One Burning Question for Every NBA Team Heading into Free-Agency Signing Period
This NBA offseason has been a whirlwind, filled with some of the most shocking trades and free-agency decisions we've seen in recent years.
Why does any of it matter? Well, the entire league's short-term future has practically been turned on its head, with half of the teams who participated in last year's playoffs either retooling for another shot at the title or breaking it down and setting their sights on the lottery.
Half the teams in the league think they can topple the Miami Heat next year, while the other half think they'd rather be led by Andrew Wiggins three years down the road.
Here's the one burning question each team faces as we advance deeper into July.
NBA titles aren't won right now, but several can be lost.
Will They Match Offers for Jeff Teague?
Since turning 23 two years ago, Jeff Teague has been Atlanta's starting point guard, a steadily improving force who's shown (very) brief glimpses of stardom and an ability to stretch the floor while hitting a fairly consistent floater.
Teague is a restricted free agent this summer, and the Hawks have the option of matching whatever offers are sure to come. But do they even want to keep him?
This question can't be answered until actual amounts of money are known, but Atlanta appears to be heading for a dramatic rebuild with the loss of Josh Smith, per Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com. The Hawks drafted German point guard Dennis Schroeder and still have off guard Lou Williams on their roster, set to return from an ACL tear last season.
Will they have room for Teague?
Will They Trade Rajon Rondo?
Even after allowing Doc Rivers out of his contract and trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets for future picks and a pile of present-day non-contributors, the Boston Celtics have publicly distanced themselves from the word "tanking" this offseason.
That word, and what it means, has grown distorted over the past few years. The Celtics are no longer title contenders because they're enduring a natural rebuilding process. The moves they've made to date are both smart and necessary.
However, if they make further trades to ship the likes of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green (their two best players) out of town for more draft picks, we'll know their eyes are truly set on a massive tank job.
Who Fills Out the Bench?
The Brooklyn Nets made a monstrous splash when they named Jason Kidd their head coach and then traded for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. As currently constituted, Brooklyn has an awesome starting five, a unit that should compare favorably to just about any other team in the league, but it's the bench that will hurt the Nets.
Right now Terry, Reggie Evans, Andray Blatche, Mason Plumlee, Bojan Bogdanovic and Mirza Teletovic are the six best players coming off the bench (two have combined for zero minutes in the NBA), and given the team's aging starters, more depth is needed in order to afford them rest and compete for a title.
The Nets will pursue a three-point shooting guard first, and they should be able to sign someone like Randy Foye to a minimum contract.
Will They Continue On as Laughingstocks?
After shocking most analysts by taking Cody Zeller with the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft, the Bobcats entered free agency with loads of cap space and expectations that they'd either hurt themselves with it or sit out the process altogether.
On July 4 they reportedly agreed to a three-year, $41 million contract with Al Jefferson, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein. That price tag will effectively have their wheels spinning in place as (at the absolute very best) the eighth- or ninth-best team in the Eastern Conference over the next couple seasons.
If Charlotte is serious about making the playoffs next season, it'll have to spend more money, and that means overpaying for another free agent, someone on the mid-tier level (like Jarrett Jack or Monta Ellis).
Are They Rebuilding on the Fly?
The Chicago Bulls do not like the luxury tax, which most of the time is a necessary line to cross for any team serious about winning the championship.
With a healthy Derrick Rose back, the Bulls should consider themselves one of the few teams actually capable of defeating either the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers next year.
In order to do that, they'll need everyone healthy and playing at a high level. If the Bulls look to break up their current roster by moving, say, Luol Deng as an expiring contract for future assets, they could find themselves taking a step back for financial reasons in a time when nothing would frustrate their fanbase more.
Should They Target a Big-Money, Borderline All-Star?
The Cleveland Cavaliers are serious about qualifying for the playoffs in 2014, which would be their first appearance since LeBron James left. At the same time, they're also interested in keeping their books clear enough to afford free agents (like James) next summer.
They're obviously in the midst of a full-on rebuild, with Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson all expected to play major roles next season. As currently constructed, it'll be difficult for them to see a huge increase in overall wins without making a huge offer to someone like Nikola Pekovic.
Doing so, however, will endanger the future, with big extensions expected in the coming years for Waiters, Thompson and Irving. Will the Cavaliers stand pat or make a splash?
Who Will They Pair Beside Dirk Nowitzki?
Along with the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors, the Dallas Mavericks spent their first week in July aggressively hunting Dwight Howard.
