Every NBA Team's Biggest Takeaway from 2012

Eric EdelmanCorrespondent IJanuary 1, 2013

Every NBA Team's Biggest Takeaway from 2012

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    The new year is finally here, and with that comes new opportunities.

    Sure, it's still early, but as the season grinds further and further towards playoff time, teams need to ensure their expectations are realistic.

    While a new year may be fortuitous for some teams in the NBA, it might very well be more frustration for others. That being said, what should every team take away from 2012?

Miami Heat: Staying Hungry Is Paramount

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    There's no question the Miami Heat are still a favorite to win it all. 

    However, despite the talent we know they possess, predicting their success in the regular season on the road is shoddy at best. Although they have a phenomenal 14-2 home record, the Heat are a mediocre 7-6 on the road.  

    Now sure, overall the Heat are still 21-8 and first seed in the East, but this is a team that at times appears disinterested and lackadaisical when they aren't playing at home on Biscayne Boulevard. 

    Aside from a collective effort that is a bit inconsistent, LeBron James is anything but— his impressive line of 26 points, 7 assists and nearly 9 rebounds (8.4) is part of why the Heat are capable of such dominance. 

    If the Heat should be thinking of a collective New Year's resolution, it should be one word: consistency.

    The one-two-three punch of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is a nightmare for opposing defenses, but despite their firepower, they have been felled decisively at times.

    It could be attributed to complacency or perhaps boredom considering they all expect to be in the NBA Finals yet again, but complacency as a team can lead to settling for less. 

    2012 has been solid for the Heat, and assuming they stay hungry for another trophy, there's no question they'll be a top contender for the title. 

Los Angeles Lakers: Find an Identity

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    Sadly for their sake, the Los Angeles Lakers are 2012’s most disappointing team. Following blockbuster acquisitions that landed Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, they opened their season 0-3, with a huge upset opening night against the Dallas Mavericks sans Dirk Nowitzki.

    Kobe Bryant, is still having a solid year as the NBA’s current league leader in scoring, but knowing his nature, there’s nothing he wants more than another shot a title. Aside from Nash and Howard, another big name has joined the team.

    Once a nemesis of Kobe (and among his favorite childhood players), Mike D’Antoni replaced oft criticized head coach Mike Brown and his Princeton offense. Now, with a new coach and increasingly familiarized roster, their first game of the new year will be a prime opportunity to gain positive momentum.

    The Lakers need to scrape out some consistency, considering they’re 15-15, they have been mediocre all season.  It’s time for them to find their identity—are they genuine title contenders or hyped pretenders?

    For the Lakers, 2013 is an opportunity to put a 2012 of mediocrity and inconsistency in the past, and if they have any hopes of a title this year, that should be among their top priorities.

Los Angeles Clippers: Sustain Positive Momentum

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    A few years ago you might've scoffed at someone saying the Los Angeles Clippers were the best team in LA, but in 2012, it was quite obvious the tide had changed.

    The Clippers are the first seed in the West, and they haven't lost a game since November 26th. Although we knew they were good, perhaps some didn't expect them to be this good.

    Their success has been their front court, the solid bench and of course, star point guard Chris Paul. As far as their front court, you can't go without mentioning the ever entertaining Blake Griffin, and most certainly his underrated teammate in DeAndre Jordan.

    Jordan has looked like a new player this season—he's far more assertive in the post, his footwork is improved and he just seems far more involved in the offense. His rim rattling dunks and overall physical presence has had a huge impact, but he's not the only getting in on the action.

    Blake is beginning to step out further and knock down jumpers, and assuming it continues to improve, he will constantly be a threat. Overall, the Clippers should finally be thinking title or bust.

    They just need to keep doing what they're doing in 2013, and if they can keep rolling how they have been lately, 2013 is going to be an opportunity for this Clippers team to go somewhere they've never been before. 

Boston Celtics: Is There Anything Left in the Tank?

