9 NBA teams to watch this offseason

Movie quote of the day:

“But I know the rage that drives you. That impossible anger strangling the grief, until the memory of your loved one is just poison in your veins. And one day, you catch yourself wishing the person you loved had never existed so you’d be spared your pain.”

– Henri Ducard, “Batman Begins” (2005)

The NBA season just wrapped up last week. The draft is tomorrow and free agency starts July 1. This should be a very entertaining offseason. I mean, there’s already been plenty of chatter involving trades the last two days – my brain was about to explode this week. I always love the offseason process in every sport, but I think it’s particularly intriguing in the NBA because there’s always an All-Star or two to be on the move every year. Anyway, here’s nine teams (five playoff teams, four bottom feeders) that I think fans should keep an eye on the next few weeks.

Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas dribbles the ball against the Washington Wizards during the first quarter in game four of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics
2016-2017 record: 53-29
Draft picks: 4 (No. 3, No. 37, No. 53, No. 56)
Projected cap space: $18.4 million

I think Boston is the team to watch closely this offseason. The Celtics have to try to keep up with Cleveland to contend in the Eastern Conference, and because of that, I expect them to make some moves in the next few weeks. They have four draft picks tomorrow – including the No. 3 overall pick – and with the trade this week with Philadelphia, they now have 11 combined draft picks in 2018 and 2019 – seven in the first round. Also, Boston has one of the deepest rosters in the league filled with excellent role players. In conclusion, the Celtics are chop full of assets to make trades for All-Stars like Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward, or even Kristaps Porzingis (if the rumors are true that New York wants to move him). I’m not sure making trades for those players will close the gap with Cleveland, but it’s still worth a try.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reacts on the court during the first quarter against the Golden State Warriors in game three of the 2017 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Cavaliers
2016-2017 record: 51-31
Draft picks: None
Projected cap space: $44.7 million

Boston is trying to keep up with Cleveland in the East. Meanwhile, Cleveland is trying to keep up with Golden State for supremacy in the NBA. Barring any possible future injuries, I’m not sure the Cavaliers have the roster to beat the Warriors in a NBA Finals series. Cleveland’s front office is going to try to make a splash this offseason to try to counter Golden State’s acquisition of Kevin Durant last year. I think that’s going to be a tougher task than it seems though. First, it’s kind of a subpar free agency class and Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert has been adamant about not spending any more money (the Cavaliers owed $54 million in luxury tax last season). Cleveland has only two draft picks in the next three years too – both are second-round picks – so that probably rules out the possibility of a trade unless a third party gets involved. Also, since general manager David Griffin decided to leave Cleveland this week, that means there could be chaos in the Cavaliers’ front office. So, I’d watch out for the possibility of LeBron James leaving Cleveland again – even though I find it highly unlikely.

Houston Rockets guard James Harden dribbles the ball in game four of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Rockets
2016-2017 record: 55-27
Draft picks: 2 (No. 43, No. 45)
Projected cap space: $2.5 million

As much as I respect San Antonio, I honestly think that Houston is the biggest threat to Golden State in the Western Conference. The Rockets already have the fire power offensively to contend with the Warriors, and has an offensive guru for a head coach. Still, they have to close the gap with the Warriors. In order to fix that, I think it’s going to have to come through free agency because Houston doesn’t have the draft picks to make a trade. The Rockets have been linked to make a strong run for some of the top free agents on the market this offseason like point guards Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry, and power forwards Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap. If the Rockets add one of those players at those positions, then I think things can get really interesting in the West, especially if they can add Paul.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) and guard Chris Paul react during a NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Clippers
2016-2017 record: 51-31
Draft picks: None
Projected cap space: $43 million

The window is closing for the Clippers to make a run for a championship, and similar to Houston, they really need to close the gap with the Warriors. Seriously, the Clippers haven’t beat Golden State since October 24, 2014. With the addition of Jerry West to the Clippers’ front office, I’m very interested to see what his plan is for the team this offseason. West is an eight-time NBA champion as a front office executive, so he knows how to assemble a championship team. Also, despite being 79, he has great respect amongst the young players currently in the league and I think he’ll be able to attract top players to Los Angeles – which is very convenient since the Clippers are projected to have $43 million in cap room this offseason. It all starts if West chooses to retain the Clippers’ “Big Three” (Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan). I think keeping Paul is a must, but I feel like the Clippers could afford to lose Griffin and Jordan and the team wouldn’t be much worse than they are now. Also, I wouldn’t rule out West making a move for LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony.

Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram reacts after scoring a basket against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers
2016-2017 record: 26-56
Draft picks: 3 (No. 2, No. 27, No. 28)
Projected cap space: $11.3 million

The Lakers have already started to make moves this offseason by agreeing to trade D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez and the No. 27 pick this week. That now gives the Lakers three first-round picks – one of them is the No. 2 pick – and keep in mind, this draft class is one of the most talented since 2003. They have a great chance to draft some playmakers tomorrow. Since the Lakers just traded a point guard, I’m willing to bet they go with Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick. Back to the trade, Lopez is a very underrated player – averaging 20.5 points per game the last two seasons – and acquiring him I think is a great move by the Lakers, but this was mostly a salary cap dump to make cap room for Paul George, or maybe even LeBron James. I’d say the Magic Johnson Era in the Lakers’ front office is off to a great start.

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (left) and center Karl-Anthony Towns during the second half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves
2016-2017 record: 31-51
Draft picks: 1 (No. 7)
Projected cap space: $24.9 million

To me, Minnesota is without a doubt the most intriguing team that didn’t make the playoffs last year. The Timberwolves have to have the best young corps of talent in the NBA. They have two future superstars in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, and Zach LaVine has a very bright future as well. Not to mention Minnesota has veteran head coach Tom Thibodeau – who has experience in getting to the postseason. I the Timberwolves are just a player away from being a playoff team, and I think a few years removed from possibly being a contender in the Western Conference. The Timberwolves have done an excellent job of building this team and I think Minnesota should certainly be an appealing destination to free agents this offseason. Plus, this year has one of the most talented draft classes ever and I fully expect Minnesota to find another playmaker. Keep an eye on the Timberwolves.

New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony reacts during the second half against the San Antonio Spurs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

New York Knicks
2016-2017 record: 31-51
Draft picks: 3 (No. 8, No. 44, No. 58)
Projected cap space: $18.9 million

Even though New York is a dumpster fire right now, I still feel like the Knicks are an intriguing team this offseason. It’s hard to tell which players will be free agents or will likely be traded, but outside of the Lakers, I feel like New York is the most desired destination in the NBA – mostly because of the opportunity to play at Madison Square Garden and New York City has such a massive appeal to players. Even though the Knicks have been terrible for years now, I feel like the attraction is still there, but having Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony in the organization really hurts – seriously, it feels like Jackson is just giving up as a front office executive and Anthony is a cancer in the locker room. Despite the fact that New York has an incompetent jabroni in the front office and one of the most cancerous players in the league, this team was still just 10 games out from being in the playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference. Plus, this team has Kristaps Porzingis, who looks to be the face of the Knicks’ organization. He’s just 21 years old and looks to have the potential to be a cornerstone piece to build around. I want New York to do well because I think having a successful Knicks team is only good for the NBA. So, please don’t trade Porzingis, Phil.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid reacts after being fouled against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia 76ers
2016-2017 record: 28-54
Draft picks: 5 (No. 1, No. 36, No. 39, No. 46, No. 50)
Projected cap space: $42.6 million

After the recent trade with Boston to move up and acquire the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, I honestly feel like Philadelphia is slowly becoming the Minnesota of the Eastern Conference (#TrustTheProcess). Assuming the 76ers draft Markelle Fultz, they’ll have a young corps with a bright future in Fultz, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons. Fultz is a combo guard that can shoot – which is exactly what is needed to win in today’s NBA. We’ve seen what Joel Embiid can do when he’s healthy – he averaged 20.2 points per game last year in just 31 games. We haven’t seen Simmons yet due to a foot injury, but his potential is there. I’m not saying Philadelphia is going to turn it around this season with a healthy Simmons and Embiid, and the presumable addition of Fultz, but I look forward to seeing how these players develop and play together. This team is still likely going to be a bottom feeder this season and the 76ers will likely get another lottery pick next year – which is just another chance to build this young corps. Like with Minnesota, I say give it a few years and I think Philadelphia could become an intriguing destination for veteran free agents.

San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard reacts during the first half against the Memphis Grizzlies in game four of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio Spurs
2016-2017 record: 61-21
Draft picks: 2 (No. 29, No. 59)
Projected cap space: $29.6 million

Like I’ve already said, teams have to close the gap with Golden State in order to have a prayer of winning the NBA championship. Obviously, one of those teams is San Antonio. The Spurs have some cornerstone pieces to win like Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. However, they also have some of older players like Pau Gasol and Tony Parker who don’t match up well with the Warriors. It’s been rumored that San Antonio will make a run for Chris Paul in free agency – which would be an excellent start to trying to contend with Golden State. San Antonio has the cap space to sign some free agents. Also, the Spurs have assets if they wanted to make a trade. They have some, not a lot, but some draft picks along with a plethora of role players that could be valuable to some teams. This isn’t usually San Antonio’s style, but it’s desperate times right now to try to keep up with Golden State.

Thanks for reading

Shane Price
Follow me on Twitter – @priceisright53

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