2012 NBA Offseason: The Ugly Truth About Every NBA Team
For most NBA franchises, the offseason is a time where hope springs eternal.
New draftees and free agents arrive, bad coaches and front office personnel are sent packing, and sometimes spiffy new jerseys even make an appearance.
But behind every strain of optimism, there is an ugly truth just waiting for someone to expose it.
Today, that someone is me.
Charlotte Bobcats (2011-12 Record: 7-59)
The Team Is at Least Four Years Away From Being in the Playoffs
Drafting forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist second in June's draft was the first step in the right direction for a franchise stranded in the NBA basement, but they're still a long way from the top of the stairs.
While Kidd-Gilchrist is a top-notch prospect who could be a perennial All-Defensive team selection in the future, nearly every aspect of his offensive game needs a lot of work. His jump shot is essentially broken, as he converted only 25.2 percent of his outside attempts with the Wildcats—the worst percentage of anyone in Kentucky's rotation.
If the Bobcats were a scoring machine looking for a defensive presence, then the team could easily shield MKG's deficiencies. But last season Charlotte scored the fewest points per game (87.0) since the Toronto Raptors scored just 85.4 points in the 2003-04 season.
Just for reference, the Charlotte Bobcats were not yet an NBA franchise in 2003-04, and this was the season before the NBA implemented the infamous hand-check rule.
And unless you think Ben Gordon can return to his pre-Detroit days of scoring 20-plus points per game, there is not much help in sight for next year's Bobcats. They may not be the worst team in NBA history again next season, but it's going to be a long road before this team even becomes remotely relevant.
Washington Wizards (2011-12 Record: 20-46)
The Team Sold Out Its Future for a Mediocre Present
After acquiring small forward Trevor Ariza and center Emeka Okafor in a trade and drafting shooting guard Bradley Beal No. 3 overall a week later, the Wizards have one of the five best starting lineups in the Eastern Conference on paper.
Perhaps more importantly, the team has rid itself of nearly every low-character knucklehead who surrounded potential superstar John Wall in his first two seasons. The only problem is they did that by acquiring the most mediocre collection of expensive talent humanly possible.
Here is the Wizards' projected starting lineup next season along with their win shares (WS) and salaries.
|Pos||Name||WS||WS Ranking||2012-13 Salary|
|PG||John Wall||3.5||115||$5.9 million|
|SG||Bradley Beal||N/A||N/A||$3.4 million|
|SF||Trevor Ariza||2.2||174||$7.3 million|
|C||Emeka Okafor||1.7||213||$13.5 million|
So if we're taking this at face value, the Wizards are paying about $43 million for zero players who ranked among the NBA's top 100 in win shares last season. Given, those numbers are skewed from Ariza, Nene and Okafor having all missed extended time last season, but you get the point.
And don't forget, this is the same regime who traded the pick that eventually became Ricky Rubio so that they could extend the $161 million Gilbert Arenas-Antawn Jamison era of mediocrity by paying Mike Miller and Randy Foye a combined $14 million for the 2009-10 season.
Have fun with those 45-win regular seasons and first-round playoff exits, Wiz fans.
New Orleans Hornets (2011-12 Record: 21-45)
You Can't Build a Winner When Your Best Player Pretty Much Hates the Franchise
Though it's assumed that Anthony Davis will quickly ascend to the alpha dog of New Orleans, disgruntled shooting guard Eric Gordon holds that position until we actually see the No. 1 pick on the floor.
And disgruntled might be putting it mildly at this point.
Here are a few choice quotes from Gordon since he agreed to his four-year, $58 million offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns.
Phoenix just showed a lot more interest, overall, and definitely in how they negotiated. I don't know what New Orleans' plans are for me. There are no negotiations right now.
They drafted another shooting guard, a combo guard like me, which tells me they have another plan.
