Ranking the 5 NBA Teams Most Likely to Overreact This Offseason
The NBA offseason is the most captivating, transformational time in sports, in part because things can go so incredibly well or so horrifically bad.
With careful planning and copious amounts of good fortune, teams can effectively raise a championship banner in a single summer.
But when emotions impact decision-making or teams miscalculate their position in the Association, the results can be disastrous. Before an organization blinks, it might be buried under bad decisions, worse contracts, rush-to-judgment rebuilds or ill-advised commitments to a win-now core lacking the weaponry to win.
For various reasons, the following five teams are in danger of misreading their current state and subsequently mishandling the upcoming offseason. Each has been ranked on the likelihood of making problematically rash decisions.
5. Washington Wizards
The Wizards went into the season's suspension with a .375 winning percentage and the second-worst defense in NBA history. That hasn't stopped them from plotting an aggressive move up the ladder this offseason.
"My goal for the Wizards and our goal together is to kind of elevate this team quickly and to get back to the playoffs, get deeper in the playoffs," Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said, per NBC Sports Washington's Chase Hughes. "... It's not going to happen overnight, but I can tell you that we're not going to wait for it. We're going to keep pushing. We're going to push very hard this summer to keep improving."
So, what's the rush?
It's all connected to the return of John Wall and the spark this franchise thinks it can get from the floor general. Not to dump a bucket of frigid water on that idea, but the last time he played more than 42 games was his age-26 season. He turns 30 in September, and he's now navigating life after an Achilles tear as a player who has relied heavily on his athleticism.
Washington has a name-brand backcourt with Wall and Bradley Beal, but it doesn't have a rich history of success with the pair. The Wizards have never won 50 games during their tenure. They have only twice advanced to the second round—when the guards had significantly more veteran help around them than they do now—and never beyond it.
If there's a saving grace, it's that the Wizards lack the flexibility to do anything major. That said, they'll probably throw major money at shooting specialist Davis Bertans (a 27-year-old with 32 career starts), and they could invest either or both their mid-level exception and first-round pick in players who shine brighter for their immediate impact than their long-term potential.
All arrows point to win-now moves on the horizon for an organization that last won a playoff series in 2017.
4. Phoenix Suns
The Suns are restless. That part makes sense. Their playoff drought is likely about to reach 10 years, and remember, they've suffered through its entirety in the sweltering desert heat.
What doesn't make sense, though, is using that restlessness as a rationale for accelerating a rebuild when your best players are still just 23 (Devin Booker) and 21 (Deandre Ayton).
Phoenix took that mindset into last offseason and walked away with high-floor, low-ceiling additions like Ricky Rubio, Aron Baynes and Cameron Johnson. It netted the franchise its best record in five seasons, sure, but that's still only a .400 winning percentage.
Even with Booker's All-Star ascension and Ayton's two-way growth, this roster looks at least one more impact player away from a true breakthrough. In an ideal world, that player would come from the draft and fit on the same timeline as the Suns' stars. More likely, though, Phoenix uses the fact that it's one of the few teams with actual cap space to chase a plug-and-play veteran.
Kevin Love and Danilo Gallinari were mentioned as possible trade targets in January, per B/R's Eric Pincus. The Athletic's John Hollinger listed Gallinari, Davis Bertans and Paul Millsap as free-agent possibilities. Any of the three would undoubtedly help, but they aren't needle-movers. The more time Phoenix invests in veterans who can help it make a first-round exit, the less it has to develop players who might eventually move this team into contention.
A reasonable approach to bring in a few helpful veterans is fine. Getting carried away with shortsighted maneuvers—like trading TJ Warren and an early second-rounder for the opportunity to pay Ricky Rubio $51 million—could harm this club for years to come.
3. New York Knicks
New front office, new day for the Knicks, right? Instant gratification is a thing of the past. A patient, focused rebuild is today's plan for a brighter tomorrow.
"I ask for your continued patience," new team president Leon Rose wrote in an open letter to Knicks fans in March. "What I promise you in return is that I will be honest and forthright. We will develop a plan that makes sense, both to jumpstart our short-term growth and ensure our long-term success."
If only it were that simple.
Continued patience can mean a lot of different things. Trading for 35-year-old Chris Paul and the $85.6 million owed to him for the next two seasons shouldn't be one of them, but it's something the Knicks are exploring, per ESPN's Frank Isola. It probably also shouldn't mean locking in on 62-year-old Tom Thibodeau before a coaching search even starts, but Thibs has already taken pole position, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
What about this is patience? What about this is even rebuilding?
The Knicks have neglected young talent and chased flashy names for far too long. An offseason headlined by the arrivals of Paul and Thibodeau would feel like business as usual.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
Admittedly, it isn't as catchy as "championship or bust," but for the 76ers, their existence has reportedly boiled down to "conference finals or everyone must go."
"If Philadelphia fails to advance past the second round for the third straight season, the job statuses of coach Brett Brown and general manager Elton Brand will come into question—and the possibility of trading either Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid will gain traction," ESPN's Tim Bontemps reported in February.
Philadelphia fell one shot—a four-bounce miracle make, at that—short of a trip to the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals. Dismantling an on-paper contender for suffering a similar fate could be a prosecutable form of an overreaction.
That said, who on the Sixers can feel safe about their standing?
Brown's seat has burned for over a year. Brand's huge-money investments in Tobias Harris and Al Horford look somewhere between not great and catastrophic. Simmons and Embiid have never fared worse in concert with one another. Two years back, they steamrolled teams by 15.5 points per possessions in their shared floor time. Now, they're barely breaking even (plus-0.9).
A shake-up feels imminent. Even if it's not as dramatic as splitting up Simmons and Embiid, it might be overhauling the roster around them. Horford's contract already looks like a colossal overpay, Harris makes superstar money without superstar production, and the supporting cast perpetually lacks perimeter shooting.
If not for an even more combustible situation in Space City, the Sixers would be clear-cut choices at No. 1.
1. Houston Rockets
This might be the Rockets' first season with Russell Westbrook alongside James Harden, yet they already feel like they are on borrowed time.
Harden's 30th birthday is behind him, and he's the youngest of the duo. Houston's guards have also seen their efficiencies sapped in previous playoff runs—Harden has shot 41.3 percent or worse his last four postseason trips, Westbrook hasn't hit 40 percent of his playoff field goals since 2016—and their critics will quickly point to the pair's ringless fingers as a tangible question mark about their ability to lead a title team.
Speaking of decorated regular-season resumes without major playoff successes, lame-duck head coach Mike D'Antoni is still awaiting his first NBA Finals trip. The fact that he isn't signed beyond this season only ups the playoff pressure, as this could be his last run with the Rockets.
"He's one of the all-time great innovators and a great partner," Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. "I'd love for it to keep going. It takes two to tango, but we're going to figure that out in the offseason."
Houston knows it's up against the shot clock. Last summer's Chris Paul-for-Westbrook swap was an all-in push on Harden's behalf. The deadline deal sending out Clint Capela to fully commit to small ball was an all-in move for Westbrook and D'Antoni. There aren't any chips left to push to the center of the table.
It might be now or never for this iteration of the Rockets. And considering the club ranks ninth in winning percentage and seventh in net efficiency rating, maybe it's never.
If the Rockets are ousted early from the playoffs, wholesale changes to the fabric of the franchise could follow shortly thereafter.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.