1 Tough Question for Every NBA Franchise
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The NBA draft, free agency and trade activity has given us some clarity on the upcoming 2023-24 season.
Of course, with trade requests still unfulfilled, a few teams at a crossroads and a lot of faces in new places, there’s still lots of questions left to be answered.
As we inch closer to training camps this fall, here are questions still facing all 30 NBA teams.
Atlanta Hawks: Is a Third Star Needed?
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After finishing 41-41 a season ago, Atlanta did nothing this offseason to convince us they’ll actually be any better in 2023-24.
Dumping John Collins’ contract on the Utah Jazz was necessary, although cleaning up the salary sheet does nothing to actually win basketball games. Trading for Patty Mills and drafting Kobe Bufkin aren’t enough to guarantee a playoff spot, either.
We know the Hawks have already made an offer for Pascal Siakam, and should desperately be trying to consolidate some of the young talent on this roster for a third star. Players like Siakam, Karl-Anthony Towns, Paul George and OG Anunoby should all be on Atlanta’s wish list to pair with Trae Young and Dejounte Murray.
This Hawks roster simply isn’t good enough to make any real noise in the East. There is enough young talent and some future first-round picks to go shopping with, however.
Boston Celtics: Was the Kristaps Porziņģis Trade Too Risky?
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After failing to get back to the NBA Finals the Celtics decided to shake up their core in a major way by trading Marcus Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies in a three-team deal that brought Porziņģis to Boston.
Losing one of the prominent locker room voices and premier defenders in Smart hurts enough, but this is more of a gamble on Porziņģis’ ability to stay healthy. While he played in a respectable 65 games last season with the Wizards, it marked the first time in six years Porziņģis had reached this plateau.
His skills at a 7’3″ floor-spacer, rim protector and back-to-the-basket threat are great in theory, but don’t do much good if Porziņģis once again struggles to stay on the floor. The 28-year-old is already in danger of missing the FIBA World Cup for Latvia this summer due to a foot injury.
If the Celtics get the version of Porziņģis we saw last season in Washington, great. If not, this will have been a massive miss for the front office.
Brooklyn Nets: What Version of Ben Simmons Will We See?
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Following the major roster shakeups for the Nets last season that included sending out Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and bringing in Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Spencer Dinwiddie and others, Ben Simmons became somewhat of a forgotten man in Brooklyn.
As one source told Andscape’s Marc Spears, however, Simmons is “as healthy as he’s ever been since his last year in Philly” and “the plan is for him to be the Nets’ starting point guard and primary ball-handler this season”.
Getting a healthy Simmons back would make a huge difference for Brooklyn, as the 27-year-old can still be a high-level defender and playmaker at 6’10”. Simmons didn’t play much with this new-look Nets team, as he and Bridges only logged 39 total possessions together last season.
Given that his trade value is at an all-time low, the Nets have no choice but to stick with Simmons and hope that he can return to being a starting-caliber point guard.
Charlotte Hornets: Was Last Season’s Disaster a Fluke?
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Rewind back to the 2021-22 season and the Hornets looked like they were knocking on the door to becoming contenders in the East.
Charlotte finished 43-39 overall, made the play-in tournament and got an All-Star season from LaMelo Ball. Last season couldn’t have gone much worse, however, as Ball missed over half the year with ankle injuries, Miles Bridges was away from the team and the Hornets fell to 27-55 overall.
Despite Ball being healthy, Bridges back (although still serving a 10-game suspension) and No. 2 overall pick Brandon Miller now on board, Charlotte’s win total is only set at 30.5 according to FanDuel, a minor bump from their disaster of a season in 2023-23.
While no one’s picking the Hornets to win the East, this team has to be closer to the squad that won 43 games just two years ago, right?
Chicago Bulls: What’s DeMar DeRozan’s Future with the Franchise?
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The Bulls, like the Atlanta Hawks, are another team that didn’t do enough to get out of the middle of the East this summer.
