Houston Rockets vs. Sacramento Kings odds, picks and best bets

Offseason Blueprint: the Los Angeles Lakers may win the title tonight, but their ambition won't end there

The NBA season is nearly over: be it 1, 2, or 3 more games left. With the offseason looming around the corner, we've been looking ahead with our OFFSEASON BLUEPRINT series. In each entry, we preview some big decisions and make some recommendations for plans of attack along the way.
Like the NBA, we've officially come to the end of the road and to our final team, the Los Angeles Lakers.
step one: know it will never be All Quiet on the Western Front
The Los Angeles Lakers have plenty of fans, but also plenty of people who enjoy watching them struggle (some even run their own sports websites.) It feels like they've been a punching bag for almost a decade now. Even when the team landed a coup and signed LeBron James, there were plenty of skeptics and haters picking at the roster and fanning the flames of front office tension. Even when the team followed that up with a trade for Anthony Davis, there were STILL doubters and haters camped at the gates.
At the end of the day, LeBron James and company only had one way to shut them up: win.
Now, no one can criticize them anymore. Whatever they did to get here -- it worked. LeBron James deserves a huge amount of credit for this presumptive title (no offense, Miami) but there's plenty to go around. Anthony Davis reminded the world that he's a friggin' beast. Frank Vogel did a great job getting the defense to play on a string, especially on the perimeter. The maligned bench with Rajon Rondo, Markieff Morris, and Kyle Kuzma even stepped up in a major way on the road to the Finals.
While the team may be drenched with champagne by the time you read this, they still won't be satisfied. LeBron James went back to Cleveland to win a title. He didn't go to L.A. and recruit Anthony Davis to win a title. He wants to win multiple titles. He may get his 4th ring after this year, which means he'll only be 2 away from catching Michael Jordan. If he can do that, then there won't be any doubt about his GOAT status. And honestly, it's possible. James still looks like a top 5 player (if not 1 overall), and Anthony Davis is in the heart of his prime. With a decent supporting cast around them, they're going to be in title contention for the next two or three years.
However, the Lakers can't get complacent. They deserved this title, but they didn't exactly beat Murderers' Row to get here. In fact, their playoff opponents had the weakest seed value and weakest W-L percentage of any title team since 2000. Next season may be tougher sledding. The L.A. Clippers could be a real threat with better coaching and better rotations. The Milwaukee Bucks could be a real threat with better health. Health permitting, the Brooklyn Nets have the star power and the depth to be a force themselves. It's going to be a dogfight next season. The Lakers still may be the top dogs in that fight, but they're going to have to scrape and claw to get that bone again.
step two: convince your free agents that It's a Wonderful Life
LeBron James is a champion for player empowerment, but that concept is going to put his L.A. Lakers in a precarious position this offseason. Some decisions with be out of their hands. The team has an inordinate amount of player options for next season, with 5 separate players having the right to opt "in" or "out" of their contracts. Let's take a look at each of those one individually.
The most important, of course, will be Anthony Davis. He has the choice whether to opt in to his $28.7M salary. It's weird to say, but $28.7M is a bargain. Davis is a 27-year-old superstar. He deserves the new max and then some. From the Lakers' perspective, the only question will be timing the extension in the best interest of Davis and the team as a whole. If they wait until next offseason to give him a full max, they may have some more wiggle room in salary to bring in extra free agents (in Offseason 2021, not Offseason 2020.) Perhaps they can convince AD to wait until then to accrue more years. At the same time, uncertainty isn't their friend. If the Lakers disappoint next season and LeBron James hits a wall (unlikely, but theoretically possible) then perhaps Davis doesn't want to stay tethered to this older roster for the long haul. Perhaps his relationship with James -- great now -- bleeds into resentment over time. Who the heck knows. Superstar pairings don't always end with "happily ever after." Even that remote concern would make me push for a max extension for AD ASAP.
The second most important player option will be Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. When the Lakers first signed them, it raised some eyebrows and potential tampering conspiracy theories. These days, his $8.5M player option looks like a good value. KCP shot well this year and played hard on defense. Effectively, he looked like the player that Danny Green was supposed to be. Your hope here is that the Lakers have built enough goodwill with KCP and his representatives to make this a friendly negotiation. Whether that means he opts in, or whether that means he signs a long-term deal, it's a relationship that needs to continue.
step three: but convince others to ride off like Shane
Conversely, there are a few player options that the team may try to talk players out of taking. Avery Bradley missed the bubble for personal reasons, but the Lakers' backcourt did just fine without him. At this stage in their careers, Alex Caruso is probably better at the 3+D guard role. Still, it's going to be up to Bradley whether to return or not. He can opt in to his $5.0M player option. The value is OK in the broadest sense, but perhaps the Lakers are rooting for him to test the market elsewhere. The Lakers should take a hard line here and not offer him extra years; if Bradley leaves to chase a long-term deal, so be it. If he opts in, he may be used as a potential trade chip.
Meanwhile, JaVale McGee has a $4.2M player option himself. McGee started 68/68 games in the regular season, but he didn't always look like their best option in the playoffs. As he ages (now 32), he'll continue to struggle with certain matchups. I don't think McGee can match that $4M anywhere else, so trying to convince him to opt out may be a losing proposition. Again, if McGee opts in, then the Lakers need to consider utilizing his salary as a potential trade piece.
Some of those decisions -- whether they want to keep Avery Bradley and JaVale McGee -- may hinge on some other free agents on the team. Backup PG Rajon Rondo has his own player option of $2.7M. All season long, I'd been talking about Rondo as a potential liability for the team. Instead, he justified some of that "Playoff Rondo" talk. Between Rondo and Caruso, you'd prefer Caruso getting extended minutes. Between Rondo and Bradley, it's more of a debate. Rondo deserves more than $2.7M, so I expect him to opt out. Presumably, he appreciates the role and limelight here in L.A. and wouldn't play hardball. If he's amenable to a short-term, reasonable deal, then you'd want to keep him in house. If his playoff hype spirals into outsized offers (anything over $6M or so) then you should thank him for his service and wish him well.
The Lakers should treat backup C Dwight Howard (an unrestricted free agent) in a similar way. Now 34, he's become a role player. Moreover, his role -- as the more traditional center -- is no longer a valuable one either. Still, he's pretty good at that role -- arguably better than JaVale McGee. The team shouldn't over-invest in this one-two punch though. If Howard wants to re-sign for a bargain basement deal, great. If he expects a mid-sized contract or an extra year, then he may be on the move again. For both Rondo and Howard, I'd stand firm on 1 year deals. However, the team can potentially add in "team option" years on top of that. The purpose would be less to entice them into staying and more to make them potential trade chips (in terms of salary matching) later on down the road.
The Lakers will have more free agents to discuss. Markieff Morris is an interesting one; he looked like a shell of himself after some injuries, but he showed signs of life in the postseason. If that's legit, then he could potentially be a good rotational player for the team (when they go "small" with AD at the 5.) The verdict from team doctors will be crucial to determining his value. Alternatively, vets like J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters don't appear to have any value at all. Fortunately, they don't have player options either.
step four: solve the mystery of The Third Man
All season long, we heard that the Lakers would need a third star to emerge if they were going to win the title. Kyle Kuzma never got there, but it didn't matter. Perhaps we've just defaulted into a more familiar era of the NBA. Shaq and Kobe won without another "star." Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen won without another "star" (Dennis Rodman was more of an ultra role player.) With Kevin Durant removed from Golden State, perhaps the bar has been lowered back to reasonable heights for NBA title teams.
Still, the Lakers need to figure out who Kyle Kuzma is, and what his role should be. He averaged 16-6 as a rookie, but showed some signs of a "good stats / bad team" kind of player. That fear hasn't gone away. Since then, Kuzma's shot 30% and 32% from three over the following two years, and played poor defense overall. ESPN real plus/minus metric graded him as a -0.4 and -0.7 defensive impact, while box plus/minus had him at -1.2 and -1.0. That same BPM metric graded him below replacement level overall (-0.2 VORP).
Kuzma has played OK in these playoffs, but he hasn't had a major role. In fact, his minutes per game is down to 23.2 in the postseason so far, with 0 starts drawn. It's clear that Frank Vogel and the team don't believe he's the 3rd best player on the team. He may not even be the 4th or 5th best player.
You may ask: who cares? Kuzma isn't a world beater, but the Lakers beat the world anyway. Still, it's an important question hanging over their heads. Kuzma is under contract for one more year, and then will enter restricted free agency (at a time when they will be a lot of cap space out there.) Based on name value, he's going to get a decent contract.
If the Lakers don't believe he's worth decent money, it may be time to trade him now. (Realistically, the time to trade him was last offseason, but what can ya do.) Kuzma's $3.5M salary is easy to move, and the team can attach other contracts like McGee, Bradley, and Quinn Cook ($3M) to match a deal anywhere from the $3M-$15M range if need be.
What can the Lakers get for Kuzma on the open market? It's hard to tell. He's a polarizing name, so it may depend on whether their trade partner reads reddit or not. I'd call up Detroit and ask about Luke Kennard. If Houston's blowing it up, I'd ask about Robert Covington. If Minnesota's locked into Anthony Edwards at # 1, maybe they'd be open to trading Malik Beasley in a sign and trade. If you want to play dirty, you can tell Portland that Gary Trent Jr. (newest client of Klutch) is going to sign with the Lakers next season no matter what, so they may as well recoup something for him now. Fair? Ethical? Ehh. But hey, it's proven to be effective before.
step five: encourage others to hunt for the Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The Lakers don't have much cap space this offseason, but that's not a major problem. They're not going to have to list job openings on monster.com -- available players are going to flock to them. The most obvious reason to join the Lakers would be to chase rings. However, it goes deeper than that. There's not a lot of teams with cap space this offseason, but there are plenty with space next season.
If you're a free agent who's not getting a lot of attention, there's one great way to get attention: play with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. You can inflate your stock for next offseason, when hopefully you cash in.
If I ran the Lakers, my first call would be to a veteran like Darren Collison. Collison took the season off to pursue his faith, but reportedly he may return next year. If so, he'd be a dream fit for this Lakers' rotation. Collison can run the point when LeBron James rests, but he can also serve as a complementary spacer. The former UCLA standout has become a very reliable shooter -- hitting over 40% from deep in his last four seasons. He's undersized and sometimes outmatched on D, but the team has Alex Caruso ready to match up with bigger guards. Collison's skill set would merit $10+ million in a good market, but perhaps NBA teams are going to want to see him "prove it" after his extended absence. If that's the case, the Lakers can thank their lucky stars and Jehovah for delivering him into their laps.
Other veterans who may be drawn to the Lakers like a moth to the flame would include: the underrated E'Twaun Moore (NO) and likable vet Courtney Lee (DAL). Moe Harkless (NYK) could probably get more elsewhere, but he may decide to bet on himself and inflate his price for next season.
Since Anthony Davis still prefers playing PF, depth at center will be more important for the Lakers than other teams. As mentioned, JaVale McGee will probably be back (barring a trade) and Dwight Howard may be as well. If not, the team could try to recruit a player who wants to boost their stock. Nerlens Noel (OKC) could benefit from the spotlight like that; better yet, his agent happens to be some dude named Rich Paul.
Overall, the Lakers need to keep pushing and trying to improve, be it through free agency, through trades, or through the draft (where they have the # 28 pick.) This team may have been good enough to win the title, but as mentioned, one title isn't going to satisfy this star, this team, and this fan base. Hollywood's all about excess, and the goal will be to overindulge over the next few years.
other offseason blueprints
ATL, BKN, BOS, CHA, CHI, CLE, DAL, DEN, DET, HOU, IND, GS, LAC, MEM, MIA, MIL, MIN, NO, NYK, OKC, ORL, PHI, PHX, POR, SA, SAC, TOR, UTA, WAS
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Offseason Blueprint: The Denver Nuggets nearly reached the mountain top, but still have a few more steps to go

