Being a NBA head coach can't be good for one's sleep pattern—you're guaranteed to be kept up at night.
When your team is good, you have to worry about keeping them good. When your team is bad, you have to worry about improving them. And if your team is considered a championship contender, anything less than the Larry O'Brien trophy is considered a failure.
With training camps on the NBA horizon, it's time for all 30 coaches to say goodbye to sleep. Each one has a serious burning issues (or two or three) to worry about.
Let's check out the one burning question for each NBA coach heading into the 2012-13 season.
Burning Question: Are the Hawks in rebuilding mode with Joe Johnson gone?
The Atlanta Hawks have one of the more underrated storylines of the NBA offseason.
After being a perpetual fourth or fifth seed for the last four years, the Hawks finally made a change and jettisoned Joe Johnson and his massive contract to the Brooklyn Nets. In exchange, the Hawks don’t get any real significant talent, but they gained excessive cap space for next season.
The real question going forward for the Hawks is now Josh Smith who will also be a free agent next season. Will Smith put all his effort into this season, now that the Hawks are no longer a real playoff threat?
Larry Drew has to figure out if his squad is talented enough to fight for an eighth seed. With two strong inside players in Smith and Al Horford, they certainly could. It may make more sense for the Hawks to trade Smith while they can and start rebuilding.
Burning Question: Do the Celtics have one more magical run in them?
No one gave the Boston Celtics much of a chance in the Eastern Conference finals last year, especially after they went down 2-0. They fought their way back, took a 3-2 series lead and the Heat needed a super-human effort from LeBron James to knock Boston out.
Now, the Celtics are another year older and lost Ray Allen to the Heat. Can Coach Rivers guide this aged, yet incredibly intelligent, squad to another deep run?
Jason Terry comes over from Dallas to replace Allen, and Boston also added Courtney Lee from Houston. Can those two combine to cover up Allen’s absence? Do Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have one more great year in their collective tanks?
Doc Rivers is one of the best coaches in the NBA, but this year will be a big test.
Burning Question: Are the Nets a real contender or the most overpaid pretenders of all time?
The Nets were not shy about spending money this year. In addition to re-signing Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries, the Nets brought in the expensive Joe Johnson and a host of bench talent. On paper, the Nets look like a top Eastern Conference squad, but can Avery Johnson put it together?
Can Deron Williams shoot better than 40.7 percent this season (his total from last year)? Will Brook Lopez return to the rebounder he was in his first two seasons (when he averaged 8.7 as opposed to the 5.6 in his third year)? Will Joe Johnson accept being a second, maybe even third option?
Their starting five have a combined salary ($72.21 million, according to Hoopsworld.com) that is bigger than most teams' total salary. If they can’t handle the NBA elite, they’ll easily be one of the most expensive failures in league history.
Burning Question: Can the Bobcats ever escape being an NBA laughingstock?
The 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats were the worst team in NBA history. Can an NBA-untested college assistant coach turn that around?
To be fair to Mike Dunlap, he was one of the more respected assistants in college and was known as a defensive mastermind at St. John’s. His signing was well received around the NBA, with Denver Nuggets coach George Karl heaping praise on the Bobcats hire (via Aaron Lopez of NBA.com).
The biggest problem for Dunlap is his squad is still the worst in the league. They made the right choice in drafting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a strong defensive player who will be an excellent second option in the future. He isn’t the star they need, and they’ll have to find that star in next year’s draft.
That said, Dunlap needs to get the Bobcats to compete night in and night out. They’ll easily be in the bottom levels of the NBA again this year, but here's to hoping they don’t repeat last year’s performance.
Burning Question: Can the Bulls survive four months without Derrick Rose?
With Derrick Rose out until March, the Chicago Bulls will have to keep pace again without their superstar scorer. It’ll be up to Tom Thibodeau to get absolutely the best out of his players, and he’ll need to get one of the Bulls' second options to become a first option.
Carlos Boozer was one of the best scoring big men when he was in Utah but has failed to impress since coming to Chicago. Luol Deng is a strong all-around player but is coming off a career-low year where he shot just 41.2 percent from the field.
One of those two players will need to be able to take on the extended scoring workload if the Bulls expect to survive Rose’s absence. They will still have one of the league’s best defenses (with Thibodeau as coach, that is a given), but scoring-wise, there is plenty of reason to be concerned.
If Chicago can hold out to a playoff spot until March, the return of Rose could return Chicago to a contender status. But, it might be a long four months for Bulls faithful.
Burning Question: Are the Cavaliers ready to make the leap, or are they still a few pieces away?
