1 Question Haunting Every NBA Team This Offseason

Mandela Namaste@@mandiba13Contributor IJuly 27, 2021

1 Question Haunting Every NBA Team This Offseason

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    It's getting to be that time of year. You know, the one where we all stay glued to Twitter for the better part of a weekend, waiting with bated breath for the next bit of breaking news from Adrian Wojnarowski, Shams Charania or any of the NBA's myriad plugged-in reporters. Yep, the offseason is here!

    One exciting aspect of the league these days is there are no superteams. Sure, some rosters have (significantly) more talent than others, but even the best clubs in the NBA are flawed. As such, everybody has room to improve and questions to answer this offseason, even the title-winning Milwaukee Bucks.

    So, with that said, let's take a look at one question that should be top of mind for each front office this summer. To be certain, most teams' to-do lists are longer than just one objective, but examining the most pressing issues is a good jumping-off point for deeper discussion.    

Atlanta Hawks: Trade for a Star or Keep the Youngsters Together?

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    Tami Chappell/Associated Press

    Coming off an unexpected conference finals appearance, the Atlanta Hawks are in a great position. They arguably didn't even reach their full potential, as Trae Young suffered a bone bruise in his foot and wing De'Andre Hunter tore his meniscus during the playoff run.

    That said, pro basketball in the Peach State hasn't been this popular in a long time.

    However, here's where things get difficult. Atlanta's young core has clearly cohered, but a look at the depth chart reveals a team with seven or eight starter-caliber players, two or three of whom could be packaged in a trade for a star. The question is, does GM Travis Schlenk want to win with the players he drafted, or does he want to win now?

    Though the team was recently mentioned as a potential option for Bradley Beal, there may not be many available stars for the Hawks to pursue this offseason. However, thanks to players like Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish and Onyeka Okongwu playing well in the playoffs and boosting their trade value, Atlanta now looms as a potential destination for unhappy stars throughout Trae Young's prime.

    Schlenk should spend the offseason deciding whether or not to pursue that route.

Boston Celtics: Who Is Their Point Guard?

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    Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

    The Celtics are already working to move past a disappointing 2020-21 campaign. They've jettisoned Kemba Walker, moved Brad Stevens to the front office and hired Ime Udoka away from the Nets to replace Stevens as head coach.

    But these moves won't mean anything without a competent roster, and despite reuniting with Al Horford in the Walker trade, the team still doesn't look fit to tangle with the East's top tier.

    The Celtics' most glaring flaw is a lack of elite playmakers. Currently, Marcus Smart is listed as the starting point guard, but he hasn't played that position regularly in years. The group of free-agent point guards is solid, but Boston lacks the cap space to pay the market rate for players like Dennis Schroder and Reggie Jackson. As for a trade, no young Celtics have enough value to headline a deal for players like Devonte' Graham or Ricky Rubio.

    They're firmly between a rock and hard place here.

    Perhaps Smart can rise to the occasion, perhaps it's a valiant group effort, or perhaps Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown become such efficient isolation scorers that ball movement matters less. But right now, plugging that hole is a major, perhaps unsolvable task for Stevens and company.   

Brooklyn Nets: Why Did Kevin Durant Go to Tokyo?

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    The Nets may be the most talented team in the NBA. They fell short this spring largely because of injuries, but should be 2022 title favorites so long as their three superstars are healthy. However, Kevin Durant's decision to pursue his third Olympic gold may hamper Brooklyn's championship ambitions.

    The last time we saw Durant in a Nets uniform, he airballed a season-saving jumper out of pure exhaustion. He gave his all against the Milwaukee Bucks, playing 42.7 minutes per game in the series while shouldering a Herculean load, and still got Brooklyn to the brink of advancing thanks to some truly incredible performances. Given that he was so omnipresent for Brooklyn at the end of his first season post-Achilles rupture, the sensible decision would have been to lay low this summer.

    Alas, KD is a hooper, and chose six more weeks of high-level competition instead.

    Durant's decision makes some sense. This might be his last chance to star for an Olympic team, and considering the offensive talent on the roster, his responsibilities may be rather minimal even compared to the Nets' scoring juggernaut. But if Brooklyn loses for any non-injury reason next year, we reserve the right to question his very short rest period.   