The NBA Finals are about to start, but there are now 28 teams sitting at home with nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs, watch LeBron, and wait for next season to start.
For their sake, we wanted to look ahead with the next edition of the OFFSEASON BLUEPRINT series. In each, we'll preview some big decisions and make some recommendations for plans of attack along the way. Today, we're looking at the Denver Nuggets.
step one: peaking at the right time
It doesn't take a basketball expert or even an enthusiastic amateur on reddit to know: this Nikola Jokic fella is pretty darn good. He's made two All-NBA teams already, and he's still only 25 years old. By the time the dust settles on his career, he may end up being one of the top 10 international players of all time.
Of course, even great players need some help to reach the promised land. Based on what we've seen this postseason, you have to feel more confident about that aspect as well. PG Jamal Murray had been one of the best players in the playoffs, averaging 26.5 points and hitting 45.3% from three.
Going forward, it'll be interesting to see if Murray can carry that breakout through the regular season. While pundits like Kenny Smith called him a "perennial All-Star," he's never actually made the All-Star team. To be honest, he's never been all that close either. Despite being in the league for 4 seasons now, he's never averaged more than 18.5 points and never averaged more than 4.8 assists. Perhaps this postseason has fueled his confidence and his greenlight to become one of the top scorers in the game.
Again: let's emphasize the perhaps there. I wouldn't necessarily bet on Murray to put up monster raw numbers a la Damian Lillard. For one, he defers a lot to Jokic as a playmaker, so it'd be harder for him to rack up huge assist numbers. Secondly, Murray doesn't get to the line very often -- only 3.1 FTA per game -- which lends itself to more inconsistency night in and night out. Unless he changes that aspect, it'll be hard for him to push past 24 PPG on a regular basis.
In some ways, Jamal Murray is starting to remind me of Kyrie Irving. They're both scoring guards who are among the best "tough shot" makers in the game. Neither one draws a ton of contact or free throw attempts -- which limits their raw totals in the regular season. Still, their games translate well to a playoff setting where you need to be able to break down and score against tougher halfcourt defenses. If Murray can continue that quality, then it won't matter if he's an All-Star or not. Denver has graduated past regular season worries; their focus now is entirely on the playoffs and a championship pursuit.
step two: if need be, overpay for a PF again
When the Denver Nuggets were a young and rising team, they pulled the trigger on a massive contract for PF Paul Millsap (around $30M a year.) It may have been an "overpay," but the timing made sense. The Nuggets had cap space to spend before they had to officially dole out extensions for Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. "Use it or lose it." Overall, Millsap may not have been worth $30M on his own, but his defense and professionalism turned out to be a major key to helping the team take the next step. In that sense, it was money well spent.
The Nuggets find themselves in a similar circumstance this offseason -- albeit for different reasons. The extensions for Jokic ($29M) and Murray ($29M) have both kicked in, meaning the Nuggets won't have much cap space for the foreseeable future. Since they're capped out, they can't go out on a spending spree and they can't go looking for big free agents. Instead, they're going to have to look within and toward their own internal free agents.
And as far as their own free agents go, there are more than a few. The biggest name will be Paul Millsap, but the hottest name will be fellow PF Jerami Grant (expected to turn down his $9M player option.) Grant had a great playoff run, hitting open threes and running around like a Tasmanian devil on defense. While he couldn't stop LeBron James, he's the only one on the team who even stood a chance. Losing Grant would be a difficult pill to swallow, especially in an NBA that features superstar forwards like LeBron, Kawhi Leonard, etc. Given their cap situation, there's really no reason to let Grant leave either. Sure, he'll be expensive. Sure, you'll go into the luxury tax. But this is the time to do that -- when your team is on the verge.
The other free agents will be tougher decisions. Millsap would be nice to retain, but only at a reasonable and severely reduced price. Backup center Mason Plumlee got roasted for his bad defense on that one Anthony Davis game winner, but he's still a good rotational player. It'd hurt the depth of the team to lose him. Swingman Torrey Craig is a solid defender and mediocre offensive player, but he's someone that coach Mike Malone trusted for 27 starts this year.
I'd probably rank their importance in that order -- Grant, Millsap, Plumlee, Craig. Retaining all four may be difficult, so the team should treat Jerami Grant as a priority and treat the others as luxury items. In an ideal world, you'd retain Grant and one of the two veterans (Millsap or Plumlee). Personally I don't think rookie Bol Bol is as close to being ready for 20 minutes a night as most of reddit does, so that frontcourt depth shouldn't be ignored. If the team thinks Noah Vonleh (also a FA) can give them 10-15 minutes a night that may be a cheap solution, but he got buried by the Nuggets this year so it's hard to imagine they're big fans.
step three: come to Michael Porter Jr.'s defense
One of the reasons that re-signing Jerami Grant may be a necessity is the concern about Michael Porter Jr.'s defense.
Although MPJ is still only a rookie, it's been a roller coaster career for him already. In high school, he had been seen as a potential top 3 pick -- the next Kevin Durant / Carmelo Anthony scoring machine. Back injuries derailed him in college and in his first season as a pro. Then suddenly, he looked back to normal in the bubble, lighting it up and looking the part of a future All-Star. Back down we go. Before long, teams started to realize and exploit his limitations on defense, relegating him to a bench role again.
Where do we go from here? Up or down? Down or up? It's hard to tell. The offensive talent is undeniable, but the defensive issues are a legitimate issue. I've heard some people dismiss his problems as inexperience, but it may go deeper than that.
Growing up, we tend to hear the old cliche that defense is all about "effort!" As adults, we've learned that's not entirely true. So much of your defensive ability is related to your athletic ability. Your wingspan, your change of direction ability. If you can't pivot your hips, you're going to struggle to read and react. (There's a reason why white dudes tend to be bad defenders, bad dancers, and bad NFL cornerbacks.)
Michael Porter Jr. has the size (6'10" with 7'0" wingspan) to be a good defender, but the hips are the issue for him right now. It may be directly related to the back injuries in the past, but he looks very stiff when he tries to change direction. To be fair, Porter is still working his way back to 100% health. If he can get there, maybe this won't be an issue at all. But if it's something that's going to plague him, then the Nuggets will need to adjust accordingly. They're going to need to pair him with good defenders like Jerami Grant, and they may need to stagger him and Nikola Jokic more than they'd like.
It'd be a shame if Porter can't get back to form on defense, and it'd be a shame if injuries limit him in the future. Clearly, we can see the massive potential he has on the other end. He averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes this year -- as a rookie. If this is just the beginning for him, then the league's in a lot of trouble. If it's just a mirage and a fleeting moment of health, then the Nuggets will have to work harder to get to the next level.
step four: find the right wings to take flight
As great as Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray may be, they're not LeBron James. They're not Kevin Durant. And unless you have one of those transcendent players, it's difficult to win an NBA title. You basically have to nail every other aspect of the roster. No weak links allowed.
The Denver Nuggets don't have weak links necessarily (their depth is strong overall), but the fence isn't the sturdiest on the block either. Primarily, I'm thinking about the wing position (SGs, SFs, etc.)
This postseason, the Nuggets played without an injured Will Barton, and had Gary Harris returning from injury himself. All in all, it's impressive that they got as far as they did despite not being at full strength. Still, you wonder if the Harris - Barton combo is good enough to get them over the top even when they're healthy.
Gary Harris is the biggest concern right now. A few years ago, he looked like a future stud who justified his high-priced extension. Now...? That contract's looking like an overpay (at $19M + $20M remaining.) Harris has struggled with injuries and inconsistency. Over the last two seasons, he's shot 34% and 33% from three respectively. He hardly ever gets to the line either. That's a bad combination that explains the below-average TS% of 53% and 52% over the last two years. Defensively, Harris has solid fundamentals and effort but he's limited in terms of overall size at 6'4". That's a problem in a league dominated by giant wings.
Perhaps Gary Harris gets fully healthy and gets back to form, but I'm skeptical. "Pretty good" is not good enough. Gary Harris, Will Barton, Torrey Craig -- we need something more. We need something better. If I ran the Nuggets, I'd float Harris and others in trade packages. Harris still has a solid reputation, so there's a chance that you can sell him off on a team that feels like he'll bounce back. I wouldn't treat him as a toxic asset, but I'd look for an upgrade if possible. Harris + the # 22 pick may lend itself to that. If Indiana and Victor Oladipo are heading for divorce, perhaps the Nuggets could swoop in as a landing spot.
Ultimately, Denver may be faced with a choice. Right now, they're good. They're good enough to win a round or two in the playoffs in any given year. But to make the Finals? To win the title? They need another LEAP. And that LEAP may come down to two potential lanes. Do you trust that Michael Porter Jr. will stay healthy, fulfill his destiny, and become your third All-Star caliber player? Or do you cash in some of these chips and try to find one on the trade market instead? Gary Harris alone may not get it done, but Gary Harris PLUS Michael Porter is an awfully appealing trade chip. It may be enough to bring in an All-Star like Bradley Beal. At the same time, maybe Porter can be that guy himself. It's hard to tell from the outside, and it may even be hard to tell from the inside. Alas, these are the kinds of million dollar questions that come with the territory of being in contention.
previous offseason blueprints
ATL, BKN, CHA, CHI, CLE, DAL, DET, HOU, IND, GS, LAC, MEM, MIL, MIN, NYK, ORL, POR, SA, SAC, TOR, UTA
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[OC] Every NBA Team Ranked By How Well They Have Performed To Preseason Expectations This Regular Season In 2019-20.

With another regular season complete I decided it would be cool to continue my annual series and take a look back at every NBA team this season and place them into tiers based on how well they performed relative to pre-season expectations. These are the 7 tiers teams will be fit into.
I have made this series of post over the last two seasons and both were very positively received so I hope you guys enjoy this version as well. Here is a link to the 2018 edition and another link to the 2019 edition for anyone interested.
As always different teams have different issues throughout a season. So, as a result, to determine how each team performed relative to expectations I have considered the team’s overall win-loss record but also how acknowledged injuries and other context of how they have performed.
An important clarification to make here is that teams can exceed their preseason expectations and still have disappointing seasons.
This is just my opinion and I am keen to shuffle the list around if people disagree with my results so feel free to leave your input and I will be very willing to take the feedback. Please don’t be too harsh and I will try to make sure my rankings are as accurate as possible
Just a couple other things to consider:
It was tricky to write the post this year with the complications of unbalanced fixtures due to the 'bubble games' and the shorter season. I have scaled each teams WL record to the equivalent of an 82 game season for the sake of these comparisons in the post so that's why the WL records are different.

Completely Exceeded Expectations

  • OKC Thunder WL Record: 50-32
The OKC Thunder were predicted to win 37 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report expecting them to win as few as 33 games. They were viewed as a team that would commit to a rebuild after the shock departure of all-star duo Russell Westbrook and Paul George. While they had acquired great veteran players in Paul and Gallinari the expectation was that those two would be moved by the trade deadline.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions not a single voter, out of 29 people, expected the Thunder to make the playoffs. Despite a modest start to the season at 11-14, which was already better than expected, nobody expected OKC to be a playoff threat let alone a 50 win team. Their success can be attributed to many factors such as the terrific leadership of Chris Paul, the elite play of Shroeder who is sure to be a strong contender for 6MOTY and the breakout season of second year player Shai Gilgeous Alexander. The Thunder have surprised everyone this season so look for them to try and cause a major first round upset.
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  • Toronto Raptors WL Record: 60-22
The Toronto Raptors were predicted to win 45 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report Odds expecting them to win as few as 42 games. They were viewed as a team that would make the playoffs in a 3-6 seed in the weak East but would struggle to compete amongst the league’s elite following the departure of FMVP Kawhi Leonard and role player Danny Green.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions all 29 voters expected the Raptors to make the playoffs, however none of them predicted Toronto to finish with a top 2 seed. Toronto defied that expectation and played at a 60 win place this season which saw them finish with the league’s second best record outright. Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby all made major improvements in their game, as did Pascal Siakam who made his first all star appearance. It's unbelievable that the Raptors finished the year 28-5 especially with their starters missing over 50 games through injury in 2019-20 and it's a huge testament to the system Nick Nurse has created and the Raptors next man up mentality that sees them as arguably the deepest team in the league. Could they shock everyone and go back to back?
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  • Memphis Grizzlies WL Record: 38-44
The Memphis Grizzlies were predicted to win 28 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report expecting them to win as few as 24 games. They were viewed as a young team that was set to enter a new rebuilding era after the departure of franchise legends Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. A successful season for Memphis would've been to see rookies Brandon Clarke and Ja Morant as well as sophomore Jaren Jackson Jr develop.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions not a single voter, out of 29 people, expected the Grizzlies to make the playoffs. However, despite a poor start to the season at 6-16, Memphis surprised everyone and were in playoffs contention all the way until the final day of the regular season. Expected rookie of the year Ja Morant averaged 18/4/7, Brandon Clarke was a hidden gem off the bench, Jaren Jackson continued to improve in a major way and 2017 first round pick Dillon Brooks emerged as a strong 3&D scorer doubling his PPG total from the year prior. They may have just missed playoffs in 2020 but the Grizzlies future looks to be heading in a promising direction.
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Exceeded Expectations

  • Phoenix Suns WL Record: 38-44.
The Phoenix Suns were predicted to win 31 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report expecting them to win as few as 27 games. They were viewed as a young team in a brutal Western Conference that wouldn't really be much of a threat to anyone. A successful season for Phoenix would've been to see growth from their young stars and to close the gap between their best and worst games.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions not a single voter, out of 29 people, expected the Suns to make the playoffs and to be honest for almost the entire season they weren't really considered a playoff chance. However, they went on a remarkable 8 game win streak in the bubble and were one Caris Levert jump shot away from qualifying for a play in. Despite the heartbreak of missing playoffs, the Suns do have a sense of direction now for the first time in a while. Free agent Ricky Rubio was a great fit for the team and helped lead the Suns to become the number one assist team in the NBA. Devin Booker received an overdue all-star selection and with DeAndre Ayton's great second season the future is looking brighter in Phoenix.
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  • LA Lakers WL Record: 60-22
The LA Lakers were predicted to win 50 games in the preseason with 538 expecting them to win as few as 48 games. They were viewed as a team that was top heavy with compromised depth, and with Anthony Davis' injury history and Lebron's reputation for coasting there weren't many believers that the Lakers would secure a top 2 seed in the regular season.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions all 29 voters expected the Lakers to make the playoffs, however only 7 of them predicted LA to hold a top 2 seed in the stacked Western Conference. This ended up being just another lesson for us who doubted Lebron though as the Lakers elite defence saw them achieve great regular season success. James played at an MVP level and in year 17 clinched his first assists title as he played more of a point guard role. Anthony Davis was terrific too leading the team in points, rebounds, steals and blocks, proving to be a great duo next to Lebron. It's still to be seen how far the Lakers can go with limited depth and a top-heavy line up in the playoffs but this regular season they exceeded expectations.
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  • Milwaukee Bucks WL Record: 63-19
The Milwaukee Bucks were predicted to win 55 games in the preseason with Kevin Pelton's odds expecting them to win as few as 51 games. They were viewed as a team that would compete for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, but not many expected them to play at such a high level for so much of the season as they held a record of 52-8 (71 win pace) before managing players to end the year.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions all 29 voters expected the Bucks to make the playoffs, all voters put them as a top 2 seed, however only 17 of them predicted them to finish on top of the Eastern Conference. It seems odd that the team with the league’s best record last season exceeded expectations by doing it again, but as stated before, the Bucks had a historic record before load managing kicked in late in the year and the team never looked like losing their grip on the 1 seed. They began the year 24-3 and look like the team to beat. Giannis had another MVP caliber season averaging 30/14/6 and is also the odds on favourite to win DPOY. They've dominated this regular season but now the true challenge is to go all the way and win it all.
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  • Miami Heat WL Record: 49-33.
The Miami Heat were predicted to win 43 games in the preseason with 538 expecting them to win as few as 41 games. They were viewed as a team that would be competing for playoffs but a first round exit at best. The departure of Whiteside, Richardson and Wade who all received major minutes in 2019 had people unsure what to make of them but the addition of Butler was enough to expect them not to bottom out.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions 25/29 voters expected the Heat to make the playoffs, 5 correctly predicting Miami to finish with a top 5 seed. The improvement by the Heat can largely be attributed to the breakout season of third year star Bam Adebayo who averaged 16/10/5 to make his first all star appearance. In addition to his play the Heat’s other young stars all made big impacts with Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn all playing great basketball. They may not go all the way this year, but the young Heat team looks ready to compete for the foreseeable future.
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  • Charlotte Hornets WL Record: 29-53.
The Charlotte Hornets were predicted to win 23 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report expecting them to win as few as 16 games. They were viewed as a team that was doomed after the departure of Kemba Walker and one that had no direction or quality players. Many expected them to be one of the outright worst teams in NBA history too.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions not a single voter, out of 29 people, expected the Hornets to make the playoffs and to be honest for almost the entire season they weren't really considered a playoff chance. However, they managed to amazingly finish the season with the 9th best record of Eastern Conference teams, and while that’s not an accurate reflection of how good the Hornets are it shows that they weren’t that bad. Devonte Graham improved his PPG by over 13 points and Terry Rozier had a solid first season in Charlotte to give Hornets fans something to cheer about moving on to 2021.
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  • Dallas Mavericks WL Record: 47-35.
The Dallas Mavericks were predicted to win 42 games in the preseason with ESPN expecting them to win as few as 41 games. They were viewed as a team with two young stars that could push for the playoffs in a competitive Western Conference but nothing more than at best an 8 seed.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions just 6, out of 29 people, expected the Mavs to make the playoffs, all of those selections were as an 8th seed too. However Dallas did better than many expected and were in the playoff picture all season, with their final win percentage relatively high for a 7th seed. It’s not hard to tell where the improvement came from as Luka Doncic announced himself to the NBA. The Slovenian sophomore averaged 29/9/9 and will be sure to feature highly in the MVP voting. In addition to his improvement, Kristaps Porzingis had a career season and got better as the season went on. The Mavs have the odds stacked against them going against the Clippers but this regular season was a success for Dallas fans.
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Slightly Exceeded Expectations

