The 71-day NBA offseason, which is the shortest in American sports history, will be in full swing when the transaction window opens a couple of days before the Nov. 18 NBA Draft. With all types of rumors circulating, teams managing the draft and free agency simultaneously, and forcing teams to put together a squad in 20 days, this offseason promises to be very frenetic, for better or worse.
Stars will be traded, this year’s draft order will change on draft night, and other signings will change the landscape of the league for the start on Dec. 22. But which teams need to make a move? Do they have to trade or acquire a star? Make a splash in free agency? Add that missing piece for them to be a contender, or finally move into a full rebuild? Let’s see those teams that HAVE to make moves in the upcoming weeks.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder
The season the Thunder had last year, where they surprisingly made the playoffs and took the Houston Rockets to seven games in the first round, was shocking. After OKC acquired Chris Paul and didn’t trade him to a contender before the 2019-20 season began, it was fun to see him lead this surprise team.
Nevertheless, as great of a story that it was, their success isn’t sustainable. The team stockpiled draft picks in the summer of 2019, and their roster isn’t made to be a contender at this point. When you look at their contract situation and see how much Paul earns, the money they will have available next year, and how many young guys they have, their next step is to accelerate the rebuild. This means trading Chris Paul and Steven Adams for more young assets (whether that’s draft picks or young pieces). CP3 being moved before the start of next season is bound to happen. While Adams being dealt is unlikely, the prospect of him leaving this year for nothing could serve as enough motivation to do so. The Thunder are in a great place, and with the great front office they have, it’s only a matter of time before they’re back to contending again.
7. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs made the playoffs last year as the seventh seed in the West and took the then-favorites Los Angeles Clippers to six games in their first round matchup. Luka Doncic was sensational during the regular season and Bubble, having one of the greatest sophomore seasons in NBA history and leading one of the greatest offenses as well.
Even though Luka is only 21-years-old and the team isn’t in their championship window, it wouldn’t harm them to make a move for a star in the trade market. After all, team owner Mark Cuban has already said he’s not afraid to do that, and Luka should have a team around him that could contend for a championship, seeing as he’s primed to be a perennial MVP candidate for this decade.
6. San Antonio Spurs
It was a great 20 years for the Spurs, who put together one of the greatest dynasties in professional sports history. Six finals appearances, five championships, 22 straight seasons in the playoffs, reaching the Western Conference Finals in 10 of those seasons. The best example of sustained greatness in NBA history.
But all good things must come to an end, and in this case it’s no different. The Spurs missed the playoffs last year for the first time under Gregg Popovich coaching a full season. Their best players are all over 30 years old, and they aren’t one of the many contending teams in the Western Conference. Their two main guys, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, have contracts that expire next year, and have been involved in trade rumors since the trade deadline of last season. Albeit they both have large contracts (LA has a $24 million salary for next year, while DeRozan has a $27 million player option), it would be foolish for no contending team to add a player of that talent (whichever of the pair it is) for some late round picks, and end up freeing up that cap space next year. San Antonio wouldn’t want to lose them for nothing next offseason, so I expect we see them playing in a different jersey come Dec. 22.
5. Golden State Warriors
As much as we’d like to think that the Warriors are back to being one of the great contenders in the league now that the Splash Brothers (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) and Draymond Green are healthy, the reality is that they’re missing the other half of what made them so great pre-Kevin Durant: a great supporting cast. After all, their “Strength in Numbers” motto isn’t only a punchline.
Besides having a unanimous MVP, a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and the third best shooter in NBA history on their team, what made the Warriors so great was the supporting cast around those guys: Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Harrison Barnes, Marreese Speights, Festus Ezeli, Ian Clark and Brandon Rush. With this current team, the Warriors don’t have any of those dependable veterans that can be trusted in big spots. Everyone besides their Big Three is 28 years old or younger (Damion Lee is the only player 28). They have no cap space besides the Mid-Level Exception for tax paying teams (around $5 million because they, along with Philly, are the teams that would spend the most money next season). Plus, these young guys had all the playing time in the world last season and, most of them, were inconsistent on the court. And when you take into consideration that Steph, Klay and Draymond are all over 30, their championship window is now. They’re already rumored to make a move with the second pick in the draft and, possibly, Andrew Wiggins.
This is not to say that the young guys they have on their squad can’t develop to be those dependable role players, but rather that they don’t fit in the timeline. I wouldn’t take the risk to see if they pan out and be a contender while also building for the future. They have as many options as anyone to add another star in their prime with their first round pick, and they could move other pieces to add guys to the bench.
