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NBA PM: Top 5 Rookie Sleepers

Nikola Mirotic might not play a lot at first, but he’s one of a handful of non-lottery rooks that could one day be stars…

Joel Brigham

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There’s no doubt that this year’s rookie class is going to be an exciting one. With loads of young players possessing loads of star quality talent, it’s inevitable that the Rookie of the Year race will be a million times more interesting than last year’s was. Players like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins all but guarantee that.

However, like every year, there are rookies who fall outside of the lottery that could also show great value early in their careers. Even second-round picks and undrafted players can turn into stars, but predicting which of those players will make such a leap is the challenging part.

Knowing that, here’s a look at some non-lottery rookies that could end up being major contributors by year’s end, including a few that look like All-Stars in training:

#5 – Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls (1st round, 23rd pick, 2011) – Lost in arguably the most loaded frontcourt rotation in the NBA, Mirotic may not see as much floor time as he’d like to in his rookie campaign, but if Taj Gibson ends up traded or Joakim Noah and/or Pau Gasol miss any time due to injury, Mirotic is old enough (23) and talented enough to step right in and help pick up the slack offensively. As a stretch four, Mirotic has the ability both to rebound the ball and hit threes, which just so happens to be the two things Kevin Love is best at doing. Mirotic is no Kevin Love, but his similar, less-expensive skill set made it easier for the Bulls to pursue Love a little less aggressively over the summer. Eventually, though, Mirotic is going to be very, very good.

#4 – P.J. Hairston, Charlotte Hornets (1st round, 26th pick) – While Charlotte’s backcourt is pretty crowded with Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Gary Neal and Lance Stephenson, there’s always room in the NBA for a scorer as talented as Hairston. Everyone saw him light up the D-League last season, dropping 40+ points on those defenders multiple times. He should see a decent amount of playing time as rookie, and while he won’t score the 18.3 PPG he averaged in the D-League last year, he will make his mark as a pro-level scorer that can really help Charlotte generate more offense this year.

#3 – Adreian Payne, Atlanta Hawks (1st round, 15th pick) – We’re looking at players outside of the lottery, so Payne just barely qualifies. However, he was a coveted talent in last year’s draft and Atlanta should have no trouble eventually using him as the first big off the bench in their frontcourt rotation. Unlike many of the younger rookies who clearly have some weight room work ahead of them, Payne is already built like a four-year NBA vet, and his inside-outside offensive game and rebounding talents mean he should eventually get plenty of floor time. Al Horford is healthy this year, but there’s no denying that he’s injury prone. A couple weeks of missed time could put Payne on display as one of the more promising rookies in his class. Mike Scott and Elton Brand also will fight for minutes at power forward, but Payne is more promising than either. His time is coming closer to sooner than later.

#2 – Cleanthony Early, New York Knicks (2nd round, 34th pick) – There’s really no reason that Early should have been a second-round pick, but there are plenty of reasons why so many people think New York ended up with one of the steals of the draft by selecting this Wichita State star. Insanely athletic and already built like a pro, Early should thrive in the triangle offense, which highlights players that can sink a corner three-pointer. Early can do precisely that, but he can also score in a lot of other ways. He’ll be an active rebounder and should be very fun to watch on a fast break. He was going to be a solid pro either way, but the Knicks are an especially good fit for him.

#1 – K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers (2nd round, 32nd pick) – McDaniels was a first-round talent that slipped to the second round, and he’s about to play for a team with very little legitimate NBA talent. Like any rookie (or any 76er), he’ll struggle, especially since he’s likely to play a little out of position as the starting shooting guard, but he looks like he’ll at least be a contributor on defense, blocking four shots in his first preseason game. There’s no reason he won’t get a ton of opportunity to play this season, making him one of the more interesting second-round picks from this past year’s draft.

Honorable Mention:

Shabazz Napier, Miami HEAT (1st round, 24th pick) – Part of the appeal for Napier is that he ended up on a team that really needed some help at point guard. Napier proved in college that, despite his size, he’s an elite scorer that also exhibits the sort of maturity and leadership that could easily put him at the helm of a veteran team like the HEAT. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are both still fighting for point guard minutes, too, but Napier could easily prove himself to be the best of those three, and quickly. Once that happens, he’ll be a in a great situation to succeed as a late first-round pick.

Nick Johnson, Houston Rockets (2nd round, 42nd pick) – The move for Jason Terry shoved Johnson back on a depth chart that already was likely to keep him off the floor behind minutes-eater James Harden, but Johnson has looked like a player with a long future in the NBA. He’s a little undersized, but he’s incredibly athletic and talented, and that’s usually enough to get a kid some floor time. He’s not the most likely candidate to make an All-Rookie team, but he’s a second-rounder with a whole lot of promise.

Undoubtedly, there will be other non-lottery rookies that pop up as successes over the course of the year, but this is a list of some with the talent and/or opportunity to get there. Who else deserves to be mentioned here? Hit up the comments section or continue the conversation on Twitter!

First Season Ad Debuts

With the season just a few weeks away, the NBA is starting to roll out some media for the 2014-15 season. The first ad is a spot from the league called “Everybody Up: Roll Call,” featuring a voice over by hip-hop artist Common, and it goes a long way toward generating excitement for the new year. Enjoy!

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Sacramento Kings 2019-20 NBA Season Preview

The Sacramento Kings are loaded with young talent ready to break out, but will any of them power the franchise to the postseason or will this be another almost-good season? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Sacramento Kings in this 2019-20 NBA Season Preview.

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Last season was a big step forward for the Sacramento Kings. And for Kings fans, it was a long time coming. For years, the forgotten sons of California have been the poster child for mediocrity in the NBA. They’ve had lottery finish after lottery finish with nothing to show for it — but that all changed last season.

Through the first couple of months of the season, the Kings even held a winning record. They ultimately finished the season at 39-43, but it was their best finish in over a decade and good enough for ninth in the Western Conference, just outside the playoff picture.

Still, no matter how you slice it, there were plenty of reasons for optimism in Sacramento — mainly, that De’Aaron Fox emerged as a budding superstar. In his second season, Fox firmly established himself as the Kings’ point guard and franchise cornerstone of the future. Marvin Bagley III also emerged as a core piece of the foundation, thus giving Sacramento two draft lotteries in a row that they seemingly got right.

