One of the oldest adages in the NBA is that the worst thing a team can do is tread water. Obviously improvement is ideal, but even becoming markedly worse can be preferable to showing no change at all from year to year.
While the 2011-2012 season featured some thrilling, dominant teams like the hyper-athletic Miami Heat, defensive-minded Chicago Bulls and the highlight reel-filling Los Angeles Clippers, there were plenty of mediocre and outright bad clubs slogging through their lockout-shortened campaign.
Although some of those teams, like the Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Bobcats and Golden State Warriors have made moves to improve their team in the immediate future, several will face an even rougher year next season than the one they are coming off of.
Though the underlying cause of their futility obviously differs, here are four NBA teams that didn't exactly set the world on fire last year and are poised to be even worse come this fall's opening tip.
2011-2012 Record: 33-33
2012-2013 Prediction: 36-46
Even with Steve Nash and Grant Hill, the Phoenix Suns weren't exactly a force in the Western Conference over the last few seasons, although they were in contention for the seventh or eighth playoff seed. Now with the pair of veteran former All-Stars headed to Los Angeles, albeit in different jerseys, the Suns are poised for a tough season as their slew of new pieces adjust to playing together.
Phoenix tabbed Goran Dragic to be Nash's replacement, and while Dragic showed he was a more than capable starting point guard, averaging 18 points, 3.5 boards and 8.4 assists on 49 percent shooting during 28 starts for Houston, he is still not the playmaker that Nash is.
He is not as good of a pick-and-roll initiator and despite shooting well last season, he is not quite as efficient as Nash both from three-point range and from the field. Dragic will play well certainly, but even if he scores more than Nash did he will not have the same effect as a facilitator.
The team also brought in troubled but talented scorer Michael Beasley and veteran power forward Luis Scola through the amnesty wire. Both players are capable of making an impact on offense and hitting the glass on defense, but neither one is the kind of transcendent player that can lift this team to a postseason berth.
The Suns have a bit of a hole at shooting guard, where Shannon Brown will likely be the starter, and while Marcin Gortat should have a solid year, it remains to be seen if he will be the same offensive player without Nash hitting him in his spots.
They are still a below average defensive team and even with Scola aboard are lacking in veteran presence and are depending on a number of young players to carry them to success.
Phoenix won't be an awful team next season by any means, but they will be worse than the .500 club they were in 2011-2012. This team has a bright future, but it's going to get worse before it gets better.
2011-2012 Record: 34-32
2012-2013 Prediction: 20-62
This offseason, Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets' front office made it abundantly clear that they were not content to hover around the NBA purgatory that is contending for a seven or eight seed in the postseason.
The Rockets made wholesale changes, dealing Kyle Lowry and Samuel Dalembert to Toronto and Milwaukee respectively, then letting Goran Dragic, Courtney Lee and Marcus Camby walk, and amnestying Luis Scola. The team then offered restricted free agents Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik staggering, backloaded deals for three-years and over $25 million each.
Houston has now stripped their roster of almost all veteran experience save for shooting guard Kevin Martin, who will likely see his minutes reduced to make room for 12th overall pick Jeremy Lamb. The Rockets have turned over the keys of their franchise to this youth movement and are going into next season with extremely low expectations.
The team has a number of intriguing prospects and assets, but they are the furthest thing from a contender. The roster is stocked with power forwards including two rookies in Royce White and Terence Jones and a pair of sophomores in JaJuan Johnson and Chandler Parsons, but is lacking in the true center department outside of Asik.
Lin will be asked to work the same kind of magic he did as a starter in New York, but on a roster with far less talent defenses will be able to key in on him and stop the guard from getting into the paint and attacking the basket. He also does not have a pick-and-roll partner of Tyson Chandler or Amar'e Stoudemire's caliber.
Houston stockpiled assets in an effort to pull off a blockbuster trade but, after failing to do so, the club will be forced to put a product out on the court that is markedly worse than last year's Rockets team.
2011-2012 Record: 28-38
2012-2013 Prediction: 32-50
What a difference a year makes. Heading into the 2011-2012 campaign many considered the Portland Trail Blazers, led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace, a dark-horse playoff contender in the Western Conference. The team had added Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton to offset the loss of Brandon Roy and also had young players in Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum who could play strong basketball.
Though the season started off well, Portland's poor guard play cost them a shot at a playoff berth and the team decided to hit the self-destruct button at the trade deadline, dealing Marcus Camby and Wallace in order to create cap flexibility for the future.
Now, after matching Minnesota's four-year, $46 million contract and bringing in two lottery picks in Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard, the Blazers are clearly in full rebuilding mode.
The team still has Aldridge, a nightly 20-10 threat and a legitimate All-Star at the power forward spot thanks to his shooting, athleticism and solid defense, as well as Batum who is a multi-position defender, three-point marksman and is due for a breakout year, but there is simply not enough talent around them.
In all likelihood, Lillard and Leonard will both be starters next season, or at least be playing heavy minutes. Lillard was brilliant in Summer League, earning co-MVP honors, but will take his licks against the elite point guards of the Western Conference and certainly will have the ups-and-downs of any rookie guard.
Leonard had a strong sophomore season for Illinois, but he needs to bulk up and develop the finesse aspects of his game. He will struggle to guard the post against the NBA's more physical centers and needs to work on not disappearing during the course of a game.
Add to that a thin bench, little guard depth outside of Nolan Smith, a new head coach, and a brutal Northwest Division featuring three playoff-caliber teams in Minnesota, Oklahoma City, and Denver, and it's hard to see the Blazers improving much this year.
This team will be a threat in a season or two, but next season will be one filled with growing pains.
2011-2012 Record: 37-29
2012-2013 Prediction: 37-45
Sure a .561 winning percentage and a playoff berth may not seem bad, but after watching them struggle late in the season and bow out 4-1 against the Indiana Pacers, it would be hard to call last year's Orlando Magic squad a truly "good team". The team's success hinged on Dwight Howard and without him the team was incredibly mediocre, as aging players like Jason Richardson and Jameer Nelson and young pieces like Ryan Anderson and Glen Davis simply could not get the job done.
Next year's Magic team is poised to be even worse, largely due to the toxic situation Howard and his representation have created. The big man is still recuperating from back surgery in Los Angeles, and will likely not be available to start the season. This already puts the team in a hole as they will be playing either Davis or the newly-acquired Gustavo Ayon at center to open the season.
The team curiously decided not to match New Orleans' offer for Anderson, last year's Most Improved Player, and netted Ayon, who had a decent rookie season, in a sign-and-trade.
Even if Howard is healthy, his desire to leave the franchise will certainly manifest itself on the court and in the demeanor of the team. He does not want to help the Magic win a championship, and is only playing there because he has to, and that disinterest will undoubtedly be visible in games.
The team also did nothing to improve in the offseason. They resigned Nelson to a three-year deal, but he is no longer the All-Star point guard he was when the team was a title contender. Nelson's quickness has declined and while he can still drain threes he is far from an efficient scorer.
At this point, Richardson is simply a three-point bomber and Hedo Turkoglu is no longer the versatile offensive player he once was and is a world-class defensive liability.
Jacque Vaughn has the potential to be a good coach in time, but he has never been a head coach and is coming into a difficult situation. Stan Van Gundy, despite some struggles with his star center, was one of the league's best defensive coaches and even though Howard wanted him gone, there were simply no better coaches available on the market.
The only hope for Orlando is to pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal for Howard, but with a poorly constructed roster and a new coach coming to town, it will take more than Andrew Bynum or Brook Lopez to bring this team back to NBA relevancy.