The Biggest Post-Draft Hole Every NBA Team Must Fill in Free Agency
NBA offseason makeovers are just getting started.
The trade market has already delivered difference-makers to the Los Angeles Lakers (Anthony Davis) and Utah Jazz (Mike Conley). While we won't know for a while what type of reinforcements the draft provided, the New Orleans Pelicans (Zion Williamson), Memphis Grizzlies (Ja Morant) and New York Knicks (RJ Barrett) potentially plucked new centerpieces at the top.
But those five clubs have more work to do, as does the rest of the Association.
Every roster has some type of void in need of filling. Some franchises are desperately seeking their next face. Others only have openings for specialized niches.
Not every squad will find what it wants, of course, but that's their problem—not ours. We're just here to get the ball rolling by identifying each team's biggest post-draft problem area.
Atlanta Hawks: Rim Protection
The Atlanta Hawks are low-key loaded.
Trae Young and Kevin Huerter could be the most convincing Splash Brothers recreation we've seen. John Collins is already a nightly supplier of 20 points and 10 boards. De'Andre Hunter should seamlessly slide into a three-and-D role. Cam Reddish is a wild card with star potential. Omari Spellman functions like connective tissue.
Never mind last season's 29-53 record; this team has almost everything.
But interior defense is a critical omission. The Hawks had last season's third-worst defensive rating and encountered their biggest problems down low. They allowed the 11th-highest field-goal percentage inside five feet and ranked just 24th in defensive rebounding percentage.
Dewayne Dedmon was a serviceable placeholder, but he's headed to unrestricted free agency and doesn't fit the core's timeline. It would help if his replacement also had a three-ball, but the primary focus should be anchoring the defense.
Boston Celtics: Point Guard
Two of the Boston Celtics' four draft-night pulls were point guards: Purdue's Carsen Edwards and LSU's Tremont Waters. That was just the first step in overhauling this position.
All-Star Kyrie Irving is an unrestricted free agent who seemingly has both feet out the door. Terry Rozier is a restricted free agent who sounds ready for a change. The former lottery pick really wants an opportunity to start, but considering he's finished each of his four NBA seasons with a sub-40 field-goal percentage, the Shamrocks shouldn't be scrambling to give him one.
The Celtics have emerged as a "stealth suitor" for Kemba Walker, per Marc Stein of the New York Times. Walker shares many of Irving's on-court traits, only minus the off-court volatility. Restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon is being mentioned as a potential target, per Yahoo Sports' Keith Smith. Brogdon is a solid shooter and sturdy defender who doesn't dominate the ball.
In terms of talent, Boston probably isn't rolling out as good a point guard group next season as it did this past one. But talent wasn't this team's issue. Whether it's Walker, Brogdon or a different table-setter, this is the Celtics' chance to find the floor general who can bring this bunch together.
Brooklyn Nets: Featured Scorer
The Brooklyn Nets bumped their win column by 14 this past season, thanks in no small part to D'Angelo Russell's All-Star ascension.
The former No. 2 pick put on an impressive display of offensive volume and efficiency. He not only set career bests in points (21.1) and assists (7.0), but he also did the same in field-goal (43.4) and three-point percentage (36.9).
Normally, a 23-year-old making that kind of leap would be a no-brainer keeper. But it's different with Brooklyn. The Nets have two max-contract slots available, and each could be earmarked for someone other than Russell. They are the favorites to add Kyrie Irving, and they would ideally slot him next to Kevin Durant.
Brooklyn's roster has an abundance of impact role players, but none easily fits in the driver's seat. Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie seem capable in spurts, but they lack the consistency of a top-tier star. Given Russell's handling of the role, the Nets should probably want him back if Irving isn't coming.
Charlotte Hornets: Shot-Creators
It's tough to gauge the likelihood of Kemba Walker sticking with the Charlotte Hornets.
On one hand, both parties seem in favor of continuing this relationship. The All-Star point guard has never hidden his desire to stay in Buzz City. The franchise has committed to doing "everything we can" to bring back its all-time leading scorer.
On the other hand, it's fair to question how beneficial this partnership really is. Walker played the last four seasons on one of the NBA's best bargain contracts, and the club only put a playoff team around him once. Now that he's up for a mega-raise—he's eligible for a five-year, $221 million supermax—the difficulty in constructing a supporting cast around him will rise exponentially.