Charlotte Hornets: Draft a Center or Sign One?

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    The Hornets have a pretty good core, and we’re not just talking about LaMelo Ball. Gordon Hayward played at an All-Star level when healthy, and Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges and PJ Washington have each impressed since joining the team. 

    Now, Charlotte needs to address the center position. How, exactly, to do that is the question. Should GM Mitch Kupchak chase impending free agents or look towards the draft instead?

    Considering how fully-formed LaMelo looked last year (prior to the play-in, that is), the obvious answer might be to sign a veteran like Richaun Holmes, Nerlens Noel or Daniel Theis who understands their role and can seamlessly compliment the Hornets’ existing talent. But a look at the 2021 draft class reveals numerous center prospects who could a) be available at the 11th overall selection, b) thrive alongside a selfless player like LaMelo and c) do so on a rookie contract. 

    Whether we’re talking leapers like Texas’ Kai Jones and Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson or smart, versatile big men like Alperen Sengun from Turkey and Usman Garaba from Spain, the Hornets could save significant cash and push for the real playoffs if they guess right on a big man in the draft.

Chicago Bulls: What to Do with Thaddeus Young and Daniel Theis?

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    With Nikola Vucevic, Patrick Williams, Daniel Theis, Thaddeus Young and Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls have an overstuffed frontcourt. Vucevic is an All-Star and Williams is the team's most recent lottery pick, so they're both safe. Markkanen, on the other hand, seemed unhappy ages ago, and as a free agent—even a restricted one—he's likely gone. That leaves Young and Theis for executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas to decide on. 

    Like Markkanen, Theis is a free agent, and expertly did the dirty work after coming over from Boston last season. Young, on the other hand, has a partially guaranteed contract for $6 million next year that becomes $14.2 million if the Bulls retain him. Considering both Zach LaVine's fondness for Young and a report that casts doubt on Theis' future in Chicago, this seems like an easy decision. 

    However, as much as LaVine appreciates Young's contributions, Karnisovas should really think about committing over $14 million to a 33-year-old role player. Seemingly prioritizing a raw rookie like Marko Simonovic over a vet like Theis feels similarly dicey.

    The Bulls find themselves in a strange predicament. Both Young and Theis are ideal mentors for promising young players. However, their talents simultaneously feel wasted on this roster that doesn't pass muster, even as a lower-tier playoff team. 

    No matter how Karnisovas proceeds, he's just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.   

Cleveland Cavaliers: Could Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen Really Play Together?

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Cade Cunningham is currently the favorite to go first overall in the draft, while the Rockets seem to be leaning toward Jalen Green at No. 2. This order would set the Cleveland Cavaliers up to draft USC big man Evan Mobley with the third pick.

    This seems to be the Cavaliers' preferred outcome. They reportedly prefer Mobley to Green, and also believe he could play alongside incumbent big man Jarrett Allen. But can they really play together?

    Starting Mobley and Allen at power forward and center implies that Mobley is a knockdown shooter. However, the 20-year-old only shot 30.0 percent from the shorter college three-point line and 69.4 percent from the free-throw line, so who's to say he'll be draining jumpers with regularity anytime soon?

    Early on in his career, the USC alum might be able to emulate Deandre Ayton, who made 34.3 percent of his threes at Arizona on similar volume but rarely shoots them with the Suns. That limited range works for Ayton alongside four shooters in Phoenix, but would spell trouble for Mobley alongside Allen and subpar shooter Isaac Okoro in Cleveland. 

    With so many other positives in his column, Mobley should probably be the pick for the Cavaliers. But they should be very conscious of this potential shortcoming as a shooter and have a plan to counteract it.

Dallas Mavericks: How to Build Up Porzingis' Trade Value?

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    It's lower-profile than Ben Simmons' demise in Philadelphia, but Kristaps Porzingis is likely on his way out of Dallas—and for similar reasons.

    Like Simmons, he massively underwhelmed in the playoffs, and rumors of mutual dislike between Porzingis and Luka Doncic are everywhere. Add the more recent failures alongside longer-held concerns about the Latvian's massive contract and injury history, and we have a player rapidly approaching the "untradeable" zone. That doesn't even take into account questionable off-court behavior and the 2019 rape allegation against him.

