NBA front offices are run by bright minds who try to do best by their teams, but that doesn't mean The Crossover staff can't offer a word or two to help them out. With that in mind, Rob Mahoney, Rohan Nadkarni and Jeremy Woo present one modest proposal for every NBA team.
76ers: Let Ben Simmons run more
How much can the 76ers improve from their surprising 52-win campaign? If Joel Embiid can stay healthy and if Ben Simmons can round out his offensive game, they could reach 60 in a LeBron-less East. A subplot of this season, however, will be the push-and-pull between two styles: a deliberate one that favors Embiid, and a more up-tempo one that favors Simmons.
The Sixers were fantastic with both on the court last season: Emiid, Simmons, Robert Covington, J.J. Redick and Dario Saric made up the league's best high-usage lineup. But when Embiid went down late with a left-eye injury Philadelphia started playing faster. Simmons's game took off—and so did the offense. In the 10 games after Embiid got hurt, the Sixers went 9--1 and scored 118.1 points per game.
Philly's ceiling is obviously higher when Embiid and Simmons are playing together. So Brett Brown needs to find a way to build in more time for Simmons to push the offense when Embiid is on the floor. That won't just let Simmons, his 6'10" point guard, shine; it could make the team a tougher out in the postseason. In the second round last year Boston did a great job of slowing the Sixers down, and they went out in five. — Rohan Nadkarni
Bucks: Dangle Khris Middleton for a star
The Bucks gave Boston a hell of a series in the first round, but with Giannis Antetokounmpo making an argument for being the best player in the East, they should be doing more damage. What the Bucks really need to do is find a second superstar to pair with the Greek Freak, especially with his free agency looming in 2021. That's where Khris Middleton comes in.
A widely underrated player, Middleton was exceptional last postseason, averaging 24.7 points and shooting an insane 61.0% from three-point range in a seven-game loss to the Celtics. But he's also Milwaukee's best trade chip, and the team can't be afraid to use him to lure an elite, next-level talent. (Middleton reportedly quashed talks of an extension and, assuming he declines his $13 million option, will become a free agent next summer.)
As constructed, Milwaukee's ceiling is lower than Boston's and Philadelphia's. The small-market Bucks will have a trickier time than those teams recruiting free agents, so they need to be aggressive in the trade market. If any superstars start grumbling about wanting out, Milwaukee must be ready to offer Middleton. — Rohan Nadkarni
Bulls: Lock Zach LaVine in a room with Scottie Pippen
The Bulls made some interesting roster decisions over the summer. They signed Jabari Parker, a move that could have negative consequences on the defense. Chicago also matched a four-year, $78 million offer the Kings made Zach LaVine. Now, teams shouldn't give up on 23-year-olds. And letting LaVine walk one year after he was acquired from Minnesota in the Jimmy Butler trade would have been hard to do. But LaVine poses a serious problem for the Bulls.
Simply put, he is a massive minus on the defensive end. He could turn into 1987 Michael Jordan on offense and still be a liability. In every year of his career, LaVine's teams have performed better defensively with him on the bench. In fact, in every year of his career, LaVine's teams have a better net rating with him off the court. Until he does something to fix the glaring flaw in his game, he can't live up to his massive contract.
So put LaVine in a room with Scottie Pippen and don't let him leave until he learns the intricacies of elite defense. LaVine has the physical gifts necessary to become at least an adequate defender. The Bulls would be much better off with LaVine sacrificing some buckets for stops. — Rohan Nadkarni
Cavaliers: Don't let wins and losses get in the way of Collin Sexton
As a rule, I respect teams who choose not to tank. Basketball is about more than titles, and there's value to having an entertaining team that plays hard.
The Cavaliers are an exception to that rule. Cleveland decided to retool instead of rebuild after losing LeBron James, and the resulting team is more or less the same one that had the second-worst defense in the league last season—except now it's without the greatest player of all time.
