Every NBA Team's Worst Nightmare for 2013-14 Season

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistSeptember 16, 2013

Every NBA Team's Worst Nightmare for 2013-14 Season

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    For every NBA team, there's a potential disaster waiting to turn the 2013-14 season upside down.

    Even if a squad seems to be sitting pretty, it has a prospective obstacle that causes the head coach to lose sleep.

    The Miami Heat are defending champions and poised for a three-peat, so what's their worst nightmare? What about teams that are in rebuilding mode and aren't concerned about win-loss records?

    There's a stumbling block lurking for each club, and some are more catastrophic than others.

    Find out every team's worst nightmare for the upcoming campaign.

Atlanta Hawks: Lack of a Star Playmaker Knocks Team to Dreaded No. 8 Seed

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    Mike Budenholzer's Atlanta Hawks have a slew of good players, but no great ones outside of Al Horford.

    Paul Millsap is a nice addition and a quality power forward, but he and Elton Brand don't have the next-level dynamic skill and explosiveness to pressurize opposing frontcourts.

    It's a similar situation in the backcourt, where Lou Williams and Jeff Teague are competent handlers, but not special playmakers.

    How does this assemblage of talent lead to a nightmare scenario?

    Instead of being the No. 6 seed as it was last year, Atlanta could very well be No. 7 or No. 8, giving it almost no shot to escape the first round against an elite Eastern Conference squad.

Boston Celtics: Inadequate Compensation for Rajon Rondo Trade

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    There's still an outside chance that the Boston Celtics could trade Rajon Rondo within the next year, and if they do, they need to be extremely careful.

    "Acquiring assets" has become a common term in the NBA world, and sometimes general managers erroneously lean on that phrase to justify trades.

    Trading Rondo could give the Celtics some flexibility and resources for rebuilding. However, if the incoming players and draft picks don't pan out, then it could be a massively regrettable venture.

    The odds are that Rondo's will stay in Boston, but if he does get shipped out, the next phase of rebuilding could be uglier than anticipated.


Brooklyn Nets: Aging Team Plummets to 6th Seed, Faces Derrick Rose in 1st Round

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    Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets had enough trouble with the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the 2013 playoffs. They don't want to face them in the opening round again, especially if Chicago has home-court advantage and a healthy Derrick Rose.

    Kevin Garnett is 37, Jason Terry is 36, and Paul Pierce is 35. They're all battle-tested NBA champions, but a rough decline could happen any time now.

    Age-derived injuries to one or two of these stars would severely diminish Brooklyn's scoring attack and versatility. It would also rob the team of some of its best passers.

    Combine that with a thin cast of true point guards, and Brooklyn might be staring at a No. 6 seed and an early date with the Bulls and Mr. Rose.

Charlotte Bobcats: Team Improves Just Enough to Miss Marquee 2014 Draft Picks

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    After drafting collegiate star Cody Zeller and signing post-up master Al Jefferson, the Charlotte Bobcats have the makings of a better team.

    That's good news, but the only problem is the team still lacks a creative playmaker and franchise star to fuel it.

    And if Zeller and Jefferson improve the unit enough to win 30-35 games, their lottery placement will deny the team a chance to draft Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart, Jabari Parker or Julius Randle.

    In that case, Charlotte might be looking at the 2015 offseason as the next possible opportunity for legitimate improvement.

Chicago Bulls: One of the Big Names Goes Down Again

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    For the first time in a year-and-a-half, the Chicago Bulls core of stars is at full strength.

    The Windy City is desperate to see Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler all play together. It would be incredibly deflating if one of them were to suffer a major health setback.

    Tom Thibodeau's clan had a run of bad luck last spring, with Deng and Kirk Hinrich joining Rose on the sidelines for most of the playoffs, not to mention Noah's pesky plantar fasciitis.

    Bulls fans are thinking, "Surely that can't happen to us again, right?"

    Which immediate prompts a superstitious "knock on wood."

Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum Can't Shake the Injury Bug

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    Lots of questions and excitement surround the rebuilt Cleveland Cavaliers, but the only potential nightmare involves the health of their two best players.

    Kyrie Irving has yet to play more than 59 games in a season, and Andrew Bynum's nagging knee kept him out of the entire 2012-13 campaign. What if both continue to be hobbled by injuries?

