Playing Buy or Sell with Every NBA Team's 2012-13 Playoff Chances
At the start of every NBA season, fans start having thoughts of their teams in the playoffs because they are just conditioned to get their hopes up. Given the events of this offseason, some teams have greatly improved their postseason odds, and as a result, they have gone from being pretenders to contenders. Others find themselves on the brink of the playoff chase, hoping to sneak into the postseason.
One team that is definitely playoff bound is the Los Angeles Lakers, who might have the best starting lineup in the NBA. The same can be said for the new-look Knicks, who may as well have two starting lineups with their killer second unit. Yet regarding teams like the Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks, their playoff chances in 2012-13 aren't so clear. Both teams are extremely young, but have the talent capable of taking them far.
Long story short, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas are going to have a field day this NBA season. For the first time in what feels like forever, the playing field is actually level, and there is no way to tell just who is going to go all the way. If you're the gambling type and want to pick a winner with which you'll feel comfortable, make sure that you have the necessary knowledge on which teams to buy or sell before the actual bet is placed.
The Hawks may not have Joe Johnson at shooting guard anymore, but their isolation system is still set up for success. The only difference is that the face of the offense is now Josh Smith, who can score points while also providing excellent defense. The best part is that he has some help in the form of new point guard Devin Harris, who was acquired from the Utah Jazz for the disappointing Marvin Williams.
On top of that, Atlanta has one of the toughest defensive units apart from the pesky Smith. Al Horford is healthy and will provide some valuable help in the paint, and Jeff Teague will be a phenomenal defensive point guard off the bench. Throw in Lou Williams, who didn't start one game last season and still led the Philadelphia 76ers in scoring, and the Hawks are sure to make a lot of noise in the Southeast Division.
Sure, the Celtics may be getting old, but GM Danny Ainge did a fine job of slowly ushering in the new blood this summer. Not only did he hang onto a key veteran like Kevin Garnett and bring in some more experience in Jason Terry, but he replaced Ray Allen with Courtney Lee, another great three-point shooter. In spite of the fact that the team lost the all-time leader in three-pointers in NBA history, Boston still looks fine headed into 2012-13.
More importantly, the dynamic Rajon Rondo is still running the point. That gives Boston a trio of Garnett, Rondo and Paul Pierce. This group has been playing together for a long time and won a championship in 2008, which shows just how great the chemistry is between the three of them.
Age is nothing but a number, and the Celtics will contend for a playoff spot once again.
If there's one team that people seem to be intrigued by this season, it's the Brooklyn Nets. After spending 35 years playing in New Jersey, team owner Mikhail Prokhorov has moved the team into a fancy new arena in Brooklyn, the Barclays Center, and accordingly renamed the team. GM Billy King also did a fine job of re-signing star point guard Deron Williams and forwards Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace, with the trade for scorer Joe Johnson being the icing on the cake.
That said, with a starting lineup featuring that much talent, it's hard to not peg the Nets as a lock for the playoffs. The Miami Heat proved that a stacked starting lineup can play a great role in winning a spot in the NBA Finals, even if the bench players are hit or miss. Brooklyn has the same issue this year, but the depth and range in its starting five may very well be more than enough to make up for what it lacks in bench reliability.
The Bobcats set the record for worst NBA season in 2011-12, and their lone goal this season should be to merely improve, even if it's just by a few wins. Yet owner Michael Jordan and GM Rich Cho chose to be gamblers instead of conventional when they announced that their head coaching vacancy would be filled by Mike Dunlap, whose only head coaching experience has been on the college level. Before the season even started, a questionable decision that could potentially hurt the team was made.
On top of that, Cho didn't do much in terms of bringing in new talent, with Charlotte's biggest offseason acquisitions being guards Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon. Sessions can hold his own at point guard but isn't exactly elite, and Gordon is little more than a shooter. Throw in rookie and No. 2 pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who has only averaged 6.2 points during the preseason, and the Bobcats just appear too young to make a statement in the tough Southeast Division.
