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Monday, November 20, 2017

Six NBA teams that need to make big moves in free agency

Danny Ainge Celtics

As free agency gets underway, teams are formulating their strategies and considering the feasibility of the big moves they want to make. Some teams will lurk in the background, focusing on smaller moves to augment their rosters.

There are a handful of teams, however, with both the means and the reasons to make potentially seismic offseason moves. These teams are facing either pivotal offseasons or a summer in which they have a lot of cap space or otherwise valuable assets. These teams are eyeing big prizes and potentially franchise-changing decisions

Here are just a few with the ability and the reason to make a big splash this summer.

6) Philadelphia 76ers

In a sense, the Sixers have already made a big move by trading up to draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 overall. That move gives them a young core of Fultz, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid. If this group can stay healthy and on the floor together, there’s a legitimate chance that they make a push for a playoff spot.

So why not take things a step further? The Sixers have an abundance of cap space and team president Bryan Colangelo has made it clear that he’s willing to use it. The evidence for this dates back to February, when Philadelphia reportedly made a run for Paul George at the trade deadline. This likely won’t happen again — they won’t give up valuable assets for what they now know is a one-year rental — but it would make sense for them to make a run at some of the younger big-name free agents.

The Sixers already struck with a big addition of J.J. Redick on a one-year, $23 million deal. They shouldn’t stop there.

Philly offers a bright future, and now they find themselves in a position to make a run at the playoffs by adding new players without trading any of their big assets.

5) Minnesota Timberwolves

Yes, the Timberwolves have already made huge moves bringing in Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and trading away Ricky Rubio, but like the Sixers, why stop there? This is a team that now has Butler to go alongside Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, which is a fantastic starting point for a potentially big improvement going forward.

Minnesota’s additions will certainly strengthen the team and make them much more competitive. But in a stacked Western Conference that already has the Warriors and saw the Rockets add Chris Paul and the Thunder add Paul George, what they have just isn’t enough yet. And that’s why the T-Wolves remain active in free agency.

Aside from the Teague, Butler and Rubio moves, Minnesota is in the mix for Jonathon Simmons and Paul Millsap.

If the Timberwolves are able to lock up one of those two free agent targets, look out — they’ll probably be in line for their best season since 2004-2005 when Kevin Garnett was still on top of his game.

4) Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers have been dreading this offseason for a very long time, but they clearly confronted reality with a plan: they are refusing to rebuild. They had two realistic options this summer — they could have either stayed the course, bringing back superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and continue making runs at the NBA title, or seen those two walk away, trade some of their other stars, and start over. They ended up somewhere in between.

Even after Paul bolted to Houston, the Clippers decided to hunker down and pull out all the stops for Griffin. That included wearing some oddball T-shirts to their meeting with him, which may have helped convince Griffin to re-sign with the team on a five-year deal.

Now that Griffin is back in the fold, the Clippers are making a serious effort to continue contending in the West. They also have several strong role players they got back in return for Paul, such as Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, and Montrezl Harrell. But the losses of CP3 and Redick still leave the Clippers in a hole. The good news for their fans is that they are still in the mix for other free agents.

They are showing interest in veteran Zach Randolph, who is receiving interest from multiple teams, including the Cavs (not mentioned in David Aldridge’s tweet).

The Clippers need some more top-end help. They will get in the mix for Danilo Gallinari, Joe Ingles and Jonathon Simmons.

The Clippers clearly have intentions of continuing to compete.

3) Washington Wizards

The Wizards pushed the Boston Celtics to the limit during their playoff series and ultimately fell short thanks to a lack of bench depth. Their opponents knew it and even John Wall knew it. The Wall-Bradley Beal backcourt can go up against anyone in the East, but Washington put so much responsibility on them that they wore down and ultimately faltered when they were needed the most.

This offseason is big for Washington from that standpoint. They have the top-level talent to push into contention to win the East, but they lack the depth. Moreover, Wall, their franchise player, wants to see what they’re going to do to guarantee a strong supporting cast before he commits his future to the franchise. Washington wants to keep Wall — that is a no-brainer. They’ve already offered him a supermax contract in hopes of locking him up long-term. But they might not be able to keep him without making a few statements of intent with regard to surrounding him with depth and talent. It’s time for the Wizards to back up Wall’s ambition or risk losing him.

They’re off to a good start by stating their intention to match any offer for restricted free agent Otto Porter. They also extended a qualifying offer to Bojan Bogdanovic. But that would just bring the old gang back. Washington needs to do more than that.

2) Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James remains the best player in the world, but with the iconic forward turning 33 in December, the question has to be asked: how many more chances does he have at this? James finds himself living in a difficult era for him — he’s the best player around, but he’s chasing Michael Jordan’s legacy and will struggle to get more rings as long as the Golden State juggernaut remains intact. His options are to either bolt for greener pastures or push to make his supporting cast better.

For now, the Cavs have no choice but to do the second. They have tried to add Paul George, but that fell through. Their opportunities to acquire George or Jimmy Butler have come and gone. They are almost certainly rooting for a Carmelo Anthony buyout in New York so they can snag him. They surely wouldn’t mind seeing Dwyane Wade get the same treatment in Chicago. Cleveland is deeply limited by an inflexible, bloated payroll, so they’ll have to get creative, but the status quo is not good enough to get James another ring barring some extenuating circumstances.

About the only players they’ve been linked to so far are Jose Calderon and Zach Randolph:

The good news for Cleveland is Paul George and Jimmy Butler have left the conference. The bad news is the Heat or Celtics could get even stronger, and the Warriors remain the biggest obstacle. They better hope someone else signs Andre Iguodala to subtract the former Finals MVP from Golden State.

1) Boston Celtics

Danny Ainge is armed with a bunch of draft picks, a few movable assets, and the ability to get a fair distance below the salary cap. There is a reason that pretty much every name player on the market this offseason has at least received some tenuous links to the Celtics, who seem intent on making a big splash.

But so far, they’ve whiffed.

They did not pull the trigger on Jimmy Butler or Paul George, despite their reported best efforts to acquire PG13 from Indiana. Their hopes may now be set on Gordon Hayward, who is also considering the Heat and Jazz. And their potential plan to sign Hayward and then trade for George is now out of the question.

There is an argument to be made that Boston could really seize the initiative in the Eastern Conference if they do this summer right. The Cavaliers still have James, and they still rolled through the East with relative ease in the playoffs, but another talented piece or two could go a long way toward closing that gap. Remember that it was Boston, not Cleveland, that finished the regular season with the East’s top seed.

If Boston can secure Hayward, they could take the next step against the Cavaliers in the playoffs.

Grey Papke covers all sports for Larry Brown Sports. Follow him on Twitter @spacemnkymafia, and you can reach him via email at gdpapke at gmail dot com.

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