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Is It Time To Tear It Down Or Stay The Course?

With the season winding down, teams like Phoenix, Orlando and Chicago must decide which direction to take their franchise.



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Stay The Course Or Tear It Down?

With the NBA regular season coming to a close in just two weeks, several teams will start their offseason and some of them have big decisions to make about the direction of their franchise, especially with so much economic flexibility coming into the NBA this summer by way of a ballooning salary cap. Here are a couple of teams to watch:

Phoenix Suns

Two years ago, the Phoenix Suns seemed like the surprise team on the rise. Today, they seem like a team lost between ideas. The biggest problem for the Suns is they are heavily invested in some win-now players like big man Tyson Chandler, who has three years and more than $39 million remaining on his deal. Guard Eric Bledsoe, who is recovering from meniscus surgery (his second major knee procedure), is still owed three years and more than $43.5 million. The Suns also have a long-term deal with point guard Brandon Knight that was inked this past offseason, tying up another four years and more than $56.4 million.

In total, the Suns have $138 million owed to those three players. The good news is those players could be the right core to build a winner around, which was the plan.

However, things have fallen apart in Phoenix in a major way.

The Suns have stumbled upon some bright spots in what can only be described as a terrible season. Rookie Devin Booker has been spectacular. T.J. Warren was looking great until he broke his foot. Big man Alex Len has been posting double-doubles more nights than not.

The Suns now face a tough choice – should they stay the course with the more veteran players and try to add more to the team with their projected $37 million in potential cap space, or should they tear down some of the experience and build around the promising youth that has emerged this year?

The Suns were supposed to do a ground-up rebuild, but after finding some early success two seasons ago they went all in on veteran players thinking they had captured the magic only to find is was a desert mirage.

League sources say that majority owner Robert Sarver is planning for a top down review of the team and that changes will likely be made. Current team president Lon Babby is expected to step back into an advisory role and while the future of general manager Ryan McDonough seems secure, there is a sense that nothing is off the table at this point.

The Suns are expected to conduct a pretty thorough coaching search and that could prompt additional organizational changes.

Phoenix is viewed by other executives as a team willing to deal, so look for the Suns to be linked to a lot of scenarios leading up to the 2016 NBA Draft and as the team heads into free agency, especially with so much money committed to aging players.

Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic have a message and they are sticking to it. That message is that they are not that far away from the playoffs, pointing to the number of games lost by fewer than five points this season and the progress some of their younger guys have made this season.

The Magic were very competitive in the early months of the season, but have cratered over the last two months. The Magic dumped off some of their longer term money at the trade deadline, setting up what could be more than $45 million in usable cap space while retaining the restricted free agent rights to guard Evan Fournier.

There are several looming questions around the Magic. Are they truly a win-now team? That has been the public-facing message for several months, but is that the case? If so, is Scott Skiles the right head coach? And what is the future of Rob Hennigan as the general manager?

Magic sources say both are more than likely back next season, although there has been some speculation that both the coach and the GM may not see the world the same way, which could simply be the result of a disappointing season.

The Magic are expected to be aggressive this offseason in pursuing some impact veterans and someone that can be the focal point of the team. There have been plenty of reports linking the Magic to former Florida Gator Al Horford and Central Florida native Chandler Parsons.

Magic sources cautioned that they are nowhere close to knowing who they have a realistic shot at in free agency and will not settle for who they feel they can get; rather, they plan to be aggressive in pursuing guys they want.

The Magic were one of the more aggressive teams at the trade deadline trying to swing a major trade, and it’s expected they will pick up where they left off once the season ends.

Unfortunately for Orlando, they are one of more than 20 NBA teams with ample cap space and among the seven NBA teams with the ability to get to a two maximum salary slots. So unlike normal offseasons, the Magic may not be able to win-out by their checkbook alone and not being in the postseason could make the sales pitch a little harder for the Magic.

There is no sense that Orlando wants to blow up their young core. Several teams tried to pry away parts of Orlando’s roster at the deadline only to be turned away. That is not to say the Magic would not be open to moving a core guy if it returned the right impact veteran, but their plan is to add to this group, not subtract from it unless it moves the team forward radically.

The Magic will have to decide whether to extend guard Victor Oladipo this summer, as they’ll have an exclusive window to do a deal. However, the sense from both sides is unless the deal is a max offer, Oladipo won’t be signing and the Magic do not seem ready to put a maximum offer on the table at this point.

This is expected to be a big offseason for the Magic and their stance today seems to be to stay the course.

Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls are a mess. There is no nice way to say it. The Bulls have gone from an all-grit and effort squad to a lackadaisical and lackluster team. There is real talent on the Bulls’ roster, but the new system installed by first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg has left a lot of gaps. Most of those gaps surface defensively.

The Bulls have had their usual run of nagging injuries and that derailed a lot of the season, but there is also a very clear gap in how some players want to play and how Hoiberg needs them to play.

The Bulls opted to fire former head coach Tom Thibodeau because he was tough to work with, especially with the front office. The problem is the front office might be the bigger problem.

League sources say it seems unlikely that Bulls majority owner Jerry Reinsdorf would look at making a change at the top, which means this leadership team will oversee the re-tool of the roster this summer.

There has been a long-running belief that the Bulls would entertain offers on All-Star Jimmy Butler, but Chicago has been pretty adamant that Butler is the guy they want to build around going forward. That said, teams see the gaps between what Butler likes to do as a player and what Hoiberg wants him to do in the system. Add in the fact that Butler has been so vocal about the coaching situation and many around the league believe they might be able to tempt the Bulls into a deal with the right offer.

At the trade deadline, the Bulls refused to seriously engage in Butler trade talks, but that does not mean they will keep that stance as teams get aggressive with offers.

One prevailing thought is the Bulls may be open to moving Derrick Rose. There is a growing sense that both the Bulls and Rose would be better off parting ways and given that Rose will be a free agent in 2017, the Bulls have to decide if moving Rose now could return more value than hanging on to him and playing the unrestricted free agent game with him in 2017.

With so little available at the point guard position in the 2016 free agent class, would a one-year rental/try-out on Rose be more meaningful for a team desperate for a point guard than overpaying the likes of Brandon Jennings or Ty Lawson?

The Bulls have some free agent issues of their own to work through, namely the future of two of their bigs in Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. Both players have been saying the right things – that they would like to be back in Chicago on new deals. The question is, are both players good long-term fits for how the Bulls want to play and at what price?

Noah is eligible for a maximum salary of more than $29 million. It’s highly doubtful he lands that kind of deal. But even at $20 million, is that a good investment for the Bulls considering his fit this year?

Gasol has had a solid season, but is parking $10 to $15 million into Gasol a smart move for the Bulls, who have young guys like rookie Bobby Portis, second-year forward Doug McDermott, veteran forward Taj Gibson and second-year forward Nikola Mirotić all looking for more minutes?

The Bulls have some tough choices to make this offseason, and the sense is that major changes could be headed Chicago’s way if they are indeed going to go all the way in with Hoiberg’s style.

This Bulls front office has a long history of questionable decisions, especially in free agency. It would not be out of the question that the front office opts to keep both Gasol and Noah, because that’s how they have done things before. But if that is indeed the result, it’s hard to see the Bulls making all of this work, given how dysfunctional things have been this year.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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