It's clear that owner Dan Gilbert doesn't want to lose excessively like he did after the first LeBron departure. That's why Kevin Love is back on a max deal, and why the Cavs didn't seem to shop any of their veterans for future flexibility.
If the Cavs are hell-bent on chasing wins, they shouldn't do so at the expense of rookie guard Collin Sexton. Let the lottery pick play. He's a fearless, attacking guard who needs to polish his game. Don't let him languish behind 32-year-old George Hill so the team can pursue 39 victories. On a team with so many veteran leftovers, it can be hard for a rookie to be trusted with an elevated role. Respectability this year for the Cavs won't mean anything if Sexton hasn't developed. — Rohan Nadkarni
Celtics: Put Aron Baynes back on the bench
The fivesome of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford may not match Golden State in top-shelf talent, but it is the Warriors' equal in versatility. So Brad Stevens shouldn't ruin it by bringing any of those guys off the bench. Steve Kerr had the Death Lineup and he insisted on wasting everyone's time by starting Zaza Pachulia. NBA coaches need to give up on feeling obligated to start a bulky center and go whole hog by trotting out their best five to start the game. I know, it sounds crazy, but play your best players!
That means that Aron Baynes—who started 67 games last year—goes back to the bench, leaving Horford to play center. Baynes certainly has a place; his physicality came in handy in the postseason against Joel Embiid (the occasional posterization aside). He got under the big man's skin and contributed rim protection and a surprising three-point touch.
In addition to his stellar starters, Stevens has almost comical depth: Terry Rozier was a playoff hero, Marcus Smart gives the team its soul, and Marcus Morris could start for plenty of teams. But that depth—Baynes included—should be kept where it belongs: backing up five sublime talents. — Rohan Nadkarni
Clippers: Double down on defense
The Clippers' reinvention came to a head with the summer departures of DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers, following last season's Blake Griffin trade. Any shift in identity may end up temporary given the front office's designs on acquiring superstar talent, but Patrick Beverley has already dubbed his team "Clamp City." The Clippers—who gave up a staggering 113.0 points per game after the All-Star break—just might have the personnel to make it stick.
A healthy Beverley and Avery Bradley manning the backcourt is a good place to start: Not many teams can deploy a better pair of on-ball defenders. Rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has the length and instincts at 6'6" to follow suit, and the addition of the versatile Luc Mbah a Moute to a forward corps anchored by Tobias Harris should enable Doc Rivers to easily toggle between big and small looks. That could be enough to steal some wins and sneak back into the postseason, with Lou Williams still around to close games. L.A. won't be able to take much for granted this season, but leaning in to grit-and-grind could create a respectable stopgap as next summer's starry free-agent class looms. — Jeremy Woo
Hawks: Launch 'The Process' 2.0
I'm not going to insult your intelligence by persuading you to be excited about the Hawks. People who will intently follow this team are either die-hard fans or degenerate gamblers. Atlanta is going to be bad. Sure, John Collins dunks are fun. Taurean Prince is a decent pro. And Trae Young may get a chance to shoot 30 threes in a game. But finding intrigue here will be difficult.
What Atlanta can do is have new coach Lloyd Pierce run a new-and-improved version of the Process that Pierce grew familiar with during his time as a Sixers assistant. He has an intimate relationship with losing—as well as the eventual rebirth. Pierce will certainly bring over some of Philly's best traits from the Process era, like playing fast and shooting threes.
One way Pierce can remix the old formula is by leaning a bit more on veterans. Vince Carter is in Atlanta this season, and he can provide some of the old-man know-how that Sam Hinkie often disregarded during his tenure. You can't call the Process a failure, but it may have failed some players (Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor). Giving an important role to an admired vet like Carter should help keep the young guys on track when the losses start to pile up. And they will pile up. — Rohan Nadkarni
Heat: Sit Hassan Whiteside
If you watched the first round of the playoffs, you may remember Hassan Whiteside largely flailing against his social media rival Joel Embiid during the Heat's loss to the 76ers. Even more likely, you don't remember anything Whiteside did, because he was a complete nonfactor.
