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Which NBA Teams Should Go Into Rebuild Mode?

| January 18, 2020 7:19 am PDT
Spurs, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Pistons, Wizards and Magic Logos

The mid-table places have never been the big talk of the NBA. Casual fans are only interested in how the top dogs are faring or are looking at the bottom places to see who is getting a high draft pick next year.

However, for experienced basketball fans and bettors, the fight for the playoff spots is as intriguing as anything else. Teams in this position create a kind of an NBA purgatory that usually produces excitement right until the end of the regular season.

They are not good enough to contest the top teams but also not bad enough to drop to the lottery places. Analyzing what these teams can do to better their situations has always been a fun topic for me. It sparks up a lot of debate in the basketball community, and it’s usually hard to find two people with the same opinion.

The 2019/20 NBA season is no different in this aspect, and the “purgatory” teams are already well and truly identified. Some are already in the process of rebuilding, but others are still keeping their options open.

Today, I’m going to concentrate on six NBA teams in need of a rebuild. I will provide a quick analysis of their current situation and why I believe pulling the plug would be the best option for them.

As is the case with most things in life, a team rebuild in the NBA is not a straightforward and easy process. It involves all levels of the franchise, and its success relies on shrewd negotiating and expert planning.

So in order for me to be as objective as possible and to provide as much context as I can, I will also look at every team’s case against rebuilding. As I said, the process is complex, and there are always valid points for both sides of the argument.

However, in the case of the six teams I have picked, I believe the points in favor of a rebuild are stronger.

Right, so let’s get rolling with my list.

San Antonio Spurs

The once-mighty dynasty of the Spurs has fallen since the departure of Kawhi Leonard. The team still made the playoffs last year, and they did push the number two seed in the Denver Nuggets to Game 7. But it was evident that the team is not ready to compete for a championship.

Now, almost a year later, it doesn’t look like there is a big improvement despite the return of promising guard Dejounte Murray and the addition of a few other pieces. The Spurs look clueless in defense on most nights, and they lack the firepower to get close to the top-scoring sides.

They are still a team that can produce efficient performances on both ends, but those have been extremely rare, and there are no signs that better consistency may be coming soon.

It almost looks like the Spurs don’t want to admit it, but they must be feeling that the time has come to shake things up. Let’s first look if there are any pros of sticking with what they’ve currently got.

The Case Against the Spurs Rebuilding

I guess the biggest case the Spurs have got is the fact that Gregg Popovich is a master at getting the best out of his players. The Spurs have been abysmal in big parts of the season, but they have also had a few bright moments and are not out of the playoffs picture.

The rotation looks murky at the moment, and there is no clear idea of who the starters are apart from LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan. Popovich hasn’t found a way to work this roster, but I understand why Spurs feel he can do it.

He just has a magnificent track record of building systems and improving players, so if any coach in this league deserves a chance, it’s him. If he’s able to sort out the backcourt rotation and find a steady production from his post players, the team will be a lot better.

When you throw in some promising young players who are getting valuable minutes, I guess we can say that the Spurs have a decent chance of reaching the playoffs and still improving in the future with this current crop.

The Case for the Spurs Rebuilding

When the Kawhi Leonard/DeMar DeRozan trade was done, the Spurs were widely praised for making the most out of a tough situation. After all, they were sure to lose Kawhi and got an All-Star, a promising young center in Jakob Poeltl, and a first-round pick.

Now, DeRozan is definitely a good player, but he’s not a Popovich player. He found it hard to settle in San Antonio, and he’s still far from producing his All-Star form consistently. It’s tough to say who is to blame for that situation.

It’s obvious that DeRozan didn’t want to be traded, and he struggled with the team’s system at the beginning. But somewhere along the road, the player should’ve improved. The fact that he has stalled means he either can’t be bothered to play for the team or Pop is not getting through to him.

Whichever one it is, it’s not good for the San Antonio Spurs.

And then we come to LaMarcus Aldridge. The player has been a good servant for the team and managed to overcome his conflicts with the coach to remain arguably the most valuable piece on this roster.

Aldridge is a great player, and when he’s on song, he can be elite. However, he is already 34 and can’t be considered as someone to build around for the future.

I understand Popovich is in his final years as a coach, and rebuilding doesn’t sound appealing at all. Especially when you haven’t done it in 20 years and have still remained highly successful.

But DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge should have no part in the future of the franchise, and keeping them in San Antonio for much longer will not increase their trading value.

Reaching the playoffs will be a huge, record-breaking feat for the Spurs, but I feel that they might suffer in the long term if they focus on this season.

Time for Gregg Popovich to swallow his pride and do the right thing by securing a stable future for his franchise.

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons are in all sorts of trouble. Faith in their current project was waning even before Blake Griffin’s season-ending injury, and it now seems to be at an all-time low.

The Case Against the Pistons Rebuilding

Honestly, I’m struggling to think of any valid reason for the Pistons to stick with what they have. Andre Drummond is an elite player on his day and can be a valuable piece even on teams that challenge for the championship.

However, illusions that he can single-handedly make the Pistons competitive are surely dead by now. The addition of Blake Griffin did provide a spark for a while, but it’s evident that he’s no longer the phenom that once shocked the league, and his latest injury should put his involvement with Detroit to bed.

The Case for the Pistons Rebuilding

It’s high time for the Pistons to face the music and weed out the veterans. Players like Reggie Jackson, Markieff Morris, Thon Maker, and Tony Snell should be shipped out and their minutes distributed to the emerging young core.

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is proving to be excellent at catch-and-shoot 3s, while the NBA’s youngest player Sekou Doumbouya is showing terrific athleticism and loads of potential on both ends. And Luke Kennard has grown into a shooting guard that future teams can be built around.

But it all starts with trading Andre Drummond. The Pistons need to part ways with their most prized asset and quick. There will be no shortage of suitors for an All-Star center, and Detroit can secure a hefty package for him.

Derrick Rose is also someone who may interest a contender. He’s been in good form for the Pistons and is on a small contract.

There is a long road ahead for the franchise, but they need to rip off the bandaid right now. It will take some time to heal, but with a couple of good trades and draft picks, they could be back sooner than people think.

Portland Trail Blazers

Last year’s Western Conference finalists are a curious case. On paper, they have a very solid foundation and unique culture and camaraderie in the dressing room. In reality, this hasn’t resulted in anything meaningful.

They have been ever-present in the playoffs since they formed their signature backcourt duo of Lillard and McCollum, but despite reaching the conference finals, they haven’t looked like a championship team.

The franchise obviously wants to get to the next level, and it’s time for some tough decisions to be made. Here are my thoughts on the two possible routes ahead.

The Case Against the Trail Blazers Rebuilding

The obvious argument is that the team has one of the most prolific backcourts in the league. Lillard and McCollum are the Blazers’ elite weapons, and the thought of losing one of them or both probably sends a chill down the spines of their fans.

The big issue is those two alone can’t crack the top opposition. However, it’s also true that the team’s addition of Carmelo Anthony has given them a boost. Also, Hassan Whiteside has been putting in decent performances in Jusuf Nurkic’s absence.

And Nurkic himself is expected to return from injury around the All-Star break. Let’s remember that the Bosnian was in monster form prior to going down last season. He’ll probably need some time to get back to his best, but there are plenty of games before the postseason starts.

If Anthony continues his good scoring form and Nurkic gets back to his best quickly, the Blazers have a chance of being even better in the playoffs than last year.

The Case for the Trail Blazers Rebuilding

The team is definitely in a very tough situation. Probably the toughest out of all franchises that are contemplating a change in direction. As you saw, there are quite clearly very valid points for them to stick with their current group.

However, their opponents haven’t been sleeping. Almost every potential playoff team from the Western Conference is a lot better. For the Blazers to say the same, it will take a lot. Carmelo must continue with his good form if he is to compensate for the loss of Rodney Hood, who was great in the playoffs last year.

Nurkic has yet to return from a leg break injury, and it’s not exactly a smart move to place all hopes on him.

And the truth is that the rest of the roster is simply not good enough. Players like Zach Collins, Mario Hezonja, Anfernee Simons, and Anthony Tolliver have failed to impress. And what’s even more troubling is that they are not exactly viewed by other teams as assets.

This makes the Blazers’ chances of improving their roster without parting with their star duo very slim. I can’t think of one team that would trade their best player to the Blazers without demanding one of their two star guards.

So this puts the team at a crossroads. Improving significantly with the current group seems more like wishful thinking than a real prospect.

And taking things to the next level and eventually competing for the championship has to go through a trade of their two best players.

