What could be holding the Spurs back from another title run?
Not every team has a chance at the 2014 NBA title, but it sure feels that way.
It's hard to remember a year the championship seemed this wide open—there's a clear top five or six in both conferences, and they (or maybe even a surprise dark horse) all have a shot at winning the title.
But each of those teams—and every other team in the NBA, in fact—has something that could hold them back from a championship. It could be that a team is putting too much pressure on a certain player, that it's too young to beat more accomplished opponents or maybe it is just rebuilding.
Whatever the reason, every team has a weakness that could prevent them from hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Here's each team's biggest.
All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless specifically stated otherwise.
Al Horford is fantastic, but he'll need to grow into a top-10 player if the Hawks are to win a title.
This may feel like a bit of a cop out, but what else could you say about the Atlanta Hawks?
Atlanta is a well-constructed and reasonably balanced team. And hats off to Hawks general manager Danny Ferry for finding a Josh Smith replacement in Paul Millsap and still leaving options open for next summer.
The Hawks will be competitive this season. However, history (at least not championship history) is not kind to teams without at least one top-10 player. As excellent as Al Horford is, he's not quite in that tier.
Atlanta can make a real playoff push, but it's unlikely to do any real damage after it gets there.
Still though, with plenty of cap flexibility and players like Dennis Schroeder and Lucas Nogueira waiting in the wings (no pun intended, I promise), the Hawks future beyond this year looks pretty bright.
Will Rajon Rondo be a Celtic for much longer?
Celtic fans are going to have as much trouble mustering up enthusiasm for this year's playoff chances as MarShon Brooks did for this photo.
Whether or not fans agree with what the Celtics did this offseason, they have to now accept that the team has moved on from the “Big Three” era. Boston has got an exciting young head coach in Brad Stevens and a veritable treasure chest of unprotected future picks.
It just won't make a difference this season.
Can Garnett still anchor an elite defense?
The Brooklyn Nets' season more or less hinges on one question: Can Kevin Garnett (with some help from Andrei Kirilenko) put the defense on his shoulders?
The Nets scored at a near-elite level last season, clocking in at eighth with 108 points per 100 possessions. Their mediocre defense was the real problem—they ranked just 17th in the league and were shredded on that end by the Chicago Bulls in the postseason.
Garnett remains one of the best defenders around, and only once in his stint with the Boston Celtics did the team not boast a top-five defense—they ranked seventh last year. But Garnett is 37 years old, and it's hard to say how long his body can hold up.
If Garnett is completely healthy going into the playoffs, then the Nets will be a legitimate contender—maybe even one of the favorites. But it's certainly a gamble considering the way nagging injuries have held him back in past years. If he's not at 100 percent, it's hard to see the Nets coming out of a tough Eastern Conference.
Charlotte needs its young players to make big strides this season.
Even after the rather odd Al Jefferson signing, there's no question the Charlotte Bobcats are firmly in the rebuilding stage. These guys ranked dead last in the league defensively last season and third to last offensively.
They were very, very bad on both sides of the ball, and aren't likely to make any huge leaps this season.
The addition of Jefferson—the efficient, high-usage scorer Charlotte's been craving—will make the team more competitive, though, and it'll at least be interesting to see how Kemba Walker, Cody Zeller and particularly Michael Kidd-Gilchrist improve over the course of the year.
Any need to explain how badly the Bulls need this guy back?
Pretty obvious. The Chicago Bulls season hinges on how healthy Derrick Rose is.
If Rose is the same guy he was before his injury, then the Bulls have top-five potential on both sides of the ball and will be a title favorite. If he's not, then the 2013-14 season will probably end the same way this year's did for Chicago—with a lot of heart and defense but ultimately not enough scoring to get past the real heavy hitters.
It's hard to say much more on the matter until we see what Rose looks like on the court.
It's going to be another fun season from Irving.
From a talent perspective, the Cleveland Cavaliers have one of the most interesting rosters in the league. But even if everything breaks just right for them, they're still too inexperienced to actually take a title.
