Did Every NBA Team Fix Its Biggest Problem This Offseason?
NBA offseasons are problem-solving exercises.
From championship chasers to long-term tankers, every club has something it needs to correct to move closer to its ultimate goal.
So, how did your team do with its specific pursuit? That's what we're out to tackle.
Here, we'll identify the primary issue each club carried into the summer and assess whether it was adequately addressed or not.
Biggest Problem: Backing up Trae Young
When a talent like Young takes a seat, the offense will inevitably lose some zip. But Atlanta's attack has historically flatlined without him.
Last season, when the Hawks had their deepest roster during Young's three-year tenure, the offense fared 13.8 points worse per 100 possessions without him. The year prior, it was a 15.5-point swing in the wrong direction.
Adding Lou Williams at last season's trade deadline helped (as did the subtraction of Rajon Rondo in the same swap), but this offseason could prove to be the real problem solver. The Hawks fortified their backup floor general spot for now and later by trading for veteran Delon Wright and drafting 20-year-old shot-creator Sharife Cooper.
Solved? Improved, if not outright fixed
Biggest Problem: Playmaking
The 2020-21 Boston Celtics always felt like they were less than the sum of their individual parts. Their lack of a natural playmaker might have been to blame, as they dished out the sixth-fewest assists per game and had the fifth-fewest secondary assists.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown made big strides as table-setters, but it isn't what they do best. The same goes for Kemba Walker, who has always flashed more for his scoring than distributing. Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III shined as passers, but they didn't get enough touches to make a major impact (both had sub-19 percent usage rates).
With Walker now out of the equation and Smart poised to take on a greater role, Boston could emerge with better ball movement. That rings doubly true if newcomer Dennis Schroder makes as big of an impact with his passing as he does with his scoring.
Solved? Not necessarily, but should be better
Biggest Problem: Getting stops
Last season, the Nets led the NBA with a 117.3 offensive efficiency, but they were only seventh in net rating due to a defense that ranked 22nd overall and was second-worst among playoff participants.
Surely that sent the Nets scrambling for stoppers this summer, right? Wrong.
Their two most significant offseason additions—Patty Mills and rookie first-rounder Cameron Thomas—both lean heavily toward offense. It's all part of the Nets' gamble that their defense doesn't need to be great (or even good) to capture the crown.
With Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving on the same roster, the Nets are willing to wager that no one has the firepower to outscore them four times in a seven-game series. If Brooklyn's stars are healthy, they're probably right.
Solved? They didn't even try
Biggest Problem: Featured scoring
Charlotte's offense is constructed to come at opponents in waves. The Hornets had seven double-digit scorers last season, and while two left in free agency (Devonte' Graham and Malik Monk), at least three newcomers could fill the voids and then some (Kelly Oubre Jr., Mason Plumlee and No. 11 pick James Bouknight).
There's no shortage of above-average to good scorers in Buzz City, but is there a great one in the mix?
Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball can all look the part when they're cooking, but each still fluctuates more than a true No. 1 option. That probably won't change for Rozier or Hayward, both of whom have already bumped into their ceilings.
Ball might have a chance to iron that out, though. And if Bouknight maxes out his potential, he could eventually challenge for the featured scoring role.
Solved? Not through offseason moves, but maybe through internal growth
Biggest Problem: Point guard play
Thirty-five qualified players averaged at least five assists last season, but none of them suited up for the Chicago Bulls.
Zach LaVine, who's been prone to occasional bouts of shot-chucking, paced the team in helpers. Coby White, who's much more of a scorer than a lead guard, was second.
The offense lacked imagination, as it often has in recent years. That's at least partly (and maybe mostly) because the franchise hasn't had an impact lead guard since Derrick Rose.
The Bulls might have their guy now, though.
Lonzo Ball could be a dream get as a willing and savvy passer who can also operate off the ball as a spot-up sniper and defend either backcourt spot. Chicago made a four-year, $80 million investment in him, and that contract might prove to be a bargain.