During camp, the Heat tried to pump up Whiteside, their highest-paid player. He's in better health! His relationship with the coaching staff has improved! He's practicing corner threes! Wait, he's practicing corner threes?
There's room for a center like Whiteside to succeed in the modern NBA. Just look at Clint Capela, Houston's rim-runner extraordinaire. The problem is Whiteside always wants to do more, like post ups that result in line drives at the rim, or jump shots that make Erik Spoelstra twitch.
The Heat can't give up on Whiteside—his salary is too high, and they need to build his trade value. But Miami has two centers, Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk, in the wings. Olynyk led the team in plus-minus, and Adebayo is the future, a big who can rattle the rim and defend any position. Whiteside is too often a head case who hasn't held up his end of the bargain on the court, no matter what the payroll says. — Rohan Nadkarni
Hornets: Pay Kemba Walker
The Hornets are in a situation worse than keep-losing-in-the-first-round purgatory. They haven't been good enough to make the playoffs the past two seasons, nor have they committed to truly bottoming out. Charlotte has been a lottery team for two seasons despite a roster full of veterans with bloated contracts.
The one ray of sunshine has been Kemba Walker. The 28-year-old point guard is in the final year of a four-year deal he signed in 2014, and he's been a bargain that entire time. Granted, Charlotte can't actually give Walker the deal he deserves until next summer, but it would be a mistake for the Hornets to think about trading him at the deadline just so they can attach one of their bad contracts to the deal.
Walker is a homegrown star who has said he wants to stay, and the Hornets should take advantage of his loyalty. Walker may never be the ringleader of a championship squad, but he had an incredible impact on his team last season. Charlotte was 4.3 points per 100 possessions better than their opponent with Walker on the court in 2018; it was 6.8 points per 100 possessions worse than opponents with him on the bench. That's a more dramatic split than LeBron James had in his final season in Cleveland. — Rohan Nadkarni
Grizzlies: Protect the big two
Like it or not, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are entering a different stage of their careers—and bringing Memphis along with them. Gasol will be 34 by season's end, well removed from his athletic prime. Conley is 31, but he has suffered significant Achilles and heel injuries, and he played just 12 games last year. The Grizzlies are nothing without both players on the court and healthy—so much so that they must be proactive in managing their minutes and roles, effective immediately.
Memphis should dust off the Spurs' maintenance plan for Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. Both were playing fewer minutes than Gasol and Conley at the same stages of their careers. (Duncan averaged 28.4 minutes as a 34-year-old; Gasol played 33.0 last year.) Being mindful of the future is not some admission of defeat; if anything, it's an acknowledgment of just how critical the duo is.
Therein lies the problem. Keeping Conley's minutes under 30 a game will be hard to do given the team's latest round of flotsam backup point guards. Gasol's understudy is 19-year-old rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. There are no simple solutions. Memphis, though, has to start somewhere. — Rob Mahoney
Jazz: Loosen up the offense
During Quin Snyder's four-year tenure, the Jazz have figured out how to maximize their strengths as well as any team. With Rudy Gobert's growth into the NBA's premier interior defender and a solid rotation around him, Utah has gone from 12th to second in defensive efficiency under Snyder. They've also been among the league's most plodding teams, playing at the slowest pace three seasons in a row before the arrival of electric rookie Donovan Mitchell nudged them from 30th to 25th. As Mitchell ascends to stardom, it's time for Snyder to abandon his conservatism.
The Jazz get intelligent ball movement from Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles, and they were highly effective last season when Jae Crowder spelled Derrick Favors at the four. Whether it's using Crowder and Ingles together or trying Dante Exum in three-guard looks, there's room for Utah to evolve offensively while keeping Gobert on the court as a defensive cheat code.
