One Starter Every NBA Team Must Replace This Summer
All 30 NBA teams want to get better, and though the path to improvement is complicated and context-dependent, one of the best ways to make a leap is to improve the starting lineup.
Because even the strongest starting fives have a weak link.
And in the cases where messing with a truly great first unit seems ridiculous, we'll get creative and search for ways to make the group more fun or more effective. In other words "must replace" will sometimes turn into "wouldn't it be cool if..."
The criteria will shift for every team, because the 30 situations across the league are distinct heading into the summer of 2018. In the case of rebuilding clubs, it might make sense to replace a quality starter because he's too costly or too old to fit into the organization's big-picture timeframe. For top-end clubs, the calculus will often be simpler: Which starter just isn't producing enough in the short term?
Suggesting replacement doesn't necessarily mean a team has to cut ties with the player in question either (though sometimes that's exactly what we'll suggest). In some situations, it just means a guy is better suited to coming off the bench.
Let's rejigger some lineups.
Atlanta Hawks: Dennis Schroder
In the long-ball era, your point guard just cannot shoot 29 percent from three-point range...unless your point guard has unusual skills in other areas (height, playmaking, defense, etc.) that make up for an inability to space the floor. We're talking "Ben Simmons" levels of compensatory excellence.
Dennis Schroder is not Ben Simmons.
The five-year vet is a career 32 percent shooter from deep, which could mean last year's woeful conversion rate was little more than a prolonged, mild slump. Or, it could mean that's how effectively Schroder converts his treys when he's the clear No. 1 option on his team.
He wouldn't be the first player to struggle while taking on added responsibilities.
Either way, the Hawks are in the earliest stages of a rebuild, and Schroder hasn't shown enough in his five seasons to warrant consideration as a long-term piece. Especially for an Atlanta club that cut bait with Dwight Howard in part because of concerns about his personality. Schroder, owed $46.5 million over the next three seasons, could face felony battery charges stemming from an incident at a club on Sept. 29.
If Atlanta is really starting fresh, it should do so without Schroder as its first-unit point guard.
Boston Celtics: Aron Baynes
This one's easy, mostly because the Boston Celtics have a ready replacement for Aron Baynes, who started 67 times in 2017-18.
Baynes banged around just fine (and got banged on) in his 67 starts this past season, but Gordon Hayward is the man Boston needs back in its first unit. Rather than bump rookie standout Jayson Tatum or breakthrough sophomore Jaylen Brown from the starting crew, why not slide Al Horford to the 5 full-time and trot out three interchangeable and ridiculously talented wings in between him and Kyrie Irving?
"Twenty-eighteen will be my year. I will be back on the court," Hayward told Lisa Pierpoint of Boston Common magazine.
And in one of the easiest corresponding developments, Baynes will be back on the bench.
Brooklyn Nets: Spencer Dinwiddie
This isn't a knock on Spencer Dinwiddie, who emerged from nowhere to become one of the Brooklyn Nets' most effective players in 2017-18. Instead, think of it as an endorsement of DeMarre Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jarrett Allen, Allen Crabbe and D'Angelo Russell. Those five should be the Nets' first unit next year, which means Dinwiddie ought to wind up coming off the bench as a second-string spark.
As a point guard who can generate his own looks from deep and attack the basket, Dinwiddie (58 starts in 2017-18) could thrive against reserves. And though most remember his hot streak of game-winners and clutch play in January, he still only shot 38.7 percent from the field overall. If Russell is healthy, he should be the one running the show with the starters. Softer competition could help Dinwiddie boost his substandard scoring efficiency.
Brooklyn will have to reintegrate Jeremy Lin and find minutes for Caris LeVert, whose length, playmaking and versatility continue to make him a tantalizing prospect. That could mean Dinwiddie slips further down the depth chart than might seem fair for a player who contributed so much this season.
Look at it from a team perspective, though: If Dinwiddie isn't starting anymore, it'll probably signal that the Nets are getting better.
Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker is the Charlotte Hornets' best player (by a mile), and he'll only make $12 million next season. But if the Hornets are smart, he'll be collecting that money from another team.