The midseason acquisition of Harrison Barnes also showed that the front office is firmly committed to winning and changing the losing culture that has been prevalent in Sacramento. It should be another season of growth for the Kings and we should know a little bit more about them once this season gets underway.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

Shockingly, the Kings are one of the sweethearts of the NBA. They’ve got a great deal of young talent including Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles III, that latter of which is still somehow only 21. There is also strong support around them with Bogdan Bogdanovic and Trevor Ariza. But no one is more important to the Kings’ success than De’Aaron Fox – and if he continues to improve, they very well may qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2006. But the Pacific Division will be super unforgiving and coming away with a division crown is next-to-impossible for 2019-20.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Drew Maresca

The Kings finally showed signs of growth this past season, finishing just one spot short of the playoffs. They actually had a winning record at one point during the season. After years of being in the lottery and having nothing to show for it, it appears that they finally struck gold the past two drafts with De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III. Their recent free-agent signings and trades have also made a lot of sense, something that couldn’t be said about the Kings for over a decade.

The real question is going be can they build off the success from last season and continue their upward trajectory. Even though their roster should be improved, there’s no guarantee that they make the playoffs or finish above .500. On paper, they should be able to build upon last season’s win total, but it’s possible that they might still be on the outside looking in. As long as they don’t take a step back though, that’s all that matters. But the Kings should be able to finish at least at .500 — that alone would be a huge victory for a growing franchise.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– David Yapkowitz

The excitement in Northern California is palpable when it comes to their Kings, as it should be. De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield make up one of the most dynamic backcourt duos in all of the NBA. Their pace is fast and calculated, scoring in bunches while also involving teammates. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Marvin Bagley III will bring the energy that’ll give everybody fits. Though the make-up of their rostered core has essentially stayed the same, they’ve added veteran presences to bolster the experience level. Trevor Ariza, Dewayne Dedmon, and Cory Joseph will help not only with development but also in the win column. Head coach Luke Walton’s stint with the Lakers didn’t go as planned like it once did with the Warriors — but we’ll see if Sacramento is the right fit with this promising group of players.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Spencer Davies

The Sacramento Kings signed Harrison Barnes to a new four-year, $85 million contract. This is the biggest move the Kings made this summer in what was a relatively quiet offseason. That is admittedly a lot of money for Barnes, but I will give Sacramento credit for frontloading the deal so that Barnes will be making just $18,352,273 in the 2022-23 season, the final year of his contract. Sacramento has a surprising amount of depth and has balanced out the roster with an interesting mix of young and upcoming talent, along with some notable veteran players.

Adding Trevor Ariza is a nice move if he has some gas still left in the tank, especially considering only $1.8 million of his salary is guaranteed for next season. I also like the additions of Dewayne Dedmon and Cory Joseph. Between these three, the Kings have added some defensive punch, which the team was in serious need of. However, the team still lacks the top-end talent to contend for anything more than a bottom-end playoff berth in the loaded Western Conference.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Jesse Blancarte

It has been 13 seasons since the Kings last made the postseason, think about that for a minute. Top draft picks like Brandon Roy, Andrew Morrison and Andrea Bargnani were the names being talked about in the draft when the Kings last saw a playoff game. It is time. The Kings have so much young talent ready to burst on to the NBA stage as stars, so it is time. Sacramento has a head coach now that should make it work. It is time. De’Aaron Fox should be an All-Star level guy this season. Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes are exactly the right counter punches to Fox — plus they have size and athleticism, and added some solid veterans to anchor the team. It is time. With the Warriors hobbled with injury, there is a window for the Kings. It’s time.

3rd place – Pacific Division

– Steve Kyler

FROM THE CAP GUY

The Kings used cap room to add veterans like Trevor Ariza, Cory Joseph and Dewayne Dedmon to a young team that wasn’t far from making the playoffs in the Western Conference last season. The team still has $4.8 million to spend via the Room Exception. Sacramento has 14 guaranteed players, suggesting the final standard roster spot will be fought for by Tyler Lydon, Isaiah Pineiro and Eric Mika.

Looking ahead, the Kings need to pick up team options on Marin Bagley, De’Aaron Fox, Caleb Swanigan and Harry Giles before November. Buddy Hield is eligible for a contract extension before the season, which is reportedly under discussion. If Hield does get a sizable deal, the Kings may not have significant cap room next summer.

– Eric Pincus

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Buddy Hield

Buddy Hield struggled a bit when he was first traded to Sacramento, but now he’s developed into one of their major building blocks. Last season, his third in the NBA, Hield had his best year yet. He started all 82 games while putting up 20.7 points per game on 45.8 percent shooting from the field, 42.7 percent from the three-point line, plus 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists.

When the Kings initially traded for him as part of the DeMarcus Cousins trade, owner Vivek Ranadive famously proclaimed that he had Stephen Curry potential. Now Hield is no Curry, of course, but he’s a talented offensive player in his own right. He’s expanded his game to the point where he’s more comfortable putting the ball on the floor and making plays off the dribble. Entering his fourth season, and with a potential contract extension looming, look for him to take another step forward and establish himself as one of the league’s top perimeter scorers.

Top Defensive Player: Dewayne Dedmon/Trevor Ariza

I’ve got to go with two players for this category. Both new additions, Dedmon and Ariza will bring plenty of value to the Kings, especially on the defensive end. Dedmon is likely going to be the starting center and a good fit next to Bagley in the frontcourt. He isn’t particularly quick, but he is mobile enough to be a deterrent at the rim when opposing guards attack the basket, plus a decent man defender in the paint.

Ariza may be getting up there in age, but he is a veteran guy who still can be a positive on the defensive end and cover multiple positions. It’s currently unclear how much Ariza will actually be deployed, but what the Kings really need from him is to be a defensive leader. Or, Ariza’s role should be someone who will help set the tone defensively and cause a ripple effect trickling down to the rest of the team. He spent last season shuffling between lottery teams in Washington and Phoenix and, now on a team looking to win, his defensive mindset should really stand out.

Top Clutch Player: De’Aaron Fox

Hield may be the Kings’ best offensive player at this moment — but with the game on the line, there’s nobody else on the team who you would want the ball in the hands of over Fox. Two years ago as a rookie, Fox hit several game-winners and stepped up in late-game moments. He proved he wasn’t afraid of the moment and he’ll continue to be the player the Kings will trust with the game on the line.

Part of what makes him so dangerous in crunch time situations is that he can make the right play. In the clutch, the correction option isn’t necessarily shooting the ball. Sometimes the best move is reading the defense and making a play for someone else on the team. Fox is a solid playmaker and, in late-game situations, he’s that much more difficult to defend in that he could create a shot for himself or find a teammate for a better look. Look for him to continue his growth and cement a reputation as one of the league’s best clutch players.

