1 Way Every Team Can Improve During 2017-18 NBA Season

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 6, 2017

1 Way Every Team Can Improve During 2017-18 NBA Season

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    Look, we just want to help. 

    We want to facilitate the growth of championship contenders and playoff hopefuls seeking to be more competitive from the get-go. We want to help move along the long-term rebuilds upon which some of the NBA's less competitive squads are set to embark. 

    And we're going to do so by providing a bit of advice to each of the league's 30 franchises. 

    For some, the focus rests on external moves—trades or free-agent signings that could help improve the current rotation. Others need to home in on internal decisions, whether they're giving younger players more minutes or making abstract, strategic shifts. 

    But if any team thinks it's entering the 2017-18 season in perfect fashion, it's in for a rude awakening.

Atlanta Hawks: Trade Away Veterans

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    "We are going to be competitive," Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk explained at the team's media day, per Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

    "When you look at the guys we signed this year in free agency, those are guys that show up and play hard every night. We are laying the foundation for the future of the Atlanta Hawks, and that is to play the right way, to play hard and to give it everything you've got every single night."

    All of the Hawks' players should play hard. But only the right ones should be playing in the first place. 

    Marco Belinelli and Miles Plumlee, who were acquired in the offseason deal that moved Dwight Howard to the Charlotte Hornets? Trade them if you can. Ersan Ilyasova? See if you can expand his resume to include a sixth team in the last three years. Kent Bazemore? He's more questionable, but his bloated salary makes him a candidate to move, as well. 

    Atlanta doesn't need to show any sort of loyalty to the veterans right now. It instead needs to lean into the rebuild and foster the growth of its talented youngsters. Moving wings clears up extra playing time for Taurean Prince and DeAndre' Bembry, while Ilyasova's departure would thrust more immediate responsibility onto John Collins' dunk-happy shoulders. 

    Committing to a full-scale rebuild wouldn't help the Hawks be better in 2017-18, but it would improve the franchise's long-term fortunes. 

Boston Celtics: Look at a Free Agent for Rebounding

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    The Boston Celtics still haven't fixed their biggest problem from last season: rebounding. 

    After finishing Nos. 24 and 27 in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, respectively, during the 2016-17 campaign, the Celtics' massive roster overhaul might actually have things trending in the wrong direction. Though they brought in plenty of talent through a series of free-agent signings and marquee trades, the outgoing players are largely better board-crashers than the incoming contributors. 

    This is already a crowded roster, but demoting one of the many fringe youngsters to the G League's Maine Red Claws and looking at a minimum signing of a veteran still bouncing around the free-agency pool could go a long way. Just imagine if the Celtics had access to someone like David Lee or Jared Sullinger—reunion time?—to use as a situational rebounder when they really needed to stop giving up second-chance opportunities. 

    The list of available players has dwindled drastically over the summer, but it's not entirely devoid of talent. 

    Lee is coming off a solid campaign with the San Antonio Spurs, one in which he averaged double-digit rebounds per 36 minutes for the fifth consecutive season. A 25-year-old Sullinger, meanwhile, has struggled with injuries and playing time in recent years but remains a tough player who specializes in cleaning the glass, just as he has throughout his professional career. 

    Options are still out there, and they might be for a while longer. 

Brooklyn Nets: Let Jarrett Allen Play

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    Though the Brooklyn Nets still owe their first-round pick to the Boston Celtics, who must then convey it to the Cleveland Cavaliers as recompense for the Kyrie Irving deal, they aren't devoid of selections in the star-studded 2018 prospect pageant. They have an incoming choice courtesy of the Toronto Raptors, and it's only protected for the lottery. 

    The Raptors are just about guaranteed to be a playoff team once again, which means the Nets are likely looking at a pick in the 20s. Why is this notable? Because center could still be a weakness and force them to double-down on draft night if they don't first see what they have in Jarrett Allen. 

    The Texas product remains a raw prospect who won't contribute much offensively and struggles to defend in space. But he also fits into the Marcus Camby mold, where he can use his physicality and surprising amount of finesse to finish offensive plays while stifling sets around the tin. He won't immediately be superior to Timofey Mozgov, who remains a better center than perception will allow because of his bloated contract, but he can show off flashes of potential. 

    It's that potential that will help improve the Nets by allowing them to focus their resources on other areas. And if he does look totally overmatched, then doubling down at center would be shoring up a troubling area and developing depth at the position. 

Charlotte Hornets: Sign Brandon Jennings When He's Eligible

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    The Charlotte Hornets still haven't fixed their point guard situation. 

