The results of the NBA Finals came as a surprise to pretty much nobody. The Warriors asserted their league-wide dominance and whether their winning ways are fair or not, the race has begun to catch up to them. This NBA offseason should prove to be extremely interesting, given the big names that could be on the move. Here is a prediction for every team in the Eastern Conference in regards to how they will look to shake up their roster.
Toronto Raptors: I don’t think the Raptors are going to blow it up. Almost their entire roster that achieved the first seed in the Eastern Conference this past season will be returning next year, and there are simply too many positives to take away for them to make any drastic decisions. Their first priority will be looking to re-sign Fred VanFleet, who turned in an impressive performance in his second season. My prediction is that the Raptors will look to deal Serge Ibaka away in a move that will clear up much-needed cap space for a third star. Toronto’s window shrinks every year, with Kyle Lowry approaching the age of 33. After making room for a third man, I can see Toronto make a move for a young, promising power forward that would be effective in a small-ball lineup and could also potentially take the reins once they fall short of expectations again. Aaron Gordon fits the bill, but the Magic are likely to match any offer for the restricted free agent, so he should be staying put. Toronto will settle for Julius Randle.
Boston Celtics: Boston is more poised for future success than any other team in the NBA. With three all-star caliber players locked up for next season, two players on rookie deals who look like they could be future all-stars and Scary Terry, the Celtics have plenty of talent to ride with for next year. Their only two needs this summer are to re-sign defensive stud Marcus Smart, and to find themselves a center. Al Horford can slot himself into the 5 in small-ball lineups and will likely start at center when everyone is healthy, but a trustworthy natural big man is necessary in order to stack up against bigger opposing lineups. They could re-sign Greg Monroe or Aron Baynes, but will they ask for more money than the Celtics could afford? I can expect Smart to willingly take a pay-cut to stay with the squad, but man bun could seek a contract elsewhere for a more expanded role. You can bet that Danny Ainge will be making calls to New Orleans to inquire about Anthony Davis, but that would be tough to execute, and Ainge wouldn’t want to break up the chemistry of his current roster. A free agent like Brook Lopez fits in perfectly with this roster, as a veteran who could be willing to take less money in order to contend for a title.
Philadelphia 76ers: Here’s where things get interesting. Philly has a significant amount of cap space, as Joel Embiid is their only player on a major contract. With expiring contracts from three point shooters like JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli, the Sixers have two goals in free agency: to get a third star and to get some shooters. They’ll start with Will Barton, who can score from anywhere on the floor, but hasn’t been able to fully show it behind Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. They could also re-sign Belinelli, who won’t be too expensive, but could also look towards the services of Wayne Ellington, whose only skill seems to be shooting the ball. From there, Philly can splash some cash on a star. One player who I would love to see in a Sixers uniform is Isaiah Thomas. The man wants to get paid, but unfortunately timed injury concerns will likely limit his value on the market. Philly is a team that can afford to overpay him, and can also afford to make up for his size. Thomas’ shooting edge perfectly complements Ben Simmons’ desire to go the basket, and this could make for a perfect comeback story. Sorry Philly, but I think you’ll lose the LeBron sweepstakes. Fortunately, that likely leaves them some room to re-sign Simmons and keep him happy amidst some public internal drama.
New York Knicks: The Knicks are still regretting the obscene contract given to Joakim Noah in 2016, who turns 34 in February. His uselessness at this point in his career makes him a difficult trade candidate when such a big price tag is attached to his head, effectively limiting the Knicks’ options this offseason. The organization may have finally found its saving grace in David Fizdale, a head coach who exudes the type of energy that New York has been missing for a long time. Despite the enthusiasm that Fizdale has garnered from all around the league, there is only so much that the Knicks can do in Fizdale’s first year at the helm. They have a clear need for wing players, and the draft can help fix that, but this must be addressed in free agency as well. Enes Kanter has embraced life as a Knick and will surely opt into his player option, establishing a solid frontcourt with the unicorn. Depth at the guard position is promising, but a glaring lack of star power will limit their success. In an acquisition that makes New York much better for a price that won’t break the bank, I believe that the Knicks will trade for Kemba Walker and Nico Batum from the Charlotte Hornets. Walker enters his last year on a contract that pays him a bargain $12 million, and Charlotte also desperately hopes to get Batum’s lucrative deal off their books. This acquisition will likely come at the price of one of their young guards like Mudiay or Burke, along with a second player like Courtney Lee and their high draft pick. However, it sets the Knicks up as a team that could potentially progress quicker than expected. They’ll have to find a third team in the aforementioned trade to free up some cap space, but given that all goes according to plan, they should make a run at Jabari Parker. Despite being a restricted free agent, the Bucks likely won’t match a larger deal due to his injury concerns and Milwaukee’s other roster talent.