Top Playmaker: De’Aaron Fox

Just like the Kings will want the ball to be in Fox’s hands late in the fourth quarter, they’ll also want the ball in his hands throughout the majority of the game. As mentioned before, Fox has the ability to make the correct play whether that’s as a scorer or as a facilitator, and the young guard is always willing to get his talented teammates involved.

One area that Fox excels in is in transition. He’s incredibly quick on the break, and he’s constantly got his head up looking to see who’s running with him. If you get out on the break with Fox, there’s a high chance he’ll find and get you an easy look at the rim. He averaged 4.4 assists per game as a rookie, and he almost doubled that last season with 7.3. He’s got all the tools to solidify himself as one of the NBA’s elite playmakers.

The Unheralded Player: Marvin Bagley III

It’s hard to imagine a player who was a top-two pick in the draft being unheralded, but here we are. While Luka Doncic, and to a lesser extent, Trae Young, dominated the top rookie conversation last season, others, including Bagley, had great years. He may have been hit with injuries at key times last year, but he still averaged 14.9 points per game on 50.4 percent shooting and 7.6 rebounds. And that was with him coming off the bench.

Bagley should be the team’s starting power forward from day one. He is already a solid scorer in the paint, but where he stands to improve is his shooting. He’s a pretty good shooter from mid-range, but he can really add another dimension to the Kings offense by becoming a more consistent three-point shooter. He could also become a better player on the defensive end of the floor, where he has the tools to be a player who can guard multiple positions. With increased minutes this season, expect him to take a bigger leap in year two.

Best New Addition: Cory Joseph

The addition of Joseph was big in that he gives the Kings a legitimate backup point guard who can give Fox a breather. Throughout his career, Joseph has been solid. He’s a player who knows his role and doesn’t try to overstep that. He runs the offense with the second unit and he provides a defensive spark off the bench. Needless to say, that’s all the Kings will likely ask him to do.

Fox hasn’t really had a reliable backup and now he does. Although facilitating and defense will be the main things he will be asked to do, Joseph can score if necessary. He’s a decent shooter from both mid- and three-point range. The Kings have a couple of other options offensively with the second unit, so Joseph will do a solid job quarterbacking them when the starters need a rest.

-David Yapkowitz

WHO WE LIKE

1. Harrison Barnes

Barnes is just a solid player that plays hard on both ends of the floor. When the Kings acquired him at the trade deadline last season, he immediately made an impact. His scoring might have dropped slightly from Dallas, but he wasn’t asked to do as much on the offensive end as the Mavericks needed him to do. He shot pretty well with the Kings too, 45.5 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from three-point range. Along with Fox and Hield, Barnes helps form a very good perimeter trio. He’s also capable of playing power forward in some small-ball lineups.

2. Richaun Holmes

Holmes has quietly become one of the better backup centers in the league. All teams need solid second units and the Kings did a good job this summer of solidifying their bench. Holmes is very active around the rim both offensively and on the defensive end. He’ll crash the glass for second shot opportunities, always ready to catch a lob. Defensively, he can protect the paint and alter shots when opposing players attack the rim. On the cheap, that’s an absolute win for Sacramento.

3. Harry Giles

Giles is the real wild card here on the roster. His potential development could be the key for Sacramento to really take another step forward. Of course, Giles missed his entire rookie year with an injury and then he started off predictably slow as he adjusted to the NBA game last season. As the campaign went on, however, he started to show glimpses of the player who was once considered a highly-touted prospect. He has a very versatile skill set that is perfect for a big man to thrive in today’s NBA. Alongside Bagley as well, the Kings are in a great position for youthful big men.

4. The Kings’ Front Office

The Kings’ front office was once synonymous with incompetence. And even in the early days of Vlade Divac, both as the general manager and president of basketball operations, they still made some very questionable decisions. But in the past two years or so, they’ve actually put forth some great moves. Even better, their drafting has seemingly been spot-on. Their free-agent acquisitions have been wise and thrifty. The trades they’ve made have made sense. Hope springs eternal in Sacramento and this front office led by Divac is a big reason why. The Kings finally showed improvement on the court last season — let’s see if it will all continue in harmony.

-David Yapkowitz

STRENGTHS

Wing scoring, that’s a major point of strength for the Kings. The trio of Fox, Hield and Barnes have the potential to be one of the most lethal scoring units in the league out on the perimeter. All three shoot at 45 percent or better from the field, as well as 37 percent or better from the three-point line. They all can create their own shot, and Hield is rapidly improving in that regard. Simply put, they’re players that you can give the ball to and be comfortable as they try to generate some offense. Best, all three are relatively young too with their best basketball ahead of them. Laugh now, but don’t be surprised if we’re talking about this group quite a bit this season when it comes to perimeter scoring.

-David Yapkowitz

WEAKNESSES

Defense was still a major issue for the Kings last season, and they’ll need to improve in that regard if they want to seriously enter into that upper echelon in the Western Conference. Thankfully for them, some of their new additions should help in that regard. Ariza, Dedmon, Joseph, and Holmes are all capable defenders. They’re also going to be coming off the bench, with the exception of Dedmon who will likely start. Barnes is a good defender in the starting lineup, but it’s going to take a collective effort from each starter to be a better defensive team.

-David Yapkowitz

THE BURNING QUESTION

Will the Kings finish with a winning record?

Sacramento actually had a winning record early in the season. They only finished two games under .500. With continued development from their core guys and the impact of their new free-agent additions, yes, the Sacramento Kings will finally finish the season with above .500 for the first time in over a decade. Will it be good enough, however, to make the playoffs? That remains to be seen as the Western Conference has plenty of good teams. But an injury here or there on another team and that winning record could come with a Sacramento appearance in the postseason.

-David Yapkowitz

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Miami HEAT 2019-20 NBA Season Preview

The Miami HEAT landed a star in the off-season and were able to right-size their roster in the process, but the question is will that be enough for the HEAT to be more than a middle-tier playoff team? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Miami HEAT in this 2019-20 NBA Season Preview.

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The post-Lebron era of the Miami HEAT has seen the team stuck in a cycle of being competent enough to compete for the playoffs, but not talented enough to take the next step. The team has only made it out the first round once in the past five seasons when they lost in the Eastern Conference semi-finals to the Toronto Raptors in the 2016 NBA Playoffs.

