1 Starter Every NBA Team Must Replace This Summer
The NBA playoffs are great, but have you tried an NBA offseason?
Player movement is all the rage these days, and this summer promises more of the same. The 14 teams already at home watching the postseason have already begun a detailed roster evaluation.
Rosters will change dramatically over the coming months, with teams moving on from starters and even star players for a variety of reasons. There's reason to replace at least one starter on every NBA roster, even one as seemingly perfect as the Golden State Warriors.
Franchises should be looking to replace a starter for six different reasons:
Failure to Launch: These are the young or youngish players that have either been given a chance to perform and failed or aren't quite ready for a full-time starting role.
Crippling Contracts: Salaries that are taking up valuable cap space and players not living up to their deals.
Better as a Backup: Fine players, but ones that would be better off as reserves.
No Longer Fit the Plan: Players that were brought in under different coaches, general managers or when the franchise had different goals (competing vs. rebuilding).
Looking to Upgrade: Playoff teams (or ones eyeing the 2020 postseason) with a weak link in their starting unit.
Buyer Beware: Great players, but also ones scheduled to hit free agency this summer who could demand far more money than their current teams can or should offer.
No matter which category your favorite team falls under, all have at least one starter in need of replacing.
Failure to Launch
Dallas Mavericks: PG Jalen Brunson
Brunson took over starting duties midseason after the Mavericks sent former starting point guard Dennis Smith Jr. to the New York Knicks in the package for Kristaps Porzingis.
Brunson, a second-round pick out of Villanova, held his own while Luka Doncic (deservedly) grabbed most of the fanfare. However, Dallas was 2.2 points per 100 possessions better with Brunson on the bench.
If the Mavs plan to make a serious run at the Western Conference playoffs next season, Brunson should not yet be a full-time starter.
Detroit Pistons: G/F Bruce Brown
The fact that Brown, the 42nd overall pick in the 2018 draft, started 56 games for Detroit this season says more about the team's lack of wings rather than his play.
The 22-year-old's production this season (4.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, .398/.258/.750 shooting line) barely merits a rotation spot. His scoring, rebounding, passing and outside shooting all went down after the All-Star break as well.
To build on their playoff berth, the Pistons need to address everything outside of power forward and center this summer.
New Orleans Pelicans: SF Kenrich Williams
Give credit to Williams, who went from not hearing his name called on draft night to playing his way into the Pelicans starting lineup 29 times this season.
His hustle and defensive versatility can help him carve out a long career on an NBA bench. But unless he refines his offensive repertoire, he shouldn't be a starting small forward.
With new general manager David Griffin in town and an Anthony Davis trade on the horizon, New Orleans should prioritize upgrading the small forward position. Williams, 24, has plenty of time to develop on the team's second unit.
Phoenix Suns: F/C Dragan Bender
The No. 4 overall pick of the 2016 draft has likely played his last game in Phoenix.
In three seasons with the Suns, Bender has never averaged more than 6.5 points or 25.2 minutes per game. His career shooting marks of 39.4 percent from the field and 32.1 percent from three are gruesome, especially for someone who splits his time between power forward and center.
In perhaps his last chance to show out, Bender started the final 20 games of the season for Phoenix, but he averaged a measly 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds. The 21-year-old needs a fresh start elsewhere.
Portland Trail Blazers: SF Maurice Harkless
Although he won't turn 26 until mid-May, Harkless has already spent seven years in the NBA, including the past three as the primary starting small forward in Portland.
While he's been on some successful teams, he's more of a benefactor than a contributor. Since joining the league, he's made no major leaps in scoring, rebounding, defending, three-point shooting or passing.
The 15th overall pick in the 2012 draft should no longer be a starter on a championship-hopeful team.
The Crippling Contracts
Charlotte Hornets: C Cody Zeller
The Hornets are a financial mess, and Zeller shares a large portion of the blame.
Due nearly $30 million over the next two seasons, the No. 4 overall pick of the 2013 NBA draft is veering dangerously close to bust status. In six seasons, he owns career averages of only 8.2 points and 5.8 rebounds and has failed to develop a reliable jump shot outside of 10 feet.
The 7-footer's 6'10¾" wingspan is a hindrance defensively, as evidenced by his career average of 0.8 blocks. While he isn't the only Hornet who has yet to live up to his contract, Zeller has done nothing to justify his draft position or a full-time starting job.
Los Angeles Clippers: F Danilo Gallinari
Gallinari is coming off the best season of his career at age 30. He posted career highs in scoring (19.8 points per game), rebounds (6.1) and field-goal percentage (46.3 percent) while drilling 43.3 percent of his three-pointers.