Contrary to their style, the Jazz were actually a top 10 team in transition efficiency while far less polished (27th of 30) running pick-and-roll, according to Synergy data. With more half-court creativity, 50-plus wins could be the reward. — Jeremy Woo
Kings: Work faster, please
Despite last year's selection of point guard De'Aaron Fox, one of the fastest end-to end athletes in the NBA, the Kings finished 2017--18 at the very bottom of the league in pace. This was due in large part to the plodding style of the now-departed George Hill. The backcourt belongs to Fox now, with this year's No. 2 pick, Marvin Bagley, forming the other half of what could be Sacramento's long-term foundation. Fox and Bagley represent the Kings' most realistic shot at relevance since GM Vlade Divac's time in uniform, in the mid 2000s. It's past time for the Kings to shift the focus fully to the kids—and that means turning up the tempo.
Fox, who turns 21 in December, remains the team's best chance at cultivating a star, and he should be ready to take a step forward after logging 27.8 minutes per game as a rookie. He's still working out his jumper and can be mistake-prone, but his ability to attack the paint, force defensive rotations and make plays should provide the connective tissue for Sacramento's various parts. By pairing Fox with Bagley, a dynamic athlete and rebounder who could thrive in the open floor, the Kings have a way forward—and it's a faster one. — Jeremy Woo
Knicks: Don't do anything the Knicks would normally do
The Knicks enter the season with a chance to be one of the worst clubs in the NBA, but in a hopeful way. Frank Ntilikina and rookie Kevin Knox are legitimate backcourt prospects who could use a year of low-stakes seasoning. Kristaps Porzingis is out indefinitely after knee surgery, but if he makes a full recovery, this year could end up serving as something of a launching pad to Knicks success.
Of course, this is the exact point at which the franchise usually does something silly, like trading young talent for a soon-to-be free agent when they have cap space, or letting someone walk only so they can sign him to a massive contract a couple of years later.
In addition to its young talent, New York has a smart coach in David Fizdale. The front office finally seems willing to hold on to its assets as opposed to turning into a kid at the frozen yogurt topping bar. If the Knicks bring Porzingis along cautiously, they can enter next summer with cap space, a good pick, an appealing market and a solid core to attract superstars.
Brighter days are on the horizon, but this season is going to be rough. Owner James Dolan needs to have the patience to allow his front office to stay the course. For once, that seems to be part of an actual plan. — Rohan Nadkarni
Lakers: Play Lonzo alongside Rondo
No team adds LeBron James and gets worse, but figuring out the optimal combination of players around him is always a process. The most notable of the Lakers' summer signings was Rajon Rondo, who plays the same position as Lonzo Ball, last year's franchise savior. James brings L.A. closer to contention, but not this year. Experimentation should be paramount. So why hold a position battle when you can just play your two best guards?
LeBron will still require heavy usage, but there's potential for advantageous ball movement if the Lakers pair Ball and Rondo, who are both cerebral passers. The rock rarely sticks in Ball's hands—he averaged a meager 3.8 seconds and just north of three dribbles per touch last season, per NBA.com's tracking data—and he shot 32.8% on catch-and-shoot threes, good enough for him to become a positionless cog. While Rondo has long been pegged as a bad shooter, he hit 33.3% of his threes last season and excelled alongside the bigger Jrue Holiday in New Orleans. The ball will zip around the floor, taking the pressure off James to create. And an unselfish approach won't hurt when it comes to recruiting free agents next summer. — Jeremy Woo
Magic: Stop acquiring big men
Remember in 2016 when the Magic rather hilariously acquired Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka in the span of a couple weeks, even though Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic were already on the roster? Of course, that was the old regime, but the new one is running into a similar problem: A logjam in the frontcourt. The Magic entered camp with a whopping eight power forwards and centers.
The three young players on this roster who will determine the Magic's future—Gordon, Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac—should arguably all be playing the same position: center in a small, fast-paced lineup. That's a problem.
The point guards are retreads. There's not enough consistent shooting on the wing. And Vucevic is still here. (And now Timofey Mozgov is too.)
Orlando, for the love of God, no more picking up players over 6'9". There's a reason why the rest of the NBA is enamored with three-and-D players. Even if Bamba and Isaac—the Magic's last two lottery picks—pan out, where does that leave Gordon, the team's highest-paid player?
