NBA Teams That Must Think Full Rebuild During 2018 NBA Offseason
Accepting a no-holds-barred rebuild is always a difficult process for any NBA organization. Setting yourself up for a losing season is painful, no matter how bright it might make the future. Teams are preconditioned to work toward winning records year in and year out, even when it's not necessarily in their best interest to finish in the middle of the pack at any point.
But some will still embark upon the difficult journey.
They have to.
They don't have the present-day talent to compete for a championship, and rings are often viewed as the only barometer of success in today's NBA. Perhaps more importantly, they don't lay claim to a collection of young talent necessary to offer hopes of a better tomorrow.
To be clear, we're not talking about the teams already mired in full-scale rebuilds. The Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings are trending in the right directions, and tearing down their current rosters wouldn't be fruitful. Other bottom-feeders are similarly on the rise or don't have the pieces necessary to sell off and expedite the process.
But these coming squads have to at least think about making significant changes in the summer of 2018.
Taurean Prince's breakout during the stretch run of the 2017-18 season gave the Atlanta Hawks another foundational piece. They can reasonably rely upon the hot-shooting small forward and John Collins as future building blocks, and Kent Bazemore's re-emergence as a three-and-D wing makes his contract far more palatable.
But the Hawks still don't have a bona fide star, and their most established starting option might want out. Not only did Dennis Schroder delete all references to the Hawks from his social media profiles, but he's also on the record coveting movement to different organizations.
The point guard revealed he "cannot be second-to-last in the Eastern Conference" during the prime of his playing career, per international basketball reporter David Hein. He went on to say he could see himself playing for the Indiana Pacers or Milwaukee Bucks.
Atlanta should acquiesce, though it shouldn't limit its trading partners to only those two squads.
Schroder isn't good enough to hold a franchise hostage at this stage of his career. He's not going to do anything more than serve as a fringe starting 1-guard, making it tougher to either climb into playoff positioning or fall to the very bottom of the standings with more talent surrounding him. Shopping him, even if the Hawks have to accept pennies on the dollar, is the advisable strategy.
They already have access to the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, which allows them to get a prospect such as Luka Doncic (if the early rumors, per ESPN.com's Jonathan Givony, are mere smokescreens), Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr., Michael Porter Jr., Trae Young or Mohamed Bamba. They also control the Nos. 19, 30 and 34 selections. If Schroder turns into one more pick, they can feasibly package some together and move up for another top-tier addition, setting the stage for a rebuild that features myriad young studs.
Now that Bazemore should return something of value, rather than the Hawks having to part with a second-rounder just to convince another organization it should accept his unpalatable contract, Prince and Collins should be the only untouchables in the Peach State.
What's worse than being stuck in basketball purgatory, as the Charlotte Hornets are by virtue of consistently finishing among the morass of medicore teams in the Eastern Conference? That's a question with a simple answer: being stuck in basketball purgatory while eyeing future luxury-tax payments.
As Tim Bontemps detailed for the Washington Post in early January, financial hope doesn't sit on the horizon:
"To make matters worse, the financial situation isn't getting better anytime soon. Next season, the Hornets—as constructed—are guaranteed to be a tax-paying team. They have 10 players with guaranteed contracts making a combined $116.4 million. Add in the cost of their first-round pick—currently the No. 9 selection, which would be about $3.6 million—and three minimum contracts (worth roughly $4.5 million), and the Hornets would already be more than a million into the tax.
"Charlotte likely will enter next season with an aging, expensive roster, with a combined $62 million going to three players—[Dwight] Howard, Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams—who signed contracts during the halcyon days of July 2016. If those three were free agents this summer, they might struggle to land much more than half of that amount."
Dropping down to the No. 11 pick in the 2018 NBA draft saves a marginal amount of money but not enough that the Hornets can enjoy a carefree existence and waltz into the 2018-19 campaign with the intention of running it back. Something has to change.