A 40-42 season was a waste of another monster year from DeRozan, who averaged 24.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists and shot 50.4 overall in another All-Star season. Having just turned 34 and entering the final year of his contract, however, it may be time to question DeRozan’s future in the Windy City.
Chicago should at least be exploring the trade market for DeRozan from contenders who could use his on-ball scoring and playmaking ability. He could also sign an extension with the Bulls, although doing so seemingly only locks this team into mediocrity even longer.
All options should be on the table for now, with a DeRozan trade possibly standing as the best option for all parties involved.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Is the Small Forward Problem Solved?
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The Cavs have a number of potential answers at small forward following the acquisition of Max Strus in a sign-and-trade this summer.
Strus is likely the leading candidate for now, as Cleveland gave him a four-year, $62.7 million contract with no options. At 6’5″ with a modest 6’7.5″ wingspan, however, Strus is probably more of a natural two-guard. He’s not a typical 3-and-D wing, as Strus lacks the size and elite defensive ability to match up with a lot of the bigger forwards (Jayson Tatum, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, etc.) in the league.
The Cavs were actually quite good with Caris LeVert at the three (plus-16.2 net rating in 456 total possessions), although his skill set as an on-ball combo guard is needed more off the bench. Isaac Okoro and Dean Wade remain options as well.
Strus’ off-ball movement and threat as an outside shooter should make this offense flow more naturally, but calling him the answer at small forward is a bit premature.
Dallas Mavericks: Is the Defense Good Enough to Compete?
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After trading for Kyrie Irving in early February, the Mavericks’ defense ranked just 25th overall (119.3 rating), even worse than the tanking San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons.
While an offense led by Luka Dončić and Irving isn’t going to have much trouble scoring the ball, this team can’t be a trainwreck defensively if it wants to return to the playoffs.
Getting a full, healthy season from Maxi Kleber is an important start after the veteran big man missed 45 games due to injury in 2022-23. The sign-and-trade to acquire Grant Williams also helps, as does a bigger (and hopefully starting small forward) role for Josh Green.
Rookie Dereck Lively II can become a defensive anchor in time, but at 19 isn’t going to make a big impact this season.
The Mavs should be better defensively, but did they do enough?
Denver Nuggets: Will Lack of Depth Prevent a Title Repeat?
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Losing Bruce Brown and Jeff Green in free agency was inevitably given Denver’s financial restrictions. There’s enough young talent on this roster (get familiar with the name Peyton Watson) to inspire some confidence that their production can be replaced, however.
Another tactic the Nuggets can use is to simply tap into their starting lineup more.
Head coach Michael Malone did an excellent job managing workloads last season, as none of Denver’s regular starters ranked in the top 37 in minutes played per game. Nikola Jokić (33.7 minutes, 38th overall), Jamal Murray (32.8, 45th), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (31.3, 66th), Aaron Gordon (30.2, 84th) and Michael Porter Jr. (29.0, 99th) could all play more this season if needed.
The Nuggets should be on the lookout for one more veteran who can give them minutes off the bench, although the losses of Brown and Green may be felt more in the locker room than on the floor this season.
Detroit Pistons: Are There Enough Minutes for All the Bigs?
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The Pistons have five players who’s best position is either power forward or center, with four needing real minutes to tap into their potential. To say Detroit is looking at a major frontcourt logjam would be an understatement, as someone is likely going to be left out of the rotation entirely.
A Bojan Bogdanović-Jalen Duren starting frontcourt is the best option for Detroit, although this team has already invested in Isaiah Stewart (four-year, $60 million extension), Marvin Bagley III (three-year, $37.5 million deal last summer) and traded for James Wiseman in February.
A lack of shooting from this group (outside of Bogdanović) makes it difficult for a lot of these combos to play together as well.
Detroit may very well have to trade one (or more) of their bigs at some point, prioritizing Duren’s growth and finding some more wing help in the process.
Golden State Warriors: What Role Will Chris Paul Play?
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Although Paul doesn’t sound like he’s planning on coming off the bench for the first time in his career with this Warriors team, doing so would be what’s best for Golden State.
