Ten members of the RotoWire NBA staff weigh in on eight questions as we head into the meat of the offseason.
1. Even though we got Cavs/Warriors for the fourth straight year, were the playoffs still entertaining enough to hold your attention throughout?
There were enough surprises and competitive series to keep in interesting. No one expected New Orleans to sweep Portland, the entire Celtics run was unexpected, Indiana almost took down Cleveland, and the Rockets were really close to taking down the Warriors.
Absolutely. Clevelandís run through the East provided plenty of memorable moments, and while the Finals went about as expected, the series was more competitive overall than I anticipated. I thought we got a great Round 1 with two seven-game series and a surprising sweep, followed by a disappointing Round 2, then a really strong pair of Conference Finals series. If Chris Paul
doesnít go down, weíre probably looking at these playoffs through a completely different lens.
Yes. We're fortunate enough to be able to watch perhaps the best player of all time in LeBron, arguably the three best shooters of all time (Steph, Klay, KD), arguably the best team of all time (the Warriors) and a smattering of top 50 players of all time. Game 1 of the Finals made the whole playoffs worthwhile.
Despite a lackluster Finals -- minus Game 1, of course -- we were treated to an entertaining playoffs, overall. Witnessing the breakout of Anthony Davis
and the Sixers in Round 1 was a treat, and I also enjoyed the ragtag group of overachievers the Celtics ran out on a nightly basis. We all knew the Warriors/Rockets series was the true finale this year, and it turned out to be a great series. Hopefully both teams are healthy when they face off next year.
Two words: Boston Celtics. Written off for dead without Kyrie Irving
, we saw Terry Rozier
, Jayson Tatum
and Jaylen Brown
blossom on some pretty big stages. Sure, Rozier, Brown and Marcus Smart
choked in Game 7 against LeBron, but, overall, the future is bright in Beantown. Also, Donovan Mitchell
evolving into Utahís leader as a rookie was amazing to watch.
Yes. I especially enjoyed the Western Conference Finals, but it was a shame when Chris Paul
Yes. Though the final results matched expectations, no one could have predicted the path we took to get there. The Warriors barely squeaked by, and might not have had Chris Paul
stayed healthy. The Celticsí B-squad took LeBron's D-squad to seven games. The 76ers and Jazz declared themselves as legitimate contenders far ahead of schedule.
Yes. Cleveland's route to the Finals was enough to hold my attention. Factor in Golden State narrowly making it past Houston and overall these playoffs exceeded my expectations in terms of entertainment value.
While I think repeat title games aren't the best thing for the NBA, you have to tip your hat to both teams At the very least, it's entertaining to watch the Warriors establish themselves as one of the most dominant teams in history.
Absolutely. The Warriors/Rockets series alone was enough to have me itching for next season. If Chris Paul
had stayed healthy, the Rockets could potentially have pulled off a win in one of those last two games, which shows the Warriors are beatable.
2. Who is a player you're expecting to make a significant leap in terms of fantasy value next season?
Barutha: Lonzo Ball
. Picking a second-year player might be a cop-out answer. But Ball managed to be the 60th-ranked fantasy player by average production last season and shot only 36.0 percent from the field, 30.5 percent from three and 45.1 percent from the free-throw line. If he can at least get close to what we expected from him shooting the ball out of college, his fantasy value could skyrocket.
I wouldnít necessarily bet on this, but Iím interested to see what Jabari Parker
can do with a full offseason to work on his game, rather than recover from a blown out knee. His future with the Bucks remains murky at best, but if he finds the right fit -- whether thatís in Milwaukee or elsewhere -- he has the potential to be a big-time scorer. Speaking of the 2014 draft class, Aaron Gordon
is another (relatively obvious) breakout pick. His season-long numbers werenít spectacular, due in large part to injuries, but Gordon averaged 18.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and shot 41% from three through the first three months of the season.