The interest wasn't there. I have to move on, and I'm just a basketball player at the end of the day. Wherever I'm at, I just have to play ball. But right now, it's going to be for the Phoenix Suns.
As we saw in Orlando this season, teams don't succeed when a vital cog is rotting your team at the core. This whole situation is asking for a season's worth of fan and teammate resentment, followed by a trade of Gordon next offseason for 75 cents on the dollar.
Cleveland Cavaliers (2011-12 Record: 21-45)
Owner Dan Gilbert Makes the Franchise Unlikable
Because I cannot speak on the state of the team's rebuilding process until I actually see first-round picks Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller step on a professional floor, I'll take this opportunity to talk about Gilbert.
In the aftermath of "The Decision" fiasco, the city of Cleveland and the Cavaliers should have had an extended period as America's favorite underdog.
Unfortunately, the franchise's meddling owner decided to take that grace period and methodically destroy it. Because of James' arrogance in free agency, the masses gave Gilbert a pass on the disgustingly unprofessional letter to his former star from July 2010.
But then came Gilbert's role as co-leader (with Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver) of the owners' hard line stance throughout lockout negotiations. And that was followed by his toddler-esque email regarding the long-since-vetoed Chris Paul-Los Angeles Lakers trade.
All of that pretty much threw any goodwill casual NBA fans had for the Cavs in the garbage.
If your owner is a public figure, he creates the perception of your franchise to the outside world. And until Gilbert sells or does a public face turn, the Cavs are an increasingly unlikable franchise, despite the best efforts of Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving.
Sacramento Kings (2011-12 Record: 22-44)
The Franchise Will Be Sold and in Seattle Within Three Years
After a brief glimmer of hope in February that a deal could be struck for a new arena in Sacramento, the Kings look less likely than ever to stay in California's capital.
Ever since Kings majority owners George and Joe Maloof pulled out of their initially agreed upon deal in April, mayor Kevin Johnson's office and the Maloofs have been engaged in a heated public relations battle.
Johnson started the process by calling the Maloofs' negotiating tactics "disingenuous", setting the stage for the trade of scathing verbal grenades.
First, it was the Maloofs telling USA Today that they preferred not to negotiate with Johnson anymore based on his "unfair and not truthful" assertions.
But it was a statement by a member of the mayor's retention committee in the aforementioned USA Today article that shed light on the brokenness of this relationship:
As their bizarre press conference laid bare for all to see, dealing with the Maloofs is like dealing with the North Koreans— except they are less competent.
And all of this is before Lehane called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the Maloofs for criminal activity.
Needless to say, the Maloofs and Johnson probably aren't going to be in each other's fantasy basketball league next season.
Amid all of this chaos, in comes Seattle with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and members of the Nordstrom family in place for financing a new arena in the former home of the Supersonics.
Money talks and the Maloofs will walk.
Brooklyn Nets (2011-12 Record: 22-44)
No Dwight Howard Means No Shot at a Championship for This Nucleus
The most elongated and annoying story of "will he or won't he" in NBA history finally came to a close (we think) Wednesday evening when Brook Lopez agreed to a four-year, $61 million deal to stay with the Nets.
Under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, Lopez's signing means that he cannot be traded until Jan. 15—a date (we assume) will be long after the Orlando Magic send Howard packing.
With D12 out of the picture, let's take a look at what potentially will be the Nets rotation for their inaugural season in Brooklyn:
PG: Deron Williams / Tyshawn Taylor
SG: Joe Johnson / MarShon Brooks / Jerry Stackhouse
SF: Gerald Wallace
PF: Antawn Jamison (?) / Mirza Teletovic
C: Brook Lopez / Reggie Evans
That's a very good roster. But it's Conference Finals-level good, not NBA Finals-level good. In the era where you have to form your own Avengers to compete for the championship, Deron Williams as your alpha dog simply won't cut it.
As it stands, the roster is enough to keep Brooklyn fans excited for the first couple years, but the back halves of Johnson and Wallace contracts could get really ugly.