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    The Celtics are coming into 2013 off of a three-game losing streak, and in a way, it's a microcosm of their season so far.

    Coming into last season off a disappointing Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Miami Heat, the Celtics and their fans were hoping there was still some gas in the tank so-to-speak. 

    With Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the latter end of their respective careers, is this a team that can still compete for a title? That's a question they'll have to answer going forward into 2013.

    Rajon Rondo and his league leading assist numbers  certainly gives them a chance, but clinging to a half-game lead for the 8th seed isn't exactly where the Celtics would've expected at this point.

    There's no question they have the talent, it's just a question of whether the talent will hold up over the course of the season—fatigue was definitely something that contributed to the C's failing to close out last year's 3-2 lead over the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, even if some people say otherwise

    Knowing the Celtics, there is no question they will give it their all, but will their effort be enough to stave off wear and tear? 

Atlanta Hawks: No Joe? No Problem.

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    After trading away Joe Johnson and his gargantuan contract prior to the start of the season, it seemed as if the Atlanta Hawks were going to blow the team up and start from scratch.

    As with most rebuilding phases, that means a lot of hardship and a lot of losing, but despite the loss of Johnson, the team is still performing at a high level.

    Currently third in the East, the Hawks are 19-10 when detractors would have had them pegged for a team dead in the water. Thanks to their bruising front court of Al Horford and Josh Smith, and an electrifying backcourt that features Jeff Teague, Lou Williams and former Chitown sharpshooter Kyle Korver, they have emerged as a scrappy, energetic bunch that plays at a frenetic pace. 

    They likely don't have the pieces to compete for a title, but this youthful Atlanta team should at least remain optimistic. They have proven to the doubters they are good enough with their current personnel to win in this league consistently, and they need to keep proving people wrong in 2013. 

Brooklyn Nets: New Name, Same Problems

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    The Brooklyn Nets were hoping a new name would bring new success, and in 2012 they started off with a bang. 

    Finishing off November 11-4, they looked like one of the league's better teams, but fast forward to December, and they're a game over .500 with their former Coach of the Month, Avery Johnson, fired

    This is a team that is largely scoring off of isolation baskets (26th in the league as far as assists), and when their main guys are struggling to score, the whole team suffers as a result. 

    Among those whom it would be convenient to blame is Deron Williams. His scoring is down, and he's shooting sub-40 percent from the field, just poor output considering his importance to the team. 

    Although he shouldn't bear all of the blame, he definitely needs to step it up if the Nets are to stave off another disappointing season. 

    Despite the new name and optimism, we're seeing seeing some of the old Nets yet again, hopefully for their sake they can redefine their namesake. 

Oklahoma City Thunder: Bouncing Back from Disappointment in a Big Way

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    After a disappointing end to last season, the Thunder came into this season hoping to put that sadness in the past.

    Despite having to adjust to the frustrating circumstances, they also had to deal with losing their former Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden. Despite losing him, the Thunder have still looked formidable, thanks in large part to their dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. 

    Serge Ibaka has also looked much improved offensively, and his range on his jumper continues to improve

    Overall, with a 24-6 record and second seed in the West, they have seized the new season as a collective and looked impressive.

    They just need to keep playing well and keep redemption on their mind going forward into 2013. 

San Antonio Spurs: Still Dominant, Still a Threat

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    It's a new season and—what a surprise—the San Antonio Spurs are still impressive with head coach Greg Popovich at the helm.

    Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the rest of the usual suspects are putting in work, and it's part of why the Spurs are boasting a 25-8 overall record and are third in the West.

    Similar to the Boston Celtics, we saw quite a polarizing matchup in last year's Western Conference Finals, a team of aged veterans defeated convincingly by a squad of talented youngsters.

    Are the Spurs too old? Well, considering they're still performing at a high level, not really. You also have to consider the depth this team has.

    In a wild bout against the Miami Heat as double-digit road dogs, Coach Pop benched most of his starters against the Miami Heat in a primetime matchup and let his bench do the work.

