From the title-winning Warriors to the league-worst 76ers, each NBA team has issues it must address before the next season arrives. With that in mind and the 2015 NBA draft rapidly approaching, SI.com's Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney break down the off-season needs for all 30 teams ahead of Thursday night's events.
Team needs: Shot-creator, wing depth, rebounding
Picks: 15, 50, 59
2014-15 results: 60-22, lost in conference finals
The East’s only 60-win team crumbled in the conference finals, as injuries and the postseason’s slow pace combined to sabotage Atlanta’s exciting attack. A humbling sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers revealed or confirmed numerous areas that need improvement. The Hawks would welcome another backcourt-initiator to complement All-Star point guard Jeff Teague and they need another defensive-minded presence in their group of wings. A frontcourt that ranked No. 27 in rebound rate could also use a dirty-working type when bigger teams try to pound Atlanta out of its preferred spread look.
Do-everything power forward Paul Millsap and lead perimeter defender DeMarre Carroll are both on track for big bucks in free agency. Atlanta is well-positioned to make competitive offers to both players, but the loss of either would be a serious blow. Targeting NBA-ready forward prospects capable of giving minutes behind Millsap and Carroll, or stepping into a larger role if either player leaves, would be a sensible approach. The Hawks are in a good position to add a contributor thanks to a pick-swap with Brooklyn that moved Atlanta up from No. 29 to No. 15 in the order. — B.G.
Team needs: Rim-protection, alpha scorer, perimeter shooting
Picks: 16, 28, 33, 45
2014-15 results: 40-42, lost in first round
Although coach Brad Stevens coaxed an above-average defense out of a young Celtics roster that lost key veterans (Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green) in midseason trades, the interior personnel must significantly improve if Boston is going to make the leap from mediocre to dangerous. This team needs a true center in the worst way: both Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk are capable of giving minutes, but neither strikes much fear in the hearts of opposing drivers.
Offensively, Boston has assembled some capable supporting pieces but still lacks a foundational scorer. Finding a player in the draft who is ready to fill that role from day one can be difficult, and president Danny Ainge will surely be active in shopping his stockpile of excess draft picks in various trade scenarios. A more attainable fix: shoring up Boston’s perimeter shooting issues. The Celtics ranked No. 27 in three-point percentage while launching more than 2,000 three-pointers last season. Adding a knockdown shooter would help space the court around guards Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley. — B.G.
Team needs: Point guard, interior length, perimeter shooting
Picks: 29, 41
2014-15 results: 38-44, lost in first round
It would take two or three top-five picks to reinvigorate a Nets franchise that has slumped in recent years. Instead, Brooklyn will begin to address a roster full of holes with the No. 29 selection, after being forced to send the No. 15 selection to Atlanta in a pick swap. The offseason overhaul should begin with finding a point guard who can eventually take the reins from Deron Williams, who at age 30 just completed his third straight season in decline. That floor general of the future will need to boost a below-average offense that is lacking in both play-making and dependable shooters on the wings.
To be blunt, help is needed across the board, and beggars really can’t be choosers. The closest thing the Nets have to a franchise player is center Brook Lopez, whose ongoing foot injuries make him something of a question mark. In a best-case scenario, Brooklyn will bring back both Lopez and power forward Thaddeus Young, which would still leave coach Lionel Hollins without a standout low-post presence on defense. Given these various roster shortcomings, perhaps Brooklyn’s biggest draft need is patience, and lots of it. — B.G.
Team needs: Shooting, backcourt playmaker, back-up ball-handler
Picks: 9, 39
2014-15 results: 33-49, missed playoffs
Three-point shooting has never been more coveted in the NBA than it is right now, and no team needs to upgrade its perimeter firepower more than the Hornets. Starting point guard Kemba Walker is prone to poor (and forced) shot selection, starting small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist totally lacks range on his jumper, and there isn’t anyone else on the roster picking up the slack. Charlotte ranked dead last by shooting just 31.8% on three-pointers last season and its offense, in turn, ranked No. 28, topping only the league’s two most blatant tankers: New York and Philadelphia.
