Five Key Offseason Questions

Five Key Offseason Questions: Sacramento Kings

After trading DeMarcus Cousins during the 2016/17 season, the Kings appeared poised to embark on a full-scale rebuild. However, they hedged their bets to some extent in the 2017 offseason, inking veteran free agents like George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter to lucrative contracts in order to reach the salary floor.

Those free agent additions didn’t help much on the court in 2017/18, as the Kings fell out of playoff contention early and focused on developing their young players in the second half of the season. Now, Hill is gone and Carter seems likely to follow, as another year of rebuilding gets underway in Sacramento.

Here are five key questions facing the franchise this summer:

1. What will the Kings do with the No. 2 overall pick?

The Kings hadn’t had much luck in the draft lottery up until this week. Despite years of futility (Sacramento hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006), the franchise hadn’t secured a top-three pick since 1991. That streak ended this spring, as the Kings jumped up from No. 7 to No. 2 in the lottery standings, putting them in position to grab a potential franchise player.

Now the Kings’ front office will have to decide how to maximize the value of that second overall pick. Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic are widely considered the top two prospects in this year’s draft. Should Sacramento simply be happy to take whichever one of those two doesn’t go No. 1? Will Marvin Bagley III or another player receive serious consideration? Would the Kings explore the possibility of trading down to pick up more assets?

Sacramento is only two years removed from making Georgios Papagiannis a lottery pick, so the front office hasn’t exactly earned the benefit of the doubt. Still, given the Kings’ prime position and the relative strength of this year’s class, it seems safe to assume that the team should come out of the draft with another building block to complement De’Aaron Fox.

2. Can the Kings get back into the first round of the 2019 draft?

If the Kings do decide to move down in the draft, last year’s Celtics/Sixers swap should serve as a template. In fact, the asset Boston picked up in that trade for moving down two spots will likely end up being Sacramento’s 2019 first-round pick. Missing their own first-rounder for 2019 is bad news for the Kings, who figure to remain a lottery team a year from now, but if they can find a way to acquire another ’19 pick, that would soften the blow.

The Kings could also look to the Nets as a reference point as they go shopping on the trade market. Despite having sent their own first-round picks to other teams for several years in a row, the Nets found ways to get back into the first round or to pick up other selections, either by trading their own veterans or taking on another teams’ unwanted contracts. The Kings can head into the new league year armed with cap space and expiring contracts, so they should have some options.

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Five Key Offseason Questions: Phoenix Suns

For a third straight season, the Suns failed to reach the 25-win mark. Their 2017/18 record of 21-61 was the second-worst in franchise history and ranked dead last in the NBA, but all that losing paid off on May 15, when the club won the first overall pick in the 2018 draft lottery.

With a new head coach (Igor Kokoskov) on board and that No. 1 overall pick in hand, the Suns have some reason for optimism heading into the 2018 offseason.

Here are five key questions facing the franchise this summer:

1. What will the Suns do with the No. 1 pick?

With plenty of talent to be found at the top of this year’s draft class, there’s no shortage of good options for the Suns. The two best ones are probably Deandre Ayton, an ultra-talented big man who played his college ball at nearby University of Arizona, and Luka Doncic, a 19-year-old EuroLeague standout who has played for Kokoskov on the Slovenian national team.

Ayton appears to be the early frontrunner, but Suns GM Ryan McDonough has said the team will take its time to make a decision. It will be interesting to see if McDonough considers trading down. A year ago, Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball represented the consensus top two, allowing Danny Ainge to pick up a valuable extra asset by moving down to No. 3 and getting the player he wanted all along.

If the Suns aren’t in love with Ayton or Doncic and another team is, McDonough could make a similar move, though the bet here is that Phoenix won’t pass up on the chance to choose a potential franchise player at No. 1.

2. Will Devin Booker get a long-term extension this year?

Whoever the Suns draft with their top pick will have to mesh with Booker, the closest thing the Suns currently have to a franchise player. Speaking of Booker, he’ll find himself in an interesting contract situation as he enters his fourth NBA season.

Booker will become eligible for a contract extension for the first time on July 1, and he and the Suns will have until the start of the regular season to work out a new long-term deal. Phoenix has no cap limitations restricting the team’s ability to make a lucrative offer to Booker. Still, it’s not clear whether the Suns will rush into an extension for their top scorer or if they’ll prefer to wait until his restricted free agency in 2019.

