2012-13 NBA Season: How Every NBA Franchise Will Reinvent Itself Next Season

Joye Pruitt@joyethewarSenior Analyst IAugust 4, 2012

2012-13 NBA Season: How Every NBA Franchise Will Reinvent Itself Next Season

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    Coach Erik Spoelstra believes the Miami Heat need to reinvent themselves to avoid the pitfalls of 2006 after the Heat won the 2006 NBA championship, but then started to downgrade in relevance with the same team intact. No mas, Miami.

    Gone are the days when NBA franchises are comfortable with what thrived in the past. General Managers and coaches are starting to catch on too quickly for old tricks. Therefore, aging dogs need to adjust to new ones.

    Not just for the Miami Heat to repeat some specimen of supremacy, but for once-upon-a-time relevant franchises to return to contention. Not just as a seed by default, but true significance.

    Teams like the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers and even the Boston Celtics are going to employ new strategies to plead their cases for the ultimate chip at the end of the postseason, and it will be nothing short of electrifying to identify.

Golden State Warriors: No More Monta

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    The Golden State Warriors traded away Monta Ellis, and at first glance the move could not have been more perplexing. Here the Warriors had a scoring behemoth, and they were willing to just relinquish him for some quality, but not star pieces.

    That was the first sign of a rebuild although Golden State fans did not take too kindly to the nonverbal declaration.

    The move, however, was in good spirits as Klay Thompson seems well-equipped to fill Golden State’s scoring requirements. With the exception of the gaping hole the move left offensively, the trade opened the Warriors up to a new direction, one that was not so offensively biased.

    It’s a path that will likely include the heightened involvement of Golden State’s golden child, Stephen Curry, which was a long time coming.  

    There comes a moment when franchises realize that offense is not the most essential fraction of victory. A lot of the winning score is produced by effort on the defensive end, and that’s something Ellis was not that great at. Not because he doesn’t have the tools athletically to be a solid defender, but there is simply not enough aspiration on that end of the floor.

    The Warriors are now geared to use Andrew Bogut, if his ankle permits, as the offensively/defensively gifted big man that he was back in 2009. The Warriors are gambling big on his potential in Golden State, but it could very well pay dividends.

    So, in all, the Warriors have an automatically better defense with Bogut, a 2012 USA Select team member who is taller in his shooting-guard matchups than Ellis (Thompson), a new face of the franchise (Curry), a reliable backup point guard (Jarrett Jack), an athletic, well-rounded rookie (Harrison Barnes) and Brandon Rush.

    Monta who? 

Detroit Pistons: Size

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    The Detroit Pistons have long been a franchise that put way too much stock into the efficiency and influence of a guard-heavy roster. In the 2012 NBA draft, thankfully, they abandoned that angle and drafted Andre Drummond with their quality first-round pick of the night.

    Greg Monroe’s lone involvement under the basket was growing old, and it was time for him to be in a position to rotate between forward and center duties, namely power forward.

    Monroe’s rotation over to the center position without any assistance created an ugly dynamic resulting in the Pistons ranking 27th in the league in rebounds.

    Monroe’s talent alone would not get the job done. Despite the lack of a strong defensive presence that likely left him off of Team USA in favor of Anthony Davis, Monroe is a solid offensive frontcourt player.

    Drummond, on the other hand, could use some time to sculpt his game offensively, but is already a compelling defensive player.

    A strong interior defense was one of Detroit’s weakest points last season, and by drafting Drummond, they improved upon it immediately. 

Philadelphia 76ers: Out with the Old, in with the New

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    Elton Brand was amnestied. Talks of trading away Andre Iguodala have not been actively dismissed. Lou Williams, regardless of his reliability, was let go.

    Jodie Meeks has not been contacted by the Philadelphia 76ers for a return as he explores free agency. It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. With his impact on the offense disintegrated to around eight minutes per game in the playoffs, Meeks was on his way out the door.

    Bringing in Nick Young and allowing the team to rise and fall on Jrue Holiday’s cue is Philly’s direction and a very risky one at that. It was understandable with the Washington Wizards that Young was a scoring giant, but take into consideration that it was the Washington Wizards.

    There weren’t many bright spots on that roster as it was constructed when Young was an active participant. However, he influenced some vital moments in the Los Angeles Clippers’ playoff run just last season.

    It’s possible that with an amplified role with the Sixers, the result could be some efficient spot-up shooting from the young guard.

    Holiday showed spurts of brilliance against the Boston Celtics, namely in a Game 6 effort that forced a Game 7 outing in Boston. Instead of being the stand-around guard that waited for offense to come to him, he drove the Sixers game plan successfully.

    He was much more effective in the paint and drew the defense while facilitating the rest of his team’s direction. 

Cleveland Cavaliers: Good Supporting Cast, Not Wally Szczerbiak

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    The Cleveland Cavaliers screwed up from the 2004 NBA season all the way up until the summer of 2010. LeBron James only screwed up for a few months of that summer with publicity stunt after narcissistic rant. Can you blame him for wanting to get out of purgatory?

    The Cavaliers were always just good enough to get to the top but never good enough to grace the edge of ultimate achievement.

    The franchise is looking towards making far better judgment calls in Kyrie Irving’s favor than they ever did for James by surrounding the second-year sensation with a viable supporting cast.

    Let’s not include a possible Andrew Bynum sighting in Cleveland just yet. Even though it would be one of the most pivotal moves the Cavs have made, probably in the history of the franchise, it’s nowhere near a close-to-done deal.

    The Cavaliers retained Tyler Zeller via trade with the Dallas Mavericks on draft day and have a solid big-man prospect.

    Zeller isn’t an athletic freak. However, he has hops and solid speed in transition which will play well beside Irving and Dion Waiters.  Despite his ability to be overpowered by NBA bigs, Zeller has refined post moves after four years at North Carolina under coach Roy Williams.