    Acquiring Michael Carter-Williams puts a more credible name on the depth chart, but he's not what the team needs. A defensive specialist at this point in his downward-trending NBA career, he can't replicate the offensive production of Kemba Walker when the starting floor general needs a breather. He can't even come close, in fact. 

    This could work for a little while. Just having a competent body behind Walker should alleviate some of the concerns that stemmed from last year's carousel (Briante Weber, Ramon Sessions and Brian Roberts). But the Hornets need offense after throwing up just 103.3 points per 100 possessions without the starting 1 in 2016-17. 

    Enter a potential midseason addition by the name of Brandon Jennings

    The southpaw will start the year suiting up for the Shanxi Brave Dragons in the Chinese Basketball Association, but he's looking to use that as an opportunity to gain some momentum for an NBA return. Whether through a buyout or as a late-season signing once the Chinese campaign ends, Jennings could provide an immediate infusion of scoring off the Charlotte bench for the stretch run/playoff push/postseason adventure in the weak Eastern Conference. 

Chicago Bulls: Be Patient with Kris Dunn

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    Kris Dunn is coming off a rookie season in which he averaged just 3.8 points per game while shooting 37.7 percent from the field, 28.8 percent from downtown and 61.0 percent at the stripe. He struggled during his only game at Las Vegas Summer League and then showed some signs of growth with a 5-of-8 performance in his preseason debut for the Chicago Bulls. 

    If you're skeptical, that's understandable. 

    But lest we forget, Dunn was the No. 5 pick of the 2016 NBA draft and then was chosen by 46.7 percent of the league's general managers as the favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Though he didn't back them up, that's still an indication of just how much talent is laying dormant in the 23-year-old's 6'4" frame. 

    He still has more upside than Jerian Grant, who has now floundered for two seasons with two different teams. Cameron Payne, whenever he's healthy again, doesn't look particularly promising. Dunn should be the favorite to remain the starting point guard, and the Bulls have to stay patient here. 

    Work through the growing pains and focus on his strong defense at the 1. The shooting stroke may come around with enough work, and that development would significantly aid this new rebuild. 

Cleveland Cavaliers: Convince Dwyane Wade to Be a Super-Sub

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    "I'm not going to sit here and get into a 'blank' measuring contest with Dwyane Wade," J.R. Smith said about the burgeoning competition between himself and Dwyane Wade to serve as the Cleveland Cavaliers' starting shooting guard, per Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon. "I'm not going to win that. I'm not going to do that. I'm going to continue to work hard for our team and however they choose to do it, that's who it's going to be."

    Wade will probably win that battle, just through the force of his reputation and accompanying star power. But he shouldn't. 

    So long as he's willing to sacrifice his pride and accept a sixth-man role, he could make the Cavs that much better. Starting is just a perception thing anyway, since it's far more important to be on the floor for crunch-time minutes in tight games. 

    Cleveland needs a steady force off the pine, and Wade could serve as a stabilizing figure for a group that will likely include Derrick Rose (when Isaiah Thomas is healthy), Kyle Korver, Tristan Thompson and other more limited figures. Meanwhile, LeBron James should be playing with as many shooters as possible, and Smith still fits the billing far better than the four-time MVP's close friend. 

    This would be a controversial decision, but fit matters. Surrounding James with floor-spacing options while giving the second unit a dynamic creator and opportunistic wing defender could help push Cleveland back to the top of the Eastern Conference. 

Dallas Mavericks: Maintain Frontcourt Status Quo

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    The Dallas Mavericks are going into the season with Harrison Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki at the two biggest lineup slots, while Nerlens Noel is pegged as a super-sub after agreeing to come back on the qualifying offer. 

    "For the moment, Noel is slated to be the backup center behind Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki will miss games this season, [head coach Rick] Carlisle said. He's going to be rested periodically, and it'll be rare (if at all) when he plays back-to-back games," Eddie Sefko reported for the Dallas Morning News. "Carlisle said Noel was OK with being a sixth man."

    He should be. It's the role that makes the most sense for everyone. 

    Noel and Nowitzki will still play together (they posted a 7.1 net rating together last season), but nothing is more important than keeping Barnes at the 4. Whether he's playing alongside Nowitzki or the more natural center, he's that much better when guarding forwards in the post and dragging them outside the paint with his versatile offensive game. 

