1 Fix for Every NBA Team Excluded From Restart

Dan Mennella
July 07, 2020 - 2:17 pm

The NBA left out eight teams from its scheduled restart at Disney World, and of course it wasn't without controversy.

Rather than allowing for an equal number of teams from each conference as the league's playoff format usually dictates, this year only teams within six games of the eighth and final playoff spots in each conference were allowed to continue playing.

This had the consequence -- intended or otherwise -- of favoring more teams from the Western Conference.

Some cried foul that the league was manipulating its postseason to include superstars such as Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans and Portland's Damian Lillard.

In any event, the die was cast for all 30 of the league's teams. While the fate of the 22 who were chosen to play will be decided on the court, the eight excluded teams were reportedly in talks to host their own workouts and competitions together, perhaps in Chicago.

It remains to be seen whether basketball of any kind will resume in the 2019-20 season, but in the meantime, here's what went wrong for the eight teams who were left out of the league's planned restart, and how to fix it:

Atlanta Hawks: Get healthy and on the court together

The Hawks have assembled an intriguing young nucleus of Trae Young, John Collins and Clint Capela, buttressed by some promising depth in guys like Cam Reddish, D'Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter.

The only problem is, we've not yet seen them all together on the court. Young and Collins missed significant time together this season owing to suspension and injury, respectively, while Capela has yet to suit up for Atlanta after his midseason acquisition from the Rockets.

Is the new-look lineup enough to push the Hawks into playoff contention? Maybe, and a potential lottery pick in this year's draft can't hurt either.

But the Hawks' first focus has to be getting healthy and getting on the floor together, which they seem to be aware of. Atlanta was among the first teams to call for some kind of summer league for the teams left out of the Disney World restart.

Charlotte Hornets: Find an identity

Who are the Charlotte Hornets? They're not alone among pro sports franchises in facing this question, but it seems they've been at this crossroads for a while.

Moving into the second year of the post-Kemba Walker era, the Hornets are under the salary cap but are apparently more interested in signing role players than superstars. Regarding the draft, GM Mitch Kupchak suggested the team favors a "best available" strategy to targeting specific positions. He also said a "strategic" free agent signing was more likely than a blockbuster, meaning perhaps rim protection or scoring from the wing.

Pistons center Christian Wood is likely to command a nice paycheck in free agency, though in my opinion he would be a great fit and a potentially franchise-changing signing for Charlotte. Aron Baynes would be less splashy but still a nice add, though he does have age and injury concerns, and he too is likely to be a hot commodity after his three-point breakout in Phoenix. Finally, Hassan Whiteside's old-school game is polarizing in an era in which centers are letting it fly from deep, but there's no doubting his rim protection and the fact he would be a marked improvement for the Hornets, and there's a decent chance his traditional skill-set could be undervalued on the market.

The Hornets have some interesting players already in place, plenty of cap room, and a high draft pick on the horizon. If I were them, I would find my center in free agency, and draft the best guard or wing available.

Chicago Bulls: Settle the coaching situation

The Bulls' murky coaching situation has quietly simmered in the background during the league's suspension due to the public health crisis.

When play was halted in March, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the team would be moving on from coach Jim Boylen after two disappointing seasons on the bench. But the intervening months have seen a new regime take over the front office, and apparently it could mean a new lease on life for Boylen. Recent reports suggest he might get another chance to stay, since the team is already paying the salary of at least one other former head coach in Fred Hoiberg, a situation many owners are loathe to find themselves in.

In any event, one way or another, the Bulls ought to put the speculation to rest. Obviously there are bigger issues than basketball right now, but stringing along the staffers, players and fans about the fate of their head coach seems to be in no one's best interest.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Address the frontcourt logjam

After a dreadful start and merciful end to the John Beilein era, the Cavs started to play commensurate to their talent level under his replacement, JB Bickerstaff.

Turning to the roster, there's not a lack of talent here, but the logjam in the frontcourt is an issue. With Andre Drummond, Kevin Love and Larry Nance in the fold, it seems logical to allow franchise stalwart Tristan Thompson to walk in free agency -- even though there is reportedly mutual interest in a return.

Thompson's still a decent player, but his skill set is repetitive with Drummond on board. The Cavs would be better served reallocating his money and minutes in the backcourt -- developing young ball-handling and scoring talent while evaluating the long-term futures of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr.

