The Milwaukee Bucks came close to making the playoffs, but fell into the lottery-pick range instead. The Bucks won six of seven in early April to pull within a half game of the New York Knicks for eighth place in the East. Monta Ellis led the Bucks in scoring in three of those wins.
Alas, they lost seven of 10 to earn a lottery pick instead of a playoff spot.
The Bucks and a few other teams could go from being a lottery team this year to a playoff team next season. A couple of these teams could make the jump just by making the right moves in the draft. They may just be missing one minor thing that could bring them over the hump.
Following is a list of lottery teams who could make the playoffs next season.
The Milwaukee Bucks have plenty of scoring coming from the backcourt. Brandon Jennings averaged 19.1 points per game last season. Monta Ellis averaged 17.6 points per game in his stint in Milwaukee after being traded to the Bucks. Both averaged just over 20 points per game in the last month of the season.
What the Bucks are missing is a formidable frontcourt. Drew Gooden isn't a relevant front man. The Bucks haven't had a center since sending Andrew Bogut to the Golden State Warriors for Ellis.
The Bucks hold the No. 12 pick in the draft. Picking Tyler Zeller at that spot would be an excellent move for the Bucks to shore up their inside play.
Besides drafting Zeller, the Bucks may want to re-sign Ersan Ilyasova, who had a career year this season with 13 points and 8.8 rebounds per game while shooting 49.2 percent from the field—all career highs. Other promising free-agent possibilities at power forward would be Kris Humphries and Marreese Speights, who are both strong rebounders.
A good draft pick and a good signing for the frontcourt would easily put the Bucks in the playoffs.
The Houston Rockets were in playoff position much of the season, but they fell out of the Top Eight in the West down the stretch; injuries to Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin did them in.
Besides hoping for good health, the Rockets will have to make the most of their two first-round picks. They hold the Nos. 14 and 16 picks, their own lottery pick and a pick they received from the Knicks, respectively. The Rockets can hope for Tyler Zeller to fall to them. At No. 16, Houston could get Terrence Ross to help ensure plentiful scoring.
With these picks and the re-signing of Goran Dragic and one of their veteran centers, the Rockets could certainly get back into the playoffs.
The Phoenix Suns' 2012-13 playoff chances hinge on essentially two things: drafting a good scorer and re-signing Steve Nash. Executing the former objective will surely make the latter happen.
The Suns hold the No. 13 pick in the draft. Austin Rivers should be on the board when the Suns make their pick. If he is, Phoenix has no reason not to take the former Duke guard. Rivers is a dynamic offensive playmaker. He can drive to the basket to score, hit jump shots and work in isolation.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry told Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic that he "feels good" about the possibility of Nash re-signing with the Suns. He'd surely feel even better about that possibility if they get a solid scorer like Rivers in the draft.
As long as those two things fall into place for the Suns, they'll be back in the playoffs next season.
The Portland Trail Blazers stayed above .500 most of this season, but things fell apart in the second half.
They still have some of the core pieces needed to make the playoffs. Their two best players, LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews, will return. Also, Nic Batum seems likely to return. According to Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune, the Trail Blazers hold the Bird Rights on Batum, meaning they can offer him more money and a longer contract than any other team while going over the salary cap.
The Trail Blazers hold the Nos. 6 and 11 picks in the first round. They could use the first pick to add a frontcourt player like Jared Sullinger. With the No. 11 pick, the Trail Blazers should grab Kendall Marshall, who is a pass-first point guard. Marshall's style would be ideal for the Trail Blazers, who don't need a scoring point guard.
These picks, the re-signing of Batum and the likely return of Kaleb Canales, per Chris Haynes of Comcast SportsNet Northwest, would make Portland a playoff team in 2012-13.