2017 NBA Offseason: Every Team's Biggest Flaw to Address This Summer
The NBA offseason is the time for adjustments.
If a defense is struggling, teams can attempt to add more stoppers by drafting them, trading for them or acquiring them as free agents. Ditto for an offense that can't seem to score enough points and is in need of more featured options or floor-spacers. Perhaps a team is looking for help at a specific position or, more generally, any influx of talent.
But, with one exception, each of the NBA's 30 squads has a distinct flaw it could stand to improve.
Don't worry. We're here to give you the blueprint for every one before the offseason even begins for all squads.
Atlanta Hawks: Off-Ball Weapons
The Atlanta Hawks need to reinvigorate their offense, regardless of whether Paul Millsap stays or goes.
Dennis Schroder appears capable of running the show, though he'll have to improve defensively before he can move into the upper echelon of NBA point guards. But until he's surrounded by better off-ball weapons who can maximize head coach Mike Budenholzer's three-point desires, the Atlanta scoring unit will continue to stagnate.
During the regular season, the Hawks scored a meager 102.3 points per 100 possessions, which left them ahead of only the Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers—not a place a playoff squad would like to find itself, particularly while boasting a suffocating defense (fourth in the league). And it didn't get much better during the postseason, as the Hawks' 103.5 offensive rating against the Washington Wizards in the first round left them in the bottom five of the playoff field before being eliminated.
Something has to change, and that something is the perimeter prowess of this organization.
Schroder is capable of finding shooters. But if those shooters can't connect at better than a 34.1 percent clip—No. 23 during the regular season—the Hawks' efforts will already be doomed.
Boston Celtics: Rebounding
The Boston Celtics should have plenty of ways to improve this offseason, whether they're clearing up cap space in pursuit of a top-tier free-agent signing (Gordon Hayward, anyone?) or using their pick swap with the Brooklyn Nets to add one of the 2017 NBA draft's top three talents June 22.
They can look in other directions while traveling down both those avenues. Acquiring a go-to wing scorer such as Hayward and a complementary guard like Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball would make for a high-quality offseason.
But they still have to address the elephant in the room, which, ironically enough, has to do with a lack of size.
Center Al Horford (6'10") brings plenty of tools to the proverbial table. But rebounding isn't one of them, forcing Boston to sit at Nos. 25 and 27 in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, respectively. Until that changes, it'll fall a step short of true greatness, no matter how talented Isaiah Thomas may be as a scorer.
The C's should improve regardless. They have too many resources at their disposal to do anything else. But without addressing the fundamental flaw often holding the team back, it won't achieve its primary goal of becoming a true challenger to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Eastern Conference superiority—regular-season record notwithstanding.
Brooklyn Nets: Talent Deficit
Picking a singular flaw for the Brooklyn Nets is fundamentally problematic.
Until this franchise manages to acquire more legitimate talent, it won't need to worry about shoring up one or two smaller issues. Why focus on three-point shooting, interior defense or preventing dribble penetration when more than half the roster is comprised of players who won't be there when the Nets finally ascend back into the playoff picture?
At the moment, finding long-term keepers on the Brooklyn payroll is a difficult proposition.
Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin are the team's best players, but they're not at the right stages of their respective careers. Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Sean Kilpatrick have shown flashes of upside, but it's hard to look at any member of that trio and think there's guaranteed stardom. Joe Harris is solid, but he's far from earning that type of celestial status.
The Nets are still stuck attempting to overpay for marginal centerpieces such as Allen Crabbe (last year) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (this year, probably) because they desperately need to acquire those core building blocks who can end the lengthy rebuild.
Charlotte Hornets: Backup Point Guard
The Charlotte Hornets attempted to use Ramon Sessions, Briante Weber, Brian Roberts and Aaron Harrison as backup point guards in 2016-17. None of them worked.
Kemba Walker's offensive acumen helped skew the on/off splits because the team is obviously better when its premier player is leading the charge. But the lack of talent backing him was just as impactful, serving as a major reason the Hornets' net rating dipped from 3.6 with Walker to minus-7.0 without him.
There aren't too many confounding factors here. Of the other typical starters—Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller—no one else posted an on/off differential greater than Zeller's nine points per 100 possessions. Next up was Kidd-Gilchrist's 3.3.