It's a cold, cruel, unpalatable approach, but the Hornets are crammed with bad money that has produced back-to-back 36-win seasons. That's not good enough, and the only way to make it better is to unload some of that cash. If the Hornets could attach Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Marvin Williams' deals to Walker's bargain of a salary, they might be able to clear the decks. Walker's free agency looms in 2019, and he'll no longer be so affordable then.
And there's also the possibility he'd walk for nothing, even if he's been nothing but loyal to this point.
The Hornets, if they ride this out for another year, risk paying max or near-max money to a smallish point guard starting in his age-29 season. That's not a value play; ask the Memphis Grizzlies how they feel about spending big on Mike Conley.
In a perfect world, Charlotte would absolutely keep Walker and move on from one of its other inferior starters. We haven't even mentioned Dwight Howard. But the crippling financial situation and the ticking clock on Walker's free agency mean difficult decisions have to be made. He's the only guy another team would want, and shopping him is the way to get rid of players Charlotte should never have paid so much for in the first place.
Chicago Bulls: Justin Holiday
It's tempting to pick Zach LaVine here. Though he's young, athletic and capable of putting up 20-plus points with decent efficiency, he was also a net-negative player who showed zero defensive acumen or inclination...and he's due a fat raise.
Overpaying him is the kind of thing that cuts the legs out from under a rebuild.
So as not to incur the wrath of Bulls fans still committed to the idea LaVine can be a quality starter, we'll go with Justin Holiday, a perfectly fine wing who should probably see about 15 minutes per game off the bench.
Chicago started him 72 times in 2017-18, and he was a relative bright spot offering floor-spacing, low usage and a 35.9 percent conversion rate from three. That's a profile a solid team would happily bring off the bench as its eighth or ninth man.
If the Bulls intend to be better (an open question for 2018-19), they can do better.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Jeff Green
Jeff Green started 13 of the last 17 games he played with Cleveland in the 2017-18 regular season.
That can't happen again.
Green shot 31.2 percent from beyond the arc while rebounding at a lower rate than Dwyane Wade (when he was with the team and handing out assists less frequently than noted chucker J.R. Smith). Still capable of running the floor and channeling bursts of athleticism that incur "wait, was that Jeff Green?!" double takes, Green can occasionally tantalize. But in a broader sense, he also doesn't allow the Cavs to be their best selves.
A team in desperate need of defense all year has to approach this offseason in search of an interior anchor—one who'll bump Kevin Love to the 4 and Green out of the first unit entirely. Whether the replacement comes from within (Larry Nance Jr., anyone?) or in the form of a ring-chasing free agent, change is necessary.
Fortunately for the Cavs, this might just take care of itself. Green's minimum deal is expiring.
Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki
Based strictly on the numbers, which show that the Dallas Mavericks' four most productive five-man units didn't include him, Dennis Smith Jr. is the guy who shouldn't be a starter next year.
That's never going to happen, of course, as Smith Jr. is a key figure in the Mavs' future who should improve dramatically in his second season. He's entrenched as the starting point guard, even if Yogi Ferrell and J.J. Barea were the ones typically closing games when Dallas was actually competing.
This complicates things because Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews are due to make the most money on the team next season, Dirk Nowitzki is basically a walking god in Dallas and both Maxi Kleber (36 starts) and Dwight Powell (25) performed well at the 5. Who gets demoted?
Let's be diplomatic and say Nowitzki is the one who should lose an assured gig as a starter. Head coach Rick Carlisle can play matchups and send Dirk out for the opening tip when they're favorable but bring him off the bench when there's a better opportunity for success against a second unit.
Nowitzki's ego can take it.
Denver Nuggets: Wilson Chandler
Wilson Chandler is a theoretically fine fit at starting small forward for the Denver Nuggets. A glue guy who can guard several positions, hit an open three and keep the ball moving, he makes sense with Nikola Jokic as the hub and the Jamal Murray-Gary Harris tandem scoring in droves.
In practice, though, Chandler wasn't so helpful in his 71 starts.
Denver was marginally better when he sat (plus-1.9 net rating) than when he played (plus-1.4), and his scoreless 48 minutes in the final game of the regular season, which resulted in missing the playoffs, was a statement on his limitations.
