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Every Team's Biggest Need In the 2023 NBA Draft

Zach Buckley

Not to dump pour frigid water over the most optimistic night on the NBA calendar, but most draft wishes aren't granted.

Some prospects don't pan out. Some teams fall short on player development or finding the right fit. Others just don't have the draft capital to get what they want.

That's just the reality of what's still an educated-guessing game.

Prior to the talent grab, though, all teams have wish lists that they hope will come true. We can't grant those wishes, but we can spotlight the top item on each team's list.

Atlanta Hawks: Three-and-D Wings

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As long as the Hawks remain committed to Trae Young, they need to tailor their roster in a way that emphasizes his strengths and masks his weaknesses. More specifically, they need wing shooters who can hold the defense's attention when Young operates pick-and-rolls and perimeter stoppers who can cover up his limitations at that end.

Adding AJ Griffin at last year's draft was a start, but the Hawks need to keep pushing. Their forward rotation feels like it's forever in flux given John Collins' permanent residency on the trade rumor mill and Bogdan Bogdanović's struggles staying healthy (less than 70 games played each season since 2018-19).

Atlanta finished this season 21st in three-point percentage (35.2) and 22nd in defensive rating (115.4). Those aren't anywhere near where they'd need to be for the Hawks to contend.

Boston Celtics: Interior Depth

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The Celtics essentially have three bigs in their rotation. One is Al Horford, who's quickly closing in on his 37th birthday. One is Robert Williams III, who has never played more than 61 games and only twice cleared the 40-game mark in his five-year career. The other is Grant Williams, who strangely lost his rotation spot at times this season and is about to become a restricted free agent.

Adding interior depth is a must for this team, regardless of how it plans to approach Grant Williams' free agency.

In a perfect world, Boston would land a big who can switch on defense, protect the paint, hit outside shots and feed open teammates. In our reality, where the Celtics hold only the No. 35 pick, they might be thrilled to snag a center who checks two of those boxes.

Brooklyn Nets: Playmaking

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Despite trading away both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at the deadline, the Nets seemingly hope to remain as competitive as possible. Tanking isn't a viable strategy, since their 2024 first-rounder belongs to the Houston Rockets (with no protection on it), so they'll likely push forward in any way possible.

The first item on the to-do list, then, is giving this attack more juice. After the deadline, Brooklyn dipped to 23rd in offensive efficiency. In the playoffs, it had the second-worst offensive rating among the 16 participants.

This club needs a quarterback who positions himself and his teammates for success. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson are shot-makers, but not shot-creators. Spencer Dinwiddie can't be the primary playmaker for a good team.

Charlotte Hornets: High-End Talent

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Buzz City went nearly silent this past season. Getting just 36 games out of LaMelo Ball didn't help, but neither did the fact that no one else really emerged as a long-term keeper for the Hornets. Rookie center Mark Williams perhaps came closest, and even then, he only logged 828 minutes across 43 games.

Charlotte needs more cornerstones, and that demand is great enough to trump talent over anything else. Guard Scoot Henderson of the G League Ignite isn't the cleanest on-paper fit with Ball, but if the Hornets think Henderson is the best player available at the No. 2 pick, then he has to be their selection.

If it weren't for Ball, this organization might be wholly rudderless. Charlotte has several key contributors heading into free agency, including P.J. Washington and Kelly Oubre Jr., and it should be searching for ways to shed the money owed to Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward.

Chicago Bulls: Floor General

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It's tempting to throw an athletic, defensive-minded center in this spot. That's partly because Nikola Vučević is entering free agency and partly because the Bulls have struggled with interior defense even with Vooch onboard.

Still, nothing casts a darker cloud over this organization than Lonzo Ball's ongoing injury issues. The Bulls haven't been the same since losing him to a knee injury midway through the 2021-22 season. They were 27-13 at the time of his injury; they've gone 59-65 ever since.

This is a tricky roster to navigate since it has three high-level scorers who need touches (Vučević, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan) and very little shooting alongside them (dead last in three-point makes and attempts). Ball showed the vision and ability to bring this roster together. The Bulls desperately need someone who can do the same, though finding one at the draft might be impossible, since they don't currently possess a pick.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Wing Shooter

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The Cavaliers have an outstanding quartet with Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland in the backcourt and Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen up front. But the wing spot between those pairs has been a major weakness, and Cleveland could not overcome that deficiency in the playoffs.

