An NBA Offseason Guide: The Southeast Division
Well the 2014-2015 NBA season has come to an end which means one thing: it’s time to look forward to the 2015 NBA offseason. This year sees many teams facing an uncertain future and the moves they make in the next few months will shape the outlook of the league for the next few years. Of course you could have written the preceding sentence about any offseason in the past decade or so. But every NBA offseason brings a certain level of excitement, it presents the chance for teams who underachieved to hit the reset button and it allows crazy owners to make crazy trades and dish out mind boggling contracts. Its a time for players to bet on themselves and turn down relatively large contracts (looking at you Jimmy Butler). This guide will look at the entire NBA by division by team giving you a comprehensive breakdown on what teams may be looking for this July. Today we will be looking at the Southeast division.
2014-2015 Record: 60-22, 1st in the Eastern Conference.
Free Agents: Paul Millsap (UFA), Demarre Carroll (UFA), Pero Antic (RFA), Elton Brand (UFA), John Jenkins (UFA).
This season the Hawks have managed to go from perpetual mid tier Eastern Conference team to scary finals threat. Of course they were swept out of the Eastern Conference Finals by Lebron James and the Cavs, but there’s no shame in losing to Lebron. This offseason newly promoted Mike Budenholzer and general manager Wes Wilcox need to decide if this group of players is worth bringing back. Paul Millsap is headed for free agency and is due for a raise. Millsap’s versatility on offense was a big reason for the Hawks success this season and would be a difficult player to replace. There simply aren’t many power forwards who hit outside jumpers, drive, rebound, and defend. Of course if the front office decides this team isn’t worth bringing back they could let Millsap walk, sign a placeholder and start the tanking process. But the Hawks play in the east, the conference where half of the teams are going to either try for a high lottery pick, or aren’t good enough to make the playoffs. Atlanta’s not bad enough to tank, but they might also not be good enough to contend for a title next year. The Hawks have been on this treadmill of mediocrity for years and haven’t found a way out. Really their best bet to land a superstar player is with one the picks Brooklyn has to swap with them. However that’s a gamble and even if they get a high pick, the player may not pan out. They could also try to land a big name in free agency or through a trade. Atlanta’s best move this offseason may be to retain Demarre Carroll and Paul Millsap in free agency and try to contend again next year. This is a pretty talented, well coached squad that can still contend for homecourt advantage in the playoffs. That being said there are some upgrades that could made to improve the roster.
The Hawks don’t have much in the way of frontcourt depth behind Horford and Millsap. Currently their best backup center is Pero Antic, who is a serviceable stretch center, but doesn’t offer much in the way of rim protection. He also may be facing some legal issues after the incident in New York earlier this year. Mike Scott and Mike Muscala were also employed off the bench for the Hawks, but they also can’t defend the paint. The Hawks could be interest in rim protectors such as Omer Asik, Bismack Biyombo, or Tyson Chandler. Of those three only Chandler and Asik are unrestricted free agents, and neither would be a great fit for Atlanta. Chandler would probably want to start, leaving either Horford or Millsap out of the starting lineup, killing Atlanta’s floor spacing. Asik may be coaxed into coming off the bench and playing a role similar to the one he played in Chicago three years ago, but he’s essentially a minus on offense. The Hawks could also look into Kosta Koufos, another competent backup center. Budenholzer and Wilcox may also look to bolster the team’s depth on the wing. Thabo Sefolosha’s injury leaves Atlanta short a perimeter defender. This weakness showed itself in the Eastern Conference finals with Carroll limited by an ankle injury. With no one else to try to limit Lebron he had his way with the Hawks, leading to a sweep. Sefolosha looks to rehab his injury and return, it also sounds like the Hawks plan on bringing back Carroll. This helps out with Atlanta’s depth on the wing, but they could use some help. Jae Crowder is a restricted free agent and would bring added defense, although he did shoot a pretty paltry 28% from three with the Celtics. The Hawks also have the rights to swap picks with the Nets, meaning they currently hold the 15th pick in the draft. Kelly Oubre, Bobby Portis, Trey Lyles, Kevon Looney and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are possibilities at this slot. Oubre and Hollis-Jefferson would give the Hawks a nice dose of athleticism on the wing while Portis, Lyles, and Looney could give them a boost in the frontcourt. Given how talented the Hawks are they can take whichever player they think is the most talented.
2014-2015 Record: 33-49, missed the playoffs.
Free Agents: Bismack Biyombo (RFA), Gerald Henderson (UFA), Jason Maxiell (UFA), Jeff Taylor (RFA), Mo Williams (UFA).
