Although the NBA season finally concluded Oct. 11, much rest wasn’t promised. The 2020 NBA offseason will be much shorter than usual. Per The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the 2020-21 season is set to start start December 22. Coincidentally, leaving LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers left with no time to rest on their laurels.
With the NBA Draft set for Nov. 18, free agency and training camp could suffer from a microwave process due to the seemingly rushed return. Aside from the on-court product potentially feeling the effects of a two-month turnaround, the pandemic took away a chunk of basketball revenue in light of the league losing out on fans in the stands.
Despite the loss in basketball revenue, all is not lost. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the cap number is the same as last year.
Sources: $109.1M salary cap and $132.6M luxury tax for 2020-2021 season. Same as last season.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 15, 2020
Regardless of whether bubble basketball continues in the 2020-21 season, the NBA offseason’s attraction continues. The league’s competitive hierarchy is a few moves from shifting balance.
With that said, familiar faces at the peak of the NBA pyramid find themselves close to landscape-morphing trades. The NBA Draft, just a couple of days away, sees a contender with the ultimate asset: the second overall pick.
The NBA news machine exists as a tireless, rust-resistant, social-media-engagement-fueled machine. Ironically, the persistence of NBA pundits and constant rumor mills drive the social media content, despite the constant eye rolls caused by the two parties.
With that said, where there is smoke, a fire burns close.
1. What’s the next move for the Dallas Mavericks?
Coming off a six-game series with the then-considered title favorite Los Angeles Clippers, the expectations for the Dallas Mavericks heighten going into the 2020-21 season. The trade rumor machine chose Dallas as its next host for the Giannis Antetokounmpo 2021 free agent sweepstakes.
Whether the rumor has merit or is mere talking point fantasy, the Mavericks’ front office must carry the momentum. Move as if Antetokounmpo is signing with Dallas this free agency. From what the reports tell us, Dallas once again inserts itself in the buyer’s market.
Role players showed up in a dramatic way versus the Clippers, increasing their stock. However, it’s reasonable to claim the Luka Doncic effect is the alpha and omega of the Mavericks’ offense. Meaning, if it happened, Doncic’s influence allowed the majority of the role players’ success.
Never mind the role players on team-friendly deals; the NBA Draft provides Mavericks General Manager Donnie Nelson and owner Mark Cuban another tool to launch themselves in the contender conversation.
Why stop there? It’s likely the combination of the 18th pick along with a few role players trigger a genuine trade negotiation. The buck doesn’t stop there; Dallas Morning News reporter Brad Townsend noted that the Mavericks are looking to move up in the 2020 draft.
To most, moving up in the draft isn’t special. However, to those who follow the team closely, Dallas typically moves down in the draft, with Doncic and Dirk Nowitzki as the exceptions, of course.
I don’t see a player, aside from perhaps Auburn forward Isaac Okoro, who fits a win-now situation. Furthermore, it’s unlikely Okoro falls to the lower end of the lottery. Nonetheless, Dallas acquiring an asset only thickens the plot for a team seeking a legitimate third option.
Regardless of Dallas’ draft positioning, a shot at a top-10 prospect surely opens an opportunity to deal with a team looking to bottom out for a lottery pick. The Orlando Magic, riding the treadmill of mediocrity, make sense as a possible trade partner, especially if Dallas finds its way into the top-10 spot.
Another familiar scenario finds a team that maybe isn’t looking to cash out completely but needs a solution as its star player is on the verge of leaving via free agency in 2021. Look no further than the Indiana Pacers and their delicate and odd situation with Victor Oladipo.
Despite losing to the Miami Heat in a sweep, the Pacers faced significant injuries as Oladipo never fully recovered from his knee injury, which caused him to miss 69 games of the 2019-20 season. Also, the Pacers’ All-Star frontcourt option, Domantas Sabonis, missed the playoffs due to a foot injury.
Although nowhere near a contender, the Pacers don’t appear as a “blow it up” candidate at this moment.