    Developing a back-to-the-basket attack is the next step in Barnes' development, but he's already a matchup nightmare with his shooting and ability to create his own offense. Power forwards don't typically have the foot speed or lateral quickness necessary to keep up with him, yet he also has the strength necessary to bang around with them on defense in the post. 

    Nowitzki's injuries last year helped the Mavericks luck into this discovery, as their marquee signing was forced to spend a career-high 60 percent of his minutes at the 4 out of necessity. Now, they can't deviate from the plan, even when it forces them to bring a talented player off the pine. 

Denver Nuggets: Trade Kenneth Faried for a Wing

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    This would've remained true even if Kenneth Faried had enjoyed a happy-go-lucky media day and affirmed his commitment to the Denver Nuggets by displaying a willingness to come off the bench and serve as a devastating energy guy capable of maximizing his athleticism in shorter stretches. But he didn't, instead telling the world the following, per the Denver Post's Mark Kiszla:

    “There are 29 other teams. If this team doesn't want, or respect me enough, to play me the minutes that I think I deserve to play, then I understand that. Hey, there's 29 others. Maybe I'll go somewhere else and do what I need to do there. But at the same token, I'm here in Denver, and I want to play Manimal basketball, no matter what, every time I step on that court."

    That's not exactly a great message. 

    Moving Faried's oversized contract might be tough, but the Nuggets could take on a similar one by shopping him for someone like Kent Bazemore. Maybe the Atlanta Hawks would bite, wanting to clear up minutes on the wings for some of their young players while getting rid of a pact that runs one year longer. 

    Whether Faried is moved for Bazemore or a lesser wing, the Nuggets have to clear up the logjam to which he's contributing. He, Paul Millsap (the source of his declining minutes), Trey Lyles, Tyler Lydon, Darrell Arthur and Juancho Hernangomez are all natural power forwards, while Wilson Chandler is more than capable of playing at the 4. Chandler, however, may be the team's only traditional small forward. 

    See a problem?

Detroit Pistons: Give Luke Kennard Minutes

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    Even as the Detroit Pistons deviate from the four-out, one-in stylings of the past, they need shooters. They're coming off a year in which they ranked No. 28 in three-point percentage and took more shots per game from beyond the arc than just four other teams.

    Avery Bradley's presence will help, but the Pistons also shouldn't hesitate to let Luke Kennard get minutes from the start. 

    The No. 12 pick of the 2017 NBA draft thrived as an offensive weapon throughout his final go-round with the Duke Blue Devils, and he strutted his stuff in summer league, as well. Though success in exhibition season doesn't always carry over to games that count, it's still notable that he hit 46.5 percent of his field-goal attempts and 47.8 percent of his triples while taking 4.6 attempts per game from beyond the rainbow. 

    Kennard has the bouncy athleticism necessary to serve as a cutting option and competent defender, and his shooting stroke is sorely needed. If he's the backup 2 or plays small forward in small-ball lineups, he'll help space out the court around the paint-bound bigs and elevate Detroit's ceiling. 

    The Pistons aren't locks to make the playoffs, despite the relative putridity of the Eastern Conference. They have to make the right moves, and this would be one. 

Golden State Warriors: Give Jordan Bell and Patrick McCaw Time

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    Regular-season wins don't matter for the Golden State Warriors. 

    Even if they sacrifice a few victories to focus on long-term developments, the short-term costs will likely include nothing more than a lower winning percentage. There's no conceivable scenario in which they drop out of the Western Conference's top four, since only the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder—maybe the San Antonio Spurs, as well—seem like serious challengers. They're basically guaranteed home-court advantage during the first round of the playoffs. 

    So just go ahead and play Patrick McCaw and Jordan Bell. 

    The former has already suited up during crucial postseason minutes and held his own as a two-way asset. The latter shined during summer league and has the talent necessary to become one of the biggest draft-day steals in recent memory. 

    What if McCaw develops into a mirror image of Andre Iguodala and is capable of filling an even larger role when the need arises? What if Bell becomes Draymond Green 2.0 and can be used in key defensive situations that highlight his switchiness? 

    These aren't outlandish possibilities. They're fairly realistic scenarios that could somehow make the prohibitive favorites into an even stronger unit. 

Houston Rockets: Accept Ryan Anderson's Contract

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    "This was a thing this whole summer I tried to steer clear of. We didn't want to get traded.We love it here," Ryan Anderson said about the never-ending trade rumors that centered around him and his massive contract throughout the hottest months of the year, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle

    But now, the Houston Rockets should stop trying to shop him. That's the best thing they can do to keep moving up the Western pecking order and emerge as a true threat to end the Golden State Warriors' reign of in-conference dominance. 