While the 2021-22 season was ultimately a disappointment, it did confirm that the Warriors still have a really good starting lineup already on the roster.
The combo of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney had a net rating of plus-22.1 together in 705 total possessions. When the Warriors tried to go small by pulling Looney in favor of another guard in Jordan Poole, Golden State’s net plummeted to plus-2.9, a 19.2 point per 100 possession swing.
Starting the 38-year-old Paul next to the 35-year-old Curry is a recipe for disaster defensively, and removing Looney hurts the group’s size and rebounding ability.
Paul needs to swallow his pride and agree to come off the bench for this team.
Houston Rockets: Will Desire to Win Compromise Team’s Growth?
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The Rockets understandably want to become more competitive after possessing the worst record in the West over the last three seasons.
Spending big on Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks essentially guarantees both major roles, but Houston can’t forget what’s truly important here. Making sure the young stars on this roster, players like Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr. and Alperen Şengün, continue to develop needs to be priority No. 1. Amen Thompson, Kevin Porter Jr., Cam Whitmore and Tari Eason all need rotation roles as well.
Does new head coach Ime Udoka play VanVleet and Brooks 35-plus minutes a night trying to chase a play-in spot in a loaded West? Does Brooks think he has the green light on offense jumping from the Memphis Grizzlies to a young Houston team now?
Being bad for one more year isn’t the worst thing, as the Rockets owe a top-four protected first-round pick in 2024 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Highlighting the incredible amount of young talent in Houston is the most important part of the 2023-24 season.
Indiana Pacers: Who Starts at Power Forward?
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It looked as though the Pacers had found their power forward of the future by selecting Jarace Walker with the No. 8 overall pick out of Houston. A July trade that sent Obi Toppin to Indiana in exchange for a pair of future second-round picks could lead to an interesting training camp battle, however.
Toppin should have the advantage, both in age and experience. Although both players are on their rookie contracts, Toppin is six years older than the 19–year-old Walker.
History has shown us that Toppin’s taken advantage of his opportunities as well. In 15 career starts over three years, Toppin has averaged 20.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists on sparkling 57.6/44.0/83.7 percent shooting splits.
Given his athleticism and size for the position (6’9″, 7’2″ wingspan), Toppin should thrive in the pick-and-roll as a lob threat alongside Tyrese Haliburton.
Los Angeles Clippers: Is It Time to Split Up Kawhi Leonard and Paul George?
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The Clippers managed 44 wins and the fifth seed in the West last season despite more injury trouble from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. While both are now healthy according to head coach Tyronn Lue, it seems inevitable that one (or both) will find themselves missing a large chunk of the season at some point.
Los Angeles is in a tough spot. The West is only getting better, with a handful of teams that finished behind the Clippers in 2022-23 (Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves) only getting better following some good offseason moves or internal growth.
The Clippers can’t rebuild, however, not with a new arena opening in 2024 and the Thunder controlling their next three first-round picks.
Giving contract extensions to either should be out of the question at this point. Instead, L.A. should explore George’s trade market to see if it can get a healthier co-star next to Leonard.
Los Angeles Lakers: When Does LeBron James Start to Act His Age?
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This is the year James finally begins his descent, right?
While we’ve seen minor slips in athleticism and in certain aspects of his game, it simply goes against everything we know about aging to see James still performing at this level with birthday No. 39 coming in a few months.
James just recorded the highest scoring season in history for a 38-year-old (28.9 points per game), easily passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s previous record of 23.4 in 1985-86. Only two other players in the history of the league (Michael Jordan and Karl Malone) have averaged more than 14.2 points per game at this age.
If Andre Iguodala indeed files his retirement paperwork, James will become the oldest player in the NBA, exactly 20 years after he became the youngest.
By turning on the tape, watching him move and seeing the production James still puts out, you’d never know it.
Memphis Grizzlies: Can Marcus Smart Make Up for Ja Morant’s Suspension?
