NBA Exit Interviews Part 1: What’s Next For The West’s Eliminated Teams
Only eight teams are left standing as second round action has tipped off in the NBA playoffs. Today, however, we’ll take a look at the Western Conference teams that lost in the first round, the questions they face entering the offseason, and how they can take the next step.
Portland Trail Blazers
The West’s 3-seed heading into the playoffs, the Blazers greatly disappointed in the first round as they weren’t just upset in the first round but swept by the 6th-seeded New Orleans Pelicans in dominant fashion. Portland’s backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were outplayed by their counterparts, Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday.
While Anthony Davis and the Pelicans were a bad matchup for the Blazers, that’s no excuse for how poorly Portland fared in the series. Amid speculation of head coach Terry Stotts’ job status, it’s reported that the Blazers front office intends to keep their head coach around. However, the job status of general manager Neil Olshey remains up in the air.
The Blazers are over the cap but are a team in need of a change after short playoff stints the past five years. It’s possible that they’ve seen the limited ceiling of a team based around two guards with overlapping skill sets in McCollum and Lillard, both great shooters and offensive players with defensive limitations. Given their limited resources (no cap space and a late first rounder in the upcoming draft) the Blazers will be hard pressed to find external ways to improve their team and should at least consider trading one of Lillard and McCollum to improve their teams chances of winning in the long term.
San Antonio Spurs
This could end up being the most important offseason in the history of the Spurs franchise. The Kawhi-less Spurs were clearly outmanned against the Warriors as they lost in five games and now they face questions about their roster and coach. Chief among them is what happens with Kawhi Leonard, who only appeared in nine games this year after struggling with a quad injury. Considering the Spurs medical staff cleared him but Leonard still refused to return and instead seek second opinions and continue to rehab, it’s been one of the strangest stories of the NBA season. Now the Spurs are left to wonder if those around Leonard have alternative motives to get him out of San Antonio and into a bigger market. Ultimately, the Spurs will have to decide whether they should trade him or offer him the supermax contract extension to lock him up long term (his current contract ends in 2019).
Just 26 years old, Kawhi is the present and future for the Spurs franchise but they’ll also have some decisions to make regarding some pivotal veterans and Spurs legends. Manu Ginobili turns 41 this summer and will have to decide whether or not he’s done playing basketball. Tony Parker, 35, is set to be a free agent this summer and has said that he’d like to return to the Spurs, even if he has to remain in a backup role. It’s up to the Spurs to decide if it’s worth bringing Parker back.
Whether or not you retire, @manuginobili — thank you for your dedication to San Antonio and the memories with our @spurs. #SpursCoyote #SpursSilverDancers @TheRealJRJ @bethony100 @iAmChrisCards pic.twitter.com/jtj6eMvlYk
— Y100 (@Y100SanAntonio) April 25, 2018
The most important decision for the Spurs will be that of Gregg Popovich. When the news broke that Gregg’s wife, Erin, had passed away, it reminded everyone throughout the league how small basketball is in the grand scheme of things. Popovich likely wanted to retire with Duncan but saw another championship window with Kawhi. Now 69, Popovich might decide it’s time to retire if Kawhi doesn’t end up staying in San Antonio and Ginobili retires.
Oklahoma City Thunder
After acquiring Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to team up with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook this offseason, the Thunder were expected to be a serious threat in the Western Conference and potentially challenge for the NBA title. After a first round exit at the hands of the Utah Jazz, the Thunder’s season would have to be considered a disappointment. They only won won more regular season and playoff game than they did last season.
Now the Thunder have to wait and see if Paul George, an unrestricted free agent this summer, will return to OKC. If he leaves, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the Thunder to replace his production. The Thunder also await the decision of Carmelo Anthony who, after an extremely disappointing season, has a player option for $28 million. It’s doubtful he turns down that kind of money so if he opts in, it’s up to the Thunder to find out how to maximize his talents or find a trade partner.
The Timberwolves lost to the top-seeded Rockets in five games, bringing their postseason to an abrupt end. Had Jimmy Butler been healthy for the last month of the season, Minnesota likely would have finished with a higher seed and avoided a matchup with Houston until the second round but they’re now left to look in the mirror and see how good their team can really be. While snapping a 14-year postseason drought would usually be enough cause for celebration, the Timberwolves can’t simply rest on their laurels. After next season Jimmy Butler can opt into free agency while both Karl-Anthony Towns and Jeff Teague will also be due for new contracts. After signing Andrew Wiggins to a max contract extension last summer, the Timberwolves have some very important decisions ahead after next season. If they extend Butler, Towns, and Teague all at their likely market value, the team will be capped out and locked into that core for the foreseeable future. Is this team good enough to win a championship? That’s what they’ll have to evaluate before the summer of 2019.
This season was just the first step.
— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) April 26, 2018
It would likely suit the Timberwolves to go out and sign some veterans to short-term mid-level deals this summer in order to improve their depth and utilize their cap space before they lose it completely as they decide which core members of their team to keep together. They also need to convince Butler to stay. As their best two way player, Butler is pivotal to the Timberwolves’ chances of title contention. Whatever moves Minnesota makes this summer will set them up to better evaluate the long term future of the team as they look to take the next step.