The 1 Nightmare That Keeps Every NBA Coach Up at Night

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2012

The 1 Nightmare That Keeps Every NBA Coach Up at Night

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    Each NBA franchise has its own set of problems, risks and drama—and that makes for a worried head coach. 

    Some coaches' problems are much bigger than other coaches, and every team's worst-case scenario is different.

    Injury-prone superstars tend to give coaches nightmares, but so do roster deficiencies and flaws or shortcomings on the court.

    What is the one scary scenario that keeps every coach up at night?

Washington Wizards: Surpassed by Charlotte in Southeast

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    There's a distinct chance that the Washington Wizards could lose 50 or more games this season, especially considering their rough start without John Wall.

    At the cellar of the Southeast Division, it's a battle between coaches in the first full year with a new team, and Washington's Randy Wittman doesn't want to fall to Charlotte's Mike Dunlap.

    The Bobcats had a horrendous 2011-12 season, so it would be extremely embarrassing for the Wizards if Charlotte prevailed in the season series and had a better overall record in 2012-13.

    This was supposed to be the year Washington took the step to third place in the division, but the idea of a fifth-place finish makes for a sleepless Wittman.

Utah Jazz: Management Whiffs in Free Agency

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    This potential nightmare isn't an indictment of the Utah Jazz front office, it's an observation that the 2013 offseason could be one of drastic change.

    When small-market teams have lots of cap room in an offseason, it's much more dicey than it is for big market teams.

    Utah could end up overpaying in its efforts to re-sign stars Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mo Williams. Or it could end up letting two of the three walk and failing to adequately replace them.

    That would be a living nightmare for Tyrone Corbin in 2013-14 and beyond.

Toronto Raptors: Landry Fields and Terrence Ross Don't Pan Out at All

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    If Landry Fields and Terrence Ross continue to play the way they have in the early going, this nightmare could very well come true for Dwane Casey and the Toronto Raptors.

    General manager Bryan Colangelo grabbed Ross with the eighth pick in the 2012 NBA draft. Thus far, he hasn't played like a lottery pick, shooting just 25 percent from distance in less than nine minutes per game.

    Fields got a healthy payday over the summer, and the Raptors have almost $19 million invested in him. To call his start disappointing is an understatement, as he's shooting 21 percent from the field and scoring just 2.4 points in 21 minutes per game.

San Antonio Spurs: The End of the Big Three

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    It's going to happen at some point, but what if it happens in a hurry?

    Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are fixtures with the San Antonio Spurs. When they cease to be the Big Three we know and love, Gregg Popovich will be at a crossroads.

    What if the 2011-12 season was their last great year together?

    If injuries or a mediocre team effort keep them from contention in 2012-13, it would be a big bummer for Popovich, Spurs fans and basketball fans all over the globe.

Sacramento Kings: Failed Chemistry and Possible Move

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    The Sacramento Kings have tried to piece together a competitive crew of floor generals, and the talent is there.

    Head coach Keith Smart has point guards Aaron Brooks and Isaiah Thomas, along with combo guards Tyreke Evans and Jimmer Fredette. Kings fans are expecting big things out of the first three, but it hasn't happened yet. None of them have more than 3.2 assists per game.

    Smart's biggest fear might be that these point guards won't ever mesh with the squad and can't figure out how to direct an efficient attack.

    If the club actually decided to move, the lack of chemistry in 2012-13 would signal an end to Smart's time with the franchise.

Portland Trail Blazers: Miss 8th Seed by Giving Up 700 Points in Last 6 Games

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    Terry Stotts is at the helm of an exciting, revamped Portland Trail Blazers squad that features a trio of young playmakers.

    He possesses a star power forward in LaMarcus Aldrige, a productive utility-man in Nicolas Batum and a dynamic point guard in Damian Lillard.

    What he doesn't possess is depth or an effective defense.

    Portland finishes the 2012-13 season against the Mavericks, Lakers, Thunder, Nuggets, Clippers and Warriors. Those final six games could wear down his starters and turn into a shooting spree for opposing teams.

    If the Blazers are on the bubble before that stretch, it could get ugly.

Phoenix Suns: Kendall Marshall Is Indeed One-Dimensional

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    Due to his deft passing skills at North Carolina, Kendall Marshall was picked 13th in the 2012 NBA Draft by Phoenix.

