For a third of the NBA, summer break comes early.
Though 10 teams didn't make the playoffs, it's not all doom and
gloom. Several NBA bottom-feeders took tangible steps forward in
their rebuilding efforts, while others — well, they're not supposed
to be here.
Every franchise enters the offseason with summer plans. As teams
get eliminated from the postseason, I'll be rounding up every
team's offseason outlook and posing one question they must answer
over the summer. You'll see each squad's 2022 NBA Draft chest, plus
their potential free agents, along with the central
Let's get started!
Draft assets: First-round pick (14.0%
chance at No. 1), Second-round pick (via Brooklyn)
Potential free agents: Marvin
Bagley III (restricted), Cory Joseph (player option), Hamidou
Diallo (team option), Frank Jackson (team option), Luka Garza (team
option), Carsen Edwards (team option), Rodney McGruder
Central question: How do the Pistons build
an offense around Cade Cunningham?
This was a pretty solid season for Detroit as far as rebuilding
efforts go. Cade Cunningham emerged as a Rookie of the Year
front-runner and two-way centerpiece who has fans ecstatic about
his ceiling. The Pistons finished a solid 10-14 after the All-Star
break, and have shown flashes of an improving defense. They did
still finish with the 28th-ranked offense, per Cleaning the Glass,
and one of the worst shooting rates in the NBA.
Cunningham had to carry a ridiculous offensive load in the
latter stages of the season. Detroit has the power to change that
in 2022-23, starting with its high draft pick. Maybe Jabari Smith's
lights-out scoring means he's an ideal secondary option? Perhaps
Paolo Banchero thrives as an additional creator, or maybe Chet
Holmgren makes sense as a finisher and spot-up threat? The fun part
about Cunningham is that his versatility creates so many pathways
for the Pistons in the draft — whether or not the ping pong balls
fall their way.
Detroit wields a cap hold of approximately $28 million on
Bagley, and once that lifts (either via a new contract or letting
him walk), the Pistons should have a solid chunk of cap space to
add to the supporting cast.
Draft assets: First-round pick (14.0%
chance at No. 1), better of Brooklyn/Miami first-round
Potential free agents: John Wall (player
option), Dennis Schroder, Bruno Fernando (restricted), Jae'Sean
Tate (team option), Anthony Lamb (qualifying offer), Trevelin Queen
Central question: How patient is the front
office willing to be?
Houston's 2021 draft strategy of "draft talent, figure out the
fit later" appears to be working out. Jalen Green demonstrated an
Anthony Edwards-esque leap post-All-Star break, Alperen Sengun is
already one of the NBA's best passing bigs, and guys like Josh
Christopher and KJ Martin routinely hinted at upside. Houston gets
another prime shot at a franchise cornerstone this draft cycle.
We're approaching Stage 2 of the strategy, though: figuring out how
the pieces fit.
The Rockets were one of two NBA teams with bottom-five ratings
on offense and defense. They led the league in rim frequency and
were fourth in three-point frequency, but posted mediocre shooting
clips. Houston evokes memories of the rebuilding Nets, who played a
similarly extreme brand of ball for a few years as the team slowly
reshaped into a fun playoff squad. Does the front office have the
foresight to let head coach Stephen Silas work things out with his
roster of young guns?
Draft assets: First-round pick (10.5%
chance at No. 1), First-round pick (if 15-30, via Cleveland),
Second-round pick (via Houston), Second-round pick (via
Potential free agents: Ricky Rubio, T.J.