Cleveland could be a fairly dangerous offensive team and a fringe playoff contender should Andrew Bynum and Anderson Varejao both hold up physically—a big “if”. But head coach Mike Brown has his work cut out for him on the defensive end, and four of the Cavs projected best players—Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett—are all 22 years old or younger.
All of the guys listed above are still growing into their games, and while they have the potential to be great players (heck, Irving already is), they're too raw to help the Cavs fight toe-to-toe with a legitimate contender.
The best case scenario here is that Cleveland makes the playoffs, puts up a hell of a fight in the first round and has everyone comparing them to the 2010 Oklahoma City Thunder.
Which wouldn't be too shabby at all.
Mavs fans better get used to this guy.
How else can you say it? Despite what Mark Cuban says, the Dallas Mavericks whiffed in free agency and now appear locked in the NBA's dreaded middle ground.
The Mavericks' two main additions, Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, are solid, if incomplete offensive players and should be fun to watch alongside Dirk Nowitzki. But neither play much defense. Samuel Dalembert and Shawn Marion are going to have their hands full trying to lift Dallas to even defensive mediocrity. (The Mavs ranked 19th in the league last season.)
The Mavericks should be able to squeeze out 40 or so wins and fight for one of the Western Conference's final playoff spots, but expecting anything more than that is unrealistic.
Monta-Dirk pick-and-rolls will be entertaining and could make for a fairly dynamic offensive team, but the Mavericks were below average on both ends of the court last season and missed out on landing any players who could provide a two-way impact.
Hey, at least Danilo will be back!
The Denver Nuggets looked like bonafide contenders before Danilo Gallinari went down last season, but they're presently going through such a period of transition that it's now hard to consider them as such.
Just a quick recap of the changes: Brian Shaw has taken over as head coach; Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer are both suiting up elsewhere; JaVale McGee is now the unquestioned starting center, and Nate Robinson, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye and J.J. Hickson were all brought in to provide depth.
All these changes bring up a ton of questions. Will the Nuggets be able to survive defensively without Iguodala? All the pieces are still there for a fast-paced, small-ball team, but is that how Brian Shaw wants to play? And what on earth can Denver do without enough half-decent defensive bigs?
The Nuggets have a lot to figure out before they can reclaim contender status, and it's too much to ask of Shaw to accomplish all of that on the fly.
Smith was a great pickup, but Detroit's going to have some spacing trouble next season.
The Detroit Pistons are a far more talented team than they were last season, and they'll absolutely snag a playoff berth. But it's hard to see them making much postseason noise with this roster.
The problem with the Pistons is the Josh Smith-Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond frontcourt and the spacing nightmare it might cause.
None of the three players can do much outside of the paint—Drummond doesn't even shoot from anywhere past 10 feet, and Smith and Monroe both hit around 32 percent from mid-range and beyond last season (per NBA.com).
That's going to make the Detroit offense extremely cluttered in half-court sets. Atlanta Hawks fans hated when Smith chucked perimeter shots, but he may be forced to do that out of sheer necessity in Detroit.
It's not as if the Pistons have no way to attack. Smith at the 3 presents some interesting mismatches, and Brandon Jennings is a creative passer, who should provide Drummond with a good pick-and-roll partner. But smart defenses will sag off of both Smith and Monroe and really kill whatever Detroit tries to do offensively.
The Pistons are intriguing, but their players don't fit well enough to consider the team among the league's elite.
Bogut was absolutely fantastic in the postseason.
Can Andrew Bogut stay healthy?
That's what may decide the Golden State Warriors' season.
Bogut was a monster in the playoffs last season, where he averaged 10 points and 14 rebounds per 36 minutes, protected the rim at all costs and flashed enough passing ability that the Warriors actually ran their offense through him at times.
