Every NBA Team's Biggest Offseason Need
Despite the massive changes likely to take place in the NBA following the remission of the coronavirus, one thing will remain constant for all 30 teams: They'll all still stand to improve.
The 2019-20 season was notable for several reasons, chief among them being the lack of a clear title favorite. After a decade dominated by two superteams, this relative parity at the top seemed a fitting end to one era of the NBA and perhaps the start of another one. Nowadays, even the league's highest-caliber teams have roster or general personnel holes to fill.
Let's identify the chief need on each team's offseason to-do list.
Atlanta Hawks: Perimeter Defender
Clint Capela is likely supposed to be a key part of Atlanta's future, but as he hasn't played a minute for the team yet, we can't know the areas of need for the team's potential starting five. However, one skill that the Hawks will constantly need to address as long as Trae Young is their centerpiece is perimeter defense.
Thankfully, Atlanta GM Travis Schlenk seems to understand the importance of perimeter defenders on this particular roster. The selections of De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish in last year's draft were clear indications of his philosophy, but you can never have enough switchable wings in today's NBA.
That statement should ring especially true for the Hawks given their significant offensive reliance on Young, whose small frame makes him destined to be one of the worst defenders in the NBA.
Thanks to Young's rapid ascension into stardom and the flashes of production from John Collins, Kevin Huerter, Reddish and others, the Hawks will likely own a high-flying offense in no time. For the next step, they'll need to acquire one or two more above-average perimeter defenders to feel fully comfortable with Young's glaring deficiencies on that end.
Boston Celtics: Backup Point Guard
Center may seem like the weakest link for Boston. However, the combination of Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter and Robert Williams III has proved surprisingly competent, as the team ranks sixth in center net rating.
Instead, the Celtics should focus on a quietly massive question: Who runs the team when Kemba Walker sits?
Walker has the largest on/off-court offensive rating swing on the Celtics. And while Walker is a top-tier NBA point guard, that massive disparity has just as much to do with his understudies as it does him.
Boston's substitute point guards are mainly Marcus Smart (better off the ball), Brad Wanamaker (an athletically limited veteran) and Carsen Edwards (an undersized, score-first rookie), and you're in the majority if those names don't inspire confidence.
Given that the Celtics are already a major Eastern Conference player and have other quality playmakers on the roster, this issue may seem minor. But from De'Anthony Melton to Jordan McLaughlin, numerous backup point guards potentially available this offseason could fit in Boston to fill this need.
Brooklyn Nets: A Wily Veteran
Assuming full health, the Brooklyn Nets could be a force to be reckoned with next season. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are both virtually unstoppable on offense, and supporting cast members like Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen give the team even greater untapped upside.
However, there's a reason the NBA season is played out. Countless variables contribute to a team's success or failure, and it's eminently possible those variables go sideways for Brooklyn next year.
Durant and Irving have played a combined zero minutes together, and yet their influence in Brooklyn is already significant. Irving has seemed unhappy for most of this season, and he and Durant never connected with eventually fired head coach Kenny Atkinson, per Shams Charania and Alex Schiffer of The Athletic.
Considering Irving and Durant's mercurial natures, it might behoove Brooklyn to sign a few longtime veterans capable of balancing the locker room and keeping everybody on an even keel. End-of-bench guys like former Net Jared Dudley or Tyson Chandler could be of major use.
Talent is not an issue for the Nets. But if they don't mesh internally, their title window could close before it ever fully opened.
Charlotte Hornets: High Upside
Before this season, the Hornets were considered one of the worst teams in the NBA. However, thanks in part to an out-of-nowhere breakout campaign from Devonte' Graham, Charlotte proved much more competent than expected.
Hopefully, the front office sees Graham's improvement not as a fluke, but a strategy to be replicated.
The Hornets' future core includes Graham, Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington. Each of those players has positive qualities, but there's a clear ceiling on that quartet's capabilities. With Charlotte not a premier free-agent destination and the 2020 draft full of high-variance prospects, why not double down on the logic of drafting a player like Graham by signing several low-risk, high-reward free agents?
The Hornets are the type of team that should be outbidding others for big man Christian Wood, who put up All-Star-caliber numbers for the rudderless Pistons post-trade deadline. If Wood could succeed with little to no structure, imagine how great he could be while surrounded by players with complementary skill sets.
