Now that the 2019-20 NBA season, the longest in league history, has come to an end it is time to start looking ahead to next year. While it remains unknown exactly when the 2020-21 campaign will begin, with January appearing to be the earliest possible starting point, the NBA Draft is less than month away (November 18) and free agency will come shortly thereafter. Of course that all depends on the collective bargaining agreement negotiations between the league and the NBPA, as those talks will set both the salary cap and luxury tax numbers for next season.
Uncertainty remains but that doesn’t prohibit us from taking a look at each team and an area that they’ll need to address during the offseason. Over the next three weeks each division will be discussed, with the Southwest being the focus of this installment. And boy has it already been an interesting offseason in this division. Houston has a new general manager in Rafael Stone, but he still has a decision to make regarding the team’s new head coach. And with the Rockets not having much room to make major changes to the roster, “microball” may be here for the foreseeable future.
New Orleans now has its new head coach, with Stan Van Gundy having been hired on Wednesday. He’ll look to mold a roster headlined by Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday into one capable of not only reaching the postseason but doing damage once there. Memphis’ young core is coming off of a season that exceeded the expectations of many, while San Antonio aims to build on the progress that some of its younger players made while in the bubble. Last but not least there’s Dallas, which has a budding superstar in Luka Doncic but Kristaps Porzingis is in the midst of recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
This sets up to be an interesting offseason for the Southwest Division, even more so that it has already been. Below is a quick look at each team, beginning with the Mavericks.
2019-20 Record: 43-32 (2nd; Southwest)
2020 NBA Draft Picks: 18, 31 (from Golden State)
Free Agents: Courtney Lee, J.J. Barea, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Trey Burke (unrestricted); Antonius Cleveland, Josh Reaves (restricted); Tim Hardaway Jr., Willie Cauley-Stein (player option)
Area to Address: 3-and-D wing
Rick Carlisle’s Mavericks were one of the NBA’s best offensive teams this past season, ranking first in offensive rating and third in points per game. While doing that isn’t easy, having a talent like the aforementioned Doncic running the show certainly helps. The key for Dallas now is to surround their point guard with talented options who can both help Luka continue to flourish and excel themselves.
Kristaps Porzingis has the potential to be that guy, as we saw for parts of this past season, but he recently underwent right knee surgery and it’s unknown when he’ll be back on the court. Tim Hardaway Jr. gave Dallas valuable perimeter scoring but he has a player option for next season, so it’s possible that he tests the open market now as opposed to waiting until 2021. With the expectation that Porzingis will not experience any lingering issues once cleared to return, adding a wing scorer who is also capable defensively should be the aim for Dallas this offseason.
It was reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic earlier this month that Dallas is not opposed to taking on large salaries in order to add a third star, with the franchise’s goal being to vault into NBA title contention immediately. The Mavericks’ two draft picks, 18th and 31st overall, could also be used in an attempt to fill this void. This draft doesn’t lack for wings, but given what the Mavericks are looking to accomplish and the presumed timeline finding an experienced player via trade or free agency may be the way to go.
2019-20 Record: 44-28 (1st)
2020 NBA Draft Picks: None
Area to Address: Interior depth
Under normal circumstances, losing the general manager and head coach responsible for a team’s unique style of play would result in major changes to the franchise’s approach. But that may not be the case in Houston, not only because of the decision to promote Rafael Stone to general manager but also due to the team’s lack of cap flexibility. The Rockets have been in a spot where the desire goal has long been to contend for titles, but the franchise has also done its best to avoid hitting the luxury tax.
Due to the amount of money tied up in contracts for James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Eric Gordon, Houston does not have much flexibility when it comes to changing the roster right now. This may also increase the value of Jeff Green, who performed well for the Rockets in a reserve role. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent, and the Rockets’ lack of options who can force mismatches at the five in their “microball” attack it is imperative that Green be re-signed. Given the moves made during last season, trading Clint Capela to Atlanta and waiving Isaiah Hartenstein, it is highly unlikely that Houston invests in multiple “true” centers. But there is a need for some size, or at the very least another rugged forward who can spell P.J. Tucker on occasion.
Rivers has a player option for next season and Ben McLemore’s contract won’t be fully guaranteed until the start of the next league year (that would have been June 30 under normal circumstances), so Houston could be in a spot where it looks to add a low-cost reserve wing in free agency. Unfortunately, with the team lacking both draft picks and cap space the Rockets may have no other choice than to “run it back” and hope it all works out.