His impact, particularly defensively, can't be overstated—when he was on the floor, the Warriors were an elite defense, and when he wasn't, they were scored on at roughly the rate of the New Orleans Hornets' 28th-ranked defense (per Basketball-Reference).
But with Festus Ezeli out for six to nine months, the Warriors are going to need Bogut on the floor more, and that's a scary proposition for someone with his history. Bogut's played a full season just once in his career—when he was a rookie—and has played just 44 regular season games over the past two years. The recently signed Jermaine O'Neal can eat up some minutes at the 5, but he's 34 years old and has some serious injury history, too.
The Warriors will obviously do the best they can at managing Bogut's minutes, but in the end, they might just have to hope his body holds up. Andre Iguodala can hold down the fort defensively for a time, but come the postseason, Golden State needs Bogut at 100 percent.
His health determines the Warriors' year.
Can Dwight regain his old defensive intensity?
Dwight Howard will improve the Houston Rockets, that's a sure thing. When healthy, Howard is the best two-way big in basketball, and it's not close. But whether or not he actually vaults Houston into the championship conversation depends both on his health and his willingness to accept the Rockets' style of play.
And both of those things are still up in the air.
Howard's going to be counted on to anchor the Houston defense this season, and while he's certainly capable of it, you could make a real case that if he's not much healthier than last season, he won't be all that effective.
Howard and the man who now backs him up, Omer Asik, had similar defensive tasks last season—be the anchor and rim-protector for a fast-paced team with few quality defenders—and you could make the case that Asik actually outperformed Howard.
Asik outdid Howard on the defensive glass (grabbing 31 percent of available rebounds to Howard's 27 percent), and the Rockets were better than the Lakers defensively when both Asik and Howard were on the court (per 82games.com). Obviously, you can't make any concrete conclusions since the two played for very different teams, but it's hard to say that the Howard of last season could have transformed the Rockets into an elite defensive team.
And even if Howard is 100 percent healthy and a monster on the defensive end, there's some question as to how he'll fit into the Houston offense. Ideally, the Rockets will play high-tempo basketball and run endless strings of pick-and-rolls with Howard and James Harden—Howard is one of the league's best roll men, and Harden its best young pick-and-roll guard (per Synergy Sports Technology).
But Howard is accustomed to getting 55-60 percent of his touches in the post, and his post-ups are a far less efficient option than a pick-and-roll with Harden. Will he be willing to sacrifice post touches? And if not, where does that leave the Houston offense?
The Rockets figure to be very good no matter what, but if Howard isn't back to his Orlando Magic form or is unwilling to accept a different role in the Houston offense, they may not be a real title threat.
Granger isn't a necessity, but he'd push the Pacers over the top this season.
Even after trading for Luis Scola, it's clear that the Indiana Pacers need some added scoring to take home the Larry O'Brien Trophy (they scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs, below league average), though Danny Granger's return also has to help.
If healthy, Granger would be a perfect fit. He's a very good outside shooter, he's a plus defender and he can score efficiently and in a variety of ways (per Synergy Sports Technology). Off the bench (where he's likely to play), he'd be an absolute terror.
But that's the best-case scenario.
Granger is coming off of knee surgery and looked very poor in the few games he did play last season. He's not likely to fetch much on the trade market, so if he can't give the Pacers anything, they'll more or less have to roll with the exact team they have now.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, but barring a ton of development from players currently on the roster, the Pacers still might not have the scoring to get through the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Granger will be a big factor in deciding Indiana's season, one way or another.
Jordan is a decent rim-protector, but the Clippers need more from him.
DeAndre Jordan is the Los Angeles Clippers' second-best big and their best rebounder and rim-protector. But they can't win a title if he doesn't improve, and he's done very little improving on either end over the course of his career.
Offensively, Jordan should be able to get by as a roll man alone—he was the second-most efficient roll man in the league last season (per Synergy Sports Technology). But for whatever reason, just seven percent of Jordan's touches came through pick-and-roll sets compared to 26 percent in the post, where he's far less efficient.
