While NBA teams like the Brooklyn Nets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Toronto Raptors appear poised to greatly improve upon last season's lackluster records, other teams have shown during this offseason that they may have put themselves in a position to plunge in the standings next season.
Whether it's for a lack of key signings, losing players via trade or free agency or even question marks about continuity and team chemistry, a handful of NBA teams will likely lose more games next season than they did the season before (and not just because next season won't be shortened by a lockout).
Here are four NBA teams that will take a hit in the NBA standings next season.
(Note: The Dallas Mavericks were originally poised to make this list, but following moves to add Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones and finally O.J. Mayo, according to Mayo's Twitter account, the Mavs appear to have added enough to improve upon a down year last season).
This may come as a shock, but I can't predict the future.
Houston has literally put all of their eggs into the Howard basket at this moment.
First, they stockpiled draft picks to try and make a run at Howard. When a draft day trade never came to fruition, the Rockets chose Jeremy Lamb, Royce White and Terrence Jones with their three first-round picks. They arguably drafted the best player available three times in hopes of garnering enough assets for a trade.
However, young players and draft picks may not be enough to land Howard from this point forward. Because of this, the Rockets decided to exercise the amnesty clause on Luis Scola to free up as much cap space as possible, according to the Chicago Tribune.
As a result, the Rockets can now absorb Howard and his contract, as well as other unwanted contracts tying up Orlando's salary (i.e. Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, etc.).
Howard is good enough to single-handedly lead a team to a playoff spot, so if the Rockets land him, they'll be an improved team.
However, as of this moment, the Rockets have lost or traded Goran Dragic, Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola, Chase Budinger, Marcus Camby, Sam Dalembert and (possibly) Courtney Lee.
In the good news department, ESPN is reporting that the New York Knicks will not match Houston's offer sheet for Jeremy Lin. However, even if the Rockets get Lin, their team will be Linsanity and a plethora of rookies.
Everything depends on Houston's ability to land a star center from this point forward. If they fail to do so, they'll be a very inexperienced club.
The Indiana Pacers didn't exactly get worse this offseason, but they certainly didn't get better.
First off, the Pacers decided to draft Miles Plumlee out of Duke University with the No. 26 pick in the draft.
Plumlee was widely projected as a second-round talent leading up to the draft, but only time will tell if Indiana's move was a mistake.
However, ESPN NBA draft insider Chad Ford said on Bill Simmons' B.S. Report post-draft podcast that Plumlee was his least favorite pick of the entire draft. Not a good sign for Pacers fans.
In addition, the Pacers (in my opinion) overpaid to keep George Hill in town on a five-year, $40 million contract. They followed this up by matching Portland's maximum contract offer for Roy Hibbert at $58 million over four years. (I'm still not sold that Hibbert deserves a max deal).
As a result, both Hibbert and Hill could press themselves and try too hard to live up to those big contracts. If they struggle to live up to expectations (far from a rarity after getting big deals), the Pacers will struggle along with them.
Finally, the Pacers traded Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones to Dallas for $16 million worth of Ian Mahinmi (who will act as the backup center to Hibbert) and replaced Collison by signing D.J. Augustin to a one-year, $3.5 million deal.
Call me crazy, but I'd rather have $2.3 million of Collison instead of $3.5 million of Augustin. Collison certainly had his ups and downs a season ago, but he's a far superior defender when compared with Augustin. Also, Augustin's offensive numbers don't compensate enough for his inept nature on defense for him to be considered an upgrade over Collison.
The Pacers had a magical lockout-shortened season, finished as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and made some noise in the playoffs. However, it will be mighty difficult for Indiana to repeat that success in the vastly improved east, especially with their lack of improvement this summer.
It's fair to say the Pacers miss the decision making of Larry Bird in the front office.
The Atlanta Hawks finished last season with a 40-26 record, good enough for the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference.
However, Atlanta had yet another disappointing playoff performance and lost in Round 1 to the Boston Celtics in six games.
Danny Ferry, who was hired to be the Hawks' new general manager this summer, wasted no time overhauling the team.
Ferry was able to unload Joe Johnson's gargantuan contract, which will pay him $19.7 million or more per year until the 2015-2016 season.
In addition to shipping Johnson to Brooklyn, Ferry also managed to swap Marvin Williams' awful contract to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Devin Harris' expiring contract.
These two front office decisions will free up a boatload of cap space in the future for Atlanta. However, as far as next season is concerned, the Hawks will likely struggle.
Even if Johnson was egregiously overpaid in Atlanta, he was still a great player who helped lead the offense.
After the two trades this summer, Atlanta has replaced Johnson and Williams with a quantity over quality bunch that includes: Anthony Morrow, DeShawn Stevenson, Devin Harris, Lou Williams and most recently Kyle Korver, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.
Not only will it be difficult for the coaching staff in Atlanta to satisfy all of those bodies with court time, but those players simply aren't good enough to keep this team as a No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks already have Jeff Teague at point guard, so with Harris and Lou Williams on the depth chart, that's certainly a log jam.
Atlanta is looking toward the future by unloading unsavory contracts, but it appears as if it is trying to remain competitive during the rebuilding process. Rebuilding while staying competitive isn't usually a recipe for success.
Teague, Josh Smith and Al Horford, together, are still a solid core, but don't expect them to make the playoffs as a No. 5 seed again next season.
The Orlando Magic making the top spot on this list is certainly based on the assumption that Dwight Howard will be off of the roster by next season.
However, even if Howard ends up starting the 2012-2013 season in Orlando, it's hard to imagine this team staying competitive.
Howard has been the definition of a drama queen this summer. After opting in to another year with the Orlando Magic during the season, he now regrets that decision and is pushing the "Brooklyn or bust" trade mentality. If Howard knew he was unhappy in Orlando, his situation would have been as simple as opting out of the final year.
Instead, here we are.
Although Howard is the biggest X-factor toward Orlando's success next year (trade or no trade), there are certainly some other factors at play.
After opting out of the final year of his own contract to test the free-agent market, Jameer Nelson re-signed with Orlando on a three-year, $19.7 million deal.
Nelson has proven himself to be a solid point guard in this league, but he's coming off arguably his worst NBA season ever, which could have been caused by strife with D12. With Nelson coming back, I'm forced to think that it's on the assumption that Howard won't be.
Additionally, the Magic decided not to bring back last season's Most Improved Player award winner, Ryan Anderson.
Anderson signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the New Orleans Hornets this summer. Instead of matching the offer sheet, Orlando executed a sign-and-trade for Gustavo Ayon.
Perhaps Anderson isn't worth that type of money—I actually think he's not—but Orlando has very few positives on its side at the moment and Anderson was a breath of fresh air.
Finally, the Magic still don't even have a head coach for next season.
Stan Van Gundy, arguably one of the league's best coaches, was fired (probably in an attempt to make Howard happy). Now the Magic still aren't set on a replacement.
Building team chemistry without a coach is one thing, but trying to build team chemistry with a group of guys who could be traded at any moment is even more difficult.
If the Magic ultimately opt to rebuild by unloading contracts, in addition to picking up young players and draft picks in a Howard deal, they will not be a playoff team again next season.