Even if the Suns have no doubts about securing Booker for the long term, waiting until 2019 to finalize that deal could create more cap flexibility. His cap hold as an RFA in the summer of ’19 would be just under $10MM, while an extension would immediately hit the club’s 2019/20 cap at $25MM+.

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Five Key Offseason Questions: Golden State Warriors

The Warriors set a new NBA record by winning 73 regular-season games in 2015/16, but 2016/17 was truly their scorched-earth season. Golden State kicked off the NBA’s new league year last summer by landing Kevin Durant, the top free agent on the market, then cruised to a 67-win regular season and turned it up another notch in the playoffs — the Dubs won 16 of 17 postseason contests en route to their second title in three years.

In the wake of the Warriors’ NBA Finals win over the Cavaliers, NBA observers fretted over Golden State’s dominance, wondering if it’s even worth it for 80% of the league’s teams to make win-now moves this summer. That means this offseason should be a cakewalk for the Warriors, right? Well… maybe not. Although they don’t expect to lose any stars, the Dubs only have five players under contract heading into July, so there’s still plenty of work to do.

Here are five key questions facing the Warriors this offseason:

1. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant will definitely be back, right?Stephen Curry Kevin Durant vertical

Yes. As fun it would be to have either of these guys lining up a handful of free agent meetings like Durant did last July, they’re not going anywhere. Both former MVPs will technically become unrestricted free agents on July 1, but they’ll quickly come to terms on new deals with the Warriors. It’s just a matter of figuring out what those new agreements will look like.

For Curry, who is eligible for a Designated Veteran Extension, there’s no reason to think that the Warriors will offer him any less than the full super-max, which currently projects to pay him just over $200MM for five years. The two-time MVP has been one of the NBA’s best bargains on his current four-year, $44MM contract, and the Warriors won’t gain any additional cap flexibility by asking him to accept less than the max.

Durant’s case is a little trickier, but it sounds like he’s willing to settle for less than a maximum salary contract in 2017/18. A true max for Durant is currently projected to be worth $34.5MM next season, but the Warriors would have to create cap room to make such a deal work. By signing another short-term deal and settling instead for about $31.85MM, a 20% raise on last year’s salary, the 28-year-old would let the Warriors to stay over the cap. That would allow the team to hang onto its Bird rights for key contributors like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.

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Five Key Offseason Questions: Cleveland Cavaliers

Coming off their third consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers are in a very unusual spot. Cleveland went 12-1 against Eastern Conference foes in the playoffs, asserting its dominance in the conference once again, but there’s still a sense that the team has to shake things up and make major moves this offseason in order to be able to truly compete with the Warriors.

For a team led by LeBron James, who has appeared in seven consecutive Finals, anything short of a championship has become a letdown. With LeBron once again just a year from potential free agency, there will be tremendous pressure on the Cavaliers’ front office this summer to make tangible upgrades to a roster that’s already extremely talented — not to mention capped out.

Here are five key questions facing the Cavs this offseason:

1. Who’s running the show?LeBron James vertical

The lucrative contracts received by the likes of Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith in recent years make it easy to joke that LeBron is the general manager in Cleveland. But the Cavs were actually fairly adept at adding talent in creative ways under David Griffin, generating and making use of trade exceptions, and finessing the cap despite being well over the tax line. Griffin and the front office deserve credit for that.

Heading into the 2017 free agent period though, Griffin is no longer making the team’s basketball decisions, having been unable to reach a new deal with owner Dan Gilbert. Senior VP Trent Redden is out as well, leaving assistant GM Koby Altman and perhaps Gilbert himself as the ones reportedly burning up the phone lines in search of a blockbuster trade.

Not every one of Griffin’s decisions as GM was optimal, and the Cavs are in a tough spot with the salary cap heading into 2017/18. But he’s a smart guy who was intimately familiar with the Cavs’ roster and knew what sort of moves were possible. It’s not clear yet if the same can be said for Chauncey Billups, who is reportedly the frontrunner to become the club’s new president of basketball operations.

Billups has no front office experience, and would likely need to be paired with an experienced executive who could step into the GM role. It’s possible that could work in the long-term, but the fact that it remains up in the air at this point in the summer – Billups is reportedly still considering an offer from Cleveland – isn’t a great sign.

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2017 NBA Offseason Previews By Team

The NBA offseason is officially in full swing, and over the last several weeks, Hoops Rumors has been previewing this summer’s roster moves and decisions for each of the league’s 30 teams, asking – and attempting to answer – five key questions for every club.

