Every NBA team has a path to the title.
It's just that the degree of difficulty and potential timetable that can differ dramatically from one franchise to the next.
A small batch of clubs will be at the forefront of championship discussions heading into the 2022-23 season. A similarly sized group will never make a peep in the race. A bunch of other teams land somewhere in the middle with an eye on contending either this coming season or sometime shortly after that.
No matter when a title run could conceivably come into play, we're here to spotlight the moves that can make them happen.
Atlanta Hawks: Trade John Collins for Two-Way Wing
John Collins looks like either a cornerstone or at least one of those high-level support players who ingrains himself within a franchise's fabric. And yet, his name has bounced around the rumor mill like a sock in a dryer, making plenty of noise again this summer.
As good as he is, his skills might overlap a bit too much with Clint Capela's for Collins to maximize his impact in Atlanta. And while the Hawks have gotten good mileage out of their bouncy big man, they'd get even more from a versatile wing who could lock down the perimeter and bring something to the offensive end.
Granted, two-way wings aren't easy to get in trades, but a 24-year-old who's a constant double-double threat, an explosive finisher and a plus perimeter shooter shouldn't be, either.
Boston Celtics: Find Another Shot-Creator (If They Didn't Already)
Boston wasn't in obvious need of major boat-rocking after landing just two wins shy of a title last season. Nevertheless, the Shamrocks added both Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari this offseason, and they reportedly dangled an offer of Jaylen Brown, Derrick White and a draft pick to the Brooklyn Nets for Kevin Durant, per The Athletic's Shams Charania.
The Nets reportedly countered by asking for "Marcus Smart, draft picks and potentially one more rotation player," and so far the Celtics have resisted. You could argue the Shamrocks should just walk away, since Brogdon and Gallinari might be enough to fill the shot-creating, ball-moving and shooting voids on the roster.
Then again, the idea of a Durant-Jayson Tatum tandem is terrifying, and even if Smart had to join that package of outgoing players, Boston would still have the newcomers, Robert Williams III, Al Horford, Payton Pritchard and Grant Williams to go championship-chasing with. It's tempting, especially if the Shamrocks can get a deal done without forking over the farm.
Brooklyn Nets: Keep KD, Then Get Bigger in the Backcourt
While the Minnesota Timberwolves' overpay for Rudy Gobert seemed like the ultimate blessing for Brooklyn—if Gobert can fetch four-first rounders, how many is Kevin freakin' Durant worth?—it could be the opposite. That trade may have set an insurmountable price tag for Durant that the market may never meet.
Remember, teams don't have to agree with what the Wolves paid for Gobert (or what the Hawks sacrificed for Dejounte Murray). In fact, multiple executives described the deals as "reckless" to ESPN's Zach Lowe, which suggests the notion they'll use those trades to scale a Durant mega-deal could be, at best, incredibly optimistic.
If the Nets can't get an astronomic offer for Durant—he may be an all-time great, but he'll be 34 before the campaign opens and has suited up 90 times the past three seasons combined—they might want to do everything they can to smooth things over with the once-in-a-generation scorer.
If there's any way they can convince Durant to stay and lace them up with Kyrie Irving for another season, Brooklyn could be in business. That could be a championship-caliber twosome if everything breaks right, and if the rest of the roster provides proper support. As far as the latter goes, the Nets might need a bigger, more defensive-minded backcourt partner for Irving than they have on the roster to make a title run happen.
Charlotte Hornets: Move Picks, Prospects for Go-To Scorer
The Hornets have an ascending star in LaMelo Ball and... well, no one remotely close to his level. Gordon Hayward is unreliable due to his myriad injury issues, Terry Rozier and PJ Washington are complementary players and restricted free agent Miles Bridges might be out of the mix as he faces three felony domestic violence charges.
Ball might look like a magician at times, but he can't actually work any miracles. Not on his own, at least.
For Charlotte to level up, it has to find a true co-star for its floor general. And no, reuniting with Kemba Walker or Isaiah Thomas—both considerations of the franchise, per The Athletic's Shams Charania—won't cut it. If the Hornets uncover an up-and-comer on Ball's timeline, they should make an aggressive offer with picks and prospects to go get him.