Biggest Problem: Underwhelming wings
Cleveland's roster is kind of funky top to bottom, but at least there is obvious talent in most areas.
Can Darius Garland and Collin Sexton co-exist in the same backcourt long-term? It's still unclear, but given their combined skill level, you can see why the Cavs would want to find out.
It's the same deal up front with No. 3 pick Evan Mobley and $100 million man Jarrett Allen. They both look like centers in the modern NBA, but at least they're really good at what they do.
Over at the wing spots, the Cavs have far less talent and a lot of question marks. Isaac Okoro is (by far) the most intriguing of the bunch, but his lack of shooting could make things tight on offense if the Cavs aren't getting spacing out of their bigs.
The need is dire enough to potentially force the trade of Larry Nance Jr. for wing relief. The Cavs want "a lot" for the versatile veteran, per Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor, but a competent, two-way wing might get the job done.
Solved? Not yet
Biggest Problem: Inadequate support for Luka Doncic
Another summer, another year without a third star coming to Dallas. And this time is more worrisome than most, since Kristaps Porzingis isn't exactly dazzling in his co-star role with Luka Doncic.
The Mavs don't have a championship chance without Porzingis returning to the NBA's elite ranks. He looks a long ways off, though, as he battles both injury issues and inconsistency.
Porzingis' performance in the playoffs this past season was especially dreadful. He averaged only 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds, the latter of which is an unforgivable mark for a 7'3" center. He has lost much of his defensive mobility to injuries, and it's fair to wonder whether he'll ever get it back.
If he doesn't, the Mavericks won't be contending despite rostering a 22-year-old magician. This was their last summer to make a splash before Doncic's supermax kicks in, and their most significant external additions were Reggie Bullock and Sterling Brown.
Biggest Problem: Guard depth
No backcourt rotation would look the same when it's missing a talent like Jamal Murray. But this isn't entirely about the absence of the Denver Nuggets' potent point guard, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in April.
The Nuggets also have issues at shooting guard, where Will Barton moved out of necessity to free up the 3 spot for Aaron Gordon.
Barton is fine—though his ideal role might be as a spark-plug sixth man—but he isn't a needle-mover. PJ Dozier is a good defender, but he's also a career 32.0 percent shooter from deep. Austin Rivers had a few fun moments in the playoffs, but he was sitting on his couch before that.
No. 26 overall pick Nah'Shon Hyland should help, as he can man either guard spot, fill it up in a hurry and pester opponents defensively. He might be the most exciting guard in a Murray-less rotation, which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of this backcourt.
Solved? No, but better than it was
Biggest Problem: Backcourt scoring
The Detroit Pistons struggled with just about everything relating to offense last season. If Jerami Grant wasn't involved, it probably didn't go well.
Detroit's top scoring guard was Josh Jackson—predominantly a small forward in his four-year career—at 13.4 points per game. Next up was defensive specialist Cory Joseph at 12.0. It wasn't pretty.
It could still be a grind this season given the state of Detroit's rebuild, but not nearly to the same degree.
Top pick Cade Cunningham arrives with franchise-saving potential, plus a well-rounded skill set that can pop with scoring, distributing and shooting. Hopes are also still high for last year's No. 7 pick Killian Hayes, whose injury-riddled rookie season doesn't diminish his potential as a shot-creator, distributor and defender.
Golden State Warriors
Biggest Problem: Competing timelines
The Golden State Warriors want to have their cake, eat it and keep the plate and cutlery, too. In other words, they want to simultaneously compete for a championship with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and build for a later title runs with James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody.
"When you can do both those things at once, it's magic," Warriors co-executive chairman and CEO Joe Lacob told The Athletic's Anthony Slater.
There's just one problem: Magic isn't real.
Golden State wants to stay light-years ahead by focusing on the present and future, but that might only mean it isn't fully focused on either one. To make another title run with Curry, Green and Thompson, the Warriors will need their young players to obliterate all realistic expectations or, more likely, to be shipped out for win-now talent that gives this roster a clear, consistent timeline.