Oh, and the presence of two cancerous contracts belonging to Tyrus Thomas and DeSagana Diop doesn't help matters either.
The Bulls already have an uphill battle this season, as point guard Derrick Rose is still rehabbing a knee injury and may not be back until the All-Star Break, if at all this season. He is just a couple of seasons removed from his MVP season and genuinely makes his team better. Without him, there's no way that the Bulls would have been the best team in the NBA the past two seasons.
That said, Chicago is going to have to rely on its frontcourt to carry them this season. This means that Carlos Boozer is going to have to start playing like a superstar again and Joakim Noah is going to need to start living up to his superstar potential. In terms of on-court leadership, Luol Deng will need to assume that role and also shoulder most of the scoring.
However, though they will be at a great disadvantage entering 2012-13, the Bulls still have what it takes to make a run at the playoffs, and it lies within coach Tom Thibodeau. The players respond very well to him and genuinely seem to enjoy playing for the man. If there's anyone who can unite Chicago in the face of adversity, it's him, and he'll have no problem doing it this year.
The Cavaliers are definitely headed in the right direction with second-year point guard Kyrie Irving running the offense, but he and his teammates have a long way to go before bringing a new era of playoff success to Cleveland. After him, the rest of the team is very young and inexperienced, with no well-rounded veteran to unite them and serve as mentor. This role could be filled by center Anderson Varejao, but his greatest strength is his defense, and his tendency to get injured prevents him from making enough of a difference.
Unless Irving and rookies Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller instantly gel on the court and the rookie duo immediately start getting starter's minutes, the Cavaliers will see another season that shows improvement, but not enough to play with the big boys in the postseason. Until then, Irving is the only one who can be relied upon to consistently put points on the board, and with a one-dimensional offense, the best plan is to sell, sell and sell some more.
Like Chicago, Dallas will also be at something of a disadvantage to start the season, as star forward Dirk Nowitzki is expected to miss six weeks following knee surgery. This likely means that a majority of the scoring duties will be done by one of the following: O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman or rookie Jae Crowder.
While some fans may immediately jump to the conclusion of a superstar being injured being equivalent with a death sentence, the Mavericks are going to be just fine. Kaman can be a fine scoring presence when healthy, and he will fill the void at center that hampered the team all of last year. Plus, Crowder is starting to look like the eventual successor to current team pest Shawn Marion. Long story short, Dallas once again has the depth that helped it to an NBA championship in 2011.
Assuming Nowitzki can come back at full strength and the rest of the team can play together efficiently, Dallas will once again contend for a playoff spot rather than stumble into one as it did in 2012.
Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri made a great decision when he chose to get involved in the Dwight Howard trade. His team acquired Andre Iguodala from the Philadelphia 76ers and sent Al Harrington and Arron Afflalo to the Orlando Magic. In the blink of an eye, Iguodala joined a lineup that also features phenomenal athletes like Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried and Javale McGee along with sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari.
While the starting lineup is all well and good, the Nuggets also have some fine leadership in veteran Andre Miller, who remains a fine passer despite being 36 years old. The ever-improving Wilson Chandler also provides a spark off the bench.
Yet the damage that the Nuggets do this year is going to be with their new starting lineup. Each of these five men plays ridiculously hard night after night, and it's going to be hard for any team to keep up with them in terms of pure strength. This can only spell success in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
The Pistons are moving in the right direction, but aren't anywhere near getting back to the playoffs. The frontcourt looks great in the form of big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, but the rest of the team, save for Tayshaun Prince, is just too young.
Second-year point guard Brandon Knight is a fine leader in the making, but he still needs to decide if he's going to be a pass or score-first floor general. He averaged 12.8 points per game last season, but his 3.8 assists per contest are way too low for a point guard and he definitely needs to improve both there and in shot selection, not to mention defense.
More importantly, the Pistons have little to no depth on the bench. Charlie Villanueva and Corey Maggette are both inefficient shooters, and there's no telling how the rest of the second unit will do, let alone if they can bring home the victory in the event of the starters creating a blowout.