Numbers like those hurt the Clippers, and that's before throwing in his career 42 percent free-throw shooting—a weakness that makes him all but unplayable late in games.
Jordan's defense is the bigger issue. Los Angeles was actually six points per 100 possessions worse defensively when Jordan was on the court, mostly because he was a poor pick-and-roll defender who couldn't hedge against ball-handlers the way Vinny Del Negro seemed to want him to.
The good news for Clipper fans is that improvement in both of these areas is certainly possible, and Doc Rivers may be able to draw up some schemes that play to Jordan's strengths the way Del Negro never did. But Jordan's lack of improvement over the course of his career is troubling, and if it continues, the Clippers won't be able to take home a title.
Meet the man who's going to save the Lakers next season. Allegedly.
How Kobe Bryant recovers from his Achilles tear is obviously huge, but even if he comes back better than ever, the Los Angeles Lakers clearly aren't a title contender.
The Lakers' three biggest additions this offseason were Chris Kaman, Wesley Johnson and Nick Young. They'll all probably help in a way—Kaman's ability to hit mid-range jumpers will make him a nice complement to Pau Gasol, Young can provide some bench scoring and Johnson still has a chance to pan out as a half-decent wing.
But the Lakers were a bottom-five defense when Dwight Howard wasn't on the court last season, and none of their new signees are going to do much to push the needle in the other direction (per 82games.com).
The Lakers would be lucky to snag a playoff spot this season, let alone a title.
Marc Gasol and friends are fantastic, but they'll need to improve offensively to get a title.
The Memphis Grizzlies will be a tough out in the playoffs no matter what happens. They were second only to the Indiana Pacers defensively last season, and teams who can play defense like that never go down easy.
But even with the addition of the oft-injured Mike Miller, the Grizzlies might not have enough scoring to make it through a loaded Western Conference. Last season, Memphis finished 17th in the league offensively (105 points per 100 possessions) and scored at almost exactly that rate in the playoffs.
Miller will provide spacing that the Grizzlies just didn't have and should make a good match with both Tony Allen and Quincy Pondexter on the wing. But shot creation is still an issue against the league's best defenses, and Memphis may still not be able to score enough to take a playoff series from the West's top two or so teams.
Does Wade have another elite season in him?
Dwyane Wade looked to be wearing down at the end of last season, and if he can't produce at a star level this year, then the Miami Heat might find themselves in a lot of trouble.
To put it bluntly, Wade actually hurt the Heat when he was on the court in the 2013 postseason. When Wade played, Miami outscored opponents by three points per 100 possessions, not a terrible mark by any means. But when Wade sat and LeBron James was surrounded by shooters, Miami outscored opponents by a whopping 17.6 points per 100 possessions—a massive number.
Wade is vital to the Heat because he takes a lot of the shot-creating pressure off of LeBron's shoulders, but his lack of shooting hurts them, and it's created a difficult balancing act for head coach Erik Spoelstra.
As superhuman as James seems, Miami needs Wade to be his old self this upcoming season. If he can't be that, the Heat will struggle to get out of the Eastern Conference.
Larry Sanders is a defensive monster.
The Milwaukee Bucks basically lost their entire backcourt, so yeah, it's safe to say they're rebuilding.
The Bucks probably aren't competing for a playoff spot this year, but even so, they have a lot of interesting pieces and look reasonably set for the future.
Larry Sanders is a rim-protecting genius worthy of a near-max or even max deal, O.J. Mayo is a reasonably efficient scoring guard, Giannis Antetokounmpo (genuinely no idea how to pronounce that) is one to watch for the future, and Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson make for a pretty well-balanced frontcourt combination.
The Bucks should be competing for playoff spots in a year or two, but it's safe to say the title is out of their hands this season.
Whatever happens to Minnesota, it'll be nice to see Love on a court again.
The Minnesota Timberwolves likely would have been a playoff team had Kevin Love not been injured last season, and they've only gotten better after adding Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer (assuming they re-sign Nikola Pekovic).
