Panic Meter for Every NBA Team Entering 2014

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 21, 2013

Panic Meter for Every NBA Team Entering 2014

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    In every NBA team's front office, there's a little red button sitting at the general manager's desk. 

    That button—the panic button, if you will—starts flashing as things get worse, just daring the people standing over it to rip off the glass case and slam their palms down on it. Every team wants to at times, but only a select few actually get to the point where they have no other choice. 

    Now obviously, that's not literally true, but it may as well be in a metaphorical sense. 

    General managers, coaches, players and fanbases all have panic buttons in their minds, and they get close to pushing them throughout various points of the season. The panic fluctuates between 0/10 (complete peace of mind) and 10/10 (holy $*%!, we have to do something now!), and most teams have the luxury of falling on the right half of the meter. 

    Here's hoping that's the case for your team. If you're from New York, chances are you're out of luck, though.

Indiana Pacers

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    There's no reason for the Indiana Pacers to worry—literally none at all. 

    With Paul George looking like an MVP candidate, Roy Hibbert doing his thing by protecting the rim as well as anyone in the NBA and the rest of the roster balling, Indiana has risen to the apex of the Eastern Conference. 

    It took foul trouble for Hibbert and a 15-point comeback for the Miami Heat to take the Pacers down, and the team figures to get even stronger now that Danny Granger has finally returned to health. An improving bench gets even deeper, and a great team gets even better. 

    The Pacers might as well not even have a panic meter at this point in the season. 

     

    Panic Meter: 0/10

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    The Oklahoma City Thunder are in great shape, and you could make a convincing argument that this team is better than any Kevin Durant has ever found himself on. 

    Even though James Harden is now playing for the Houston Rockets and Kevin Martin is with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Thunder are having no trouble producing offense. Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb both look like solid offensive players, and this team's depth is certainly helping make things easy on the superstars. 

    Speaking of superstars, the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook combo doesn't know how to lose. 

    While asserting themselves as the unquestioned top duo in the NBA, Durant and Westbrook have gone a scorching 19-3 since the dynamic point guard debuted this season. Not too shabby, as it's allowed OKC to rise all the way up to the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference. 

    The word "panic" might as well not exist in Oklahoma City. 

     

    Panic Meter: 0/10

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Why should the Philadelphia 76ers panic? Why should they even sweat, unless we're talking about the players sweating from running around in Brett Brown's movement-heavy systems?

    The Sixers are tanking perfectly. 

    Although the team can't seem to lose with much frequency when Michael Carter-Williams is running the show, that's still a positive development. Philadelphia couldn't possibly have expected to win the lottery like this, as it has a franchise centerpiece at point guard now. MCW is no longer viewed as a raw rookie, but rather a potential star who is already in the top 15 for jersey sales. 

    Philadelphia is ahead of only the Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz in the standings, putting the team in prime position to earn one of the top picks in the 2014 NBA draft. General manager Sam Hinkie will be adding a potential superstar and Nerlens Noel to the mix next season, in addition to whatever else is picked up. 

    Despite its record, this team is in perfect position. 

     

    Panic Meter: 0/10

Portland Trail Blazers

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    David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

    The Portland Trail Blazers have an unstoppable offense. 

    According to Basketball-Reference, Rip City has posted a scorching 113.8 points per 100 possessions, giving it the No. 1 spot in the Association with room to spare. For reference, the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers are the next two teams in the rankings, coming in at 111.1 and 108.9, respectively. 

    Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are the driving forces, and it's hard to poke many holes in their games. 

    While Lillard's outside shooting and pull-up jumpers have led him to 21.3 points per game, Aldridge has used his dominant mid-range game and post-up moves to assert himself as the league's best power forward.

    Yes, better than Kevin Love. 

    Terry Stotts is pushing all the right buttons while maximizing this team's defensive talent, and that's all it's taken to move the Trail Blazers right up near the top of the Western Conference standings. The deeper we get into the season, the more fans are being forced to view this team as one that can legitimately contend. 

     

    Panic Meter: 0/10

San Antonio Spurs

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Do the San Antonio Spurs ever panic? 

    This is a team that can go into Oracle Arena without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili and still emerge with a victory against a Golden State Warriors team that wasn't missing any starters. 

    The Spurs might not earn the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, but they don't need to. As long as they avoid major injuries, they're going to make a deep playoff run and have an excellent shot at earning a rematch with the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. 

    As long as Tony Parker is running the show. As long as Tim Duncan is patrolling the paint. As long as Kawhi Leonard is quietly doing his thing. 