2019-20 Record: 34-39 (3rd)
2020 NBA Draft Picks: 40 (from Phoenix)
Area to Address: Perimeter shooting
Even though the Grizzlies did not reach the postseason, losing to Portland in the 8/9 game down in the bubble, the 2019-20 season should qualify as a success for the franchise. With Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. leading the way, Memphis has two building blocks to work with as the franchise rebuilds following the “Grit-N-Grind” era. This young group brings that same proverbial “chip on the shoulder” approach, and even with competition for a playoff spot in the West expected to be even more fierce next season with Golden State back to full strength don’t expect Memphis to just fall off the map.
So what area does head coach Taylor Jenkins and the front office need to address this offseason? It would have to be perimeter shooting, with the goal being to add a wing who can both work off of Morant offensively and defend his position capably. Memphis ranked in the top ten in the NBA in overall field goal percentage, but turnovers (23rd) and 3-point shooting (23rd in percentage, 24th in attempts and 25th in makes) were the biggest reasons as to why the team ranked 21st in offensive rating. Oklahoma City ranked 17th in offensive rating, worst among Western Conference playoff teams, but the Thunder made up for that by ranking seventh in defensive rating (Memphis was 14th).
Bringing back Melton should be a priority, and the Grizzlies will have a healthy Justise Winslow in the fold as well. But neither addresses the need of improved perimeter shooting, so look for Memphis to attempt to fill that void either in the draft or free agency (or both).
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New Orleans Pelicans
2019-20 Record: 30-42 (5th)
2020 NBA Draft Picks: 13, 39 (from Washington via Milwaukee), 42, 60 (from Milwaukee)
Area to Address: Re-sign Ingram
The Pelicans now know who will be leading things on the sideline, as the Stan Van Gundy hire was made official on Wednesday. The next order of business for team president David Griffin is to do whatever is necessary to bring back Ingram, regardless of the rumors surrounding Jrue Holiday. Ingram will be a restricted free agent, so New Orleans will have the opportunity to match any offer that he agrees to with another team, and the franchise also holds his Bird rights. While fortifying the ranks in the post will also be important, as Favors will be an unrestricted free agent, ensuring that Ingram is a key building block moving forward is of utmost importance.
The slender forward earned his first-ever All-Star Game appearance, and he was also named the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Losing Ingram at this stage in the rebuild would make Van Gundy’s job even tougher than it already is in the West. Going back to Holiday, he’s an incredibly valuable player for the Pelicans given his work on both ends of the floor, but he can also give a similar boost to a team with more immediate ambitions of contending for a title. Does New Orleans hang onto him at all costs, or is there a “Godfather” offer out there that Griffin ultimately cannot refuse?
Zion Williamson making strides health/fitness-wise so that he can take on an increased workload in his second season will also be key this offseason, but Ingram is the biggest priority.
San Antonio Spurs
2019-20 Record: 32-39 (4th)
2020 NBA Draft Picks: 11, 41
Area to Address: Wing defender
The Spurs’ run of playoff appearances came to an end this season, a stretch that began with Tim Duncan’s rookie campaign. And the team’s time in the bubble wasn’t without positives, as Derrick White played very well and fellow young guards Lonnie Walker and Keldon Johnson made noteworthy strides in their development. One question that will need answering this offseason is the future of DeMar DeRozan, who has a player option worth a little more than $27.7 million. According to an anonymous agent quoted in a survey recently done by The Athletic, DeRozan doesn’t like San Antonio, so if that is the case would he be more inclined to opt out? Given the NBA’s finances after last season, that kind of money may not be on the table for DeRozan in the open market.
As for the area that the Spurs will need to address, it would be to improve defensively on the wing. San Antonio ranked in the top ten in both blocks per game (6th) and defensive rebounding percentage (4th), but the lack of a disruptive presence on the wing was a big reason why Gregg Popovich’s team ranked 19th in defensive rating. Can a player like Walker of Johnson (or both) grow into that role? It’s possible, as both do possess the physical tools/athleticism that you tend to look for in that kind of player, but there’s a long way to go on that front. Dejounte Murray can be helpful at the point of attack, but the wings are where the problems lie.