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Thinking outside the box – Western Conference

AP Photo/Kita Wright
AP Photo/Kita Wright

Every year NBA teams do something surprising. It can be lineups, roster decisions, playing time, etc. Often it is something that no one saw coming. This article presents some outside the box ideas that each Western Conference team (you can see the Eastern Conference here) should consider. Some of them are big swings, and others are tiny tweaks, but each represents a new way of thinking that could improve a team and give them an advantage they lack now.

Dallas Mavericks

The Idea: Make liberal use of their own version of the Death Lineup

The Reasoning: The Mavericks can slide Dirk Nowitzki to center, Harrison Barnes to power forward, Wesley Matthews to small forward, any number of players at SG (maybe their own Curry: Seth) and Deron Williams at PG. Ok…fine…it isn’t exactly the Death Lineup. The Flu Lineup? The Bad Cold Lineup? Doesn’t matter what you call it, Dallas should do it. This would give them a lot of offense, while also allowing Nowitzki to guard opposing centers, where he’s less of a liability. And one of the best parts of having Harrison Barnes is making use of his versatility to play both forward spots.

Denver Nuggets

The Idea: Make a consolidation trade right away, even if it is an overpay

The Reasoning: The Nuggets may have more quality NBA talent from 1-15 than any other NBA team. It is hard to find a player in Denver that isn’t deserving of minutes or doesn’t need minutes for development. Also, the Nuggets don’t have the top end talent to really compete in the Western Conference. To accelerate that process and put itself in the conversation for the playoffs, Denver should consolidate. Much like the Celtics (who never actually did a consolidation trade), the Nuggets could trade away assets in a 3-for-1 deal and still come out ahead, without harming their depth. They also have extra picks to sweeten the pot. Whatever gets them back to relevance out west should be considered.

Golden State Warriors

The Idea: Play James Michael McAdoo and Patrick McCaw as part of the rotation

The Reasoning: The Warriors are going to win in the mid-60s almost by accident. They have too much talent to do anything less. But in the postseason, they want to be covered in case players are missing due to injury or other reasons. Cough…Draymond…cough. Each of the last two years has seen them have to rely on players who weren’t quite ready for primetime. Instead of wasting minutes on tired veterans like Anderson Varejao, why not make sure McAdoo and McCaw both get to play? In addition to having them ready for when it counts, the Warriors would also be developing two of the younger players on their squad. There is little downside and only upside here.

Houston Rockets

The Idea: Go with their own super-small-ball lineup on a regular basis.

The Reasoning: The Rockets basically punted on having anything resembling a decent defense with their offensive-minded signings this summer. Instead of trying to cobble something together defensively, why not really go all in with shooting and scoring? Play a lineup of Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, James Harden, Eric Gordon and Patrick Beverley together and watch the fireworks. Ariza and Beverley offer just enough defense to keep from being entirely laughable, and they could switch everything from 1-4. Opposing coaches would be forced to go small to try to match all that spacing and shooting. This lineup could score in bunches for stretches of games, and that might be the Rockets’ best chance to be competitive on a nightly basis.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Idea: More rest for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick

The Reasoning: The Clippers aren’t catching the Warriors or probably even the Spurs. They can claim the 3 seed just by being relatively healthy. Instead of pushing to try and catch one of the teams in front of them, why not ease off some and take it easy in the regular season? Hitting the playoffs healthy should be the utmost concern. Every year it falls apart on LA because they push too hard in the regular season. They have the depth to still win plenty of games when their stars rest. But come playoff time, you want those stars ready to go for 35-40 minutes a night. More rest in the regular season accomplishes that goal.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Idea: Go small with Randle, Deng, Ingram, Clarkson and Russell a lot

The Reasoning: The Lakers spent a lot of money on Timofey Mozgov. A lot of money. More than anyone else probably would. And that means he’ll play and probably start. That is fine, but they should use him like the Warriors used Andrew Bogut. Start each half with Mozgov and use him in matchups against true centers. But make sure you play small plenty too. Randle can hold his own against most of the power forward/center types in the league. Deng has proven he can be a small ball power forward with no issue. And this lineup gets Ingram on the floor more with the Lakers other building blocks. Any minutes LA can play their 4 young potential stars together, the better. The focus this year should be all about development. Wins can, and should, come later.

Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green, center, scores between San Antonio Spurs defenders Tony Parker (9) and Tim Duncan (21) during the first half in Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Tuesday, April 19, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The Idea: Start JaMychal Green and bring Zach Randolph off the bench

The Reasoning: OK, this one is cheating. The Grizzlies already shared this plan, but they hadn’t by the time this was written! It is an inspired idea, so here are some thoughts around why it is the smart move. The Grizzlies starting five with Randolph lacks explosiveness. Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons and Tony Allen are all ground-bound players. By starting Green, Memphis adds a player who can really run the floor and get up and finish around the basket. He’s one of the best athletes on a roster that lacks athleticism. On the flip side of things, Randolph gives the Griz a weapon off the bench. He’ll punish second units inside with his scoring, as few second units have bigs capable of handling him. Randolph will pair with Brandan Wright to give Memphis a good, complementary pair of big men. This is an advantage David Fizdale is wisely making use of.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Idea: Trade for Paul Millsap and fast-forward the rebuilding process

