The Eastern Conference of the N.B.A. is more open than ever and has had a season in which a fifth starter made it to the final. At least one team is guaranteed to move up from mediocrity to the top division: The Nets, as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are expected to return for the 2020-21 season after injury. Otherwise it should be an exchange of blows from start to finish.
There will be many eyes on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s plight and his tenure with the Bucks, not to mention the beginning of the Doc Rivers era in Philadelphia. And hey, maybe the Knicks are making progress this year? (Every year I do this to myself and every year I’m wrong.)
To all the general managers of the Eastern Conference, here is one suggestion of one thing your team must do this off-season. We hang up and listen.
The heat, which has had an unexpectedly strong season, is in a great position. You have young talent, a star in Butler, lots of space, and the 20th choice in design. (And if there’s one front office that can benefit from late draft, it’s Miami.)
But if the heat is to make it back to the finals, they’ll have to play more consistently outside of Butler. You have three major players stepping into the free hand: Guard Goran Dragic, Center Meyers Leonard and Wing Jae Crowder. However, the space on the cap gives the heat the flexibility to chase another playmaker to work with Butler – maybe Victor Oladipo?
The nets don’t have room for the cap, but they can essentially see their off-season moves from last summer now come to fruition, with Durant and Irving returning from injuries. Her big acquisition that summer was Steve Nash, her new head coach. Unless the networks are ready to trade some of their young talent – wing Caris LeVert, Guardian Spencer Dinwiddie, center Jarrett Allen – no third star will come.
That means the networks will have to re-sign Joe Harris, an unrestricted free agent. With two ball-dominant stars, the nets would benefit from a sniper on the edge.
Boston needs scoring help from the bank. Much of the off-season depends on whether Gordon Hayward closes his roughly $ 34 million deal for the next year. The only way to get specific help with the game is through the draft where Boston picked numbers 14, 26 and 30 championship goals and the unlikely chance of finding someone who can immediately contribute with late picks should be Danny Ainge , the president of the basketball team, investigate the trade.
Solve the Al Horford problem. According to the tracking numbers of the N.B.A. there is evidence that playing Horford and Joel Embiid together can work. The most used line-up of the team from Horford, Tobias Harris, Embiid, Josh Richardson and Ben Simmons prevailed against the opposing line-ups 8.5 points per 100 possessions. But the league leans towards smaller line-ups and it’s not clear that doubling down to multiple bigs on the floor will work for an entire season. It wasn’t last year. (To that end, when Horford and Embiid were on the floor together, the team was 0.5 points worse per 100 possessions in totaland both players played better when the other was off the ground.)
Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol are unrestricted free agents. Kyle Lowry enters the final year of his contract. At the very least, the Raptors will have to re-sign VanVleet and likely will.
Now build a Giannis Antetokounmpo statue outside the arena to make him feel too guilty to be left in the free hand next summer.
Victor Oladipo has not publicly requested a trade, but enough smoke is flying around that there is likely to be a fire. It always works like this: First, there are rumors of dissatisfaction. Then there is a leak of a trade request. And then the team is forced to make a trade with minimal leverage.
The Pacers should trade Oladipo now, ahead of the inevitable trade request. At 28, he’s not a top star and has only played two all-star games. The Pacers had the right idea to acquire it in the 2017 Paul George deal with Oklahoma City, especially because they had also included Domantas Sabonis, 24, in the deal. But Sabonis, who formed his first All-Star team last season, could be the better player of the two.
The Pistons have plenty of wiggle room, seventh choice in the draft and a star in Blake Griffin who still has a lot to prove. You’ll either need to trade Griffin and commit to rebuilding or use the cap room to land a star. Clippers striker Montrezl Harrell would be an ideal target. Maybe Davis Bertans of the Washington Wizards. (Oh, and the Pistons should re-sign Christian Wood, who had a really nice season.)
They were one of the worst defensive teams in the league last year. So if the Hawks want to jump, they need help on this side of the ball.
Atlanta is well on its way to have the biggest seat in the league. You have two of the better young players in the N.B.A. in Trae Young and John Collins; the sixth choice in the draft; and several capable supporting players including Clint Capela.
With expansions approaching for Young and others, the Hawks must now use the canopy room. But to whom? It would be ideal to sign someone like Dwight Howard. Same goes for Gordon Hayward if he signs off his deal with Boston because he can play on either side of the ball.
Magic has a lot of talent, but none in the top tier. It’s hard to get to championship status without them, and Aaron Gordon doesn’t cut them. You won’t have much, if any, space this summer, but it’s time to see what the merchant market is for Gordon.
Michael Jordan has to make the third choice in the draft. If he doesn’t, everyone should point it out so that he can take it personally, returns as a player and wins another championship.
The Wizards may have a little wiggle room this fall, even if nearly $ 70 million is allocated for John Wall and Bradley Beal. However, this is only possible if the Wizards fail to pay Davis Bertans, who, as an unreserved free agent, expects a large raise. Despite his shooting skills, can Bertans be the third best player on a team who wants to make noise at a competitive conference? Even with Wall and Beal, it might be best to let him go.
You have the No. 4 choice. Even in a supposedly weak draft, a player in this pool is likely to have long-term cornerstone potential. The three most talked about prospects are James Wiseman, LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards.
The Bulls haven’t had a significant A-level component since Derrick Rose and there isn’t a single one on the team right now. Arturas Karnisovas should consider trading the pick and packing it with one of the younger contestants on the team (Lauri Markkanen? Wendell Carter?) To see if either Minnesota, Golden State or Charlotte will bite.
Kevin Love and Andre Drummond, who opted for the final year of his contract after their deal in Detroit, will not be working together. Free Kevin Love!
New York Knicks
Go three months without a feud with Spike Lee.