The Toughest Decision Every NBA Team Must Make This Offseason

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2020

The Toughest Decision Every NBA Team Must Make This Offseason

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    The fishing waters around the basketball world are getting crowded, as more NBA teams officially enter the 2020 offseason.

    Soon, executives will be making the kinds of tough calls that will shape their franchise's futures for better or worse.

    From coaching changes to contract extensions, draft picks to potential deals, we're breaking down the toughest offseason decision awaiting all 30 teams.

Atlanta Hawks: John Collins' Future

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    Between their words and actions, the Hawks have talked out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to John Collins' future.

    They rebuffed inquiries about him at the trade deadline, and when asked if Collins was a priority for the franchise, general manager Travis Schlenk replied, "Yeah, John is one of our best players," per The Athletic's Chris Kirschner. At the same time, Kirschner reported a "hesitation" on Atlanta's end about giving Collins "significant money," which is an issue when the bouncy big man sees himself as a max-caliber talent.

    Plus, Atlanta's deadline deal for Clint Capela creates an awkward fit for Collins. While he expanded his offensive range this season (1.4 triples per game at a 40.1 percent clip), he's still at his best rolling to the rim for explosive aerial finishes. That's exactly where Capela does his best offensive work. Neither is the most competent defender in space, either, so the concerns of how they can coexist reach both ends of the floor.

    All of this creates a tricky situation with Collins becoming extension-eligible this offseason. Is Atlanta ready to put a max (or near-max) offer on the table right now? Is it best to punt this decision to next offseason when he hits restricted free agency? Or might the Hawks consider shopping the 22-year-old for a clearer roster fit? He could enter next season with building-block status in Atlanta or be wearing a different jersey elsewhere, and neither outcome would be shocking.

Boston Celtics: Maximizing the 1st-Round Picks

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Thanks to Danny Ainge's previous wheeling and dealing, the Boston Celtics are again sitting atop a mountain of draft picks. Truth be told, they've armed themselves with too many selections at this point.

    The Celtics currently hold three first-round picks (Nos. 14, 26 and 30), but they don't have that many openings. Twelve players are effectively on next season's books already, assuming Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter pick up their player options and Daniel Theis' salary is guaranteed. They'll fill another spot if they bring back Brad Wanamaker from restricted free agency.

    Considering the C's are contending for a title, they probably weren't keen on carrying three rookies into next season anyway. Flipping one or more for a rotation veteran seems ideal, as the roster gets a little spotty beyond the top six.

    While this draft lacks surefire stars, its strength is its depth. Boston will have an opportunity to add at least one player capable of boosting next season's roster. The question is whether the Celtics can find a prospect who fits that description—they should have the assets needed to move up if they choose—or if it's best to package some of these picks for established talent.

Brooklyn Nets: Finding a 3rd Star

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Last offseason was a fortune-changer for the Brooklyn Nets, who signed both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency. This year, they're back in the market for another transformational upgrade.

    "I believe they have telegraphed they intend to use some of their young talent to acquire a third star along with Kyrie and Durant," ESPN's Brian Windhorst said on The Hoop Collective podcast.

    While there might be a worthwhile philosophical debate over whether a third star is more valuable than the depth the Nets would be giving up, that decision might already be made for them. Irving publicly requested "one more piece or two more pieces" back in January, and few voices will carry more weight in the franchise. He and Durant will have input in the club's coaching search, too.

    If Gotham's new dynamic duo has designs of becoming a Big Three, the onus is on general manager Sean Marks to find the right one. Is there a way to pry Bradley Beal away from the Washington Wizards? Should the Nets spend big for Victor Oladipo? Is Jrue Holiday the answer? Would someone like Zach LaVine, Buddy Hield or Aaron Gordon qualify?

    Marks has plenty to figure out ahead of this star search.

Charlotte Hornets: Addressing the 5 Spot

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Not since Al Jefferson lorded over the left block have the Charlotte Hornets had reasons to feel great about their center spot. From Dwight Howard to Frank Kaminsky to Bismack Biyombo, Buzz City has thrown plenty of bigs at the wall only to see none of them stick.