The Cleveland Cavaliers lucked out in 2011 when they snagged the No. 1 overall pick. Despite a host of doubters, Kyrie Irving took off last season and proved he is the key to the team’s future.
Cleveland held the fourth-worst record last season, but they have some nice pieces. With Irving at point and Anderson Verajao at center, the other positions are somewhat toss-ups. Dion Waiters, the No. 4 overall selection this season, will have to prove the value Cleveland apparently saw in him.
Tristan Thompson, the 2011 No. 4 selection, will need to have a far more consistent season. The Cavaliers also have a big hole at the 3 spot.
No one expects the Cavaliers to be a playoff team this year, but they need a leap in the right direction. Can this team win 34 games this season, or will they compete for a top draft spot again?
Burning Question: Are the new re-tooled Mavericks better than they were last year?
The Mavericks went all-in on signing Deron Williams and flopped. They recovered quickly, trading for the vastly underappreciated Darren Collison and signing O.J. Mayo and Chris Kaman to fill out their starting five.
Gone are Jason Terry and Jason Kidd, and their veteran skills will certainly be missed, but the Mavericks may have just bought themselves a few more solid years with their offseason moves. If Dirk Nowitzki can keep it up for a few more seasons, a squad of Collison, Mayo, Nowitzki, Elton Brand and Kaman could certainly make the playoffs and be a dangerous opponent.
Of course, the Mavericks could utterly self-destruct and miss the playoffs completely. It’ll be up to Rick Carlisle to get this re-engineered squad primed and ready to go.
Burning Question: Can Andre Iguadola be the missing piece the Nuggets need to move from pretender to contender?
With Dwight Howard going to the Lakers and Andrew Bynum heading to Philadelphia, Andre Iguadola quietly went over to Denver.
The Nuggets gave up Arron Affalo and Al Harrington for Iguadola, who is basically a better All-Star level version of Affalo. In the Nuggets' transition-heavy offense, Iguadola will shine, and on the defensive end, he’s a monster.
The Nuggets have, since Carmelo Anthony was shipped out, been a deep team that lacks a real top option. George Karl did a great job of putting together a group of second- and third-option-type players, and he got a ton of success out of them. What if Iguadola is the missing piece who finally turns Denver from a trendy dark horse to a real threat in the West?
True, Iguadola is coming off a low-scoring year in which is averaged just 12.4 points per game. His career high average was 19.9 back in the 2007-08 season, and if the Nuggets can get that out of him, they’d be just behind the Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western power rankings.
Can Karl fit Iguadola in seamlessly? If he does, watch out of the Nuggets this year.
Burning Question: Are the Pistons' young pieces a strong foundation for the future?
The Pistons have not had a top-five pick in the last three years but still got excellent pieces in the draft. Greg Monroe (No. 8 in 2010), Brandon Knight (No. 8 in 2011) and Andre Drummond (No. 9 in 2012) all fell to Detroit after expecting to go higher.
Monroe has since proved to be an absolute steal, and Knight showed flashes of it last year. Drummond is the rawest rookie in the league, but his overall potential (especially defensively) excels over both Monroe and Knight.
Is Lawrence Frank the man to develop these rookies? Can he turn the trio with potential into a dangerous force in the Eastern Conference? The Pistons have unquestioned talent, but we’ve seen plenty of talent get wasted before.
Burning Question: Can the Warriors ever play consistent and successful defense?
When Mark Jackson was hired last summer by the Warriors, he promised that “first and foremost, we're going to be a defensive-minded team.” (Rusty Simmons, San Francisco Chronicle)
Last season, the Warriors were third worst in opponents points per game, giving up an average of 101 points a contest. So much for that defense, eh coach?
To be fair, the Warriors did trade for defensive center Andrew Bogut midseason, but he was out with a knee injury. He’s the only player in Golden State’s projected starting five (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee and Bogut) who is known as a strong defender. Heck, the rest of the starting five aren’t known as even average defenders.
With Curry, Thompson and the rookie Barnes, Golden State won’t have much trouble scoring the ball. They need to vastly improve their defense before they’ll get anywhere.
Side Note: Almost went with “can the Warriors stay healthy” as the burning question, but while I’m sure that keeps Jackson up at night, he can’t do anything about it.
Burning Question: Are the Rockets' new pieces worth the price Houston paid?
The Rockets did everything they could to engineer a trade for Dwight Howard, but in the meantime, signed two free agents to large, back-loaded contracts.
Houston signed both guard Jeremy Lin and center Omer Asik to three-year deals worth just over $25 million (viewable here thanks to hoopshype.com). While both will be paid $5 million this year and $5.22 million next year, in the third year of their deals, they are set to make $14.898 million each.