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Morant will begin the season away from the Grizzlies, serving a 25-game suspension for wielding a firearm on social media. He previously served an eight-game suspension in March for the same offense.
The loss of Morant for nearly a third of the season will keep the star point guard out until sometime in December. Given how competitive the West projects to be, the Grizzlies traded for Marcus Smart to give them a new starting point guard in Morant’s absence.
The two players are extremely different, however.
Smart, 29, isn’t going to replicate Morant’s scoring output or athleticism. He can run the Grizzlies’ offense, however, is a talented passer and proven veteran who’s a better defender than Morant. Smart’s role will be to make sure players like Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. are getting their touches while playing high-level defense and keeping Memphis in the playoff hunt.
He should be able to play alongside Morant when the 24-year-old returns as well, as we’ll likely see a lot of three-guard lineups featuring Bane.
Miami Heat: What If a Damian Lillard Trade Doesn’t Happen?
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The losses of Gabe Vincent and Max Strus in free agency didn’t sting as much as they probably should have, in part due to the assumption Lillard would eventually land in Miami via trade.
Now six weeks after he originally requested to be moved, however, we appear to be no closer to Lillard actually getting his wish.
The Blazers apparently aren’t in any hurry, nor should they be. Letting the Heat sweat a little bit should only increase potential offers and force Miami to get more creative by calling third teams.
Does a trade have to get done, however? Can the Heat roll into next season with a core of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Kyle Lowry, Caleb Martin and some role players and still feel good about their chances of making another title run? At what point do the Heat walk away from the table and declare the price too high for Lillard?
While a deal will probably get worked out at some point, Miami has to at least be considering the possibility of starting the season with their current roster.
Milwaukee Bucks: Is the Supporting Cast Getting Too Old?
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The 2021 NBA title seems like a long time away for the Bucks, who have followed up their championship with second and first-round losses in back-to-back years. While injuries to Khris Middleton in 2022 and Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2023 have played their part, age is starting to become a concern for this core.
Only the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers have a higher average roster age than Milwaukee (28.4) heading into the 2023-24 season. Brook and Robin Lopez are both 35. Jrue Holiday and Jae Crowder are 33. Khris Middleton just turned 32 and even Antetokounmpo will be entering the final year in his 20’s this December.
With little young talent to be found on this roster, the title window is closing a little bit each season.
Finding some ways to add younger talent while also chasing championships isn’t going to be easy, but may also be necessary for this group.
Minnesota Timberwolves: What If the Towns-Gobert Pairing Doesn’t Get Better?
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- Towns and Gobert together: plus-0.9 net rating (58th percentile)
- Towns and Anderson, no Gobert: plus-8.1 net rating (92nd percentile)
- Gobert and Anderson, no Towns: plus-7.1 net rating (89th percentile)
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Year 1 of the Karl-Anthony Towns-Rudy Gobert frontcourt experiment didn’t go as planned.
Towns played in just 29 games primarily due to a calf injury, severely limiting the time he and Gobert had to build any sort of chemistry together. Minnesota was also far better when using Kyle Anderson at power forward with one traditional big, according to CleaningtheGlass:
Another problem with this pairing is the cost. Towns and Gobert will combine to make a hefty $77 million this season, a number that will jump to $93.5 million in 2024-25 when Towns’ supermax contract kicks in.
Giving this pairing one more chance is fine given Towns’ injury last season. If these numbers stay consistent, however, Minnesota will need to make a change.
New Orleans Pelicans: Is This a Make-or-Break Season for Zion Williamson?
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While injury concerns have followed Zion Williamson ever since he entered the NBA in 2019, this summer seemed like the first time we heard real buzz about the possibility of a trade.
While Pelicans Executive VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin has since denied making or taking any trade calls about Williamson, another season of the star forward’s inability to stay on the floor could certainly change things.
The Pelicans were just a game behind the Denver Nuggets for first place in the West when Williamson played his final game of the season on Jan. 2. Like with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with the Los Angeles Clippers, talent vs. availability has been a tough act to juggle here, essentially holding the franchise hostage.
