1 Critical Decision Facing Every NBA Team Before 2014-15 Season
Those moves, as significant as they may be, are all in the past, and it's time to look at which decisions teams must make as we quickly approach the 2014-15 season.
Every franchise has at least one question to ask itself about the upcoming campaign. For some, it's about upgrading roster spots or position battles in training camps. For others, it's about late-summer transactions that will help shape their rosters.
Then for some, it's about Kevin Love. Actually, don't kid yourself. For many, it's about Love and where he lands before, or during, next season.
No team has a crystal ball that can tell the future, but that's what makes these decisions so interesting to follow. The bulk of the summer action is now behind us, and the anticipation for 2014-15 is growing as teams prepare for what comes next.
Should they make a late run at Greg Monroe?
The Atlanta Hawks missed out on James and Anthony during free agency. They also missed out on second-tier players such as Luol Deng and Gordon Hayward.
Each of the aforementioned players were a bit of a long shot (some more than others) as free-agent targets for Atlanta, but if the team is still looking to make a splash, there's one interesting name on the market who has yet to sign a contract.
Greg Monroe, despite being considered a near-max or possibly max-money player entering free agency, is still a restricted free agent. ESPN's Marc Stein reported on June 30 that the Hawks were a "potential suitor" for Monroe, while Chuck Myron of HoopsRumors.com has more recently stated that "they definitely want" the big man.
Acquiring Monroe would take either a significant payout or significant trade pieces, but it's worth doing a bit of self-reflection to see what it would take to pull the trigger. Having Al Horford and Paul Millsap on the roster makes this less likely, but the team would be remiss to ignore it as a possibility altogether.
To trade or not to trade Rajon Rondo?
The Rajon Rondo situation hasn't reached the magnitude that we've seen with Love, Dwight Howard, Anthony or even Deron Williams. That doesn't mean, however, that he's safe where he is, as he's been the subject of trade rumors for as long as most fans can remember.
In a recent report from Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, the writer states that there is little evidence to support rumors at this time. In his own words:
According to league sources, Danny Ainge has been pretty firm in the past on his need to get a major player in return for his All-Star point guard, and while the president of basketball operations has to realize Rondo’s impending 2015 free agency may change the game a bit, he is still under no time pressure to pull the trigger.
This report was written in response to whispers that the Houston Rockets were once again interested in the floor general's services. "In the wake of more reports that Houston again targeted Rajon Rondo," Bulpett stated, "multiple sources confirmed that there has been no such communication between the Rockets and Celtics."
It's important to recognize that while this is the case, Rondo's impending free agency does in fact make this a more pressing issue. Combine that with the recent drafting of guard Marcus Smart, and you've got a crucial decision to be made by the Celtics.
How many minutes will go to the younger assets?
When the Brooklyn Nets chose not to offer Paul Pierce a contract similar to, or exceeding, the one he received from the Washington Wizards, it was an admission that their championship window had closed. As Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com explained:
The Nets owned Pierce’s Bird Rights and could have paid him as much as they wanted. But they passed on Pierce for a couple of reasons: They didn’t think they were going to win a championship with Pierce and this current roster and they also wanted to start developing some of their younger talent, according to sources.
So with Pierce gone and the goal now being to develop the potential on the roster, a new rotation must be set by a new head coach.
Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and even Kevin Garnett will still run the show, but it feels like a new era is about to begin in Brooklyn—an era that focuses on slower development, not quick fixes.
Who should start at power forward?
The Charlotte Hornets have made vast improvements to their roster over the past few seasons. This group now has legitimate talent all over its starting lineup, but the question entering 2014-15 is: Who will start at the 4?
Cody Zeller surely deserves consideration, but with the drafting of Noah Vonleh and the signing of Marvin Williams, a competition could (and should) be on the training camp docket. For those who say Williams is more of a small forward, Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer reported after the signing that head coach Steve Clifford "plans to use him primarily at power forward specifically for his ability to stretch defenses."