The Reasoning: Trades are hard to present as an outside the box idea without getting too crazy, but this one makes sense. Millsap is a perfect fit next to Karl-Anthony Towns up front. He can play inside and outside, he can defend, he’s a good passer and his game is aging well. He’ll fit for years with the Timberwolves young core. Millsap is in the last year of his deal (he’s widely expected to opt out next summer), so the Hawks could entertain offers for him. The Wolves have enough pieces to go get him without having to sacrifice everything they’ve put together. It would be the final move to launch them back into the postseason.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Idea: Start Lance Stephenson while Jrue Holiday is out

The Reasoning: Let’s first start with well wishes to the Holiday family. Hopefully, all goes well, and Jrue is able to return to the court soon. While he’s out however, the Pelicans lack playmakers on offense. Tyreke Evans would normally fill the role, but he’s also out for several months. Enter Lance Stephenson. “Born Ready” can start and handle the playmaker role. He was quite good at this for Indiana when paired with Paul George and George Hill. Stephenson can handle the ball and allow the Pelicans to play Buddy Hield off the ball and lessen the load on less experienced options at point guard. Stephenson has to make the team first, but assuming he does, this is the Pels best option for an additional playmaker until Holiday is back.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Idea: Wait to sign Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo and Andre Roberson to extensions until the summer

The Reasoning: Steven Adams and Andre’ Roberson are both likely to get a first-year salary far above their cap holds. That one is a no-brainer. Unless either is willing to take a far under-market deal, there is no reason to sign them now. Victor Oladipo is another story entirely. His starting salary could be within spitting distance of his cap hold unless he insists on a max deal, which seems to be the case. By waiting, the Thunder can preserve as much cap space as possible to add other pieces, and then sign their young trio. It also gives them the benefit of seeing just how well Oladipo pairs with Russell Westbrook in the backcourt before locking into him long term.

Phoenix Suns

The Idea: Start Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss with Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker and T.J. Warren as soon as they are ready

The Reasoning: The Suns aren’t likely to go anywhere this season. The learning curve for their young players and the gap between them and the playoff teams is too big of a leap. So, Phoenix should prioritize the future as much as possible. That means getting together their ideal lineup as soon as they can. Once Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss show they are ready, they should be in the starting five. This will allow them to grow with the Suns’ other young players. Booker is already showing signs of being a potential superstar. Letting his supporting cast grow with him may be painful for this year, but will pay off big time down the line.

Portland Trail Blazers

The Idea: Bring Evan Turner off the bench as the sixth man and de facto backup point guard

The Reasoning: The Trail Blazers were really good when they settled on a starting five of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee. Why upset a good thing? Turner is comfortable, and excellent, coming off the bench. He can come in and change the tone of games with his ability to get to the basket to make plays for himself and his teammates. Portland also lacks a good backup point guard. Turner can fill this role. Lillard is already on record about being excited to play off the ball, and McCollum can enjoy similar success as well. Turner will still play around 30 minutes a game, but there is no reason to rock the boat for a team that has incredible chemistry by changing the starting five.

Sacramento Kings

The Idea: Trade Ben McLemore for Michael Carter-Williams before the season starts

The Reasoning: It has been reported and confirmed that the Kings already turned this trade down. They need to call Milwaukee back and say: “We thought about it. We’re in.” as quick as they can. McLemore is going nowhere in Sacramento. Arron Afflalo bumps him from the starting five and Garrett Temple takes his spot in the rotation. Carter-Williams gives the Kings a quality point guard option while Darren Collison is suspended. And he gives them a prospect at the position for longer as well. He still has great size and playmaking ability at the point. He can’t shoot, but the Kings have some other shooters on the roster. Both McLemore and Carter-Williams could use a fresh start with a change of scenery, and the trade fills holes for both sides. What’s the holdup here?

San Antonio Spurs

The Idea: Start Dewayne Dedmon and bring Pau Gasol off the bench

The Reasoning: The Spurs will start the season without one of the league’s best defensive players of all time for the first time in two decades after Tim Duncan retired. Dewayne Dedmon can’t replace Duncan, but he can do a decent job of filling the hole. The Spurs already have a lot of players in the starting five who need offensive touches to be successful. Adding Pau Gasol to that mix makes it even tougher to keep everyone involved. Dedmon can handle the dirty work with screens and garbage points on offense, and he’s a good rebounder and shot blocker on the other end. Gregg Popovich can manage minutes for Gasol off the bench, and he’d be a tough cover for most backup big men. The Spurs will probably spot guys all over the place and manage minutes anyway, but this would give them a consistent rotation that could pay off in a big way by the postseason.

Utah Jazz

The Idea: Take it slow with Dante Exum and play Raul Neto and Shelvin Mack until he’s 100 percent ready to go

The Reasoning: The Jazz are blessed with more depth at point guard than any team in the league. If they can’t work a deal with one of the teams that has come up point guard needy in the preseason, they should just hang on to what they have. This will allow them to bring Exum back slowly and work him in. By the time he’s ready to handle the full complement of backup minutes behind George Hill, the Jazz can find a suitor for Neto or Mack and make a deal to fill a hole elsewhere. Exum is too talented, and the Jazz are too deep to take any sort of rushed approach here with their best young asset.

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