The last game of the Finals has been completed, the last shard of confetti has been dropped, and now it's time to look forward to the NBA Draft (June 26) and Free Agency (July 1) and see what big moves to expect in the sure-to-be-hectic NBA offseason.
The Boston Celtics have plenty of options this summer. With room in their checkbook, a group of young players on entry-level contracts and four picks in Thursday’s draft, there is no possibility to far fetched for the Celtics right now. While GM Danny Ainge has proved that no player is safe on the roster, having traded Celtic icons Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, followed by Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, it appears the team is focused on bringing in complimentary pieces to their young, overachieving, roster.
The big hole to fill, whether through the draft or free agency, is at the center position. Tyler Zeller is more of a pick-and-roll player, while Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger are better facing the basket. They could use a traditional back-you-down big man. LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol are likely to resign with their current teams, so free agents Greg Monroe, Amir Johnson and Roy Hibbert are the next group of targets outside the draft. If they need to move a player to get the right big man via trades, they have plenty of young, inexpensive talent to do so.
The team relied on Avery Bradley and Gigi Datome for perimeter shooting in the playoffs, which is a good reason why they were out after just four games. They need someone who can make 3-point shots consistently to compliment the fast break scoring of Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley. The team has the 16th and 28th picks in this week’s draft and if they do not trade either of them, they will look to bring in scoring big men such as Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Washington’s Robert Upshaw or Texas’ Myles Turner.
Forwards Thaddeus Young (14.1 ppg) has opted out of his player option to return to Brooklyn, which leaves his former team with a 6’8” hole at the power forward position. With just Mirza Teletovic and Cory Jefferson remaining at the position, it becomes an immediate need for the Nets. Brook Lopez holds a player option and if he too were to leave, the Nets would need to either ride with Mason Plumlee or challenge the Celtics for free agent centers. Lopez led the team last season in points, rebounds and blocks while Plumlee averaged a modest 8 points and 6 rebounds per game while playing in all 82 contests.
With $46 million allocated to Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, the front office will need to get creative on how they bring in the right complimentary pieces. They do have ‘Larry Bird Rights’ on both Young and Lopez but that just means if they want to keep them they have to pay them more than any other team in the league, which they are unlikely to do. Lopez is going to look for a max deal, averaging around $18.9 million, and Young should command somewhere north of $14 million. If they were to both re-sign in Brooklyn, then they would have $80 million assigned to four players. That means they would blow by the luxury-tax line of $81.6 million, and since they did it three years on a row already, making a fourth would come with repeater tax, which they certainly do not want to pay. The Nets do not draft until the 29th pick.
New York Knicks
Phil Jackson and company has a big task at hand in finding teammates to run the triangle offense with Carmelo Anthony. They currently have just $32 million on the books, so there are options financially. The most important need is to find a second scorer behind Anthony. The team cannot afford to have ‘Melo jacking up 28 shots per game every night. J.R. Smith wasn’t enough of a star scorer when he was in New York, so they need to find someone who can carry the offensive load when Anthony rests for a game or two. They should look at players like Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard in free agency. If they can bring in a max type player financially depends on how creative they can get. They have the 4th overall pick in this week’s draft and could be involved in a trade for that position if the right package is presented. Tim Hardaway is not an option for any such trade at this point according to Phil Jackson. They have been high on Duke’s Jahill Okafor for some time and he could be still on the board when the Knicks draft.
The 18-win 76ers will finally get to see how bright their future will be with Joel Embiid and Nerleans Noel, as they will finally play together next season. While both mature physically, their team needs to bring in scorers to fill the basket. They have $12 million allocated to JaVale McGee but the rest of the salaries are entry level. They have only $24 million allocated to 12 players and just 4 of them are making over $1 million this upcoming season. They are more than a star player away from making a championship run, so their best bet is to keep acquiring assets and young players in hopes of gaining some momentum for the future. I expect them to bring in a point guard such as D’Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay in the draft. The 76ers have the 3rd pick in the draft and could land either point guard in that position. There is a lot of work to do in Philadelphia in the years to come, but with a group of promising young talent, they could be a fun team to watch develop.
The Raptors had an epic collapse in the second half of the season and into the playoffs where they were bounced in the first round. With a list of free agents this summer including Amir Johnson, Landry Fields, Chuck Hayes, Lou Williams, Tyler Hansbrough, and Greg Stiemsma, the Raptors will be active filling out their roster. They have $48 million already allocated next season and the majority of that is for just four players. They will need to add a scorer to compliment Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan because Terrance Ross does not seem to be the man to fill that role. His numbers dropped last season and with Amir Johnson likely leaving this summer, the Raptors should look to fill both needs in the same player by bringing in a scoring power forward. Someone like Paul Milsap would be ideal for a situation like this. Thaddeus Young and Brandon Bass are also possible solutions. Toronto will select in the 20th position on Thursday.