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  • Boston Celtics WL Record: 55-27.
The Boston Celtics were predicted to win 48 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report expecting them to win as few as 45 games. They were viewed as a team in an uncomfortable situation after a drama filled 2018-19. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford departed and with Kemba, Tatum and Brown the new face of the team the expectation was a comfortable playoff appearance but not really a championship threat.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions all 29 voters expected the Celtics to make the playoffs, 17 correctly predicting Boston to have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Celtics were led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown who both took big steps forward in years 3 and 4 to show why they are so highly touted and viewed as the future for Boston. The year was one without much drama, a stark difference to 2019, and one that all Celtics fans could enjoy, Gordon Hayward returned to his best form and Kemba Walker was a great fit for the team. Regardless of how these playoffs pan out Boston looks ready to remain an East contender for years to come.
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  • New York Knicks WL Record: 26-56.
The New York Knicks were predicted to win 24 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report expecting them to win as few as 20 games. They were viewed as a team that would have a dreadful year after an offseason that saw them have to revert to a plan B after failing to sign a big-name free agent.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions not a single voter, out of 29 people, expected the Knicks to make the playoffs, and while they didn’t qualify there were still some positives to take out of the season. RJ Barrett showed flashes of his potential and Mitchell Robinson continued to thrive as their center for the future. It’s a little funny to say that the Knicks ended up slightly exceeding expectations by playing at a 24 win pace but by avoiding a bottom 5 record this season I’d say they fit the category.
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Met Expectations

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  • Indiana Pacers WL Record: 50-32.
The Indiana Pacers were predicted to win 45 games in the preseason with Kevin Pelton’s odds expecting them to win as few as 43 games. They were viewed as a team with solid depth and good players to make up for the departure of Bojan Bogdanovic, Wes Matthews and Thaddeus Young in the offseason but weren’t really deemed much of a threat.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions all 29 voters expected the Pacers to make the playoffs, 16 correctly predicting Indiana to have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Pacers were led by TJ Warren, Malcolm Brogdon and first time all star Domantas Sabonis who averaged 19/12/5 for the season. The Pacers were probably the most accurately predicted team this season as everyone knew that they were better than your typical fringe playoff team but they weren’t really set to be an outright contender. It’ll be interesting to see if they can end their first round hoodoo this season against Miami in the playoffs.
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  • LA Clippers WL Record: 56-26.
The LA Clippers were predicted to win 53 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report Odds expecting them to win as few as 52 games. They were viewed as a team with two superstar small forwards that would coast through the regular season and be ready to compete for a championship after developing chemistry all season.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions all 29 voters expected the Clippers to make the playoffs, with less than half of them correctly predicting them to finish the regular season with a top 2 seed. As stated before, this was largely due to the belief that the Clippers would be managing their star players for the playoffs. Despite a down year for Paul George, LAC were still able to play at a 56 win pace in large part due to some elite bench play from duo Lou Williams and 6MOTY front runner Montrezl Harrell. However, the Clippers were always a playoff lock and the real challenge begins now on their quest for championship success.
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  • Washington Wizards WL Record: 29-53.
The Washington Wizards were predicted to win 28 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report expecting them to win as few as 19 games. They were viewed as a team with no real direction and a strange roster of misfits. Bradley Beal was expected to be traded before the trade deadline to allow the team to embrace a full rebuild.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions not a single voter, out of 29 people, expected the Wizards to make the playoffs yet they found themselves in a position to make the playoffs with 8 games remaining. Bradley Beal was a shining light for the team averaging a career high 30.5 points per game and the growth of Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura and Mo Wagner was something for Washington to enjoy but the success was limited. For being just about as bad as we expected them to be this season, despite playing at a below 30 win pace, the Wizards are classified as meeting expectations.
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  • Cleveland Cavaliers WL Record: 24-58.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were predicted to win 23 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report expecting them to win as few as 19 games. They were viewed as a young team with no real stars but a team that could see some development in their youngsters. Kevin Love was expected to be traded before the trade deadline to allow the team to embrace a full rebuild.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions not a single voter, out of 29 people, expected the Cavs to make the playoffs and for good reason too. The Cavaliers finished the season with the second worst record in the entire NBA and had very few positives outside of the improved offensive game of second year guard Colin Sexton. A late season trade for Andre Drummond was unexpected and it’ll be intriguing to see what direction this team takes from here. It’s funny to say that the Cavs met expectations this year but they were horrible as everyone was expecting.
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  • Denver Nuggets WL Record: 52-30.
The Denver Nuggets were predicted to win 54 games in the preseason with basketball reference expecting them to win 53 games. They were viewed as a great regular season team with lots of depth and quality players that give them a strong opportunity to secure a top 4 seed in the regular season while the majority of the West powerhouse teams would coast a bit more.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions all 29 voters expected the Nuggets to make the playoffs, with 21 of those votes allocated to Denver making a top 3 seed. It’s hard to find a major storyline for the whole year to go off for the team as they did what was pretty much expected of them. Nikola Jokic had another fine season averaging 20/10/7 while Will Barton provided a spark to remain one of the league’s most underappreciated players. The biggest positive for the Nuggets was the late season emergence of Michael Porter Jr who will look to build on his great recent play with a series win over Utah.
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Slightly Didn't Meet Expectations

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  • Sacramento Kings WL Record: 35-47.
The Sacramento Kings were predicted to win 37 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report expecting them to win as many as 40 games. They were viewed as a team that looked set to put their past history of failure behind them and build on a great 2019 season. A successful season for the Kings would’ve been qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions just 8, out of 29 people, expected the Kings to make the playoffs, all of those selections were as an 8th seed too. Unfortunately, they didn’t make the improvement expected of them. The Kings began the season 0-5 and never looked like a playoff threat and as a result extended their streak of failing to make the playoffs to 15 straight years. A rare positive in a disappointing year was the continued growth of Fox and Bogdanovic but this was an otherwise forgettable year for Sacramento.
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  • Utah Jazz WL Record: 50-32.
The Utah Jazz were predicted to win 52 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report expecting them to win as many as 59 games. They were viewed as a great regular season team with lots of depth and quality players that would give them an opportunity to secure a top 4 seed in the regular season while the majority of the West powerhouse teams would coast a bit more.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions all 29 voters expected the Jazz to make the playoffs. 16 of those votes were allocated with the expectation that the Jazz would have a top 4 record in the West, and despite doing so, something about Utah just seemed off this year. Perhaps it was their inability to match it with the league’s elite teams but nobody really considered the team a major threat in the West. Rudy Gobert had another DPOY caliber year and Donovan Mitchell received an overdue All-Star selection as a positive for the team but they ultimately fell to the 6th seed after a three way tiebreaker.
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Brooklyn Nets WL Record: 40-42.
The Brooklyn Nets were predicted to win 43 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report Odds expecting them to win 43 games. They were viewed as a decent team on paper but one that didn't have a lot to play for in 2020 with the absence of Kevin Durant. A pass mark for the Nets this year would simply be making the playoffs and being competitive.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions 26/29 voters expected the Nets to make the playoffs, but ultimately this year didn't hold much significance. In a way its remarkable that the team played within 3 games of their expected win total too given that Kyrie Irving only played 20 games for the year, two of which were 50 point performances. With the improvement of Caris Levert and Spencer Dinwiddie, the Brooklyn Nets will be a force to be reckoned with in 2021 if the team can stay healthy.
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Orlando Magic WL Record: 37-45.
The Orlando Magic were predicted to win 42 games in the preseason with Kevin Pelton’s odds expecting them to win as many as 47 games. They were viewed as a young team that was on the up. A team that would be a near lock for playoffs and in a weaker Eastern conference, a team that could push for a 5th seed or potentially higher.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions 16/29 voters expected the Magic to make the playoffs but a majority outside the subreddit rated them much higher. The Magic were an elite defensive team this season with Jonathon Isaac making a name for himself as a defensive star of the future. Vucevic, Fournier and Gordon were all reliable offensive players and Fultz showed signs of improvement after a nightmare start to his career. The Magic only played at a 37 win pace which was lower than expected but since they still solidly made playoffs so they only slightly failed to meet expectations this year.
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New Orleans Pelicans WL Record: 34-48.
The New Orleans Pelicans were predicted to win 39 games in the preseason with basketball reference expecting them to win as many as 40 games. They were viewed as a young team with solid veterans that could help push the team towards the playoffs in a competitive Western Conference but nothing more than at best an 8 seed.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions just 2/29 voters expected the Pelicans to make the playoffs with both votes at the 8 seed. Brandon Ingram had a breakout season for the team, Lonzo Ball improved and star rookie Zion Williamson impressed in his 24 games for the season but it's hard to make an assessment on NOLA. They began the year 6-9 before losing 13 consecutive games. A stretch that they followed up with by playing at a 50 win pace during the middle of the season, before poor play in the bubble saw them miss an opportunity at the playoffs. Personally I'd say the Pelicans only slightly didn't meet expectations since they had a losing record with Williamson in his 24 games and he was so hyped up, but I am open to changing this based on what you guys think.
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Didn't Meet Expectations

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Philadelphia 76ers WL Record: 48-34.
The Philadelphia 76ers were predicted to win 54 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report expecting them to win as many as 58 games. They were viewed as an elite defensive team with two great young players that would be hungry after a heartbreaking game 7 loss to Toronto the year prior. Players like Al Horford and Tobias Harris were expected to see the team competing for a top 2 seed in the East.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions All 29 voters expected the 76ers to make the playoffs, with a stunning 28 off them predicting a top 2 seed (12 even predicted the number one record out East). However what happened was a variety of issues from Simmons' poor fit on the team and lack of any improvement offensively, Horford's decline paired with overall inconsistency and poor chemistry from the team. A 6th seed is a fair reflection of a forgettable season for the team that was had an unbelievable ability to dominate at home and play like the worst team in the league on the road.
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Houston Rockets WL Record: 50-32.
The Houston Rockets were predicted to win 54 games in the preseason with 538 expecting them to win as many as 57 games. They were viewed as a superstar team with two MVP caliber players, and with their kryptonite Warriors weaker than years gone by, this was seen as Houston’s opportunity to secure a top 2 seed and make a championship run.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions all 29 voters expected the Rockets to make the playoffs and while they did so, it happened in extremely unconvincing fashion. 13 preseason voters expected Houston to finish with the West's best record but similar to the 76ers, their record was the same as a 6th seed in the conference. Russell Westbrook had two conflicting halves of the season while James Harden put together another great year averaging 34PPG. The post season is where the Rockets should finally be able to put their previous woes behind them and where we can truly assess if the season was successful or not.
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Portland Trailblazers WL Record: 39-43.
The Portland Trailblazers were predicted to win 45 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report expecting them to win as many as 47 games. They were viewed as a lock for the playoffs in a competitive Western conference after an impressive WCF appearance in 2019.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions all 29 voters expected the Blazers to make the playoffs and while they did so in the end, they only finished 8th in the standings with a sub .500 record. Of course it's easy to understand why when you consider that their starting front court in Collins and Nurkic missed almost the entire season. Damian Lillard had a fantastic season posting a career high 30 points and 8 assists per game averages to keep the Blazers afloat in a difficult year. As harsh as it is when you account for injuries, the reality is that Portland were still expected to make playoffs after a WCF appearance without Nurkic the year prior so for the regular season this year the Blazers failed to meet expectations, despite a late season run.
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San Antonio Spurs WL Record: 37-45.
The San Antonio Spurs were predicted to win 43 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report expecting them to win as many as 47 games. They were viewed as a weaker team than the squads they had in years prior but were still expected to compete for the playoffs. All though missing the playoffs was more expected than it likely ever has been for the team in the last 20 years.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions 13/29 voters expected the Spurs to make the playoffs with 12 of those votes as an 8th seed. The Spurs had made the playoffs in 22 consecutive years and after coming off a 48 win season in 2019 they seemed a safe pick. However, the 48 wins also signalled the end of a long streak of 50 win seasons for San Antonio and they were clearly on a decline. There wouldn't be too many times in NBA history that you would call the Spurs season a disappointment but this year they failed to meet expectations. It will be interesting to see what the future of the team looks like going forward.
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Atlanta Hawks WL Record: 25-57.
The Atlanta Hawks were predicted to win 33 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report expecting them to win as many as 36 games. They were viewed as a young team that looked like a dark horse to secure a spot in the Eastern conference playoffs after years of limited success.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions 6/29 voters expected the Hawks to make the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Hawks John Collins' was suspended for 25 games and with Hunter and Reddish struggling early in their rookie year the team never looked like a playoff threat. The biggest shining light for the Hawks in a poor season was no doubt the improvement of Trae Young who averaged a stunning 30/4/9 for the year on 60% TS, culminating in an Allstar selection as a starter. Atlanta made a late season trade for Clint Capela in hopes to fix their poor defence but he didn't get an opportunity to play as the season was shortly suspended. The Hawks this season were disappointing from a win loss perspective but I'm sure the development of Trae this year keeps fans excited for the future.
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Chicago Bulls WL Record: 28-54.
The Chicago Bulls were predicted to win 35 games in the preseason with Kevin Pelton’s odds expecting them to win as many as 39 games. They were viewed as a young team that looked like a dark horse to secure a spot in the Eastern conference playoffs after years of limited success.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions 3/29 voters expected the Bulls to make the playoffs, not a great total but there was some excitement around them. Unfortunately Chicago saw limited growth from their young players with some even taking a step backwards this year which ultimately led to the recent firing of head coach Jim Boylen. Zach LaVine was a rare positive for the Bulls as he averaged 26PPG but the team has a lot to work on and some tough decisions ahead of them going forward.
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Completely Didn't Meet Expectations