Between Love, Martin, Chase Budinger's shooting, Ricky Rubio's playmaking and Pekovic's interior bruising, Minnesota's going to be very good offensively.
It's the defense that's troubling.
The Timberwolves lost their top defender in Andrei Kirilenko, and Rubio projects to be the best stopper among the starters—not exactly a recipe for a great defense. Barring some kind of miracle defensive leap from Kevin Martin, who is one of the worst defenders in the league, Minnesota will probably struggle to field an even above-average defense.
Minnesota's going to put up a serious fight for a playoff spot, but even if it gets there, it won't be able to knock off a top seed playing offense-only ball.
Davis is likely to be very, very good soon.
Grantland's Zach Lowe put it nicely when he wrote:
Executives are both curious about the team's new six-man nucleus and skeptical that this group can take New Orleans over the mountaintop. The Pellies are betting on a lot of things, but the most important big-picture wager is on a 20-year-old Anthony Davis developing into one of the league's five best players. Most executives agree that is a good bet. But will he get to that level at the right time for this group?
That's just it. Davis is too young. He has huge potential—he's almost certainly one of the NBA's next big superstars—and he was awesome at times last season (he finished 15th in PER). However, he's still growing as a defender, and the Pelicans were torn apart defensively when he was paired with Ryan Anderson (per NBA.com).
No matter with what players the Pelicans surround Davis, they won't be a real contender until he's had a few campaigns under his belt. As Lowe said, betting on Davis becoming a top-five player is a good idea. It's just not happening yet.
Chandler's got a lot on his plate next season.
Remember everything that was written about Andrew Bogut and the Golden State Warriors?
You can basically apply all of that to Tyson Chandler and the New York Knicks.
Now more than ever, the Knicks are betting their defense (and a healthy chunk of their offense) on Chandler. New York fans can do little but cross their fingers and hope he stays healthy.
Adding Andrea Bargnani certainly has the potential to make New York a greater offensive threat, but it also brings an awful defender to a team chock full of them and makes Chandler's job just that much harder. The Knicks finished 18th defensively last season but gave up 114 points per 100 possessions when Chandler wasn't on the floor (per 82games.com).
New York needs Chandler to be on the floor and to be everywhere defensively when he is. His pick-and-roll prowess is already the backbone of the Knicks offense, and asking him to do even more defensively than he did last season is dangerous.
Last postseason, Chandler simply burned out—he averaged six points and six rebounds against the Indiana Pacers and was dealing with multiple injuries and ailments (per the New York Daily News' Mitch Abramson).
Can he get through this season unscathed? Maybe. But it's a big gamble and one that could cost the Knicks a deep playoff run.
By this time next year, everyone will probably know how great Reggie Jackson is.
Regardless of what happens with their young players, the Oklahoma City Thunder will probably be one of the three or four best teams in the league, but it's the young guns who could push them over the top.
The Thunder actually have a few talented youngsters. Steven Adams, this year's 12th overall pick, is being groomed as their center for the future, and fellow first-rounder Andre Roberson is a monster on the glass.
But it's Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb who will have the biggest say in how this season goes for OKC.
Jackson proved to be a very good player in last season's playoffs, but the Thunder are going to need very strong production from him now that Kevin Martin's gone. Only time will tell if he can consistently deliver it. Jackson is an awesome pick-and-roll guard (sixth in the league last season, via Synergy Sports Technology) and his 74 percent shooting at the rim is LeBron James-like.
But Jackson's also a poor shooter from anywhere outside of the paint and doesn't draw many fouls, patterns that could really hurt his efficiency now that defenses will be keying on him (per 82games.com).
Lamb is interesting in the sense that he looks the part but is totally unproven. He is a super smooth athlete with a beautiful-looking jumper. However, he shot just 35 percent from three in the D-League last season and often struggles with shot selection and turnovers (per NBA.com). The Thunder would be happy if he could just be a solid catch-and-shoot threat, but it's unclear if he'll be able to provide that immediately.
