The Biggest 2015 Offseason Priority for Every Lottery-Bound NBA Team

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2015

The Biggest 2015 Offseason Priority for Every Lottery-Bound NBA Team

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Some NBA teams are already thinking about the offseason.

    Many of these squads have no choice. They're lottery locks with nothing else to play for, other than pingpong balls. They have to dream about the upcoming summer and the clean slate it can provide.

    Certain other franchises are caught in the middle, striving for a seventh- or eighth-seeded playoff berth, knowing full well they're not actually contending for a title regardless of what happens. They're mulling over offseason plans, too.

    These plans attempt to remedy pressing problems. Players need to be signed. Positions need to be filled. Coaches need to be hired. 

    To narrow down these issues can be a trying task. But that's why we're here, ready to identify the biggest obstacle standing between teams and noticeable progress. 

    After wading through the fringe lottery cases, we'll tackle the lottery locks, which will be listed in order of descending winning percentage.

Probable Playoff Teams

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    Charlotte Hornets: Shooting 

    For the Hornets, dealing Lance Stephenson, who is a horrible fit for Charlotte's roster, is a close second. But the Hornets desperately need shooting. Marvin Williams has made no offensive difference, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is still figuring out his jumper, and the team misses Josh McRoberts.

    Arron Afflalo, Wesley Matthews and Paul Millsap, each a potential free agent, would all be great additions.

    Indiana Pacers: Trading for or signing a point guard

    Once David West and Roy Hibbert exercise their player options, the Pacers will be capped out. For the team to make a splash in free agency, then, really isn't an option.

    Still, it needs a point guard. The Pacers defense is solid, and Paul George should be healthy come next season; they just need someone to help diversify an oft-anemic, forever-clogged attack.

    Mo Williams, who will be an unrestricted free agent, would a be fun addition.

    Oklahoma City Thunder: Quelling Kevin Durant rumors

    Speculation is already running rampant with regard to Durant's future in Oklahoma City.

    Former Portland Trail Blazers vice president and current ESPN NBA analyst Tom Penn told ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd (via The Big Lead) he thinks Thunder general manager Sam Presti might trade Durant rather than lose him for nothing. Presti quickly pumped the brakes on such conjecture, per The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry.

    Refuting rumors now won't do much, though. They'll invariably pick up after this season if the Thunder don't win a title (which, let's face it: They won't). Oklahoma City needs to nip any hearsay in the bud as quickly and effectively as possible. Public drama doesn't suit this team.

Likely Lottery Teams

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    Brooklyn Nets: Cleaning house

    Flirting with a complete teardown isn't enough for Brooklyn. The Nets need to purge their roster of financial warts, trying like mad to increase flexibility through the salary dumps that have eluded them thus far.

    Here's to there being markets for Joe Johnson and Deron Williams.

    Boston Celtics: Landing a defense-oriented big man

    Boston's offense has been effective since acquiring the now-injured Isaiah Thomas (back, elbow). Head coach Brad Stevens fields contemporary lineups, and there is an abundance of talent on the perimeter. Even some of the bigs have three-point range (Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, etc.)

    Signing or drafting a true rim protector and post presence should be the top priority now for Boston. Devoid of such weaponry at the moment, the Celtics are still in the playoff mix and, thus, seem one DeAndre Jordan away from reshaping the entire Eastern Conference.

    Miami Heat: Keeping Goran Dragic

    Pat Riley wasn't messing around when he dealt for Dragic. Two first-round picks is no joke.

    Surrounding the Heat's primary talent—Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside, etc.—with a deeper supporting cast will eventually take priority for the team president, but before anything else, Riley needs to ensure Dragic doesn't end up being a half-season rental.

    New Orleans Pelicans: Building a bench

    Injuries and all, Anthony Davis has the Pelicans contending for the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot.

    Imagine what he could do while fronting a rotation that stretches more than six actual NBA players deep.

Phoenix Suns: Adding an Interior Presence

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    Well, this situation deteriorated quickly.

    On the heels of an active, roster-ravaging trade deadline, the Phoenix Suns are now lottery locks. Mathematically speaking, they're still in the postseason hunt. Logically speaking, they punched their lottery ticket weeks ago.

    Figuring out which free agents to keep will be a top priority in general for Phoenix. Gerald Green and Brandan Wright are set to hit the open market, and Brandon Knight is barreling toward an enormous payday in restricted free agency.

    Assuming the Suns are trying to build on what they already have, though, rim protection becomes the foremost focus. They rank in the bottom 10 of opponent field-goal percentage at the iron and are allowing the second-most shot attempts of any team within the restricted area.