In addition to a floor-spacer, the Hornets now finds themselves down a play-maker after dumping Lance Stephenson to the Clippers in a June trade. As is, Walker and center Al Jefferson have little help in carrying the offensive load, which has been a poor recipe in recent years. In the event that vagabond back-up guard Mo Williams finds a new home in the offseason, GM Rich Cho will also need to find a third guard who is capable of running the offense. — B.G.
Team needs: Wing depth, point guard depth
2014-15 results: 50-32, lost in conference semifinals
The hiring of Fred Hoiberg as coach might very well lead to strategic adjustments and shifting rotations for the Bulls, but the guts of a veteran roster with quality contributors at all five positions is unlikely to change all that much. That fact doesn’t leave much room for rookies: just ask 2013 first-round pick Tony Snell and 2014 first-round pick Doug McDermott, who together played less than 1,800 minutes last season.
Legitimate concerns about the durability of Derrick Rose and the impending free agency of Mike Dunleavy make point guard and small forward two positions in need of potential depth-chart additions. That said, Chicago has added a seemingly endless cycle of serviceable reserve point guards in free agency over the last few years, and the presence of Nikola Mirotic and McDermott on the roster will make minutes hard to come by at the three, even if Dunleavy does depart. Barring a core-shaking trade, the Bulls will likely be drafting with one eye, if not both eyes, towards the future. — B.G.
Team needs: Back-up point guard, perimeter defense, shooting
Picks: 24, 53
2014-15 results: 53-29, lost in Finals
Although the Cavaliers limped to the finish in the Finals—thanks to injuries to Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao—Cleveland will boast one of the league’s most loaded rosters if owner Dan Gilbert can successfully re-sign his many key free agents (LeBron James, Love, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova). On a team built to win now, especially one constructed around James, there isn’t much room for on-the-job training for rookies.
Cleveland is also rumored to be interested in moving its draft pick. If they do use (and keep) their first-round selection, the Cavaliers may look to add depth at point guard, where Irving’s health has been an ongoing concern, or on the wings, where it could get too expensive to keep the current veterans in the fold. If all else fails, finding a spot-up shooter who can make teams pay for overcommitting to James is always a solid backup plan. — B.G.
Team needs: Perimeter and interior defenders, ball handlers
Picks: 21, 52
2014-15 results: 50-32, lost in first round
The cupboard in Dallas is rather bare. Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons (who may miss significant time as he recovers from knee surgery) return, as does reserve point guard Devin Harris. Otherwise, the Mavericks will be remaking their entire rotation from scratch. Crucial roles filled last season by Monta Ellis (expected to decline his $8.7 million player option) and Tyson Chandler will demand some kind of offseason address. The former was Dallas' leader in usage and one of its precious few players who could get to the rim to force defensive rotation. The latter was (and could remain, depending on how the market turns) Dallas' best option for rim protection.
Between the two, Chandler seems decidedly more likely to return. That means that Dallas will not only have to find ways to renovate the porous defense responsible for its playoff exit around Chandler but also build a new offensive hierarchy from the ground up. What Ellis offered cannot be easily or cheaply replaced. The market isn't exactly rich in perimeter players who can create as he does, positioning the Mavericks to pursue a guard with a different, more balanced skill set. — R.M.
Team needs: High-level talent, shot creators, rim protectors
Picks: 7, 57
2014-15 results: 30-52, missed playoffs
Denver has talent but not nearly enough; nowhere in the lineup is a player so effective in his position that the team shouldn't be exploring potential replacements. That Ty Lawson, the best of the lot, might not be a Nugget next season says it all—this entire roster is at the mercy of very necessary flux.
