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Should my NBA team rebuild? A deep dive into the plights of five playoff teams

May 23, 2017
Cleveland Cavaliers v Indiana Pacers - Game Three

Joe Robbins

"Should (Team X) start rebuilding?" is a common cry for fans and writers after a club gets ousted in the NBA playoffs. In a sense, understandable: there's nothing worse in basketball than residence in mediocrity. And though tearing it down is no cup of tea -- just ask Sixers fans -- hope is an easier pitch than a rangebound 45-win squad. Throw in the eclipsing reign of the Cavaliers and Warriors, selling the present for the future seems like the prudent move.

That doesn't mean it's a universal prescription. Here are five teams facing the "run it back or reload?" dilemma this offseason.

Indiana Pacers

Calls for change: Well, Paul George threw teammate C.J. Miles under the bus for taking a last-second shot during Game 1 of the club’s first-round series against the Cavaliers, then proceeded to call out the entire team after a Game 2 loss. We haven’t seen such a blatant attempt to get moved since George Costanza dragged the World Series trophy through Yankee Stadium’s parking lot.

Fan base frustration: Mild. After back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances, the team’s hovered around the .500 mark the past three seasons. Of course, the Pacers rank behind Indiana Hoosiers basketball, Notre Dame football, the Indianapolis Colts and Lil Sebastian in terms of local interest, so the Pacers have gotten a relative pass for failing to build a contender around George’s prime.

Realistic options: Trade George and rebuild around Myles Turner. Many around the league believe George, an L.A. native, is interested in the Lakers; that he’s training with Kobe Bryant this summer only fans those flames. Unfortunately that means Indiana can’t get full value on the trade market, as other teams will view him as a rental. Conversely, you can’t let a player of George’s caliber walk away without anything in return. Quite the pickle for the Pacers.

What will likely happen: Indiana tried to construct a contender by throwing shit at the wall (Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young, the corpse of Monta Ellis) and failed. Aside from Turner, the only player under 25 on the roster is Glenn Robinson III, who's nothing more than a middling back-up. In short, the Pacers need to blow the joint up. Now that Larry Bird is out of the Pacers front office, new president Kevin Pritchard won’t be afraid to start from scratch.

Chicago Bulls v Atlanta Hawks

Kevin C. Cox

Chicago Bulls

Calls for change: Chicago was a circus last season, highlighted (lowlighted?) by Rajon Rondo calling out Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade for distancing themselves from their teammates. Not helping matters were year-long trade rumors regarding Butler, a top-15 talent whose demeanor and behavior leave much to be desired of a supposed franchise cornerstone. Oh, and coach Fred Hoiberg has as much control as a chaperone at Chuck E. Cheese. So yeah, this team's ripe for a renovation.

Fan base frustration: Boiling. Frankly, I’m surprised no one has kidnapped Benny the Bull. If Butler’s trade situation is topic No. 1, the futures of GM Gar Forman and vice president John Paxson are 1B. But unlike the Butler dilemma, fans are united in their dismay towards the front office. And rightfully so. From debatable free-agent signings, a major trade flop with OKC and five consecutive years of failed draft picks, few organizations have made so many missteps as Chicago without a shakeup.

Realistic options: There’s no better trade chip in the league than Butler, who has two more guaranteed years at an affordable rate for a superstar. Convince Wade not to pick up his option, build around Bobby Portis and whatever you get in return for Butler. But running it back with a squad that finished eighth in the weak Eastern Conference is a fool's errand.

What will likely happen: We mentioned Forman and Paxson are still in charge, right? As long as these two are running the show, NBA purgatory is fait accompli for the Bulls. Expect the duo to sit on their hands this summer, correlating to another season of Butler trade rumors, “What’s going on with Chicago?” pieces and a first-round exit. Good times!

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Three

Stephen Dunn

Los Angeles Clippers

Calls for change: Judging by the 7.1 million Google results for “Clippers + blow it up,” NBA writers were mandated to pen a Lob City eulogy after the team’s first-round loss to the Jazz.