    Alex Len still projects as an effective interior policeman, and his protection around the basket is far better than the team's overall performance. But he's basically alone and remains clumsy on the offensive end. Phoenix needs a more well-rounded post presence.

    Free agency or the trade market is the way to go here. The Suns will own a bottom-two lottery pick more likely than not, selecting at a point in the draft where any player with size is a yearslong undertaking. Their books are flexible enough—and their surrounding talent impressive enough—to warrant aggressive efforts elsewhere.

    Ideal Solution: Sign a mid-tier backup big man like Kosta Koufos

Utah Jazz: Contemporary Frontcourt Help

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Gordon Hayward needs a friend. 

    Much of the Utah Jazz's roster is set for the future. Derrick Favors is consistently productive, Rudy Gobert is Godzilla in costume, and the backcourt logjam of Trey Burke, Dante Exum, Alec Burks (injured) and Rodney Hood is nothing if not alive with options. Trevor Booker has even been serviceable.

    Moving the disgruntled Enes Kanter left an internal void up front for Utah, though. The Jazz began the process of turning him into a stretch forward before he left, and though the experiment wasn't going especially well, they do need to replace him.

    Hayward is the lone tweener forward now. He can play full-time at the 3 or 4 position, and he's capable of piloting the offense as a pseudo point guard.

    A combo forward with a shooting conscience would be a nice complement to Hayward and the stretch-style offense head coach Quin Snyder is attempting to install. It also gives the team another body behind Favors and, depending on size, Gobert.

    Mostly, though, the Jazz need a versatile big to enhance their 15th-ranked offense. And as luck would have it, they'll have the draft standing and cap space to do just this.

    Ideal Solution: Draft Myles Turner (Texas) and take a free-agency flier on Thaddeus Young (player option) and Khris Middleton (restricted) 

Denver Nuggets: Holding a Stretch Forward Search

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    Securing the ideal head coach is indeed a top priority for Denver, but if the Nuggets don't hire Mike D'Antoni, they're crazy.

    Denver's roster is ready-made for his offensive schemes, from past students Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, to a crafty point guard in Ty Lawson, to an Amar'e Stoudemire-level energy guy in Kenneth Faried. The fit doesn't just feel right; it's perfect for a roster constructed to run until kingdom come.

    What the Nuggets really need is a stretch forward to fit the offensive model they're attempting to reinstall. SB Nation's Jesus Gomez breaks it down: 

    The slow-it-down style Shaw wanted to implement never came to fruition. This season, the Nuggets ranked fifth in the league in pace with Shaw, so it's not like they were walking the ball up court. Yet with Hunt at the helm, they've played at an even faster pace, averaging two more possessions per game and ranking third in the league in the past six games. They are creating more turnovers, some of which are direct results of steals, and are running more, averaging almost one more fast break point per game and close to five more points off turnovers. ...

    ... The subtext is obvious: The Nuggets have gone back to the identity they had under Karl and are running with teams now even more than before.

    Both Gallinari and Faried have improved their play since Brian Shaw's departure. But the former, while shooting a scintillating 46.2 percent from deep under interim coach Melvin Hunt, has become unreliable in recent years, and Faried doesn't have three-point range. Chandler will also be a free agent next summer, thinning out Denver's forward pool even further.

    Jusuf Nurkic has stuck at center, Will Barton and Gary Harris are giving the team something to watch at shooting guard, Lawson is Lawson, and the Nuggets have enough forwards to get by. They just need that premier, game-changing frontcourt weapon to lean on.

    Ideal Solution: Nab Stanley Johnson or Myles Turner in the draft while making a play for free agents like Khris Middleton and Paul Millsap

Detroit Pistons: Acquiring Prolific Help on the Wing

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    Tempting though it is to deter the Detroit Pistons from re-signing the inefficient and out-of-place Reggie Jackson, the lack of perimeter artillery remains a more pressing problem.

    Regardless of what happens this offseason, this team is pretty much set elsewhere. The Pistons have enough depth at shooting guard with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks. Andre Drummond is their center of the future. Brandon Jennings or Jackson (or both) gives them palatable options at point guard, and Greg Monroe's free agency is of little concern, since he's no longer an offensive necessity and any power forward with range can look like a stud under Stan Van Gundy (Anthony Tolliver!).

    Even the backup small forward stable is covered. Caron Butler is more than capable of spelling a starting-caliber 3.

    Detroit just needs that 3. Badly. The Pistons' small forward corps ranks dead last in offensive and defensive efficiency, according to HoopsStats.com.

