Will the Nets add a third star? What is next for the Lakers? What will Golden State do with the No. 2 pick? Answering 10 of the biggest questions of the NBA offseason.
We don’t know exactly when the 2020–21 season will begin, and the league’s landscape could look far different in the coming months compared with how we ended 2019–20. The Warriors and Nets will enter the title chase, and a slate of fellow championship contenders will face plenty of questions in free agency. The Lakers are still the favorite, but even they face questions regarding their roster composition. The champs aren’t exactly alone as the league’s financial landscape remains relatively uncertain.
So which trades and signings could shape the next chase for the Larry O’Brien Trophy? We at The Crossover assembled the top 10 questions ahead of what could be a movement-filled offseason.
1. What will the Warriors do with the No. 2 pick?
Golden State is arguably the hardest contender to parse as we approach the 2020–21 season. There’s a world in which Steph Curry and Klay Thompson near their Splash Brothers peak once again after a year marred by injuries, and Draymond Green’s ceiling should be raised with superior guard talent around him. This is a short rotation, though with the right offseason, there could be a passable bench in play for Steve Kerr & Co. It’s not out of the question for us to see the Warriors battling the Lakers in next year’s Western Conference finals.
That rosy projection relies on a fair number of unknowns. Curry is 32, and Thompson is 30. Green’s jumper continues to deteriorate. The performance of Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall and a potential draft pick isn’t exactly reliable, though there is some upside in play. This should comfortably be a playoff team in 2021, even in a hypercompetitive West. Golden State’s ceiling could be determined by the No. 2 pick.
Memphis center James Wiseman is the safest bet if Golden State stays put. Wiseman is an impressive rim runner with some skill in traffic and on the move, a prerequisite for a big investment from Golden State. Wiseman’s attention and effort has been called into question. Perhaps no team can scrub away those issues better than the Warriors. It’s perfectly reasonable for Golden State to invest in a young talent, then hope to make a run at a championship in the coming years as Wiseman develops. The Warriors’ window isn’t necessarily closing after 2020–21.
There could be a more radical plan in play. LaMelo Ball could bring a tantalizing offensive ceiling to the Warriors, potentially creating a three-point barrage the likes of which the NBA has never seen. Golden State could also shop the pick—which, frankly, is an uncertain asset—looking to add a veteran ready for a title chase. The Warriors have a $17 million trade exception, and they could still trade back in the draft if they target a different rookie (perhaps Tyrese Haliburton). It’s unclear whether Kelly Oubre Jr. or Rudy Gay can vault Golden State to the top of the West. There remains no perfect option for Bob Myers, but the pressure is on. His decision could shape the franchise well into the next decade.
2. Where will Chris Paul land?
It should be a natural transition for Oklahoma City after the first year of the Chris Paul era nearly led the Thunder to the second round. Danilo Gallinari is set to enter free agency and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is ready to take the reins. As the Western Conference continues to improve, is there really much point in chasing the No. 8 seed? Paul’s value is at his peak. If Oklahoma City can get any sort of asset in return, unloading his salary and moving into the next era is likely the most prudent move.
Where could Paul land on the trade market? A couple of contenders likely lead the hypothetical pack, as do some also-rans. The Bucks are the most natural landing spot as they attempt to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo, and they have the salary on hand to make a deal work fairly seamlessly. The 76ers would likely have to pull off some more cap machinations, but Paul’s smarts and spacing could finally get the most out of Philly’s All-Star duo. If a contender doesn’t bite, perhaps the Knicks or Pistons will. Paul’s value has relatively skyrocketed one year after getting shipped to Oklahoma City in the Russell Westbrook trade. A third team in three seasons is certainly in play, and perhaps even likely.
3. Will the Nets add an impact piece?
The Nets join Golden State as an uncertain contender, yet this team appears to have a higher ceiling if Kevin Durant truly is healthy. But we shouldn’t pencil Brooklyn into the Finals just yet. The health of its two superstars remains an ongoing question, and while there’s a relative wealth of depth, there’s no obvious third option in play. Replicating the Lakers’ model from 2019–20 isn’t exactly easy. It seems as though Brooklyn still has one more move up its sleeve.
