Another hectic round of NBA free agency has come and gone, and with the dust now settling, teams are left to grapple with the roster holes that went unfilled.
Nothing, of course, is set in stone so far from training camps. But barring any more blockbuster trades, depth charts and rotations are beginning to take shape. Squads have better than a general idea of what they're working with and what they still need.
And make no bones about it: Every team needs something.
Some voids are more concerning than others. Certain holes are newly created by departures. Select needs are holdover issues from previous seasons. Big or small, though, each team has at least one.
For instances in which a squad has numerous holes, we'll default to the most pressing. These selections are not meant to be debilitating blows in every case. Some squads have potential, albeit unproven, solutions in-house. This is more so a look at which player types a team could still use most.
Atlanta Hawks: Floor-Spacing Rim Protector
Losing Dewayne Dedmon is a huge deal for the Atlanta Hawks—much bigger than most realize. Floor-spacing rim protectors are hardly a dime a dozen, and he was a stabilizing defensive force in the middle.
Atlanta doesn't have a clear-cut replacement for him. That might speak to the team's plan for John Collins. He's a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses at the 5. But the Hawks have yet to tread water with him in the middle. They gave up 120.6 points per 100 possessions when he played center last season.
Extending his time at the 5 would be a big bet on his defensive development, both as a decision-maker and physical presence. That's not an unreasonable gamble given the Hawks' gradual timeline. It is still a risk.
Jabari Parker's arrival doesn't help the cause. Alex Len can. He doesn't have the mobility of Dedmon, but he's a good enough rim protector, and Atlanta gave him the green light last year to shoot threes, which he buried at 36.3 percent clip.
Maintaining that value in a larger role won't be easy. Len has barely cracked 20 minutes per game over the past three seasons. If he can't take on more responsibility and Collins doesn't improve on defense, a heavier-than-expected burden figures to fall upon rookie Bruno Fernando.
Boston Celtics: Interior Defensive Anchor
Both of the Boston Celtics' two most valuable players from last season are suiting up for new teams next year. That's very tough stuff.
Boston rebounded nicely from Kyrie Irving's departure. Kemba Walker is routinely referred to as a Kyrie Irving knockoff. He's better than that.
Recovering from Al Horford's exit hasn't been so easy. Starting Enes Kanter could be a disaster. Teams will attack him in the pick-and-roll, and parades to the rim might follow. Head coach Brad Stevens will be in the Coach of the Year running if Kanter ends up playing replacement-level defense.
The Celtics have better defensive options. Daniel Theis is sneaky switchable. Semi Ojeleye hails from fleeting "Giannis Antetokounmpo stopper" fame. Robert Williams III is a bouncy shot-blocker. Rookie Vincent Poirier has some mean-streak pop around the basket. Grant Williams has the defensive IQ of a more seasoned veteran.
Too many of these alternatives need time to marinate. Only Ojeleye and Theis have more than a year of NBA experience, and neither is what you'd call a defensive centerpiece.
Replacing Horford was never in play. His combination of intellect, versatility and impact is essentially unobtainable. But the drop-off between what the Celtics had and what they now have looks unmanageably steep after also bidding adieu to Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris.
Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Durant Safety Net
Voids don't get much more "Well, duh" than this one.
Kevin Durant is recovering from a ruptured right Achilles tendon and doesn't have a timetable for return. It could be 2020-21 by the time he officially suits up for the Brooklyn Nets.
"He will be evaluated with the performance team and so forth," general manager Sean Marks told reporters. "A timeline will be given in due time. But as of now, we're certainly not going to comment on when or if and make any sort of hypotheticals. It's too early."
Brooklyn has Kyrie Irving to carry the first-option workload in the interim. It even has another playmaking wing to lean on with Caris LeVert. He generated All-Star buzz last season before suffering a dislocated right foot.
Neither player comes close to sniffing peak Durant's value. Few in NBA history have. And to the Nets' credit, they've done an admirable job filling out the rest of the roster. Taurean Prince will have some from-scratch juice if he gets his handle under control, and Rodions Kurucs has the air of a certified bucket-getter.
But Durant is Durant. The Nets do not have a higher-end combo forward without him.
Charlotte Hornets: Primary Playmaker
Kemba Walker's departure threatens to cripple the Charlotte Hornets offense. Acquiring Terry Rozier might soften the blow. It also may do nothing to assuage Walker's exit.
