NBA 2020 offseason priorities: Western Conference
Last week saw us take a look at the Eastern Conference, assessing their off-season priorities for this severely shortened offseason. This week we make the pilgrimage West and examine how that conference will look to continue to stay on top.
Wings….and lots of ’em
In Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, the Mavericks have the cornerstones of an historic offense and a potentially great team. At this point in time, the supporting cast isn’t up to their standard, though. With a wizard like Luka at the point, surrounding him with shooters is the fastest way to an elite offense. Tim Hardaway Jr is a nice piece on offense, but isn’t exactly a wall of defense. Seth Curry is magnificent from deep, but provides the same resistance as smoke at the other end. Conversely, Dorian Finney-Smith is a stout defender who can’t hit a cow’s backside with a banjo.
Luka is only 21 years old so you could argue that time is on Dallas’ side. That’s true, but windows of contention can open and close unexpectedly – the more bites at the championship apple, the better. Dallas needs to surround their stars with two way players; wings that can space the floor for the Doncic ballet, whilst covering him defensively.
Fortunately for general manager Donnie Nelson there are potential fits that could be available. If the Heat chase bigger fish then a Jae Crowder reunion would be perfect. If the Rockets implode, would Robert Covington be available? If the Wolves take Anthony Edwards, where does that leave Malik Beasley? Gary Harris is an excellent ‘buy low’ candidate, should Denver be able to upgrade.
Speaking of Gary Harris, the best version of him is a snug fit in Denver: he can take the tougher defensive assignment for Jamal Murray whilst his heady cutting for Nikola Jokic feeds is pure basketball poetry. So why would Denver look to upgrade from Harris?
- 2017: 42.0%
- 2018: 39.6%
- 2019: 33.9%
- 2020: 33.3%
Those are Harris’ three point percentages over the past four campaigns. The 2019 season was viewed as an outlier at the time. His poor shooting this past season makes it a pattern. Harris is severely reduced as a player when his jumper isn’t falling. It negates much of his cutting, for starters.
As for their other wings, Michael Porter is turning into an offensive weapon. His defense is slowly coming along. Jerami Grant’s improved shooting has made him a valuable rotation piece. However Paul Millsap is looking his age, whilst Monte Morris and Torrey Craig are frightening with ball in hand – for the Nuggets.
The return of Will Barton will go a long way to deciding Harris’ future with the team. Nonetheless, one more genuine two way wing would be a godsend for the suddenly championship chasing Nuggets.
Golden State Warriors
Keep their pick.
All the talk is for Golden State to trade their precious second overall pick in the upcoming draft, potentially shedding Andrew Wiggins’ onerous contract in the process. But if you’re the Warriors, why would you do that?
Attaching that pick to get rid of the former Wolves forwards admittedly awful contract is not going to give the team the best possible return.
With Steph Curry and Klay Thompson returning from long term injury, the Warriors expect to return to their championship hunting ways in 2020/21. Keeping the pick and claiming James Wiseman or Onyeka Okongwu would be the better option. Sure, rookie bigs don’t usually impact winning, but rookie bigs don’t usually join a team with three in-their-prime future Hall of Famers.
Think of what a rim running big could achieve with the space provided by the greatest shooting back court in the history of the sport. As Blake Griffin once said: LOB CITY, BABY!
Defensively, whichever big they draft will have the opportunity to learn their craft from Draymond Green, which can’t hurt. They’ll also be a part of a winning culture from the get go.
Wiggins, for all of his foibles, averaged 19.4 points, 4.6 boards, and 3.6 assists after coming over mid-season. He’s an athletic marvel and, still only 25 years old, has room to improve inside what is undoubtedly the best basketball situation he’ll ever have experienced.
Having a pair of young players with clear upside also extends the Warriors window. Curry and Thompson should age comparatively well given their skill sets. Golden State should see this as their 1996 Spurs moment. There’s no Tim Duncan in this draft (we think), though balancing the future and the present could give the Warriors a Spursian period of contention.
Acquire a starting centre (lulz!!!)
Sometimes, a science experiment works exactly as intended. Sometimes…
Houston had the perfect modern day squad: a heliocentric offensive phenomenon in James Harden; a gifted game manager/cold blooded assassin in Chris Paul; a series of very good two-way wings; and a lob catching, rim protecting centre in Clint Capela. Then….stuff seemed to just start catching on fire for no reason. To many column inches have been dedicated to the decline of the Rockets and their accidental/on purpose buy-in to extreme small ball, to go over it again, here.
