Additions: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Onyeka Okongwu, Kris Dunn, Solomon Hill, Tony Snell
Losses: DeWayne Dedmon, Jeff Teague, Vince Carter, Treveon Graham, Skal Labissiere, DeAndre’ Bembry, Damian Jones
2019-20 Record: 20-47, 14th in Eastern Conference
Analysis: No division saw its teams improve more this offseason than the Southeast, and no team in the division improved more than the Atlanta Hawks. The 19-20 season was supposed to be the year Atlanta made a playoff push, but they finished with one of the worst records in the NBA. That put GM Travis Schlenk and head coach Lloyd Pierce under pressure to get things turned around this season.
Aiding in that turnaround are major upgrades in depth at every position on the roster. Atlanta swapped out one of the league’s most underperforming reserve groups for a group that is now as deep as any in the NBA. After the rumored sign and trade of Bogdan Bogdanovic to the Milwaukee Bucks fell apart, the Hawks swooped in and got Bogdanovic for four years and $72 million. He’ll likely start as one of the wings and provide some additional scoring and playmaking. The long scoring droughts Atlanta suffered without Trae Young on the floor shouldn’t occur with a much frequency with Bogdanovic around.
Also helping in that regard is the signing of Danilo Gallinari. Initially, the Hawks plan to bring Gallinari off the bench. He’ll be the team’s primary backup forward behind John Collins and either De’Andre Hunter or Kevin Huerter. In this role, Gallinari can be the scoring anchor for the second unit. He’ll also provide terrific depth in the frontcourt, should injury or illness strike.
Atlanta played a lot of the 19-20 season without a quality backup for Young. Jeff Teague solved that when he was acquired midseason, but the Hawks made further upgrades in free agency. Fresh off a title run with the Los Angeles Lakers, Rajon Rondo will be Young’s primary backup. That should allow Pierce to spot Young rest during games, without worry that the offense will collapse.
The Hawks also added Kris Dunn, who is immediately the team’s best perimeter defender. Dunn will be deployed in all sorts of lineups off the bench. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dunn close some games, especially when Atlanta needs stops late.
The team is getting a bonus addition of sorts, as Clint Capela will make his Hawks debut after being acquired at the trade deadline. Because Atlanta’s season ended in mid-March, Capela hasn’t suited up for his new team just yet. He’s going to be counted on to hold down the starting center spot, while being backed up by rookie Onyeka Okongwu. Those two should give the Hawks defense, rebounding and finishing around the rim that they’ve lacked from that position for the last few years.
The last order of business before this season starts is to hammer out a contract extension with John Collins. Both sides seem to be somewhat far apart, and Atlanta’s other offseason moves indicate they are at least prepared for life without Collins. If no extension is reached, Collins could be a potential trade chip for upgrades in-season.
After falling short of pushing forward for the playoffs last season, the Hawks added veterans around their youthful core. They have competition for minutes on a nightly basis now at each position. That’s a good thing, even if it means Lloyd Pierce will have to have some difficult conversations. It’s a step too far to say Atlanta is guaranteed a playoff spot in the East, but they should very much be in the 7-10 play-in mix.
Additions: Gordon Hayward, LaMelo Ball
Losses: Nicolas Batum, Willy Hernangomez, Dwayne Bacon
2019-20 Record: 23-42, 9th in the Eastern Conference
Analysis: The Hornets were a bit of a surprise early on in the 19-20 season. James Borrego leaned into some unconventional lineups and Charlotte got off to a 4-3 start. After that, reality set in and the team’s youth and relative lack of talent saw them slide down the standings. After adding one of the NBA’s best free agents this offseason in Gordon Hayward, the Hornets hope to be back in the mix for the playoffs.
In terms of numbers, Charlotte didn’t see a lot of players come and go. In terms of impact, the upgrade for the Hornets couldn’t be bigger. Hayward is now the team’s best player by a fairly large margin. While Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier have proven themselves to be quality NBA guards, Hayward gives the team a credible shooting, scoring and passing threat.
As he’s now past 30, Hayward wanted a bigger role than being the fourth or fifth option in Boston and he’ll have it in Charlotte. As long as he’s healthy, every offensive possession should feature a Hayward touch when he’s on the floor. No one else on the roster can create shots for themselves and their teammates like Hayward can. As the Celtics fourth option, he averaged 17/7/4 on 50/38/85 shooting splits. It’s not a stretch to believe a healthy Hayward can average 20/8/6 and help lift Charlotte into playoff contention.
The Hornets other big add this offseason was LaMelo Ball with the third overall pick in the draft. Ball gives the team another playmaker, and one with size. While Graham and Rozier did a solid job, both are smaller, score-first guards. Ball’s shot may be a bit suspect, but he’s not going to shy away from taking it. And, along with Hayward, Borrego can now have a quality passer on the floor at all times. That should help open things up offensively.
Opening things up on offense is paramount, because the other Hornets need some help getting their shots. P.J. Washington showed great promise as a rookie and should be a quality pick-and-roll/pop partner for Hayward and Ball. Cody Zeller is still around and remains a solid roll-man off screens. His life will also be made easier by the presence of Hayward and Ball.
