8 NBA Teams That Could Look Completely Different Next Season

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistApril 20, 2022

8 NBA Teams That Could Look Completely Different Next Season

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    Major shakeups are the lifeblood of each NBA offseason. The competitive landscape shifts over the summer, every summer, without fail.

    Expect no less this year.

    Sure, free agency isn't shaping up to be a world-beater. Barely any teams have meaningful cap space, and the available-player pool is nearly devoid of stars.

    But this isn't so much an obstacle as a curveball: Most of this summer's profound face-lifts will merely take place on the trade market. And there is no shortage of candidates who might turn over their rosters.

On-the-Fence Inclusions Worth Watching

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    Indiana Pacers

    If past renovations are any indication, the Pacers will take what they hope is a top-five pick, futz and fiddle with the roster on the margins and bank on a core of Flashy-Lottery-Prospect-To-Be-Determined, Malcolm Brogdon, Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, Chris Duarte and Buddy Hield elevating them back into the postseason discourse.

    This still feels like the most likely outcome—or at least a similar version of it. But Marc Stein reported on his substack the Pacers have "definitely left the impression around the league that they're going to trade Malcolm Brogdon," who is set to begin a three-year, $67.6 million extension next season.

    And if he's in play, it stands to reason Indiana isn't exactly married to anyone beyond Haliburton, this year's first and maaaybe Duarte and Isaiah Jackson.


    Oklahoma City Thunder

    Including the Thunder is a mathematical obligation. They currently have 13 players who should be under contract for next season when forecasting how player options, team options and non-guarantees will pan out. That number can easily jump to 15—all before factoring in the four picks they hold inside the top 34 of this year's draft.

    Too many players. Not enough roster spots. You know what happens next. It might not be an earth-rattling change, but given how many low-ball salaries and future picks they have in their arsenal, it also could be.


    Washington Wizards

    Re-signing Bradley Beal (player option) would ensure the Wizards don't take a stick of dynamite to their roster. But if he leaves or initiates a sign-and-trade, Washington is set up to start completely, entirely, unequivocally over.

Charlotte Hornets

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    Time may soften the Hornets fanbase's frustration over yet another play-in exit and the job done by head coach James Borrego. LaMelo Ball just wrapped up his second season, and this team bumped up its winning percentage by the equivalent of five or six victories without making any huge changes or enjoying better availability from Gordon Hayward.

    Still, the Hornets have to do something of substance this summer—many things, actually. The interior defense cannot go left untouched. Bringing back Mason Plumlee and Montrezl Harrell (unrestricted) is not the answer. A sophomore jump from Kai Jones probably isn't, either.

    Granted, any major alterations must come via trade. Charlotte won't have more than the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception to spend. That should be enough to bag an upgrade in the middle. It won't allow for much else. 

    Miles Bridges' restricted free agency must also serve as an inflection point. The Hornets ostensibly have no choice other than to back up the Brink's truck, but footing the bill for his next contract plus Terry Rozier's extension (four years, $96.2 million with roughly $93.5 million guaranteed) and the final two years of Hayward's deal ($61.6 million) might be seen as untenable for a franchise on the outskirts of fringe contention.

    Good luck figuring out what Charlotte's pivot might look like. Its historical affinity for finishing in the middle suggests the front office will prioritize medium-sized splashes. But LaMelo, 20, is young enough to try unloading longer-term pacts and stockpile assets and flexibility that can be used to more aggressively build up the roster after he (presumably) signs an extension next summer.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Um, duh.

    Russell Westbrook trade ideas are ingrained into every nook and cranny of the Los Angeles Lakers' offseason discourse. We also already know they need to hire a new head coach. On the most basic level, though, stark change is unavoidable. Moving LeBron James and Anthony Davis, in fact, are the only two moves they won't consider.

    Let's just say that, theoretically, the Lakers cannot deal Westbrook after he picks up his $47.1 million player option. Assuming Kendrick Nunn also exercises his own, that'll give Los Angeles a grand total of six players under contract for next season: Russ, Nunn, AD, LeBron, Talen Horton-Tucker and Austin Reaves (non-guaranteed).

    Everyone else is slated for free agency. (Stanley Johnson has a team option). And the Lakers cannot reasonably bring all of them back. For starters, Malik Monk most likely priced himself out of town. Los Angeles only has non-Bird rights on him so it'll need to use its mid-level exception to re-sign him, and even that might not be enough.

    Mostly, however, running back the supporting cast would be franchise malpractice. This year's Lakers were brimming with one-way, past-their-prime supporting cast members shoehorned into outsized roles. They are now tasked with reinventing their collection of non-stars and doing so sans true financial flexibility.