Now the Rockets are dealing with the inevitable aftermath of being alternative. It’s like getting a tattoo sleeve because the goth girl you’re dating has one. When you break up, you’re left with a bat with a skull face and the scars from an infected lip ring. Daryl Morey leaned so hard into Mike D’Antoni’s fever dreams that it simply had to work.
Unfortunately, it didn’t and new general manager Rafael Stone and coach Stephen Silas are left to clean up the mess. The first step in tidying up is to find themselves a starting calibre centre. Ideally, a youngish rim runner that can protect the basket. Someone like Clint Capela would be ideal……I wonder if he’s available?
Los Angeles Clippers
Find a two-way point guard
For all of their undoubted talent, the Clippers were a tough watch last season. Most pundits (this writer, included) expected that as the season wore on the Clips would begin to knit together and eventually go toe-to-toe with the Bucks or crosstown Lakers. Alas, that never came to be.
There are legitimate reasons for the Clippers’ lack of cohesion: the total character change from scrappy underdog to superstar led contender; injuries; the bubble; Covid related absences; Doc Rivers failing to implement a system. All of these are valid to different extents. Aside from changing the man at the top (welcome back, Ty Lue), there is one obvious change that can be made: bring in a legitimate floor general.
Lou Williams is a delight, but let’s face it: he’s a 2-guard in a point guard’s body. He’s not setting anybody up (the fact he leads the Clips in assists is damning) and at this stage, Udonis Haslem might be the only NBA player that couldn’t take him off the dribble. Pat Beverley is a scrapper, but his best is behind him. He can shoot a little, dribble a little, but his defense is his calling card. Unfortunately, his most common defensive trope is to hack, these days.
The Clips don’t have the cap space to get into the VanVleet sweepstakes. Is Derrick Rose an option? Chris Paul (and Dennis Schroder) has been talked about, but OKC already owns all of the Clips draft picks for the next decade. If Milwaukee looks to move on from Eric Bledsoe, the Clips could be a nice landing place, providing they can make the salaries work for trade purposes.
In a point guard rich draft, do the Clips look to cash in on some of their depth to acquire a mid first round pick?
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers found a way last season. That can be easy when you have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but it’s worth remembering that the supporting cast were invaluable in Lakerland. There were certainly times through the regular season and playoffs where the megastars struggled but the Lakers always seemed to find somebody that could step into the breach.
Avery Bradley was excellent through prior to the stoppage; Alex Caruso (laughably) gathered some All-Star consideration but provided moments of inspiration; Rajon Rondo showed flashes of his younger self; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made himself an extremely rich man in the finals series. Still, not one of those options are all that inspiring as the third-best player on a championship team. The Lakers need one more genuine shot-creator to take the pressure away from Davis and an aging (whilst simultaneously never aging) LeBron. Luckily for general manager Rob Pelinka, he has an ideal trade chip in Kyle Kuzma.
The former Utah product is by no means a perfect player, but his flaws are masked by the sheen of Lakers Gold, whilst his opportunities were reduced considerably with Davis’ arrival. Kuzma is still on his rookie deal, so his salary isn’t easy to match for a player of quality, but he is extension eligible, so a sign and trade is definitely in play. Would the Nets consider a trade for Caris LeVert? Is Malik Beasley fair value?
Steady veteran support
The rebuild in Memphis is a long way ahead of schedule. In the effervescent Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr, Brandon Clarke, Jonas Valanciunas and – assuming he can stay healthy – Justice Winslow, the Grizzlies have the base of an excellent young side. Of their top six in minutes per game last season, only Valanciunas had more than three years of NBA experience. That manifested itself in a way that ultimately cost the team their playoff berth: losing streaks and poor bench minutes.
Memphis suffered three separate streaks of five or more losses on end, and another run with a single win in seven. They were as hit and miss as any team in the NBA. Their minutes without any two of Morant, Jackson or Valanciunas on the floor were ranked 27th in the league.
Cool heads prevail in those moments of mini-crisis. Veteran leadership is what the Grizz needed. The top-end talent on this squad could be remarkable, so they don’t need players that will cut into that development, but some model professionals that can contribute in limited minutes would do wonders for this squad.
Fortunately, these types of players are plentiful. The likes of Thad Young or Tomas Satoransky in Chicago; Wes Matthews in Milwaukee; Elfrid Payton in New York. If the Grizzlies wanted to get in somebody who could still play starters minutes, Paul Millsap or Joe Ingles would be ideal.
