar in 2016-17. That's a positive in many regards, but it also means they'll need to keep focusing on power forward.
The position has been salvageable with both Scola and Patrick Patterson, but losing one of the two is problematic. Even if Scola re-signs with Toronto, an upgrade at the 4 would still be preferable.
"The Raptors are chasing a power forward this week," ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst reported before the trade deadline. "Sources say Brooklyn's Thaddeus Young, New Orleans' Ryan Anderson, Denver's Kenneth Faried and the Phoenix duo of Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker have all been pursued this month by the East's No. 2 team."
Expect similar rumors to persist throughout the offseason. The need is that obvious, and depending on how you feel about the long-term prospects of Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll, it's arguably the only one that exists north of the border.
Utah Jazz: Hold Tight
Even if they've struggled to overcome injuries and gain consistency in 2015-16, why would the Utah Jazz make any sweeping changes for the future?
At point guard, they'll add Dante Exum back into the mix after the young Australian recovers from his torn ACL. Couple that with Shelvin Mack's impressive play since arriving in Salt Lake City, and the future of the position looks promising.
Rodney Hood and Alec Burks make for a fine rotation at shooting guard, while Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are locked into the final three spots in the starting five. There's even convincing depth once Trey Lyles develops and the Jazz add another first-round pick into the mix.
There's no one free-agent target who's going to push this team over the hump. This is a homegrown squad that relies on internal improvement, and traveling down that path must continue to serve as Utah's main focus.
Washington Wizards: Get Kevin Durant
At this point, it seems unlikely Kevin Durant would choose the Washington Wizards in free agency. Why would he willingly join a struggling team when the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics will (presumably) all be offering him greater chances at success?
But that shouldn't prevent the Wizards from trying. Their offseason strategies in previous summers have been based around freeing up cap space for the 2016 pursuit, and they need to see it through while playing up the hometown advantage.
Durant and John Wall would make for a dynamic duo, after all.
It's only after Durant signs elsewhere that the Wizards can shift to their second priority—recovering from the snub.
Wall, Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris, Otto Porter, Drew Gooden, Kelly Oubre and Jarell Eddie will be the only seven players under contract, and that doesn't exactly make for a convincing lineup. Spending the excessive amounts of cap space on high-quality additions and re-signing Bradley Beal to a lengthy deal will be wholly necessary if the Wizards expect to jump back into the Eastern playoff picture.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are from Basketball-Reference.com or Adam's own databases and accurate through games played on March 22.
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