We Are Approaching The Offseason Of NBA Discontent

The conversation throughout the 2022-23 NBA season focused on the lack of a clear frontrunner in the race for a championship. Every team perched atop the standings had apparent flaws or playoff demons of the past they had to prove they could overcome before there would be complete belief. The usual suspects all looked a step slow, and just about every team that made it into the playoffs believed they could capitalize on the void at the top and make a deep run.

With such opportunity comes a great sense of disappointment when a group falls short of lofty expectations and dreams, and for a number of teams, early exits from the postseason (or outright missing it altogether) have prompted calls for considerable change coming into the offseason. Every year, there are teams disappointed by how their season ends, but it’s rare for this many teams to have earnestly believed, either in the preseason or by the end of the regular season, in their ability to at least make a conference finals run.

As such, this summer figures to be fascinating, as nearly a third of the league believed it should have been a contender to win a series or two and found out the hard way their roster was not good enough (or healthy enough) to do so. That means an awful lot of teams will be considering moves big and small to reshape their rosters, and there may be more teams than usual willing to part ways with players in an effort to shuffle the deck.

Here we’ll look at nine teams all poised to shake things up this summer in big ways after falling short of expectations, with major decisions looming for each in free agency and on the trade market. Not included are teams like Sacramento and New Orleans, which had very different ends to their seasons, but feel more likely to run it back one more time before making any wholesale changes.

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks, once the title favorites, were taken out by a Heat team that barely navigated the Play-In Tournament to earn the 8-seed. It’s their third time exiting the playoffs before the conference finals as a 1-seed, and while Giannis Antetokounmpo’s absence loomed large in two of their losses, some very familiar issues were present in the loss. The margins for Milwaukee remain razor-thin in the playoffs, with their title run a testament to Giannis’ greatness and the team’s ability to get the job done in crunch time during that postseason. However, constantly putting yourself in tight games in the playoffs means you are at the mercy of shooting variance, and for a team without elite shooting, that yields an awful lot of poor results.

Jrue Holiday continues to be a negative on offense in the postseason, with more than 40 games of a sample proving he’s just not an effective shooter in the playoffs. His defense remains elite on the perimeter, but Jimmy Butler was still able to bully his way to monster scoring performances. Khris Middleton was sensational offensively, but his movement on defense isn’t what it once was and he became a target in pick-and-rolls for Butler on the perimeter. They simply need more scoring punch beyond Antetokounmpo, who had his own free throw woes resurface and struggled getting to the rim down the stretch in Games 4 and 5, possibly a product of his back injury.

All of this is to say, they feel like a team that’s moved backwards, as the same questions they faced in 2020 and seemingly answered with their championship in 2021 are resurfacing. The problem now is, running it back feels far less palatable for a variety of reasons. For one, the new financial realities of the upcoming CBA mean Milwaukee will have a tougher time adding pieces if they lock back in to this core group. For another, it’s hard not to wonder if this group has already gone past its apex and is on the backside of the mountain.

Mike Budenholzer’s future as head coach is murky, as a new voice and new system on both ends could freshen things up. From a roster standpoint, Milwaukee has a ton of decisions to make this summer with regards to how they’ll proceed the next few years. Brook Lopez is a free agent and his role in holding things together defensively is hard to overstate. Middleton is eligible for an extension before hitting unrestricted free agency next year, but it’s hard to imagine what that looks like giving the team’s financial future. Holiday has one year left on his deal and a player option, and is a beloved figure in the organization (and around the league), but the playoff struggles offensively are very real and must be considered. The most likely outcome for the Bucks logically seems to be a coaching change and giving this group one more year to rekindle the fire of 2021, but they’ll at least have to take and make some calls to see what other, more dramatic options are out there after such a disappointing end to the season.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies have seen a second straight season end with a thud, causing them to re-examine their roster construction this offseason. Unlike the Bucks, they are still a young team with most of its stars still not yet in their primes, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a sense of urgency in Memphis to make necessary roster changes to build a true contender.

Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke’s injuries loomed large, as they simply didn’t have the size to contend with Anthony Davis in their series with the Lakers, but there’s more to the Grizzlies problems than that. Dillon Brooks became one of the main characters in the series for his chirping off the court, but on it, he reminded many of his shortcomings, particularly as an offensive piece. The Lakers were thrilled to give Brooks space and dare him to shoot, which he obliged by jacking up 12.8 shots per game in the series (including seven threes a night) en route to 31.2/23.8/71.4 shooting splits. Tyus Jones likewise had a rough series, averaging just 4.5 points per game on 30.6 percent shooting, as he could not fill Morant’s shoes as admirably as he has in the past.

Like so many of the teams on this list, upgrading their eight-man rotation is going to be a priority for the Grizzlies. Internally, Luke Kennard provides some of what they need — lineups with Kennard and Desmond Bane together were the most fruitful on the offensive end prior to Kennard’s shoulder injury — but like the Clippers, Memphis seemed unwilling to give him a heavy minutes burden due to his defensive limitations. Memphis should still feel good about its core group of Morant, Bane, and Jaren Jackson Jr., but GM Zach Kleiman admitted in exit interviews they likely needed to shift focus away from the youth movement and more towards adding legit veteran help this offseason. The reported decision to jettison Brooks is a start, and it’s worth considering other veteran guard and wing options to build out their postseason depth.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers were downed by injuries in their series against the Suns, and it remains unclear exactly what they can expect from their stars moving forward. Lawrence Frank said they’ll be shifting focus back to “respecting the regular season” this coming year, and after building a roster full of big names that didn’t seem to have an awful lot of concern for fit, one would expect them to shuffle the deck in an effort to have a more cohesive vision for the roster.

Kawhi Leonard’s latest knee injury means he’ll continue to be a wild card in 2023-24. It’s unclear if he’ll be ready to go for the start of the season, or if he’ll once again be ultra-conservative in the regular season with one eye on hoping he can put together a fully healthy postseason. Paul George will be back from his own knee sprain, but health likewise remains the biggest question facing him. The rest of the Clippers roster has to almost entirely be up for reevaluation this summer, with the exception of Norman Powell, who is the only player they have signed beyond 2024-25.

Their effort to build a roster of interchangeable parts has not been a success, as their amalgamation of switchable, long wings has not yielded the intended results. They likely need to find a way to consolidate their group of rangy wings like Robert Covington, Nic Batum, Marcus Morris, and Terrance Mann in order to address their roster imbalance. What maybe helps the Clippers the most this summer is the fact they have players at a position so many teams are desperate for, and unloading a couple of their wings to create the requisite space to address their other needs should, in theory, not be all that difficult.

Adding center depth behind Ivica Zubac is among the priorities, but nothing is more important than addressing the point guard position. After pulling the ripcord on Reggie Jackson and John Wall, the Russell Westbrook experiment yielded some fascinating results, but it’s hard to imagine him being the answer to unlocking this group’s very best. After building the team to withstand absences from Leonard and George by building depth behind them, I’d expect the Clippers to seek out a point guard that mitigates their importance as on-ball creators, but can also augment them in the rare instances everyone is healthy.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers were eager to prove their young core could match up with the best in the East, only to find the lights too bright and be left wondering how much needs to change after a five-game rout at the hands of the Knicks. No one is without blame in Cleveland for faltering in the first round, as all four of their top players struggled in the matchup at various times, the bench was dreadful, and J.B. Bickerstaff’s rotations left something to be desired.

It would be a surprise to see Cleveland pull the plug on their core four after one early playoff exit. Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen all have room for improvement after a dreadful offensive series against the Knicks, but Allen in particular finds himself in the spotlight after being outplayed by Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein in the series. If there were a major more for the Cavs to consider — which, again, don’t bank on it — it would be moving Allen for wing help and then looking to fill the center position with a pair of defensive-minded, rebound hungry bigs like they just saw from New York.