    Well, none other than the steady-but-nowhere-near-spectacular Cody Zeller, that is. And even his tenure with the team could soon be coming to an end. The 27-year-old, whose 16.0 career player efficiency rating sits a tick above league-average (15.0), is the only center on next season's payroll, and he's entering the final year of his deal.

    Adding an impact 5 is the next logical step in the club's post-Kemba Walker rebuild. So, where should the Hornets look? After climbing up to the third pick at the lottery, does Charlotte task James Wiseman or Onyeka Okongwu with anchoring the interior? Or will the Hornets use their cap space to throw a metric ton of cash at Montrezl Harrell (a North Carolina native) or Christian Wood?

    Going young seems smart for a squad with a sub-.400 winning percentage, but that's assuming the Hornets like one of these center prospects and have him as the highest-rated prospect when they're on the clock. Charlotte might also covet more instant impact—signing Terry Rozier last summer indicated a desire to compete—and it could be in position to act quickly and set the big-man market.

Chicago Bulls: Coaching Search

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Chicago's preseason playoff talk looks laughable in the rearview mirror given the club's 22-43 record. But hopes were high in the Windy City for a reason. The Bulls have more talent than their performance shows—maybe a lot more. It just never came together under Jim Boylen, whom the team fired in mid-August.

    The Bulls are getting All-Star production out of Zach LaVine (one of 13 players to average 25 points, four rebounds and four assists this season). They've seen it in spurts from Lauri Markkanen (26.5 points and 12.6 rebounds over an 11-game stretch last season) and Coby White (26.1 points on 48.0/43.2/90.3 shooting over his final nine outings this year). Wendell Carter Jr. has the all-around, two-way talents of an invaluable glue guy.

    LaVine is the oldest member of the quartet at 25. Markkanen is next, and he just turned 23 in May. Chicago must maximize this young talent, and that demand should drive—and sounds like it is driving—this coaching search.

    "In terms of what we're going to be looking for, we're going to continue focusing on player development, someone who puts relationships with players first and is a good communicator," executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas said, per Bulls.com's Sam Smith. "There are a lot of factors going on in terms of criteria that we're looking for in a coach. Those are the main ones."

    The Bulls might be making a playoff push next season. Or they could be selling off core parts at the trade deadline. It might all hinge on Karnisovas' ability to get this right.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson's Free Agency

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    On the surface, this feels like it should be cut and dried.

    The Cleveland Cavaliers remain in the early stages of their latest post-LeBron James rebuild, and Tristan Thompson, who turned 29 in March, might soon collect the last major contract of his career. Those conflicting timelines seemingly makes the Cavs unlikely to pay him, especially when factoring in how much money they already have committed to their frontcourt ($71.8 million between Kevin Love, Andre Drummond and Larry Nance Jr. alone).

    And yet, all of the above somehow hasn't burned Thompson's bridge back to Northeast Ohio. There are multiple scenarios in which he's still rocking wine and gold next season.

    "The Cavs like Thompson," Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor wrote. "They were discussing a contract extension earlier this season. They recognize the unquantifiable value. ... The Cavs couldn't ask for a better pro as they hope to fix their cracked culture."

    A split still seems like the most probable outcome, but the Cavs and Thompson both have reasons to consider keeping this relationship alive.

Dallas Mavericks: Acing the 18th Pick

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    Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

    You wouldn't think a squad employing a 21-year-old all-galaxy talent (Luka Doncic) or his 25-year-old, 7'3" sidekick (Kristaps Porzingis) could be hurting for young talent, but here the Mavericks are.

    Dallas only has two other 25-and-under players on next season's roster. One is Justin Jackson, who ranked 238th in true shooting percentage among the 246 players who logged 1,000-plus minutes this season. The other is Jalen Brunson, who has a high floor but might be reaching his ceiling as a reliable reserve.

    That's it. And that's an issue.

    Even if the Mavs are motoring full-speed ahead toward win-now move given Doncic's rapid rise, they'll need young, cost-controllable talent to help balance the budget. That's especially true if they keep Tim Hardaway Jr. ($19 million player option) around long-term, or if they spend large on one of the stars in 2021 free agency. There will be cheap contributors on the board at No. 18, but can Dallas choose the right one?

Denver Nuggets: Which Forward Is Worth Keeping?