Chicago Bulls: Get Lonzo Ball Healthy, Swap Nikola Vucevic for a Stopper
Internally, Chicago has several boxes to check to reach true title contention. Getting Lonzo Ball back from his torn meniscus is a must after he provided immense value as a two-way connector. Having DeMar DeRozan repeat last season's breakout would be ideal. Having Patrick Williams make his third-year leap would be hugely helpful.
Even if all of the above falls into place, though, the Bulls will struggle to squeeze championship-caliber defense out of the DeRozan-Zach LaVine-Nikola Vucevic trio. When they shared the floor last season, Chicago surrendered 113.2 points per 100 possessions. The Detroit Pistons, who lost 72 percent of their games, gave up 113.3.
The Bulls don't need Vucevic's scoring and glass-cleaning as much as they need the kind of interior protection he can't provide. If this roster is otherwise ready for a title trek, the front office should strongly consider attaching a prime asset or two with Vucevic to get the best defense-first big who fits that budget.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Move Collin Sexton (and Maybe More) for Two-Way Wing
When Collin Sexton hoped to score a contract extension before the season, he and his camp were hoping for $100 million, per Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor. The Cavaliers' latest offer, per Fedor, was "close to $40 million" for three years.
In online parlance, that translates to: Tell us you don't want Sexton to re-sign without telling us you don't want Sexton to re-sign.
Sexton has outperformed a three-year, $40 million deal—he's a 23-year-old who averaged 24.3 points the last time he was healthy—but he doesn't make a ton of sense on Cleveland's roster. Not in more than an instant-offense reserve role, at least. The Cavs should explore every avenue to sign-and-trade Sexton (including more if needed) for a two-way wing who could actually complement Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen.
Dallas Mavericks: Find Luka Doncic a Full-Fledged Co-Star
Luka Doncic routinely dazzles as a one-man army in Dallas, but even he can't pilot a championship vessel by himself. He needs a top-shelf co-star, and forgive me for thinking Christian Wood won't quite measure up.
This won't be easy, since the Mavs are hardly swimming in assets. They're still on the hook for another first-rounder from the ill-fated Kristaps Porzingis deal, and the pick carries protections through 2025, so draft sweeteners can't easily be provided. They're also too good with Doncic to get a great draft pick, so their best prospect is either rookie second-rounder Jaden Hardy or third-year swingman Josh Green, who hasn't cleared 1,500 minutes yet.
The one saving grace is Doncic's age (23), which buys Dallas more time to get this done. Clearly, the Mavericks won't (and shouldn't) let off the accelerator following last season's trek to the Western Conference Finals, but they have to remain on the hunt for a major upgrade. Championship celebrations aren't coming to town without one.
Denver Nuggets: Get Healthy, and Get a New Backup Big
Minor tinkering may be all that's needed to take this team over the top.
Assuming good health for Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., those two and reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokic could once again have the Nuggets rapidly rising in the West. Add Aaron Gordon to the mix, and you're talking about a quartet that thrashed opponents by 18.2 points per 100 possessions the last time it played together.
Plug in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as a point-of-attack defender and catch-and-shoot marksman, and the Nuggets could field one of the Association's best starting fives. The bench looks deep, too, although Denver would help itself by finding a more inspiring option as the backup big than DeAndre Jordan, who's been a net-negative for his team each of the past three seasons.
Detroit Pistons: Stay Patient and Keep Fingers Crossed For Wembanyama Sweepstakes
Pistons fans might have to endure a few more lumps during the upcoming season, but a blindingly bright future could make it all worth it.
Detroit has a centerpiece talent in Cade Cunningham and a nucleus of intriguing support pieces around him. Incoming freshmen Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren look like immediate role-fillers, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Livers could be perfect connectors and things get really interesting if gambles on Killian Hayes and Marvin Bagley III start to pay off.
However, for the Pistons to jump from intriguing up-and-comer to championship contenders, they need another impact piece to pair with Cunningham. Victor Wembanyama, the prized prospect of the 2023 class, could be that player. The Wembanyama sweepstakes could be crowded, but a victory could mean as much in the Motor City as anywhere.
Golden State Warriors: Run It Back, but Watch James Wiseman Closely
While the Warriors won't fully run back last season's title team, all of the key components are still in place.
Stephen Curry remains the defense-destroying cheat code. A healthy Draymond Green might still be the league's best defender. Even if Klay Thompson's defense never fully recovers, he's as electric as any outside shooter. Andrew Wiggins is somewhere between a star and a player who stars in his role. Jordan Poole keeps the scoreboard in perpetual motion.