As mentioned before, the Thunder are title contenders no matter what. But improvement from Reggie Jackson or rotation-caliber minutes from Jeremy Lamb could be the difference between a deep playoff run and a title.
Nikola Vucevic can flat out rebound.
Give some credit to Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan.
In just one year, the Magic went from a team that seemed completely doomed without Dwight Howard to a young, fun squad with a lot of exciting pieces.
They'll still be terrible this year—and considering how stacked the 2014 draft is said to be, that's probably a good thing—but watching young studs like Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Moe Harkless and Tobias Harris grow could make for a reasonably entertaining season.
It looked messy when Howard left, but the Magic have turned things around quite nicely.
It's time to see what Evan Turner can do.
The win-loss column is not going to look pretty for the Philadelphia 76ers this coming season.
The 76ers traded Jrue Holiday to start stocking up for the future. Getting Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams and two potential lottery picks in a stacked draft isn't a bad way to do that, particularly now that the 76ers are set to be one of the worst teams in basketball.
Unfortunately, outside of watching Noel and Carter-Williams grow and maybe finally figuring out what Evan Turner can bring to the table, there won't be much watchable basketball played in Philly this season.
It's all about the lottery for the 76ers.
Bledsoe should at least make this season bearable for Phoenix fans.
Nearly everything you just read about the Philadelphia 76ers, you can apply to the Phoenix Suns and just change the names. The Suns are rebuilding and are going to be pretty hard to watch this season.
It's better to be very bad than okay, though, and Phoenix should be in the mix for a top-five pick this season. Also, the team has two young players with a lot of potential in Eric Bledsoe and Alex Len, who could keep Suns fans in their seats this upcoming season.
This is a developmental year for Phoenix, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Will Aldridge be a Blazer by the end of the year?
The Portland Trail Blazers beefed up what was one of the worst benches in the league last season and have a lot of talented young players. They have a real chance at a playoff spot this season if all goes well, but three or four contributors will be first- or second-year players, making them a bit too inexperienced for a real run.
Still, Damian Lillard will be a blast to watch and should pair well with rookie C.J. McCollum, even if they will struggle defensively. McCollum was only so-so in summer league play, but he's a smooth shooter, a solid pick-and-roll creator and he and Lillard can play on and off the ball interchangeably.
The most intriguing pickup is Thomas Robinson, the 2012 draft's fifth overall pick. Robinson is super raw, but he's already a strong rebounder and never got a fair shake in Houston or Sacramento. He could be a real player given time.
It's going to be yet another interesting season with DeMarcus Cousins.
The Sacramento Kings should once again be bad enough to fight (or not fight, I suppose) for a top-five pick, so this season is mostly about figuring out what to do with DeMarcus Cousins.
With that being said, there are still a few things that Kings fans can look forward to this season. Ben McLemore has as much, if not more star power than anyone in the 2013 draft. Despite a disappointing summer league showing, he should be exciting to watch, especially playing alongside Greivis Vasquez, who's a creative passer even if he does get reckless with the ball at times.
Carl Landry is also a nice addition, even if the Kings do have a glut of similar forwards. Landry is a plus defender, he plays hard and he's a good locker room presence for a team that's desperate to surround Cousins with them.
Sacramento has seemingly been rebuilding for years, and that doesn't seem set to change for a while.
Ginobili's a basketball genius, but how much does he have left in the tank?
Yes, I know. Every single year, people write that the San Antonio Spurs are too old to make a playoff run, and every single year, the Spurs prove everyone wrong.
But eventually, they really will get too old to make a run, though aside from age, they have very few weaknesses.
Tim Duncan might just be a machine sent from the future—it's almost eerie how similar his per 36 numbers are every year. Manu Ginobili, however, hasn't been quite so consistent as Duncan, and his decline is the one big thing that could cost San Antonio.
