1 Thing Every NBA Team Failed to Address This Offseason
The NBA offseason is far from over. You won't start hearing Spaldings bouncing from coast to coast until the end of September. But thanks to all the hubbub surrounding Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving, the league's hot stove could keep hoops heads plenty occupied until then.
Beyond that, the bulk of the Association's annual business is already done. The top free agents are all off the board. Other stars have already shifted the league's landscape, albeit without much real tilt away from the weight of the Golden State Warriors.
Even for the best in basketball, there's something they could've done better. Such is the pursuit of perfection and the process of perpetual improvement at every level in the NBA. Here's a look at what each of the league's 30 teams may have missed in its offseason plan through most of July.
Atlanta Hawks: Outside Shooting
The Atlanta Hawks are officially in rebuilding mode now that Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard and Tim Hardaway Jr. are gone. But head coach Mike Budenholzer's new roster still has one of the same problems that plagued it last season: a lack of shooting.
In 2016-17, the Hawks were tied for 15th in three-point attempts (26.1 per game) and ranked 23rd in long-range percentage (34.1 percent) while producing the fourth-fewest points per 100 possessions (102.3). As Peachtree Hoops' Glen Willis noted, those numbers aren't likely to climb in light of who's left on the roster.
"It is also important to note that, of the five of their top three-point shooters from last season(ignoring volume), only one is returning in Mike Muscala. Of the 13 players currently on the roster, only four of them shot a higher percentage from the three-point line last season than the Hawks did as a team: Muscala (41.8%), Marco Belinelli (36.0%), Ersan Ilyasova (35.3%) and Kent Bazemore (34.6%)."
Unless Atlanta adds another marksman or sees shooting strides from the likes of Taurean Prince and DeAndre' Bembry, the offense could stall out once again, with slashing point guard Dennis Schroeder struggling to find space on a cramped court.
Boston Celtics: Defensive Rebounding
Among the Boston Celtics' Achilles' heels that snapped in last year's Eastern Conference Finals, none was more debilitating than the team's lack of size and strength on the boards. During that five-game series, Boston rebounded just 75.9 percent of the Cleveland Cavaliers' misses—a hair better than the team's regular-season tally (75.3 percent, 27th in the NBA), but distressing all the same.
In some respects, the Celtics addressed that glaring weakness this summer. Gordon Hayward is a bigger, longer wing than anyone who was previously in Boston's rotation, and he's coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high 5.4 rebounds. Marcus Morris has been a physical presence on the wing at every stop, and he'll certainly see some time at power forward. Aron Baynes is a big body who's averaged a double-double per 36 minutes in each of his last four campaigns. In Ante Zizic, the C's are adding a legit 7-footer to the rotation who, at 20 coming over from Europe, touts ample upside.
But none of those additions figure to change things dramatically enough on the glass to outclass Cleveland head-to-head. The Utah Jazz were slightly better grabbing defensive caroms when Hayward sat last season. Morris is more perimeter-oriented than his twin brother, Markieff. Baynes has never averaged more than 16.0 minutes per game in a given season. And Zizic, for all his potential, hasn't played a single minute of real NBA basketball.
"Let's wait and see," Celtics general manager Danny Ainge told the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett of Zizic (h/t CelticsBlog's Jeff Clark). "We like him. We love his potential. But we'll see. I mean, at some point I do believe he'll be able to help us, but when that is and how early that is in his career, I don't know. Time will tell."
In the big picture, Boston can afford to be patient, thanks to its cache of young players and draft picks. But the Celtics will be hard-pressed to push past the Cavs in the East this coming season without another meaningful addition to their frontcourt.
Brooklyn Nets: Shooting Bigs
In discussing the possibility of Jeremy Lin and D'Angelo Russell playing together, Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson mentioned how traditional notions of positions no longer matter.
"I think [Boston Celtics head coach] Brad Stevens said this the other day. We don't even look at the roster like 1-2-3-4-5," Atkinson told SB Nation's Kristian Winfield. "We have our smalls, our perimeters that can handle the ball. Then we have our wings. Then you have your shooting bigs and your rolling bigs."
