To see Part I of Matthes’ Manifesto III, which breaks down the Indiana Pacers summer plans, click here.
We’ve taken an in-depth look at the Indiana Pacers situation as summer approaches, but what about the rest of the NBA? Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum so we’d be remissed if we didn’t look at the league as a whole.
With that in mind, let’s start with the Eastern Conference and break down each teams picks, cap space, and current roster situations.
Picks: 8, 10, 17, 35, 41, 44 | Cap Space: $34M | Players under contract: 7-12
Atlanta now -thanks to trading Taurean Prince to Brooklyn for Allen Crabbe- has almost an NFL-caliber allotment of draft picks (the Bears, Eagles and Saints had less picks than the Hawks will if Atlanta hangs on to all of them).
Paired with a youth movement that’s already netted them at least three promising players (Trae Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter), keeping all those picks could further fill out their roster with increasingly youthful depth. Or Atlanta could package some of their picks together and move up in the draft, while still being able to add youthful depth with the multiple picks they’ll keep.
The Knicks (who need lots of help at every position) and their third overall pick would be a natural target. Or Atlanta could turn to the pickless (and open for business) Houston Rockets and check to see if they might be interested in trading current talent for draft prospects. The Hawks have options, for a rebuilding team, Atlanta’s not in a bad place at all.
Picks: 14, 20, 22, 51 | Cap Space: -$14.2M | Players under contract: 7-10
There’s a lot to deal with here. The 2019 season did not go according to plans, and as a result, there are a ton of questions facing the Celtics.
If/when Kyrie Irving leaves who do they turn to, point-Gordon Hayward, re-up the controversial Terry Rozier, enter the gaggle around the other top point guards on the market, something else? All three of their core post players (Al Horford, Aron Baynes, and Marcus Morris) could enter free agency, how aggressively does Boston retain them?
Picks: 27, 31 | Cap Space: $69.6M | Players under contract: 7-9
The Nets are one of the two teams that while typically under the radar, are poised to dominate this offseason. Brooklyn is: smartly run, well coached, young, located in the nation’s largest media market, and – after making the playoffs this past reason – ready to keep leap-frogging up the East’s pecking order.
And, most importantly, they have the cap space to net two max contract players. Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris are all easily within range. If they can open up a sliver more space (waiving Shabazz Napier should do it, or get it close) then a full max for Kevin Durant is possible, even if he’ll likely miss the season due to injury.
Not in the pole position, but signing and trading D’Angelo Russell plus Jarrett Allen, would have them in the race. Now, for this to work the Nets will actually have to land the big fish; but with the roster they have, compared to the one located in the burrow just across the East River, Brooklyn is in a great spot to win the summer.
Picks: 12, 36, 52 | Cap Space: $6.2M| Players under contract: 8-11
Everything hinges on resigning Kemba Walker, and Walker has acknowledged that the Hornets are in the pole position for his services. In honor of Walker making the All-NBA third team, Charlotte can offer him the super-duper max contract, five years, $221M.
Walker is a loyal guy, and that is a lot of money to turn down, but if he opted to pursue greener pastures, the move would be devastating to the Hornets, who have arguably have more bad contracts on the books than any other team in the NBA. The max offer for Walker represents a catch-22 for Charlotte.
Pay Walker (which they have to), and it will be tough for them to free up significant cap space in the foreseeable future, due to how much Walker would count against the cap. Don’t pay Walker, and lose him, then Charlotte also loses their only attribute that would be attractive to incoming free agents.
In the 2020 offseason, Charlotte will have $53.6M in coming off the books, Nic Batum’s albatross expires the season following. But, catch-22, even with the money coming off the Hornets will either not free up max space (because of Walker) or have useless space (because there’s no Walker).
To leverage their expiring contracts, Charlotte should try to trade the space for other team’s overpriced quality veterans. Think Cleveland’s Kevin Love and J.R. Smith, Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins or Washington’s John Wall (if Walker leaves).