Whoever the Cavs get to fill that void must be a shooter, since Mobley and Allen operate exclusively inside the arc. This hypothetical wing also needs to be a reliable defender, since neither Mitchell nor Garland qualifies as such.

With only the 49th pick at their disposal, the Cavs are highly unlikely to solve this problem on draft night, but they should still throw a dart at the best available wing.

Dallas Mavericks: Defense

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A zillion things went wrong for the Mavericks this season, but the best way to explain their slippage from conference finalists to lottery participants might be the simplest: Their defense fell off a cliff. The 2021-22 outfit, which won 52 games and two playoff series, had the Association's seventh-best defense. This year's version, which lost 44 games and didn't make the play-in tournament, plummeted to 25th.

Assuming they plan to keep Kyrie Irving—a league source heard Irving and the Mavs have "a handshake deal" in place before his trade to Dallas, per B/R's Eric Pincus—then defense should be this team's first, second and third priority. The offense should be in great shape with an Irving-Luka Dončić partnership, but the defense could be disastrously bad.

Because the Mavs are so woefully short on impact defenders, a stopper of virtually any size and play style might suffice. The question Dallas needs to tackle is whether it can pluck that type of player with the No. 10 pick or if it should move the selection for a more established stopper.

Denver Nuggets: Point-of-Attack Defender

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The Nuggets finally cracked the code, assembling all of its puzzle pieces in a perfect way to fuel the franchise's first-ever Finals run. If offseason subtractions weren't a threat, you could argue this club has no major needs to address.

Still, the business side of the basketball world always makes its presence felt, and it could do some damage to Denver. All-purpose swingman Bruce Brown looms as a major flight risk, since he has outperformed the $6.8 million player option he holds for next season, and the Nuggets may not be able to afford his next deal.

If Brown bounces, Denver would feel his absence in myriad ways, but it might be most evident on the defensive end. They'd need someone who can step in and mimic his toughness and tenacity on the perimeter.

Detroit Pistons: Athletic Shooter

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Detroit didn't get a lot right during the 2022-23 season. Even its tanking efforts went awry, as the Pistons' league-worst 65 losses yielded only the No. 5 pick.

They still have an intriguing young nucleus forming around Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, though, so they need this pick to help enhance what they have. Improving their spacing and adding an athletic prospect who's ready and willing to run would do that.

Detroit, which landed just 20th in three-point makes and 22nd in percentage, needs shooters to widen the attack lanes for Cunningham and Ivey to exploit. They also need someone who can help rev their engine after finishing just 13th in pace.

Golden State Warriors: Reliability

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The Warriors' belief in their core wasn't shaken by the way this season played out—not by their uncharacteristically leaky defense, not by their road woes and not by their second-round exit.

"I still feel like this team has championship potential," coach Steve Kerr told reporters. "We didn't get there this year but it's not like this is the end of the road."

Golden State needs more reliable role players, preferably cheap ones, given the challenges presented by the new collective bargaining agreement. Finding a plug-and-play option with the 19th pick won't be easy, but it's possible. This same draft slot previously yielded Saddiq Bey, Kevin Huerter, John Collins, Malik Beasley and Gary Harris in the last decade alone.

Houston Rockets: Two-Way Playmaker with Significant Upside

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The Rockets seem intent on accelerating their rebuild this summer, but they can't lose focus on what this young nucleus needs to be successful. This bunch was bad at just about everything this season, but there's plenty of talent in Space City. It just needs to be molded right.

Ideally, Houston would leave this draft with a pass-first playmaker who sets a tenacious tone on defense. The Rockets have no reason to believe Kevin Porter Jr. can be their long-term answer at point guard—he didn't even double his turnovers (3.2) with assists (5.7)—and they surely know their 29th-ranked defense is in dire need of fixing.

Could the right veteran addition plug one or two of those holes? Temporarily, sure. But Houston's itch for instant gratification doesn't change the fact that this franchise needs sustainability more than anything. The Rockets aren't a free agent or two away from making noise in the championship race. If they add the right young pieces to this core, though, they'll get there eventually.

Indiana Pacers: Power Forward

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The Pacers have an All-Star point guard in Tyrese Haliburton, an elite paint protector in Myles Turner and a pair of impact wings in rookie Bennedict Mathurin and sharpshooter Buddy Hield.

What they don't have, though, is an obvious solution to their problem at power forward. They churned through a lot of options this season, and none solidified the spot.

The No. 7 pick in this draft has a great chance to fill that void. Houston's Jarace Walker and UCF's Taylor Hendricks should be priority targets, as either could be viewed as both the best player available while also addressing this club's biggest need.