Solved? No, it's worse than before
Biggest Problem: Obstacles blocking young players
Theoretically, Rockets fans should still be reeling from the loss of James Harden. It's not often a Hall of Famer rolls through your organization and almost immediately gives it elite status.
But if any tears are still being shed about the Beard in Space City, you can't hear them over the audible buzz generated by this suddenly stacked young nucleus. From holdovers like Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr. and KJ Martin to newcomers Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba and Josh Christopher, this roster is brimming with budding ballers.
Too bad most of them could get squeezed for playing time by the many high-priced vets populating the roster. Maybe Houston will lean into an all-out youth movement anyway, but given the financial commitments and desire to compete, it doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to picture significant roles for John Wall, Eric Gordon, D.J. Augustin and Daniel Theis.
Solved? Not yet
Biggest Problem: Roster redundancies
Credit the Pacers for this: If anyone can make sense of their strangely congested roster, it might be a tactical genius like coach Rick Carlisle. But why not simplify the puzzle for him to solve by correcting the imbalances?
The Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis jumbo frontcourt was a novel idea when it came to fruition four years back, but how much evidence does Indy need to accept that it's not working? They logged 1,058 minutes together last season and lost them by 2.3 points per 100 possessions. Why keep these two together, and why bury Goga Bitadze, a top-20 pick in 2019, behind them?
T.J. Warren is out of place as a big 3 instead of a stretch 4. The Pacers are paying Jeremy Lamb $10.5 million but need him out of the way to clear space for rookie Chris Duarte. Meanwhile, the wing rotation underwhelms from every angle. This roster is screaming for a major move or two that eliminates congestion and shores up the weaknesses.
Solved? Not yet
Los Angeles Clippers
Biggest Problem: Point guard production
Patrick Beverley always led a polarizing existence in L.A. On one hand, his fiery leadership was invaluable for a team that had a tendency to float at times, and his dogged defense helped set a tone. On the other, his limitations as a scorer and shot-creator were glaring and somewhat held the offense back (though the collective genius of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George helped cover a lot of the warts).
The Clippers will miss Beverley, who was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies (and later to the Minnesota Timberwolves) in a deal that brought Eric Bledsoe back to L.A. However, they might get more mileage out of Bledsoe, who's a worse shooter than Beverley but a much more dynamic driver and distributor.
They could also be in better shape if Reggie Jackson carries over the momentum built during a playoff run in which he averaged 17.8 points on 48.4/40.8/87.8 shooting. And hopefully they've learned to lean more on Terance Mann, whose improved shooting and explosive slashing keep elevating his ceiling.
Solved? Sort of
Los Angeles Lakers
Biggest Problem: Half-court offense
What changed? For starters, LeBron James and Anthony Davis encountered a lot more injury issues, which presents obvious (and enormous) problems. But also, the Lakers couldn't generate as many easy looks.
Two seasons back, they averaged the second-most points in transition and the second-most points in the paint. Last season, those rankings slipped to 11th and seventh, respectively, and represented a loss of eight points per game (71.2 to 63.2).
Russell Westbrook should help get that production back. He averaged the third-most points in transition last season and seventh-most drives. His full-throttle approach should give this experienced roster some extra pep, and he'll speed his way into some easy wins off determination and relentless alone.
Now, could things get gummed up when the attack lanes aren't open and Westbrook's shooting limitations spoil the spacing? No question. But the Lakers might have enough support spacers to balance the offensive end, and Westbrook, James and Davis all have the intelligence and skills to squeeze through tight windows.
Solved? It's possible
Biggest Problem: Scoring support for Ja Morant
If Morant's postseason debut was any indication, he appears on the fast track to superstardom. He went up against the Utah Jazz and their third-ranked defense, and he scorched them at nearly every opportunity. He finished his first playoff series with averages of 30.2 points, 8.2 assists and 48.7 percent shooting.