For Cleveland, Minnesota or whomever, the benefit is a reset button, the chance to get out of a burdensome contract. For the player, it’s a fresh start on a team that wasn’t all that far out of the playoffs last year. For Charlotte, they acquire the caliber of reinforcement that would be impossible in free agency.
Picks: 7, 38 | Cap Space: $23.8M | Players under contract: 6-11
Somewhat similar to last year, the Chicago Bulls have plenty of cap space but few quality players interested in accepting any of it. Unlike last year, you can see the structure of a competitive team taking shape in the Windy City: Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. (average age 22.7) fit the profile of a front court you can build around. Zach LaVine can score, which is nice because they are going to be stuck with him for quite a while (signed through 2022).
But the main problem for the Bulls going into the summer is the same that’s been there for several seasons: Chicago is rudderless on the court. It’s largely been a struggle for the Bulls since an able-bodied Derrick Rose became a hobbled-Derrick Rose between 2015 and 2016. And the need has been unresolved, Chicago’s poor luck in the draft lottery might not help.
There are three main point guard prospects: Murray State’s Ja Morant, Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland, and North Carolina’s Coby White. Morant will surely be gone by the time Chicago selects at number 7, it’s likely Garland will be off the board too, does Chicago view White as the missing piece needed to steer their ship?
Picks: 5, 26 | Cap Space: -$26M | Players under contract: 10-11
That a team can emerge from a 19-win campaign without any reasonable cap space is an impressively awful situation for an NBA team to find themselves in. Cleveland has six players who are set to make an average of $17.5M next year. They should try to move Kevin Love to a contender, which would help their financial issues a bit. J.R. Smith’s contract is only partially guaranteed, trading him or releasing him would also seem logical.
Another issue, Cleveland enters the draft needing help at basically everything, maybe prioritize an explosive wing who can play off of impressive rookie Collin Sexton, like Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver.
Picks: 15, 45 | Cap Space: -$8.7M | Players under contract: 10-11
No cap space, but Detroit will have the nice mid-level exception to work with (around $10M). When they do use it, they should target a shooter. Even with Luke Kennard‘s 15 playoff point’s per game, they need to strengthen their wing unit, which will increase the space for their all-star front court (Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond) to exploit.
Adding someone like Orlando’s Terrance Ross, Portland’s Rodney Hood or Philadelphia’s J.J. Redick would do the trick. Also, with the 15th pick, the Pistons’ shouldn’t let Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke get by them if he’s there. Detroit has a robust history with undersized centers, and the Pistons could just a rim-protector off the bench.
Pick: 13 | Cap Space: -$31.5M | Players under contract: 6-13
Any flexibility for the Heat rests on whether point guard Goran Dragic and center Hassan Whiteside decide to opt into their contracts or not. If they opt in, that’s $42.9M on the books, if they opt out there’s some freedom; also Ryan Anderson’s contract is only partially guaranteed, so relief is possible.
Miami is always bold in their summer plans, if Houston is intent on trying to move Chris Paul, Miami will be interested. If they can open up any space, the Heat will probably spend it, Miami’s always a draw for NBA players. A losing season is unacceptable to Pat Riley and the Heat are coming off of one, Miami will do their best to ensure it was an anomaly.
Pick: 30 | Cap Space: $4.9M | Players under contract: 6-10
Milwaukee telegraphed their intentions when they resigned Eric Bledsoe mid-season, the Bucks are set up to run back the same squad that reached the Eastern Conference Finals this season. And if so, that means unrestricted free agent Brook Lopez and restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon won’t be looking for a change in address.
The question will be how small forward Khris Middleton approaches the summer following his first all-star season. Middleton would be very much in demand, but it would be difficult to find a better situation than what he has in Milwaukee.
Assuming that trio of free agents returns, Milwaukee will need to figure out cheaper replacements for Nikola Mirotic and George Hill (who will surely be cut at some point).