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    Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

    The Denver Nuggets know two things about their frontcourt of the future. Nikola Jokic will man the middle as long as he cares to, and Michael Porter Jr. will pack a powerful scoring punch alongside him.

    But everything else is unsettled, and Denver needs to start answering these questions this offseason.

    Paul Millsap, Torrey Craig (restricted), Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant ($9.3 million player option) could all be on the open market. The Nuggets don't have the money or the minutes to justify bringing all four back. If Bol Bol is ready for a rotation role, that could squeeze out Plumlee. Craig's offensive shortcomings could be his downfall, though his defensive impact might be his saving grace.

    The trickiest call is whether the Nuggets keep Millsap, Grant or both. The former offers more versatility and veteran know-how. The latter brings more explosive athleticism.

    Keeping both is probably preferred but may not be financially feasible. If that's the case, Denver must decide which forward brings more to the table.

Detroit Pistons: Christian Wood's Price Tag

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Detroit Pistons' free-fall from average to awful was hard to watch, and most outside the Motor City didn't bother trying. Those who stuck around, though, were treated to one of the 2019-20 campaign's most spellbinding breakthroughs.

    Although he's only 24 years old, Christian Wood seemed past the point of an aha moment. He was already wearing his fifth NBA jersey, and each of his previous stops barely qualified as a cup of coffee. He didn't even have a guaranteed gig in Detroit and had to beat out Joe Johnson, then a 38-year-old coming off a stint in the BIG3, for the final roster spot.

    Obviously, the light bulb clicked for Wood, or we wouldn't be discussing him now. He worked his way into the rotation with strong per-minute production off the bench, then erupted once Andre Drummond was shipped out at the deadline. Wood's final 14 outings were nothing short of basketball brilliance: 22.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.6 threes, 0.9 steals and 0.9 blocks, plus 55.8/39.7/76.5 shooting.

    Now, the Pistons need to put a price tag on everything that has taken place with Wood as he ventures into unrestricted free agency. Is he a breakout baller who they must re-sign at all costs? Was this all part of an empty-calorie-stats-on-a-bad-team mirage? Is there a mid-point amount that accounts for both outcomes, and would any team (Charlotte? New York?) exceed it? None of these questions feel comfortable to answer.

Golden State Warriors: Investing No. 2 Pick

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Trading the No. 2 pick is very much on the table for Golden State. President of basketball operations Bob Myers has said as much, and the logic is easy to follow. If (hopefully) healthy versions of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson transform this team back into a title contender, it needs more of a win-now impact than most rookies can provide.

    But this makes a few assumptions—the first being that Curry, now 32, and Thompson, 30 and coming back from a torn ACL, can anchor a contender with Draymond Green, who had a statistically disastrous season. It's certainly possible—the core made five Finals and won three titles between 2015 and 2019—but the Warriors need to be reasonably confident that's the case before sacrificing an asset this valuable.

    The other is that the trade market will bear something valuable enough to justify parting with the pick. The reputation of this draft class isn't great, and the fact a clear-cut No. 1 prospect hasn't emerged yet proves there's no Zion Williamson or even Ja Morant in this talent grab. There also aren't many household names who are definitely available, especially if the Washington Wizards aren't interested in moving Bradley Beal.

    The talk of the Dubs doing some type of deal at No. 2 makes sense in theory, but in practice, the stars may not align to get anything done.

    "I believe the Warriors should trade the pick if they can add a contributor who substantially increases their championship odds or is more certain to fit than the player they draft. But I also think finding that trade is a lot harder than it sounds," ESPN's Kevin Pelton wrote.

Houston Rockets: Mike D'Antoni's Future

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Only three teams in NBA history attempted more threes than this year's Rockets: the Rockets of the past three seasons. Since trading away Clint Capela in early February, Houston has entrusted its starting center spot to 6'5" P.J. Tucker.

    The Rockets, in other words, are fully committed to Mike D'Antoni's preferred style of play. They just aren't fully committed to the actual coach.

    The 69-year-old skipper doesn't have a contract beyond this season. His future is uncertain to the point there's already a report, via ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, that the Indiana Pacers will pursue him if he doesn't stay in Houston.

