One Crucial Lesson Every NBA Team Must Learn in Training Camp
Training camp is the first chance for NBA teams to really get to know each other and to get an idea of how the season will shape up with the talent they have.
Most of all, it's a time of growth and the beginning of development for team chemistry and gives the coaches a feel for how to use their roster to its best abilities. There is plenty to be learned for each team and the players, especially those who may be playing their first NBA season.
With that being said, let's take a look at each team and a lesson to be learned in training camp that will be crucial to their performance this upcoming season.
Atlanta Hawks: Look to the Future
It's a tough pill to swallow for Atlanta, but this next season may not be one to remember.
Though they are considerably lighter in the salary cap department, the Hawks simply don't have the firepower necessary to compete with the top dogs of the Eastern Conference.
Without Joe Johnson, they will have to look elsewhere for a primary scoring option and that could fall into a split workload for Jeff Teague, Josh Smith and Al Horford. All three of these players are great cornerstones to surround a team with, but I don't believe any of them are capable of being a franchise centerpiece nor a reliable go-to option for an entire season.
So instead of focusing on how bad this season could be, the Hawks must focus on working with their younger talent and developing them for the future.
Boston Celtics: This Could Be the Last Year of Contention for a While
Now that the Big Three era of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen is officially over in Bean Town, the Celtics may be faced with the departures of Pierce and Garnett sooner, rather than later.
Both of the remaining members of the Big Three are getting older and older, while the rest of the NBA is constantly getting younger and faster every year and while Rajon Rondo could certainly stick around for the foreseeable future, Boston could be looking at a rebuilding project.
The upside is that the team is still mostly together and you could even argue that they have made a lot of improvements in the offseason. The Celtics are definitely still a relevant threat in the East right now, but a lot of that can change in the coming seasons.
Brooklyn Nets: No More Excuses
The distractions are finally over for the Nets, who have been worried with not only retaining Deron Williams, but also acquiring Dwight Howard.
Now that the dust has settled on both issues and the Nets have solidified their core, there's no reason that this team shouldn't be able to produce a playoff-worthy season. As a coaching staff, you always want to encourage a team to not come up with excuses during the season, but this is especially relevant for a team that had a lot of losses last year.
With the issues clear and the primary focus now on winning basketball games in the present, Brooklyn should be able to accomplish their goals, and if they don't, it won't be because of any pressing issues, but because they failed to live up to their expectations.
Charlotte Bobcats: Come out Swinging
The Bobcats' season last year was awful, plain and simple. Therefore, what's there to lose for a team that did plenty of losing as of late?
There's nothing to lose, in fact, which is why the Bobcats really need to send a statement to the rest of the league in their first few contests by coming in hot out of the starting gates.
This doesn't mean they have to win all of their first set of games, but they need to at least show signs of life by being competitive and fighting hard to the bitter end. The bottom line here is that there needs to be a culture change Charlotte and playing hard night in and night out is the first step for the team to get back on the right track.
Chicago Bulls: Defense Must Be Our Offense
With Derrick Rose out for at least most of the season, the Chicago Bulls will have to look to the rest of their roster for answers on offense.
Unfortunately for them, most of the players on the roster are not exactly lethal threats on the offensive end like Rose, and so the Bulls must play to their strength: defense. Chicago is a great defensive team, with or without Rose, and they have to rely on that if they want to win enough games for a playoff berth.
Sure they can muster up some points with Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng, but this team is built to defend and let Rose handle most of the scoring. Now that Rose can't score or even facilitate the rest of the team, Chicago must adjust.
There's an old adage about defense winning championships and if there's any way to prove that, it will be with the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls.
Cleveland Cavaliers: In Kyrie We Trust
Now that Cleveland has almost fully moved on from the LeBron era, the fans and the organization can focus on the team at hand and the star that will be leading them.
This man is reigning Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving, who ran away with the award after an impressive campaign in his first NBA season. Now that there's no doubt about Irving being able to put a team on his shoulders, the Cavs must invest in building around him and making him the centerpiece.
Cleveland made a good start by acquiring rookie Tyler Zeller on draft night and drafting a solid second option in Dion Waiters. With some decent potential around him, the Cavs are back on the right track to becoming relevant once more, and they must invest their trust fully into the capable hands of Kyrie Irving.
Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Must Heal
One obvious sign of a superstar aging and slowing down is a lingering injury that just doesn't heal up as fast as it might have in his youth. This is the case for Dirk Nowitzki, who has been battling a bothersome knee injury that limited his performance last year and is still haunting him through training camp.
Though he may have rushed back a little too early this year, Nowitzki is being more cautious this year and allowing the injury to have more time to heal. This is surely welcomed by the Mavericks, who definitely need a 100 percent healthy Dirk in order to stay competitive in the rough Western Conference.
If Dirk can get some rest on his knee during the preseason and training camp, the Mavericks could come in looking like a quality team, ready to take on the challenge of the 2012-13 season.
Denver Nuggets: We Don't Need a Superstar to Contend
The Nuggets have been notorious in the past few seasons for being a great team, despite being without a true superstar. Ever since the ugly separation with Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets have done a good job exceeding the expectations for a team that essentially had a lot of supporting pieces but no one to support.
Now, Denver has a fringe star in Andre Iguodala and a potential breakout star in point guard Ty Lawson. Add in Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee and you have a solid team that could get very far into the postseason.
Though the formula for a championship team in the NBA usually calls for at least one, if not, two superstars to lead your team there, the Nuggets are out to prove that they can win plenty of games with the players they do have.
Detroit Pistons: Center the Offense Around Greg Monroe
One of the more quietly budding stars in the league is Detroit center Greg Monroe, who is making a case to become one of the best centers in the league.
His impressive numbers of 15.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG, and 22.09 PER give the Pistons plenty of reason to believe that they have a special player in their hands and the best move for them would be to acknowledge it on the court.
This means that Monroe should undoubtedly be the focus on offense for Detroit and should be getting the first looks when designing plays. Sure, there are some other quality options in Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight, but neither of them have proven to be as reliable as Greg Monroe has been.
If Monroe and company continues to develop this quickly and effectively, the Pistons may become a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference sooner rather than later.
Golden State Warriors: We Are Ready to Be Elite
"We are ready to be an elite team."
That's the quote that Golden State's coaches must engrain in their players heads for this upcoming season, and they must get the players to believe it because it may very well be true.
Golden State definitely has the look of a team that is ready to break and out and make a statement, especially with the recent addition and defensive presence that comes with Andrew Bogut.
Now that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson anchor a sharpshooting back court for the Warriors, Golden State has a legitimate inside-out threat with David Lee partnering up with Bogut in the paint. Not to mention the potential contributions from rookie Harrison Barnes on the wing.
This team has the personnel to hang with the best in the West and this could be the season that the Warriors finally turn it around and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Houston Rockets: We Have to Make the Pieces Fit
Right now, the Rockets are looking like an island of misfit toys after gathering talent and draft picks in hope of a Dwight Howard trade, but alas Houston fell short and now must deal with what they have.
There is some good talent in guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lin, but there's a lot of questions about what they are going to do with their copious amount of small forwards (Royce White, JaJuan Johnson, Chandler Parsons, Carlos Delfino, Terrence Jones, Gary Forbes). Luckily, a lot of these small forwards can play more than one position, and so the Rockets will use them accordingly.
However, the Rockets still don't really have much of a game plan to fall back on with all of the changes in recent seasons with the core of the team. This could end up being a learning experience type of year for Houston as they try to figure out which pieces belong where on their team.
Indiana Pacers: We Must Make a Statement
Much like the previous slide about the Warriors, the Pacers are also on the cusp of becoming one of the league's few elite teams.
Indiana definitely made a case for themselves at the end of last season when they pushed the Heat to their limits in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, even leading the series 2-1 at one point. However, they have made some good acquisitions in the offseason including D.J. Augustin and Ian Mahinmi, and they will now look to turn one good series against the reigning NBA champs into a full season of dominance.
They certainly have the tools to do so with Danny Granger, Paul George and Roy Hibber. Don't be surprised if Indiana is right near the top in the standings throughout the regular season.
Los Angeles Clippers: We Have to Improve on Play in the Paint
The Clippers are certainly one of the league's most entertaining teams to watch and they can light up the scoreboards with the best of 'em.