    Given all that baggage, why would another franchise want to acquire Porzingis? Well, he's still talented. Maybe he just needs the right role. 

    This may sound harsh, but think of Porzingis nowadays as a bigger, more athletic version of Kelly Olynyk. His offensive value comes mostly as a shooter, but he can occasionally take defenders off the dribble as well. Defensively, the one-time All Star is nowhere near his Knicks-era peak after several knee injuries, but could reinvent himself as a solid team defender. 

    This kind of role sounds pretty low stakes for a player on Porzingis' contract, but if a franchise feels like he's the missing piece and later achieves postseason success, then acquiring him will be worth it.

Denver Nuggets: Will They Overreact to Postseason Failure?

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    The Nuggets could react strongly to a four-game sweep at the hands of the Phoenix Suns in which they were thoroughly outplayed. The question is—should they?

    Newly minted MVP Nikola Jokic is sure to lead a competitive team next season. However, Denver's 2021-22 expectations should still be rather low, mostly because Jamal Murray is expected to miss most of the year rehabbing his torn left ACL. 

    On paper, a Western Conference Finals appearance followed by two early exits should be cause for concern. But one key thing to remember is the age of the Nuggets' core players. Jokic is still only 26 years old, Murray is 24, Michael Porter is 23 and Aaron Gordon is 25, so they have plenty of time to pick up where they left off. And though that quartet's time together was brief, it was fiery. In five games together, the aforementioned group recorded an 18.2 net rating and a 63.3 effective field goal percentage.

    Results are results, and it can be difficult to try and keep a clear head when you underperform two seasons in a row. But the organization needs to stay the course until Murray returns next year. Then, the real fun can begin.   

Detroit Pistons: Should Cade Cunningham Be the Pick?

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    A familiar cycle repeats itself year after year. A prospect is often anointed as the clear favorite to go first overall, then because consensus is boring and us bloggers and TV pundits need topics to discuss, doubt is injected into the discourse around said top prospect.

    Are we sure this guy should go first overall? Is he even a good fit with [insert team with the first pick]'s supporting cast? More recently, "why would a future superstar want to go to [insert small market here]?" has become a talking point as well. 

    All this is to say, questioning Cade Cunningham's fit with the Detroit Pistons here is not meant to fit with that tiresome pattern. There are legitimate reasons to wonder if a player like Jalen Green would work better in the Motor City, and that rumor has indeed made the rounds. The Pistons' current roster is crying out for a go-to scorer, and while Cunningham can fill that role, it comes more naturally to Green. 

    When the Pistons draft Cunningham later this week, come back to this slide and get your jokes off. But we won't know if they're right until years down the road.   

Golden State Warriors: What Kind of Player Are They Targeting in a Trade?

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    The Golden State Warriors have telegraphed their plans to deal the No. 7 pick and second-year big man James Wiseman for a more established player. This makes sense considering time is working against Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. The real question, however, is whether or not those are the only assets the Warriors are willing to shop. 

    In breaking the aforementioned news, The Athletic's John Hollinger highlighted Raptors forward Pascal Siakam as a Warriors player of interest.

    Wiseman and the No. 7 pick alone wouldn't meet the financial threshold to make a trade for Siakam work. However, if the Warriors were willing to add in the 14th overall pick, Andrew Wiggins, and/or another young player like Jordan Poole or Eric Paschall, then Toronto's front office might be interested. The same goes for players like Myles Turner, Brandon Ingram or—wait for it—Bay Area native Damian Lillard.  

    Golden State's Hall of Fame trio is good enough to return their team to contention, provided Thompson is anything like his pre-injury self. But the degree to which GM Bob Myers values his asset cache will determine whether the Warriors can actually win another trophy or if they'll fall flat against the West's elite teams.   

Houston Rockets: Jalen Green or Evan Mobley?

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    Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

    The Houston Rockets dodged a bullet by landing the No. 2 pick. With worse luck, trading James Harden might have amounted to nothing, courtesy of the Russell Westbrook-for-Chris Paul swap two summers ago. 