    It's not far-fetched to think that Bynum's knees could sideline him at some point this year. Adding a Kyrie Irving injury to the equation would be devastating to the club and fanbase, as they're more than ready for the Cavs to break out and make the playoffs.

    Cleveland is praying that physical ailments don't keep the squad from earning the No. 8 seed.

Dallas Mavericks: New Faces Can't Defend Anyone

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    Among the Dallas Mavericks 2013 offseason moves were free-agent signees Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis and draftee Shane Larkin.

    All three will struggle to consistently defend, so the Mavs backcourt may turn into a gigantic sieve.

    Calderon lacks the athleticism, Monta Ellis lacks the intensity and commitment, and Shane Larkin lacks the size, so Rick Carlisle could have a defensive disaster on his hands.

    Dallas has other guards to work with, but these are the ones who will see the most court time. The club finished 27th in points allowed (101.7 per game) in 2012-13, and if the guards don't stop anyone, that puts too much pressure on the frontcourt to thwart opponents.

Denver Nuggets: JaVale McGee Flounders in Primary Role

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    With Kosta Koufos out of the picture and George Karl no longer on the sidelines, JaVale McGee will surely own a more prominent role for the Denver Nuggets.

    Instead of being a part-time paint patroller, he'll be a featured big man who starts over J.J. Hickson.

    This is McGee's time to shine, but there's a chance he might not handle the increased workload. His struggles could be enough to keep Denver too close to the No. 8 seed threshold.

    The super-athletic tower is an unpredictable player who's sometimes erratic and unpolished, so he might not be ready for 30-35 minutes of action. If that's the case, the Nuggets won't be nearly as formidable as they could be.


Detroit Pistons: Josh Smith Doesn't Fit...at All

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    Joe Dumars' biggest offseason addition could also be his biggest nightmare.

    Josh Smith's arrival puts the Detroit Pistons in a tricky spot. Maurice Cheeks might play him at the small forward position, where he's doomed to fail as an inconsistent shooter and mediocre ball-handler. Or he could run him at the power forward slot, which would directly cut into Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe's playing time and growth.

    Detroit will undoubtedly improve from last year based on the talent Smith and Brandon Jennings bring, but Smith's positional incompatibility may prevent the squad from coming close to its full potential.

    Unfortunately for the Pistons, this nightmare has a good chance of actually happening.

Golden State Warriors: Ankle Issues Return to Haunt Dubs

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    With a successful offseason that included the acquisition of Andre Iguodala and Marreese Speights, the Golden State Warriors are primed for another wildly fun campaign.

    Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Kent Bazemore will all show improvement, and Mark Jackson's bunch should be rock-solid on both ends of the floor.

    The only thing that really scares Dubs Nation is the idea of its star point guard or key center getting injured.

    Both Curry and Andrew Bogut have a history of significant ankle problems, and losing either one of those players would be heartbreaking. Curry is an elite source of firepower, and the team isn't the same without the gritty pivot play of Bogut.

Houston Rockets: Point Guard Mediocrity Prevents Title Contention

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    When the Houston Rockets tip off their 2013-14 NBA title quest, the point guard position will likely be their weakest.

    Jeremy Lin is a competent distributor who can make some timely plays and hit open triples, but nobody confuses him with an upper-tier floor general. His assists average is in the six-dime range, and he's not as dangerous a scorer as his "Linsanity Run" in 2012 would lead you to believe.

    Patrick Beverley is an exciting sophomore whose production is somewhere in the Lin range, so he has a chance to carve out some playing time.

    Neither player is exceedingly formidable to opponents, so the temptation is to let James Harden do more facilitating. That's a slippery slope, however, because Harden initiating from the point takes away from how lethal he can be on the wing.

Indiana Pacers: Indy Struggles to Integrate Granger, Falls to 4th Seed

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    The last time Danny Granger was fully healthy, he was the alpha male of the Indiana Pacers, hoisting 15-18 shots per game and serving as the unquestioned leader of the team.

    A lot has changed since then, most notably the explosion of Paul George and the 2013 playoff emergence of Roy Hibbert.

    It's not going to be a breeze to re-insert Granger back into the rotation. Ultimately, they will figure out how to utilize him, but it might take a few weeks of less-than-productive basketball to get things sorted out (much like the 2010-11 Miami Heat).

    Those early weeks of B+ hoops might be the difference that sends Indy to a fourth- or fifth-place finish in the Eastern Conference. A seeding that low translates to a second-round exit at the hands of Derrick Rose or LeBron James.

