Planning Ahead

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Planning Ahead

How do the NBA’s Small Market Organizations Plan to Compete?

Getting eliminated in the first round can be devastating. For small-market teams , it can also be satisfactory to simply make the playoffs every year and keep the fan base interested. Either way, GM’s of smaller market teams must always plan ahead, carefully managing their budgets and resources and searching for opportunities to maximize talent.

Here is a quick look at the latest coming from the camps of some of these teams.

Indiana Pacers

All in all, it was a successful 48 win season for the Indiana Pacers, but as their GM Kevin Pritchard and coach Nate McMillan met with media on Wednesday to wrap up the season, there are a lot of important decisions to be made.

Seven of Indiana’s 13 players will be free agents this summer, they’ll have at least $43 million in cap space, and possess the 18thpick in the NBA Draft. That is a lot of moving parts. The Pacers roster will undoubtedly look a lot different next season.

GM Pritchard promised to be “super aggressive” in reconstructing the roster and concedes that with just one proven All-Star calibre player in Victor Oladipo, the team needs more if they want to compete in the playoffs.

“We’ll go after the big boys,” Pritchard said. “We’ll make the pitches. We’re not afraid. We’re willing to think big. I gave my management staff a book here recently, The Magic of Thinking Big. We want to think big. One thing we believe is that once you sign with us we’ll do our best to make you feel comfortable here and we’ll do that with our daily actions.”

With the cap space the Pacers can go beyond signing free agents, and pursue ‘uneven trades’ with teams potentially looking to shed payroll. As for the 18thpick in the draft, Pritchard said he would not be surprised if it’s used in a trade and promised to be aggressive with it.

While small market teams generally don’t fare as well in the free agent marketplace, Pritchard believes the Pacers’ culture and facilities could help facilitate some opportunities. “We believe we are player-centric,” he said. “The players know they’ll be taken care of…and they know we’re going to win.

Utah Jazz

We all know by now that the Utah Jazz are an elite defensive team. However, like usual, the Houston Rockets exposed their inability to generate consistent offense, ultimately leading to their demise in the first round.

The plan seems to be different ahead of this summer as the Jazz plan on targeting shooters and playmakers in free agency to help alleviate some of the pressure on leading scorer Donovan Mitchell.

“We want to move the group forward,” Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey said at the year-end press conference yesterday. “While we have a very good team, the results told us that we don’t have a great team.” With Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, the Jazz have a stable core to build around and two centerpieces on both ends of the floor, but the supporting cast needs to improve.

Mitchell is coming off of another great sophomore season and has impressed teammates with his attitude and relentless work ethic. “I wasn’t expected to be here and I really don’t want to lose this,” Mitchell said. “As a kid, my favourite subject was recess. Why? Because I could go play basketball. As a 22-year old kid now, to have that all come full circle, it’s a blessing.”

As for the Jazz, the main priority seems to be finding a new starting point guard. This won’t be easy as many teams in the NBA need a starting point guard and frankly, there don’t seem to be too many options. Ricky Rubio is an unrestricted free agent  who will likely be looking for a new home this summer. “I want to be happy,” Rubio said. “So I’m going to try to find the best situation for me to perform and to be happy.”

Kyle Korver, who helped energize the Jazz offense, in the second half of the season is 38 and remains uncertain whether he will return for a 17thseason or not. Should he retire, the Jazz will definitely need to replace his shooting.

Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic seem to be a team on the rise. They have a young core, finally ended their playoff drought, and according to the President of Basketball Operations, Jeff Weltman, “the future is bright”.

With stability in the front office and the coaching staff, the attention now turns to the players. In addition to wanting to keep the team’s veteran core together by retaining free agents Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross, the Magic also plan on continuing the momentum from this season and being active in the draft, free agency and via trades. Perhaps, above all else, the main priority is also internal improvement.

“Taking a step back, after working so hard to make significant gains this season, is not an option,” Weltman said. “You know, everything keeps you up every night. The league is about operating on a thin margin every day, keeping the pulse on the team and the nuances and the signs and communications- everything matters,” Weltman added. “So going in to the summer, we have to establish a program for all our players so that they get better, we have to keep them together and we have to keep going forward.”

Bringing back Vucevic and Ross won’t be cheap as they are both coming off career years. “Bringing Vooch back is a priority but we know a lot of teams will make him a priority for them, too,” Weltman said. Outside of those two, the Magic will look to bring in other veterans to surround their young core of Aaron Gordan, Mo Bamba, Evan Fournier, Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz.

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