8 NBA Teams with More Long-Term Questions Than Answers
Most of the teams that advanced to the second round of the postseason have a pretty decent short-term outlook. Not all are in great shape physically and/or financially, but a good number of them are poised to make another run at a championship next season.
The story is markedly different for the other 22 teams in the NBA, however. Relief is simply not on the horizon for a number of struggling franchises. Just as Rome wasn't built in a day, many teams can't be built (or rebuilt) in a single season.
For some, it will take a little bit of fortune and a healthy amount of patience before the turnaround happens. And even then, much like now, there will still be plenty more questions than there are answers.
1. Boston Celtics
By all accounts, head coach Doc Rivers and point guard Rajon Rondo are the only two virtual locks to return to Boston next season. The Celtics have until June 30 to exercise a $5 million buyout option on Pierce's contract next season, and if they do, don't expect to see Garnett wearing a green-and-white uniform in 2013-14.
With several complementary players locked up for the next few years (Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Jason Terry, Courtney Lee), Boston will still be a competitive unit next year. However, with the complete dissolution of the "Big Three" finally becoming a reality, the Celtics' days of ruling the Atlantic Division are no more.
2. Charlotte Bobcats
With no head coach and few players of note, the Charlotte Bobcats may have the bleakest outlook in the entire NBA.
There are some makings of a nucleus there: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo are all on their rookie deals, and each is a starting-caliber player. That said, none of the three is a consistent offensive threat, and after shooting a league-worst 42.5 percent from the floor this season, Charlotte needs people who can put the ball in the basket.
The Bobcats have already spoken to several intriguing names in regards to their coaching search, including Alvin Gentry and Kelvin Sampson. But given Charlotte's penchant for firing coaches after a single season (Sam Vincent, Mike Dunlap), the new hire would be wise to negotiate a long-term deal.
3. Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks need to prepare for the post-Dirk Nowitzki era, but as it stands now, there's no one on the roster even remotely qualified to be a go-to option.
Working in owner Mark Cuban's favor is the fact that Dallas has a fair amount of cap space available this offseason and will have plenty more in the summer of 2014 when Nowitzki and his $22.7 million come off of the books. If the team can convince a big-name free agent (or two) to link up with the Mavericks, it may not be long before Dallas is restored to its former glory.
In the interim, Nowitzki's top running mates are Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, two players whose best seasons came at least a half-decade ago. Perhaps that's why Nowitzki is so willing to take a pay cut, if necessary.
4. Denver Nuggets
Denver finished with the fourth-best mark in the league, but their 57 wins were rendered meaningless after being bounced out of the postseason by the upstart Golden State Warriors. Including this year, the Nuggets have lost in the first round of the playoffs for nine of the past 10 seasons.
It was a rapid fall from grace for a team that led the NBA in scoring this season with 106.1 PPG. On the other end of the court, the addition of swingman Andre Iguodala helped the Nuggets to their best defensive rating mark (105.1) since the 2004-05 season.
Unfortunately for Denver, Iguodala is expected to opt out of the final year and $16.15 million of his contract. And unless Ty Lawson's recruiting effort works, the Nuggets' recent run of brief playoff appearances figures to continue.
5. Orlando Magic
Orlando has very few (if any) household names, and they won't be good anytime soon, but they seem to have a plan. But be patient, Magic fans: It'll take a few years before it finally comes to fruition.
Tobias Harris (17.3 PPG), Nikola Vucevic (13.1 PPG, 11.9 RPG) and Maurice Harkless (8.2 PPG) are intriguing young talents, but the Magic still need that one central piece to bring everything together.
That piece may come in this year's draft (the Magic are guaranteed a top-four pick), but with all of the assets acquired in the Dwight Howard trade, there's no telling when Orlando will be able to rise out of the doldrums.
6. Philadelphia 76ers
The recent hiring of general manager Sam Hinkie signals a new era of Philadelphia 76ers basketball, but the team is still a far cry away from being a perennial contender.
The first thing on Hinkie's to-do list is to determine whether or not the team should make a play for Andrew Bynum this summer. The Sixers are the only team that can offer the seven-foot center a max deal, but after an entire season in which Bynum failed to log even a single minute, it's unlikely that Philadelphia will commit to him long-term.
Replacing head coach Doug Collins is on Hinkie's agenda as well, and the team may choose to go with a young, up-and-coming candidate as opposed to the typical brand of NBA retreads. But unless the new bench boss is a miracle worker, the Sixers are still a few pieces away from making serious noise in the playoffs.
7. Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns' roster is underwhelming at best, so it's no surprise they finished with the worst record in the Western Conference this season at 25-57.
No one on the team averaged 15 points per game last season, and only Marcin Gortat averaged more than five rebounds per game. The situation on the bench was even worse: Lindsey Hunter assumed the head coaching duties after Alvin Gentry was fired at midseason, but Hunter's 12-29 record won't help him get the "interim" tag removed from his job title.
All is not lost, though: Phoenix is currently slotted for the No. 4 spot in the NBA draft, and even in the worst-case scenario, they can't fall lower than No. 7. So despite the rumblings that this draft class may weaker than others in recent memory, the Suns will still be in position to select a player who should contribute right away.
8. Sacramento Kings
Now that the Sacramento Kings will be staying in Northern California, the franchise can focus on improving a talented, but underachieving, group.
With the exception of DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings' best players are, at best, complementary pieces. And given Cousins' volatile attitude, Sacramento lacks anything approximating a reliable franchise player or the means to get one. Including the qualifying offers to several players, the Kings could already be committed to $56 million in salary next season.
It does, however, appear that the Kings are finally willing to move on from head coach Keith Smart, who won just 48 games over the past two seasons. If Sacramento can find a way to unload some of their higher-ticketed players, they may be able to right the ship sooner rather than later.