Head coach Erik Spoelstra has been a mainstay, and the team staying somewhat competitive can be largely attributed to his stewardship. After a shaky transition season following James’ departure, Spoelstra helped mold a defensive identity for the HEAT, as the team has finished in the top ten in defensive rating in each of the last four seasons.

After a brief detour to Chicago and later Cleveland that started in the summer of 2016, the prodigal son Dwyane Wade returned to Miami during the 2017-18 season and rode off into the sunset with his farewell tour last season. Wade’s retirement signaled the end of an era, and the HEAT wasted no time in transitioning to their next chapter.

In a blockbuster move, the HEAT agreed to a sign-and-trade with the 76ers, receiving Jimmy Butler and Meyers Leonard in a four-team deal. Hassan Whiteside and Josh Richardson were sent out of Miami as a result, going to Portland and Philadelphia, respectively.

The HEAT will now revolve around the enigmatic Butler and begin their journey towards the Eastern Conference playoffs. Their advancement through those playoffs may come down to the rest of their roster, and what names it is comprised of as the season goes on.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

Jimmy Butler and Pat Riley finally had their wishes granted. The former wanted to be the number one option on a team, while the latter desired to have a superstar name leading his. Butler should have no problem playing next to Goran Dragic, a longtime heady veteran point guard who should bring a reliable secondary presence as a distributor and scorer. With Hassan Whiteside gone, Bam Adebayo is poised to have a breakout season with more minutes and an improved playmaking skill set. The same goes for Justise Winslow, who was tremendous with the ball in his hands last year. Tyler Herro’s rookie season could be a fun one to watch if the summer league was any indication of his true abilities. Don’t forget that Dion Waiters is on his way back as well. Erik Spoelstra’s bunch has grinded through the post-Big 3 days, but this offseason has the potential of taking the HEAT out of basketball purgatory and into a postseason run in the Eastern Conference.

1st Place – Southeast Division

– Spencer Davies

The HEAT have more talent than they get credit for. Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro and Justise Winslow are all very nice pieces. They also have among the best Coach-GM/President combination in the league in Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley. But let’s not get too excited – while their division is theirs for the taking, there will be more than enough competition for them in the Eastern Conference. The HEAT are going to have to either add more talent, or a number of their players will have to have career years to secure a top-four playoff seed (and maybe to secure one at all). Fortunately for the HEAT, at least Bam Adebayo intends on doing just that with the starting center position his for the taking. If Adebayo has a breakout year, the HEAT could be more dangerous than most people expect.

1st Place – Southeast Division

– Drew Maresca

The HEAT made one of the biggest moves of the offseason by bringing in Jimmy Butler. Butler gives Miami a true superstar and go-to player. With the pieces already in place, Butler’s presence should be enough for a return to the postseason for the HEAT. One of the bigger storylines for the HEAT this season is going to be the development of Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. Adebayo seems like one of the best kept secrets in the NBA. He’s emerging a potential double-double threat and an elite defensive player. Herro had a great summer league and figures to be in the rotation right away as a rookie due to his sharpshooting from three. The next big question is Dion Waiters. He’s missed significant time since arriving in Miami due to injuries, having played in a total of 120 games over three seasons. If he’s healthy and ready to go, there should be playoff basketball in South Beach.

1st Place – Southeast Division

– David Yapkowitz

Miami made one major move this offseason – a four-team deal involving the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers. Among other things, the deal resulted in the HEAT trading Josh Richardson to the 76ers and Hassan Whiteside to the Portland Trail Blazers, while Miami received Jimmy Butler on a four-year, $140,790,600 contract (player option in the final season via sign-and-trade from the 76ers) and Meyers Leonard. Miami is taking a gamble that Butler can be the number one guy at age 30 and that Richardson won’t be a major loss. Butler will need to help Miami draw more talent in the future since this team as constructed doesn’t have enough top-tier talent to realistically make a run to the NBA Finals in the Eastern Conference this season. Miami is often a free agent destination, so it may end up working out for the HEAT. Overall, I think Miami had a pretty decent offseason, but I’m not convinced acquiring Butler is going to benefit the HEAT in the long-term, especially with Richardson now playing in Philadelphia.

1st Place – Southeast Division

– Jesse Blancarte

For some time the Miami HEAT have been a scrappy team just good enough to be in the playoff hunt, but lacking the star power to close the deal. That changed with the arrival of Jimmy Butler this summer. Not only did the HEAT get the star they long coveted, but they also dumped off a ton of salary that wasn’t productive and did so without giving up incoming rookie Tyler Herro or veteran guard Goran Dragic. It is easy to overlook Miami with the sheer volume of star movement, but the HEAT were almost good before they got Butler, and they got Butler. While there are still lots of questions surrounding how this all fits together, Miami looks like a sleeper team to sneak into the top four in the East, and that would be impressive considering they did not have to bottom out to get there.

1st Place – Southeast Division

– Steve Kyler

FROM THE CAP GUY

The HEAT pulled multiple strings to acquire Jimmy Butler via sign-and-trade from the Philadelphia 76ers. The move locked in a hard cap at $138.9 million, which required Miami to shed contracts just to make the Butler deal legal. The team is still very close to that limit with 17 players, five on non-guaranteed contracts, although Duncan Robinson appears to be a lock to make the roster with $1 million of his $1.4 million minimum contract guaranteed. Kendrick Nunn also has $150,000 guaranteed.

The HEAT have their full Mid-Level ($9.3 million) and Bi-Annual ($3.6 million) Exceptions, but the hard cap restriction may force them to go unused, unless the team finds a significant cost-cutting trade. Players on the last year of their contracts like Goran Dragic ($19.2 million) and Meyers Leonard ($11.3 million) could be moved if Miami can find a suitor.

Miami also needs to pick up the team option on Bam Adebayo before November.

– Eric Pincus

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Jimmy Butler

The HEAT finished 26th in offense last season and have struggled to reach league average over the last five seasons. They put their chips on the table this summer to acquire a player who could help reverse that trend in Jimmy Butler.

Butler, a maestro in the pick-and-roll and a solid pull-up shooter, will have the ball in his hands quite often and will be asked to conjure up quality looks for the HEAT offense whenever he is on the court. He is an elite isolation scorer, scoring 1.01 points per possession out of those plays last season, per NBA.com.

The HEAT roster will be conducive to the pick-and-roll and isolation heavy offense that Butler prefers. They have constructed the roster with multiple players who will be content to expend their energy on defense while spacing the floor on the other end.

This will be Jimmy’s team, and the offense will be his to control. If you need any further proof of his credentials, just remember his nickname, Jimmy Buckets.