Wood is just one example. With its current roster, Charlotte is not making the playoffs anytime soon (even in the East), so it needs more high-upside youngsters.
Chicago Bulls: Competent Lead Playmaking
You would think that a team with four point guards on its roster could at least maintain a competent offense. Yet somehow, that remains the Chicago Bulls' biggest weakness.
Each of Chicago's lead guards has some NBA-caliber skills (Kris Dunn and Shaquille Harrison's defense, Coby White's shot creation, Ryan Arcidiacono's court vision), yet none has cracked the code to running a pro team. You could argue that White's 26.1 points and 4.4 assists over his last nine games proves his worthiness to be the future point guard, but let us know when that nine games turns into months of consistency.
Even with White's encouraging recent play, the Bulls rank 26th in both assist-to-turnover ratio and true shooting percentage, despite ostensibly boasting a top-flight scorer in Zach LaVine and numerous potential secondary options like White and Lauri Markkanen.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, Chicago should look for yet another point guard this offseason. There's a reason the Knicks have been searching for a lead playmaker for what seems like forever, and it's because the right guy can potentially unlock the offense for good, and the Bulls theoretically have the pieces to be playoff stalwarts.
Because of Chicago's pre-existing offensive depth, this elusive point guard may not even need to be particularly notable. Spending $5 million a year on a known veteran like D.J. Augustin or J.J. Barea could be enough to jumpstart Chicago into the playoff picture.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Wing Starter
Despite a highly convoluted depth chart featuring two lead guards in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland and four big men who should be centers in Tristan Thompson, Andre Drummond, Kevin Love and Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland ostensibly has four solidified starters.
It's that small forward spot that still causes trouble.
With his boundless motor, Cedi Osman is excellent bench-mob material, but he's not LeBron James' true successor at small forward for the Cavaliers. Osman's subpar shooting is a particularly fatal flaw on this roster with non-shooting big men like Drummond and Thompson, so Cleveland needs to find a wing who can knock down shots while also covering for Sexton and Garland's horrid defense.
It's not particularly trenchant analysis in 2020 to state that a team needs a 3-and-D wing, but the Cavaliers need both shooting and defensive help far more than most teams. Even a stop-gap option like E'Twaun Moore could suffice.
The Cavs likely won't make the playoffs for several more years at the earliest, but if they fail to provide their young lottery picks with a properly structured team, then the road back to late April basketball may take even longer.
Dallas Mavericks: Solve Luka's Clutch Issues
For a team in the early stages of contention, the Mavericks don't have a lot of roster needs. They have the necessary two stars, a host of secondary playmakers, shooters and perimeter defenders, and several serviceable rim protectors.
So we're digging deep to find an issue that, if it's not solved, could halt Dallas' return to prominence.
After performing well enough late in games as a rookie, Luka Doncic has disappeared in big moments this year. The superstar has a minus-9.0 net rating in clutch situations and is shooting just 32.3 percent from the field over 26 games.
Is this just a sophomore slump, or indicative of a larger problem for Dallas' playoff potential? It's tough to tell right now.
On one hand, Luka's elite basketball IQ and excellent statistical production in the first 43 minutes of games suggests it's only a matter of time before he figures out the last five. If Stephen Curry and James Harden, two average vertical athletes in their own right, can lead elite offenses to playoff series victories, why can't Luka?
However, Luka's lack of top-tier athleticism was a question in the draft, so perhaps that mild shortcoming will keep rearing its ugly head for the precocious 21-year old throughout his career.
Doncic cannot shoulder all the blame. Dallas has the fourth-worst clutch net rating leaguewide, and no individual Maverick boasts a positive net rating in those situations. But as the engine of the team's normally elite offense, Luka does bear the most responsibility for Dallas' late-game struggles.
Denver Nuggets: 3-and-D Wing
The Nuggets have an above-average defense by net rating, but if you look at their personnel, it's somewhat hard to understand how they're so competent, especially regarding perimeter defenders. There are several wings on the roster with solid defensive potential, but none are unimpeachable, and one of them—Torrey Craig—is an impending free agent.
So, where to go from here?
