The Biggest Concern for Every NBA Team for 2012-13 Season
Regardless of what the league's head coaches and general managers may admit to in public, every NBA team has a number of things that they're concerned about this season.
In a number of cases, the impending free agency of a future All-Star may have wide-ranging effects on what a franchise may decide to do prior to the NBA's trade deadline.
Meanwhile, a number of coaching staffs around the NBA are trying to mitigate the impact of an injury to one of their key players. And on the lower end of the scale, other teams are simply looking for someone on their roster to step up and assume a leadership role before chaos reigns in the locker room.
Even the league's best teams have a laundry list of concerns, despite how well those clubs may look on paper. And as recent history has taught us, the teams left standing at the end of the year will likely be those who were best able to handle the crises that they faced throughout the season.
Atlanta: Josh Smith
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The mystery surrounding Josh Smith's future won't go away any time soon for the Hawks' front office. The star forward has no desire to sign an extension during the season, and Atlanta could potentially lose its franchise player and receive nothing in return next summer.
Smith is a borderline All-Star, so he's likely to walk away from anything less than a max offer. The Hawks will have plenty of cap space even if they re-sign the the 26-year-old forward, so perhaps the team can convince him to be the cornerstone of a new-look Atlanta roster in 2013-14.
Boston: Rotation Management
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Gone are the days when Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were capable of playing 36 minutes per night. This season, Celtics' head coach Doc Rivers will be limiting both of his stars' playing time to ensure that they'll be ready when the postseason rolls around.
Fortunately for Boston, their second unit is among the best in the entire NBA. Jeff Green will be able to spell Pierce at the 3 spot while the presence of rookies Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo means that Garnett should still have his legs under him come April.
The lack of a backup point guard continues to be a concern for the Celtics, but that should be alleviated once Avery Bradley returns from offseason shoulder surgery.
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It's hard to "teach" toughness, but the Brooklyn Nets will have to find it from somewhere if they have any intention on taking the Atlantic Division crown this season.
While the Nets' frontcourt of Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez is better than what most other teams can boast, neither player has the aggressive attitude commonly associated with those who do most of their work on the low block.
Backup forward Reggie Evans has no shortage of toughness, and getting his approach to infect the rest of the team is one of Avery Johnson's primary goals going forward.
"This team does not have the personality that I thought it would have at this point," said Johnson in an interview with The New York Times in late October. "That has been somewhat of a disappointment."
Charlotte: Lack of Leadership
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Just who, exactly, will be the leader of the Charlotte Bobcats this season? Shooting guard Ben Gordon hasn't been with the team very long, but he appears best suited to handle the responsibility even though he only started a single game during the preseason.
Gerald Henderson and Ramon Sessions may also be in the mix to share the leadership role for Mike Dunlap's team as it looks to put last season's 7-59 record behind it. Having an established leader or two won't suddenly vault the Bobcats to respectability, but it's a good starting point for a team eager to take the first step in the rebuilding process.
Chicago: Derrick Rose
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The reality of the situation is that Derrick Rose may not play a single game this year. His rehab is going well, and he clearly has every desire to suit up as soon as possible, but the Chicago Bulls will be extra cautious before rushing their superstar back onto the court.
What that means is that a three-headed monster of Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson and Marquis Teague will handle most of the point guard duties in Chicago this season. Each is talented enough to handle the responsibility, but each has his own set of drawbacks as well.
There isn't much the Bulls can do at this point except hope that Rose has an accelerated return from his torn ACL. Without him, Chicago will have a difficult time making the postseason in 2012-13.
Cleveland: No. 2 Option
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Kyrie Irving may be an All-Star level talent, but without a consistent No. 2 option beside him, the Cleveland Cavaliers are dead in the water.
Swingman C.J. Miles is the only other Cavs' player besides Irving to average double figures in scoring during the preseason (11.9 PPG), but he isn't the type of player to engender fear in opposing defenses.
No. 4 overall pick Dion Waiters may eventually be the ideal running mate for Irving, but he'll need some time to get used to the grind of the NBA before he can be expected to do great things.
Short of that, the scoring burden will likely fall to one (or both) of the starters in Cleveland's frontcourt: Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao. One way or another, the Cavs are going to have to find 75 or so points per night that don't come directly from Irving, or else, it'll be a long year for Cleveland fans.
Dallas: Dirk Nowitzki
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The fate of the Dallas Mavericks' season (and probably their playoff chances for the next few years as well) rests entirely on Dirk Nowitzki's knee.
