Needs: Running mate for VanVleet, rebounding
Picks: 4, 46, 47
It pains me to say it, but it’s time for the Raptors to blow it all up and start over. They have a young core upon which to build (plus a high draft pick this year) and could likely return to playoff contention rather swiftly. While it may hurt to see Kyle Lowry leave to chase another ring elsewhere knowing the Raptors won it all in 2019, a lot has changed since then, and it’s time for the Raptors to start thinking about the future. With Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher, and OG Anunoby making up a young core, the Raptors are only a few pieces away from fast forwarding through the rebuilding phase. Because they own the 4th pick, Toronto will come away with one of the following players on draft night: Jalen Green, USC’s Evan Mobley, Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs, G-League Ignite’s Jonathan Kuminga or Florida State’s Scottie Barnes.. Regardless of who they select from that group, it makes them considerably better. The two most likely selections would be Suggs and Mobley. If they go with Suggs, they have an immediate plug and play replacement for Kyle Lowry who has the competitiveness and all-around game to be an all-star in the league. If they go with Mobley, they may not get the immediate impact, but they’ll come away with a player that ultimately has the higher ceiling, and still fills a position of need. Mobley would be able to play alongside both Siakam and Boucher (although not both at the same time) and could bolster a really sore spot in the Raptor lineup. The Raptors could also look to add a second or third tier free agent to the roster as well. If they select Mobley, they could target Indiana’s TJ McConnell to pair in the backcourt with VanVleet. And drafting Mobley (or Barnes) would also open up a possible trade of Siakam, who may need to be moved if his relationship with coach Nick Nurse has soured beyond repair. If Suggs is the pick I would look for them to attempt to sign a rebounding big like Enes Kanter or even go after the oft-injured Zach Collins in hopes that he can outperform the cheap contract they could likely get him for.
New York Knicks
Needs: Point guard
Picks: 19, 21, 32, 58
In this column last year, I openly questioned if the Knicks could ever be good as long as James Dolan was the owner. I was clearly wrong, as the Knicks not only made the playoffs, but were the 4th seed in the East. Now the question becomes, can they build on this success? Julius Randle was a revelation. RJ Barrett started figuring out how to be more effective and efficient as the season went on. Immanuel Quickley outperformed everybody’s expectations, and the team was legitimately good despite Mitchell Robinson being injured and Obi Toppin being a disappointment. The Knicks really need to enhance their point guard position, preferably one that can create for themselves and for others. The Knicks have the salary cap space to make it happen, and because they’ve now shown an ability to win, they might be able to convince a top tier free agent to come to the Big Apple and enhance the team further. The first option may not be free agency though, as the team will assuredly do their due diligence on Damian Lillard. They would have to give up key young players to make it happen, but they’d likely be willing to move heaven and earth to have a star of that magnitude next to Julius Randle. However, if that falls through, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them go after players such as Kawhi Leonard (if he opts for free agency), DeMar DeRozan, or Lonzo Ball. They may also be content just to try and bring Derrick Rose back for another season. They also have the 19th and 21st overall pick in the draft. They could keep the picks and look to add more young talent to the roster or package them in a bid to move up for an earlier pick. If they stay at 19 and 21, some realistic options include Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu, Alabama’s Joshua Primo, Florida’s Tre Mann, or LSU’s Cam Thomas. The Knicks are in a good position to further strengthen their team and prove that last season was not simply a fluke.
Needs: Health, depth
Picks: 27, 44, 49, 59
The Nets have already done the vast majority of their roster building by teaming Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. With those three players, there isn’t much wiggle room to add major pieces. They’ve still got Joe Harris, and DeAndre Jordan, but they will need to add some depth, especially since Spencer Dinwiddie won’t be back. The team also dealt with several injuries last season, so it will be important that they have players that can step up without hurting the team when their stars are on the bench either for rest, foul trouble, or injury. Their best bet is to target veteran players looking to win a ring on cheap contracts, because they aren’t going to get a sure thing in the draft. At 27, they could look to target Virginia’s Trey Murphy, G-League ignite’s Isaiah Todd, or Western Kentucky’s Charles Bassey.
Needs: A decision on Ben Simmons
Picks: 28, 50
Philly has everything a team could want. Joel Embiid is an MVP caliber player, they have a 6’10” guy with point guard type skills, Tobias Harris can do everything, Matisse Thybulle is an All-NBA caliber defender, and Tyrese Maxey showed flashes of brilliance late in the season. But the problem is, the team just doesn’t fit together properly. If Ben Simmons had a jumpshot (not even a necessarily good jumpshot, just good enough that he could keep the defense honest) this team could make multiple Finals trips over the next handful of years. Instead, the former first overall pick has struggled to find a role on the team. Is he a point guard? If he is, he needs to be willing and able to shoot from the outside at least occasionally. Is he a power forward? If so, he needs to offer more than just spending possessions hiding in the dunker spot doing nothing. By the end of the year, his confidence was so broken he was passing up looks fight at the rim. Philly has kicked the can down the road for too long, they now must address the issue. Not only has Simmons not developed a jumper, but he refuses to look at the rim far too often, and now the Sixers must either spend the time and resources to build him back up into a serviceable player of trade him for pennies on the dollar as his value will never be lower than it is right now. If they hold on to him and try to rehab that value, they are sacrificing more time that they could be using to further develop their team into a challenge for the Bucks in the East. If they trade him, what do they get in return. Is he the centerpiece of a Lillard trade? Do they have to settle for Buddy Hield and draft picks from Sacramento? Either way, the Sixers have to finally decide what their identity is going to be and fully embrace that. As things stand, they are already over the salary cap, so free agency isn’t going to magically rescue them from this, and drafting 28th doesn’t afford them the chance to draft an immediate impact player on draft night. The only wrong decision here may be to not make a decision, but that’s what Philly has done for a couple seasons now with Simmons. Now is the time to decide. They were the top seed in the East, but until they adjust, the playoffs will be a struggle for them. Oh, and they should probably play Thybulle more than 20 minutes a game.
Needs: Point guard
The Celtics kind of kicked off the off-season moves by ditching Kemba Walker in a trade that netted them Moses Brown and Al Horford from the Thunder (and trading away their first round pick in the process). Because they underachieved this season and the front office game of musical chairs that has happened since the offseason began, there has been talk that they need to trade Jaylen Brown as well. However, that would be a mistake. The Celtics have a scary good, young duo in Brown and Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart is an absolute nuisance on the defensive end who routinely gets in the heads of his opponents. That is not a bad start to a dangerous team. However, the problem with this team that hurts them is that Tatum is asked to do entirely too much. He had four games of 40+ points last season, including a 60 point outburst in a win against San Antonio. However, he doesn’t get enough easy looks and often times Celtics possessions amount to Tatum or Brown simply looking to break their man down and score on their own. Kemba was supposed to take some of that pressure off, but was never truly able to be the difference maker for Boston. Now Boston is in a situation where it’s difficult to fix that glaring roster need. Smart is capable of playing the point guard position, but he’s not able to play it the way Boston needs somebody to play it: as a pass-first guard that looks to get teammates the ball in position to get easy scores. As long as the Celtics have to manufacture their points by running “give the ball to Tatum/Brown and get out of the way” they are going to struggle in the post season. Unfortunately, being over the salary cap and not having a first round pick, it’s going to be tough for the Celtics to remedy the issues on their roster. They still have enough talent to be good, but with the Bucks, Nets, and even the Sixers in the conference, it could be an uphill battle for the Celtics and their young talent to capitalize on their potential. Unless their new coach, Ime Udoka, can scheme easy looks for them, the Celtics may have a cap on just how good they can be right now.