    Now, however, the Rockets are dealing with a good problem—which potential All-Star should they draft? Assuming the Pistons draft Cade Cunningham first (as discussed earlier—not a foregone conclusion, but likely), Houston's big board likely begins with shooting guard Jalen Green and big man Evan Mobley.

    Ironically, both players could be redundant with incumbent Rockets—Green's score-first mentality and iffy shot selection isn't much different from Kevin Porter Jr., while Mobley's thin frame and inside-out offensive package reminds of Christian Wood. However, they have higher ceilings than Porter and Wood, so if forced to make a choice, the existing players would likely be moved. 

    This pick may come to define the next era of Rockets basketball. Do they want to build around a shooting guard who frequently scores at will, or the rare two-way big man who can stay on the floor in most any situation?

    GM Rafael Stone's thought process on this selection will be fascinating to track in the days and weeks ahead.   

Indiana Pacers: Is This Finally the Time to Trade Myles Turner?

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    AJ MAST/Associated Press

    Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis have been an awkward fit for most of their tenure together, and Indiana's front office seems to know it. After all, they reportedly nearly traded Turner to the Celtics last offseason. But after missing the postseason for the first time in six years, the impetus to finally pull the trigger on a deal may have arrived.

    Though Turner trade rumors never seem to stop swirling, they've restarted in force among front offices.

    B/R's Jake Fischer recently reported the Pacers will once again test the market on their big man, while Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium added that the Charlotte Hornets and New Orleans Pelicans maintain interest in acquiring him (though New Orleans' interest may have dissipated after trading for Jonas Valanciunas on Tuesday). The Celtics may also be involved for the second successive offseason.

    Turner's skill set is a great fit for the modern NBA, meaning he could be a highly valuable trade piece for the Pacers. Very few big men can block shots and shoot threes at the rate he does, so he'll always be in demand. Let's see if this is finally the year the Pacers cash in and reload in the hope of returning to the playoffs.

Los Angeles Clippers: How Much Should They Pay Kawhi?

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The Clippers' run to the conference finals will be remembered forever. Not only did it break what was thought to be a curse on the franchise, but the team also accomplished this sought-after goal without Kawhi Leonard. However, a return trip won't be so easy, precisely because of that latter fact.

    Leonard recently underwent surgery to repair a partially torn right ACL and will miss most or all of next season. This, of course, puts the Clippers in a bind for several reasons, most notably because the two-time Finals MVP could opt out of his contract and become a free agent next week. 

    It's strange that Leonard didn't sign an extension, particularly since partner-in-crime Paul George did so, but he's still expected to re-sign. However, what the Clippers should pay the five-time All-Star, who's now about to sit out another season rehabbing a leg injury, is very much up for debate. 

    Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson both received max deals after suffering serious injuries in the 2019 Finals, but neither had Leonard's troubling history of ailments. Will the Clippers max him unconditionally, or will they present a caveat-filled contract in the mold of Joel Embiid's rookie extension?

    Their decision is one of the stories of the summer.   

Los Angeles Lakers: Does Their Title Window Really Depend on Dennis Schroder?

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Lakers' future looks shaky. Less than a year after winning their 17th title, LeBron James looked human in the playoffs, while both Andre Drummond and Kyle Kuzma have criticized coach Frank Vogel for limiting their minutes and roles. We're far afield from the dynasty talk that proliferated last fall.

    In fact, the Lakers have gone from a "future dynasty" to potentially needing Dennis Schroder to extend their title window.

    The German wants between $100 and $120 million on his upcoming contract, and while the team could just let him walk, relying on an aging LeBron to be its sole playmaker is a recipe for disaster. There are some notable free-agent point guards, but Chris Paul wants a contract the Lakers can't accommodate. And though Kyle Lowry has reportedly expressed interest in joining the Purple and Gold, his most reasonable suitors are east of the Mississippi.

    Re-signing Schroder might be the only option.

    Laker fans, resilient bunch that they are, are predicting a Damian Lillard addition. He'd obviously help, but GM Rob Pelinka would struggle to create a trade package worth considering from Portland's perspective. 

    At this point, fans better hope it was merely injuries that prevented Los Angeles from advancing through playoffs, because the team might be hanging on by a thread otherwise.   

Memphis Grizzlies: Can They Add a Veteran Difference-Maker?

