NBA Teams That Need to Blow It Up This Summer

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 1, 2019

NBA Teams That Need to Blow It Up This Summer

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    The lifespan of an NBA nucleus is unpredictable.

    For every one to defy the odds and withstand the test of time, there are five flaming out in unspectacular fashion and another five playing well beyond their best-if-used-by dates.

    The latter group has our attention here.

    The five following teams must pull the plug. Some have chemistry experiments gone awry. Others keep bumping their heads into low on-court ceilings and bloated financial books.

    Their approaches aren't working, and the time to change is now. We'll help get the ball rolling by identifying those most in need of overhauls.  

Charlotte Hornets

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    The 2018-19 campaign might serve as Kemba Walker's magnum opus. As a 28-year-old, he broke his previous scoring high with 60 points against the Philadelphia 76ers while becoming just the 13th player in the 2010s to average at least 25 points, five assists and four rebounds per game.

    Even better, this Champagne production came at a cheap-beer discount. It was the final season of the four-year, $48 million pact he inked in 2014, meaning he collected the same coin as Austin Rivers, Avery Bradley and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

    So, how did the Charlotte Hornets take advantage of rostering one of the Association's best discounts? The same way they've handled the rest of his tenure—surrounding with him overpaid, underperforming support players. They weren't a playoff team, just like they haven't been in six of his eight seasons in Buzz City.

    The hoops world noticed Walker's one-man tour de force and rewarded him with his first All-NBA selection. That's particularly relevant to his upcoming free agency, since he's now eligible for a massive five-year, $221 million supermax extension with Charlotte.

    That's a cartoonish amount of money, and if Walker can get it, he probably should. But the Hornets can't put themselves on the hook for that much cake. If they couldn't construct a postseason roster—not a contender, mind you, just a playoff participant—around him when he was an up-and-comer making relative pocket change, how would it be possible when he's a 30-something (he turned 29 in May) making $40-plus million?

    Granted, the sides have more than a few sentimental reasons to want to keep this going. As league sources told The Athletic's Roderick Boone, indications are that Walker "wants to re-sign with the Hornets, and the feeling is sill mutual."

    A macro view of the situation looks untenable, though. On a title contender, Walker would be more Robin than Batman. In Charlotte, he's a Robin-less Batman. Rather than further restricting their financial books, the Hornets should make the painful but sensible decision to let Walker leave and then spend the summer turning every stone that could yield salary relief, draft picks and/or prospects.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Dumpster fires are less chaotic than whatever is transpiring with the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Last summer's signing of LeBron James was supposed to save the directionless franchise. But one more lottery appearance later, the Purple and Gold seem as far removed from their storied past as ever.

    As's Baxter Holmes reported, the Lakers have been a mess, from former president Magic Johnson and current general manager Rob Pelinka on down:

    "On the court, the Lakers missed the playoffs in LeBron James' first season with the team, ending his streak of eight consecutive NBA Finals appearances. Virtually all of the Lakers' young talent was publicly dangled in trade talks for superstar Anthony Davis, sowing mistrust between those players and managementand between those players and James. Johnson and Pelinka allowed James' management team what was considered unusual access by many people around the team and league. And tensions boiled over in an early February locker room blow-up."

    Johnson is gone and won't be replaced. Former skipper Luke Walton is out, while Frank Vogel—who wasn't one of their top two choices, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski—has taken his place. Either James looks out of place alongside this young core, or they look out of place next to him.

    Something has to give.

    The Lakers have the assets to chase multiple stars this season. They have the cap room to court Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson or Kawhi Leonard in free agency, plus the potential trade chips to add Davis and/or Chris Paul. No youngsters should be off limits in pursuit of a star, as the window to contend within the remainder of James' prime has only so much time left.

    But if the trade market proves as fruitless as it did at the deadline and no impact players arrive in free agency, L.A. must at least consider the nuclear option of dealing the King. It might be a public relations nightmare, and it'd have to net a king's ransom—which is no guarantee—but it would give this franchise a firm direction. The current strategy of building for the present and future isn't a viable option.

New Orleans Pelicans

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    New Orleans Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin met with disgruntled superstar Anthony Davis recently, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, needing no less than a miracle to salvage the relationship.

    In a surprise to no one, that seemingly didn't happen. As a source told Charania, Davis' desire for a scenery change is "highly unlikely" to change even after the chitchat.