Top Defensive Player: Bam Adebayo

There are a few options on the HEAT roster to choose from here. Butler has been a consistently strong defender throughout his career, but his large offensive burden and age may lead to a slip on that end. Considering the center position is usually the most impactful defensive position, Adebayo figures to be the HEAT’s lynchpin.

With Whiteside now in Portland, the third-year player will be asked to control the middle. The third-year player has the tools to patrol the paint; he is bouncy and possesses a seven-foot-one wingspan, and the HEAT will hope his instincts continue to improve as he gains more experience.

The HEAT allowed 2.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Adebayo on the court compared to him off last season, per Cleaning The Glass. This gap could be even larger this season, without the alternation of minutes with Hassan Whiteside.

Top Playmaker: Jimmy Butler

Butler will be not only the HEAT’s best scorer, but their best playmaker as well. Perhaps it is overshadowed by his isolation effectiveness, or perhaps it is a product of his tendency to be embroiled in locker room drama, but Butler seems to be underrated in regards to his creation for teammates.

His assist percentage has been consistently in the top 10 percent of the league for his position over the last four seasons, per Cleaning The Glass. His passing out of the pick-and-roll is a particular strong point, and he possesses the vision to find teammates on the weak side of the court when controlling the ball in these sets.

In each of the last two seasons, both Minnesota and Philadelphia have shot significantly better as a team with Jimmy Butler on the court. Both saw the biggest improvement in their shooting percentage with shots at the rim, per Cleaning The Glass. Butler should have the same effect in Miami, where his driving and passing ability can lead to open lobs and three-point attempts.

Top Clutch Player: Dion Waiters

Dion Waiters will reprise his role as the sixth man this season, armed with irrational confidence and a deadly step-back jumper. His fearlessness in big moments makes him a go-to option for the HEAT in the waning moments of a tight game.

Yes, Jimmy Butler hit multiple huge shots and a couple of buzzer-beaters last season. Waiters, however, shot 51.4 percent in the clutch two seasons ago, his last fully healthy season. For comparison, Waiters’ field goal percentage overall was a mere 39.8 percent. To say the Syracuse product raised his game in the clutch would be an understatement.

After an injury-plagued 2018-19 campaign, Waiters will be hungry to once again take the stage in the final minutes. If the ball ends up in his hands down the stretch, he may just break a few hearts.

The Unheralded Player: Goran Dragic

Goran Dragic is often overlooked as the offensive engine for this team. Two seasons ago, Dragic was the team’s lead ball-handler and helped power the offense just enough to make the playoffs, as the HEAT finished sixth in the East. Last season, Dragic missed extended time with injury, and the offense slipped as a result.

Now, the Slovenian is expected to be healthy for the upcoming season. Albeit with a reduced role, Dragic will still be a very important player for this HEAT team.

In the few games he played last season, Dragic had a profound effect on the team’s transition offense. The HEAT scored 124.2 points off of 100 transition plays coming from a live ball rebound with Dragic on the court, compared to just 99.3 points per 100 plays with off, per Cleaning The Glass.

Dragic will push the pace and help the HEAT generate easier looks, something they may sorely miss when Butler is resting.

Best New Addition: Jimmy Butler

With apologies to Meyers Leonard, this designation can only be given to one person. Butler is the best offseason acquisition that the HEAT has made since the summer of The Decision when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach.

As mentioned above, Butler will immediately be the fulcrum of the HEAT offense, and the team will run through him on that end. Butler is no slouch on the defensive end, and he should guard the opposing team’s best wing player when the games matter most.

All in all, Butler is a four-time All-Star, a four-time All-Defensive Team selection, and two-time member of the All-NBA Third Team. He will command attention on and off the court, and the team’s postseason hopes will rest on his shoulders.

– Quinn Davis

WHO WE LIKE

1. Erik Spoelstra

Erik Spoelstra is the second-longest tenured coach in the NBA, behind only the legendary Gregg Popovich. He was hired by the HEAT at the end of the 2007-08 season and has been manning the sidelines ever since. He helped lead the team to two NBA championships with the Big Three and has firmly cemented himself as of the league’s premier head coaches.

A sign of a great coach is the ability to mold a team’s identity to fit the personnel, and Spoelstra has done just that. During the Big Three era, he propelled the team to new heights and ushered in the small-ball era by moving LeBron James to the four, with Chris Bosh playing as a stretch five. He also employed a frenetic, trapping defense that played to the strengths of both James and Dwyane Wade.

In recent years, Spoelstra has changed his defensive scheme to fit the more conventional center in Hassan Whiteside and has kept his team near the top of the league in that department. He also has moved to a more free-flowing offense featuring a heavy dose of dribble-handoffs, due to a roster lacking elite isolation scorers and pick-and-roll players.

With the new additions for this season, Spoelstra will likely have some new wrinkles planned. History tells us that he will be able to push the right buttons.

2. Meyers Leonard

After spending the first seven years of his career with the Portland Trailblazers, Leonard will now suit up win Miami after being included in the four-team Jimmy Butler trade. While all of the focus has rightfully been on the Butler acquisition, Leonard will also be a solid contributor to the HEAT this season.

Leonard was a beacon of efficiency last season in Portland. He shot 46 percent from three last season on 107 attempts, and 76 percent from the rim on 83 attempts. While the volume is a bit low, the accuracy is elite. If Leonard can continue to be an elite floor spacer off the bench for Miami, he will be a valuable bench piece going forward.

3. Justise Winslow

Winslow, a member of the HEAT since the 2015-16 season, has improved each year he has been in the league. Last season, he reached his highest usage and was at his most efficient since entering the league.

Most encouraging has been his three-point percentage jump. After laying bricks in his first two seasons, Winslow has shot 40 and 38 percent from deep in his two most recent campaigns. His usage will likely decrease as Jimmy Butler will have the ball often, so his efficiency may rise even further.

The Duke product also brings value on the defensive end. He is a strong, physical defender that can guard 1-3 and even some small fours effectively. The HEAT were 3.7 points per 100 possessions stingier with Winslow on the court, per Cleaning The Glass. He will be a key piece this season and will likely be asked to do the heavy lifting on defense so Butler can reserve his energy for the other end.

4. Tyler Herro

The rookie from Kentucky was selected 13th by the HEAT in the 2019 draft and, after a standout Summer League performance, figures to be a factor in the rotation this season.

He averaged 19.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the Las Vegas circuit. His efficiency was a bit low – he shot 33 percent from deep and 42 percent overall – but that can be attributed to his role as the focal point of the HEAT’s Summer League offense and attracting the most defensive attention.