However, lost in all the glory of Blake Griffin's thunderous slams and the crafty play of Chris Paul is the fundamentals of playing well in the paint on both sides. Griffin gets a lot of his points at the rim, but these points are usually the result of a lob from CP3 and not Griffin working his post game. Besides Griffin, there is not much of an offensive presence down low for the Clips.
Additionally, on defense, the Clippers are now without the services of Reggie Evans and must look to their additions of Lamar Odom and Ronnie Turiaf to fill the void at the big man spots.
Center DeAndre Jordan has the athleticism to block his fair share of shots, but his actual one-on-one post defense leaves much to be desired.
It may be nitpicking a smaller issue for a quality team, but with improvements in these areas, the Clippers could make great strides in their games against their tough Western Conference foes.
Los Angeles Lakers: This Is Still Kobe's Team
Every year, critics anticipate a potential letdown season from Kobe, expecting age and injuries to finally catch up with him, but he continues to prove his worth as one of the best basketball players in the world today and he continues to lead his team to solid seasons.
That is why this is still Kobe's team. He has led the team, sometimes seemingly without any legitimate scoring option, and has stuck with them and brought them several championships. Sure Dwight Howard and Steve Nash will be great contributors to the success of the Lakers this year and maybe the seasons to come, but Kobe Bryant is still the alpha dog in Los Angeles.
Memphis Grizzlies: We Don't Need a Superstar to Succeed
Similarly to the Denver Nuggets, the Grizzlies are too without a standout superstar to carry the team.
Rudy Gay is probably the closest player they have to that role, but even he hasn't been exceptional enough to be considered a superstar. What Memphis does have is a lot of great players to fill out their starting lineup that features the likes of Gay, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
With O.J. Mayo now playing for the Mavs, the Grizzlies have lost a potential scoring threat but still have the services of the defensive-minded Tony Allen. Additionally, there is some quality depth for Memphis at the guard spots with Jerryd Bayless and rookie Tony Wroten comping off the bench.
While the Grizz may not be making any Finals appearances with their current team, it doesn't mean that they can't find success in making it to the playoffs and even possibly making a run in the postseason.
Miami Heat: Don't Be Complacent
Staying away from complacency is great advice for any team coming off a championship season, but it is especially important for a Miami team that could essentially make the playoffs as a top seed by playing the season on cruise control.
LeBron James silenced a lot of critics by winning his first championship last year, but he still made some outlandish promises of multiple championships for the city of Miami and that means he's going to have to keep working to maintain the Heat's status as the best team in the league.
This won't be an easy task, as the Heat are now operating with a large target on their back as the team to beat in the NBA as they are defending their championship.
Therefore, the Heat must come out firing in the regular season, to show the world that they still have the same fire that got them to the tippy top last season. If they do get content and ease up on the gas, we could see some of the hungrier teams pass them up as the season progresses.
Milwaukee Bucks: Pass the Ball to the Guards
With the addition of Monta Ellis last season, the Bucks have solidified one of the most electrifying, high-scoring back courts in the NBA with Brandon Jennings pairing with Ellis.
With that being said, Milwaukee must recognize what they have and turn the focus of their offense to their guards, especially with the post scoring presence of Andrew Bogut now gone.
This could be a good thing for the Bucks, though, as Ellis and Jennings certainly had no problem lighting up the scoreboards before they were paired together and can now play off of each other to get even better looks.
If the Bucks can get the right chemistry going between these two, they could become a very lethal team on offense and may be one of the more fun teams to watch in the 2012-13 season.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Let Kevin Love Run the Show
The Timberwolves definitely have a star in Kevin Love, and now that they have finally found some good talent to surround him with, they may be able to become a threat once more in the Western Conference.
Love is a dominant rebounder and post player, who also has a great touch from the perimeter, making him an all-around monster for the T'Wolves. Much like the advice I have given other underperforming teams with superstars on their hands, Minnesota needs to acknowledge their star and allow him to lead their team.
This means that the offense should still be going through Love, even with the additions of Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko. It may sound obvious, but Love needs to know that the Wolves trust him with the franchise's success and that could help to persuade him into staying long-term, something that he hasn't fully committed to quite yet.
Minnesota must keep Love by all means necessary, and by giving him their full support, it certainly helps the case for the Timberwolves to have Love suiting up for them for years to come.
