Warriors, Bucks and the 5 NBA Teams Best Positioned to Win 2020 Offseason
Every NBA team hits the offseason with grand hopes of renewal, but only a few of them have the tools to turn those hopes into something tangible.
Meaningful offseason growth takes draft capital, spending money, the right mix of assets to swing a trade and, not to be forgotten, focused ambition. It also doesn't hurt if the team that has all that stuff also features multiple entrenched All-Stars and a legitimate path to a championship.
Yes, this is a spoiler that the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks have what it takes to win the 2020 offseason. The rich might well get richer.
That said, the teams poised to put together a transformative offseason come in all stripes. We've got historically sad-sack franchises, marquee organizations and everything in between. All of them have the resources to remake themselves over the next several weeks.
With the 2020-21 season now looking very likely to start Dec. 22, we won't have to wait long to see which of them best seizes the opportunities in front of them.
With three first-rounders (Nos. 14, 26 and 30) they probably can't use because of luxury-tax proximity and a full roster, the Boston Celtics seem likely to do something via trade this offseason. They may have to use those selections as sweeteners in cost-saving moves that send Enes Kanter ($5 million player option) and Vincent Poirier elsewhere, or they could swing a little bigger.
If Gordon Hayward opts in to the final year of his deal, his $34.2 million salary would be a fine match in a trade for a star. That said, the possibility Hayward may opt out and sign elsewhere looms. If that happens, and Boston loses a starter for nothing, it'd be hard to say it "won" the offseason. That's why the Celtics don't quite have the juice to be more than an honorable mention.
New York Knicks
The No. 8 pick and max-level cap space aren't enough to get the New York Knicks beyond honorable mention, either. And no, this isn't just a "because they're the Knicks" thing.
Players simply don't want to play for head coach Tom Thibodeau, which hurts New York's free-agency aspirations—almost as much as the fact that this class is short on stars in the first place. Maybe the Knicks can bowl over Fred VanVleet with a multiyear deal well above his market value (which is what it'd probably take to get him), but is that really a win?
It feels like cheating to count the hiring of Doc Rivers and, to a greater extent, Daryl Morey as reasons the Philadelphia 76ers will have a stellar offseason. Though that tandem will bring stability, experience and innovative tactics (that last one is all Morey), we're more focused on a team's assets and options with respect to the roster.
Morey may remake the Sixers in a flurry of trades, but we certainly can't argue they have the same abundance of appealing assets as the other teams on our list. Basically, Philadelphia deserved a quick mention for its coaching and front-office upgrades. But the Sixers aren't flush with picks, expiring deals or players they a) should trade and b) can get fair value for in the exchange.
No team has more cap space than the Atlanta Hawks, who could have up to $42.9 million in spending power at their disposal this offseason.
Even with a weak free-agent class, that mountain of space is a formidable tool. The Hawks don't necessarily have to spend it on new signees, either. They could trade for a disgruntled star with a massive salary and simply take him into all that room.
John Collins' cap hit is only $4.1 million for 2020-21. There's no current indication Atlanta intends to part with a 23-year-old power forward who just averaged 21.6 points and 10.1 rebounds while drilling 40.1 percent of his threes, but if the organization wants to avoid overpaying on a rookie extension down the road, it could easily swap him for a king's ransom from a team looking to add young talent and cut costs—which is basically every team.
The Hawks have interest in shopping their No. 6 pick in the 2020 draft, hopefully for immediate help in their quest to make the playoffs. That stance suggests Atlanta wouldn't want to take on another team's bad money with draft picks attached as sweeteners. The Hawks still have the option to go that route, which speaks to their extreme flexibility.
It feels a little early for the Hawks to be prioritizing a playoff trip, as Trae Young is only 22. We shouldn't rule out a series of hasty, win-now decisions turning a potential dream offseason into a nightmare. But the Hawks have the means to improve themselves in every conceivable fashion—via trade, free agency and the draft. That's tough to top.
Golden State Warriors
Potential contenders don't typically have high lottery picks, valuable trade exceptions and significant future draft capital coming in from other teams.
The Golden State Warriors, in possession of all three of those asset classes, are in an unusual spot.
Before we get to what the Dubs might do with their own No. 2 pick and/or the Minnesota Timberwolves' top-three-protected 2021 first-rounder, we have to step back and consider the non-draft advantages they'll tote into free agency. Few teams have more than the mid-level exception to offer, and some, fearing uncertain future revenues and wanting to avoid nudging up toward the tax line, might not even use theirs.
The narrower the field of MLE spenders becomes, the greater the Warriors' advantage. Even if every team had the full mid-level, Golden State's combination of available playing time and emphasis on championship-chasing would make it an easy choice for veterans. All things being equal, the Warriors might be the absolute best landing spot for any disappointed players who, seeing the MLE offers dry up, have to choose between several teams offering the minimum.