Fan base frustration: Punch-drunk. Being a Clippers fan means a forever gaze into a bottomless pit of anguish and vexation. That said, this is a base that endured a racist slumlord as its owner and the Michael Olowokandi Era. A handful of injuries and early playoff bounces are nothing.

Realistic options: Both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can -- and likely will -- exercise early termination options. Along with DeAndre Jordan, the trio has failed to reach the conference finals in six seasons together, fueling calls to go nuclear. But if Paul and Griffin walk, the team has zero young assets (Jordan’s entering his 10th season) and limited upcoming draft picks to build around. Their best bet is to keep the band together and hope the Warriors come down with chickenpox next spring.

What will likely happen: The most overlooked aspect of this “R.I.P. Clips” talk: Paul guided an “over 38” clause in the new CBA that -- hope you’re sitting down -- directly benefits Paul staying with the Clips. He can re-sign in L.A. for $201 million or test the market for substantially less. In short, he’s not going anywhere. Griffin’s L.A. future is not as guaranteed, but coming off another injury, his market has cooled considerably. They likely can’t retain J.J. Redick, and the bench needs a critical overhaul. However, as long as they keep their core, the offseason is a success.

Toronto Raptors v Washington Wizards

Rob Carr

Toronto Raptors

Calls for change: The Raps went all-in with the midseason acquisition of Sergio Ibaka, ostensibly giving Toronto their best chance at landing a serious playoff punch. Instead, the Cavs wrapped them in a headlock and delivered a four-game noogie. Following that schoolyard beatdown, it’s clear -- even in the depleted Eastern Conference -- the Drakes need to return to the drawing board.

Fan base frustration: Surprisingly perturbed. "Bummed Canadian” is a bit of an oxymoron. Nevertheless, following an Eastern Conference Finals appearance last spring, Ibaka was supposed to push the Raps over the hump. Now the team is on the verge of A) Keeping this limited ceiling squad together at an absurd –- possibly crippling –- price or B) Kissing relevance for the next three-four years goodbye. At least they have universal health care.

Realistic options: Ibaka is rapidly losing his athleticism at 27, while Kyle Lowry turned 31 in March and has a mounting history of injuries. Given Lowry’s vocalness about moving West, a return is unlikely. Masai Ujiri is one of the more respected presidents in the league, but a squad centered around Ibaka and DeMar DeRozan -- whose flaws were embarrassingly exposed in the postseason -- won’t put fear into the rest of the conference. Though it’s painful, it’s best the Raps let Ibaka walk and start rebuilding around DeRozan...and even entertain the thought of trading the All-Star shooting guard, as well as center Jonas Valanciunas.

What will likely happen: Lowry goes but Ibaka’s brought back to the tune of $20 million per year, resigning the team to a fate of seven seeds for the foreseeable future.

Memphis Grizzlies v Atlanta Hawks

Kevin C. Cox

Memphis Grizzlies

Calls for change: Heating up. On one hand, the Grizz are just one of three teams in the league to make the playoffs each of the past seven seasons, quite the accomplishment given their small-market constraints. In that same breath, management has failed to build around Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, and Year 1 of the Chandler Parsons Experience was a disaster. If they stumble out of the gate, envision an avalanche of “The End of the Grindhouse” articles next winter. That said...

Fan base frustration: Blissfully passive. Note to all single men: marry a Memphis woman. Judging by the fans’ fidelity -- despite three first-round bounces in the past four years, Grizzly fans desperately want to keep the team intact -- Beale Street is littered with loyal, faithful companions that expect little in return.

Realistic options: If his knees continue to deteriorate, the Parsons contract is an unavoidable hamstring. Gasol and Conley are two of the more underrated performers at their respective positions, both on affordable deals. They’re also beloved by the town. Though trading one or both would be a PR nightmare, it’s a necessity for long-term viability. Factoring in the rising mileage on their odometers, Memphis better cash in their chips while they can.

What will likely happen: Nothing, as the team will bring back soon-to-be 36-year-old Zach Randolph and 35-year-old Tony Allen for victory laps, fielding a fiery, competitive club that will make the fans proud while simultaneously failing to win 42 games.