If Williamson once again misses a large chunk of the season (for the fourth time in five years), Griffin may have no choice but to move Williamson for something, as the rest of this roster is ready to win now.
New York Knicks: Is Shopping for a Superstar the Next Step?
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The Knicks proved themselves to be a good team with 47 wins and a playoff round win last season. Making the jump to becoming a truly great team is extremely hard to do, of course.
New York can choose to ride things out, hoping for some internal growth from players like R.J. Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes. Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle should continue to be borderline All-Stars on a yearly basis as well.
There’s some hesitation with this plan, however. The Knicks core of Brunson, Randle and Barrett only had a net rating of minus-1.8 in 2,896 possessions last season, a sign this trio may not ever get to an elite level. The overall roster could use some extra shooting as well.
Now a summer removed from pursuing Donovan Mitchell, should the Knicks be sniffing around other potential stars, or run this group back at least another year?
Oklahoma City Thunder: Is Chet Holmgren the Next Great Big Man?
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Although a foot injury caused Holmgren to miss the entire 2022-23 season, the 21-year-old looked awesome at summer league in Las Vegas.
Averaging 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 3.5 blocks and 1.0 steals in a pair of games, Holmgren looked like a future Defensive Player of the Year, one who can step out and hit threes and attack off the dribble.
While Victor Wembayama will draw most of the rookie big man attention, Holmgren is going to surprise a lot of people as well.
We’ve rarely seen 7-footers possess this array of skills, especially at this age. The young Thunder are going to be a playoff team this season, with Holmgren serving as a big reason why.
Orlando Magic: Who Starts in the Backcourt?
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Orlando’s starting frontcourt should be no secret this season, with Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter Jr. lining up between small forward and center.
The backcourt, however, is anyone’s guess.
The 2023 draft only brought more options, as Orlando selected Anthony Black No. 6 overall and then nabbed Jett Howard at No. 11. While Markelle Fultz started all 60 of his games at point guard last season, Black could push him for the job this year.
Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony have previously bounced in and out of the starting lineup and are still both 23 or younger. Veteran Gary Harris was a starter in 42 of his 48 games as well.
There could be some intriguing training camp battles for the Magic, who suddenly have a crowded backcourt heading into 2023-24.
Philadelphia 76ers: Is the James Harden Experiment Really over?
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It’s been over six weeks since James Harden opted into his contract for the 2023-24 season in the hopes of being traded, yet nothing seems close to getting done.
Is there still a chance Harden could return to Philly?
“I think If you ask the players, they are hopeful that James Harden plays with them this year. That’s option one. It’s the same thing for the front office, but the front office is in a bit of a stalemate with James Harden. There’s nothing happening right now in terms of trade discussions,” ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported.
Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey isn’t simply going to flip Harden for role players or settle for a deal. There may be a chance we haven’t seen the last of Harden in a 76ers uniform just yet.
Phoenix Suns: Will Deandre Ayton Be Forgotten About in This Offense?
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The last time we saw Deandre Ayton was in the postseason for Phoenix where he finished as a (distant) third option on offense behind Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. Now with another alpha scorer on board in Bradley Beal, what does this mean for Ayton’s touches?
Ayton averaged just 13.4 points per game on 11.1 shot attempts in 11 playoff games, watching Booker and Durant combine 62.7 points on 62.3 attempts. Even Chris Paul shot the ball more often than Ayton (13.0).
A new head coach in Frank Vogel should make it more of a priority for Ayton to be involved. The No. 1 overall pick of 2018 is far too talented to just become a rim-running center, even with so many other good options around him.
Even if Ayton’s future isn’t in Phoenix, the Suns have shown no interest in moving the 25-year-old until they see how he meshes with this new-look group.
Portland Trail Blazers: How Do the Young Guards Fit Together?
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Assuming Damian Lillard is traded at some point this offseason, the Blazers backcourt will consist of Scoot Henderson, Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons.