With $23.8 million owed to Dwight Howard and Nicolas Batum still staring at $76.7 million of payouts over the next three years (assuming he picks up a $27.1 million player option in 2020-21), the Hornets won't be able to move their highest-paid pieces without including substantial sweeteners. Marvin Williams ($14.1 million) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ($13 million) might not return much either.
Moving Kemba Walker, though, is a possibility.
Dealing away the franchise icon would be a bitter pill to swallow. It would plunge the Hornets somewhere below the level of mediocrity they've enjoyed over the past few seasons. But it would also allow them to imbue the organization with more long-term upside, escape luxury-tax ramifications and finally set the stage for a brighter future.
NBA franchises sometimes have to take that proverbial step backward for a subsequent leap forward, and this might be 2018's best example.
Cleveland Cavaliers...if LeBron James Leaves
Let's assume LeBron James flees the Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason, electing to join the Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers or some other franchise more suited to maximizing his talents in the next stage of his Hall of Fame-worthy career.
That seems like a veritable surety if the team is unable to capitalize on its back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals victories and falls to the Boston Celtics in this penultimate round. It may still be a possibility even if James and Co. buck the odds to win the 2018 title. But either way, operating under that assumption leaves the Cavs staring at these remaining pieces, conveniently organized into a depth chart for your perusal:
- Point guard: George Hill
- Shooting guard: JR Smith, Jordan Clarkson
- Small forward: Kyle Korver, Cedi Osman
- Power forward: Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr.
- Center: Tristan Thompson, Ante Zizic
Seriously. That's it.
You can throw in the No. 8 pick (via the Brooklyn Nets, as conveyed by the Celtics in the ill-fated Kyrie Irving swap) if you'd like, which could feasibly land the Cavaliers a rookie starter or high-end backup.
During the regular season, that projected opening quintet didn't log a single minute together, per PBPStats.com. Ditto for the in-progress playoffs. This could, of course, change by virtue of a free-agent signing, but it's a group without much hope of contention, even in the weaker half of the NBA.
So instead of rolling with the incumbents, the Cavs should completely tear it down if James does elect to leave (this would all be negated by him staying put). Trade Love for a first-round pick and whatever else you can get. Shop around the other veterans, since any competitive squad would love to have someone like Korver coming off the pine. Hill should still have some value as well.
A James departure simply has to necessitate a full-scale rebuild, or else the Cavaliers will be staring at a late-lottery finish with an enduringly expensive collection of talent that features little top-end upside.
Los Angeles Clippers
Unless DeAndre Jordan opts into his contract for 2018-19 ($24.1 million), the Los Angeles Clippers should be willing to let him walk away. Even as he graces another organization with his interior defense and lob-finishing acumen, they'll be better off financially with only Danilo Gallinari ($21.6 million), Tobias Harris ($14.8 million) and Austin Rivers ($12.7 million player option) making eight figures.
But they still need upside.
Should Jordan leave, the Clippers will have plenty of veterans and precious few youngsters with the capacity to function as long-term core members of the rotation. Having Lou Williams aboard on a cheap, team-friendly deal is nice, but the high-scoring guard will celebrate his 32nd birthday in late October. Montrezl Harrell is intriguing, but he's sure to be expensive as a restricted free agent this offseason. Convincing yourself Sam Dekker, Jawun Evans or Sindarius Thornwell is the future of this franchise is a tough sell.
Fortunately, L.A. already seems to recognize this.
"The Clippers are open to moving up in the draft, according to multiple league executives," Kevin O'Connor recently reported for The Ringer. "They're armed with picks Nos. 12 and 13 and have the assets to get creative. A front-office exec said that Michael Porter Jr. is a possible target for the Clippers, who could slide the forward into their modernized system as a go-to scorer."
But that shouldn't be enough.
Shopping Gallinari makes sense, even if finding a buyer will be rather difficult after his disappointing, injury-riddled 2017-18 showing. Trying to parlay the veterans scattered throughout the roster into more picks and/or young talent would be advisable. Nothing should be off limits, especially with the franchise's most promising player (Harris) set to enter 2018-19 as an expiring contract almost guaranteed to enjoy a hefty payday in the near future.
