Needs: Point guard, cap relief
Picks: 11, 43
It was only a couple of years ago that Minnesota was viewed as a team that was on the cusp of becoming a contender. Karl-Anthony Towns looked the part of franchise cornerstone, Andrew Wiggins had a ton of promise, and Jimmy Butler was brought in to pull the pieces together. Instead, Butler threw a temper tantrum until he was traded to Philly, Wiggins looks good if you only look at his stats, but you’d be hard pressed to find somebody that actually believes Wiggins warrants making an average of 30 million annually over each of the next four seasons, and KAT, well, he’s great, but he isn’t enough to carry the team where it wants to go. In addition to Wiggins, Minnesota is paying bloated contracts to Gorgui Dieng (33 million over next 2 years) and Jeff Teague (19 million next season). Because of those deals, even though the Timberwolves have a number of roster spots to fill this offseason, they won’t have cap space available to do so. They’ll have the #11 pick, which could net them someone along the lines of North Carolina’s Nassir Little, Indiana’s Romeo Langford, or Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura. All players that could help, but not players that really fill this team’s biggest need: point guard. Teague will enter free agency after this upcoming season, Derrick Rose played really well this past season, but was only available in 51 games (still more than Teague, though), and Tyus Jones was good but not great in 22 minutes per game.
If this team wants to take advantage of the fact that they have one of the best young bigs in the game in Towns, they need somebody that can get him the ball in a position to get easier looks. That’s going to be easier said than done in their situation, however. With the team being hamstrung by their cap situation, they would greatly benefit by finding a team willing to take on the contract of either Wiggins or Dieng in order to free themselves of the mess of their own making. The number 11 pick, whoever it may end up being, will help, but without further moves, the Timberwolves will find themselves with a high draft pick again next season most likely.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Needs: Shooting guard
Speaking of teams in salary cap hell, welcome to Oklahoma City. The biggest difference between Minnesota’s situation and Oklahoma City’s though is who the two teams are paying. While Minnesota is spending their money on Dieng and Teague, the Thunder are paying MVP candidates Paul George and Russell Westbrook. With those two and Steven Adams, the team has the framework to challenge almost anybody in the conference, but something seems to be missing. Ever since losing James Harden, the Thunder haven’t seemed to find somebody to plug in at the shooting guard position. They’ve tried to put defensive specialists in there while drafting young players each year to try and fill that void. Unfortunately for them, it hasn’t worked. The last few drafts, the team has tried to fill that void with Hami Diallo, Terrance Ferguson, Alex Abrines, and Cameron Payne, and all they have to show for it is a dunk contest championship. Something tells me they aren’t done trying to fill that void, though. With the 21st pick this year, they could be targeting someone along the lines of Romeo Langford, Kentucky’s [Player:Tyler Herro], Washington’s Matisse Thybulle, or Stanford’s KZ Okpala. Something the Thunder could try to do as well would be to trade for a second rounder, and target a player like Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield in the second round. This is a team that truly is one piece away from being one of the elite teams in the league, and if they can manage to hit on their late draft pick, this could be a team that challenges Golden State and Denver for a spot in the NBA Finals next season.
Needs: Point guard, power forward
Picks: 23, 53
Unlike the previous two teams, the Jazz actually have salary cap space to play with this offseason, especially if they opt not to keep Derrick Favors around. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Jazz have struggled in the past to draw big name free agents to Utah, meaning there is no guarantee they’d be able to upgrade from Favors. If they aren’t able to sign someone of note, the status quo isn’t exactly encouraging for a team that finished 5th in the conference last season, but doesn’t have the upside of the teams above them. Most of the team either will be back or can easily be brought back, the main exception to this is Ricky Rubio. It wouldn’t shock me to see Utah attempt to use that cap space to make a trade with Memphis to bring in Mike Conley to run the point. If they do that, this team could take a step forward, but if they aren’t able or willing to swing a deal, they will have to find other ways to get better. Among draftees, they might look at Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke, LSU’s Naz Reid, Kentucky’s PJ Washington, or Western Kentucky’s Charles Bassey. Among free agents, their targets might include Kemba Walker, Goran Dragic, and Malcolm Brogdon. It also wouldn’t surprise me if the Jazz took a shot at trying to draw Klay Thompson away from Golden State with the promise of letting him be the star in Utah alongside Donovan Mitchell.
Needs: Bench scoring
The Trailblazers finally broke through and made it to the Western Conference Finals. Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum led the way, but the team got contributions from late addition Enes Kanter, and under the radar players such as Rodney Hood, Meyers Leonard, and Evan Turner. If Portland can get contributions from players outside of their two starting guards, they could build even further off of this year’s progress. Add in the fact that that they did it without Jusuf Nurkic, and this team looks to be in good shape moving forward. The one thing they really lack going into next season is bench scoring as Rodney Hood and Seth Curry are both free agency. The players the Blazers could potentially be losing are far from irreplaceable, but Portland will need to find replacements for them. One of those replacements will likely come with their draft pick. Possible picks could be Cameron Johnson of North Carolina, Louis King of Oregon, or even Dylan Windler of Belmont. Prior to the playoffs, I might have predicted them selecting a big man in case Nurkic doesn’t return to form, but Zach Collins’ growth makes it likely they look to fill other needs in the draft.
Needs: Power forward
Denver took a massive step forward this season behind Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. This is a young team with all kinds of good young players on the roster. Jokic is so different from the other big men in the game in that you can actually run the offense through him both inside and outside. The biggest weakness on this team is at power forward where Paul Millsap has had a good career, but his best years are behind him and yet he would make 30 million next season if the team exercised their option on him. If they opt not to, Denver would find themselves with salary cap space to fill that void. Without a draft pick, free agency will be the primary method for improving the team, and because of their unique roster construction, they could go a couple of different directions in replacing Millsap. Julius Randle could be a perfect fit alongside Jokic, but they could also opt for someone along the lines of Thad Young. If they wanted to fully embrace a bit more of a small ball approach, they could look to sign Jabari Parker or Harrison Barnes and have them play the four, which would create more spacing in the Denver offense. All of this would not be without risk, however. The Nuggets were one of the top teams in the league all season long, and moving on from a starter like Millsap could lead to a step back. Upgrading the lineup now that they have the chance would likely still be the best bet, however. This offseason could propel the Nuggets to new heights, or we could see them bet on basically the same roster that led them to a two seed this season.