There are several NBA teams who will have plenty of money to spend in free agency. What are the biggest holes each team needs to fill?
There’s a whole lot of cap space available in the NBA this offseason. And it’s not just the major-market teams with cash to burn. Nearly half the league has double-digit millions in space. Some of those teams are more likely to actually use their space than others, so we’re not going to walk through the glaring needs for every single team with room below. Instead, we’ll just look at 10 teams who should be considered extremely likely to use their space on outside free agents, and what their needs are at this moment.
With the signing of Kemba Walker imminent, per multiple reports, the Celtics should turn their attention to the frontcourt. Al Horford is likely gone. Aron Baynes has already been traded. Marcus Morris is likely to walk as well. Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, and rookie Grant Williams is not the frontcourt of a contender. The Celtics should absolutely check in with every non-max free-agent center and see which of them is willing to take the room exception or a minimum contract.
With Kyrie Irving replacing D’Angelo Russell as the Nets’ point guard and with quality role players locked in both on the wing — Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, — and up front — Jarrett Allen — the Nets could use a combo forward to soak up minutes ahead of Taurean Prince, Rodions Kurucs, and Dzanan Musa. Unsurprisingly, they’re hot after Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Tobias Harris, and more in free agency. Finding a cheap backup for Allen, as they did last season with Ed Davis, should be another priority. They can likely find a workable option with the room exception or a minimum deal, especially if they land another star alongside Irving.
The most recent reporting indicates that Dallas prefers to split its cap space up between multiple players, and that seems like a wise decision. They could use a co-lead ball-handler along with Luka Doncic, a part-timer at center who can either start alongside Kristaps Porzingis and occasionally close games or back Porzingis up, and some more depth and shooting on the wings, because Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee (if healthy) aren’t enough on their own. Dwight Powell can likely handle a decent chunk of the center minutes, but we know Porzingis prefers to play the 4 and the Mavs may want to spend his first full season there making him as comfortable as possible after how things went down in New York, so another big guy should be in the cards. And the Luka-KP pick-and-roll/pop combination needs as much space as possible in which to work, so adding more shooting at every other position is necessary.
With Victor Oladipo likely out for much of next season, Darren Collison retiring, and Thaddeus Young presumably on his way out after the acquisition of T.J. Warren and drafting of Goga Bitadze, the Pacers have needs at point guard (to either start ahead of Aaron Holiday or back him up) and on the wing, though they would presumably like to bring back Bojan Bogdanovic. Still, without Oladipo and Collison, this is a team sorely lacking off-the-dribble creativity and shooting. Rumored target Ricky Rubio does not make a ton of sense, but there’s been so much smoke around the rumor that there almost has to be some fire. If Rubio is indeed the target, then adding shooting depth before retaining Bogdanovic has to be the move.
The Clippers are star-shopping but don’t actually have a ton of real needs. If they don’t land Leonard and/or Durant and/or Butler and/or Harris, they should just run it back with some guys on one-year deals and bide their team until the next group of stars becomes available.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers currently do not have a guard on the roster. So … they need to get one. Like, at least one. Preferably a few more than that. If Kawhi wants their money, great. Do it right away and then go cheap on the guard signings and hope you figure it out. If it’s D’Angelo Russell that takes the Buss’ cash, then the priority has to be finding an $8-10 million 3-and-D guy (Danny Green?), a center with the room exception (Robin Lopez? Ed Davis?), and as many rotation players as will take a minimum deal. They realistically should not be signing a single player that is not a plus shooter from 3, a good, multi-positional defender, or both.
New Orleans Pelicans
David Griffin quietly opened near-max cap space with all his wheeling and dealing near the draft, and the Pelicans can use that space to find several rotation pieces that accentuate Zion Williamson’s strengths and mitigate his (relatively few) weaknesses, or to land a big fish like Al Horford, who can do both of those things. Horford makes a ton of sense as spacing center next to Williamson, as his shooting and passing skills are everything you need with a player like Zion on the offensive end. Horford’s ability to defend both in space and in the post, on the perimeter and near the rim, would allow Williamson to roam for those steals and weak side blocks he had all the time at Duke. And he would fit seamlessly with the Lonzo Ball-Jrue Holiday backcourt as well. Naturally, it was reported late Saturday that the Pelicans are not in the mix for Horford; so splitting up the money on multiple plus shooters seems like the wisest move. With Williamson, Ball, and Ingram on the floor, they’re likely to be cramped for space fairly often, so they need a way to loosen up defenses.
New York Knicks
The Knicks’ needs can most simply be described as “everything.” They have exactly one player on the roster who has proven he can contribute in the NBA at an above-average level for his position: Mitchell Robinson. There are other players with great potential to do so, but none that have actually done it yet. The Knicks can and should be choosy, though, if they don’t land any of the stars they’re chasing. Overpaying players on multi-year deals just so to make themselves feel better about missing out on stars is not the move. Luckily, they seem to be prioritizing short-term contracts.
The biggest need is probably at point guard, since that’s the spot where you can get someone who can help you see what you actually have in players like Robinson, R.J. Barrett, and Kevin Knox. There doesn’t seem to be a reason to sign a guy like Terry Rozier to a big-money deal to play ahead of Dennis Smith when he hasn’t shown much more than Smith at the NBA level, but if they can get a veteran to back Smith up and occasionally play next to him, that makes more sense. Rumored target Julius Randle is just about the worst fit possible next to Robinson and Barrett given his lack of stretch or ability to defend but they need someone else who can score and it might as well be a guy you know is amenable to taking a short-term deal.
The Suns came into last season with the most hilarious point guard rotation in the league, and they can’t let that happen again. The rumored target has been Russell, but he and Devin Booker make for a poor fit no matter how tight their friendship. The Suns seem like exactly the kind of team that should throw an offer sheet at Malcolm Brogdon and hope the Bucks don’t match. Given his experience playing on and off the ball, his plus-plus shooting, his size, and his defensive versatility, he makes for essentially the perfect backcourt partner for Booker. He can share ball-handling duties, beat closeouts on the weak side, and always take the more dangerous backcourt matchup on defense. The Suns have not exactly operated all that logically in the recent past, though, so who knows what they might be up to.
The Kings are already set to use a bunch of their space to re-sign Harrison Barnes, but they should have enough left over to replace the likely-departing Willie Cauley-Stein and add another shooter alongside Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic. There have been rumors that they might be in play for either Horford or Nikola Vucevic, but Vuc sounds like he’s re-signing and Horford will likely have other offers. There are worse things than giving Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley a chance to play big minutes in the frontcourt, either together or alone, and there is not much wing depth beyond their two young shooters.