Golden State Warriors (2011-12 Record: 23-43)
Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins Are Making $94 Million Over the Next Two Seasons
On the bright side, the team thought it was advantageous to use their amnesty clause on guard Charlie Bell's expiring contract, which was worth all of about $4 million before last season.
Bogut and Lee are solid NBA starters, so their contracts aren't the most gag-inducing thing in the world. But I'm sure Warriors owner Joe Lacob wants to kick a newborn puppy every time he thinks about the $39 million owed to Jefferson's corpse and Biedrins' 11.1 free-throw percentage.
Even better for Golden State is that they have just enough talent on the roster to secure a pick somewhere between No. 11 and No. 14 in each of the two next drafts.
One of those players should certainly end up being the next Anthony Randolph, Patrick O'Bryant or Ike Diogu to the Warriors' burgeoning young core.
On a non-sarcastic note, Golden State's 1 through 3 spots could be great if everyone stays healthy and lives up to their potential.
Toronto Raptors (2011-12 Record: 23-43)
Bad News: The Franchise is Still Irrelevant (But Maybe Not for Long)
The overarching theme behind the Raptors' ballyhooed pursuit of point guard Steve Nash is one of utter irrelevance. Since Vince Carter left the franchise during the 2004-05 season, the team has been afloat without a star who denotes any recognition from U.S. crowds and a team that languishes in the lottery.
Nash could have changed everything. He's a beloved star whose homecoming could have been the feel-good story of the 2012-13 NBA season.
But alas, Nash chose basketball's evil empire for perhaps the most noble reason of all (his children) and left the Raptors desperately searching for a Plan B.
The Raptors found an adequate Nash replacement in disgruntled former Rockets guard Kyle Lowry, but he's another player who won't move the national needle an inch.
Fortunately, the reckoning could be coming in the form of Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas, the 6'11" draft-and-stasher who the Raptors took No. 5 in the 2011 NBA draft. All signs point to Valanciunas being a defensive force at the next level. But it's his maturing offensive game that has scouts dreaming of what could be.
If the Raptors are patient with Valanciunas, the team could have found an international crossover star and the perfect complement to defensive turnstile Andrea Bargnani in the middle.
Detroit Pistons (2011-12 Record: 25-41)
The Team's Future Is Being Handled By the Worst GM in the NBA
It seems that general manager Joe Dumars has a permanent pass from the City of Detroit for his role as a player on the original Bad Boy Pistons and the assembling of what was essentially Bad Boy 2.0.
But you shouldn't get a lifetime pass for being the Buffalo Bills of the NBA. And since that era ended, it's been nothing but a series of disastrous decisions from Dumars.
It started with trading team leader Chauncey Billups for a declining Allen Iverson, continued with a rash of poor coaching choices and culminated with giving guard Ben Gordon and forward Charlie Villanueva a combined $90 million.
That's all without mentioning his dubious draft record or the fact that Rajon Rondo could be a Piston right now.
And, no. Dumars does not get credit for drafting potential beast Andre Drummond No. 9 in June's draft. I mean, seriously, who in the blue hell else was he going to draft in that spot? Blind squirrels don't get credit for finding an acorn every once in a while.
It seems harsh, but Dumars' continued presence is only hampering the Pistons' rebuilding effort.
Minnesota Timberwolves (2011-12 Record: 26-40)
The Organization Has Completely Mishandled Kevin Love
Love, the All-Star power forward who makes 30-15's look easier than any other player of this generation, recently voiced his displeasure with the Timberwolves organization in an interview with Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears:
My patience is not high. Would yours be, especially when I'm a big proponent of greatness surrounding itself with greatness? All these [Team USA] guys seem to have great players around them.
It's tough seeing all these guys that are young and older who have all played in the playoffs. When they start talking about that, I have nothing to talk about. If I don’t make the playoffs next year I don’t know what will happen.
