In this week’s NBA Power Rankings, we look at which teams have the assets, intrigue and impetus to rule this offseason.
Our new look NBA Power Rankings are back, a non-traditional structure for a non-traditional era of professional basketball. The world is no longer just about wins and losses and teams are no longer the primary crucible of basketball power. So each week we’ll be dissecting how basketball power is presently distributed — between players, teams, friendships, diss tracks, aesthetic design choices, across leagues and whatever else has a temporary toehold in this ever-changing landscape.
Who has the power in this week’s NBA Power Rankings?
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers get to carry the mystique of their defending champions into the offseason but there’s unlikely to be a parade and the compressed timeline may provide less time for fawning celebration as NBA fans pivot quickly to what’s coming next for their own teams. The Lakers don’t have a ton of flexibility for dramatic, attention-grabbing changes but there are certainly tweaks to be made.
Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and JaVale McGee all have player options for next season. Davis is the only one who’s is likely to opt-out and even that would simply be for the formality of signing a new deal and extending his commitment to the Lakers. But they could have a roster or two for a veteran willing to chase a ring on a minimum deal and there are a few possibilities — Carmelo Anthony, D.J. Augustin, Wes Matthews — who could actually move the needle. In addition, the Lakers could look to try and flip Kyle Kuzma into pieces with more present value.
Kuzma played respectable defense during the playoffs but he was largely irrelevant in the Finals and the idea of him being a viable third star to complement Davis and James looks seems less plausible than ever. His trade value is probably similarly deflated but there might be something out there that makes the Lakers better next season.
The Lakers probably won’t hit any home runs this offseason but even a bunt single matters more when you’re carrying the Larry O’Brien trophy.
The Celtics looked surprisingly overmatched at times by the Miami Heat, particularly in trying to deal with Bam Adebayo. The Heat center averaged 21.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks per game in the series, shooting better than 60 percent from the field. It wasn’t the only reason they were eliminated but adding versatility in the frontcourt has to be the biggest opportunity for an upgrade.
Gordon Hayward is almost certainly picking up his player option which limits their cap flexibility but the Celtics have three first-round picks and the chance to try and swing a trade, either moving up in the draft or adding a plug-and-play rotation big. And of course, no one dominates the “we almost traded for that guy” market quite like the Celtics.
The Bulls have been revamping their organization for months now, a process that has been elongated by the interrupted NBA season. Billy Donovan was a splashy hire but he’s also someone with a solid track record of both motivating top-end players and accelerating the development of younger ones. The Bulls also landed the No. 5 pick in the draft and hold a roster of interesting parts that aren’t necessarily locked into a specific structure. This draft class doesn’t look particularly top-heavy but there will be players available at No. 5 who can generate excitement and have a practical impact on a hypothetical playoff push next season.
And pulling the levers on all these decisions is a fresh and eager new front office looking to build from the ground up. Between their assets and circumstances, the Bulls could be in the center of a lot over the next few months.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers flameout in the second round was one of the playoffs’ biggest disappointments. They were the story of the last offseason, luring Kawhi Leonard and pulling off a trade for Paul George. After coming up short, it seems like there’s a good chance they’ll be taking some more big swings this offseason.
The Clippers are still looking for a new head coach and they’ll have free-agent decisions to make on both Marcus Morris and Montrezl Harrell. Considering the reported locker room friction between George and Harrell, his interest in returning may not even be a given. Their depth was a bit exposed against the Nuggets and they’ll be looking for upgrades, as creatively as possible. With the Lakers, the Clippers will probably be the most attractive destination for ring-chasing veterans willing to play at a discount. A few solid pick-ups and a fence-swinging coaching hire could have them controlling the narrative again as they head into next year.
Golden State Warriors
No team has as interesting an offseason set-up as the Warriors. They have the No. 2 pick and the return of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry to look forward to. They also have Andrew Wiggins — whose value as both a trade chip and rotation player is a bit nebulous and who played just 72 minutes with Draymond Green and 27 with Curry as injuries destroyed Golden State’s rotation.
I maintain the position that adding Giannis is a pipe dream but if someone like Bradley Beal or Victor Oladipo became available, the Warriors could make a compelling offer. Buddy Hield is another possibility and while his skill set is silly redundant, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t find a way to make the most of him. And then there are the longshots, players who almost certainly won’t be available by trade … but could be. Imagine the Warriors rolling into next season with Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons, James Harden or Rudy Gobert.
Any of those possibilities probably helps the Warriors’ title chances next season more than just keeping their pick, but adding someone like LaMelo Ball is just as fascinating and opens a huge range of possibilities for their future beyond next season. The spiderweb of what-ifs for the Warriors can be reasonably connected to nearly every other NBA team this offseason and that’s what puts them in the driver’s seat.