    Never mind whether they'll be successful. Next year's roster should be nearly unrecognizable because it has to be. Anything less would betray their obligation to maximize what's left of LeBron's prime.

New York Knicks

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    Any prospective shakeups for the New York Knicks probably won't include the departure of head coach Tom Thibodeau. Sources told Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer in March the team plans to stick with him beyond this season.

    Everything else should be on the table. (That includes Thibs' future, but I digress...)

    Julius Randle's regression from Most Improved Player and All-NBA selection to one of the league's least team-friendly contracts (four years, $117 million) will no doubt render him a rumor-mill staple. His season included more bright spots over the second half, but the hope that he could ever headline a contender was always a pipe dream and is now out of the question. New York must plan its future accordingly.

    Every other veteran should be up for grabs, too. Evan Fournier's deal (three years, $55.9) has aged extremely poorly, and team options on the 2023-24 seasons of Alec Burks, Derrick Rose and Nerlens Noel functionally make them expiring contracts. Kemba Walker is actually an expiring salary and clearly not part of the Knicks' long-term vision. Mitchell Robinson's free agency looms, as well.

    Leaning further into a youth movement anchored by RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, Quentin Grimes, Deuce McBride and this year's lottery pick is a defensible course of action. Most of us know the Knicks better than that, though. They'll always be on the hunt for a marquee name on the trade market. 

    But that essentially means nobody is safe. Could the Knicks ship out most of the vets to open up more runway for the kids? Sure. Could they dangle anyone and everyone, including Barrett and many picks, in hopes of netting an established star? Absolutely.

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Perhaps the Portland Trail Blazers are fresh out of groundbreaking changes after blowing up the roster in February.

    Then again, maybe not.

    Portland's intent as of the trade deadline was to "reshape" the roster around Damian Lillard. That implies a commitment to immediately winning, which this team currently isn't built to do.

    Jusuf Nurkic (unrestricted) and Anfernee Simons (restricted) are entering free agency. (For what it's worth, so is Joe Ingles.) The Blazers also have a $20.9 million trade exception from the CJ McCollum deal and could rank among the scant few cap-space squads depending on what they do with Nurkic, Simons, Josh Hart (non-guaranteed) and Eric Bledsoe ($3.9 million partial guarantee).

    Returning to relevance will require, at minimum, some heavy fine-tuning. Simons has to come back. So does Hart. Nurkic is not irreplaceable, but any upgrade from him is bound to be slight and cannot be the move that defines the offseason. 

    Can that trade exception, odds-and-ends salary and first-round picks get the Blazers a star wing? Or a star in general? Are they even willing to pay that price? Is what should be a top-six pick considered untouchable? And if it is, what does that say about the future of Lillard? 

    In the absence of a concrete direction, the Blazers have etched out flexibility. Next year's roster, in some form or another, is bound to look dramatically different because of it.

Utah Jazz

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    Whether the Utah Jazz undergo a seismic face-lift, and what that would look like, largely depends on how they close the postseason. 

    Quin Snyder's name was linked to the Lakers before the latter ever fired Frank Vogel, according to Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer. And on a recent episode of the Hardwood Knocks podcast, Fischer told yours truly (14:58 mark) the stage is set for a meaningful overhaul when you connect the dots:

    "With Danny Ainge taking over as CEO, there's certainly a lot of rumblings around the league of quote 'big changes' coming in Utah. They've already hired a bunch of people under new owner Ryan Smith to the front office and the coaching staff and what have you to try to support Donovan Mitchell and their never-ending quest to make him comfortable in Salt Lake City."

    I also asked Fischer whether the futures of Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are actually in doubt, to which he explained (16:49 mark):

    "People around the league—New York in particular; I've heard a bit of Miami—definitely want Donovan Mitchell's future to be on the table. This is more of an educated guess, because teams don't very often candidly talk about their plans to break up a superstar or All-Star pairing in the middle of the season, but I've been saying all along that if they do decide to move on from one of those guys, my educated guess would be that it would be Rudy Gobert first and not Donovan Mitchell."

    This is one of those too-much-smoke-for-there-not-to-be-fire situations. And if the Jazz are put in a position to move even one of Gobert or Mitchell, then anything can happen. Do they rebuild around the remaining star? Do they try to remain a contender while moving one of them? Do they just trade both stars and cannonball into a more extensive rebuild? And who else is on the chopping block? Mike Conley? Bojan Bogdanovic? Royce O'Neale? Jordan Clarkson? 

    We'll have a better idea of what to expect in Utah once the playoffs end. For now, without a title, anticipate fireworks—and a drastically different look next year to boot.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball ReferenceStathead or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by NBA Math's Adam Fromal.