Few can wrap their head around Rozier's three-year, $58 million agreement. The Hornets are clearly betting he'll stand out in a bigger role. That's an acceptable spin. It doesn't mean this dice roll will pay off.
Pointing to his late-season performance in 2017-18 isn't enough of a defense. That stretch has been overly romanticized. He averaged 14.7 points and 5.0 assists while hitting 37.0 percent of his threes following Kyrie Irving's knee injury, but he shot just 36.5 percent overall and only slightly moved Boston's offensive needle.
It was the same story in the playoffs. He barely shot 40.0 percent from the floor, and his outside accuracy dipped. Boston leaned harder on Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
This should concern the Hornets. Their offensive rating plummeted by 9.2 points per 100 possessions last season without Walker on the court. And that was with Jeremy Lamb in tow. He's gone, too.
Charlotte now has Rozier, Dwayne Bacon, Nicolas Batum, Devonte' Graham and Malik Monk to milk as offensive lifelines. Bacon may be the best shot-creator of the gaggle. That feels like a problem.
Chicago Bulls: 3-and-D Wing
Give the Chicago Bulls a round of applause for an offseason well done.
Adding Tomas Satoransky will be a boon for the offense. He has the off-the-bounce vision to jump-start the half-court offense and is more than capable of playing off Chicago's ball-dominant scorers. His integration beside Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and, well, everyone else should be more seamless than not.
Thaddeus Young is an awkward offensive fit if the Bulls use him at the 3. He is a rock-solid pickup in every other regard. He'll be a strong locker room presence, and his defensive diligence remains underappreciated. He is strong enough to tussle with bigs and has the speed to shoot enormous gaps on closeouts. He might be the NBA's most underrated help defender.
Chicago is nevertheless light on three-and-D wings. Every team wants more of this player archetype, but Otto Porter Jr. is holding down the fort on his own.
Denzel Valentine, who missed all of last season with a left ankle injury, is neither a wing nor a defensive asset. Anyone who has a strong feel for Chandler Hutchison's game is either a career seer or fibber. Markkanen, like Young, doesn't belong at the 3.
Certain counters should help the Bulls get by on offense. Lineups featuring LaVine, Satoransky and White, perhaps with Porter at the 4, will generate a ton of cross-matches. Good luck counting on those arrangements at the less glamorous end. Chicago is one two-way wing short of truly intriguing (i.e. unexpected playoff contention).
Cleveland Cavaliers: Lockdown Wing Defender
David Nwaba will be sorely missed by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He wasn't just their best wing defender last season. He was their only one.
Nobody else on the roster came close to rivaling his defensive range. His 6'4" stature implied certain limitations, but he had none. He spent most of his time chasing around bigger wings and power forwards.
Cleveland has no one to take up Nwaba's mantle. The roster is overrun with combo guards who have zero business defending wings. Matthew Dellavedova is the only potentially obvious net-positive defender in the backcourt, and he doesn't have the strength or force to play up a position for long stretches.
Cedi Osman and rookie Dylan Windler will get more looks than anyone against the league's elite perimeter scorers out of necessity. They're both 6'8" and reasonably long, and the Cavaliers are devoid of alternatives. Larry Nance Jr. is their most versatile defender, but he cannot beef up the wing defense beyond hanging tough when he switches into space.
Dallas Mavericks: Playmaking Wing
Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis give the Dallas Mavericks a budding-beast vibe. A playmaking wing is all that separates them from evolving into an actual beast.
Remove gettability from the equation, and Khris Middleton always made the most sense as the Mavericks' top free-agent target. They need a wing who is accustomed to finishing plays off the dribble but equally familiar with playing off those around him.
Dallas eventually placed Kemba Walker atop its wishlist. That was calculated. He was the bigger flight risk. Free agency validated as much. Walker is in Boston, and Middleton re-upped with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Not that the Mavericks' priorities matter now. They largely struck out on the open market. Delon Wright grants them more defensive flexibility, and they kept Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber on team-friendly deals. But they're still a playmaking wing short of automatic postseason contention.
Tim Hardaway Jr. (two years, $39 million) is being paid like that player. He isn't that guy. His passing is sporadic in volume and suspect in purpose. Dallas cannot fully trust his off-the-bounce shooting.