Draft Anthony Edwards
Despite the commonly accepted wisdom that this is a weaker draft than usual, the Wolves should be looking to hold on to their prized #1 pick. The Wolves have rushed through attempted rebuilds in the past and it’s gotten them precisely nowhere. Take a look at the ages per Basketball Reference of their top seven returning players in minutes per game:
- Karl-Anthony Towns (aged 24)
- Malik Beasley (23)
- D’Angelo Russell (23)
- Juancho Hernangomez (24)
- Josh Okogie (21)
- James Johnson (32)
- Jarrett Cluver (20)
Johnson is extremely replaceable; the rest are all aged under 25 – the Wolves have zero need to hurry here. Simply take Anthony Edwards, and move on.
New Orleans Pelicans
Find the best return for Jrue Holiday
This section was going to be all about re-signing Brandon Ingram and getting Zion Williamson healthy. With the recent news that the 30-year-old Holiday may be on the market, the focus has to be getting the best return for their man.
Fortunately for general manager David Griffin and new coach Stan Van Gundy, practically every contender should want a piece of the former All-Star guard.
An ideal landing spot would be Indiana, simply so the Pacers could corner the market on Holiday’s in the same way they’ve owned the NBA’s ‘T.J.’ market (if only there was a player out there called TJ Holiday). Seriously though, would Victor Oladipo be an option? He’s younger than Holiday though his struggles post quad tendon injury are worrisome. Myles Turner would be an excellent fit next to Zion, as well.
The Lakers and Clippers should move heaven and earth to bring Holiday on board, though neither have the ammunition. OKC owns every Clippers’ pick and the Lakers gave all their picks to somebody….can’t recall who.
Milwaukee could put something together around Eric Bledsoe and perhaps Brook Lopez, though they likely can’t assemble the right type of package (younger veterans) to whet the Pellies appetite.
Pairing Holiday with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn would make the Nets the instant favourite in the East. Caris Levert would have to be involved in any deal, though his average outside shooting might not fly on a team with Zion and Lonzo Ball.
Denver, perhaps looking to move on from one of Harris or Will Barton, would be able to create an inciting offer. If the Nuggets take temporary leave of their sanity and offer Michael Porter Jr, the Pelicans will bite their hands off.
The trump card in all the talk around Holiday is the #2 pick that Golden State holds. Holiday fits their timeline age wise and his combination of playmaking and defense gives the team the best guard rotation in basketball. If the Warriors decide to hold serious talks, they should win the day.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Complete the tear down
The Thunder were a lovely story last season. The expected asset stripping of the team never occurred as they coalesced into an exciting combination of gritty defense and old school offensive efficiency. This season, general manager Sam Presti should finish the job, and trade the rest of his veteran core.
Chris Paul is the Uber Jrue Holiday of this offseason. Every contender should want the veteran on board, despite his gargantuan contract. In addition, Steven Adams and Danilo Galinari will also likely depart, with Dennis Schroder also a possibility.
Whist OKC owns the Clippers and Rockets picks from here until the end of the decade, those teams are currently really good – they have a chance to stay really good, too. Trading your two superstars for eleven first round picks that are all non-lottery isn’t exactly ideal, so it would be wise for the Thunder to maximise their own picks as well.
Lock down Kelly Oubre Jr
Kelly Oubre Jr gave the Suns 18.7 points and 6.5 rebounds whilst draining over 35% of his 5.5 three-point attempts per game. He played in 56 of the Suns 65 pre-shutdown games, giving the side stability through a season where seemingly everybody missed time. His defense was much improved. He looked to have settled in as the team’s long-term power forward. Then the bubble happened.
Phoenix was a perfect 8-0 inside the bubble, almost stealing a playoff berth. Oubre was not in the bubble after hurting his knee. The emergence of Cam Johnson in Oubre’s place has led to some chatter that the team will look to cash in on Oubre this off-season. That. Should. Not. Happen.
It’s never wise to trade a solid young talent simply because you thrived without him in the most unusual eight game sample we’ll ever witness in the NBA. But, this is the team that let a goat defecate in the head coach’s office, so…..y’never know.
Oubre has developed a telepathic chemistry with star man Devin Booker, and at the age of 24 he certainly has improvement left in him. He should be seen as a key piece of the puzzle in the Valley of the Sun.
Reinforce the forward rotation
Portland’s injury woes have been well documented; it’s unfair to make any definitive calls about the abilities of the team as a whole based on the personnel they had last season. That said, there are some things that are indisputable: Jusuf Nurkic is 100% healthy which makes Hassan Whiteside very expendable; Gary Trent Jr has given the team the third guard they’ve longed for; Carmelo Anthony is not quite washed up just yet.
