As the NBA restart is underway after COVID-19 halted the season, eight teams are on the outside looking in. Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota and New York all did not qualify to join the Orlando bubble.
While the idea of a tournament bubble for these teams was floated, their attention largely shifts to the offseason. Each team will need to make several changes if they want to compete for the playoffs next year. Here is the most important move each team can make.
Atlanta Hawks- Sign an experienced wing
Behind Trae Young, the Hawks have one of the brighter futures among teams who didn’t make it to the Orlando bubble. The team traded for Clint Capela at the trade deadline, pairing him with fellow big man John Collins. With these two running the pick-and-roll with Young, Atlanta will be one of the league’s most interesting teams next season.
The Hawks are also one of the youngest teams in the league, particularly at the wing position after trading on draft night to acquire both Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter. This offseason, if Atlanta wants to contend for a playoff spot next season, signing an experienced wing is a must.
Nuggets forward Jerami Grant could be the perfect fit for Atlanta. The serviceable wing can play both the three and the four, and could thrive in an increased role. If Grant declines his player option this summer and hits the free agent market, Atlanta would make sense as a destination for both parties.
Charlotte Hornets- Move expiring contracts
The Hornets have been one of the league’s most mediocre teams for all of recent memory. The team lost Kemba Walker in free agency last offseason, and unsurprisingly struggled to win games. One thing that has limited Charlotte’s ability to build a winning roster has been massive contracts. While the cap situation for next season remains unclear, they could be able to move two costly deals.
Bismack Biyombo’s contract will expire this summer, clearing $18 million from the books. Tyler Zeller has one more year on his contract at $15 million, and Nic Batum will certainly pick up his massive player option of $27 million. These two contracts could be unloaded to teams looking to be players in 2021 free agency, potentially giving the Hornets assets in return. Moving one or both of these players this offseason allows Charlotte to start focusing on building around young star Devonté Graham.
Cleveland Cavaliers- Trade Tristan Thompson
The Cavaliers might have the most poorly assembled roster in the league. After trading for Pistons center Andre Drummond at the deadline, they have expensive veterans such as he and Kevin Love, a nearly un-tradeable contract, to pair with their future guard core of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland.
One asset they could trade this summer is Tristan Thompson. Though he hasn’t played much in recent seasons, Thompson has still shown he is an effective post scorer and rebounder. A title contending team could certainly use his talents, as was seen when his name was floated as a buy-out candidate.
Thompson is in the last year his five-year deal, earning over $18 million. The money may be difficult to work out, but Thompson could get the Cavs a decent asset or two from a contender seeking a veteran big man.
Chicago Bulls- Find an experienced head coach
Despite having talented young pieces, the Bulls have floundered in recent seasons. The team recently made the decision to fire head coach Jim Boylen after going 39-84 in two seasons with the team. Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Wendell Carter and others all have tremendous potential, though injuries have made it difficult for the Bulls to become successful.
Chicago’s offense ranked 27th last season, while their defense was solid, ranking 12th in the league. An experienced, offensive-minded coach would greatly help the Bulls reach their potential, and contend for the playoffs next season.
Detroit Pistons- Re-sign Christian Wood
Detroit will have many opportunities to improve their roster this offseason. Trading Derrick Rose should be in the cards, as well as potentially signing Raptors guard Fred VanVleet. One of the Pistons’ top priorities should also be to re-sign Christian Wood: a lengthy rim-running big man who, with more development, can become an all-around great player.
After Detroit dealt Andre Drummond to Cleveland at the trade deadline, Wood, who has played for four other teams in his short career, entered the starting lineup. In 62 games played for the Pistons, Wood averaged 13 points and six rebounds per game. With Wood’s rookie deal expiring, the Pistons would be making a big mistake to let a potential cornerstone of their franchise sign elsewhere.
Golden State Warriors- Trade the #2 overall pick
While injuries to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson plagued the Warriors season, the team’s awful record allowed them to snag the second overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Though it wouldn’t hurt to draft a player for the future, Golden State will be back in title contention next season, and should look to move this pick for an asset that can help them win another championship.
If the Warriors wanted to land a star, particularly in the frontcourt, they would give up the recently-acquired Andrew Wiggins to match salaries. However, it may be in the team’s best interest to trade the pick for more bench depth.
Minnesota Timberwolves- Trade the #1 overall pick
In the Karl-Anthony Towns era, the Timberwolves have only made the playoffs once, meaning the clock is ticking before the superstar center wants out. With D’Angelo Russell now in Minnesota, the time to win is now. Just like the Warriors, the Timberwolves should be shopping the first pick in the draft for another star.
Minnesota acquired a number of new players this season in the two deals that dealt Robert Covington and Andrew Wiggins. One of which, guard Malik Beasley, will likely get brought back by the team in restricted free agency this offseason. Trading for an established wing player would be a great idea for the Timberwolves, given their lack of experience at the position.
To maximize the duo and Russell and Towns, Minnesota should trade the pick for the best package available.
New York Knicks- Clear the books for free agency
After another disappointing season, the Knicks have plenty of work to do. The team hired Tom Thibodeau as their new defensive-minded head coach recently, and hold the eighth pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, coming as a let-down as they were one of the league’s worst teams.
Despite the woeful record, there is some young talent on the Knicks’ roster. RJ Barrett had a strong rookie season, and Mitchell Robinson has shown promise as a post player. To gear up for this offseason and the loaded summer 2021 free agency, the Knicks need to trade the bigger salaries they have. Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson and Elfrid Payton should all be unloaded for any assets available if possible.
There is no quick fix to the Knicks’ problems. Even if they land a star, or multiple, in 2021 or even in the coming offseason, the roster will need to be filled out with role players for them to be competitive. Under new management, this offseason will be critical for New York to build a successful team for years to come.
Featured image credited to Forbes.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.