Walker, who isn't short on suitors, could stay or go, and it wouldn't change the fact this roster needs more shot-creators. Fellow free agent Jeremy Lamb was the team's No. 2 scorer at just 15.3 points per game. Tony Parker, who announced his retirement in early June, was the No. 2 distributor at 3.7 assists per contest.
This offense doesn't pack a powerful punch, and that's true even with Walker.
Chicago Bulls: Ball-Mover
The draft board broke just right for the Chicago Bulls to add their potential point guard of the future. They stood pat at No. 7 overall, then watched North Carolina's electric freshman Coby White fall right into their laps.
"I said this when the season ended and you start digging into the draft, you start looking at the individual and what he can do for your organization. We feel he's just a really good fit for us," Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. "He's got a world of talent."
The Bulls finally have competition for former lottery pick Kris Dunn. What they still need, though, is a willing and able passer to ensure the ball doesn't stick at the offensive end.
This past season, Chicago sat just 25th in assist percentage. It finished among the bottom third in terms of manufacturing open (21st) and wide-open (24th) shots. White's aggressiveness will help buy the Bulls a couple of easy ones in the open court, but he's not a great decision-maker when things slow down.
Even with him on board, this team could use a veteran floor general to keep the offense flowing.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Defense
This past season's Cleveland Cavaliers were the worst defensive team the NBA has seen since 1973-74. That means they have nowhere to go but up, right?
One would think so, but their draft might say otherwise.
They added three players in all: Vanderbilt's Darius Garland, Belmont's Dylan Windler and USC's Kevin Porter Jr. All three lean toward the offensive end of the floor, and extremely so in Garland's case. Assuming the 6'2" rookie shares the starting backcourt with 6'2" sophomore Collin Sexton, they'll become the new Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum of brutal defensive backcourts.
Windler has the effort of a stopper, but physical limitations hold him back. He'll have trouble with both big forwards and speedy guards. Porter Jr. has the agility and strength to be a lockdown stopper, but his awareness is lacking and his motor stalls out.
Add Kevin Love to the equation and Cleveland is essentially extending all opponents an open invitation to attack.
Dallas Mavericks: Versatile Shooters
Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis (assuming he's re-signed) should give the Dallas Mavericks an electric tandem for today and tomorrow.
Equally important, they give this front office maximum flexibility heading into the offseason. When your two best players are a 6'7" playmaker and a 7'3" shot-blocker/perimeter splasher, the rest of your roster can take myriad forms.
Shooting should be a focus for the supporting cast, though. Floor balance will be critical in preventing defenses from overcrowding Doncic and Porzingis. The two should border on unstoppable when working the screen game together, but that's only true if Dallas has enough spacers to keep opposing defenses honest.
Given the Mavs' budget, they should be shopping for more than a specialist. Ideally, they'd land a combo forward with range, handles and defensive versatility. But those players are hard to find. If Dallas shifts to Plans B or C, it should target shooters with extra elements to their game.
Everyone from a scoring point guard like Kemba Walker to a glue-guy big man like Al Horford could make a lot of sense.
Denver Nuggets: Big Wing
Friends and family of the Denver Nuggets must have a terrible time shopping for this franchise. What on earth are you supposed to buy the team that seemingly has everything?
You'd think a 7'0" offensive hub would be a rare gift, but the Nuggets already have one in Nikola Jokic. You might assume there's zero chance they have a 7'2" player with handles and a three-ball, but nope. That's the description of incoming rookie Bol Bol.
Maybe that's why they feel zero pressure to add pieces: They already have 11 guaranteed contracts on next season's book, and that's without Bol or Paul Millsap (team option).
"We've had the most success when we've shown patience and allowed guys to play into bigger roles, so we will look to better ourselves in the coming weeks, but we're not the least bit scared of coming back with largely the same group," Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said, per Mike Singer of the Denver Post.
It's hard to argue with that stance since Denver won 54 games last season while its top three scorers were under the age of 25.
Privately, though, the Nuggets might admit they want another big forward to handle the assignments 6'6" Will Barton and 6'7" Torrey Craig aren't quite built to tackle. A healthy Michael Porter Jr. should help. But his next NBA action will be his first, and his defense might need a lot of work.
