Welcome to the third installment of Rotoworld’s division-by-division 2016 NBA free agency preview. Next up is the Atlantic division, exploring the team needs and free agent situations of the Celtics, Knicks, Nets, Sixers and Raptors.
Northwest Division (Ryan Knaus)
Pacific Division (Ethan Norof)
Salary info from spotrac.com
2015-16 Record: 48-34 (.585)
Payroll Approximation: $51.8 million
Biggest Needs: Make no mistake about it—the Celtics are still very much in the superstar market.
Despite drafting another six players—including a surprising pick of Jaylen Brown with the third overall selection—Boston is still searching for that all-important splash in order to help complete a promising young squad. Although Kevin Durant is highly unlikely to be walking through that door, someone like Dwight Howard, Al Horford, Harrison Barnes or Chandler Parsons certainly feels possible.
Point guard is not a position of need for a team that has invested heavily at the position, but this club will definitely need some help on the wing, particularly with Evan Turner a strong possibility to be (over)paid and depart in free agency. Things are very much up in the air down low as well, especially with Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller iffy at best to return. Should the C’s decide to move on from Amir Johnson’s non-guaranteed $12 million salary as well, Boston will be searching for more than one fit in the big man department. For those clamoring for more Kelly Olynyk: He’s not a starting NBA center.
If Danny Ainge’s crew can’t come out of this offseason with their foundational piece of the future, the Celtics should—at an absolute minimum—find a serviceable rim protector (Bismack Biyombo, anyone?) to pair with a capable wing scorer. How does Rudy Gay sound?
Prediction: Marcus Smart is on the move.
2015-16 Record: 21-61 (.256)
Biggest Needs: I’m sure Mikhail Prokhorov had to make it well worth Sean Marks’ while to leave San Antonio for Brooklyn, and the general manager now has his work very much cut out for him in his new home. Outside of Brook Lopez, the Nets don’t have a clear-cut starter on their roster, and the players that were included in the 2016 draft class (Caris LeVert, Isaiah Whitehead) aren’t expected to be game-changers during their inaugural campaign.
For the first time in a long time, cap space isn’t an issue and Brooklyn promises to be active in the free agent market. It’s a difficult sell job because there is limited inventory in the store, but sometimes all it takes is one player to drastically change the appeal of a situation. Dwight Howard still won’t be fulfilling his initial desire by signing in Brooklyn unless Lopez winds up getting dealt, but players without obvious fits elsewhere like Rajon Rondo, Ryan Anderson, Jeff Green, Arron Afflalo and Lance Stephenson figure to wind up on the radar. For the Nets, point guard is now a major priority.
Prediction: The Nets add a 20-point scorer to provide Lopez some immediate help.
New York Knicks
2015-16 Record: 32-50 (.390)
Payroll Approximation: $56.2 million
Biggest Needs: It’s been a summer of change for a group that needed to evolve. Look no further than the hiring of Jeff Hornacek as head coach and the unexpected acquisition of Derrick Rose to see that there’s (again) a different approach to team building in Phil Jackson’s tenure. After previously remaining loyal to his coaching tree and being insistent that he didn’t need a star point guard, P-Jax has re-located his Zen Zone to an unfamiliar locale. The old Knicks would’ve just brought in a big name or two and hoped that it worked. These new Knicks can’t claim to be too different—at least not yet—but the intrigue is certainly there.
Even though it came at the cost of Robin Lopez’s more than affordable contract and left a serious hole at center—which is expected to be filled by Joakim Noah—the Rose trade is growing on me daily. It’s essentially a one-year gamble, and Rose should help both Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis when he’s on the floor. Melo was at his best with a ball-dominant point guard during his Denver days, and Porzingis could be an absolute nightmare in the pick-and-roll with Rose. Let’s be clear: Nothing is going to inhibit a future where New York builds around basketball’s unicorn.
It seems like a when not if proposition that the Knicks sign Joakim Noah in free agency to be their starting center, leaving two obvious areas of need for New York: starting shooting guard and the bench. Names like Kent Bazemore, Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, Jamal Crawford, Jared Dudley, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith and Lance Thomas (re-sign) figure to be on their list.
2015-16 Record: 10-72 (.122)
Payroll Approximation: $31.5 million
Biggest Needs: Considering the Sixers have 587 big men on the roster, we can probably remove power forward and center from Philadelphia’s offseason wish list.
Bryan Colangelo’s contingent is going to have to decide how to proceed with a crowded frontcourt that currently includes Nerlens Noel—who is a five and not a four—Jerami Grant, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons. That group doesn’t even include Robert Covington, though his days of playing PF for sustained stretches of time with this team are likely in the rear-view mirror. I’d be shocked if the Sixers don’t make at least one noteworthy deal—a long-term answer at point guard would certainly be nice—but Embiid is going to have to show something meaningful in order to make that decision a more comfortable one.
With next to nothing on the books ahead of 2016-17, Philadelphia promises to be a legitimate player in free agency for the first time in a long time. The organization will be forced to overpay because of their recent track record, but it’s time to reverse the process and become an actual NBA team again. The Sixers could pay a player like Harrison Barnes a lot of money to play a meaningful role, and that’d be a sizable step in a new direction for a franchise that is looking to follow a more fruitful path moving forward.
Prediction: Sixers trade Jahlil Okafor before the regular season begins.
2015-16 Record: 56-26 (.683)
Payroll Approximation: $55.5 million
Biggest Needs: Re-signing DeMar DeRozan is rightfully Masai Ujiri’s top priority, but the looming question is what the Raptors need to do in over to get over the proverbial hump. Toronto invested big money in DeMarre Carroll as the “missing piece” last season, is about to back up a Brinks truck to DeRozan’s front door and can’t afford to compromise the promising development of Jonas Valanciunas into a legitimate offensive threat. With Kyle Lowry entrenched at point guard, the only real answer to solving this long-standing riddle is to achieve the task that’s been sitting atop the to-do list since before this summer’s arrival: Upgrading power forward.
Getting LaMarcus Aldridge—the Raptors were a more serious suitor than was reported—would have been the ultimate coup, and trading for Thaddeus Young is no longer an option now that he’s been shipped to Indiana. Pau Gasol feels like an unrealistic pursuit, but someone like Ryan Anderson or Mirza Teletovic makes definite sense.
I’m not sure who Toronto felt it was bidding against when signing Terrence Ross to an extension, and improving Dwane Casey’s bench shouldn’t be viewed as optional. Having Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl is a fine start, but adding some veteran scoring (insert Lou Williams joke here), some real Carroll insurance (Jared Dudley?) and a new backup behind Valanciunas—assuming Biyombo gets paid to enjoy a bigger role elsewhere—are mandatory if these Raptors don’t want to join their dinosaur ancestors and ultimately die out.
Prediction: Toronto signs Mirza Teletovic as their starting power forward.