Finney-Smith and Justin Jackson haven't flashed the handles necessary to branch out. Courtney Lee has dabbled as a pick-and-roll orchestrator, but he's going on 34. Ryan Broekhoff is best served moving without the ball.
Denver Nuggets: Small Forward
Jerami Grant's arrival brings the Denver Nuggets oh-so-very-close to absolute completion. They needed a properly sized wing defender, and his extra-long 6'9" frame is suited for rumbling with 2s, 3s, 4s and even some 5s.
Bake in Grant's 39.2 percent clip from downtown last season, which came on 4.0 attempts per 36 minutes, and he is everything the Nuggets need at both sides. As Denver Stiffs' Adam Mares wrote:
"The combination of shooting, floor spacing, athleticism, open court finishing, help side defense, and pure hustle and energy are an ideal fit alongside [Nikola] Jokic. Those skills are all proven to provide extra value when playing next to the best playmaking center the league has ever seen. At just 25 years old, there’s time for Grant to develop his game around Jokic’s, especially if you take Nuggets president of Basketball Operations at his word that Grant was brought in to be a long-term piece of the team."
Still, in the most basic sense, Grant is not a small forward. He is a 4. Most of his minutes have come at power forward since 2016-17, and he logged fewer than 20 possessions last season at the 3.
Pigeonholing players into positions is so pre-2015. You are what you defend these days, and Grant covers almost everyone. But the Nuggets continue to want for a true 3 even with him.
Will Barton, Malik Beasley and Gary Harris are undersized relative to full-time small forwards, and Torrey Craig isn't a consistent enough offensive weapon to be viewed as an answer. A healthy Juan Hernangomez can play the 3, and the Nuggets seem to consider him one, but he's better off defending 4s.
Michael Porter Jr. looms here. He is the quintessential combo wing with the floor game of a small forward. But he missed his entire rookie campaign following back surgery and didn't play in summer league due to a left knee sprain. Denver is a championship contender and not in position to let him work through the motions.
Don't cry for the Nuggets. They're going to be good. This is just nitpicking at its nitpickiest.
Detroit Pistons: Playmaking Wing
Trading for Tony Snell and signing Markieff Morris noticeably bolsters the Detroit Pistons' wing rotation. They are floor-spacing upgrades over last year's primary options and add a little defensive grit, albeit with inconsistent motors.
Both still fail to meet the playmaking-wing criteria. Morris is more of a power forward only; it makes more sense to use him as a small-ball 5 than at the 3. Asking Snell to create off the dribble is among the most desperate requests a team can make.
Rookie Sekou Doumbouya might be that player in due time. His offensive profile is too raw to expect anything from him next season. He doesn't even turn 19 until December.
Bruce Brown is the Pistons' best possible in-house solution. He has already shown he can do heavy defensive lifting versus 2s and 3s and has more to offer as a ball-handler. He fared quite well running point for Detroit's summer league team and will be more of an every-lineup player if he strokes threes with any sort of consistency.
Luke Kennard also has a puncher's chance of being the answer. The Pistons afforded him more license off the dribble last season, and lineups with him at the 3 held their own on defense. It remains to be seen whether his on-ball comfort can translate to creating for others consistently.
What-ifs are fine. They're not guarantees. The Pistons need Brown or Kennard to develop into a certainty—or they need to figure out how to trade for one.
Golden State Warriors: Combo Wing
D'Angelo Russell will help the Golden State Warriors begin to replace Kevin Durant's offensive star power. He is not an ideal fit unless they start running pick-and-rolls ad nauseam, but they supplanted an unprecedented shot-creator and shot-maker with an All-Star shot-creator and shot-maker still a beat or two away from his prime.
It could be worse. The Warriors have deftly preserved their offensive armory even after factoring in the loss of Andre Iguodala and two first-round picks. Anyone writing them out of the Western Conference's arms race is succumbing to knee-jerk pessimism.
This does not earn their wing rotation a pass. Klay Thompson's torn ACL put them at an unavoidable disadvantage, and they steered further into the depletion by sacrificing Iguodala so they could add another playmaking guard.
Approximating Durant's impact was always out of the question. That's not the point. The Warriors no longer have that player who can man both forward spots. They barely have interchangeable options at the 2 and 3 until Thompson returns.
Alec Burks, Jacob Evans, Alfonzo McKinnie, rookie Jordan Poole and Glenn Robinson III now populate their wing rotation. And that's if we stretch the definition of "wing." Never mind plucking out a small-ball 4. At least two of those players are one-position 2-guards.