Los Angeles Clippers: Pass-First Point Guard

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The Clippers were a different team once they added Russell Westbrook in February. The offense immediately jumped to life with Brodie behind the wheel, skyrocketing from 21st to eighth in efficiency once he debuted. L.A. also saw a sizable jump in assist percentage, ranking 16th in the category after slotting in at 25th before.

That's a credit to Westbrook, who bounced back in a big way from his disastrous tenure with the Lakers, and perhaps motivation to re-sign him. But it also highlighted what having a pass-first point guard could do for this club.

Even if the Clippers keep Westbrook, they should consider investing more assets in the lead guard spot. Terance Mann is spunky, but not much of a table-setter. Jason Preston is entirely unproven, having played just 14 games in two seasons. Bones Hyland is programmed to score. This position group could use a lift and with two picks in this draft (Nos. 30 and 48), L.A. can provide it.

Los Angeles Lakers: Three-Point Lasers

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The Lakers opened this season misfiring on 30 of their 40 long-range looks and eating a double-digit loss to the Dubs. Afterward, LeBron James noted his club wasn't "constructed of great shooting" and didn't have "a lot of lasers."

L.A. eventually addressed its shooting shortage and, to no one's surprise, played its best basketball once it did. Even then, though, the post-deadline Lakers weren't this elite shooting team. Their improvement only took them to 20th in made threes and 15th in three-point accuracy. In the playoffs, they ranked 13th and 11th, respectively, out of 16 teams.

The Lakers need better spacing than this. It's hard to win at today's NBA math without a good amount of perimeter makes, plus this offense would be a lot harder to handle if James and Anthony Davis had wider attack lanes.

Memphis Grizzlies: Impact Two-Way Wing

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Two years back, the Grizzlies traded up to land the No. 10 pick and promptly invested it in Ziaire Williams, a boom-or-bust prospect few (if any) saw being selected that early. The gamble hasn't panned out yet—Williams underwhelmed as a rookie and regressed as a sophomore—but it's still clear why Memphis made the deal. The Grizzlies looked like a team that might be a two-way wing away from planning a championship parade.

Fast-forward to the present, and that last sentence still rings true. If Memphis can keep Ja Morant on the court and Jaren Jackson Jr. out of foul trouble, those two and the perpetually ascending Desmond Bane seem like a title-worthy trio. The wing spot remains a weakness, though, perhaps even worse than before with dynamic defender Dillon Brooks apparently headed elsewhere.

Memphis has a general need for more shooting, but it will really want to squeeze that out of the same player who's the new designated perimeter stopper. That's why it chased elite three-and-D wings Mikal Bridges and O.G. Anunoby so heavily. The team could give chase again, but drafting a wing who can shoot and defend is a no-brainer if the board breaks right.

Miami Heat: Shot-Creator with Range

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While the Heat have embarked on a dramatic transformation in the playoffs, the larger sample supplied by the regular season suggests this squad is really hurting for offense.

Despite having a trio of 20-point scorers—Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro—Miami landed just 25th in offensive efficiency. That was the worst such mark among all playoff (and play-in) participants.

The Heat need more layers to their attack, and that could ring triply true if their playoff success without Herro convinces them to shop him around this offseason. They need players who can create shots and convert the ones Butler and Adebayo set up. Offense should be front and center of their minds when they come on the clock at No. 18.

Milwaukee Bucks: Shoot-First Wings

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The Bucks made an absolute mess of the playoffs. They not only became the sixth No. 1 seed ever knocked off by a No. 8, but their upset defeat was over in just five games. Giannis Antetokounmpo's back injury didn't help, but the loss exposed some of the shortcomings of this roster.

They need more reliable depth pieces, especially on the wing. Shooting will always be a target with the need to maximize spacing for Antetokounmpo, but a specialist like Grayson Allen becomes an easy target for opponents in the playoffs. Conversely, a stopper with an inconsistent jumper, like Wesley Matthews and Pat Connaughton, can be just as tricky to play.

Milwaukee needs spacers in these spots, but it really needs shooters who have at least one other trick up their sleeve. Finding one on draft night might take a miracle, since the Bucks' lone selection is the last of the entire event (No. 58).

Minnesota Timberwolves: Floor Spacing

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The Timberwolves are Anthony Edwards' team. Never mind the trade cost paid for Rudy Gobert or the mountain of money still owed to Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota's present and future are all about Edwards.