For now, Steve Clifford should shelve Vucevic and commit to playing only his young players in his power rotation. At least then the Magic can get some answers on who to keep moving forward. — Rohan Nadkarni
Mavericks: Pass the torch
Harrison Barnes served his purpose as a placeholder star, but let's be realistic: The future of the Mavericks will be decided by the backcourt of Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. There's room within that framework for Barnes to score—but not as he did last year, when he isolated as often as Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kyrie Irving. Just as Dirk Nowitzki handed off most of his creative responsibilities to Barnes on his arrival in 2016, Barnes—upon his return from a hamstring injury—should cede the same to the 19-year-old Doncic.
It's an arrangement that serves everyone. By giving up control, Barnes will only end up with better looks: open jumpers, balanced action on the weak side and cuts that catch the defense unaware. Even Smith, a nominal point guard, will be able to put his speed to more devastating use when he's attacking a closeout rather than a battened-down front.
Plus, Dallas needs to learn quickly what Doncic can—and, maybe more crucially, can't—do, and to see how he fits alongside the 20-year-old Smith. The only way to evaluate their potential together is to let them roll and find out where they bump. — Rob Mahoney
Nets: Find out what D'Angelo Russell's trade value is
The Nets aren't quite back yet, but they aren't still dribbling into the void either. General manager Sean Marks has assembled a roster with some intriguing pieces, team-friendly contracts and—most important—a planet-sized amount of cap space next summer.
One of the trickier decisions on Marks's plate will be figuring out what to do with D'Angelo Russell, the former No. 2 pick who hasn't lived up to that billing in his three-season career. Next summer the Nets can let him walk, or give him a qualifying offer that makes him a restricted free agent. Before it gets to that, Marks should consider packaging Russell and 3-and-D man Allen Crabbe to open even more cap space next summer.
It would be a bold play for Marks to give up on Russell, who could show improvement under Brooklyn's development-focused coaching staff. For now, though, Russell doesn't make enough of an impact as a scorer to make up for his devastating effect on defense. Dangling Russell (and his potential) as a way to attach future money in a trade could give the Nets room to make multiple splashes in 2019 free agency—and it takes a potentially tricky decision off the table. — Rohan Nadkarni
Nuggets: Baby steps on defense
Denver's path to ending a five-year playoff drought—which includes missing the eighth spot by one game last season—is just the right amount of obvious: Improve the defense. Not that it will be easy with Nikola Jokic, who's not exactly agile, but as the engine of the offense, is too talented to take off the floor.
Still, there are positive signs. The Nuggets finished last in opponents' field goal and three-point percentage last season but only by a hair, so even minor changes will mean a few more wins. The presence of plus-defenders Paul Millsap (who played just 38 games last season due to a left-wrist injury) and Gary Harris (who missed 11 of the final 13 games with a right-knee injury) should provide an automatic boost. And 21-year-old Jamal Murray has the physical gifts to become better at guarding on the perimeter.
Critically, coach Mike Malone will have to determine how to use 5'9" Isaiah Thomas. While he can be a major scorer off the bench, Thomas is a negative when it comes to getting stops, especially after undergoing right hip surgery in March.
By becoming just a slightly more cohesive defensive unit, the Nuggets will have what it takes to get where they want to go. — Jeremy Woo
Pacers: Experiment with Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner
The Pacers have a versatile roster. They can play smallish with Thaddeus Young or Domantas Sabonis at center and surround them with wings. They can also play big, with youngsters Sabonis and Myles Turner in the frontcourt. That duo didn't see much action together last season, only 269 minutes in 54 games. Nate McMillan owes it to himself to give them a look. Victor Oladipo said, "If we can pull that off, it will be scary," but McMillan has been lukewarm on the idea.