Of those buckets, Brooklyn's cache of shooting bigs remains the most conspicuously empty. The Nets swapped Brook Lopez, who led the team in made threes last season (134), in a trade that brought back Timofey Mozgov, whose range thus far has yet to extend past social media.
Unless Brooklyn sees Trevor Booker (32.1 percent on 1.1 three-point attempts per game last season) or Andrew Nicholson (18.5 percent on 0.7 attempts) in that vein, or the team is convinced that Quincy Acy's late-season burst (36-of-83 from three, 43.4) is indicative of a real turnaround, the front office still has work to do on that front.
Otherwise, the Lin-Russell tandem may have a tough time finding driving lanes without a big man who can be a threat outside of the paint.
Charlotte Hornets: Three-Point Shooting
The Charlotte Hornets slid somewhat as a three-point shooting squad last season. They went from top five in triple makes and attempts and top 10 in percentage during the 2015-16 campaign to 11th in makes, ninth in attempts and 18th in percentage in 2016-17.
The Hornets may take another step back in that regard during the 2017-18 season. Before the draft, they gave up one of their top marksmen (Marco Belinelli) in a deal for Dwight Howard. Since then, they've added only one perimeter threat of note: Malik Monk, the No. 11 pick in the 2017 draft. And while Monk may be a difference-maker, there's no telling whether his microwave stroke will translate to the NBA.
In the meantime, Charlotte will have to hope that Kemba Walker's superb shooting from 2016-17 is no fluke, that the drops in accuracy for Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams were flukes and that Frank Kaminsky emerges as at least a league-average three-point threat. If not, the Hornets will have trouble getting back to the playoffs by clearing the floor space required to maximize Howard's thundering rolls to the rim.
Chicago Bulls: A Plan for the Future
The good news for the Chicago Bulls: They finally got off the pot by dealing Jimmy Butler after years of rumored wafflings on the trade market.
The bad news? For one, the return they got from Minnesota for a bona fide All-Star with two years left on his deal (i.e. Kris Dunn, the pick that became Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine). Dunn was borderline unplayable on offense during his first year with the Timberwolves, and at 23, he lacks the upside one might otherwise expect out of a young guard prospect. The jury is still out on Markkanen. LaVine will be coming off a torn ACL, with restricted free agency awaiting him next July.
Oh, and the Bulls gave up their No. 16 pick in the trade, which became Creighton's Justin Patton...so there's that.
As if that weren't enough, ESPN's Ian Begley reported Friday that Kyrie Irving, he of the recent trade demand, "considered" the Bulls as a landing spot before they found one for Butler.
Think Butler and Irving would've made for a good pairing? Either way, Chicago opted to hit the reset button, with Dwyane Wade likely awaiting a midseason buyout, rather than build around Butler. What (if any) plan the front office braintrust of Gar Forman and John Paxson has in mind might not reveal itself for years to come, assuming it ever does at all.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Internal Stability...or a Lack Thereof
Whatever discontent may have been simmering beneath the surface within the Cleveland Cavaliers now appears to be at a full boil.
First came now-former general manager David Griffin's split with the organization not just in the lead-up to the 2017 draft, but also with trade talks involving Jimmy Butler and Paul George (but not both together) ongoing. Then came a report from USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt that LeBron James was "concerned" about Cleveland's offseason, particularly the lack of meaningful changes to the roster—and no, retaining Kyle Korver and signing Jeff Green and Jose Calderon to minimum deals doesn't count.
Now comes a real reason for James' concern: Kyrie Irving's trade demand. Here's how NBA.com's David Aldridge explained it: "The reason, according to multiple sources, is that Irving no longer wants a secondary role playing alongside LeBron James and wants an opportunity to play for a team where he is its focal point — something obviously impossible on any team with James on it."
