Raphielle Johnson

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Eastern Conference Draft Needs

Thursday, June 7, 2018

With the 2018 NBA Draft less than three weeks away, this is a good time to take a look at what each team needs to address with its draft picks. In the Southeast Division two teams, Miami and Washington, reached the playoffs this season and both are in spots where they’re looking to go from simply being a playoff team to contending in the East. As for Charlotte, Orlando and Atlanta, all three are looking to chart a path back to respectability after missing out on the postseason.

Below is a breakdown of what each team should be looking to address with its draft picks later this month.

Atlanta Hawks (24-58)
Picks: 3, 19, 30, 34
Need: Talent

After being a player in the Eastern Conference conversation for a few years, the Hawks plummeted into the lottery this season. Mike Budenholzer, who relinquished his front office duties prior to the season, has moved on to take over as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. Given his comments earlier this spring, it remains to be seen what will happen with starting point guard Dennis Schröder moving forward. Point guard questions aside, the Hawks really need an infusion of talent on this roster and the good news is that the team has three first-round picks to address this issue. Last year’s first-round pick, forward John Collins, performed well as a rookie and given the Hawks’ positioning in the lottery there’s a decent chance that they’ll be able to pair him with a promising young front court talent if that were the path the team were to take. Or, in an attempt to address the Schröder situation, will Atlanta entertain the possibility of trading down? Whatever the Hawks decide to do this is a roster in need of a significant talent upgrade, and with three first-round picks the team can address this at a decent price tag from a salary cap standpoint.

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Boston Celtics (55-27)
Picks: 27
Need: Interior depth

This sets up to be an interesting summer for the Celtics, as both Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving will be back after injuries took them out of the fold this season. There’s also free agency, as the Celtics have both the flexibility and assets to be a major player when that period begins July 1. Among the Celtics who can hit the market are Marcus Smart (restricted), Aron Baynes and Greg Monroe, with there being others such as Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis whose 2018-19 contracts aren’t fully guaranteed. With Baynes and Monroe being unrestricted free agents, Boston may be best-served by adding a young big to the mix in order to help with the team’s post depth. Nevertheless, where the Celtics are in the draft order it appears as if the best available players on the board will be either guards or wings with this draft being deeper in those areas while the bigs (Ayton, Bagley, Jackson Jr., etc.) are the headliners in the first round.

Brooklyn Nets (28-54)
Picks: 29, 40, 45
Needs: Talent

General manager Sean Marks has been in a position where he’s had to play the “long game” with respect to the Nets rebuild, as things done prior to his arrival took away the team’s salary cap flexibility. In selecting Jarrett Allen last season, the Nets added a young, promising talent who was among the better rookies in the NBA this season. He’ll certainly be a key part of the team’s rebuilding plans. With three picks in this year’s draft the Nets can add some more talent at decent prices, but they’re unlikely to find the immediate difference-maker that would have been available had the team still had its lottery pick. Nevertheless, with three picks the Nets could have the flexibility needed to make a move if that were the path Marks and company were to take. “Talent” is a broad need to point out, but when a team’s looking to build from the depths the Nets were at a couple years ago that’s usually a good place to start.

Charlotte Hornets (36-46)
Picks: 11, 55
Need: Backup point guard

Michael Jordan made significant changes to the franchise this year, hiring Mitch Kupchak as general manager in early April and then tabbing James Borrego as Steve Clifford’s replacement as head coach last month. A big issue for Charlotte is its current salary situation, with there being some undesirable contracts on the team’s books. That’s what led to star point guard Kemba Walker, whose contract is one of the “friendlier” on the roster, being the subject of trade rumors heading into the All-Star break. While the long-term future of Walker, who has one year left on his deal, has yet to be determined, there is a need for a backup point guard on this roster. Michael Carter-Williams was the option last season, and in 52 appearances it’s tough to argue that he did enough to show that the job should undoubtedly be his. Ensuring that there isn’t a significant drop-off at the point when Walker is off the floor is a step the Hornets need to take if they’re to contend for a playoff spot next season.

Chicago Bulls (27-55)
Picks: 7,22
Need: Wing

The future of Zach LaVine, who will be a restricted free agent come July, will impact the Bulls’ perimeter rotation moving forward. Regardless of what happens with LaVine, the Bulls are at a point in the team rebuild where it needs to simply stockpile talent that can contribute significantly to that process. Lauri Markkanen is coming off of a promising rookie season, and he appears to be a player the franchise can safely make plans for as a key building block moving forward. What the Bulls could use, even with the number of twos and threes currently on the roster, is a wing who can help with the offensive spacing by way of a consistent perimeter shot. Chicago ranked 21st in three-point percentage last season, with Denzel Valentine (38.6 percent) and Markkanen (36.2) being the team’s best shooters when assessing players who spent the entire season in the Bulls rotation. Chicago would likely need some good fortune to see a Michael Porter Jr. be on the board at pick number seven, but he’s the kind of player who could help Chicago because of his size, skill set and ability to play either the three or the four.

Cleveland Cavaliers (50-32)
Picks: 8
Need: Playmaker

Even if LeBron James were to re-sign with the Cavaliers this summer, there’s a clear need for another player capable of consistently creating opportunities for himself and others. That need becomes of even greater importance if, a couple weeks after the draft, James decides that he’s better served joining another franchise. Neither Jordan Clarkson nor Rodney Hood has proven to be all that effective since being acquired by the Cavs in February. But while Hood will be a restricted free agent this summer and could very well come off the books, Clarkson has two more seasons on his contract worth nearly $26 million — and that’s all guaranteed money, too. With Clarkson and George Hill both under contract for next season, if Cleveland can add a playmaker at pick number eight that would help the team’s finances heading into free agency. Even better if that player were to develop into an option the Cavaliers can build with, either as a supplement to James if he were to return or as a focal point if he were to leave.

Detroit Pistons (39-43)
Picks: 42
Need: Wing depth

By failing to land in the top four of the draft lottery the Pistons lost their first-round pick, with the Clippers taking the 12th overall pick by way of the Blake Griffin trade. With both team president/head coach Stan Van Gundy and GM Jeff Bower out, Detroit has hired Ed Stefanski to lead the team’s search for a new head coach and general manager. Whether or not these vacant spots are filled ahead of the draft remains to be seen, but the Pistons need to get better on the perimeter if the team is to not only get back into the playoffs but make noise once there. Stanley Johnson will be a restricted free agent after the 2018-19 season, and with Reggie Bullock’s deal for next season not being fully guaranteed, adding another wing who may be able to provide some depth at the 42nd pick may be the way to go.

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Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.
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