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Struggling NBA Playoff Teams with Massive Holes to Fill This Offseason

Matthew SchmidtFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2013

Struggling NBA Playoff Teams with Massive Holes to Fill This Offseason

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    The first round of the postseason is not over yet, but after watching the first few games, you can already get a general idea of which teams must make roster changes to patch up some holes this summer.

    Just because you make the playoffs does not mean you don't have some areas that need work. Heck, even some of the higher seeds have some gaps that need to be filled.

    What we will examine here, though, are the ballclubs who are struggling. They are obviously having issues for a reason, and for some of these squads, the offseason cannot come soon enough.

    The landscape of the NBA might look very different next year.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    It was sort of bittersweet for the Los Angeles Lakers when they clinched a playoff spot on the final night of the regular season. After losing Kobe Bryant to a torn Achilles, it was essentially a given that they would be a first-round out, and it looks like that is going to be fulfilled, as they trail the heavily favored San Antonio Spurs 3-0.

    It is certainly going to be an interesting offseason in L.A. with Dwight Howard set to test free-agent waters. We can sit here and speculate what Howard is going to do, but let's be honest: none of us really know, and that probably includes Dwight himself.

    Not only that, but Pau Gasol will be entering the final year of his contract, making him a potentially attractive trade chip. Trade rumors have swirled around Gasol for what seems like forever now, so it would not be the least bit surprising to see the Lakers entertain offers (or perhaps actively seek a trade) for the big man this summer.

    Looking at Los Angeles' starting lineup on paper, it's hard to imagine how this ballclub struggled so mightily this season. It doesn't take too much digging, however, to realize that they weren't healthy all that often and that they did not have the bench to compensate for their frequently banged-up starters.

    Obviously, priority No. 1 for L.A. will be attempting to bring Howard back, but then what? Given the fact that Kobe Bryant, Gasol and Steve Nash will be making nearly $60 million combined in 2013-14 and that Dwight will also be very costly should he re-sign, the Lakers will be limited in terms of what they can do. They absolutely need some more depth, but will they be able to afford quality bench players?

    Some have surmised whether or not Los Angeles should amnesty Bryant, but let's be honest with ourselves: The chances of L.A. amnestying an icon who is still playing at an extremely high level are slim-to-none.

    It appears that the only realistic way the Lakers can alter their roster and bring in some new, productive players would be to send Gasol packing.

    Los Angeles could absolutely use some more scoring on the wings with Kobe being their only reliable scorer at that spot. Guys like Jodie Meeks (who L.A. can dump with its team option) and Steve Blake are decent reserves, but they can't be your primary options behind Bryant.

    The Lakers will also need some big-man depth. They cannot just go into next season with Jordan Hill coming off the pine.

    GM Mitch Kupchak has his work cut out for him. That's for sure.

Brooklyn Nets

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    The Brooklyn Nets are one of those teams you just can't figure out. They look outstanding some nights, such as their domination of the Chicago Bulls in Game 1. Then, they lay eggs in Games 2 and 3, and you wonder what the true identity of this team really is.

    The fact is, when you're that inconsistent, chances are that you're not that great of a ballclub. The Nets certainly have a nice foundation with Brook Lopez and Deron Williams, but they need more than that.

    Sorry, but Joe Johnson is not worth what he is getting paid—not even close. His performances in Games 2 and 3 were par the course for what type of playoff performer he is.

    Johnson is a lifetime 41.1 percent shooter in the postseason and is averaging an awful .041 win shares per 48 minutes. His career regular-season averages? They are just 44.2 percent from the floor and .096 win shares per 48 minutes.

    Johnson could never seem to rise to the occasion with the Atlanta Hawks, and he is failing to do so again thus far in Brooklyn. That could change, as it is still early in the season, but how often does a zebra change its stripes?

    This isn't to say that Johnson is a bad player or that he cannot be a solid contributor; it's just that he is taking up a good amount of cap space that the Nets could be using to fill other holes, such as their lack of swingman depth.

    Outside of Johnson, Brooklyn has no dependable scorers at that spot. Gerald Wallace is a mere shell of the player he once was, and MarShon Brooks continues to disappoint.

    The problem is, the Nets probably can't deal Johnson, as he still has three years and $70 million remaining on his contract. Throw in the massive amounts of money they will be paying Williams, Lopez and Wallace during that span and beyond, and you don't exactly have the right ingredients to make significant roster changes.

    To put it plainly, Brooklyn needs wings who can actually score. The Nets also need some guys who can defend, as they ranked 15th in defensive efficiency during 2012-13. That's fourth-lowest among playoff teams.

    To put another thing plainly, the Nets simply don't have the kind of money to go out and get the kinds of players necessary to fill those needs. Unless they are miraculously able to unload some of their salary, it looks like it's going to be a very uneventful summer in Brooklyn.

    At the very least, Kris Humphries comes off the books in 2014.

Atlanta Hawks

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    It has reached a point where we essentially know what the Hawks are going to do every year. They will be solid during the regular season, finish with a respectable seed and then lose early. This has been the case for Atlanta ever since the 2007-08 season. It has made the playoffs every year since then, but it has never made it past the second round.