Anderson: Dejounte Murray
. His lack of three-point shooting limits his real-life value, but his usage should take a jump, and he could be the best per-minute contributor in steals and rebounds of any point guard in the league.
McKeown: D'Angelo Russell
. I will beat this dead horse until the end of time.
Iíve already raved about Donovan Mitchell
. Iím tempted to go with Jayson Tatum
, but shots will be harder to come by with a healthy Gordon Hayward
. Letís go with Kyle Kuzma
. With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
and Julius Randle
probably moving on, that opens up even more minutes and shots for Kuzma. Expect an uptick in rebounds Ė he averaged 9.3 boards per game his last year at Utah.
Barner: Zach LaVine
only played 24 games due to injuries, but had a 29.5% usage rate with the Bulls. The Bulls likely wonít sign a big free agent or add an impact offensive player in the draft, which will leave a heavy scoring load on the shoulders of LaVine. Another year removed from ACL surgery, LaVine will put up monster scoring numbers if he can stay healthy.
Rikleen: Kevin Love
. The Finals just ended, and there are already rumors that the Cavaliers will look to dump Love as part of a total tear-down (there is zero chance LeBron returns). But if Love stays as the only star surrounded by a lackluster supporting cast, then averaging something like 25 points, 12 rebounds and 3.5 assists is very much in play. Myles Turner
had a bad 2017-18, but he was a top-30 player in 16-17, and I expect his value to jump back up.
I so badly want to say Malik Monk
here -- there's nowhere else to go but up -- but I'll officially lock in my answer with John Collins
. He attempted more and more three-pointers as his rookie campaign went along, which leads me to believe he can average a double-double with at least one three-pointer, a full steal and a full block per game in his sophomore season.
Adding the 2nd overall pick in the draft and the likelihood of some experience in free agency, De'Aaron Fox
is in a great position to make some waves as Sacramento's floor general. Another player who might find himself in greener pastures is Aaron Gordon
, who is a restricted free agent this summer.
It's always hard to make these sort of predictions prior to free agency, so I'll go with John Collins
considering the Hawks aren't likely to make a ton of moves in the offseason. He only started 26 games during a solid rookie season and with Ersan Ilyasova
out of the picture, there won't be a player getting in the way of Collins' playing time and development for half the year.
3. Who would you take with the first pick, right now, in an early 2018-19 fantasy draft?
Barutha: James Harden
. He's in his prime, is about to win his first MVP, rarely gets injured, and his role is safe. There's virtually no uncertainty surrounding him. I still wouldn't blame anyone for taking Anthony Davis
, Giannis or LeBron with the first pick
Giannis feels like the safest bet right now. Even with a so-so supporting cast and suspect coaching last season, he had one of the highest floors of any player in the league, despite still struggling from three.
Giannis. He's still getting better year-to-year and doesn't have another star next to him limiting his ceiling. Great track record of health. One of these years he'll average one three-pointer per game, and it could be as early as this upcoming season.
Is it crazy to expect another 82 games from LeBron James
? Iím still burning from taking Wall over The King in NFBC Ė I foolishly thought this was the year Cleveland would finally give Bron some rest. will answer LeBron James
in a shameless attempt to cleanse myself from last yearís monstrous mistake. I must pay my penance.
I would take James Harden
right now because I donít think the Rockets will add another superstar. LeBron James
is unlikely to be on a team with so little talent again, which will eat into his value. However, if DeMarcus Cousins
doesnít return to the Pelicans, Anthony Davis
would be my top choice, even with his injury concerns.
Rikleen: Giannis Antetokounmpo
. Technically, I have the Greek Freak ranked 5th right now, but if I'm drafting this early in the summer, he's the guy that I have the most confidence will stay inside the top tier. Anthony Davis
is my actual No. 1, but his history of health problems and the many uncertainties facing his off-season make me gun-shy in an early draft.
Trainor: Giannis Antetokounmpo
This question is dependent on answers to two key questions: Where does LeBron go, and will Paul George
join him there? If George leaves the Thunder, it's hard to bet against Westbrook as the first pick. LeBron's value as a potential No. 1 pick will remain in flux until he makes a decision.
