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Offseason Needs for the Teams with the Best Chance to Stop Golden State from Repeating as NBA Champs Next Season

addressing offseason needs for teams to stop Golden State from going back to back. Cam Stein/ via Flickr.com

NBA

Addressing offseason needs for teams to stop Golden State from going back to back.


For Golden State, they couldn’t care less about anyone coming for their championship right now. They’re in the midst of celebrating the most dominant playoff run in NBA history, and they should be able to enjoy it. For every other team, however, they’ve already gotten busy with their offseason needs wish lists and dream scenarios. As always, Vegas oddsmakers are way too early with their odds for next season’s NBA champion. It’s never too early for some bold predictions, though, these are the teams with the best chance to stop Golden State from going back-to-back next season, and what they’ll need to do this offseason to get it done. Odds to win the 2018 NBA championship in parentheses, Golden State has 2/3 odds to repeat as next years champs.

Cleveland Cavaliers (3/1 odds via Bovada)

Let’s start with the obvious. With the squad they have now, Cleveland is still our best hope to save the NBA from a long-winded, multi-championship dynasty. It was very apparent during the 2017 Finals, however, that even with the star power of LeBron, Kyrie, and Kevin Love, the overall mediocrity of the rest of the Cavs roster meant they just couldn’t keep pace with the Warriors. The Cavs most pressing offseason needs are simple, get the big three some help.

Now that doesn’t mean they should spend the year freeing up cap space to sign Paul George next season. Please, for the love of everything that is good and fair in basketball, do not sign Paul George. Yes, he’d be the biggest FA to hit the market next offseason if he and the Pacers can’t agree to a deal. Yes, he’s still a top-tier player in the NBA. Sure, he would close the talent gap between Golden State and Cleveland. The Cavs may not care much for parity but we, the fans of the NBA universe, do. As if this past season wasn’t enough of a foregone conclusion before it started, PG-13 to the Cavs would ensure we saw Golden State and Cleveland in the Finals for years to come (which we might see anyway if we’re being honest.)

Props to JR Smith for actually showing up in this year’s postseason. Aside from him and Richard Jefferson (and occasionally Kyle Korver), the Cavs bench provided little production in the 2017 playoffs.

Cleveland’s offseason needs:

  • A real backup point guard (sorry Deron Williams), Jrue Holiday would be perfect if they can snatch him out of free agency
  • Another true center (sorry Channing Frye) to make Tristan Thompson play harder to earn his starting spot. I like Greg Monroe who has a great low-post game still, just didn’t fit in Milwaukee
  • Re-sign Kyle Korver and James Jones (he’s made seven straight Finals, why would you mess with that?)
  • Don’t re-sign Deron Williams (sorry Deron Williams)
  • The Cavs have no draft picks in the 2017 NBA draft; they should change that

Boston Celtics (12/1 odds via Bovada)

Boston was a conundrum last season, in more ways than one. First, they quietly unseated the Cavs as the one seed in the East and secured home-court advantage through the Eastern Conference Finals. Then they struggled against Chicago and Washington, ultimately coming out on top of both of those series and advancing the face Cleveland. Then, they beat Cleveland in Quicken Loans Arena despite being without their best player Isaiah Thomas before falling in five games. Their quick defeat was predicted by many, despite them being the number one seed in the East, a comment to the lack of parity in both conferences, not just the West.

Boston proved that they have a lot of the right pieces already, and with the number one pick in this year’s NBA draft, they’re in a good position to be a force in the league next year as well.

Boston’s offseason needs:

  • Do one of two things with the number one pick in the draft: trade it for a game-changing player, I’m a little more okay with them getting Paul George than Cleveland getting him, but I still don’t like it. Draft Markelle Fultz, a game-changing player
  • If they draft Fultz, figure out what to do with him and IT4. That’s two extremely talented point guards, one unproven and one very proven (see the fourth bullet)
  • Rework the lineup to ensure Gerald Green and Amir Johnson never starts another game in Boston ever again (sorry Gerad Green and Amir Johnson). They have several options here: Sign another center like Serge Ibaka or Pau Gasol who is experienced and talented, yet won’t demand too much money. They could also draft Fultz and move him or Isaiah to Shooting Guard. That would move Avery Bradley to the three, Jae Crowder to the four, and Al Horford to center.
  • Don’t trade Isaiah Thomas. Nope. Stop it. Don’t do it. He’s a franchise player and he deserves to be treated like one. Fultz or no Fultz, Isaiah is a fan favorite in Boston, and they should hold on to him as long as they can.
  • Lastly, if they top trade the pick to Philly for the number 3 and whatever else they get, draft anyone but Lonzo Ball. Ball doesn’t want to play for Boston. He knows it, Danny Ainge knows it, LaVar knows it. LaVar basically said it. Not a good choice.

San Antonio Spurs (12/1 odds via Bovada)

Kawhi Leonard’s injury will have us thinking “what if…” this entire offseason. Maybe the Spurs don’t lose to Golden State if Zaza doesn’t accidentally slide under Kawhi’s ankle on his way down. Either way, there’s no way the Spurs get swept with a healthy Kawhi, and they undoubtedly had the best chance of any team in the West to stop them from reaching the NBA Finals. With Manu Ginobili likely playing his last minutes in the NBA, the days of the veteran Spurs ruling the NBA are officially an afterthought. If Tony Parker can come back healthy, however, their days as an NBA powerhouse are far from numbered.

