One Question Every Team in NBA’s Southeast Division Must Answer By the End of 2017-18
NBA championship odds come courtesy of Bovada. While teams that have been officially eliminated from playoff contention won’t incur any line changes, since they’re not available, be sure to double-check the numbers on postseason hopefuls before placing a wager, as they will shift with each passing game.
Atlanta Hawks (Off): What’s Their Biggest Draft Need?
The Atlanta Hawks are in a weird spot. They’re tanking—in effective fashion, mind you—but it’s not yet clear what or who they’re tanking for.
If the draft lottery were held right this minute, they would enter with top-three odds. And assuming they end up with a top-three pick, we have no idea who they’ll select or who they’ll even target.
It’s safe to assume they won’t go after a point guard. They could use an additional playmaker, but they’re already paying Dennis Schroder for another three years, and reaching for a floor general like Trae Young or Collin Sexton that high would be dangerous.
Every other position is in play. They could look for additional wings, like Michael Porter Jr. or Luka Doncic, to partner with Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry. They could go for a tweener like Kevin Knox. They could draft a big in Mohamed Bamba or Deandre Ayton. Again: We don’t know.
The rest of this season has to be about figuring out the biggest need, or whether they have the flexibility to go best player available.
Charlotte Hornets (+50000): To Rebuild, Or Not To Rebuild?
The Charlotte Hornets should rebuild. Let’s get that out of the way.
They have no cap space this summer. They have no high-end prospects with star ceilings. They have no desirable trade chips outside Kemba Walker. They won’t have meaningful cap flexibility until 2019 at the earliest—and even then, they’ll likely be left with no wiggle room, since Walker himself will be up for a new contract.
Starting over is the smart move. The Hornets should use Walker’s soon-to-be expiring deal to lop off some of their other long-term salary and potentially snag a first-round pick while improving their draft positioning for next season.
Of course, we know better than to assume this is what they’re thinking. Owner Michael Jordan has gone to great lengths to ensure his franchise remains in the middle of the pack. They don’t have a general manager at the moment, making this the perfect time for a full-tilt transition, but his apparent interest in former Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak signals he’s not yet ready to give up on this nucleus.
And if that’s the case, the Hornets must look for tangible proof that they’re headed in a promising direction. Outscoring opponents with Walker on the floor—as they’ve done all season—isn’t nearly enough. They need to tweak and tinker with funky lineups the rest of the way and see whether they have a handful of guys built to float winning basketball while their best player is on the bench.
Miami Heat (+15000): How Much Is Justise Winslow Worth?
The Miami Heat are headed to the playoffs. We know this much. They might even make some noise once they get there. Head coach Erik Spoelstra is a clipboard sage, and you can bet no one, not even the Cleveland Cavaliers or Toronto Raptors, want a piece of them in the first round.
Piror to the postseason, though, the Heat need to take a good, long, hard look at Justise Winslow. He’s extension-eligible this summer, and they don’t plan on re-signing him by 2019-20, they must look at moving him for some form of compensation over the offseason.
Answering this question has become much harder in recent weeks. Previously, it was pretty clear. Either Winslow would be cheap enough to keep or they would ditch him.
But he’s shooting 43.1 percent from beyond the arc over his last 18 games. That clip isn’t coming on massive volume, but it’s high enough for opposing defenses to respect him. And if he’s going to space the floor as a standstill shooter while playing upper-echelon defense against all sorts of wings, he could be an invaluable part of Miami making an imminent leap.
The Heat, remember, aren’t projected to have cap flexibility for at least the next two summers. They’re not blessed with a terrific number of trade assets either. Getting in-house boons is their most effective means of improvement. On the flip side, however, signing Winslow to a long-term deal only damages their flexibility beyond 2019. So they must decide whether he’s worth more to them as a trade chip or big-picture contributor.
Orlando Magic (Off): Is Aaron Gordon A Legit Building Block?
Most restricted free agents are going to get squeezed this summer. Aaron Gordon figures to be an exception.
Max contracts won’t be readily available as the open market continues its recovery from the 2016 spending spree, but Gordon possesses the physical tools of both a wing and a big. He’s someone a hyper-aggressive, if desperate, team can talk themselves into for near-max money.
Doing so becomes that much easier knowing the Orlando Magic will probably match whatever offer he receives, as is their right as his incumbent squad. But he’s not worth anything close to max money. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Gordon doesn’t look like he’ll ever be the hub for an above-average offense. He’s not a whiz at initiating pick-and-rolls, and he’s struggled to hone his skills off the dribble. He’s shooting 31 percent on pull-up jumpers this season and looks to be best suited as more of a standstill sniper.
That’s fine. It’s better than fine. But it’s not worth $20 million or more per year when he doesn’t pair his specialist’s offense with proven defensive faculties. He is neither the best switcher nor a genuine rim protector. He continues to be part of Orlando’s absolute worst defensive combinations.
Digging deeper into his ceiling has to be the Magic’s foremost goal the rest of the way. Is he being held back by a lackluster roster around him? Is he a viable No. 1 prospect? Should he be a No. 2 option? How about No. 3? Does he have another gear on defense?
If they’re not able to forge some degree of clarity on this front before the offseason, they should consider taking a hardline stance in his free agency. Committing to matching whatever offers he receives is a great way to get them in trouble years down the line.
Washington Wizards (+6600): Does The Offense Or Defense Have Another Level?
Do you feel as if the Washington Wizards, despite firming up their playoff chances, are just plain blah?
You’re not alone.
The Wizards fail to rank in the top 10 of either points scored or points allowed per 100 possessions. But they also manage to place in the top half of both. That screams mediocrity.
More recently, in the absence of John Wall, they’ve seen their offense sputter and defense decline. While they can count on his return from a knee injury to buoy their offensive output, they’ll need to be more creative at the defensive end.
Wall has only ever performed up to his reputation on the less glamorous side for small stretches at a time. It’s hard to envision him making much of an impact now, on the heels of a protracted absence.
Shoddy bench production is also part of the problem. Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre Jr. have both stood out when playing among two or more starters, but they’ve thus far been unfit to carry bench-heavy units on their own. That won’t matter so much in the playoffs, when head coaches tend to shrink their rotations, but it matters in the sense that Otto Porter and Bradley Beal could find themselves a tad overworked by mid-April.
Striking a delicate balance between now and the end of the year must top the Wizards’ to-do list. They should take whatever time they have left without Wall to roll the dice on reserve-heavy units that feature one of Beal, Porter or Markieff Morris at the helm, just so they’re even better equipped to thrive when Wall’s return brings them to full strength.
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