Plain and simple, this is a backup point guard issue. And if Charlotte doesn't address it, Walker will once again have trouble maintaining his level of play during the middle portion of the season, even if he can use the All-Star break to recharge and lead a second-half charge.
Fortunately for the Hornets, they're basically being forced into addressing the problem. Weber and Sessions are the only reserve 1-guards left on the roster, but they're both working with non-guaranteed salaries, leaving the Charlotte front office free to cut ties and pursue more palatable options.
Chicago Bulls: Synergy
"I think Fred [Hoiberg]'s challenge this offseason is to find ways to be a better leader. I think he showed progress in that area. The team did rally around him at times. But again, that's part of the process too. We made the commitment to him. We support him. And we're in this with him. That's how an organization has to work," executive vice president John Paxson said in the Chicago Bulls' season-ending press conference.
If that's Hoiberg's goal, then the front office's quest should be to find talents he can actually lead. It can't put together another roster that breeds dysfunction—remember the social media drama?—and they might want to think about finding the right types of players.
Based on Hoiberg's tenure at Iowa State, his system works best when it's filled with shooters and creative offensive minds. He didn't have many to work with during his latest go-round in the NBA, leaving him to piece together an offense that featured precious few floor-spacing options.
But shooting still isn't the biggest flaw in the Windy City; it's more basic than that.
Until everyone is on the same page—the front office, coaching staff, players, etc.—the Bulls will underwhelm and continue to serve as the face of mediocrity in the Eastern Conference.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Defense
Thus far in the playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers have successfully dispatched of any and all foes. They followed up a competitive sweep of the Indiana Pacers in the opening round with a not-so-competitive four-game drubbing of the Toronto Raptors.
If it's possible to flip a switch, they've done that.
But wouldn't it be nice to have the switch flipped throughout the year? The Cavaliers may come to regret failing to earn the No. 1 seed in the East if they face the Celtics in the conference finals, and they almost certainly would have earned it, even while resting players, if they'd allocated a few more resources to the defensive end. While it was nice to acquire another playmaker (Deron Williams) and trade for a legitimate sharpshooter (Kyle Korver), both offensive threats compounded a preexisting issue.
The Cleveland offense is nothing short of dominant. The defense, however, comes close to the opposite end of that spectrum.
Through the first 82 games of 2016-17, the Cavs allowed a whopping 108 points per 100 possessions, which left them in the Association's bottom 10. Despite rarely sending the opposition to the charity stripe, they were incapable of forcing turnovers and below-average at preventing makes and corralling defensive rebounds.
This requires a mentality shift, since Cleveland won't make the most of its lofty potential until it becomes a two-way force. And fortunately, achieving that mentality shift could be as simple as acquiring one veteran stopper who imbues the rest of the roster with the necessary confidence.
Dallas Mavericks: Offensive Threats
Harrison Barnes is coming off a season in which he averaged 19.2 points per game, and the Dallas Mavericks still have Dirk Nowitzki on the roster. But they can't be content with those two leading the charge, since the former wasn't efficient enough to function as a primary option while Father Time is beginning to catch up to the latter.
Offensive box plus/minus is set up so a score of zero means a player provided offense at a league-average rate. And that's bad news for the Mavs, who had just five men in the green during 2016-17, none of whom were named Nowitzki or Barnes:
|Player||Offensive Box Plus/Minus||Minutes Played||Status for 2017-18|
|J.J. Barea||2.0||771||Under contract|
|Seth Curry||1.8||2,029||Under contract|
|Deron Williams||1.0||1,171||Unrestricted free agent|
|Yogi Ferrell||0.5||1,046||Under contract|
|Wesley Matthews||0.2||2,495||Under contract|
Let's look past Barea's inevitably taking on a smaller role as Curry and Ferrell continue establishing themselves. All of Dallas' efficient offensive players reside in the backcourt, leaving them woefully unequipped while trying to score with the contenders in the Western Conference.
Bringing back Nerlens Noel is a priority. But finding offensive aid should be viewed as even more important, given how sparse the scoring talent was for a squad that finished No. 23 in offensive rating (103.7 points scored per 100 possessions).
Denver Nuggets: Wing Defenders
If Danilo Gallinari remains with the Denver Nuggets, the team will still need to focus on acquiring more wing defenders. If the longtime member of the organization leaves and seeks a new home in free agency, it'll only compound the need.