Who could Brooklyn target on the trade market? There’s little evidence Bradley Beal is going anywhere before opening night, forcing the Nets to lower their horizon to a degree. Jrue Holiday would be an excellent defensive fit next to Kyrie Irving, and perhaps New Orleans could be enticed by adding Caris LeVert to its young core. Either LaMarcus Aldridge or DeMar DeRozan could make some sense for the Nets, but again, neither asset would automatically make Brooklyn the conference favorite. The Barclays Center will be home to the NBA’s most interesting experiment in 2020–21. It could host some high-profile playoff matchups if Sean Marks can pull off the right deal.
4. What’s next for the Lakers?
It’s a terrifying thought for the rest of the league, but the Lakers could be even better in 2020–21 after cruising to their first championship since 2010. Anthony Davis should only grow more comfortable as a true costar alongside LeBron James, and Rob Pelinka will have options on the mid-level market to reshape the shakier aspects of Los Angeles’ rotation. Ten Finals in 11 years is certainly in play for James.
Pelinka will have to walk a relative tightrope regarding who he attempts to re-sign and who he lets walk in free agency. We can safely assume Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris won’t be retained. Managing contracts for Rajon Rondo and Kentavious-Caldwell Pope is a far tougher task. Caldwell-Pope in particular will command upward of $10 million per year, and the Lakers could find it prudent to give the wing a multiyear deal. Rondo was integral to Los Angeles in Orlando, though perhaps D.J. Augustin or another veteran could suffice in the role. The Lakers don’t have a spending spree ahead, but luckily, even an imperfect offseason can yield championship results with two All-NBA players. If Pelinka makes the right moves, back-to-back is quite likely for James & Co.
5. Can the Mavericks create a Big 3?
The Nets are the most likely candidate to chase a big name in the offseason, but we shouldn’t sleep on the Mavericks as they look to build on their success in Year 1 of the Luka Dončić –Kristaps Porzingis partnership. Dončić ’s ascent to superstardom has put this team’s contention plans into hyperdrive. Perhaps Dallas should be taking a big swing sooner than expected.
There’s a world in which Dallas can both add to its roster in 2020–21 and still keep its cap space open for the following summer. A deal involving Victor Oladipo could materialize if Tim Hardaway Jr. is moved, and perhaps Gallinari could be added in a sign-and-trade. There’s no real pathway to a Paul deal. Beal is staying put for now. For now, Dallas should look for a less flashy investment while looking to boost the roster in 2020–21. Even a couple of moves on the margins could help the Mavericks become true contenders in Dončić’s third season.
6. Big changes in Philly?
We noted the potential for a Paul deal above, but will we see any other marquee changes in Philadelphia ahead of Doc Rivers’s first season? There’s little guarantee we see a reshaped roster before 2020–21.
Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are all but guaranteed to remain together at least to start 2020–21, and rightly so. It’s hard to envision Philadelphia truly getting fair value for either All-Star, and there’s simply too much talent at play to punt on the duo just yet. But just because the two stars aren’t leaving doesn’t mean another deal isn’t in play.
Al Horford is the most likely candidate to be moved, though his struggles in 2019–20 could hamper his value. Still, there could be a few teams interested in his services. A Buddy Hield–for-Horford swap could make sense given Sacramento’s crowded backcourt, and Horford’s contract could be the key piece in a three-way deal involving Paul and the Thunder. There are less impactful options in play, but Philadelphia’s needs are obvious. Without greater spacing and another ballhandler, 2020–21 will likely end in disappointment.
7. Should the Rockets change course?
Daryl Morey’s departure from Houston marks the true end of an era, and the team he leaves behind may not be able to turn the page in a single offseason. James Harden isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and it’s likely the Westbrook era will get another year after legitimately encouraging stretches in 2019–20. Yet even with the same stars in tow, there’s no guarantee the Rockets will look quite like they did last season.