Losing Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets was the first step. Then came the unexpected trade of Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons. Parting with Jordan should be the final step in moving past the Lob City era and starting from scratch with a different intended direction.
Something isn't working.
Since the Orlando Magic traded away Dwight Howard in the summer of 2012, they've yet to return to the playoffs. Never topping 35 victories, they've averaged just 26.2 wins over those half-dozen years. Four different men have called the shots from the sidelines (Jacque Vaughn, James Borrego, Scott Skiles and Frank Vogel), and that number will grow even higher this offseason when they find Vogel's replacement. The most-used starting fives have even featured 15 different players:
- 2012-13: Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis, Maurice Harkless, Jameer Nelson, Nikola Vucevic
- 2013-14: Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis, Tobias Harris, Jameer Nelson, Nikola Vucevic
- 2014-15: Dewayne Dedmon, Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Nikola Vucevic
- 2015-16: Evan Fournier, Channing Frye, Tobias Harris, Elfrid Payton, Nikola Vucevic
- 2016-17: Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Terrence Ross, Nikola Vucevic
- 2017-18: Bismack Biyombo, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Jonathon Simmons
Only one constant exists, and I'm not talking about Vucevic.
The Magic keep trying to expedite their perpetual rebuild, betting on the wrong young talents while moving to acquire veterans who can allegedly make immediate impacts. They've been unwilling to truly bottom out and start with a tabula rasa, but they finally have a chance to do so this offseason.
Orlando has already traded away Payton to the Phoenix Suns, receiving nothing more than a second-round pick for his services. Aaron Gordon is about to hit restricted free agency, and they can reasonably let the underachieving forward walk if his price tag rises too high (they might not, but they should). They only have $84.6 million on the books for 2018-19 and $54.7 million the following season, though both numbers could shrink if they choose to trade away players such as Vucevic or Fournier.
For the first time in forever, it feels like the Magic may be starting over and counting on success with their most recent draft picks. Jonathan Isaac (No. 6 in 2017) provides plenty of hope, and whoever gets selected at No. 6 in this year's prospect pageant should fall into a similar category.
Build around those guys the right way. Please?
Now that Toronto Raptors president LeBron James Masai Ujiri has reacted to the Cleveland Cavaliers' devastating sweep of the Canadian representatives by firing head coach Dwane Casey, the organization should go one of two ways. Anything in between would be potentially disastrous.
The first option is realizing the system worked. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were brilliant throughout the regular season, while the bench mob torched one foe after another en route to the most successful campaign in franchise history. It was only a lack of adherence to the system in moments of adversity that prevented the Raptors from continuing to function as a juggernaut in the playoffs, despite what you might hear about the declining postseason habits of Toronto's marquee figures.
Realizing as much, the Raptors could look to promote an internal candidate and continue to hone the system that served them well—one that Lowry and DeRozan bought into throughout the year, even though it meant sacrificing touches and enjoying a more egalitarian offense. This is my preferred direction for the team, and Toronto seems to be at least considering it by granting interviews to assistants Nick Nurse and Rex Kalamian, as well as G League coach Jerry Stackhouse, according to Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports.
But if they bring in a new signal-caller who wants to shake things up, that's when they can consider a full-on rebuild.
Trade DeRozan, who's sure to bring back a substantial return. Doing so also makes sense from a personnel standpoint, as Bleacher Report's Dan Favale wrote:
"Jettisoning DeRozan might [improve the organizational ceiling]. He's working off a career year, but he still isn't the ideal guard for how the Raptors want to play. A willingness to launch more threes has not translated to league-average efficiency. He canned 31.2 percent of his treys during the regular season and shot 21.4 percent on triples in which he wasn't completely wide-open for the playoffs."
Moving the talented wing opens the door for further trades of Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and anyone else who might suddenly be deemed expendable. So long as the Raptors change things up and extend their window to avoid running into the James juggernaut every year of their prime, they can justify anything.
Well, anything except a combination of the two aforementioned courses of action.