As the first round of the playoffs winds down, we turn to our annual fall out report for the losers. Since half of the West is still playing, today, we’ll start with the East:
-Indiana Pacers: Before the Victor Oladipo injury, the Pacers were a legit threat to the top teams in the East. Certainly not a great team but Indiana was good enough to possibly beat Boston or Philly. Without Oladipo, they were just a .500ish team built around a few decent players. On the plus side, the Pacers have a ton of cap room and some good players in Oladipo, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. The big need is offense, where the Pacers have been below average (18th). The plan should re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic (if he can be gotten at a reasonable price) or get a similar player at a decent deal in free agency. Indiana also took the second fewest threes in the NBA and didn’t get to the line very well. Oladipo’s return should help but it may make sense to get a perimeter player who can score. Since Indiana is not a hot free agent destination, trading one of the good young bigs (Sabonis?) to balance the lineup is a possible path.
-Brooklyn Nets: The consensus is that the Nets are on upswing. They are young, fun, and well-coached. The Nets’ ability to dig out of the wreckage of the Celtics trade is amazing but articles saying that the Nets found a new paradigm for rebuilding may be overthinking it. Yes, the Nets shrewdly drafted with late picks and astutely traded for the salvaged D’Angelo Russell. The Nets’ strategy of “drafting well” though isn’t particularly profound. All teams want to draft well, no matter how high or low their picks are. Credit goes to GM Sean Marks for drafting well with a number of late picks. The bigger part of the story is that the Nets and coach Kenny Atkinson have developed the young players and turned two castoffs (Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris) into very valuable role players.
Regardless, the Nets have depth and cap room. Given the location in New York and the talent, one would think the Nets are a serious option for a free agent star. Moreover, for all the Nets’ glitz, they were not a great offensive team (19th). The young players may be able to improve on the offensive side but there is a natural fit here for a star.
-Orlando Magic: Orlando’s situation is a bit more tenuous. They played quite hard and did a nice job hurdling over a few other pretty good teams. The Magic’s dilemma is that they are really reliant on Nikola Vucevic and he is due for a big raise. Orlando also can’t score (22nd) and their only really good offensive player is Vucevic. Vucevic is turning 29 and is likely more of placeholder to keep Orlando respectable than the core player on a great team. They already are locked into Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier the next two seasons. Do they really want to keep the same decent core when a rebuild might be better in the long term? Perhaps so. The fact that the other top players are signed already and Orlando wants to stay competitive(ish) (after an ugly six-year playoff drought) means paying Vucevic is the best option.
-Detroit Pistons: Speaking of being locked into a meh core….The Pistons are locked into .500 until/unless they can move Blake Griffin or Andre Drummond and begin a massive rebuild. Assuming Blake is not tradeable and Drummond can only be traded for similar expensive contracts, the only hope is to really hit in the draft or get an amazing free agent find (like they did years ago with Chauncey Billups). Of course, Griffin and Drummond may be a little overpaid but they aren’t the real problem here. The backcourt is really not good. The Pistons are 21st in offense, 29th in FG%, 23rd in 3FG%, and 26th in assists. Reggie Jackson wasn’t great and the understudies were really weak (Langston Galloway, Bruce Brown, Ish Smith, Jose Calderon all score way below average). If Detroit could find some adequate guards, they might be able to inch up to 45 to 48 wins (if they have a healthy Griffin as well). Not an inspiring ceiling for fans but doable if the front office fills in the gaps a little better.