Either way, the Nuggets won't be able to win if they can't stop dribble penetration.
For all the good he does on offense, Nikola Jokic isn't capable of anchoring the interior defense. He's able to use his smarts to position himself properly and cut off some lanes, but attacking him at the rim is a recipe for success. And that's particularly problematic when the Nuggets' guards and forwards were some of the league's worst at keeping players from bursting toward the hoop.
Tune into any minute of Denver basketball, and you'll likely see Emmanuel Mudiay, Jameer Nelson, Jamal Murray, Will Barton or one of the team's other smaller players letting his man beat him off the bounce and attack the interior. Gary Harris served as the premier perimeter defender, though that's more a testament to the overall putridity than the Michigan State product's own skills.
The Nuggets used 2016-17 to prove they could score with anyone, especially with Jokic leading the charge as a skilled big. But if they can't stop a nosebleed on the perimeter, their high-scoring exploits will all be for naught, dooming them to yet another lottery appearance.
Detroit Pistons: Shooting
It doesn't matter that head coach Stan Van Gundy abandoned the four-out, one-in system midway through the Detroit Pistons' disappointing season. That style of play wasn't tenable with limited point guard play, a center who didn't command much defensive attention (Andre Drummond) and a cadre of misfiring shooters.
In the modern NBA, you can't survive without shooters.
If the Pistons want to go back to Van Gundy's pet scheme, they'll need more sharpshooting talent on the roster. Even if they continue looking for alternate ways of producing points, they'll have to acquire players who can help space the court.
Only the Indiana Pacers, Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves took fewer three-pointers per game during the 2016-17 campaign. That's problematic enough, but it's even more concerning in conjunction with the fact that Detroit's 33 percent clip from the perimeter placed it ahead of just the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder. Phoenix was the only other team in the bottom five of both categories.
Now, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who functioned as one of the few capable snipers in the Motor City, is a restricted free agent. The problems could get better before they get worse, making it even more vital that Detroit chases a plethora of floor-spacing threats during the draft and on the open market.
Golden State Warriors: Literally Nothing
What flaw are the Golden State Warriors supposed to address?
During the regular season, they paced the Association in offensive rating with room to spare, scoring 1.4 more points per 100 possessions than the second-place Houston Rockets. Only the San Antonio Spurs were stingier, narrowly edging the Dubs in defensive rating with 0.2 fewer points allowed and leaving the Western Conference favorites in the No. 2 spot. In NBA Math's team rating, which combines the two and adjusts for the league's overall trend, this iteration of Golden State trailed only six squads throughout all of NBA history.
In the playoffs, they haven't crashed back to earth. Sweeping both the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz is antithetical to that downward-spiraling route, and the Warriors have shown no signs of letting up.
Best of all, they probably won't lose much during the offseason.
Sure, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Zaza Pachulia, Matt Barnes, Ian Clark, James Michael McAdoo, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, JaVale McGee and David West will be free agents this summer (McAdoo will be restricted). But Golden State should be able to retain its stars, re-sign the key veterans for cheap deals—get ready for Iguodala to come back on a bargain-bin contract—and add ring-chasing bench pieces for minimum salaries. Who won't want to play with this team after yet another season of dominance?
Fixing a flaw requires the existence of one. And right now, finding one in Oakland is an impossible task without changing the overall structure of the team. The Dubs could stand to cut back on their turnovers—No. 23 in turnover rate this season—but they'll only ever make minor strides while keeping the current roster in place, and there's no reason to deviate from the plan.
Houston Rockets: Perimeter Defense
As the Houston Rockets' continue their ascent in the Western Conference, they'll have to turn their focus to the less glamorous end.
The offense is already a finely tuned machine, and it should continue to get stronger as fringe free agents flock to play under head coach Mike D'Antoni. So long as James Harden is there, the Rockets will remain one of the league's most dangerous scoring teams, shattering three-point records and embarking in a ceaseless parade to the charity stripe.
The defense, however, needs more work.
Allowing 106.4 points per 100 possession, it sat at No. 18 in the leaguewide hierarchy during the regular season, and it's only improved marginally (105.9 defensive rating) now that games matter even more. Of course, facing Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard is a tough task, so we'll cut the Rockets a bit of slack here. Just not enough to make improving the defense any less of a priority.
With Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell, Houston shouldn't be focused on protecting the interior. Instead, it should prioritize the addition of perimeter defenders who can spell Patrick Beverley and Trevor Ariza, thereby ensuring the squad has legitimate stoppers on the floor at all times and never forcing too much point-preventing responsibility onto the shoulders of Harden and the other primary scorers.
Indiana Pacers: Confidence Retaining Paul George
"There should be a tanking window again next season. Philly hopes to make a leap. Brooklyn will chase veterans in free agency. The Lakers will dangle prospects for Paul George. The Suns, Wolves and Kings will try to win games. The path from the playoffs to a top-four pick is open," ESPN.com's Zach Lowe recently wrote.
It's the fourth sentence of the paragraph that's key here.
The Los Angeles Lakers will inevitably come after Paul George. So too will other teams like the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets, trying to parlay youth and draft picks into a bona fide superstar. And even if the Indiana Pacers resist the temptations throughout the offseason, they still have to deal with the looming specter of George's eventual free agency.
Will he sign an extension if he's eligible? Will he demand a trade? Will he wait to see what the organization puts around him for 2017-18, keeping his mind open until the offseason after this coming one?
Indiana doesn't know. Hell, George himself probably doesn't right now. But without establishing clarity, the Pacers can't move forward, leading to a lack of direction that quite clearly serves as the team's biggest current flaw.
Los Angeles Clippers: Direction
The Los Angeles Clippers are drifting without a rudder after injuries helped spark their latest early postseason exit, this time at the hands of the Utah Jazz in seven games after L.A. lost Blake Griffin to a toe malady in Game 3. And before the team can fix any specific flaws, it must establish a sense of legitimate direction.
If there's even been a fork in the road for an NBA team, the Clippers have arrived at one.
In one direction, they can travel down the same old path, running it back with an expensive core by re-signing Chris Paul, Griffin and J.J. Redick. But if they choose to veer in the opposite direction, they could let those centerpieces walk and attempt to rebuild.
It would be a risky move, but it might finally elevate the ceiling of a squad that's so often shown promising regular-season stretches, only to be stopped by injuries and the frustrations that come with having a weak bench.
"If I was Doc [Rivers], I'd bring it all back," Jamal Crawford said on The Full 48 podcast with Howard Beck and Jordan Brenner. But there's reason to believe he might be a tad biased after spending so much time with the teammates now taking center stage during the offseason.
Until the Clippers decide what they're going to do, nothing else can fall in place. Direction comes before specificity, after all.
Los Angeles Lakers: Defense
See how easy and uncontested John Wall's lefty dunk is in the above picture? That sight occurred far too frequently against the Los Angeles Lakers, even if it wasn't always the Washington Wizards point guard doing the slamming.
No team allowed points more frequently than the Purple and Gold, who ceded a staggering 110.6 points per 100 possessions. But that's changed during the postseason.
The good news is the Lakers haven't allowed a single basket throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs. The bad news is such stinginess is only possible because they're watching the postseason play out from home for the fourth consecutive year—the longest lottery streak in franchise history.
Right now, the Lakers do have an impressive amount of up-and-coming talent on the roster. D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Ivica Zubac could develop into stars one day. But they're all offensively tilted players, better at scoring or setting up their teammates than preventing the opposition from doing the same.
Los Angeles doesn't need to morph into a defensive juggernaut. Given the composition of the roster, it will probably enjoy a distinct offensive slant throughout the foreseeable future.
But if it hopes to ascend back into the playoff picture, a bit more balance is necessary.
Memphis Grizzlies: Shooting (As Always)
Stop me if you've heard this before: The Memphis Grizzlies need more shooting.
They took steps in the right direction throughout the 2016-17 campaign, particularly because Marc Gasol suddenly morphed into a three-point marksman at the 5. But Mike Conley's job setting up the Memphis offense would be so much easier if spot-up snipers gave him more lanes to work with and more kick-out opportunities with which he could rack up assists.
That's just not enough.
But it's not enough.
"The entire NBA is going away from Memphis' style of basketball in an effort to emulate the Golden State Warriors. The Grizzlies, though, have proved they can hang with Stephen Curry and Co. by crashing the offensive glass, mucking up the game and going big..." Andrew Lynch wrote for Fox Sports. "... Forget what everyone else is doing. When they zig, you zag."