As such, it would make little sense to build deliberately around any current players. Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, and Danilo Gallinari could be worth keeping under the right circumstances. Yet the way forward in Denver will almost surely require moving some of them, particularly given the value of Chandler's partially guaranteed salary and the ticking clock of Gallinari's expiring contract. This unformed, unfinished roster should take a very different shape by the time the work of the 2015-16 season begins.
The No. 7 pick in this week's draft might offer some clarity. Star power tends to be in short supply by the mid-lottery, but Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja, or Willie Cauley-Stein could give the Nuggets a chance to satisfy some of their talent deficit in the long term. The rebuild starts without much mind for fit. Redundancy is a concern for a better-stocked team. — R.M.
Team needs: Small forward, interior depth
Picks: 8, 38
2014-15 results: 32-50, missed playoffs
With a top-10 pick in hand for the franchise’s sixth straight trip to the lottery, the transitioning Pistons are fully in “best player available” mode. Coach Stan Van Gundy simply needs talent, and he needs talent bad. Brandon Jennings, last year’s starting point guard, is recovering from an Achilles injury. Andre Drummond, last year’s starting center, is still only 21. Reggie Jackson and Greg Monroe, the roster’s two leading scorers by the end of the season, are both headed for free agency.
That said, regardless of the other moving parts, Detroit has a glaring hole at the three that will be tempting to fill through the draft. Finding a play-maker with length to pair with 2013 lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on the wings is certainly an enticing proposition. If Van Gundy elects to go a different route, perhaps he will add depth behind Drummond in preparation for a potential Monroe departure or to improve his team’s rim-protecting. The Pistons did acquire stretch forward Ersan Ilyasova in a recent trade, but he’s not equipped to replace Monroe on the glass. — B.G.
Golden State Warriors
Team needs: Big-man depth, shot creators off the bench
2014-15 results: 67-15, won NBA title
The Warriors' motivation in trying to move David Lee is two-fold. First, a trade would conveniently do right by a player well liked within the organization who played a minor role without complaint. Second, it offers the Warriors a chance to unload salary without breaking off any meaningful piece of their rotation.
The salary note is important. Golden State will be a luxury tax team next season once Draymond Green's restricted free agency unfolds as expected. That kind of operating cost isn't merely a financial deterrent. A Warriors team carrying both Lee's current salary and Green's upcoming one would cross the luxury tax apron—a line $4 million above the tax threshold that would limit the Warriors' ability to make moves in the future.
Moving Lee is a clear priority. Once done, the Warriors will go about the business of upgrading an already great team. Minor improvement could be made to the center rotation, where Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights are each quite limited in their own way. Golden State could make alternative use of the mini mid-level exception by signing a reserve creator to spell Stephen Curry. Beyond Green’s re-signing, however, there isn’t all that much to be done. — R.M.
Team needs: Ball handlers, guard depth
Picks: 18, 32
2014-15 results: 56-25, lost in conference finals
Patrick Beverley’s season-ending injury left point guard as a glaring weakness in Houston’s playoff rotation. Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni are no real substitute; although both performed relatively well under the circumstances, their inability to defend or initiate offense proved painful against high-level opponents.
As such, the Rockets will need to either reinvest in Beverley, who is set to be a restricted free agent, or find alternative means to fill out its backcourt. That James Harden can do it all doesn’t preclude him from needing a little help now and again. Houston’s demands of a point guard on offense are rather modest given how much Harden controls the offense, though the ability to attack a closeout off the dribble or initiate pick-and-rolls while Harden rests would go a long way toward sustaining Houston’s efficiency.
Houston might settle for the ability to defend the position. A team with Dwight Howard anchoring the middle doesn’t need an All-World defender at the point of attack—only dependability. Any guard who can cut back on the breakdowns would do Howard and the Rockets a service. If that’s a healthy Beverley, terrific. If it’s an even more dynamic offensive player, then all the better. — R.M.