At No. 2, Golden State could (and should, for my money) select James Wiseman and accept the risk of rostering a center in an age unfriendly to the position. Wiseman seems like the highest-upside prospect, and he wouldn't be asked to do much more than roll hard to the rim on one end and protect it on the other—at least in the early going. Down the line, if he proves to be nimble enough to switch on D and adds some stretch to his shooting, Wiseman could be the bridge to the post-Stephen Curry era of the franchise.
Of course, the Warriors could package that pick with Andrew Wiggins' contract in search of a star. Jrue Holiday is available, per The Athletic's Shams Charania, but he's just one of many potential targets.
Toss in a $17.2 million TPE that could bring back a vet like Rudy Gay, and Golden State could ultimately add at least one star and multiple rotation players.
The pressure is on because the Warriors are locked into massive tax payments and owe it to the core of Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to compete for rings while they're still in their primes. This could be the offseason in which the Warriors reload to a ridiculous degree and return to title-favorite status.
Just a few weeks ago, before Giannis Antetokounmpo calmed fears he might force his way off the team with a trade demand, the Milwaukee Bucks had a shot to be the biggest loser of the 2020 offseason.
Giannis' willingness to stick around for at least one more year is a minor win on its own. If he signs the supermax Milwaukee offers in the first two seconds of free agency, well...that's a titanic victory worthy of, oh, let's say 14 parades and a statewide holiday.
The success doesn't have to stop there.
Milwaukee is also among the most likely (and most motivated) pursuers of veteran upgrades. After two straight playoff disappointments, you'd better believe the Bucks will put in calls about Jrue Holiday, Victor Oladipo and Chris Paul. Though the Bucks don't have the most intriguing package of assets to include in a deal, they may not need an overwhelming offer to land any of those three players.
Holiday, who has a player option he's unlikely to pick up for 2021-22, is effectively an expiring contract. Oladipo's salary comes off the books after this season, and Paul has two years and $85.6 million left on his deal. Two rentals and a 35-year-old who could fall apart at any time shouldn't cost a mint.
The Bucks can offer Eric Bledsoe, Ersan Ilyasova's expiring $7 million salary, Donte DiVincenzo and any of Brook Lopez, George Hill or D.J. Wilson to make the money work. And they've also got the Indiana Pacers' first-rounder, No. 24 overall, to throw into the mix.
Milwaukee has assurances it'll keep its brightest star (at least for now), and it has the means to add another. That's big for a team that, for a good chunk of last season, couldn't be certain either of those things were in the cards.
Even if the 2020 draft's defining characteristics are uncertainty and a widely accepted belief that it lacks stars, the No. 1 pick is still the No. 1 pick.
And the Minnesota Timberwolves have it.
Whether they decide to use it or trade it, that top selection is powerful. It gives Minnesota options.
If the Timberwolves determine Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball is the transformational star they need, they'll get their man. If, instead, they'd rather move down, save cash and select a player who might wind up being just as good as whoever went first, they've got that pathway available. Specifically, Minnesota should be needling the Warriors with threats about snagging James Wiseman. If Golden State can't live without the young center, the Wolves could extract something valuable for a one-spot move down the draft board.
The Wolves also have the No. 17 pick and James Johnson's $16 million expiring contract. Slap those two assets together, send them to a team with unwanted long-term salary, and the return could be at least a mid-tier starter. The Orlando Magic's Aaron Gordon would be a fine fit, for example.
In addition, restricted free agent Malik Beasley likely just lost appeal to other teams and potentially got a lot cheaper to retain—if the Wolves are interested.
A weak draft means the Timberwolves aren't quite as likely to win the offseason as they'd be in most years, but they're still sitting pretty.
That 8-0 bubble run won't soon be forgotten by free agents who may have already been eying the Phoenix Suns as an up-and-coming destination with delightfully balmy winter weather.
The West may be tougher than ever in 2020-21, but the Suns are the non-Warriors team most likely to make the jump from this year's lottery to next year's playoffs—and that would probably still be true if they'd only retained the roster with which they finished last season.
Teams around the league must be twisted into knots of pure envy over the fact that the Suns have three starters—Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and Deandre Ayton—who make sense together, are on rookie-scale deals and will only get better.
Phoenix's $17.8 million in cap space (assuming renounced holds for Aron Baynes and Dario Saric) could swell with a potential Ricky Rubio or Kelly Oubre Jr. trade. The latter would fit into a deal for the Warriors' $17.2 million TPE, while the former should have appeal to any team that fails to land Fred VanVleet in free agency.
Speaking of which, the Suns should be viewed as a sneaky suitor for the best available guard in the 2020 free-agent class. FVV would fit perfectly alongside Devin Booker as a defensive ace who could run the show or operate deferentially as an off-ball threat. He's done exactly that with Kyle Lowry in Toronto for his entire career. There's no reason to think VanVleet would be any less valuable with Booker.
Don't forget about the Suns' No. 10 pick in the 2020 draft. That's a prime location for any team wanting to trade down. It seems unlikely given the "meh" vibe attached to this particular class, but Phoenix could conceivably move into the top three by packaging Oubre Jr. and its own first-rounder.
Phoenix has more ways than most to improve its roster this offseason. If it's aggressive and opportunistic, the postseason is a real possibility.