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  • Detroit Pistons WL Record: 25-57.
The Detroit Pistons were predicted to win 38 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report expecting them to win as many as 39 games. They were viewed as a team with a strange mix of stars in Drummond, Griffin and Rose but one that should have been able to finish in the 8/9/10 range of the East standings.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions 11 out of 29 people, expected the Pistons to make the playoffs. They weren't expected to be winning any playoff series but the bare minimum was a playoff appearance. Detroit however struggled with injuries and poor form all year and finished in absolutely shocking form with losses in 18 of their last 20 games. Christian Wood played well as a starter for the team averaging 22/9/2 on 65% TS in that role but the stats didn't translate to much success. After trading Drummond late in the year the Pistons look set for a long rebuild.
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  • Minnesota Timberwolves WL Record: 25-57.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were predicted to win 39 games in the preseason with 538 expecting them to win as many as 44 games. They were viewed as a young team that wouldn’t really achieve a whole lot of success but would at the least be competitive with a star big man on the roster.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions not a single voter, out of 29 people, expected the Wolves to make the playoffs and for good reason too. The team had no semblance of defensive identity all season long, with the exception of games where Towns was absent, in a worrying sign for a team looking to build around a star player. Malik Beasley flourished after being traded late season but there weren't many other positives for the team. The Wolves could have had a disappointing year by winning 35 odd games but instead were even worse and won had the leagues 3rd worst record in 2019-20.
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  • Golden State Warriors WL Record: 19-63.
The Golden State Warriors were predicted to win 49 games in the preseason with Bleacher Report Odds expecting them to win as many as 51 games. They were viewed as a weaker team than years prior following the departure of KD and with Klay’s knee injury but a combination of Curry, D’Lo and Draymond had many believing the team would be a lock for playoffs and a chance to steal a playoff series.
In /nba preseason power ranking predictions all 29 voters expected the Warriors to make the playoffs with 26 of those voters expecting a 5-6-7 seed for the team. Golden State’s season began in shocking fashion through the first 5 games of the year and things just got worse as Curry was sidelined soon with a hand/wrist injury. Draymond Green and D’Angelo Russell struggled to keep the team afloat and the Warriors ended up trading D’Lo late in the season for Andrew Wiggins. It’ll be interesting to see how the team goes next season with a healthy Curry and Klay back in the lineup, but for finishing with the leagues worst record after 5 straight finals appearances there is no denying that the Warriors completely failed to meet preseason expectations.
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Oscar Watch - Post Venice/TIFF/NYFF Edition