Whoever ultimately earns the nod, Hornets fans should be confident in the choice. Not only do all three offer versatile skill sets, but whoever becomes a starter will be surrounded by proven players.
Things are looking up in Charlotte, and fans should be excited entering the first year they can officially call themselves, "The Team Formerly Known as the Charlotte Bobcats."
How much is Kevin Love worth?
The Chicago Bulls have re-entered the Love Sweepstakes. That news comes courtesy of ESPN's SportsCenter account on Twitter, and it thickens the plot surrounding where the superstar will be traded (if anywhere) before this next season.
When it comes to Chicago, the team has already had a busy summer. It's drafted Doug McDermott, signed Pau Gasol, brought over Nikola Mirotic, amnestied Carlos Boozer and, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, recently signed Aaron Brooks.
A Love trade, however, would trump them all, as it pertains to big-time stories. The team would likely have to part with players such as Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, giving us the question of the day: How much is this team willing to trade if it means acquiring a perennial All-Star?
How much are they willing to give up for Kevin Love?
Does this question sound familiar?
Love has been a hot topic for a while now, and one of the biggest names involved in the situation is Andrew Wiggins. The former No. 1 pick would likely be the centerpiece of a Love trade involving the Cleveland Cavaliers, and according to Chris Broussard of ESPN The Magazine, the Cavs might be ready to make it happen:
The Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers have discussed a blockbuster trade centered on Kevin Love and the league's past two No. 1 draft picks, league sources told ESPN.
In an attempt to add Love, a three-time All-Star, the Cavaliers are willing to part with Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett.
One source said the Cavs also are willing to give up a first-round draft pick for next season. Any other players involved in the talks are not known.
Unfortunately for those seeking a swift resolution, don't hold your breath. An AP source, courtesy of USAToday.com, has reported that Wiggins is set to sign his contract with the Cavs, meaning he cannot be traded for 30 days after officially inking the deal.
Where will the point guard minutes go?
The backcourt is starting to look awfully crowded for the Dallas Mavericks.
Despite having Devin Harris and Raymond Felton on the roster, Dallas sat down with free agent Mo Williams earlier in July, according to ESPN's Marc Stein. The team also has plans to meet with floor general Jameer Nelson, also reported by Stein, proving that it's not far from content with its options at the 1 as they stand.
None of this is to say the Mavs will have all four guards on the roster once the season begins, but you have to wonder, what will happen if three of the four make the cut? Where will the minutes go? Who will be the starter?
The focus on this team is clearly going to be Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons on offense, while Tyson Chandler commands the other end of the floor. But with point guard being as crucial a position as it's ever been in the league, figuring out the rotation as quickly as possible will behoove all parties involved.
Who are the go-to options?
No ifs, ands or buts about it. The Denver Nuggets are a deep, deep basketball team.
At this point, it can be assumed that Ty Lawson—an improved Ty Lawson, by the way—is the first option on offense. He averaged career highs in points (17.6) and assists (8.8) this past season, and while he only played in 62 games, his production was good enough to lead the team in both of the aforementioned categories.
After Lawson is where things get muddled. Kenneth Faried was the team's second-leading scorer this past season at 13.7 points per contest; however, a healthy Wilson Chandler and a healthy Danilo Gallinari could very realistically challenge that number.
Then there's Arron Afflalo. The 2-guard is coming off a career year with the Orlando Magic, and his recently inspired performance wouldn't lead you to believe that he's willing to take a step back at this point in his career.
Having too many options is a good thing, but it can cause confusion when it comes to scoring. The Nuggets have all the tools necessary to build one of the league's best offenses; now they just need to put the pieces together.
Greg Monroe or Josh Smith?
The Detroit Pistons won't admit it, but they'd be better off making a choice between Monroe and Josh Smith at this point in the process.
With Monroe still seeking a deal on the open market, the Pistons have had the luxury of time when it comes to deciding on Smith, whose contract runs through the 2016-17 season. Trading the veteran forward would make matching Monroe's upcoming contract offer an easy choice; keeping him would make it easier (although not easy) to let Monroe walk.