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    The Memphis Grizzlies won the West's No. 8 seed in the play-in tournament and then lost to the Utah Jazz in a competitive first-round series. They have a future All-Star in point guard Ja Morant and a young, hungry supporting cast.

    With so many pieces in place, the Grizzlies have the opportunity to make a big move this offseason that could vault them up a tier in the West. The question is: Who might they try to pursue? 

    The obvious answer is to find a wing. DeMar DeRozan, Duncan Robinson and Norman Powell are free agents, while Harrison Barnes could be a trade candidate. All four have playoff experience and would likely play big minutes for the Grizzlies.

    We just saw how important veteran wings and forwards such as Jae Crowder, P.J. Tucker, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari and Nicolas Batum can be for conference finals representatives. The Hawks were in a worse position last offseason than the Grizzlies are now.

    What general manager Zach Kleiman does this summer could make all the difference for Memphis.   

Miami Heat: Can They Replace Duncan Robinson If He Leaves?

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    In six years, Duncan Robinson went from playing in Division III to starting in the NBA Finals. And while his work ethic was integral to his rise, his signing with the Miami Heat was important, too. Stories about Erik Spoelstra and Jimmy Butler constantly getting in his ear are legion, and they would not have made the Finals without his historically great shooting. 

    However, Robinson is now heading into restricted free agency. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the shooting guard could make $20 million annually, which seems fair considering recent sharpshooter contracts.

    But this is a big decision for the Heat. 

    Robinson has a cheap $4.7 million cap hold, so the team could first look to spend the rest of their cap space on other free agents before re-signing him. But if he signs an offer sheet with another franchise once the moratorium lifts, Miami may have to decide between re-signing him and going big-game hunting on the likes of Kyle Lowry.

    If the Heat decide not to re-sign Robinson, building around subpar shooters like Butler and Bam Adebayo will become much more difficult. None of their other floor-spacers are close to Robinson's level, and the concern around Tyler Herro's future isn't helping.

    For all we know, Riley will work his magic and land someone like Lowry or Bradley Beal this summer. But if the Heat strike out in free agency and Robinson walks, they could be in some hot water.

Milwaukee Bucks: What to Do About Coach Bud?

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Milwaukee Bucks overcame two 2-0 series deficits in the 2021 NBA playoffs to win their first title in 50 years. Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is only 26 years old, so they're set up to compete at this level for the foreseeable future.

    However, head coach Mike Budenholzer struggled at times throughout the Bucks' championship run. He took several games to adjust to each opponent's strong points, whether it was having Giannis periodically guard Nets forward Kevin Durant, trapping Hawks guard Trae Young or Jrue Holiday defending Chris Paul and Devin Booker more physically in the Finals.

    Although his delayed tactical shifts didn't end up mattering this year, they might in subsequent seasons. 

    Budenholzer's seat was scorching hot at times throughout the playoffs, but winning a championship should help quiet critics for now. General manager Jon Horst will now have to weigh whether to hand him an extension—he's heading into the final year of his contract, per Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic—or let him play out the remainder of his deal.   

Minnesota Timberwolves: Those Ben Simmons Rumors Aren't Real, Right?

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Timberwolves seemed to hit their stride at the end of last season. With Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell simultaneously healthy for the first time in their partnership, the Wolves went .500 over their last 22 games.

    However, it looks the front office may throw a wrench in these halfway-decent vibes. Per Jon Krawcyznski, the team is interested in trading for Ben Simmons.

    The three-time All-Star should not be a priority for Minnesota.

    Simmons would fit well with Towns, one of the best-shooting big men ever, and would help the team's subpar defense. However, he needs the ball in his hands on offense to be most effective, as do Towns, Russell and Anthony Edwards. 

    Since the Wolves had to send their No. 7 overall pick to the Golden State Warriors, a trade is likely their best way to improve their roster. But acquiring Simmons would be lateral at best and deleterious at worst, so team president Gersson Rosas should be kept away from the phone until the Aussie is dealt elsewhere.   

New Orleans Pelicans: What to Do About Lonzo?

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Dealing Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, 2021 pick Nos. 10 and 40 and 2022 first-round pick (via the Lakers) to the Grizzlies for Jonas Valanciunas and this year's Nos. 17 and 51 picks was a smart move for the Pelicans.