    Speaking of Dion Waiters, Cleveland has attained a multi-dimensional player, although his size may have frightened a lot of fans when he showed up at the Las Vegas Summer League. No worries. Waiters will be just fine.

    It will take a couple of seasons for Cavaliers fans to see a huge burst from Waiters, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be productive immediately.

    Waiters has the court vision of a veteran and has an impact on the game that far outweighs a player with solely offensive ability.

    There are also Tristan Thompson, Alonzo Gee and Anderson Varejao surrounding Irving as well. It seems like Cleveland learned their lesson.

Denver Nuggets: The Spurs' Way

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    The Denver Nuggets are using castaways to build a playoff run that will hopefully land them past the Los Angeles Lakers instead of festering right beneath them. Sounds like a Western Conference franchise you know, doesn’t it?

    The San Antonio Spurs achieved ridiculous success in last year’s postseason until they reached the Oklahoma City Thunder. We all know how that went. Still, the Spurs barreled through the likes of a underwhelming Utah Jazz group and a younger, more athletic Los Angeles Clippers squad with role players.

    Stephen Jackson isn’t a superstar, nor is Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw or Tiago Splitter. Ty Lawson isn’t a superstar. JaVale McGee, Andre Miller, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried aren’t, either. However, Kenneth Faried is the explosive talent acquired from the draft, just as Leonard is.

    McGee is a young player with mounds of potential as a starter that the Nuggets acquired from another NBA franchise, similar to the Spurs’ pickup of Green.

    Gallinari is a solid addition with more upside than fans generally assumed, such as Boris Diaw was before he was with the Charlotte Bobcats.

    The Nuggets were built through the “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” theory, and it seemed to work out fairly well for the team as they pushed Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers to seven games in the NBA playoffs.

    Moving forward, the Nuggets have defined leadership in Ty Lawson, and the surrounding parts recognize their roles. Nothing is sweeter than having a team of team players. It makes success so much more attainable when every guy is willing to work towards the greater good of the squad.

    Coach George Karl pulling the strings just makes the pot sweeter. 

Toronto Raptors: Defense First

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    Jonas Valanciunas is a blocking machine. He sort of reminds people of a less athletic, Lithuanian version of Anthony Davis. The young player thrives on defense and the Raptors couldn’t be happier.

    Why? The addition of Kyle Lowry, which will likely be the last push for Jose Calderon officially out the door, brings in a defensive-minded guard with the speed and agility to keep up with the quicker guards in the NBA.

    Landry Fields, who was forced into the background in New York behind Carmelo Anthony, is a very good defensive player as well. The fact that Raptors coach Dwane Casey is a defense-first type of guy does little to hide Toronto’s focus on that side of the court.

    DeMar DeRozan would be a solid addition to Casey’s defensive scheme if the franchise hadn’t drafted Terrence Ross.

    Ross’ arrival is one of the greatest telltales of DeRozan’s exit, whether it be brisk or prolonged.

    Ross showed in the summer league that he could adequately defend the pick-and-roll and has an in-depth understanding of “helping on the open man.”

    Ross needs to bulk up, but the potential to be one of the better defensive wing players in the league is there for the taking.

    DeRozan, however, is almost invaluable when his shot isn’t falling. Coach Casey even took the ball out of his hands more last season, and his future is dimming in Toronto as the future face of the franchise. Honestly, with Lowry in the picture, that ship sailed long ago. 

Minnesota Timberwolves: No More Projects

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    Minnesota Timberwolves fans no longer have to worry about whether Michael Beasley will ever live up to contract value. It’s just not their problem anymore.

    The question marks now lie in the hands of the Phoenix Suns, who have retained the services of the troubled small forward after he signed a three-year, $18 million deal with the franchise.

    An obscene lack of maturity is what led to Beasley’s demise with the Timberwolves, and the project was aptly dismissed as soon as the decision could be league approved.

    Wesley Johnson is also a casualty of rebirth in Minnesota. A lot of his lack of development was due in part to a coach who gave him absolutely no direction.

    Sitting him on the perimeter and making him wait for a shot to come to him at the position of shooting guard was no better for the individual or the franchise as a whole.

    Developing Johnson is going to be a large task as it has yet to be seen if he can be a viable product in the league, or if the Suns are just wasting their time.

    Hopefully, a new scene in Phoenix will lead to Johnson’s triumph, but the Timberwolves were not willing to play the waiting game.

    The Timberwolves have recently made headlines with acquisitions like Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko, proven difference-makers in their own right.

    Roy is on the comeback train of his life after being cast out of the Portland Trail Blazers even after remarkable execution in the 2011 NBA playoffs against Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.

    The fans were not necessarily ready for Roy to make his grand exit, but Portland was way past an amicable goodbye with the shooter.

    Roy brings the leadership and winning state of mind to the Timberwolves, something that Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio could thrive off. Roy signed a two-year deal with Minnesota almost tallying just over $10 million and gets a second chance to prove his value to the game.

    Kirilenko, on the other end of the court, is an elite shot-blocking presence in the low post, and it has become painfully obvious that this league could never get enough of those.

    When rebuilding a team’s image and approach to the game, it doesn’t hurt to have someone that can keep the opposing franchises from racking up paint points night in and out.

    His signing in Minnesota allows the Timberwolves to become very competitive in the Western Conference, where their window is swiftly closing because of the level of talent stacking up in the West. 

Houston Rockets: When in Doubt, Go 'Linsane'

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    Jeremy Lin made a huge splash in the league last season under the Knicks logo, and the city was expected to thank him vigorously with a renewed contract. That was the plan until Lin reportedly began to play hardball and up the ante for his talents.

    New York called his bluff by rescinding the desire to bring him back to the Big Apple. “Linsanity” has officially relocated to Houston, and the Rockets are smiling as far as market value and advertising are concerned. Was the move the smartest to push the Rockets to the postseason?