Los Angeles Clippers: DeAndre Jordan's Progress Stalls, Leads to Trade

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    Because DeAndre Jordan is still young and athletic, it's easy to be optimistic about his future.

    In the back of Gary Sacks' mind, however, is the worst-case scenario that Jordan fails to develop and remains a one-dimensional sideshow for the Los Angeles Clippers.

    I've been more than willing to point out Jordan's progression in the post, but all it really amounts to is baby steps that haven't blossomed yet. He may never own legitimate ball skills or a free-throw stroke worthy of late-game minutes.

    A lack of authentic growth in 2013-14 would limit L.A.'s ceiling and prompt trade possibilities. Shopping Jordan would break up Lob City's frontcourt core and begin a period of adjustments to new faces.

Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe and Pau Never Return to Top Form

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    Los Angeles Lakers fans (and NBA fans alike) place a great deal of confidence in Kobe Bryant's Achilles rehabilitation and ability to come back in All-Star form.

    And they should, because he's a special, world-class athlete.

    Unfortunately, it's not a given that he'll return to an elite level and pair with Pau Gasol for more classic moments.

    What if their days as a formidable duo are over?

    Lakers fans know that 2013-14 might be a painful one, but they at least want to see an inspiring winter comeback and a strong carryover into a 2014-15 playoff run. If they come back as mere mortals, it will a major letdown.

Memphis Grizzlies: Dave Joerger Struggles to Generate Offense

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    Replacing a veteran coach like Lionel Hollins is a tall task, especially when the team is coming off its first-ever trip to the conference finals.

    Dave Joerger might evolve into a terrific long-term fit for the Memphis Grizzlies, but he might hit some stumbling blocks in his first season or two.

    If aging veteran Mike Miller returns to his part-time, injury-prone ways, the Grizzlies will struggle mightily to manufacture a balanced offensive attack. The big men are skilled, and Mike Conley is a rock-solid point guard, but the team lacks athleticism and ample outside shooting.

    Joerger is more of a defensive-minded coach to begin with, so it could be a tough project for him to push the right buttons offensively. His first season at the helm might be a bit ugly, to the tune of 92 points per game and a No. 7 seed.

Miami Heat: Wade's Decline and Frustrating Season Leads to LeBron's Departure

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    Although LeBron James would love to stay with the Miami Heat long term, he's leaving plenty of room to potentially exercise his 2014 opt-out clause.

    Naturally, the nightmare scenario on South Beach is one that pushes the superstar out the door.

    Whether it's Dwyane Wade's injuries or a failed three-peat attempt, there are some factors that could make departing a tempting option. He's probably not going to discuss things until next summer, so the club had better prove that it's his best home for the future.

    The Heat fans and organization would probably trade a 2013-14 title for the comfort of knowing LeBron will be around for another four to five years. That's how much of a nightmare his exit would be.

Milwaukee Bucks: Surplus of Bigs Is Counterproductive Long Term

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    When they already had enough low-post personnel, the Milwaukee Bucks signed Zaza Pachulia to a three-year, $15.6 million contract.

    Pachulia is now thrown into the fray that includes Ekpe Udoh, Larry Sanders, John Henson and Ersan Ilyasova.

    Sanders and Henson are the youngest and most promising of the five, yet they might not get enough playing time to expand their games and grow comfortable against upper-tier bigs.

    The Bucks seemed lost this offseason, and it may come back to bite them in a big way. Playoffs weren't a likely outcome to begin with, but Milwaukee might screw things up even worse by curbing the evolution of its finest prospects.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Mediocre Defense Underachieves, Robs Wolves of Playoffs

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    The ultimate nightmare for Minnesota Timberwolves fans would be another injury-ravaged season, but let's assume the team isn't worried about lightning striking twice.

    A more tangible on-court worry lies in the team's defense, which probably won't improve and could cost the squad some games.

    Rick Adelman doesn't have much talent to work with when it comes to stoppers. Star power forward Kevin Love and steals master Ricky Rubio are decent, but they don't have the best athleticism. Derrick Williams and Shabbazz Muhammad are youngsters who don't yet know how to use their gifts defensively.

    Meanwhile, Kevin Martin is totally unreliable on the wing. According to 82games.com, the Oklahoma City Thunder gave up 105.2 points per 100 possessions while he was playing compared to 100.9 when he sat.