    Valanciunas is a much better shooter than Adams and could contribute to a properly spaced starting lineup that affords Zion Williamson a consistently clear path to the basket. Hopefully for New Orleans, that should be enough to placate the unhappiness emanating from Williamson's camp of late.

    However, with Bledsoe gone and cap space opened up by the trade, New Orleans faces another, even more crucial decision—does it pay Lonzo Ball?

    In explaining the reasoning behind the deal, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted, "New Orleans creates salary cap space for August that allows them to either match an offer sheet on Lonzo Ball, or have the cap space to pursue a significant free agent point guard, including Kyle Lowry and others."

    That is precisely the decision that the Pelicans face. Do they want to match what could be a $100 million contract for Ball, a talented but flawed role player, or do they announce intentions to win immediately and pay a veteran like Lowry $30 million annually on a short-term deal? 

    No matter what, the front office's decision will send ripples across the Western Conference.

New York Knicks: Can They Find More Shot Creation?

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    Pool/Getty Images

    After a surprisingly successful regular season, the New York Knicks came crashing back to earth in the playoffs. They averaged only 97.0 points on 39.8 percent shooting against the Hawks, and All-Star forward Julius Randle shot a horrendous 29.8 percent from the field.

    If the Knicks' returning players can maintain their cohesion, they will likely stay relevant in the playoff picture. But they aren't going to contend without an upgrade at point guard.

    Randle proved to be an admirable ball-handler in spurts last season, but Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley and Elfrid Payton flunked various aspects of the point guard job description. Rose and Quickley are average passers, while Payton is a below-average scorer.

    The Knicks have already been linked to players like Collin Sexton and Lonzo Ball, as they could have upward of $50 million in cap space to spend in free agency. However, team president Leon Rose avoided splurging on quick fixes last summer, which begs the question of how he'll approach this offseason.

    One thing's for sure, though: If New York doesn't find an upgrade at point guard, the fanbase's excitement  might wind up going to waste.   

Oklahoma City Thunder: What Is the Rebuilding Timeline?

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Conversations around the Oklahoma City Thunder these days always focus on the future since they're armed with an unprecedented number of future first-round picks. But after they missed out on a top-five pick in the 2021 draft, they'll have to reevaluate their rebuilding timeline.

    Even if Oklahoma City had gotten a franchise player in this draft, it likely would have missed the 2022 playoffs. The Western Conference is too loaded, and the Thunder's roster too barren for such a leap.

    But general manager Sam Presti can't just keep trading away veterans for more picks in the hope of landing generational prospects, right? After all, Oklahoma City already has a borderline All-Star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a bulldog defender in Lu Dort and a reclamation project in Kemba Walker, all of whom shouldn't be wasting away on a franchise trying to lose.

    The Thunder's fanbase might be willing to go along with Presti's rebuilding gambit for now. But patience tends to wear thin after a few consecutive losing seasons. 

    Presti will soon have to decide when it's time to stop striving for high draft picks and put together a more competitive roster.    

Orlando Magic: Can They Count on Markelle Fultz?

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Orlando Magic are finally rebuilding. In fact, of the team's incumbent players, only two were off-limits at the trade deadline—Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz.

    Despite his worrying injury history, keeping Isaac under wraps makes sense. He has been a borderline-transcendent defender when healthy. Naming Fultz untouchable, despite his pedigree, is more confusing. 

    We don't need to rehash Fultz's curious journey to this point. By now, it's mostly accepted that he'll never regain his shot, but he has shown flashes of brilliance of late in stunning sequences like this

    That being said, the Magic front office must truly believe he can regain his college form, because the player that he was pre-ACL tear is not the lead playmaker for a contender. Fultz averaged just 12.9 points, 5.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game while shooting just 39.4 percent from the field and recording one of the worst defensive ratings on a bad Orlando defense. 

    Isaac's return will be a teamwide boon on defense, so that's not a worry. But Fultz on offense is basically a shorter version of Ben Simmons, and we all know what happens when you build a team around Simmons' skill set.   

Philadelphia 76ers: Who Besides Embiid Is a Keeper?