Miller: Anthony Davis
would be my top selection. He was an absolute force with, or without, DeMarcus Cousins
and played 75 games for the second straight year. Do I expect this run of good health to continue? I'm skeptical, but putting those concerns aside, Davis is the guy.
4. Which team makes the most sense for LeBron James?
Assuming Kawhi is healthy and on the Spurs, I like the Spurs. I'm not sure how LeBron would get there financially (sign-and-trade?), but pairing with an elite wing defender and secondary ballhandler seems like the right move, not to mention Gregg Popovich and high-IQ players up and down the roster. San Antonio could also continue to slow the pace, keeping the wear and tear off Lebron. It would feel like a true counter to the Warriors, rather than trying to beat them at their own game.
Several options make sense from a basketball or lifestyle perspective, but the scenario Iím most enamored with is Philadelphia. The Sixers have the flexibility to bring in more talent along with LeBron, and while heís clearly not an ideal fit next to Ben Simmons
, LeBron has the confidence to convince himself he can play with anyone. The Sixers would instantly become the most fun team in the league, and it would be a very clear, ultra-competitive two-horse race in the East, which would have its two strongest top-to-bottom teams in recent memory.
If we rule out great fits that we assume he wouldn't consider, such as the Jazz, Nuggets and Bucks, then I'll go with the Lakers. Not ruling out LeBron, Paul George
and one of CP3/Kawhi somehow joining forces in L.A. If LeBron is ready to transition to being more of a complementary player, then I think Houston makes sense, but if he intends to be as ball dominant as always, I don't love that fit, especially given how bad he and Harden are defensively. Hate the combination of Ben Simmons
and LeBron in Philly because Simmons needs the ball even more than LeBron.
I think he signs with the Sixers, but the Celtics might make the most sense if Danny Ainge can pull some magic out of his behind.
My gut says heíll be part of the Lake Show, yet I canít imagine he wants any part of dealing with the Ball family. Houston is the pick.
It doesnít make sense for him to move to the Western Conference to battle with the Rockets and Warriors, so Iíll say the Sixers. He and Embiid would be scary, though he would cut into Ben Simmons
í value significantly.
Depends on what James' priorities are. First, let's ignore cap logistics and assume any landing spot is possible. If he's chasing championships, then pairing with Kawhi Leonard
and Gregg Popovich on the Spurs is his best option. If he's driven by spite, then he would be the all-time winner of the Petty Warz by forcing Kyrie Irving
out of Boston in a sign-and-trade. But if he goes to the 76ers or the Jazz, then LeBron could achieve a longer-lasting impact as a mentor of the league's next superstars. This is especially true with the 76ers. If LeBron takes Ben Simmons
, the closest physical specimen to LeBron we've seen, under his wing and helps him develop a passable jump-shot, then LeBron would be able to claim partial credit for Simmons' future successes. No other top-10 All-Timer currently claims such credit for fostering a top-50 protege.
I just want the poor guy to have some fun playing basketball again. This past season seemed to weigh so heavy on him both mentally and physically, and I can hardly remember the last time he was joyful. Los Angeles will obviously stimulate him off the court more so than any other suitor, but I think scheming with Gregg Popovich down in San Antonio would arguably bring him the most joy.
Most people will say the Sixers, or even the Lakers, although that rumor has lost some steam in Tinseltown recently. James wants another title, and in my opinion, the team with the best chance to get there is Houston. Chris Paul
has lobbied for The King to join up, and heíd fill a key role on the wing, which has been a weaker spot for Houston. If the Rockers can find suitors for Ryan Anderson
and another role player or two, they may have enough cap room to make it happen.