    Most importantly, as long as Gregg Popovich is pacing the sidelines and giving hilarious/brusque interviews to sideline reporters. 

    With those things happening, there's no reason to doubt what's taking place in San Antonio. 

     

    Panic Meter: 0/10

Atlanta Hawks

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    The Atlanta Hawks can be almost completely free from worry.

    Only true title contenders and teams that are tanking flawlessly can earn the coveted goose egg on the panic meter, so there's not exactly a chance of that happening for Mike Budenholzer's squad. The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are quite clearly the only teams with a legitimate shot at advancing out of the Eastern Conference when the playoffs roll around.

    However, the Hawks are still holding down the fort at No. 3, and that's nothing to feel bad about. Even though the East is ridiculously weak once you get past the top three in the standings, it's still somewhat of an accomplishment to be on pace to earn home-court advantage early in the postseason.

    With Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap dominating, Lou Williams heating up and Kyle Korver continuing to do his thing from beyond the arc, there's no cause for concern in Hotlanta.

     

    Panic Meter: 1/10

Boston Celtics

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    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    The Boston Celtics would only have to panic if they were really set on tanking, which doesn't appear to be the case whatsoever. 

    While Rajon Rondo waits to make his season debut after spending the early portion of the season rehabbing his torn ACL, the rest of the roster has seen a number of unheralded players emerge as quality contributors. 

    Brandon Bass is playing solid basketball, Jordan Crawford is thriving as a combo guard thanks to the trust Brad Stevens has placed in his ball-handling skills, and Jared Sullinger looks like a potential stud. The last development is most important to the home-court-contending C's. 

    Sullinger is averaging 14.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game on the season, but he's gone for 15.7 and 8.1 during his 15 games as a starter. As a result, Boston suddenly looks further ahead than expected in the rebuild. 

     

    Panic Meter: 1/10

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Don't look now, but the Los Angeles Clippers are finally starting to put all the pieces together. 

    DeAndre Jordan is actually emerging as more than a glorified athletic shot-blocker; he's starting to live up to the Defensive Player of the Year hype that Doc Rivers created prior to the start of his first season in L.A. 

    He's still a long way away from that goal, but at least he's been a quality rim-protector for a team that sorely needed one. 

    As a whole, the Clippers are allowing 103.1 points per 100 possessions on the season, which is a big turnaround from the early-season returns. In fact, Basketball-Reference shows that only seven teams are doing better. 

    Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are keeping the offense running, and Rivers' system is finally starting to show some positive effects. It's a good time to be a Clippers fan, and it'll only get better as the season progresses. 

     

    Panic Meter: 1/10

Miami Heat

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    Remember when LeBron James stood in front of the world after winning his second title with the Miami Heat and proclaimed that he "ain't got no worries"?

    The same can be said about the Miami Heat during the 2013-14 season—kind of. 

    While they could completely relax and still emerge with the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, they're actually trying to win games in December. They played with energy against the Indiana Pacers, then rebounded after a lackluster first quarter against the Sacramento Kings. It's clear this team still cares a bit about the regular season, and that's a positive since the East won't test it much regardless. 

    The only reason Miami doesn't earn the vaunted goose egg is a certain set of joints: Dwyane Wade's knees. 

    Until he receives a clean bill of health or puts together a lengthy stretch marred by neither absence nor a poor performance, there will still be some concerns about his status. 

     

    Panic Meter: 1/10

Orlando Magic

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    The Orlando Magic were never supposed to be very good. 

    And guess what? They're not. 

    On the bright side, they've at least shown that their players are developing nicely. Nikola Vucevic was climbing steadily up the ranks of centers before hurting himself, Victor Oladipo continues to look like a future stud and Arron Afflalo's trade value is skyrocketing. 

    Rob Hennigan was never building a roster that could compete in 2013-14. He's still looking to add young assets and develop his franchise pieces before thrusting the team into playoff contention. 

    That's exactly what's going on here, so there's no reason to panic. In fact, the only real reason to panic would be winning too many games and devaluing the team's No. 1 draft pick in the stacked 2014 NBA class.

     

    Panic Meter: 1/10

Phoenix Suns

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    The Phoenix Suns are shocking the world, and they're doing so in sustainable fashion. 

    Not only is everyone on the roster—at least it seems that way more often than not—playing great basketball, but Jeff Hornacek has also emerged as a Coach of the Year contender while helping a dynamic backcourt develop. You can give as much credit as you want to guys like Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye, but this is all about Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. 