    D'Antoni's sharp offensive mind has helped James Harden become a once-in-a-generation kind of scorer, and it helped nine-time All-Star and former MVP Russell Westbrook post a personal-best field-goal percentage (47.2). But is that enough for the Rockets to cover what it will cost to keep D'Antoni, and do they think he's the right person to lead this organization?

Indiana Pacers: Victor Oladipo's Future

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    Kim Klement/Associated Press

    In August, Nate McMillan secured a one-year contract extension and was one of three men to receive a first-place vote for Coach of the Year. He was also fired by the Pacers after they were swept out of the first round by the Miami Heat—mind you, with Domantas Sabonis outside the bubble to treat a foot injury.

    Indiana puzzled more than a few with the move, so the franchise better ace this hire. Oh, and if the Pacers are able to land Mike D'Antoni—a potential target, per Wojnarowski—that would seemingly spell the end to the Sabonis-Myles Turner-Goga Bitadze trio. They just had their highest winning percentage in six seasons, and they still might reshuffle the deck this offseason.

    Those are major decisions, but they pale in comparison to Victor Oladipo's future. Only a contract extension can keep the two-time All-Star from reaching unrestricted free agency in 2021, and there have been rumblings "that he didn't plan on re-signing with the Pacers," per The Athletic's Sam Amick.

    This whole situation is dicey.

    Oladipo isn't a clear-cut maximum contract candidate. He hasn't looked right since injuring his knee in Jan. 2019, and over his seven-year career, he really has just one-plus season playing at an All-Star level.

    Are the Pacers comfortable paying him huge money? Is he content staying in the Hoosier State? Or is now the time to divorce before he potentially leaves for nothing next offseason?

Los Angeles Clippers: Montrezl Harrell's Free Agency

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Theoretically, the Clippers have two relatively equal decisions to make this offseason as both Montrezl Harrell and Marcus Morris Sr. are bound for unrestricted free agency. But L.A. moved a first-round pick to land Morris in February, and one can assume that sacrifice wasn't made for just a partial-season rental.

    Morris is a well-established commodity at this point. He defends multiple positions, makes a decent amount of his long-range looks (career 36.7 percent) and offers some secondary oomph on offense. He should be a helpful piece for any contender to have, and the Clippers should be ready to pay him anything within reason.

    Remember, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can enter 2021 free agency, so this is not the time for the franchise to pinch pennies.

    So, why doesn't that make Harrell another no-brainer? Because his reserve role makes it hard to gauge his impact. He has been a devastating chance-of-pace option for the Clippers, but how valuable is that for a team with championship aspirations? He's not a great shooter, distributor, rim protector or rebounder. L.A. basically fared the same with (plus-6.5 points per 100 possessions) and without him (plus-6.1) this season.

    The Clippers will want him back, but if he's confined to this sixth-man role, they probably won't break the budget to do it. What happens, then, if an outside suitor will? They already have at least $109 million on next season's books, so replacing him would be a challenge. But if a team like the Charlotte Hornets is prepared to pay him like a star, L.A.'s best move will be walking away.

Los Angeles Lakers: Kyle Kuzma's Future

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The Lakers unloaded almost their entire asset collection in last summer's Anthony Davis blockbuster, but Kyle Kuzma was the lone prospect to stay draped in Purple and Gold. The 25-year-old forward has led an awkward existence since, struggling to find his fit on such a dramatically reshaped roster.

    He packs a mean scoring punch when he's rolling (27 games with 25-plus points the past three seasons), but it's tough to say how that equips him to play a supporting role alongside superstars like Davis and LeBron James. Kuzma isn't a knockdown shooter by any stretch (31.6 percent from deep, and that was an improvement from last season), and while his defense is improving, he's not a star-stopper by any stretch.

    Can the Lakers mold him into the right complementary fit for now and have him around to help withstand the loss of James whenever he walks away? Or is Kuzma most valuable as a trade chip since the Lakers' shelves are otherwise empty?

    It all depends on the market's assessment of Kuzma, which may not match how casual fans feel. He probably isn't bringing back an established star on his own, but maybe an ace role player or two who offers a cleaner fit with James and Davis would make it worthwhile for L.A.

Memphis Grizzlies: Pricing De'Anthony Melton

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Josh Jackson, the fourth overall pick in 2017, might spark the most interesting debates on Beale Street, but De'Anthony Melton's price tag is the more important riddle to solve.

