Needs: Fred VanVleet to return or a long term direction
Toronto underachieved last season. Pascal Siakam was again very good, but the team struggled offensively compared to preseason expectations. Fred VanVleet took a noticeable step back this season, shooting the worst percentage from three of his career on 8.8 attempts per game. Moving forward, they need to decide where they are as a team. VanVleet is a free agent as he has opted out, and obviously they don’t want to lose him for nothing. And next season, they could find themselves in the same situation with Siakam. That leads to their biggest problem: if they bring VanVleet back this year and Siakam back next year, is there any real way to be a contender with the same team that had a .500 record this year? If they lose one of their stars each of the next two offseasons, could they then put enough pieces around Scottie Barnes to speed up the rebuild? If VanVleet goes elsewhere, look for them to explore the trade market for Siakam this upcoming season. Barnes is a lock to be on the team, but this is a team that could potentially see a lot of turnover in the next couple of years. They pick 13th in the draft this season, and could look at some pieces such as Central Florida’s Taylor Hendricks or France’s Bilal Coulibaly (pictured) who both fit the physical profile Toronto looks for. Or they could look to replace VanVleet’s spot with UCONN’s Jordan Hawkins, Kentucky’s Cason Wallace or Indiana’s Jalen Hood-Schifino. After this past season’s disappointment, I would not be the least bit shocked to see Toronto blow it all up and started over, since they can get out of almost all of their current contracts by the start of the 25-26 season.
Picks: 21, 22, 51
Speaking of rebuilding situations, the Nets took an atom bomb to their roster last season and will need to replenish the talent on their roster. Mikal Bridges showed that he had a lot more to his game than he showed in Phoenix and flashed attributes that the Nets can build around. Past that, they have a lot of question marks. Cam Thomas looked like a star some nights and then couldn’t even get on the court other nights, so it will be interesting to see what they do with him moving forward. The Nets will also continue trying to figure out their Ben Simmons reclamation project. The team is close enough to a blank slate talent wise that they can fill in the roster with basically any type of players they like. But their salary situation is in a tight spot, so they will need to have a plan for how to get the team back on the right track. They enter draft night with the 21st and 22nd picks. They could potentially use them to move up and get someone they think could play a significant role right away or they could look to add two rotational pieces. With their current picks, they could get players such as Leonard Miller from G-League Ignite, Jett Howard from Michigan, Kris Murray of Iowa, or Brice Sensabaugh of Ohio State. The Nets also have to decide if they are going to bring back restricted free agent Cam Johnson. Depending on the salary he commands, it could be a situation where they have to choose between resigning him or having access to the non-taxpayer midlevel exception. In a weak free agent class, it will likely be in their best interest to retain Johnson and go from there in filling out their roster with whatever they have left.
Boston thought this past season was their year. Both their offense and defense were elite, they have two great wing players in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Al Horford rolled back the clock, and yet they came up short against the Heat. It’s unwise for them to expect Horford to continue playing at the level he was at this past season with his age, and Robert Williams’ knee issues have to give them pause long term. But this team is battling the clock on acquiring talent. With the massive contracts on this team, once the new tax aprons and tax penalties get implemented, this Celtics team will have next to no way to add talent. So that means the Celtics need to go all-in on winning the championship this upcoming season, because it truly could be an all-or-nothing situation for the franchise. They only have one draft pick this year, a second rounder at 35. Unfortunately for them, there may not be many true bigs at that spot, so it becomes them essentially running it back and hoping this season ends differently. In free agency, they have Grant Williams who is a restricted free agent, and will also have the tax payer midlevel exception. I don’t expect it to get them a major piece, but they could get a veteran looking to get a ring. Andre Drummond and Mike Muscala could be potential targets for them.
Needs: James Harden, depth
Picks: 58 (Forfeited)
Philly had the third best record in the league last season and the league MVP. And yet, they have some major questions looming large for next season. James Harden has a choice to make that could make all the difference for Philly. Should Harden decide to come back to Philly, the 76ers have to be considered a contender. However, if Harden decides to go to Houston or some other team, Philly will have to retool their lineup around Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. They have a new coach in Nick Nurse, who I truly believe could make a positive difference on this roster. Philly would obviously prefer to retain Harden, and if they do, they are banking on the coaching change being enough to get them over the top. However, if Harden opts to leave, they will need to add a number of players. Because of their cap situation, they don’t have a ton of wiggle room, but if they are strategic with their timing and Montrez Harrell opts out of his deal, they could find themselves able to use the non tax payer mid level which could net them a difference maker. Much like the Celtics, the window for this team is closing with the new tax penalties coming soon. Maxey’s next contract is going to be massive and Embiid will be making around 50 million per year, so it will be important for Philly to find quality depth to extend their window as far into the future as possible.
New York Knicks
Needs: Three point shooting, center
The Knicks are in a bit of a strange place at the moment. Last season they hit a homerun by signing Jalen Brunson and he helped lead them to a top 5 seed in the conference. Julius Randle was third team All-NBA, but questions about if he actually wants to be there seem to persist. He’s their best player many nights, but trading him seems unlikely unless they take ten cents on the dollar, so they will need to ensure he is engaged and playing at a high level. They could use another three point shooter to balance out the offense. Brunson is very good (41.6%), as is potential free agent Josh Hart (51.9%) but they need more shooting, especially since R.J. Barrett is a lousy shooter that needs space to be able to be at his best. In addition to shooting, the Knicks could target a center for depth purposes and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them look for a veteran backup point guard. Derrick Rose is likely to have his team option declined, and Tom Thibodeau might be tempted to move Sixth Man of the Year finalist Immanuel Quickley into the starting role. Without a draft pick and only the taxpayer midlevel / bi-annual exceptions, their options are pretty limited to help them take the next step.