Detroit Pistons: Three-Point Shooting
The Detroit Pistons' summer wish list is extensive.
While they have taken steps to address their seemingly permanent void at small forward (drafting Sekou Doumbouya, trading for Tony Snell), they might have more work ahead on that front. They need depth at point guard, as free agency could claim both Ish Smith and Jose Calderon. They need reliability behind Andre Drummond at center.
But more than anything, they need snipers. This was not a great three-point-shooting team this past season. While it tied for ninth in makes, it sat just 22nd in conversion rate.
If there's a way to make the Drummond-Blake Griffin frontcourt work in today's game, the solution starts with a small army of three-point marksmen around them. They've often worked with one designated sharpshooter (be that Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington or Luke Kennard), then a couple of so-so ones. That's not enough to clear the runway for Griffin and Drummond to take flight.
Golden State Warriors: Microwave Scorer
This void could change in a major way should one or both of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson bolt in free agency. Assuming they stick around, though, the Golden State Warriors' obvious area of attention is their anemic second unit.
Past iterations of the Warriors could survive a rare off night from the stars. Players such as Marreese Speights, Leandro Barbosa and Ian Clark could summon the occasional scoring flash and help the Dubs avoid disaster.
This past year's bench was almost devoid of firepower. Quinn Cook paced the reserves with just 6.9 points per night. As a whole, the second team managed just 30.3 points per game, which was the third-lowest average in the Association.
Supplemental scoring was at a premium before injuries forced Durant and Thompson off the floor for the foreseeable future. Now, it's the biggest offseason priority by far. Even if rookie Jordan Poole can hit the ground running, that would only satisfy a small portion of this major itch for second-team points and triples.
Houston Rockets: Perimeter Depth
The Houston Rockets are in a weird place.
They are objectively included on a short list of championship contenders. No team has won more games over the past two seasons. The only playoff hurdle they've hit in that stretch are the Golden State Warriors, who won't be the same obstacle next season. They have two future Hall of Famers in the backcourt (James Harden and Chris Paul), plus an offensive mastermind on the sideline (Mike D'Antoni).
And yet, this team might be fracturing at the worst possible time. The Rockets have made nearly their entire roster available in trades, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowksi. The relationship between Harden and Paul has been deemed "unsalvageable," per Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill.
Houston now hopes to court Jimmy Butler for a potential sign-and-trade, according to Wojnarowski. While that would net the Rockets their coveted third star, it would also deplete their depth even further.
It's hard to get a good read on the Rockets, but all potential paths forward feature a need for perimeter depth. Austin Rivers, Iman Shumpert, Gerald Green and Danuel House (restricted) are headed for free agency.
Should Houston add Butler, that might further diminish its depth. Should it stand pat, it must replenish the wings and find an understudy for Paul, a 34-year-old who hasn't topped 61 appearances in three seasons.
Indiana Pacers: Scoring Sidekick
Assuming no lasting effects from his ruptured quadriceps tendon, Victor Oladipo should guarantee the Indiana Pacers have a franchise talent for at least the next two seasons. But it takes multiple stars to conquer today's NBA, and it seems that player must come from outside the organization.
Most of Indy's roster is headed to free agency, including this past season's No. 2 scorer, Bojan Bogdanovic. While the Pacers could try to run it back and see what happens when Oladipo is healthy, it's tough to forecast the team's ceiling extending beyond the second round.
Instead, Indy should use this flexibility to chase a high-level perimeter scorer. To be clear, it won't suddenly lure an elite free agent to the Hoosier State. But it can cross its fingers and make a run at the next tier.
How good could Oladipo be if he had Kemba Walker or D'Angelo Russell piling up points and pulling defenders away? If Indy can snag a co-star, that would help set the hierarchy for the rest of this roster. Then, the limitations on players like Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis and Doug McDermott would become less noticeable as their roles get more defined.
Los Angeles Clippers: Franchise Focal Point
Is it too dramatic to dub this summer as "Kawhi Leonard or Bust" for the Los Angeles Clippers? Honestly, no.
They have essentially spent two years putting themselves in this position. Trading Blake Griffin took guts. Even if there were legitimate concerns over how his contract would age, he was still a star. Besides, doing it just seven months after declaring him a "Clipper for life" wasn't exactly a boon for the public relations staff.
