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Which NBA Team Needs a Big Offseason?

Thunder? Blazers? Kings? Debating which franchises need to strike gold this summer.

Mannix: Alright, Beck, while you are enjoying the Bay Area—and a Warriors Game 1 blowout—I’m in Chicago, where most of the league has gathered for the annual draft combine. I was in the lottery drawing room this week and spent a couple of days bopping around the combine and I can report—hope springs eternal! The draft is great, all the non-playoff teams expect to be playoff (or play-in) teams next season. You know, the usual. But it got me thinking: Which team needs a big offseason? I’m talking about next month’s draft, free agency, all of it. Who’s at the top of your list?

Beck: We usually focus on the sad sacks at the very top of the draft order. But no team needs a big offseason as badly as the Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard’s future and his legacy are hanging in the balance, as is the trajectory of the franchise. The lottery didn’t help. They’re drafting seventh, which means they probably won’t get a player talented enough to change their fortunes, and the pick might not be valuable enough to get the Blazers the veteran help they need via trade.

Mannix: Let’s talk about the Blazers for a minute. Because I’m very curious to see how Joe Cronin operates in his first offseason as top exec. Will he extend Damian Lillard? Lillard can tack two years and $106 million onto his current deal this summer. Lillard is that franchise; he’s the greatest Blazer of all-time. But he’ll also be 32 this summer and has shown signs of wear and tear the last couple of years. Do you do it? Do you double down on him, hope Anfernee Simons takes another leap next season and use some of that cap space to lure someone who fits alongside them?

By the way, I don’t agree with you on the kind of impact player they can get with the pick. I talked to a few execs who believe this draft is eight-deep. If they pick right, they could get a cornerstone guy. I think one will be there.

Beck: The draft might be eight deep, or even 10 deep, as our Jeremy Woo tells me on the latest Crossover pod (subscribe/rate/review!). But let's not confuse depth with quality. Is the seventh pick really good enough to net the Blazers a high-end veteran starter via trade? I’m highly skeptical. Let's be clear, too: Portland took a step back, several in fact, when they offloaded C.J. McCollum, Robert Covington and Norm Powell in February. They didn’t get enough back. Even with Simons’s emergence, I don’t see a path back to respectability next season—especially when you consider how much stronger the West will be with a healthy Nuggets squad, a healthy Clippers roster, a rapidly improving Pelicans team (thanks to McCollum) and, presumably, a better version of the Lakers.

Heck, the Kings might even be ready to make a move up the standings! They’ve got De’Aaron Fox, Domas Sabonis and now the fourth pick. What’s your read on Sacramento?

Mannix: The Kings were my pick. Sacramento needs a huge offseason. I like the Mike Brown hire. He had a bad run with the Lakers and Cleveland but I’m betting he’s learned a few things after six years on Steve Kerr’s bench. So that’s a good start. But this team needs a star. De’Aaron Fox took a step back last season, but even at his best I don’t see him as a top-10 guy–which you need to win. Monte McNair got a lot of flack for flipping Tyrese Haliburton for Domantas Sabonis but Sabonis is a 26-year old All-Star. Guys like that are hard to find.

But they need a big draft. Repeat: Big. The lottery gods were with them on Tuesday and there will be a franchise player available with that fourth pick. The Kings have to identify him. No team in modern NBA history knows the ramifications of missing on a high draft pick; if Vlade Divac drafts Luka Dončić, who knows–maybe it’s the Kings playing in the conference finals right now. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest this is the most important pick in Kings history.

Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox (5) drives against Utah Jazz center Hassan Whiteside.

Beck: When you’ve missed the playoffs for an NBA-record 16 straight years, EVERY move is the most important in franchise history. Every pick, every signing, every trade. Which is why I like the Mike Brown hiring, too. He’ll be great for that team. But you don’t get anywhere in this league without talent. I thought the Haliburton-Sabonis swap was a huge mistake, but it’s water under the Tower Bridge. Which leads us back to that depressing playoff drought: The Kings are clearly shifting to win-now mode to end it. Which makes me think that No. 4 pick could also be moved as part of a desperation bid to make the playoffs. No rookie is going to get them there. But maybe a team heading for a rebuild would send them an aging star, or a couple starters, for that pick. They have to at least gauge the market, don’t they?

Mannix: No. Hell no. You want them to send out a pick that could, nay, should become a franchise player for, what, the right to get clobbered by the Clippers in the first round? I understand the sense of urgency. And McNair operating on the final year of his deal only increases it. But the Kings are not one piece away from contending. They are a star away from contending and the only way they are getting that star is through the draft. McNair, Wes Wilcox and anyone of influence in that organization need to excise any thoughts about trading that pick.

You want to talk trades? I think Houston is in an interesting position. The Rockets have some interesting pieces. Jalen Green is going to be a great scorer. Alperen Sengun has the potential to be a long-term starter. That’s a team that badly needs some quality veterans. What do you think the Rockets should do?

Beck: Wait, so the Kings should keep their pick and hope they can make a run at the play-in, but the Rockets should suddenly go all-in? I don’t think Houston is there yet. Not even close. Jalen Green is emerging as a great scorer and maybe even a star, but he’s still really young. The Rockets aren’t ready to make a big leap. They just started this teardown two years ago. They can afford to be patient. Keep the pick, draft Paolo Banchero or Chet Holmgren, see how another year of development goes for Green, Sengun and Kevin Porter Jr. If it all goes badly, another trip to the lottery wouldn’t be the worst thing.

I can’t believe we’ve gone this far without discussing the Thunder, one of the big winners by leaping up to second in the lottery. Is this team ready to start winning again? Is Sam Presti ready to flip some of his 372 future draft picks for veteran help? How many years can OKC afford to be bad before Shai Gilgeous-Alexander asks out?

Mannix: The 12th pick should definitely be in play and, after OKC flipped the 16th pick last year, I’m betting it is. But they can’t trade the No. 2 pick. The Thunder have some nice players. Gilgeous-Alexander is a stud at point guard, Josh Giddey looks like one and Lu Dort is a Marcus Smart-like defender who will be enormously valuable when this group becomes a playoff team. But they need a star, too, and Sam Presti—who has a great track record at the top of the draft, specifically James Harden and Russell Westbrook, neither of whom were widely seen as surefire stars—will never get a better opportunity than this one. You agree?

Beck: I like the collection of talent, everyone you mentioned. Are they ready to win now? That’s the bigger question as the Thunder contemplate a third straight year without making the playoffs. That doesn’t seem like a big deal, but remember, fans in OKC have never had to endure a long rebuild. How much patience do the fans have? Does ownership have? That said, you’re right: Presti doesn’t miss with top-five picks. I trust this team to find another future star at No. 2. Besides, if Presti needs to add some veteran talent, he can always trade one of those 372 other picks he’s got stashed away. And, worst-case scenario? The Thunder end up back in the lottery in 2023, with a shot at drafting the next great unicorn: Victor Wembanyama. Something tells me the Thunder brass wouldn’t mind another year of losing for that opportunity.

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