Ginobili proved in Game 5 of this year's Finals that he still has a few brilliant games left in the tank, but he's 36 years old and coming off the worst playoffs of his career. And if Ginobili's play declines further, the Spurs will be in some real trouble against the league's other top teams.
To be fair, the blow would likely be softened by Kawhi Leonard, who will almost inevitably improve by leaps and bounds this season. But Leonard has very little in the way of an off-the-dribble game, and couldn't make up for Ginobili's decline entirely. Ginobili's creativity is part of what makes the Spurs so dangerous, and they'd sorely miss that no matter how great their offensive system may be.
Time eventually catches up to everyone (except Tim Duncan, obviously), and if it catches up with Ginobili, then the Spurs will find it very difficult to make it out of the Western Conference.
Rudy Gay can score, but his shot selection can really be a detriment.
No team with Rudy Gay as its top offensive option can be considered a championship-caliber team, almost no matter who's surrounding him.
That's not intended to be mean; it's just the truth.
To put it bluntly, Gay is an efficiency junky's nightmare. Last season, nearly 60 percent of Gay's shots came from mid-range or beyond, and he made just 32 percent of them. That's a horrible combination, and it's why Gay graded out as the 245th most efficient offensive player in the league during his time last season with the Toronto Raptors (per Synergy Sports Technology).
What makes it worse is that Gay used 29 percent of the Raptors' possessions last season. High-usage, low-efficiency players generally don't improve offenses, and Gay is no exception—the Raptors were almost just as good offensively when he rode the bench (per 82games.com).
This may all be irrelevant since the Raptors are likely to start rebuilding under new general manager Masai Ujiri. But if they choose not to, Toronto will be sporting both an average offense and defense, and that combination probably isn't bringing home a title any time soon.
Gordon Hayward and the Jazz could be a strong defensive team, but they'll struggle to score.
You could also label this “rebuilding,” but the Jazz will probably be a solid defensive team this season, so this seems more appropriate.
First off, the Jazz made the right move in letting Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap go. Jefferson was a massive defensive liability, and though Millsap was a good player, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors need to start getting real minutes.
However, getting rid of those two leaves Gordon Hayward and rookie Trey Burke as the team's top offensive options, which means that the Jazz are going to be firmly at the bottom of the league when it comes to offensive production.
They're going to have difficulty scoring no matter who they play.
Favors, Kanter, Hayward and Burke is a pretty strong four-man core and could grow into a defensive juggernaut if all goes well. That's worth a year or two of offensive struggles, but it means the Jazz aren't going anywhere for a bit.
Wall will have to replicate his success this season if the Wizards are to get anywhere.
The Washington Wizards are too inexperienced to make a real title run. But they should have no problem getting to the playoffs and could maybe even give one of the top seeds a real fight, depending on Nene's health.
Last season, Washington ranked sixth in the league defensively after John Wall returned from injury—an encouraging sign for such a young team. Even better is the fact that in limited minutes, Washington's best lineup (Wall, Bradley Beal, Martell Webster, Nene and Emeka Okafor) crushed teams last year, outscoring opponents by 24 points per 100 possessions and posting an absurd defensive rating of 84.4 per NBA.com).
Expecting numbers like that over the course of a season would be crazy, but all signs point to Washington being a dangerous team on both sides of the ball—particularly defensively.
With that being said, the Wizards had real trouble scoring last season. And that's despite Wall playing out of his mind and Beal hitting an almost definitely unsustainable 47 percent of his three-pointers once Wall returned (per NBA.com).
That's where inexperience comes into play—the Wizards are still tinkering with how to best use their lineups, especially with both Nene and Okafor on the floor. To make things even more complicated, they have to figure out how to fit their third overall pick, Otto Porter, into a fairly crowded frontcourt.
Washington has a lot of talent, and while they should snag a playoff seed, this year is mostly about figuring out how to best use that talent. Should Wall, Beal and Porter make strides over the next few years, then the Wizards will start making deep playoff runs, but it's unlikely to happen yet.