    Such a standing is no doubt skewed by their 5-23 record with Josh Smith, but there's still a glaring vacancy now, one that adversely impacts the three-and-D dynamic that Van Gundy is trying to implement—something the Pistons should keep in mind when approaching the draft and, most importantly, before funneling tens of millions of dollars into Jackson and Monroe.

    Ideal Solution: Draft Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Devin Booker (Kentucky) or Kelly Oubre (Kansas) and make a free-agent play for Luol Deng, Tobias Harris or DeMarre Carroll

Sacramento Kings: Actually Hitting on Their Draft Pick

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    George Karl has some work to do.

    The latest Sacramento Kings head coach has inherited a fantastically flawed roster that's a stranger to actual systems. And though there's talent in town—most notably DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay—the veteran sideline wanderer is still deciding whether to clean house and start over.

    From Bleacher Report's Howard Beck:

    George Karl's first power move as Sacramento Kings coach was to trade for Andre Miller, a trusted old hand from his Denver days. Expect more of the same this summer. Sources say Karl would love to acquire Ty Lawson—if the rebuilding Nuggets were to make him available—or any other members of his last Nuggets team, which won 57 games in 2012-13. Karl wants players who move the ball and push the tempo, and that could mean wild upheaval on the Kings roster.

    More important than the Kings' tearing down the perpetually sub-30-win team in front of Karl, though, is figuring out how to build it up. That starts with the draft, which has become a hotbed for disaster in Sacramento.

    Technically the Kings owe their selection to the Chicago Bulls, but it's under top-10 protection, and they are comfortably within that range, guaranteeing they keep it. This will mark the eighth straight year they hold lottery-level position, and while the list of players they've drafted is underwhelming, the list of those they still have is even worse:

    • Nik Stauskas (No. 8, 2014)
    • Ben McLemore (No. 7, 2013)
    • DeMarcus Cousins (No. 5, 2010)
    • Jason Thompson (No. 12, 2008)

    Of anyone the Kings have taken since 2007, only Cousins has truly panned out. The rest are flops (Thompson), works in progress (Stauskas, McLemore), playing elsewhere (Tyreke Evans) or some combination of all three (Thomas Robinson).

    It's time someone (i.e., Karl) put an end to this strikeout trend before the Kings continue their yearslong tradition of wallowing in nothingness.

    Ideal Solution: Draft an NBA-ready prospect up front (Kentucky's Trey Lyles, for instance)

Orlando Magic: Finding the Ideal Head Coach

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    Assembling talent is typically the primary goal of any lottery-bound squad, but the Orlando Magic already have talent—enough of it for them to prioritize finding the ideal head coach over everything else.

    Although the team has shown improvement on the defensive end since James Borrego replaced Jacque Vaughn, the long-term answer on the sidelines isn't in Orlando. The Magic, for all the defensive potential they're finally tapping into, are built to play with pace, something they've yet to do this season.

    They've been even slower since Borrego took the reins on Feb. 5, ranking 28th in possessions used per 48 minutes, the result of which is a continuously lackluster offensive attack that suffocates the rotation's explosiveness.

    While the Magic are too young to compete now, they employ plenty of impact players in Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Channing Frye and soon-to-be restricted free agent Tobias Harris. The right coach would raise their immediate ceiling exponentially.

    That, again, is without touching the roster. Lighting a fire with their potentially top-five draft pick and playing the field in free agency will only deepen the Magic's personnel stronghold to a point where playoff contention is instantly within reach.

    Ideal Solution: Hire offensive wizard Alvin Gentry

Los Angeles Lakers: Getting a Franchise Cornerstone

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    Let's not mince words here: The Los Angeles Lakers aren't looking for progress. They're after a complete turnaround, a quick ascension that involves them finding a Kobe Bryant replacement without mortgaging their future.

    "I'd much rather hand the keys over to somebody that can take this organization right from the jump," Bryant said, per the Los Angeles Times' Eric Pincus. "But if not, even when I retire, that's one of the things that I'll be hell-bent on with [owners] Jeanie [Buss] and Jimmy [Buss], to make sure this franchise gets back."

    Fortunately for Bryant and the Lakers, they have the tools to get back on top soon, if not immediately. The top-five protected pick the team owes to Phoenix looks like it'll stay put, and it'll have max-contract cap space this summer, per Spotrac.

    Needs also exist at every position, allowing the Lakers to upgrade at will. Jordan Clarkson is balling, Ed Davis represents more than 32 percent of the team's victories, Julius Randle is an unknown, and the Lakers aren't going to replace Bryant. But that doesn't mean they're set anywhere. Their net player efficiency rating suggests they're not set at all, per 82games.com:

    PERPGSGSFPFC
    Lakers13.215.311.416.517.5
    Opponent20.517.212.216.519.6
    Net-7.3-1.9-0.80.0-2.1

    Any and all superstars are, without question, the target. A top-five pick with All-Star potential is pivotal for the future, but the Lakers are still chasing the best of both worlds by trying to salvage the present while planning for later.