Per Aldridge, James "had no idea that Irving was unhappy with his role this past season or wanted out of Cleveland." Meanwhile, the Cavs are only now finalizing an agreement to name Koby Altman, their acting GM, as Griffin's permanent successor, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Add in James' potential foray into free agency next July, and the wildness in Cleveland might just be getting started.
Dallas Mavericks: Nerlens Noel's Contract
More than three weeks into free agency, the Dallas Mavericks have yet to re-sign Nerlens Noel.
"We are waiting on a legitimate offer from the Mavs," Noel's agent, Happy Walters, told The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears. "Until that time, Nerlens is training in L.A. until camp opens."
Training camp remains more than two months away, so the Mavericks have plenty of time to get a deal done. But the snail's pace at which Noel's future is being addressed can't be good for relations between team and player (and agent).
Granted, Dallas is in the driver's seat here. Noel is a restricted free agent, meaning the Mavericks can match any offer that comes his way. The onus is on Noel's camp to find a better deal elsewhere, on a market where the money has all but dried up.
That doesn't mean, though, that Dallas is entirely in control. If the situation with Noel sours, he could settle for the qualifying offer and set himself up for unrestricted free agency next summer. At that point, the Mavs could lose a young player they see as their center of the future in one year's time.
Denver Nuggets: Defense
Kudos to the Denver Nuggets for landing Paul Millsap, arguably the biggest free-agent signing in franchise history. But there's only so much the 32-year-old All-Star can do to tighten a defense that finished 0.1 points per 100 possessions behind the Los Angeles Lakers for last in efficiency last season.
The team's wing rotation has thinned some, now that Danilo Gallinari is in L.A. The Nuggets' guard rotation hasn't changed, though there's certainly room for improvement among youngsters like Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Malik Beasley. Unless some of those perimeter players become lockdown defenders or Nikola Jokic magically morphs into a bona fide rim protector, the Nuggets will continue to suffer on the defensive end.
As savvy a stopper as Millsap is—and his All-Defensive selection in 2015-16 is a testament to as much—Denver can't expect him to be its equivalent of a shutdown corner as he advances deeper into his 30s.
Detroit Pistons: Whether to Build Around Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson
The rumor mill continues to chew up and spit out Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, without any resolution for either player's future with the Detroit Pistons. According to Basketball Insiders' Michael Scotto, the Pistons had been shopping both of their supposed franchise cornerstones, with the New Orleans Pelicans emerging as a potential landing spot for Jackson.
It should come as no surprise that they have yet to move either. For one, the league is practically crawling with quality point guards and bulky bigs who can't shoot. That Jackson and Drummond are both coming off a down year in 2016-17 only further depresses their respective markets.
In Drummond's case, there's at least one prominent member of the Pistons organization who has his back. According to the Washington Post's Tim Bontemps, Detroit owner Tom Gores is "a huge fan" of Drummond's.
If the Pistons plan to build around that duo going forward, they haven't done much to set themselves up for success in the near term. Their spread pick-and-roll scheme around Jackson and Drummond could suffer without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris, their top two three-point shooters by makes last season.
Avery Bradley (39.0 percent from three last season) looks like an upgrade in that regard. The additions of Langston Galloway and rookie Luke Kennard, along with a potential leap forward for Stanley Johnson, could improve the Pistons' perimeter potency.
But if head coach and team president Stan Van Gundy still isn't sold on Jackson and Drummond together, none of these changes will do much to move the needle in the right direction.
Golden State Warriors: When the Run Will End
The Golden State Warriors have once again had the Midas touch this summer.
They locked Stephen Curry into a five-year deal lickety split. They got Kevin Durant to return at a significant discount, thereby enabling them to pay Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston handsomely. They brought back Zaza Pachulia and David West, added two capable shooters (Nick Young and Omri Casspi) on the wing and snagged Jordan Bell's draft rights for cash.
All told, there were no failures in Golden State this July aside from failing to fall off.
The Warriors will eventually have some thorny issues to sort through. Durant can opt out again next summer. Klay Thompson will be a free agent in 2019. The price of keeping this team together will shoot into the stratosphere without some significant reshuffling in the next few years.