Making the decision on Smith is crucial. Placing the two side by side for another year would be a mistake, as Smith struggles offensively from the perimeter and Monroe has a tendency to underachieve down low defensively.
These two individually are extraordinary talents, but together they create an unfortunate logjam with Andre Drummond playing the 5.
Golden State Warriors
What will they do to get Kevin Love?
The biggest decision the Golden State Warriors have to make is whether or not Love is worth the price of Klay Thompson.
Back in June, ESPN's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne reported that talks between the Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves stalled because the "Dubs weren't willing to part with Thompson." If that weren't enough, the San Jose Mercury News' Tim Kawakami reported in early July that, "The Warriors are adamant that they won’t move Thompson while taking back [Kevin] Martin’s money."
If Golden State wants to be successful in the Love sweepstakes, that success is going to come at a high cost. The question is: What is the team willing to pay to acquire a superstar, both in terms of salary received and talent sent out?
Is there a need to add a veteran?
The Houston Rockets haven't had the most successful offseason. They swung and missed on players such as James, Anthony and Bosh, which only made the fact that they parted ways with Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin and Parsons worse.
The team did save face (if you can call it that) by signing Trevor Ariza, but adding another piece would make fans feel better entering the 2014-15 season.
As B/R's Dave Leonardis breaks down, there are a handful of veteran options Houston could target for the veteran's minimum. While players such as Ray Allen, Jermaine O'Neal and Ramon Sessions all make the list, Leonardis' suggestion of Shawn Marion would provide a versatile presence both at the 3 and the 4.
Houston signing Marion for a minimum contract would be a gem of a free-agent finding, but at this point, you have to assume the 36-year-old deserves more. Marion may be a bit outside Houston's price range, but if the team wants a veteran, there should be plenty of players willing to take a pay cut to play for a contender.
Continue shopping Roy Hibbert?
Roy Hibbert disappeared, and ultimately disappointed, during the 2014 postseason. He became known more for what he wasn't doing than what he was doing, and as a result, the Indiana Pacers began shopping him this offseason.
In early July, Sean Deveney of Sporting News reported that Indiana would consider trades surrounding the center. In Deveny's words:
They’re open to making major changes, if they’re there...I think they’d be disappointed to see that same core group back intact, so it is a matter of, how drastic can the changes they make be? Moving Hibbert for multiple pieces would be a pretty drastic change, but they’re asking.
Although nothing substantial has come from such a rumor, it's not unreasonable to assume the Pacers are looking for change following their collapse during the second half of the 2013-14 season. Unfortunately, they're now dealing with the loss of Lance Stephenson, and it's unclear what exactly it would take for another team to pry Hibbert away at this point.
Los Angeles Clippers
Do they need an upgrade at small forward?
The small forward position has become one of the most versatile, athletic positions in the NBA. Unfortunately for the Los Angeles Clippers, their 3's don't exactly fall into those categories.
Although L.A. has athletes across the roster (most notably: Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan), the team's small forward group is comprised of Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley and C.J. Wilcox. Barnes played well when inserted into the starting lineup last season, but none of the three will exactly strike fear into the hearts of opponents.
When it comes to upgrading, there's typically a sacrifice made somewhere along the line. The bulk of free agency has come and gone, meaning trades and shrewd signings are the Clippers' best bets.
Los Angeles has one of the most talented rosters in the league today, but if there's anywhere that might need a tweak, look straight to the 3-spot. There's no guarantee it happens, but the Clippers would be smart to explore their options.
Los Angeles Lakers
Who will be head coach?
With the heavy part of free agency behind us, it's safe to say that none of the Los Angeles Lakers' new recruits will have any say in the decision-making process as it pertains to the head coach. Anthony or James would have created a different narrative, but at this point, it comes down to the behind-the-scenes figures within the organization.
Oh, and Kobe Bryant.
In Bryant's own words, referencing candidate Byron Scott, "He was my rookie mentor ... We've had a tremendously close relationship throughout the years." That quote comes courtesy of ESPN's Dave McMenamin, and it's the vote of confidence this franchise needs to officially sign Scott, whom the team has now interviewed three times for the open position.