Their size—each is 6'11"—and tools are certainly intriguing. Turner has emerged as a threat from three, though he needs to up his volume. And Sabonis has shown promise as a roll man. The Pacers should have adequate space when both are playing, and the offense will be in even better position this year with the addition of Tyreke Evans as a ballhandler and shooter.
So let Turner and Sabonis play off each other more and see if they develop a chemistry. Indy will have to decide whether or not to re-sign Turner next summer, so the front office should do all it can to find out how well he fits with the current core. McMillan shouldn't turn the regular season into a science lab, but he should seek out some answers on how to mold the team moving forward. — Rohan Nadkarni
Pelicans: Scour the wing market
Your appreciation for Anthony Davis only grows when you consider who the Pelicans roll out for regular minutes on the wing. At 6'4", E'Twaun Moore, the best of the bunch, can hit threes, put the ball on the floor in a pinch and defend similarly sized guards well enough. Unfortunately, he often has to check bigger, rangier forwards. Then there's Darius Miller, the shooter who can't defend, and Solomon Hill, the defender who can't shoot. It's no surprise that coach Alvin Gentry has tried to play two point guards together whenever possible. Getting Jrue Holiday on the floor with Elfrid Payton (or Rajon Rondo last season) means there's one fewer wing position to account for.
That works to a point, but the Pelicans are in desperate need of quality perimeter talent. Maybe a forward on a deeper team (like Marcus Morris in Boston, or Thabo Sefolosha in Utah) comes available. A fire sale in Portland could spring loose Maurice Harkless, or a buyout might create a lane for Trevor Ariza. The G League could be a viable option, considering the rotation talent that teams such as the Clippers and the Heat have found there. No matter the course, the Pelicans owe it to Davis to find a solution. — Rob Mahoney
Pistons: Commit to Glenn Robinson III
Detroit's outlook is bleak. New coach Dwane Casey will have his hands full trying to make the Blake Griffin-Andre Drummond pairing work, and Reggie Jackson's proclivity for scoring over distributing won't really help matters. It will be a high-wire act to make those three coexist in harmony. So the margins will matter—and that means filling out the lineup with the right pieces.
The most interesting position battle is Stanley Johnson vs. Glenn Robinson III at small forward. Johnson was a 2015 lottery pick for Detroit, while Robinson is on his fourth team since being drafted in the second round in 2014. (He spent last season with the Pacers.) Despite their disparate histories, right now Robinson is more impactful.
At the very least, Robinson provides better spacing. He's never shot a high volume from three (1.5 attempts per game last season), but he's a career 38.1% shooter from beyond the arc. Johnson, on the other hand, is a chucker from long distance (3.4 attempts per game last season) despite his 29.5% career average. Johnson has the edge on the defensive end, but Robinson's game is more likely to help unlock the Griffin-Drummond-Jackson trio's potential. — Rohan Nadkarni
Raptors: Blow it all up if Kawhi doesn't work out
Toronto is the biggest wild card in the NBA. If Kawhi Leonard is committed, the Raptors could challenge Boston in the East. If Leonard is on autopilot until he can bolt for Los Angeles, then the trade for him—though forever justifiable—will end up meaning nothing.
With Leonard, the Raptors' ceiling is considerably higher than its DeMar DeRozan--led teams. He is a massive upgrade, and Danny Green, who also came from San Antonio in the trade, is a valuable piece, particularly for the postseason. But if things go the other way? That's when the Raptors could get spicy.
Let's say the Raptors hover around the four-seed and never quite threaten the East's elite. If that's the case, the Raptors need to think about moving Leonard and Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline.
Here was the hidden beauty of the Leonard trade: Even if he leaves after one season, the move allowed Toronto to get out from under DeRozan's contract—which has three years and $83.2 million left—and start building the next iteration of a contender. If Leonard doesn't work out, he and the 32-year-old Lowry (who is signed for two more seasons) could fetch useful pieces to put around an already promising core. — Rohan Nadkarni
Rockets: Double down on defensive commitment
The reason the Rockets came within a strained Chris Paul hamstring of the NBA Finals is that they dedicated themselves to defensive precision. From October through May they rehearsed the exact coverage they would use against the Warriors. Switching wasn't a situational counter, but a way of life. As a result, Houston shut off Golden State's access to easy points, nearly derailing a a dynasty.