But those are all concerns to be pondered now and addressed more concretely later. In the meantime, the Dubs have every reason to bask in their championship glow ahead of what figures to be a dominant title defense in 2017-18.
Houston Rockets: The Final Leg of Their Big 3
The Houston Rockets figure to be better next season with Chris Paul joining James Harden to form a star-studded backcourt. But as impressive a job as general manager Daryl Morey did to acquire another stud in exchange for cap filler, the gap between the Rockets and the Golden State Warriors remains expansive.
It's no wonder, then, that the Rockets were knee-deep in talks to acquire Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks, according to multiple reports. Nor is it any mystery as to why no such trade has been executed. Houston already unloaded most of its attractive assets to the Los Angeles Clippers for Paul and can't seem to find any takers for Ryan Anderson and the more than $61 million left on his deal.
According to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, Anthony still has his sights set on Space City, though that does nothing to change how much the Rockets' chip stack has shrunk.
Instead, the team may be left with a two-headed hydra of players with similar skill sets and divergent styles. That could be enough to compete for a spot in the Western Conference Finals, but without that third wheel—or a lockdown defense, for that matter—Houston could have more than a few problems hanging with the defending champs head-to-head.
Indiana Pacers: A Better Return for Paul George
All things considered, the Indiana Pacers had an intriguing summer, to say the least. With Paul George off to Oklahoma City, Jeff Teague joining the Timberwolves and Monta Ellis straddling the waiver wire, the Pacers are now poised to build around the budding talents of Myles Turner for the foreseeable future.
Still, the question remains: Was a package of Victor Oladipo (and the $84 million he's owed) and Domantas Sabonis the best Indy could get in return for its franchise star?
At this point, that's difficult to say. For a moment, forget whatever reported offers there might've been for George at the trade deadline, when Larry Bird was in charge and Kevin Pritchard was his underling. And for the sake of this exercise, let's leave out the Boston Celtics, who seemed more focused on snagging Gordon Hayward to begin with.
Given those circumstances, the Pacers' only other option may have been to strike a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers—and according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, they almost did. Chances are, that trade wouldn't have landed Kevin Love in Indianapolis, but rather redirected him to Denver and sent a package featuring Gary Harris to the Pacers.
Would that have been a superior return? Only those who were on the phone at that time—and those who were privy to the exact details of the conversation—will ever know.
Los Angeles Clippers: A Bona Fide Shooting Guard
For the Los Angeles Clippers, there's no getting around the pain they're likely to endure as they head into the post-Chris Paul era. But at least they won't be short on point guards, what with Patrick Beverley coming over from Houston, Milos Teodosic making the leap from Europe, Austin Rivers still on the roster and rookie Jawun Evans joining the equation in some capacity.
To an extent, the Clippers may have a tougher time replacing JJ Redick. As Redick revealed during his free-agency documentary for UNINTERRUPTED, L.A.'s brass informed him before July 1 that the team would not make him an offer.
Since then, the Clippers have added wing-forwards (Danilo Gallinari, Jamil Wilson) and bigs (Willie Reed) to their new group, but they have yet to land a true shooting guard.
Having someone who fits that position cleanly might not matter as much given Doc Rivers' vision of a more versatile squad that moves the ball with greater pace and frequency. Then again, it couldn't hurt to save a spot for, say, Arron Afflalo, a solid veteran who's a career 38.6 percent shooter from three and happens to hail from Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Lakers: An On-Court Mentor for Lonzo Ball
Among the many takeaways from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's introductory press conference with the Los Angeles Lakers was Magic Johnson's desire to add a veteran point guard to the roster.
"We are hoping in the next week, week-and-a-half to get that done," Johnson said, per Sports Out West's Bob Garcia.
Since then, the Lakers met with Derrick Rose, per ESPN's Chris Haynes and Ramona Shelburne, and Ian Clark, per Mark Medina of the Orange County Register. However, neither seems like a natural fit, be it next to or behind rookie sensation Lonzo Ball. Rose has never been a great passer or defender, though he could stand to pass on some of his scoring tricks to the 19-year-old. Clark is more of a shooting guard than a floor general, albeit one with both championship experience and a rapport with Lakers head coach Luke Walton.
