Weak Draft Night? Here's How Your Team Can Bounce Back in NBA Free Agency
Did the 2019 NBA draft not go the way you wanted for your favorite team?
No worries! There's still plenty of time to add talent this summer, starting with this year's star-studded free-agent class.
Players can now verbally commit to teams earlier than ever, with the NBA having moved up the start of free agency to 6 p.m. ET on June 30. Fans on the East Coast can now find out about signings without having to stay up past midnight on July 1.
Teams that made a questionable draft pick, reached for a player or didn't have a first-round pick at all can quickly make amends next week.
Here's where the draft went wrong for the following five teams, and how they can make things right in free agency.
The Indiana Pacers used the No. 18 overall pick on 19-year-old center Goga Bitadze from Georgia, which seemed to represent good value. He was the MVP of the Serbian League while playing against grown men, is an excellent shot-blocker and can step out and hit three-pointers.
The problem has to do with his fit on this Pacers roster, as Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star wrote:
"In a league moving away from size in the post and headed toward skill on the perimeter, the Pacers already had one young 6'11" post player. Well, no, they already had two of them: Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, 6'11" bigs already on [the] roster, guys who cannot play together. The Pacers went into the 2019 NBA draft with a clear mandate: to get better on the perimeter, to add firepower to Oladipo and, well, nobody. Because the Pacers don't have anybody else on the perimeter."
With Oladipo rehabbing from a ruptured quadriceps tendon in his right knee, the Pacers finished the season with a starting lineup of Darren Collison, Wesley Matthews, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner. Turner, a center like Bitadze, is the only one currently under contract for next season.
Not only is Turner locked in as the team's starter, but Sabonis has become one of the NBA's best reserves behind him. The Pacers don't like to play the two together, as they did so for only 6.7 minutes per game in 2018-19. Turner played exclusively at center last season, the same spot where Sabonis spent 76 percent of his minutes.
Bitadze may have been the best player available on the draft board, but minutes will be limited while the Pacers scramble to fill out the rest of their roster in free agency.
Acquiring T.J. Warren from the Phoenix Suns gives the Pacers a potential starter at either forward position, but they'll still need to fill either the 3 or 4 as well as find a new starting point guard.
Even after trading for Warren, the Pacers can still carve out more than $30 million in cap space, enough to offer one max contract to a player with no more than nine years of NBA experience.
While Indiana should first make calls to representatives for Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker and D'Angelo Russell, the best fits might be Khris Middleton and Ricky Rubio.
Middleton could play shooting guard for the Pacers while Oladipo recovers and slide down to small forward upon his return. A first-time All-Star in 2019, the 27-year-old wing does a bit of everything with his 18.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.3 three-pointers and 1.0 steals per game. Signing him away from Milwaukee would be a huge blow to the top-seeded Bucks as well.
Rubio is a "significant free-agent target" for the Pacers, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. His age (28), playmaking (career average of 7.7 assists per game) and playoff experience (he started for the Utah Jazz in the last two postseasons) fits what Indiana needs, and he won't command a max contract like some of the other top point guards on the market.
The Pacers could be looking at a lineup of Rubio-Oladipo-Middleton-Warren-Turner by next postseason, which would be the best starting group they've put around Oladipo to date.
The Phoenix Suns might be the most point guard-hungry team in the NBA. Had they stayed put at No. 6 overall in the draft, they would have been in position to select UNC's Coby White.
All they had to do was...nothing.
Instead, the Suns chose to send No. 6 to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for No. 11 and power forward Dario Saric. While Saric is a good floor-spacing big, the move back cost them a chance at White, who ended up going No. 7 overall to the Chicago Bulls.
At No. 11, the Suns took 23-year-old UNC forward Cam Johnson, passing on their biggest position of need.
Best-case scenario? Johnson becomes the Suns' small forward of the future and competes for the league's three-point title every year. Granted, Phoenix still has to figure out who's going to get him the ball.
Virginia point guard Ty Jerome, who the Suns selected with the 24th pick after a draft-night trade with the Boston Celtics, projects as more of a combo guard in the NBA. He shouldn't be viewed as the long-term answer at the position.
If the Suns do nothing else in free agency, they need to get a point guard to run the offense and make sure players like Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Saric, Johnson and Mikal Bridges get their touches.
After adding Saric, Johnson, Jerome and Celtics center Aron Baynes, the Suns no longer have max cap space unless they can find a team to take on Tyler Johnson's expiring $19.2 million deal.