The 21-year-old, who made his All-Star debut this season, is one of the league's most devastating downhill attackers. The Timberwolves should throw all available assets into keeping the runway clear for him. In short, that means upgrading an outside attack that wasn't elite in volume (14th in threes) or efficiency (13th in percentage).

Minnesota only owns a single draft pick and won't come on the clock until No. 53, so the odds of snagging a sharpshooter aren't great. Still, the Wolves should throw their dart at the top marksman on the board and hope for the best.

New Orleans Pelicans: Volume Shooting

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Look, in today's game, virtually everyone is in the market for more shooting. That won't change any time soon. Look at this season's three-point percentage leaders, and you have to scroll down to No. 11 to find the first lottery team (Indiana).

The Pelicans, who were 23rd in makes and 15th in percentage, just feel that itch a little more than most. That's because when Zion Williamson is on the hardwood, New Orleans needs to spread opposing defenses as thin as possible.

If the Pelicans can ever keep Williamson on the floor, they might have enough to make a championship push. They have three top-shelf shot creators (Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum), depth all over the floor and a defense that just finished sixth in efficiency. They can be choosy enough to let team needs drive their draft decisions and should pounce on the best spacer left at No. 14.

New York Knicks: Sky-High Ceiling

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The Knicks don't own a pick in this draft. Should they trade their way into it, though, they should take a massive swing on upside.

They have almost everything they need to join the NBA's elite tier. All of their position groups are at least solid, and some are significantly better than that. The only question for this club is whether it has enough high-end talent to contend for the crown.

Julius Randle is an All-Star, Jalen Brunson produces like one and RJ Barrett could rise to those ranks any season. If there isn't a superstar in the mix, though, then New York isn't winning it all with this group.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Paint Protection

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The Thunder are in tremendous position with heaps of young talent and seemingly endless avenues to acquire more. With no obvious need to accelerate, they can continue targeting the best prospects on their board and figuring out the fit later.

If they let team need into the discussion, though, they could use more length, strength and oomph up front. They finished this season 22nd in blocks and 16th in paint points allowed.

Having a healthy Chet Holmgren could help those rankings, but expecting a dramatic difference would be asking a lot. The 21-year-old just lost an entire season to a foot injury and has just 195 pounds on his thin 7-foot frame.

Orlando Magic: Backcourt Scoring

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The Magic look ready to roll in the frontcourt. Between Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr., Orlando has three above-average starters all under the age of 25.

The backcourt is a bit of a different story, though. The Magic have guards, but it's unclear if any are long-term keepers. Markelle Fultz can't score from range, Cole Anthony is a defensive liability and Jalen Suggs lacks obvious utility on offense.

Orlando has quantity in its guard group, but it needs more quality options. The Magic have two lottery picks (Nos. 6 and 11) to help fill that gap, and if they have a chance to consolidate the picks and move up for a top guard in this draft, they should.

Philadelphia 76ers: Athletic Wing with Range

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So long as the Sixers can keep James Harden, they'll retain one of basketball's best quartets. Between him, Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris, Philly has a ferocious foursome that could be the backbone of a title team if the rest of the roster is handled correctly.

Completing this puzzle will be tricky, though. The Sixers need a versatile, athletic wing who contributes at both ends, and they have limited resources to go find one.

The draft may not be much help at all, since Philly isn't currently in possession of a pick.

Phoenix Suns: Depth

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The Suns were built to go as far as Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul could take them. Turns out, that was only the second round. Paul suffered yet another horrifically timed injury, Ayton was consistently inconsistent and the Durant-Booker tandem could only do so much to cover this club's glaring lack of depth.

Phoenix can't—and almost certainly won't—run it back with this group. Paul is a potential trade candidate, since only a portion of his $30.8 million salary for next season. Ayton is an obvious trade candidate, since a new beginning might be best for all parties involved.

"Ayton would be excited about a fresh start with another franchise," ESPN's Tim MacMahon wrote. "The Suns are expected to aggressively explore the trade market for him this summer."

An Ayton trade would ideally deliver a couple of instant-impact contributors, but the Suns have to hope to find help at the draft, too. That won't be easy with only the 52nd pick in their collection.

Portland Trail Blazers: Instant-Impact Ability

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The Trail Blazers, who tanked their way through the stretch run of the past two seasons, should arguably be thinking long and hard about pivoting away from Damian Lillard (who turns 33 in July) and into a top-to-bottom rebuild. They aren't—at least not publicly. Their hope, rather, is to find players who can help Lillard chase a championship as soon as next season.