While I'd love to see the Rockets re-sign Chris Paul
and bring in James, the potential roster construction there seems tough to do and who is going to take the final two years of Ryan Anderson
's four-year, $80 million deal? I think the Lakers make more sense. It gives LeBron his big market and plenty of cap room to bring in players like Paul George
, or maybe even the aforementioned Chris Paul
5. Will Kawhi Leonard be in a Spurs uniform on opening night next season?
Yes. I think the Spurs will wait as long as possible before dealing him if it comes to that. Plus, other teams may want to see him play before taking that risk.
As much as Iíd love to witness the ensuing chaos if Kawhi demanded a trade, something tells me this will get worked out and Leonard will be on his way to the supermax.
Yes. I'm 50/50 on this, but I'll say yes just because I think it's the smartest thing the Spurs could do. They still have all the leverage, in my opinion, and I don't see them getting overwhelmed with a trade offer.
Yes. Gregg Popovich will figure things out. He always does.
Yes, but only because the Spurs wonít be able to get close to fair value for him in a trade.
I don't believe anyone knows anything about what's going on with Kawhi and the Spurs. Pretend I guessed whichever answer you wanted me to guess.
50/50 toss up.
Zero chance. Maybe if Popovich retires in the offseason we'd see him back in San Antonio, but I think that relationship is frayed beyond repair.
I think Leonard will stick with the Spurs. He's eligible for the supermax in San Antonio and the Spurs already fixed a similar situation last year by talking LaMarcus Aldridge
off the ledge. When it comes down to it, Leonard and Gregg Popovich will talk things out and repair the relationship between the two sides.
6. Which soon-to-be-rookie are you most looking forward to watching/evaluating next season?
Mo Bamba. I'm really just hoping he can become the player Thon Maker
was supposed to be, or the version he showed during Games 3 and 4 against Boston.
Mo Bamba. This is going to be another fun rookie class, and Bamba is my favorite prospect in a few years. Thatís not to say I think heíll be a great player right away -- Iím more so interested to see how his otherworldly length and athletic fluidity translate to the next level. I think Bamba will have an up-and-down rookie season, but he could very easily wind up as the best player in a deep lottery in three or four years.
Anderson: Luka Doncic
. It's like someone created him in a lab specifically for my enjoyment. Nothing gets me more excited than lethal scorers who have elite court vision and love making their teammates better. Trae Young
sometimes gets compared to Stephen Curry
and Steve Nash, but Doncic is the one who has the best chance of making everyone around him better on such a similarly massive scale.
McKeown: Luka Doncic
Gimme more Mo! Mo Bamba is going to be a joy to watch next season, even if he has his ups and downs. If Iím Dallas -- thatís where I hope he ends up -- I play him every minute of his rookie season and let him develop. Let him get down on himself. Let him find his shot. Show him when is motor isnít running on full. Dallas isnít going anywhere next year, so focus on developing young talent.
I am excited to see what Mo Bamba can turn into. Heís going to be a ton of fun defensively.
I'm really excited about Mo Bamba, and really intrigued by Luka Doncic
. But this looks like a pretty strong rookie class, so I'm most interested in seeing which ones land on potential playoff teams. One or two of the players taken between 9 (the Knicks) and 14 (the Nuggets) might play a giant role in the 2019 playoff push.
Trainor: Trae Young
. I'm fully expecting him to have a lackluster rookie campaign overall, but I'm hopeful for a breakout game here and there to suggest future success.
Edgerton: Trae Young
, without question. Granted, he's an undersized guard who coughs up the ball a bit too much, but it will be interesting to see how he stacks up against the big boys. Young is stacked with intangibles that make him a special player and fun to watch.
I'll go with Luka Doncic
. It's always interesting to see how foreign prospects translate to the NBA and Doncic seems to be a prospect that fits in perfectly, so I expect him to excel right away. His combination of size and scoring ability should be fun to watch.
7. Which team would you predict to finish with the worst record in the league next season?
Atlanta. Dennis Schroder
has all but demanded a trade. If that happens, the Hawks' best player would be... Taurean Prince
? Kent Bazemore
? John Collins
? Whoever they draft with the third pick? The Hawks could be in for a long rebuild.