Call this a hunch, but I bet some of Love's displeasure is rooted in the fact that Minnesota management balked at giving him five years during contract extension talks during last season.
Because, of course, you don't want to lock up the organization's best player since Kevin Garnett for as long as humanly possible or anything. Yup, that's the last thing you want to do.
Now you have Love borderline-disgruntled about his contract and surrounding talent before a season where the Timberwolves have the theoretical composition of a seventh or eighth seed. Mind-numbing stupidity is the only way to categorize this situation.
Portland Trail Blazers (2011-12 Record: 28-38)
Can Anyone Tell Me What's Going on Here?
Any negative statements I made about Joe Dumars when touching on the Pistons organization can be taken and doubled for Blazers owner Paul Allen, who has seemingly lost his damned mind.
That's the only way I can justify having four general managers in as many years, firing one of the best head coaches in the league and waging wars against Portland-area columnists.
But the coup de grace for me came on July 1, when, three days after drafting Illinois center Meyers Leonard with the No. 11 pick in the draft, the Blazers agreed to a four-year, $58 million offer sheet with 25-year-old Pacers center Roy Hibbert.
I mean, I'm more skeptical about Leonard's NBA transition than just about anyone I've read or talked to, but even I think that was ludicrous. I understand the strategy of getting a stopgap for the position while Leonard develops to the next level, but Chris Kaman is basically standing there doing jumping jacks in free agency to serve that purpose.
The Pacers wound up agreeing with Hibbert on their own four-year deal, but that's the only thing that prevented the Blazers from signing the most ridiculous contract of this offseason.
Milwaukee Bucks (2011-12 Record: 31-35)
Truth Be Told, Milwaukee Should be on the Tank Train and Fast
For what seems like an eternity, the Bucks have been stuck in NBA purgatory, meaning the team is good enough each season to either just barely miss the playoffs or make the big dance as a No. 7 or No. 8 seed.
Anyone with a semblance of NBA-history knowledge knows that's the absolute worst place to be as a franchise. There are two forms of "right direction" in the NBA: to the toilet or to the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
And with Milwaukee's current talent, the goal should be the former.
Outside of guards guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, the Bucks have exactly zero players in the supporting cast above replacement level unless you want to anoint No. 14 pick John Henson there already.
Even Jennings and Ellis are a terrible fit together. They're both ball-dominant, score-first guards whose offensive contributions do not excuse the exorbitant usage rates. Ellis is all but guaranteed to decline his player option for 2013-14, so the team's strategy should be to ship Monta during the season and focus on tanking for pieces to put around Jennings.
Phoenix Suns (2011-12 Record: 33-33)
It's Going to Get Really Ugly Before It Gets Better in Phoenix
We likely won't be seeing shooting guard Eric Gordon as a Sun anytime in the near future, but signing point guard Goran Dragic and forward Michael Beasley should help prevent a complete nosedive to atrociousness in year one of the post-Nash era.
But, it's still going to be pretty bad.
Nash's final two years in Phoenix were spent propping up what essentially amounted to a "Bobcatian" supporting cast. Center Marcin Gortat is at least an above-replacement-level player to pair with the new signees, but his spike in offensive production was assuredly influenced by Nash's presence as well.
As we've established, being at the bottom isn't exactly the worst thing for a NBA team on the mend. It's just that seeing a last-place team isn't exactly going to help those Suns fans depressed about their beloved point guard's departure.
Houston Rockets (2011-12 Record: 34-32)
A Team With So Many Assets...But Nowhere to Put Them
It's no secret that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has spent the past 18 months compiling assets in hopes of acquiring the superstar Houston has been missing since the Yao Ming-Tracy McGrady era.
Morey's main target this offseason (like just about everyone else's with a pulse) has been Dwight Howard, and the team theoretically has the most pieces to make the deal work.