Lin is coming off a high-profile year and instantly becomes the Rockets' biggest name, while Asik becomes the only true center on the roster. Will the pair be worth the big investment Houston made? Or, by their third years, will the Rockets greatly regret having to pay the pair nearly $30 million?
Kevin McHale has a young team who added a ton of new pieces this offseason, but how he handles his two new free agents is of paramount importance.
Burning Question: Can the Pacers take advantage of an injured Derrick Rose and win the Central Division?
With the Chicago Bulls' success resting on the eventual health of Rose, the Indiana Pacers need to take full advantage of his absence and take control of the Central Division early.
If both teams were completely healthy, you’d have to give Chicago a slight edge in the battle for the top spot. But without Rose, the Pacers are the favorites and need to prove it. They are a sharp, deep team with excellent talent who proved that against Miami last year they won’t back down from anyone.
Don’t consider the Pacers to be a real championship threat, but they could certainly play spoilers in the playoffs. They’ll need a high seed to do that, and with Rose out until March, they’ll never get a better chance at a wide-open division.
Burning Question: How long is Del Negro's leash?
When the Los Angeles Clippers picked up the contract option for coach Vinny Del Negro in May, it was considered a surprise by most in the business. For a contender like the Clippers, Del Negro looked out of his depth.
With stars in Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, Del Negro will have to keep the Clippers amongst the top of the Western Conference. If he can’t, you have to imagine the Clippers won’t hesitate to remove him and find another coach.
How long is the leash for Del Negro? How many losing streaks or horrible games can the team have before they make a coaching change? Or, will this be the year where he and his team both prove they deserve total NBA respect?
Burning Question: Can Mike Brown fit all the pieces together and reform the Lakers into a champion?
The Los Angeles Lakers easily had the best offseason in the league when they added both guard Steve Nash and center Dwight Howard to their roster. With Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol already in uniform, the Lakers will be favorites in the West, second behind Oklahoma City in my book.
The Lakers were decimated by the Thunder in the playoffs last year, but the additions of Howard and Nash should help the Lakers keep pace. Of course, there always is a chance that the gigantic expectations now placed on the Lakers could come crashing down on coach Mike Brown.
Will Bryant accept playing with a true ball-dominant point guard? Can Dwight Howard thrive as a third option? Does Pau Gasol have another great year in him?
The Lakers may have added two of the NBA’s most talented players, but if Brown can’t fit all the pieces together, the city of Los Angeles will turn on him quicker than a Steve Nash layup.
Burning Question: Are the Grizzlies really contenders without a superstar?
The Memphis Grizzlies are a very deep and talented team, but for two years in a row, they’ve had a disappointing playoff result. In 2011, they beat San Antonio in the first round before falling to the Thunder in the second round. Last season, they fell to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
With Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Rudy Gay, Zack Randolph and Marc Gasol, their starting five is undoubtedly talented. Both Randolph and Gay have proven they can be big-time scorers when necessary, but you wouldn’t call either a superstar. Can a deep team such as Memphis win a championship without a star?
Looking back at past NBA champions, the only team you can point to that won a title without a superstar was the Detroit Pistons. Like those ’04 Pistons, the Grizzlies rely on depth and defense (they gave up the 26th least points per game last year). Can Memphis ever get over that hump from pretender to contender?
Burning Question: Can the Heat stay 100 percent healthy?
Look at Erik Spoelstra. What do you see? Do you see a worried man?
He’s got a team with the top player in the league and two more in the top 30. He has a championship ring, and if LeBron James keeps up his super-human effort, his team will be easy favorites for next season. The sky is the limit.
In this picture specifically, he’s at a press conference to announce that the Heat had just signed away a star player (Ray Allen) from their biggest conference rival (the Celtics). Again, does that look like a man who has much to fret about?
Well, unless LeBron went down with an injury or something. That’s about all that Spoelstra has to concern himself with. Otherwise, he can just sit back and let LeBron and Dwayne Wade work their magic.
Burning Question: Will the Monta Ellis/Brandon Jennings experiment work?
The Bucks traded away Andrew Bogut last year and brought in scoring guard Monta Ellis. In 21 games with Milwaukee, he averaged 17.6 points but shot 43.2 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from downtown.
Ellis’ backcourt mate is Brandon Jennings, an inefficient scorer in his own right (19.1 points on 41.8 percent shooting and 33.8 percent from three). Scott Skiles is a tough coach and a smart strategy coach, but can he handle having two inefficient scorers?
Unless the pair can improve their efficiency, Milwaukee’s offense will be very stagnant. Can Skiles rein them in?
Burning Question: Are the Timberwolves a legitimate dark horse or just a fun-to-watch playoff team?