However, the Clippers haven't been shy about trading players on big contracts they don't see fitting into their long-term plans. (Just ask Blake Griffin and Tobias Harris.) Gallinari is due a team-high $22.6 million next season, which means he'll be consuming valuable cap space in a summer loaded with stars.
His redemption story in L.A. has been fun, but the Clippers would assuredly try to move his salary if they're in line to sign a pair of superstars.
Miami Heat: SG Dion Waiters
After a breakout first year in Miami in 2016-17, injuries and inconsistent play have plagued Waiters.
The No. 4 overall pick in 2012 no longer carries the star potential he once had. Waiters struggles with decision-making and shot selection, and the Heat were 2.2 points per 100 possessions better with him on the bench.
Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow are all superior options to Waiters, who will turn 28 in December. The two years and $24.75 million remaining on his contract have become more of a burden than a bargain on Miami's books.
Minnesota Timberwolves: G/F Andrew Wiggins
Wiggins has one of the NBA's worst contracts, with more than $120 million still coming his way over the next four seasons.
In the first season of his five-year max deal, Wiggins shot a career-low 41.2 percent overall and posted the worst on/off rating (plus-1.9) since his rookie season. Minnesota is paying him like a franchise player, yet he barely makes the team better.
The Timberwolves need to cut their losses and offer Wiggins and draft picks to anyone who will take him. Minnesota must build around Karl-Anthony Towns, so escaping from Wiggins' onerous contract would help open financial flexibility to round out the supporting cast moving forward.
Sacramento Kings: F Harrison Barnes
The Kings could be a dark-horse free agent destination this summer thanks to their young core, new head coach Luke Walton and wealth of salary-cap space. If Harrison Barnes declines his $25.1 million player option to become an unrestricted free agent, Sacramento could carve out enough cap space for two max contracts.
"The front office, they've been transparent the whole time, the team has been great," Barnes said, via The Athletic's Jason Jones. "After the season, I'll take some time, spend some time with my wife, relax a little bit and look at the future after that."
If Barnes declines his option, Sacramento will have less than $50 million in committed salary for 2019-20. If he returns, the Kings could try to trade him for a nonguaranteed contract (such as JR Smith's) to free up cap space as well.
While Barnes may be a welcome presence in a young locker room, the Kings should dump him if big-name free agents express interest in joining them.
Better as a Backup
Boston Celtics: PF Marcus Morris
Morris has been a solid contributor for Boston and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. While he may end up getting paid like a starter somewhere, the Celtics shouldn't be the ones to do it.
The weak link of Boston's opening five, Morris made the Celtics 5.8 points per 100 possessions worse when on the floor. His 6'9", 235-pound frame isn't big enough to bully most starting power forwards, but he turns into an intimidating force when going up against other second units.
While bringing Morris back as a reserve would be fine, Boston should be doing everything it can to make Anthony Davis its starting power forward next season instead.
Denver Nuggets: G/F Will Barton
At 6'6" and 190 pounds, Barton is undersized for a small forward, which is what he's forced to play in the Nuggets starting five.
Denver has a dynamic backcourt of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris and should be grooming 2018 first-round pick Michael Porter Jr. as the future at small forward when he returns from a back injury. Barton is a perfect sixth man, able to play multiple positions off the bench while serving as both a scorer and a distributor.
Barton's on/off rating plummeted by five points per 100 possessions from last year, when he split time between sixth man and starter, to this year, when he began the season as the starting 3. The Nuggets should prioritize letting him come off the bench on a permanent basis next season.
Houston Rockets: G/F Eric Gordon
After losing Trevor Ariza in free agency last summer, the Rockets had little choice but to put Gordon in their starting unit.
Gordon was the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year in 2016-17 when he averaged 16.2 points and 2.5 assists while knocking down 37.2 percent of his three-pointers. Houston should once again pursue a defensive wing this summer and move Gordon and his instant offense back to the bench.
Memphis Grizzlies: SF Kyle Anderson
Anderson's game is tailor-made to orchestrate a second unit.
Memphis got away with using him as a starter despite his poor outside shooting by playing two three-point-shooting big men in Marc Gasol and Jaren Jackson Jr. With Gasol now gone and more traditional center Jonas Valanciunas in the mix, that puts two players who failed to crack 28.0 percent shooting from three in the starting lineup together.
With Anderson serving as a ball-handler/creator in the second unit, the Grizzlies could get starting point guard Mike Conley more of a rest while increasing their overall pace to start the game. Memphis' pace was significantly slower with Anderson in the game last season.
Orlando Magic: PG DJ Augustin
While Augustin drilled the game-winning three-pointer to beat the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of the Magic's opening-round playoff series, Orlando shouldn't let recency bias cloud its perception of him.
