As more teams exit the NBA playoffs, the picture of how the league’s offseason will shape up has begun to come into focus. One thing has become crystal clear: no one should attempt to build a super team this summer, because the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are going to continue to dominate next season.
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Several teams appear to be on the cusp of genuinely competing with the Warriors and Cavs. The Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets are all teams that could give the league’s top two a solid series. But none looks like it is one player away from shifting the league dramatically.
What follows is a look at each team’s situation heading into the offseason.
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The Celtics have a ton of assets, but shouldn’t unload many of them in the hopes of landing one player to turn things around. A target like Blake Griffin or Paul George won’t improve things enough to put Boston over the top. Gordon Hayward would be an interesting option, and his connection to head coach Brad Stevens makes his addition that much more attractive. But does a combination of Isaiah Thomas, Hayward, Al Horford and Avery Bradley really put the Celtics on par with the Cavs or Warriors?
As it stands now, the Celtics have $70.4 million worth of salary commitments for the 2017-18 season. The salary cap is expected to rise to $102 million this summer, which means the team has room to make a move. But Thomas and Bradley are each headed into the final year of their deals and will need extensions. Those contracts will eat up a significant chunk of any future cap space.
Adding Hayward would make sense, but Danny Ainge should also focus on collecting assets and developing the team’s youth (Jaylen Brown and this year’s first-rounder). Letting Thomas, Al Horford and Bradley lead the charge for now will make the team better in the long run. Boston will be better for focusing on the long-term development than cutting its legs off to add another All-Star via trade or preventing extensions to key pieces.
The Wizards appear set for a long time, with John Wall and Bradley Beal locked in to long-term deals. They do carry the horrendous Ian Mahinmi contract that no one in their right mind would take off their hands, but really no bad pacts other than that. The issue for the Wizards is Otto Porter, who will hit restricted free agency this summer. It’s going to cost a lot to keep him around, so there won’t be enough money left over to lure another star into the mix.
The Wizards have $88.57 million committed to players for the 2017-18 season, which doesn’t leave much room to move under the cap. And with Porter’s impending extension things will get even tighter.
There really aren’t many moves available to Washington. The team will almost certainly look like this for a while. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if the Wizards can find another gear.
The Rockets might have a chance to do something this offseason, but the long-term deals given to Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon will make it difficult. Anderson is due $61 million over the next three seasons, while Gordon is set to make $40.5 million. Throw in the roughly $30 million a year James Harden makes and that’s three players taking up about $63 million a year. That makes filling out a full roster awfully difficult, when you add the $14.4 million due to Trevor Ariza and Lou Williams next season, and the $5.5 million Patrick Beverley is taking home.
The Rockets could add a free agent this offseason, but none of the options likely to move look attractive. A trade would be difficult because the team lacks attractive assets (Gordon and Anderson both have big deals and lengthy injury histories), and doesn’t have a first-round pick this year. Additionally, the Rockets have $89 million committed to players next season, which puts them just $13 million under the projected cap.
Still, this is likely the best chance for a super-team, but would adding one more All-Star type to the mix really put the Rockets on equal footing with the Cavs and Warriors? I truly don’t see how that’s possible. This is Harden’s team, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry aren’t going to Houston and someone like Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin isn’t making the Rockets a title favorite.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have two fantastic pieces to build around with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The issue is the $15.4 million Tony Parker will make next season and Pau Gasol’s $16.1 million player option for next season. I’d be shocked if Gasol opts out, meaning that’s $31.5 million on the books for next season to aging former All-Stars. Manu Ginobili’s $14 million deal ends with this season, so there is some wiggle room under the salary cap, but not much.
Right now the Spurs have $93.05 million committed if Gasol opts in. That doesn’t leave much room to add another star. If the Spurs could dump some salary, maybe a guy like Kyle Lowry would make sense as the successor to Parker. But there just doesn’t appear to be a way to get enough cash to make a big move.