"We're a team that's trying to win and trying to maximize Damian's timeline," Blazers general manager Joe Cronin told Yahoo Sports' Jake Fischer at the lottery. "This was an important night for us."

Portland doesn't necessarily need to trade out of the No. 3 spot to find instant-impact talent, though that feels like the most likely route it will take. Still, if Alabama swingman Brandon Miller makes it that far, it's conceivable the Blazers would pounce on him in hopes of shoring up their wing defense and hoping the 6'9" swingman could immediately translate his shot-making and creation to the big league.

Sacramento Kings: Frontcourt Flexibility

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The Kings just learned they (finally) have a winning foundation built around big man Domantas Sabonis, speedster point guard De'Aaron Fox and all-purpose swingman Keegan Murray. Expanding this core with another shape-shifting piece up front would be optimal.

Sacramento could go a lot of different directions to do that. It could target a stretch center or an especially bouncy big, since Sabonis doesn't check those boxes. It might covet wing depth, particularly if it's worried about Harrison Barnes leaving in free agency. It may just seek out shooting, since the Fox-Sabonis two-man game works best when it has room to breathe.

The Kings have options, they just need to hit on whichever one they choose. They might be drafting a little later than normal, but with three picks at their disposal (Nos. 24, 38 and 54), they'll have a shot to add at least one rotation-quality prospect.

San Antonio Spurs: Victor Wembanyama

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Prior to the lottery, the Spurs had a few interesting young players but no centerpiece to build around. That changed the moment the basketball gods granted Alamo City's latest wish.

For the third time in franchise history, San Antonio holds the No. 1 overall pick. The last two delivered all-time greats in David Robinson and Tim Duncan. This might yield another, as French phenom Victor Wembanyama—a 7'5" teenager with an 8'0" wingspan who blocks shots, creates off the dribble and buries step-back threes—is perhaps the most anticipated prospect since LeBron James arrived two decades ago.

The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor likened Wembanyama to a "Gen Z Kareem Abdul-Jabbar" while labeling him "the NBA's greatest prospect in decades with the ceiling to be an all-time great, and unlike anyone the game has seen before."

The Spurs needed a star, and their lottery jackpot delivered one with a non-zero chance of shining brighter than any before him.

Toronto Raptors: Long-Range Shooting

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The Raptors make the short list of teams who could shape this offseason. They could potentially lose any (or all) of Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr. and Jakob Poeltl. Should more than one of those subtractions materialize, they could be followed trades involving one or both of Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby.

With so much unsettled, you'd think it might be tough to pin down the team's top draft need. It actually isn't. Regardless if the Raptors hope to compete again with this core or opt to reset around 2021-22 Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes, they'll need more floor-spacers on the roster.

This season, Toronto was a bottom-third team in three-point makes (28th), attempts (21st) and percentage (28th). If this group is sticking together, it needs more room to operate. And if it isn't, Barnes, a career 29 percent outside shooter, needs spacers to keep defenses from overcrowding him.

Utah Jazz: Backcourt Star

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The Jazz are another team in transition. The speed of that transition is to be determined.

It's unclear how quickly Utah wants this to go. With significant cap space and incoming draft picks aplenty, the Jazz could chase a splashy summer addition or two. Then again, they might feel they have a little time to grow, since All-Star Lauri Markkanen is only 26, and his two most important teammates might be sophomores-to-be Walker Kessler and Ochai Agbaji.

No matter how Utah approaches its roster, it should aim to add an impact player in the backcourt. Jordan Clarkson, Talen Horton-Tucker and Kris Dunn could all be heading into free agency, and Collin Sexton might work best as a spark-plug sub. There isn't an obvious difference-maker in the mix. The Jazz, who own three first-round picks (Nos. 9, 16 and 28), need to land one.

Washington Wizards: Sky-High Ceiling

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It's direction-choosing time for the Wizards and their newly signed president of basketball operations Michael Winger. Washington has logged a ton of mileage on the treadmill of mediocrity and seemingly been OK with it, but this might finally be the point when the Wizards seek out a substantial change.

Ava Wallace of the Washington Post reported Winger has "carte blanche" to handle the roster as he sees fit. The Wizards want a clear-cut identity, which presumably means either starting over or chasing the elite talent this roster would need to make any noise in the postseason.

Washington, which holds the No. 8 pick, needs to somehow snag a star. The Wizards need a young, high-ceiling, foundational talent. Despite their many trips to the lottery in recent years, they've never come close to finding that.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and

Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.


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