One question for each team entering the 2022 NBA offseason

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One question for each team entering the 2022 NBA offseason originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The 2021-22 NBA season is officially over, with the Golden State Warriors defeating the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals last week.

Even though last season just ended, it’s already time to start looking toward the busy offseason.

The 2022 NBA Draft is set for Thursday, June 23, and plenty of teams will look to build the next championship contender. Both the Warriors and Celtics were heavily constructed through the draft, so the blueprint is there.

Here’s one big question for each team entering the 2022 NBA Draft and NBA free agency (which opens on June 30):

1. Magic: What players are in their long-term plans?

2022 picks: 1, 32, 35

The Magic won the NBA draft lottery, and now it’s time to make some big decisions. Orlando has a handful of promising young players, including Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr., Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs. Beyond that, there are plenty of questions about the futures of Markelle Fultz, Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac, who have flashed at times but can’t seem to fully put it together. It’s time for the Magic to prioritize certain players that will fit around their No. 1 overall pick.

2. Thunder: Is it time to consolidate picks?

2022 picks: 2, 12, 30, 34

Armed with four picks this year and 34 picks over the next six years, Sam Presti has all the cards to make a splash this offseason. OKC is clearly still in the rebuilding phase, with contention years down the line. But if Presti sees a player he likes dropping down the board, now could be the time to package some picks and move up. The Thunder can’t add 34 rookies to their roster over the next six years … right?

3. Rockets: Who fits best around Jalen Green?

2022 picks: 3, 17

Jalen Green established himself as a pillar of the Rockets’ franchise with the way he finished his rookie season. Over his final 22 games, the 20-year-old averaged 22.6 points and shot 39.5% from deep. The next phase of Houston’s rebuild must be centered around Green, with an emphasis on finding players who fit next to him. Duke’s Paolo Banchero could fall right into Houston’s lap at No. 3 overall.

4. Kings: What is their goal for the 2022-23 season?

2022 picks: 4, 37, 49

The Kings have lacked direction for years. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2006, yet they are never the worst team in the league. It’s better to bottom out and get top-end talent, which Sacramento still doesn’t have. After trading for Domantas Sabonis, the team clearly wants to end its playoff drought. Does that mean the No. 4 overall pick is for sale? Or are they committed to building with young players? Once they figure that out, they can move forward.

5. Pistons: How do they maximize Cade Cunningham’s potential?

2022 picks: 5, 46

Lottery luck didn’t favor the Pistons in 2022 after they struck gold last year. But dropping from third to fifth isn’t the end of the world. Detroit has a strong foundation, led by 2021 No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham. The 6-foot-6 point guard displayed star potential as a rookie – and the next step is all about catering to his needs. Every move the Pistons make this offseason should be about finding the right players to surround their 20-year-old phenom.

6. Pacers: Are you finally committed to a long-term rebuild?

2022 picks: 6, 31, 58

The Pacers signaled they were rebuilding when they traded Domantas Sabonis for Tyrese Haliburton and others in February. It’s been a while since Indiana fully bottomed out, though, as 2021-22 marked the first time it had fewer than 32 wins in a season since 1988-89. While the Pacers have often been competitive, they’ve never won a championship, and only made the Finals once in 2000. A long-term rebuild would hurt for a few years, but the potential reward is worth it.

7. Trail Blazers: Is it still Dame time?

2022 picks: 7, 36, 57

Damian Lillard is perhaps the most loyal player in the NBA, but would both the player and team be better off splitting up? The Blazers peaked in 2019 when they were swept by the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. At that point, it felt like this core reached its ceiling. And after trading CJ McCollum, it’s hard to imagine Portland being much better next year – even with a healthy Lillard.

8. Pelicans: What do they pay Zion Williamson?

2022 picks: 8, 41, 52

New Orleans holds the No. 8 pick thanks to the Anthony Davis trade. Who would’ve thought that their own pick would be worse than the Lakers’? After their feisty playoff run, the Pelicans now must figure out their Zion Williamson problem. The talented forward didn’t play at all last season, but a healthy high-flyer brings this team up a level. Williamson’s restricted free agency is looming next year, so the Pelicans have to work out a deal that protects them from an injury.

9. Spurs: How do they get out of purgatory?

2022 picks: 9, 20, 25, 38

Since Kawhi Leonard was traded, the Spurs have been stuck in the middle – not good enough for the playoffs, not bad enough for a top pick. The team signaled for a rebuild this season, acquiring two late first-round picks for Derrick White and Thaddeus Young. Getting more shots at finding a homegrown star is good, though it’s tough to do with picks in the 20s. The Spurs need to nail these picks to give Gregg Popovich a chance in what could be his final season.