    Ideal Solution: Sign one of this summer's top-10 free agents...so long as their list of top-10 free agents doesn't include Rajon Rondo

Minnesota Timberwolves: Drafting a Stretch Forward

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    Charting an offseason course for the Minnesota Timberwolves is tricky. They're teeming with options at every position, many of them young and underdeveloped, yet they house a fair amount of productive veterans who don't fit the bill for an intricate rebuild.

    Injuries haven't simplified their outlook, either. Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Anthony Bennett and Shabazz Muhammad have all missed significant time, making it difficult for coach and president Flip Saunders to strike a balance between the young and old.

    Power forward figures to be the most wide-open position, and therefore the greatest need, barring any wholesale roster changes.

    Kevin Garnett will need his minutes assuming he delays retirement (he will). Saunders clearly has a thing for Adreian Payne, and the team doesn't seem to have given up on Bennett, diminishing the urgency behind any power forward search. At the same time, not one of those players is an unequivocal long-term fit.

    Already set at center (Gorgui Dieng, Pekovic) and flush with guards and wings (Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Martin, Muhammad, Rubio), Minnesota really needs a floor-spacing 4 who boosts its bottom-five three-point and offensive attacks.

    Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns should be the dream. He stretches defenses with his deep-ball range and face-up familiarity and has the length and motor to block shots in volume. Plus, Garnett's guidance would go a long way toward turning him into a two-way centerpiece.

    Ideal Solution: Target Towns while preparing to "settle" for Duke's Jahlil Okafor

Philadelphia 76ers: Making Good on Their New Mantra

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    This starts now.

    That's supposed to be the Philadelphia 76ers' slogan for next season, thus implying the beginning of lasting progress. But the initial campaign was, in part, built around Michael Carter-Williams, whom general manager Sam Hinkie has since traded to the Milwaukee Bucks.

    Joel Embiid, who won't play this season but is also a featured part of Philadelphia's new mantra, was also up for grabs at the trade deadline, according to Forbes' Mark Heisler. On top of that, Dario Saric, the 12th overall pick in 2014, is still playing overseas.

    To sum up: The Sixers have retained the rights to four top-12 prospects since 2012. Two of them (Saric, Embiid) have yet to play, and they ditched another (Carter-Williams) for more picks.

    Stockpiling first-round selections is seldom bad, and the Sixers could have as many as four this year alone. But those picks must turn into building blocks at some point.  

    Nerlens Noel should not be the only obvious keeper on this roster. The Sixers need to put something more sustainable in place this summer, at least giving the appearance of measurable progress, because this "Together we build" period cannot, and should not, last forever.

    Ideal Solution: Draft players they at least intend to keep while signing any players who actually help the Sixers improve

New York Knicks: Winning Free Agency

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    There is no wiggle room here. The New York Knicks need to win free agency.

    As team president Phil Jackson told reporters ahead of the club's victory over the Lakers on Thursday, per the New York Post's Marc Berman:

    In the present day in the NBA, 19-, 20-year-olds, coming into the league, it’s really hard to project what that player will be like in his first contract situation. So what we’re trying to [see] what advancement can be made in the short-term. How quickly we can get back in the hunt and right away to [compete] for the championship? We know what the first-round pick will mean to us, but we also know we will build the team on free agents.

    We have 190 players or so who will be free agents. … That’s where our priority stands.

    Keeping in theme with that now-centric vision, the Knicks are apparently open to dealing whomever they select with their first-rounder, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst (via ESPN New York's Ian Begley).

    Even thinking about traveling that route puts pressure on Jackson. He tore down the roster. He re-signed Carmelo Anthony, a soon-to-be over-30 superstar ill-fit for a lengthy rebuild. He put the Knicks in a position where cap space means more to them than the No. 1 overall pick ever could.

    New York isn't paying him $12 million annually for this; it's paying him for what's supposed to come after. The Knicks are banking on his mystique to lure in other superstars. And for them to have a chance in h-e-double-hockey-sticks of rebounding in time for next season and the 2016 cap explosion, they need to win everything.

    Ideal Solution: Trades, free agency, the draft—everything. They need to win it all. This summer, this future-forming summer, has to be remembered as the offseason in which Jackson saved the Knicks.

    *Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com and are accurate as of games played March 12. Salary information from HoopsHype. Draft pick commitments via RealGM.


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