    Anderson's contract (three seasons remaining on a four-year, $80 million deal) is indeed a bit bloated, but his skill set is perfect for this team. It worked well enough last year, but his spot-up shooting will look even deadlier with both Chris Paul and James Harden feeding him the ball. His defensive inadequacies will also be even more palatable after an infusion of more defense from incoming forwards (P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute) and potential interior improvements from the blossoming Clint Capela. 

    Plus, Anderson is working on his own stopping ability. 

    "I want to be better defensively. I want to be better about communicating on the floor," he recently said, per  Feigen. "These are the things I'm going to focus on. Shots are going to come and go. Shooting a three-pointer isn't necessarily something I have to work on much more."

    Houston needs to build his confidence back up, acknowledging that he's a strong fit for the current schemes and then acting accordingly. 

Indiana Pacers: Trade Thaddeus Young

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    It's not T.J. Leaf time yet. But it should be. 

    This rookie out of UCLA—not exactly as well-known as the other one who fits that description—excelled in summer league and held up nicely during his first preseason outing. He might undergo the typical struggles that befall first-year players, but he's in no way out of his depth. Not with his explosive athleticism and ability to stroke the basketball. 

    Fran Blinebury of NBA.com even listed Leaf as one of Orlando Summer League's 10 biggest standouts:

    "The 18th pick in the draft showed that he can knock down the shot to be an effective stretch-4 in the NBA. He averaged 15.5 points and 7.5 rebounds before a third game in three days caught up and produced a bit of fatigue. If center Myles Turner is the new foundation of the new-look Pacers, then turning things over with this new Leaf should space the floor and provide help."

    Last year, Leaf (188.57) also finished behind only three other freshmen in NBA Math's total points added: teammate Lonzo Ball (285.83), Josh Jackson (207.91) and Bam Adebayo (202.32). He trailed only Ball on his own team, and watching the Bruins showed just how important he was to their success. The eye test confirmed the numbers.

    But the path to playing time is blocked by a certain veteran who won't be around when this team is done rebuilding and ready to compete for prominence in the Eastern Conference. Trading Thaddeus Young would change that, and it could also bring back some solid draft-day compensation. 

Los Angeles Clippers: Force Doc Rivers to Stagger Minutes

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    Asking the Los Angeles Clippers to give significant run to Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans—two tremendously underrated incoming rookies—is tempting. But after a fantastic offseason, this team has enough depth to make that far less of a concern. 

    Instead, the Clippers need head coach Doc Rivers to finally start staggering his rotations. This has been a well-documented problem for years, since he's stubbornly refused to deviate from his traditional pattern of wholesale changes between the starters and bench players while rarely mixing the two groups together. 

    If you want more on this issue, I'd highly recommend reading this tremendous article from Clips Nation's Erik Olsgaard. Then play around with Alex Wainger's visual representation of NBA teams' substitution patters, and you'll quickly see how jarringly unstaggered the Clippers' choices have been for years. 

    This is more important than ever now. 

    Danilo Gallinari will be the team's starting small forward, but he's best at power forward now, where he can use his skill to dazzle defenders without worrying about his declining foot speed on the stopping side. That can't happen unless Rivers staggers him and Blake Griffin. Ditto for the many talented guards, since Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Austin Rivers, Lou Williams and the aforementioned rookies should all get run in mix-and-match fashion. 

    If Rivers can't deviate from his old habits, he'll limit Los Angeles' potential in a big way. 

Los Angeles Lakers: Start Larry Nance Jr.

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    Kyle Kuzma is already forcing us to question this decision with his unabashed dominance at summer league and in preseason action, but the Los Angeles Lakers can't roll with too much youth from the get-go. He'll still play plenty of minutes with the second unit, but the battle to start at power forward should be between Larry Nance Jr. and Julius Randle. 

    Randle may be the better player, and not just because he's recorded a few triple-doubles during his young career. That doesn't make him the better fit. 

    The Lakers need someone who can finish plays on the interior and play quality defense at power forward, and Nance fills both those roles. He isn't going to take too many touches away from Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram and Brook Lopez, but will instead thrive as a roll man and finisher on the interior while devoting most of his energy to preventing work. 

    During the 2016-17 campaign, this former Wyoming standout knocked down 70 percent of his attempts from within three feet while converting 47.8 percent of his tries from between three and 10 feet. He also sat at No. 11 in ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus at his position. 

