By: Justin Lynch
This is my second annual best and worst situations in the NBA. As always, we exclude the very best teams (Cleveland, Golden State, San Antonio) and the very worst (Brooklyn).
You can hate on The Process all you want, but most teams would trade their current situation to be in Philly’s shoes right now. Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric will make their NBA debuts, as Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel continue to grow. Timothe Luwawu will get the playing time to develop, as Furkan Korkmaz waits overseas.
And the thing that everyone is forgetting is that the 76ers are going to stink again this season. In what many are calling the best draft in a decade, the 76ers will again land a top pick, if not the top pick itself. They also have the Lakers pick top-3 protected.
This means the 76ers, with all the talent I just named may add two more top-5 picks to the mix. Can you imagine that roster with Josh Jackson and De’Aaron Fox? Or what about a starting five of Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Frank Ntilikina, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid? And then in 2018 the 76ers have the Kings unprotected first round pick.
If the 76ers don’t already have the most assets and potential now, they certainly will after this season, and though they may win 20 games this year, they are still one of the league’s best current situations.
With a slew of promising players on rookie contracts, it’s all about assets in Denver. They have the youngsters to deal if a star were to ever come available, they have the veterans to land more young talent or draft picks, and they have draft picks themselves. Beyond their own likely lottery pick, the Nuggets own the Grizzlies 2017 selection (top-5 protected).
This means Denver will likely add two more top 15 selections to a young core featuring Nikola Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, Jusuf Nurkic, Juan Hernangomez, and Gary Harris. The commitment to this youth would be enhanced by trading Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, or Danilo Gallinari.
Gallinari has, by far, the most trade value of the three, and could land the Nuggets another real piece or draft pick. Would Boston part with Marcus Smart for two years of Gallinari? Maybe not, but that is the level of player Gallinari could garner if their trade partner is desperate. Trading Faried and Chandler would add little more than a late first-round pick, but it would open up minutes to help the next generation grow together.
The Nuggets issue, since trading Carmelo Anthony, has been acquiring a star. They haven’t drafted high enough in the draft and no stars are considering Denver in free agency, though the run Denver made at Dwyane Wade is a step in the right direction. Emmanuel Mudiay was their best shot, and Jokic has been stellar in his young career, but neither will be superstars.
If things break right, however, they could land one in next year’s deep draft. Even if they don’t, the Nuggets have the assets to compete with anyone’s offer for the next star, including Boston. They reportedly turned down a deal for Blake Griffin last year, showing just how high their assets are valued league-wide.
With no bad contracts and a variety of players to deal, the Nuggets need to mix the right amount of patience with aggressiveness in finding a star. Worst case scenario, this team makes a leap and resigns everyone after their rookie deals expire, Trail Blazers-style. Best case scenario is they land a young star without parting with Mudiay, Murray, Jokic, or future first round picks. The Nuggets need to be included in conversations about the future of the West, alongside Minnesota and Phoenix.
Minnesota has gotten a ton of attention lately, and for good reason. Karl-Anthony Towns may be the best player under 22 years old in the NBA, and Andrew Wiggins isn’t far behind. They hit on later picks Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, and Shabazz Muhammad, and now have depth at point guard with Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones showing promise.
With Tom Thibodeau at the helm, this team only projects to improve even more. Thibs will mold a team featuring willing and solid defenders into a force on that end of the floor. The signings of Jordan Hill and Cole Aldrich cramp things down low, with Towns, Dieng, Payne, Bjelica, and Garnett (if he comes back) already in place. But that is in the short run, and those are solid players on good contracts.
Minnesota has the attitude, the coaching, and the talent to be a force in the West for years to come. They may not be a postseason team this year, but nearly everyone would swap places with them at this point.
Honorable Mentions: Utah, Milwaukee, Detroit
After a busy offseason, the Grizzlies future now rests in three players on max deals. Player one is Marc Gasol, a 31-year-old center with four years left on his deal, who missed half of last season due to a broken foot. Player two is Mike Conley, a career 13-6 guy who will be 29 years old by opening night. Player three is Chandler Parsons, 28 years old by the start of the season, who has a bad injury history.
All three are productive players, but none are players I feel great about in their current circumstances. The rest of the team is filled with aging vets (Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Vince Carter) and young players trying to find their way. The draft netted them Wade Baldwin and Deyonta Davis, but it seems neither will get the playing time they need to develop.
The Grizzlies will be solid, but the won’t be near contention, and they gave away their first round pick this year (Denver, top-5 protected) and in 2019 (Boston, top-6 protected). Now capped out and with no first rounders, the Grizzlies only hope would be to trade for more talent, but they simply don’t have the assets.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have been so good in the recent past it’s tough to think of them in this category. But they are facing the free agency of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and J. J. Redick following this season, and potentially DeAndre Jordan the next. The only guys locked up beyond 2017-18 are Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson, and Jamal Crawford, not exactly an enticing future.
They are saddled with veterans on their bench including Paul Pierce, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Marreese Speights, and their only youngsters are second round picks Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone, who happen to play the same position.
The Clippers big three cannot win together, and after they fall in round two or three of this year’s playoffs, they have tough decisions to make. Obviously, you want to try to bring back Paul, Griffin, and Redick, but that would mean doling out max deals to Paul and Griffin, and at least $20 million per year for Redick. Paul will be 32 next summer and Redick will be 33.
These moves would blast the Clippers past a luxury tax line they are already scheduled to cross. Steve Ballmer has no problem paying that tax, but it restricts the Clippers ability to upgrade beyond their top four. The draft will not be an option as their pick heads to Toronto should the Clippers qualify for postseason play, as they most certainly will do.
They could try to trade each of Paul, Griffin, and Redick during the season, but they likely wouldn’t get much back for a rental of J. J. Redick, and there is no guarantee Paul or Griffin guys will resign anywhere either, further dipping their trade value.
Of course, when you have stars like Griffin and Paul you always have options. A Blake Griffin for C. J. McCollum swap may be fun, and Boston will be in the mix as well. But can GM Doc get the most for his assets before time runs out? What do you think.
After a surprise season, the Hornets were right to lock up Marvin Williams and Nic Batum. Those two with Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist round out their core for at least the next three years. The issue is that, barring an MKG rise to all-star levels, this team isn’t talented enough to compete with the big dogs of the East.
The first issue is down low. Roy Hibbert joins top-10 picks Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky to round out a sorry front line. Cody Zeller is a fine bench player, but will never live up to his draft stock, and Kaminsky projects to be solid, but will never be worth the four first rounders Charlotte turned down from Boston to draft him. Hibbert spent last season toiling away on the Lakers (I think, are we sure Hibbert played in the NBA last season?), and is a step in the wrong direction for the Hornets pace-and-space, three point shooting offense that brought them success last year.
The rest of their bench is pretty mediocre, outside of Ramon Sessions, who they snagged on a solid 1+1 deal late in free agency. The Hornets are capped out for the remainder of Kemba Walker’s contract, and don’t have the assets to improve. They outperformed expectations last season, and may regress to .500 this year (if not worse) in an improved Eastern conference.
In an uber-deep draft, the Hornets may be able to get a solid asset in the mid-teens, but do you trust that front office drafting? Last year was fun, but look for a plateau, if not a drop off, with no way of climbing back up.