Warren, Jalen Smith, Lance Stephenson, Nate Hinton (restricted),
Oshae Brissett (team option)
Central question: How extreme is the
incoming rebuild, and what veterans mesh with the future
Notably unlisted among the potential free agents are Malcolm
Brogdon, Myles Turner, Buddy Hield and T.J. McConnell. All range
from solid starters to rotational complements, and 3 of the 4 (not
Turner) will be 30 next season. The Pacers are clearly retooling,
as evidenced by their trade-deadline fireworks and Tyrese
Haliburton's subsequent high usage. They also have publicly
flip-flopped regarding the direction of the team; see the above
Indiana doesn't have the pure depth of talent to straddle the
line. The Pacers can trade many of these talented players and build
up a chest of draft picks and young pieces, or they can charge
ahead, turn their picks into win-now players and hope Haliburton is
ready for the playoff push. But a middle ground doesn't exist in an
Eastern Conference where just about every team has solidified its
Draft assets: None
Potential free agents: Russell Westbrook
(player option), Kendrick Nunn (player option), Austin Reaves (team
option), Stanley Johnson (team option), Carmelo Anthony, Avery
Bradley, Wayne Ellington, Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore, Malik Monk,
D.J. Augustin, Wenyen Gabriel, Mason Jones (restricted)
Central question: What does team-building
around two injury-prone superstars look like?
LeBron James turns 38 next season, and has
played 60-plus games just once in the past four seasons. Anthony
Davis has now missed more than half the season in back-to-back
years. Sure, the Lakers were a mess regardless of their stars'
health, but going forward, is pursuing fits next to James and Davis
even worthwhile if the two won't consistently be on the court?
With just three players under contract (the aforementioned
stars, plus Talen Horton-Tucker), the Lakers enter another
offseason of a roster overhaul. This time, I'd recommend almost
entirely forgetting about James and Davis when building the squad
and simply try to assemble units that make sense
Draft assets: First-round pick (2.5% chance
at No. 1, could change based on Play-In results), Second-round pick
via Boston and Charlotte (if 56-60)
Potential free agents: Mitchell Robinson,
Central question: What's going to happen
with the veterans?
The top six moneymakers for the Knicks next season are all 27 or
older, and I think many fans would say that out of the group, only
Julius Randle should have started — and he seriously regressed this
season. The young Knicks clearly showed they're ready to take
So what happens with Randle, Evan Fournier, Derrick Rose, Alec
Burks, Nerlens Noel and Kemba Walker? Is Tom Thibodeau prepared to
reduce their (their meaning Burks specifically in this case)
minutes and usage, will trades be coming, or will Madison Square
Garden burn when Immanuel Quickley opens the season by playing 16
minutes off the bench? New York has drafted extremely well in
recent seasons, but the ceiling of the young core is capped if
these youngsters don't get a chance to prove themselves in
Draft assets: First-round pick (12.5%
chance at No. 1), First-round pick via Clippers, First-round pick
via Phoenix, Second-round pick
Potential free agents: Derrick Favors
(player option), Mike Muscala (team option), Lu Dort (team option),
Isaiah Roby (team option), Melvin Frazier (restricted)
Central question: What is the pathway in
I've stanned Sam Presti's team-building strategy for years now,
and I still think it's on track for a serious payoff. Josh Giddey
slots in somewhere on your All-Rookie ballot, and draft classmates
Tre Mann, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aaron Wiggins flashed
rotation-caliber play as well. It is simply a joy to watch a random
young player have a breakout game on any given night, and OKC has
already shown the early stages of a prominent
Next up: Capitalize on a draft loaded with intruiging frontcourt
players. Banchero, Holmgren and Smith are obviously the best of the
best. But even if the Thunder slide in the lottery, they could
pounce on an athletic shot-blocker like Jalen Duren, or use one of
their later picks on a center like Mark Williams. I'm just
spit-balling, but the point is that OKC has plenty of chances to
find its big-man anchor and further flesh out its core.
Draft assets: First-round pick (14.0%
chance at No. 1), Second-round pick, Second-round pick via
Potential free agents: Gary Harris, Robin
Lopez, Bol Bol (restricted), Ignas Brazdeikis (restricted), Admiral
Central question: How do the offensive
pieces fit together?