    Until Randle can match those numbers, he's a better fit as a second-unit spark. 

Memphis Grizzlies: Trade for Another Shooter

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    Stop me if you've heard this before, but the Memphis Grizzlies still need more shooting. 

    Right now, they're too dependent on Chandler Parsons staying healthy and the pick-and-roll combination of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Tyreke Evans and Wayne Selden are limited spacers, while JaMychal Green hasn't yet shown a consistent ability to drag his defender out of the painted area with the threat of on-target jumpers. 

    Memphis doesn't have too many assets it can trade, of course. Perhaps Andrew Harrison or Wade Baldwin IV could end up on the block, or they could look into dealing one of their low-level rookies. The Stepien Rule prevents them from trading another first-round pick until 2021, but they do have a boatload of second-round selections with which they could work. 

    But the Grizzlies don't need to be targeting stars, so they can get away with a more limited offer. Going after someone like Marco Belinelli makes plenty of sense, since a rebuilding organization such as the Atlanta Hawks might be happy to part with a veteran for a second-round pick. Failing that, they could turn to Jason Terry, Courtney Lee or some other option. 

    The point is, Memphis still needs more players capable of knocking down triples, especially as it moves away from the grit-and-grind era. 

Miami Heat: Don't Conform to Traditional Positions

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    Fortunately, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra should be amenable to this suggestion. He's never hesitated to get creative with his rotations, playing a brand of positionless basketball during the Big Three area that was ahead of its time. 

    Now, he'll get to experiment once again. 

    Miami doesn't have much top-end talent, but it does have plenty of contributors who need to log significant action. It's time for him to try big-ball stylings with Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo on the floor at the same time. He should roll with Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and James Johnson in a super-small-ball look. 

    The Heat must find creative ways to let all of their talents shine, especially because they have unorthodox players who don't need to adhere to traditional positional designations. James Johnson isn't exactly your normal forward, given his ball-handling and facilitating skill. Tyler Johnson is a combo guard who can defend multiple positions. The list goes on. 

    Avoiding functional fixedness is priority No. 1 in South Beach as the Heat look to build upon last year's second-half surge. 

Milwaukee Bucks: Keep Jabari Parker in a Sixth-Man Role When He's Healthy

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    Jabari Parker likely won't return from his ACL tear until February or later, but the Milwaukee Bucks will inevitably face temptation when he's back in the lineup. After all, he's a big name, was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft and scored 20.1 points per game as a starter before last season's injury.

    But they should still keep him as a sixth man. 

    By the time he returns, the starters will have built up a significant amount of chemistry. More importantly, the quintet comprised of Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thon Maker profiles as a matchup nightmare for the opposition. 

    Sure, Milwaukee could easily shift Middleton and Antetokounmpo down a slot apiece in the lineup so the Bucks can play Parker at the 4. But doing so leaves the bench in a pickle, devoid of ball-handling creators who can put up points in bunches. 

    Keep the starting five the same, and you surround the Greek Freak with plenty of shooters for the drive-and-kick game while opening up the floor for Greg Monroe and the second unit with Parker's dynamic play. It makes the most sense for everyone involved, so long as the Duke product is willing to accept a prestige downgrade and realize his importance off the pine. 

Minnesota Timberwolves: Let Jeff Teague Handle the Rock

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    The Minnesota Timberwolves' spacing concerns may not be as prominent as expected, since so many players excel in catch-and-shoot situations or can capably knock down mid-range attempts. But to facilitate those spot-up tries, they need to put the ball in the hands of a player who's actually willing to share. 

    Enter Jeff Teague. 

    This is likely a departure from how some of the 'Wolves want to run. Andrew Wiggins is used to posting astronomical usage rates, though that factors into his substandard shooting percentages and inability to elevate his team. Jimmy Butler was a primary ball-handler with the Chicago Bulls, while Karl-Anthony Towns was previously tasked with creating plenty of his own offense. 

    But they have to trust Teague. The speedy floor general is one of the NBA's most underrated distributors, capable of getting to his spots and then hitting teammates right in the shooting pocket. Though the Indiana Pacers shot just 46.5 percent form the field last year, that number rose to 50.6 percent after one of Teague's feeds.

    Other than Gorgui Dieng/Taj Gibson, Teague is the least glamorous option in Minnesota's starting five. He'll likely begin the season working off the ball more frequently than he should. 

    That will need to change.

New Orleans Pelicans: Trade for Wings Immediately

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    This one is easy in theory, but it's much more difficult to execute. 