    Adelman might have nightmares about his group giving up 125 points in a potential playoff-clinching regular-season finale.

New York Knicks: A Repeat of J.R. Smith's 2013 2nd-Round Nightmare

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    With pieces like Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire, the New York Knicks have the pedigree and building blocks for a conference finals run, and they might even make the Miami Heat sweat.

    The length of their playoff run, though, will depend largely on the offensive effectiveness of players like J.R. Smith and newcomer Andrea Bargnani. 

    In the 2013 playoffs, Smith severely damaged New York's chances of advancement by shooting 29 percent from the field and 23 percent from three-point range. He was in a poorly timed funk, and his ineptitude was pretty much a nightmare for Knickerbockers fans. 

    He and Bargnani are both talented shooters who aren't ultra-consistent. In a mid-playoff slump, they could shoot enough bricks to send the team home early.

New Orleans Hornets: Tyreke Evans Signing Quickly Becomes Mistake

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    Adding Tyreke Evans to the new-look New Orleans Pelicans was a pricey endeavor, as he's owed $11 million per year over the next four campaigns.

    That's a large percentage of the payroll to devote to the team's fourth-best player.

    It would be a huge bummer if Evans didn't produce, and it would be equally frustrating if his playing style and presence in the lineup hampered the effectiveness of Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday.

    Evans has struggled to find a role in the NBA, and if this problem continues, he would be one of the most expensive projects in the league. 

Oklahoma City Thunder: Martin Isn't Adequately Replaced, Dynamic Duo over-Taxed

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    Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are outstanding performers and will probably both be Hall of Famers.

    But they can't do it all by themselves.

    The loss of Kevin Martin puts a little more pressure on guys like Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb to step up and fill the scoring void. There's also more pressure on Serge Ibaka to generate points in the post to keep defenses honest.

    If these role players can't step up, it leaves Durant and Westbrook with a ton of heavy lifting to do entering the 2014 playoffs.

    Without a true low-block scorer or a third playmaking option, OKC's dynamic duo will go down fighting somewhere in the conference semifinals or conference finals.

Orlando Magic: Victor Oladipo Struggles at Point, Doesn't Find Optimal Role

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    Whether he's ready or not, Orlando Magic rookie Victor Oladipo will shoulder a substantial share of responsibilities in the backcourt, including point guard duties.

    He's not naturally a floor general, so it will be somewhat of an experiment. The Magic hope to use his skill, athleticism and awareness to help initiate the team's offense. They would love it if he could blossom into a dangerous combo guard who can slash, shoot and distribute at a high level.

    There's no guarantee Oladipo will fit well at point guard, and early-season struggles could lead to an identity crisis position-wise.

    Orlando needs to solidify its quarterbacking future, because Jameer Nelson, Ronnie Price and E'Twaun Moore aren't the cornerstones of the future

    A failed Oladipo point guard experiment isn't likely, but it sure would be painful. 

Philadelphia 76ers: Both 1st-Round Rookies Disappoint

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    Brett Brown's Philadelphia 76ers aren't in win-now mode, so the young newcomers don't have to sparkle from the get-go.

    However, a nightmarish scenario would occur if neither top rookie showed signs of promise.

    The club would be in a heap of long-term trouble if these two scenarios coincide: (1) Michael Carter-Williams becomes a turnover factory who makes no shooting improvements, and (2) Nerlens Noel ends up being an injury-prone shot-blocking specialist with no offensive skills.

    Philly fans hope their young building blocks can give them evidence to be optimistic about the future.

Phoenix Suns: Crowded Frontcourt Hinders Team's Growth

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    Entering the 2013-14 season, the Phoenix Suns have a glut of bigs:

    • Marcin Gortat, C
    • Alex Len, C
    • Viacheslav Kravtsov, C
    • Marcus Morris, PF
    • Markieff Morris, PF
    • Miles Plumlee, PF/C
    • Channing Frye, PF/C

    Having plenty of talent isn't necessarily a bad thing, but creating logjams in multiple positions runs the risk of stunting a young team's growth and hindering chemistry progress.

    A commitment to the Morris brothers must be balanced with usage of proven veteran Channing Frye and new acquisition Miles Plumlee. Meanwhile, expiring contract Marcin Gortat will share minutes with lottery draft choice Alex Len.

    Juggling all these bodies in 2013-14 could end up being a major headache that puts the 2014-15 team at a disadvantage. 