Golden State Warriors
Golden State only won 23 games last season, but in all fairness, that can be attributed to hot-shooting point guard Stephen Curry only playing in 26 games and the team not having a reliable option at center. This season, Curry is healthy again, and Andrew Bogut should provide some quality minutes in the paint as long as he can stay healthy.
However, though talented, the Warriors are one of those teams that is just on the bubble when it comes to contending for a playoff spot. They have the talent to make the postseason, but could also become a victim of their youth. Out of the entire roster, the only player over age 30 is 32-year-old Richard Jefferson, whose role this year has yet to be defined.
This leaves the production in the hands of youngsters like second-year shooting guard Klay Thompson and rookie Harrison Barnes, with David Lee providing some great defense and inside scoring. Thus, given how deep and talented the Western Conference is, it's just too much of a risk to bet on Golden State to make the playoffs.
The Rockets had a busy offseason both in the draft and free agency, but GM Daryl Morey seems to be relying a bit heavily on new point guard Jeremy Lin of "Linsanity" fame. The Harvard grad has been a great passer and defender this preseason, but his offensive game has been shoddy, as his preferred fast-paced style doesn't mesh well with coach Kevin McHale's system. McHale would rather someone like Kevin Martin or maybe rookie Jeremy Lamb handle the scoring, with Lin just playing defense and getting them the ball.
Yet aside from Lin's struggles, the Rockets gave $25.1 million to career backup Omer Asik, who is penciled in as the starting center. While he has decent size, he doesn't exactly have elite skills, and this will definitely hurt Houston.
On top of that, a good portion of how the season plays out seems to rest on the production of the three rookies Morey selected in the first round of last summer's draft: Lamb, Royce White and Terrence Jones.
Though the Rockets just barely missed the playoffs last season, they are just too young and inconsistent to play on that same level again and will definitely fall in the standings.
The Pacers were a pleasant surprise last season, rocketing up the standings into the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, so fans surely have some high expectations going into the season. This time around, they have a good deal of depth, as both George Hill and D.J. Augustin should see time at the point, and Gerald Green could see valuable minutes at small forward after doing fine work for the Nets in the second half of last season.
Coach Frank Vogel has a dangerous frontcourt, as center Roy Hibbert is back with the team on a long-term deal and will continue to blossom into a dominant presence on both ends of the floor. Combine all of that with what is sure to be another great season from star Danny Granger, and Indiana will be a playoff town again in 2013.
Los Angeles Clippers
Last season, the Clippers were Lob City. This season, they'll be Lob Metropolis, as every key player from last year's dream campaign is coming back, plus a dangerous second unit headlined by Jamal Crawford and veteran Grant Hill. If the fans had reason to smile in 2012, 2013 will have them so overwhelmed with joy that they'll probably start crying out of sheer happiness.
Simply put, there is no reason to believe that the Clippers won't improve with Chris Paul still running the point and Blake Griffin still throwing down some thunderous dunks. Crawford and Hill will provide quality minutes off the bench, and Chauncey Billups will surely turn in another good season once he returns from his Achilles injury.
Oh, and let's not forget that Lamar Odom will play with a new fire flowing through his veins as he comes back, and last season, the worst of his career, becomes a distant memory. It's not just that the Clippers will make the playoffs, but rather that they simply HAVE to after adding all of the new talent they did over the summer.
Los Angeles Lakers
For way too long, the Lakers were a team with a one-sided offense. Though they have won five championships since 2000, each game always seemed to be the same. Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant were always the stars of the night, and once Shaq was gone, Kobe took over the spotlight and occasionally let Pau Gasol be the go-to guy. This year, however, the Lakers are going to be one of the most entertaining teams to watch.
Coach Mike Brown's starting lineup is now as follows: Steve Nash at point guard (the team's first true floor general since Nick Van Exel), Kobe Bryant at shooting guard, Metta World Peace at small forward, Pau Gasol at power forward and three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard at center. The craziest part is that a great scorer in Antawn Jamison is set to be the sixth man, while Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks should also provide quality minutes off the bench.