Several months ago, right after the last Academy Awards, I posted a long, long, long list of possible contenders that had prospects to fight for the next Oscars. It was a time of hope, of looking forward, and of positivity.
Then, COVID-19 happened.
And now, we find ourselves in a year that may change the movie industry forever, with the lack of safety of theaters in times of a pandemic accelerating the switch of mainstream audiences to streaming and VOD. These are times where some people are beginning to wonder, even after they pushed the eligibility date for two more months, why the Academy doesn’t cancel next year’s Oscars. And in this rocky terrain, we lost many contenders. Fire up the Hunger Games cannons, because these are some casualties of the season (so far).
Launched to 2021: Annette, Benedetta, Deep Water, Dune, In the Heights, King Richard, Last Night in Soho, Memoria, Nightmare Alley, Passing, Red, White and Water, Raya and the Last Dragon, The Last Duel, The Power of the Dog, Tick, Tick… Boom!, West Side Story.
Unknown status / missing in action: After Yang, Blonde, Breaking News in Yuba County, C’mon C’mon, Next Goal Wins, Stillwater, The French Dispatch, The Humans, The Tragedy of Macbeth, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Those Who Wish Me Dead.
But even if this year isn’t as loaded with clear awards candidates, there are plenty of movies that are already drawing buzz for an Oscar season that started brewing a month ago, with the kickoff of the Venice Film Festival, and will go on for six and a half more months, when the Academy Awards take place on April 25, 2021. It’s gonna be a long, weird and rocky season, which is gonna be great to see in terms of the narratives that are coming up.
-Ammonite (trailer): When people were betting on the likelier contenders of this year, many people pointed in the direction of Francis Lee’s period drama, with previous Best Actress winner Kate Winslet and constant nominee Saoirse Ronan. Going into the premiere at Toronto, people had their eyes set in this queer romance between a paleontologist and a young wife in the coasts of England during the 19th century. But then, some things happened. First, Winslet started her promotion of the movie by talking about her regret for working with Woody Allen and Roman Polanski that sounded unconvincing to the ominous Film Twitter. Then, another queer period drama, Mona Fastvold’s The World to Come, started to take the attention away at Venice. And finally, the movie premiered. The reaction? Cold. Critics came out mixed with the movie, with many of them comparing it negatively to last year’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and saying that it’s too dull and alienating. Does that mean that all is lost? Not exactly. While the movie (which, considering the genre, really needs critics' support to get into the Best Picture category) has been dismissed, the acting by Winslet and Ronan has been received positively. Now that so many other contenders have been dropping out of the year, they might get some room to campaign from a (social) distance.
-Another Round (trailer): Speaking of TIFF premieres, a film that had a better time at the Canadian festival was the reunion between director Thomas Vinterberg and star Mads Mikkelsen, who reunited years after making the stirring drama The Hunt (not the one with Betty Gilpin carrying a bad political satire, the one about a Danish teacher wrongly accused of sexual abuse). This time, the material is lighter, being a dramedy about four teachers who decide to test out a theory about how people can live and work a little better if they increase the level of alcohol in their blood. Critics really liked the way the movie dealt with alcoholism, and Toronto audiences made it a runner up for the People’s Choice Award of the festival. In a year without so much exposure from other festivals, this Cannes 2020 selection could make a candidate for the Best International Film category.
-Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (trailer): Surprise, new Borat film! While Sacha Baron Cohen made headlines several times this year because of stunts that people assumed were about a second season of Who is America?, the Internet was shocked when, in early September, it was confirmed that it was actually a very niiiiice return from the journalist character that made him famous, shot during quarantine. In a matter of weeks after the reveal, the sequel got sold to Amazon Prime and got a release date for October 23. Why so soon? Well, apparently the movie, which got him in trouble with Rudy Giuliani and other people, is about Borat taking his daughter on a road trip to give her as a bride to VP Mike Pence. Even if this movie doesn’t manage to achieve the feats of the 2006 movie (which got a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, let’s remember), it will help Baron Cohen’s image a lot, because it will come a week after his big Oscar play.
-Cherry: While everybody knows them mostly because of their contributions to the MCU, directors Joe and Anthony Russo and actor Tom Holland are trying to branch out together. Now Apple has bought into their efforts, paying more than 40 million dollars to acquire their new crime drama, about the life of former Army medic Nico Walker, who started robbing banks after his days in Iraq left him with PTSD and a pill addiction. Will Holland manage this time to escape from the shadow of “oh, jeez, Mr. Stark” Spider-Man before Chaos Walking or the Uncharted movie come out? That’s a question for another day.
-Da 5 Bloods (trailer): Talk about timing. Merely days after the country was mobilized by the police brutality that continues to divide the United States, Spike Lee premiered his new war drama on Netflix. In a vibrant, disjointed but passionate portrait of four African American veterans who return to Vietnam to search for their fallen leader and some treasure, Lee struck gold yet again with his usual fans, even though the moving of the Oscar ceremony threatened to make it harder to remind Academy voters about this movie. However, with an astounding performance from Delroy Lindo (who is confirmed to be campaigned in the Best Actor category) and a supporting turn from Chadwick Boseman which got reframed with the news of his bravery in life and death, this has what it takes to fight for a spot in the Best Picture lineup.
-Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (trailer): When it became clear that quarantine wasn’t gonna be a breeze, the first movie in consideration wise enough to move a little further ahead in the calendar was this adaptation of the hit West End production about a gay British teenager who dreams of becoming a drag queen and get his family and schoolmates to accept his sexuality. With a release date on February 26, 20th Century Studios (man, it’s weird to not use Fox in that name) hopes to strike gold, with a cast that mixes young unknowns, familiar names (Sharon Horgan, Sarah Lancashire and my boy Ralph Ineson) and the previously nominated legend that is Richard E. Grant (who is playing a former drag queen named Loco Chanelle), now taking advantage of the move of other musicals like Annette, In The Heights and West Side Story. I mean, this has at the very least some Golden Globes nods in the bag.
-French Exit: Before its premiere as the closing film of the NYFF, many pundits were expecting this surreal comedy to be somewhat of a comeback for past Best Actress nominee Michelle Pfeiffer, who here plays a close to penniless widow who moves to Paris with her son (Lucas Hedges) and cat, who also happens to be her reincarnated husband (Tracy Letts). However, the first reactions for the film adaptation of the Patrick deWitt novel were all over the place, with some people feeling cold by the execution of the weirdness and others being won over. Still, everybody had good things to say about Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance, but after the mixed reception to the rest of Azazel Jacobs’ film she really would need a lot of critics support to get anywhere near the Best Actress category. With a release date on February 12, it seems that Sony Pictures Classics is skipping the critics awards, and the distributor has a couple of big competitors above this one.
-Good Joe Bell: Every year, there are movies with big stars that go to festivals full of hope for praises and awards. Some of them work and go on, others don’t and get forgotten about. Mark Wahlberg tried to remind people that he occasionally is a good actor with a true life drama where he plays a father who decides to walk across America to raise awareness about bullying after his son, tormented for being gay, commits suicide. The film by Reinaldo Marcus Green premiered at TIFF, and the reaction was… not great. Some critics defended it, but most saw it as a flawed, baity product starring a man with a history of hate. Still, it got bought by a distributor: Solstice Studios, a new player in the game which just released its first movie, Unhinged (yup, the one about Russell Crowe road raging). While they paid 20 million dollars for Good Joe Bell, it’s clear that this won’t get near the Oscar telecast.
-Hillbilly Elegy: While many movies this year have some level of anticipation, Film Twitter is bracing for this movie in the “is this gonna be the next Green Book?” way. Ron Howard’s adaptation of J.D. Vance’s memoir about his low income life in a poor rural community in Ohio has many fearing about the overuse of tropes involving what’s called white trash porn, but rarely, Netflix has kept silent about this release. Even though it has Oscar bridesmaids Glenn Close (7 nominations) and Amy Adams (6 nominations), the streamer has not even released a photo of the movie, which supposedly will come out in November. And if you want another bad omen, take a look at the lower levels of this list by a familiar voice.
-I’m Thinking of Ending Things (trailer): Speaking of Netflix, did you know that there is a new Charlie Kaufman there, right now? While his adaptation of the dark novel by Iain Reid, seemingly about a woman (Jessie Buckley) who is taken by her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis), got the usual reception of confusion and praise that follows his movies, the release was followed for what befalls most of the Netflix original movies: a couple of days in the Top 10, and then it fell into the void. While Buckley and Plemons deliver great work in this demented, melancholic story, it’s hard to see this movie getting anything else than a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Charlie. And that’s a long shot.
-I’m Your Woman: Following the little seen but critically acclaimed Miss Stevens and Fast Color, Julia Hart started 2020 with a Disney+ adaptation of the YA book Stargirl, and now she follows it with a drama for Amazon that will have its world premiere as the opening film of the AFI fest on October 15. In this movie, Rachel Brosnahan hopes to translate her TV success with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to the big screen, playing a woman in the ‘70s that has to go on the run with her kid due to her husband’s crimes.
-Judas and the Black Messiah (trailer): Even if this doesn’t end up winning any awards, it has a real shot at being the best trailer of 2020. Formerly titled Jesus Was My Homeboy, this biographical drama by Shaka King tells the tale of two men: Fred Hampton (Kaluuya), an activist and Black Panther leader, and William O’Neal (Stanfield), the FBI agent sent to infiltrate the party and arrest him. While the trailer for this movie promised a release “only in theaters”, we shall see if Warner Bros backs down from that fight.
-Let Them All Talk: While we’re on the subject of Warner Bros, we have to mention what’s happening with HBO Max. While the start of the streaming service hasn’t been good (I mean, there are still people confused about that name) and it lead to some people assume will cause many firings, it has begun to make some buzzed titles on TV, like Close Enough, Raised by Wolves and the remains of the DC Universe failed streaming service. Now, to make a mark in the movie business, the streamer has a new Steven Soderbergh movie, a comedy that stars Meryl Streep as a celebrated author that takes her friends (Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest) and her nephew (Lucas Hedges) in a cruise to find fun and come to terms with the past, while he flirts with a literary agent (Gemma Chan). While it doesn’t have a date yet, it’s confirmed to release in 2020, and at least we know that it can’t be worse than The Laundromat.
-Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: While the expectations for the next film adaptation of an August Wilson acclaimed play were already high, the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman made this Netflix release one of the most anticipated movies of the season, considering this is his final movie. While past Supporting Actress winner Viola Davis takes the lead playing blues singer Ma Rainey in this tale of a heated recording session with her bandmates, her agent and her producer in 1927, Chadwick Boseman has a turn as the trumpeter Levee that was already being considered for awards, and now has even more people waiting to see. The thing is that one of the biggest competitions for Boseman this year will be Boseman himself, for his already acclaimed supporting turn on Da 5 Bloods, also released by Netflix. While the streamer will have to decide which of Chadwick’s performances will get the bigger campaign, this film by director George C. Wolfe has a cushy date set for December 18, and Viola is gunning hard for this movie to win.
-Mank (trailer): As you may have noticed by now, Netflix has a lot of plates spinning around this season, and this is the big one. After befriending the service with House of Cards and Mindhunter, David Fincher is going black and white to tackle a script by his late father Jack, about the making of the classic of classics, Citizen Kane. More specifically, the making of the script, with previous Oscar winner Gary Oldman playing the lead role of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, while accompanied by Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tuppence Middleton, Charles Dance and Tom Burke. After watching the first trailer of his satire of 1930’s Hollywood (that will release on streaming on December 4), it’s clear that this is gonna be catnip to old Academy voters, and it would be really hard for this to miss the Best Picture line up. Unless it’s a complete cinematic disaster, Mank is bank.
-Minari (trailer): While the last edition of Sundance took place in January, quarantine makes you feel like it took place two years ago. This year, the big winner of the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the US Dramatic Competition was a dramedy by Lee Isaac Chung, about a Korean family in the ‘80s who suddenly gets moved by their father (Steven Yeun) to Arkansas, to start a farm. Even though the reviews have been great, distributor A24 hasn’t really had a big, Oscar nominated hit for the last couple of years, and the COVID-19 crisis made them delay all their releases. But when we were ready to write this off, a new trailer for the movie came out, confirming that it’s in the game of this awards season. Maybe the pandemic will be of help to A24, considering that one of the reasons they haven’t had success is that they divided their attention into too many releases, and ended up getting not much. This time, they are betting all on Lee who, even if this doesn’t go anywhere, also has a new gig coming up as the director of the live action remake of Your Name.
-News of the World (sneak peek): So much of this year has felt like a game of chicken between a virus and movie studios. While many movies chose to skip this year altogether, Universal remains firm (for now) with its plans to open a wide movie on Christmas Day, with a Western that reunites Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks in an enticing premise. In this drama based on Paulette Jiles’ novel, Hanks plays a traveling newsreader in the aftermath of the American Civil War, who is tasked with reuniting an orphaned girl with her living relatives. While the first sneak peek of the movie looks promising, the future is still in the air.
-Nomadland (trailer): While the world burns around Hollywood, Searchlight is betting big on Chloe Zhao’s new film. Using the strategy of taking the spotlight while the rest of the contenders is uncertain about how or when to be released, the indie drama began its journey at Venice, with critics raving about the story of a woman (two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand) who, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad. At the end of the fest, the movie won the coveted Golden Lion. To put that into perspective, the last three winners of the award were past Best Picture nominees The Shape of Water, Roma and Joker, with The Shape of Water (also distributed by Searchlight) also winning the big prize. After drawing critical acclaim following its virtual showing on TIFF and NYFF, Nomadland seems like the first lock in the Best Picture line up. Still, there are obstacles ahead. Will Zhao break the disappointment of the last few years, when deserving candidates for Best Director got blocked by the likes of Adam McKay and Todd Phillips? And will McDormand manage to get near a third Oscar, following a recent win for Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri? Time will tell.
-On the Rocks (trailer): While she hasn’t been near the Oscars for a while, Sofia Coppola is still a name that draws attention. This time, she opened the NYFF with a dramedy about a young mother (Rashida Jones) who reunites with her playboy father (Bill Murray, also reuniting with Sofia after Lost in Translation) on an adventure through New York to find out if her husband (Marlon Wayans) is cheating on her. The consensus seems to be that, while light and not near her best work, it’s still a fun and breezy movie, with a very good turn by Murray. While many would assume that this A24 production will disappear into the abyss when it releases on Apple TV+ on October 23, the dropping out of many candidates gives the movie a chance to, at least, fight for some Golden Globes.
-One Night in Miami (sneak peek): Following her recent Oscar and Emmy wins for If Beale Street Could Talk and Watchmen, Regina King is still striking hard, and this time, she’s doing it as a director. For her big screen debut as a filmmaker, she chose to adapt Kemp Powers’ play that dramatizes a real meeting on February 25, 1964, when Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree) followed an iconic win with a hangout session with Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). Opening at Venice, the film received glowing reviews, with many praising King (even though some said that the movie doesn’t fully translate the play to the film medium) and the actors’ performances, especially Ben-Adir and Odom Jr. (who, it should be said, also wrote an original song for the end credits of the movie, which could help his Oscar chances). Amazon Prime is hoping that this is their big contender this year, with plans of a theatrical release on Christmas and a streaming release on January 15. Judging by the praise this got at festival season, it has a chance to go a long way.
-Over the Moon (trailer): In a year with not that many contenders for Best Animated Feature, Netflix is betting on a musical adventure directed by the legendary Glen Keane, a classic Disney animator who recently won an Oscar for Best Animated Short for co-directing Dear Basketball. While our expectations were lowered by the first trailer for the movie, centered around a Chinese girl who builds a rocket ship and blasts off to the Moon in hopes of meeting a legendary Goddess, it’s still safe to assume that it has a shot at being nominated for something. Netflix also hopes that you like its big candidate for Best Original Song, which really, really sounds like a Disney ballad.
-Pieces of a Woman: While this year doesn’t have the amount of surprise contenders that a regular Oscar season usually has, we still have some movies that sneaked through festival season. The first one was the new, somber drama by Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó, known for the doggy uprising pic White God, and the not-so-well-received sci-fi Jupiter’s Moon. This time, we follow a woman (Vanessa Kirby) whose life is torn apart after a home birth at the hands of a flustered midwife (Molly Parker) ends in tragedy, and then leads to a court battle that also makes her confront her husband (Shia LaBeouf) and her domineering mother (Ellen Burstyn). While the movie had mixed reactions, Kirby had plenty of raves in her direction, particularly concerning her performance during a 25-minute birth sequence that is said to be brutal. That brutality paid off, though, because Kirby ended up winning Best Actress at Venice, and Netflix bought the movie, which also has Martin Scorsese as an executive producer. If the Academy wants to crown a new face in the scene, Kirby is the one who will be targeted, following her acclaimed turn in The Crown and her supporting roles in blockbusters like Mission Impossible: Fallout and Hobbs & Shaw.
-Promising Young Woman (trailer): When theaters started to close because of the pandemic, Universal started the push of their movies going straight to VOD, with titles including Trolls World Tour and Never Rarely Sometimes Always. However, there was a title that was supposed to premiere in April, and then suddenly disappeared from existence. It was the directorial debut of actress Emerald Fennell, who wrote a black comedy with touches of a thriller, centered on a woman in her thirties (Carey Mulligan) whose bright future was derailed by a traumatic event, and who’s now looking for revenge. While the reaction to its premiere at Sundance wasn’t enough to consider a Best Picture run, the twisted performance by Mulligan earned her the best praise since the last time she was nominated for an Oscar, a decade ago for An Education. Now, Focus Features is planning to open the movie at Christmas, and are positioning Carey for a run at Best Actress.
-Rebecca (trailer): When the news came out saying that Ben Wheatley would adapt Daphne du Maurier’s psychological thriller novel for Netflix, many were shocked. Some people considered the chance that this was an awards play by the cult director, who is doing the same work that earned Alfred Hitchcock his only Best Picture win. But seeing the trailer for this new version, with Lily James playing the newly married young woman who finds herself battling the shadow of her husband's (Armie Hammer) dead first wife Rebecca, we have to wonder if there’s a point to the existence of this remake. We will find out if there’s any awards chances for this movie on October 21, when it releases on streaming. Let’s hope that Kristin Scott Thomas has something to play with as Mrs. Danvers.
-Respect (trailer): Every year, there’s one or two actors who announce to the world “I want an Oscar” and campaign like their lives depended on it. Last time, it was Taron Egerton (accompanied by Elton John, who actually ended up winning another Oscar). This year, it is the turn of Jennifer Hudson, who is playing Aretha Franklin in a biopic directed by first timer Liesl Tommy, and who’s hoping that this attempt at awards ends up more like Dreamgirls than like Cats. She has been doing announcement trailers (a year in advance), quarantine tributes, award show tributes, and every possible thing to get the industry to notice that she’s playing Aretha. Hey, Rami Malek and Renee Zellweger did it in the last few years, why can’t she. With a release date of January 15, Hudson wants that gold.
-Soul (trailer): Disney may be the studio that suffered the biggest hit because of the pandemic. Their parks are a loss, most of their big productions had to stop because of quarantine, and theaters in many parts of the world are closed. After the failure of Tenet for Warner Bros. and the experiment of the mouse house of charging people 30 dollars to see Mulan (which didn’t work at all), many wondered if Disney was gonna delay the new production by Pixar, written and directed by Pete Docter, who brought Oscar gold to his home with Up and Inside Out. The movie, which centers on a teacher (Jamie Foxx) who dreams of becoming a jazz musician and, just as he’s about to get his big break, ends up getting into an accident that separates his soul from his body, had a lot of promise, but the speculation of lost money was also a concern. Finally, Disney decided to release the movie on Christmas, but only on Disney Plus, causing another failure for theaters, but assuring that Disney at least can get more subscribers to its streaming service. And the movie? Well, it just premiered at the London Film Festival, and the critics are saying it’s Pixar at its best, with praises going from the look, to the script by co-director Kemp Powers (who also wrote the play of One Night in Miami, so he has many chances for a nod), to the score by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste. That means that it’s already a top contender to win Best Animated Feature, and this may not be the only category in which the movie is gonna get nominated.
-Supernova (trailer): If there’s a theme this year in terms of Oscar contenders, it might be dementia. One of the examples of this is a small road movie directed by Hairy Macqueen, which premiered to good reviews at the San Sebastian festival. This drama centers on a trip taken by Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci), partners for 20 years, who travel across England reuniting with friends and family, because Tusker was diagnosed with early onset dementia. While usually the big awards role is usually the one of the person who suffers the illnesses, some reviewers are calling Firth’s work as the supporting companion some of the best of his career. With Bleecker Street buying the rights for a US release, this is a little film that could still make some moves.
-Tenet (trailer): For the first five months of quarantine, the big narrative in the world of film was “Christopher Nolan is gonna save cinemas”. But after postponing the release of the mind bending actioner for months on end, creating big demands and expectations to theater owners, and finally releasing as the sacrificial lamb of Hollywood, Warner Bros ended up seeing the opposite effect. Even though Tom Cruise loved to be back at the movies, critics didn’t share enough excitement to make a spy movie that goes backwards worth the possibility of dying of coronavirus. The audiences didn’t show up as much, and those who did attend, mostly complained about the sound mixing and the plot. After all the sacrifice, it’s highly unlikely that Tenet goes beyond technical awards. Let’s start the “Travis Scott for Best Original Song” campaign now, before it’s too late.
-The Boys in the Band (trailer): The Ryan Murphy blank check for Netflix has been interesting to follow. On the one hand, we have his new TV shows, which go from not existing (The Politician), to alternate movie history that doesn’t know how alternate history works (Hollywood), to a challenge of how much TV will you stomach if Sarah Paulson and other middle aged actresses are campy in it (Ratched). And now, we are seeing his producing hand over the movie side, which starts with the new film adaptation of the cult play from 1968, which was already a movie in 1970 and recently jumped to Broadway in 2018. The cast from the recent Broadway production (which includes Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer and Andrew Rannells) stars in Joe Mantello’s movie, telling the story of a group of gay friends in pre-Stonewall New York who reunite for a birthday party and end up revealing a lot of open wounds. While this movie got good reviews from critics, it kinda disappeared without a sound after beginning to stream on Netflix at the end of September. Unless the service wants to campaign for Golden Globes, this film is lost in the algorithm.
-The Devil All the Time (trailer): Another September release on Netflix was the new psychological thriller by Antonio Campos (Simon Killer, Christine) who didn’t manage to continue his streak of intense and terrifying character dramas with his messy adaptation of the dark novel by Donald Ray Pollock. Wasting a cast that includes Tom Holland, Sebastian Stan, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Eliza Scanlen, Bill Skarsgard, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough, this twisted period piece managed to stay for a while in the Top 10, but the reactions from critics were mixed, and audiences were busy asking what was happening with Pattinson’s Southern accent (which with The King makes two years in a row, baby). The many prognosticators who had hopes for an awards play moved on a while ago.
-The Father (trailer): It’s safe to say at this point that Anthony Hopkins is a lock for a Best Actor nomination at the next Oscars. After its premiere in Sundance, every prognosticator pointed in his direction, and for the next few months he swept praise for his harrowing portrayal of an old man grappling with his age as he develops dementia, causing pain to his beleaguered daughter (recent winner Olivia Colman, who also got praised). Sony Pictures Classics will make Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his acclaimed play its big contender of the season, using Hopkins (who this year got a nom for The Two Popes) as a starter to also get Colman, Zeller and the movie nominated.
-The Human Voice (trailer): And speaking of Sony Pictures Classics, it’s almost safe to say that they have another Oscar in the bag this year. That’s because they just bought Pedro Almodóvar’s short film, his English-speaking debut that is an adaptation of the play by Jean Cocteau. In his version (that was acclaimed by critics after premiering in Venice), Tilda Swinton plays the woman waiting at the end of a phone, expecting to hear from his ex-lover who abandoned her. Considering how the competition for Best Live Action Short Film has become somewhat lacking in the last few years (I mean, have you seen Skin), this should be an easy award to win, especially considering how beloved Almodóvar is in the Academy, which nominated him this year for the great Pain and Glory.
-The Life Ahead: While we’re talking about legends, it’s time to talk about Sophia Loren. 16 years after her last leading role in a movie, the Italian icon returns with a drama that was bought by Netflix, who plans to campaign for her as Best Actress and for the movie in the Best International Film category. Directed by Edoardo Ponti (who is also Sophia’s son), this movie centers on a Holocaust survivor who takes in a 12-year-old boy who recently robbed her, in a contemporary adaptation of Romain Gary’s novel The Life Before Us. Netflix has set a date for November 13 to release this movie, and the campaign seems to be about the narrative of seeing Loren winning another Oscar 60 years after she won her first one for Two Women, by Vittorio De Sica.
-The Midnight Sky: Based on the novel Good Morning, Midnight, this collaboration between George Clooney and Netflix is once again making us ask one thing. Are we gonna get the director Clooney of Good Night and Good Luck, or are we gonna get the director Clooney of Leatherheads, The Ides of March, The Monuments Men and Suburbicon? Let’s hope he breaks his streak of blandness with this sci-fi story, which makes us think a little bit of Gravity: A lonely scientist in the Arctic (Clooney) races to stop a group of astronauts led by Felicity Jones from returning to a devastated Earth. With a release set for December, we have to hope that this is more than some Top 10 filler that will evaporate from existence in a week’s time.
-The Prom: In probably the biggest blank check of the Ryan Murphy deal with Netflix, this musical he’ll direct is based on the Tony-nominated show about a group of Broadway losers (Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells and James “boo” Corden) who try to find a viral story to get back in the spotlight, and end up going to a town in Indiana to help a lesbian high school student who has been banned from bringing her girlfriend to the prom. While it’s clear that this December 11 release is gonna sweep the Golden Globes, the emptiness of this year compared to others could clear the way for some Oscar nominations, including Meryl and the obligatory original song added to a preexisting musical for easy clout.
-The Trial of the Chicago 7 (trailer): When it was announced that Paramount was selling Aaron Sorkin’s new movie to Netflix, some people saw it as a studio dumping a failed awards vehicle to be forgotten. However, the excuse that Sorkin wanted to release this movie before the US presidential elections seems to be true, because critics really enjoyed his old school courtroom drama, centered around the trial on counter cultural activists in the late ‘60s. Everybody praised uniformly the huge cast, that includes Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jeremy Strong, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, William Hurt, Michael Keaton and Mark Rylance, which guarantees a SAG awards nomination (but makes it difficult to decide which actors will actually get nominated for Oscars). With a reaction that brings to mind the days of A Few Good Men and is the best reception he got since his Oscar winning script for The Social Network, the film faces a couple of hurdles. First of all, it got positioned as the frontrunner in the Best Picture race by some people, which instantly puts a target on its back. Then, we have to consider that the movie releases on Netflix this Friday, October 16, which makes it the first big contender this year to face the world, and which in these times of lockdown will probably make the reception to Marriage Story and The Irishman from last year look like a walk in the park. I mean, there are some people who aren’t swayed by Sorkin, and for good reason.
-The United States vs. Billie Holiday: While Paramount was quick to hand The Trial of the Chicago 7 to Netflix, there’s another movie that the studio kept to play in the upcoming awards season. This biographical drama follows the life of another famous musician, Billie Holiday (Andra Day), and we see the journey of her career in jazz as she is targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics with an undercover sting operation led by Federal Agent Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes), with whom she had a tumultuous affair. While the movie counts with a screenplay credit by Pulitzer winner Suzan-Lori Parks, the big question mark is the film’s director, Lee Daniels, who hit it big with Precious and then had results that were disastrous (The Paperboy) or financially successful, but not awards-wise (Lee Daniels’ The Butler). However, Paramount trusts in this movie, and with a release date on February 12, they want to make a splash.
-Wolfwalkers (trailer): While the attempts by Apple TV+ to establish themselves as a player in the TV world go from trainwrecks (See) to forgettable (The Morning Show) to eventually great (see Ted Lasso, everybody, this is not a joke), their plans to make a name in the film business have something to do with this year’s Oscars. While Cherry can come or go, they have a solid contender for the Best Feature Documentary with Boys State, but their big dog this year is the new movie by Cartoon Saloon, an Irish studio responsible for the acclaimed The Secret of Kells, The Song of the Sea, and The Breadwinner, all of which were nominated for Best Animated Feature. This time, Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart direct a story about a young apprentice hunter who journeys with her father to Ireland to help wipe out the last wolf pack. But everything changes when she befriends a free-spirited girl from a mysterious tribe rumored to transform into wolves by night. After getting critically acclaimed following its premiere at TIFF, this is a surefire contender for this year’s Best Animated Feature category, and Apple is gonna parade it before its streaming release on December 11. Also, while you watch that, you could watch a couple of episodes of Ted Lasso, too. It’s a really good show, it’s all I’m saying.
Anyways, that’s all the news from the last few months of festivals. No matter what happens next, this is gonna be a long, long, long race.
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Offseason Blueprint: for their next trick, the Orlando Magic need to make a ball disappear (down a net)