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    After five seasons in Philadelphia, Ben Simmons appears to be on his way out.

    According to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, the Sixers "have opened up trade conversations surrounding Simmons and have engaged with teams." However, B/R's Jake Fischer reported they have "yet to make serious traction on any other Simmons deal" in the event that Washington Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal does not become available. 

    As the Sixers weigh Simmons trade offers, they have to ask themselves which players other than Joel Embiid project as long-term keepers. 

    Did Tobias Harris impress enough in the playoffs (21.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 3.5 APG on 48.8/37.2/87.5 shooting) to secure his roster spot moving forward? What about Seth Curry, who had two 30-point games and shot a ludicrous 50.6 percent from three in the postseason? Are promising youngsters like Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton building blocks, or should team president Daryl Morey trade them after their playoff heroics?

    The 76ers will undoubtedly look different when the 2021-22 season begins. But between now and then, Morey has to figure out whether Simmons was the roster's only problem or merely its biggest one.   

Phoenix Suns: Was This Year a 1-Shot Deal?

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    We all fell in love with the Phoenix Suns during their run to the Finals, and there were plenty of reasons for that. Whether it was Chris Paul's late-career title pursuit, Devin Booker's connection with Kobe Bryant, Deandre Ayton rising to the moment or Monty Williams being one of the most thoughtful leaders in the sport, everybody could identify with this team. 

    However, while the Suns are officially contenders now, they will not be favorites to defend their Western Conference throne.

    With players like Anthony Davis, Jamal Murray and Klay Thompson hopefully healthy by the time next postseason rolls around, the old guard will be loaded, and while Phoenix was a fun story this season, it'll have a massive target on its back.

    In addition, Paul is 36 years old and, considering his long injury history, could decline at any time. The Suns weathered his absences and a few dips in his performance during the playoffs, but they are obviously worse without him in peak condition. There's also the possibility that Paul, who has a $44.2 million player option for 2021-22, flat-out leaves in free agency, imperiling the franchise's title window.

    Let's hope Phoenix keeps the good times rolling next season. The team plays a measured but confident style, its fans are electric, and the players are charismatic. But it'll be incredibly difficult to replicate this summer's magic.   

Portland Trail Blazers: Is This Finally the End of CJ McCollum Trade Rumors?

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Things are tense in Portland. Whether it's Damian Lillard's cryptic social media posts, the controversial hiring of Chauncey Billups as coach or GM Neil Olshey seemingly throwing Terry Stotts under the bus, nothing in the Rose City seems to be going right.

    It seemed like everything would come to a head when Lillard announced a press conference last week. He denied the report that he was about to request a trade, but he didn't seem thrilled with the Blazers' current situation either, saying, "I just think we've reached that point where it's like, 'OK, it's not enough. Do we actually want to win it all?' ... We've got to do things to show that."

    Lillard has talked about loving Portland many times, so his denying trade rumors feels mostly believable. But what's also palpable is his understanding that, at age 31, there's no time to waste. 

    Dame and CJ McCollum, his longtime backcourt partner, seem to get along well, but the franchise is built around Lillard. If he wants the team to trade McCollum for Ben Simmons, John Collins or anybody else, Olshey will fulfill his superstar's wishes. At this point, it's just a matter of when that trigger will be pulled.   

Sacramento Kings: Pay Richaun Holmes or Not?

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The Buddy Hield situation needs to resolve at some point in Sacramento. It's obvious that De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton are the future, and Hield has appeared to show interest in more competitive teams. However, there's a more pressing decision to be made in California's capital, and it concerns one of the Kings' big men.

    Richaun Holmes seized a starting spot early in the 2019-20 season and has yet to relinquish it. Over the past two years, he's averaged 13.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game on 64.1 percent shooting and emerged as a high-motor, rim-running center. Sacramento should keep him, but here's where things get complicated. 

    Per James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area, Holmes is requesting a four-year contract worth $80 million, and the Kings cannot match that deal at present. There are ways around this landmine, like potentially moving Hield, Marvin Bagley III or Harrison Barnes, but losing any two of those players offsets re-signing Holmes. 

    In classic Kings fashion, they've backed themselves into a subpar roster with little room for outside upgrades. Without some drastic development from in-house talent, they shouldn't be surprised if Fox gets restless in the coming years.   

