Which NBA Teams Need the Offseason More Than the Lakers?
The past month of the Lakers' free fall has been accompanied by a central question consuming much of the league: how will Los Angeles fare in the offseason? The Anthony Davis drama quelled as Feb. 7 passed, but expect a resurgence in the rumor mill immediately after the Finals. The Lakers will rule the summer headlines once again, culminating with a superstar acquisition or an increasingly-gloomy future.
We’ll have plenty of time to map the Lakers road back to the postseason, but for now, let’s turn our eye to the rest of the league’s outlook for June and July. 2019 will be a pivotal summer for a number of teams, both in free agency retention and recruitment. May’s lottery will throw another wrench into the summer’s plans, as will the postseason results in Boston, Golden State and Toronto. So outside of the Lakers, who needs to enter 2019-20 on the backs of a quality summer? We at The Crossover broke down the teams in most need of a successful offseason.
New York Knicks
New York is an obvious choice alongside the Lakers among the franchises most dependent on the summer, but it’s impossible to overstate how much is riding on the Knicks’ free-agent forays. This is the same front office that jettisoned its best drafted player since Patrick Ewing for cap space and draft picks, sending Kristaps Porzingis 1,500 miles south before the trade deadline. Missing out on a top free agent and watching the Zinger flourish next to Luka Doncic would be a disaster.
The summer targets have been identified for months. Kevin Durant is the biggest prize, and the player most tied to New York. KD and Rich Kleiman could take their business east, posting up in Manhattan with a new basketball task next to their burgeoning business ventures. A third Warriors title could spur Durant to his next challenge. An abbreviated postseason run could muddy the picture. There’s a scenario where Golden State falls just short against Houston, Milwaukee or Boston and runs it back. But barring an injury to Durant or Curry, Durant’s free agency should come following a three-peat. The other suitors outside of New York and Golden State aren’t presently clear. The Knicks were never that close to landing LeBron in 2010. They are very much a contender for Durant.
Everything else is secondary if Durant comes to MSG. Kyrie Irving would be a natural second star. Perhaps Kemba shies away from a lifelong commitment to Charlotte. Even if Durant is the lone All-Star, a top-three pick and an improved supporting cast should be enough for a playoff run. If New York somehow lands the No. 1 pick, the Zion for AD rumors will start immediately. There are no shortage of options if Durant is in tow.
New York has found some joy amid the tanking to close 2019, with Dennis Smith Jr. and Mitchell Robinson delivering highlights sans the victories. A strong summer can turn things around in a heartbeat, bringing playoff basketball back to the Mecca.
The stakes are decidedly lower in the Metroplex compared to New York. Dallas already has Doncic and Porzingis in tow, ready to build around their young core as we turn to 2020. But this summer provides the Mavericks a unique chance to accelerate their timeline. Their cap space will be significant, with no shortage of options to upgrade in the front court or at point guard. The Lone Star State could have a second contender for the Finals sooner than originally assumed.
The Mavericks are projected to have roughly $52 million in cap space entering this summer, with just six players signed to next year’s roster. If Porzingis accepts a five-year, $158 million extension, he will eat just over half the space. Dallas will still have approximately $25 million to spend, plenty of cash to enter the free-agent pool. Dwight Powell turning down his $10 million player option could help Dallas’ cap sheet, though opting in could be a prudent move for the young center.
Dallas could look to pair Porzingis with an impact big, creating the league’s premier set of twin towers. DeMarcus Cousins would be a strange temperamental fit. Nikola Vucevic, however, could slide in seamlessly next to Porzingis. The Vucevic-Porzingis pairing looks like a match made in heaven if Dallas isn’t priced out of the market. The Mavs could also bite on local product Julius Randle, or chase Brook Lopez after his outstanding year in Milwaukee. Dallas should pursue a notable big in free agency, potentially forming a new Big 3 in the Western Conference.
Just as Kawhi Leonard likes it, there has been little ink spilled on his impending free agency as we hurdle toward the postseason. The former Spurs star is the second-best player on the market come July, yet Leonard has avoided the spotlight as rumors and drama surround Durant and Irving. But make no mistake: acquiring Leonard in July can change a franchise’s future.
Leonard’s decision will certainly determine the future in Toronto. If Leonard stays, consider the core intact, with Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Co. ready to run it back for another shot at the Finals. Marc Gasol would be smart to opt-in at $25 million. Any potential roster turnover would be on hold if Leonard returns, at least through 2019-20.
A July departure would change the calculus north of the border. Toronto will likely pray Gasol declines his option if Leonard leaves, and a returning Gasol could make for an awkward year, similar to what Memphis went through this season. Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam is not a winning formula, forming a lower-tier playoff team in the East. Toronto would be well served to sell its veterans quickly if Leonard skips town, perhaps acquiring draft capital for Lowry. Gasol should also be considered an asset to deal, though his value has markedly declined since 2016-17.
The Raptors are in-line for a sixth-straight playoff berth, but a return to the lottery in 2019-20 wouldn’t be an outright. Toronto could re-invest in its young core of Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, gearing up for the next era. Add in a lottery pick, and the next decade of Toronto basketball could mirror the last one, even without Leonard leading the way. Kawhi signing on long-term is the goal. Though if greener pastures await out west, the Raptors can still pick up the pieces, ready to rebuild quickly with a collection of young talent.