Team needs: Bigs, backcourt playmaker
Picks: 11, 43
2014-15 results: 38-44, missed playoffs
The Pacers are telegraphing a shift in strategy that could de-emphasize plodding center Roy Hibbert in favor of a faster, smaller approach. It doesn’t matter all that much where, exactly, Indiana settles style-wise: change is needed in a frontcourt that has gone about as far as it can go riding Hibbert and the 34-year-old David West. A rookie might not be able to fight through the vets for big minutes immediately, but Indiana’s late lottery pick will likely be a crucial building block down the road.
Coach Frank Vogel managed to put together a top-10 defense even though he only had George for six games, but his offense remained pretty punchless. Although the Pacers did what they could without George—scrapping together minutes from the likes of Solomon Hill, Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles—the end product was bland and not very threatening. This backcourt could use a boost from a player capable of creating shots for himself and collapsing defenses off the dribble. — B.G.
Los Angeles Clippers
Team needs: Perimeter defenders, ball handlers, viable bigs
2014-15 results: 56-26, lost in conference semifinals
While the acquisition of Lance Stephenson could boost L.A.’s offense, his clearest value to the Clippers comes on the other end of the floor. J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, and Austin Rivers worked tirelessly to withstand a series of strong opposing wings in the postseason. None, though, will soon be confused for an elite perimeter defender—a label that Stephenson’s strength and instincts give him the potential to earn. He may not be as disciplined as some of the NBA’s other lockdown artists, but Stephenson covers the ball aggressively and can make it challenging for opponents to even enter into their offense.
The Clippers could stand to improve their defense beyond Stephenson, though their options are limited. They also lack the means to sufficiently address their needs for depth at both power forward and center. Even if DeAndre Jordan re-signs without delay, Glen Davis will be an unrestricted free agent and Spencer Hawes is now a Hornet. Finding suitable backups to Jordan and Blake Griffin with only meager salary cap exceptions at their disposal will be no easy task, particularly as a potential max deal for Jordan would likely remove the option of using the full mid-level exception. — R.M.
Los Angeles Lakers
Team needs: NBA talent with lasting value
Picks: 2, 27, 34
2014-15 results: 21-61, missed playoffs
Assuming that the Lakers’ primary motivation is to compete for a championship, their goal this summer is to fish out potential stars who might elevate the franchise in the near future. Jahlil Okafor, for all his defensive limitations, could be that kind of talent. The No. 2 slot in this year’s draft offers the Lakers some variety if they aren’t fully sold on Okafor. The prospect of his working alongside a recovered Julius Randle, however, would seem to be one of L.A.’s best options under their current circumstances.
All of that said, there is at least some pressure for the Lakers to make the best of what could be Kobe Bryant’s final NBA season. There will be call from some quarters for this team to add veterans ready to help immediately and to draft talent compliant with Kobe’s preferred style. To placate Bryant in that way is fine so long as the framing is clear. It would be nice of the Lakers to send off Bryant by letting him play on his terms. Doing so, however, would pose at least some conflict to the team’s long-term interests. — R.M.
Team needs: Balanced wings, big-man depth
2014-15 results: 55-27, lost in conference semifinals
Let’s make one thing clear: Memphis’ summer goes bust if Marc Gasol were to choose any other course but to re-sign. A Grizzlies team without its centerpiece would be left for dead in the ferocious West.
Supposing that Gasol returns as many expect he will, the team’s first priority is on the wing. This is relatively good news for a team set to pick at 25—a range in the draft likely to be relatively flush with perimeter players. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, R.J. Hunter, Justin Anderson, Rashad Vaughn, and Anthony Brown could all still be on the board by the time the Grizzlies make their selection. Memphis hasn’t been especially accommodating of rookie talent in its rotation during recent seasons, though perhaps one from this year’s class could work his way through the developmental pipeline for future use.