San Antonio Spurs: Can They Avoid Being Stuck in the Middle?

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    After maxing out their potential year after year, Gregg Popovich's club is finally operating in the most dreadful tier of teams—mediocrity. 

    DeMar DeRozan's potential departure could help, as losing a go-to scorer might send San Antonio plummeting down the standings. At the same time, however, Popovich hasn't had a team bottom out since his first year coaching, and with time maybe running out on his career (our words, not his), he may refuse to captain a rebuild.

    So the Spurs will likely continue to be competitive, but given that their core features role players Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson and Jakob Poeltl, it will be unremarkable.

    Not to make great the enemy of good, but San Antonio should try to avoid this endgame. After all, the last time the franchise tanked, it worked out. How, exactly, to thread that needle of doing Popovich proud while also firmly resetting the franchise's objectives is the question. 

    Let's hope the Spurs sort out their priorities this summer instead of being satisfied with ninth place.   

Toronto Raptors: What Are Their Expectations?

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    Kim Klement/Associated Press

    There's no more confusing team to evaluate right now than the Toronto Raptors. After staying generally competitive for half a decade and winning a championship, they fell to pieces last season, landing the fourth pick in this week's draft. What gives?

    Of course, there were plenty of extenuating circumstances. The Raptors were forced to play their home games in Florida during the pandemic season, and COVID-19 protocols ravaged the roster. But a look at the players themselves reveals a franchise in transition as well.

    Kyle Lowry basically had a farewell press conference before the trade deadline, while Pascal Siakam— previously thought to be the roster's next cornerstone— has mostly plateaued since the 2020 playoffs. Should front-office guru Masai Ujiri and coach Nick Nurse feel comfortable reloading around Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr. (if he's re-signed) and the fourth overall pick, or should this lottery selection and Lowry's imminent departure signal a rebuild?

    Whichever path the Raptors choose this offseason will probably be the right one. Ujiri and Nurse are among the best in the NBA at their respective jobs and have turned numerous unheralded youngsters into bona fide contributors. But it will be fascinating to see how they proceed.   

Utah Jazz: Can a Team Built Around Rudy Gobert Win a Title?

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    You can assign blame all over the place for the Utah Jazz's collapse against the Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers. Donovan Mitchell's bum ankle is a deserving scapegoat. So is the team's paper-thin perimeter defense. But Utah's biggest player is likely its biggest problem.

    Three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert is an exceptional regular-season rim protector. But we now know that he's clearly limited at the highest levels of the sport. 

    It was easy to excuse Stephen Curry spinning the Frenchman around years ago. Curry is an all-time great. However, you can't dismiss Gobert's ineffectiveness against the Clippers in Games 5 and 6 nearly as quickly.

    Sure, Los Angeles got red-hot from three. But Ty Lue's five-shooter lineups were checkmate against Gobert. Either he protects the rim and leaves a deadeye shooter open from three, or he guards his man and is rendered rather ordinary.

    Unlike last year, there's no sense that Gobert will be traded. He and Mitchell made up after their COVID-related conflict, and the team's chemistry seems normal again. But the Stifle Tower's inability to stop a Clippers team without its best player calls into question the entire project of this Utah Jazz era.   

Washington Wizards: Should Bradley Beal Be Saved from Himself?

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    After years of Bradley Beal maintaining loyalty to the Wizards and outsiders wondering—fairly or not—why he continues to do so, it looks like something may have finally changed. B/R's Jake Fischer recently reported that the All-NBA third-teamer is mulling a trade request, and numerous teams look to be in on the action if Beal decides to go through with it.

    But even if he decides he's happy in the District, GM Tommy Sheppard should be taking phone calls on the three-time All-Star. After all, the rest of the roster that Sheppard has assembled isn't helping lift Beal to postseason greatness during his prime.

    Though we've seen plenty of superstar trades recently, they are typically a last resort—and for good reason. Players of that caliber do not come around often. But arguably as bad as trading a superstar is landing one and mismanaging his supporting cast and then denying the world of said star's peak performance.

    Sheppard, if you're reading this—please, for everyone's sake—consider moving Beal soon if he won't seek a trade himself.


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