The Nuggets need someone with a little more athletic zip than the 30-year-old vet. Someone who can offset the plodding pace of Jokic and Paul Millsap up front. Someone, critically, who can provide that boost without sacrificing defensive integrity (that's what Will Barton was for).
Chandler has a player option he'll likely exercise, which means he'll be back. Capped out, Denver will have to get creative in replacing him.
It should be noted that Chandler was as much a default selection here as anything else. Jokic, Murray, Millsap and Harris are all studs.
Detroit Pistons: Stanley Johnson
In and out of the first unit for most of the season, Stanley Johnson closed the year with 13 straight starts (he had 50 overall).
Johnson just hasn't gotten better, and it's difficult to be optimistic that trajectory will change. Loads of physical strength and a body that suggests Johnson should be a dynamite multi-position defender don't offset his inability to connect from long distance or contribute as a facilitator.
He hit 28.6 percent of his threes and posted 2.1 assists per 36 minutes in 2017-18, both career lows.
It's not like the Pistons haven't given him a chance. Despite his obvious shortcomings, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2015 draft has played nearly 5,000 minutes in his first three seasons. This past year, he averaged a career-high 27.4 per contest.
It's time for someone else to start at the 3.
Golden State Warriors: Zaza Pachulia
This change was already in motion after the All-Star break, as the Warriors experimented with more matchup-specific center options, so we're just providing a little extra nudge in the right direction.
Zaza Pachulia boxes out with the best of them, executes pick-and-roll defense as well as can be expected given his limited lateral mobility and provides a physical edge that crosses the line into "dirty" a few times per season. All of that is valuable.
In a perfect world, the Warriors would give Jordan Bell an extended look as a starter. He couldn't stay healthy in 2017-18 and is definitely undersized for the position, but in the tiny sample he played with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, the Warriors were basically unstoppable...and fast. That crew zipped up and down the floor at a pace of over 113, scoring 131.2 points per 100 possessions.
Bell's athleticism supercharges Golden State's attack. Add to that his surprisingly advanced court sense (he's already adept at finding corner shooters on the short roll) and his ability to switch across several positions, and you've got the no-brainer addition to a Dubs starting five that could use some pep.
Pachulia has a place on any NBA team. He's a reliable veteran who'll always play hard. But the Warriors can do more with Bell at the 5.
Houston Rockets: Ryan Anderson
That leaves a quartet of Rockets who started at least 30 games last year—Ryan Anderson, P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza—as candidates for replacement. Luc Mbah a Moute, who might be the most valuable player in the bunch, only started 15 times for Houston.
Anderson's getting the bump here because he contributed to only half of what made the Rockets so dominant in 2017-18. Though he's easily the most respected shooter in the group, he wasn't as adept as Tucker, Mbah a Moute or Ariza in a switch-heavy defensive scheme. Better to deploy him as a second-unit weapon who'll help space the floor.
Houston's leap this past season gets attributed to all those three-point records, but the truth is the Rockets were only marginally better on offense than they were in 2016-17. The defense, which climbed all the way from tied for 17th last season to sixth in the league this year, was the real difference.
So Anderson, who helps the least on that front, gets the demotion...even if it doesn't ultimately matter that much. The Rockets will be hard to beat as long as Paul, Harden and Capela are on the floor.
Indiana Pacers: Darren Collison
The Indiana Pacers got at least 62 starts from Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner, and it's hard to suggest anything about that group needs to change after watching it produce a shocking 48-34 record.
But that particular unit only posted a plus-2.1 net rating, and its defensive rating of 107.7 would have finished in a three-way tie with the Los Angeles Clippers and Orlando Magic for 19th overall. So if we have to make some tweaks, we should find the defensive weak link.
That's Darren Collison, who ranked 66th among point guards in DRPM last year and notably trailed Pacers reserve Cory Joseph.
Joseph wasn't much good on that end either; his DRPM was also negative, just not to Collison's degree. And though Collison shot a remarkable 46.8 percent from three-point range, leading the league by a significant margin, his lack of size hurt Indy's defense.
Bogdanovic is another candidate for defensive reasons, especially if Glenn Robinson III can stay healthy. But Collison is the pick for now. The Pacers should look for a bigger guard who could switch assignments seamlessly with Oladipo.
