Chicago Bubble be damned! The season is essentially over for the eight teams that were not invited to the Bubble in Orlando. It's time for them to look ahead to next season.
Here’s how each of the “Delete Eight” should approach the offseason.
Charlotte Hornets (23-42)
The Hornets continued their journey on the hamster wheel of mediocrity, finishing 10th in the East. That was not quite good enough for the Bubble and not quite bad enough to have promising lottery odds for the draft.
Not all was lost this season, though, for Charlotte. Devonte’ Graham’s emergence as a lead guard was a pleasant surprise, as he averaged 18.2 points and 7.5 assists and shot 39.7 percent from deep. Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges and PJ Washington had decent seasons. And James Borrego seems to be a good long-term prospect as a head coach. The Hornets have the appetizers and salad for a future playoff team, but they’re missing the main course.
They must somehow land a bonafide All-NBA-level player to get out of this endless cycle competing for the ninth seed. Although they have $22.5M in cap room, the Hornets shouldn’t just spend it to spend it. If they can't sign good players to good contracts, they should keep the cap room so they can take on bad contracts from other teams next season in trades that land them future draft picks -– it's a great strategy for rebuilding.
As for the draft, assuming they end up with eighth pick, the Hornets should go for a player with a high ceiling -- USC’s Onyeka Okongwu or France’s Killian Hayes or American prospect RJ Hampton.
Chicago Bulls (22-43)
The Bulls had the talent to make the playoffs this season. Zach LaVine filled up the stat sheet (25.5 ppg.), second-year big man Wendell Carter Jr. improved and rookie Coby White caught fire near the end of the season, averaging 23.7 points and 4.5 assists over his last 11 games. If Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter return to their form from the previous season, the Bulls will have enough to routinely make the playoffs, assuming normal player development.
However, if they want to compete for championships in the next five years, the Bulls must be aggressive. Jim Boylen’s not a championship coach. Chicago must find one it is willing to commit to for at least three years –- there are plenty of strong candidates in the college and pro ranks.
Chicago also must get a better No. 1 option. The concept of LaVine -– a 6-foot-6 transcendent leaper with a pure jump shot, the ability to handle the ball and penchant for catching fire – is still better than the actual LaVine. He’s better suited being a Lou Williams-like star off the bench for a contender. Chicago should see if LaVine, Carter Jr. and a couple first-round picks could land it Washington's Bradley Beal or the next big name to hit the trade market.
In the draft, the Bulls should be taking chances on high-risk, high-reward players (Deni Avdija, the 19-year-old Israeli star, and James Wiseman). As appealing as a steady player such as Iowa State sophomore point guard Tyrese Haliburton might seem, Chicago should be drafting based on potential first.
New York Knicks (21-45)
About the only positive the Knicks could draw from the 2019-20 season was that they brought in a new decision-maker, former super-agent Leon Rose, as president. The first major decision Rose must make is whether to bring back interim coach Mike Miller, who did a decent job (17-27) after taking over for David Fizdale. If Miller isn’t the future, a coach with some player-development chops (former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson) makes sense.
On the free agency front, the Knicks should not overpay, especially with the loaded 2021 free agency class on the horizon. All contracts this summer should be one-year deals regardless of whom they go after. But if New York can swing a savvy deal that gets them a culture-changer such as Chris Paul, it should explore that avenue. A high-profile player could help them land another star in 2021.
As for the 2020 draft, assuming they don’t deal the pick, the Knicks should value talent over everything. LaMelo Ball would be an intriguing prospect as he has the offensive upside to be a superstar and the swagger to light up Madison Square Garden. Georgia's Anthony Edwards and Dayton's Obi Toppin would also be enticing.
Detroit Pistons (20-46)
Detroit must approach the offseason as Year 1 of a three-year rebuild. First, it must decide whether Christian Wood is part of that plan. He enjoyed a breakout season in 2019-20, averaging 13.1 points and 6.3 rebounds. However, as an unrestricted free agent in an offseason without many, Wood might be expensive to keep. A sign-and-trade that yields the Pistons picks or a young prospect might be a better option.
With the 2020 draft, the Pistons should find a player to run their offense through. That could come in the form of a lead guard such as Edwards or an offensively gifted forward such as Toppin.
As for the 2020-21 season, the Pistons must inflate the trade values of Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose as much as possible so they can deal them at the trade deadline for more assets. Detroit should not try to make the playoffs next season because there could franchise-level players in the 2021 draft.
Atlanta Hawks (20-47)
Optimism regarding the Hawks quickly faded when John Collins was suspended for PEDs and it became apparent they would overrely on Trae Young (34.94 usage percentage, 30th highest in NBA history). The Hawks have a bright future, but their ceiling with the current roster is similar to the Damian Lillard-era Blazers (early playoff exits).
The Hawks need another star. With a high pick in the lottery (fourth-best odds at No. 1 overall pick), the most cap space in the NBA and enough young players with decent value (Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish), Atlanta should make a run for Beal or the Pelicans' Jrue Holiday. Or maybe even the 76ers' Ben Simmons. If there were ever an offseason to be aggressive, it’s this one because coronavirus ramifications will impact the spending of many teams.
If the Hawks hold onto their pick, Edwards should be their guy. If he’s not available, Wiseman should be the guy. Whatever they do, they absolutely cannot take LaMelo Ball -– a Young-Ball backcourt would mean some opponent would threaten Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game. Trust me: Their defense is ugly.
Minnesota Timberwolves (19-45)
It was a rough year for the T’Wolves, but they finally dumped Andrew Wiggins’ contract and got their point guard of the foreseeable future, D’Angelo Russell. Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns will give the team the firepower to hang with most any opponent for the next five years. However, it will be the defense that ultimately determines whether this team will be a contender.
With little cap room for maneuvering this summer, the T’Wolves must nail the draft. They’ll have a 52.1 percent chance at a top-four pick. Minnesota should be wary of taking Ball, Deni Avdija or Toppin – all of whom project to be below-average defenders.
Cleveland Cavaliers (19-46)
After four consecutive trips to the Finals from 2015-2018, the Cavaliers probably will spend 2019 through 2022 at the bottom of the league. Their roster includes no players with superstar potential and it's bogged down with bad contracts. The only way out, at least until they can move Kevin Love or Andre Drummond, is through the draft.
In the past two drafts, the Cavs were aggressive, picking high-upside players Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. While neither player looks to be a future star, those are the types of chances Cleveland must take. Edwards, Avdija and Wiseman would be my preference for the Cavs -- each has the ceiling of an All-Star player.
Golden State Warriors (15-50)
Once Steph Curry broke his hand four games into the season, it officially became a redshirt year for the franchise that won the last five Western Conference titles. In addition to positioning themselves for the top pick in the draft, the Warriors acquired Andrew Wiggins and the T’Wolves' top-three protected 2021 first-rounder for D’Angelo Russell. The move gave them the assets and a matching salary to be a mover and shaker in the trade market this offseason -– potentially without having to include Curry, Klay Thompson or Draymond Green in any deal.
If the Dubs do not trade their pick, you could talk me into essentially any of the top prospects – it’s not that hard to fit in with Steph, Klay and Dray! However, the most fun would be 19-year-old Avdija, whose impressive vision and pretty three-point stroke would allow him to flourish in their spread-out offense.
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