As a bench piece this season, Herro will mostly be asked to knock down spot-up looks, which was a specialty of his in college. He also has a good handle, is a nifty passer and is able to attack closeouts and make plays off the dribble.

He will be a work in progress on the defensive end, but he projects to be a nice role player for this HEAT team and could take on a larger role as a secondary playmaker as he matures.

– Quinn Davis

STRENGTHS

There is no shortage of veteran leadership in Miami, where the team boasts several experienced players that should make for a strong locker room. Udonis Haslem will return for another season after mulling retirement, and he brings a respected presence. Jimmy Butler, while not without his past drama, is a respected veteran who will command attention. He took on a mentorship role in his stint in Philadelphia last season, and he should do the same with the likes of Justise Winslow, Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn next season. Former MMA fighter James Johnson will also bring a battle-scarred presence to the team.

Additionally, the team will be strong on the defensive end as long as Spoelstra is at the helm. They have the personnel to be in the top 10 for the fifth straight season and could shoot even higher if Butler brings consistent effort and Adebayo continues to improve.

– Quinn Davis

WEAKNESSES

Outside of Jimmy Butler, the team may have trouble creating quality looks on offense. Dion Waiters is a likely candidate to take on playmaking duties while Butler rests, but his passing leaves a little to be desired, and he tends to be rather streaky.

Goran Dragic is another that some may point to as a potential creator, but his explosiveness continues to wane as he ages. Dragic also missed about half of last season due to injury, and the HEAT will need him at full strength if he is to carry some of the offensive load.

Another issue could be the rim protection behind Bam Adebayo. The HEAT rounds out their big man rotation with Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard, both of whom have not provided much resistance at the rim in their careers. While this weakness may be mitigated with some creativity from Spoelstra, it is certainly something to monitor as the season plays out.

– Quinn Davis

The Burning Question

Will the HEAT add a second star this season?

The NBA summer of 2019 was defined by superstar duos. Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers to pair with Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George moved mountains when it was announced they would both be suiting up for the Clippers, and Russell Westbrook was traded to the Rockets to form an electric backcourt with James Harden.

The HEAT, meanwhile, traded for Jimmy Butler, and have since been rumored to be in the running for any and all available superstars to form a duo of their own. They were rumored to be the leader for Westbrook before Houston was able to outbid them.

After Chris Paul was sent to Oklahoma City as part of that trade, many pegged the HEAT as a top suitor for the future Hall of Famer. Paul’s gargantuan salary makes trading him a tall task, as the HEAT do not currently have much cap flexibility. It is also unclear how much the HEAT value Paul as a second superstar considering his age and slip in production last season.

With Butler in the fold, the HEAT figure to be a competitive group, but without a significant acquisition, they will struggle to keep pace with the elites. At a glance, the options they could add in the short term are limited. Bradley Beal is typically mentioned as the star who needs a change of scenery, but the Wizards have made it clear that they are not interested in moving him at this time.

It seems unlikely that a second star will suit up for Miami this season, but the NBA is a fluid environment. One locker room incident or a sluggish start to the season could lead to a trade request from Beal or another major name before the deadline. The HEAT is also helmed by master negotiator Pat Riley, who orchestrated the formation of the Big Three in 2010. He will leave no stone unturned in the quest for a title.

– Quinn Davis

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NBA

Los Angeles Lakers 2019-20 NBA Season Preview

The Los Angeles Lakers have the stars they long coveted, but will that be enough to make a splash big enough to justify the cost they paid to obtain them? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Lakers in this 2019-20 NBA Season Preview.

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This offseason was something else for Los Angeles, and that’s putting it lightly.

At long last, the Los Angeles Lakers landed the second superstar they wanted to pair with LeBron James – Anthony Davis. To acquire Davis, the Lakers traded Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, the rights to De’Andre Hunter (4th overall pick in 2019 draft), two future first-rounders and one first-round pick swap to the New Orleans Pelicans. The Lakers also traded Isaac Bonga, Moritz Wagner, Jemerrio Jones and a 2022 second-rounder to the Washington Wizards (with Washington sending cash to the Pelicans) in order to create more cap space to pursue Kawhi Leonard and create a devastating Big Three.

Leonard ended up signing with the in-arena rival Clippers, but the Lakers still have two of the top five players in the NBA and then added several other players to fill out the roster. A team featuring LeBron James and Anthony Davis has the foundation to instantly be a contender and arguably makes the Lakers the favorite to make it out of the Western Conference in the postseason. Notably, the Lakers also added Danny Green as a capable 3-and-D wing with championship experience.

Whether the Lakers have placed the right players around Davis, James and Green is the big question. Of the previous young core they’d been building around, Kyle Kuzma is the one the team refused to include in the Davis trade. Los Angeles also signed DeMarcus Cousins to a team-friendly contract to add more punch at the center position. Unfortunately, Cousins tore his ACL recently and will likely miss the upcoming season. In response, the Lakers signed Dwight Howard to a one-year contract, which has Lakers fans feeling conflicted.

But how far can the team go? Is it really championship or bust? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Lakers in this 2019-20 NBA Season Preview.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

LeBron James and Anthony Davis are officially happening. It took a lot to get The Brow to Hollywood, but this superstar pairing may very well go down as being one of the best of all-time. This time around, Rob Pelinka did a solid job of making sure the talent surrounding them will be able to contribute as well. New faces such as Danny Green, Troy Daniels and Avery Bradley will bring the 3-and-D thunder in supplementary roles. Quinn Cook is one of the most overlooked, up-and-coming point guards just waiting for an opportunity to prove himself. Everybody wants to talk about Dwight Howard, but let’s not forget how good JaVale McGee was last season either.

Veteran leader Frank Vogel will be the man in charge at head coach — but he’s also got Jason Kidd as his top assistant. That’s really the only thing we should be unsure about, but the talent and experience on paper could make the situation fit seamlessly. James has gotten the most rest he’s had since the summer of 2004. Brace yourselves, Lakers fans: The six-year playoff drought is coming to an end.

2nd Place – Pacific Division

– Spencer Davies

The Lakers began their offseason horribly with a public breakup between the team and Magic Johnson. But bad times don’t seem to last long in Los Angeles. Pairing Anthony Davis with LeBron James makes them a viable championship contender right away. Signing and then losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL was a blow to their depth chart and overall talent, but they have two of the very best players on the planet and most teams will struggle to match the James-Davis tandem —  that is, assuming they can remain healthy.