Even while doing that, the Grizzlies should take care to add another shooter. There are plenty floating around in free agency, and Memphis shouldn't have to allocate too much of its cap space to find one.
Miami Heat: Go-to Scorer
The Miami Heat had a few players who could light up the scoreboard in 2016-17. Goran Dragic averaged a team-high 20.3 points, while Hassan Whiteside (17.0 points per game), Dion Waiters (15.8) and Tyler Johnson (13.7) all chipped in with respectable tallies.
But Miami is still searching for a true go-to option. Maybe it could be Gordon Hayward. Perhaps the Heat could look into trading for someone like Paul George or Jimmy Butler. He just has to be someone coming from another location because all the incumbent options are fundamentally flawed.
Waiters is best in smaller doses, while Johnson works best as a two-way threat off the bench. Whiteside's talent is maximized when he's not granted too many touches, since his post-ups and mid-range jumpers can take Miami's offense away from its flow. The Heat were more effective once they shifted the half-court fulcrum from Whiteside to a drive-and-kick game.
And while Dragic remains an incredible finisher around the hoop, he won't put up 20 points per contest forever. The veteran point guard just celebrated his 31st birthday Saturday, putting him dangerously close to the threshold at which 1-guards experience precipitous drop-offs.
The Heat proved they could compete after getting off to a slow start in 2016-17. But building upon the strong second half will require a marquee acquisition during the year's hottest months.
Milwaukee Bucks: Secondary Playmaker
Malcolm Brogdon gives the Milwaukee Bucks another legitimate distributing threat alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, but what happens when only one of the two leading facilitators is on the floor? That leaves the up-and-coming squad relying on Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker stepping out of their comfort zones or handing big minutes to Matthew Dellavedova, which the 2016-17 campaign proved wasn't a particularly strong idea.
Acquiring a secondary playmaker is a luxury addition, but it's still a necessary one. Milwaukee has found everything else, giving it immense upside on both ends when everyone is healthy. Especially if Thon Maker and Jabari Parker continue their recent developments, the Bucks will be one of the Eastern Conference's more dangerous teams.
And that's what makes adding the final pieces so important.
Just imagine if this squad could poach someone like Andre Iguodala, who can fill a number of roles and is comfortable acting as a distributing guard in a pinch. Not only does that alleviate some of the pressure Brogdon will surely feel during his sophomore campaign, but it'll relieve Antetokounmpo of the heavy lifting he must do on a nightly basis.
It's great that the aptly nicknamed "Greek Freak" was able to finish in the top 20 for every major box-score stat—the first player in NBA history to do so. It's wonderful that he paced the Bucks in each of those categories. But it would be best for his health and the Bucks' growth if he didn't repeat those statistical exploits in 2017-18.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Interior Defense
The Minnesota Timberwolves allowed opponents to shoot 55.9 percent on contested shots around the rim, which left them ahead of only the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards. That's not a recipe for success, which might be obvious since four of the five aforementioned squads failed to reach the playoffs.
But what's to blame?
The inexperience of the youngsters in Minnesota is problematic. Karl-Anthony Towns was a porous defender around the hoop in 2016-17, even finishing dead last among centers in ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus. But head coach Tom Thibodeau's schemes also shoulder a portion of the blame, since the nuances are too complicated to be immediately understood by the plethora of young up-and-comers.
Fortunately, there's an easy fix: Acquire one legitimate rim-protector who can play 20 minutes per game, even if that's an uninspiring veteran such as Roy Hibbert. Play him situationally, counteracting opponents who are looking to attack the hoop incessantly, and your defense is already looking quite a bit better.
That type of addition, plus internal development from the many growing pieces, could go a long way for the collection of talent lying in wait in Minnesota.
New Orleans Pelicans: Chemistry Around Frontcourt
"It's definitely a lot easier now than it was the first couple of games I was here. It's coming along. We're progressing. I think we're getting better each game. I think that's pretty obvious," DeMarcus Cousins said late in the season, per NBA.com's Jim Eichenhofer.
"Just keep building. I'm really looking forward to training camp. I think we can build something special. Just stay positive, keep moving forward. At the end of the day, if we don't make the playoffs, we can still use this as an opportunity to learn one another and get better every game, to use this as a training camp before training camp."