Memphis, like most teams, could also do with strengthening its rotation of bigs. Gasol and Zach Randolph are steady lead options and Kosta Koufos has been solid for the Grizzlies in reserve. Beyond those three are the lacking alternatives of Jeff Green, Jon Leuer, and JaMychal Green. None is quite adequate as a reserve power forward, and so the Grizzlies keep looking. — R.M.
Team needs: Wing playmaker, knockdown shooting
Picks: 10, 40
2014-15 results: 37-45, missed playoffs
Year One without LeBron James saw Miami’s offense plummet from No. 2 in 2013-14 to No. 22 in 2014-15, highlighting the Heat’s need for additional firepower on the perimeter besides Dwyane Wade. A trade deadline deal for Goran Dragic aimed to address this weakness, but Chris Bosh's season-ending condition led to fall short of the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Although Heat president Pat Riley is notoriously lukewarm on the value of the draft, he is facing a tight window of relevance: the aging Wade is embroiled in contract negotiations, Dragic is a free agent, small forward Luol Deng has an opt-out this summer, and Chris Bosh is coming off a career-threatening injury. If Riley can put all of these pieces together, and coach Erik Spoelstra can milk consistent effort from Hassan Whiteside, this looks like one of the East’s top outfits. A little extra juice off the bench on the wing, in the form of a ready-made scoring threat or reliable spot-up shooter, would certainly help the cause. — B.G.
Team needs: Shooting guard, knockdown shooter, interior depth
Picks: 17, 46
2014-15 results: 41-41, lost in first round
The NBA’s biggest surprise team last season, Milwaukee is set up well for the future thanks to a core group of Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and midseason trade acquisition Michael Carter-Williams. Coach Jason Kidd is building his roster around a defense-first philosophy that favors long, interchangeable pieces, and that approach produced instant results with a playoff appearance and elite defensive numbers during his first year in Milwaukee.
The second stage of the Bucks’ building effort will be to find better performance on the offensive end. Milwaukee ranked No. 25 on offense last year and traded away Brandon Knight, a solid perimeter shooter, for Carter-Williams, whose game is predicated on off-the-dribble attacking rather than his range. Factor in the developing Antetokounmpo’s total lack of perimeter shot-making, and there’s a natural floor-spacing hole to fill. After buying out center Larry Sanders in the wake of his off-court issues, Milwaukee could also use an additional body down low to provide depth, and eventually a little scoring, behind Zaza Pachulia and John Henson. — B.G.
Team needs: The next building block
Picks: 1, 31, 36
2014-15 results: 16-66, missed playoffs
Between Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins and the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft, it’s possible that the Wolves have the hardest aspect of reconstruction behind them. Wiggins showcased impressive on-ball defense and volume scoring capability in his first NBA season. Karl-Anthony Towns, the consensus choice for the top pick, projects as an interior defender with touch. Their union would make the Wolves one of the most promising young teams in the league—the rare up-and-comer built on genuine balance.
Given that, the Wolves could build out the rest of their roster with almost anything else. There are young players on the roster worth investing in and developing more fully. Beyond Wiggins and the incoming first pick, however, none of them are beyond replacing. Ricky Rubio is wonderful in some ways but incredibly restrictive in others; Zach LaVine and Gorgui Dieng have shown more raw promise than actual value; and Shabazz Muhammad, whose 2014-15 season was cut short by injury, is still figuring out how his game works at the NBA level. This could be the beginning of a contender. Minnesota owes it to itself to investigate every possibility to improve. — R.M.
New Orleans Pelicans
Team needs: General depth, balanced bigs
2014-15 results: 45-37, lost in first round
The search continues for Anthony Davis’ frontcourt counterpart. Last season the Pelicans failed to get enough stops with Ryan Anderson on the floor with Davis and failed to extract enough offense when Omer Asik played alongside him. There was little balance to be found between them. Ideally, the Pelicans would be able to acquire a supporting star with a more level game – one that wouldn’t force the coaching staff into an either-or dilemma at the end of every close game.