Portland Trail Blazers: Ugly Aftermath of LaMarcus Aldridge Trade

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    The Portland Trail Blazers will be putting out fliers for those interested in renting LaMarcus Aldridge for a year-and-a-half, and a trade could potentially have damaging consequences.

    With Aldridge in the fold, the Blazers own a proven thoroughbred in the paint to accompany the rising young perimeter players.

    Sending him away may spark an extended period of rebuilding, one that could set back the squad's playoff hopes a couple more years. Bleacher Report's league-wide NBA guru Dan Favale explains that the Blazers are already close to the triumvirate necessary to challenge Western Conference powers:

    For how far the Blazers still have to go, they're so very, very close to something, perhaps a trio of stars. (Thomas) Robinson could be that third wheel. To a lesser extent, C.J. McCollum could be too.

    Losing Aldridge would dismantle something special that's brewing in Rip City, and it would send the team back to the muddy path of reassembling a contender.

Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins Doesn't Grow Up

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    DeMarcus Cousins has had a turbulent relationship with the Sacramento Kings, but the front office appears to be willing to sign him to a max extension in hopes that he grows up.

    A continuation of his immaturity would make the situation quite frustrating.

    Cousins has all the tools and promise as a player, and the team is set to financially reward him for his talents. It's a shame that his attitude and lack of leadership might harm this re-tooled team's development.

    His interaction with coaches, nightly commitment and locker room outlook must improve in order for Sac-Town to make meaningful strides. Another year of drama would be a huge pain for everyone involved.


San Antonio Spurs: Veterans Finally Hit Major Decline

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    We have all learned by now to refrain from underestimating the aging San Antonio Spurs core. We're hesitant to say "this is the year they'll finally fall out of the picture."

    But it will happen sometime, maybe even this year.

    Tim Duncan is 37 years old and Manu Ginobili is 36, and if they both fall apart in the same season, it will be a sad day for the franchise and a challenging one on the court.

    Duncan and Ginobili are both special, irreplaceable-type players who bring an incredible mixture of skills to the Spurs. A sharp decline due to injury would cripple the team, especially because Duncan's contributions would be difficult to replicate.

Toronto Raptors: Terrence Ross Becomes a Wasted 2012 Pick

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    A top-10 draft selection just a year ago, Toronto Raptors shooting guard Terrence Ross runs the risk of being a wasted pick if he doesn't progress.

    Toronto has a couple of marquee players on the wing in Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan, in addition to newcomer Austin Daye, so Ross will have to scratch and claw for playing time.

    Ross needs to show promise during each of his appearances, but the Raptors need to meet him halfway and give him a healthy opportunity to grow as a swingman. He needs enough playing time to get comfortable at the position and gain confidence in his role on the team.

    I'm not saying the Raptors need to trade Rudy Gay in order to truly develop Ross, but if Ross gets lost in the shuffle over the next year or so, he will become a regrettably mismanaged 2012 lottery pick.

Utah Jazz: Trey Burke Shows Little Promise as a Scorer

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    It's a transitional year for Tyrone Corbin and the Utah Jazz, so no one is begging for Trey Burke to be a hero.

    What we do want to see is evidence that his summer league shooting woes are behind him.

    It's highly unlikely that he'll struggle so much to score and shoot as inefficiently as he did in Orlando, but Burke may have some serious trouble putting the ball in the hoop.

    Not only is the 6'0" floor general facing a size disadvantage against most guards, he's also still learning how to finish against NBA athletes once he gets into the lane.

    "Nightmare" isn't the right word, but it would be sad to realize Burke is a poor-man's version of Kemba Walker.

Washington Wizards: Athletically Overmatched Small Forwards Cost Team

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    Keeping the backcourt healthy is always a concern, but the biggest non-injury nightmare that keeps the Washington Wizards up at night is the unathletic, unexplosive small forwards on the roster.

    Trevor Ariza signed a big deal with the Houston Rockets in 2009-10, and after a productive first year there, his numbers have gone down each year in New Orleans and Washington. He simply lacks the kind of foot-speed, agility and creativity to thrive on the wing.

    That's part of the reason why they brought in Otto Porter, but Porter might face some obstacles, too, with athleticism being one of them. His wingspan, court awareness and nose for the ball will make up for some of the deficiencies, but if he can't create his own buckets or make shots in the open floor, it could be an uphill pain of a rookie season.

    He might even jeopardize Washington's playoff bid.