Needs: Power forward
Picks: 1, 37, 53, 56
Boston is in a uniquely advantageous position. They are coming off a season in which they finished first in the Eastern Conference ahead of the vaunted Cavaliers. Normally, that would result in them picking very late in the draft. Instead, due to the Nets paying for prior incompetence (more on that later, sorry Nets fans) the Celtics actually own the #1 overall pick. The Boston salary cap is in the bottom third of the league currently, primarily because their best player, Isaiah Thomas, has an extremely team-friendly contract. Because of this, they will have considerable money to spend in free agency if they choose to do so, and their only major players becoming free agents are Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk, with Olynyk being a restricted free agent. What I’m trying to say is that if the Celtics play their cards right this offseason, it’s no sure thing the Cavaliers will be back in the Finals next season. Let’s start with free agency. One of the most logical choices would be to try to sign Gordon Hayward, who played for Brad Stevens in college. They could also try to steal Blake Griffin away from the Clippers. Other intriguing options would be Danilo Gallinari or even trying to sign Otto Porter away from division rival Washington. That’s not the only thing they can use cap space for though, they could use that space to absorb a large salary in, say, a deal involving the top pick. Paul George and Jimmy Butler seem to be the most thought about targets, but the Celtics could get creative here and target somebody else, as well. Let’s assume the Celtics opt to keep the pick, though. They are in a bit of an awkward position as the top players in this draft play the point, same as Thomas. Even though Thomas is due a raise after next season, it’s unlikely they move an All-NBA player that only costs them 6.2 million. Markelle Fultz looks to be the choice, as he is the presumptive number one pick and can play either guard spot. Lonzo Ball, with his 6-6 frame, could also play alongside Thomas, as he would be the 2 guard on defense and handle the ball on offense some. Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum are also options, particularly in a trade down scenario, although the Celtics drafted Jaylen Brown third overall and likely want him to have time to develop. De'Aaron Fox is another interesting name that Ainge could target in a trade down, his skill set mirrors Rajon Rondo’s, whom Boston had success with. Ultimately, whatever the Celtics do, they should be improved. If they nail the offseason, Ainge might just elevate the Celtics into the top echelon of NBA teams, right alongside the Warriors, Spurs, and Cavaliers.
Needs: Everything except center
Picks: 3, 36, 39, 46, 50
The Process has had mixed results. Joel Embiid looks like he could be a star for them, but he’s only played 31 games in his NBA career. Dario Saric showed this season that he could be a very good player for them, but somebody has to put up numbers on a bad team, can he do it when the team is at full strength? Then there’s Ben Simmons. The team is said to want him to do the bulk of the ball handling duties, but since he sat out all season, we will have to see how his game translates to the NBA game. The top of this draft is full of point guards and small forwards. The 76ers would be foolish to pass on a point guard, who could help take some of the pressure off of Ben Simmons and allow him to play more on the wing as well. One of Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, or De'Aaron Fox will be there for them. One outside the box strategy they could look at would be to trade down with Sacramento for 5 and 10 if there is somebody the Kings really want. That probably isn’t the likeliest of scenarios, though. Ultimately, the 76ers need to keep adding talent so that the team can start winning. They thinned out their glut at center by moving Nerlens Noel, but they need to find the pieces to put around their potential cornerstones of Embiid, Simmons, and Saric. In case you’re wondering, yes, they have a massive amount of salary cap space. No, it likely doesn’t matter because none of the top players are going to want to join a team that has been a massive mess as of late. They will likely have to overpay for mid-tier free agents to fill out their roster and hit the salary floor.