Vince Carter or Tayshaun Prince? Who will start?
The Memphis Grizzlies brought on Vince Carter to help with offensive production on the perimeter, but the question here is: Will he help off the bench or in the starting lineup?
When looking at Carter and Tayshaun Prince side by side from last season, there's no clear answer to the question above, knowing what we know about Memphis' defensive-oriented schemes. That said, the former Dallas Maverick does appear to have the edge statistically:
The Grizzlies will have to decide if they value defense or offense more in this situation, and whichever they decide will help determine who gets more minutes in 2014-15.
The Miami Heat have already addressed almost every critical decision they've needed to make this offseason. At no fault of their own, James made his decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and since then, we've seen the Heat lock up Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Deng (and others) to round out what should still be a competitive roster.
At this juncture, the biggest question mark in the rotation belongs in the backcourt. There's obviously people wondering how often, and in what role, Danny Granger will play, but the bigger question might be: How are minutes split between Wade, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Shabazz Napier?
With James gone, Wade would ideally see more minutes and a larger role. Unfortunately, his age (32) and health should prevent that, keeping him as a No. 2 to Bosh.
At point guard, Chalmers is the starter, but he has a deserving backup in Cole ready to take on more minutes, and an eager rookie in Napier as well.
Miami is down compared to the last four seasons, but it isn't out. Balancing out the rotation is step one in re-tooling, and if it can do that, it will be fine in a relatively balanced Eastern Conference.
Should they go all-in for Eric Bledsoe?
Talent acquisition has been a struggle for the Milwaukee Bucks, and going all-in on a sign-and-trade with the Phoenix Suns might be the only way to flip the script before the 2014-15 season.
According to Steve Kyler of BasketballInsiders.com, Milwaukee would be "very interested" in the aforementioned scenario if it meant bringing back Eric Bledsoe. It would give the team an ultra-athletic, productive guard in the backcourt, and it would clearly upgrade an offense that posted just 95.5 points per contest last year—the third-worst number in the league.
The problem, as Kyler points out, is that nothing from Milwaukee's roster makes sense in a potential exchange. The Bucks would have to rid themselves of most the talent they already have, and there would still be no guarantee Phoenix bites.
What will it take to trade Kevin Love?
The question here is no longer whether or not the Minnesota Timberwolves should trade Love. That ship sailed long ago, and quite frankly, it would benefit all parties involved if this saga came to an end sooner rather than later.
While a trade will bring this situation to its inevitable conclusion, Minnesota won't settle for just any deal that comes its way. That's evidenced by the ongoing rumors involving teams across both conferences, and it's why we ask: What will it take to make something happen?
Will it be Wiggins and a compilation of role players from the Cleveland Cavaliers? How about a package surrounding Golden State's Thompson? Even the Chicago Bulls are back in the mix, as they could make some noise with Gibson and Butler as trade pieces, according to ESPN's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst.
Around and around and around this story goes. Where it stops? Nobody knows.
New Orleans Pelicans
Time to unload pieces?
The New Orleans Pelicans are better than their 34-48 record indicates. It's true that they play in an ultra-competitive Western Conference, but when healthy, they have the talent on their roster to push for a spot in the playoffs.
So why would we see a fire sale any time soon? This roster is going to look virtually exactly as it looks now come next season, and you have to wonder if that's good enough to officially get them over the hump that is the eighth seed.
Barring a trade that sends away multiple pieces for an All-Star-caliber player, we're likely looking at the core staying together. But if you're a fan in New Orleans, this isn't a bad thing. This group needs time to develop chemistry as a cohesive, healthy unit, and as long as everyone can avoid significant injuries, we'll see that in 2014-15.
New York Knicks
What to do with the backcourt?
In a recent report from ESPN's Ian Begley, it's revealed that the New York Knicks are ready to make a change. According to Begley, "Working to clear the logjam in the backcourt, the Knicks are discussing their potential trade options with guards J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Shane Larkin, a league source said Sunday."