But the problem with this strategy is that the Godfather of MIT's Sloan Conference gathered a bunch solid players with no chance at potential superstardom. A team cannot justify trading a player of Howard's caliber to its fans without having a player they can say, "Ohhh, LOOKIE AT HIM...he might be GREAT SOMEDAY!" involved in the deal.
That's why Morey missed hard by not finding a way to trade up for UConn center Andre Drummond. He may never amount to anything at the next level, but his unlimited potential is the type of Kool-Aid a rebuilding team like Orlando can feed to fans.
As it stands, the Rockets will probably have to settle for a second-tier star or hope the purported three-way deal with the Lakers and Magic lands the team Andrew Bynum.
Philadelphia 76ers (2011-12 Record: 35-31)
It's Time to Trade Andre Iguodala
With the drafting of St. John's forward Maurice "Don't Call Me Mo" Harkless, the Sixers currently have four players whose best position is small forward and absolutely cannot shoot the ball whatsoever in Iguodala, Harkless, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young.
And that's all before mentioning the team's acquisition of Dorell Wright on July 11...a player who just so happens to play small forward.
So unless Sixers general manager Rod Thorn is pulling a Mad Men and getting his buzz on at work, there's little to no chance that those five players end up on Philly's opening-night roster.
Of those players, Iguodala is the oldest, most expensive and somehow has the highest trade value, so it would be inane of Thorn not to pull the trigger on any fair deal. Iggy's presence has stunted the growth of Turner and could do the same for Harkless.
If we're getting theoretical here, does either side say no to an Al Jefferson for Iguodala swap? Both Jefferson and Iguodala are points of redundancy for their current teams and help solve weaknesses for where they'd be headed.
But this is the NBA, and that makes too much sense. Philly will probably just stick to carrying five small forwards, with two of them twiddling their thumbs on the bench all season.
Utah Jazz (2011-12 Record: 36-30)
Al Jefferson Is Too Good to Be on This Team
Following the departure of longtime coach Jerry Sloan and trade of superstar point guard Deron Williams to the Nets in 2011, it was assumed that the Jazz would be rebuilding for the second time since the end of the Malone-Stockton era.
But Utah's abject size advantage and depth proved vital this past season, and the Jazz finished 36-30 en route to becoming the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
A big force behind that surge was Jefferson, who emerged as the team's best player and veteran leader. For a team looking for inside scoring, Big Al is the perfect piece, as his ridiculously strong lower body allows him to overpower taller and more athletic players.
The only problem is that Utah shouldn't be looking to compete for playoff spots and has Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter patiently waiting for a block to explode on. With Alec Burks as the assumed shooting guard of the future, the Jazz should be in a position to turn Jefferson and forward Paul Millsap into draft choices or players to further develop their young nucleus.
But for whatever reason, neither veteran player has been bandied around in trade talks despite their redundancy and contract situation. Let's just say that would change if I were running the organization.
New York Knicks (2011-12 Record: 36-30)
Say Hello to the Second-Best Team in New York City
I may have my trepidation regarding the state of the Nets two or three years from now, but the arrival of geriatrics Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby won't stop Brooklyn from overtaking the Knicks as NYC's best team for the 2012-13 season.
Nets guard Deron Williams is at the same "great, but probably not good enough to win you a championship as an alpha dog" level as Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, and Anthony's supporting system is full of question marks:
A) Will Amar'e Stoudemire stop punching glass cases and return to stardom following a season where he scored the fewest points per game since his rookie campaign and set a career low in rebounds?
B) Were the Knicks correct in removing coach Mike Woodson's interim tag, or will James Dolan's bullheaded refusal to gauge Phil Jackson's interest come back to haunt the organization?
C) And, the biggest question of all, is Jeremy Lin actually any good?
(Answer Key: A) Sorta; B) Absolutely not; C) Meh.)