Long story short, to say that the Lakers are in for a bad season is beyond a foolish thing to say. In fact, it's just plain wrong.
Once a group of lovable losers, the Grizzlies have become a young and hungry NBA team that only continues to improve. After being the No. 8 seed and advancing to the Conference Semifinals in 2011, Memphis finished fourth in the Western Conference in 2012 before losing to the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs.
The 2012-13 squad doesn't look much different compared to last year's team, but look for Mike Conley to continue developing as a point guard and become an unstoppable force on defense. At the same time, look for Marc Gasol to have another great season at center and for Rudy Gay to make his first All-Star team.
Just where Memphis will end up in the standings remains to be seen, but its passion and devotion to excellence will carry it into the playoffs either as a high or a low seed.
Simply put, take the Miami Heat team that won an NBA championship last season and add future Hall of Famer Ray Allen to the roster. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the recipe for greatness!
There's no doubt that with a backcourt headlined by Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, the Bucks are going to score a lot of points this season. Throw in sharpshooter Mike Dunleavy, and the offense will be raining threes.
However, in the frontcourt, Milwaukee has one giant mess.
Samuel Dalembert is going to start at center, but power forward is a little tricky. At the moment, head coach Scott Skiles has three men who can do well there: Ersan Ilyasova, Drew Gooden and rookie John Henson. Ilyasova is expected to be the starter after breaking out last season and Henson has a tremendous upside despite being a bit undersized at 215 pounds, while Gooden is remarkably inconsistent.
However, the former Kansas Jayhawk is entering the third year of a five-year deal worth $32 million. Simply putting him on the bench is not an option, as GM John Hammond surely wants to get some sort of return on investment. That said, there is really no way to tell just how good the Bucks' defensive game will be outside of Dalembert and the pesky Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
With that much uncertainty up front, look for the Bucks to take an unfortunate step back in 2013 unless Henson proves to be something of a surprise off the bench.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have a great looking team headed into the 2012-13 season, but they'll face an uphill battle in the beginning, as point guard Ricky Rubio is still recovering from ACL surgery and star power forward Kevin Love is set to miss about two months with a broken hand.
Minnesota, however, should be fine for the beginning stretch with blossoming center Nikola Pekovic, second-year man Derrick Williams and returning ex-NBA stars Andre Kirilenko and Brandon Roy.
The Timberwolves' greatest strength is depth, and head coach Rick Adelman is going to utilize it to his greatest advantage. In areas that may suffer with Love and Rubio out of the lineup, others will step up and give an extra effort.
Depth is so crucial in the NBA, and it will be the biggest reason the Wolves get back to the postseason.
New Orleans Hornets
New Orleans only won 21 games last season, but that can be attributed to 2011-12 being an adjustment period for it, as the season began shortly after GM Dell Demps traded star point guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers. The fact that the main piece of the return package, guard Eric Gordon, only played in nine games due to injury didn't help matters either.
Sure enough, Demps had a busy offseason and made many improvements to the roster, namely drafting forward Anthony Davis out of Kentucky with the first overall pick in the draft and then Duke guard Austin Rivers with the 10th selection. He also re-signed Gordon to a long-term deal and brought in reigning Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson to play power forward. As a whole, the roster looks much better than it did last season.
However, despite the improvements, the Hornets aren't quite ready to contend for a playoff spot yet. Davis and Rivers are only 19 and 20 years old and still have a lot to learn about competing on the NBA level, and New Orleans' bench depth is questionable at best.
Will the team win more than 21 games in 2012-13? Absolutely. Will it be a significantly higher number? Probably not.
New York Knicks
Though the Knicks have a good team on paper and tons of potential to do well, they are also the oldest team in the NBA and are already dealing with multiple injuries. Not only is second-year guard and defensive specialist Iman Shumpert out until January as he recovers from ACL surgery, but center Marcus Camby has yet to play this preseason due to a calf injury, and it was just announced that Amar'e Stoudemire has a ruptured knee cyst and will be out for a few weeks.
