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How Teams Replace Key Role Players Lost in Free Agency

When a key role player signs a deal in free agency, we spend so much time thinking about how the fit works for the new team. Hundreds of articles are written about how that player will play in a new system, which players’ minutes he’ll take and whether this points the team over the top.

But there’s also a team that was left in the dust. Teams who lose key role players don’t just sit there and belabor the loss; rather, these teams need to work quickly to fill the void. Here are how a few teams plan on replacing key losses.

Paul Pierce leaves the Wizards to sign with the Clippers

The Wizards lost the clutch shooter to Los Angeles, and now have to replace what he brought to the team on the court and in the locker room.

Washington solved the on-the-court problem quickly, acquiring Jared Dudley from the Bucks for a second-round pick. Dudley isn’t the name Pierce is, but he’s a solid swingman who’s great at moving the ball and defending bigger players. He has impossibly quick hands and great basketball IQ, and should fill the role of Pierce nicely. He may not be the shooter Pierce is, but getting a player like Dudley for nothing should help lessen the blow felt by Pierce’s departure. Gary Neal has also been acquired to help add more shooting.

The locker room presence is a different matter entirely. The Wizards have an excellent leader in John Wall, but Pierce brought a certain toughness to the room that’s hard to replace.

Fortunately, there’s a free agent who could bring this same type of leadership that would also be an upgrade to the roster. David West is looking to play for a true contender and has interest in heading to Washington, and he’s one of the toughest people on the planet. Part of what made Pierce so great for the Wizards is that he won’t back down from anyone, and West wouldn’t back down from a semi-truck. He isn’t as vocal as PIerce is, but he’s a hard-working leader who could fill in for Pierce in the locker room without missing a beat.

West also makes sense on the court. He’s a great mid-range shooter and would thrive in the pick-and-pop with Wall. Nene continues to break down, and West is much more reliable with his jumper and ability to stay on the court. West would make so much sense for Washington, and the Wizards would be wise to try and acquire him with the mid-level (or cap room after a Nene trade).

Amir Johnson leaves the Raptors to sign with the Celtics

Amir Johnson was a key player for the Raptors, but he moved on to grab a deal with the Celtics.

Fortunately for Toronto, the team managed to grab a more talented player before Johnson left, snatching up DeMarre Carroll from Atlanta with a reported four-year, $60 million deal.

Carroll played almost exclusively at small forward for the Hawks, but don’t be surprised to see him play some power forward for Toronto. There were reports of the Raptors chasing Wesley Matthews and selling him on the idea of playing the 3 while Carroll played the 4. Matthews has agreed with Dallas on a contract, but that doesn’t mean the idea of Carroll at the 4 is dead.

Masai Ujiri is a forward thinker who understands how beneficial it would be to have a player like Carroll play one of the big spots. He’s strong enough to handle most power forwards in the post and could switch pick-and-rolls. He’d also be a nightmare matchup for some traditional 4s to guard. Terrence Ross, who started most of last season, would be able to play alongside Carroll and DeRozan in this scenario as well.

That being said, Toronto still has some cap room after the Carroll deal, and will likely get another power forward to add to the team. One name that would be interesting is restricted free agent Kyle O’Quinn. O’Quinn didn’t play a ton with Orlando last season, but is an analytics darling who does everything pretty well. He’d be able to replace Johnson as one of the glue guys on the team, and likely would be available for the cap room Toronto has left.

DeMarre Carroll leaves the Hawks to sign with the Raptors

Speaking of Carroll, the team he left has to try and replace his production. Carroll was the lone non-All-Star out of the Hawks’ starting lineup last season, but showed his value in the playoffs. He’ll be very tough for the East’s #1 team in the regular season to replace.

There aren’t many great options for replacing Carroll available, so the Hawks will likely try to replace most of his production in-house. Here’s another situation where a player trying a new position could come in handy, as Paul Millsap has reportedly been open to playing some small forward.

Atlanta just acquired Tiago Splitter to beef up its interior, and the Hawks could slide Millsap over to the 3 and Al Horford to the 4 to create a big lineup. With so many teams going small, Atlanta could roll out this big lineup and try to crush teams with mismatches. Neither Millsap nor Horford is an easy cover for an out-of-position wing. And both of them are mobile enough to cover ground on defense and negate some of the speed advantage a smaller lineup would have on the Hawks.

Thabo Sefolosha will be a bigger contributor this year, after having recovered from his broken leg. He’ll likely be tasked with guarding the other team’s best wing most of the time he’s on the floor. If Dennis Schroder improves, we’ll likely see even more of the Teague-Schroder lineups than last year, as Atlanta will have to inject more ball-handling on the floor at times. Tim Hardaway Jr. is expected to be a rotation player this season, but must improve his turnstile defense and ball-stopping tendencies.

The Hawks still have some salary cap room to work with and will be on the lookout for a low-priced wing. Dorell Wright seems like a decent fit that could come cheap, and Richard Jefferson could be an option for a year. He fits in a motion offense and can be productive in a very minor role.

It’ll be hard for Atlanta to replace Carroll, but Mike Budenholzer does a great job adapting his system to his team. He’ll do everything he can to maximize the production of his new roster sans Carroll.

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