That core alone might be good enough to win it all, and that's without including the rock-solid Kevon Looney, the summer steals of Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green or all of the young talent that could mature at any time. Having said that, if the puzzle pieces don't align for whatever reason and James Wiseman looks like he needs more time than this team can afford to give him, the front office should be ready to pivot toward a win-now trade if the return is right.
Houston Rockets: Add Andrew Wiggins and a Restricted Free Agent Next Summer
The Rockets are young and unproven for now, but when their switch flips, it could happen in a hurry. In fact, if players like Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr. and Alperen Sengun show enough growth next season, Houston could be a force already in 2023 free agency.
"They are ready to be a cap space player as early as next summer, and they're in market where free agents are going to look at them," ESPN's Zach Lowe said (via Rockets Wire). "This team is now a sleeping giant in free agency, starting next summer, and could go from bad to interesting really freaking fast."
Looking at Houston's roster, a lockdown wing defender like Andrew Wiggins could fill a major need. If the Rockets can get him and a restricted free agent who fits their timeline—RJ Barrett, Tyler Herro, De'Andre Hunter and Cameron Johnson are among the potential targets—this group could be just a few years away from being mentioned in the championship conversation.
Indiana Pacers: Clear out Remaining Vets, Maximize Lottery Odds and Go from There
The Pacers are so early into their rebuild that plotting a championship path is tricky—or impossible if you don't think Tyrese Haliburton can reach star status.
However, if you give the benefit of the doubt to their developmental program, that could put Haliburton on an All-Star ascension and an intriguing nucleus of Bennedict Mathurin, Chris Duarte, Isaiah Jackson and Jalen Smith around him. That's a decent starting point, and maybe even more if enough of these players push toward their best-case scenarios.
Still, that's not a championship roster, so the Pacers need to open more avenues to blue-chip talent. The simplest way to do that is by trading the remaining vets—namely, Myles Turner, Buddy Hield and T.J. McConnell—for more picks and chasing high-level potential on draft night.
Los Angeles Clippers: Get Kawhi Leonard Healthy
While Kawhi Leonard missed all of last season recovering from a torn ACL, the Clippers kept loading their roster in anticipation of his return. Speaking of that, it sounds as if everything is on schedule on that front.
"He's maniacal in his work ethic," Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said, per Mirjam Swanson of the Southern California News Group. "It's fun to see. I'm glad to afford the light bill because he's putting in the hours."
Get Leonard back to full strength, and he's immediately back into the best-player-on-the-planet debate. The Clippers, meanwhile, could be front and center of the championship race, especially if John Wall has something left in the tank. If he does, this might be the deepest roster in basketball.
Los Angeles Lakers: Revive the Westbrook-to-Indy Talks
The Lakers aren't winning a title next season with Russell Westbrook. No, I don't have access to a crystal ball, but I do have my memory of how this all played out in 2021-22, so... yeah. I've seen enough, and L.A. should agree.
The Lakers have discussed a deal sending involving Westbrook, Myles Turner, Buddy Hield and more with the Pacers, though those talks are "currently dead," per The Athletic's Bob Kravitz. L.A. should do everything in its power to revive them.
Hield and Turner would be effortless fits for the Lakers. Hield's sharpshooting would buy precious breathing room for LeBron James and Anthony Davis, while Turner is a better version of Thomas Bryant's best-case scenario. A trade wouldn't make the Lakers the favorites, but it would give them a fighting chance, and you never want to count out James when he has that.
Memphis Grizzlies: Make a Splashy Addition to the Frontcourt
The Grizzlies seem content taking the slow-and-steady approach with their climb to contention. But with Ja Morant acting as the franchise's fast-forward button, Memphis would be more than justified if it wanted to make a major win-now splash and see what happened.
There are enough picks and prospects available to broker a blockbuster deal and potentially still leave the same nucleus in place. It's possible to plot out a star trade that doesn't cost the Grizzlies any of Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. or Desmond Bane. Trust me, I've done it before.
There's nothing wrong with practicing patience, particularly when the core is this young. However, championship windows close abruptly all of the time, and you never want to take them for granted. Factor in that the books will get trickier to manage once Morant's supermax extension kicks in next summer, and this might be the time to strike.