In truth, the Purple and Gold may have to prioritize cultural fit over basketball fit rather than risk poisoning their young club's well—especially after taking great pains to clean house this summer.
Memphis Grizzlies: Their Future at Power Forward
The era of Grit-N-Grind is all but over now that Zach Randolph is in Sacramento and Tony Allen remains in free-agent limbo.
Positionally speaking, Z-Bo's departure shouldn't leave the Memphis Grizzlies in that tough of a spot. After all, JaMychal Green, who started 75 games at power forward last season, is a restricted free agent.
And yet, Green remains without a new deal.
"Green's agent, Michael Hodges, and the Memphis Grizzlies haven't had much success in their contract talks, and sign-and-trade possibilities have been broached," according to The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears. "The Grizzlies have basically challenged Green to land an offer sheet to keep from bidding against themselves.
That's a prudent approach, especially for a front office that showered a hobbled Chandler Parsons with a $94 million deal last summer. Still, given the Grizzlies' lack of cap flexibility and need for shooting all over the floor, it would make sense for Memphis to eventually come to terms with Green, a 27-year-old coming off a season in which he shot 37.9 percent from three-point range on 145 attempts.
Miami Heat: The Need for Another Established Star
After striking out in the Gordon Hayward sweepstakes, the Miami Heat could've prioritized keeping their powder dry for next summer, when the free-agent market figures to be flooded with franchise-changing superstars. Instead, they doled out lengthy deals to Dion Waiters (four years, $52 million), James Johnson (four years, $60 million) and Kelly Olynyk (four years, $50 million).
All of these deals are defensible. Waiters and Johnson were both key to Miami's 30-11 second-half run in 2016-17, while Olynyk's shooting ability (36.8 percent from three for his career) makes him a strong complement to franchise cornerstone Hassan Whiteside.
But with those role players on the books, the Heat will be hard-pressed to make a major splash next July, when LeBron James, Chris Paul, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and Dwyane Wade will be among those seeking new contracts.
Maybe Miami has a hunch that there's another star lurking among the group around Whiteside and Goran Dragic. Perhaps Justise Winslow bounces back from shoulder surgery to be a two-way force. Bam Adebayo, the No. 14 pick in this year's draft, could be something special. Waiters (25), Tyler Johnson (25) and Josh Richardson (23) should still be on the upswing in their respective careers.
If one of those players pops, the Heat could be in business. If not, they could be stuck in the East's muddled middle for years to come.
Milwaukee Bucks: A Bona Fide Starting Point Guard
The Milwaukee Bucks might not need a true point guard beyond what Matthew Dellavedova provides. Giannis Antetokounmpo, just shy of 7'0", has evolved into a point-forward. Malcolm Brogdon, the reigning Rookie of the Year, flashed keen court awareness while dropping 4.2 dimes per game during his debut campaign.
But if the Bucks were truly set at that spot, would they have pursued Derrick Rose in free agency, as Haynes reported?
Milwaukee's offense could certainly use the pop provided by a dedicated creator at the point. The team ranked 13th in offensive efficiency, despite finishing fifth in assist percentage and third in assist ratio.
As much as Antetokounmpo and Brogdon can do to initiate the offense, each might be better deployed—along with Khris Middleton and a recovering Jabari Parker—off the ball. That way, the Greek Freak's slashing and Brogdon's shooting (40.4 percent from three last season) can bolster the Bucks' scoring output more often and to a greater degree.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Shooting, Shooting and More Shooting
One thing about the Minnesota Timberwolves is clear: They will not be a fun team to play against. With Tom Thibodeau at the helm and Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson conveying his physical directives to the court, the Wolves are shaping up to be every opponent's worst nightmare.
But Minnesota may have a tough time competing with the West's best if the team's stockpile of shooters remains as thin as it currently is.