    He could end up being the point guard of the future for the Suns, but he still has a lot of convincing to do.

    Marshall is not an athletic or skilled finisher, he's a bit too left-hand dependent and he struggles to create his own shot or shoot pull-up jumpers effectively. These deficiencies make him easier to defend from an individual and team-scheme standpoint.

    He hasn't been too impressive at all this season, and he could be destined for a career as a backup. Coach Alvin Gentry might be nervous that the team spent a lottery pick on a one-dimensional player.

Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Bynum's Knee Ruins Season

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    Andrew Bynum's knee issues have already adversely affected Philadelphia's season, but a prolonged absence would destroy the 76ers chances to make the postseason.

    Doug Collins doesn't have much to work with in the way of low-post scoring without him.

    After making so much progress in the 2011-12 season, a fourth or fifth place finish for the Sixers would be a huge disappointment.

    Equally disappointing would be the realization that they partook in the Dwight Howard blockbuster for nothing.

Orlando Magic: Nightmare Is Worse Than Dwightmare

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    New Orlando Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn entered an exceedingly difficult situation, with the franchise dealing Dwight Howard in exchange for draft picks and a middle-tier cast.

    The personnel isn't terrible, but it's already showing signs of ineptitude. There isn't one scorer that Vaughn can consistently rely on week in and week out.

    Vaughn's biggest fear may be that the 2012-13 campaign drags on so long that it seems like two seasons' worth of agony.

    It was great to find closure in the Dwight Howard saga, but what if it results in two or three years of lackluster hoops?

Oklahoma City Thunder: A Repeat of 2012 NBA Finals

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    The 2011-12 season was a breakthrough year for Scott Brooks and the Oklahoma City Thunder in many ways. The team officially put its stamp on the Western Conference and earned a trip to the NBA Finals.

    The loss to the Miami Heat was disappointing, but not cause for despair. This is a young team that will get a few more cracks at it.

    But what if Kevin Durant and company make a similar run to the Finals, only to be bested by King James again? It would be demoralizing to know that they can't conquer South Beach.

New York Knicks: Amar'e's Return Ruins Momentum, Nets Take over NYC

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    This one is unlikely, but just the thought of it should make Mike Woodson feel sick.

    The New York Knickerbockers are rolling so far this season. Carmelo Anthony's squad is out-gunning all challengers, including the Miami Heat.

    Amar'e Stoudemire's return might interrupt that flow, and he and 'Melo could resume their incompatibility.

    A decrease in efficiency would lead to a decrease in wins, giving the Brooklyn Nets a chance to grab second place in the Atlantic and first place in the Big Apple.

New Orleans Hornets: No Production from Shooting Guard Spot

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    Injuries have already caused some turbulence for Monty Williams' New Orleans Hornets, as Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers have all missed time.

    At the shooting guard position, Williams is without Gordon indefinitely, leaving him with rookie Austin Rivers.

    But imagine if Rivers turns out to be an injury-prone, underachieving NBA guard. Then the Hornets would be in a heap of trouble, with almost no production coming from the shooting guard spot.

    Williams had better hope for a best-case scenario of health and effectiveness.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Miss Playoffs Despite Overhaul

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    Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Alexey Shved and Greg Stiemsma represent a substantial overhaul of the Minnesota Timberwolves roster.

    But will it be enough to get them 20 percent more wins and a playoff berth? The Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio injuries make it difficult for Rick Adelman's crew to start strong out of the gate.

    The Wolves may lack the firepower to maintain a winning record while the superstars are out, and the squad would finish with a record just mediocre enough to miss the postseason.

    Over the next week, we'll get a better indication of whether this nightmare could become a reality. Minnesota faces a couple of quality teams in Chicago and Dallas, the first real tests of the season.

Milwaukee Bucks: Ersan Ilyasova Takes a Huge Step Backward

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    The 2011-12 season was something of a mini-breakout year for Ersan Ilyasova, who scored 13 points and snagged eight rebounds per contest.

    His efforts generated excitement that 2012-13 would be a continuation of his ascent to NBA stardom. Through three games, he's ice cold and ineffective.

    Head coach Scott Skile's nightmare is that three games turns into 82, and Ilyasova contributes little to the Bucks' playoff hopes.