    The two guards have both tortured opponents on a regular basis, and that's the biggest reason that Phoenix has been able to take early control of a playoff spot. 

    Bledsoe in particular looks like a future franchise guy, one who will be able to sign a max deal when he hits the open market as a restricted free agent at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. 

    There's just one problem with what's happening in the desert. 

    If the Suns do fall back a bit, they're in danger of missing the playoffs and ruining their tanking plans. They could be caught in that dreaded area between the postseason and a top pick, which would render the early success of this season all for naught. 

     

    Panic Meter: 2/10

Dallas Mavericks

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    The Dallas Mavericks and Dennis Green would get along quite well, because this team is exactly what the NBA thought it would be during the 2013-14 season.

    Well, maybe even a little bit better. 

    Monta Ellis has been playing phenomenal offensive basketball, and that's given Dirk Nowitzki the perfect second option. Now the German 7-footer looks as good as ever, and opponents are having an awfully difficult time figuring out how to slow down the Dallas point-scoring machine. 

    Defense is still problematic, but that's not exactly surprising. It was never assumed that this would be a quality defensive squad, and it's not. 

    The Mavericks don't have much reason to expect a rise in the Western Conference standings, but they also shouldn't be too worried about a free fall—maybe a little because of the conference's strength, but no more than that. 

     

    Panic Meter: 3/10

Denver Nuggets

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    The Denver Nuggets' only cause for concern is the strength of the Western Conference, as there are a whole bunch of teams realistically gunning for the final spot in the postseason. 

    Beyond that, everything looks good for the squad that Masai Ujiri assembled and then left. 

    There's a lot of depth, and the team will only get stronger throughout the year as JaVale McGee and Danilo Gallinari eventually recover from their respective injuries and either rejoin or debut for the team. Brian Shaw has done a fantastic job getting the Nuggets to buy into his coaching, and the Pepsi Center is still a place of extreme home-court advantage. 

    On top of that, the Nuggets are getting even more than expected from Ty Lawson, who is blossoming into a borderline All-Star at point guard. 

    The speedy North Carolina product is thriving with his additional ball-handling responsibilities, and he's finally figured out how to do more than use his quickness in straight-line motions, which is making him awfully difficult to keep out of the paint. 

     

    Panic Meter: 3/10

New Orleans Pelicans

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    The New Orleans Pelicans are still within striking distance of a playoff spot, and that's a great place to be in after Anthony Davis missed a significant chunk of action recovering from his broken hand. 

    For the first time all season, NOLA has its top five players at its disposal: Davis, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson. So now we get to see what the team can really do, although the early returns haven't been abundantly positive or negative. 

    It's already clear that even in his second professional season, "The Unibrow" is the biggest difference-maker for this team.

    Davis has blossomed into a bona fide superstar, making an impact in all facets of the game and astounding everyone with his developing offense and vastly improved defensive skills. As soon as he gets back in rhythm, that's when the Pelicans can truly be evaluated. 

    For now, they just have to be content that they've survived and kept their heads above water.

     

    Panic Meter: 3/10

Sacramento Kings

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    Rudy Gay has actually been playing great basketball ever since he joined the Sacramento Kings.

    Going into his 23-point performance in the victory over the Orlando Magic on Dec. 21, Gay was averaging 18.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for his new team. Most impressively, he was doing so while shooting 53.1 percent from the field, a mark that will decline slightly after his 8-of-20 outing in Orlando. 

    Sacramento still has a losing record since the mercurial forward joined the team, but that's understandable. DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and the rest of the remaining pieces on the roster are still learning how to play next to Gay, Derrick Williams and the other new teammates. 

    This isn't going to be a playoff team—not in the Western Conference. 

    But despite the lack of hope when it comes to a playoff berth, general manager Pete D'Alessandro has actually instilled some hope in the Sacramento fanbase. That has to count for something. 

     

    Panic Meter: 3/10

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    The Milwaukee Bucks weren't supposed to be this bad. 

    General manager John Hammond set up this squad so that it could remain mired in midlevel mediocrity, advancing to the playoffs or getting damn close, then bowing out in the first round. Hey, extra revenue from extra games, right? 

    But the early portion of the 2013-14 season has been an unmitigated disaster, between injuries to Caron Butler, Brandon Knight and Larry Sanders, poor play from O.J. Mayo and a lack of true breakouts. Although John Henson has looked good, it's not like he's going to carry the completely inept offense. 

    Milwaukee has sunk all the way to the bottom of the standings, regardless of which conference we're talking about, and that wasn't exactly the plan. 