That priority may have to wait until next season, when Eric Gordon’s contract – which will pay him $15.5 million this coming season – expires. In the meantime, New Orleans can look to stock its bench with more rotation-worthy talent. Players like Norris Cole, Alexis Ajinca, and Luke Babbitt gave New Orleans all that they reasonably could last season. What the Pelicans need are the kinds of second-unit anchors that could fill bigger minutes to greater effect, regardless of position. No backup spot is quite solidified, which gives the Pelicans the freedom to explore their options with the resources of free agency and their second-round pick. — R.M.
New York Knicks
Team needs: Point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center
2014-15 results: 17-65, missed playoffs
How bad were the Knicks last season? Carmelo Anthony missed 42 games and he still scored 162 more points than any of his teammates. Phil Jackson’s stripped-down tanking masterpiece produced a roster that was worse than uncompetitive, finishing No. 29 on offense, No. 28 on defense, and No. 1 in “These guys are really on national television again?”
Anthony is the surest thing on this roster, and he’s still a one-way player who is now 31, coming off season-ending knee surgery, and set to make roughly $100 million over the next four seasons. In other words, that’s a shaky foundation, and not necessarily one that should influence which direction the Knicks go with the No. 4 pick. That might prove to be a moot point. Jackson will almost certainly miss out on this class’s two premier big men, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor, leaving him to select an impact guard in the most likely scenario. Drafting a talented lead ball-handler and play-maker is a tried-and-true method for providing a long-term identity to a team that has lost its way. Will the Zenmaster follow that prescription? — B.G.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Team needs: Perimeter defenders, balanced wings
Picks: 14, 48
2014-15 results: 45-37, missed playoffs
In their attempts to find a shooting guard complement for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have found good shooters and good defenders but never both in the same. The value of that skill set has made its availability scarce in OKC’s price range, but all it takes is one hit in the draft, free agency, or player development to stabilize the Thunder backcourt. Otherwise we can expect a similar carousel of Dion Waiters, Andre Roberson, Anthony Morrow, Kyle Singler (should he return), and Jeremy Lamb.
Regardless, perimeter defense needs to be a bigger teambuilding priority. Center Enes Kanter, who will be a restricted free agent, puts a strain on Serge Ibaka and the Thunder’s interior defense. Alleviating the pressure coming from the perimeter seems the best way for OKC to vault back into the top 10 in defensive efficiency after a shaky showing on that end last season. Waiters, Morrow, D.J. Augustin, and even Russell Westbrook create problems within the Thunder defense. Should Oklahoma City enter next season with the same basic perimeter rotation, it risks running so many potential liabilities as to burden its title contention. — R.M.
Team needs: Rim protectors, shooters, backcourt depth
Picks: 5, 51
2014-15 results: 25-57, missed playoffs
The Magic have spent the last few years stacking young balls of clay on top of each other. There really hasn’t been a lot of molding going on. That’s where new coach Scott Skiles comes in: the intense taskmaster will look to cultivate a defensive mentality that has been lacking since Dwight Howard’s departure.
Considering that offense-first starting center Nikola Vucevic has already received a rookie contract extension, it would make all the sense in the world to pair him with a low-post oriented, rim-protecting presence. Orlando’s backcourt of the future Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo overflows with energy and attack instincts, but it falls short when it comes to floor-spacing. The Magic’s anemic, cramped offense might start to open up a bit with the help of another shooter. — B.G.
Team needs: Lead guard, off guard, wing playmaker
Picks: 3, 35, 37, 47, 58, 60
2014-15 results: 18-64, missed playoffs
This already feels like Year 27 of GM Sam Hinkie’s grand experiment to perpetually tank his way into a cache of top lottery talents. So far, not so great, especially after Joel Embiid’s most recent setback. Still, the Sixers’ frontcourt pairing of the future looks set on paper: Embiid and Nerlens Noel look like an imposing duo capable of being one of the best four/five combinations in the league once they mature.