Augustin is a perfectly fine backup point guard. In a perfect world, Markelle Fultz would take over as the starting point guard and let the 31-year-old veteran play the back nine of his career in a lighter role.
Orlando has plenty of frontcourt depth with Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Nikola Vucevic and Mo Bamba, but it won't make it past the first round without an upgrade at the point.
No Longer Fit the Plan
Atlanta Hawks: C Dewayne Dedmon
On the Hawks, one must either be in their early 20s or a 42-year-old living legend. Those are the rules.
Heading into the offseason, Miles Plumlee is Atlanta's only player in his 30s, although Kent Bazemore and Dedmon will join him this summer. The Hawks aren't quite good enough to make any major noise in the East yet, so one more trip to the lottery next season may be the goal.
Dedmon is one of the NBA's most underrated bigs and should be on a contender. With four positions already stocked with young talent, the Hawks should look at centers in the 2019 draft and mutually agree to part ways with Dedmon this summer.
Brooklyn Nets: SF DeMarre Carroll
Carroll originally came to Brooklyn as a salary dump by the Toronto Raptors, landing the Nets a 2018 first- and second-round pick.
Instead of benching him and letting his contract run out, the Nets have turned Carroll into a nice contributor on a team that's surged from the NBA basement to the No. 6 seed in the East playoffs.
With Carroll's four-year, $58 million contract expiring this summer, the Nets will be able to carve out significant salary-cap space. They're likely to go big-game hunting in free agency, which leaves no room for Carroll anymore.
Chicago Bulls: C Robin Lopez
Lopez's job this season was to keep the starting center seat warm for 2018 No. 7 overall pick Wendell Carter Jr.
Before he suffered a season-ending thumb injury in mid-January, Carter averaged 10.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 25.2 minutes across 44 games. That output exceeded Lopez's production in nearly the same amount of floor time.
The 31-year-old Lopez is now shifting into the veteran-mentor stage of his career, while Carter is ready for the starting job.
Cleveland Cavaliers: SG Brandon Knight
After trading Kyle Korver and Rodney Hood and sending JR Smith home last season, Knight became the Cavs' starting shooting guard by default.
Knight, who missed the entire 2017-18 season following knee surgery, averaged 8.5 points and 2.3 assists while making 37.1 percent of his three-pointers with the Cavs.
The Cavs took on Knight's bloated contract so they could also acquire the Houston Rockets' 2019 first-round pick and 2022 second-round pick. In a guard-heavy draft, don't be surprised to see the Cavs open next season with RJ Barrett, Ja Morant or Jarrett Culver in their starting backcourt over Knight.
Utah Jazz: PF Derrick Favors
If this were 1998, the Jazz frontcourt would be unstoppable.
What? It's 2019? How is anyone still starting two non-shooting bigs at the same time?
During the regular season, Favors and Rudy Gobert and Favors combined for 17 total made threes on a 21.8 percent clip. This kind of paint-clogging does not bode well for downhill players like Donovan Mitchell, who could expand his game with more floor spacing.
When Favors shares the floor with the four other Jazz starters, Utah carries a net rating of plus-5.1. Remove Favors for the smaller, more mobile Jae Crowder, and that lineup has a net rating of plus-12.0 in similar minutes (501 to 478).
Favors is good enough to be a starting center in the NBA, but he'll have to develop his outside shooting if he wants to keep starting at power forward next to Gobert.
Looking to Upgrade
Indiana Pacers: PG Darren Collison
Indiana is facing a critical offseason.
The Pacers have only $57.9 million in committed salary for next season, as players like Collison, Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic and Tyreke Evans will all be unrestricted free agents. With Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner locked in, it's imperative for the Pacers to push for a third star now while they still have available cap space.
That likely means parting ways with Collison, who's averaged 11.8 points and 5.7 assists over the past two years. He also led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage (46.8 percent) last season.
While Kyrie Irving likely isn't walking through that door, the Pacers could make an attractive pitch to someone like Kemba Walker, Ricky Rubio or Patrick Beverley. Collison is fine, but the Pacers should aim higher.
Los Angeles Lakers: C JaVale McGee
McGee had one of the best seasons of his career this past year with the Lakers, putting up 12.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks while starting 62 games
Despite the solid raw numbers, the Lakers were 4.6 points per 100 possessions better with him on the bench, which isn't a good sign for any starter.
To build a championship roster around LeBron James, the Lakers will need a center better than McGee.
Oklahoma City Thunder: SG Terrance Ferguson
Ferguson filled in as OKC's starting shooting guard this season with Andre Roberson still recovering from a ruptured patellar tendon. While he did about as a well as 20-year-old second-year wing could while surrounded by stars, the Thunder can do better.