10. Wizards: Is Bradley Beal worth a supermax deal?

2022 picks: 10, 54

For years, rumors have swirled about Bradley Beal leaving Washington. And at every step, the man himself has denied those rumors and displayed a commitment to the District. Now that he’s eligible for free agency (and the supermax extension), we’ll see just how committed the Wizards are to him. Beal regressed in 2021-22 before a season-ending injury and he’ll be 29 next season. So, is it worth locking him up at that price when he hasn’t shown the ability to be a No. 1 option on a great team?

11. Knicks: Do they want to build through the draft or free agency?

2022 picks: 11, 42

After an unexpected playoff run in 2021, the Knicks crashed back to reality last season. There are some nice young pieces on the roster – including RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin and Emmanuel Quickley – and New York would be wise to let those guys grow. The Knicks aren’t the free agent destination that their fans think they are, so it’s time to commit to the draft. That can be difficult in a city that demands results, but it’s the correct long-term play.

12. Hornets: Can a new coach maximize Charlotte’s potential?

2022 picks: 13, 15, 45

Looking at the Hornets’ team, this group underachieved in 2021-22. With LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges and Terry Rozier, Charlotte made the play-in tournament but lost to the Hawks in an embarrassing blowout. They fired James Borrego and still don’t have a coach after Kenny Atkinson’s change-of-heart. The hope is that a new voice – whoever it may be – can get this group to buy in and play some defense.

13. Cavaliers: Is Collin Sexton necessary?

2022 picks: 14, 39, 56

Cleveland shocked the NBA world in 2021-22, and they did it without Collin Sexton. The fourth-year guard played just 11 games and his replacement Darius Garland blossomed into an All-Star. Sexton will hit restricted free agency this summer, so the Cavs would be wise to explore sign-and-trade options. Garland is more than capable of leading a team to the postseason, they’re just missing a few pieces around the edge.

14. Hawks: Is this core capable of another deep playoff run?

2022 picks: 16, 44

Atlanta’s magical Eastern Conference Finals run in 2021 was followed up by a frustrating 2022 first-round loss. The entire season had viewers puzzled … How could this team look so mediocre after nearly making the NBA Finals? The roster was essentially the same, and Trae Young was better than ever. So, is it time to blow this core up? Consolidating some rotation players for a more established starter – ideally one that defends – could fix their woes.

15. Bulls: Does getting healthy solve their problems?

2022 picks: 18

The Bulls were unstoppable last season … until they weren’t. After starting 27-11, the Bulls went 19-25 in their final 44 games before a lifeless first-round exit. If you are an optimist, you can point to injuries as the main reason for that team’s demise. Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams were injured throughout the season. Is the offseason fix as simple as getting healthy, or is there more work to be done with this roster?

16. Timberwolves: Do they have a D’Angelo Russell problem?

2022 picks: 19, 40, 48, 50

A lot of good things came from the 2021-22 season for the Timberwolves. They made the playoffs for the first time in four years, Anthony Edwards emerged as a future star and a new ownership group ensured that the team will remain in Minneapolis. The biggest issue was D’Angelo Russell, who was brought in to be a star alongside Karl-Anthony Towns but completely disappeared in the postseason. Russell is making over $30 million next season, and the Wolves need more out of him to justify that cost.

17. Nuggets: Is health the only thing holding this team back?

2022 picks: 21

Despite employing the two-time reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets had no chance at winning the title last season. The roster around Jokic just didn’t cut it, especially after injuries to Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. The last time this core was fully healthy in the playoffs, Denver made the Western Conference Finals in 2020. So, is this offseason as simple as getting everyone healthy – or is there a lot more work to be done around the edges?

18. Grizzlies: Can they trade for an impact player?

2022 picks: 22, 29, 47

Few teams in the NBA have more depth from one through 10 than the Grizzlies. Up and down the roster, Memphis is filled with impact role players – and that depth carried the team to the No. 2 seed last season. To get over the hump and truly compete for a title, the Grizzlies need to find another impact player to pair with Ja Morant. It doesn’t have to be a superstar, but there is an opportunity to turn all that depth into a better starter.

19. 76ers: What do they do with James Harden?

2022 picks: 23

The James Harden-Ben Simmons trade couldn’t have worked out much worse for both sides so far. Simmons still hasn’t played for the Nets and Harden was a no-show throughout most of the postseason. Harden and the Sixers didn’t formally agree on it, but it was understood that he would opt in to his $47.36 million option for next season and then sign a max extension. If future Harden is anything like 2022 Harden, the Sixers might need to rethink that position.