Offense shouldn't be a problem for the Suns, so they should be targeting veteran point guards who can defend and provide leadership for this young squad.
Patrick Beverley, Darren Collison and Ricky Rubio should be at the top of Phoenix's list, with Beverley the top priority.
On a Suns team that ranked 29th in the league with a 114.2 defensive rating, Beverley could set the defensive tone while providing the vocal leadership Phoenix needs.
The Sacramento Kings didn't get to make their 14th overall pick because of a salary-dumping trade back in 2015.
At the time, Sacramento traded Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson to the Philadelphia 76ers along with picks and pick-swap options to clear cap space. They ended up using that money on Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Kosta Koufos.
Had the Kings not been surprisingly good last season—they finished 39-43, which was their best record in more than a decade—losing this pick could have been even more painful.
While Sacramento ended up selecting Wyoming's Justin James, Virginia's Kyle Guy and Vanja Marinkovic of Serbia in the second round, not having a lottery pick due to such a foolish trade four years ago makes free agency even more important for the Kings now.
The Kings caught a break when Harrison Barnes chose to decline his $25.1 million player option, which gives them max cap space and then some.
Their biggest area of need is at center, where they should be targeting a productive veteran who can help elevate their young core to the playoffs next season.
With Al Horford declining his $30.1 million player option, the Kings should make him their primary target.
Horford has been a postseason starter in each of the past five years. He's made the playoffs 11 total times in his 12-year career with the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics.
At 33, he can still anchor a defense, and he's one of the NBA's best passing bigs. After averaging 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.1 three-pointers with the Celtics last season, Horford would be the perfect addition to a young Kings team with plenty of salary space.
A three-year, $80 million deal would make sense for both sides.
Trading the No. 23 pick as part of a trade package for Mike Conley wasn't a mistake, although it meant the Utah Jazz weren't on the clock until the No. 50 pick. They also sent out a future protected first-round pick in the trade, according to Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian.
Conley will slot in as the Jazz's new starting point guard, but they still have a hole at power forward.
That puts more pressure on the front office to make a splash in free agency.
The Jazz start Derrick Favors at power forward, but he's more of a natural 5. The talented big man has spent the majority of his court time at center over the past four seasons, too.
Favors would be best suited as the starting center on a team, given his rim protection (1.4 blocks per game) and lack of outside shooting (0.2 three-pointers per game on a 21.8 percent clip). Since the Jazz also have 2017-18 Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, Favors won't get that opportunity in Utah.
Instead, the Jazz can open up $16.9 million in cap space by waiving Favors by July 6 and letting him hit free agency. If they can get Julius Randle, it'd justify sacrificing Favors.
Randle, 24, would give the Jazz the floor-spacing Conley and Donovan Mitchell need while providing a large share of the offense and rebounding.
A good athlete, Randle shot a career-high 34.4 percent from deep last season while averaging 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 0.7 steals per game with the New Orleans Pelicans.
After earning $8.6 million with the Pelicans last season, Randle may be happy with an annual deal worth $15-$17 million.
Rui Hachimura looked like a potential lottery pick heading into the draft, but it was still shocking to see him go No. 9 overall.
Even Hachimura was surprised the Wizards took him, as he hadn't met with or spoken to anyone on the team leading up to draft night.
Starting for the first time as a junior, Hachimura put up an impressive 19.7 points while shooting 41.7 percent from deep. However, he took only 36 total three-pointers this past season, and he was a career 31.6 percent outside shooter in his three years at Gonzaga.
Combine that with his lack of defense, and Hachimura has a long way to go to justify being a top-10 pick.
The Wizards will have limited cap space this summer even though they don't plan to pick up Jabari Parker's $20 million team option, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.
Hachimura projects to be a power forward in the NBA, so Washington must focus on finding the right center to put next to him.
Veterans Dwight Howard and Ian Mahinmi will both come off the books next summer. Since the Wizards don't have the money to go big-name hunting now, they'd be wise to lock up one of their own instead.
Washington's primary goal should be signing 21-year-old center Thomas Bryant to a long-term contract.
A restricted free agent, Bryant was one of the few bright spots on the Wizards last season, averaging 18.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes. He led the NBA with a 68.5 percent shooting mark from inside the arc, but he also showed the ability to step out and hit the three. Since Hachimura's outside shooting remains unproven, Bryant's ability to space the floor is critical.
Bryant is a restricted free agent, so the Wizards can match any offer sheet he receives. But rather than allowing him to test the market, they should attempt to lock him up early in free agency.