    Without much star power surrounding Lin, the ever-deepening Western Conference looks primed to prove those aspirations pipe dreams.

    But, the Rockets are sticking behind their man, the face of the organization.

    Kevin Martin should be the focal point of Houston’s offense, but that is no more. This is Lin’s show, whether that is best suited for the franchise’s success or not.

    Giving Lin a greater role in New York produced a lot of mistakes, and the Rockets will be liable for any errors he exhibits during the 2012-13 season.

    Losing Luis Scola in a hard-nosed pursuit of Dwight Howard this summer may have put Houston at more of a disadvantage as they were in trying to set Lin up for immediate success in the Western Conference playoffs primarily.

    Jeremy Lamb and Terrence Jones are nice rookie additions to Houston’s lineup, but both are rookies with thriving futures in the league, not fractions of instant triumph.

    For now, Jeremy Lin is the pacifier until the Rockets can make more rifts in such a deep conference. 

Phoenix Suns: Gamble

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    The Phoenix Suns and Steve Nash were geared to part ways before the season even started; at least that’s how most fans saw it. Nash wasn’t happy, and the Suns weren’t winning when it counted.

    After 16 years in the league, Nash is a Los Angeles Lakers player, and the Suns are gambling on their future.

    Take Michael Beasley, for instance. Briefly discussed earlier for his lack of reliability and maturity, the Suns embrace his past. According to Tariq Lee of azcentral.com, the Suns are willing to gamble on Beasley.

    "We aren't afraid of what he's experienced; we want to embrace that, Suns General Manager Lance Blanks said. " And we need talented players as we move into the new era for the organization.

    "So all of those things fit with who he is, then when you're sitting around with him and spending time with him, this is someone who wants to be really good. It just made a lot of sense to be aggressive about bringing him in."

    Sounds like a vote of confidence for a player that the Timberwolves showed no interest in rebuilding with, regardless of his dormant potential.

    Beasley has proclaimed a lifestyle change that has driven him away from being cited for reckless incidents such as reportedly being caught with 16 grams of marijuana and mushing a fan in the face during a basketball game in New York.

    Needless to say, he hasn’t always been portrayed in a healthy light. The Suns see something they believe in. Just as they do with Wesley Johnson.

    Wesley Johnson is another gamble that the Suns show poise in developing. Even though his history in Minnesota appears to be a precursor to failure, Phoenix is not ready to give up on his potential in the league just yet.

    The Suns are restructuring with a very young core, something different from what they experienced with Nash at the head of the monster. It’s a gamble, but high risks delve out towering rewards.

Charlotte Bobcats: Make the Team Look Attractive

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    The Charlotte Bobcats were in a rut last season. It was the grittiest, grimiest rut in the history of the league, and the players were primarily unaffected by it because like the rest of the world, no one really cared. Winning a game became as rare as it was inconsequential.

    Losing became general principle. As the season trailed on, the Bobcats were supposed to fail and they, along with the rest of the world realized that there would be not be a change in the culture of the franchise anytime soon.

    Drafting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the first step that Charlotte took to repair the plaguing image from last season. To curve the trend of players taking pay cuts to not play as a Bobcat in the NBA, Charlotte needs to make the franchise look more attractive, court performance and front office included.

    It will always be perplexing as to why Ramon Sessions left the Los Angeles Lakers to play for the Bobcats, but it’s a move that is only going to push Charlotte towards relevancy.

    The signing doesn’t make the Bobcats a hot topic immediately, but Charlotte seems to be more than comfortable moving at marathon pace. MKG is an instantaneous game changer with his high motor, basketball IQ and athleticism.

    Gilchrist has the ability to use separation from the defense to build momentum and can have a transcendent effect on the game without the ball in his hands.

    Still, it can’t be lost in his potential that he is still a rookie playing in the Eastern Conference where just three states south is the best player in the league.

    The Bobcats have already, however, altered the perception of the franchise by drafting a player that exhibits natural born leadership and hustletwo things Charlotte couldn’t even buy last season.

    His drive and star quality alone make the Bobcats something to talk about.

    The development of Kemba Walker is also going to attract free agents in the future. Instead of opting for an instant playoff berth and landing flat-faced, the Bobcats have young players that possess the intangibles that come with being staples of a winning organization.

    Walker had range when he played in college, but his size was questionable as opposed to other shooting guards in the league.

    Yet, during his time in UConn, on his way to the 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, Walker showed leadership, hustle and an unrelenting motor that allowed him and the Huskies to throttle full force through each team they came across.

    Walker improved last season at the point-guard position, and if he is allowed the chance to start, he can begin amending through playing time. These two young men sitting at the core of the Bobcats’ future are going to spark an interest in the organization one player at a time. 

Sacramento Kings: Focus on Frontcourt

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    The Sacramento Kings drafted Thomas Robinson with the No. 5 pick in the 2012 NBA draft, and it was a surprise.

    Not really, seeing as how Bradley Beal was on their radar but was taken with the No. 3 pick by the Washington Wizards.

    The Kings’ last shot at building their frontcourt was by bringing in J.J. Hickson, a trade that was far from productive. The frontcourt is growing in importance with Sacramento because they have rarely had a problem scoring, and an issue won’t blossom in the upcoming season.

    With Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and Aaron Brooks, the offensive side of the ball with be able to keep up with opposition. It’s the defense that the Kings should be more focused on.

    Cousins may be cementing his position with Sacramento, but his defense is by no means anything for the fans to rest their hats on.

    With a solid foundation, Cousins needed someone beside him as an athletic, defensive-minded player. Robinson may not be supremely defensive-minded, but his defense in post-up situations is NBA-ready.

    Robinson is not necessarily a shot-blocking machine like Anthony Davis, but he has the strength and body mass to battle bigger players for better position and is agile enough to stick with the more athletic forwards in the league. 