The 11-time All-Star is set to miss the next several weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, and the Mavericks simply won't be a contender in the West if Nowitzki isn't at 100 percent this year.
Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Elton Brand and Chris Kaman were solid offseason additions, but there is no player on the Mavericks' roster who can adequately fill Nowitzki's shoes for an extended period of time.
Denver: Lack of Go-to Player
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Who is the best player on the Denver Nuggets?
On nearly all successful teams, there's some sort of a hierarchy. The Denver Nuggets fly in the face of conventional wisdom, as it's not entirely clear who their No. 1 option is.
Andre Iguodala was the go-to player at times during his eight seasons with the 76ers, but the results were mixed at best.
Forward Danilo Gallinari could be that guy but hasn't always shown the willingness to step up in the clutch. The only other reasonable option is point guard Ty Lawson, a fearless competitor whose size (5'11") may limit his effectiveness in late-game situations.
The Nuggets need to find their Batman before too long: A team without a solid closer at the end of games isn't lasting long in the rough-and-tumble battles that await in the NBA playoffs.
Detroit: Questions at Small Forward
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The Pistons have the makings of a talented young team, but their insistence on sticking with Tayshaun Prince is a bit troubling.
The combination of Kyle Singler and Jonas Jerebko deserves to get most of the minutes at small forward for the Pistons as Prince simply isn't as effective as he once was.
If Detroit's goal is to the develop the players who will ultimately complement the Brandon Knight/Greg Monroe/Andre Drummond core, then continuing to start the 32-year-old Prince makes little sense. With Prince on the books for three more seasons and $21.7 million, the Pistons may be stunting the growth of their young players for years to come.
Golden State: Health of Bogut and Curry
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A pair of ankles will determine the fate of the Golden State Warriors in 2012-13, but the ankles belong to two different individuals.
Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry have both dealt with troublesome ankles over the past eight months, but it seems as though those maladies may be a thing of the past—or so the Warriors hope.
Injuries are always the great unknown, and neither player has a strong track record of staying healthy in recent years. If both Bogut and Curry can play 70-plus games this year, expect Golden State to make its first playoff appearance in six years.
Houston: Finding a Diamond in the Rough
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Houston's recent trade for Oklahoma City's James Harden gives the team a much-welcomed boost in star power, but the Rockets still need to find a complementary player to stand out from the crowd this season.
Jeremy Lin will benefit from Harden's arrival, but is he capable of being a long-term No. 2 option? Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas have impressed, so far, as rookies, but it's hard to project what they'll be able to contribute over the course of an 82-game season.
The Rockets' focus this year shouldn't be on wins and losses; if one of the team's young talents emerges as a potential star, the 2012-13 campaign should be deemed a success.
Indiana: Bench Play
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The Indiana Pacers have one of the better starting lineups in the league, but their bench is filled with a number of question marks.
Gerald Green is a super-athletic swingman, but was his resurgence last year a sign of things to come? Is Lance Stephenson a capable option at the backup shooting guard spot? And with George Hill moving to the starting five, is D.J. Augustin talented enough to lead the team for 10-15 minutes per night?
The pure ability of Danny Granger, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert will make most of the questions above moot: Indiana is simply more talented than most of the teams in the East. That said, hte Pacers' bench will play an important role this season, and it remains to be seen if the reserves are up to the challenge.
Los Angeles Clippers: General Health
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The Clippers seem to be relatively healthy (with the exception of Chauncey Billups), but the fear of injury will always linger in Lob City.
Blake Griffin (who has a history of knee problems) is only a few months removed from tearing his meniscus while preparing for the 2012 London Olympics. Meanwhile, Chris Paul had surgery on his thumb in August after he was injured during the Team USA training camp this past summer.
Los Angeles is fortunate in that neither of its two stars is set to miss any regular-season games, but there has to be some concern that these relatively minor injuries may lead to more serious health issues down the road.
Los Angeles Lakers: Being Public Enemy No. 1
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Being the best team on paper is one thing—converting those preseason accolades into tangible success is another matter entirely.
As we learned with the Miami Heat early in the 2010-11 season, it's hard for a newly formed "superteam" to run roughshod over the league when the other 29 teams are gunning for you every night.
The Lakers are going to be tested every single time that they step out onto the floor this season, and through that adversity, they may be able to develop the "Us vs. the World" attitude that they'll need to capture the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June.
The talent is there, but whether the Lakers have the mental makeup to live up to the great expectations foisted upon them remains to be seen.
Memphis: Will This Team Ever Take the Next Step?