Dallas Mavericks (2011-12 Record: 36-30)
It's Time to Stop Plugging the Leaking Dam with Bubble Gum and Rebuild
I've gone on at length about this before, so I'm not going to rehash the same points, but instead, focus on the Mavericks' inane attempt to build a one-year stopgap team in hopes of luring free agents in the summer of 2013.
I mean, you can't fault the Mavs for acquiring point guard Darren Collison and guard Dahntay Jones in the most lopsided sign-and-trade deal in recent memory. But what exactly is the point of signing Chris Kaman to a one-year, $8 million deal and planning a "very aggressive" bid for Elton Brand in the amnesty bidding war?
Is 44-38 and a first-round exit really more appealing than bottoming out and getting a mid-tier lottery pick in next year's draft? The class of 2013 is pretty weak, but I don't get this logic.
Orlando Magic (2011-12 Record: 37-29)
Until the Dwight Howard Situation Is Resolved, This is the Worst Franchise in Sports
No one cares at this point where Howard goes, who he goes for or whether he'll agree to a long-term extension. We just want him gone and to never ever ever ever hear Howard's name in trade rumors again.
The fact that he hasn't been traded yet is mind-numbing. It's not going to get any better than the offers that were/are on the table from Brooklyn, Houston and Los Angeles. Someone should tell new Magic general manager Rob Hennigan that Godfather offers don't come falling out of the sky in "going out of business" sales.
Until Howard is gone, you won't see me write another positive word about the Magic franchise.
Denver Nuggets (2011-12 Record: 38-28)
The Nuggets Are Too Deep, If There Is Such a Thing
Think of Denver as a more developed version of Houston's roster. They're good at just about everything, but struggle in pressure situations because of the alpha-dog complex.
But where Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has been desperately searching for a superstar, his Denver counterpart Masai Ujiri seems set with retaining his free agents. While the Nuggets will likely head into the 2012-13 season as the deepest team in the NBA, I disagree wholeheartedly with the strategy.
Denver is one second-tier star away from competing in the upper crust of the Western Conference. There are enough players on that level available for the right price, and the Nuggets have more than enough depth to make a two-for-one type of deal without taking a talent dip.
If Danilo Gallinari would be willing to shift to a sixth-man role, Rudy Gay would be a fantastic fit in Denver.
Boston Celtics (2011-12 Record: 39-27)
Making the Conference Finals Was the Worst Thing for the Celtics' Future
This past season was finally supposed to be it for the original Big Three's run in Boston. After struggling out of the gate and the near-trades of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen at the trade deadline, the Celtics decided to make one last run as a group for the NBA championship.
Then the playoffs rolled around and the worst possible thing happened. The team caught fire (and some extremely lucky breaks) and took the eventual champion Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That run was enough for Celtics general manger Danny Ainge—who repeatedly vowed not to hold onto the Big Three era too long—to give Kevin Garnett a three-year, $34 million contract, scoop 34-year-old Jason Terry up for $15 million and attempt to convince Ray Allen to re-up for two more seasons.
But Allen declined and signed with the Miami Heat, apparently realizing something no one else involved does; the Celtics are done as NBA title contenders, and the attempt to extend the run is nothing but an exercise in arrested development.
Los Angeles Clippers (2011-12 Record: 40-26)
Without an Extended Playoff Run, Chris Paul Is Probably Gone
As a Clippers fan, I'll fully admit my blood ran cold when word came down that Paul rejected a three-year, $60 million extension and I read the following tweet from Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:
Lot of NBA execs believe Chris Paul is still hoping to find a way to get to the Knicks...won't happen this summer. Maybe next July— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) July 1, 2012
Also not helping, another Isola piece that ran in the Daily News on July 9:
“I know why I didn’t sign my extension,” Paul said on Sunday before the U.S. Olympic team practiced. “I’m going to play this season out and see what my options are.”
Paul wouldn’t entirely rule out ending up in a Knicks uniform and neither would Anthony, who smiled when asked about Paul’s future prospects.