    The Hawks took one step toward blowing up the roster last summer, dealing the aforementioned Johnson to the Nets for scraps. They had an opportunity to continue that process at the trade deadline in February, but they decided to hold on to Josh Smith.

    That may not have been a bad idea, as Atlanta should have enough cap space to re-sign Smith and make a play for someone like Dwight this summer. But that is a long shot at best. It is pretty fun to imagine, though. Imagine a frontcourt consisting of Howard, Smith and Al Horford? Wow.

    Of course, the more likely scenario is Smith leaving the Hawks, providing the team with a ton of cap room to plug other holes.

    Atlanta has a lot of players whose contracts are expiring this offseason, with guys like Kyle Korver, Devin Harris and Zaza Pachulia joining J-Smoove as potential departures. This means that GM Danny Ferry can get very creative with what direction he wants this team to go.

    The Hawks do have a couple of nice pieces in Horford and Jeff Teague to build a foundation with, and if they can supply Horford with another solid big man up front—not a small forward who has the ability to play power forward like Smith—you might be looking at a fairly dangerous ballclub.

    There will be plenty of frontcourt players out there this summer. Al Jefferson is someone who could form a formidable duo with Horford down low. Sign Jefferson and surround him and Horford with some shooters (like Korver, for example), and you're looking at a pretty explosive offense.

    This is a pivotal summer in Atlanta.

Boston Celtics

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    Well, barring an unprecedented comeback that has never been accomplished before in NBA history, what has been an amazing and magical six-year run for the Boston Celtics has finally come to an end. Debilitated by injuries all year long, the Celtics have simply been overmatched by the quicker and sprier New York Knicks and find themselves down 3-0.

    Now Boston will enter an offseason full of uncertainty. The biggest question is, will Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce return for another season? Based on what we've seen out of the two in these playoffs, you'd have to think that retirement is a strong possibility for both of them, especially Garnett.

    K.G. has been playing with bone spurs in his ankle and a hip pointer in the first round, and the 57,000-plus minutes he has logged over the course of his illustrious career are finally taking their toll.

    You have to wonder if that will force Garnett into retirement. Then, if K.G. decides to call it quits, there may be a chance that Pierce follows suit. Either that, or the C's make an attempt to move the longtime Celtic.

    Obviously, Boston is in dire need of some offense, as it has failed to score 80 points thus far in the postseason. Of course, Rajon Rondo will be back next year, after recovering from a torn ACL, but that will not solve all of the Celtics' scoring woes, especially if Garnett and Pierce don't return.

    They have to get some more pop off the bench, as guys like Jason Terry and Courtney Lee have not done what was expected of them.

    Given the status of both K.G. and Pierce being up in the air, it is very hard to project what exactly Boston will do this summer. We know it needs scoring and rebounding more than anything else regardless, so you would have to assume that those are two areas GM Danny Ainge will address.

    The Celtics ranked 25th in offensive efficiency and 29th on the boards. Then again, rebounding has been an issue for Boston for quite some time now, and Ainge has never rectified it. Hopefully for the C's, Jared Sullinger successfully returns from back surgery to give them a lift on the glass.

    No matter what, it seems fairly safe to say that the days of Garnett and Pierce donning the Celtic green deep into May and June are sadly over.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Not that anyone is surprised, but the Milwaukee Bucks are a game away from being swept by the Miami Heat.

    Bucks fans do have reason to be somewhat excited about the future, though, as Milwaukee has built a fairly nice core here.

    Let's start with the fact that the Bucks have one of the league's most-improved players in Larry Sanders—a shot-blocking machine who is probably going to be a walking double-double throughout his career. They also have another budding young forward in John Henson, so the Bucks might end up with one of the better frontcourts in basketball in a couple of years.

    There is a sticking point, however. Brandon Jennings will be a restricted free agent this summer—meaning Milwaukee can match any offer he gets—and Monta Ellis can opt for free agency, and it looks like he will.

    So, what will the Bucks do? Will they bring one of them back? Will they let both walk? Logic tells you that they most likely aren't keeping both, especially with J.J. Redick's contract also expiring. So it's either one or or neither of them and then potentially Redick.

    After all, a Redick/Jennings or Redick/Ellis backcourt is a much better mix than Jennings and Ellis together. Let's face it: Brandon and Monta are basically the same player.

    Jennings is probably the guy Milwaukee will be more apt to re-sign, as he is younger and has more room to grow.

    If the Bucks do keep Jennings, you're looking at a ballclub consisting of Sanders, Henson, Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova—possibly Redick too, if they decide to bring him back.

    That's not a bad start.

    What Milwaukee will need is some backcourt depth, as the inevitable departure of one of its two explosive guards is going to leave it lacking scoring off the bench in that area. The Bucks will also need to sign another big man, as Samuel Dalembert will almost certainly leave via free agency, and Ekpe Udoh has just not worked out.

    So, re-sign Jennings and Redick and grab a couple of decent reserves to fill out the roster, and you have a solid, young ballclub on your hands.

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