Orlando quietly logged a 17th-ranked defense this season, and an
11th-ranked unit since Feb. 1. A dismal offense ultimately doomed
the Magic, who were riddled with inconsistent shotmaking and poor
team efficiency marks throughout the half-court. We don't need to
sound any player alarms; it takes time for young guards in
particular to grasp the responsibilities of running NBA
But what if I told you Orlando has wielded bottom-10 offensive
ratings every season for the last decade?
Change can start in the draft, again with some of the top
offensive forward options like Banchero or Smith. Adding another
ball-dominant guard in Jaden Ivey might be overkill, but AJ Griffin
and Bennedict Mathurin feel like good wing fits at first glance.
Spotrac estimates the Magic could have up to $30 million in
practical cap space, leaving plenty of room for veteran players to
accentuate the young talent.
Draft assets: First-round pick (9.0% chance
at No. 1), First-round pick via New Orleans (if 5-14), Second-round
pick, Second-round pick via Memphis
Potential free agents: Joe Ingles, Jusuf
Nurkic, Ben McLemore, Anfernee Simons (restricted), CJ Elleby
(restricted), Elijah Hughes (restricted), Keljin Blevins
Central question: Is Portland actually
trying to win "now" or win soon?
Some really great development happened for the Blazers during
the "wash" portion of the season in the form of players like
Trendon Watford, Keon Johnson and Drew Eubanks. Add them to
Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little and the incomng draft picks, and
Portland suddenly has... kind of a sneaky-deep prospect pool?
There's real potential to mold this group into a rotation cast that
gives Portland one of its deepest rosters in years.
That's why these Jerami Grant trade rumors concern
me. Giving up a possible lottery pick to try and piece together
a short-term playoff team risks too much and keeps the Trail
Blazers in the limbo they have lounged in for several years.
Understandably, the franchise wants to build a contender while
Damian Lillard is invested and in his prime. With some patience,
Portland can without sacrificing sustainibility.
Draft assets: First-round pick (7.5% chance
at No. 1), Second-round pick, Second-round pick (via
Potential free agents: Jeremy Lamb, Josh
Jackson, Damian Jones, Donte DiVincenzo (restricted), Neemias Queta
(restricted), Trey Lyles (team option)
Central question: How does Sacramento turn
into a competitive NBA defense?
The Kings have trotted out lackluster defenses for as long as I
can remember. In fact, they haven't ranked above 20th in Defensive
Rating since 2005-06 — notably, the last time they made the
And that didn't change under interim head coach Alvin Gentry.
(Gentry will not return as head coach next season, but is in talks for a front-office
role, per ESPN.) However, the on-paper roster actually shines
some hope. Davion Mitchell made highlight reels out of his
"Off-Night" defense. Justin Holiday is a solid individual defender,
as is Harrison Barnes, and even De'Aaron Fox has his sporadic
Can Sacramento find a head coach who turns a group of intriguing
players with defensive potential into even an average squad? What
draft and free agency options exist? Of course, the Kings would
like to end their NBA-leading playoff drought. That'll come with
changing the culture on defense.
Draft assets: First-round pick (2.5% chance
at No. 1, depends on Play-In results), Second-round pick (via
Potential free agents: Bradley Beal (player
option), Thomas Bryant, Raul Neto, Tomas Satoransky, Anthony Gill
(restricted), Cassius Winston (restricted)
Central question: What style of guard play
is a feasible best fit?
Okay, so obviously the biggest question mark surrounds Bradley
Beal's free agency. But from a conceptual standpoint, Washington
has tried and failed over the past few seasons to find Beal's
best-fitting partner in crime. John Wall, Russell Westbrook and
Spencer Dinwiddie were each supposed to provide the downhill juice
Beal lacks. The Wizards either did this at serious expense of
another skill area (Wall, Westbrook), or it just didn't translate
their at-rim ability (Dinwiddie). All battled injuries as well.
"I think we need bigger guards," Beal said in March. "We need
more guys that can get in the paint for us, more ball-handlers,
more guys that can really create and get two feet in the paint, but
also who can knock down threes."
I mean, Beal's needs make total sense. The problem is that every
other basketball team on Earth also wants this type of guard.
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