The chance of the Mavs getting him was slim, though, with no real promise of competing for a championship next season even if he did sign.
Even though they didn't get him, there's still a lot of time before they should panic. Dallas still has the cap space to comfortably sign another impact player.
That All-Star-caliber player will pair with Dirk Nowitzki next season. Then next summer, Nowitzki will take a pay cut, and the Mavericks will be in position to take on another max contract.
It's important they sign someone big, though, even if it isn't Dwight Howard.
Where Do They Go from Here?
The Denver Nuggets are in more trouble than any team in the league, already losing George Karl, Masai Ujiri and Andre Iguodala so far this summer (arguably the organization's three most important people last season).
They lack any specific direction whatsoever, which is probably the worst thing that can be said about an NBA franchise. Are they blowing it up? Are they building around JaVale McGee? Would they trade Ty Lawson if the right deal came around?
Anything is possible, but nothing looks promising.
Will They Reach for a Second "Star"?
Joe Dumars and cap space don't get along. As soon as they renounce the rights to Corey Maggette, Jason Maxiell and Will Bynum, the Pistons will have a ton of it.
Since July 1 they've publicly flirted with several high-profile free agents and now have reportedly signed Josh Smith to a four-year, $56 million deal. Will that be the end of it, or will Joe Dumars still go after Andrew Bynum, Monta Ellis, Rudy Gay or Rajon Rondo?
Either way, Dumars is giving too much money to somebody.
Golden State Warriors
What To Do Now That Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry Are Out?
On Friday, Jarrett Jack insinuated on Twitter that he would no longer be playing basketball for the Golden State Warriors. The team instead chose to set its sights on a better, more expensive free agent by acquiring Andre Iguodala, per Sam Amick of USA Today.
They dropped some money to make it happen and unloaded Andris Biedrins, Brandon Rush and Richard Jefferson onto the Utah Jazz.
With Jack and Carl Landry renounced, and the latter ending up with the Sacramento Kings, how will the Warriors go about improving their bench? If they want to be successful in the postseason, at least some depth will be needed.
How Will They Choose to Complement Dwight Howard and James Harden?
After they miraculously paired Dwight Howard with James Harden, the question arose immediately: Who would the Rockets choose to be their "third star"?
A top contender could be Ryan Anderson, a stretch 4 who thrived in Orlando as Howard's teammate.
It feels inevitable that another player will join the Rockets before the summer is over.
How Will They Improve Their Bench?
Aside from taking care of their most pertinent issue and re-signing David West to a three-year, $36 million contract, the Indiana Pacers have agreed to deals with C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland, definite upgrades over D.J. Augustin and Sam Young.
But are the Pacers finished improving their bench? Or are they still out there looking for even more (mostly offensive) help?
The affordable options are slim (especially when you remember that the Pacers don't like going into the luxury tax), but even if they don't sign anyone else who's expected to see the floor, Indiana's offseason should still be seen as a better one than last year's.
Los Angeles Clippers
How Will They Improve Their Frontcourt?
Last week the Clippers traded Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler for J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, filling a significant need on the wing. But the team's biggest weakness last season was its thin frontcourt.
Blake Griffin is an All-Star, though not one void of consequential flaws. DeAndre Jordan is not an All-Star, and he can't hit free throws or consistently anchor a defense, despite being seven feet tall and one of the most athletic people in the world.
Behind those two, the Clippers need more, and until they sign a quality backup big man, they won't contend for a title.
Los Angeles Lakers
Are They "Preparing" for the 2014 Draft?
The Lakers have lost the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, an event of seismic relevance that could go down as one of the darkest in franchise history.
This is what the Lakers are looking at next season: Their best player will take the floor in peak condition in less than half out of 82 games (an optimistic estimation), Pau Gasol will return on an expiring contract and Steve Nash is slated as the starting point guard (until he hurts himself).
The Lakers have been in this position before, sort of. The 1996 season featured the comeback of 36-year-old Magic Johnson, who led them to a first-round sweep at the hands of the Houston Rockets. That offseason they drafted Kobe Bryant.
The year before Los Angeles drafted Johnson, it was 1979, and they were beaten by the Seattle SuperSonics in the semifinals in five games. It was Jerry West's final season as the team's head coach.
The Lakers will now likely set their eyes on the 2014 lottery, as the team they'll trot out most likely won't be good enough to make the playoffs in a ravenous Western Conference.
Can They Get Someone to Stretch the Floor?