L.A. then flipped the centerpiece of the Griffin swap, Tobias Harris, for future assets and financial flexibility. Without those two transactions, the Clippers wouldn't be sitting on an impressive collection of roster-building tools and win-now supporting players.
But this has all been about finding the next star, and no one looks better for that role than Leonard. He's a Southern California native who's been anxious to get back home. While the Toronto Raptors' title run might've lessened some of his urgency, the Clippers are still right in this race and will have a chance to make their recruiting pitch.
Add Leonard and this club could have realistic hopes of contending next season. Don't and it might take another masterful coaching performance by Doc Rivers just for this group to get back to the playoffs.
Los Angeles Lakers: Shooting
Though much focus has been paid to the Los Angeles Lakers' ability to open a third max-contract slot, building a Big Three shouldn't be seen as an offseason necessity.
Sure, if the Lakers can get a marquee talent like Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker, they should be all over it. Attempting to contain LeBron James and Anthony Davis at the same time is challenging enough. Adding a strong third option to the mix might move this group into unguardable territory.
That said, if L.A. can't lure in another elite, it's better off spreading its remaining resources among multiple supporting pieces. Handle the rest of this roster properly and the James-Davis duo could still make this club championship favorites.
In other words, there are different ways to go about this summer. But all of them require major attention on the shooting department, which the Lakers somehow neglected last time around.
With or without another star, James and Davis need all the spacing they can get.
Memphis Grizzlies: Scoring Wing
By play styles, the new-look Memphis Grizzlies should be a dramatic departure from the old grit-and-grind group. Between Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke, the Grizzlies have a young stable of elite athletes who should race around the floor and perform aerial acrobatics on the regular.
"I'm sure we're going to have some very fun highlights to watch," Clarke told Dime Magazine's Bill DiFilippo.
In terms of roster needs, though, the new Grizzlies share one thing with their predecessors: the need for impact wings. The old Memphis clubs never solved their perimeter problems, which grew dire enough for the franchise to throw $94 million at a broken-down Chandler Parsons.
History cannot repeat itself. This wing rotation needs work, specifically players who can spread the floor, get out in transition and defend multiple spots. Those players don't come cheap, but snagging even a decent three-and-D option like Jeremy Lamb, Rodney Hood or Danuel House could go a long way toward getting the revamped Grizzlies off on the right foot.
Miami Heat: Go-To Scorer
Dwyane Wade's farewell tour not only creates a leadership void for the Miami Heat, but it also strips away the squad's biggest scoring threat.
The fact Wade qualified as such in his age-37 season says plenty about him, but more about the club he leaves behind. His decline from his peak was obvious (career-worst 43.3 field-goal percentage), and yet Miami still entrusted him with its biggest possessions. He paced the team in fourth-quarter points (4.6), shots (4.2) and usage rate (28.8 percent).
With him out of the equation, no one seems an obvious choice to take control of this offense, which finished this past season 26th in both scoring and efficiency. Goran Dragic probably has the most credentials, but a rebuilding team—the Heat may not consider themselves as such, but that's what they are—gains very little by letting a 33-year-old drive the bus in a contract year.
The Heat have no obvious wiggle room, but they are "operating like they can move money," per Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler. This franchise rarely shies away from a big-game hunt, and its need for star power is as strong as ever.
Milwaukee Bucks: Second Star
Never mind that the Giannis Antetokounmpo won't reach free agency before 2021. The Milwaukee Bucks' recruiting pitch starts now.
They're the latest small-market team to roster a superstar and watch him get publicly declared a flight risk. Whether he shares that sentiment or not, it's still the perception against which Milwaukee is fighting.
While the Bucks can't control the narrative, they can (and should) take every possible step toward making him happy. That starts with taking care of free agent Khris Middleton, who just became Antetokounmpo's first All-Star teammate and was the second-best player on a 60-win contender.
Giannis has declared he wants everyone back, meaning Milwaukee can't even consider pinching pennies. The Bucks must prove their commitment to chasing a championship, which probably means giving Middleton a massive raise.
"He's going back," a Western Conference executive told The Athletic's Jordan Brenner. "What I hear is he will get a fifth year, but take a little less at the beginning. It won't be the max, but it'll be close."