Miami Heat: Wade or Bosh Miss 30-Plus Games

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    Erik Spoelstra has a magnificent setup down in South Beach. The only thing that could actually screw it up is injuries.

    Dwyane Wade is the most injury-prone player on the team, so I wouldn't be surprised if Spoelstra actually has the occasional Wade knee-blowout nightmare.

    The other player that might cause him to lose sleep is Chris Bosh, who is his only hope as a true post player.

    Prolonged injuries to either of those stars would put a repeat title in serious jeopardy.

Memphis Grizzlies: Conley Jr. Gets No Help

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    Lionel Hollins' Memphis Grizzlies have multiple options in the post and a shoot-and-slash forward in Rudy Gay.

    But at guard, Mike Conley might be all alone offensively in 2012-13.

    A quartet of reserves sees playing time, but Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and Tony Wroten have amassed about two players' worth of offense thus far.

    Hollins should be nervous that Conley is the only one who can really run this squad at a high level. A lack of depth would put a major restriction on the Grizzlies potential.

Los Angeles Lakers: Continued Underachieving Leads to Firing

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    Los Angeles has struggled to find its optimal playing style early in the season. But almost everyone, including Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, have made a point to say it's too early to hit the panic button.

    And they're right, it is too early. Mike Brown's job also shouldn't be in jeopardy at this point.

    But a couple more weeks of this, and things will get serious. Nash's extended recovery time, coupled with persistent chemistry issues, will put Brown on thin ice.

    This is highly unlikely, but a few more losses will make Brown a bit uneasy.

Los Angeles Clippers: Something Happens to Paul or Griffin

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    Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has an upgraded bench at his disposal, including the crafty shot-creator Jamal Crawford.

    But he knows that if anything happens to Chris Paul or Blake Griffin, the club's championship hopes are gone. Paul is the vital quarterback of the operation— the kind of quarterback that throws a lot of touchdowns and barely any interceptions, if you know what I mean.

    Griffin is the team's best rebounder and has the best inside-outside game. He's also the most acrobatic and susceptible to injury.

    Del Negro can't afford to lose either one.

Indiana Pacers: Fourth-Place Finish in Central

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    A third-place finish in the East and a solid playoff showing in 2012 gave Pacers fans reason for hope.

    Frank Vogel is already wondering if Darren Collison's departure will hurt Indiana more than he expected it would.

    At the team's current pace, a third-place finish is quite possible. Depending on how Indiana's Central Division counterparts play, a fourth-place finish isn't out of the question, either.

    Considering the team's current offensive shortcomings, Vogel must worry about the season as a whole.

Houston Rockets: Opponents Bottle Up Harden, Crippling the Season

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    What if opening night was the high-water mark of the season for James Harden and the Houston Rockets?

    Kevin McHale's nightmare goes something like this: Opponents focus their efforts on containing Harden, and the Rockets don't have enough playmakers to compensate for that. As a result, the team wins less games than it did during the lockout-shortened 2012.

    The long-term nightmare revolves around Harden's potential inability to lead the franchise to contention.

Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry Re-Injures Ankle

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    If you follow the Golden State Warriors at all, you know that Stephen Curry's right ankle is the most important body part of the franchise.

    In his young career, Curry has established himself as one of the best combo guards in the game, but also one of the most-frequently injured. It seems as if many Warriors fans hope for the best but prepare for the worst when it comes to him. 

    In the post-Monta Ellis era, the Warriors will struggle to break 90 points consistently without Curry. Mark Jackson knows how valuable he is to the program. 

Detroit Pistons: No Wins Until After Thanksgiving

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    At their current pace, who knows when Lawrence Frank's Detroit Pistons will earn their first victory?

    It's bound to happen, right? They should be able to string 48 successful minutes together in the near future.

    But what if the Piston's are more of a 20-win team rather than a 35-win team? That first win might not come until the holidays.

    Right now, everyone on the Pistons, with the exception of Greg Monroe, is playing mediocre basketball. The game against Sacramento Wednesday may have been the team's best chance for a win until November 28 against Phoenix.

Denver Nuggets: Something Happens to Lawson or McGee

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    An injury to Ty Lawson or Javale McGee would be a setback for the Denver Nuggets because they are critical pieces to the backcourt and frontcourt, respectively.