The playoffs continue to rage on, but there are 26 teams sitting at home with nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs, watch the Conference Finals, and wait for next season to start.
For their sake, we wanted to look ahead with the next edition of the OFFSEASON BLUEPRINT series. In each, we'll preview some big decisions and make some recommendations for plans of attack along the way. Today, we're looking at the Orlando Magic.
step one: "just shoot" - me
Veteran coach Steve Clifford has always been known as a defensive specialist. He's good at that. Alas, once the ball crosses that pesky midcourt line, our problems start to emerge. In Clifford's first year in Orlando, the Magic finished with the 22nd best offense. This past season, they sagged down to 23rd. Sadly, these anemic offenses are nothing unusual for the franchise. Amazingly, they've been in the bottom 10 for offensive rating every season since 2011-12 -- that's a streak of 8 years running.
The primary issue during this entire stretch has been a lack of shooting. This past season, the Magic ranked 19th in three-point attempts, and only 25th in three-point percentage. As a team, they shot 34.3% from three, over a full point off from the NBA league average (35.8%). The issue ran up and down the roster. Consider this: of the 19 players who recorded minutes for the Magic this season, 17 shot below league average from three. The only two who matched the league average rate were Evan Fournier and Melvin Frazier (who played 6.6 minutes per game and shot 8/16 total.)
Of course, assessing the problem and fixing it are two entirely different animals. The team's invested in players like Markelle Fultz, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vucevic, who could all improve to the "average" range but are never going to be sharpshooters from deep.
The easiest solution would be to utilize your # 15 pick to snag a shooter like Aaron Nesmith (Vanderbilt). Nesmith is probably the best shooter in this draft class, hitting 52% from three and 83% from the free-throw line this past year in his 14 games before injury. The sample size in college tends to be unreliable, but Nesmith's shooting form looks the part of a true 38-40% shooter. Better still, Nesmith has the length to play either the SG or SF spot.
Outside of that quick fix, the team may need to make some serious shakeups to the roster to make this combination work.
step two: find the silver lining in your shitty day
As any Orlando Magic fan will tell you, there's one bright spot at the center of this universe: Jonathan Isaac. He's a rising offensive threat, and already one of the best and most versatile defensive players in the NBA. He may have been on track to earn first team All-Defense, and maybe even a Defensive Player of the Year trophy one day.
Unfortunately, Isaac tore his ACL in the bubble and will likely miss the entire upcoming season. Yikes. It's one of the most brutal and disappointing breaks of an already-bad 2020 calendar year.
Outside of literal magic, there's nothing the team can actually do about that. They're going to need to soldier on and make the best out of a shitty situation.
If there's any positive here, it's that Isaac's injury may open the door for the Magic to "showcase" Aaron Gordon. Gordon's gone from being the star of the team to a potentially odd fit on this roster. He's not coming off a terribly strong year either, with averages of 14.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. After 6 seasons in the NBA, it may be time to give up on the idea that Gordon can be a top option on offense. He doesn't have the shooting or scoring skills to get to that level. More likely, he's best served as a 3rd or 4th option who primarily provides defense, energy, and athleticism. There's value to that, but it may be more valuable to another team that lacks those qualities on their roster.
With Isaac out, the Magic can feature Aaron Gordon and try to increase his trade value as much as possible. He's on a reasonable deal ($18M + $16M) that would make a trade easy to figure out logistically. With an increased role, he may be able to put up good raw stats (maybe 20-8-5?) that would make him even more appealing as an asset.
The team may as well aim high to start. Buddy Hield may be on the market, and Portland may be frustrated enough to consider trading C.J. McCollum for a package that would include Gordon. On the lowemore realistic end, the team could consider a deal for Minnesota SG Malik Beasley (a restricted free agent right now), or something with the Phoenix Suns (both Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have good shooting potential). In terms of the draft, the Magic may be able to get something in the 5-10 range if they deal Gordon now, but should be able to fetch a solid R1 pick or more if they wait until Gordon starts putting up better numbers.
The Magic can consider a future without Gordon for a few reasons. Jon Isaac should be the future at forward, of course, but I'm also high on the potential of current rookie Chuma Okeke. He's been out all year with an injury, but at Auburn he looked like a dynamic threat that may end up being as good as Gordon himself.
step three: check the sportsbook to see if your bets paid off
The Orlando Magic have taken some big swings over the last few years, primarily with upside plays like Markelle Fultz and Mo Bamba. In both cases, the team needs to determine if they ended up cashing in - or crash 'n burning.
Let's start off with Markelle Fultz first. The Magic made a low cost move to acquire him (in terms of assets) and that looks like a smart move at the moment. With a longer leash and the ball in his hands more often, Fultz is starting to resemble a key player again. This past season (Year 3 for him), he averaged 15.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per 36 minutes. He's still a bad shooter (27% from 3, 73% from the FT line), but he's improving there. He's also taken massive leaps in his ability to slash and convert inside the arc. His FG% in the 3-10 foot area has gone from 21% to 30% to 42% over the last few seasons. He's showing glimpses of the talent that made him the # 1 pick.
The problem is: while Fultz was low cost in terms of assets, he's not low cost in terms of salary. Because he had been the # 1 pick, he'll be paid $12M next season, and then have a qualifying offer of $16M for 2021-22. If the team doesn't think Fultz justifies that type of commitment, they may not retain him at all. Given that, it'll be critical that the team can make a decision about Fultz based on his play this upcoming season. In a lot of ways, it's a make or break year for his Magic career.
The team has a longer window regarding Mo Bamba. He's under contract for the next two seasons before his own restricted free agency. That not-so-coincidentally lines up close to Nikola Vucevic's three years remaining ($26M + $24M + $22M). Over the next year or two, the Magic need to determine whether Bamba is going to be ready to take the mantle at center, at which point they can either trade Vucevic or let him walk at the end of his deal. Right now, it's very hard to know. Bamba didn't show much in Year 2, but sometimes it takes players with his unique frame extra time to develop their bodies. If Bamba turns out not to be starting material, then that will set the franchise back in the long term. Getting a decent starter is the least you can expect out of a # 6 overall pick.
step four: you play to win the games (but it never hurts to have a Plan B)
Even with Jonathan Isaac's injury, the Orlando Magic aren't going to throw in the towel and tank next season. The roster is too solid for that, and coach Steve Clifford is too motivated for that. You're not going to convince an old veteran coach -- entering Year 3 -- to took his foot off the gas.
Orlando doesn't have the cap space to go off on a shopping spree, so retaining their own free agents may be the most prudent step. Swingman Evan Fournier has a $17M player option that he may be inclined to pick up. That said, he's coming off a strong year -- 18.5 points and 39.9% shooting from deep -- and may want a longer-term commitment. If Fournier demands a longer deal, the Magic should probably give it to him. He's one of the more underrated scorers in the league right now.
Midseason acquisition James Ennis also has a player option (for a modest $2M). The team shouldn't bend over backwards to bring him back, but it'd be nice to have him around. He's an experienced vet capable of playing the 3 or 4.
Backup PG D.J. Augustin represents a trickier negotiation. He's ceded his role as a starter to Markelle Fultz, but he still played 25 minutes a night and contributed 10.5 points and 4.6 assists. He's a steadying presence on the court in addition to being one of the better shooters on the team. As a 12-year veteran, he's also a good mentor to a young guard like Fultz. That said, the 32-year-old Augustin may not want to come back to play for a middling team. He could chase a ring somewhere else like L.A. or Brooklyn. It doesn't make a load of sense for Orlando to overpay to bring him back given his declining role and their modest expectations for this next season. Hopefully the two sides want to keep their partnership going. If not, the Magic should eye other solid backup PGs who can take some pressure off Fultz and allow him to play some SG as well. Among the names that may fit this bill would be Shabazz Napier (WAS), Yogi Ferrell (SAC), or Matthew Dellavedova (CLE.)
I tend to think the Magic can make tweaks on the margins, "run it back," and still contend for the 7th or 8th seed in the East. That said, if they get off to a nightmare start, they should have a Plan B in their back pocket. We've already mentioned a possible Aaron Gordon trade, but they would have to consider trades of Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, and Terrence Ross as well. While Coach Clifford may not want to blow it up and rebuild, he may not have a choice if the season starts to slip away from them.
previous offseason blueprints
ATL, CHA, CHI, CLE, DAL, DET, HOU, IND, GS, LAC, MIL, MIN, NYK, POR, SA, SAC, UTA
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Three Offseason Moves for Each Team

Undertaking a fairly large project here. The aim is to give each team a plausible trade, signing, and draft pick over the 2020 NBA offseason in order to boost each team's prospects in the upcoming 2020-2021 season. While I can't promise they all will be, I'll try and keep the trades as player-specific, rather than something like "Knicks trading up to draft Ball" or something like that.
I will also try (no promises) to do the trade in conjunction with one another. So it would ideally be proposed as 3-moves to make together, not 3 separate moves to make. Again, no promises, and I'll clarify if I'm suggest one as an alternative, but that will be the aim if I can find a pattern I like.
Also, some players listed in free agency signings do have player options, so we'll treat them all as possibilities to a certain degree. And also, just because your team's player is listed as a trade move for one team doesn't mean they are moving them, just that there either have been rumors they'd be available, or simply that the listed team would be interested in acquiring them.

Atlanta Hawks

Draft Pick: G/F Isaac Okoro, Auburn
With plenty of promising scorers, the Hawks should target Okoro to add to their defensive capacity on the wing. Okoro is a very selfless player, and would fit well into a lineup with Trae Young, John Collins and Clint Capela, amongst other promising young players. While ultimately, the Hawks may actually be best suited packaging this pick in a trade, if they stick at #6 overall, Okoro sure would be a good addition for Atlanta.
Signing: F JaMychal Green, Los Angeles Clippers
The Hawks have a few players who can fill minutes behind John Collins at the 4, such as De'Andre Hunter. But adding a clear backup for Collins would round the depth a bit cleaner. Insert JaMychal Green, a quality shooter (39% last season), who still be able to keep the post clear for Clint Capela, will giving Atlanta an excellent depth addition should he decline his player option in LAC and seek out a new opportunity.
Trade: G Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
Oladipo would be interesting backcourt partner with Trae Young. In addition to being a high-caliber defender, Oladipo also has the ability to handle the ball when Young isn't on the court. While Indiana risks losing Oladipo down the road for nothing, shipping him off to the rising Hawks, who will be angling for a playoff run next season. Oladipo could be a big piece of that run, and perhaps even help them contend for more if returns to his All-Star form.

Boston Celtics

Draft Pick: F Patrick Williams, Florida State
The Celtics have one of the deepest rosters in the NBA, and selecting back at #13 overall means they'll really just be able to target the best player available. If Patrick Williams is available at 13 however, he should definitely be considered, as his versatility would help continue loading up the Celtics bench. And with Williams being a bit raw offensively, the Celtics can afford to take a chance on his upside and develop him under Brad Stevens further.
Signing: F Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets
A 6'6 sharpshooter, Harris would be a fun add to the Celtics rotation. It may take some small moves to create the space for him, but adding the career 3-point marksman would fit in well with the versatile athletes around him like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and help the second unit stretch the floor when he comes off the bench.
Trade: C Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Turner seems like he has been connected to the Celtics for a little while now, and it makes plenty of sense. The Pacers will likely be looking for players who fit better around Domantas Sabonis, and that could give an opportunity for the Celtics to move for Turner. Turner would fit well in the Celtics lineup at the center position, where right now the Celtics have some quality role players, but no star. By adding Turner, the Celtics would have one of the best all-around starting 5's in the entire league (Kemba-Smart-Brown-Tatum-Turner).

Brooklyn Nets

Draft Pick: G Josh Green, Arizona
Finding players who can work alongside Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant will be key, and Green's defense and off-ball ability make him well suited to this role. Picking #19 overall will make it difficult to add an instant impact rotation, but Green would have a good chance to find minutes with his skill set.
Signing: C Aron Baynes, Phoenix Suns
Should the Nets see themselves dishing out C Jarrett Allen in a blockbuster trade for a third star (see below), then a backup center becomes a big priority for the Nets. The solution here is Baynes, a hard-working center who had a career season shooting the ball. He'd fit nicely behind DeAndre Jordan.
Trade: G Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
If Beal is available, the Nets should be keen to add him to the mix. Able to offer the most enticing players to any blockbuster package (Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen), the Nets could find their third star to pair with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant when the two return next season. Adding Beal to the mix would immediately vault the Nets all the way to Finals contenders, if the return of Durant and Irving themselves don't already accomplish that.