Also found in Begley's report is the fact that, "Tim Hardaway Jr. has been deemed virtually untouchable, per a source."
With coach Derek Fisher and team president Phil Jackson now taking charge in the Big Apple, it's clear that a new era is on the horizon. Anthony has returned, but this will be a new-look group in 2014-15, and even more so in the years to come.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Who will be the sixth man?
The Oklahoma City Thunder haven't had an elite sixth man since the departure of James Harden. In their defense, replacing one of the best 2-guards in the league—arguably the best—isn't easy, but having a consistent go-to presence off the bench was such a staple of this organization for so long, it only seems natural to bring it back.
The natural selection is Jeremy Lamb. He averaged the most points off the pine last season behind Caron Butler, but he was only given 19.7 minutes to do so—barely two minutes more than Fisher, who has since retired.
Other options include Steven Adams, Anthony Morrow and Reggie Jackson. Chances are, all three will be competing with a starting spot in mind, but if Thabo Sefolosha's departure means anything, the latter two have the best shot of earning a spot in the first five.
To tank or not to tank?
The Orlando Magic haven't exactly been tanking these past couple of seasons. They've been acquiring talent, and they've been developing that talent; they just haven't turned that development into wins, and it's fair to ask if now is the time we see potential turn into victories.
In the two years since Howard switched conferences, the Magic have a whopping 43 wins. That's a winning percentage of just 26.2 percent, and it leads you to wonder if we're going to see any improvement next season.
Despite having talent on the roster, including recent draft pick Aaron Gordon, there's not a star to be found in the rotation. The team owns its own pick for 2015 (a desirable thing for a general manager looking to tank), but the East is more open this year than seasons past (a desirable thing for anyone looking to compete).
No organization will ever admit to tanking, but "strategic rebuilding" is all too common. The Magic could fall into that category if they choose, but we just might see a more concerted effort to improve following the second letdown of a season.
Is it time to focus on winning?
The Philadelphia 76ers are coming off a catastrophic season that saw them put all their energy into rebuilding with a young roster that they knew wouldn't be ready to compete for a couple of years. As B/R's Grant Hughes put it:
[Sam] Hinkie dealt away All-Star Jrue Holiday, drafted Nerlens Noel and embarked on a (purposely) dreadful season last year. It was all part of the plan, and the Sixers nabbed another high lottery pick in the 2014 draft, which, of course, Hinkie used on another injured big man.
After Noel and his torn ACL in 2013, Hinkie doubled down with Joel Embiid and his fractured foot.
Now, Philly is in a similar situation as it was last season (albeit a tad more experienced), but it's worth asking whether or not the long-term plan includes winning right away, or possibly another season of rebuilding before the wins become more important than the losses.
Should they commit to both Greg Monroe and Eric Bledsoe long term?
Entering free agency, two of the biggest free agents not named James or Anthony were Monroe and Bledsoe. Both players were expected to earn near-max, if not max contracts, yet both find themselves on the market as we near the end of July.
With both players still available, the Phoenix Suns reportedly have interest in making the two teammates. According to Jordan Schultz of NBC Sports, "Hearing Suns may be considering a Greg Monroe offer. They have space to get both him and Bledsoe but would lose cap flexibility long-term."
As Schultz points out, the Suns would lose long-term flexibility by signing both players to big-time deals. Then again, what good is flexibility if you can't recruit the kind of talent you need to compete in a brutal Western Conference?
It's a tough decision to make for management, but one that will shape the course of this franchise one way or the other.
Portland Trail Blazers
Is it time to give the bench more minutes?
The Portland Trail Blazers bench has been the worst in the league the past two seasons. In 2013-14, it was last in points and offensive efficiency, according to HoopsStats.com, and it was near last place in a multitude of other categories.
As a result, the second unit in Rip City played just 13.7 minutes per contest, which (once again) was dead last.
Entering 2014-15, Portland has improved its bench with the signing of Chris Kaman. He's a clear upgrade from Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland, but center isn't the only position where this team could have used enhancement.