The fit between Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins isn't going to come easily.
Both players are accustomed to serving as unquestioned alpha dogs. They each enjoy operating from the left side of the half-court set. Neither is great at shooting triples and spacing out the floor, which forces a larger onus onto the wings and guards to make up for that deficit.
But it can work, and the Pelicans need to figure out how to expedite the development of the "fire and ice" duo. If they delay too long, they could run the risk of a lost season, which could even push Cousins out the door when he's eligible for free agency in 2018.
Sign the right shooters. Retain Jrue Holiday. Add perimeter defenders. Do whatever it takes.
That, in a nutshell, is what the Pelicans have to do this offseason.
New York Knicks: Culture
The New York Knicks can't make any progress until they re-establish themselves as an appealing location in free agency. Right now, they're quite a long way from doing so.
Phil Jackson continues to make...interesting moves as the team's president of basketball operations, whether by acquiring Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah or engaging in a public feud with Carmelo Anthony. James Dolan, the team's owner, can't stop quarreling with fans and former franchise legends. The triangle hasn't worked. The new centerpiece is tweeting about the Los Angeles Clippers.
Overall, dysfunction reigns supreme.
Would it be nice if the Knicks could focus their resources on finding the franchise point guard and getting meetings with players such as Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul? Of course. Would it be great if they could seek out the talents who desperately wanted to play in the New York market? Certainly.
But until the culture is fixed and the Knicks are once again an appealing destination for the NBA's best and brightest, none of that can be the top priority.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Secondary Playmaker
Russell Westbrook was a basketball cyborg during the 2016-17 campaign, and not just because he joined Oscar Robertson as one of two players in NBA history to average a triple-double for a full season. He played with an indefatigable motor at all times, never slowing down and rarely pausing to catch his breath. Frankly, he may not even have broken a sweat.
But that's not sustainable.
It was abundantly clear Westbrook was wearing down and forcing up triples during the fourth quarters of the Oklahoma City Thunder's first-round series against the Houston Rockets. He could probably put together another MVP-worthy campaign next year, but what's the point if it leaves OKC doomed before the playoffs begin?
Finding him a legitimate offensive partner is crucial.
Victor Oladipo wasn't up to the task during his first season in Oklahoma City, and the Thunder can't be content trusting that he'll develop into what he must become. They must actively acquire another capable ball-handler who can ease Westbrook's responsibilities and keep him fresh for the most important part of the year.
Orlando Magic: Shooting
- Marcus Georges-Hunt: 50.0 percent on 0.4 attempts per game over the course of five appearances
- Jodie Meeks: 40.9 percent on 3.8 attempts per game over the course of 36 appearances
- Serge Ibaka: 38.8 percent on 3.8 attempts per game over the course of 56 appearances
- Evan Fournier: 35.6 percent on 5.3 attempts per game over the course of 68 appearances
- D.J. Augustin: 34.7 percent on 3.5 attempts per game over the course of 78 appearances
The Orlando Magic began clearing up their frontcourt logjam by unloading an uninspired Serge Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors and getting back Terrence Ross in return. That allowed Aaron Gordon to move back to his more natural position at the 4, and the offense seemed to pick up a bit during the season's stretch run. From the All-Star break through the campaign's conclusion, it scored 102.9 points per 100 possessions.
That was the No. 26 mark in the Association. And sadly, it was still marked improvement. Prior to the midseason festivities, Orlando produced 100.5 points per 100 possessions, which left it ahead of only the Philadelphia 76ers.
To continue along that same track, Orlando must keep adding shooters to the roster. Ross alone isn't enough.
After the 82nd game of the year, the Magic's top five three-point shooters stood as follows:
That's a mere three players north of the league-average three-point percentage (35.8 percent), two of whom didn't play full seasons and one of whom is now on a different roster. Oh, and Meeks and Georges-Hunt are both impending free agents.
The Magic aren't even remotely close to possessing the shooting they need. They won't be without some serious work during the offseason.
Philadelphia 76ers: Point Guard
The Philadelphia 76ers are closer to competing than some fans might think. That assumes health from Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, but potential is just oozing from this roster. Those two, paired with Nik Stauskas, Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes, Jerryd Bayless, Dario Saric and T.J. McConnell, make for a great start, especially since the Sixers could be looking at two top-10 picks if the pingpong balls bounce favorably.