Atlanta Hawks: Balance

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    The Atlanta Hawks have usually looked good on paper. It’s not about looking decent on paper, however. An NBA franchise operates well throughout a season because it looks cohesive and balanced on the floor, something the Hawks up until now have hardly exhibited.

    Yes, Joe Johnson has a nice jump shot. Sure, Josh Smith was a force around the basket, and Al Horford is an athletic center with mounds of potential.

    Then what? As for Jeff Teague, last season his teammates talked to him about being more of a point guard than a scorer.

    In only his second season in the league, he was hearing in one ear to be more aggressive from his coach and in the other ear from teammates to get the ball out of his hands more.

    Obviously for a young player you want to appease the masses when your organization is concerned, but sometimes it’s just talk. Teammates are always going to want more touches of the ball, and your coach is always going to want you to play as aggressively as possible, especially when that aggression results in victory.

    Teague needs to figure out the ultimate balance between his strengths and what everyone else desires from him, but it should never take away from his speed and his ability to keep the Atlanta Hawks an up-tempo franchise.

    The team will become more his than ever, says Atlanta’s president of basketball operations, Danny Ferry, according to Hoopsworld.com. Think about the possibilities of a lineup with Teague at the point, Louis Williams at the 2, Kyle Korver at the 3, Josh Smith as the power forward and Al Horford as the center.

    The Hawks have shooters on the perimeter that can open up lanes for the quick guards on the roster and make life a little simpler for Horford and Smith in the frontcourt. Balance is key, and the Hawks have a nice level of it this season.

Memphis Grizzlies: Stay Healthy

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    Zach Randolph didn’t start at the beginning of last season because of an injury.

    In the 2011 NBA playoffs, Rudy Gay was injured. Therefore, he couldn’t perform in the postseason with his comrades that were making splashes by defeating the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

    What could have been if Randolph had been healthy for an entire season or if Gay was active during the 2011 NBA playoffs?

    The world will never know because injury curved Memphis’ progression, something that Grizzlies fans hope will not repeat itself in the 2012-13 NBA season, especially since they’ve lost O.J. Mayo.

    A lot of the roster from last season has stayed intact, so the general approach of the franchise is not going to be altered much.

    Yet, the Western Conference playoffs have yet to be forced to reckon with the Grizzlies in their entirety because of injury concerns. The Grizzlies are an incredibly balanced roster, particularly with the coming out party for Josh Selby in the Las Vegas Summer League a few weeks ago.

    Balance and production has rarely been an issue, with exception to a game in the Los Angeles Clippers series where they let a 20-plus point lead turn into a loss. With an injury-free roster over 82 games, we will get to see the Memphis Grizzlies at their best.

    Otherwise, it’ll be the same old song.

Washington Wizards: A 'Smart' Roster

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    “I don’t want to put anybody down but he’s not playing with the smartest guys in the world.”

    As supplied by iamagm.com via Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk, that was Deron Williams in reference to John Wall’s roster situation with the Washington Wizards.

    At first glance, it could be seen as an ego trip from another point from another franchise butting his head in where it doesn’t belong. After evaluating the Wizards roster, however, it becomes transparent how right he was.

    D. Will was just speaking a truth that the rest of the basketball world mumbled under their breath every time JaVale McGee ran up the court for a possession that was not yet the opposition’s. At least fans knew that he was eager to get back on offense.

    The problem with satisfying McGee or Wall’s potential was not as much molding them individually as it was surrounding with veteran and able parts. The Wizards had Andray Blatche and Gilbert Arenas at one point.

    Blatche even admits that his effort in Washington was not what it could have or should have been as he apologized to the Wizards fans for the lack of effort, according to Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post.  

    With Blatche being the last of the dark cloud overcast above the Wizards, Washington is on its way to actually having a productive season.

    Bringing in Nene Hilario and Emeka Okafor gives a new personality to the locker room where it had at one time been shackled by a bonehead mindset.

    The acquisitions may not prove to be the last step at making the Wizards playoff contenders or even national championship adversaries, but it definitely changes the culture of what the team has represented. 

New Orleans Hornets: End of CP3 Era

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    The NBA was oblivious to the New Orleans Hornets’ progression or more aptly speaking, digression. The Hornets were not a topic unless being mentioned as the franchise Chris Paul was traded from to join Lob City in Los Angeles with Blake Griffin and the Clippers.

    They were an afterthought.

    The 2012 NBA draft has quickly rejuvenated interest in New Orleans’ favor and has put them on a particularly altered path than that which they experienced as a part of the CP3 era.

    Being awarded the No. 1 draft pick in this offseason was something that came as almost a surprise as it was the general consensus that former Kentucky Wildcat, Anthony Davis, would be a member of the Charlotte Bobcats next season.

    The Hornets drafted Davis and Austin Rivers in the first round of the draft and also acquired the services of Eric Gordon. The fight to keep him in New Orleans, even after he publicly expressed the desire to sign with the Phoenix Suns shows the effort that this franchise is putting into a rebuild.

    After leaning so much on the production of Paul, and almost solely Paul, since the 2006 NBA draft, the Hornets are beginning to stack their team with budding young players.

    It’s not going to be a rush job as a lot of teams who try to hurriedly return to contention fall upon blunders that set them further back than they already were.

    New Orleans is going to move at a steady pace, which they exhibited by bringing in Robin Lopez alongside Anthony Davis as the franchise’s center.

    Davis’ position at center is likely going to turn into power forward as the organization has realized his body frame to be less than equipped to battle the likes of a Dwight Howard or an Andrew Bynum, especially without the experience at the NBA level to combat those shortcomings.

    The Hornets are going to develop Davis as they will have to develop Rivers to play the point, but by inferring that these switches will be made, New Orleans is giving way to a new era and a revamped roster.

    It’s an era without the questions of whether their trademark player is going to abandon them or how they will recover after he has. New Orleans is moving on.