What is also indisputable is that the team needs to find more talent at the forward positions. Melo’s bounce back season was heartwarming, but he is ultimately limited at this stage of his career, especially defensively. Trevor Ariza was a solid pickup, but he’s no spring chicken, either. Zach Collins continues to tease with his talent, but seems to have joints made out of dry pasta. Rodney Hood was a fantastic third option before rupturing his Achilles.
There is a world in which everything breaks right in Portland and their forward rotation all stay healthy, dovetailing beautifully with Nurkic and the dynamic back court of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. In reality that’s highly unlikely. Reinforcement would be wise.
Whiteside’s $27 million contract coming off the books (he’s an unrestricted free agent) will leave the Blazers right on the cap line (not including cap holds), with ten players signed. In a practical sense, they are limited to using exceptions, which probably won’t garner much in the way of game changing talent. Nor will a Whiteside sign and trade.
Ultimately, the Blazers may need to trade on the edges, seeing if they can unearth a gem from another team’s roster. If he were available, Doug McDermott would be a great fit, as would E’Twaun Moore or Nicolo Melli if the Pelicans were looking to sell.
Decide on a shooting guard
The Kings have a problem (as night follows day). They have a pair of talented shooting guards that don’t quite fit together. In signing Buddy Hield to a four-year $94 million contract, that kicks in this upcoming season, the Kings seemingly made their choice. The problem is that Hield’s play fell away dramatically last season, as did his apparent happiness with the organisation.
Simultaneously, Bogdan Bogdanovic enjoyed his best season in the NBA posting 15.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and canning over 37% of his trey’s. He’s not the out-and-out shooter that Hield is, but he’s a far superior defender, playmaker, and – apparently – locker room presence. Bogdanovic is an unrestricted free agent, however. Do they look to resign him? Do they look to trade Hield?
There is a school of thought that the Kings could afford to invest and play both of their guards – you can never have too many quality shooters, after all. Look for the Kings to try to re-sign Bogdanovic and trade Hield. The Kings need to be patient, though. It’s certainly preferable to hold Hield and wait for a good offer than simply unloading him this off season for the sake of it.
With any luck, the new Kings front office will buck the franchises traditions of cutting off their nose to spite their face.
San Antonio Spurs
Move on from DeMar DeRozan
Since trading for DeMar DeRozan two years ago, in what wasn’t an ideal transaction but was probably the best offer on the table, the Spurs have straddled the line between contention and development. That was understandable given the Spurs historic playoff streak. With that run now over it’s time for San Antonio to embrace the rebuild and move on from DeRozan (and, ideally, LaMarcus Aldridge).
DeRozan has a $27 million player option that he was expected to activate, though the recent reports of his unhappiness in Texas means that the Spurs may have the correct decision thrust upon them. Aldridge is a different matter. The 35 year old is on the books for $24 million in the last season of his deal. The Spurs should look to deal him for assets or a younger veteran.
Give Donovan Mitchell the max – but be wary with Rudy Gobert
Donovan Mitchell has been an unexpected star since day one of his NBA career. Despite the first round loss, he found another gear in the recent playoffs: 36.3 points, 5 boards, 4.9 assists and 4.7 deep makes per game on 53/52/95 shooting splits. Mitchell is extension eligible and not giving him an automatic max contract would border on professional negligence.
Rudy Gobert is a different case. He enters the final season of his current deal eligible for the super-max. For some players (Steph Curry, James Harden et. al.) you simply take your medicine and hand over the cash. However, we’ve seen players that are slightly less than truly elite get the super-max and cripple their teams salary cap.
Gobert is a truly transformative defensive presence. He is one of a handful of people in the NBA that you can build a defense around and he’s turned himself into an excellent rim running big – no matter which way you cut it, the Frenchman is a star. But is he a super-max level star? Probably not.
The Jazz would likely want to give Gobert a standard maximum deal and perhaps have the wiggle room to offer slightly above that. The problem is that the famously prickly Gobert is expected to see anything less than the biggest available contract as a sign of disrespect. Will he try to force his way out of the only NBA home he’s ever known should he not get a satisfactory deal?
The wildcard is that the Jazz are under new ownership. The Miller family have been fine custodians of the club, but are by NBA standards middle class. The new man, Qualtrics billionaire Ryan Smith, is Utah through and through – he was a former Junior Jazz member – and will want nothing more than to see his team finally breakthrough for a chip. Will he be prepared to swallow a luxury tax bill down the line, though?