As a bonus, we’ve heard a lot this summer out of Team USA camp about Kyle Kuzma’s improved shooting and defensive. It would help the Lakers incredibly if he’s really improved in those areas, as he was already a top-100 player without the elite three-point range and some sub-par defense. The additions of Avery Bradley, Danny Green and Jared Dudley were all excellent for the team. Of course, the Lakers will live and die by James and Davis.

2nd Place – Pacific Division

-Drew Maresca

The Lakers pulled off one of the biggest moves of the offseason in trading for Anthony Davis. After missing the playoffs last season, the duo of Davis and LeBron James should be enough to catapult Los Angeles back into the postseason. But health is going to be a factor as they’ve likely lost DeMarcus Cousins for the season. James has been very durable throughout his career, but he missed a significant amount of time last year due to injury. Davis also missed games — and throughout his entire career, really — last season with an injury. One major hit to either of those two players and that could be it for the Lakers’ season, the Western Conference is that tough.

The biggest question mark, however, is Dwight Howard. If he’s motivated, he could end up being one of the biggest steals of the offseason. If not? Then the Lakers already shaky depth suffers a big blow. Even if they all stay healthy, the Lakers’ ceiling is probably a 4 or 5 seed out west.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– David Yapkowitz

There is a lot to say about the Los Angeles Lakers’ offseason — but the main takeaway is that they’ve acquired Anthony Davis just one year after signing LeBron James in free agency. That’s categorically a win, especially for a franchise that has failed to live up to its prestige in recent seasons. Having said that, the Lakers did give up Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, the rights to De’Andre Hunter, two future first-rounders and one first-round pick swap to the New Orleans Pelicans for Davis. While that is a lot to give up in a trade, pairing Davis with LeBron this season is worth it.

Beyond Davis, the Lakers also brought in Avery Bradley, Quinn Cook, DeMarcus Cousins, Troy Daniels, Jared Dudley, Danny Green, Dwight Howard and Talen Horton-Tucker, while re-signing several of their veterans. Green should be a major contributor and will help spread the floor for LeBron and Davis to operate closer to the basket. Unfortunately, Cousins went down with an ACL tear and will likely miss the upcoming season. Overall, the Lakers put together a talented, though imperfect, roster around James and Davis.

The Lakers have the talent to make it to the NBA Finals this year, but that will be determined in large part on how well Frank Vogel can sort out and optimize this team in his first season as its head coach.

2nd Place – Pacific Division

– Jesse Blancarte

There are times in life where you have to go all-in and when you have LeBron James on the roster, you don’t waste those opportunities. Yes, the Lakers paid a hefty price to acquire Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans but, let’s be honest, none of the guys they gave up are future All-Stars, let alone All-Stars while James can still influence a game. The Lakers are better today than they were at the end of the season and, while they will lack assets to add to the team, they have two of the top five or so players in the NBA — that is usually enough to be respectable.

The other part is this: Every time James has been counted out, he’s won the MVP that following season. He may not have another MVP in him, but when you look at how much he changed his body for Space Jam 2 and how motivated all the involved parties are, then the Lakers should be among the top four in the conference and that’s worth the price paid for Anthony Davis by itself. Coaching and three-point shooting is a question, but in the NBA, stars win you games and the Lakers have two of the game’s brightest.

2nd Place – Pacific Division

– Steve Kyler

FROM THE CAP GUY

In addition to their blockbuster acquisition of Anthony Davis, the Lakers managed enough cap room to sign Kawhi Leonard, but the NBA Finals MVP chose to go the Los Angeles Clippers instead. The Lakers pivoted to fleshing out the team with role players like Danny Green, DeMarcus Cousins and Avery Bradley.

Unfortunately, Cousins suffered a season-ending knee injury. The team will likely end up with a $1.8 million Disabled Player Exception for Cousins, but that may not be enough to use for a significant replacement. Instead, the Lakers added Dwight Howard on a non-guaranteed minimum contract as the team’s 15th standard NBA contract (the team has 14 fully guaranteed).

Looking ahead, the Lakers need to pick up the team option on Kyle Kuzma before November. Outside of LeBron James, the rest of the team’s players are on one- or two-year contracts (many with player options). The most notably is Davis, who can leave as a free agent next summer. Obviously, his happiness is the team’s top priority as to make sure he chooses to stay long term.

– Eric Pincus

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis is top-10 — arguably even higher — player in the NBA and, when healthy, he is an MVP-caliber level player. But Davis has been out of the spotlight for some time and has never played with a player of James’ stature either. James and Davis both spend significant time playing at power forward while being the focal point of the team’s offense. With the potential for significant overlap, it will be interesting to see how this dynamic will be managed. Last week, Davis shared his thoughts on the matter:

“I’ve kind of been a focal-point player my whole career, especially in New Orleans. But, first off, to have a guy like LeBron, someone of his caliber, go tell management and ownership and the coaches that he wants me to be the focal point is an honor,” Davis told Yahoo Sports.

Davis and James appear to be on the same page with an emphasis on building up Davis as the team’s workhouse. Going into his 17th season, James has had a super-human ability to stay healthy thus far. That luck seemed to run out a bit last season with a groin injury. While James did recover and return, the Lakers’ season was lost while he was away and James appeared somewhat slowed before being shut down toward the end of the season. Considering the age and mileage James has put on his body over his career, it makes sense for Davis to be the main focal point for this team.

“I know what comes with that and that’s a lot of heavy lifting. I want to be able to do that. I think I have the capabilities of doing that. And obviously, with the team’s support, it’s going to be a lot easier on me. We have a great team,” Davis said.

Top Defensive Player: Anthony Davis

Earlier in his career, James was a defensive menace and could guard every position consistently and effectively. James has scaled back his effort on defense in the last few seasons, which makes sense considering that aforementioned millage. That means Davis is the most consistent and dynamic defensive player on the Lakers’ roster, bar none.

“I want to be Defensive Player of the Year,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “I think if I’m able to do that, I can help this team win. The offensive end will come around, but defensively, I want to hold myself, teammates, including LeBron, accountable in order for us to take on the challenge of being the best we can defensively.”

It’s interesting that Davis would not only speak about keeping himself and his teammates accountable but that he included James by name.

“[W]e’ll have a good chance of winning every night. I want to make sure me and LeBron are on the All-Defensive Team. And for me personally, I just want to be the Defensive Player of the Year. If we’re able to hold teams under 100, which is probably unrealistic but it should be our goal, I think we’ll have a shot at winning the title.”