The Magic, on the other hand, have every reason to file for competitive bankruptcy. Yes, Jonathan Isaac tragically suffered a torn ACL and meniscus, but the unfortunate history runs deeper than an eighth seed’s up-and-coming player succumbing to a costly injury. The Magic haven’t escaped the first round since 2010.
Sadly, there are no crystal balls in the Def Pen Slack chat, but placing faith in Donnie Nelson hasn’t hurt Mavericks fans in the last two seasons.
2. Should the Minnesota Timberwolves draft a player or trade the No. 1-overall pick?
It’s hard to fall through the cracks of irrelevance when the NBA Draft lottery acts as a fail-safe for the league’s troubled franchises. Unfortunately, for the Minnesota Timberwolves, even the former No. 1-overall pick, Karl-Anthony Towns, can’t save the foundering franchise.
Five seasons later, and the story yet again finds the Timberwolves in a similar scenario, except now the front office seems to have a plan in place with its elite offensive center Towns as the catalyst.
Unlike previous eras of Timberwolves basketball, the front office isn’t moving laterally or falling into problematic basketball decisions. With each chessboard advance, Minnesota’s president of basketball operations, Gersson Rosas, sees the franchise in a favorable position.
Now, equipped with the golden ticket, although undoubtedly in a down year for star-level talent, the Wolves have the opportunity of a lifetime or, in their case, the past five years.
Typically, possessing the top pick in the draft is a cause for celebration. However, the top prospects in this year’s draft class leave a lot to be desired. You’ll hear these three names the most, in no particular order: LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman and Anthony Edwards.
There is no surefire first pick, not even a clear second option, or sadly, a third. Once again, this is the rare time winning the lottery causes mental strain. No matter what happens, the critics will find a way to play the “I would have” or “Rosas shouldn’t have” to the point of annoyance.
The Timberwolvesolves must tread carefully in a climate that sees star players demand trades in what seems like every quarter of the year. Thankfully, the Minnesota franchise has yet to hear any legitimate groans from Towns.
Perhaps, the patience from the Minnesota franchise’s star allows Rosas the opportunity to continue building a legitimate team by picking an unproven prospect rather than going for the older player with a costly price tag.
3. Where does Chris Paul land?
Picture this: A star in his late-thirties gets traded to a team with an abundance of inexperienced players with a few veterans sprinkled in the mix. Accusations of being a poor teammate follow the said aging star. However, unlike the rumors surrounding the star, the team’s young and promising pieces gravitate toward the supposed malcontent and come within a few plays of making the second round.
Now, open your eyes, and prepare yourself for the ultimate shocker. The star is none other than James Harden‘s former backcourt partner, Chris Paul. In what was supposed to be a lost season, the Oklahoma City Thunder, like clockwork, found themselves in the postseason.
The fact that Paul stuck around and led the team to a playoff appearance with a surprising All-Star performance defies the logic of a short and aging point guard with injury issues. You can’t deny the ascension in stock Paul caused by his good-scout approach to the Thunder’s situation.
Now, with all the goodwill on his side, Paul’s trade value has skyrocketed in his fountain of youth of a 2019-20 campaign. Plenty of suitors with adequate assets may need to adjust themselves properly before stepping to the table with Oklahoma City Thunder Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti.
Before Paul played his way out of the “washed” title, the Thunder’s return in a trade probably resembled a late-first-round pick or an expiring contract with no substance, due to his enormous contract. Now teams might have to give up at least a lottery-level pick and a few good players to even get a wink from Presti.
The candidates for Paul’s new home don’t all deserve the bachelor rose, but at least an opportunity intro before the inevitable booting at the end of the episode. First up, the New York Knicks. If putting oneself in the conversation took the form of an NBA franchise, the Knicks fit the mold.
Never a franchise to stay out of the rumor mill, the Chris Paul trade makes sense for a team in desperate need of a point guard. Also, in an almost out-of-character position, the Knicks have a few assets that warrant some tire-kicking.
