In less than three weeks, the NBA playoffs will begin in earnest. When they do, the focus, deservingly so, will be on the league’s playoff teams.
However, up to five of those teams will be newcomers to the playoff scene who watched from the lottery last season. And all playoff teams were once lottery teams themselves.
So before we reach the playoffs, where do the league’s lottery teams stand, and what may they look to do this offseason to approach the playoff precipice? Here’s a look at three of those lottery teams: the Knicks, Sixers, and Nets.
New York Knicks
Players Under Contract: Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, Jerian Grant, Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon, Kyle O’Quinn
Free Agents: Langston Galloway (Restricted) Arron Afflalo (Player Option), Lance Thomas, Kevin Seraphin, Derrick Williams (Player Option), Cleanthony Early (Restricted), Louis Amundson, Sasha Vujacic
The Knicks face an enormous offseason. They are currently in a better spot than many feel: a middling team near playoff level, and one that already has a very good lead player, a great young talent, as much as $35 million in cap space depending on player options, and the lure of a fun city to live in. That is a good place to be, and Phil Jackson, while imperfect does deserve some credit for bringing the Knicks there.
Alas, this summer represents a crossroads for the Knicks. Carmelo will be 32, and Porzingis 21, when next season comes. Both can form a nice foundation at the moment, but given the age gap, their talents likely will not intersect at a high level for more than 2-3 years. That means that the window of time within which a contender may be built around the two players exists, but is small. That is why this summer is a tipping point for the Knicks. Unlike last summer, where GM Jackson’s hands were tied by the prior year’s 17-65 record, there is a real possibility that a free agent sees a 33-34 win team, with Carmelo and Porzingis on it, and decides he can be that missing piece to vault the team forward to the 50 win area.
Given that chance, together with how difficult it is to rebuild ground up (look at a team like Orlando, how many good decisions they truly have made, and their record), the Knicks have to use this summer to try to bring in bigger free agents, like Kevin Durant (you have to try), Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, Nicolas Batum (you can never have enough small forward sized players), and/or Pau Gasol (you can always move Robin Lopez).
If the Knicks succeed, that is great, and they may be able to contend in a small, but existent, three year window. If the Knicks fail? Then it is time to accept that a contender will not be built around Carmelo-Porzingis, and time to frankly discuss with Carmelo the prospect of waiving his no trade clause. The Knicks should respond to striking out on contention this summer by dealing Carmelo for picks and kids to grow with Porzingis, including a kid in the 2016 draft, in which they currently do not have a first rounder.