Our offseason previews of this year’s NBA Finals combatants, the Warriors and Cavaliers, will be published sometime after the draft — while it’s possible both teams will be involved tonight, neither club currently has a draft pick, so their major moves are more likely to come in July.

Our previews for the NBA’s other 28 teams are below:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic Division

Central Division

Southeast Division


WESTERN CONFERENCE

Northwest Division

Pacific Division

Southwest Division

Five Key Offseason Questions: Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets continued to yo-yo back and forth under Steve Clifford‘s watch in 2016/17. Since Clifford took the reins as the team’s head coach four years ago, Charlotte has posted a pair of strong seasons, winning 43 games in Clifford’s first year and 48 in 2015/16. The Hornets have followed those impressive showings with disappointing ones, however, winning just 33 games in 2014/15 and 36 last season.

The franchise likely expects to rebound once again in 2017/18, having kicked off the offseason by acquiring eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard. While a bounce-back season is possible, there are several questions the Hornets will need to address this offseason in order to return to playoff contention. Let’s dive in…

1. Was Dwight Howard a worthwhile investment?NBA: Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks

In the wake of this week’s trade for Howard, Clifford expressed optimism about the veteran center’s ability to regain his All-Star form. Clifford was an assistant in Orlando and then in Los Angeles when Howard was in his prime with the Magic and Lakers, so he knows him as well as anyone.

Expecting Howard to become an All-Star again may be aiming a little too high, but it’s not as if the 31-year-old was ineffective for Atlanta last season. He comfortably averaged a double-double – as he has every year since entering the league – with 13.5 PPG and 12.7 RPG, and his .633 FG% was a career best.

The Hornets also didn’t give up much to acquire Howard and to move up 10 spots in the second round of the draft, parting with Miles Plumlee and his pricey contract, plus Marco Belinelli. Belinelli is a solid, affordable rotation piece for any team, but he only has one year left on his contract, so moving him isn’t a long-term blow for Charlotte.

While it remains to be seen whether Howard can move the needle at all for the Hornets, the price to land him wasn’t exorbitant by any means, so a roll of the dice makes sense.

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Five Key Offseason Questions: Boston Celtics

Not every Celtic fan is in love with Danny Ainge‘s patient, meticulous approach to stockpiling assets and building the team’s roster, but that strategy began to pay major dividends in 2017. The Celtics made a strong second-half push to nab the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, then took advantage of their pick swap with the Nets and some lottery luck to grab the No. 1 pick in the draft as well.

Of course, each of those accomplishments comes with a caveat. Despite their spot atop the Eastern Conference, the Celtics didn’t come anywhere close to knocking off the Cavaliers in the Conference Finals, and will need to add another impact player to their roster to help close that gap. As for the No. 1 overall pick, Boston became the first team in recent NBA history to trade that top selection in advance of the draft, sending it to Philadelphia for this year’s No. 3 pick and a future first-rounder.

Even after a 53-win season and a pair of playoff series victories, Ainge continues to turn current present-day assets into future pieces. Will that approach change at all this summer?

Here are five key questions facing the Celtics as the offseason begins:

1. What will the Celtics do with the third overall pick?"<strong

When the Celtics first completed their trade with the Sixers earlier in the week, there seemed to be two schools of thought for what Boston had in mind for its next move — the team would either select Kansas forward Josh Jackson, or use its newly-acquired picks in a trade for a star.

Several days later, it’s not clear that the Celtics will take either route. If the club keeps its pick, there’s no guarantee that Jackson will be the selection — many experts believe Boston may be leaning toward Jayson Tatum instead, and Jonathan Isaac has even been mentioned as a possibility. There have also been reports suggesting that the Celtics could trade down again, perhaps with an eye on a player like Dennis Smith Jr.

The Celtics are sitting in a great spot, and at this point there’s no real wrong answer for the club — whatever happens, Boston should come out of draft night with either a young potential star or a player who is already a star.

2. Is this the right time for the Celtics to cash in some trade chips?

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Five Key Offseason Questions: New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans had the appearance of a budding powerhouse two seasons ago. Carried by superstar big man Anthony Davis, they made the playoffs in 2015 with a young core of players. Later that spring, they fired Monty Williams and replaced him with Warriors assistant and offensive guru Alvin Gentry with the expectation of making deep playoff runs.

Heading into the summer of 2017, the Pelicans are at a crossroads. A combination of injuries, questionable roster decisions, and underperforming players have led to two consecutive losing seasons.