He showed all the indications of a transformational talent, but he can only do so much on his own. He needs his teammates to catch up. Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas were his top co-stars in that series and throughout last season. The latter has already been traded away, while the former could reportedly be had "for the right price," per cleveland.com's Chris Fedor.
The Grizzlies are playing the long game, which is fine so long as the 22-year-old Morant is on board. If he is, his patience might eventually be rewarded should one (or both) of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ziaire Williams tap into their massive potential.
Solved? No, but pathways to solve it in the future
Biggest Problem: Two-way, impact guard
The Heat could not have found a better #Culture fit than Kyle Lowry. He empties his tank on both ends of the floor and never runs out of competitive juices. Oh, and he also just happens to be close friends with Miami's franchise face, Jimmy Butler.
Personality-wise, Lowry is perfect. He might be just as good basketball-wise, as Miami needed a high-level shot-creator outside to take this middling attack (18th in efficiency) to the next level. It also had to shut down one of its defensive soft spots on the perimeter, and that disappeared as soon as Lowry put pen to paper.
"A healthy Lowry is almost a perfect fit next to Butler and [Bam] Adebayo," ESPN's Zach Lowe wrote. "He is a more accurate and prolific 3-point shooter than [Goran] Dragic, and a much stronger defender."
No team raised its ceiling more than Miami this offseason, and no signing meant more to that rise than Lowry.
Biggest Problem: Reliable role players
When the Bucks lost Donte DiVincenzo to a left foot injury in May, their nine-man playoff rotation was down to eight. They were always feeling out how long they could get away with P.J. Tucker's lack of offense or expose themselves to Bryn Forbes' matador defense. They didn't know what they were getting out of Pat Connaughton from one night to the next.
This sort of thing can happen with NBA teams who are so loaded at the top they don't have enough resources to flesh out the rest of their rosters. The trade-off is obviously worth it—see: snapping a 50-year championship drought—but there's very little margin for error.
Milwaukee might have increased that margin over the offseason. Re-signing Bobby Portis was big, trading for Grayson Allen covered for Forbes' departure and there could be sneaky-good value in signing George Hill, Rodney Hood and Semi Ojeleye. Add a healthy DiVincenzo to the mix at some point, and Milwaukee's supporting cast could be in better shape than it was during the title run.
Biggest Problem: Power forward
From the second Karl-Anthony Towns arrived in Minnesota as the top pick in 2015, the Timberwolves have been looking for the right frontcourt partner to put alongside him.
That search continues.
The Wolves have Jaden McDaniels, added Taurean Prince and could still re-sign Jarred Vanderbilt. Maybe they can even swing a blockbuster trade for Ben Simmons and switch his position to a playmaking 4. Some way, Minnesota needs to figure this out. Towns deserves a team he can compete with, and the Wolves have almost given him one—minus that glaring void at the 4 spot.
New Orleans Pelicans
Biggest Problem: Defense
Zion Williamson leaped toward superstardom last season, Brandon Ingram essentially matched his production from his All-Star campaign and Lonzo Ball played well enough to fetch $80 million on the open market.
If (major) internal improvement doesn't fix this problem, it's hard to tell what will. Swapping out Steven Adams for Jonas Valanciunas feels like a lateral move on defense, and going from Ball to Devonte' Graham in the backcourt is a massive downgrade. Rookies Trey Murphy III and Herbert Jones add defensive value, but the Pels need plenty more stoppers to make this issue disappear.
New York Knicks
Biggest Problem: Support scoring for Julius Randle
Remember how rough things got for Randle during his playoff debut series against Atlanta? If not, he averaged more shots (18.8) than points (18.0), shot 29.8 percent from the field and converted an anemic 27.9 percent of his twos.
What happened? His loudest critics might say regression caught up to him, that the high degree of difficulty on his shots proved too great to overcome. Maybe that played a part, but the bigger issue was all the attention the Hawks defense gave him. They essentially dared his teammates to beat them, and New York's support scorers couldn't deliver, save for Derrick Rose, who looked phenomenal.