Once blessed with depth, the Knicks will have to rely heavily on Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, not to mention electrifying bench shooters in J.R. Smith and Steve Novak, rather than use that depth to create mismatches.
However, despite these small setbacks, the Knicks are still going to do quite well in 2012-13. For every starter, there is a bench player more than capable of picking up the slack, be it Jason Kidd for Raymond Felton or Ronnie Brewer for Shumpert. Barring any other injury surprises, fans should have plenty of reasons to cheer this season.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder continued their improvement streak last season as they represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals, losing to the Miami Heat in five games. Rather than make overwhelming changes to the roster or coaching staff, the team looks essentially the same heading into 2012-13.
The only major additions were those of center Hasheem Thabeet, who will more than likely be a non-factor, and rookie forward Perry Jones III, taken with the No. 28 pick in the draft and not likely to see significant minutes this year.
Still, Kevin Durant is going for a fourth consecutive NBA scoring title and Oklahoma City's entire core remains intact. Given its commitment to winning, it's safe to say that it'll be playoff bound once again in 2013.
Simply put, there is little to no evidence to suggest that the Orlando Magic will make the playoffs in 2012-13. They play in the Southeast Division, which already contains the deeply talented Atlanta Hawks and defending-champion Miami Heat, so the odds are already stacked against them. More importantly, now that Dwight Howard has been traded, the team is completely different and doesn't really have consistent dominance in the middle save for Glen "Big Baby" Davis.
On top of that, the Magic have a rookie head coach in Jacque Vaughn (pictured). Combine his inexperience with a team about to go through a rebuilding phase, not to mention the fact that Hedo Turkoglu's terrible contract is still on the books, and it's obvious that an NBA team will be going to Disneyland at the end of the season. It just won't be the Magic.
Doug Collins had the Sixers playing a defense-oriented and pure team game last season, but the lack of a true go-to star led to a late season collapse. The only reason they advanced to the second round of the playoffs was because Derrick Rose hurt his knee. Without Andre Iguodala, many may believe the Sixers will take a slide in the standings, but they are actually looking a lot better.
You see, as part of the Dwight Howard trade that saw Iguodala head to Denver, Philadelphia received center Andrew Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers and guard Jason Richardson from the Orlando Magic. Team management also signed shooter Nick Young to be the team's new sixth man. This new group of players joins an already-talented young core that features point guard Jrue Holiday and forward Evan Turner.
Assuming the rest of the team continues to improve and Bynum stays healthy, Philadelphia is going to be a fun team to watch in 2012-13. The Eastern Conference is looking tougher and tougher by the day, but the Sixers have the drive and passion to make the playoffs, even if it's as a low seed.
The Suns are going to continue playing a fast-paced offense this season, but they will be without Steve Nash at point guard. In his place is Goran Dragic, whose style of play is perfect for Phoenix's system. The presence of a phenomenal scorer and shooter in Michael Beasley will also help the Suns compete in the Western Conference.
However, while offense wins games, defense wins championships, and given how competitive the Western Conference is, Phoenix is going to be left on the outside looking in. Marcin Gortat is a fine center, but new power forward Luis Scola isn't used to playing a fast-paced game and could go through something of an adjustment period.
In the end, though they may put up a good fight for the final spot, the Suns just won't shine brightly enough to be a playoff team.
Portland Trail Blazers
Like the aforementioned Houston Rockets, the Portland Trail Blazers just seem to be banking too much on rookies this season. They have some talented players in LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, and while rookie point guard Damian Lillard is sure to provide a spark of offense, he's still a rookie with a lot to learn. The same can be said for center Meyers Leonard, who moves awkwardly up and down the court and really needs to fine-tune his defensive game.
That said, the only real locks for decent numbers in Portland this year are Aldridge, Batum, Wesley Matthews and J.J. Hickson. Everyone else is either too young or too inconsistent to make an impact, save for Lillard. The fact that Terry Stotts and his 115-168 career coaching record are patrolling the sidelines doesn't help matters either.
