Offering up New Year’s resolutions for every team in the Eastern Conference
Orlando Magic: Find a beneficial trade return for Arron Afflalo.
Afflalo is one of the best guards in the Eastern Conference, has at least one more season under a reasonable contract (he earns $7.5 million per year), and is entering the prime of his career. He’s also of more potential help to a playoff team than a rebuilding one, especially considering that Orlando has plenty of roster work to do before making any kind of serious run. Selling high on Afflalo, then, makes a lot of sense — he’s not in any way a problem to the Magic, but his current value could be better redeemed via trade than as a core contributor to a losing team.
Or, if you’d like a greater degree of difficulty: Find a beneficial trade return for Jameer Nelson. There’s not much harm in keeping Nelson around, and at worst the Magic could decide to waive Nelson before July 15 to reduce his salary and cap hit for next season to a mere $2 million. Yet that same salary flexibility could be attractive to another team, with Orlando in a position to eat salary in the interim in exchange for picks or prospects. It seems unlikely that the Magic would be able to net much of consequence in such a deal, but stranger things have happened.
Philadelphia 76ers: Leverage cap space into long-term assets.
The Sixers have more cap space than any team in the league, and thus a bigger workspace from which to make deals. Salary flexibility is important, but Philly is at a state in its development where using cap space to sign an impact player might not be a workable strategy. Not only would the Sixers likely have to overpay potential free agents to join a young, rebuilding team, but the players good enough to qualify as major targets likely aren’t young enough to align with Philly’s current core. Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel could be a great pairing down the line, but they have just 41 years — and 19 games of NBA experience — between them.
That cap space, then, becomes an effective means of storing another team’s bloated contract while demanding picks or young players in return. That the Sixers also have Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, and Spencer Hawes around as viable trade chips only widens the possibilities; the combination of veteran talent and ample cap room makes Philly one of the most attractive trade partners on the market, provided that teams looking to improve or shed salary today are willing to fork over developing players or future picks in exchange. If Sixers GM Sam Hinkie can capitalize on that opportunity, he could flesh out the foundation of his team
Toronto Raptors: Continue to layer new options into the offense.
Regardless of whether Toronto commits to a full roster teardown or opts to extend this group’s impressive run since the Rudy Gay trade, there’s some discovery and development to be done in terms of individual offensive weapons. The Raptors’ ball movement is worlds better without Gay’s volume shooting clogging up the works, but still this is a team of players to be groomed with synergies to be explored. Jonas Valanciunas has had more opportunity this year, but he might be soon due for offensive immersion to test the limits of his shot creation and scoring efficiency. DeMar DeRozan continues to grow as a player, and Dwane Casey has done well to put him in all kinds of situations — running pick-and-rolls, posting up smaller guards, running curls for mid-range jumpers — to see what sticks. There’s still plenty to test with Terrence Ross as well, who to date has been used as a spot-up specialist.
Some of that exploration could bode well for an offense that’s already much improved, perhaps to the point of establishing sustainable options going forward. It’s impossible to say where Toronto might go from here given their current predicament, but there’s room, regardless, to focus on the small-scale skills that could eventually pay off for the team’s big-picture offense.
Washington Wizards: Find a way to stretch beyond six-deep.
This is likely more of an offseason project, but the work of improving the Wizards roster isn’t reserved for the summer alone. That’s especially true when there are only six — maybe seven — players in Washington living up to their current roles. John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene, Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza, and Martell Webster have all played well, some remarkably so. Kevin Seraphin has been genuinely helpful at times, though with such inconsistency that he’d be a better fit a rung lower on the depth chart. Beyond that, every other Wizard has been atrocious, with the since-marginalized Eric Maynor the most aggressively miserable among them.
Maynor has been dealt with, but replacing him in the rotation with Garrett Temple doesn’t address the fundamental lack of above-fringe talent on Washington’s bench. There are some workers among the reserves, but none heady or skilled or athletic or big enough to make much of a dent in the team’s oppressive plus-minus disparity. Monday night was the rare occasion in which the bench actually held up its end of the bargain, but that may only mean that it will be weeks (or months?) before they again do the same. Washington can be a fun team at times, but this top-heavy roster needs help in a bad way.