Jimmy Butler (33.7 percent from three for his career) and Jeff Teague (35.5 percent) are both passable from three-point range, but neither is enough of a marksman to scare opposing defenses. The same goes for Jamal Crawford (35.0 percent), whose notorious hot streaks come fewer and farther between at age 37.
At present, Karl-Anthony Towns (36.1 percent from three in two pro seasons) might be the Wolves' most lethal outside threat. But planting him on the perimeter would hardly be the best use of his superior interior talents.
Then again, if Minny can't fill any of its remaining roster spots with bona fide floor-spacers, its star-bound tandem of Towns and Andrew Wiggins will have a tough time finding any room to operate inside the arc.
New Orleans Pelicans: Space for the Bigs
The cap-strapped New Orleans Pelicans head into the NBA's quiet(er) period with almost as little perimeter help for Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins as they did prior to free agency.
That is, unless Rajon Rondo's last two seasons of outside shooting (37.0 percent from three) have truly changed the calculus for opposing defenses.
Granted, Rondo's role in the Big Easy will be about more than just spacing the floor. He and Jrue Holiday, who just received a new five-year, $126 million deal, will be tasked with feeding the Pelicans' All-Star bigs with quick setups and crisp entry passes. To that end, Rondo, a three-time assist champ, could be a big help.
"He's very smart," Davis told Pelicans.com's Jim Eichenhofer. "He knows when to get guys involved, when to get guys shots. He reads defenses very well. His basketball IQ is definitely at another level. Some of the things he does, you can't teach. He does a great job of knowing when to pass, when to take a shot, when to throw a pocket pass on a pick-and-roll, how to hold off defenders. I'm just glad we can add him to our team."
New Orleans will need Rondo to create opportunities within tight windows, lest Solomon Hill (a career 33.6 percent three-point shooter) morph into a blaze of glory beyond the arc, Frank Jackson own that range as a rookie and/or Quincy Pondexter return with a vengeance from his two-year absence.
New York Knicks: A New Home for Carmelo Anthony
Another summer, another round of turnover and turmoil for the New York Knicks.
Phil Jackson is out, Scott Perry is in, Tim Hardaway Jr. is back and Carmelo Anthony...is still a Knick, for now.
According to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, Anthony, who has a no-trade clause, is "focused on getting a deal done with Houston," where he would team with James Harden and Banana Boat buddy Chris Paul. The Rockets, though, don't have the assets to snag him from New York, and they can't seem to find anyone willing to exchange chips for Ryan Anderson.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, on the other hand, are also on 'Melo's shortlist and have one major piece they could move: Kyrie Irving. The All-Star point guard has reportedly requested a trade, as he wants to take charge of a team away from LeBron James now and beat a path out of town before James (presumably) bounces later.
The Cavs would likely demand more than just Anthony in any deal for Irving. But if the Knicks can escape their untenable situation with a young All-Star talent at point guard in return, they could be sitting pretty going forward. A tandem of Irving (25) and Kristaps Porzingis (21) would form a phenomenal foundation for the future in the Big Apple.
Then again, this being the Knicks, hold your breath for the best possible outcome only if you're prepared to turn blue in the face.
Oklahoma City Thunder: A Guarantee Going Forward
Perhaps no NBA team did more this summer to advance its cause for the 2017-18 season than the Oklahoma City Thunder. Thanks to general manager Sam Presti's machinations, Russell Westbrook will once again be surrounded by an All-Star scoring wing (Paul George), a power forward who can stretch the floor (Patrick Patterson), a veteran backup point guard (Raymond Felton) and a supporting cast that can rebound, defend and play a physical brand of basketball.
Beyond this coming campaign, though, there is no sure thing in OKC. George will almost surely opt out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Westbrook could join him if he doesn't ink an extension this summer that, per the Oklahoman's Erik Horne, will net him an NBA-record $235 million over the next six seasons.
Westbrook has yet to turn down that offer and may well take it before the season starts. Remember, he didn't sign last summer's extension until August.