20. Bucks: What players fit best around Giannis Antetokounmpo?

2022 picks: 24

For a team that won a title less than 12 months ago, the Bucks have plenty of questions. If Khris Middleton was healthy, maybe we’re talking about the back-to-back champions. But his injury exposed some key holes in the roster around Giannis Antetokounmpo. Moving off Malcolm Brogden, Donte DiVincenzo and P.J. Tucker in recent years suggests that they still don’t know what fits best around their star. They can’t waste any more years of Antetokounmpo’s prime.

21. Mavericks: What players fit best around Luka Doncic?

2022 picks: 26

Same question, different team and player. The Mavs made huge strides in 2021-22 under new head coach Jason Kidd, making the Western Conference Finals after upsetting the Phoenix Suns. Still, it feels like there is plenty of room for improvement around Doncic. He’s a tough player to play with because he dominates the ball, so this draft and free agency should all be about finding guys who thrive without the ball – screening, cutting, spotting up, etc.

22. Heat: Can they get a second star alongside Jimmy Butler?

2022 picks: 27

Jimmy Butler did all he could to carry the Heat this season, bringing them within one shot of making the NBA Finals. It’s unfair to expect the soon-to-be 33-year-old Butler to do it all again next season, so the Heat need to go star-hunting. Whether it’s Bradley Beal, Donovan Mitchell or anyone else, Miami should do everything it can to get another high-level scorer around Butler and Bam Adebayo.

23. Warriors: Can the rich get richer?

2022 picks: 28, 51, 55

The short answer is “yes.” Golden State has won four titles in the last eight seasons, and their dominance doesn’t appear to be stopping. Steph Curry looks as good as ever leading the way. Beyond him, they have a great mix of veterans (Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green) and young prospects (Jordan Poole, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody). The Warriors are set up to succeed for years to come; adding more talent this offseason only makes them scarier.

24. Raptors: What direction is this team going?

2022 picks: 33

Since winning the title in 2019 (and subsequently losing Kawhi Leonard), the Raptors have been in purgatory. They have two fringe All-Stars with Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, and Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes is an intriguing talent. So, is it worth giving this group – which lost in the first round – another full year? Or, similar to the Grizzlies but on a lesser scale, should Toronto move some of its depth for higher-end talent?

25. Clippers: How do they capitalize on a healthy Kawhi Leonard?

2022 picks: 43

The team that acquired Leonard from Toronto hasn’t fared much better than the Raptors, largely due to his inability to stay healthy. The Clippers had a disappointing second-round exit in 2020 before making the conference finals without Leonard in 2021. The star forward missed all of last season recovering from a torn ACL, and his prime window could be closing quickly. Entering his age 32 season, LA needs to make the most of every Leonard season from here on out.

26. Celtics: What is the missing piece?

2022 picks: 53

Falling two games short of a title is heartbreaking, but the future remains bright in Boston. The Celtics’ young stars – Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams – are under contract for the next few seasons. Now, it’s about finding the pieces to put around them and get the team over the hump. The Celtics ran out of gas by the Finals, so this offseason should be about building depth that head coach Ime Udoka can trust throughout the long regular season.

27. Lakers: How did this happen?

2022 picks: none

It wasn’t supposed to be like this when the Lakers acquired seemingly the entire 2014 All-Star team last summer. But it turned out that 2014 was a long time ago, and this team had no chance at competing in the present. Now, with no draft picks and no cap space, what can the Lakers do to improve? Getting a healthy Anthony Davis would help, although Russell Westbrook is still on the roster. At this point, there’s a lot of questions and very few answers for the Purple and Gold.

28. Nets: Are they committed to Kyrie Irving?

2022 picks: none

After playing in just 29 games due to vaccine requirements, Irving can hit free agency this summer. Putting all the off-court drama aside, he’s clearly a max player. But it’s hard to look past everything that’s happened over the past few years with Irving, from Cleveland to Boston to Brooklyn. If Kevin Durant wants him to stay, he’ll stay. It will be interesting, however, to see how long the potential contract extension is.

29. Jazz: Time to trade Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert?

2022 picks: none

The core of Mitchell and Gobert has reached its ceiling – and it’s time for the Jazz to realize that. With Danny Ainge now running the show, perhaps this is the summer that Utah makes a big shake-up. They will have a new head coach – why not go with a totally new roster, too? Mitchell is younger and under contract for longer, making him the logical choice to keep. Ainge notoriously loves his draft picks – which the Jazz have none of this year – so maybe he deals a star for a package centered around picks.

30. Suns: Is DeAndre Ayton part of the future?

2022 picks: none

Ayton’s contract situation loomed over this season after he didn’t sign an extension last summer. While he’ll only be a restricted free agent, there's a question as to whether or not Suns owner Robert Sarver is willing to pay up for this roster. He should, obviously, given that this team dominated the regular season last year and made the Finals the year prior. But if they really don’t want to pay Ayton, who can they get for him in a trade?