Portland Trail Blazers: Designate LaMarcus Aldridge as Locker-Room Leader

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    LaMarcus Aldridge, for all intents and purposes, has been the focal point of the Portland Trail Blazers’ offense for a long time. The franchise hasn't yet made it official, however.

    Aldridge has been the most consistent section of the Blazers, but it has appeared as if he has not given proper leadership of the team. The overrating of Nicolas Batum gave way to that trend in Portland.

    Batum has frequently been a player that was on the verge of a breakout season, which is why his value this offseason was drastically overstated.

    Batum never manages to reach that level that every Portland fan believes is possible, and it leaves the league becoming tiresome with predictions that claim it will be the “next season.”

    The Batum "yet" factor is what makes him such a hot commodity, but signing him to a $46 million deal is not going to move that process along any quicker.

    Aldridge is a proven product. There is another standard to his game that may be exposed this season due to the staff changes as well as additions in the locker room of young players.

    Still, Aldridge is an All-Star. Aldridge’s lack of a voice in the Blazers’ locker room is also going to be a dimmed concept as the primary sources of angst, Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton, have been removed and are no longer Portland’s problem.

    With team players like Wesley Matthews and Jared Jeffries, Aldridge will have much more room to function as the locker-room leader without taking into account the discontent of players with their own agenda.

    The franchise has cleared itself of the melodrama of Greg Oden’s injuries and Brandon Roy’s retirement to get back on track to the superior motive in the leaguewinning.

    To win, they need someone at the head of the monster clearing the way for victory. L.A. is fit for the position.

Utah Jazz: Strengthen the Perimeter

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    Despite Raja Bell’s refusal to accept Utah’s buyout just yet, the Jazz are heading in a more defined direction.

    That direction signals strengthening of the perimeter and depth on the wing. Bringing in Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Marvin Williams does that. Just last season, Utah fans saw one offensive scheme. Get the ball to the big man in the middle, let him post up and hope for the best.

    When is this effective enough to work over the course of a game, let alone an entire season?

    Teams are comfortable with letting a player like Al Jefferson just take it up the middle if it means that his possessions take the ball out of the hands of his teammates, who would likely space the floor.

    By all means, keep running the exact same design, for it only makes it easier on the opposition to win effortlessly.

    The new aim of the offense is not going to be sole aim, thankfully. Even though the Jazz seem to have strengthened the perimeter, they will not abandon their frontcourt, which has exceeded in making them at least mediocre in achievement.

    The starting five will be virtually unpredictable, and the Jazz have not had the fortune of having such a balanced lineup in a long time.

    Both Foye and Mo Williams have proven in the past season with the Los Angeles Clippers how tough they are even in the face of defeat as both felt the pressures of the 20-plus point lead built against them in the first round of the 2012 NBA playoffs.

    Neither man is willing to give up when the fans have, and that is a characteristic the Jazz need as they have reveled in the middle of the Western Conference as the not-so-good, but not-so-bad either.

    Bringing both men in while having Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks improving from beyond the arc is going to stretch the floor in ways that Utah will be able to utilize very well. 

Milwaukee Bucks: Give Brandon Jennings a Chance

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    The Milwaukee Bucks have not seen the best from Brandon Jennings, and while exceeding his potential lies on his shoulders, it lies in the franchise’s hands to give him the tools best to do so.

    Jennings was Milwaukee’s top product in points, assists and steals until Monta Ellis was traded into the mix, which gave Jennings a more reliable target offensively.

    Jennings has all the tools to become an elite point in the Eastern Conference, but his green-ness, heightened competition at the position in the East and lack of targets on the floor set him up for failure. That will not be the case in the 2012-13 season.

    The Bucks drafted John Henson and Doron Lamb this summer, and from the looks of the Las Vegas Summer League, Milwaukee got exactly what they bargained for.

    Not to put too much stock into a Summer League performance, but the questions surrounding both players were answered briskly and gave a lot of hope for their future.

    Henson’s size was a huge red flag for teams before the draft, but during the Summer League, he was much more graceful and effective than his size may have portrayed.

    Henson operated in a free offense this summer and excelled on a lot of spots on the floor, especially in recovery and put-back opportunities. The Bucks are also going after players Mickael Pietrus and Joel Przybilla, who the Bucks are reportedly front-runners for this offseason.

    Bucks are really focusing on bringing in defensive-minded players that can add to the scoring punch that second-year player Tobias Harris, Jennings and Ellis will bring to the table.

    With a complete palate, the Bucks look geared to make a playoff splash in the 2013 NBA playoffs even if only briefly. 

Los Angeles Clippers: Fundamentals over Athleticism

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    The Los Angeles Clippers were viewed as a franchise solely riding on the production of the three-ball and the dominance of their athleticism.

    Blake Griffin is seen as one of the main components that succeed due his lethal athleticism alone, without having much background in true post moves or a clean mid-range stroke.

    In the 2011 season, Griffin showed the propensity to be more than a one-hit slam dunk wonder, and developed more post moves that have ever been attributed to him. He’ll need more than that.

    Leading the charge is Chris Paul, a point guard who relies not only on his speed but his fundamentals and basketball IQ to win games, and the Clippers have taken a step in his direction this offseason.

    With a restored Chauncey Billups on the wing, the additions of Lamar Odom and Grant Hill speak volumes of the veteran voice the Clippers are seeking add to their roster. All of the Clippers’ flaws have not been addressed in the offseason, and they should not have been.

    When looking to improve the caliber of a team in certain avenues, it is not always best to bring in outside influence. A lot of times, especially with rosters that contain the younger players leading the charge, the potential to fill those voids lie within the franchise.

    The Clippers need to improve their defense around the rim, yet both Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have the physical tools to become better defenders and rebounders. These players simply need to develop the fundamentals to couple with their raw athletic ability to expound their potential.

    Players like Grant Hill and Lamar Odom can help do that. 