Miami Heat: Get a Deal Done for Durant. Somehow.
Dubious about the Heat's chances of building a trade package good enough for the Nets to bite on a Kevin Durant deal? Me too. If Jaylen Brown isn't enough for Durant, then Tyler Herro obviously isn't.
That shouldn't matter to the Heat. Not with president Pat Riley calling the shots. He knows the value of stars better than anyone, and he should acutely appreciate what Durant might mean to Miami, which looked one half-court scorer shy of a true title team last season.
If Durant isn't the best scorer this league has ever seen, he's at least in the discussion. Letting him work in tandem with Jimmy Butler could be the key that unlocks Miami's championship potential. Getting Durant to South Beach is tricky, but the prize is rich enough that exhausting every attempt to make it happen is not only reasonable, it's demanded.
Milwaukee Bucks: Stand Pat and Get Healthy
Had Khris Middleton not sprained his MCL in the postseason, it's possible the Bucks would've spent their summer celebrating successfully defending their throne. Even without the All-Star wing, the 2021 champs pushed the eventual Eastern Conference champion Celtics to seven games, as Giannis Antetokounmpo went berserk against Boston's defense (33.9 points, 14.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists).
Antetokounmpo's presence alone ensures Milwaukee will always have at least a puncher's chance so long as he's in his prime. But add a healthy Middleton to a mix that includes Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis, Grayson Allen and more, and the Bucks have both the elite talent and the depth to hang with anyone.
Now a year removed from the championship celebration and any hangover that might've come along with it, the Bucks could have a renewed spirit to fuel them toward the crown. Not to mention, things get really interesting if rookie first-rounder MarJon Beauchamp proves to be a quick study and Joe Ingles has a smooth recovery from his January ACL tear.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Find Perimeter Defenders
The Timberwolves paid a massive price to add the ultimate interior insurance plan with Rudy Gobert. Now, Minnesota needs its perimeter players to provide enough resistance to keep the three-time Defensive Player of the Year from being overburdened as he often was with the Utah Jazz.
Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels should be up to the task. D'Angelo Russell almost certainly won't.
So, either Russell needs to be so hyper-efficient on offense—he had a 41.1/34.0/82.5 slash line last season, so don't hold your breath—that it compensates for his defensive shortcomings, or he'll have to be replaced by someone who adds real value to the game's less glamorous end. Considering he has yet to produce a positive defensive box plus/minus through seven seasons, it probably has to be the latter.
New Orleans Pelicans: Finding a Better Defender at the 5
It's possible the return of a (hopefully) healthy Zion Williamson puts the Pelicans on the fast track to contention. It's also possible New Orleans could be held back by a defense that ranked 18th last season and hasn't ranked inside the Association's upper half since 2017-18.
C.J. McCollum is a traffic cone on defense. Williamson wasn't faring any better when healthy. Brandon Ingram has made strides as a defender but still isn't the kind of stopper his length and athleticism say he could be. Herbert Jones is a defensive wrecking ball, but he can only do so much by himself.
That puts a heavy burden on Jonas Valanciunas to clean things up around the rim, and it's honestly probably more than he can handle. His strength, rebounding and offensive skill are helpful to have, but the Pels may need a more versatile and athletic center to get this defense (and this team) where it needs to be to contend for a title.
New York Knicks: Win the Donovan Mitchell Sweepstakes...at a Reasonable Cost
Just so we're all clear, no, I'm not saying that if the Knicks land Donovan Mitchell they will win a title. Getting that deal done, though, would be the biggest step the franchise has taken in that direction in years.
New York needs an offensive focal point, and Mitchell has fared better in that role than RJ Barrett, Jalen Brunson or Julius Randle ever have. Throw in Mitchell's ties to the area and the organization, and he looks exactly like the star this fanbase has been waiting to get.
Now, the price has to be reasonable, which is an objective term but can generally be assumed to mean something less than six first-rounders and prospects. If the Knicks get Mitchell without gutting themselves, this roster could come together around him and make a quick jump to contending level if enough prospects max out their development.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Hit the 2023 Lottery Jackpot, Then Trade to Fill in Gaps
The Thunder already have their blueprint for (eventual) contention: stockpile picks, develop talent, lose a bunch, land more lottery prospects, rinse and repeat.