Los Angeles Clippers: DeAndre Jordan
The Clippers' 34 starting lineups led the NBA this past season, so there are lots of options to choose from.
Rather than make the obvious suggestion that, say, Wesley Johnson probably shouldn't be starting for anyone, we're thinking bigger. More landscape-altering.
DeAndre Jordan can become an unrestricted free agent by declining the final year of his deal this offseason, and the Clippers should not be the ones paying market rates to retain him.
Jordan's numbers this year look fine. He averaged 12.0 points and 15.2 rebounds. But the Clippers were better on both ends when he sat, and it's difficult to imagine Jordan's impact improving as he enters his age-30 season. An old-school paint-clogging big man like Jordan—especially one whose defensive impact has long been overrated—simply shouldn't command a big salary.
The Clips did well to shed Blake Griffin's money, setting themselves up for financial flexibility for the first time in recent memory. They can make another shrewd decision by looking to the future and letting someone else be responsible for Jordan's next contract.
Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle
This isn't a takedown of Julius Randle, who broke through with some major statistical gains in 2017-18—even if he seemed a little bucket-hungry with free agency looming.
A Lakers starting five that doesn't include Randle next season, though, would be a boon. Because if Randle's gone, it'll mean the Lakers decided not to match the offer sheet he signed with another team. And if they decided not to match, that means they used the money to haul in top-end free agents.
Basically, if Randle is still on the roster in 2018-19, it'll be because L.A. didn't snag some combination of Paul George, LeBron James, DeMarcus Cousins or whatever other marquee name they've got their eyes on. Letting him go will be a means to an end.
So, yeah, unrestricted free agent Brook Lopez probably shouldn't be back in the first unit next year. That's the easy call. But the guy that really needs to be replaced (because it'll signal the Lakers connected on their big free-agency swings) is Randle.
Memphis Grizzlies: Dillon Brooks
Dillon Brooks is a heck of a story, but if he starts another 74 games next year, several things will have gone terribly wrong for the Memphis Grizzlies...again.
In an ideal world, the Grizzlies will get a full season of Mike Conley in 2018-19, a return to form from Marc Gasol, a (hopefully not too expensive) reprise from Tyreke Evans, a rejuvenated JaMychal Green and rookie Luka Doncic coming aboard via the lottery.
If you really want to get optimistic, throw Chandler Parsons in there ahead of Doncic in the first unit.
Even if Evans doesn't return, which would be strange after Memphis declined to deal him at the deadline, there's got to be a better option than Brooks, who shot just 44 percent from the field and paired 124 turnovers with 135 assists. The second-rounder showed flashes of useful defense and deserves a chance to win rotation minutes on an improved Grizz roster next year.
But if he's still a starter, Memphis is in trouble.
Miami Heat: Hassan Whiteside
If it wasn't clear from the Jordan, Pachulia and Baynes sections, the age of conventional centers is over.
The Heat need to find a sucker taker who'll absorb Whiteside's deal (which has another two years and $52.5 million on it) and hand the center gig over to Bam Adebayo.
No, you can't dump the ball into Adebayo and ask him to bully his man for a tough post-up bucket. But it's also not 1994 anymore, so nobody's really expecting that from a center anyway. Adebayo is a nuclear athlete who'll switch across several positions on D and even showed early signs of skill as an offensive hub at the elbows.
Meanwhile, Miami was 4.4 points per 100 possessions better when Whiteside wasn't on the court. And that's to say nothing of the fact that he made waves complaining about late-game benchings. Whether they base their decision on concerns about productivity or morale, the Heat will have good reason for moving away from Whiteside.
If the Heat aren't comfortable turning the starting spot over to a second-year center next season, fine: Give it to Kelly Olynyk. He'll space the floor, inexplicably finish around the basket with unusual footwork and hold his own on the glass.
Either way, Miami needs to move on from Whiteside.
Milwaukee Bucks: John Henson
Giannis Antetokounmpo should be playing center unless the matchup on a given night is especially physically taxing.
So maybe give him a break against the Joel Embiids of the world, but otherwise, let the 7'0" positionless Greek Freak (who'll probably put on another 20 pounds of muscle this summer anyway, because why wouldn't he?) operate at the 5.