The San Antonio Spurs snuffed out the Memphis Grizzlies in a rough four-game Western Conference Finals last season because the Grizzlies couldn't shoot.
Quincy Pondexter was the team's sole threat from behind the three-point line in the postseason, where he shot 45.3 percent. Whenever the likes of Tony Allen or Tayshaun Prince took the floor, the Spurs simply sagged off, allowing misguided jumpers to collide with the rim.
It's a problem the Grizzlies need to correct if they want to go deeper in the playoffs next season.
How Will They Improve Their Rebounding?
The Heat were the best basketball team in the world last season, but they were far from flawless. At times, opposing teams had their way with Miami on the glass.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat allowed the Indiana Pacers to grab 34.6 percent of their own misses and 55.1 percent of all available rebounds throughout the seven-game series.
This summer they'll be looking to tweak their roster just a bit to make rebounding less of a weakness. The options are neither plentiful nor pretty, but Greg Oden on an extremely cheap deal could be a solution of low risk and high reward.
Either that or Miami could go deep sea diving through the usual suspects this time of year, like Sam Dalembert, Jason Collins, Joel Przybilla or Hamed Haddadi.
Will They Re-Sign Brandon Jennings?
The Bucks make you scratch your head more than any other team in the league. They routinely overpay for players at positions they don't need and make personnel decisions that may as well have been agreed upon over a game of darts.
This leaves them at a crossroads with one of their best players, Brandon Jennings, currently a restricted free agent. The Bucks have the opportunity to match any and all offers rival franchises make for his services, but will they do it? For the Bucks, no price would be too high or too low.
Will They Re-Sign Nikola Pekovic?
Re-signing Nikola Pekovic was Minnesota's No. 1 priority heading into the summer, but its biggest weakness on the floor last season was outside shooting.
Those two weren't cheap. Even though the moves shouldn't endanger Minnesota's chances of taking care of their original first priority, they sure don't help.
New Orleans Pelicans
Will They Make a Member of Their Core Available?
The New Orleans Pelicans have so far had an incredibly interesting offseason, making aggressive moves to get better in the present as opposed to building for the future.
They upgraded at point guard in the form of All-Star Jrue Holiday, at the cost of pairing Anthony Davis with Nerlens Noel—a seemingly brilliant duo that would complement each other nicely on both ends of the floor.
Now they also have Tyreke Evans, another guard who likes the ball in his hands and is about to see his salary triple in cost. This might suggest that shooting guard Eric Gordon, the team's highest-paid player by a long shot, could be on his way out the door. If the Pelicans can find something good for him (a 2014 draft pick would be nice), Gordon should be as good as gone.
New York Knicks
Will They Break Up Their Limited Core?
The answer to this question is as close to being etched in stone as possible: No. The Knicks have no interest in trading Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler or Amar'e Stoudemire (who they probably couldn't part ways with even if they really wanted to).
But the Knicks find themselves in a dangerous situation. They aren't good enough to compete with the Miami Heat, and they don't have the assets to get there.
The only solution, then, would be either to play through the season with the roster as is, waiting for next summer, when Anthony, LeBron James and a bunch of other key players become free agents, or to take a short-term step back by dealing someone with value (Anthony, Chandler).
There are no more free agents to sign and no realistic trades that can be made (giving up three draft picks for Andrea Bargnani was the epitome of bad thinking).
Oklahoma City Thunder
How Will They Catch Miami?
Linked to only a few free agents since July 1, including Dorell Wright, the Thunder have been relatively quiet this offseason for a team that probably needs more than a minor tweak in order to seriously compete for an NBA title.
How will they get better? As of now they're nearly at the tax line and will still have one form of the mid-level exception to use. Basically, they're dependent on someone with talent taking a pay cut to join a roster that's so close to the top, yet so far.
Andrei Kirilenko would be the ideal candidate.
Can They Get a Franchise Point Guard?
The Magic are in the market for a young franchise point guard, and after Eric Bledsoe went to the Phoenix Suns in a three-team trade early last week, their hopes of obtaining one of the few available options evaporated.
Will they look elsewhere before the 2014 season begins? A few choices still exist, such as restricted free agents Brandon Jennings and Jeff Teague, but Orlando would have to throw down an offer sheet that's above market rate in order to pry them away.
Could they go the New Orleans Pelicans' way, trading for a burgeoning star by dangling a lottery pick or two? It's possible, but the options remain scarce.
Who Do They Trade Next?
Evan Turner, that's who. If he wasn't the most obvious choice before Philadelphia acquired Royce White from the Houston Rockets, he sure is now.