    The New Orleans Pelicans are presumably fully aware they need to shore up the wing rotations, especially after losing Solomon Hill to a torn hamstring. Dante Cunningham will likely start at small forward alongside Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday, which leaves Tony Allen, Darius Miller, E'Twaun Moore, Ian Clark and Jordan Crawford as the remaining options. 

    First of all, that's not enough size. Second of all, that's not enough shooting to space out the floor around Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Third of all, that's not enough talent. 

    But how do the Pelicans remedy this?

    They'll have to get creative, since they don't have many movable assets who would lead to a solid return. And that means it's time to sell off some draft picks in a desperate attempt to acquire more capable wings who understand how to put the ball through the basket from at least 23 feet. 

    This needs to happen early in the season, since New Orleans can't afford to dillydally and risk breaking up its dynamic frontcourt duo. Lest we forget, Cousins is a restricted free agent after the 2017-18 campaign, and NOLA might have to shop him around at the trade deadline if it thinks there's a chance he could walk. 

New York Knicks: Kristaps. At. Center.

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    "I think it's better for us," Kristaps Porzingis said about playing power forward, per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. "Me at the 4, especially if I'm playing against a non-shooting 4, I can do a lot. When I'm playing against the 5, I'm fighting with the big a lot of times and I'm wasting a lot of energy. Obviously, offensively I have an advantage at center, but I'm just more comfortable playing at the 4."

    Though this isn't a new stance from the Latvian big man, it's not ideal. 

    Porzingis isn't objectively wrong if he's playing against a non-shooting power forward, but those are dying out in today's NBA. Banging against centers in the paint might deplete his energy, but his matchup advantages should negate that concern. The New York Knicks' roster might feature Enes Kanter, Joakim Noah, Willy Hernangomez and Kyle O'Quinn, but the best lineups still come with Porzingis at the 5. 

    He's already admitted that he has an offensive advantage at center, since bigger bodies have even more difficulty corralling him off the dribble or sticking with him on the perimeter. But it's even more important for him to remain on the defensive interior. 

    When Porzingis was stationed at the rim, opponents shot just 44.2 percent against him last year. He was one of just 19 players to suit up over 40 times and face at least seven shots per game in that situation, and only Draymond Green and Rudy Gobert were stingier among that group

    Why exactly would the Knicks want him moving away from that strength? 

Oklahoma City Thunder: Don't Deviate from Ideal Starting 5

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    Sometimes, sticking with the status quo can lead to substantial improvements. 

    The Oklahoma City Thunder will surely be tempted to switch up their presumptive starting five whenever they go through a brief spell of struggles. Patrick Patterson will look appealing at the 4, replacing Andre Roberson as Carmelo Anthony and Paul George each slide down a position. 

    They shouldn't do it. 

    Though growing paints may be necessary (as they are for every lineup), this OKC starting five looks like it'll mesh together rather nicely. Russell Westbrook is surrounded by spot-up shooters and roll men, while he and Anthony's defensive shortcomings are mitigated by the perimeter presence of Roberson and the interior excellence of Steven Adams. Every weakness is accounted for by another player's strength. 

    Isn't that what every starting five wants? 

    The Thunder had a near-perfect offseason, and they don't need any roster changes to continue their ascent up the Western Conference standings. Trusting the process, as a certain Eastern Conference organization likes to say, will work just fine. 

Orlando Magic: Trade Nikola Vucevic

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    The Orlando Magic need to shake up this roster. They've been stuck in the quicksand of a long-term rebuild for too long now without seeing substantial growth, which means it's time to sell off one of the key pieces and try a different approach. 

    Though Nikola Vucevic's defensive development was impressive throughout the 2016-17 season (he learned how to become a high-quality positional defender who could mitigate his lack of lateral mobility), he's about to be a 27-year-old center and no longer fits with the timeline. Add in his lack of three-point range in the modern NBA, and it's more clear the Magic could stand to go in a different direction. 

    To be clear, Orlando doesn't need to trade Vucevic specifically. He's still a quality piece and arguably the team's best player, though Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac will soon be coming for that crown. 

    But the top of the 2018 NBA draft is likely to be filled with plenty of promising centers, and the Magic could add more future pieces to their coffers by shipping Vucevic to a contending team in need of a scoring threat and capable defender off the pine.

    They don't have to get rid of him, but no one is more expendable and simultaneously capable of bringing back a substantial return.

