5 NBA teams falling behind their rivals after not doing enough this summer

The first big wave of player movement in the 2024 NBA offseason has come and gone, and a few things are starting to crystalize. The Oklahoma City Thunder look like the class of the West after adding Isaiah Hartenstein and Alex Caruso to last year’s No. 1 seed. The Boston Celtics remain a strong favorite in the East, but the New York Knicks with Mikal Bridges and Philadelphia 76ers with Paul George are ready to push them.

Some teams have set themselves up for improvement this offseason even if they aren’t at the top of the championship picture. The Dallas Mavericks did well to add more shooting and defense around Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, and it will be fascinating to see how Klay Thompson performs away from the Bay. The Orlando Magic won’t sneak up on anyone this year, and have a chance to be an emerging Eastern Conference powerhouse.

Then there’s the teams who haven’t done enough. While there’s plenty of time left in the offseason to make moves, these six teams should be feeling the heat to do something or they are going to get left behind by their rivals.

Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets could have retained Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in free agency if they wanted to. Instead, Denver was too afraid of looming penalties for entering the ‘second apron’ of the luxury tax, and decided it could replace the veteran two-guard’s production with younger players. Either that, or ownership just cheaped out.

This is the time that Denver should be going all-in around Nikola Jokic. The three-time MVP is in the prime of his career at 29 years old, yet the team around him continues to lose talent over nothing but money. The Nuggets lost Bruce Brown and Jeff Green last year after winning the 2023 championship, and now it’s lost an even bigger contributor in KCP. This decision puts a ton of pressure on Denver’s untested young bench — Christian Braun, Peyton Watson, Julian Strawther — to perform at a high level immediately. The Nuggets’ depth was already an issue last year, and it’s an even more glaring need now.

The Nuggets will still be very good. They may even still win the title. But the team got significantly worse by losing Caldwell-Pope for no good reason. The young guys are going to have to take a major leap, or the Nuggets have failed Jokic this summer.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers were a pretty good team last year that only won one playoff game and never had a realistic chance of winning the Western Conference. It would seem to behoove a team like that to make some major moves in the offseason, especially when it has three first round picks to trade at its disposal. Instead, the Lakers have been content to draft Dalton Knecht and Bronny James, and do nothing else.

Knecht can help the Lakers next season as a rookie with his off-ball shooting, but that won’t be enough to make a major push up the standings. LA is betting on internal development of their young players, but if they make a real veteran addition, chances are they will be worse by proxy. LA got very good health out of LeBron James and Anthony Davis last season, and who knows if that will be the case this year. The West keeps improving, and the Lakers are doing nothing as LeBron James sets to enter his age-40 season.

The Lakers are preparing for life after James instead of going all-in while he’s still an elite player. LA doesn’t want to trade its future draft picks and take on penalties from entering the second-apron. The Lakers are kind of just chilling, and that shouldn’t be good enough when they employ the superstar with the longest prime in league history.

Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks were supposed to be a championship contender after acquiring Damian Lillard last season. Instead, the team looked underwhelming out of the gates, fired first-year head coach Adrian Griffin to replace him with Doc Rivers at midseason, and then saw Giannis Antetokounmpo suffer a season-ending injury just before the playoffs.

It feels like it’s now or never for the Lillard-Antetokounmpo pairing entering the 2024-25 season, but the Bucks have done absolutely nothing to improve the team this summer.

It’s true that the Bucks are capped out and light on future assets, but other teams have found a way to get creative in similar situations. Milwaukee’s big plan appears to be praying for good health from their four veteran stars. That doesn’t seem like a wise move when the 76ers and Knicks went all-out to add top-end talent, while the Celtics remain the class of the conference. If Milwaukee disappoints again this season, it’s only a matter of time before Antetokounmpo trade rumors pop up again.

Miami Heat

The Heat missed out on Damian Lillard last summer, and they never had a chance at Donovan Mitchell this summer before he re-signed with Cleveland. Miami is a franchise known for taking big swings, yet they’ve done a whole lot of nothing heading into the 2024-25 season.

Jimmy Butler is entering the final year of his contract without an extension in place. Bam Adebayo is locked up on a long-term deal, and there are some nice young pieces on the roster in Jaime Jaquez, Nikola Jovic, Kel’el Ware, and Tyler Herro. For now, the Heat feel like a team stuck in two-timelines: one not good enough to win with Butler as a centerpiece this season, yet without a foundational player if he leaves in the summer of 2025.

Miami would be wise to look at Butler trades and prioritize their future, but this organization typically doesn’t operate that way. Unless the Heat can find a way to make a move for an impact talent, it feels like they’re stuck at the bottom of the East playoff picture.

Los Angeles Clippers

This one is self-explanatory. The Clippers lost Paul George in free agency without getting assets back for him. LA responded by making some bargain signings in Derrick Jones Jr., Kris Dunn, Nic Batum, and Mo Bamba, but those guys aren’t going to make up the loss of an All-NBA caliber player like George.

The Clippers still have Kawhi Leonard and James Harden on the roster, but that isn’t a reliable duo at this point in their careers. The scary thing for LA is it doesn’t control its own first round pick until 2030. Right now, this looks like a low-end Western Conference playoff team at best with the arrow pointing downhill and very few assets to course correct.

Phoenix Suns

At least the Phoenix Suns didn’t cheap out. Despite a massive luxury tax bill looming, the Suns re-signed Royce O’Neale to a $44 million contract. Phoenix also added Mason Plumlee to bolster its front court depth. We’ll applaud those moves on the margins, but it isn’t enough to really make a difference for a team that just got swept out of the first round of the playoffs.

Phoenix was supposed to be competing for championships when it acquired Kevin Durant. The all-in move for Bradley Beal last summer has backfired, and now Phoenix has an enormous payroll, three ill-fitting stars, and zero tradable future draft picks until 2031.

If the Suns don’t look great to start the season, it’s probably only a matter of time before they need to start thinking about trading Kevin Durant. At that point, Devin Booker’s future would become a major point of speculation, too. The Suns don’t have many moves left to make, and their team still isn’t good enough.

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