Top Offseason Priorities for NBA's Most Disappointing TeamsApril 1, 2022
Top Offseason Priorities for NBA's Most Disappointing Teams
A disappointing NBA season doesn't have to be anything more than that.
Not if the front office uses the subsequent summer to correct the problems that brought on that disappointment, at least.
The following five teams landed on this list for different reasons and fell short of expectations to varying degrees. But they all have work to do this offseason to avoid a repeat flop next season, and we're here to spotlight the top items on their to-do lists.
Atlanta Hawks: Consolidate Assets to Get Trae Young a Co-Star
The Hawks might not be at the what-the-bleep-happened level of a disappointment, but this can't be the follow-up they envisioned to last season's Eastern Conference Finals run.
The age and upside of their core suggested Atlanta might soar to bigger and better things this season, but a disastrous 4-9 start and choppy 17-24 first half effectively clipped its wings. The Hawks are at least sprinting through the finish line, but with a 4.5-game gap to cover over their last five outings, they'd need divine intervention and then some to escape the Play-In Tournament.
Trae Young deserves better. He's been great this season—top-five scoring average (28.1 points per game), career-high shooting rates at every level (45.9/38.1/90.3) and personal bests in both assist percentage (46.3) and turnover percentage (14.5)—and his supporting cast has failed to elevate.
The Hawks can't keep waiting on another one of their up-and-comers to pop. Not when they have the trade chips needed to chase an elite talent. They have a strong contingent of 25-and-under talent, own all of their upcoming first-round picks and are owed a protected first-rounder from the Charlotte Hornets. They have upside opportunities to offer a rebuilder or established talent to outfit a contender.
Opportunity knocks, and if Atlanta answers it the right way, it could avoid being on a list like this for the next half-decade-plus.
Indiana Pacers: Shop Malcolm Brogdon, Field Offers for Myles Turner
Two seasons back, the Pacers decided that being good wasn't good enough and split from former coach Nate McMillan after four consecutive first-round exits.
This can't be the change they had in mind, as they're headed back to the lottery for a second straight year—this, despite reuniting with former coach Rick Carlisle last summer at the cost of a Powerball jackpot.
Indiana dropped six of its first seven contests and never really found its footing from there. Once the trade deadline rolled around, the front office had seen enough and executed a series of trades that sent Caris LeVert, Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb and Justin Holiday out and brought in Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Jalen Smith and multiple draft picks (including a lottery-protected 2022 first from the Cleveland Cavaliers).
The Pacers aren't rebuilding, but they are shifting their focus forward. That, combined with the presence of backcourt building blocks Haliburton and rookie Chris Duarte, should put Malcolm Brogdon on the chopping block. He is their second highest-paid player and quite possibly no longer a fit for this roster. His age (29) and injury history could make him tricky to trade, but Indy should be able to find a deal that better supports this roster.
The Pacers don't have to stop there, either. If the right offer is out there, they could turn the annual Myles Turner trade talks into an actual deal. While the subtraction of Sabonis momentarily eased the urgency to trade Turner, the fact he'll need a new contract by 2023 means they must decide his future sooner than later. An ideal offseason in Indiana involves either a trade of or an extension agreement with the shot-blocking big.
Los Angeles Lakers: Find a Russell Westbrook Trade
While it's unfair to pin all of the Purple and Gold's struggles on Russell Westbrook, it's well within reason to label his colossal contract as their biggest impediment to reconstructing a contender.
To be clear, he hasn't failed the Lakers, but rather they failed him. He has no business hooping in Hollywood, where his talents mix with LeBron James' like oil and water. How this front office viewed Westbrook's ball-dominance and shaky shooting as not being detrimental to James' success is one of life's greatest mysteries.
That's a riddle for hoops historians to eventually tackle, though. At least, it will be once the Lakers and Westbrook mercifully part ways this summer.
"There is mutual interest in finding Westbrook a new home this summer," B/R's Jake Fischer reported.
Unloading Westbrook's $47 million salary will require creativity, persistence and sacrifice—it's virtually impossible to picture a deal that doesn't cost L.A. a future first—but it's worth the effort to clear the air and start from scratch.
The Lakers need more shooting and are desperate for better perimeter defenders. It's possible (if not probable) a Brodie blockbuster scratches only one of those itches (at most), but almost any move away from this failed experiment constitutes a step in the right direction.
New York Knicks: Find a Floor General
Who was the last great point guard to suit up for the Knicks?
Jason Kidd in his last NBA go-round? Jeremy Lin for that one magical month in 2012? Stephon Marbury in his first full season with the Knicks? Mark Jackson? Walt "Clyde" Frazier?
No matter how you answer that question, the important thing is this—you aren't answering it with someone on the active roster. Kemba Walker's homecoming proved a nightmare. Derrick Rose can't stay healthy. Immanuel Quickley is more of a scorer than a table-setter. Alec Burks isn't a point guard.
New York cannot let this vacancy linger any longer. It's hard to tell what this roster even has when it lacks the one position tasked with tying everything together. The Knicks are an orchestra with no conductor. There might be some really good musicians in the mix, but with no one to lead them, it all just sounds like chaotic noise.
The Knicks should put all necessary resources into solving this issue. Perhaps it's as simple as getting a lucky draw at the lottery and leaving the draft with Purdue's Jaden Ivey. Maybe it's spending the hours ahead of free agency's opening routing every available Brink's truck in Jalen Brunson's direction. Perhaps there's a trade to be made for Damian Lillard or De'Aaron Fox.
The point is New York needs to do something. Solve this problem and maybe the other potential issues—mainly a possibly miffed Julius Randle and a lack of consistency on offense—solve themselves.
Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal's Free Agency
Free agency awaits Bradley Beal. Or rather it will whenever he decides to ditch his $36.4 million player option for next season.
The Wizards know that moment is coming and sound prepared to give him whatever he wants to stay. President of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard told The Athletic's Josh Robbins in January, "We want this to work, and I see every reason to believe we'll keep moving forward."
Beal sounds interested in keeping this relationship alive, too.
"You want to be able to play for something. Right?" Beal said on Draymond Green's podcast. "I want to play in meaningful games. Right? I want to be playing in late June. That's what I want. And I think people don't understand that I want to do that here."
Sounds simple enough, right? Well...
Remove emotions from that equation, and it's easier to craft arguments for dissolving this partnership than it is re-committing to it. The Wizards have been stuck in the NBA's midsection for years. Is it really in their best interest to give a 28-year-old (29 this summer) a five-year max?
Conversely, if Beal really wants to win, what evidence does he have that it's possible in Washington? The Wizards are about to miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. They've never advanced beyond the conference semis since his arrival in 2012 and last won a playoff series in 2017. They aren't exactly littered with prospects either, so the chances of internal improvements elevating this team appear slim to none.
This doesn't mean divorce is definitely the best path forward for both parties, but it should give them plenty to think about in the coming months.
Statistics are accurate through Wednesday's games and courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Salary information via Spotrac.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.