    At least Giannis Antetokounmpo looks well ahead of schedule, though. Already moving into the starting lineup, the Greek rookie is shattering his developmental timetable, and that's one of the lone causes for celebration in Milwaukee. 

     

    Panic Meter: 4/10

Toronto Raptors

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    The Toronto Raptors are clearly retooling, and it's unclear whether general manager Masai Ujiri wants to build around Jonas Valanciunas or both JV and DeMar DeRozan. Given the way that the 2-guard has been playing, it wouldn't be surprising if Ujiri decided to roll with the latter option.

    Ujiri has already tweaked what his predecessor had done by trading away Rudy Gay in what was clearly a salary-dump trade. Now he's going to try getting rid of Kyle Lowry, and that's the biggest reason for panic. 

    This Raptors squad will continue being a middling team in the Eastern Conference, but Ujiri's master plan won't come to fruition if he can't move the highly paid point guard. So far, no dice. And that might be true in the future, as he doesn't have the easiest contract to move ($6,210,000 in 2013-14), and the rest of the league seems to be scared of his trading skills. 

     

    Panic Meter: 4/10

Utah Jazz

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    It's all about Trey Burke. 

    Although the rest of the roster has been a bit underwhelming for the Utah Jazz, this floor general appears to be the future centerpiece of the organization. He showed steely nerves while scoring 20 points in the tough victory over the Charlotte Bobcats, and that was just par for the course. 

    Going into that game, Burke was averaging 12.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, and his shooting percentage was the only thing really holding him back. That'll come with time, though, and it's more important that he's been an excellent spark for these Western Conference bottom-feeders. 

    Since Burke debuted after a delayed start to his rookie season, the Jazz have gone 7-11—quite a bit better than the 1-11 record they earned without him. 

    With Burke running the show, there's actually hope for Utah's future again. But it's still not a good thing that Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter have been so disappointing during what should've been their breakout campaigns. 

     

    Panic Meter: 4/10

Charlotte Bobcats

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    The Charlotte Bobcats have done remarkable things during the 2013-14 campaign. 

    Steve Clifford is making a serious case for Coach of the Year thanks to the incredible defense he's built during his first season in charge of the former cellar-dwellers. Even with Al Jefferson holding down the fort at center, few teams have been able to score points in bunches against these 'Cats. 

    Additionally, they've capitalized on the weakness of the Eastern Conference and currently sit in a playoff spot with room to spare. But there's still reason to panic. 

    Injuries may eventually take their toll on this team, as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is still out with a fractured hand and Jeff Taylor is out for the season with a ruptured ACL. That takes away both two quality wing defenders and a lot of depth at small forward. 

    Kemba Walker can keep scoring all he wants, but if too many pieces are removed from the defensive puzzle, the whole season will prove to be a house of cards. 

     

    Panic Meter: 5/10

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Led by Kyrie Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers have actually started to turn things around. After the All-Star point guard scored 10 points and dropped off three assists during overtime against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Cavs moved to 6-4 in their last 10 games, pulling them within striking distance of the postseason picture. 

    But still, a 10-15 start isn't what Cleveland was looking for in 2013-14. 

    This was supposed to be a strong playoff team, one bolstered by the addition of Andrew Bynum and the expected improvements of Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson. All three of them have been disappointing, and Irving was struggling until the last few weeks. 

    It's not too late for Cleveland to get back on track, especially given the state of the Eastern Conference. But it's still concerning that the words "back on track" are being used before Christmas. 

    At the very least, the early portion of the season has been a reality check for what may have been an overconfident, middling team. 

     

    Panic Meter: 5/10

Detroit Pistons

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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    The Detroit Pistons have been playing .500 basketball during their last 10 games, and there's no guarantee that changes—in either direction. 

    Andre Drummond continues to look like a future superstar, but Josh Smith is the man who will determine the upward or downward mobility of this team, and that's cause for concern. 

    Although Smoove has been playing far better basketball recently, he's still prone to lofting up an inordinate number of shots from the perimeter. He's one of the best examples of a conscienceless basketball player, one who will continue firing away even after multiple attempts clang off the rim. 

    With Christmas looming in the not-so-distant future, the Pistons haven't figured out if their big-ball approach to the small-ball era will work. Greg Monroe still might not be safe on the Detroit roster, and changes could tear apart this team quickly if everything doesn't continue working at a so-so level. 

     

    Panic Meter: 5/10

Houston Rockets

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    Is James Harden being mishandled by the Houston Rockets? 