The surprising and bold move to acquire DeMarcus Cousins at the trade deadline didn’t pay immediate dividends. But the combination of Cousins and Davis makes the Pelicans one of the most intriguing teams in the league.

Here’s a look at the major questions confronting the club this offseason:

NBA: Houston Rockets at New Orleans Pelicans1. Can the Pelicans sign unrestricted free agent Jrue Holiday?

The Pelicans have made it clear they want to re-sign Holiday, who has been highly productive when he’s been able to stay out of the trainer’s room. Holiday hasn’t played more than 67 games in the past four seasons, but averaged 15.4 PPG and 7.3 APG in 2016/17.

All indications suggest the Pelicans believe Holiday is the point guard who can keep both Davis and Cousins happy in the Twin Towers attack.

The Pelicans hold Holiday’s Bird rights, allowing them to offer more money and years than any other club. They’ll still have stiff competition for his services. It has been reported that the Mavericks covet Holiday and will make him a substantial offer, and other suitors figure to be in the mix as well.

There are several other starter-level floor leaders on the market if Holiday decides to go elsewhere. Losing Holiday wouldn’t necessarily be disastrous, but the Pelicans would prefer to have continuity at that all-important spot.

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Five Key Offseason Questions: Phoenix Suns

The Suns showed only modest improvement in their first full season under coach Earl Watson, going from 23 wins to 24. There are reasons to hope for a brighter future, but the Phoenix front office has a lot of work to do on a roster stocked with a combination of very young and very old players, with little in between.

Here are five key questions facing the Suns as that project begins:

"<strong1. Anybody need an extra guard?

Devin Booker‘s path to stardom was shorter than anyone expected, and he punctuated his rise to the NBA elite with a 70-point barrage at Boston in March. The second-year guard has been a starter since early in his rookie season and led the Suns in scoring this year at 22.1 points per game. However, his performance has made Brandon Knight expandable, and Knight hasn’t handled it well. He didn’t appear in a single game after the All-Star break and told the team when asked to play in March that back spasms were preventing him from taking the court.

Knight still has three seasons and nearly $43.9MM on a contract he signed in 2015 before the Suns realized what they had in Booker. It won’t be easy to unload a deal of that size, especially given Knight’s reduced production last year. On the other hand, he’s only 25 and has a history of being an explosive scorer, so there may be takers if the Suns don’t expect much in return. A strong first season from Tyler Ulis makes Knight even more expendable.

Another option is dealing Eric Bledsoe, a productive but injury-prone talent. Bledsoe, 27, will be the Suns’ highest-paid player next season ($14.5MM) and in 2018/19 ($15MM) and would probably fetch a nice collection of assets to help with the team’s youth movement.

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Five Key Offseason Questions: Dallas Mavericks

Few NBA franchises have been more successful in the 21st century than the Mavericks, who finished at .500 or better for 16 consecutive seasons, earning 15 playoff berths, 13 postseason series wins, and a championship during that stretch.

However, the 2016/17 campaign was a disappointment, as the Mavs missed the playoffs by a wide margin, finishing with a 33-49 record. It looks like it’s time for a rebuild in Dallas, but that decision is complicated by the fact that longtime star Dirk Nowitzki likely only has another year or two left in him. After years of building contending rosters and pursuing win-now upgrades, will the Mavs be willing to patiently retool their roster as Nowitzki’s career winds down?

Here are five key questions facing the Mavs as the offseason begins:

1. Will the Mavs ask Dirk Nowitzki to take a pay cut?Dirk Nowitzki vertical

A year ago, the Mavericks voluntarily gave Nowitzki more money that the two sides had initially agreed upon, bumping the total value of his two-year contract from $40MM up to $50MM, since it didn’t hamper the team’s ability to make other moves. A year later, Dallas may ask Nowitzki to return that favor.

The German big man, who celebrates his 39th birthday on Monday, is coming off his least productive season since his rookie year, having seen his averages slip to 14.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and a .437 FG%. He also missed 28 games due to injuries. Now, the Mavs have to decide whether or not to exercise a team option worth $25MM for 2017/18.

Exercising that team option would leave the Mavs without any cap room, and based on the players they’ve been linked to in various reports and rumors, it doesn’t sound as if they’re necessarily planning on operating as an over-the-cap team. That suggests Dallas may decline Nowitzki’s option and re-sign him at a lesser rate. The amount of the pay cut that Dirk is willing to take could dictate how much spending flexibility the Mavs have this summer.

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