Five Key Offseason Questions

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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Five Key Offseason Questions: New York Knicks

The Knicks aggressively pursued win-now roster upgrades in the summer of 2016, acquiring Derrick Rose in a trade with the Bulls and signing Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee a couple weeks later in free agency. Rose was so bullish on the new-look Knicks that he optimistically referred to them as a “super-team” alongside the Warriors last offseason, an assertion that looks even more misguided now than it did at the time.

Not only did the Knicks miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season, but the team actually won fewer games (31) than it did in 2015/16 (32). The 2016/17 campaign was filled with indignities for the storied franchise, ranging from Charles Oakley being ejected and banned from Madison Square Garden to Phil Jackson publicly criticizing his highest-paid player and top scorer, Carmelo Anthony.

With the offseason underway in New York, the Knicks will be looking to repair their image off the court in addition to finding ways to improve the product on the court. Here are five key questions facing the club:

1. What will happen with Carmelo Anthony?Carmelo Anthony vertical

Having tired of subtlety, Phil Jackson suggested outright at season’s end that Anthony, the face of the franchise for the last several years, might be better off with another team. He’s not necessarily wrong — the relationship between Anthony and the Knicks seems to have run its course, and if the club is prepared to acknowledge that a rebuild is necessary, it makes sense for Carmelo to pursue a championship elsewhere. Still, it’s the sort of comment rarely made publicly by a team executive, particularly since it could negatively impact his player’s trade value.

Despite the fact that he’s still a reliable scorer, Anthony’s value wasn’t overly high even before Jackson torpedoed it, since his contract is an onerous one, and his 15% trade kicker only makes his salary more difficult to move around. Carmelo also holds a no-trade clause, meaning that his future is ultimately in his own hands, but he appears to be increasingly open to a move, perhaps to a team like the Clippers or Cavaliers.

The Knicks are unlikely to receive too appealing a package in any Anthony deal, and trading with an over-the-cap team like L.A. and Cleveland would mean taking back a sizable chunk of salary to meet the CBA’s trade rules. But at this point, both sides could use a fresh start, and it would be somewhat surprising to see Carmelo still wearing a Knicks uniform next fall.

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Five Key Offseason Questions: Orlando Magic

High lottery picks don’t always guarantee success. The Orlando Magic can attest to that. The Magic had a top-five pick in three consecutive drafts, starting in 2013, and failed to come away with a franchise player.

Last season, Orlando tried a different approach, packaging the No. 11 overall pick in a trade with the Thunder to acquire Serge Ibaka, who was entering his walk year. When their season fell apart once again, the Magic ended up dealing Ibaka to the Raptors. Orlando finished 29-53 during Frank Vogel’s first season as head coach with the franchise, a six-game slide from the 2015/16 campaign. Now under new management, the Magic will try to snap their streak of five consecutive losing seasons.

Here are five key questions for the Magic as they enter this offseason:

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Florida State vs Xavier1. Who should they take with the No. 6 pick in the draft?

It’s generally believed that there’s a drop-off after the first five players come off the board on Thursday. Just the Magic’s luck, they have the sixth pick.

If Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, De’Aaron Fox and Jayson Tatum are all gone by the time the Magic’s turn comes up — a pretty safe assumption — they’ll have to strike gold with a less-heralded prospect.

The team’s newly-hired decision-makers, President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond, have some interesting options and will probably settle on the one with the highest ceiling. Florida State forward Jonathan Isaac could be that guy. His length and ability to guard multiple positions would boost the team’s defense and he has the range to step out and make 3-pointers.

Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen and Kentucky’s Malik Monk would be safer options. Markkanen is a classic stretch four — he made 42% of his 3-point attempts during his lone college season. Monk, a shooting guard, could emerge as the No. 1 scoring option on a team that needs one.

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