Minnesota Timberwolves: Point Guard Protection
The Minnesota Timberwolves have one point guard under contract for next season. He's 31 years old, unsigned beyond 2019-20 and one of the least likely All-Stars of this generation. (The list of All-Stars with career averages of 12.7 points and 5.8 assists can't be long.)
Jeff Teague is fine. He has hovered a shade above mediocrity for most of his career and came dangerously close to the statistical equivalent of "meh"—15.4 player efficiency rating, just above the league-average mark of 15.0—this past season. He won't hurt the Wolves, but he won't help much either.
Obviously, Minnesota will give this position some attention this summer. But the way it goes about it might shape the club's present and future.
Derrick Rose's revival had some fun moments, but the Wolves shouldn't invest heavily in a shoot-first 30-year-old. Tyus Jones is an interesting option. His shooting rates are underwhelming, but he paced all qualified players with an absurd 6.96 assist-to-turnover ratio and ranked as a top-30 point guard by ESPN.com's real plus-minus.
Minnesota probably needs two decent options behind Teague, since he might not be long for the Gopher State and is coming off an injury-riddled campaign.
New Orleans Pelicans: Breathing Room for Zion
David Griffin has the Midas touch. Everything has come up aces since the New Orleans Pelicans put him in charge of their basketball operations in April.
Zion Williamson is the best kind of prize teams can hope to get after hitting the jackpot at the draft lottery. The Anthony Davis blockbuster has New Orleans sufficiently stocked with prospects and future picks. Dumping Solomon Hill during the draft makes the Pels potential players in free agency with more than $30 million in cap space.
New Orleans needs scorers and shooters to take some heat off Williamson. He might be the most intriguing prospect we've seen since Davis, but he's still just an 18-year-old. Griffin has worked to keep expectations from overwhelming his prized prospect, but the biggest assistance he can provide is adding impact players to the roster.
Making a run at Khris Middleton makes all kinds of sense. Ditto for Malcolm Brogdon. Spreading some money between helpful vets such as Bojan Bogdanovic, Brook Lopez and Dewayne Dedmon might work, too. The Pelicans are overloaded with elite athletes, but they'll need some shooters, as Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball are all unfinished products on the perimeter.
New York Knicks: Appropriately Priced Free Agents
It isn't often you'll see a team skewered on the scrolling ticker, but ESPN pulled no punches with its draft-night description of the New York Knicks' needs: "Everything (starters and bench)."
The sentiment is accurate, and maybe not even one the 'Bockers would argue. They have carefully maintained their cap space for a possibly transformational summer, and the roster shows it. Only five players hold guaranteed contracts for next season, and the oldest is 23 (Allonzo Trier).
The Knicks could make a massive splash this summer—maybe even two. They "feel like they are in" the running for Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving, per SNY's Ian Begley. But should they strike out on the top tier, they'd rather preserve their flexibility with short-term commitments than overspend on the next tier.
That's the prudent way of doing business. The last thing this club needs is the 2019 equivalent of giving Joakim Noah $72 million. But only time knows if the Knicks can stick to the script.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Net-Shredders
When the Oklahoma City Thunder run their self-assessments, the first thing they seem to notice is the price. Their books are bloated to the point they've put Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder and Andre Roberson on the trading block, per Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated.
If OKC thinks finances are its primary problem, that's tough to argue. You'd think $300 million could buy more than 49 wins and another first-round exit.
The problem is even if the Thunder want to cut costs, they can only go so far. They are massively invested in the Paul George-Russell Westbrook pairing, which is running out of time to make good on its potential. Westbrook's 31st birthday is coming in November. George's 30th will follow less than six months later. If these two have a championship window, its lifespan isn't long.
Any offseason improvements OKC can make should revolve around shooting. This team landed 22nd in three-point percentage this past season and finished 28th at the stripe. Prep-to-pro leaper Darius Bazley won't help that area (or probably any) next season, and the same goes with getting Roberson back.
This can't be solved internally, so the Thunder must get creative when searching for outside assistance.
Orlando Magic: Floor General
D.J. Augustin has made 500 reserve appearances and 307 starts over his 11-year NBA career. Most clubs who've employed him see him as a backup, which is how the Orlando Magic deployed him during his first two years in Disney's backyard.
