The NBA wants to spend Christmas with you, and Sam Hinkie’s former boss is the Philadelphia 76ers’ lead executive. The draft is weeks away. A flurry of free-agent signings and trades could be coming just a few days later.
In other words, it’s all happening. In a roundtable, CBS Sports’ Michael Kaskey-Blomain, Jack Maloney and James Herbert discussed the recent news and how the offseason might play out.
1. What was your initial reaction to the proposed Dec. 22 start for next season, and what are its potential effects?
James Herbert: At first I thought I was hallucinating. The 2019-20 season just ended. I had assumed that free agency would open at the beginning of December, with opening night in mid-to-late January. Even now, this feels like a mad rush, and I’d argue that 72 games is too many. I suspect that the transaction period will be chaotic, the start of the season will be sloppy and it will take a while for certain teams to find rhythm. I wouldn’t want to be a rookie or a free agent right now.
Michael Kaskey-Blomain: My initial reaction was that the proposed start date was definitely earlier than I expected it to be. Also, the thought that the players probably wouldn’t be on board with such a quick turnaround popped into my head. After all of the effort that went into successfully executing the bubble, it seemed like all parties involved would benefit from a bit more time in between seasons. If the NBA goes with this plan, I expect a lot of free agents to remain unsigned until after the season starts, and I expect a lot of load management early on, especially for veterans like LeBron James.
Jack Maloney: I think it’s insane, to be honest. I understand the financial aspect and that both the league and TV partners would love to have the Christmas Day games, but this seems like way too quick of a turnaround. It doesn’t surprise me at all that players are already pushing back against the idea. Not only would those who went on a deep playoff run get a much shorter break than normal, but dozens of free agents would be put in the difficult position of rushing toward deals or joining teams well into training camp. And that’s to say nothing of the impact on front offices, which would have to fly through an entire offseason worth of activity in just a few weeks. It will probably still go forward, but I think a Martin Luther King Day start would be better for everyone.
The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t even have a coach yet. But hey, money talks.
2. Daryl Morey’s new job is to fix the Sixers. How do you think he’ll approach it?
Kaskey-Blomain: I think he’ll approach the job with an open mind. Morey will inherit two young stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and though rumors will fly, there’s no reason to think that the Sixers will look to move on from either player now that Morey is on board. The organization has steadily maintained that it plans to continue to build around the young All-Star duo, and that there’s a sense of eagerness to see what a new coach can bring out of Embiid and Simmons.
Thus, rather than trying to trade either, Morey will likely spend a lot of his early energy in Philly trying to upgrade the players around them. Part of that will entail trying to find takers for Tobias Harris and/or Al Horford, and if anyone can do it, it’s Morey. His ability to get creative in trade talks while maintaining a long view is one of the main reasons that the Sixers brought him in.
Maloney: Some of the win-now deals the Sixers have gone for in recent years makes it feel like they’re up against the clock in trying to win a title with this group, but that’s not really the case. Having Simmons and Embiid locked up long-term gives Morey the ability to be patient with any drastic moves, and while I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make a big splash at some point, I don’t expect him to go there right away. He’s spent years maneuvering around the margins in Houston, and will back himself to figure out the right mix in Philadelphia.
Herbert: I’m sure he’ll approach it with his typical mix of aggressiveness and patience. Morey isn’t afraid to propose blockbuster trade offers, but the easier deals to complete are smaller ones. I’m not ruling anything out, and at the very least I expect the Sixers will have better spacing the next time we see them. In a best-case scenario, Philadelphia will start the season with more playmaking, too, and Brett Brown will be extremely jealous of the options Doc Rivers has.
3. What’s your favorite Chris Paul trade destination?
Kaskey-Blomain: Probably Milwaukee. Paul would make some serious sense for the Bucks as he could serve as a complementary scorer and playmaker to Giannis Antetokounmpo. He would basically be a better — and more consistent, especially in clutch time — version of what Eric Bledsoe provides for the Bucks. He would fit well in Philadelphia, too, but at this point in his career Paul might not be a fan of Doc Rivers or Daryl Morey, which makes the Sixers going after him somewhat unlikely.
Herbert: I actually think Philadelphia just got a lot more interesting, but my favorite landing spot is Milwaukee, where Paul’s surgical approach to halfcourt offense would make such a difference come playoff time. I would like this even more if the Bucks could also get a bit more versatile on the other end and improve their wing rotation. At this stage of his career, he’s a downgrade from Bledsoe defensively, but on the other end there’s no comparison.
Maloney: Going to agree with everyone else and say I think it has to be Milwaukee. The Bucks are so clearly in need of an upgrade to get them over the hump in the playoffs, and Paul seems like the most logical option available in terms of both fit and experience. Plus, I’d just love to see how the CP3-Giannis combination would work.
4. The Hawks, Knicks, Pistons and Hornets project to have real cap space. Which of these teams is most interesting, and how do you think it should use the space?
Maloney: I have some morbid curiosity about what the Pistons do with that roster, which might be the least inspiring one in the entire league, but on the court it’s definitely the Hawks. I want the exciting Trae Young to have a more competitive group around him.
At the same time, I’m not sure they should go on a spending spree this offseason just because they have the money. There aren’t that many difference-making free agents, and overpaying for someone just to try and make the playoffs in a loaded Eastern Conference seems like short-term thinking.
Herbert: The Hawks intrigue me because the Clint Capela trade signaled that they want to be a playoff team, and because they can probably use their space to make that happen. Joe Harris would be an incredible fit if that’s the plan, and if I were them I’d try to get John Collins’ rookie scale extension done at a reasonable number. The danger, however, is that much of the financial flexibility they’ve had could vanish relatively quickly. This stage in the building process is always tricky.
Kaskey-Blomain: For me it’s the Hornets. Maybe that’s just because I want them to be good and recapture some of the success that they enjoyed in the ’90s when I was first falling in love with the league. They are a team looking for an identity following the departure of Kemba Walker last offseason, and they’re also a team that has been stuck in mediocrity mode for far too long. It’s time for Michael Jordan to start making moves to get the team on the path to contention. Maybe that means free-agent signings, maybe it means making trades. Either way, I’m looking for Charlotte to be super active.
5. It’s not a loaded free-agent class, but there are a bunch of contenders trying to level up with trades. What’s one first- or second-tier team you have an eye on?
Maloney: It has to be the Bucks for me. Given their playoff failures and Giannis’ looming free agency, simply running it back with this same group doesn’t seem like an option. It will be fascinating to see how they handle such a make-or-break offseason.
Kaskey-Blomain: I’ll be interested to see how the Sixers are able to upgrade the roster around Embiid and Simmons, especially now that Morey will be the one calling the shots. They had a ton of cap space to work with last summer, and it’s pretty much the opposite this time around. Sure, they’d love to move either Harris or Horford’s hefty contracts, but that’s easier said than done. Barring any major trades, they’ll have to go bargain hunting, with a focus on shooting and guard play.
Herbert: The Warriors are my team to watch. Teams with this kind of star power almost never have the No. 2 pick, and the weirdness of this draft makes them even more fascinating. The whole league knows Golden State wants to make a trade for a star, but it might have to settle for making less splashy moves. Between its pick, the Wolves’ 2021 pick, the Andre Iguodala trade exception and Andrew Wiggins’ massive contract, the front office has plenty of stuff to play with. I wonder about Eric Paschall’s trade value, too.