Boston Celtics: Rondo or Nothing

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    This team belongs to Rajon Rondo, and Doc Rivers has made that painfully clear to any veterans on the squad that assumed differently. Rivers publicly stated that it wasn’t just a rift between Ray Allen and Rondo that sent Allen into the arms of South Beach fans.

    It was his decision to take the ball out of Allen’s hands in favor of Rondo’s that compounded the problem. It was for the best of the team, and Rivers wasn’t going to budge from a decision that clearly pushed the Celtics into contention.

    That fact will not change just because Allen has left the building.

    The team is still Rondo’s, and hopefully Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett does not grow weary of the proclamation.

    The Celtics are heading into a new era, one that concludes the predetermined dominance of the Big Three and rested much of the culpability in the hands of the younger core developing in Beantown.

    Rondo is one of the top 10 point guards in the league, and to put the franchise in his hands makes the most sense.

    Old-school fans may look towards the fact that during a 44-point performance against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, the Celtics still lost the game as Rondo was carrying them all the way to the end.

    To rival that conclusion, it must be pointed out that Miami’s LeBron James got to the foul line 24 times, hitting 18 of his attempts, and two key fouls from Marquis Daniels and Ray Allen towards the end of OT set the tone for the Heat victory.

    Rajon Rondo is the face of the franchise as it stands, and that paramount declaration was  coming since the Boston Celtics lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals.

    Rivers understands that the game and level of competition in the Eastern Conference is growing to new heights and that a lot the most elite franchise’s success rests on their floor general's aptitude. Rondo is Boston’s floor general, and it only makes sense to make him the most fervently involved. 

San Antonio Spurs: Experience Isn't Everything

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    The San Antonio Spurs may not be 100 percent satisfied with how their season ended at the hands of a younger, more athletic Oklahoma City Thunder team in a four-game rout in the Western Conference Finals.

    Still, they have a lot to smile about.

    The franchise has been predominant in the Western Conference even with their two leading men defying the crests of time.

    Battling against the perception of their age compared to other rising franchises in the West, the Spurs have rarely shied away from what has made them so successful since they drafted Tim Duncan in the first round with the No. 1 pick in the 1997 NBA draft.

    However, as the West progresses, the Spurs must as well, and looking towards their younger players to grasp a firmer hold on control in the organization is the first step of that.

    As exhibited against the Thunder, when longer, athletic defenders get a grip on Tony Parker, his lack of effectiveness is costly.

    The Thunder excelled in forcing turnovers, which against the Spurs, a team not built on athleticism and speed, was like easy buckets on the other end of the court.

    The Spurs are a model of fundamental basketball, but there needs to be an even balance of youth, athleticism and experience on the floor in order for the franchise to stop coming up short and in order to make the most of Tim Duncan’s three-year contract in San Antonio.

    Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter’s future involvement in the franchise is going to help that happen as long as they continue to develop as their time in the league moves forward.

    In the 2012-13 season, expect to see a lot more from the younger players getting integrated in the grand scheme of the Spurs and look to their influence to gauge San Antonio’s overall success in the playoffs.

Dallas Mavericks: Stop Chasing Superstars

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    The Dallas Mavericks are up the creek without a paddle at this point.

    Not only have they ultimately lost the battle for Deron Williams’ services, but they have also seemingly lost out on the future Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Jason Kidd has made a move to the New York Knicks, and Jason Terry is an implant with the Boston Celtics.

    What was all that cap clearing for if Dallas was going to revel in the same position they were in last season after losing Tyson Chandler and Caron Butler? The Mavericks are a team without many expectations and rightfully so. Dallas hasn’t made much noise.

    Their offseason resulted in Darren Collison, a promising, agile guard from the Pacers; Dahntay Jones, an athletic defender; Chris Kaman, Jared Cunningham, Elton Brand and O.J. Mayo.

    Bringing in Kaman may not be the equivalent of having Chandler’s influence on the 2011 NBA championship, but it definitely puts an able and veteran presence back in the middle, something that Dallas missed last season.

    The addition of Darren Collison allows the Mavericks to mold a guard in Kidd’s name that could possibly facilitate as he did when he showed that burst of potential as Chris Paul’s backup in New Orleans.

    In Indiana, Collison’s value dropped a bit due to his sometimes erratic handles and decision-making, but at the ripe age of 24, there is plenty of time left on the clock of his career to develop into a strong point guard.

    Elton Brand also surrounds Dirk Nowitzki with another role player that has the defensive and offensive prowess to be consistently productive on the court.

    O.J. Mayo, coming off a sixth-man role with the Memphis Grizzlies, is looking to improve the perception of his game with the Mavericks, likely in a starting role after the departure of Jason Terry.

    Having Mayo on the floor on a daily basis will only perpetuate consistency in his game. That does nothing but boost the Mavericks.

Orlando Magic: Play Hard Ball

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    The Orlando Magic fired Stan Van Gundy as their head coach as well as disposed of General Manager Otis Smith, reportedly to appease a disheartened Dwight Howard into staying with the franchise.

    The coaxing did not work as Howard wants nothing to do with the franchise, yet wants to retain the hearts of its fans. Too late for that one.

    Still, the Orlando Magic have the ball in their court with Howard still under contract to play in Florida, at least until next season.

    The only way that would change is if the Magic accept a trade offer from one of the many franchises on Howard’s shopping list or a midseason trade to the Brooklyn Nets for their re-signed center, Brook Lopez. The Magic are playing hard ball, however.

    There has been no more mention of the removal of Howard from Orlando by way of trade, and talks between the Lakers and the Cavaliers have died down after being as hot as they were about a month ago.

    Bringing in Jacque Vaughn did nothing to mute Howard’s trade desires and nothing to convince Orlando’s front office that his time in a Magic jersey is not going to be the end of their relevancy in the league, at least not forever.