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Is this the year that the Memphis Grizzlies finally make the leap to contender status?
After making the Western Conference semifinals in 2010-11, the team actually took a step back last season, failing to advance past the first round of the playoffs. The Grizzlies did finish the regular season with a sparkling 41-25 record, and with their entire starting five returning, The Grindhouse should be rocking this year.
It's hard to say exactly what Memphis is lacking, but the team is clearly a piece or two away from being a legit threat in the Western Conference. Perhaps, the concern about the Grizzlies is based on little more than the team needing to "pay its dues" before it can make a statement on the postseason stage.
Miami: Working Newcomers into the Lineup
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The Miami Heat already have the blueprint for winning the NBA title, but the trick now is to repeat the feat while working both Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis into the mix.
Erik Spoelstra's move to a "positionless" lineup means that Allen and Lewis should have little problem fitting into Miami's scheme given the fact that each of the "Three Kings" (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh) are all capable of playing multiple positions.
However, it also means that Miami will be hard-pressed to match up at times with their opponents' size. The onus is on Spoelstra to strike that perfect balance, and if he can do so without robbing any of his stars of their effectiveness, expect another parade in South Beach in 2013.
Milwaukee: Making the Jennings/Ellis Marriage Work
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The Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis arrangement harkens back to the Knicks' failed 2006 experiment that paired Stephon Marbury alongside Steve Francis. The early returns for the Bucks haven't been great, but the 2012-13 season is the first full campaign that their dynamic backcourt will get to spend together (barring a midseason trade).
Teams that have had a pair of score-first point guards as their two best players typically haven't had all that much success, but Milwaukee is trying to buck tradition (no pun intended) with Jennings and Ellis.
A decision on whether the franchise intends to employ this strategy long term needs to be made quickly, however. Jennings is a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
Minnesota: Kevin Love's Hand
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A set of knuckle push-ups gone awry won't just cause Kevin Love to miss at least the first month of the season, but it will force the Minnesota Timberwolves to rally in his absence.
Forward Derrick Williams will be called upon to take his game to the next level this season, but the second-year player has yet to show any sort of consistency.
Newcomers Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved should be able to replace Love's scoring output, but Williams will need to be a force on the low blocks if the Timberwolves have any aspirations for a postseason berth.
The absence of Ricky Rubio doesn't exactly help matters, either. If Rick Adelman can lead this team to a .500 this season, he deserves to be considered for Coach of the Year honors.
New Orleans: Keeping Davis and Rivers Steady
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Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers are set to lose more basketball games this season than either of them have over the past five years.
It's a simple fact that most rookies are aware of when drafted by one of the league's weaker teams, but knowing it ahead of time doesn't make the losing less painful. Hornets' head coach Monty Williams will need to make sure that Davis and Rivers don't get discouraged during the year—if so, it could have a negative effect on their development.
The two players (along with shooting guard Eric Gordon) are the cornerstones of the rebuilding effort in the Crescent City, and a less-than-ideal experience in their first NBA season may linger once the two reach the free-agent market a few years down the road.
New York: Age
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Let the following statement sink in for a moment: According to research done by STATS, LLC, the average age of a player in the Knicks' 13-man rotation is 32 years and 240 days.
Not only is that the oldest mark in NBA history, but it makes it impossible to believe that this team will be able to hold up for an entire 82-game season.
To makes matters worse, head coach Mike Woodson has to monitor the minutes of his older players with one of his stars on the shelf, as power forward Amar'e Stoudemire is out at least six weeks, according to Chris Broussard of ESPN.
It's one thing for a team to have the experience necessary to make a deep run in the playoffs. It's another thing entirely to have a roster full of players who are closer to retirement than they are to their respective primes.
Oklahoma City: Life Without James Harden
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And just like that, James Harden is out and Kevin Martin is in. Oklahoma City's "Big Three" had developed a strong bond over the past few seasons, but now, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will have to work Martin into mix as the team attempts to make the NBA Finals for the second year in a row.
The move made fiscal sense for the Thunder, but there is some underlying concern that Martin simply won't give the team the same type of production that it got from Harden. And while Oklahoma City may be better positioned for the future, their prospects in the short term may have taken a noticeable hit.
Orlando: Figuring Out a Plan for the Future
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The Magic seem like a team without much of a plan and will spend most of these next two years trying to rid themselves of salary commitments. This season alone, the Magic have more than $63 million tied up in a roster that can be considered mediocre at best.
Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis are Orlando's best players, and the two of them wouldn't start on a least a dozen teams around the league. Their situation doesn't figure to improve all that much next season, though the draft picks that the team acquired in the Dwight Howard trade do offer a glimmer of hope for the future.
Philadelphia: Andrew Bynum's Knee
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If what we saw in the preseason is any indication, Andrew Bynum's knee is going to be an issue all year for the Philadelphia 76ers. Bynum has barely practiced with the team at this point and will likely need at least a week or two before he's anywhere close to game shape.
Complicating the matter even further is Bynum's contract situation. The 7-foot center is on the last year of his deal and will undoubtedly be seeking a max extension this offseason.
The 76ers may not be willing to commit five years and $100 million to Bynum if he isn't consistently out on the court, so it'll be interesting to see how the negotiations play out a few months from now.
Phoenix: No Star Power
Having at least one star player is mandatory for success in the NBA, so the Phoenix Suns clearly have their work cut out for them this season.
Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat are fine talents, but neither is what you would consider a star. For the most part, the Suns' roster is filled with guys who have some ability, but never quite fit in with their former teams.
Everything about the Suns screams "average," and they'll struggle to gain any traction in a difficult Western Conference.
Portland: Youth and Inexperience
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Portland's front office knows that the team is at least a year or two from making noise in the Western Conference, but the Trail Blazers' relative inexperience still remains a concern.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge was only drafted six summers ago, but he's more or less the elder statesman of a Portland team that will be exciting to watch in 2012-13.
They may not have the sizzle and pizazz of the Denver Nuggets, but if you want to get in on the ground floor of the Trail Blazers' youth movement, the time is now. Just know that it will take some time for the team to do much of note as far as the playoffs are concerned.
Sacramento: Finding a Home
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The Kings are, perhaps, the only team where the biggest concern has little to do with their on-court performance.
The 2012-13 season may be the last year that the team calls Sacramento home. While rumors of a move to Virginia Beach have been refuted, the Kings have flirted with a number of other cities in recent years.
Securing a new arena deal is the team's No. 1 priority, but the Kings' ownership group (led by Gavin, George and Joe Maloof) turned down a proposed $390 million deal for a new facility in downtown Sacramento.
With Seattle and Anaheim both willing to serve as the future home of the Kings, expect this saga to get a lot more interesting over the next 12 months.
San Antonio: Preparing for Post-Tim Duncan Era
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The torch is ready to be passed to San Antonio Spurs' forward Kawhi Leonard, but is he up for the challenge?
Leonard is the heir apparent to Tim Duncan in the Alamo City, and the 2012-13 season will prove whether he's ready to assume the mantle. The 21-year-old forward has all of the makings of a star, but his suspect play during the preseason (6.7 PPG on 26.5 percent shooting) is enough for the Spurs to take pause.
San Antonio's committee-like approach only goes so far—just like every other franchise, the Spurs still needs a player whom they can rely on in clutch situations. This year, head coach Gregg Popovich has to find out if Leonard can indeed be that guy.
Toronto: Lack of Firepower
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Scoring continues to be an issue for the Toronto Raptors, though they should be much improved from the unit that finished 28th in points per game in 2011-12 (90.7 PPG).
New additions Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas helped the Raptors score an impressive 102.6 points per game during the exhibition season, but whether that offensive output can be sustained when the games actually count is another matter entirely.
Toronto still appears to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the Eastern Conference playoff hunt, but if the team can score a bit more efficiently than last season, the No. 8 seed isn't completely out of the question.
Utah: Working Favors and Kanter into the Mix
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Utah's best two players start at the 4 and 5 spots. The team's third- and fourth-best talents are also in the frontcourt as well, making Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin's task of giving them all quality minutes extraordinarily difficult.
Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson will get the lion's share of the minutes—and rightly so. But Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter spending 30-plus minutes per night on the bench each isn't good for their development.
The Jazz may have to get a bit creative with their rotations, but if they can work their four bigs into the mix effectively, few teams will be able to match their overall size and skill level.
Washington: John Wall's Evolution
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For John Wall, year three is everything.
Wall's maturation into an elite-level point guard basically stalled in 2011-12. His averages across the board were pretty much the same as they were during his rookie year, and his shot selection was only slightly improved.
With Bradley Beal as a running mate (instead of the shoot first, ask questions later Jordan Crawford), Wall won't always be required to initiate the Wizards' offense in the halfcourt. The change should give the 6'4" point guard more freedom to operate and (hopefully) evolve into the top-20 talent that many have projected him to become.