    He doesn't have a razor-sharp offensive arsenal, and analytics still award the vaunted "A++" evaluation. Statistically speaking, no one meant more to Memphis this season. Melton's net differential paced all the Grizzlies' rotation players (plus-5.1 net rating without him, minus-4.0 without), and it wasn't even close.

    A ferocious defender, Melton was one of only eight players to average six rebounds and two steals per 36 minutes, and he had the Association's third-highest deflection rate per 36 minutes (minimum 1,000 minutes). And he still averaged better than two assists for every turnover (2.9 to 1.4).

    His defensive dirty work seems a natural fit with Ja Morant's glitzy offense, though it would help if Melton uncovered a reliable outside shot. Either way, he should be collecting not-insigificant coin on the open market, and Memphis must be ready to match (or get comfortable with the idea of walking away from) a sizable offer sheet.

Miami Heat: Utilizing Cap Space

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    Kim Klement/Associated Press

    Flexibility is almost a foreign concept for win-now teams in this market, but the Heat are the exception.

    Deft wheeling and dealing has positioned them to have more than $20 million to splash on this summer's hoopers-for-hire. But their desire to go whale hunting in 2021 might restrict their movement.

    They can still splurge, but it may be nothing more than a bloated one-year pact. Is that enough to get Danilo Gallinari to South Beach after the two sides nearly joined forces at the deadline? Will Miami emerge as a surprise suitor for Fred VanVleet? Do the Heat opt for in-house shopping and throw huge single-season salaries at the likes of Goran Dragic and Jae Crowder?

    Or might Miami find its whale a year early? If Oladipo moves to the trade market, would the Heat make their bid now? Even if they like their chances of signing him next summer, they might have to consider getting him into their program now—and keeping him away from a different club capable of getting a long-term agreement out of him.

Milwaukee Bucks: The Doomsday Scenario

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    Mike Ehrmann/Associated Press

    A supermax extension offer will be awaiting Giannis Antetokounmpo as soon as the market opens. General manager Jon Horst said as much and paid dearly for doing so.

    In an ideal world for the Bucks, Antetokounmpo puts pen to paper, throws on a cheesehead and declares himself a Badger Stater for life (or for his NBA life, at least). But what happens if none of that comes to fruition? What is Milwaukee's survival plan for the apocalyptic scenario of Antetokounmpo declining a new deal?

    Trade offers would come in as fast as the franchise's devices can say "wuphf." The Bucks could surely get some interesting ones—the trade value of a 25-year-old soon-to-be two-time MVP is effectively infinite—and pursue whatever kind of package they choose. Whether it's a rebuilding kit full of picks and prospects or a reloading option with established and up-and-coming talent, Milwaukee could scratch any itch it desires.

    But what if the best move is no move? If the Bucks fall short of this year's championship, they could try hanging onto Antetokounmpo for dear life and hoping like hell that a run to the 2021 title changes his tune. Losing for nothing would obviously be devastating, but losing a generational talent without capturing a ring with him is B-R-U-T-A-L in any circumstance.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Spending No. 1 Pick

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Several motivations could've spurred the Timberwolves to land D'Angelo Russell—getting out of Andrew Wiggins' contract and landing one of Karl-Anthony Towns' closest friends chief among them. But that trade, coupled with the one that brought Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez to town, signaled a desire to win sooner than later.

    When the franchise struck lottery gold and claimed the No. 1 pick, that added an interesting wrinkle to the win-now attempts. Would the Wolves now delay their attempted ascension to add a high-ceiling prospect who needs developmental seasoning, like LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards? Or was this Minnesota's ticket to an impact trade? Well, it might all depend on what the team considers an impact trade.

    "It's not like you're swapping that [pick] to get a franchise-level player back," ESPN's Bobby Marks told Jace Frederick of the Pioneer Press. "Like that doesn't get you Bradley Beal, for example."

    Would Victor Oladipo or John Collins suffice? What about Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen? That might be the best the Timberwolves can do. If it is, could that deal and new pacts with Beasley and Hernangomez (both restricted free agents) get this group where it's trying to go? Or is this the time to practice patience and hope Edwards or Ball becomes the club's third star sooner than later?