Much has changed for the Rockets since then, starting with their personnel. At the heart of Mike D'Antoni's switching D were three hyperflexible wing defenders, two of whom (Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute) are now gone. In their stead are a solid defender in James Ennis and a chronically uninterested one in Carmelo Anthony. And assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik, who served as a defensive coordinator under D'Antoni, decided to retire about a week before training camp.
The Rockets' style will only work if they stay sharp, and they can only stay sharp by reinforcing the right habits all year long. Known for its explosive scoring, Houston has to again make lockdown defense an unwavering priority. — Rob Mahoney
Spurs: Get Weird
No team in the NBA is quite like the Spurs, with their standing militia of mid-range specialists led by LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and Pau Gasol. San Antonio took fewer three-pointers than all but two teams last season, and now it's added DeMar DeRozan, a shooting guard with limited long-range skills.
The Spurs shrink the floor, churn through cluttered sets and take the shots no other team wants. They're so confident in what they do that they might as well take that anachronistic approach to its natural extreme. Aim for modern mid-range records. Make hay with snug pick-and-rolls from the elbows in. Roll out supersized lineups to dominate the paint and the glass. Find ways to use the habits of opposing defenses—now oriented to guarding the arc—against them.
With Dejounte Murray likely out for the season with a torn ACL and his initial replacement, Derrick White, sidelined for a few months, why not let the 6'7" DeRozan bully teams from the point? The Spurs are already positioned to be one of the stranger case studies in recent NBA history. They might as well leverage their staff of creative thinkers and lean into what makes them different. — Rob Mahoney
Suns: Let Devin Booker play the point
The definition of point guard has grown foggier by the day as more teams opt to put the ball in the hands of their best players and figure the rest out later. Recent reports have suggested the Suns would like to acquire a proper playmaker to pair with 21-year-old Devin Booker, an offensive dynamo who requires extra cover on the other end. Assuming there's no magic trade fix, the immediate solution is obvious: Just let Booker bring the ball up.
Booker has improved his shooting percentages, points and assists per game in each of his three seasons, a prodigious feat given his age. He has always been a scorer first, and though he isn't a James Harden-caliber playmaker, consider how Victor Oladipo's ballhandling bolstered the Pacers last season. Booker is a constant threat to score at the point of attack, and shifting him over creates more minutes for Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges and more chances to run spread pick-and-rolls with Deandre Ayton. If Booker can initiate more offense and make his teammates better as a passer, it would cement his status as a foundational piece—and go a long way toward justifying the $158 million deal he signed in July.
Thunder: At least try to reduce Russell Westbrook's workload
Invincible as he may seem, Russell Westbrook, believe it or not, turns 30 in November. He's played 80-plus games the last three seasons, averaged a triple double the last two and has shown no signs of slowing down. With a $206 million contract that runs through 2023, OKC's competitive window is tied directly to his longevity. Considering that running mate Paul George is now signed through 2022, the Thunder can start to think bigger-picture—and scaling back Westbrook's minutes. (Russ, if you're reading this, it's totally not personal.)
Thanks to George's presence, Westbrook's usage rate and shot attempts decreased, but his 36.4 minutes per game were a career high. Offseason addition Dennis Schröder is the most talented backup guard the Thunder have had since Reggie Jackson and a more legitimate third shot-creator than Carmelo Anthony was. Whether managing Westbrook's mileage is feasible depends on whether Steven Adams can anchor another top 10 defense and how well the supporting cast plays. But it certainly wouldn't hurt to have Westbrook fresher come April, and ideally beyond. — Jeremy Woo
Timberwolves: Limit Tom Thiboudeau's duties
If recent league history is any indicator, it's pretty difficult for a team to succeed long-term when the coach and lead front-office decision maker are the same person. The Clippers, Pistons and Hawks have split up those roles in the past year after each saw a short run of success spiral into a future marked by a lack of flexibility and young talent. And while coach and president Tom Thibodeau is one of the most respected defensive minds on the planet, it's time for the Timberwolves to let someone else call the shots.