Short of flipping Russell for more perimeter utility after Dec. 15, the Warriors won't have the means to diversify their wing rotation even with a healthy Thompson. Next season will be interesting.
Houston Rockets: Defensive Wing
Dealing Chris Paul, two first-rounders and two pick swaps for Russell Westbrook was a gutsy, if curious, move by the Houston Rockets. The offense has to change. They have to play faster. Or James Harden has to work off the ball more. It might take both for him and Westbrook to effectively coexist.
Houston's defensive concessions are being lost amid the offensive risk. Paul lost a step or two last season, but he was still a nuisance at the less glamorous end. Westbrook is a downgrade. He lives and dies by gambles, and his locked-in on-ball efforts don't carry the same sway despite his three-inch height advantage over Paul.
Extra pressure will fall on everyone outside the backcourt when Harden and Westbrook play together. The Rockets don't seem equipped for it. They ranked fourth in points allowed per 100 possessions after last year's trade deadline, but the drop-off from Paul to Westbrook is real, and Houston's defensive rating plummeted with him off the floor during that stretch.
Bringing back Danuel House helps. Eric Gordon showed some moxie when defending 3s last year. Clint Capela and PJ Tucker haven't gone anywhere. Gary Clark and Gerald Green have their moments. But the Rockets need someone else.
They didn't chase Jimmy Butler twice in the past year for no reason. They're still looking to recoup the defensive sure things (and switchability) they enjoyed in 2017-18.
Indiana Pacers: Primary Playmaker
Victor Oladipo has long needed other shot-creation threats around him. Now, once he returns from his ruptured right quad tendon, he'll have them.
He still won't have a primary floor general. The Indiana Pacers have instead mashed together a bunch of maybes and spot playmakers.
Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. McConnell have experience running point, but they've never held the keys to an above-average offense. McConnell barely cracked the fully processed Philadelphia 76ers' playoff rotation last year, and Brogdon tallied fewer than 450 regular-season possessions without one of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton on the floor.
Jeremy Lamb took on some playmaking responsibilities in Charlotte. He had no choice. But the offense seldom remained afloat when he rolled without Kemba Walker. TJ Warren is not the answer unless he has unexplored depths to his offensive bag. Among 105 players to average at least six drives per game last season, his pass percentage ranked...105th.
Maybe Aaron Holiday is ready. Or perhaps playmaking by committee is enough. The Pacers don't employ an elite passer, but an offense built around a healthy Oladipo with Brogdon, Holiday, Lamb, McConnell and Domantas Sabonis has levels.
That depth is tough to buy into without caveats. Chucking more threes and increasing transition volume could help offset the void, but Indiana is committed to playing two bigs, and head coach Nate McMillan has not shown an affinity for adjusting his team's offensive style.
Los Angeles Clippers: Pass-First Floor General
Exactly zero teams will earn more championship predictions entering next season than the Los Angeles Clippers. They deserve it. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard form arguably the best one-two punch in the league, and landing their superstars didn't cost all of their depth. (Just a boatload of picks and swaps.)
Split hairs and the Clippers look like they'll want for a conventional floor general. George and Leonard are secondary playmakers, and Patrick Beverley has never pretended to be a primary offensive pilot.
Lou Williams is the closest they get to a table-setting captain. This is to say: They're still pretty far away from having one. Williams is a magician out of the pick-and-roll, particularly when he's linking up with Montrezl Harrell. He's also a score-first guard at heart.
To be painfully clear, this won't faze the Clippers. Beverley and Williams paved the way for them last year, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, now of the Oklahoma City Thunder, filling in the gaps. This season's setup is better.
George and Leonard arm the Clippers with even more shot creation, and they can extract another layer of pick-and-roll ball-handling from Rodney McGruder. Not having a traditional point guard might be an inconvenience, but it wasn't crippling last season and won't be now.
Los Angeles Lakers: Bigger Wing Defender
Parsing through the Los Angeles Lakers' above-average perimeter defenders doesn't take long. They have very few.
Push the boundaries of "above average" as far as possible, and they're left with Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jared Dudley, Danny Green and LeBron James. Please do not decry Rajon Rondo's absence. It won't matter even if you do. He isn't getting assigned to the biggest wings. Nor is the 6'2" Bradley.