New Orleans Pelicans: Coaching Search

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Go back and run this exercise before the season started, and Brandon Ingram's free agency becomes a no-brainer choice for this slot. But his All-Star emergence should've silenced that discussion. He's a clear max-contract candidate, and the Pels should welcome him with an offer that rich as soon as they're allowed.

    Now, New Orleans' toughest call is a new no-brainer: the search for Alvin Gentry's replacement. The Pelicans are loaded with young talent that, if handled properly, could comprise the foundation of a contender. Botching their development, though, could be catastrophic.

    New Orleans cannot afford a misstep.

    "We will not be quick with this at all," executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said, per Pelicans.com's Jim Eichenhofer. "This is not a rush. We have a job that we believe is going to be the most attractive in the NBA, quite frankly."

    The perfect coach positions the Pelicans to snag a playoff spot next season and simultaneously molds them into long-term, sustainable contenders. They have to find that coach.

New York Knicks: Finding a Floor General

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    When was the last time New York felt great about its point guard position? When Walt Frazier was behind the wheel, maybe?

    It doesn't matter. The point is the Knicks have had a point guard problem for far too long, and this could finally be the offseason to fix it. But how?

    As soon as Leon Rose assumed the franchise's presidency, rumors swirled about the former agent's client, Chris Paul. Fred VanVleet, the top unrestricted free agent on the market, might be the perfect age (26) to teach the team's youth winning ways and still be contributing at a high level when that talent matures.

    Or is this best addressed on draft night? Slipping from No. 6 to No. 8 at the lottery didn't help, but it wasn't a complete disaster. One or both of Tyrese Haliburton and Killian Hayes could still be on the board, and that's assuming the Knicks prefer them over Cole Anthony (who's on the board at No. 8 in mostly every mock you'll find). There also might be a trade-up opportunity for the Knicks to move into LaMelo Ball's range.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Deciding on a Timeline

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    OKC obliterated external expectations this season. That's a testament to head coach Billy Donovan and the rest of this roster—but it's not an identity change.

    The Thunder are ostensibly rebuilding until proven otherwise, but they have options. With 10 incoming first-rounders on the way between now and 2026 (including both picks and swap rights), they have the assets to broker a blockbuster should they choose. Keep Chris Paul around, bring back Danilo Gallinari and maybe an incoming star turns this team from pesky first-round matchup to potential conference finalist.

    Or OKC could go the opposite direction and tear down everything to the studs around 22-year-old centerpiece Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Paul, Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder could all fetch more assets, and sending any out would free up the breathing room to bring back bad money and whatever sweeteners are attached to it.

    Either direction has its appeal, but the Thunder need to pick one. Tight-roping between timelines likely leaves them lacking on both ends of it.

Orlando Magic: Keep or Trade Aaron Gordon?

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Aaron Gordon lives on the trade block. He was there at the deadline, just like the deadline before it and the one before that.

    The No. 4 pick in 2014, he has seemingly plateaued in Orlando, but he does just enough interesting things to wonder whether he'd thrive in an offense more catered to his strengths. He needs spacing to put his athleticism and solid secondary playmaking skills to work, and he's instead sharing a roster with Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac.

    Orlando can survive without Gordon. From Isaac and Nikola Vucevic to Chuma Okeke and Mo Bamba to Al-Farouq Aminu and Khem Birch, the Magic are overloaded up front even if Gordon is removed from the equation. Their roster lacks balance, and they need more of a perimeter punch than Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross can offer.

    Plus, there should still be actual intrigue in Gordon. Could Orlando demand the No. 2 pick from Golden State? Might Gordon be the third star the Nets tear down their young core to get? His two-way versatility and elite explosiveness should be highly coveted on the trade market, where he's arguably more valuable than he is in Disney's backyard.

Philadelphia 76ers: How to Build Around Embiid and Simmons

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    If we can take 76ers general manager Elton Brand at his word, then talent poachers can stop circling the City of Brotherly Love. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons aren't available; Philly just needs to rework the roster around them.

    "I'm not looking to trade Ben or Joel," Brand said, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps. "I'm looking to complement them better. They are 24 and 26 years old, respectively. You try to make that fit as long as you can."