Until Westbrook commits, the Thunder can't rest easy. Even if Russ stays, OKC will be on edge about the possibility that George, a Southern California native, heads further west next July, just as Kevin Durant did last year.
Orlando Magic: A Real Direction
The Orlando Magic have done well to get the top of their house in order this summer. They replaced former general manager Rob Hennigan with a pair of more seasoned executives in president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond.
The deck that those two have at their disposal, though, is as disheveled as ever. There is talent in Central Florida—and just about all of it is well under the age of 30—but good luck finding a coherent identity for this smorgasbord.
Bismack Biyombo's $17-million-per-year deal looks worse today than it did when he signed it. Evan Fournier is making the same, but at least he can shoot (37.9 percent from three for his career). Nikola Vucevic is both a double-double machine and an unmovable commodity in today's NBA.
At this point, the Magic's best bet for salvation is to hope Elfrid Payton Jr. can parlay a productive post-All-Star run (13.5 points, 8.4 assists, 7.0 rebounds) into a breakout campaign and that someone from among the amorphous bunch of Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja and incoming rookie Jonathan Isaac emerges as a bona fide cornerstone.
Otherwise, it won't much matter who's arranging Orlando's deck chairs, let alone how they're being arranged.
Philadelphia 76ers: Better Health
If not for injuries, The Process might've made more progress towards on-court success by now.
Joel Embiid has played 31 total games in three seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers. Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick in 2016, missed all of his rookie year after suffering a Jones fracture during training camp last year. Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 pick in 2017, could hobble into his rookie campaign after spraining his ankle in the Sixers' first Las Vegas Summer League outing.
There isn't much more Philly could've done this offseason to offset those concerns going forward. JJ Redick and Amir Johnson, the team's top free-agent signings this year, are both coming off at least three years of relatively clean health.
If the kids can stay on the court this season, the Sixers have the talent to start making their mark in the East after a half-decade of tearing down and building back up.
Phoenix Suns: Sorting Out the Backcourt
The Phoenix Suns' roster is stocked with, essentially, two separate backcourts.
One (Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight) is prime-aged, well-paid and oft-injured. The other (Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis) is young, hungry and hustling.
At some point, the Suns may have to choose between the two. With other fresh faces like Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and rookie Josh Jackson taking over the roster, betting big on youth might be Phoenix's best option—if not its only one.
Suns owner Robert Sarver seems to be clear-eyed about that.
"They're not going to win a championship at 19, 20 or 21 years old but I think we can lay a foundation and I'm willing to sacrifice the losses and do whatever we have to," Sarver told AZCentral Sports' Scott Bordow. "I hope fans and our community want to embrace that and grow with our younger players and join us on the journey."
A journey that, eventually, figures to feature an adjusted group of guards.
Portland Trail Blazers: Change Hearts, Minds and Cap Sheets
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have flirted with the "T" word while publicly courting Carmelo Anthony. The Trail Blazers' young backcourt made its case to Anthony, who appears willing to waive his no-trade clause only for trades to Houston or Cleveland.
"I think he's interested," McCollum said, per USA Today's Kevin Spain.
If 'Melo's mind were to open up to Rip City, the Blazers might be able to hit two birds with one stone. To acquire Anthony from the New York Knicks, Portland could offload some of the young players it signed to lucrative contracts last summer.
That's all a pipedream until Anthony adds PDX to his list of acceptable destination. In the meantime, the Blazers' best bet is to hope at least one of its other youngsters pops and Jusuf Nurkic bounces back healthy. Building piece by piece is slow, but for Portland, there might not be another way.
Sacramento Kings: Screw Up Again
For the first time in a long time, the Sacramento Kings' summer has made sense.
No head-scratching signings. No dead money. No picks sacrificed for mid-tier free agents.
Just savvy veterans to lead a youth movement in California's capital. George Hill for the guards, Vince Carter for the wings, Zach Randolph for the bigs. They'll be tasked with tutoring the likes of De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere—and hopefully turning them into big-time contributors.