New Orleans Hornets: Don't Get Caught Up in the Hype
There is certainly plenty of hype surrounding the youthfully replenished Hornets and there is also plenty of reason to buy into it.
Big man Anthony Davis is touted to become a superstar for the Hornets, who also have a potentially deadly scoring combo with Eric Gordon and rookie Austin Rivers.
However, it's important that the Hornets come into the season with a humble approach and try to take things one game at a time. It's better this way, especially for a team full of young players that are full of confidence, who can get caught up in thinking success will happen overnight instead of learning that it may take time for a team to come together.
If the Hornets can stay grounded, and mesh together over the course of the year, then they may very well live up to the hype, but it's important that they stay focused throughout the season.
New York Knicks: Two Superstars Can Work...with Some Assistance
When Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire joined forces in the Big Apple, the Knicks were thought to be thrust into the championship picture once more.
However, things have been a little rocky for the Knicks, and the union of these two stars has not been as smooth as they would have liked. The chemistry for the team as a whole has been a little off and has resulted in disappointing finishes over the past few seasons.
A lot of this has to do with the constant shifting of the supporting players around Stoudemire and Melo, but now the Knicks may have finally found some stability in their lineup with Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith in the starting lineup.
With a stable supporting cast, Melo and Amare may be able to find their comfort zones and get into a good rhythm during the season, resulting in more W's for New York.
Therefore, it's important that the Knicks keep the shifting to a minimum and allow their stars to naturally mesh together.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Stay Hungry
It can be hard to come so close to a championship, only to fall short by a few games and then having to start over for next year. If this were a video game for OKC, it would be like getting to the final boss of the game and then losing your last life and having to start over.
Sounds frustrating doesn't it? But the Thunder must overcome their frustration and turn it into motivation to change the outcome for this season.
Oklahoma City has retained much of their talent from last year and that talent has shown that they are still constantly improving, making the Thunder that much scarier of a team. This team has also shown that they don't just want to make the playoffs or even win the Western Conference Championship, they want to win it all and they want to do it now.
This is why the Thunder can't afford to dwell on the missed opportunities of last year, since that season has come and passed. Instead, they must focus on the task at hand and buckle in for a championship run of their own.
Orlando Magic: Don't Give Up Before the Season Even Starts
Even though training camps are still going and the regular season hasn't begun, the Magic are already being pegged as a lock to finish near the bottom of the league this upcoming season.
This is mainly due to their nasty divorce with Dwight Howard, who is enjoying the glamour of Los Angeles while his team is left with the meager returns of the trade. Even though they don't really have anyone to count on, that doesn't mean this team of guys should write themselves off.
One bright spot is the acquisition of Aaron Afflalo, who may be due for a breakout season in Orlando. If he does indeed rise up to the occasion of playing big minutes for a team desperate for talent, his teammates could rally around him and maybe exceed some of the rock-bottom expectations that have been laid out for them.
Philadelphia 76ers: Build Around Bynum
Though he's not even inked to a long-term deal in Philly, the Sixers should still definitely treat Andrew Bynum as a franchise centerpiece.
He's definitely their best player right now and the Sixers need to produce a good supporting cast around him if they hope to re-sign him for the long haul. Fortunately, Philly is already loaded with some quality talent in the starting lineup to help Bynum, with the likes of Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young.
Once Bynum is fully healthy and getting his practice in with the team, the Sixers will see how valuable his services are, and how they must entrust him as the franchise player if they hope to keep him wearing their red, white and blue.
Phoenix Suns: Move on from the Steve Nash Era
Like the Orlando Magic, the Phoenix Suns are also starting this next season in unfamiliar territory, as they are without their former franchise cornerstone Steve Nash.
But the Suns do have the potential to still hang around the playoff race with the talent that they do have, which makes it especially important not to dwell on the loss of Nash throughout the season. Though there will be times where Nash will be missed, the Suns must focus on the players they have now.
Goran Dragic will now take the reigns of the starting point guard spot in Phoenix and he may finally be able to produce some great numbers as a full time starter and one of the primary scorers for his team.
Also, the new additions of Michael Beasley, Luis Scola, and rookie Kendall Marshall should be able to contribute a solid amount for the Suns and can help Phoenix to move on from the painful memories of what could have been in the Steve Nash era.
Portland Trail Blazers: Embrace the Changes
There has been a lot of changes in Portland, from the front office to the roster.