    Brand's mindset is correct, but the road ahead is far from simple. It's possible the Sixers' roster has been bungled to the point that only an Embiid or Simmons trade can change that. Obviously, you want to leave the nuclear option of trading away a top-15 player off the table as long as you can, but Philly may not have many substantial alternatives.

    Al Horford's contract isn't coming off the books without a sweetener unless he's shipped out for someone else's overpay. Tobias Harris might need multiple sweeteners attached. Josh Richardson might fetch a modest asset, but he's not bringing back a needle-mover.

    So, how does Brand figure this out? The Embiid-Simmons connection has flaws, but it can work; in 2017-18, they were thrashing opponents by 15.5 points per 100 possessions across 1,306 shared minutes. Philly needs shooters, shot-creators and depth in the worst kind of way, and it's hard to tell where it can find them.

Phoenix Suns: Cap Space or Continuity?

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    While the Suns' playoff drought reached a full decade this season, its days should finally be numbered.

    Their .466 winning percentage was their highest since 2014-15, and it featured an 8-0 sprint to the finish line in Florida. Devin Booker rose to the All-Star ranks, Deandre Ayton took a sizable step forward at both ends, and the Suns squeezed a ton of life out of the small-ball style they adopted in the bubble.

    Another round of gradual improvements could theoretically help Phoenix close its postseason gap, which is the crux of the argument for running it back in free agency. Between Dario Saric (restricted) and Aron Baynes, the Suns have two critical frontcourt pieces ticketed for the open market.

    Letting them walk, though, might open a path to raising the ceiling more dramatically. They could be holding around $17 million in cap space if they let their free agents go, and that could get them in the ballpark for Danilo Gallinari or Paul Millsap. If Phoenix wants to aim even higher (maybe for Fred VanVleet), it could take the bold step of dealing Ricky Rubio for increased flexibility.

Portland Trail Blazers: Carmelo Anthony's Future

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    Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

    Portland's most important step for this offseason is getting healthy. Its entire season was ravaged by injury, from Jusuf Nurkic's broken leg that predated it to Damian Lillard's sprained knee that effectively ended it.

    Up next, it's finding a use for Trevor Ariza and the $11 million non-guaranteed portion of his $12.8 million salary. The Blazers should be quick to answer the phone for any club looking to increase cap space or duck under the tax. Ariza was fine over his 21 outings with the team, but the Blazers can get more impact from an eight-figure salary slot.

    That's the easy decision, though. Deciding whether there's a future with Carmelo Anthony is the tricky one.

    He and the Blazers found each other at a perfect time this season. Their injury-riddled roster needed help, and he was a natural fit as a spacer and complementary scorer. Meanwhile, he needed a ticket back into the Association, and they gave him his first NBA run since Nov. 2018.

    "Honestly, thank God I found a home in Portland," Anthony said, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. "I got comfortable with the organization. I got comfortable with the guys on the team. They got comfortable with me."

    But will that comfort yield another contract? Will next season's Blazers, which should hopefully feature healthy versions of Nurkic, Zach Collins, Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood in the frontcourt, still need Anthony? Will he remain comfortable if he's bumped to the bench or stripped of some minutes and shots?

    This is not the easy call Anthony seems to think it should be.

Sacramento Kings: What's the Walk-Away Point for Bogdan Bogdanovic?

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    Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

    A consistent theme has emerged from Sacramento all season. The Kings want to keep Bogdan Bogdanovic, and they'll pay what it takes to keep him.

    "Bogdanovic will be the top priority," The Athletic's Jason Jones reported in April. "The Kings intend to match any offer sheet from another team, should Bogdanovic sign one."

    This seems straightforward and mostly sensible given how different the Kings fared before (15-29 with a minus-3.5 net rating) and after (16-12, plus-0.6) promoting Bogdanovic to the starting lineup. Saying that, it's important to remember we're talking about a 28-year-old non-star. While versatility is his biggest selling point, he doesn't have a go-to elite skill.

    As much as the Kings want to keep him, there's surely a point at which he'd climb out of their price range. So, what is that number, and what are the chances anyone might actually approach it? Restricted free agency can be a thorny process, and it doesn't always play out as expected.

San Antonio Spurs: Has the Next Chapter Started?

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    San Antonio's brief-but-productive run through the Florida bubble certainly felt like a changing-of-the-guard kind of moment.