The rest of Philadelphia’s roster is mostly composed of no-namers, has-beens and never-wases. The Sixers didn’t finish with the league’s worst offense—by more than four points per 100 possessions!—on accident. The decision to trade Michael Carter-Williams to Milwaukee opens up a huge hole at the lead guard position, one that Hinkie could choose to fill by selecting D’Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay at No. 3. That said, reading Philadelphia’s tea leaves is no easy task given its unusual lack of organizational urgency, and Hinkie seems like the last executive on Earth to select a lesser talent solely based on a short-term positional need. — B.G.
Team needs: Interior defenders, reliable wings
Picks: 13, 44
2014-15 results: 39-43, missed playoffs
Early success did not change the fact that Phoenix is undergoing a committed rebuild. This is not yet a roster that would challenge a quality opponent in a playoff series, though with its earned salary flexibility and developing talent it soon could be. Eric Bledsoe is a gamer with the potential to nullify opponents at the deepest position in the game. Brandon Knight, whom Phoenix acquired at the trade deadline, seems likely to be brought back as Bledsoe’s combo-guard complement. Between those two and Markieff Morris is the start of something—even if the final picture of what the fully built Suns might look like remains a bit of a mystery.
They clearly need to be better at several positions, perhaps even those already occupied by quality players. Even those unsettled slots are still stocked with young talent: Alex Len warrants interest as a mobile seven-footer and the Suns are still in the process of appraising wings like T.J. Warren, Reggie Bullock, and Archie Goodwin. The No. 13 pick will land Phoenix another player worth considering, while the Suns’ cap sheet would accommodate free-agent spending without demanding it immediately. From a teambuilding perspective, the Suns are remarkably light on their feet. — R.M.
Portland Trail Blazers
Team needs: Interior defenders, shot creators off the bench
2014-15 results: 51-31, lost in first round
With LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, and Robin Lopez all unrestricted free agents, Portland’s focus is undoubtedly trained to securing next year’s big-minute contributors. The loss of any of those three would require adjustment, but none more than Aldridge; a Portland team deprived of his offensive utility and defensive value would likely be shaken from the West’s playoff pool.
Even if Aldridge does re-sign, to replace the contributions of Matthews (who still recovering from a ruptured Achilles) and Lopez might be beyond the Blazers’ means in free agency. Bringing back both incumbent starters (via Bird rights) might make the most sense for Portland if both are amenable, though doing so would require a significant raise for Lopez and a considerable gamble in Matthews’ health.
Regardless, Portland lacked for adequate defense on its flimsy second unit last season. Lacking coverage was the consistent thread between the likes of Chris Kaman, C.J. McCollum, and Arron Afflalo. Considering that the starting lineup lacks the kind of singular defensive talent that could balance out the deficits of the bench, it becomes all the more important that the Blazers invest in players who can stay solid in defending their position. — R.M.
Team needs: Defenders at any position, perimeter shooters, a big to pair with DeMarcus Cousins
2014-15 results: 29-53, missed playoffs
Sacramento, frankly, could use any player able and willing to guard. This team ranked near the bottom in the league in points allowed per possession last season for good reason: Cousins is the only plus defender on the roster. The rest carries with it varying levels of deficiency, including that which makes some potential role players into benchwarmers.
The Kings’ renovated front office ought to start there. Beyond that, they need to search out ways to provide Cousins with the kind of perimeter counterparts he deserves. A player so skilled around the basket can’t produce to the fullest without reliable spacing. Thus far Sacramento has done a crummy job of providing it, a fact that will hopefully soon be rectified by this summer’s changes and the teachings of coach George Karl.
There’s room for Sacramento to play a part in free agency this summer and make the most of the No.6 pick via selection or trade. Unfortunately, there’s so much left to be done with this group those means would provide only a partial solution. — R.M.