Turner isn't loved by advanced analytics (new Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie loves numbers), mostly because he doesn't excel in one area of the sport, instead sticking his head into several different spots and coming up so-so.
The Sixers are tearing the walls down right now, and it only makes sense that they shop Turner around instead of simply losing him in free agency for nothing after next season.
Who's for Sale?
The Suns made a very smart move acquiring Eric Bledsoe (and the expiring contract of Caron Butler) for Jared Dudley. But apart from being a savvy get, the transaction also allows for speculation that other players will be moved.
Players on decent contracts, like Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat, could be flipped for even more future assets or cap space down the line. The Suns won't be competitive this year, and it'll be interesting to see if they choose to get even worse.
Portland Trail Blazers
Who Will Be Their Sought-After Rim Protector?
The Trail Blazers traded for Robin Lopez as a stopgap center to help fix some glaring rim-protecting holes. It was a necessary move, albeit one that lacks extensive security.
Apart from Lopez, Portland has sophomore big man Meyers Leonard waiting in the weeds, but he still feels like a project who's a couple years away from starting for anyone.
It might appear as if its hunt for a big man is over, but Portland should still be on the lookout for a more long-term solution.
Is DeMarcus Cousins Next To Go?
The Sacramento Kings didn't trust their ability to develop Tyreke Evans over the next few years, and the result was them cashing out and shipping him to the New Orleans Pelicans in a three-team deal that netted them the much cheaper Greivis Vasquez for the next two seasons.
If one thing can be learned about Sacramento's new management after looking at this deal, it's that the Kings aren't confident in the previous regime's players.
Headlining that group is DeMarcus Cousins, a mercurial talent whose ceiling rests higher than almost every other big man in the league. If the Kings were willing to move Evans (granted, he isn't a big man, but is a developing, versatile guard who's shown more than enough potential to justify a new contract) as he hit restricted free agency, will they move Cousins before it gets to that point, when his value is greater?
San Antonio Spurs
Who Are They Going To Use Their Mid-Level Exception On?
Some speculated that San Antonio could let both walk and then use that cap space to grab someone like Paul Millsap or Andre Iguodala. That won't happen now. But with their non-taxpayer mid-level still available for use, that doesn't mean they won't bring in fresh blood.
Using the cap space (or at least some of it) on Monta Ellis would be huge. Ellis is neither efficient nor wise with the ball in his hands, but he's incredibly talented, attempting more shots at the rim last season than Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, per Hoopdata.
Will They Trade Rudy Gay?
When Masai Ujiri took over as general manager of the Toronto Raptors, the first move he made was perhaps the most obvious yet overdue trade any team could make.
Barely a month into the job, Ujiri rid the franchise of Andrea Bargnani, a former No. 1 overall pick who instead of leading the Raptors to prominence has resembled a bag of sand these past few years. In return, the New York Knicks sent Toronto Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson, a 2016 first-round pick and second-round picks in 2014 and 2017.
It signified two things: 1) New York doesn't value assets quite like every smartly-run team in the league, and 2) Ujiri won't be shy.
The second point brings us to Rudy Gay, who will likely never play in an All-Star Game yet stands to earn more money next season than Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin. No matter what he says publicly, Ujiri would love to receive a package of expiring contracts and draft picks for Gay, just like he did with Bargnani.
Can he make magic happen twice in one summer?
Will They Tear Things Down Further?
The Utah Jazz have lost Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll so far this offseason. They received nothing in return for any of them. That hurts.
They helped the Golden State Warriors get under the salary cap by taking on Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush and received two first-round picks for their participation in the deal.
The Jazz have several assets to peddle (Derrick Favors, Trey Burke, Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert and a package of valuable first-round picks), and it'll be interesting to see if they stay the course or turn those assets into All-Star talent (Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, etc.).
Are They a Playoff Team?
Are the Wizards a playoff team? That's the question as they shave the edges of their roster heading into next season.
They've already re-signed Martell Webster and brought on Eric Maynor to back up John Wall. Are any more moves on the horizon for a team that's building to get better while over half the Eastern Conference is tearing itself down in preparation for the 2014 draft?
The Wizards are fine on defense, with Emeka Okafor and Nene complementing each other appropriately on that end.
On offense, however, this team could still use more players to spread the floor for a healthy and explosive John Wall. Nothing too expensive, but using part (or all?) of their non-taxpaying mid-level exception on a sniper like Daniel Gibson could be a fruitful acquisition.