Chicago Bulls

Draft Pick: PG LaMelo Ball, Australia
If he's on the board at the #4 overall pick, the Bulls should be keen on bringing LaMelo in to the Windy City. Perhaps the Draft's best playmaker, he could fit well with scoring guards like Coby White and Zach LaVine, while operating a dangerous pick and pop with big guys like Markkanen. With the size and athleticism to match up well defensively, LaMelo's playmaking ability would help turn the Bulls into a legitimate playoff threat in 2020-2021. If LaMelo is off the board, the Bulls could go in several direction, perhaps even trading the pick if they find a suitable offer.
Signing: C Meyers Leonard, Portland Trail Blazers
The Bulls could use some depth in the frontcourt, and Leonard's range and 3-point ability make him a great player to add into a rotation that ranked in the bottom third of the league in their percentage from deep, and could potentially lose F Otto Porter if he opts out, one of their better marksmen. The question will likely be centered on how much money Leonard is aiming for, but if the numbers work, Leonard should be a serious target for Chicago.
Trade: C Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Embiid may or may not be available, there have been reports going both ways. But if the former Jayhawk is on the block after the 76ers quick exit from the playoffs, then Chicago should be very interested in acquiring him, even if means shipping out Wendell Carter and some other assets. With Markkanen capable of spacing the floor (34.5% shooter from deep), an Embiid addition would give Chicago two versatile bigs, given Embiid's proficiency from deep as well (34.8%). But most importantly, he'd be a scoring machine that would be the focal point of a fun, versatile Bulls roster that could push into playoff contention quickly with him leading the way.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Draft Pick: F Obi Toppin, Dayton
With it almost assured that neither LaMelo Ball nor Anthony Edwards reaches Cleveland at #5, their hope should be in Toppin making his way past the Hornets and Bulls. A dynamic forward who excels in multiple facets of the game, he'd represent the best player available at this point in the draft, and an ideal addition for a talent-needy Cavaliers team. Whether replacing Kevin Love, or playing alongside him in looks, Toppin should stay in Ohio if at all possible.
Signing: F Derrick Jones Jr., Miami Heat
The Heat need cap space for upcoming extensions, so it's likely that Jones Jr, a versatile role player, will hit free agency. Cleveland is already reportedly interested, and it makes sense why. Providing quality defense on the wing, he's 23 years old, which fits Cleveland's rebuilding timeline, and should have time to round out and improve his offensive game (8.5 ppg, 28% from 3). The name of the game for the Cavs is to acquire talent, and Jones Jr. provides them with an intriguing piece with room to grow.
Trade: Moving Kevin Love for Assets
After landing a dynamic replacement for him, the Cavaliers are a team that doesn't necessarily have a specific player to target, but rather figure out what they could get for someone like Love, who shot 37% from deep last year. His salary could be problematic here, but even adding second round selections has proven useful for Cleveland (Kevin Porter Jr.).

Dallas Mavericks

Draft Pick: G Tyrese Maxey, Kentucky
Maxey may not be a lethal shooter by any means, but his defense should make him a desired player for a Mavericks team that could use a defensive stopper to pair with Luka Doncic down the role. Maxey brings athleticism, ability to finish at the rim, and a decent mid-range game to the table, which should be enough, along with his defense, to make a desirable player for Mark Cuban's Mavericks.
Signing: SF Bogdan Bogdanovic, Sacramento Kings
Limited to what they can make happen with the Mid Level Exception or in a sign-and-trade, the Mavericks should get creative and add Bogdan Bogdanovic to the roster. The 27-year old wing would fit right at home with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, a high caliber shooter, especially on catch and shoot situations. If Sacramento doesn't believe they can fit Bogdanovic in with upcoming deals for Fox and Bagley, along with Hield potentially, landing some assets in a sign-and-trade would make sense. If no sign-and-trade, perhaps a 3&D wing like James Ennis (Orlando) could be an easier fit financially.
Trade: PF Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Whether Kristaps Porzingis fills more time at the four or the five, finding a way to pair him and Gordon together in a frontcourt would be fun to watch. Gordon's resurgence for the Magic this past season was a large reason they managed to make it into the playoffs. His defensive versatility and 3-point ability would make him an ideal third star to pair with Luka and Kristaps.

Denver Nuggets

Draft Pick: F Jaden McDaniels, Washington
The Nuggets were patient in bringing along Michael Porter Jr., who has stepped up big time during the Bubble. And with several Nuggets wings likely to depart in free agency (Millsap, Torrey Craig), adding a high potential piece like McDaniels to develop and even rotate in behind Grant and Porter Jr. would give Denver the opportunity to take a chance on someone like McDaniels.
Signing: C Thon Maker, Detroit Pistons
If Plumlee is in fact priced out of a return to Denver, finding a suitable replacement at center will be important. While Bol Bol could claim that spot, it's not a certainty, and thus, adding a three-level scorer at the 5 would be a wise insurance policy for the Nuggets.
Trade: G Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans
A high caliber veteran on a rebuilding roster, Holiday could be a great partner to pair with Jamal Murray in the backcourt. Less costly than someone like Bradley Beal, Holiday would be a much more realistic third star to bring in. A lineup with Holiday-Murray-Porter Jr.-Nokic and whoever else you want in that fifth spot seems deadly. With Gary Harris and plenty of other assets available, the Nuggets could offer an intriguing package for Holiday.

Detroit Pistons

Draft Pick: G/F Devin Vassell, Florida State
This may break from the mock drafts a bit, which usually have the Pistons adding a point guard. However, Vassell could be an interesting piece for Detroit to select, especially considering that the top point guard in the draft (LaMelo Ball) will not likely be available for Detroit at #7 overall. Instead, Detroit adds a long 3&D piece that could fit nicely in between Luke Kennard and Sekou Doumbouya long-term. And as for a point guard. . .
Signing: PG Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
Reuniting Dwane Casey and VanVleet seems like an ideal pairing, especially the major need Detroit has at point guard. With Blake Griffin still a high caliber player when healthy, adding a win-now veteran like VanVleet could perhaps boost Detroit all the way to the playoffs next season if Griffin is playing. And at 26-years old, he's both an instant impact veteran as well as a possible long-term solution at the position.
Trade: C Mo Bamba, Orlando Magic
The Pistons may have found themself something with C Christian Wood, who emerged as a quality option for them in the wake of the Drummond trade. However, Wood's emergence was a very small sample size, raising some questions over how much stock Detroit would put into it. Acquiring Bamba would give them another starting caliber option, who has proven himself as a decent player off the bench behind Vucevic if Wood does manage to build on his promising play.

Golden State Warriors:

Draft Pick: C James Wiseman, Memphis (kinda)
Should the Warriors not move this pick, Wiseman makes more sense than LaMelo Ball in terms of fit and need. Though both have questions of maturity and consistency, Wiseman's size and length would offer the Warriors a weapon they haven't really had alongside Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. If Wiseman can fit in the frontcourt with forward Draymond Green, and Golden State makes the pick, it should be Wiseman.
Signing: PG D.J. Augustin, Orland Magic
At 32-years old, Augustin likely won't command more than any of the exceptions that Golden State would be able to muster up. However, he still can make an impact, running the Warriors second unit when Curry and Thompson (both returning from injury) need a breather. A quality shooter as well (35%), Augustin to the Warriors makes plenty of sense as they attempt to return to their place at the top of the Western Conference.
Trade: PF John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
While the Warriors seem to be another team interested in acquiring All-Star G Bradley Beal, perhaps a move for John Collins would be more feasible. The beauty for Golden State is that they would likely be able to orchestrate this trade more along the lines of a pick swap than an outright deal using their #2 selection. If the Hawks are interested in pairing Trae Young and perhaps LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards, this could the way to get there. Collins' 3-point shooting and athleticism would make him a quality fit in Golden State.

Houston Rockets

Draft Pick: - - - No Selection in Upcoming Draft - - -
The Rockets could always try buying a second round pick to add someone like C Nick Richards (Kentucky) or F Paul Eboua (Italy), but for now, they do not possess a pick.
Signing: C DeMarcus Cousins, Los Angeles Lakers
The Rockets have found success operating without a center, but should look to find a big man or two who fits alongside Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Cousins' season was derailed by injuries, but his ability to stretch the floor as well as battle big men like Davis or Jokic in the West make him an appealing option for the Rockets.
Trade: F/C Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Likely dependent on whether or not they made the signing above, the Rockets could also choose to trade for a big man to help stretch the floor. A decorated veteran, Love has plenty of experience playing with ball-handling stars, and so long as he continues to shoot a good clip from deep and rebound the ball, he'd be an invaluable piece for Houston as they attempt to win a title.

Indiana Pacers

Draft Pick: F Killian Tillie, Gonzaga
The Pacers do not posses a first round pick this year, so finding a useful rotational piece at #44 overall will be the challenge here. For the Pacers, finding a clean backup for Sabonis would be a welcome add. Tillie is a floor-stretcher at the four, hitting over 40% from deep every season at Gonzaga. Mixing him into the second unit with Doug McDermott on the wing and Gaga Bitadze at center should give the Pacers the depth they need to make a run.
Signing: G/F Kent Bazemore, Sacramento Kings
Should the Pacers decide to move Victor Oladipo before he departs in 2021 free agency, then adding a wing like Bazemore should help fill in the depth after Jeremy Lamb steps into Oladipo's spot. Bazemore saw his 3-point percentage climb after moving to Sacramento (38%), and if he's able to continue hitting at a quality rate like that, he'd be a valuable two-way wing that would be helpful for a hopeful contender like the Pacers.
Trade: G Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
The Pacers have several very intriguing pieces that they could potentially move, notably G Victor Oladipo and C Myles Turner. Should they move Oladipo, perhaps using him as the centerpiece to a Bradley Beal piece would give Indiana a shot at the player who would most likely elevate their team beyond first-round playoff exits. Swapping Oladipo for Beal should be discussed if the Wizards find themselves willing to move Beal.

Los Angeles Clippers

Draft Pick: F/C Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State
If JaMychal Green departs, finding another power forward would make sense for the Clippers to look for. Picking so late in the draft, #57 overall, limits their options in terms of finding an immediate contributor. Rather, targeting someone more developed like Wesson would be their best bet of finding a contributor, though they could easily opt for someone with more raw potential. Either way, Wesson's 3-point ability makes him an interesting option to develop into a rotational piece.
Signing: F/C Marvin Williams, Milwaukee Bucks
While the most likely signings for the Clippers will revolve around internal free agents, notably Marcus Morris and Montrezl Harrell, they still will have a bit of room for a smaller addition like Williams. If Harrell does depart, the Clippers could use another big to add to the rotation, and Marvin Williams would be a quality small ball center option for any teams looking to contend for a title, like the Clippers.
Trade: G J.J. Redick, New Orleans Pelicans
The Clippers have a very deep roster already, but Redick is exactly what you'd want to bring in to bolster your chances of winning it all. An elite, established marksmen, his shooting off the bench would be a big plus, and the defensive-minded Clippers already can compensate for him on that end of the floor. If they can make the money work, reuniting Redick and LAC would make sense as they chase a title.

Los Angeles Lakers

Draft Pick: G/F Desmond Bane, TCU
Picking at #28 overall, the Lakers would be wise to target Bane here, as his crazy 3-point rate (43%) would make him an energizing option off of the bench. The Lakers have a handful of wings as well on expiring deals, and should they lose someone like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, bringing in Bane to boost their mediocre 3-point numbers could help LeBron win another title.
Signing: C Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Hornets
The Lakers have had DeMarcus Cousins, JaVale McGee, and Dwight Howard all on the roster in 2019-2020. McGee has an option for 2021, so the Lakers could see some turnover at the center position if any of the aforementioned don't want to run it back with LeBron and AD. If they need a new center, Biyombo's defensive chops would make him a good fit as a backup or rotational center to help the Lakers win a title.
Trade: PG Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons
Ensuring that the Lakers can generate offense with their stars getting a breather is crucial for any contender. Derrick Rose may no longer be the star he was, but he's still a valuable piece off the bench, and would fit quite well leading the Lakers second unit, should Rajon Rondo decline his player option.

Miami Heat

Draft Pick: C Jalen Smith, Maryland
The Heat have found tons of success with Bam Adebayo at the five, but for a team as deep as Miami, bringing in a high potential big man like Jalen Smith could give them a fun piece to develop. A quality three point shooter already, ironing out his defensive inconsistencies would give the Heat a quality contributor with the #20 overall pick.
Signing: F Dario Saric, Phoenix Suns
With Adebayo more of a playmaking Energizer Bunny, bringing in another big who can play alongside Adebayo, or relieve him, would be wise. The Heat will likely focus on bringing back players from their current roster, which would likely take them out of the running for Danilo Gallinari, for example. Instead, Saric could provide the same style of play at a more affordable cost. And that's important because....
Trade: Nothing Big...for now
Miami has a claim to one of the deepest rosters in the league. Their system works and they have the financial flexibility and assets to go big game hunting. With a poor free agency market this year though, the Heat should hold tight for another season and take a shot at a superstar like Giannis Antetokounmpo, and then pair him (or whoever) with one of the stacked free agents on the docket (Kawhi, LeBron, Beal, Gobert, Paul, etc). Adding DeMar DeRozan right now may be tempting, but don't do it, hold tight...for now.

Milwaukee Bucks

Draft Pick: PG Devon Dotson, Kansas
With multiple guards on expiring contracts, the Bucks should aim for a guard capable of providing them minutes in the Draft. An absolute blur, Dotson is one of the most physically impressive prospects in the Draft, though he'll need to work on deep range shooting before pairing up with Giannis. For now, he'd be a fun piece to add off the bench, able to push the ball in transition opportunities.
Signing: F Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets
With a physical freak like Giannis leading the charge, surrounding him with shooters is the best course of action, and Harris shoots incredibly well. The Bucks may need to get create to afford Harris, but if they can make the money work, they likely won't find anyone as impactful as Harris in their pursuit of an NBA title.
Trade: F Nemanja Bjelica, Sacramento Kings
Bjelica had a quality season for the Kings, and while they'd likely want to hang onto him, the Bucks should consider making a call and working something. A 6'10 big with fantastic floor stretching ability (42% from 3), he'd represent a significant upgrade from the older Ersan Ilyasova. All about adding shooters, and even relative upgrades should be considered if the Bucks can afford it.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Draft Pick: SG Anthony Edwards, Georgia
This is a fairly easy one, as the Timberwolves hold the top pick and will have their choice of player here. The most likely, and most logical, is Edwards, who would pair with D'Angelo Russell in a high upside backcourt in Minnesota. While not an elite shooter, Edwards finds plenty of ways to score, and should continue to do so in the NBA, as Russell and Karl Anthony Towns take up the most attention from opponents.
Signing: F/C Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers
The Timberwolves could give themselves a defensive boost by bringing in Harrell, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year. Whether playing the four or five, Harrell would give the Timberwolves a high intensity option that can play alongside Karl-Anthony Towns or relieving him when he's off the floor.
Trade: G/F Josh Richardson, Philadelphia 76ers
If the 76ers do enter a fire-sale, the Timberwolves should put in a call for two-way wing Josh Richardson. Still only 26-years old, Richardson has plenty of upside for a relatively young team like the Timberwolves. Adding him to the mix would give them another capable weapon around their stars.

