10 Starting Lineups in Need of a Change During NBA Free Agency
Imagine the NBA‘s best one-man show, Russell Westbrook, adding a sidekick. Or the Houston Rockets following their Chris Paul pickup with a second star splash. Or the Minnesota Timberwolves turning the Jimmy Butler trade into their ultimate free-agency recruiting tool.
Thoughts like those make this the most exciting time on the hoops calendar. With 2017 NBA free agency mere hours from opening, optimism runs rampant amid this strategizing frenzy.
It’s not always about finding the best talent, either. Depending on the situation, some clubs are better off letting their high-priced players take their talents elsewhere, while youth and upside become the preferred targets.
The 10 teams listed here come from all walks of basketball life, but they all share a common need for starting-lineup adjustments this offseason. Whether adding or subtracting, the key is for these clubs to be active and move themselves into more favorable positions.
Things operate a little slower in the South, and the Atlanta Hawks’ reluctant rebuild has been no exception. Even last summer’s changes—Jeff Teague and Al Horford out; Dwight Howard in—were less about backtracking and more moving lateral to something similar but different.
This summer should be more dramatic. There have already been changes to the front office (Travis Schlenk in for Wes Wilcox as general manager, Mike Budenholzer relinquishing president duties) and the roster (Howard to the Charlotte Hornets for Marco Belinelli and Miles Plumlee). But more dominoes need to drop, starting with the departure of 32-year-old All-Star Paul Millsap.
“The Hawks almost traded Millsap last season, and they just dumped Dwight Howard for pennies on the dollar, so it’s hard to see them being able to persuade him to stay,” The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks wrote.
Moreover, Atlanta shouldn’t want Millsap back. Skilled as he is, he doesn’t fit their timeline, and his contract might not age well. Along that same line, Ersan Ilyasova, Kris Humphries, Thabo Sefolosha and Jose Calderon should all be allowed to walk.
The Hawks seem to recognize the need for change; now they need to embrace it.
The Boston Celtics have practiced patience long enough. Everything is aligned for them to wheel and deal their way from very good shadow contenders to full-fledged elites.
On the financial front, they are as flexible as an Olympic gymnast. Al Horford is the only player collecting an eight-figure salary, while All-Star Isaiah Thomas’ $6.2 million rate might be the league’s best bargain. The Celtics have also collected enough picks and prospects to broker a blockbuster trade without gutting their core.
The upside on Boston’s offseason is incredible. The ideal heist includes both Gordon Hayward (or Blake Griffin as Plan B) and Paul George, league sources told Adrian Wojnarowski, then with The Vertical. If the master plan falls apart, the Shamrocks can always shift to next-tier targets like Danilo Gallinari or Paul Millsap.
The key will be acting with a sense of urgency. Securing the East’s best record with 53 wins shows this group is close; being outscored by 100 points in the Conference Finals shows there’s more work to do. Waiting no longer seems prudent, with Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart all in need of new deals next summer.
If the Celtics are going to do anything with this core, they must make a major move in free agency.
This is demolition time for the Chicago Bulls. All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler is gone, a move that simultaneously sounded the death knell for delusions of 35-year-old Dwyane Wade and 31-year-old Rajon Rondo helping restore the Windy City’s relevance.
Chicago’s offseason aim should be acquiring as much youth as possible and removing the key components of a club that already seemed stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity.
“We’ve gone through the past where we’d make the playoffs but not at a level we wanted to. In this league, success is not determined that way,” Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said, per NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner. “So we’ve decided to make the change and rebuild this roster.”
There’s no reason to keep Rondo and his partially guaranteed $13.3 million salary. Not when the Bulls need to see what they have in young point guards Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne and Jerian Grant. Wade might be stuck—unless he’d give a lot back in a buyout—but the Bulls should shop Robin Lopez to further their youth movement.
This is more about subtracting than adding, though Chicago could throw a massive amount of money at a sub-25-year-old in restricted free agency like Otto Porter.
“Daryl Morey is not done,” Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck wrote. “That much, I guarantee you.”
The Houston Rockets already made their summer splash. Paying a half-cent on the dollar, they snagged nine-time All-Star Chris Paul, who is now one-half of the league’s most intriguing—if not, most talented—backcourt alongside MVP runner-up James Harden.
And like Beck wrote, this is just the beginning.
Sources told ESPN.com’s Tim MacMahon that Houston thinks it can also reel in either Paul George or Carmelo Anthony. It’s hard to tell if either are remotely likely—George should command more than the Rockets can offer, and Anthony still holds his no-trade clause—but the targets are at least set at All-Star levels.
Beyond that, Houston has all of its exceptions to add parts. Barring further changes, four of the five starting spots are probably filled by Paul,…