    With depth, both young and old, you can survive the tumultuous NBA season. They're proving they are still a solid team, and 2013 should certainly bring more of the same. 

Golden State Warriors: They're Beginning to Reach Their Potential

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    After a broken promise last season, coach Mark Jackson and his Warriors were determined to make things right this time around. 

    The Warriors are 21-10, and their young cast that includes Stephen Curry and sharpshooter Klay Thompson is part of why they're so dangerous.

    Big man David Lee is also putting up big numbers, and they are collectively beginning to turn things around for the better.

    They haven't even played center Andrew Bogut more than 4 games this regular season, but you can bet when he returns they're going to be even better.

    2013 and beyond looks bright for the Warriors, especially after such an encouraging 2012. 

Memphis Grizzlies: Great Start, but They Need an Even Better Finish

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    The Grizz are a solid 19-9, but they have had a reputation for starting off great, but exiting a bit early.

    After being favorites to win last season's first round matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers, their encouraging season ended on a bad note after squandering a huge lead in Game 1 and being outplayed in Game 7. 

    Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph and the defensive stalwart, Tony Allen are among the solid performers (can't forget Mike Conley Jr. either), but can this crew get it done when it matters most?

    2013 and the upcoming post-season is all that matters for the Grizz, but a positive 2012 is a great way to start things off. 

Milwaukee Bucks: A Playoff Push Is Priority One

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    The Milwaukee Bucks finished 2012 on a commendable 16-13, not bad for a team that missed the playoffs last year.

    The Bucks finished last year looking like a squad with tremendous potential, but lack of size remaining the primary point of concern.

    Well, their frontcourt has looked nothing short of bruising, Larry Sanders has emerged as a defensive anchor and it's part of why the Bucks are such a tough team as it stands.

    With their dynamic duo of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings  handling the scoring load, this is a team that should have their sights set on a playoff push.

    Although they might not go far, positive progress for this squad is outstanding. 

Houston Rockets: High Scoring, High Ceiling

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    The Rockets and newly acquired James Harden are an offensive dynamo. 

    Second in the league as far as scoring with 105 points per game, the six seed Rockets are 17-14 to finish off 2012.

    The young core of Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons have put on some electrifying performances, and their fast-paced brand of basketball fits right at home with their squad.

    They're a roster of young, scrappy underdogs, and they have shown they could be a true team of the future going into 2013.

    If they can build on their success from 2012, it appears the Rockets finally have a core to build around following the Ming-McGrady era of the mid-2000s. 

    There's no question a playoff berth is within their grasp, but they should just take it one game at a time going into this year. 

New York Knicks: Forget Playoffs, Think Finals

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    The Knicks are coming off of a first-round loss last season to the Miami Heat.

    As if they had vengeance on their mind, the Knickerbockers eviscerated the Heat both at home and on the road to the tune of 20 points in both instances this season. 

    If those convincing victories weren't enough, they have rolled their way to a second seed in the East, and they are also a solid 21-9 overall. 

    This a team that is performing beyond that of a one-and-done playoff team and has the look of a true contender.

    Despite the reputation for mediocrity, the Knicks have performed this year with an air of elitism.

    Rather than snobbishly expecting people to give them respect, they have gone out and demonstrated they're truly worthy of being deemed a contender, which speaks volumes.

    Champions are crowned in June, not in January, but they certainly have the look and attitude, let's just see if they can win a playoff series. Regardless, anything short of the Finals (not just the Conference Finals) for this team should be seen as a disappointment. 

Chicago Bulls: Hang Tight Until Rose Returns

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    They're a fifth seed in the East and they're 16-13, but the Bulls can't help but forget they're missing their star point guard.

    Derrick Rose means so much to the Bulls, and more so than just his numbers . On a team of gritty scrappers like Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, Rose's toughness epitomizes everything Chicago.