Well, Rose is back, and the Knicks have added some external weapons, too. Evan Fournier came first, and Bronx native Kemba Walker arrived later. That's one player who has averaged at least 17 points in four of the past five seasons, and another who has averaged 19-plus in six consecutive seasons. Walker, especially, could be a jolt in the arm should he put his nagging left knee problems behind him.
Randle has release valves now, and that's before baking in the expected player development of RJ Barrett and New York's other young players.
Solved? Yes, if Kemba Walker is healthy
Oklahoma City Thunder
Biggest Problem: Offensive consistency
It's a good thing the Thunder aren't trying to win any time soon, because there will be a mountain of losses in their near future.
Their best player, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, appears on an All-Star track, so he's not part of the problem. The issue is their second-best player might be playing high-school ball somewhere and will eventually get to the Sooner State by way of one of the Thunder's (absurdly) many future first-round picks.
OKC averaged a league-worst 102.8 points per 100 possessions last season. No other team averaged fewer than 104.6 and only four others landed south of 109. If SGA wasn't taking the shot, it was a total crap shoot. That won't change this coming season and may not for the foreseeable future.
Solved? Not even attempted
Biggest Problem: Scoring
Want the most positive possible review about Orlando's 2020-21 offense? It wasn't as bad as OKC's. If not for the unashamedly tanking Thunder, though, the Magic would've had the Association's least efficient attack.
That group got the benefit of 44 games from Nikola Vucevic, 26 out of Evan Fournier and 25 by Aaron Gordon. Those were three of the top scorers with only Terrence Ross, and his 15.6 points per outing, left behind.
The Magic caught a bit of a break when Jalen Suggs fell in their laps as the No. 5 pick, and No. 8 pick Franz Wagner should be a quick learner at this level. Once Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz make it back from their respective ACL tears, they'll get all of the offensive opportunities they can handle and maybe surprise with them.
There is no shortage of young players on this roster who could theoretically make a leap, though offensive certainties are non-existent right now.
Solved? No, but several avenues for improvement
Biggest Problem: Perimeter shot-creation
Every check-in on the 76ers feels incomplete without a Ben Simmons trade. One has to be coming, right? Simmons himself "expects to be traded," per B/R's Jake Fischer, and hasn't been in contact with Sixers leadership or co-star Joel Embiid.
Once a Simmons deal goes down, Philly's issues will almost certainly change. Evaluating the roster as is, though, keeps the spotlight on the missing perimeter shot-creator who could blow the roof off this attack.
That's why Kyle Lowry loomed as such an obvious target (and why they chased him, twice). It's why the Sixers have both eyes locked on Damian Lillard now, per Fischer, and why they so aggressively pursued James Harden last season.
This roster could go from really good to great with a perimeter scorer who could slot in between Embiid and Tobias Harris on the offensive pecking order. But until that player arrives, this void looms as the one thing holding Philadelphia back.
Solved? No, but maybe a Simmons trade will do the trick
Biggest Problem: Wing depth might be one player short
Nitpicking is a must to find flaws in the defending Western Conference champs. The Suns re-signed their most critical free agents in Chris Paul and Cameron Payne, scratched an itch for a reserve center by adding JaVale McGee and added another shooter to the fold with Landry Shamet.
But this roster runs a little heavy at center—which may not have happened had Jalen Smith offered anything as a rookie—and could probably stand to sacrifice one of those bigs for a player who can ping between the two forward spots.
Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson are all up to the task, but the Suns might want someone a pinch more reliable than Abdel Nader. He has never quite been a full-time rotation player through his first four seasons and lost much of this past campaign to a left knee injury. He's solid when he plays, though it would help if he had more size to defend bigger wings and forwards.
Solved? Not solved, but manageable
Portland Trail Blazers
Biggest Problem: No paths to championship contention
Portland has one losing record in the past five seasons. It also has one trip (in four tries) past the first round over that same stretch. Most recently, they couldn't escape a first-round tussle with a Denver Nuggets team minus both Jamal Murray and Will Barton. Damian Lillard, now 31 years old and perhaps hearing his ticking clock, unloaded on the state of the franchise afterward.