The Charlotte Hornets aren’t the Bobcats anymore, but they’re still a mess. They have no shooting, little shot blocking, and lack perimeter play making. Kemba Walker is a nice point guard, but has trouble shooting, isn’t a great facilitator, and is coming off a season where he shot 38% from the field. Cody Zeller has made some strides as a player and could emerge as a role player for the Hornets. Noah Vonleh had a tough rookie season, but looked like he could be a rebounder in the league. Al Jefferson has opted in for next season so at least their best post scorer is coming back, but the pieces surrounding him aren’t a great fit. Of the players in the starting lineup only Marvin Williams is an average three point shooter at 35%. No other player that plays regular minutes for the Hornets shoots a remotely respectable percentage. None of the Hornet’s perimeter players with the exception of Troy Daniels, boasts a 3 point percentage higher than 33%. However Daniels is a complete minus on defense and doesn’t do much more than shoot the ball. Which brings us to Charlotte’s other issue regarding playmakers on the perimeter. Right now, Kemba Walker is the only player on the current roster that qualifies as a playmaker/facilitator. The only other player averaging more than 1 assist are Gerald Henderson and Brian Roberts. Of those three Walker is the only one capable of breaking down the defense off the dribble. He’s also done a good job of cutting down on his turnovers averaging 1.6 this year vs 2.3 the year before. However they could use another ball handler on the perimeter who could help out with playmaking and shooting. Lance Stephenson was supposed to be that guy, but he flamed out and will play for the Clippers next season. This offseason coach Steve Clifford needs to shore up his bench and figure out what he is going to do on the wing if Charlotte wants to be back in the playoffs.
The front office needs to prioritize wing shooting. The combination of Gerald Henderson (33% from three) and Michael Kidd Gilchrist (didn’t attempt a three this season), while solid defensively, absolutely destroyed Charlotte’s floor spacing. This makes it a lot harder for Big Al to post up and for Kemba to run pick and roll from anywhere on the floor. Henderson is a capable mid range shooter, but teams aren’t afraid to help off of him. The same obviously goes for Kidd Gilchrist. Both of these players have learned to make sneaky back door cuts when their man helps off of them, but this strategy isn’t as effective as being able to hit a corner three. Charlotte may let Henderson walk in favor of trying to find a wing that can shoot. Arron Afflalo, Demarre Carroll, and Danny Green are all solid options for the 3 and D player. They could also try to look for a stretch power forward, Anthony Tolliver is available and shoots 35% from three for his career. Khris Middleton and Tobias Harris are two other restricted free agents that may interest Charlotte. Although both are really more wing players than power forwards they do have experience playing the position. Both are also good 3 point shooters, although Middleton is a lot better than Harris in that regard. However they are only restricted free agents and Milwaukee will probably match any offer given to Middleton. For the right amount of money the Magic might let Harris walk, but that amount may be more than the Hornets are willing to pay. The Hornets also drafted power forwards in back to back drafts. They might be better off hoping ether Noah Vonleh or Cody Zeller develops into a starting forward. In this year’s draft look for Charlotte to take a wing player who can shoot. Devin Booker, one of the better shooters in this draft will be available to the Hornets at the 9 slot. Stanley Johnson and Sam Dekker may also get looks if they fall to the Hornets.
2014-2015 Record: 37-45, missed the playoffs.
Free Agents: Goran Dragic (UFA), Michael Beasley (UFA), Luol Deng (UFA), Dwyane Wade (UFA).
The Miami Heat are a reminder of how fickle this league can be. Last year Pat Riley was simply looking for role players to surround his big three of Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, and Chris Bosh in order to contend for a title. This year, he has to convince Wade, his main star, to stay in Miami, the only franchise Wade has known in his 12 years in the league. It is rumored that there is currently a rift between Wade and Pat Riley regarding the amount Wade will be paid next season. Wade took a paycut for this season so the Heat could re-sign Lebron and bring in more help to compete with the likes of the Spurs. However Lebron didn’t come back and Riley’s idea of help was bringing in a beat up Luol Deng. He also has to find a way to re-sign Goran Dragic, a player for which he gave away two future 1st rounders. However Dragic is reportedly looking for a max contract and he didn’t exactly play like a max player. During his time in Miami Dragic posted averages of 16 points, 5 assists, and a steal per game. Miami was hoping that once freed from Phoenix’s three point guard system Dragic would play more like his 2013-2014 self (averages of 20 points and 5 assists). He could very well return to that player if he is given more reps in Miami’s offensive system, but Miami may balk at the idea of having to pay both Dragic and Wade big money. Regardless Dragic remains a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands, which is something Miami could use. Of course part of the reason for the Heat’s fall this season can be traced back to the health of Chris Bosh. Bosh only played 44 games this season, missing 8 games due to a calf strain and 30 games due to a blood clot found in his lung. However he was arguably Miami’s best player, averaging 21 points, 7 boards, and 2 assists. If he can come back healthy and Riley finds a way to bring back Dragic and Wade, there is no reason Miami can’t compete for a playoff spot next year. However this is assuming Riley can find a way to bring back both Dragic and Wade. If he is only able to bring back one or the other, Miami is going to be severely lacking in offensive talent on the perimeter.