Slotting him there opens up so many opportunities for the Milwaukee Bucks offense, spacing the floor in a five-out setup that most opponents just aren't equipped to guard. Either the other team has to take its center off the floor and try a smaller option on Antetokounmpo, or leave some poor, plodding sap out there to get roasted on blow-by drives time and time again.
To truly unlock their offensive potential and turn Antetokounmpo loose, the Bucks have to quit messing around with conventional centers.
John Henson, you will be the casualty of Milwaukee's glorious transformation. Nothing personal.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Andrew Wiggins
The idea here is to highlight the starter each team must replace, which implies there's a realistic way to make the change happen.
But good luck finding a taker for Andrew Wiggins—statistically Minnesota's least productive starter by a mile—and the five-year, $146.5 million extension that kicks in next year.
In this particular instance, let's make an exception and substitute "should" for "must." As in: If by moving heaven, earth and whatever third plane remains undiscovered, the Wolves could somehow rid their starting lineup of Andrew Wiggins, they should.
Wiggins' free-throw accuracy hit a career low in 2017-18, and he got to the line less often than ever. Outside of occasional flashes, his defense was ineffectual. His VORP ranked third-to-last on the team, and his minus-2.5 box plus-minus was 10th on the Wolves. He was a negatively impactful player by every reasonable measurement available.
You don't pay league-minimum rates for that kind of production. Paying the max for it is...unconscionable? Heinous?
We need better adjectives, but you get the idea.
New Orleans Pelicans: DeMarcus Cousins
The New Orleans Pelicans were 27-21 when DeMarcus Cousins tore his Achilles tendon on Jan. 26. They went 21-13 afterward.
With Cousins, Anthony Davis was awesome, averaging 26.5 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Without him, Davis burst into holy, iridescent flame and incinerated the league for two-and-a-half months, averaging 30.2 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.2 blocks.
Cousins faces a grueling recovery from one of the most debilitating, athleticism-sapping, career-altering (often effectively career-ending) injuries. He will also likely have massive salary demands in unrestricted free agency, and whoever decides to pay him will assume the immense risk of his future health and productivity in light of that injury.
I haven't said a single negative thing about Cousins. These are just facts. You've made the obvious and correct implication yourself.
The Pelicans should, too.
New York Knicks: Any Point Guard Not Named Frank Ntilikina
Jarrett Jack (56), Emmanuel Mudiay (14), Trey Burke (9) and Ramon Sessions (3) all got looks at the starting point guard job last season. And though they sometimes shared the backcourt with rookie Frank Ntilikina, the functional equivalent of training wheels for the 19-year-old, that's got to change next year.
The New York Knicks will employ a new head coach who won't have Kristaps Porzingis for a good chunk of the season. What better time to figure out what Frankie Smokes can do as the unquestioned lead guard?
"I just feel like the game is slowing down, that I can do a lot more things," Ntilikina told Marc Berman of the New York Post. "I try to do things I've been working on at practice. It was a whole new atmosphere, a whole new experience. I learned a lot here. Now I will bring a lot of things with me this summer. I know what to work on."
Ntilikina's length and raw tools produced flashes of plus defense in his rookie season. It'll be a shock if he's not a major contributor on that end next year. Having shot just 31.8 percent from deep and devoted far too high a percentage of his attempts to the long-range two, he's got a long way to go on offense.
Might as well get the journey started in earnest next season.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Paul George
This one's a cheapie, though I guess it comes with the possibility of guessing wrong about Paul George's seemingly imminent relocation to Los Angeles.
Comments like these, delivered to ESPN's Royce Young, might make it seem like the Oklahoma City Thunder have an inside track on keeping George:
"I've been happy here ... Our record is not what we want it to be, but I think I've enjoyed just learning and being around these guys. ... I'm not going to let playoffs or how we finish the season persuade or indicate where I'm going to go this offseason. I'm going to put everything into this and again, I could definitely see myself being here."
That's an open-ended statement, full of could's and noncommittal talk.
George is saying OKC's performance won't influence him one way or the other. You can forgive him for being cagey after effectively announcing his preferred plans to sign with the Lakers in free agency, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski—and L.A.'s tampering fine for following up on that expression of intent.