Philadelphia 76ers: Play Richaun Holmes More

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    As Tim Stubbs broke down for NBA Math, Richaun Holmes might have relatively limited upside, but he's able to play both alongside Joel Embiid and as a replacement for the starting 5:

    "Holmes, in all likelihood, will never be a star, but Philadelphia has another gem on its hands, adding to a roster already littered with young talent. He may have to fight for playing time with Amir Johnson and Jahlil Okafor, but burying him in the depth chart would be a mistake by the coaching staff. As long as Embiid is healthy, Holmes should be the go-to big man off the bench.

    "The Sixers won’t be losing much, if any, production on both ends of the floor by vacillating between the two, and he’s insurance in the event the would-have-been Rookie of the Year gets hurt again. Plus, both players can share the floor together. Couple Embiid’s handles with Holmes’ outside shooting, and Philadelphia has a formidable big-man duo that will leave opponents struggling to match its versatility."

    Now, the Philadelphia 76ers need to test that theory. Holmes' improved shooting should make him a solid option alongside Embiid. But according to nbawowy.com, the two never shared the floor during the 2016-17 season. 

    It's time to change that. 

    This team has plenty of across-the-board talent, and the non-traditional nature of players such as Ben Simmons makes it easier for head coach Brett Brown to start experimenting. One of the trials needs to involve Holmes next to Embiid, since Philadelphia has to figure out a way to get this productive big on the court more frequently. 

Phoenix Suns: Move Tyson Chandler

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    Tyson Chandler is still a strong rebounder (14.9 boards per 36 minutes last year) and a devastating roll man whose 1.37 points per possession left him in the 95th percentile. But his defense is beginning to decline, and 2016-17 saw him post some of his worst metrics on that end of the floor while allowing opponents to shoot 53 percent when he was protecting the hoop. 

    And yet, that's not the reason the Phoenix Suns should be looking to trade him for the best possible draft picks. After all, Chandler should be healthier in 2017-18, and his defense should trend accordingly. 

    Phoenix's interest in moving him should stem from his age and role with the rebuilding organization.

    A 35-year-old center shouldn't be playing 27.6 minutes per game (his rate last year) for a squad trying to squeeze out production from youngsters. The timetables don't mesh, and his run comes at the expense of Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and Alex Len, all of whom are much more likely to be around when the desert-based franchise is ready to compete for a playoff berth. 

    Chandler is just expendable, which, in this case, isn't a condemnation of his on-court value. 

Portland Trail Blazers: Start Caleb Swanigan

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    "Caleb Swanigan belongs," NBCSNorthwest.com's Jason Quick recently tweeted. "Has no fear coming in and taking shots. Think it's safe to say the rookie will play and play a lot this season."

    Not only should he play a lot, but he should also move into the starting lineup. Like...as soon as possible. 

    Swanigan thrived as a double-double threat for the Purdue Boilermakers, working himself all the way into the first-round conversation before the Portland Trail Blazers took him at No. 26. Then he kept dominating throughout summer league, averaging 16.1 points and 10.6 rebounds in Las Vegas. 

    The trend should continue when games count. 

    Swanigan has enough range to keep his defenders off-balance, and he's a lot to handle on the interior. His playing style fits next to Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic better than that of Noah Vonleh or Zach Collins (at this stage, at least), and he should be rewarded accordingly if he continues to assert himself on the glass. 

    Don't be surprised when this new addition to the Rip City collection works his way into the All-Rookie conversation. 

Sacramento Kings: Test Dual-PG Lineups

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    The Sacramento Kings are embarking upon a difficult balancing act. 

    After an infusion of veterans this offseason, they can't always play the newcomers at the expense of the young contributors who need on-court time to perfect their crafts. That's not so concerning in the frontcourt, where positions are more interchangeable and the experienced members of the rotation shouldn't be playing hefty minutes. But it is at point guard. 

    George Hill is a legitimate stud coming off a year in which he averaged 31.5 minutes per game. He should still be pushing toward 30 per contest as a 31-year-old floor general, but that means the Kings have to figure out an alternative for De'Aaron Fox. After all, that would only leave 18 minutes per contest at the point, and Fox isn't the only other floor general in Sacramento. 

    Fortunately, an obvious solution exists: Play Fox and Hill together. 

    Both guards are 6'3" and should have the size necessary to play at the 2 for limited durations. These won't be full-time switches to the other backcourt position, so much as moves out of necessity that allow both to work their way onto the floor and learn how to complement one another while switching as needed on defense. 

    It's one of those good problems, if you will. 

