Basketball has evolved into a truly global sport, and the NBA pulls talent from all over the world. That’s great for the overall quality of play, but it means that there is more competition for NBA roster spots, which are harder than ever to earn.
With Media Day in the rearview mirror and training camp underway, competition to make the final cut is heating up. Teams enter camp with as many as 20 players, but must trim the roster down to 15 by opening day (excluding the pair of two-way contracts allowed in addition for players who can move between the G League and NBA rosters).
While every team has important decisions to make, it’s not as if every roster spot is up for grabs. On the contrary, most spots are taken by players who are signed to guaranteed contracts. It’s the players on training-camp deals who have the most to prove this time of year; sometimes, it can be the occasional (and unlucky) guaranteed player who has underachieved so badly that his team is considering paying him to play elsewhere.
The last guy on the bench rarely has a great impact on his team’s success, but it can happen – and it surely impacts the individual players. Considering the ramifications of these decisions, let’s examine the three most interesting roster situations in the Eastern Conference.
The Nets are intriguing because – while it might look as if they don’t need much from the end of their bench on paper – their situation is more complicated than it appears. Depending on where Kyrie Irving ultimately lands with his decision to get the COVID vaccine or not, he could miss all of his home games (and games against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden). In total, Irving could miss as many as 43 regular-season games if he stands firm on being unvaccinated. And while there is more than enough star power in Brooklyn to get by, removing a key player from the rotation for half of the season puts more pressure on a team’s depth.
So what exactly will Brooklyn look to address with its final roster spot? The team's backcourt is in relatively good shape thanks to a combination of James Harden, Patty Mills, Jevon Carter and rookie Cam Thomas, but there are other needs to address. The Nets' frontcourt could use a youth infusion, and there’s a limit on swingmen beyond Joe Harris and Bruce Brown. After cutting Jahlil Okafor last month, Brooklyn's decision should come down to DeAndre’ Bembry or Sekou Doumbouya. No disrespect to Bembry, but Doumbouya is a 6-foot-8 former first-round pick who is 20 years old. He fills multiple needs, and his youth gives the added benefit that if he works out, he could be part of the team’s future.
Prediction: Sekou Doumbouya makes the cut.
New York Knicks
The Knicks are in an interesting spot. They just cut Luca Vildoza, who signed a four-year, non-guaranteed contract with the team at the end of the 2020-21 season. He was seen as someone who would make the team as recently as June, but things happen fast in the NBA. Considering New York will start the season without its presumptive starting center, Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks might want to add another big man. Nerlens Noel is more than qualified to hold down the fort, and Taj Gibson is a valuable, albeit slightly undersized backup, but does New York want to kick off the season without any other options? What if one of those two suffers another injury?