The Hawks, Magic and Knicks are the first three that come to mind. And the Kings always deserve a mention in this conversation. Iíll go with New York, assuming Kristaps Porzingis
misses most of the season. The Knicks have the ideal combination of inefficient scorers and nothing but ping pong balls to play for.
Who cares. The same crappy five or six teams will all be terrible, regardless of who they draft.
The leadership in Phoenix is so terrible, itís hard not to predict back-to-back last-place finishes. Maybe new coach Igor Kokoskov makes some improvements.And itís a no-brainer to grab Deandre Ayton
with the number one pick. But I have confidence that GM Ryan McDonough will find a way to screw things up. How has he kept his job since 2013?
The Atlanta Hawks. This is going to be a long rebuild.
The Hawks have almost half the salary cap eaten up by Dennis Schroder
, Kent Bazemore
, and Miles Plumlee
. Even with one of the better coaches in the league, they had the third-worst record in the league. Now coach Mike Budenholzer is gone. Barring a surprising free agent signing, their best player is Taurean Prince
, who is fine but probably wouldn't have cracked the starting lineup for 14 of the 16 playoff teams.
I'm tempted to say Cleveland, but Phoenix will be no better off next year than they were this past year.
Without a major overhaul, the Knicks are going nowhere fast. Porzingis hasn't quite worked out as the centerpiece of the team, and the healthy talent they do have on the roster has been badly coached and mismanaged.
I'll go with the Hawks. They're still young and could improve, but they should have a very similar roster from last year that finished dead last in the East and tied for the third worst record in the league. Dallas and Orlando are also in consideration.
8. Which non-playoff team in 2017-18 are you most confident will make the postseason in 2018-19?
Denver, assuming they don't lose Will Barton
in free agency. The Nuggets only got 38 games out of Paul Millsap
, who was set to be their second-best player, and 22 of those came after he broke his hand. Assuming he's healthier this time around and the young core continues to develop, it's hard to imagine Denver doesnít top 50 wins.
The Nuggets and Lakers are both sensible picks, but the issue in the West is Iím not sure who drops out. Oklahoma City? Maybe San Antonio? If LeBron leaves Cleveland that automatically opens up one playoff spot, and Detroit is really the only non-playoff team from this season thatíll be in good position to make a run at it. Chicago has some intriguing young talent, but I think theyíre still a year away.
Lakers. Some team will take Cleveland's spot in the East, but those teams are all terrible. The Lakers could bump out one of Portland, OKC or Minnesota if they add a couple impact pieces.
Iíll go chalk and say the Denver Nuggets. A full year of a healthy Paul Millsap
should help. I bet he and Nikola Jokic
figure things out. Jamal Murray
is also only 21 years old. He still has plenty of upside, as does Gary Harris
The Nuggets missed the playoffs by one game and have a lot of talent, so if any team is going to make the leap next year, I think it will be them.
The Nuggets and it's not close. The Nikola Jokic
trio could all be All-Stars in a year or two. Paul Millsap
is still highly effective. Now that Kenneth Faried
is finally on an expiring contract, they should be able to shed him for a player who actually contributes. I'm also a huge fan of Trey Lyles
, and I still believe that Malik Beasley
.can be a positive contributor.
Easy answer here is the Nuggets, but I'll go with the Lakers. A sudden influx of talent seems imminent.
The Nuggets should have been in last season, but they ran into horrible luck in the final weeks. This team has all the pieces you need for a playoff run. If they can keep the core group of Harris, Barton, Millsap, and Jokic together and grab a quality rookie like Zhaire Smith
(or Collin Sexton
, if he drops that far), they'll be in great shape.
If they end up signing LeBron and grab another superstar or two, the Lakers should make the jump up into the playoffs. James has been running the East for years, so it should be even more entertaining when he's grinding in the always-competitive Western Conference playoff race.