"Where we are now isn't good enough," Lillard told reporters. "I don't know what a shakeup looks like or what changes will be made or could be made, but obviously as is, it wasn't good enough."
Portland responded with a coaching change (from Terry Stotts to Chauncey Billups) and very little else. Norman Powell got a new deal, but otherwise free agency only delivered Ben McLemore, Cody Zeller and Tony Snell. The Blazers entered this summer as non-contenders, and they're leaving it the same way.
Biggest Problem: Wing shortage
Do the Kings know something the rest of us don't about the importance of bigs in the modern NBA? Or did they simply forget wings were a thing when building their roster?
Their best 3 (Harrison Barnes) works better as a 4. Same goes for his backup (Maurice Harkless). Oh, and their starting 4 is probably actually a 5 (Marvin Bagley III), he just can't play there because the spot is already overcrowded for some reason.
The Kings can (and will) slide Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield over to small forward to get by, but both will physically struggle with certain matchups. Ditto for the re-signed Terence Davis. It's hard to see the short- and long-term plans at the position, assuming they even exist.
Solved? Not at all
San Antonio Spurs
Biggest Problem: No star power
The Spurs are tearing it down and starting over. Well, for them this probably qualifies, since they resisted temptation to try re-signing DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills or Rudy Gay.
Then again, they also added Thaddeus Young in a trade, signed Doug McDermott and brought back Bryn Forbes, so it's not like they're going with a total youth movement. They did show a decent focus on the future by taking Josh Primo, the draft's youngest player, although the height of his ceiling is debatable.
That's actually true for the majority of the roster. The Spurs have some solid, young pieces in Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV and Devin Vassell, but where's the future centerpiece? Who can even reach second-star status?
San Antonio might need to let the bottom drop out to find the high-ceiling talent it really needs.
Solved? Not attempted
Biggest Problem: Low ceiling
The Raptors are headed somewhere different with life after Kyle Lowry. But where exactly are they trying to go?
Lowry's exit may have rocked the landscape north of the border, but that's where the significant sacrifices stopped. Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are all still around, so it's not like the Raptors are bracing for a race to the bottom.
Then again, how competitive can they be when their only significant additions were Scottie Barnes, Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa? Anything past a ticket to the play-in tournament might be pushing it.
Solved? No, but not the primary focus right now
Biggest Problem: Lack of depth
The Jazz didn't have enough players they could trust when the playoffs tipped last season. They essentially had seven players in the circle of trust with Derrick Favors and Georges Niang hovering on the fringes due to deficiencies at one end or the other (offense for Favors, defense for Niang).
Utah cut ties with both this summer, re-signed Mike Conley and set about perhaps lengthening the rotation. Rudy Gay was a big get and should walk into major minutes as one of the first players off the bench. The fact he should work alongside and even in relief of Rudy Gobert will help Gay carve out a substantial role.
Hassan Whiteside can handle most of what Favors did, so nothing major lost there. The swing additions are Eric Paschall and rookie Jared Butler, who could wind up with regular rotation roles, end-of-the-bench seats or anything in between.
Biggest Problem: Lack of support for Bradley Beal
The Wizards played better than most realized during their lone season with Russell Westbrook. Their roster was ripped apart by COVID-19, but once it was made whole, they actually found some traction. Washington's final 34-38 record doesn't look like much, but a lot of heavy lifting was done after it opened the year 6-17.
Still, there never seemed to be a clear path to contention with the Westbrook-Beal duo, and they didn't have a lot of help around them. Collectively, Washington is in a better place now having swapped out Westbrook for three rotation players (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell), filled the point guard void with Spencer Dinwiddie and increased the prospect collection with Aaron Holiday, Corey Kispert and Isaiah Todd.
It's still debatable how high Washington's ceiling is, but the Wizards are undoubtedly deeper. They also have a lot of young wild cards who could raise the roof if they realize their potential.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.