Top Playmaker: LeBron James

James has been the lead ball-handler on every team he has played on and that doesn’t figure to change this season. With his size, athleticism, court vision and unselfish approach to the game, James is one of the most devastating playmakers in the game. With Davis running on the fast break, dropping to the basket out of pick-and-rolls and carving out space near the basket, James will have even more opportunities to tally up assists. With all due respect to Chris Bosh and Kevin Love, Davis is on another level as a big man and should draw significant defensive attention each time the Lakers are on offense. With extra space to operate, James may be in for one of his most efficient seasons as a playmaker.

Top Clutch Player: LeBron James

Davis could end up wrestling this title from James at some point — but, for now, James’ multifaceted arsenal and unlimited experience in tight games give him the edge. Davis has had big moments but he doesn’t have the proven track record that James has. Very few in NBA history do, to be fair. There was a time early in his career where many argued James was not clutch and didn’t have the mentality to be a go-to player in clutch situations. James has proven that theory wrong and is still one of the toughest covers in the most important situations.

So, until proven differently, the responsibility for top clutch player falls to James.

The Unheralded Player: JaVale McGee

Despite his reputation for being clumsy, JaVale McGee offered reliable contributions on the offensive and defensive side of the ball last season. Bringing McGee back gives the Lakers another solid option at center, which will allow Davis to play at his preferred position of power forward. So long as Davis is allowed to play many of his minutes at the four, the Lakers will have to competently man the center position — of course, Cousins’ injury complicated this plan.

McGee represents as good a player as the Lakers can reasonably expect and has already proved he can stay focused through the long NBA season without causing the team headaches. Dwight Howard might prove capable — but, between the two, Howard is the long shot and McGee is the safer bet. Go figure.

Best New Addition: Anthony Davis

There isn’t as much to say here except that Davis is a spectacular get for the Lakers. Multiple young players and numerous draft picks were required to wrestle Davis away from the Pelicans. But when you have a player like James and available assets, you make moves to solidify a championship-worthy team. If the Lakers win a championship as the result of this trade while keeping Davis as a long-term asset, this trade is easily worth the risk.

– James Blancarte

WHO WE LIKE

1. Kyle Kuzma

So much rests on the shoulders of Kuzma. He is talented, can score and is young, so we can reasonably expect him to improve this season. As the third option on a team that features two generational talents, the Lakers are optimistic that Kuzma is up to the challenge of being the team’s third option. However, Kuzma’s three-point shooting dropped significantly from his rookie season. While that is not the most positive sign, Kuzma should expect to have less attention paid to him now that the Lakers have James and Davis powering the offense. Kuzma isn’t known as any sort of defensive stalwart but has the tools to be an effective team asset.

2. Frank Vogel

The Lakers moved on from Luke Walton this offseason. A favorite of Jeanie Buss, Walton helped oversee the development of many of the team’s younger players and guide the franchise through their recent multi-season drought. Walton is now in Sacramento and, thusly, now begins the Frank Vogel era.

James has played against Vogel-coached teams for years and had some high-profile playoff matchups against the Indiana Pacers earlier in his career. Should Vogel be able to build a strong enough defensive unit centered around Davis while hiding players like Kuzma, the Lakers will likely be one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.

Unfortunately, there was some drama surrounding Vogel’s hiring. Vogel was famously the second choice of the Lakers after negotiations with Tyronn Lue broke down. Further complicating Vogel’s hiring is the supposed mandate that any head coach would be required to have previous head coach Jason Kidd as a high-profile assistant coach. If Vogel struggles to meet expectations early in the season, we may hear calls for Kidd to take over the top job.

3. JaVale McGee

Last season, the Lakers took numerous swings on capable veterans with checkered pasts. Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley are long gone. Rajon Rondo has had moments but is inconsistent and last season was often one of the sources of drama that hurt the team. Of this group, count JaVale McGee as the exception.

As a major silver lining, McGee put his head down and did whatever the team needed. McGee offered a lob threat on offense, as well as someone who could defend the rim, rebound and score on put backs. While the Lakers made bigger acquisitions, bringing back McGee at a low cost will be a key roster-building move, especially considering Cousins’ injury and the questions that always surround Howard.

4. Quinn Cook

Quinn Cook doesn’t put up monster numbers and probably shouldn’t be the starting point guard for a contending team. But Cook has developed into a steady hand at point guard, reliable converts and has a championship-level experience from his time with the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers signed Cook to a reasonable contract and should definitely benefit with him on the roster, especially considering Rondo’s injury history and the relative inexperience of Alex Caruso. Additionally, Cook can play effectively off the ball and has logged time playing alongside point forwards like James.

– James Blancarte

STRENGTHS

The frontcourt. Davis, James and Kuzma could make for a dangerous frontcourt, especially on offense. Danny Green can play in the backcourt but can easily slot into the frontcourt to defend an opposing elite small forward. Even Jared Dudley can offer some additional versatility on both ends of the court at either forward position. McGee and Howard will battle it out for the starting center position but both are poised to contribute regardless. At all times, there should be a capable combination of players manning the frontcourt and carrying this team.

– James Blancarte

WEAKNESSES

Guard play and, obviously, relative heath. On the first note, the Lakers will be relying on some combination of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Quinn Cook, Alex Caruso, Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo. Adding Green to that list doesn’t do enough to address all of the issues this group will likely face. Lakers fans need to brace for the likelihood that Rondo will again be the starting point guard for the team.

When he is focused and playing well, Rondo helps to set up teammates well as a distributor. Unfortunately, Rondo’s mercurial personality can lead to drama for the Lakers. Rondo’s antics could splinter a team that features so much talent and many strong personalities. Additionally, Rondo’s defense leaves a lot to be desired. He’s also on the back end of his career, so there isn’t much reason to believe that will change this upcoming season.

Whether anyone can surpass Rondo at the position is up in the air. Caruso played well at the end of last season, and is a bit of a folk hero for Lakers fans, but will have to show he can play well when it matters most. Regardless, the Lakers could use an infusion of talent in the backcourt.

– James Blancarte

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can this team win it all this upcoming season?

This team has the top-end talent necessary to be a dangerous team in the playoffs. While many have the Lakers as a top-five favorite to win the championship next season, it’s not clear they have what it takes to overcome other top teams like the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers or Milwaukee Bucks. The answer to this question will be heavily based on how quickly this team can build chemistry and identity under their new head coach, Frank Vogel. If they can do this, the Lakers have a respectable chance of competing for the championship this upcoming season.

– James Blancarte

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