2016-17 record: 51-31, East champions
Restricted free agents: None
The Cavaliers are lucky enough not to face any meaningful free agent departures from a squad that ran through the East for the third-straight postseason. Unfortunately, they’re well over the salary cap and can’t really sign any true difference makers. Kyle Korver would be difficult to replace if he doesn’t want to return at the minimum, but the Cavs can always try to sign another capable veteran wing and trade some of that shooting for defense. Everyone else is easily replaceable, and a March buyout market that could include Dwyane Wade should ensure that they won’t hurt for options ahead of the 2018 playoffs.
Of course, a lack of free agent activity does not mean that the Cavs will stand pat. Several reports have them in play for Paul George via trade, and LeBron James’s apparent displeasure with Dan Gilbert’s decision not to retain David Griffin means that the next general manager will probably look to make a splash. If Kevin Love ends up on his way out of town in a deal, then Cleveland will look to add another power forward so neither LeBron nor George has to log too many minutes against physical opponents. However, that player might not be of true starter quality.
These recent NBA Finals also seemed to confirm that the Cavs will need a few more versatile wings to compete with the Warriors over a seven-game series. George would certainly fit that description, but the likelihood of adding other difference-makers at the Cavs’ price point is fairly low. On the other hand, they’ll be heavily favored to win the conference due to the mere presence of LeBron. There are worse trade-offs.
Unrestricted free agents: Michael Beasley, Jason Terry
Restricted free agents: Tony Snell
The Bucks are the rare team with no overwhelming needs and no major players who could leave in free agency. The progressions of young star Giannis Antetokounmpo and impressive supporting pieces Jabari Parker, Malcolm Brogdon, and Thon Maker suggests that the Bucks can keep their hands off the core and see a meaningful improvement in 2017-18 simply by everyone getting another year of experience. The Bucks look on the way up, and it’s not worth risking too much to speed up the process.
Nevertheless, there are ways to form a better team focused on Milwaukee’s strengths of length and athleticism. Center Greg Monroe is entering the last year of his contract and could be a useful addition for a team looking to open up cap space. If Milwaukee can find a taker, they can add either backcourt depth or an active big man and look to fill the other need via their full mid-level exception. Additionally, it would not be a shock to see the Bucks sign Parker on a cost-effective extension after a second ACL tear in three seasons.
The best advice, though, is not to overthink matters. The Bucks boast a thriving core full of potential and could emerge as a real threat to the top teams in the conference next season. If they don’t panic, the Bucks could have an opportunity to attract real high-level talent next summer.
2016-17 record: 42-40
Unrestricted free agents: Jeff Teague, Lavoy Allen, Aaron Brooks, C.J. Miles
Restricted free agents: None
The course of the Pacers’ offseason will be set by what they get in return for Paul George. If the trade haul includes an established star like Kevin Love, then Kevin Pritchard can try to bring back veterans like Teague and add another capable player in the hope of mounting a title challenge. If George goes to the Lakers or Celtics and brings back youngsters and draft picks, then it makes sense to rebuild the team around center Myles Turner and forget about the postseason for a few years.
Until George is traded, it’s hard to say exactly what the Pacers need. However, it’s possible that it doesn’t really matter that much when the deal goes down. The Pacers are probably going to be worse next year no matter what, and it’s genuinely difficult to remake a team on the fly when the market for a player seems fluid from month to month. Maybe holding out for the best possible deal is the most important thing here.
All we know for sure is that the Pacers are going to need good players everywhere except center. Get as many as possible and let the trade gods sort it out later.
2016-17 record: 41-41
Unrestricted free agents: Michael Carter-Williams, Anthony Morrow, Rajon Rondo (team option)
Restricted free agents: Cristiano Felicio, Joffrey Lauvergne, Nikola Mirotic
Oh boy, do not expect any big-time free agents to join this team despite its considerable cap room. With Jimmy Butler in Minnesota, youngsters in the backcourt in his stead, and Dwyane Wade virtually assured to be on his way out via midseason buyout, the Bulls are locked into a rebuild even if the shape of the Butler trade suggests they’re trying to create a playoff contender on the fly. This team is not good, and Butler’s unhappy departure ensures that the rest of the league knows the front office is bad news. Short of overwhelming overpayments, there’s no reason to think the Bulls will be major players on the free agent market. But lord knows they need help pretty much everywhere.
It would not be surprising to see Gar Forman and John Paxson essentially give up this offseason and go into the 2017-18 season with one of the saddest rosters imaginable. Maybe they’ll pick up Rajon Rondo’s option so he can help Kris Dunn adjust to his new team and continue to mold the team’s 47 point guards into fine young men. Perhaps they’ll offer Zach LaVine a below-market extension as he works his way back from an ACL tear. It’s anyone’s guess.
There’s a reason everyone hated the Butler trade. This team has no clear course for the future, and that lack of direction should be apparent over the next few weeks.
2016-17 record: 37-45
Unrestricted free agents: Aron Baynes, Beno Udrih
Restricted free agents: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Reggie Bullock
The Pistons face a meaningful offseason after a year in which the promising core of Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond disappointed considerably. Both players now appear to be available in trades, and it’s possible Jeff Bower and Stan Van Gundy would be happy to accept a rebuilding process in exchange for another campaign stuck in 10th or 11th place. Whatever happens with that duo will determine the success of this offseason.
The good news is that the Pistons are not going to lure top-level free agents and don’t have to wait around for trade offers to roll in. The drafting of Luke Kennard gives some cover on the wings, but it’s likely they’ll hand Caldwell-Pope a lucrative contract to re-sign for four years. That’s not a great deal for a team with an already limited cap situation. But it’s also what you do when you’re a mediocre side without many prospects. It’s called accepting your fate, and teams in the middle of the East are great at it.
Otherwise, the Pistons could use meaningful depth everywhere. They will almost assuredly sign a few players you forget about until they play against your favorite team in late December.
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