The opening round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs tipped off over the weekend, and we all caught plenty of exciting, top-flight performances both individually and collectively among the 16 teams competing for the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Surely, fans of the 14 lottery-bound teams tuned in, too.
A reminder of just how quickly the tables turn in the league from year to year: Of the current field of postseason competitors, five teams — Chicago, Golden State, Minnesota, New Orleans and Toronto — took on the role of spectators last spring during the playoffs.
So, we get it. Your squad is done and conducting planning meetings for the future. Meanwhile, you anxiously await the May 17 NBA Draft Lottery and June 23 NBA Draft for that shot of rejuvenation that fan bases experience once future franchise-building players are introduced to new cities. Just when you’re getting over that jolt of optimism, free agency hits on Aug. 2, followed by NBA Summer League, and the start of training camp.
As the non-playoff teams enter offseason mode, we provide a quick rundown of where things stand and the positives they can build from going into the 2022-23 season:
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: coach James Borrego is the right man to lead this young, exciting core to the playoffs, which is likely why the team extended his contract back in August. Charlotte captured 43 wins this season, which represents an increase of 10 victories or more in each of the last two campaigns. Phoenix and Golden State upped their win totals similarly over the same span. The Hornets need to decide which free agents to keep and grab a productive center. Keeping the core together should be paramount. With two-straight Play-In Tournament appearances, Charlotte is poised to take the next step.
Led by an All-Star and finalist for Kia Most Improved Player in Darius Garland, Cleveland would likely be in the playoffs now if injuries didn’t limit the Cavs to a 9-15 record after the All-Star break. Bucket-getter Collin Sexton played in just 11 games, while several players missed significant time throughout the year with various ailments. As unfortunate as the injury situation was for Cleveland, it hardened the club and strengthened its resolve, which bodes well for the future. And we haven’t even mentioned Evan Mobley, a finalist for Kia Rookie of the Year.
The Pistons improved their win total by three games from 2020-21, despite injuries limiting them early on to a 5-28 start. Cade Cunningham, a finalist for Kia Rookie of the Year, stumbled out the gates but showed he’s a superstar in the making with the right attitude to lead Detroit back to contention. The Pistons need to decide what to do with Jerami Grant, while signing Marvin Bagley III to a new deal. But they’ve got flexibility, cap space and own the No. 3 slot for the Draft lottery, which gives them a 40.1% shot at a top-three pick.
It’s tough to find a bright spot in Indiana’s 25-57 season, which ranks as the club’s worst since 1984-85. But the Pacers landed what might be the face of the franchise just before the trade deadline in Tyrese Haliburton, the No. 12 pick in the 2020 draft by Sacramento, as new coach Rick Carlisle looks to lean into a rebuild with the fifth-best Draft lottery odds. Haliburton and Myles Turner form a promising young duo, and 2021 first-round picks Isaiah Jackson and Chris Duarte showed promise as rookies.
New York Knicks
Buckle up for all the rumors you’ll hear this offseason after the Knicks underperformed in 2021-22 on the heels of last season’s first postseason appearance since 2013. There’s plenty of promising young talent on the roster in RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, Mitchell Robinson, Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes. In all, they’ve got nine players 24 or younger. The Knicks have plenty of assets (such as Julius Randle) to pull off a trade for a superstar and could be suitors for a top player hitting free agency this summer.
Credit to Jamahl Mosley for leading the charge in Orlando’s talent development, while working to build a culture that could lead to sustainable long-term success. Mosley believes they’ve established a strong foundation, and most importantly, the players have bought in. With plenty of cap space, the Magic can add talent. But it appears the preference is to develop what’s on hand, which is a good idea when you’ve got a bunch of young studs such as Franz Wagner, Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony, Jonathan Isaac, Wendell Carter Jr. and R.J. Hampton.
The Wizards came into 2021-22 hot, winning 10 of their first 13 games before cooling significantly due to injuries and issues trying to build chemistry with a new coach and several new players. The chemistry situation should improve, but Washington needs to find a point guard to play with Bradley Beal, who missed a little more than half the 2021-22 season. Speaking of Beal, he still hasn’t played with new addition Kristaps Porzingis. Pondering Beal and Porzingis in the two-man game is definitely something to feel hopeful about. Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard is looking for improvement on defense, too.
Houston finished with the worst record in the league, but when the Rockets clicked, we all saw one of more fun teams in the NBA. Point guard John Wall sat out the entire season, but GM Rafael Stone still believes the club can ultimately trade the veteran. The Rockets drafted one of the league’s most talented rookies in Jalen Green, who is poised for a bright future, as well as three more first rounders in Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba, and Josh Christopher. The club has an upcoming lottery pick, and a first-round pick from Brooklyn. Assets galore.
We saw what the Clippers accomplished without Kawhi Leonard for the entire season and Paul George missing 51 games. So, just imagine how scary this team will be when these superstars return to action. With Leonard and George out, several other players took big steps such as Terance Mann, Ivica Zubac, Isaiah Hartenstein, Luke Kennard and Amir Coffey. Combine all of that with one of the NBA’s best tacticians in Tyronn Lue, and you best believe the Clippers will return to title contention next season.
Los Angeles Lakers
First off, coach Frank Vogel didn’t deserve to be fired. But with that said, surely there’s optimism about the direction the Lakers take with this pending new coaching hire. As we all know, Los Angeles typically goes after the big names. This coaching search shouldn’t be any different. The team’s aging roster is another issue, but LeBron James and a healthy Anthony Davis gives this team as much of a chance as anybody. With this team, the excitement lies within the unknown. We know the brass will look to improve the supporting cast somehow, despite limited ways to pull it off.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City’s commitment to building sustainable success has required some restraint from Thunder general manager Sam Presti, but it appears the club is on the verge of reaping some on-court rewards. OKC finally landed franchise guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander a running mate in 2021 No. 6 pick Josh Giddey, and rising fourth-year man Luguentz Dort should be fully recovered from a March shoulder surgery in time for training camp. Presti, Gilgeous-Alexander and coach Mark Daigneault all appear to be in lockstep with regards to the rebuild, and the Thunder own the fourth-best odds to grab the top pick of the 2022 draft.
Portland Trail Blazers
General manager Joe Cronin said Portland needed to take a step backwards to move forward. That meant pulling off a series of trades that involved players such as CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., Tony Snell, Norman Powell and Robert Covington. Ultimately, the Blazers landed players, Draft picks, and cap flexibility in the deals, with Cronin identifying a core of Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little and Justise Winslow. Portland also added a solid veteran in Joe Ingles, who was out for the season, but on an expiring deal.
General manager Monte McNair wants to add shooting this offseason around De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, who joined the Kings in February in a six-player deal. Fox and Sabonis played in just 13 games together in 2022. So, we should expect improved chemistry between them next season. Sacramento wants to add length, athleticism and versatility around its two star players. The Kings have missed the postseason for 16 straight seasons, and they’re in the midst of a coaching search. So far though, McNair appears to be a stabilizing force.
San Antonio Spurs
Dejounte Murray finally appears to be turning into the star that pundits expected when San Antonio drafted him as a 19-year-old out of Washington. The club is looking for similar results from 2021 No. 12 pick Josh Primo, who put together a promising rookie campaign at 19. The Spurs have some solid young players such as Keldon Johnson and Jakob Poeltl, and the team is coming off a Play-In Tournament appearance with three upcoming first-round picks and cap space to make moves in free agency.
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