At least one of those dilemmas should be able to be solved with the 30th pick in the draft, another potential solution is already on the roster: last year’s first rounder Donte DiVincenzo, a combo-guard, who suffered through an injury-plagued rookie campaign. When healthy he would be a much cheaper replacement for Hill.
New York Knicks
Picks: 3, 55 | Cap Space: $69.5M | Players under contract: 4-10
The New York Knicks are a mess. Not only did they not get the top pick in the draft, but now their New York City rival, the Nets -who also have a substantially fuller cupboard of talent- have found a way to open up effectively the same amount of cap space that the Knicks tanked in order to do. New York needs help at everything, they have no organizational direction and hopes of landing a star-level free agent feel like a pipe-dream.
This said the Knicks really have two choices of how to proceed. A: go after Kevin Durant and other the tip top free agents, they’ve been trying this strategy for over 20 years now, might as well give it another go. B: if/when they doesn’t work, don’t do something rash and instead actually try to develop young talent.
Consider using the 3-pick to obtain a greater draft capital (hello, Atlanta) vigilantly scout this draft class for solid, steady players, select them, give them time and build a respectable team. You know, like what the Nets have done over the last 3-4 years.
Picks: 16, 46 | Cap Space: $ 23.7M | Players under contract: 9-10
At long last, the Orlando Magic enter the offseason with the positive moment that a trip to the playoffs brings. That’s the good news, but there is still work to be done to keep improving this team. First, all-star Center Nikola Vucevic and sixth man Terrence Ross are free agents. Keeping both is very doable, and probably should be done.
Then Orlando can turn its attention to strengthening their roster as a whole. The Magic bench was less than stellar. The Magic also have plenty of younger and inexpensive players that could be exchanged with teams that are looking to shed salary in order to land some quality role players. Miami (James Johnson or Kelly Olynyk) and the Clippers (Danilo Gallinari) would be two of the first calls I’d make.
Picks: 24, 33, 34, 42, 54 | Cap Space: $43.1M | 4-6
A critical offseason awaits the practitioners of the famed “process”. The process has evolved over the years, starting as an accumulation of draft picks and cheap players, then shifted to cashing in those cheaper players for star-level players, and now Philadelphia might have to figure out how to interact in a world where they don’t have the young talent, and just lost some of their stars.
Tobias Harris is a free agent and will be in demand. Jimmy Butler can become a free agent too and will have his suitors. Now what? Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are still there, but both are coming off of inconsistent postseasons (Simmons more so than Embiid). They do have plenty of cap space, but also have to fill out an entire roster, how much do they allocate to other top-level players? Do they keep all their picks?
It would be the cheapest way to fill a roster, but rookies are inconsistent, so it would be bold to expect a slew of key contributors to be selected this draft, although not impossible. Philadelphia will likely have to get creative to stay in the mix at the top of the East.
Pick: 59 | Cap Space: -$24.1M | Players under contract: 6-10
The champions summer and future likely hinges on what Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard does. Stay in the city he’s become a hero in (Toronto) or head home to Los Angeles and play for the Clippers. If he stays Toronto can just run back out their championship team for another run at glory. If he leaves the Raptors they are in a position to rebuild themselves, but like this season as a whole, it all rests with Kawhi.
Pick: 9 | Cap Space: -$3.6M | Players under contract: 5-8
The positive for the Wizards, they do have Bradley Beal, who is a brilliant player. Finding brilliant players like him is hard, and they have two. Which leads to the problems facing the Wizards, their second star, John Wall, could miss the entire 2019-20 season, making his $38.2M effectively dead money next season.
Further complicating matters, many of the other key Wizards are free agents this summer (Trevor Ariza, Tomas Satoransky, Jeff Green and breakout player Thomas Bryant). To keep the best of the 2018-19 Wizards, it will be expensive. But, with one draft pick and likely with just the mid-level to work with it will be very difficult to construct a competitive team around Beal for next season. Maybe trading the injured Wall is the best path forward, regardless, a tough season likely awaits Washington.