So, yes, the most talented player in Clippers history may bolt from the franchise after two seasons, leaving Blake Griffin and his shiny new five-year, $95 million contract to languish in bottom-feeding purgatory.
If you'll allow me, I'd like to move on so I can stop typing from the fetal position.
Atlanta Hawks (2011-12 Record: 40-26)
Atlanta Is Throwing Away the 2012-13 Season
With the trade of Joe Johnson (and his atrocious contract) to the Brooklyn Nets for a bag of rye bread and the exile of Marvin Williams to Utah for Devin Harris' expiring contract, new Hawks general manager Danny Ferry left little room for interpretation on the team's plans.
Atlanta plans to write off the 2012-13 season while acquiring as many expiring contracts as possible so they can be major players in next season's free-agency period.
ESPN's John Hollinger was the first to talk of a potential Dwight Howard-Chris Paul-Josh Smith three-headed monster, and it seems theoretically possible under his logic.
But that's before accounting for the fact that Smith hasn't backed off of his trade demand, Howard has made no mention of wanting to play for his hometown and the only non-Clipper link Paul has is to the Knicks.
This would make it seem like Ferry is taking a huge risk by putting all of his change in the 2013 free-agent piggy bank. But, in reality, there's no detriment to throwing away another fifth-seed and first-round exit for the Hawks.
Memphis Grizzlies (2011-12 Record: 41-25)
Memphis Is the Most Underachieving Team in the League
The overall talent in the Grizzlies' rotation is probably the second-best in the Western Conference behind Oklahoma City.
But a first-round exit at the hands of the inexperienced Clippers in this past season's playoffs continues to show the team's lack of cohesive identity. In the 2011 playoffs, we saw Zach Randolph take the reins and bully teams to submission with star forward Rudy Gay out, as the Grizzlies shocked the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs and took Oklahoma City to seven games in the second round.
But Gay returned from injury this past season, and the team could never recapture its playoff magic. With Gay, the team becomes more perimeter-oriented and fast-paced. As a result, Randolph suffers and checks out for long stretches of games.
With Randolph playing the alpha-dog role, the offense reverts to the post with Z-Bo and center Marc Gasol sharing the brunt of the offensive work.
At no point last season did the team show willingness to mesh the two styles, so we're probably looking at abject mediocrity (relative to talent) until Memphis trades either Gay or Randolph.
Los Angeles Lakers (2011-12 Record: 41-25)
The Steve Nash Transition Won't Be as Seamless as Everyone Thinks
First and foremost, Nash is a pick-and-roll point guard. Last season, over half of Nash's offensive possessions were run out of the pick-and-roll sets where the point guard used his otherworldly defense-reading skills to make the correct decision with the ball.
That should mesh well with center Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, who both have the ability to be devastating in pick-and-roll situations.
The problem comes with Kobe Bryant, who has never played in a primarily pick-and-roll offense in his entire career. Bryant is average in catch-and-shoot situations and excels in on-ball isolation situations.
Nash and Bryant will both have to acquiesce some facets of their game to make this an advantageous partnership. On paper, that seems as easy as "Hey, you two boys play nice." But you're talking about two superstars with 32 combined years of NBA experience. Changing ain't as easy as it sounds in your late 30s.
Indiana Pacers (2011-12 Record: 42-25)
The Pacers Are Having the Worst Offseason of Any Playoff Team
Seemingly within minutes of the NBA's moratorium period being lifted on July 10, Indiana went from having a relatively quiet free-agency period to one of utter befuddlement.
Instead of smartly allowing Roy Hibbert to gallivant to Portland and replacing him with a Chris Kaman-level stopgap, the team awarded their center with a four-year, $58 million for being above average and tall.
And then, in the most inexplicable move of the 2012 free-agency period, the team agreed to the aforementioned Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones sign-and-trade for $16 million man Ian Mahinmi.
To make up for losing Collison and Jones, the Pacers are expected to sign forward Gerald Green to a three-year, $10 million contract and have just signed Bobcats unrestricted free agent D.J. Augustin to replace Collison at point, according to Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star.