With the Blazers' reserves being so young, you have to believe minutes will be what helps them grow. You know what you're going to get with veterans such as Steve Blake and Dorell Wright, but Leonard, Thomas Robinson, C.J. McCollum and Will Barton are hopefully improved from their inconsistent showings last season.
Ben McLemore or Nik Stauskas?
The decision to go with Ben McLemore or Nik Stauskas has a couple of different angles. First and foremost, it's worth asking whether or not the selection of Stauskas could lead to McLemore being traded during the regular season.
After all, the supposed knockdown shooter nailed just 32 percent of his three-point shots in his rookie season, not to mention shot just 37.6 percent from the field.
Assuming the Sacramento Kings don't give up on McLemore before his second season even begins, the question above pertains to minutes. Who will get more minutes, and will Stauskas eventually take over McLemore's role in the starting lineup?
This won't be decided before the start of the 2014-15 campaign, but it will be in the back of Kings fans' minds. More importantly, it should be in the back of McLemore's mind, which just might force him to play more efficiently.
San Antonio Spurs
How much rest for the starters?
If we're being frank, the San Antonio Spurs don't have any truly critical decisions to make. Coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan both opted to return, the team re-signed Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner, and the only big names on their radar have already made their decisions to sign elsewhere.
This is going to be virtually exactly the same crew that wreaked havoc on the NBA last season, which is a scary thought for those hoping to contend for a title.
Although the Spurs should once again be extremely competitive, none of this is to say they're perfect. Perfection is an unattainable feat in such a competitive league, and age is the one thing this group truly has going against it.
As we've seen in the past, Popovich will find strategic, if not sneaky ways to rest his starters. The question is whether or not he'll truly sacrifice wins for a shot at a title, and if he does, will the team have the same home-court advantage it had this past postseason?
Add depth to point guard or center?
At this point last year, the question surrounding the Toronto Raptors was whether to blow up the roster or play out the season in hopes of a miracle.
As it turned out, the team did rid itself of Rudy Gay, but that move alone righted the ship, giving Toronto not the miracle it needed, but the cohesive rotation it needed to earn the third seed in a top-heavy Eastern Conference.
This time around, there's no decision to make as drastic as the one the team faced in 2013. Point guard and center are the only shallow positions on the roster, although small forward could probably use a talent upgrade off the bench.
This team is ready to compete out East, and with the Miami Heat no longer the hands-down favorites, the conference has opened up. It's seemingly anyone's game to compete for a title.
How will Trey Burke and Dante Exum be used together?
In 2013, the Utah Jazz drafted a potential franchise point guard in Trey Burke. In 2014, they did exactly the same thing with Dante Exum.
At 6'6", 196 pounds, it's likely that we see Exum at the 2 alongside Burke for a significant number of minutes. Then again, he has the talent and potential to eventually take the former Michigan Wolverine's starting spot. But it's fair to assume Burke, having one year of experience, will be the go-to floor general to start the season.
The Jazz aren't your traditional destination for elite talent, but with Exum and Burke on board, the return to relevancy can officially start to take shape. As long as these two are used correctly together (how that will happen has yet to be determined), they'll be one heck of a dynamic duo early in their careers.
What role will Paul Pierce play?
Pierce is a 10-time All-Star who made the surprising decision to join the up-and-coming Washington Wizards this offseason. His best days are well behind him, but he has the opportunity to contribute on a playoff team while also mentoring youngster Otto Porter Jr.
Following Porter's disappointing rookie season, having Pierce on board is a win-win situation for the Wizards. Not only will the veteran provide an offensive spark in the starting lineup, but he'll also teach Porter a thing or two about being productive against NBA competition.
What we don't know is how many minutes Pierce will play on a nightly basis, and if we'll see him collect DNPs for resting purposes. Washington having Pierce on the floor will help in whatever capacity he can handle, but having him in the locker room is where the true difference will be seen, as he'll bring championship experience to a ready-to-win roster.
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