Time will tell if this latest plan pans out. But compared to the pitfalls of the recent past, the Kings look like they're finally rebuilding the right way: slowly but surely.
San Antonio Spurs: Make a Bigger Dent Out West
Even after a relatively quiet summer, the San Antonio Spurs have at least 25 reasons to believe they can compete with the Golden State Warriors. That's how big their lead was in Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Finals before Kawhi Leonard's foot and ankle found Zaza Pachulia's.
Still, the rest of the West has beefed up, with the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder each adding at least one star. The Spurs, meanwhile, brought back everyone except Jonathon Simmons and Dewayne Dedmon, added Rudy Gay coming off an Achilles tear and didn't do much to beef up at point guard, where a 35-year-old Tony Parker continues his recover from a gruesome quad injury.
San Antonio, though, might not be done maneuvering yet. According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Kyrie Irving has the Alamo City pegged as his preferred trade destination. If the Spurs can somehow swing a swap for the four-time All-Star, they'll be well-heeled in Warriors tormentors—including Leonard—for the next time they go toe-to-toe with Golden State.
Toronto Raptors: Meaningful Change
There's nothing inherently wrong with what the Toronto Raptors did this summer.
The core of a club that registered the franchise's first two 50-win seasons and its longest-yet playoff streak remains largely intact, despite the front office's best efforts to unload Jonas Valanciunas. The Raps re-signed Kyle Lowry, brought back Serge Ibaka, salary-dumped DeMarre Carroll and swapped Cory Joseph for CJ Miles.
The success has been more than enough to merit moving forward with largely the same look. But by virtue of its continuity, this group could run into all of the same issues next spring that have popped up in playoffs past. That's why head coach Dwane Casey wants DeMar DeRozan running some point next season: to ward off the stagnation that's gripped Toronto's offense at the worst possible times over the years.
"We got to have a better mentality of ball movement, man movement and spacing," Casey said during an appearance on The Andrew Walker Show on Sportsnet 590 The FAN, per Sportsnet's Bryan Meler.
Trying to get an established All-Star like DeRozan to totally change his game may not be the Raptors' most realistic path through the league's hierarchy. But there are enough intriguing youngsters north of the border now to think the team's next leap may come courtesy of someone else who's already on the roster.
Utah Jazz: Life After Gordon Hayward
The Utah Jazz didn't do much to address Gordon Hayward's absence roster-wise after he departed to Boston. They didn't get one of the Celtics' cheaper perimeter players in a sign-and-trade for Hayward to head east.
Instead, they signed a defensive specialist (Thabo Sefolosha) and a modestly used Scandinavian forward (Jonas Jerebko) on the wing. Those were the only additions of note in the weeks following Hayward's decision to bolt Salt Lake City.
In truth, Utah might've been smart not to splash as much at that spot. They already have three guard-forward types (Joe Johnson, Rodney Hood, Alec Burks) who can attack and score, especially if the latter two are healthy. And in rookie Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz may soon find that they've added another.
The odds of any of those guys single-handedly filling the hole left in Hayward's absence is slim. But the Jazz aren't without options, even if their offseason was short on towering additions.
Washington Wizards: The Bench
The Washington Wizards kept their starting five intact, but new deals for John Wall and Otto Porter Jr. won't address the team's biggest weakness from last season: its perpetually poor bench. The Wizards scored the second-fewest points from reserves fin the NBA during the 2016-17 season—27.0 per game, behind only the Minnesota Timberwolves (22.8).
Clearly, Washington can get by without a superb second unit. That top unit with Wall, Porter, Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat—along with spot contributions from Kelly Oubre Jr. and Bojan Bogdanovic—nearly nudged D.C. past the Boston Celtics and into the conference finals this past spring.
Bogdanovic, though, is in Indy now, leaving the Wizards short a sweet-shooting wing who caught fire after his trade over from Brooklyn (before back problems curtailed him down the stretch). This team will have to hope for another level of development from Wall, Beal and Porter, lest it look to, say, Ian Mahinmi and Tim Frazier to be the change Washington needs to compete for a spot in the Association's Final Four.