What is a guarantee is that the Cavs will make some sort of addition to try and bolster the fifth spot in their lineup. Like a number of these teams, Cleveland learned the hard way how one weak link in your best five-man lineup can and will get exposed over and over in the postseason. Isaac Okoro was their best defensive option on Jalen Brunson, but was completely ignored on the offensive end, gumming up the works for Garland and Mitchell to drive the lane. Cedi Osman and Caris LeVert are theoretically better offensive options, but neither was a factor shooting the ball and were both worse defensively than Okoro, leaving the Cavs without a truly great five-man lineup to lean on in the series. Filling that gap is paramount to this team taking a step forward, and while the dramatic option of flipping Allen for that wing player and hoping to sign serviceable bigs to replace him is unlikely, they will have to find a way to upgrade the small forward spot in some way this summer.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves pushed all of their chips in on a trade for Rudy Gobert, and now must figure out how to build a coherent roster without much in the way of assets. The good news is Anthony Edwards looks like a legit star and there are some quality pieces on this roster around him. The bad news is Edwards’ two co-stars don’t make an awful lot of sense together and there’s not an easy answer for how to make their current “Big 3” work to the best of their abilities.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Gobert never jelled the way Minnesota hoped, and even with the understanding that Towns missed more than half the season with injuries, there just weren’t a lot of signs pointing to them starting to figure it out as a group. The concept was that Gobert would be the rim protector Towns isn’t, while Towns’ floor-spacing ability could make the duo work offensively without clogging the lane for Edwards. The problem is Towns often gets relegated to spot-up duty on offense, eliminating so much of his value as a playmaker inside, and defensively is forced to play more in space, where his propensity for picking up fouls is magnified. It just hasn’t worked as intended.

My biggest problem in figuring out what the Wolves do this summer is that I’m not sure how much they can reasonably expect to upgrade their rotation from what they have. Jaden McDaniels (who was very missed in the postseason), Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Kyle Anderson were all very helpful in their various roles on the wing. Mike Conley was a needed steady-hand at point guard, and Naz Reid was at times the best backup center in the league (and for sure the best third center on any NBA roster). They won’t have money to make a substantial upgrade and for what they will have to spend, I’m not certain they can get many better players in than what they had this year. Maybe you find a better backup point guard than Austin Rivers, but that’s not a guarantee. Maybe you find a slightly better 3-and-D than Taurean Prince. Maybe you can bring back Reid, an unrestricted free agent.

The truth is, unless they want to make a gigantic move and put KAT on the trade block (because Edwards is clearly “the guy” and there’s no way to recoup anything approaching value for Gobert given what they gave up), all they can do is try to work on the margins and hope next year Towns and Gobert figure something out they couldn’t in their first year together.

Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks likewise went all-in on their current roster, trading multiple firsts for Dejounte Murry and having recently extended De’Andre Hunter, Clint Capela, and Bogdan Bogdanovic. The result was an unspectacular season that ended in an unspectacular six-game loss to the Celtics in the first round. They will enter the offseason with John Collins on the trade block for the third straight year, and while many close to the team believe he actually gets moved this summer given that’s the only real option to shuffle the deck on a stagnant roster, that was also the prevailing thought last offseason and this year at the deadline.

They will be banking on the return they get from a potential Collins trade, plus internal improvement and a full offseason with new coach Quin Snyder to vault them into the conversation of East contenders. That would be a considerable leap from where they were this year, and there’s the ever-present question of whether ownership will be willing to spend into the tax after various tax-dodging moves in the past — most notably trading Kevin Huerter to Sacramento last offseason.

The Hawks do get to carry a bit of positivity into the summer with the way Trae Young responded this postseason against Boston, with the star guard being effusive in his praise of Snyder and what he thinks the new coach will do for the team. Still, this is a team that has just one major move it can really make and the entire league knows it, so how much they can get in return for Collins will be the deciding factor in how big a step forward (or backward) this team takes next season.

Dallas Mavericks

Having to tank the last week of the season after a failed midseason trade for a star in order to to try and save a pick from a previous failed trade for a star is a pretty perfect encapsulation of the Dallas Mavericks’ team-building mantra recently. It is also why you’d be hard-pressed to find too many Mavs fans who are optimistic that the front office will suddenly figure things out this offseason and pull off the miracle of rebuilding this roster into a contender in one summer. The good news is, Doncic’s presence provides a wider margin for error in building a competitive squad, but it also means there is pressure to be consistently near the top of the West.