When the Timberwolves were completely healthy last year, they were a fun team to watch. With Ricky Rubio’s incredible passing abilities and Kevin Love’s incredible scoring abilities, Minnesota could challenge nearly any team while playing exciting basketball.
Now, the Wolves added in un-retired Brandon Roy to the mix and will hopefully get more out of sophomore Derrick Williams. With Rubio returning from an ACL tear, it will be up to Rick Adelman to turn the Wolves from a fun-to-watch team into a dangerous fun-to-watch team.
He did it with Sacramento in the early 2000s, so there isn’t any reason to doubt that he can do it again. I expect Minnesota will make serious noise this season.
Burning Question: How will the Hornets work in their new rookies?
New Orleans hit the jackpot in the draft and snagged Kentucky big man Anthony Davis at No. 1. With the No. 10 pick from Minnesota, they drafted guard Austin Rivers from Duke.
While both players have excellent potential, neither one of them has an established NBA position. With Davis, this isn’t a huge issue—he is tall enough that he’ll be able to guard many NBA big men, and his defensive intensity is second to none.
Until he bulks up in pure muscle, however, he’ll be at a disadvantage against NBA centers. With Ryan Anderson likely playing the 4 spot, Davis is going to have to play center often.
It’s an even bigger concern for Rivers who is not a point guard but may be forced to play there a lot this season. He finished with more turnovers than assists last year at Duke and never looked like a real floor general—but with Eric Gordon at the 2 spot, Rivers will have to play the point guard spot if he wants any seriously consistent minutes.
Monty Williams is one of the league’s best young coaches, but he will have his hands full working these two young stars into positions they may not be ready for.
Burning Question: Can Amar'e Stoudemire return to form or is he done as a All-Star?
Remember two years ago when Stoudemire averaged 25.3 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting? That Amar'e Stoudemire was long gone last year when he averaged 17.5 points on 48.3 percent shooting.
The Knicks need Stoudemire to be both healthy AND consistent in order for the squad to evolve from pretenders to contenders. Carmelo Anthony is the scorer, and Amar'e doesn’t need to average 25 points, but he needs to be far more than he was last season.
Mike Woodson needs to find a way to keep him amongst the NBA’s best big men. Is it too late for Stoudemire? If it is, it’s probably too late for the Knicks who will have to pay Stoudemire $65 million over the next three years regardless.
Burning Question: Can the Thunder keep pace with the Heat and Lakers?
The biggest news this summer out of Oklahoma City was the contract extension to forward Serge Ibaka. Aside from the addition of draft pick Perry Jones, the Thunder has been quiet this offseason.
Contrast that to the Miami Heat, who added Ray Allen from Boston, and the Lakers, who added both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
I’m not arguing that the Thunder needed to go and make any huge changes to the roster. Oklahoma City has the talent to go toe-to-toe with either the Lakers or the Heat. But you can’t help but worry about their chances in future matchups with Miami.
The Heat won the finals in a convincing five games and has only gotten better. Now, the Lakers have added the best center in the league AND a future Hall of Fame point guard.
I’ll still rank Oklahoma City as the favorite to get to the finals in the West, but they’re going to need to be even better this season if they are going to win the championship.
Burning Question: Is Jacque Vaughn ready to coach a NBA team?
When Vaughn was hired to coach the rebuilding Orlando Magic, the choice impressed some in the industry (via Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel). Others, like legendary big man Shaquille O’Neal, ripped the signing via Twitter.
Vaughn takes the reins of a team in flux, one that traded away Dwight Howard for future picks, cap space and Arron Affalo. If the Magic tank the year away and win minimal games, don’t expect Vaughn to be in the hot seat. But is he the long-term fit?
We can’t even begin to guess, but the big test won’t come until next year when Vaughn presumably has a big-name draft to start coaching.
Burning Question: Can Collins rein in Andrew Bynum and make the 76ers an Eastern Conference power?
The Philadelphia 76ers wormed their way into the Dwight Howard deal and got former Lakers big man Andrew Bynum. When he’s healthy, Bynum is in the argument for the second-best center in the league, but coach Doug Collins will have his hands full keeping Bynum on track.
Bynum has never been known as an easy-going player, and he had his share of issues when he was in Los Angeles. He gives the 76ers an inside weapon they serious lacked, however, and no one is denying that the move was a good one for Philadelphia.
Whether fit works in the long-term or not is still up in the air. Collins has done well with the 76ers, so far, but he has a history of not working so well with troublesome stars (see Jordan, Michael).
Burning Question: Did the Suns' "rebuild on the fly" work, or will it keep them in mediocrity?