    The Spurs said they would stress player development, and then they put their minutes where their mouth was. Five of their top six floor-time recipients were 25 or younger. That included Lonnie Walker IV, who had five of his 11 highest-scoring efforts of the season in Disney, and rookie Keldon Johnson, who entered the bubble with 41 career points and then provided 113 over his eight games there.

    The team walked away with a brighter future but a more confusing present.

    While a rebuild has been inevitable since Kawhi Leonard forced his way out, this highlighted all the perks of a youth movement. But San Antonio's roster won't allow for an outright embrace of youth. LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills are still around for another year, and DeMar DeRozan will be whenever he picks up his $27.7 million player option.

    So, does San Antonio just put the vets back in prominent positions and hope for better results next season? Or can the front office find takers (and assets) for those players to continue the accelerated developments of the others?

Toronto Raptors: Navigating Their Own Free Agents

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    For the third year in a row, the Raptors could be looking at an offseason overhaul. Previous versions brought Kawhi Leonard to town and watched him walk away.

    This won't be as splashy.

    It might be just as interesting, though, as president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri tries to strike a balance between contending again next season and maintaining maximum flexibility for 2021. The Raptors have Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka all headed to unrestricted free agency, where each should command a generous sum. Toronto should have some level of interest in re-signing each.

    But salary commitments can only stretch so far into the future without spoiling the squad's grandiose dreams for the Summer of Giannis.

    A hefty one-year arrangement should make sense for Gasol as the 35-year-old is completing his twilight. It'd be a tougher sell to the 30-year-old Ibaka and 26-year-old VanVleet, who has a good chance of signing the offseason's biggest deal among those who change jerseys should he opt to head elsewhere.

Utah Jazz: Who's Getting Extended?

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    Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

    Is Salt Lake City big enough for both Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert?

    It's a question worth asking, though not for the reason you might initially think. It's not about whether any tension remains between the two but rather about whether the Jazz are ready to pay them like championship building blocks.

    Both are extension-eligible this offseason. Gobert actually qualifies for the supermax, which could get him nearly $250 million over five years. Mitchell can score a max deal of roughly $170 million for five seasons. And don't forget, Utah already has eight-figure commitments to Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles for the next two seasons (the next three for Bogdanovic), plus $8.5 million-plus for at least the next three seasons to Royce O'Neale.

    Mitchell's money seems certain to come. He's just 23 years old and potentially making a superstar leap this postseason.

    Gobert's case is complicated. He'll be 29 entering the first year of his next contract, and he plays a position being perpetually devalued by the modern game. He is an elite paint protector and glass cleaner, but he offers no range or playmaking on offense.

    It isn't hard to imagine a Gobert supermax aging poorly. But he's a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-NBA selection, so it could get dicey if that's where he perceives his value to be.

Washington Wizards: Is Bradley Beal Definitely Worth Keeping?

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Apologies to the Wizards faithful, but the rest of the hoops world is on Bradley Beal trade watch.

    Washington might have genuine interest in seeing how Beal and a hopefully healthy John Wall can coexist. It will probably even pay Davis Bertans to be a part of that crew (otherwise, what was the point of keeping him at the deadline?). The Wizards should add another top-10 pick to the equation, and they should benefit from Thomas Bryant and Troy Brown Jr. being allowed to spread their wings in Florida.

    But what's the end game? How high is this club supposed to climb? Washington's best season since Beal's arrival as the No. 3 pick in 2012 featured 49 wins and a second-round exit. That was in 2016-17 when Markieff Morris, Otto Porter Jr., Marcin Gortat and (briefly) Bojan Bogdanovic called the District home.

    Beal is better now than he was then, but Wall is presumably worse. He's an athleticism-dependent point guard who is coming off a ruptured Achilles and will be 30 before he logs his next NBA minutes. If this backcourt breaks even, who makes up the difference to build on the modest success of 2016-17? Are the Wizards confident they'll even be as good?

    That answer better be a resounding "Yes!"

    Otherwise, Washington could look foolish for not collecting a mountain of assets in exchange for Beal. A rebuild feels somewhere between probable and imminent, and as long as that's the case, the rest of us will keep waiting on a Beal blockbuster.

                       

    All stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.

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