On the wing, Charlotte has a collection of interesting, if unproven, players in Miles Bridges, Cody Martin, Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels. All have shown flashes, but none has shown that they are a surefire rotation player on a good team. If one or two can emerge, it will help flesh out the Hornets rotation a good deal.
Up front, Bismack Biyombo was re-signed to back up Zeller. He’ll be the defensive option to Zeller’s more offense-leaning game. The team also added Vernon Carey Jr. and Nick Richards at the draft for some young depth.
It’s been four seasons since Charlotte has made the playoffs, and they had only sporadic appearances before then. This group isn’t a lock to make it back to the postseason, but the additions of Hayward and Ball lift them out of the bottom of the conference and to the edges of the playoff picture. That’s a good start for a team that has been an afterthought for far too long.
Additions: Avery Bradley, Maurice Harkless, Precious Achiuwa
Losses: Jae Crowder, Derrick Jones Jr., Solomon Hill
2019-20 Record: 44-29, lost in 2020 NBA Finals
Analysis: The Miami Heat took a while to come together during the 2019-20 season, but were one of the league’s best teams during the re-start. They used a confident, together bunch to make it to the NBA Finals, before falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
Miami isn’t exactly running it back, as they made a few changes, but most of the key contributors from last season’s surprise team are back. The Heat re-signed Goran Dragic, Meyers Leonard and Udonis Haslem, and only lost Jae Crowder and Derrick Jones Jr. from last year’s rotation.
In place of the two forwards, Miami signed Avery Bradley and Maurice Harkless. Bradley is the backcourt’s best defender, something that was a bit of an issue at times in the bubble. When facing a quality scoring guard, the Heat now have one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders to throw at him.
Harkless will provide some addition depth at both forward spots. His addition will allow the Heat to continue to mix and match their lineups by going big or small, as Harkless can hold his own defending both threes and fours.
At the draft, Miami added maybe the most Heat style of player of all in Precious Achiuwa. His main skills right now are his motor and tenacious work on the glass. All the Heat will ask him to do is play with energy, defend and rebound. That should translate into a solid first year for Achiuwa.
While retaining some key players, and adding Bradley and Harkless, Miami did so with future flexibility in mind. None of the free agent signees got any guaranteed money past this season. The Heat have team options for Dragic, Leonard and Bradley (along with holdover Andre Iguodala), and Harkless got a one-year deal. That flexibility keeps Miami in play for star free agents next summer.
The only player to get guaranteed money past this season was Bam Adebayo, as he inked a five-year, max contract extension. That deal will kick in with the 2021-22 season and will see Adebayo locked up in Miami for years to come. The Heat could have pushed Adebayo to wait to sign in the summer, which would have preserved some cap space, but instead took care of their franchise building block now. The path to a max free agent is by no means closed off with Adebayo signed; Miami just needs to do a little extra work to get there now.
By retaining almost all of their key players from a year ago, the Heat gave Erik Spoelstra the lineup versatility he does best with. Miami can play big with Adebayo sliding to the four, or smaller with him at the five. They can play defensive units helmed by Adebayo, Jimmy Butler and Bradley. They can go with offense with Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, two of last season’s best surprises, playing bigger roles.
That kind of talent and versatility should see Miami among the best teams in the East. While this team may have been perfectly built for the bubble, a return trip to the Finals wouldn’t be a shock. The Heat have the depth, coaching and talent to play deep into the season once again.
Additions: Chuma Okeke, Cole Anthony, Dwayne Bacon
Losses: D.J. Augustin, Wesley Iwundu, Melvin Frazier
2019-20 Record: 33-40, lost in Eastern Conference First Round
Analysis: No team in the NBA changed over less of their roster this offseason than the Orlando Magic. Orlando lost their backup point guard in D.J. Augustin and will replace him with 2020 draftee Cole Anthony. The Magic will also add 2019 draftee Chuma Okeke, after he stayed unsigned last season while recovering from a torn ACL suffered during the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Orlando is also taking a flyer on Dwayne Bacon, who had some success under Steve Clifford in Charlotte.
The Magic re-signed James Ennis, Michael Carter-Williams and Gary Clark, who all became key rotation players last season. And Evan Fournier opted in to the final season of his contract to return.
Yet, despite the roster continuity, Orlando will look different. Jonathan Isaac tore his left ACL during the restart and will miss the entirety of the 2020-21 season. The Magic have plenty of experience playing without Isaac, but his presence, especially on defense, will be missed.
Orlando will also be without Al-Farouq Aminu in the frontcourt. After adding Aminu as veteran depth in 2019 free agency, the Magic only got 18 games out of him before he injured his right knee. Aminu had a second procedure before the start of training camp and is out indefinitely.
Without Isaac and Aminu, the door is open for Okeke to pick up rotation minutes right away. As long as he defends, Clifford will find time for the promising rookie. He can bring some shooting and off-the-dribble scoring to a team that desperately needs it. All too often, the only offensive creators for Orlando are Fournier and Markelle Fultz. That’s an area where Okeke should be able to help.