Without Craig, Gary Harris and Will Barton are Denver's two main wing defenders, and while they both grade out well analytically, Harris is 6'4" and Barton is 6'5", limiting their versatility. Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr. are additional in-house options in theory, but Porter has never been known for his defense and Grant, despite mouth-watering physical tools, has been the worst defender on the Nuggets by net rating in 2019-20.
Given Denver's deep reservoir of offensive talent, whoever the team chooses to bring in this offseason doesn't need a highly developed, multifaceted skill set. All they'll be asked to do is occasionally shoot an open jumper and defend guards and wings as hard as humanly possible.
Plugging that final weakness could give the Nuggets the edge they need to make a lasting postseason impression.
Detroit Pistons: Competent Lead Playmaking
Nearly anything basketball-related could go here. Such is the state of disrepair in Detroit. But we'll settle for the team's ugly lead guard situation.
The Pistons have played the likes of Derrick Rose, Bruce Brown, Langston Galloway and Brandon Knight at point guard this year, and yes, the results were as bad as you might think. Detroit ranks 28th in turnover percentage, losing the ball on 15.5 percent of its possessions.
Given the general lack of talent throughout the Pistons roster, zeroing in on something so comparatively minor may seem like overthinking it. But as soon as Blake Griffin underwent season-ending surgery, we knew this was a lost year in Detroit.
Let's say the big man returns to full health next season and the team ends up drafting a top-tier point guard like LaMelo Ball or Killian Hayes. With that lead guard's nascent playmaking prowess and Griffin's now-elite ball-handling setting the table for Luke Kennard's spot-up shooting and Sekou Doumbouya's inside-out game, Detroit might be able to run a league-average-or-better offense that catapults it back toward the playoff conversation.
Golden State Warriors: Get the Big Four Locked in
The Warriors have slowly hemorrhaged the depth that once made them unbeatable. However, Golden State still has a quartet of big-monied stars and could be right back in the thick of things in 2020-21.
It appears that Klay Thompson is right on schedule with his ACL recovery, and he should be placed in bubble wrap this offseason. However, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green have lots of on-court work to accomplish, specifically regarding the integration of Andrew Wiggins.
Curry should work with the Canadian on cutting, spot-up shooting and general off-ball activity, while Green can hopefully impart his particular brand of defensive intensity and intelligence on the 25-year-old. Wiggins didn't respond well to Jimmy Butler, a similarly competitive All-Star, but hopefully age and a materially diminished role will lead to change.
Once they regain their rhythm and unparalleled chemistry, Curry, Thompson and Green will likely become dominant once again. But with so many young players around them this time, they'll need Wiggins to be a star in his role. How he performs as the third offensive option could be the difference between mere contention and the team's fourth title in seven years.
Houston Rockets: Backup Center
The degree of Daryl Morey's commitment to small ball is admirable. It verges on brave (as brave as any general manager of a sports team can be, at least). But for the sanity of Rockets fans and P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington alike, he needs to at least create a safety valve by signing a reasonable backup center.
Despite the obvious critiques of the 6'5" Tucker and 6'7" Covington playing big full-time, this new version of the team hasn't been an outright disaster. In fact, it boasts an above-average net rating since the trade deadline. But after the initial shock that the Rockets' uber-small lineups led to wins over the Lakers and Celtics, they began to tail off, losing to the Knicks, Hornets and Magic in quick succession before the season's suspension.
Morey should keep playing Tucker and Covington at center, if for no other reason than to ride out the highs and lows of a radical basketball experiment. But if Houston hopes to win the title soon, it should sign somebody like Alex Len or Willy Hernangomez to at least take up space for 10 minutes a night while the team's prized anchors rest.
Indiana Pacers: Wing Shooting
With Victor Oladipo having been in the midst of his reacclimation when the NBA went on hiatus, the Pacers' ultimate potential this season remains unknown. But even if Oladipo raises their ceiling, they still need one particular skill in spades: three-point shooting.
Indiana ranks last in the NBA in three-point attempts per game, taking 27.5 a night. However, the team's reluctance to shoot does not stem from a lack of competence. On the contrary, in fact. The Pacers are tied for 12th in the league there, making a solid 36.3 percent of their threes.
What gives, Nate McMillan?
This is clearly a need for Indiana no matter what, but given that Justin Holiday—the team's second-best shooter by both attempts per game and percentage—is a free agent this offseason, it needs an upgrade here.