Nothing's certain, but there's a great chance the Thunder have to find a new starting small forward this summer.
Orlando Magic: D.J. Augustin
The Orlando Magic already replaced Elfrid Payton by trading him away for no more than a second-rounder, but that left them with D.J. Augustin running the point over their last 27 games.
And that's not going to cut it next year.
Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac are young, promising talents. Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, Jonathon Simmons and Terrence Ross have genuine NBA skills. Bismack Biyombo is only afraid of lions. There's a genuine NBA roster in here somewhere—one with developing youth and established veterans. Which is why Orlando needs a point guard who can grow with the kids and, if possible, keep the vets productive enough to prop up their trade value.
In search of a new coach and a floor general, the Magic are rebuilding their entire identity.
Augustin is a serviceable backup guard, not a starter who'll grow with the next great Magic team.
Philadelphia 76ers: Pass
Sorry, but I'm not seeing a good reason to suggest a shakeup for a five-man unit—Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid—that posted a plus-21.4 net rating in 600 minutes of shared court time.
That's better than any five-man unit produced, even if you cut the sample-size criteria to a mere 300 minutes.
That's more than double the full-season net rating of the Houston Rockets, a league-topping plus-8.5. Outside of Redick, every one of Philadelphia's starters is young enough to reasonably project improvement.
Maybe the Sixers will use their cap space to pursue a marquee free agent—one who'd replace Redick (also slated for free agency)—it's difficult to make the case that anything they do will improve on that plus-21.4 net rating.
Maybe Markelle Fultz rediscovers his shot and slots into Redick's spot without missing a beat, forming a dual-creator lineup with Simmons that would completely change the way Philly plays offense. Maybe LeBron James will take a peek at signing in free agency.
There are immense, exciting possibilities out there. But in light of how dominant the Sixers' first unit was this season, telling them to change it feels ridiculous.
Phoenix Suns: Elfrid Payton
Realistically, everyone but Devin Booker should be expendable. But let's go with Elfrid Payton.
Payton is a catastrophically damaging defensive player who ranked 88th out of 103 point guards in ESPN's DRPM metric. He'll be a restricted free agent the Suns should only retain at a steep, steep discount. He's the pick because Booker needs a backcourt counterpart who can cover up weaknesses, not highlight them.
Phoenix should be looking for a big facilitator capable of defending both guard positions. That'll free up Booker to be a primary scorer and secondary playmaker who doesn't have to expend energy defending a tough opponent.
There's a case to be made that T.J. Warren and his non-spacing offensive game are better suited to bench duty. Or that Marquese Chriss hasn't shown enough to warrant starter's minutes on a non-tanking team. Or that Dragan Bender should be out of chances in the first unit. Or that Tyson Chandler should be trade fodder this summer.
The list goes on...
But if Booker is the central figure in the organization, the best move is finding him a teammate that makes his life a little easier.
Portland Trail Blazers: Evan Turner
Evan Turner got a chunk of starts in the middle of the season, then closed out the year in Moe Harkless' vacated first-unit spot. He took the floor for the opening tip 40 times in all, but because Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu are both under contract next year, it's unlikely he'll do that again.
It would behoove Portland to do whatever's possible to assure that outcome.
Turner, signed to a four-year, $70-million contract in 2016, is a solid ball-handler and playmaker on the wing who doesn't space the floor and hasn't shown the ability to play up a position—which would help mitigate his lack of shooting. Slotting him alongside C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard could have, in theory, freed up Portland's two best players to run amok off the ball, stretching defenses to their breaking points.
In practice, that hasn't worked. The trio produced a 108.7 offensive rating when sharing the floor in 2017-18. In the minutes Lillard and McCollum played without Turner, the Blazers scored 113.4 points per 100 possessions.
Defenders can ignore Turner when he's off the ball, which they can't so easily do when Harkless or Aminu are spacing the floor. More broadly, the idea of taking playmaking responsibilities away from Lillard and McCollum is a tough logical starting point. There's still room for Turner to lead second units, but starting him was a shaky concept from the jump.
Jusuf Nurkic is another candidate here, the Blazers should only look to replace him if his salary demands in free agency are outlandish. He's still just 23 and has been a key part of an improving Portland defense.
