Think about this: a brand new expansion team is arriving into the league and each current team gets to protect four players. You have 14 spots to build a roster and you cannot take players on rookie contracts or players becoming free agents. That actually has nothing to do with this article.
New Orleans Pelicans: Successfully moving on from the Anthony Davis era (1st pick)
Since drafting Davis first overall in 2012, the Pelicans franchise has only made the playoffs twice. and has not come close to sniffing contention during that time. A.D. requested to be traded about halfway through the season. He made it clear that time was up and he had not seen enough progress in his seven years there.
The Pelicans ended up the beneficiary of the NBA’s revamped lottery system as they were tied for the seventh worst record in the league. Meanwhile, Duke freshman phenom Zion Williamson has already been pegged as the unanimous first selection in the upcoming draft.
The front office has some crucial decisions to make: is all-defensive guard Jrue Holiday a keeper or will they elect to completely start from scratch and build around Williamson? Most importantly, will New Orleans look for immediate impact players in return for Davis or surrender the next few years and focus solely on the future?
Memphis Grizzlies: Clearing Mike Conley’s two remaining years off the books (2nd pick)
The 2016 offseason was climactic as players were able to sign extraordinarily large deals as a result of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. At the time, Conley had signed the richest deal in league history (five years for $153 million). The “Grit N’ Grind” era was slowly coming to an end by that time but Memphis still had clear intentions of competing for the playoffs.
Fast forward a couple years and the Grizzlies finally seem to have come to terms with their inability to any longer compete at a high level. Similarly to the first pick, Murray State guard Ja Morant seems to be the consensus number two pick. That brings us to the idea that Conley is likely to be playing elsewhere next season.
Stretch big man Jaren Jackson Jr. had a solid rookie season for the Grizz. That, however, was somewhat overshadowed by the brilliance of the 2018 draft class. Assuming Morant ends up a Grizzly, he and Jackson figure to be the one-two punch of the future.
New York Knicks: Attaining talent through free agency and/or the draft (3rd pick)
The organization will free over $70 million in cap space. Mario Hezonja had a few breakout games late in the season and his free agency market might be bigger than we think. Dennis Smith Jr.’s progression may be a key determinant in how soon this team can become competitive.
New York has now missed the playoffs six consecutive years including four straight years with a worse record than the previous year. Trading Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas was the headline of the year. That won’t force the Knicks to completely build from the ground up though, with promising pieces in Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson.
This situation is nothing new for New York as its free agency campaign will be in full throttle while attempting to recruit players such as Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler. The organization has struck out on several of the big players in the past. This time, however, the Knicks can choose to go in a few different directions with the decent assets they have.
Los Angeles Lakers: Finding the short-term solution to LeBron James’ success (4th pick)
To say the Lakers had a disappointing season would be an understatement. Not only was LBJ taking center stage in L.A. highly anticipated but we also expected a rise to prominence back above the Clippers. That didn’t even come close to happening.
It actually turns out this may have been in the organization’s best interest. L.A.L. now controls its own destiny with plenty of assets to work with, including a top five draft pick that would pay dividends in a potential blockbuster trade for someone like Anthony Davis.
Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram have been a hot trade topic for a while now and it’s only a matter of time before one or both of them is moved. Whether it’s Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, or someone else via free agency, the Lakers will almost certainly add another star talent (or two) under James’ wing in order to try and compete with the top-tier teams in the West.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Fitting the right pieces around Collin Sexton (5th pick)
Like any typical rookie, the product of Alabama took a decent portion of the season to get acclimated to things in the big leagues. Sexton is more of a shooting guard in a point guard’s body but that’s often the case with many new-era point guards. He has a sweet mid-range touch expanding all the way out to the perimeter, where he shot over 40 percent.
Now that the LeBron James era is officially over, the Cavs look to build a new identity through opportunity in the upcoming draft. Veteran big man Kevin Love is signed through the 2022-23 season. The five-time All-Star will turn 31 years old next season but has missed over 40 percent of the games over the last three years.