New Orleans Pelicans

Draft Pick: F Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt
A 3-point marksman to fill in on the wings would be the exactly the type of player to put around a playmaker like Zion Williamson. Nesmith's large wingspan (6'10) would be an asset as he develops into a top two-way wing, and doing so in New Orleans would be an excellent move for the Pelicans to pursue with the #13 overall selection.
Signing: PG Austin Rivers, Houston Rockets
If the Pelicans look to accumulate assets by moving Lonzo Ball or Jrue Holiday, than bringing a quality shooting point guard makes a lot of sense. Rivers shot 36% on 4 attempts per game in Houston, and showed the ability to play with more ball-dominant players in Russell Westbrook and James Harden, which would suit him well in a lineup featuring Zion Williamson. And at 28 years old, Rivers still has plenty of good years left in him as the Pelicans work towards contending status.
Trade: Whatever Assets They Can Get From Redick or Holiday
The Pelicans don't bring a specific target to mind, but rather as a team who should aim to accumulate assets. Gathering picks or promising young players would position them well to make a move for a bigger superstar down the road, one who, paired with Zion Williamson, would propel them into championship contention. And with both Redick and Jrue Holiday in town, the Pelicans have some intriguing pieces to dangle for teams looking to win now.

New York Knicks

Draft Pick: PG Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State
Unless the Knicks trade up to acquire PG LaMelo Ball (which they are reportedly looking at), the Knicks should feel comfortable picking the best guard on the board at #8 overall, as there are several quality options. Haliburton, however, is the ideal target here, as he's a high IQ player with a good 3-point shot and excellent defense, he would fit Thibodeau's style pretty well, and presents less of a risk than Cole Anthony or Killian Hayes for example.
Signing: F Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder
With Mitchell Robinson not a shooting threat in the slightest, the Knicks should target someone who can stretch the floor from the four position. The best name available there is OKC's Danilo Gallinari, who nearly went to the Heat, but now is a free agent. Whoever the Knicks end up with at point guard will be well-aided by the floor stretching capacity of Gallinari, a 40% shooter the past two seasons.
Trade: PG Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder
Another name out of OKC, the Knicks should feel no issues drafting a point guard and trading for Chris Paul. First and foremost, the Knicks need to rebuild a winning culture, and bringing in Paul and Tom Thibodeau are good first steps towards that end. Likewise, even if the Knicks do select a point guard in the draft, Paul has shown himself quite adept at sharing the floor with other ball-handlers, like he did in Houston with James Harden, and as he did this past year in OKC with Shai-Gilgeous Alexander and Dennis Schroeder. A great leader, player and mentor, Paul would help the Knicks build the right environment to end their playoff drought.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Draft Pick: C Isaiah Stewart, Washington
If the Thunder move Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari walks, they could be in for a rebuild. Stewart may be raw and underdeveloped offensively, but at 19-years old, he has time to develop his offensive game. Meanwhile, his wingspan, strength and motor give him major upside as a defensive stopper in the post. With Nerlens Noel potentially departing OKC, there could even be minutes for Stewart to step into as a rookie and get his feet wet.
Signing: F Otto Porter, Chicago Bulls
The Thunder could possibly be losing their best shooter (Gallinari) and their best defender (Roberson). Finding someone who can provide a little bit of both could work for them, with Porter shooting 38% last year in Chicago. An easy fit in between OKC's high powered guard duo and center Steven Adams, Porter could serve as either a reinforcement for another playoff run, or a piece with some long-term upside.
Trade: F Nemanja Bjelica, Sacramento Kings
If the Thunder aren't able to retain Danilo Gallinari, perhaps bringing in Bjelica could give them a similar styled replacement. As mentioned already, Bjelica is a floor stretching forward (42% clip) that would put another dangerous shooter around Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous Alexander.

Orlando Magic

Draft Pick: G Theo Maledon, France
The Magic need someone to boost their struggling offense, and Maledon's craftiness as a ball-handler and off-ball shooting ability (37% from deep) should peak the Magic's interest. While Markelle Fultz has rebuilt himself into a potential long-term point guard, Maledon should seamlessly fit in next to him, and even provide minutes backing him up when Fultz heads to the bench.
Signing: G Wesley Matthews, Milwaukee Bucks
If Evan Fournier opts in, the Magic won't have the money to add bigger names, but Matthews would fit in well after finding a role as a rotational two-way guard. And even if the Magic do see Fournier depart elsewhere, Matthews' veteran experience could help their young core figure things out.
Trade: G/F Caris LeVert, Brooklyn Nets
If the Nets have interest in bringing in Aaron Gordon to add to the Irving-Durant duo, the Magic should be intent on getting Caris LeVert shipped to them as part of the deal. Only 26 years old, Levert averaged 19 points per game while fueling a KD-less Nets team to the playoffs. A young core of Fultz, Levert, Isaac, and Bamba is a group that you can build around.

Philadelphia 76ers

Draft Pick: G Cassius Stanley, Duke
The 76ers could use guards and shooting, and with limited financial flexibility, may need to find it in the NBA Draft. Thus, Stanley to Philly, where his elite athleticism and quality range (36%), would be a welcome addition to the 76ers. If he's still on the board at #21 overall, Stanley would make plenty of sense for the 76ers.
Signing: PG Goran Dragic, Miami Heat
The 76ers management has said they intend to keep Simmons and Embiid together, but if they don't keep that intention, bringing in Dragic to run the offense could be the move to make. Still productive for the Heat at 33-years old, Dragic would likely pair with Embiid better than Simmons did, as indicated by his shooting ability (37%).
Trade: PG Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder
Breaking the mold here, should the 76ers decide to move Simmons, but not bring in Dragic, perhaps a bigger move would solve the question better. While the Knicks are the one most often linked to a move for Paul, the 76ers may want to consider adding the veteran PG to the mix, especially if they decide to breakup the Simmons-Embiid duo, and ship Ben Simmons out. Paul's veteran experience and versatile game should make him a much better sidekick for Embiid than Simmons managed to be.

Phoenix Suns

Draft Pick: PG Kira Lewis Jr., Alabama
The Suns needs someone in the backcourt, preferably someone who can work with Devin Booker, and run the offense when he's off the floor. That someone could be Lewis Jr., who averaged 19 points per game at Alabama and was able to knock down over 36% of his threes over two seasons. Finding a quality playmaker to carry the load could give them the breakthrough they need.
Sigining: F Moe Harkless, Los Angeles Clippers
Current starting wing Mikal Bridges was a solid compliment to Booker and Ayton this past season, but adding some more depth, especially a defensive geared piece, would give the Suns some switchy wings who can help them slow opponents down in the playoffs next year. Harkless will be a fairly cheap way of doing so.
Trade: F Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls
Putting Markkanen in an offense led by Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton could give him the space he needs to regain some of the production he had earlier in Chicago. Able to shoot off the pick-and-pop, Markkanen won't need to crowd in on Ayton to be an effective piece to the Suns offense.

Portland Trail Blazers

Draft Pick: F Saddiq Bey, Villanova
With two picks in the first round (16 and 29), the Blazers will have the flexibility to fill multiple needs with the most talented players on the board. For that first selection, Bey would be a quality addition, giving the Blazers wing defense and reliable shooting. A second team unit featuring Trent, Little and Bey would be very versatile. Then, with that second first rounder, targeting a big man like Jalen Smith would be a quality Draft for the Blazers.
Signing: C Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets
With Hassan Whiteside hitting free agency, it's likely the Blazers could find themselves in need of a backup center if Whiteside is unwilling to accept a role as a backup. Thus, Mason Plumlee could be an option, as a veteran big with a quality motor who has been a serviceable option for Denver. Plumlee may not fill up the stat sheet, but in Game 6 of the Playoffs, made a direct impact for Denver with a handful of offensive rebounds and high energy. That kind of team player who work well for the Blazers rotation.
Trade: PG Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs.
The Blazers have a quality starting lineup with Lillard-McCollum-Ariza-Collins/Melo-Nurkic. What they still could use is a backup point guard to help generate some points when Lillard takes a breather. Perhaps swinging a deal to bring in Patty Mills to an actual contender would be a good match. Mills currently backups Dejounte Murray in San Antonio, but his quality production and veteran leadership could be a boost for the Blazers.

Sacramento Kings

Draft Pick: G/F Devin Vassell, Florida State
With De'Aaron Fox running the point, the Kings need to surround him with shooters like Vassell. A 6'10 wingspan and 42% clip from deep, Vassell would be an ideal fit on the wing, and could help the Kings make the push into the playoffs by bolstering their offense and defense.
Signing: F Jerami Grant, Denver Nuggets
If Grant opts out of his deal in Denver, he'd give the Kings a two-way option at the 3 or 4, an excellent depth addition to add in rotation with Jabari Parker, Bjelica, and Harrison Barnes. And of course, important to note when playing with De'Aaron Fox, Grant has a quality shot from deep, hitting 39% for the Nuggets this season.
Trade: F Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers
If the Kings are moving G Buddy Hield, then perhaps he could interest the Lakers, who would likely want to acquire a more high profile guard to compliment LeBron and Davis. Thus, a move for Kuzma could be in play, as he'd give the Kings a versatile wing to pair with Harrison Barnes. Kuzma would also compromise a promising young trio along with De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III.

San Antonio Spurs

Draft Pick: F Deni Avdija, Israel
If there's any team that should be angling to move up should Avdija slide, the Spurs would likely be one of them. An excellent distributing big wing, capable of giving the Spurs minutes at the 4, Avdija seems like a tailor made fit for a Gregg Popovich offensive system. Between his schematic fit and his upside, he'd be the ideal player for the Spurs to come away with on Draft day.
Signing: F/C Bobby Portis, New York Knicks
Portis has plenty of upside if he can get straightened out, and if anyone is going to get the most out of Portis and teach him to play in a system, it's Gregg Popovich. If he succeeds, the Spurs find themselves with an offensive forward who can score in multiple ways, or even another trade piece if they want to sell high. Either way, taking a gamble on Portis could pay off for a program needing a new direction.
Trade: As Many Picks as They Can Get
The Spurs run is over for now. They did well to bring in some fun pieces in the Kawhi trade, but the Spurs need to enter a rebuild or risk an extended play in no man's land. Selling on DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Patrick Mills, and Marco Belinelli should be the aim. Get picks, get promising young players, and set yourself up to rebuild quickly. If one of these guys can even help you move up and select Avdija, do it.

Toronto Raptors

Draft Pick: F Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State
An athletic forward with a good build, Woodard could be a steal if Toronto is able to land him at #29 overall. After taking a major leap in between his freshman year and sophomore year, Woodard developed an outside shot (43%). For a team that may not be able to retain Serge Ibaka, finding another big to provide some range on the outside would give them a quality replacement.
Signing: PG Austin Rivers, Houston Rockets
Should Toronto be unable to retain Fred VanVleet, finding a guard capable of picking up minutes at point guard and shooting guard would serve them well. Rivers may not the same caliber of VanVleet, but can provide the versatility needed, along with a quality enough shot from deep (36% in 2019-2020).
Trade: SG Luke Kennard, Detroit Pistons
Thinking outside the box here, if the Raptors aren't comfortable paying VanVleet the rate it'd take to retain him, perhaps a sign-and-trade for a team like Detroit could send them back something useful, rather than letting VanVleet walk entirely. A sharp shooting guard (40% over his career, Kennard could fit well in Toronto, either as a long-term solution, or a piece to flip as part of a package at the deadline for a bigger star post-Kawhi.

Utah Jazz

Draft Pick: C Aleksej Pokusevski, Serbia
A unicorn big-man, Pokusevski is a mobile center with fantastic height (7'0) and the ability to knock down shots beyond the arc (32% shooter). While he'll need to get bigger (only 205 lbs and lanky), he's still very young and should be able to develop into a starting caliber player down the road. And selecting at #23 overall, that's really what you're looking for.
Signing: G Langston Galloway, Detroit Pistons
While the main signing priorities for Utah will be re-signing Jordan Clarkson and extending Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz could also look to add another guard into the rotation, and Galloway's versatility and shooting make him an easy player to fit into any rotation.
Trade: PG Dennis Smith Jr., New York Knicks
The Jazz would have some quality offers if they did move C Rudy Gobert. But assuming they keep Gobert, the Jazz target someone to give their second unit a boost, especially as an aging Mike Conley drops off from the All-Star player he was. Smith looked much better earlier in his career, averaging around 15 points per game through his first three seasons. If he can recapture that, he could even play his way into the direct replacement for Conley.

Washington Wizards

Draft Pick: F Isaac Okoro, Auburn
This one makes more sense than a lot of these other picks, in my opinion. The Wizards are horrendous on the defensive end, and Okoro is the best wing defender in this year's Draft. Being able to lock up opposing team's top scorer will allow Beal and Wall to go to work on the offensive end, lightening their load a good deal.
Signing: F Moe Harkless, Los Angeles Clippers
Bringing in one defensive minded rookie won't solve the defensive woes of the Wizards. With not a ton of cap flexibility, the Wizards should aim for someone relatively cheap, who can fill a clear role, and help develop young players like Rui Hachimura. That someone would likely be Moe Harkless.
Trade: The Biggest Haul They Can Get for Beal
I know the Wizards have said they want to see what Beal and Wall can do next season, rather than moving Beal now. But I personally think that's a mistake, and that cashing in on Beal, and getting a jump start on the rebuild is the way to go. The Wall-Beal duo didn't accomplish anything before Wall tore his Achilles, and the longer they wait, the more likely they get screwed over. If they can land two of Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, or Jarrett Allen from the Nets, I think that would be the best package, but the aim is less so a specific target than just hoard what they can get.


Anyways, this took a little while to put together, so I hope you don't totally hate it. Let me know if you agree, disagree, think someone would fit better!
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