So, if I've followed this correctly, new general manager Kevin Pritchard's first major moves on the job were drafting Miles Plumlee with the 26th pick, giving Hibbert and Mahinmi $80 million combined over the next four years and inexplicably downgrading at the point-guard spot.
In the immortal words of Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, "Whuck?!"
Perhaps I was too harsh on Joe Dumars earlier...
Miami Heat (2011-12 Record: 46-20)
Miami Has Become a Retirement Home for Washed-Up Shooters...
...but that's not such a bad thing this time around. When the Heat first thought they were investing in outside shooting help in 2010 with Mike Miller, they invested five years and $25 million. When they tried again the following offseason with Shane Battier, they invested just $9 million over three years.
Both contracts, despite the contributions Miller and Battier made in the Finals, are sunk costs at this point.
That won't be the case this year with Ray Allen, the best shooter in NBA history, and Rashard Lewis, a former 20-points-per-game scorer, coming into the fold at the paltry combined cost of just $13.25 million.
If Allen can simply stay consistent with his catch-and-shoot numbers from last season in Boston, Miami could be lethal on the offensive end next season.
Oklahoma City Thunder (2011-12 Record: 47-19)
The Future is Bright, but the Serge Ibaka-James Harden Decision Looms
By now, most everyone knows that the Thunder will eventually have to choose between All-Defensive Team member Ibaka and Sixth Man of the Year Harden. But for those of you in need of a refresher, I'll reference a previous post I made regarding the subject:
For Oklahoma City, [luxury tax] figures are paramount as both Harden and Ibaka become extension eligible this summer. And, as it stands now, both are looking at figures in the $12-million-plus range if contracts stay consistent with recent trends.
If Clay Bennett decides he can stomach the luxury tax hit, he's looking at somewhere between $72 and $76 million in salary commitments for seven players (assuming players currently under contract stay with the team).
In total, Bennett would probably be looking at an overall team cost of $85-90 million before his luxury tax hit.
And with the repeat-offender rate for teams at least $15 million over the tax at $4.25 for each dollar over, there's no shot the Presti-drafted nucleus makes it past this coming season.
Chicago Bulls (2011-12 Record: 50-16)
The 2012-13 Season Is Already Lost
2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose is out until at least January after tearing his ACL in the first round of the playoffs. And as the Philadelphia 76ers found out, this Bulls nucleus is lost offensively without their point guard.
The team drafted Marquis Teague in the first round and signed Kirk Hinrich to help fill the hole, but even if Rose comes back on schedule, he likely won't be 100 percent until the beginning of the 2013-14 season.
That leaves the Bulls in a precarious position. Chicago explored trading both Luol Deng and Joakim Noah for a lottery pick in June's draft, but ultimately chose to hold onto their pieces.
Holding tight likely means a playoff appearance for Chicago, as the team played admirably in Rose's extended regular-season absences this past season. Now, whether making the playoffs is a good or bad thing for the franchise is a completely different argument.
San Antonio Spurs (2011-12 Record: 50-16)
Last Season Was Probably This Nucleus' Last Shot at a Title
I've officially decided to stop trying to be ahead of the curve with the "Spurs are done" nonsense after watching the brilliant run San Antonio put on throughout last season. They'll be a top-four seed in my Western Conference preseason column until proven otherwise.
That being said, the championship window may have slammed shut during this year's Western Conference Finals. Veteran teams with championship experience simply don't give away 2-0 series leads without a dynasty on the horizon.
Oklahoma City could be that dynasty. And with the Lakers acquiring Steve Nash, the Western Conference path somehow found a way to get more difficult
I'm not counting San Antonio out. No one who saw the utterly beautiful basketball they played in the playoffs' first two rounds could do that. But with each tick of the biological clock comes the grim reality that this may actually be the last chance.
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