Though the Pacers aren't exactly overflowing with cash, they should go out of their way to pursue wing shooters like Joe Harris, Bryn Forbes and Courtney Lee this offseason. That injection of spacing and an added willingness to rise up from range could be the fuel Indiana needs to once and for all enter the top tier of the Eastern Conference.
Los Angeles Clippers: Keep Kawhi Leonard, Paul George Healthy
On paper, the Clippers have the most talented roster in the NBA. You can quibble with the number of potential ball-stoppers, but guys like Marcus Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson won't play in big moments if they can't fall in line. Plus, Kawhi Leonard can facilitate at a high level when necessary.
Instead, let's zero in on the truly major issue nagging Los Angeles: health.
Only three Clippers have played in at least 60 games this season, and none of them are Leonard or Paul George. The team's two stars have been plagued by maladies, with George in particular succumbing to several seemingly disconnected issues. And while Kawhi's load management policy may explain most of his absences, he should still do everything in his power to keep limber and strong through the NBA's current hiatus and the upcoming offseason.
With Leonard and George both scheduled to become free agents in 2021, their health is of paramount importance for the next 18 months. Given that neither has made their free agency intentions clear, winning a title becomes an even more pressing task for Doc Rivers' club, and so they must take all possible precautions in keeping the two stars healthy, even if those methods attract criticism.
Controversial rest policies worked out for Kawhi in Toronto. Why not try it again?
Los Angeles Lakers: Backup Point Guard
When the Lakers announced that LeBron James would be the team's full-time point guard, questions immediately arose. Though LeBron has been a lead ball-handler throughout his career, there was speculation about whether the official designation would somehow be too big a burden.
Not only has LeBron proved more than capable of conducting an offense (obviously), but his genius basketball IQ and immense talent has been the Lakers' lifeblood. With the King on the court, Los Angeles boasts a 113.3 offensive rating, but without him, the team drops to a 105.2 mark.
There's a reason the Lakers reportedly tried to bring in Derrick Rose and Darren Collison at the trade deadline, and it's because they know just how heavy a load LeBron has carried for them. None of Rajon Rondo, Quinn Cook and Alex Caruso is an adequate solution for the minutes that LeBron sits, and as dominant as Anthony Davis is, he's not a primary ball-handler.
If Los Angeles was smart enough to try to address this issue in February, you can bet it'll resume its search for a backup point guard whenever the offseason begins.
Memphis Grizzlies: Trade Valanciunas
The Grit and Grind era doesn't seem that long ago in Memphis, yet GM Zach Kleiman has turned the roster over almost entirely over the last two years. With Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks and Justise Winslow at the vanguard of a team currently in playoff position, the Grizzlies' next contender doesn't just exist in theory—it's already here.
In this vein, Memphis should do for Jonas Valanciunas this offseason what it did for Marc Gasol and Mike Conley and move him to a contender. Though the big Lithuanian is turning in a career season, Jackson and Clarke's rapid ascensions and complementing skill sets are bound to marginalize him in due time.
You might argue that given Valanciunas' relatively outdated play style, he'll be a bench player on any modern NBA roster, but if Kleiman and company play their cards right, they could receive one more wing in return for the big man to further solidify their future core.
Memphis may be reluctant to trade Valanciunas just yet. Without him, Jackson's maddening tendency to get in quick foul trouble may never get solved.
But it's always better to move on from players earlier rather than later.
Miami Heat: Lead Playmaker
Given that the Heat rank third in the NBA in assist percentage, it may seem nitpicky to claim they need a lead playmaker. But the reality is that Miami is just a pass-happy club, which usually results in frequent turnovers as well as frequent assists.
The Heat have been careless with the ball all season, and though coach Erik Spoelstra has taken great pains to improve the issue, they're still tied for 21st in turnover percentage. This might have something to do with the fact that Miami relies on numerous secondary playmakers instead of one primary ball-handler.
None of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn should be the full-time fulcrum of an offense, and while Goran Dragic may be able to perform those duties in concert with the aforementioned trio, he's a free agent this offseason and was reportedly nearly moved by the Heat as early as last summer.
While not a true challenger to the Bucks yet, Miami is on the boundary of contention in the Eastern Conference. With one or two marginal moves this offseason and the potential for big acquisitions in 2021, the Heat could soon re-assert themselves as an East powerhouse.
