The Whiteboard: Summer plans for the NBA’s officially eliminated teams

Caleb Martin, #10, Devonte' Graham, #4, Terry Rozier, #3, Cody Zeller, #40, Charlotte Hornets, (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Caleb Martin, #10, Devonte' Graham, #4, Terry Rozier, #3, Cody Zeller, #40, Charlotte Hornets, (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

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With approval for the NBA’s plans for resuming the 2019-20 season and conducting the playoffs cam confirmation that eight teams are headed straight to the offseason. The Hornets, Bulls, Knicks, Pistons, Hawks, Timberwolves, Cavaliers and Warriors won’t be heading to Orlando to participate in the eight regular-season games everyone else gets.

These teams are reportedly trying to figure out how to work together to conduct competitive workouts and get some semblance of meaningful developmental reps over the summer. But mostly, it’s about figuring out what their current rosters need to focus on, and scouting draft prospects and free agents (the NBA Draft will be on Oct. 15, free agency opens Oct. 18).

What should each of the NBA’s eliminated teams be planning this offseason?

With lots to do and lots of time to do it in, here’s what each of the NBA’s eight eliminated teams should be thinking about.

Charlotte Hornets

Devonte’ Graham is fun, Terry Rozier is better than I thought, and Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington are useful complementary pieces. There still isn’t a star on the roster to bind it all together, but the Hornets probably aren’t getting a game-changer in free agency and many of the NBA Draft prospects with the most upside would be supplanting some other piece of this, admittedly limited, foundation the Hornets have built. All that’s left if is to avoid the James Wiseman trap, figure out how to maneuver their way to Onyeka Okongwu in the draft and hope he becomes their Bam Adebayo.

Chicago Bulls

Building around Lauri Markkanen. That’s it, the whole ball of wax.

New York Knicks

A reckoning is coming. The Knicks need to accept that no premier free agents are coming, that Kevin Knox might just be Rodney White, that James Wiseman solves nothing and that R.J. Barrett is not going to peel off a latex max, Mission Impossible-style, and reveal himself to be some sort of next-gen Devin Booker. This summer is about nihilism as an act of radical self-love, leaning into the void and letting the universe reduce them to their basic atomic elements.

Detroit Pistons

Re-sign Christian Wood. The Blake Griffin era is waning. The Sekou Doumbouya era is still years away. Wood’s numbers came under bizarre circumstances and small samples, but he’s an unrestricted free agent who seemed to have a pleasant enough time in Detroit and averaged 22.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes, shooting 63.6 percent inside the arc and 38.6 percent beyond it. He might not be a future All-Star or the core of a future contender, but he’s the best thing the Pistons have going right now.

Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks need to figure out what the 1d is to Trae Young’s 1a, 1b and 1c. They’ve surrounded Young with all the things, on paper, you’d want to put around a transcendent creator of shaky defensive potential. He has a defensive rim protector who is also a vertical spacer in the pick-and-roll (Clint Capela). He has 3-and-D wings with the size and length to work in small-ball lineups (Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter, although this is still somewhat theoretical and counting on a lot of player development). Kevin Huerter is a nice spot-up threat but hasn’t yet materialized as a complimentary creator or reliable shooter off movement. And that’s kind of it. The Hawks don’t have a Klay Thompson or a Khris Middleton or an Anthony Davis or a Amare Stoudemire. They’re diligently checking the boxes and building a nice foundation but now is the time to figure out what else they’re going to be about besides Young in the spread pick-and-roll.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves have tied their present and near-future to D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns. They have the potential to be a fascinatingly productive offensive combination and a catastrophically ineffective defensive one. That presents two different paths — lean into strength or do everything possible to mitigate the weakness. Minnesota could spend the summer adding every possible marginal upgrade on defense, building out a slate of role players who can help cover for Russell and Towns’ inattention. Or, the Timberwolves can just wave the white flag on that end of the floor and chase complimentary shooters giving Towns and Russell as many tools as possible to work with. Neither idea is that appealing but anything in the middle is basically hot lava.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers have three weird backcourt players in Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Kevin Porter Jr. Each has flashed considerable potential. Each has pressing and unanswered questions. And a hypothetical portrait of them playing together, covering for each other’s weaknesses and complementing each other’s strengths would have to be painted by a surrealist master. Maybe it’s a trade. Maybe it’s a focused campaign on specific aspects of player development. Maybe it’s hiring a creative new coach with a fever dream vision for how to make this work. But the status quo seems … untenable.

Golden State Warriors

The idea that Andrew Wiggins and the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft is going to somehow turn into Giannis Antetokounmpo is absurd. Even the idea of turning it into Bradley Beal seems to rest heavily on some desperation or enormous dearth of leverage on the part of the Washington Wizards. But it seems just as absurd that Wiggins or whoever they land with that pick is an immediate and dramatically positive contributor to next year’s championship run. The Warriors are in a tremendous position but now is not the time to stop tinkering or taking risks.

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