But the team still needs more handlers.
Stauskas and Saric are best used in spot-up roles. And though possessions will inevitably be allocated to Embiid while Simmons serves as an unorthodox handler, the team shouldn't be content to allow McConnell to fill such a large distributing role.
The good news here isn't just good; it's great.
Philadelphia should, barring lottery disaster, have access to either Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz in the 2017 NBA draft. In a worst-case scenario, it would be left looking at De'Aaron Fox or Dennis Smith, who would still improve the team's fortunes dramatically. And if that's still not enough, free agency awaits, and the Sixers have plenty of money to blow.
Already, Kyle Lowry is indicating he might have some interest in joining the up-and-comers, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Just imagine how much damage Philadelphia could do with Lowry setting up Simmons, Saric, Embiid and a top-tier rookie.
Phoenix Suns: Trust in the Youngsters
The Phoenix Suns have shown some willingness to hand the reins to their youngsters, but they haven't fully committed. That, in and of itself, is a flaw.
Devin Booker has been given enough touches to score 70 points in a single game. Marquese Chriss made noise at the end of the year, once injuries had piled up and left the Suns with no other options. Tyler Ulis had his chance to run the show once Eric Bledsoe was shut down.
Now, it's time to trust them fully.
Trade Bledsoe for whatever return he'll bring. Part ways with Tyson Chandler, Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa. Do whatever is necessary to make it clear that this team now belongs to the prospects, because that's the only way to fully evaluate them.
Maybe it'll work. Perhaps it won't, and the Suns will be forced to plunge back into yet another rebuild. But certainty is better than balancing on a pendulum that could swing in either direction, and that's the precarious position in which Phoenix currently sits.
No matter how, it must change that.
Portland Trail Blazers: Backcourt Defense
Let's take a gander at the ranks in ESPN.com's DRPM for each of the Western Conference playoff squads' starting backcourts:
|Team||Point Guard||Shooting Guard||Combined DRPM|
|Golden State Warriors||Stephen Curry (0.43)||Klay Thompson (minus-0.29)||0.14|
|San Antonio Spurs||Tony Parker (minus-0.89)||Danny Green (1.83)||0.94|
|Houston Rockets||James Harden (minus-1.69)||Patrick Beverley (1.63)||minus-0.06|
|Los Angeles Clippers||Chris Paul (2.77)||J.J. Redick (minus-2.11)||0.66|
|Utah Jazz||George Hill (1.02)||Rodney Hood (minus-0.38)||0.64|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||Russell Westbrook (minus-0.47)||Victor Oladipo (1.56)||1.09|
|Memphis Grizzlies||Mike Conley (minus-0.2)||Tony Allen (2.15)||1.95|
|Portland Trail Blazers||Damian Lillard (minus-1.51)||CJ McCollum (minus-1.88)||minus-3.39|
For the Portland Trail Blazers, that's not a tenable solution against the dynamic offenses that have become so commonplace in the Western Conference. But it's also not like Rip City is about to break up its backcourt duo, so long as both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are flat-out thriving on the scoring end.
So, a compromise must be found.
Either Portland must dedicate nearly all its resources—limited as they may be this offseason—to finding more interior stoppers and wing defenders, or it can find some backups who can play alongside either Lillard or McCollum and mitigate the defensive damage. The latter is cheaper, and thus it's the best route to travel down for the time being.
Sacramento Kings: Talent Deficit
How many members of the Sacramento Kings are both under contract and long-term keepers?
Buddy Hield certainly counts as such after he served as the centerpiece in the DeMarcus Cousins trade. Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and (maybe) Malachi Richardson could offer the franchise some upside for the future. Perhaps Garrett Temple could be included in the group.
But that's it, and it's not enough.
Which one of those aforementioned names looks like a lock to develop into a top-20 player? A top-50 contributor? Even there, it's tough to name an up-and-coming King with any sort of certainty, since Hield's offensive acumen is negated by his inefficiency and defense, while Labissiere hasn't shown sustained spurts of excellence.
Sacramento has to hit on its first-round draft picks. It has to make smart free-agent decisions, which can't be geared around fixing any one singular flaw. After all, focusing on defense at the expense of offense—or vice versa—fails to accomplish the primary goal: picking up more talent in any possible form.