The Bulls future lies in the hands of their two All-Star guards, Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. This summer Butler becomes a free agent and while Rose did have a good playoff run, the often injured point guard could be involved in a trade to open up some money to pay Butler. The team has over $60 million already for next year’s roster and Butler will be looking for a max deal in the area of $18 million, a massive increase from his $3.2 million salary last season.
Perhaps their best bet is to resign Butler and look for a cheap point guard to come in and back up Rose. This player will also need to be able to step in to give the star rest or in case of injury. Aaron Brooks played well last season in that role, costing the team just $915,243 and filling in for Rose when injured, but he is a free agent this summer and is going to want more money. The Bulls will also need to find a new head coach as they parted ways with Tom Thibodeau right after the playoffs. They will draft in the 22nd position and with Joakim Noah becoming a free agent next summer, they might be wise to draft his successor as well.
Depth behind LeBron James is a major concern for the NBA Finals runner up. LBJ has appeared in the championship round five seasons in a row and playing that many games is going to wear on his body. There is no reason why he should be playing 36 minutes per game throughout the season. His back ups James Jones is a free agent and Mike Miller has a player option, so the team could potentially be looking for a second and third string forward. The other concern is which players choose to return next year. James, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, and Miller all have player options. The team also has an option on Timofey Mozgoc, and Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova are restricted free agents. Aside from Kyrie Irving, that is essentially their whole team that is undecided for next season. James is going to get a big one-year deal this summer if he opts out and if Love does the same and comes back, there will be little money left to go around and fill out the roster. James will have to be active in luring in fellow free agents to join him in another championship run at a cheaper salary. Too bad Paul Pierce and James are rivals, because he would be perfect on this team at $3 million or so. They will draft 24th on Thursday.
It has been six seasons since the team has been in the playoffs, and after winning just 32 games last year, they do not seem to be any closer this year. It is almost certain that Greg Monroe will be leaving town this summer, which leaves a big hole at the power forward position. Ersan Ilyasova will step up into the big minutes role unless they can address this need in the open market. They will also address who will handle the point guard position behind Reggie Jackson. Brandon Jennings is in the final year of his contract and likely isn’t the right guy to play whatever minutes Jackson leaves behind. A guy like JJ Barea would work in this situation since he is use to coming off the bench and can score when needed. They could certainly address the need in the draft with the 8th pick as well. D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudlay may be already taken at that point, but Murray State’s Cameron Payne, Oregon’s Joseph Young and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant will be available and are solid candidates to back up Jackson.
If Larry Bird can assemble a contending team this year, it will be one of his greatest feats in his front office career. The major concern comes up front as power forward David West has a $12.6 million player option for next season. With his scoring and shooting down to the lowest numbers of his career since 2005, do the Pacers want him back at that price? Center Roy Hibbert also has a player option at $15.5 million. The 7’2” big man has been very inconsistent the past few years and while he could have a stretch of double-doubles, he is also capable of blanking the stat sheet and finishing a game with no points or rebounds. Should both players exercise their player options, that will eat up over $28 million of this year’s budget.
Luis Scola, CJ Watson and Rodney Stuckey are also free agents. With the 11th pick in the draft, that immediate big man who can come in and play right away is likely not going to be available, so they will need to bring someone in during free agency should one of the two leave Indianapolis. With Watson and Stuckey hitting the open market, the Pacers are likely to draft a guard and the 11th pick is right around where Murray State’s Cameron Payne should be taken. Duke’s Tyus Jones will be there if Payne is snatched up before Bird hands over his envelope to the commissioner.
The Bucks selected 2nd last summer, and this year they will wait until the 17th selection. It was an unexpected season and much of the success is credited to Khris Middleton, who ironically is a restricted free agent. If he does bolt to the highest bidder, it is unlikely the Bucks could find his replacement in the draft. Keep in mind that free agency does not open until July 1st, so Middleton’s status won’t be known at the time of the draft anyways. The Bucks are likely to lean towards a big man on Thursday. With Zaza Pachulia and John Henson playing solid, productive minutes, they could bring in a young player to come off the bench and still learn without the pressure of having to carry the load under the basket as a starter. Myles Turner from Texas is a good option. He is good defensively and can be a shot-blocker on the team’s second unit. If they want to bring in a player with more of a name, there is always Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, the 7’1” shooter who can also work with his back to the hoop. He isn’t as solid defensively as Turner, but on the second unit he could outscore other back-up centers.