The process has already delivered an impressive young core anchored by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort and rookie Chet Holmgren. That's a good start, but they need to keep throwing logs on this fire.
It's possible, though, the 2023 lottery yields the missing piece to their puzzle. Maybe that's Victor Wembanyama. Perhaps it's Scoot Henderson. Maybe it's another prospect who uses the next 12 months climbing up mock draft boards. Either way, whenever the final marquee prospect arrives, the Thunder can use some of their remaining picks to trade for players who fill in the cracks.
Orlando Magic: Add a Perimeter Shot-Creator; Deal or Develop Jonathan Isaac
The Magic needed offense in the worst kind of way after last season's 29th-place finish in efficiency. The basketball gods granted their wish and gave them the No. 1 pick, which they smartly invested in this draft class' most polished scorer, Paolo Banchero.
Even if the rookie big seizes control of this offense, though, it will almost certainly need someone who can punish defenders from the perimeter. Assuming Jalen Suggs doesn't become that player—his rough rookie year would be erased from our memory banks with a strong sophomore effort—Orlando can chase one in the draft or through trades.
Speaking of which, the Magic might have a prime trade chip or maybe a centerpiece talent in Jonathan Isaac, if he can ever find his way back from Aug. 2020 ACL and meniscus tears. He boasts a towering defensive upside, and Orlando would be wise to either see if he can tap into it or use it as leverage in a blockbuster trade.
Philadelphia 76ers: Poke Around for a Backup Center, but That Might Do It
What are realistic expectations for James Harden next season? Returning to his old MVP form isn't happening, but can he nudge himself near top-15 status and All-NBA consideration? Because if he hits that mark, and Joel Embiid's body holds up, Philly could have everything it needs to make a title run.
The Sixers came close to contending last season, an impressive feat considering they had to endure the Ben Simmons saga, then deal with all the moving parts of the Harden-Simmons swap. With a full offseason for this core to grow, plus the additions of P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr., plus the potential for a third-year leap from Tyrese Maxey, the puzzle pieces might all be aligned now—if Harden can reverse some recent decline and deliver in big playoff moments.
Saying all of that, Philly might consider poking around for a more reliable option behind Embiid. Maybe the franchise is comfortable with Paul Reed, Georges Niang, Charles Bassey and Tucker tag-teaming to fill that role, but a low-maintenance, trustworthy veteran could be helpful to have, especially if (when?) Embiid misses time.
Phoenix Suns: Try to Win the Durant Sweepstakes. Somehow.
Just like with the Heat, it isn't entirely clear how the Suns can win the Kevin Durant sweepstakes. But when you make the short list of preferred destinations for a generational talent, you move mountains if needed to get a deal done.
Now, this all might prove impossible. Matching Deandre Ayton's max offer sheet certainly complicates things, though he may not have interested the Nets anyway. Phoenix could still build a robust offer around Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Cameron Johnson and draft picks, which would rock the wing rotation, but also deliver Kevin bleepin' Durant, so if that's doable, the Suns could get a deal done and figure out the rest later.
If Durant is officially out of reach, the Suns have little to worry about. They won the Eastern Conference two seasons back and followed up by pacing the entire league in victories. This is a championship-caliber roster without Durant, it would just be even harder to handle with him on board.
Portland Trail Blazers: Unload Assets for a Star
Portland's second-half tank job saved its lottery pick, which delivered the intriguing Shaedon Sharpe with the No. 7 pick. If the Blazers hope to construct a contender around 32-year-old Damian Lillard, though, Sharpe might have to be included in a blockbuster swap for a win-now star.
Getting Jerami Grant was a good start, but this roster wasn't a Grant trade shy of a title. Portland needs more top-tier talent, and virtually anyone not named Lillard and anything in the asset collection should arguably be up for grabs in that pursuit—again, if the idea is to contend with Lillard. (And if that isn't the idea, why give him such a massive extension?)
Portland could open up several picks to trade by altering the protections on the first-rounder it owes Chicago, plus it has a handful of prospects who could sway the right seller. Come Jan. 15, the Blazers will also have the option to shop Anfernee Simons, who lacks the size and defense of Lillard's ideal backcourt partner.
Sacramento Kings: Package Harrison Barnes with Picks for Best Young Forward Available
The idea of the Kings contending for a championship is essentially a foreign concept at this point. They haven't even made the playoffs since 2006, when Rick Adelman was the head coach and Mike Bibby was the leading scorer.