Brooklyn Nets: Oh, Brooklyn. The Nets finally have a pick in the first round this year, albeit outside of the lottery. This team is finally starting to show some promise, despite an injury hampered season in 2018. Brooklyn believes that they have found their center of the future in Jarrett Allen, and are close to finalizing a deal for Dwight Howard and to get Mozgov off of their books. Their backcourt looks solid with Lin returning from early injury and D’Angelo Russell coming back on a bargain contract. The team will continue trying to groom young talent as they will likely strike out with bigger free agents on the open market. Dante Exum and Mario Hezonja come to mind as two free agents who could look to continue their development in Brooklyn.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Given LeBron’s recent frustrations with the Cavs, Cleveland likely won’t retain him next year. He has become too aggravated with too much of the organization, from owner to roster. This will trigger a rebuild, which will also send Kevin Love on his way. The Utah Jazz are a likely suitor, who are looking to beef up their roster with another star to compete with what looks like an extremely promising future. Cleveland will be looking to get a few first round picks in return, to go along with an Alec Burks contract and change. A third team might need to be brought in for the value to equal out, but this kind of a trade makes perfect sense for both teams. Look for the Cavs to try acquiring star potential in this upcoming draft to prepare for life without the king.
Indiana Pacers: Indiana wants to capitalize on the young talent that they managed to steal from under Oklahoma City’s nose in Oladipo and Sabonis, along with a modern big man in Myles Turner who is just waiting to come into his own. Their frontcourt seems set, and for cheap, to boot. The biggest decision that will dictate the Pacers’ offseason is Thaddeus Young’s decision on whether to opt into his player option for next season. His deal would be for $13 million, which is likely more than he would garner on the free market. However, if Young is looking for a long-term deal, he may want to decline the option to try to muscle out a deal with another team for $10-11 million per year. Ultimately, I think that Young will decide to stay in Indy, where he served as team captain and enjoyed a successful season as a team. Look for Indy to add a scoring punch to their roster to top it off, and someone like Rodney Hood or Rudy Gay should do the trick.
Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks desperately need to improve their frontcourt, and could especially benefit from a center with the presence that Thon Maker’s lanky frame lacks. With limited assets, Milwaukee will look for a veteran big man through trading, and will find one in Marcin Gortat. The Polish hammer could be acquired in a trade involving John Henson, and would mutually benefit both teams. From there, the Bucks will look for a faceup four man to space the floor in an offense geared around the Greek Freak. They’ll find their man in Ersan Ilyasova, whose versatility becomes more sought after as he progresses through his career. The Bucks will be looking for Eric Bledsoe to gel into the team better than he did last season, as he begins a contract year that will define his future.
Detroit Pistons: Detroit is looking to move in a new direction in hiring Dwayne Casey has their new head coach. With a solidified frontcourt for years to come, they will desperately be trying to make their time with Griffin and Drummond count. Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder fits the Pistons’ mold perfectly, with a fairly priced long-term contract. Schroder doesn’t want to be part of a rebuilding project, but will struggle to find a starting role on a higher level contender. A deal involving Schroder for Reggie Jackson and Stanley Johnson could be enough to tip the scales for Detroit, and position them with a “big three” for at least the next three years.
Chicago Bulls: The Bulls have the potential to be one of the most interesting teams in free agency this year. They should match any max offer sheet made to Zach LaVine, and they should be looking to continue developing Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn. Chicago has the assets to make big moves in the offseason, but their lack of contention makes it hard for a marquee player to commit to the city long-term. I can see Chicago giving Jusuf Nurkic an offer he can’t refuse. The big man is a restricted free agent, but given Portland’s recent history of giving big money to the wrong players, they will be keen to avoid any such mistakes, paving the way for the young seven-footer to establish a European frontcourt in Chicago. The Bulls will also look into trading guys like Robin Lopez, Omer Asik and Cristiano Felicio in exchange for draft picks and future assets.