I admire what the franchise has achieved in the past several years. Not many teams have been that stable and positive. However, the way the roster has shaped up means that there’s zero room for them to build on it in any meaningful way.

So, if they are interested in challenging for the title, I believe the reasonable thing to do is to call an end to the Lillard-McCollum era and start investing in the future.

It was a good ride for the Blazers, but in my view, they have hit their ceiling. Opening up cap space and getting some fresh blood in there can set them on their way. It will be tough, but staying put will not get them anywhere.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Two years ago, it looked like the T-Wolves were going places. They had acquired Jimmy Butler and made the playoffs for the first time in like forever. Sadly for them, it all came crashing down when Butler demanded a trade and eventually got his way.

Now the team is in a horrible cap situation and struggling to find its style and identity. They are the quintessential purgatory team of this year, and the path to building up rhythm and consistency looks completely blocked.

Despite all that, there were some bright moments at the start of the campaign, so let’s see if there are any positives in keeping things the way they are.

The Case Against the Timberwolves Rebuilding

We all know that the cornerstone of this team is Karl-Anthony Towns. He’s a true NBA elite who will be among the best players on any team. Simply having such a piece on your roster can breed optimism. Not a single Wolves fan has ever criticized the franchise for signing Towns to a max contract, but the same doesn’t apply for his partner Andrew Wiggins.

The forward has made a reputation as one of the biggest busts in the NBA, and his max extension in 2017 came as a huge surprise to many. However, if his early performances this season are anything to go by, there might be a light at the end of the tunnel after all.

Wiggins started the season in hot form and was putting up career-high numbers in almost every department. The streak did not last for long, but the mere fact that the wing is capable of producing such numbers is at least a good starting point.

Wiggins is essential for the playoff ambitions of the team, and if coach Saunders can bring out the best of him more often, the Wolves will be a much, much better team.

The same goes for Robert Covington, who can be a very valuable piece on both ends but hasn’t quite taken off in Minnesota yet.

With these three in hot form and with focus on developing the promising backcourt options like Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver, this Wolves team can definitely leave a mark on the league.

The Case for the Timberwolves Rebuilding

While talks of how this team can improve may sound soothing for Wolves fans, they are still very much in the realms of fantasy.

While I do expect Covington to eventually come good, are we really talking about Wiggins fulfilling his potential? The guy has been around for six years, and he has only produced a handful of brief spells to remind us that he’s a former number-one pick.

Banking on him to turn things around now is not exactly shrewd management.

And his contract situation means that the franchise has no chance of supplying Karl-Anthony Towns with elite support. Basically, the Wolves are locked in a situation where they have to either improve internally or be forced to pull the plug.

Given that the first option looks highly improbable, I think it’s time to focus on the second. After all, KAT will not hang around much longer and wait for Andrew Wiggins to start playing like a proper NBA player.

His contract does run through to 2024, but I won’t be surprised if the player decides to take the Jimmy Butler route at some point and demand a trade.

In order to avoid that, the Wolves can simply acknowledge that this is not going anywhere and blow this whole thing up. They have a couple of great young players, a young and eager coach, and will receive a ton of picks for their star players.

I feel that dragging this out for too long will only cause long-term damage to the franchise. This team is not particularly good at anything on the court, and making small amendments to it won’t get them anywhere.

It’s time to swallow the bitter pill and start from scratch.

Orlando Magic

Some of you may view this as a surprise entry, but I’ll try my best to convince you.

First off, the Magic can be a very frustrating team, but we have to take into account that the group is still very young, and they are actually a legitimate playoff contender in the East.

The front office has seemingly identified the core of the team by handing out some big contracts in the past two years. And there are several exciting young athletes that look ready to make their mark.

All good, right? Well, yes and no. Let’s start with the potential positives with this group.

The Case Against the Magic Rebuilding

Orlando seems to have found a comfortable spot with its current roster. They have an All-Star caliber center in Nikola Vucevic, a budding young forward in Aaron Gordon, and two exciting guards in Markelle Fultz and Evan Fournier.

They won’t win any championships with this group, but they can easily get into the postseason while also giving crucial minutes to young players such as Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba.

The team also re-signed the efficient rim protector Khem Birch, who impressed last season, and brought back Terrence Ross as a viable shooting option from the bench.