    It would also sting because the team has more than $70 million committed to these two over the next three-plus years.

    George Karl's injury-related nightmare would include a Denver squad that loses in the first round again because Andre Iguodala, Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari are insufficient weapons.

Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki Never Returns to Full Stength Again

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    Similar to the San Antonio Spurs situation, the Dallas Mavericks face the question of age.

    How effective and healthy will their veterans be in 2012-13?

    Dirk Nowitzki's supporting cast is doing a fine job of competing and winning while he recovers from knee surgery. But to have a truly dangerous team throughout the season and into the playoffs, Rick Carlisle needs an effective Dirk.

    Nowitzki is the face of the franchise and the kind of player a team can count on to carry it. But a hobbled version of him will result in a first-round exit for the second straight season.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving Makes Cover of Sports Illustrated

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    I'm not a superstitious person, but Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving seems like the type of player who's just one Sports Illustrated cover away from bad fortune.

    Countless athletes have been afflicted by the "cover jinx," and Irving is an exciting young athlete who may be next in line for it.

    For all we know, the magazine is probably trying to line up a photo shoot of Irving and Dion Waiters as we speak—and head coach Byron Scott is probably trying to sabotage it.

    Any kind of misfortune or setback for the brilliant combo guard spells doom for the Cavs' season.

Chicago Bulls: No Derrick Rose and No Playoffs

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    For all the excitement and positive sentiment toward Derrick Rose in his knee rehab, there's still a chance that he might miss the entire season, according to ESPNChicago.com.

    That would be a blow to the morale of Bulls fans more than Tom Thibodeau, but it would nonetheless be a setback for the organization.

    The more disappointing turn of events would be a failure to make the playoffs. This would be extremely tough for everyone to handle.

    Thibodeau is working hard to compensate for the absence of Rose. To not get him or the playoffs in 2013 would be frustrating.

Charlotte Bobcats: 15-Game Losing Streak Kills Optimism

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    The new coaching staff and player personnel have an opportunity to buoy the Bobcats franchise, but it could be in for a frustrating season of minimal gains.

    For now, there's optimism about the re-tooled roster and new coach Mike Dunlap. But all it takes is a significant losing streak, and the positive outlook goes down the drain.

    Charlotte is already showing signs that it can't stop a competent offensive team (it yielded 126 points against Dallas and 117 against Phoenix). If you can give up 117 to the Nash-less Suns, a double-digit losing streak is distinctly possible.

Brooklyn Nets: Still Overshadowed by Knicks, Miss the Playoffs

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    Avery Johnson's Nets underwent the most important offseason in franchise history, one that featured a location change and lineup renovations.

    After the New York Knicks beat the Miami Heat, and Miami stomped Brooklyn, it's reasonable to wonder whether the Nets are on a much lower level than they aspired to be. Will Joe Johnson and D-Will be able to compete with the Heat's Big Three and Carmelo Anthony's bunch?

    I'm sure Johnson realizes New York is the Knicks' city, but he definitely wants to make a rivalry of it and put a dent in 'Melo's kingdom by out-shining him on the court.

    Johnson's nightmare includes the Knicks sweeping the season series and eliminating Brooklyn from the playoff picture.

Boston Celtics: The 2008-2012 Glory Run Is over

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    Once the drama of Ray Allen's departure subsided, and Boston acquired Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, the Celtics looked primed for another championship pursuit.

    Danny Ainge did a great job replacing Allen, but it might not change the distinct possibility that 2012 was the Celtics' last deep run with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

    Garnett, Pierce and Terry may slow down just enough to let mediocre teams beat them, and the club could lose in the second or even first round of the playoffs.

    That would point to the end of the Doc Rivers era, one way or another.

Atlanta Hawks: Front Office Botches Josh Smith Situation

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    Josh Smith's contract with the Atlanta Hawks expires in 2013, along with several other role players.

    The organization must decide if it wants to re-sign him for a hefty sum and build the future around his leadership or trade him this winter.

    If the club doesn't believe he can take them to the next level in the East, then trading him is the best option. That's where things get nerve-racking for coach Larry Drew.

    Who will the club bring in to replace Smith? The result could very well be a roster that's similar or worse than it is now. The roster changes in 2013 will give him a coaching challenge in 2013-14.

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