Trying to win every game and thinking big-picture are often conflicting goals. Thibodeau also deserves a level of criticism, as he continues on an apparent crusade to reunite every single player he coached in Chicago.
The short-term solution is to let Thibs coach, then fish for another front-office hire. The T-Wolves are locked in with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, which should make this season more about their development than immediate results.
Regardless of wins and losses, the Timberwolves can position themselves better for the future by restructuring their org chart. Thibs is admirably strong-willed, but taking a step back from team-building could pay immediate dividends. — Jeremy Woo
Trail Blazers: Let Jusuf Nurkic shoot threes
When you're as financially tied to your core players and strapped for cap space as the Trail Blazers are, major improvements have to come internally. Over the past few years Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have become a lethal one-two punch by being turned loose on and off the ball in Terry Stotts's frenetic system. But the role players around them have mostly plateaued.
The NBA's increasing emphasis on versatility has led to more traditional centers stepping out to the perimeter. So why not let 24-year-old 7-footer Jusuf Nurkic follow suit?
Well, Nurkic is 0 for 13 from beyond the arc in his four-year career. But he did shoot 37.9% on his 124 midrange jumpers from 16 feet and beyond last season, according to Synergy data, and he took multiple threes playing for Bosnia and Herzegovina over the summer. For what it's worth, he has told reporters he plans to shoot more threes this season. The key is actually giving him the confidence to take and make those shots.
If the experiment succeeds, Nurkic could become a lethal pick-and-pop partner for Portland's guards and open up more lanes to find cutters from the top of the arc. Hey, for the Blazers to improve on 49 wins, they'll have to try something. — Jeremy Woo
Warriors: Makes Jordan Bell a starter... even after DeMarcus Cousins arrives
For the past few years, the Warriors have embodied first world problems—when they actually have problems, that is. Of course, this season's primary task is integrating mountainous four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins into the team whenever he recovers from a torn Achilles. The contingency plan begins with Jordan Bell, the undersized-but-versatile sophomore big who made a serious defensive impact in spot minutes last season. It's likely Bell starts at center to open the season, but if things go well in Golden State (hint: they tend to), there will be a legitimate case to keep him there all the way through June.
Bell only logged 14 minutes per game as a rookie, but he averaged 11.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 1.6 steals per 36 minutes. That won't directly translate, but it's clearly a positive indicator, and the wealth of scorers around him should facilitate his offensive development and let him focus on protecting the basket and defending pick-and-rolls.
Whenever Cousins makes it back, bringing him off the bench to punish reserve big men for a couple shifts a night would be quite a luxury. — Jeremy Woo
Wizards: Let MTV film everything
Let's. Go. If anyone tells you the NBA regular season is boring, or they don't like the inevitability of the Warriors' dominance, simply point them in the direction of the Wizards, the NBA team that most desperately needs to be the subject of a trashy reality-TV series.
On paper, does Washington make sense? Actually, yes! John Wall and Dwight Howard could be lethal together in pick-and-rolls. Bradley Beal is a star. And Austin Rivers is the kind of bench player this franchise has desperately needed for years.
In practice? Well, that's when things fall apart. Wall and Beal have a strained history. Can a team be a championship contender with Otto Porter Jr. as its third-highest-paid player? Rivers has never exactly been a beloved teammate. And then there's Howard, whose sense of humor is as erratic as his free throw shooting. Let's put the over/under at January for when Wall calls out Howard on national television.
Coach Scott Brooks needs to focus on keeping the locker room in line. He also has to remember that Beal is the future of his team, and when chemistry issues arise, he should be taken care of first. After all, it's inevitable that at some point the Wizards will stop being polite and start getting real. — Rohan Nadkarni