Oklahoma City desperately needs more long-range shooting, but Ferguson connected on an underwhelming 36.6 percent of his threes. Given the amount of open looks someone can draw between Russell Westbrook and Paul George, that isn't good enough.
Getting Roberson back would improve the team's defense, but signing a sharpshooter like JJ Redick, Danny Green or Wayne Ellington in free agency should be the plan.
San Antonio Spurs: C Jakob Poeltl
Poeltl enjoyed a nice first season in San Antonio in limited minutes, starting 24 of his 77 games. However, his fit next to LaMarcus Aldridge doesn't seem sustainable.
Nearly all of Poeltl's offense comes in the paint, while Aldridge shot only 42 total three-pointers all season at a 23.8 percent clip. Considering DeMar DeRozan and Dejounte Murray are poor three-point shooters as well, that's far too much paint-clogging, even for San Antonio.
The Spurs need to insert a big with range next to Aldridge to maximize their offense. They're better off with Poeltl off the bench.
Washington Wizards: PG Tomas Satoransky
Satoransky is only starting because John Wall may miss the entire 2019-20 season with a ruptured left Achilles tendon.
While the 27-year-old point guard averaged 10.7 points and 6.2 assists in 54 games as a starter last season, Washington will need more to get back to the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Bringing the restricted free agent back on a reasonable deal as Wall's long-term backup would be smart, but the Wizards should also try to sign a veteran like Derrick Rose or Rajon Rondo to help bolster the point guard position for a year while Wall recovers.
Golden State Warriors: C DeMarcus Cousins
Even after tearing his quad, Cousins' career with the Warriors may not be over. If he's out for the rest of the playoffs, another one-year deal may be back on the table.
If Cousins can recover quickly from his latest setback, he's still in line for a big payday. His skills alone warrant that, despite his recent injuries.
If he agrees to come back on a team-friendly deal, great. If not, the Warriors could plug anyone into the rest of that starting lineup and still win 55 games. They need to focus on retaining Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson first, while Cousins is a distant third.
Milwaukee Bucks: C Brook Lopez
Lopez was one of the best free-agent signings of last summer, and he should be looking to cash in big this offseason.
Playing on a one-year, $3.4 million deal, the 31-year-old center averaged 12.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 2.3 three-pointers per game.
Milwaukee will assuredly want him back, but at what cost? Eric Bledsoe already got a $70 million extension, and the Bucks have to pony up for Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic this summer as well. Giannis Antetokounmpo is headed toward a supermax contract in 2021, too.
That's a lot of money for a small-market team. As a result, the Bucks may have to let Lopez walk and look for their next bargain-bin center in free agency.
New York Knicks: C DeAndre Jordan
Jordan played well enough (10.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 63.4 percent shooting) to warrant a second contract with the Knicks within reason.
Unless they whiff in free agency, the Knicks shouldn't offer Jordan anywhere near the $22.9 million he earned this season.
New York has the capability to sign two max free agents this summer, and no one should be considered off-limits. Even if Jordan walks while they try to woo bigger stars, the Knicks appear to have found a hidden second-round gem with rookie center Mitchell Robinson in this past draft.
Philadelphia 76ers: SF Jimmy Butler
With 60 percent of their starting lineup set to become unrestricted free agents this summer, Philly has some tough decisions to make.
One easy call? Don't re-sign Butler to a max deal.
The Sixers can offer Butler five years and approximately $190 million. That's too much of a financial risk for someone who's about to turn 30, has been on three teams in three years and has spent the majority of his career logging heavy minutes under head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Losing Butler for nothing would hurt, but Philadelphia should use that money to first chase Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant or split it between Tobias Harris and JJ Redick while saving for a Ben Simmons extension. Given his fallout in both Chicago and Minnesota, Butler isn't worth a near $200 million gamble.
Toronto Raptors: SG Danny Green
The Raptors have perhaps the best starting lineup of any team outside of Oakland, California. The primary goal is to bring back Kawhi Leonard on a max deal, even if it pushes the team payroll north of $140 million.
That'll be the case if Marc Gasol exercises his $25.6 million player option, as Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka will combine to make nearly $57 million next season.
That leaves Green as the odd man out.
While he's been great as a sharpshooting wing this season (he averaged 10.3 points and shot 45.5 percent from three), the Raptors would be hard-pressed to match even his current $10 million salary next year given all of their other financial commitments.
Re-signing Green will be tempting, but letting the 31-year-old shooting guard walk and searching for a cheaper option in free agency should be the play.
Greg Swartz covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.