Milwaukee Bucks: It Depends
The Bucks' offseason should not be set in stone. They need to wait for the postseason to play out before deciding how to proceed.
If Milwaukee comes back from hiatus and wins the title for the first time in nearly 50 years, GM Jon Horst might be less worried about letting role players like Marvin Williams and Robin Lopez walk or potentially trading Eric Bledsoe. Even if the team is focused on building a dynasty around Giannis Antetokounmpo, we've seen in Cleveland how just one title can satiate a fanbase for years, so a mini-exodus of ancillary talent wouldn't be the end of the world in Milwaukee.
On the other hand, if the Bucks falter at any point before a Game 7 of the NBA Finals (and maybe even then too), the plan becomes simple: take cues from Giannis.
They must seriously consider whether the tea leaves suggest he's likely to sign for five more years.
The alternative path is much too dark to consider.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Defender, of Any Kind
With Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell finally united, the Timberwolves have officially announced their intentions to compete in the Western Conference. But they still have much work to do before serious contention is realistic.
While Towns and Russell are both All-Stars, they are the most defensively challenged star duo in the NBA. That's a worrisome label in any scenario, but especially so here, given that they represent the first and last lines of defense for Minnesota.
You'd hope they'd be able to look around the roster for help, but the pickings are slim. For example, Josh Okogie is probably the team's best individual defender but contributes next to nothing on offense, Jarrett Culver seemed out of his league as a rookie, and Malik Beasley claimed the worst defensive rating on the roster in his 14 games with the team.
That trio could represent the right solutions. Russell and Towns' shot-creation abilities will limit Okogie's weaknesses, Culver was just a rookie, and Beasley defended well in Denver. But the Wolves can't take any chances this offseason.
New Orleans Pelicans: Backup Big Man
Derrick Favors has served his purpose for the New Orleans Pelicans. He's playing some of the best basketball of his career this year while easing both Jaxson Hayes and Zion Williamson into life as an NBA big man.
However, he's an impending free agent, and with both the aforementioned rookies impressing in limited exposure, the Pelicans may decide to sever ties with Favors. If that's the case, however, they cannot go forth with a center depth chart of just Hayes and Williamson.
Neither rookie, despite their impressive starts, can be a full-time center just yet. Zion is too green to anchor a defense by himself, while Hayes remains a raw physical product with a developing basketball IQ. As a result, New Orleans should look into adding a third center to the roster, one with the smarts and experience necessary to carry 15 to 20 minutes a night down low for the time being.
Options in this vein could include anybody from JaVale McGee to Nerlens Noel.
In the near future, hopefully Williamson and Hayes will develop into a productive center platoon for what could be a spectacular Pelicans contender. But for now, they still need some veteran guidance down low.
New York Knicks: Shooter
As usual, the Knicks are bad, but now, there's a bright side. Most of the players on the roster have short-term deals and are not relevant to the team's future. In essence, this gives the team close to a blank slate beyond 2021.
So, where do you even start with addressing needs for a roster that seems designed to turn over by the end of next season?
There's an easy entry point, and it's by looking at the players most likely to stay in New York through the duration of their rookie contracts: RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. Barrett is a subpar three-point shooter and Robinson largely doesn't shoot beyond the paint. In 2020, it's risky to build a contender with two poor shooters, so the Knicks should spend this offseason scouring the free-agent and trade markets for the best available snipers.
Say New York drafts a sweet-shooting point guard like Tyrese Haliburton and signs Davis Bertans and Christian Wood. That trio plus Barrett and Robinson probably wouldn't make the playoffs, but constructing a rotation with proper spacing could give the team's young players enough room to develop good habits and hopefully become contributors to the next Knicks winner.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Have Some Fun
This season could not have gone better for the Thunder. Not only is the team entrenched in playoff position, but Chris Paul has also gone a long way toward rebuilding his trade value.
As a result of the Thunder's successes, they're a quiet candidate to become, in the words of Heath Ledger's Joker, an agent of chaos this offseason. With the most draft picks of any team and Paul's contract looking friendlier, Oklahoma City has the largest collection of assets in the NBA.
Suddenly, the team could trade for almost any star in the league.