    Orlando plans on rebuilding, but before that time comes, they will keep Howard in the waiting room for a long as possible, even if it’s to the detriment of their future. All’s fair in business and basketball. 

New York Knicks: Abandon Mike D'Antoni Principles

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    The New York Knicks have been afflicted by the Mike D’Antoni dynamic for far too long, and the franchise has already taken steps to abandon the control.

    Tyson Chandler contributed immensely to the Knicks’ ability to employ coach Mike Woodson’s defense-first principle and did so while capturing the 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year award. What’s overlooked, however, is how other players in the franchise stepped up to exert a new defensive strategy on the floor.

    Iman Shumpert, who became far more integrated than he ever was with D’Antoni, stepped up as the starting shooting guard of the franchise and used his athletic ability and speed to become a better defensive player.

    As a rookie, Shumpert exhibited the ability to guard multiple positions while maintaining aggressive on-the-ball defense. Shumpert is such an excellent defender in how he bears down on the ball handlers to get the ball out of their hands quicker or to take an ill-advised shot.

    Carmelo Anthony’s defense also took a step up under D’Antoni as Anthony moved into the power forward position and began ball-swarming the opponent and rotating to the perimeter to put pressure on shooters.

    This type of hustle is a result of a renewed accountability placed on Anthony’s shoulders as the veteran leader of the New York Knicks by Coach Woodson. These three components have allowed New York to bogard their way into the conversation as a defensive team.

    Although their streaky perimeter shooting and potent offense still trumps their abilities on the other end of the floor, the Knicks are still making strides towards becoming a more rounded team and therefore becoming more available for a deeper run in the Eastern Conference playoffs. 

Brooklyn Nets: Aim for Playoffs

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    The Brooklyn Nets, formerly of New Jersey, haven’t meant much to anyone with the exception of a possible landing destination for Dwight Howard.

    Even Deron Williams’ 57-point game against the Charlotte Bobcats in a three-point win in North Carolina went unnoticed. It was due in part to the fact that it was against a franchise like the Bobcats and because the clinic only resulted in a three-point victory.

    It showed just how bad the Nets were, and Williams was on his way out if his request to be surrounded by better players was not fulfilled.

    The Nets went a long way to pacify him, and they did one heck of a job as Brooklyn is now a proud home to Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Kris Humphries, Reggie Evans and C.J. Watson.

    This goes a long way to suffice as a supporting cast as Johnson and Williams will likely highlight the Nets’ attempt at the postseason in the Eastern Conference.

    Before, the Nets had zero aspirations, or at least they weren’t taken seriously in the least bit. No one, fans included, expected the Nets to make it far into the season, much less in the playoffs.

    Those presumptions have changed drastically as Brooklyn has formed their own fashion of the Big Three in another sector of New York.

    The rivalry with the New York Knicks will only further escalate those playoff aspirations, and according to Johnson, they have the weapons necessary to live up to the call. 

Los Angeles Lakers: Quality over Youth

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    Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are going to highlight the Los Angeles Lakers on paper.

    If Andrew Bynum is still a part of the rotation for the 2012-13 NBA season, he will be the truer determinant of where the Lakers land, yet Bryant and Nash are always going to be noted for their performances before he is.

    The Lakers are becoming a team that wants to stay relevant instead of one that has the eagerness to mold a player into the man the organization needs to build upon an already established dynasty.

    Bringing in Nash signaled to Ramon Sessions that his playing time would deteriorate massively, and why wouldn’t it? Nash is a more skilled point guard than Sessions is, although Sessions' age might have suggested that he would have been a fragment of the Lakers’ game plan for more than a few seasons.

    The Lakers are ready to use Bryant to the max for the time he has left in the league before retirement, and what better way to do that than to bring in a player that understands the game and has a firm hold on what the team expects from him.

    The acquisition of Antawn Jamison also shows how much the Lakers value the principles a player possesses as opposed to the youth and speed he has. Jamison, similar in regards to Pau Gasol, is much more of an offensive player than he is a defender.

    Putting him alongside Bynum will offset Jamison's weakness as a blocker or rim defender and allow him to defend the more stable forwards in the league who do not use their speed to push the pace of a game. That’s where Jamison excels.  

    He’s a team player who will do whatever he needs to do for the team to be successful, and these fundamentals are what led the Lakers to recruit him to play in purple and gold. 

Indiana Pacers: Take Crown from Granger; Give It to Hibbert

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    Roy Hibbert was almost a Trail Blazer until the Indiana Pacers woke up and brought him back.

    Allowing the thought to enter a fan’s mind that the Pacers would be better off was malignant of success.

    The Pacers are just another franchise without Hibbert’s presence in the middle, and their re-signing of him leads to the belief that they have finally taken a different direction in Hibbert’s involvement with the team.

    Stop looking to Danny Granger to be more than a mouthpiece, and give Hibbert more chances on offense. Face the facts.

    Granger has been in the NBA for seven years and has yet to eclipse that potential of being the franchise leader.

    Sure, a few seasons ago when the franchise was practically irrelevant, Granger stood out as a man amongst boys, but by the lone-wolf theory, someone had to.

    There is always going to be a man on a really bad team that puts up the numbers to satisfy. However, now as the Pacers are back into contention and battling against the likes of the Miami Heat for a spot in the Eastern Conference finals, Granger is doing just enough to stay above water.

    Granger recognizes, according to NBA.com, that he was straddling a fine line against the Miami Heat because of a chip on his shoulder from the lack of attention and accolades his franchise gets.

    Yet, you would assume that if he were so tired of being ignored by the media and the NBA community, he would heighten his game to a level that refused to be denied.

    Granger hasn’t done that.

    This is the same Granger from last season, and the emotion in the series against the Miami Heat couldn’t bring out the mastery of his skill. Hibbert, on the other hand, injected himself wholeheartedly into the series and attempted to take advantage of Chris Bosh’s absence, which in Game 3 paid dividends.