When Steve Nash headed out to Los Angeles, the Phoenix Suns could have dismantled it all and rebuilt the team. It’s easy to argue they should have. Instead, they pressed on and acquired such win-now talent as Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley and Luis Scola.
In addition to incumbent big man Marcin Gortat, it seems as if the Suns aren’t throwing in the towel. Dragic had an impressive year last season for Houston, and Beasley still has excellent scoring potential. Scola is an underappreciated big man who Houston amnestied while trying to get room for a Dwight Howard deal.
It’s hard not to like Phoenix lineup…but it’s also hard to see them challenging for a playoff spot. Will the Suns be good enough to make this quick rebuilding project worthwhile? Or, will they be stuck in basketball mediocrity?
Burning Question: Are the Trail Blazers right back to being a playoff team?
No pressure, Coach Stotts, but this team should make the playoffs.
I’m not expecting a top seed here, but anywhere between sixth and eighth seed feels right. LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum are established players. Add in my rookie of the year pick Damian Lillard and Portland has an excellent trio of players who should compete in every game.
The question marks are at shooting guard (Wesley Matthews is a fine player, but they’re lacking in guard depth) and at center (Meyers Leonard, a rookie, isn’t as NBA-ready as Lillard).
Can Stotts lead the team back to the p? Even if he can’t, I really like Portland’s future.
Burning Question: Can Keith Smart figure out all his young players?
Keith Smart is one of the more open coaches in the NBA, and he isn’t afraid to tell it like he sees it. Just check out this Sports Illustrated piece on guard Tyreke Evans. Smart doesn’t pull any punches on exactly what Evans needs to improve.
Evans, like most of the Kings players, is young and has excellent potential. Center DeMarcus Cousins could be the NBA’s best big man if he pans out, and Sacramento also has young studs in Thomas Robinson, Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton.
Potential-wise, the Kings would rank amongst the top of the league. Smart just needs to get them all out there and develop that talent.
The Kings were ranked last in points allowed last year, and while their offense improved when Smart took over, they still never completely jelled as a unit. Is Smart the coach who can turn this young-and-promising squad into a playoff team? If he isn’t, he’ll just be another in a long line of Kings' coaching duds.
Burning Question: Will Father Time finally catch up to the Spurs?
I know Spurs fans are sick of hearing this question, but it’s going to happen sooner rather than later. Was this season (in which they finished with the NBA’s top record) the last great Spurs run?
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili thrive in their old age because they’re both such smart, experienced players, but eventually, even they have to break down. Tony Parker isn’t exactly a spring chicken, either.
Gregg Popovich and the Spurs' front office are, perhaps, the best ever at signing and established sharp role players, but when the stars fade, so will the Spurs.
Do the Spurs have one more year in them? Here’s to hoping they do.
Burning Question: Is Jonas Valanciunas really as good as expected?
Toronto fans are very excited about incoming rookie Valanciunas who the Raptors drafted No. 5 in last year’s draft. He is considered one of the top international players in recent memory. Hopefully, he will contrast the somewhat disappointing career of current Raptors big man Andrea Bargnani.
Valancinas is considered by most (and by all Raptors fans) as a serious candidate for rookie of the year, and he arguably has as much expectation on his shoulders as Anthony Davis does. He’s a smart player who can do everything you’d want a big man to do, but will he really be that good, that fast?
Dwane Casey will have to find out fast just how NBA-ready his rookie is, as his season will be judged in large part upon how Valanciunas fairs on the court.
Burning Question: How will the Jazz handle their incredible depth in the paint?
The Utah Jazz have the best big man core in the league. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are both All-Star-level big men, while Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter both have excellent potential.
Favors is a favorite to have a breakout year which would mean less minutes for the other three big men. How will Coach Corbin handle this logjam in the paint? The Jazz lack for any long-term answers at guard, so, perhaps, one of the bigs should be traded away for some help in other areas.
Regardless if a trade happens, the Jazz have one of the more unique rosters in the league and it’ll be interesting to see how Corbin balances all of his big men’s playing time.
Burning Question: Have the Wizards given John Wall the surrounding talent to finally excel?
The Washington Wizards have a star in John Wall, and they made it their mission to get him consistent help this offseason.
They traded for Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor from New Orleans, two well-established veterans who may or may not be long term solutions. They’d already added big man Nene at the trade deadline last season, and with their No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft, they added guard Bradley Beal.
I like Washington as a surprise sleeper this year. Beal might take time to develop before he is truly NBA-ready, but the combination of he and Wall will give Washington one of the scarier backcourts in the league.
Wall slumped last year because the Wizards didn’t have any player of serious worth around him. Hopefully, that will change this year.