A lot of these changes have been made to erase the past era of disappointment featuring career-threatening injuries to former centerpieces Greg Oden and Brandon Roy. Now the Blazers are trying to move on with a whole new look and a team centered around the bright spot of the last era, LaMarcus Aldridge.
The Blazers now have a new-look front office and new-look starting five, with a couple of rookies likely to anchor the point guard (Damien Lillard) and center (Meyers Leonard) positions.
Portland must embrace the sudden and drastic changes, as they are definitely for the better. Though they have parted ways with Roy and Oden, the future is looking up in Portland as they continue their path back to the playoffs.
Sacramento Kings: Trust the Coaches
The Sacramento Kings have been rather forgettable for the past few years and a lot of this has to do with the lack of stability in the coaching and roster.
Though star center DeMarcus Cousins has clashed with coaches in the past (namely ex-Kings head coach Paul Westphal), he has definitely taken a liking to current head coach Keith Smart, and has connected in a way with Smart that is beneficial to his own play and the team's overall success.
Now that Smart has a full offseason to work with his players and get a feel for them, this team could be bound for a lot more success. Cousins and the rest of the team seem to be getting the messages Smart is delivering, and their play in the second part of last season began to reflect it.
If Sacramento is able to continue their development of team chemistry, they do have the talent to be a good team in this league and that can become apparent as early as this upcoming season.
San Antonio Spurs: Don't Be Afraid to Rely on the Youth
Everyone knows, and often jokes, about how old the Spurs are as a whole. However, the team continues to make a case as one of the best teams in the league, even with their main players like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, growing older and older.
Now that the current core of San Antonio seems to be coming to a conclusion sooner than later, the Spurs must now begin the process of passing the torch to their youthful players on the roster.
Guys like Kawhi Leonard, DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter are all role players now, but could see themselves thrust into a major role in the near future.
Therefore, the Spurs must begin to instill some trust into the younger guys in order to prepare them for what could be life without Duncan, Ginobili and eventually Tony Parker.
Toronto Raptors: We Must Shake the Image of a Losing Team
Toronto has not been a great team in the past few seasons, and have largely found themselves without a solid franchise star to build around.
Now they may have found both with their recent acquisition of point guard Kyle Lowry, who was having a breakout season last year before missing significant time due to illness.
Along with Lowry, the Raptors also have help in DeMar Derozan, and rookies Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas.
With this talent, the Raptors can now hopefully revert back to the playoff team that they were during the days of Chris Bosh in Toronto. It hasn't been too long since then, so hopefully this season will remind fans in Toronto why they show up to cheer this team and will help them shake the image of being a losing team going nowhere.
Utah Jazz: Spread the Ball Around on Offense
The Utah Jazz will enter the 2012-13 season with a pretty interesting, but potentially dangerous, lineup.
Utah certainly has a good amount of depth at each position, and should use this to their advantage. Like a lot of teams that are fringe playoff-lottery teams, the Jazz don't have a superstar, but rather a lot of good players that are often undervalued.
Two in particular are Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, who have both contributed heavily for the Jazz in the past few years.
Now the Jazz have added Mo Williams and Randy Foye, not to mention the young talent of Enes Kanter, Gordan Heyward and Derrick Favors. There's plenty of weapons for the Jazz to use, and that's why they must learn to move the ball around and keep teams guessing on offense.
If they're able to utilize their players evenly and effectively, the Jazz have the talent to make another appearance in the playoffs and maybe more to come in the near future.
Washington Wizards: Be Patient with the Development
Former first overall draft pick John Wall has not progressed as much as some people expected him to in his sophomore campaign, but to his credit, he still posted respectable numbers for a player who isn't surrounded with the best of talent.
After some major moves by the Wizards front office, Wall now has some quality veterans in the starting to hopefully aid him in his progression. The trade acquisitions of Nene, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor give Wall some long-sought options to pass to and alleviate the burden of carrying the offense.
However, these new faces won't be an immediate fix for Wall and his rookie back court partner Bradley Beal, who are both still very young. Instead, it will hopefully make the development and progression a little smoother and more enjoyable for the young talent on the Wizards.
If they have some patience, there's certainly reason to believe that Washington has the talent to form a great core and become a threat once more in the NBA.