The first order of business will be Kyrie Irving, who they will unquestionably try to re-sign, but Dallas finds itself at the whims of a man who is known to change his mind rather frequently about what he wants and where he wants to be. Dallas will have little in the way of negotiating leverage with Irving, because given what they traded away to land him, they will be fairly desperate to retain him rather than seeing him walk for nothing. If he walks, there’s no way to completely replace him in free agency, as they could free up about $25 million, but with so many bloated deals on the books already, max space would be hard to come by. Irving returning isn’t a guarantee, but I would say it should be the expected outcome because he has made clear he wants another large, long-term contract, and the Mavs will have more of an impetus to give him one than any other team.

Retaining Irving is step one, but it also requires a wholesale shift with the rest of the roster. As we saw in his limited time in Dallas, the Irving-Doncic pairing needs far more support on the defensive end of the floor that the current roster cannot provide. The frontcourt will need almost a complete overhaul to create better balance and bring in some much-needed rim protection. Christian Wood’s departure feels like a guarantee, and while they’re stuck with McGee for one more year, he won’t be someone they’re expecting to contribute. Maxi Kleber is the only rotation big guaranteed to be back, and they are going to need to seek out someone with a strong defensive presence who also can be a pick-and-roll partner for Doncic and Irving either in free agency or on the trade market.

They also need a 3-and-D wing to replace what was lost by sending Dorian Finney-Smith to Brooklyn in the Irving deal, and as noted in a number of the sections above, they’ll have ample competition for landing such players on the free agency or trade markets. As long as Doncic is on the roster, the Mavs will have a chance to be a playoff squad in the West, but they learned this year that his presence alone isn’t a guarantee of that. How they apply the lessons of this season will determine a lot for the team’s future, both in the short and long-term.

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors have ousted their coach and promise considerable changes after their collection of long, athletic wings failed to coalesce into anything more than an idea. Like the Clippers, their overflowing cupboard of 3-and-D types should make them very popular in trade talks, and should allow Masai Ujiri to reshape this roster with solid returns, should he so choose. Toronto has made clear their intentions on bringing back unrestricted free agent Jakob Poeltl, but the same names that were bantered about at the trade deadline figure to be back on the market this summer.

This season felt like the end to an era, a last chance for this group to take a leap and they simply never did. Fred VanVleet is an unrestricted free agent and may simply walk to a new opportunity. OG Anunoby is the player most likely to be coveted by teams like Memphis or Dallas that are in desperate need of a wing upgrade, but Toronto has made clear their asking price on Anunoby will remain extremely high. Pascal Siakam is the even bigger move they can make, but he still seems like the player the Raptors choose to build around rather than deal away unless a full-scale teardown is in the works. Scottie Barnes got pegged as their next superstar, but plateaued as a sophomore, leading to questions about whether he should be the focal point of Toronto’s next team build.

There aren’t a lot of easy answers for the Raptors, but they are the team that could set off the most dominoes in the NBA this offseason given the potential trades they could make. How Ujiri and company proceed will be something all 29 other teams are monitoring.

Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers certainly appear to be at a crossroads where they’ll need to choose this summer what direction the team will take for years to come. Both options will require some major moves, but one involves them becoming a seller and the other sees them as a buyer. We’ll know which way they’re planning on going by the time June’s Draft arrives, as their best trade asset to build around Damian Lillard will be whatever pick they land with the NBA’s fifth-best lottery odds. Which way they go may be determined by lottery balls, as anything beyond the No. 1 overall pick will require some deep thought as to how to proceed.

Landing the top pick might be the only path that doesn’t involve huge moves this offseason for Portland, as adding Victor Wembanyama would give them a chance to remain competitive with Lillard while also building for the future. However, anything else will require a lot of talk within the walls of the Blazers front office, where they can opt for a youth movement, keeping their pick and potentially moving off of some of their veterans to further bolster their draft capital for the future, or use that pick to acquire veteran help now to take one more crack at building a playoff contender around Lillard, who was playing some of the best basketball of his career in the middle of this season.

This year proved the roster is not where it needs to be to make that happen, and it’s a genuine question of whether they’re even just one or two moves away from being where they want to be. To move off of a top-5 pick would almost require them to believe that, and we’re less than two months away from finding out where they stand on that question.