4. Washington Wizards
The Wizards have been one of the biggest disappointments in the East for the past two seasons. They have a talented roster and great offense, but are unable to put together solid consistent defense. Bradley Beal was insane last year, having one of the greatest seasons ever for a player that wasn’t an All-Star with averages of 30.5pts/4.2reb/6.1ast/1.2stl on 45.5%/35%/84% shooting splits.
Even though they don’t have much cap space heading into next season (somewhere around $8 million), they improve with John Wall coming back for this season. If Wall, who was the second best player in the Eastern Conference before he was injured, comes back at, at least, 70 percent healthy of what he was in his prime, the Wizards are dangerous.
For Washington it should be more than just being dangerous. Wall and Beal are both locked in huge contracts that expire in 2022 (player option for the 2022-23 season), and both have been involved in trade rumors due to the team’s lack of success. At any point, one or both of them could want out. So for the Wizards, as crazy as it looks from a fan’s perspective, are playing for a championship. Anything below that expectation won’t sit right with their stars, and the current supporting cast they have isn’t cut out for that. The moves they make this offseason have to be centered to that goal.
3. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are in the worst spot any NBA team can be in: the middle of the pack. They’re good enough to compete but not be a contender, and they’re not bad enough to secure a great pick in the draft. And I hate it when a team needs to rebuild but don’t. Indiana is in that spot right now. For the past five seasons, the Pacers have been one of those dark horse teams that could beat one of the contenders in the East, but never really stand a chance to do so. Having fired Nate McMillan and signing Nate Bjorkgren, it’s time to embrace the rebuild. Victor Oladipo’s contract expires next season, and he’s already been involved in countless trade rumors, so trade him. Myles Turner has been underutilized since Domantas Sabonis arrived, and seeing how he’s staying because he got an extension and is coming off an all-star campaign, trade Turner. And don’t think about too much: here’s a trade that would send him to Boston. The Celtics get their center, the Pacers get a solid player that can help them right now, free up cap space moving forward and get picks. Everyone wins.
Rebuilding around Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. Warren should be the goal moving forward, while also having cap space for role players and good draft picks to use on selecting a player, getting more assets via trade or a star. Indy can’t go another year pretending to be good only to realize that they’re really not. They can avoid that. They just have to embrace the tank.
2. Houston Rockets
I would like to clarify that Houston was already in this spot before the mess of Wednesday happened, and Russell Westbrook’s trade request. The reasoning behind this was that they either had to add pieces to improve the roster with James Harden and Russ locked into big contracts and their championship window rapidly closing. That, or if they felt it was closed, then they had to move them. But now, the need to make moves becomes even more obvious.
Westbrook is obviously going to be moved, Austin Rivers is likely gone, P.J. Tucker should be moved if he doesn’t get a new contract and Eric Gordon should be moved if the eventual Westbrook deal doesn’t give him a larger role. These are things that are going to happen, but what’s still on the table is the James Harden situation. He said that he’s “locked in” heading into next season, but I wouldn’t bet on that entirely. Once the Rockets make moves and get rid of key pieces in the rotation, Harden might think otherwise.
Of course, if I’m Houston’s front office I don’t want that to happen. As long as James wants to be on the team, you get him the pieces necessary to contend. A player of his talent deserves to have the opportunity to contend every season. But, if he asks for a trade, it’s done. The championship window is closed until further notice, and it’s time to rebuild. What they do these next couple of weeks will affect the next decade of their team, for better or for worse.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
If Giannis Antetokounmpo signs the supermax extension the Bucks offer him in the next couple of weeks, then they can be removed from this list. However, since at the time of writing he hasn’t, then they’re under the most pressure to improve their roster. The Giannis sweepstakes will be a spectacle to watch in next year’s offseason (unless you’re a Bucks fan, of course) with every single team that has cap space eyeing the services of the two-time Most Valuable Player. For the past two seasons, the Bucks have underperformed in the postseason after locking up the best record in the league.
Giannis and his supporting cast need to step up in the later rounds of the playoffs, sure. But for them to have a better shot at winning, the ball is on the front office’s court to do something in these next few weeks, or they will be more likely to be seeing goodbye to their franchise player.
Agree with my picks? What team(s) do you think face the most pressure to make a move this offseason? Tweet me your thoughts!