It’s a lively mix of youth and experience that is relieved of the pressure of winning every game and can focus on improving their skillsets and chemistry.

The Case for the Magic Rebuilding

As lovely as this group sounds, we have to acknowledge the fact that these players have a ceiling. Nikola Vucevic was an All-Star last season, and he definitely deserved his max contract. But can he be a leading player on a championship team?

Aaron Gordon, for all his natural athleticism, seems to have taken a step back and might never reach the level of physical presence and efficiency everyone expects from him.

Markelle Fultz is feeling better in Orlando and looks nothing like the disaster he was with the Sixers. But despite his improvement, he is still nowhere near justifying his number-one pick status.

Evan Fournier is a decent outside shooter but wouldn’t be anything more than a bench option for a top team.

Banking on one player of that category can be risky, but when there are four of them, it is borderline naive. Sure, some of those players can still surprise us and establish themselves as NBA stars, but another picture is way more realistic in my view.

This is the picture of the Orlando Magic getting into the playoffs and going out in the first round for years to come. This may be considered as a success, but it’s not what teams with big aspirations do.

It might sound premature to pull the plug on this group of players, but if Orlando really wants to step it up, they need star power. Some of those guys have a decent trade value right now, but they are all prone to health problems and slumps in form.

I concede that this would be a risky operation, but if the Magic can capitalize on their assets at the right time, they have a far greater chance to be challenging the top dogs soon.

Washington Wizards

There are some who think the team is already in rebuilding mode, and there is some truth to that. The reason I don’t fully agree with that statement is that I believe the franchise should be dealing with their situation in a much wider scope.

There are still a lot of uncertainties and roster decisions that simply don’t make sense, but let’s look at what the positives may be if the team remains unchanged.

The Case Against the Wizards (Further) Rebuilding

The franchise was able to sign Bradley Beal to an extension, which was a big statement of intent. Beal has become the cornerstone of this team in John Wall’s absence and has transformed into an elite shooting guard.

He has been surrounded by a slew of young and talented players such as Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown, Moritz Wagner, and rookie Rui Hachimura. The team can also rely on one of the best outside shooters in the league in Davis Bertans.

That is quite a nice young core right there, and the presence and experience of Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas are undoubtedly proving beneficial for the group. On top of that, it seems that the long-awaited return of John Wall is nearing.

The backcourt of Wall and Beal was once a menace for the entire league, and with all the additional shooters on the roster, the Wizards can eventually score their way into the playoffs with this group.

The Case for the Wizards (Further) Rebuilding

When I said that the Wizards need to approach this on a wider scale, I meant that in order for this franchise to be successful, they will need more than a few roster changes.

The first order of business should be to actually figure out the direction of this team. If they are truly in rebuilding mode, then why is a player like Isaiah Thomas given so much time on the court at the expense of the younger pieces?

The same goes for Bradley Beal. If he is to be the long-term franchise player of this team, isn’t it a bit silly to have him so heavily involved in what should be a rebuilding season?

Coach Scott Brooks talks about team identity a lot, but I fail to see a clear vision of it. Yes, the Wizards can shoot, but what kind of offense do they want to run? Are they able to improve on defense with the current group?

To me, it’s total anarchy, and if you want to say that the franchise is, in fact, rebuilding, I can only say that they are rebuilding wrong. Their short-term plans completely baffle me, and I don’t even dare ask what their long-term plans may be.

The system needs a complete overhaul, and the GM should provide a clear direction. Once this is settled, I would put forward the matter of whether Scott Brooks is actually qualified to take this team further.

Apart from Bradley Beal’s growth, there haven’t been many improvements I can directly attribute to the coach. The situation requires a strong hand, and Brooks is not exactly known for such an approach.

So, to summarize, I do believe the Wizards need to make wholesale changes. But before they figure out what kind of team they want to be, trading and starting from scratch will be useless.

Final Words

That wraps up my look at the NBA’s purgatory. I hope you enjoyed the piece and encourage you to share your thoughts on the matter by commenting in the section below. I’m sure you have your own ideas of what these six teams should do, so don’t hesitate to join the debate.

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Elias Wagner

Elias Wagner has been a soccer fan since he was a young boy. He still has a huge passion for the sport itself as well as betting on it and writing about it.

Outside of soccer, Elias also enjoys other sports including basketball, tennis, and snooker. He's been writing for GamblingSites.com since 2018.

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