That changed last season when he was promoted out of necessity. He's still atop the depth chart heading into this summer, and his only backup is perhaps the NBA's greatest mystery: Markelle Fultz, who's only played 33 games since entering the league as the first overall pick in 2017.
Augustin isn't a shot-creator. His 5.3 assists per game were his most since 2011-12. Fultz isn't a reliable source of anything. His shooting form looks broken, perhaps due to a combination of a shoulder injury and the yips. He isn't ready to play now, and Orlando doesn't know when that will change.
The Magic need at least one more point guard, but ideally, they could upgrade the position. This is a funky roster that's heavy in the frontcourt (especially if Nikola Vucevic returns) and light on scorers who can create their own shots, so it requires a high-level floor general to solve the puzzle.
Philadelphia 76ers: Floor-Spacers
The Philadelphia 76ers could go a few different directions this summer.
They could pay through the teeth to keep in-season acquisitions Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris around. They could let one walk and try to re-sign the other along with lethal long-range shooter JJ Redick. They could turn their attention outside the organization and try to sign someone like Kawhi Leonard, who might give them a meeting in free agency.
No matter their approach, they'll need more perimeter threats. That will be the case as long as Ben Simmons, who never launches threes, and Joel Embiid, who takes more than his career 31.5 percent conversion rate says he should, are on the roster.
Philly's roster was as talented as any this past season, which made its eighth-place finish in offensive efficiency a tad disappointing. But Simmons, an open-court speedster, and Embiid, a back-to-the-basket wizard, are a tricky fit with one another, especially when they don't have room to operate. If Zhaire Smith and Matisse Thybulle crack the rotation, neither is guaranteed to help this issue.
Phoenix Suns: Point Guard
Enough already, Phoenix Suns.
This past season's point guard rotation was maybe the worst position group seen this side of The Process. Isaiah Canaan made the opening-night start and was waived before December. Rookies De'Anthony Melton and Elie Okobo combined for 47 starts despite each having a single-digit PER. They sometimes just went without a point guard, which forced Devin Booker to grow as a playmaker but hurt his three-point shooting.
The Suns need to fix this for good. And no, we don't mean by thrusting rookie Ty Jerome into the opening group.
Booker has lobbied for close friend and All-Star point guard D'Angelo Russell, per ESPN.com's Zach Lowe, who adds others within the Suns "may not share Booker's unabashed enthusiasm." Phoenix would be making a mistake to not give Russell a shot. He would fit the timeline, address a need, make Booker happy and arrive as one of the two most dynamic players on the roster.
If the Suns are serious about getting out of their rebuild, adding Russell seems the perfect place to start.
Portland Trail Blazers: Forward Reinforcements
Apologies for spinning this broken record, but the Portland Trail Blazers could stand to strengthen their forward spots.
The positions have been problems for about as long as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have terrorized opposing defenses. Having Nassir Little, a former top-three prospect, slide to 25th could prove a gift from the basketball gods, but the 19-year-old doesn't offer much win-now assistance. For that, Portland must turn to free agency.
It has plenty to contend with on the home front. Al-Farouq Aminu, Rodney Hood and Jake Layman (restricted) are all headed for the open market, and there might not be enough money to keep all three (especially if they bring back Seth Curry).
Layman is replaceable but cheap. Aminu shines with defensive versatility and hustle, but his offseason limitations have muted his postseason impact. Hood gives this offense another off-the-dribble creator, but he's not the most consistent and could price his way out of Portland.
Should the Blazers bring someone in, shooting probably tops the wish list. But defense is close behind.
Sacramento Kings: Big Wing
While the Sacramento Kings were busy turning heads and shattering expectations, they couldn't hide two glaring deficiencies. They didn't have a big wing to match up with the league's perimeter elites like Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. They also didn't have much experience with success, meaning this young roster was trying to teach itself winning ways.
Harrison Barnes brought relief on both fronts when he arrived in a deadline deal with the Dallas Mavericks. He drilled 40.8 percent of his threes, and the Kings played better at both ends with him on the floor.
He has since jumped to the open market, declining a $25.1 million option to do so. It's a big risk for Barnes—his next annual salary probably won't approach that number—but he probably understands Sacramento badly needs him back. If he leaves, those same voids he filled in the second half would reopen.