    His stern and humble demeanor, his toughness and grit—any Chicagoan who knows him sees a part of themselves when they watch him play. His presence and the intangible boost he provides means everything.

    They should certainly be proud of how well they've played without him, but they know a chance at a title rests solely on his health and him being back to his old ways. 

    Now despite some discouraging reports of him not returning this season, the Bulls squad has to keep working game by game.

    For the Bulls, they just need to keep the faith that he'll be back soon, and hopefully, 2013 will bring some good fortune for their sake. 

Charlotte Bobcats: Well, It Can't Get Much Worse Than Last Season

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    On the last day of 2012, the Bobcats won their eighth game of the season. Oddly enough, Michael Jordan's franchise finally etched a win against the team with which he became a legend

    Aside from the odd parallels, there isn't much more significance out of this win other than the fact that the Bobcats exceeded their total number of wins from last season by a single game.

    The Bobcats are going to be lottery bound yet again, but this shouldn't come as a shocker.

    They're second worst in the league as far as scoring defense and they are second worst in the league as far as assists. Aside from the penchant for isolation basketball, it appears that Kemba Walker is at least coming into his own as a scorer at the pro-level, averaging a team high 18 points per game

    This team has a long, long way to go, but they should be hopeful for the future. At least for this season, it can't get much worse than it was last year. 

Washington Wizards: The Lottery Can't Come Soon Enough

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    Well, there isn't much going right for the lowly Washington Wizards this season.

    They are an abysmal 4-24, and they are the unfortunate bearer's of the NBA's worst record as of the end of 2012.

    With John Wall slated to return this month, things might at least stop being as horrible as they already have been, but this a flat out terrible basketball team as things stand.

    The Wizards should just attempt to minimize the losses as much as possible, but then again, they might as well tank the season and improve their odds as much as they can going into the draft lottery.

New Orleans Hornets: Struggling to Improve

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    Despite the excitement surrounding the addition of number overall pick Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Hornets are still a heavily flawed basketball team.

    They have the worst record in the Western Conference, but Davis has at least looked solid and more NBA-ready than initially thought.

    On the flip side, Robin Lopez has looked solid in his production, and it appears New Orleans at least has a frontcourt for the future. 

    The Hornets are still lottery bound, but at least they have some pieces. Going into 2013, the struggles will ensue just as they have previously, but at least they have the future. 

Denver Nuggets: Pieces Are Starting to Fit

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    After a rough start, the Nuggets are beginning to piece together some solid wins. 

    They finished 2012 17-15 and find themselves sitting seventh in the West, a spot where they should look to creep a bit higher.

    This is a fast-paced, transition oriented team that added one of the league's best transition players in Andre Iguodala, so hopefully for their sake, he will continue to make plays as the season progresses.

    The Nuggets just need to keep grinding and maintain a foothold in the upper seeds of the West if possible, they also need certain pieces to continue to develop, especially the incredibly talented JaVale McGee.

    This is a team with a lot of youth and a high ceiling, but another playoff series going forward would be good to pad their resumé. 

Dallas Mavericks: Make the Most of Their Transition Phase

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    Now that Dirk Nowitzki is finally back, the Mavs can finally look to get things back to where they hoped they'd be.

    Unfortunately for them, they're 12-19 after an early 4-1 start that featured a shocking upset against the Los Angeles Lakers. 

    Dirk is back, sure, but make no mistake: this team is not a title contender anymore. 

    O.J. Mayo has emerged as legitimate scoring option, but this Mavericks team is just not where they need to be talent-wise to compete legitimately.

    They need to ease their way into the rebuilding phase and figure out where they should go from here, but 2013 is beginning to mark an era of transition for the Mavericks. 

Indiana Pacers: Build off of Last Season's Playoffs

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    The Indiana Pacers and their fourth seed—smack dab in the middle of the playoff spots—is very befitting of their squad.

    They are a solid team, not quite great and not bad either, but they are a tough-minded squad as a whole.