New York Knicks
Needs: Point guard, three point shooting
Picks: 8, 44, 58
The number one need for the Knicks is actually probably a resolution to the mess they’ve made with Carmelo Anthony. Either they need to trade him, or act like he’s a valued member of the team. However, that’s all I’ll say about the matter, because I’m still sick of Carmelo news since the “Melo-drama” of him forcing his way to New York. I’ll not subject myself or you to it again. The Knicks need to begin building around Kristaps Porzingis and his incredible blend of size and skill. Derrick Rose was a nice little experiment, but he only averaged 4.4 assists per game. They need a playmaker that can get easier looks for players like Porzingis. They also need to decide on what position Porzingis will primarily play. He seemed to play best while at the center position, but they have Joakim Noah under (a lucrative) contract until 2020. Ultimately, this team needs a talent infusion, and one of the skills they are in dire need of is three point shooting. They are a team that doesn’t get to the free throw line, which means they need to be able to score from distance, and they were 24th in made threes last season. So, who could they target to help fix these weaknesses? Dennis Smith Jr. is a popular projection because he’s a dynamic point guard that could very well be available at number 8. He’s potentially a new and improved Derrick Rose. Frank Ntilikina is another real possibility with their pick. After striking gold going Euro two years ago with the unicorn, Phil could swing for the fences with a point guard with considerable length (7-foot wingspan) but one that will take some time. Ntilikina appears destined for the D-League at least for some of next season. Another possibility is Malik Monk, who would provide shooting to the lineup. The Knicks likely are a few years from being a team that is legitimately on the rise as they look to accumulate talent, but nailing this draft could go a long way towards getting them back on the right track.
Needs: Kyle Lowry to resign
First things first, if Toronto is unable to retain Kyle Lowry, not much else matters this offseason for them. The Raptors have found a good blend of talent in Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas and they were able to land the three seed in the East because of it. Lowry is simply too big a part of what they do to believe that the Raptors can continue their climb up the conference ranks if they lose him. If Lowry does decide to leave, it’s a safe bet that at least the Wizards and Bucks surpass them, and they wouldn’t be viewed as a threat to make the conference finals. So regardless of what happens this offseason, Toronto’s focus should be on Lowry. If they retain their free agents, they likely won’t be able to add much in terms of personnel this offseason beyond the 23rd pick. This offseason is really about carrying their progress forward from last season. If they retain Lowry, the 23rd pick would most benefit them if they can find a small forward that fits what they do. GM Masai Ujiri has a solid track record of drafting well and generally targets athletes with his picks. They went big with their two first rounders last year, so a wing or PG could be in the cards. Some options would include Terrance Ferguson, Wesley Iwundu, or OG Anunoby. Any of those players should be able to develop into roles on their roster, even if they don’t put up big stats initially.
Picks: 22, 27, 57
The team mortgaged their future by trading what seems like an endless supply of unprotected draft picks to the Boston Celtics. This past season they went 20-62, and arguably have less talent than any other team in the association. Brook Lopez is the team’s best player, but he is a scoring big man that has focused on extending his range. This may be the time for Brooklyn to move him. If you can lose with him, you can certainly lose without him. They don’t have much in terms of draft picks, so getting some picks in exchange for him would help start a rebuild that appears to be stuck in the mud. They’ll have salary cap room, but if they can shed Lopez’s deal, they could have a massive amount of room and could target multiple high level free agents. Brooklyn needs a complete rebuild because of the ill-fated Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett deal and Lopez is not going to get them to where they want to be. He’s a free agent after next season, so this is their last chance to move him and get anything of value for him before they either lose him for nothing or resign him and have him take up even more salary cap room moving forward. It’s hard to say what they’d be able to get for him in trade, but they need to explore it, and draft night is probably the best time to move him. The draft will either be a hard reset for the Nets or setting themselves up for continued failure as they don’t have a first round pick next year either. With two late first rounders, their options won’t be great, but they’ll have a chance to add a potential starter and difference maker. At 22, they will hope that Harry Giles is still on the board for them. If not they’ll have to get creative. Players such as Ivan Rabb, DJ Wilson, and Ike Anigbogu, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Tony Bradley could all be in play at their picks. They could target players coming off of injuries, as they did last year with Caris LeVert like Giles at 22 and OG Anunoby at 27 and red shirt him next year, and hope that the hype around him isn’t just hype. Even better than what they may land with their two picks in the late first, they could use their cap space to target a player like restricted free agent Jonathan Simmons this offseason, as he would give them a potential star to build around. Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic is another player they could target and ultimately be forced to overpay for in free agency.