So, while it might require some level of sorcery to turn Sacramento into a title team, the simplest read on the situation is the Kings need more talent. It's possible, though, the wheels are finally turning the right direction given the deadline deal for Domantas Sabonis, the selection of Keegan Murray, the signing of Malik Monk and the trade for Kevin Huerter.
The talent base is expanding, though probably not quick enough to maximize the remainder of 30-year-old Harrison Barnes' prime. So, Sacramento should instead package the veteran forward with draft considerations to add the best young player that offer can get, preferably a two-way forward to pair with Murray. Add copious amounts of seasoning to this roster, and maybe it's finally jostling for a title in a few years.
San Antonio Spurs: Go All-In on the Next Two Drafts (at Least)
Not even a super-prospect like Victor Wembanyama can cure what's about to ail the rebuilding Spurs, but laying the foundation with as many blue-chippers as possible is the best path available.
San Antonio appears pot-committed to the draft-and-develop strategy of long-term roster building after giving up Dejounte Murray for three first-round picks (plus the since-waived Danilo Gallinari), as it should be. This roster has Keldon Johnson, a few disposable veterans and a bunch of young question marks. A total overhaul has become necessary.
No matter where the Spurs finish in the Wembanyama sweepstakes, they should plan on going for draft-lottery gold again in 2024. They should also brace themselves and their fans for the possibility that future lottery trips could be required before this ever gets turned around. I don't know how to project San Antonio's contending timetable, other than saying it's a long ways away.
Toronto Raptors: Make a Durant Deal Happen...Without Losing Scottie Barnes
The Raptors want Kevin Durant. If that's not true of all 30 teams, it's certainly the case for 20-plus. They're also reportedly "fixed on keeping" Scottie Barnes out of a Durant deal, per SportsNet's Michael Grange.
Maybe that's not possible given Brooklyn's other options, but that's fine. Toronto can walk away if it needs to. The Raptors aren't tier-one contenders now, but the right amount of internal growth—Barnes ascending to stardom, OG Anunoby actually becoming a Kawhi Leonard clone—could eventually get them there.
A Durant deal would fast-forward the process and give it a better chance of coming to fruition. The Raptors should think long and hard about any swap that doesn't send Barnes south of the border. Whether it's a package headlined by Pascal Siakam or one built around Anunoby or Gary Trent Jr., Toronto should have enough left over to follow Durant's lead to the top.
Utah Jazz: Get a Gazillion Picks for Donovan Mitchell, Shape Roster Around Selections
Utah's return for Rudy Gobert tested the legal limits of larceny. Surely the Jazz can't do better in a Donovan Mitchell deal, right? Well, good luck getting Jazz CEO Danny Ainge on board with that idea.
Ainge reportedly wants the kitchen sink, the dishwasher, the refrigerator (plus all of the food inside of it) and, why not, a pizza oven in exchange for Mitchell. More specifically, Marc Stein reported Ainge may be seeking seven first-round picks from the Knicks.
That's absurd—and exactly what Utah should be doing. Mitchell is 25 years old and under contract for at least three more seasons (player option in 2025-26). The Jazz have no reasons to rush this trade and should only execute it on their terms. Maybe that doesn't mean getting seven picks, but walking away with a big number of them and letting those picks dictate the direction of this franchise could eventually put it in the championship picture.
Washington Wizards: Get Porzingis Rolling and Add Impact Wing, but Be Ready to Bail
Both the Wizards and Bradley Beal have their reasons for extending their relationship by way of a new five-year, max contract. And no, it doesn't matter if the rest of the us don't understand those reasons.
What needs to matter, though, is this team and its new $251 million man. The Wizards can't be paying Beal a quarter-billion dollars for him and his teammates to be sweating out the play-in tournament or serving as someone's stepping stone in the first round. This group needs to uncover some avenue to contention (at least shadow contention), which involves keeping Kristaps Porzingis healthy and performing at an All-Star level, plus beefing up the wing rotation.
However, given the myriad ways this could go wrong, Washington needs to have an exit strategy in mind. The Wizards have been to the playoffs once in the last four seasons and haven't escaped the first round since 2017. If this roster can't reverse its fate, the front office has to prepared to blow it up and start over.
Statistics used courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com. Salary information via Spotrac.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.
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