San Antonio’s offseason needs:

  • Re-sign Patty Mills. The feisty Australian is just about ready to take over the starting PG role from Tony Parker. The torch passing ceremony will likely come without much fanfare, knowing Gregg Popovich.
  • Make sure Jonathon Simmons is wearing a Spurs jersey next season. Without Ginobili, Simmons will be the top backup to Danny Green, although he has the potential to be much better than Green with a bit more work in Popovich’s system.
  • Give LaMarcus Aldridge some incentive to play like he wants to win. It’s not entirely accurate to say Aldridge looked like he didn’t want to win last season, but he clearly wasn’t happy with the way San Antonio wanted him to play. Aldridge and Kawhi could be a powerful duo for years to come, but only if LaMarcus is okay with playing second fiddle to mild-mannered Leonard.
  • Don’t sign Chris Paul. Please, for the love of everything that is good and fair in basketball, do not sign Chris Paul. In all seriousness, I really think Patty Mills has the tools and understanding of the Spurs’ system to lead this team for years to come. Bringing in an aging CP3 comes with the risk of throwing off the chemistry developed by San Antonio’s longest tenured players that make up the heart of this team.

Houston Rockets (20/1 odds via Bovada)

Houston looked like a force to be reckoned with for most of the regular season. Then the playoffs arrived, and it became the James Harden one-man-show. That’s hardly Harden’s fault though, as he clearly didn’t have the help he needed to overcome the consistently great Spurs. When you look at the Rockets‘ starting lineup, you wonder how could they could be if everyone were in their primes like Harden is. Instead, we watched Patrick Beverley become the most hated player in the league and Nene be Harden’s only semi-consistent help throughout the 2017 playoffs. With just a bit more help, Houston could get back to the championship glory days when they were led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler and won back to back championships in 1994 and ’95.

Houston’s offseason needs:

  • Get Harden some help. First of all, a point guard. I’m looking directly at you, Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, and George Hill. Any of those three guys would be an improvement from the controversial Beverley. The other option is to move Harden to PG. If he becomes the full-time point guard, that would open the door for Eric Gordon to get the minutes he deserves at Shooting Guard.
  • Re-sign Nene. At 34, Nene’s best years are behind him, but that doesn’t mean his most productive years are. He proved he still has it during this year’s postseason, earning himself a new contract even if it’s not huge money.
  • Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, Pau Gasol. Ryan Anderson’s 3-point shooting skills are still tops among big men in the NBA, but outside of that, he’s not productive enough to be starting on a contender like Houston. Any of the aforementioned free agent power forwards could boost Houston’s starting big men production immensely, especially Griffin or Millsap.
  • Do something good in the draft. The Rockets have two picks in next week’s draft, both of which are in the second round (43 and 45 overall.) Houston hasn’t drafted an impact player since they took Chandler Parsons with the 38th overall pick back in 2011, and had more interest in best-name contests than drafting good players the last few years. Among the best were players named Zhou, Chinanu, Montrezl, and Furkan, and those are just from the last five years. (Fun fact: Houston’s first ever draft pick was Pat Riley, who they took with the 7th overall pick in the 1967 NBA draft out of Kentucky.)

Los Angeles Clippers (33/1 odds via Bovada)

These odds are assuming the Clips retain the 3/5 of their starting lineup who could be free agents this offseason. If they’re unable to retain one or all of their stars, those odds could be more like 333/1. Although the Clippers are still the best team in Los Angeles, that’s not saying much as the lowly Lakers have been bad for several years in a row now. The Clippers aren’t doing too much to raise the excitement levels for basketball in the City of Angels either, bowing out of the playoffs before the Conference Finals each of the last six years.

Los Angeles’ offseason needs:

  • Re-sign everybody. This sounds simple, but it’s a chain of events, and all it takes is one. First CP3 decides to leave. Then Blake Griffin follows. Then JJ Redick gets more money from another team. All of a sudden Deandre Jordan doesn’t have any desire to stay on a team where he’s the only reliable player. Next thing you know he’s gone and Lonzo Ball is the best player in Los Angeles. I think I just gave myself nightmares over that one. *Shudder*
  • Get a new small forward. With Paul Pierce retiring and Luc Mbah, a Moute and Wesley Johnson being, well, bad, small forward is the next biggest priority for LA after resigning their stars. Gordon Hayward is a dream scenario, but he doesn’t seem to be considering the Clippers. Danilo Gallinari and Otto Porter are other great options, as well as Rudy Gay and maybe even PJ Tucker or James Johnson if they’re desperate.
  • Find a better backup point guard. Just like Cleveland, the point guard position takes a massive nosedive whenever their all-star starter leaves the game. No offense to Austin Rivers or Raymond Felton, but there are better options on the free agent market. They don’t want someone who’s too big of a name and wouldn’t be willing to accept the backup role behind Paul. Their best options appear to be Shaun Livingston (if they can tear him away from the Warriors), the scrappy youngster Yogi Ferrell who turned heads for Dallas (although I can’t imagine them declining their team option on him after the season he had), and Ty Lawson or Deron Williams, two veterans who can still produce at a reasonable rate if given the right opportunities.

Everyone else’s offseason needs

Every other team in the NBA has 50/1 odds or worse of winning the NBA championship next season. The worst odds belong to the Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets. All four teams currently sit at 500/1 underdogs for next season’s Larry O’Brien trophy. As for their offseason needs? Luck. Lots and lots of luck.

Follow TSJ Sports on Twitter @TSJ_Sports and @TSJ_NBA. You can follow me @mholzapfel3.

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