Miami’s best plan of attack is to find a way to bring back Wade and Dragic, then hope Bosh is going to be healthy for the next season. Of course the easiest way for this to happen is if Dragic and Wade both opt in. A core of Bosh, Wade, Dragic with a center like Hassan Whiteside is a pretty potent core. There is no news yet if Luol Deng is going to opt in to his contract. If he does that is yet another large contract that will be tacked onto the Heat’s payroll, limiting their ability to go after free agents. If Deng does opt in he’ll at least give them defense on the wing and a little bit of shooting. However, Miami will still be short a bench should Deng, Wade, and Dragic come back. But looking at the available free agents it’s not clear who Miami would be able to grab at the right price. They could shoot for Marco Belinelli or Gerald Green, but both may find themselves being offered contracts that are much more lucrative than what Miami can offer. Which leaves Miami with trying to find help in the draft. Miami owns the 10th pick in the draft and have a few options. Currently Chad Ford has the Heat drafting Stanley Johnson, an athletic wing who could develop into a solid two way player. Sam Dekker could also fall to them and Frank Kaminsky might not be out of play for Miami. However given Miami’s need on the wing I would expect them to try for one of the available guards or forwards at the 10th pick.
2014-2015 Record: 25-57, missed the playoffs.
Free Agents: Willie Green (UFA), Tobias Harris (RFA), Kyle O’Quinn (RFA).
The Orlando Magic are going to be better next year. Or at least in theory they should be better. Victor Oladipo took a step forward this year, especially after the all star break. The second year shooting guard posted averages of 17 points, 4 boards, and 4 assists on the season. After the all star break Oladipo increased his scoring output to 20 points per game. Elfrid Payton performed splendidly in his rookie averaging 8 points, 4 boards, 6 assists, and a steal per game. His season included a stretch in which he put up two consecutive triple doubles and averaged 13 points, 5 boards, and 8 assists over the month of March. Payton’s shooting is pretty spotty (26% from three), but overall he looks like he can be a good NBA point guard. Tobias Harris (17 points, 6 boards) and Nikola Vucevic (19 points, 10 boards) both turned in solid seasons. But Harris is a restricted free agent and may receive a rather large payday for his performances in Orlando. The Magic have to decide whether or not they are going to retain Harris’ services regardless of the types of contracts he could command from other teams. Harris is a nice player, but he’s not a franchise changer and he probably tops out as a borderline all star. Overall the Magic have some nice pieces they just need to find a way to make them all fit. The Magic are banking on new head coach Scott Skiles being the coach who can create a cohesive team identity out of all of these scattered parts. Of course that is easier said than done. The team lacks a paint protector and is limited in terms of shooting. Payton as we addressed earlier is a poor shooter from three, so is Oladipo (33% from three). Payton and Oladipo both thrive on their driving ability, but if Payton and Oladipo can’t shoot then that gums up each other’s drives. Channing Frye, Ben Gordon, Tobias Harris, and, Evan Fournier are all above average shooters, but none are really deadly enough to inspire fear in the opposing team. This futrher restricts the amount of space Payton and Oladipo have to drive. It also doesn’t help that Oladipo and Payton impede their own driving ability by being unable to hit threes if the defender goes under the screen. If Payton and Oladipo are unable to drive it limits the chances they have to create open shots for their teammates. Oladipo and Payton either have to become better shooters or find a way to compensate for their lack of shooting in order for the Magic to improve.