San Antonio Spurs: Avoid Temptation to Start Anyone but Dejounte Murray at the 1

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    Let's allow Jeff McDonald to take over here, breaking down the San Antonio Spurs' point guard situation for the San Antonio Express-News

    "As the 35-year-old [Tony] Parker targets a November return from offseason surgery on a torn quadriceps tendon, the Spurs are due for at least a temporary changing of the point guard. In one corner, there is Murray, the 21-year-old wunderkind with heaps of athletic talent that represents the team's future at the position. In the other, there is Patty Mills, a 29-year-old veteran, established scorer and proven playoff performer who also happens to be a key member of the Spurs' potent bench unit. Together, they boast 28 career starts—or 1,102 fewer than the man they are vying to replace."

    I only want to take umbrage with a single word. 

    This shouldn't be a "temporary" change. 

    Tony Parker, especially coming off a serious injury and attempting to recover as a 35-year-old floor general, is just a shell of his old self. He was a significant liability on both ends for large swaths of the 2016-17 campaign and shouldn't be trusted in the starting role. Meanwhile, Patty Mills' sharpshooting habits are more valuable off the pine as he leads the second unit. 

    The Spurs need to hand Dejounte Murray the starting nod and then let him run with it all season. 

Toronto Raptors: More Minutes for Young Players

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    The Toronto Raptors need some upside in their quest to overcome the Eastern Conference bogeymen who plague them during the most important part of the NBA calendar. And they don't have to make any external moves to acquire some, since they can instead lean on young incumbents and watch as they attempt to blossom into stars—or, at the very least, more critical parts of the rotation. 

    We're not talking about Delon Wright, though he could qualify. Not when his minutes would have to come at the expense of the indispensable Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan.

    But that still leaves a trio of options.

    Pascal Siakam proved a high-quality defender during his rookie season, even if the No. 27 pick of the 2016 NBA draft began to fall out of the rotation toward the end of the year after Serge Ibaka's arrival. Norman Powell—now on board with a new contract worth $42 million over the next four years—has two-way potential and excelled as a pick-and-roll ball-handler with the explosiveness necessary to take advantage of momentary defensive lapses. 

    And finally, Lucas Nogueira often looked like he might be outplaying Jonas Valanciunas. Doing so against stiffer competition will be a challenge, but the Brazilian 7-footer has obvious upside as a roll man and rim-protector. 

    The Raptors need to test these waters and see if they have plenty more potential remaining dormant on their own roster.

Utah Jazz: Don't Force a No. 1 Option

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    Much ado has been made over which specific player will take over the scoring slack left behind by Gordon Hayward following his free-agency departure to the Boston Celtics. 

    Is Rudy Gobert capable of shouldering a heavier offensive burden without declining on defense? Is Rodney Hood ready to put up 20 points per game? Can Donovan Mitchell play a big part during his rookie season? Will a healthy Derrick Favors take over as the No. 1 option? 

    But these aren't entirely relevant questions, so long as the Jazz start approaching their season the right way. They're one of the few organizations that doesn't have a need for a go-to scorer and can instead attack by committee. 

    Early in the year, they'll likely force-feed the rock to one of the aforementioned players, hoping to create an alpha dog through a dearth of other options. But that's not the ideal strategy, since they should instead become an amorphous offensive unit intent on probing the weaknesses of their foes while buckling down and winning through defense. 

    With Ricky Rubio setting everyone up and scoring options emerging at every position, they're uniquely able to take on this approach. Scoring by committee paired with a dominant defense can yield plenty of victories. 

Washington Wizards: Parse Free-Agent Pool for More Options

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    The Washington Wizards saw their bench blow plenty of substantial leads earned by the starters throughout the 2016-17 season, and the offseason additions aren't good enough to change that unfortunate fact. Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks and Mike Scott may help make the second unit more palatable, but not by enough to hang with the true elites in the Eastern Conference. 

    Fortunately, help is still floating around on the waiver wire. 

    Deron Williams still doesn't have a team, and the Wizards could see if he's able to provide offensive production behind John Wall. Monta Ellis' defense has improved in recent years, to the point that Washington could use him as a two-way option in limited minutes. David Lee and Jared Sullinger could provide depth for the frontcourt. 

    Options do exist.

    They're limited and less than ideal, but they can likely be had on the cheap—not a bad thing for a franchise with so much money committed to its stars. And at this point, Washington should be feeling desperate to improve its collection of middling reserves.

    If any team is positioned to take on a veteran flier and hope for the best, it's these Wizards. 


    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball Reference, NBA.com, NBA Math or ESPN.com.