Miami Heat: The Heat find themselves in a precarious situation, given that they owe their players more money in 2018-2019 than any other team. This scenario is centered on Hassan Whiteside, who continues to decline, despite the fact that he is due to make $25 million next year. Tyler Johnson is also owed $19 million, and Chris Bosh is still owed almost $27 million. It may be time for the Heat to start tanking, but that’s just not their style. Miami will find it extremely difficult to find someone willing to take Whiteside’s salary, but they could ultimately find a suitor within their division in the Orlando Magic. Some of Orlando’s best times as a franchise has come through prolific big men, and while Whiteside is no Shaq or Dwight in his prime, he could be the next in line. The Heat will likely take Bismack Biyombo’s lucrative but less expensive salary in return, to go along with a player like Shelvin Mack.
Washington Wizards: The Wizards are the Trailblazers of the east. They’ve definitely been overlooked by fans and media as an attractive destination for players, and I don’t think they’ll be overlooked anymore after this offseason. Our nation’s capital will look to follow in the footsteps of their hockey brethren and become championship contenders, and will do so by acquiring DeMarcus Cousins in free agency. I’ve touched on this in a past article, but Cousins would make a perfect combination with the backcourt of Wall and Beal, especially given that he played with Wall in college. In order to make this happen, Washington will send Marcin Gortat to Milwaukee and try to find a trade suitor for Ian Mahinmi. It seems that Kelly Oubre will have to be traded along with Mahinmi in order for any deal to be worth making for opposing teams, but a promising young sixth man is a small price to pay for a game-changing player like Cousins. It’s going to be an interesting year in Washington.
Charlotte Hornets: Charlotte is absolutely entering tank mode. Recent reports have confirmed that Dwight Howard is heading to Brooklyn, and they will surely be looking to offload Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams as well. Kemba Walker will surely be shipped off in exchange for considerable assets, and the Hornets will be poised to be the worst team in the NBA and acquire the number one overall pick. I can see the Hornets dealing away Walker and Batum to the Knicks, in exchange for Emmanuel Mudiay or Trey Burke, Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr., and their first round pick. This would give New Orleans picks nine and eleven in the first round this year, setting them up to draft two players that could help position them for the future (my picks are Sexton and Knox). Michael Jordan’s team has been mediocre for too long and dealing Walker and Batum would give them the opportunity to give younger guys on their roster a bigger opportunity to make their impact. Expect a highly improved season from Malik Monk.
Orlando Magic: Orlando has realized that Jonathan Isaac is a project, and will recruit Hassan Whiteside as beatable competition for him while he’s developing. They’ll also look to throw a max deal at Aaron Gordon, who will surely attract interest on the free agent market but will stay with Orlando due to being an RFA. The Whiteside acquisition will rid them of Bismack Biyombo’s ugly contract, and they will continue to move around their big men in looking for a Nikola Vucevic trade. This underrated big man puts up nice numbers in addition to having a three-point shot, all under an affordable contract. They’ll send him somewhere in exchange for future draft picks and young assets, as they continue to rework their roster. Look for the Magic to draft Trae Young in a move that could potentially make them a playoff contender in the East faster than people may have expected. Their starting five would look like: Young, Fournier, Simmons/Ross, Gordon, Whiteside. That starting five won’t make the NBA finals, but given that Young breaks out and that Isaac starts coming into his own, there would definitely be reason to be optimistic.
Atlanta Hawks: Atlanta will contend with Charlotte next year for the worst record in the east. They did tanking right last season in their first year out of the playoffs in over ten years. Dennis Schroder, the only bright light on the team other than John Collins, will be sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Reggie Jackson and Stanley Johnson. They’ve been waiting for Kent Bazemore to pan out forever, but they’ll have enough space to keep him on the roster. I could see them offering big money to Montrezl Harrell of the Clippers, who still shows tons of potential at a young age. Despite being a RFA, not many other teams have the same amount of cap space that the Hawks have. Look for Atlanta to try to acquire more picks in the draft.