In order to regain competitiveness, they’ll have to find some hidden gems late in the draft or make impactful, low-key signings in free agency. Cleveland has an intriguing new hire in head coach John Beilein but he needs a little more to work with.
Phoenix Suns: Adding a playmaker to the roster (6th pick)
The Suns already have themselves a rock solid core without even taking their upcoming draft pick into account. Devin Booker is perhaps the league’s most versatile scorer under 25 years old. Deandre Ayton averaged a double-double in his rookie season. T.J. Warren also made significant strides as a scoring threat.
On top of that, the Suns added forward Kelly Oubre Jr. without having to give up much. He is, however, a restricted free agent and expected to receive some aggressive offers from other suitors. Although they still have high hopes for athletic wing Josh Jackson, losing Oubre wouldn’t be a good look.
A true point that knows how to feed his teammates in the right spots is what they could use. Booker played a lot of point guard this year but might be better off in his natural position with an unselfish point guard (someone available like Ricky Rubio) by his side.
Chicago Bulls: Adding more depth to surround its young nucleus (7th pick)
Chicago parted ways with fourth-year coach Fred Hoiberg just 24 games into the season. With the front office taking a passive approach, Hoiberg wasn’t supposed to turn this team into a winner. Rather, the franchise likely made the decision based on ability to help young players progress at a steady rate.
Although he doesn’t come cheap, the Bulls were able to bolster their wing play by acquiring the sharpshooting Otto Porter Jr. (48% 3PT in 15 games). Stretch big man Lauri Markkanen had some stellar performances this year despite missing 32 games. In addition, Zach LaVine proved capable of carrying the Bulls in the scoring department.
We could witness another lackluster year in Chicago. Either way, the thin bench is something that needs to be heavily addressed. Will Chicago find an upgrade at point guard while developing Kris Dunn more? Is Wendell Carter Jr. in line for a breakout sophomore season?
Atlanta Hawks: Overcoming its small market & attracting notable free agents (8th & 10th pick)
This young Hawks team may be emerging as an Eastern Conference threat quicker than anticipated. Trae Young is looking like he actually may be the next coming of Stephen Curry. Rookie of the Year or not, Young has put Atlanta back on the map with his offensive heroics this past year.
Atlanta hasn’t made a splash in free agency since signing Joe Johnson in 2005. That, however, may serve as an example of how the organization should approach this off-season with similarly large cap room. Everyone knew Johnson could play but he was finally able to break out of his shell after leaving Phoenix.
Not to mention, power forward John Collins is already playing at a near-All-Star level. Should they manage to add more sufficient help on the wing with an under-the-radar signing like Johnson in 2005, the Hawks could be fighting for the playoffs as soon as the 2019-20 season.
Washington Wizards: Prioritizing re-signing its young free agents (9th pick)
The Wizards have so much work to do yet such little cap flexibility. Their long-term commitment to John Wall and Bradley Beal basically forced them to move Otto Porter Jr. In return, Washington reeled in a pair of young talents in Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis.
Although he performed well in a short time, Parker raises some questions concerning his fit in the lineup. He isn’t tall enough to be a prototypical power forward and he isn’t quick enough to be a natural small forward. Portis, though, is simply someone the Wiz cannot afford to lose as he possesses one of the best perimeter shooting touches for a (near) seven-footer.
Tomas Satoransky and Thomas Bryant started at point guard and center for much of the year. Satoransky doesn’t have blazing speed or athleticism but his height and I.Q. keep him afloat. Finally, Bryant has a chance to eventually mold into a serviceable starting center. Retaining some of these young assets will be important even if the team chooses to rebuild.
Dallas Mavericks: Creating a future and present foundation through free agency (pick traded)
Dallas typically doesn’t exactly break the bank in free agency but has just enough appeal to keep players open to moving there. The Mavs are one of those teams that could all of a sudden land a big fish and start thinking about the playoffs again.
