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 a month away (November 18) and free agency will begin 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 Southeast being the focus of this installment. While many viewed Miami as a team that was building towards the 2021 offseason and its expected free agency bonanza, Jimmy Butler and company made the most of their time in the bubble and reached the NBA Finals. Orlando was also a playoff team, but lost Jonathan Isaac for this coming season due to a torn ACL.
Atlanta, Charlotte and Washington all missed out on the postseason, with the first two teams in the midst of rebuilding projects with young players while the Wizards will welcome back both John Wall and Bradley Beal after the two All-Stars missed time due to injury. Below is a look at each team, beginning with the Hawks.
2019-20 Record: 20-47 (5th, Southeast)
2020 NBA Draft Picks: 6, 50 (from Miami via Sacramento, Cleveland and Boston)
Area to address: Experienced wing contributor
With regard to the long-term future of the franchise, the most important item of business for the Hawks this offseason may be the contract of John Collins. Next season will be the last of his rookie deal, with Collins set to make a little more than $4.1 million. Should the two sides not come to an agreement on an extension ahead of the league’s deadline (this should be right before the start of the regular season), Collins would be a restricted free agent next offseason. He’s made it known that he wants to remain in Atlanta, and after posting averages of 21.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.6 blocks and 1.4 3-pointers per game in what was the best season of his NBA career to date an argument can be made that Collins deserves a new deal.
Assuming that this gets handled, the Hawks could use an experienced wing capable of helping Trae Young and company take the next step in their rebuild. Atlanta has some good young options, most notably Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish, but adding a productive vet to the mix at a good price point would be a good idea. Last season the Hawks ranked among the worst teams in both offensive (26th) and defensive (27th) rating, despite ranking fifth in the NBA in pace. Adding a more experienced hand who can bring both sides of the 3-and-D skill set to the table would help this team out. Clint Capela getting back to full strength will help when it comes to protecting the paint, as he averaged 1.8 blocks per game last season with the Rockets.
2019-20 Record: 23-42 (3rd, Southeast)
2020 NBA Draft Picks: 3, 32 (from Cleveland via LA Clippers and Orlando), 56 (from Boston)
Area to address: Interior depth
In recent years the Hornets have loaded up on wings in the draft, so there really isn’t much of a need to address there. Bacon will be a restricted free agent, and Batum has a player option worth a little over $27 million that he’s expected to pick up. Where Charlotte needs to make some additions is in the post, as Biyombo and Hernangomez will both be unrestricted free agents and Cody Zeller is entering the final year of his deal. The Hornets’ struggles on the defensive glass was a big reason why they were so bad defensively, with James Borrego’s team ranking dead last in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and 24th in defensive rating.
The interior play is something that Charlotte will be able to address both in the draft and in free agency, beginning with the third overall pick. Could a player like Memphis’ James Wiseman appeal to Mitch Kupchak if he’s on the board at that point? And with there being a host of big men that are expected to hover around that late-first/early-second round portion of the draft, the Hornets may be able to grab a quality option with the 32nd overall pick as well.
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2019-20 Record: 44-29 (1st, Southeast)
2020 NBA Draft Picks: 20
Area to address: Point guard
The Heat are in an interesting position heading into this offseason, as the run to the NBA Finals showed that Erik Spoelstra’s team was further along than may outside of the organization believed beforehand. For some franchises that would be full license to go “all in” this offseason, but Pat Riley has long wanted to preserve salary cap space in order to make a major move next offseason in what projects to be a loaded free agent class. The key for Miami will be to find a proper balance between strengthening the roster for next season and retaining cap flexibility for 2021’s free agency bonanza. That will likely come into consideration when the team assesses its future with Goran Dragic, who went from sixth man to starter (and Miami’s leading scorer) during the team’s run to the Finals.
If the Heat can bring him back on a short-term deal (likely a one-plus-one) that pays Dragic a little more, that could both reward him while allowing Miami to maintain some room to maneuver next offseason. Or maybe he wants a long-term deal and won’t budge off of that mindset. Either way the Heat will need to address the point guard position, and they can also do that in next month’s draft. Duke’s Tre Jones, if he’s on the board when Miami is on the clock, would be a good fit even with there being questions regarding the consistency of his jump shot.
2019-20 Record: 33-40 (2nd, Southeast)
2020 NBA Draft Picks: 15, 45
2020 Free Agents: D.J. Augustin, Michael Carter-Williams (unrestricted); Josh Magette, Vic Law, Wesley Iwundu, Gary Clark, B.J. Johnson (restricted); Evan Fournier, James Ennis (player option); Melvin Frazier (team option)
Area to address: Backup point guard
The Heat aren’t the only team in the Southeast Division that needs to deal with the point guard position this offseason. Markelle Fultz made noteworthy strides at the point for Orlando this season, posting averages of 12.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game in 72 appearances (60 starts). The perimeter shot remains a work in progress, but at this point it appears that Steve Clifford is comfortable with Fultz running the show. But what will Orlando do behind Fultz? Both Augustin and Carter-Williams, the latter having spent the majority of his time playing off the ball this past season, will be unrestricted free agents.
Orlando also has two draft picks to utilize this offseason, but they’re going to need a veteran in that backup role if the team is to make any kind of move in the East’s pecking order. Can they bring back Augustin or Carter-Williams? Or can they managed to bring back both? That may be the biggest question that Orlando faces, depending upon whether or not Fournier picks up his player option (worth $17.15 million). Of course the Magic will be without Jonathan Isaac, who tore his ACL in the bubble, but rookie Chuma Okeke should be good to go after sitting out the 2019-20 campaign as he recovered from the ACL tear he suffered during the 2019 NCAA tournament.
2019-20 Record: 25-47 (4th, Southeast)
2020 NBA Draft Picks: 9, 37 (from Chicago)
Area to address: Rim protector
Thanks to the returns of John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards should be one of the NBA’s most improved teams next season. But how good Scott Brooks’ team can be will depend upon what is done during the offseason to improve the team’s interior defense. Mahinmi, who will be an unrestricted free agent, started 35 of the 38 games in which he played and averaged 5.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. Thomas Bryant was the only other Wizard to average at least one blocked shot per night, and he wouldn’t necessarily be classified as a high-level rim protector, either. Same goes for Moritz Wagner and Anzejs Pasecniks.
Given the lack of a consistent defensive stalwart in the paint, it should come as no surprise that the Wizards were dead last in defensive rating this past season. Looking at the draft, an athletic big like USC’s Onyeka Okongwu could potentially be a good fit for Washington in the lottery (the Wizards will pick ninth overall). This draft also projects to have some good bigs available early in the second round, so the need can be addressed there as well. And of course there’s also free agency, where the Wizards can sign a veteran capable of contributing immediately. Davis Bertans stands to be a sought-after free agent due to his ability to stretch the floor from the power forward spot, and Washington will likely want him back in the fold. But whether or not he returns, adding a quality big to the rotation should be the team’s priority.