NBA Playoffs 2012: Which Cast-off Team Would You Rather Be This Offseason?
The NBA Finals matchup is set with the Miami Heat facing the Oklahoma City Thunder in what will most likely become the most-watched NBA Finals in the 21st century. You have arguably the NBA's two best players squaring off in LeBron James and Kevin Durant. And not to be outdone, this NBA Finals will also feature four of the top 25 players in the league: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
It is the best of the best that the NBA has to offer.
Now that I have your attention. I do not want to discuss the teams that made it to the big showdown just yet. I would like to focus on some of the teams that did not make it.
Watching Game 7 between the Boston Celtics and the Heat, I began to think, like many others, "What Celtics team will we see next season? What does their future hold?"
Those thoughts were sparked by a conversation that my friends and I have had, which began during the first round of the NBA p/layoffs. During that time, the Heat had just finished off the New York Knicks, and the Chicago Bulls were scuffling against the Philadelphia 76ers minus an injured Derrick Rose.
We all raised a question: Which team would you rather have in the future? Two storied franchises with seemingly more questions than answers.
Time to expand the conversation and look at five NBA teams, all of which are rich in tradition and all are entering the offseason after suffering from bitter playoff defeats.
Which team would you rather be going forward?
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New York Knicks
The Carmelo Anthony-Amar'e Stoudemire experiment has been a complete dud so far. It was believed by many Knicks fans that once Anthony stepped on the Madison Square Garden floor, the Knicks would be on par with the Heat.
So far, the results have been underwhelming.
Two first-round exits later, and the Knicks may look to make some changes after some clear chemistry problems.
Injuries may be partly to blame for the chemistry issues. When Anthony went down with his numerous injuries, Jeremy Lin, a virtual unknown, took the NBA by storm. His emergence pushed the then-struggling Knicks over .500.
Once Anthony came back, though, the chemistry suffered, and Stoudemire got hurt. Once Stoudemire came back, Lin got hurt. No team can be successful with much turnover due to injuries.
The questions the Knicks face this offseason will be re-signing Lin, who is a restricted free agent, and whether or not they can win with both Anthony and Stoudemire.
I do not believe they can get past the second round as is. The Knicks do not have many movable parts, and they do not have a pick in the NBA draft until the 48th pick in the second round.
Can they find a team willing to take on the oft-injured Stoudemire? My answer would be no. The only players who have any considerable trade value are Tyson Chandler and Landry Fields.
Would the Knicks be willing to part with one of them in order to move Stoudemire? Possibly, but I am almost certain they would have to take on an awfully bad contract in return.
The United Center crowd was silent after Derrick Rose pulled up with a torn ACL late in Game 1 versus the 76ers.
Before the injury, the Bulls were a shoo-in in the eyes of many to make it to the conference finals and give the Heat all they wanted and more. The injury turned out to be the biggest blow to any of the playoff teams this season.
After Rose went down, the Bulls were exposed inside and out in their playoff series.
No one questioned Chicago's overall depth, but the need for a true, second option on offense was painfully obvious.
Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng were supposed to take over the bulk of the scoring load in Rose's absence. Boozer was ineffective, and Deng was suffering from a torn ligament in his wrist.
Going into next season, the Bulls will be without Rose until mid-February at the earliest and Deng may need surgery.
Chicago is in desperate need of a second star, but the team is in salary cap hell. Rose's extension kicks in, making him the fourth Bulls player making an eight-figure salary.
The only way the Bulls will get a second star is by making a trade.
They have some tradable assets in Taj Gibson and Omer Asik, to go along with future draft picks. The ammunition is there, but the willingness to make a bold trade is missing.
Something bold must happen for the Bulls if they intend on competing next season. They also have to fill out there somehow.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are at a crossroads. I wrote in a previous article about how I believe it is time for the Lakers to consider moving Kobe Bryant before it is too late—it was met with a not-so-warm response.
The fact remains that the Lakers must re-tool in order to keep pace with the Thunder, who will clearly be the team to beat in the west.
The Lakers' second-round battle with the Thunder proved that the Lakers are not athletic enough to keep up. Already pushed to a Game 7 in their previous series with the Nuggets, another athletically gifted team, the Lakers could not play to their strength, which is their size.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, they must subtract from their strength in order to improve.
The question is, can the Lakers get a younger, emerging star to pair alongside Bryant before taking over the role of lead attraction?
It is the Lakers who have only missed the playoffs five times in their franchise history. They have two players they can move in order to get who they want.
Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are two of the best big men in the NBA, and I imagine that one of them will be wearing another uniform when the new season begins.
Will it be enough to put the Lakers back on the championship path, though?
The answer to that question depends on which player they move, if anyone.
Will the Lakers become contenders, or just another fringe playoff team?
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have always re-tooled on the fly with great scouting; very few teams have done so much with late draft picks and undrafted free agents.
For the last 14 seasons, pending free agent Tim Duncan has been the face of the Spurs franchise, but at 36 years old, that must change.
Both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are also in their 30s and are close to reaching their decline.
The question the Spurs have to ask is, do they have that player who could eventually carry the torch once Duncan, Parker and Ginobili move on?
Kawhi Leonard has shown flashes, and he is only 20, so the upside is there.
Getting prospective free agents to play in San Antonio has been a problem for years, though. Despite San Antonio being the fifth-largest NBA market, it still is considered a small-market franchise by many.
The trade market will probably be slow for the Spurs, plus the potential stars who will be available do not necessarily fit what the Spurs are comfortable doing.
This is a team that prides itself on continuity. When one player leaves, another player comes in to take his place.
That leads me back to Duncan. As I mentioned, he is a free agent, and at 36, he quite possibly could look to retire. While I have no doubt that he will not change teams, is this the end of the Tim Duncan era in San Antonio?
If not, his time is coming to a close soon. Duncan took over the torch once held by David Robinson, but who takes over the torch held by Duncan?
This season, the Celtics defied the odds—an aging team with a "Big Four," not a "Big Three" like some people consider it. In the eyes of many, the Celtics were destined to be ousted by the Bulls in the second round.
But as the phrase goes, "Never count out the heart of a champion."
The Celtics won using grit and their championship pedigree. After losing to the Heat in seven games, Boston's facing more questions than any other team that I have mentioned.
Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are both free agents. Paul Pierce is 34 years old, and Jeff Green may not be ready to return after heart surgery ended his season before it even began.
What the Celtics have working their favor is Rajon Rondo, who is one of the top-five point guards in the NBA. They also have Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley. Bass turned some heads during the playoffs, while Bradley is regarded as one of the league's best defensive guards.
Do they go all in for one more run by re-signing Garnett and Allen while adding one more key player?
Or, do they cut their losses and re-tool on the fly the way that the Spurs have?
It is hard to say, because the Celtics are in the position where they can re-sign both players to short-term contracts. They have building blocks already in place ,and there are very few strong teams in the Eastern Conference.
Between the Knicks, Bulls, Lakers, Spurs and Celtics, which team would you rather be going forward?
Each team is rich in tradition, and all are faced with problems that can be solved with smart trades and good free agency decisions. One bad move or being too conservative could cost each team a shot at future contention.
So, do they re-tool or re-group?
What would you do if you were them?