San Antonio Spurs: Point Guard
After suffering a ruptured left quadriceps tendon against the Houston Rockets, Tony Parker went under the knife and could now be out of action for up to eight months. Assuming the worst in his recovery, that would put him back right around the time calendars are flipping over to 2018, at which time the 2017-18 campaign will already be well under way.
Except that's actually not the worst-case scenario.
Parker is already 34 years old, and he'll celebrate his 35th birthday later this month. Given his age and declining play, there's a chance the French floor general could pull the plug on his NBA career rather than go through a grueling rehab, and there are no guarantees he'd come back at 100 percent if he did return. His days as a starting 1-guard may well be over, and the Spurs don't have many other options.
Patty Mills will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, which leaves only Dejounte Murray on the roster. Given the rookie's uninspiring play during his first taste of the NBA, that's not a tenable solution, and San Antonio will be forced to look for other options either in the draft or the open market. Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul, for example, should at least see if the Spurs would like to hold initial meetings.
But no matter what the league's model franchise chooses to do, it must do something. Point guard is too important to leave a glaring flaw unaddressed.
Toronto Raptors: LeBron James
Finishing sixth in offensive rating and eighth in defensive rating, the Toronto Raptors were one of only three squads to post top-eight marks on both ends, joining the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors. But their biggest flaw came back to bite them during the second round of the playoffs.
The Raptors play in the Eastern Conference, which means they must go through LeBron James to have a shot at playing in the NBA Finals. During the easy sweep by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the four-time MVP made them pay over and over.
And Toronto couldn't forget it.
"They've got LeBron James," Kyle Lowry, set to hit the market as an unrestricted free agent when he inevitably declines his player option, said during the series, per Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical.
"Nobody's closing the gap on him. I mean, that's it right there: They've got LeBron James and nobody's closing the gap on him. I don't know when his prime is going to stop. I don't think it's going to stop anytime soon. I think he'll be able to continue what he's doing for a long time. But that's basketball. You've got to find a way to beat the best."
This is the biggest issue for the Raptors. Their defense and offense both work, but they have to figure out a way to stop James. That problem may push Lowry to another squad, and there's no telling where the rebuild could end if that happens.
Utah Jazz: Continuity
The Utah Jazz's roster works.
They'll have to hang onto Joe Ingles, Gordon Hayward and George Hill, but it does work. It'll be expensive to keep everyone in place, but it does work. They'll need confidence in their vision, but it does work.
Just consider this: With Hill, Hayward and Rudy Gobert on the floor together, the Jazz outscored the opposition by a staggering 11.8 points per 100 possessions. For perspective, the league-best Golden State Warriors, who swept the Jazz in the second round of the playoffs, posted a 12.1 net rating during the regular season.
Now, they just need to get healthy.
If it seemed like everyone on the roster was injured at some point, it's only because they were. Hill missed significant time with various maladies. Derrick Favors' knee never allowed him to play at 100 percent. Gobert and Hayward both went down during the postseason's opening round with a knee injury and food poisoning, respectively.
Eventually, their luck has to change. And when it does, Utah is pairing a growing offense—with intriguing young pieces such as Rodney Hood and Dante Exum to boot—with a dominant defense anchored by the potential Defensive Player of the Year. There's no reason to mess with that, which makes improving the health of the roster even more of a pressing priority.
Washington Wizards: Depth
When Bradley Beal, John Wall and the rest of the Washington Wizards' starters are on the floor, they function fantastically. But the bench can often let down the opening quintet, even after the additions of Brandon Jennings and Bojan Bogdanovic at the trade deadline.
During the playoffs, the same story has held true.
The starting five has earned a 9.3 net rating, leaving it well clear of the Oklahoma City Thunder (3.8) and behind only the Cleveland Cavaliers (13.0) and Golden State Warriors (21.4). The bench, however, has posted a minus-12.8 net rating—the primary reason Washington struggled to move past the Atlanta Hawks in the opening round.
Both midseason additions are now hitting the open market, with Jennings unrestricted and Bogdanovic restricted. Re-signing Otto Porter Jr. will be the first priority, but bringing back both those reserves and adding more to the struggling Washington bench is the only way to fix the team's biggest flaw.
No matter how dominant the starters may be, they can't play 48 minutes per game.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.