5. Sacramento Kings
The Kings have been stuck in the middle for a long time now. Having not made the playoffs in 14 years, they desperately need to make some moves. GM Vlade Divac stepped down in August and they hired a completely new front office. With some notable draft whiffs in the recent past and not a whole lot on the roster, they need to find a way to improve and fast. Their main piece is 22-year-old point guard De’Aaron Fox, but everyone else on the roster is up for trade. They have a weird mix of veterans on expensive deals and young pieces who didn’t quite live up to expectation, and all of that together makes a roster not quite good enough to make the postseason, but not bad enough to get a top draft pick. If Fox and Marvin Bagley become the players they were supposed to be, the Kings are in okay shape, but it would be wise for them to trade off some veterans for more draft capital and free up some cap space. With a new front office, changes are coming, and I think they should be drastic.
4. San Antonio Spurs
On the opposite end of the playoff success spectrum, the Spurs’ 22-year long postseason streak ended this year after they missed a chance at the O’Brien trophy for the first time in my life. The Spurs finally find themselves without a true superstar, no clear “build-around” piece, and aging veterans on large contracts. Head coach Gregg Popovich is inching closer to retirement, and a Spurs blow up feels inevitable. DeMar DeRozan has a player option on his contract he’s likely to take, and LaMarcus Aldridge has one year left on his deal as well. They could potentially get some value for those players on the trade market, and I expect them to explore their options. The Spurs have always had a savvy front office, and they can find a way to get the most out of their assets. Players like Dejounte Murray and Derrick White can step up and lead the team, and gaining draft picks for veterans when possible would be wise for San Antonio. This era of Spurs basketball is over, and it’s time to look towards the future. Big trades coming to Texas.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers are in such a weird spot. They flamed out of the playoffs in the first round after an offseason where many had them tabbed as the likely Eastern Conference champions. The questions about the fit between Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have never been louder. Al Horford and Tobias Harris are on huge contracts and the team is now totally capped out for the foreseeable future. Harris and Horford are now players the team will have to attach assets to in order to trade, their stars might be unhappy, and they’re looking for a new coach after moving on from Brett Brown. Whether it’s a Simmons or Embiid trade or something less drastic, the Sixers need to weigh all their options, because time is running out to maximize this roster, and after letting Jimmy Butler (who just led his team to the Finals) and JJ Redick walk out the door, they may have missed their chance. Elton Brand is desperate to keep his job as GM, so there will be aggressive moves coming out of Philly in the near future.
2. Houston Rockets
After being the only team to challenge the mighty KD-Steph Warriors during their run to three straight Finals, the Rockets now find themselves at a crossroads. They traded Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook and fully committed to their small-ball philosophy by trading Clint Capela for Robert Covington. Houston struggled in the first round against Paul’s new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and lost convincingly to the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round. The Harden-Westbrook pairing had questions to begin with, and they’re only louder now. Both are on huge contracts for the next few seasons, and Westbrook’s value as an asset has never been lower. Do the Rockets try to flip Westbrook for something else? What do they do with role players like Covington, PJ Tucker, Eric Gordon, and Danuel House? They’re pretty much out of draft picks to use to upgrade the roster, so outside of a huge blow-up sending Harden and Westbrook out of town, they might be stuck with what they have. They’re also looking for a new coach, and questions have arisen about GM Daryl Morey’s job security and team governor Tilman Fertitta’s willingness to pay the luxury tax for a competitive team. For a team that got so close to a title in 2018, they may now face a complete teardown.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
This all revolves around the two-time MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is entering the final year of his contract, and everyone is questioning if he will leave the team in free agency, or even request a trade. After an extremely disappointing second-round exit, changes are needed and fast. If they want to keep Antetokounmpo happy and in town, everyone else on the roster is up for trade. Brook Lopez, Eric Bledsoe, and George Hill are all likely candidates, and the Bucks will be hunting for any way to upgrade this roster in order to appease Antetokounmpo and continue to compete for titles. The clock is ticking, because he can sign a supermax extension this offseason. If he doesn’t, it’s open season for the Bucks and everything is on the table. Teams will be courting the two-time MVP, so they will pull out all the stops in order to get their hands on upgrades to really get this team over the hump.