The Northwest Division figures to be one of the more competitive next season as four teams made the postseason and the fifth came just a game shy. As a result, roster spots and playing time on these teams will be hard to come by.
Rosters are fluid; just because one player figured to have a role doesn’t necessarily mean they will come the regular season. Some players, unfortunately, get displaced from their roster or have their roles filled by another player or players.
What players fit that description from the Northwest? Let’s take a look.
Raymond Felton — Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder re-signed Raymond Felton early on in Free Agency, expecting him to serve as the backup point-guard as he did last season.
Now, he may find himself at the end of the bench or eventually out the door.
By way of the Carmelo Anthony trade, Oklahoma City acquired the services of disgruntled point-guard Dennis Schröder. While he wasn’t the most popular in Atlanta, Schröder, 24, was active in the box score. Schröder averaged 19.4 points and 6.2 assists on 43.6 percent shooting. While the 34-year-old Felton played well at times last season, Schröder is younger, more athletic and should prove a higher-upside option off the Thunder bench.
With Schröder’s arrival, combined with other acquisitions like Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Hamidou Diallo and an expected minutes increase for second-year shooting guard Terrance Ferguson, there will likely be little-to-no backcourt minutes to spare for Felton off the bench.
Evan Turner — Portland Trail Blazers
Despite his bloated salary, Evan Turner has managed to stick around with the Portland Trail Blazers over the last two seasons. The reason? Outside of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Portland has dealt with a severe lack of reliable, secondary ball handlers.
That may no longer be the case.
While Shabazz Napier is off to Brooklyn, the Trail Blazers managed to bring in multiple guards and or wings that can run the floor, including Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr. and Seth Curry. These players represent just a few of the names that could step in for Turner and make him expendable.
Not to mention, the trio makes just a fraction of Turner’s salary next season, a whopping $17.8 million.
Alec Burks — Utah Jazz
The writing seems to be on the wall for Alec Burks. Between Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum and Raul Neto, the Utah Jazz have a more than competent group of guards and were already looking at a surplus at the position going into next season. Even Royce O’Neal can go out as the two-guard.
Then they drafted Grayson Allen out of Duke.
If they didn’t before, the Jazz certainly have an abundance of talented guards, but not everyone will see the floor consistently. The reason Burks gets bounced over anyone else? Money.
Burks is set to make more than $11 million next season, coming in just over what the recently re-signed Exum will earn on the year. Considering Burks’ diminished role, the Jazz should look to offload Burks’ contract, which could allow Utah to save some money and open up more minutes for the likes of Exum, Neto and Allen.
Gorgui Dieng — Minnesota Timberwolves
While they certainly won’t rush him back after multiple foot surgeries robbed him of his rookie season, the Minnesota Timberwolves will, eventually, have Justin Patton to fill in as the backup center behind Karl Anthony-Towns.
That spells bad news for Gorgui Dieng.
Dieng isn’t going to push Taj Gibson from his starting spot at the power forward spot and the Timberwolves brought in Anthony Tolliver to slot in behind him this summer. Add that to the fact that rookie Keita Bates-Diop, at 6-foot-9, should be more than capable of playing minutes at the four, and there won’t be many spots left on the roster for Dieng to occupy once Patton is fully healthy.
Dieng averaged just 16.9 minutes per game last season, his lowest since his rookie year. He posted a career low in rebounds per game, blocks per game and field goal percentage as well. While Dieng can still contribute, with the way the roster is constructed and the way Tom Thibodeau loves to ride his starters, he may not be contributing in Minnesota for much longer.
Juan Hernangomez — Denver Nuggets
There are 48 minutes in a basketball game, which is likely not enough for the Denver Nuggets to find consistent playing time for forward Juan Hernangomez next season.
With Paul Millsap healthy again, a majority of the minutes at the power forward position will find their way to the vet. Trey Lyles and, eventually, Michael Porter Jr. figure to eat the remainder of the minutes at the four spot, leaving Hernangomez in a pretty rough situation. A change of scenery could certainly be in the cards and, with a low salary, the Nuggets wouldn’t have much trouble moving him.
Hernangomez, however, will more likely ride the pine for Denver, keeping their depth intact as they look to make a postseason run in a brutal Western Conference.
Malik Beasley — Denver Nuggets
Like his teammate, Hernangomez, Malik Beasley will likely find himself a victim of the Nuggets’ exceptional depth.
Jamal Murray, Garry Harris, Will Barton and Isaiah Thomas are just some of the names that Denver currently rosters at the guard positions. Assuming all four names are able-bodied come next season, there will be little playing time for anyone else, including the 21-year-old shooting guard.
Beasley didn’t see much time on the floor last season and that doesn’t figure to change moving forward.
Again, rosters are fluid things; between freak accidents, injuries and whatever else could go wrong, these players may very well find themselves thrust into playing time. But, as things currently stand on their respective rosters, these men aren’t exactly in the best position for individual success.
Keep an eye out for the remaining installments of Basketball Insiders’ “Odd Men Out” series!
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