Imagine the Knicks as the bachelor contestant with the one hot tub segment who ultimately goes home looking like a fool after a drunken night at the pool. While it initially looks somewhat promising, the bachelor comes to his senses and realizes the moment was merely dopamine-infused empty promises.
Now, for the more significant team in the Chris Paul sweepstakes, look no further than the Milwaukee Bucks. Aside from the draft pick at the Bucks’ disposal not possessing the coveted lottery status, the Bucks have a few good players in addition to an expiring contract.
However, offering Eric Bledsoe, the Indiana Pacers’ first-round pick, Donte DiVincenzo, and Ersan Ilyasova’s expiring deal isn’t a Shark Tank level proposal. Nonetheless, it’s fair to imagine Paul has some say in his trade destination in light of his 2019-20 performance on and off the court.
It would be irresponsible if Def Pen didn’t mention the possibility of Paul reuniting with Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers with the Philadelphia 76ers as the coveted starting point guard.
Wherever Paul lands, it’s safe to assume his new team will improve on some level.
4. What can the Milwaukee Bucks do during the 2020 NBA offseason to convince Giannis Antetekounmpo they want to win?
The Miami Heat’s championship runner-up bubble campaign came at the expense of the Eastern Conference’s favorites, the Milwaukee Bucks. Using the strength-in-numbers approach made for the unlikely foil to such a league favorite team. With a sheer dismantling of the league’s best defense, along with discrediting the league’s best regular-season performers, the Heat rode that momentum into an NBA Finals appearance.
In the most pivotal year in its franchise’s existence, Milwaukee must pull some rabbits out of the hat to keep Antetokounmpo from hopping the fence for greener grass. Although the 2020 NBA offseason, at least from a free-agency standpoint, isn’t deemed as a deep class, it unfolds as an ideal trade market for a team with a few contracts to match.
Victor Oladipo and Chris Paul come to mind when discussing possible targets for a team starving for All-Star-level talent to pair with its two best players. Due to the cap space restraints, the Bucks must find creativity in any move they make this winter.
The only first-round draft pick the Bucks possess is No. 24 from the Indiana Pacers, which doesn’t get the blood flowing. To keep Antetokounmpo for the long term, it’s inevitable the Bucks find a trade package that includes that draft pick.
Elite general managers of elite tiers make rain in a sandstorm, and John Horst has expectations similar to Moses guiding his fellow Israrelaens for 40 days and 40 nights, but the famine is the 2020 NBA offseason free-agent market.
Similar to LeBron James in 2010, Antetokounpo holds the weight of drastically shifting the landscape of the NBA in his colossal hands once he hits the free-agent market. The Bucks have a job that doesn’t invoke envious emotions from most NBA front office teams. Yet, every franchise would love the opportunity to woo the two-time MVP.
5. Which way do the Golden State Warriors go in their fork in the road of a draft?
Unlike the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Golden State Warriors‘ early pick in the 2020 draft, the asset or the player, immediately helps the franchise in some form. whether the team drafts center James Wiseman at No. 2 to fill a hole in the frontcourt or Bob Meyers rekindles the faith in the light-years fan club by trading for an all-star caliber player.
The question is, will drafting a player sacrifice a year of championship contention? If that’s the case, perhaps the Warriors owe it to their core group of players to punt on a weak draft class.
As the three mainstays of the Warriors fall on the wrong side of 30, it’s possible to see slight regression. The Warriors don’t have time with this core; it’s either you put it all on the table or you move some pieces and reassess the situation. It’s easier said than done, of course, but it’s reality.
On the flipside, drafting Ball as the recipient for the coveted and high-pressured passing-of-the-torch opportunity from the franchise-saving Curry is another face-palming possibility.
Despite a weak free-agent class, the 2020 NBA draft holds significant weight in the future of the league. The Warriors, as in the recent past, play a crucial role in reimagining the NBA’s landscape.