Detroit Pistons: Re-sign Christian Wood

Like the Hornets, the Pistons appear to be in need of an identity. They were a .500-ish team for the four seasons preceding 2019-20, before taking a major step back. Much of that can be attributed to injury -- specifically to one Blake Griffin, a major blow that appeared to torpedo the Pistons' season before it even had a chance.

In the milieu of a lost season emerged an unlikely budding superstar, in big man Christian Wood. The 24-year-old journeyman and G League alum has developed his game in recent years, with a soft shooting stroke from deep and above-average rim protection to go with his strong offense in the paint. Wood is quietly gaining steam as one of the hotter free agents, once the book is officially closed on this season.

The Pistons have made some questionable moves in recent years, including bringing in the aging Griffin and declining to trade Derrick Rose prior to last year's deadline. But Wood is the flip side of that -- a longshot on whom they hit the jackpot. And they should do everything in their power to retain him.

Golden State Warriors: Add offensive firepower

The Warriors had not yet found a long-term replacement for Kevin Durant by the outset of last season, a reality that was further exposed when Klay Thompson and Steph Curry went down with injuries, leaving D'Angelo Russell and Draymond Green as the only household names in the lineup.

The Dubs later dealt Russell to the Timberwolves in exchange for Andrew Wiggins, a move that turned heads for several reasons. But from Golden State's perspective they traded away Russell -- the player they received as compensation for losing Durant -- in exchange for a highly paid young veteran who has yet to live up to his billing as the league's top overall draft pick in 2014.

From a positional perspective, it made sense. Wiggins stepped in as the Warriors' starting small forward right away, a role once held by Durant. He's nowhere near the player of Durant, but few are, and at only 25 years of age, there's hope he can take his athleticism and high-flying game to another level with a fresh start.

But the Warriors' calling card throughout their run of excellence has been their explosive offense, and the dropoff from KD to Russell to Wiggins is pretty significant. They appear to be lacking the firepower they once had. I've suggested the lottery-bound Warriors should give a long look in the upcoming draft to Vandy small forward Aaron Nesmith, an apparently upward-trending prospect who shot over 50 percent from deep last season on upward of eight attempts per game.

NBA-ready players are hard to find in the draft, but with little cap space it might be the Warriors' best bet to replenish their aging roster with some offensive punch.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Re-sign Malik Beasley

The Wolves struggled in their first season after pulling the plug on the short-lived Tom Thibodeau era in January 2019, but a new direction began to take shape prior to the trade deadline with a couple of deals, including the one that brought Russell over from Golden State.

The arrival of DAR was a much-needed boost of optimism in a season gone terribly wrong, including the first prolonged absences of superstar Karl-Anthony Towns' career, owing to injury.

A separate, lesser-celebrated deal was the swap that brought Malik Beasley to Minnesota. The shooting guard had shown flashes for years as a reserve with the Nuggets, but he really took off in the Wolves' starting lineup. Beasley can run hot and cold, and we're not necessarily ready to anoint him a "third star" by any means, but he looked like an excellent third or fourth scoring option upon joining the Wolves.

Just by re-signing Beasley, getting Towns back healthy, and restocking the cupboard with three picks in the first 33 in this year's draft, the Wolves look to be in much better shape in 2020-21.

New York Knicks: Hire a head coach

The Knicks are in need of a general infusion of talent, and obviously no coach alone can solve that issue. But they also have a new front office in place, and a coaching search is reportedly well underway.

The candidates are said to include Kenny Atkinson, Tom Thibodeau, interim coach Mike Miller, Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Woodson. I think any of them are deserving enough on their merits, but most important first is that the Knicks get the timing right, and hopefully land the coach whose philosophy is most aligned with their own.

By timing, I literally mean hire the coach before the draft and free agency. That might seem like a low bar and a no-brainer -- but buddy let me tell you, I'm a Jets fan. The Knicks need everyone pulling in the same direction as they endeavor on their rebuild. Ideally that means the coach has some degree of input in the players the team acquires, so that he can best plug them into his system, or mold his system around their talents.

Like the Cavs under Bickerstaff, the Knicks looked markedly better under Miller after the dismissal of David Fizdale. The modest uptick in success wasn't a mystery. Miller had clearer expectations and roles for his players, and put them in positions to succeed. That's what their next coach must do as well, whether it's Miller himself or someone else.

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