Sacramento Kings: Zach Randolph
Head coach Dave Joerger leaned hard on Zach Randolph last year, and the 36-year-old forward led the Sacramento Kings in points and shots per game, starting 57 of the 59 contests he played.
That's...that's amazing. And on some level, we should praise Randolph for holding up so well in a role he can't possibly have expected to play. He even shot a respectable 47.3 percent from the field, despite taking nearly 30 percent of his attempts from 10-23 feet.
That cannot continue, though.
The Kings are in the earliest stages of their rebuild, and they need to know which current members of the team deserve to be a part of it. Giving huge minutes and a primary role to a veteran doesn't help in that quest for knowledge.
It seems Sacramento determined a few extra wins were worth the wasted opportunity to figure things out this year. Hopefully, it won't make that mistake again.
San Antonio Spurs: Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol's starts dwindled over the final few weeks of the regular season, but he was still out there to open games 63 times overall. For a San Antonio Spurs team that could use a jolt of athleticism and offensive verve, sending Gasol to the bench is a good route.
There, he could work against backups as a center in single-big lineups. Meanwhile, LaMarcus Aldridge could do the same against starters.
With Aldridge at center (and Gasol on the bench), San Antonio scored 112.8 points per 100 possessions and posted a plus-7.9 net rating. When Aldridge shared the floor with Gasol, the numbers, respectively, were 105.0 and plus-3.4.
The math's not complicated here.
Toronto Raptors: Jonas Valanciunas or Serge Ibaka
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are rightfully entrenched as starters, and OG Anunoby shot 37.1 percent from three as a rookie—while flashing studly athleticism and the potential to be one of the best wing defenders in the league.
That leaves one of Toronto's bigs, and it's too close to call.
Ibaka offers more stretch and shot-blocking, while Valanciunas (who quietly shot 40.5 percent from deep on very low volume) is the better post threat and rebounder. Both will make significant cash next year, with Valanciunas due $16.5 million and Ibaka collecting $21.7 million.
It's silly to disband a starting five that ran up a plus-11.2 net rating in 801 minutes together for a 59-win team. But if it has to happen, maybe it makes the most sense to split up the starting bigs and add some more wing shooting instead.
We'll let Ibaka and Valanciunas do rock-paper-scissors to determine who gets demoted. Because we're not making that call.
Utah Jazz: Ricky Rubio
Donovan Mitchell is fun, and it stands to reason that more Donovan Mitchell would be more fun.
So if we've got to tinker with the Utah Jazz's starting lineup, tabbing Ricky Rubio as the man to replace is the only way to get us the extra Mitchell and extra fun we're after. Because that gets the ball in Mitchell's hands more.
Basketball Reference generously calculates that Mitchell spent 34 percent of his minutes at the 1 this past season. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Jazz were solid but unspectacular in those minutes, posting a plus-2.0 net rating. But there were certain Mitchell-at-point lineups that performed well.
The one that included Royce O'Neale, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert smothered opponents to the tune of a 93.9 defensive rating and a plus-15.7 net rating. More of that, please.
It should be noted that Favors is headed for free agency, which means Utah could have to replace him by necessity. For our purposes, we're assuming he returns and that the Jazz are one of the few teams still capable of getting great production from a two-big lineup.
Washington Wizards: Marcin Gortat
At 34, Marcin Gortat can still set a mean screen and finish on the move in a pick-and-roll.
But his mobility is waning, and his limitations prevent the Washington Wizards from employing a true switch-heavy defense. More importantly, the Wiz will have a much harder time changing anything about the high-priced portion of their starting five that includes John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. Those dudes will make a combined $70.6 million next year...and then Wall's massive extension kicks in for 2019-20.
All three are under contract through at least 2021.
With Markieff Morris making a reasonable $8.6 million in 2018-19, it's hard to justify letting him go anywhere—even if Kelly Oubre might be ready to take over for him sooner than later.
Washington could either go smaller with what it's got on the roster (Morris could bang with a lot of today's less physically imposing 5s) or seek out someone with a bit more athletic pep than Gortat. For a team that needs a shakeup, replacing their aging center makes sense.