While Henderson seems like a lock to start a point guard, what role do the others play?
Simons was a true combo guard last season, spending 42 percent of his court time at point guard and the other 58 percent at shooting guard. The Blazers’ offense was slightly better (117.2 rating compared to 114.5) when Simons was operating as an off-ball guard.
Sharpe actually spent most of his time (44 percent of his minutes) and was his most effective (plus-2.2 net rating) at small forward last season, although he spent time at both guard positions as well. His 6’6″ size gives this lineup some added versatility.
This young crop of guards is the most exciting part of Portland’s inevitable rebuild. Seeing how they mesh will determine the team’s success in 2023-24 and beyond.
Sacramento Kings: Is Internal Growth Enough?
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While it would have made for a more exciting offseason if Sacramento had signed a big free agent like Draymond Green or Khris Middleton, using their cap space to extend Domantas Sabonis, re-sign Harrison Barnes and add Chris Duarte and Sasha Vezenkov was the safer choice.
Sabonis should just be entering his prime at age 27, and a large part of this core (De’Aaron Fox, Keegan Murray, Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, Davion Mitchell) are all 25 or younger.
Getting a full round of playoff experience will have only benefited this young group and Mike Brown is one of the best coaches in all of basketball.
Still, the West is really, really good. We’ll see if internal growth is enough for Sacramento to stay at the top of the conference.
San Antonio Spurs: How Long Should They Be Patient Around Victor Wembanyama?
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The Spurs chose to be patient in building the franchise around Victor Wembanyama this summer, using their cap space to absorb contracts and collect future draft picks.
With an NBA-high $55.3 million in projected salary cap space next summer according to Spotrac’s Keith Smith and first-round picks owed from the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls, the Spurs could cash in their chips for some veteran help at any time.
For now, seeing how Wembanyama fits with this young core and making evaluations from there is the right choice.
There’s no pressure to win yet, although with this kind of projected cap space these plans could change next summer.
Toronto Raptors: Is This the Next Roster That Needs Blown Up?
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The Raptors had way too much talent to finish at 41-41 and miss the playoffs last season, and the loss of Fred VanVleet and Nick Nurse has only set Toronto back even more.
With so few teams actually rebuilding at the moment, is now the best time for the Raptors to blow things up?
Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby would be two of the best players on the trade market if made available, even as they get set to hit free agency next summer. Giving Scottie Barnes a bigger role will only help him reach his potential, and other veterans like Jakob Poeltl and Dennis Schröder could be shopped starting in mid December.
Toronto needs to be really bad in order to keep its first-round pick in 2024, however, a top-six protected selection currently owed to the San Antonio Spurs.
This was an average team that got worse this offseason. Tearing the roster all the way down should be on the table.
Utah Jazz: Is This More Than a Feel-Good Story?
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Nearly a quarter of the way into the 2023-23 season, the Jazz were somehow in first place in the West at 12-7 even after trading four starters during the offseason.
Reality eventually came crashing in, however, especially as Utah continued the tear down and sent more veterans packing. Still, a 37-45 overall record was far better than most would have predicted, making this season equally difficult to judge.
Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton are all veterans who will want to compete. Adding John Collins via trade helps boost the frontcourt and Walker Kessler looks like an All-Defensive center already.
Is this Jazz team good? Should it complete what turned out to be a short-term rebuild? We may need the entire 2023-24 season to find out.
Washington Wizards: Is the Tear Down Complete?
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Pivoting to a rebuild this summer was a smart move for the Wizards, who were in real danger of getting stuck in the middle of the East.
After trading Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porziņģis, is the roster destruction actually complete?
Re-signing Kyle Kuzma was done to increase his trade value later, Tyus Jones should be moved before hitting free agency next summer and there’s still a handful of veterans (Delon Wright, Danilo Gallinari, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet) sprinkled throughout the roster.
The Wizards should probably look to move a few more vets before the season starts, making sure the young core has all the playing time it needs and this team wins as few games as possible.