Philly is tired of Ben Simmons? Pair him with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to create the league's best defensive backcourt. Denver wants to go to the next level? The Point God is theirs for Gary Harris, Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr. and a first-rounder. Giannis decides to leave Milwaukee? The Bucks can stay competent with Paul and Khris Middleton while acquiring several additional first-round picks in the process.
Thunder GM Sam Presti might emulate Danny Ainge and play the long game with his newfound treasure trove of assets. But given the bland free-agent class, it would be exciting to see him re-invigorate Oklahoma City in a major way this offseason.
Orlando Magic: De-Clutter the Front Court
Every offseason, we beg the Magic to make sense of their frontcourt, yet every summer they continue to add long-armed big men. It stops now, Orlando!
Assuming good health, the Magic will have to find minutes for Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Al-Farouq Aminu, Mo Bamba and Chuma Okeke next season. Four of those players are recent first-round picks, one is on a nine-figure contract, and one is a long-tenured role player, so something must be done.
Vucevic is paid like a franchise player, so he's likely staying put, while the franchise seems invested in Isaac. Bamba's trade value has plummeted due to two disappointing seasons, while Okeke's value is static, as he hasn't played a second in the NBA.
That leaves Gordon and Aminu, both of whom could be in demand. Gordon's untapped potential makes him an easy sell, while Aminu has proved to be an effective role player on playoff teams like the Blazers and Mavericks.
All Orlando GM John Hammond has to do now is pick up and dial or answer the phone when opposing general managers call. A deal will do as much good for the Magic as it does for their trade partners.
Philadelphia 76ers: Revamp the Starting Lineup
The Sixers will have a chance to redeem themselves whenever the postseason occurs, but as of right now, sixth-seeded Philly is the most disappointing team in the NBA.
When a team has this much top-line talent, the instinct is to keep the group together and hope it develops workable chemistry. However, all of that becomes exponentially more difficult if the members of said group have overlapping or mismatched skill sets, which is the case in Philadelphia.
Al Horford's signing was celebrated as a smart move, but he's acted largely as a floor-spacer on offense and a big wing on defense. Throw in the over-discussed but very real limits to Ben Simmons' offensive skill set, and the Sixers offense looks stilted more often than not.
With such obvious fatal flaws plaguing Philly's starting five, GM Elton Brand should seriously consider making a drastic move when the offseason arrives. Simmons and Embiid have been a poor fit as long as they've played together, let alone since the addition of Horford.
If all three of those players were still on the roster by the start of the 2020-21 campaign, it would be a serious surprise.
Phoenix Suns: High-IQ Defender
The Suns finally made steps in the right direction last summer by signing Ricky Rubio and trading for Aron Baynes, two competent veterans who helped to further unlock Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.
This offseason, they should aim to add at least one intelligent, veteran defender.
Although the Suns had only the league's 19th-ranked defense, several of their most important players have individually been impressive on that end, specifically Rubio, Ayton and Mikal Bridges. But considering Rubio's relative lack of size, Ayton's allegiance to the paint and Booker's allergy to any kind of defense, the Suns are not as switchable as a modern NBA team should be.
With Bridges and Kelly Oubre Jr., Phoenix could be two-thirds of the way there, but its ceiling would increase with another versatile, veteran forward. Potential free agents who fit this need include Jerami Grant, Maurice Harkless, JaMychal Green and DeMarre Carroll.
If one of those guys or another similar player helps end Phoenix's postseason drought, his contract will seem like an enormous bargain.
Portland Trail Blazers: Stick to the Plan
Between Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and Rodney Hood, injuries ravaged the Portland Trail Blazers this season. The fact that they're still on the fringe of the playoff picture is a testament to Damian Lillard's greatness.
This offseason, Portland general manager Neil Olshey must think back to the spring of 2019 and remember that what occurred in the ensuing year-plus was not according to his original plan. In particular, Olshey should not bring back Hassan Whiteside or Carmelo Anthony.
Although both Whiteside and Anthony were productive this past season, they were brought in as stopgap options. When healthy, Portland's two bigs should be Collins and Nurkic, and both should be ready to go by the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
On paper, Collins and Nurkic are both natural centers, making them a potentially shaky fit together. The 2019-20 season was supposed to be Collins' breakout campaign, but he suffered a shoulder injury only four games into the year.
Olshey's original idea to start them together ultimately may not work out, but he should at least give them the opportunity next year to see how the experiment goes.