San Antonio Spurs
Team needs: Two-way wings, transitional talent
Picks: 26, 55
2014-15 results: 55-27, lost in first round
The return of last season’s roster would again position the Spurs as championship contenders. They remain the great challenge that the Warriors averted; a tough, seven-game loss to the Clippers changed the complexion of the playoffs and denied basketball fans that bout of similarly minded, highly effective teams.
Maintaining the status quo would require successful negotiation with Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The first, despite his rising stardom and higher profile, would seem the easier proposition. Leonard’s restricted free agency will give San Antonio the edge in retaining his services, which warrant the maximum salary. Green’s unrestricted free agency instead empowers him to sign with the team of his choosing. Even his desire to return would need to be reciprocated by San Antonio’s contract offer if the two parties were to continue working together.
Whether Green returns or not, the Spurs need a solid two-way contributor alongside Leonard and Tony Parker on the perimeter. San Antonio will also be positioned make an even bigger play if the circumstances allow. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are not long for the NBA. Any player who could help Leonard in transitioning to the next era of Spurs basketball would be worth pursuing. — R.M.
Team needs: Perimeter defenders, long frontcourt defenders, pass-first facilitator
2014-15 results: 49-33, lost in first round
Raptors coach Dwane Casey has opened the offseason by preaching defense, and that’s hardly a surprise. Despite returning most of its key players and getting off to a red hot start, Toronto slipped from No. 9 in defense in 2013-14 to No. 23 in defense in 2014-15 before getting swept out of the first round of the playoffs by Washington in humbling fashion. Although starting point guard Kyle Lowry competes on both ends when healthy, the rest of Toronto’s backcourt is filled with turnstiles.
If GM Masai Ujiri decides he can’t find an impact backcourt defender late in the first round, he might consider adding an athlete to a frontcourt rotation that will see Amir Johnson, Chuck Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough enter free agency this summer or a distributor to a backcourt that featured three high-usage players in Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Lou Williams. — B.G.
Team needs: Perimeter shooters, point guard efficiency
Picks: 12, 42, 54
2014-15 results: 38-44, missed playoffs
The young core assembled in Utah could naturally grow into a heightened, more stable version of its current form: A defense-first team with great effort and good principles. A little help on the perimeter, however, might unlock the offense in a way that would allow for playoff contention ahead of schedule. Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Dante Exum, and Trey Burke need room to breathe. If supplemented by even a single knock-down shooter, every Jazz drive and pick-and-roll would become a much more difficult measure to combat.
Expecting that kind of accuracy from a rookie, even one selected in the late lottery, would seem a bit of a stretch. Utah isn’t desperate for wing minutes, after all – only those that might be filled by a perimeter player of unique capability. Unless Utah thinks it might find that in Kentucky’s Devin Booker or some other player available at No. 12, it might make sense for the Jazz (who have already invested in a host of young talent) to move the pick for a shooter who more directly addresses their needs. — R.M.
Team needs: Stretch forward, back-up point guard, back-up big
Picks: 19, 49
2014-15 results: 46-36, lost in conference semifinals
The Wizards’ first-round series win and brief flirtation with an upset of the Hawks in the conference semifinals looked like evidence that Randy Wittman might have finally figured out that it’s a good idea to space the court around John Wall. Washington’s explosive, multi-talented point guard seemed to hit another gear when Wittman went to smaller lineups that used Paul Pierce at the four rather than the three. The Wizards have every reason to add a younger stretch forward to the mix as Wall, 24, progresses towards his prime. That’s true whether or not Pierce returns as a free agent this summer.
Past that, the Wizards are really on a hunt for depth. Wall, promising shooting guard Bradley Beal, small forward Otto Porter and lynchpin big men Nene and Marcin Gortat are all likely to see big minutes again next year. With the major positional questions addressed by that group, Washington could decide to seek an added measure of injury insurance behind Wall, preferably a combo guard who could handle time at both backcourt spots in a pinch, or an extra big man to throw into its developmental pipeline. — B.G.