The Mavs sacrificed quite a bit (Dennis Smith/expiring contracts/first round picks) to pair Kristaps Porzingis with likely Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic. Assuming K.P. gets up and running again after slowly recovering from a torn ACL, this team could make waves sooner than we think.
Kemba Walker could very well be their most coveted target and even someone like Malcolm Brogdon would be a realistic option. The point is: Dallas has the money to add major talent this summer and would be wise to start pursuing winning again. The Mavs seem to develop role players well enough to be considered overachievers (ex: J.J. Barea and Dorian Finney-Smith).
Minnesota Timberwolves: Finding a guard to take pressure off Karl-Anthony Towns (11th pick)
Karl-Anthony Towns averaged at least 21 points and 12 rebounds each of the past three years. He also finished the 2018-19 season with the third most estimated wins added (behind only Harden and Antetokounmpo). The Wolves made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years in 2017-18, but quickly took a step back after trading Jimmy Butler for change on the dollar.
Minnesota is an average team at best and their financial obligation to Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington and Gorgui Dieng complicates matters further. The Wiggins-Towns duo has not lived up to its high hopes. Wiggins’ game has been erratic thus far throughout his career. Covington is a respected defensive specialist on a team that continues to lack defensive consistency.
This organization is a perfect of example of being stuck in mediocrity – not strong enough to compete for the conference finals and not sorry enough (or lucky enough with the new lottery structure) to scrape the bottom of the barrel and expect an all-NBA talent to fall into its lap.
Charlotte Hornets: Giving Kemba Walker non-financial ambitions to stay put (12th pick)
Walker has experienced rough times in Steph Curry’s hometown of Charlotte. Curry probably would have done better, but even he might look helpless being in the shoes of Walker. K.W. has seen it all from a .106 winning percentage to four different coaches. Things he hasn’t seen: a first round victory and an adequate second fiddle with exception to Al Jefferson for a short time.
Walker has expressed nothing but sincerity and loyalty through the ups and downs. The Hornets can obviously offer him by far the most money but that may not automatically satisfy him. Look, we already know this current roster’s ceiling. However, the Hornets simply need to find an identity and cling to it.
Let’s say the Hornets tweak a few things by trading away some of their expiring contracts (Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) for the upcoming season to get Walker some more help. Let’s say they sneak into the playoffs as seventh seed. That still won’t be enough.
Miami Heat: Justise Winslow, Justise Winslow, and more Justise Winslow (13th pick)
The Heat has finished with a top 10 defense in each of the past four years. Although crafty point guard Goran Dragic was a replacement All-Star in 2018, this team has lacked a true star to play through. Dragic is now 33 years old with more health issues and probably more qualified to be a third option.
Miami’s heavy payroll through the next few years certainly doesn’t do any favors. Players who have already peeked or reached full potential, such as James Johnson and Dion Waiters, have over $30 million and $27 million remaining over two more years, respectively. Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo are on more than reasonable deals.
So why is Winslow so important? Here is why: Miami is desperate for a consistent and reliable wing player. Winslow has proven himself on the defensive end but needs to help validate the squad on the other end of the floor. He has the point forward abilities to do so.
Sacramento Kings: Gaining long-awaited productivity on defense (pick traded)
Things finally looked up in Sac-town despite missing the postseason for the 13th consecutive year. The Kings’ young, prolific backcourt is what kept the engine running strong this past season. De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield appears to have solidified itself as a top five backcourt in the league.
The Kings were actually part of the playoff picture for much of the year. The mid-season addition of Harrison Barnes gave them a steady veteran presence to be content with. Second-year player Bogdan Bogdanovic was a workhorse with a little bit of everything and only seems to be getting better.
Sacramento boasted a respectable offensive attack while excelling in three-point accuracy and fastbreak opportunities. In addition, its overall defensive play really wasn’t all that bad compared to previous years. The Kings found themselves in a lot of tight games. Therefore, more defensive stops is perhaps what they could use most.