Thus, though the Trail Blazers may play in the Rose City, nobody will be stopping to smell the flowers come playoff time.
Head coach Keith Smart has gotten this young Kings squad to respond well to him, as DeMarcus Cousins is slowly turning into a fine center, and Tyreke Evans is slowly but surely adjusting to life at small forward.
This season should see some improvement, as Sacramento has some more depth on the bench, namely in the form of point guard Aaron Brooks and rookie power forward Thomas Robinson, who, at 6'10", 237 pounds, has the potential to become a more durable Amar'e Stoudemire. However, Kings fans shouldn't get so excited before tipoff.
While Sacramento is surely headed in the right direction with Smart at the helm, it still has the misfortune of playing not only in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, but in a tough Pacific Division that features the talented Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, not to mention the hit or miss Phoenix Suns.
That said, while their win total will exceed last season's mark of 22, it won't be enough for the Kings to return to the playoffs.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs may be an older team whose core veterans are starting to slow down with age, but they still have enough gas left in the tank that the Spurs have finished as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference each of the past two seasons. Tim Duncan can still stand and bang under the basket with the best big men in the NBA, and Manu Ginobili is still a phenomenal shooter and pest despite being injury-prone.
The core group of Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker has won three rings together, and given how Duncan signed a three-year deal over the summer to remain in San Antonio, they aren't going to be satisfied until they win a fourth.
Given how head coach Gregg Popovich is slowly starting to incorporate younger players into the rotation, such as second-year man Kawhi Leonard and shooter Gary Neal, the Spurs are only going to get more and more dangerous over the next few years. Popovich is a basketball genius, and unless Duncan or Parker goes down with a devastating injury, the Spurs will continue to be a Western Conference powerhouse in 2012-13.
The Raptors have a much-improved roster heading into the season, namely with rookie center Jonas Valanciunas and new point guard Kyle Lowry. GM Bryan Colangelo committed to making the team competitive during the offseason and did an overall good job in acquiring Lowry and signing the athletic Landry Fields to come off the bench.
Still, while the Raptors should be a good team moving forward, this season is going to be something of a Litmus test. The starting five (as of now) are as follows: Valanciunas at center, Andrea Bargnani at power forward, DeMar DeRozan at small forward, with Ross and Lowry manning the guard positions. Though each of these five men is talented, they haven't played a full season together as a unit and will need to adjust to each other's skills.
Given how talented the East is already this season, Canada will be without playoff basketball yet again.
The Jazz are coming off a season that saw them charge into the playoffs over the final month of the season, and there's every expectation that they'll be better this season. Unfortunately, that simply isn't going to happen in spite of both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson continuing to do fine work under the basket on both sides of the floor.
You see, one of Utah's best players during last year's playoff run was point guard Devin Harris, who is a phenomenal scorer. Yet during the offseason, he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks for a disappointing small forward in Marvin Williams, and Mo Williams was later acquired by way of the Lamar Odom trade. While Williams has been able to hold his own at the point, he plays very impulsively on offense and clearly prefers to shoot the ball rather than pass it.
This is the recipe for a team chemistry nightmare, and given the impending rise of the Minnesota Timberwolves, there will be some sour notes playing in Salt Lake City once the regular season ends.
The Wizards are going to be without star point guard John Wall until late November, but they already made great strides this offseason in trading away Rashard Lewis' bloated contract to the New Orleans Hornets for Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor. Combined with Nene, Washington finally has the veteran leadership it has craved for the past few seasons. Drafting athletic guard Bradley Beal with the No. 3 pick will prove to be a great decision as well.
Unfortunately, though they appear to be headed in the right direction, the Wizards are still just too young a team to make a statement in the Eastern Conference. Wall has yet to really blossom as a point guard and the team as a whole has seemed very immature. Hopefully, the new veterans can help alleviate that undesirable symptom.
Yet attitudes cannot be changed overnight, and unless Wizards coach Randy Wittman has a trick up his sleeve, Washington will be without playoff basketball once again in 2013.