    Last season they forced the Miami Heat to play with their backs against the wall and gave them quite a scare.

    Until, of course, Dwyane Wade awoke from his slumber and battled back with the rest of the Heat to finish the Pacers off once and for all.

    Nevertheless, that was still a great moral victory for this Pacers team. It proved they belong in the conversation, but whether or not they are ready for the full leap remains to be seen.

    They should definitely have their eyes set on yet another playoff berth, but they should certainly build off of last year's opportunity in the second round. 

Sacramento Kings: Plenty of Potential, Plenty of Problems

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    Aside from the inconsistency and internal tension, the Sacramento Kings have tremendous upside. They have such a frustrating amount of upside, that it's unbelievable that they seem stuck in the same position as they have been in previous years.

    DeMarcus Cousins is still one of the league's most talented prospects, but his off the court issues remain a problem. Aside from Cousins, the rest of the squad is also very talented, yet flawed—whether it's inconsistency or low basketball IQ, it is far from a perfect roster at this point.

    They are still going to be lottery bound yet again, and this team still struggles to carve out a true identity, but two back-to-back wins at home against the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics is a great way to close out 2012.

Phoenix Suns: Trudge Forward in the Absence of an Icon

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    In the absence of Steve Nash, the Suns must look forward to uncertain future.

    It isn't easy filling big shoes, but Goran Dragic is doing what he can and youngster Markieff Morris has also shown glimpses of greatness as well. 

    Although they have Dragic, the rest of their squad consists of just complementary pieces and those who have yet to pan out entirely, specifically former number two overall draft pick Michael Beasley. 

    The former Kansas State star has yet to reach his full potential in the NBA, but if by some miracle he can finally figure out in Phoenix, they would have an incredible offensive weapon at their disposal.

    Phoenix just needs to take this season in stride and take comfort in the fact that they have an incredibly talented, young guard at the helm, and hopefully for their sake they can turn things around eventually.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Lockdown a Playoff Berth

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    Priority number one for the T-Wolves has to be getting a playoff berth.

    Now that they finally have Ricky Rubio together on the floor with Kevin Love going forward, the 'Wolves have a lot of scrappy, high basketball IQ players on the same floor.

    With the smooth-shooting Love stretching the floor and snagging boards, he along with Nikola Pekovic and the rest of their front court can get extra possessions—the T-Wolves are a dominant second in the league as far as rebounding. 

    It's going to be tough, but they have the solid presence and balance of personnel to do it, and after finishing 2012 a game above .500, they have to do whatever they can to hang on to that eighth seed or better. 

Philadelphia 76ers: Keep Battling and Hope Bynum Can Return

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    The 76ers' future success really depends on how soon Andrew Bynum can return. Despite Bynum's confidence, no one knows for certain when he'll be back, but the Sixers are hoping that it's soon.

    In Bynum's absence, Jrue Holiday has had a breakout season, and his fellow teammates Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner are putting in respectable work as well. 

    Their losses are beginning to mount, but they are still a young team that is one solid piece or two away from being a legit contender.

    They cannot lose sight of the potential they have as a collective. And if they can stave off mounting losses going into this year, they might be able to make the deficit manageable if and when Bynum makes his inevitable return. 

Portland Trailblazers: Damian Lillard Portends Bright Future

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    Rookie Damian Lillard has set the bar high for these youthful Trailblazers, and although they are a fringe playoff team at this point, they are beginning to come together.

    Talented pivot man LaMarcus Aldridge is still a dependable option, and their gritty swingman, Nicolas Batum has been extremely solid as well.

    They shouldn't be too disappointed if they do indeed miss the playoffs, but a berth for this young team would be just what they need going into next season. Although to be fair, a lottery chance, however slim it may be, is better than a one-and-done series.

    They are still a few pieces away, but thanks in large part to Lillard's brilliance, the future looks bright in Portland. 