They tore up the Eastern Conference all season and then got swept by the Cavs in the semi-finals. The summer after winning 60 regular-season games, the team has more uncertainty than they should. Team GM Danny Ferry decided to part ways with the franchise, leaving the position in new hands. Paul Milsap and DeMarre Carroll are free agents. Both suffered injuries late in the season and into the playoffs, so perhaps that will scare a few teams off from spending big on their contracts.
Regardless, the Hawks need to make this their priority. With the 15th pick in the draft, which they got from Brooklyn in the Joe Johnson trade, it is unlikely they will find someone to immediately step in and play for Milsap or Carroll should either, or both, leave Georgia. Carroll publicly said his priority is to stay with his current team, but as always in this sport, money talks and who ever speaks louder usually gets what they want. Their system isn’t built for stars which is why players like Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague can do well on this team where the ball is shared and the shots are taken by whoever is open. Bringing in someone who will demand 20-25 shots per game would not work. They need to resign their two free agents and work on bringing in a rebounding big man in the draft. It’s also worth noting that Al Horford is a free agent next summer so they will need to structure their future salaries in the coming years to accommodate him if he is to stay as well.
Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are free agents next summer, but for now, the two best players on the roster are going to be the center of the team in which the front office will build around. Mo Williams is a free agent and the team will likely look to bring in a back up point guard to play behind Kemba Walker. They could really use a three-point shooter, as their sub 32% shooting from beyond the arc was the worst in the league last year. They have been bad from long range for a while now, never being outside the bottom ten in the league for the past eight seasons. With the 9th pick in the draft, players like Arizona’s Stanley Johnson or Kentucky’s Devin Booker are likely to be available.
Booker has publicly stated he is the best long-range shooter in the draft, so bringing in a player with a 41% 3-point efficiency, who has the confidence already, may be the best fit. They are also going to loose Bismack Biyombo in free agency, so they may want to address this need in the second round or perhaps free agency. With Al Jefferson entering his 11th NBA season, bringing in a shot blocker to relieve him of some minutes throughout the grind of the season is important. Willie Cauley-Stein of Kentucky would fit excellently here, however he will be gone by the time Charlotte hits the podium.
Much of what Miami does with the roster depends on Dwayne Wade, Luol Deng and Goran Dragic, as all three hold player options this summer. Next year Chris Anderson, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Hasslem and Hassan Whiteside hit free agency. There is going to be a lot of change in South Beach in the next 2 summers, but how drastic the change is depends on what happens with Wade, the team’s leader for the past 11 seasons. It is said that he wants to stay with Miami, but with the franchise apparently low-balling with offers, he may be packing his bags to head out of town. At 33-years old, are there other teams willing to pay big for a guard who likely gives a team 50-60 games a season over the next 3-4 years? Even if these three do all come back, and join Chris Bosh and Whiteside in the starting line up, there are still holes to fill. With Haslem (35 years old), Anderson (37 years old) and Whiteside (26 years old) all hitting free-agency next July, they would be wise to bring in a young big man in the draft to mature over the season and jump in the starting role next year. Wade has averaged just 58 games per season since 2011, so with that much uncertainty at that position, they are going to want to bring in a shooter. At the 10th position, someone like Stanley Johnson could come in immediately, play off the bench and fill up the basket doing so.
The Magic won just 25 games last season and will have plenty of options with the 5th overall pick on Thursday. Forward Tobias Harris averaged 17 points and 6.3 rebounds in 68 games last season but will hit free agency on July 1st. Those are solid numbers for a player on a bad team and he will surely be a prized player in the market as long as he doesn’t over value his own price tag. The 22-year old could fit in well on a playoff team that needs a forward who can score. Whether he leaves or not, Dewayne Dedmon and Channing Frye are not the answer on offense. They will absolutely need to bring in a forward Thursday, as Orlando is not going to be a hot destination in free agency. Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein is a long-term answer for this team. He may not help the team win right now, and offensively he needs time to mature in the league, but the Magic aren’t knocking on the playoff door as it is. They have time to let him grow along with point guard Elfrid Payton and shooting guard Victor Oladipo.
The Wizards got hot in the playoffs thanks to the clutch scoring and leadership of Paul Pierce. He is likely to bolt in July to Los Angeles to play with the Clippers, so the team will need to bring in a veteran who can lead the locker room. While Bradley Beal and John Wall are great players in this league, they still need that mature figurehead to settle them down. Otto Porter Jr. should be able to slide into the starting five and contribute right away. The team needs depth at the guard position and that was a big reason why they weren’t able to get by the Hawks in the post season. With Ramon Sessions as the back up for Wall and Garrett Temple for Beal, neither reserve player sparks that confidence should either starter miss significant time due to injury, which both did last season. They pick 19th in the draft and could go after a player like Virginia’s Justin Anderson, Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter or Notre Dame’s Jeri an Grant. They could also address that need in free agency, perhaps with a player like Rodney Stuckey.
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