New general manager Rafael Stone enters 2020–21 with a key question facing him and the franchise. Should the Rockets double down on their small-ball experiment? The debate is an intriguing one. Houston looked its best in the immediate weeks after the Robert Covington trade, but the Lakers pulverized the diminutive lineup in the second round. The best course is likely somewhere between a traditional lineup and Houston’s extreme small-ball usage. The Rockets can likely still get away with starting P.J. Tucker at center, but a legitimate backup big (perhaps Nerlens Noel) could make a major impact. Morey’s legacy will never be erased in Houston. Tweaking his vision could pay significant dividends.
8. Will the Pacers pivot?
The Pacers established themselves as a perennial playoff team in the last decade, but they enter the 2020s with uncertainty. Will Victor Oladipo stick around after 2020–21? Can Indiana’s twin towers experiment truly work? This appears to be a pivotal offseason for a franchise potentially at a crossroads.
Let’s start with the Oladipo situation. It would be a bit foolish for Indiana to let Oladipo play out the season and then walk in free agency, a likely scenario given both the Pacers’ market and their current cap situation. This leaves Indiana with an interesting proposition. Letting Oladipo get to free agency isn’t the right play, but it’s uncertain how much value he really has at this moment after a shaky return from injury in 2019–20. Perhaps it would be best to cool the trade machine for now until we see how Oladipo performs to start next season. If he looks anywhere near his peak form, his value could skyrocket as we approach the trade deadline.
Dealing Oladipo would sting after his previous displays of brilliance, though it could lead to a healthier roster construction for Indiana. The Pacers have already committed long-term money Malcolm Brogdon as well as Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, and there remain two years left on T.J. Warren’s deal. That’s not a completely uninspiring core, and the pair of big men have complementary skill sets considering Turner’s range. Expect Indiana to recoup young assets for Oladilpo at some point in the next year as it charts the course for the franchise’s next era.
9. What’s next for the Raptors?
Kawhi Leonard’s departure last summer removed Toronto’s best player, but it didn’t exactly change the composition of the roster. Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry continued to man the backcourt, while Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka looked to build on their championship success one year prior. Now coming off a second-round loss to Boston, the franchise may finally be in line for a restructuring ahead of 2020–21.
Marc Gasol appears to be finishing his career in Spain, while both Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka could receive sizable contracts elsewhere ahead of 2020–21. The trio of potential departures creates an interesting dilemma for Masai Ujiri. It’s hard to punt on a core that’s registered so much success in recent seasons, yet at the end of the day, turning the page may be the smartest move. Lowry could chase another title with a contender—perhaps his hometown Sixers—and the Raptors can look to build on their new era with Siakam, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby, among others. A year outside of the title chase could lead to a clear cap sheet in 2021 and a potential run at Antetokounmpo. Nick Nurse’s first Finals appearance won’t be his last if Ujiri plays his cards right.
10. Will the Heat retool?
The Heat are in a similar position to the Raptors as they attempt to both compete in 2019–20 and keep their cap room open for Antetokounmpo after next season. The wish to keep cap space could create a dicey situation in Miami. Letting Goran Dragic walk creates a true void in the backcourt as Tyler Herro continues to develop, and Jae Crowder and Meyers Leonard are legitimately helpful pieces. This wasn’t the league’s deepest roster to begin with. Mitigating the offseason losses may be easier said than done.
Pat Riley should be able to make do and supplement his young core to at least keep Miami in the top half of the East in 2020-21. Gallinari is once again a candidate here, as is Paul Millsap. Miami has found a way to prepare for both its future and its present, and its core is locked in for at least the remainder of Jimmy Butler’s current contract. But that doesn’t make this an easy offseason, even for one of the greatest executives in NBA history. Miami faces an interesting task as it manages the wish to compete for the title with the need to keep its options open.
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