Beyond Okeke, the Magic would also like to see Anthony eventually step into the backup point guard role vacated by Augustin. Already, early in camp, reports are that Anthony has an NBA-ready body and is picking things up quickly. Clifford has even mentioned that he hopes to get to a point where he can play Anthony and Fultz together some. That would give Orlando more playmaking on the floor than they’ve had for the last few years.
Speaking of Fultz, and also Isaac, they are each eligible for contract extensions. Both have seen members of their draft class get full max extensions, but it’s not going to happen for either of them. Fultz is kind of coming off his first season, while Isaac hasn’t stayed healthy in any of his first three years and will miss the entirety of his fourth year. Orlando will be looking to get both players on team-friendly deals, while both will want to cash in as first-time free agents. It’s likely this will go into the offseason, and restricted free agency, for both Fultz and Isaac.
The Magic hope their rookies supplement a sold group of veterans led by Fournier, Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon. Those three have made up the Magic’s core for several years. They finally pushed through for back-to-back playoff appearances, but the question is now: can this team be more than the 7th or 8thseed?
The teams behind the Magic in the Eastern Conference got better. In their own division, the Hawks, Hornets and Wizards have all closed the gap. If the Bulls have better health, they’ll be in that same mix as well. Above Orlando in the standings, there isn’t a clear team you can point to for the Magic to pass.
That leaves things feeling as much unchanged in the standings as they are with the roster. Maybe Okeke or Anthony breaks out as a rookie, or Aaron Gordon finally becomes the All-Star everyone hoped he would. Barring that, it’s another year where Orlando is battling with several teams to make the playoffs.
Additions: Russell Westbrook, Robin Lopez, Deni Avdija, Anthony Gill, Raul Neto
Losses: John Wall, Ian Mahinmi, Shabazz Napier, Gary Payton II, Admiral Schofield
2019-20 Record: 25-47, 10th in the Western Conference
Analysis: For the first time in over a decade, the Washington Wizards will open the season without John Wall as part of the franchise. The Wizards dealt him and a heavily protected first round pick to the Houston Rockets for Russell Westbrook. This move ushers in a new era for the Wizards, one that will hopefully be marked by better health.
Wall hadn’t played a game for Washington since December 26, 2018. That’s a nearly two-year absence following an initial heel surgery and then a torn Achilles. Westbrook’s track record of being mostly available to play is already an upgrade at the point guard position over Wall’s hazy availability.
Beyond the health upgrade, Westbrook’s fit with the Wizards is an interesting. All eyes will be on his partnership with Bradley Beal. Beal has become a James Hardenesque player over the last few seasons. He’s nominally a two guard, but he’s a high usage player who can score, shoot and pass. He doesn’t do it at quite the same levels as Harden does, but he’s not as far off as you might think.
Westbrook struggled at first to fit with Harden, but eventually got there. If the Wizards are open to Westbrook doing more of the rip-and-run off the boards stuff that he excels at, the offense could find a boost. Regularly, it fell to Beal to create all the team’s offense. Now, Westbrook can be a secondary creator, despite his limitations as a shooter.
Before swapping Wall for Westbrook, Washington’s biggest move was re-signing Davis Bertans. Bertans has become one of the NBA’s best snipers. His size and range allow him to take, and make, shots that a lot of others won’t attempt. He’s embraced the role of designated gunner off the bench, and fits perfectly with this Wizards group. It’s easy to envision plays where Westbrook pushes the ball with Beal on the wing and Bertans being left wide-open for three-pointers as the trailer.
Washington also added a much-needed defensive presence at the center position in Robin Lopez. He replaces Ian Mahinmi in that role, but Lopez is a big upgrade over Mahinmi on offense. He’s one of the better screeners in the leaguer, something that Beal and Westbrook will both enjoy, and he’s got nice touch around the basket. Lopez has also shown some signs of extending his range as well.
Deni Avdija, who was widely mocked to be drafted in the top-five, fell to the Wizards. He should eventually fill the team’s hole at small forward. His shot is a work in progress, but he can do some things off the dribble already. And Avdija’s size and quickness should eventually translate into him being a solid wing defender.
Washington returns some young players they hope are ready to take a leap as well. Thomas Bryant will do well to learn some of the finer points of defense from Lopez. If he can become at least a passable defender, that will complement his already terrific offensive game.
Rui Hachimura and Troy Brown both return at the forward spots. Both may be starters to start the season, but will be pressed a bit by Bertans and Avdija. If Hachimura develops into a better finisher around the rim, it would allow Bertans to stay in the bench shooter role where he excels. Brown’s probably less assured of remaining a starter, but he was one of the surprises of last season, especially in the bubble. He can defend a little on the wing, and he’s a solid finisher and scorer. He should benefit from running the opposite wing from Beal, when Westbrook has the ball.
Washington is a lot like division-mates Atlanta, Charlotte and Orlando. They aren’t a playoff lock, but they should be battling in that group of teams from 7-12 for spots in the play-in tournament. That’s a step up from missing the postseason each of the last two years, and a good accomplishment in a transition year. It would go a long way towards helping Bradley Beal see the team can win, and that’s the most important goal of all for the Wizards.