"Sacramento got a 28-game test drive of Barnes and liked what they saw," NBC Sports' James Ham wrote. "They're hoping he'll ink a long-term contract with [them] once free agency opens on June 30."
San Antonio Spurs: Perimeter Marksmen
Gregg Popovich is a miracle worker.
In this perimeter-obsessed league, Pop just built the No. 6 offense around a pair of inside-the-arc scorers. Among this past season's 30 players who averaged 20-plus points, all but seven made 100-plus threes. All but two made 50 or more. The lone exceptions were DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, who combined for 17 triples during their first season together in the Alamo City.
Getting Dejounte Murray back will only exacerbate the issue. The 6'5" point guard wears several different hats, but three-point shooter isn't one of them. He has 18 perimeter makes in 119 career games.
The Spurs need more shooting to give their offense a wider margin for error. If the defense has another disappointing showing (20th in efficiency), this squad's success could be uncomfortably dependent on its point production. San Antonio should explore every plug-and-play shooter on the market.
Toronto Raptors: Kawhi Leonard
No reason to beat around the bush, folks.
While the Toronto Raptors' gamble on Kawhi Leonard has already paid off in incredible fashion, this is where they find out what that trade really meant. Did they change the trajectory of their entire organization, or did they catch lightning in a bottle as one-hit-wonder world champs?
The fact Leonard's free agency is even in question is no minor victory, as Wojnarowski explained during the Woj & Lowe Free Agency Special (via Silver Screen & Roll's Anthony Irwin):
"You gotta give the Raptors and Masai Ujiri, that organization, all the credit in the world, because when they traded for him, he had no intention of ever staying in Toronto, and now it is a serious consideration.
"I think he has really given them every opportunity to sell him, and two things that have worked in Toronto: They sold him on health, they proved they could keep him healthy, and they sold him on winning. And those are priorities for Kawhi Leonard. He has shown he is all about winning."
Hold off on the celebrations for now, Raptors fans. Wojnarowski also labeled this a "Raptors/Clippers race" while adding Leonard's camp have "kept their eye on the Lakers and what that's going to look like."
If Leonard stays north of the border, the Raptors are probably 2019-20 Eastern Conference favorites and on a short list of full-fledged contenders. But if he goes, Toronto could pivot to a substantial overhaul given the cost and age of some of its core.
Utah Jazz: Stretch Big
The blockbuster acquisition of Mike Conley was as clear an indication as any the Utah Jazz are trying to come for the NBA crown.
Their defense is ferocious, anchored by back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. Their offense follows the lead of electric scoring guard Donovan Mitchell, who already has 3,445 points—the fourth-most for a player over his rookie and sophomore seasons in the 2000s.
Conley should seamlessly slot in as a major contributor on both ends. He has an All-Defensive selection and probably a handful of snubs in his past. He's also a three-level scorer who can find his own shots, set the table for others and add value off the ball as a catch-and-shoot sniper.
The Jazz are unquestionably in the 2020 championship hunt, but they'd be even more dangerous with a stretch 4 to slot alongside Gobert.
They saw huge offensive gains when Jae Crowder filled that role, despite the fact he's not much of a shooter (career 33.9 percent on threes). When he played with Gobert and Mitchell, Utah's offensive efficiency was a robust 111.8. When Favors got the call with Gobert and Mitchell, that number plummeted to 105.0.
Washington Wizards: Interior Defense
From the outside, the Washington Wizards seem overdue for a rebuild. They're weighed down by John Wall's supermax and light on high-potential prospects. They also have a near-perfect trade chip in Bradley Beal, who should appeal to buyers of all types as an in-prime All-Star who contributes at both ends and is signed for two more years.
But the external view doesn't matter. Internally, Washington shows no interest in moving Beal, as Wojnarowski reports they plan to offer him a three-year, $111 million extension. But if they want Beal's signature, they need to impress him this offseason.
"I want to see what we do in free agency before I make the ultimate decision," Beal said, per Ben Golliver of the Washington Post.
If Washington wants to improve its on-court product, step one is fixing the dense. They just had their worst defensive efficiency in franchise history and proved especially vulnerable on the interior. No team allowed more makes within five feet this past season, and only two gave up a higher percentage. Adding Rui Hachimura doesn't help, and getting a 33-year-old Dwight Howard back may not either.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.