    Griffin shouldn't see this as a total disappointment. Sure, being forced to trade a superstar is never ideal, but this split was inevitable before he arrived in April to take over for Dell Demps. If the Pellies were honest with themselves, they didn't hire Griffin to save Davis. He got the gig to maximize the trade return.

    After winning the chance to select Zion Williamson first overall at the draft lottery, New Orleans has the opportunity to reshape its organization around the electric—and marketable—freshman-to-be. Considering the new centerpiece won't turn 19 until July, the Pels should prioritize ceilings over floors and potential over production.

    Translation: Don't just stop at a Davis deal. See what Jrue Holiday might fetch on the open market, and if there's a way to move on from Solomon Hill and/or E'Twaun Moore, explore that too.

    "One hypothetical: Davis gets traded to the [Boston] Celtics for a package built around Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart, and Holiday is flipped to the [Indiana] Pacers for Myles Turner and more pieces,"'s Tim Bontemps wrote. "The Pelicans would then be stacked with young talent in Williamson's age range."

    As soon as Griffin makes peace with Davis' trade request, the executive should get giddy over all the possibilities at his fingertips.

Houston Rockets

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    Putting the Houston Rockets on here somehow feels both unexpected and predictable.

    This time last year, they were coming off a 65-win season they justifiably felt should have featured at least a Finals appearance. If not for an ill-timed injury to Chris Paul or an arctic cold stretch, the Rockets would've probably been in the 2018 championship round as heavy favorites.

    But this isn't last year. Houston's win total dropped by a dozen this season, and the offense leaned into a James Harden-or-bust approach. Past concerns about not having enough touches to pacify both Paul and Harden resurfaced as the players clashed over the offensive style during Houston's second-round elimination, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

    Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta declared the early exit "unacceptable," and he apparently wasn't speaking in hyperbole. Sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski that Houston general manager Daryl Morey has since made "his entire roster and future draft picks available in trade talks." While a Harden deal probably isn't happening, sources said Paul and Clint Capela could both be "more realistic trade targets."

    Extension talks with head coach Mike D'Antoni also broke down, according to Jonathan Feigen of Houston Chronicle, making him a lame duck coach for 2019-20.

    This seems like an overreaction, since all the Rockets did was lose to the Warriors—which, if you've been paying attention, everyone does. That said, this also feels like too much smoke to not spark at least a few fires.

    Change feels imminent, and maybe it'll be for the better.

    If Harden and Paul aren't bringing out the best in each other, it's far too costly to keep them together. Capela, signed through 2022-23, might also be expendable given the way he shrinks the floor as a non-shooter. Among Rockets rotation players, the big fella had the worst net differential this postseason (minus-10.2 points per 100 possessions).

Washington Wizards

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    The Washington Wizards are going nowhere fast.

    The last time this organization traveled beyond the second round was 1979. In two of the last four years, it has missed out on the postseason entirely.

    What makes anyone think this situation will improve moving forward?

    The Wizards still haven't settled on a president of basketball operations since dismissing Ernie Grunfeld in April. Whoever takes the position will inherit a mess.

    Next season's roster might have more than $48 million in dead money between John Wall (torn Achilles), Dwight Howard (last suited up in November) and Ian Mahinmi (not a rotation player for most of 2018-19). By 2020-21, it would have Bradley Beal on an expiring contract and a then-30-year-old Wall attempting to return from perhaps basketball's worst injury.

    The prospect collection lacks quantity and quality. Thomas Bryant had some encouraging moments, but he's not even a year removed from getting waived by a bad Lakers team. Troy Brown Jr., last summer's 15th pick, barely broke a sweat as a rookie. Tomas Satoransky is 27 years old, Bobby Portis is 24 and both are heading to restricted free agency.

    Washington also holds the No. 9 pick in the upcoming talent grab June 20, which appears to be well outside the range of this class' potential difference-makers.

    This nucleus is not built to age well, and it's already lost a considerable amount of steam. Better to cut bait now, squeeze the market for everything it will give for Beal and then spend the upcoming weeks, months and (if necessary) years looking for a way out of Wall's suffocating salary. The time to reset is now, both because this core has run its course and the next regime deserves a clean slate.


    Salary information obtained via Basketball Insiders.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.