Sacramento Kings: Figure Out the Shooting Guard Spot
After a surprising and exciting 2018-19 campaign, the Sacramento Kings regressed to their organizational mean of being a mess.
The main conflict in Sacramento is between shooting guards Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
After a tense negotiation period, Hield signed a big-money extension in October, but he has since been sent mixed messages. Although Hield averaged nearly 20 points per game, head coach Luke Walton temporarily benched him for Bogdanovic, which led to speculation about a potential trade request.
Bogdanovic is a restricted free agent this offseason, and the Kings could let him walk to placate Hield. However, retaining the Serbian is the Kings' biggest offseason priority, per Jason Jones of the Athletic.
Whether Hield is better than Bogdanovic or vice versa is now immaterial. Sacramento just needs to find an acceptable solution to this logjam instead of hoping it will merely dissipate with time.
San Antonio Spurs: Move On from DeMar DeRozan
The day the Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard for DeMar DeRozan was the day they accepted a rebuild. The intervening two years have merely delayed the inevitable.
However, there may be a shockingly easy way out.
Per Jabari Young of CNBC, DeRozan has been unhappy in San Antonio and intends to decline his $27.7 million player option for 2020-21 if he and the Spurs do not reach an agreement on an extension. The four-time All Star could change his tune given the massive financial hit NBA teams may endure because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but regardless, the Spurs should be looking to move on from him this offseason.
The Orlando Magic expressed interest in DeRozan earlier this year, so why not structure a deal (or a sign-and-trade) around him and Aaron Gordon? DeRozan would become the leading scorer of a team able to cover up his defensive flaws, while Gordon could finally stop playing small forward and grow under one of the best coaches in NBA history in Gregg Popovich.
Toronto Raptors: Second-Unit Scoring
With Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles, Pascal Siakam is the new face of the Toronto Raptors.
Over the last two years, the Cameroonian has transformed from a role player to an All-Star starter. However, as this season progressed, Siakam felt the weight of leading an offense, as his scoring efficiency has declined sharply from last year's breakout campaign.
Siakam could come back next season as a top-10 player, but key Raptors contributors Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol are all set to become free agents this offseason. Team president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster should thus look to ease Siakam's load with a second-unit scorer.
Given Ujiri's strong eye for talent and Nick Nurse's fast rise to the top tier of NBA coaching, the Raptors could probably sign someone like Alec Burks or Jordan McRae for next to nothing and quickly make him integral to their success.
Utah Jazz: Solve the Gobert-Mitchell Rift
From Mike Conley's struggles to general inconsistency, the Utah Jazz had their fair share of issues this season. But it all seems minor compared to the bad blood brewing between their two best players.
Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated and Shams Charania, Sam Amick and Tony Jones of The Athletic reported that All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell is frustrated with All-Star center Rudy Gobert following Gobert's reckless behavior with regard to the coronavirus.
The big man has gone out of his way to refute these claims, and executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey told reporters Tuesday that the two were "ready to put this behind them and move forward and act professionally."
If the relationship is salvageable, the Jazz must do everything they can to mend fences before play resumes. If not, they should begin gauging the trade value of Gobert, who's set to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2020-21 season.
When you have a player as potentially special as Mitchell and a team nearly ready for deep playoff contention, you can't mess around with off-court beefs. Utah may need to move on quickly from a distressed asset and reload as best it can.
Washington Wizards: Find a Defender of Any Kind
The Washington Wizards somehow mustered a competent offense this season, but their defense was historically bad. They gave up 120 points or more a staggering 30 times, and they claim two of the league's 20 worst defenders, per ESPN's defensive real plus-minus (Bradley Beal and Rui Hachimura).
Washington can't pin all of its hopes for defensive improvement on John Wall's return. He was an inconsistent defender even prior to his Achilles injury, let alone after months of serious rehab.
The Wizards need to focus on acquiring competent defenders at all levels this offseason. Signing a free-agent center like Aron Baynes or Robin Lopez and bringing in an affordable wing stopper like Solomon Hill, Torrey Craig or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson would be the ideal scenario.
With Wall finally healthy next season, Washington intends to reassert itself as a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference. Whether the Wizards have enough talent around Wall and Beal to make the postseason is up for debate, but they won't get anywhere with another year of a defense this porous.