    What was so confusing about the results the Pacers garnered in Game 3 was that the ball was immediately taken out of his hands in Game 4, and he appeared to be the lone defender around the rim.

    There was no help when Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were pummeling players in the paint, getting to the basket at will.

    Hibbert needs to be more of a part of the offensive scheme for the Pacers and needs to be given the nod of leadership in the locker room because as he steadily improves, the team will as well. 

Chicago Bulls: Stay Above Water

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    As optimistic as Derrick Rose, his family, friends and the Chicago Bulls’ staff are about his return, the safest thing for the team to do is assume that he will be out for the original timetable of 8-12 months for recovery.

    This way there will be no dry hope lingering in the balance as to whether he will be returning soon to save them from the pits of the league.

    Straying from reliance on Rose’s return, the Chicago Bulls have one main goal ahead of them, and that is to stay above water. Before, when Rose was the nucleus of the Bulls’ effort during the regular and postseasons, the primary goal of the franchise was to make a strong push for the playoffs and let Rose do the rest against the Eastern Conference’s elite.

    In addition to Rose’s ACL recovery, the Bulls could possibly be without Luol Deng as well as he opted to put off surgery to play in the 2012 London Olympics. First things first: Who do the Bulls have to put in for Rose in the presence of his absence?

    That answer is easy, yet a bit hard to explain. The Bulls signed free-agent Kirk Hinrich to a deal reported to be worth about $8 million over a two-year time period.

    Marquis Teague, formerly of the 2012 NCAA championship-winning Kentucky Wildcats, was drafted this summer, and Nate Robinson was recently signed to a one-year deal with the Bulls.

    Bringing in Robinson is perplexing as he does not fill the void that even C.J.Watson left after signing with the Brooklyn Nets, let alone does he ease the pain of the franchise losing their most valuable player.

    Richard "Rip" Hamilton is a toss-up because of how much he’s injured, and as stated previously, Deng is a question mark as well.

    Nazr Mohammed on the roster doesn’t bring a smile to anyone’s face either because his involvement in the rotation will be one of the last remaining options for Chicago.

    He won’t see much playing time, so therefore won’t truly curve the outcome of a game in either direction. No more Kyle Korver or Ronnie Brewer also diminishes the effectiveness of Chicago’s perimeter game as well as their hustle.

    The Bulls are really relying on the efforts of a dwindled talent pool to return the city to the playoffs, but those wishes are unfounded and unreasonable. 

Oklahoma City Thunder: Must Win Now

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    The Oklahoma City Thunder need to win now and here’s why. Their core will not be together for as long as basketball fans may have hoped.

    James Harden has yet to sign an extension with the Thunder, which may be a business move on his behalf.

    But, the Sixth Man of the Year award winner has gone so far far as relaying that he would welcome signing with the Phoenix Suns. According to Dan Bickley of The Republic: "Former Arizona State star James Harden would consider signing with the Suns if his contract expires after next season." Harden said:

    Yeah. Of course. I love it there. My mom lives there still. So that's definitely my second home as far as my comfort level and going to school there. But obviously, I'm with the Thunder right now and what we have is special.

    In order for the Thunder to become a dynasty as the league’s fans hanker for, there will need to be sacrifices on all cylinders from the players.

    Contractual issues can easily dilute the star-power assembled in Oklahoma City, therefore for players to be inclined to take the pay cut, there needs to be previous success. A championship would serve well.

    Just as the Miami Heat were chastised for winning immediately because the Thunder were improving and were right on their tails as far as talent and cohesiveness, Oklahoma City needs to account for an identical reality.

    All of the players are very young, but as they progress in the Western Conference, there are franchises surrounding them in the West that are not waiting idly.

    Every team is moving forward towards becoming true contenders for the playoffs and ultimately an NBA championship, including the defending NBA champs who have improved in the offseason and are still improving at their core.

    Injuries hit the Heat last season, including Wade’s knee in the playoffs. Without those troubles, how infallible can Miami become?

    The Thunder are deeply embedded in the playoffs for a few seasons to come, but it will become a repeating disappointment if they don’t act on their potential soon.

    This season will be one where the scope is even brighter on their achievements or the lack thereof, and they will be penalized for the personal advancements in strategy that they have not made.

    The Thunder’s window could be closing, and it would be a shame if they were detached before winning it all. 

Miami Heat: No Time to Celebrate

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    The Miami Heat don’t have time to sit around smiling and waving to the fans, basking in last season’s glory.

    It’s time to build upon that progression. As stated in the opening slide of this piece, coach Erik Spoelstra knows the demons that can be released when a team revels in previous success, as he was present when the Heat won the 2006 NBA Finals.

    Players reported to camp out of shape and were ousted in the 2007 NBA playoffs in the first round. It was a bit far of a fall, but it gave way to a precedent that the Heat do not plan on following.

    By competing in the 2012 London Olympics, LeBron James is staying in league shape. He is also working on another aspect of his game that is not highlighted during his time as a Miami Heat player. With Miami, James is everything necessary on the floor, but what’s accentuated is his scoring.

    As a part of Team USA, every player has to give up the option of consistently being a team’s primary scorer, and James has adjusted to that role very well while emphasizing lanes of his game that are often misrepresented or ignored.

    Dwyane Wade will spend his time recovering from an offseason surgery that was necessary after his history of knee injuries left him unnoticeable throughout fractions of the NBA playoffs.

    He and Chris Bosh are both slowing down in order to recover from the previous season, and that is going to work well in their favor. Wade is reinventing himself this offseason.

    Wade understands that the types of injuries he’s inherited in the past couple of seasons are due to his style of play, and while his slate will not be completely wiped clean, it will definitely shift in light of keeping him able and relentless throughout a season.

    Norris Cole has also refused to stay still as he participated in the Summer League. This organization has learned from its mistakes and are taking a different approach to their previous attitudes about victory.