Utah Jazz: Sharpshooters Still Aren't Enough

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    Adding a stretch-the-floor type gunner like Mo Williams is exactly what the short-ranged Utah Jazz needed, but unfortunately, they are still a heavily flawed team.

    Utah isn't exactly a phenomenal defensive team, and despite their interior toughness, they still struggle to stop a lot of teams. 

    They are not a team that gets easy wins.

    They win by out-hustling, out-rebounding, and just flat out forcing the ball inside, utilizing their talented frontcourt pairing of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. 

    In all honesty, they are too stacked frontcourt-wise, and their management should figure out whether or not to move some of their pieces to diversify the roster.

    Sure, it's great to have depth, but when you have four talented pivot-men on your roster, and a guy that could really flourish in Derrick Favors, the Jazz could really used a real point guard or a true slashing scoring guard.

    They still lack a true identity, but it's clear their strength lies in their inside game. 

    In 2013 the Jazz need to decide whether they want to make a run, or go in a different direction and blow the team up.

    As it stands, they are a team in NBA purgatory—not quite good enough to win it all, not quite bad enough to get a great draft position. 

Orlando Magic: Despite No Dwight, Future Still Looks Bright

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    In the absence of Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic are beginning to emerge as a well-balanced, youthful roster of competitors.

    Arron Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic, along with veterans J.J. Redick, Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson have looked surprisingly decent in the absence of D12.

    This team has proven to be full of scrappy competitors, scorers and guys who will battle every night regardless of competition.

    Although many assumed they got stiffed when they gave up Howard, they have looked better than previously thought.

    Sure, they're sub-.500, but this is a team many projected would be one of the worst, but believe it or not, this is a fringe playoff team at best as it stands.

    Considering they'll still be lottery bound most likely, they are getting good value considering the pieces they already have.

Detroit Pistons: Rebuilding Isn't an Easy Task

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    The Pistons are yet another struggling team dealing with an awkward phase between eras.

    After years of perennial title contention, the Pistons are now a sub-.500, bottom of the barrel squad full of guys still trying to carve out an identity in the league. 

    Thankfully, it isn't all bad for the Pistons, youngsters Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe have been encouraging, and the same can be said for Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight.

    This is a heavily flawed team and they should just keep their fingers crossed going into the lottery. They have some pieces for down the road, but they need more time to grow. 

Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Is Still Phenomenal, Rebuilding Continues

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    Already knee-deep in his sophomore campaign, the talented Cav's point guard, Kyrie Irving has solidified his standing in the league—as if a Rookie of the Year trophy wasn't enough. 

    Kyrie, along with the newly added Dion Waiters, are handing the scoring load for Cleveland, and the return of Anderson Varejao has led to some surprising wins throughout the season.

    Aside from the few bright spots on this roster, this is still a team that is nowhere near ready for anything other than taking it day by day, and looking to add more youth to the already raw roster.

    Varejao would be a great piece to move for picks, but as it stands, he's giving them dependable output.

    Among the "bad" teams in the league, the Cavs definitely have the most upside, and 2013 should just be more experience for this young roster. 

Toronto Raptors: A Team Still Lacking Direction

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    It's another year, and the Toronto Raptors are still sub-.500 and struggling to really define themselves as a collective.

    Despite the myriad of talent amongst this roster that includes the incredibly athletic DeMar DeRozan and stretch-forward Andrea Bargani, this a team that still has yet to head in a clear-cut direction.

    They definitely need to consider moving some pieces, whether that would be someone like Calderon or Bargnani is irrelevant, but this a roster in need of a big shake-up.

    They need to either develop entirely from scratch, or attempt to make moves to add immediate talent. As it stands, if this squad managed to piece together solid wins (they're actually 7-3 in their last 10 games) they could be a fringe playoff team, but that might do more harm than good in the long run.

    Their best bet is to settle for the lottery, but rather than being stagnant, they certainly need to consider making some serious roster moves to ensure their fan base they are serious about doing something positive in the near future other than settling for mediocrity.