Orlando’s free agency plans revolve around whether or not they decide to bring back Tobias Harris. If they decide to let him walk in free agency there aren’t many wings in free agency that are capable of replacing his scoring and rebounding production. They may look to sign a young guy like Gerald Green who could give them three point shooting and athleticism on the wing. They may also want to try to sign either Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler to an offer sheet and dare San Antonio and Chicago to match. But outside of those two there aren’t many free agents that, in theory, would interest Orlando. However they may want to try to find a power forward. Right now the Magic’s power forward rotation is a mess. Five different players received minutes at the power forward position. The two names that really stand out are Channing Frye and Aaron Gordon. Frye is stretch four whose specialty is the pick and pop. Gordon was the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft and is a hyper athletic big man who can run the floor. Gordon was limited this season due to injury and only played in 47 games and 797 minutes. He may be the Magic’s power forward of the future, but management may want to find a veteran to hold down the fort in the starting lineup and bring Gordon off the bench. But there aren’t a ton of power forwards that would fit this Orlando team. They might be interested in someone like Brandon Bass for the purposes of having a veteran and defense, but he’s really old and Frye can fill the role of veteran role player. Or the Magic could also go with Chris Copeland or Amir Johnson. Johnson has the reputation for being a good screen setter and a player who can hit the occasional outside shot. Copeland is a combo forward who could serve as another floor spacing power forward to backup Channing Frye. However if the front office think Frye and Gordon will be able to stay healthy next year there may not be any need to find another power forward. Instead expect Orlando to try to fill their roster needs via the draft. Chad Ford has the Magic taking Mario Hezonja at the fifth overall pick, but they have also been linked to Justise Winslow in various draft rumors for months. Either way it seems that Orlando will target a wing. Either Winslow or Hezonja would be a good fit for Orlando. Hezonja is the better ball handler at this point and maybe the better shooter as well. Both are pretty athletic and would be a great fit for this Orlando squad. It would also solve their lack of wing depth regardless of whether or not Tobias Harris remains with the team.
2014-2015 Record: 46-36, 5th in the Eastern Conference.
Free Agents: Rasual Butler (UFA), Will Bynum (UFA), Drew Gooden (UFA), Paul Pierce (UFA), Kevin Seraphin (UFA), Garett Temple (UFA).
The Washington Wizards went through something of a roller coaster this season. They started out hot, initially racing out to a top four seed in the east and were a trendy pick to upset either Chicago or Cleveland in the playoffs. Then they cooled off and had a tough time beating even the lowliest of Eastern Conference opponents. It was thought the series would be close and some even thought Toronto was the superior team. The Wizards wound up beating the Raptors in a sweep and almost beat the Hawks, eventually losing 4-2. If John Wall wasn’t injured during the series vs the Hawks we may be talking about how well the Wizards matched up against the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals. If there’s one thing the playoffs proved as long John Wall’s surrounded by shooters, you’ve got a shot at winning. They also proved that when Bradley Beal is playing out of his mind alongside John Wall, that backcourt might actually be the best in the NBA. In the regular season Beal posted solid, but somewhat disappointing averages of 15 points, 3 assists, and a steal. These aren’t terrible numbers by any means, but more was expected from Beal’s third year. In post season Beal boosted these numbers to 23 points and 4 assists per game. Washington is probably be better of with Beal as the designated scorer and the Wall the guy who gets everyone involved. If Beal can build off of his performance this offseason (have you heard this before?) and continue to improve then the Wizards can be a legitimate finals threat next year. However that’s assuming they can figure out what to do with their frontcourt. They recently just signed Marcin Gortat to a rather large 5 year contract worth over 50 million. The team also has Nene under contract through next year and may seek to trade him for a stretch four. Randy Wittman has been committed to the Gortat-Nene starting duo, but they are probably better off with shooting at the power forward position. Of course they could also try Otto Porter at power forward in a small ball lineup. According to basketball-reference.com Porter spent approximately half of his time on the court at the power forward spot for the Wizards. He’s a little small for the position, but there aren’t too many forwards in the league that could give him a problem. This would give the Wizards to run spread pick and roll with John Wall running the show. That is a devastating weapon.
However playing Porter primarily at power forward would kill their wing depth and the incumbent starting small forward, Paul Pierce, may not return for next season. Martell Webster is under contract, but he’s the only other starting small forward slotted to return next year. Gerald Green should get some looks from the front office, so should Demarre Carroll. Both would bring shooting on the wing as well as some defense, Carroll of course more so than Green. If Luol Deng opts out he could work as a combo forward for Washington. Deng is an average three point shooter at best, but if you play him at power forward instead of small forward, he becomes more of a threat from distance. Thaddeus Young and Mirza Teletovic are a couple of other forwards that will warrant a look from Ernie Grunfeld. According to Chad Ford the Wizards are looking to draft one of Kevon Looney, Bobby Portis, or Trey Lyles. All three are power forwards who are fairly athletic and may be able to hit outside jumpers at some point in their career. They may also look to draft a wing like Sam Dekker if he winds up falling that far, or someone like Kelly Oubre. As I mentioned earlier they do have a need for wing players given the possibility of Paul Pierce’s departure. But there are enough forwards in free agency that the front office may feel comfortable taking a big man with their pick if they don’t love any of the wings available to them at 19.