    Despite an ankle sprain, he was put into the starting lineup and struggled immensely against Paul George's tough defense. That's not a good sign, nor is the fact that the bearded shooting guard has been an omnipresent feature on the injury reports coming out of Houston. 

    This team has shown flashes of greatness, but it's also been remarkably inconsistent. One night, it can hang with a true contender and emerge victoriously, but the next, it gets blown out by the Indiana Pacers. 

    Houston's defense still hasn't completely clicked around Dwight Howard, and the result has been an underwhelming opening salvo to D12's first season wearing a red uniform. The Rockets were supposed to be an elite team, not another one of the many middle-of-the-pack squads in the Western Conference. 

    General manager Daryl Morey has clearly built a quality team in Houston, but there are still too many questions remaining unanswered at this point in the season. 

     

    Panic Meter: 6/10

Washington Wizards

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    The Washington Wizards went all-in on the postseason this year. 

    That's the only explanation for panicking and trading for Marcin Gortat right before the start of the season. There seems to have been a mandate from the front office that it was playoffs or bust in 2013-14. 

    Fortunately, the Wizards are in great shape to meet that goal. Currently holding down the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference, they have enough talent that they should remain just about in that spot throughout the season. 

    Unfortunately, that's just due to the dearth of quality options in the East. 

    Even after beating the Boston Celtics, Washington has a losing record on the season and has allowed more points than it's scored. That's not a good combination, and it means that the Wizards will just be knocked out of the postseason rather early. 

    Until John Wall develops a consistent jumper—something he's done in brief spurts this year—the upside is limited in D.C.

     

    Panic Meter: 6/10

Golden State Warriors

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    It's been a trying season for the Golden State Warriors. 

    Andre Iguodala's hamstring injury poked a major hole in their aura of invincibility, and it showed just how important the swingman was to the team's defensive improvements. Mark Jackson's squad was winning thanks to a two-sided approach, and the offense alone couldn't carry the weight when Iggy was nursing the injury. 

    Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson continue to light up the scoreboard from the perimeter, but that clearly isn't enough in a Western Conference filled with great defenses. 

    When healthy, this team can run with the best of them. There's a quality player at every single position. But when the injuries start to pile up and deplete the team's depth or knock out one of the starters, everything changes. 

    As the Dubs are probably starting to realize, that's not a good recipe when the playoffs come rolling around. 

     

    Panic Meter: 7/10

Chicago Bulls

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    The Chicago Bulls now have major questions about both their short- and long-term futures. 

    First of all, do they decide to tank or compete for one of the final spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs, setting themselves up to be sacrificial first-round lambs for one of the favorites? This roster is worse than last year's, and the second-round series with the Miami Heat didn't exactly go too well in 2013. 

    Beyond that, can they actually rebuild while Derrick Rose is on the roster? After all, Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News reported that a source said the following about Rose's mentality: "Derrick is worried that the Bulls are going to lose what they have. He doesn't want to go through rebuilding."

    The talented point guard struggled to look like his old self during his return from the ACL tear, and there's no telling whether or not he'll decline following the meniscus injury. That uncertainty could prevent marquee free agents from joining the Bulls, and it's not like the current roster can stick around forever. 

    Chicago has very limited upside in 2013-14 and a lot of decisions to make by the time the offseason rolls around. It's hard to be envious of general manager Gar Forman. 

     

    Panic Meter: 8/10

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

    Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. 

    Hear that? It's the clock counting down until Kevin Love is able to opt out of his contract and sign with a new team. Say the Los Angeles Lakers, for example. 

    While the power forward continues to post monstrous numbers and insert his name right alongside LaMarcus Aldridge's in the race to be the league's best 4, he just can't land on a winning team. Even with Kevin Martin lighting it up, the Minnesota Timberwolves haven't been able to stay on the right side of .500, and they've fallen out of the playoff picture after their hot start to the season. 

    If Love can't play in a postseason game this season, there will be so many questions about his availability in a trade that the Minnesota front office will never be able to sleep. And that's looking like it'll become a reality, as Ricky Rubio continues to drag his feet while progressing up the ranks of point guards. 

    Until the Spanish floor general becomes a viable scoring threat, there just isn't anything Love can do. His best efforts aren't enough when it comes to carrying a team into the realm of contenders. 

     

    Panic Meter: 8/10

Los Angeles Lakers

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    There literally weren't any healthy point guards on the roster until Kendall Marshall was signed out of the D-League. That's enough cause for concern, as the Los Angeles Lakers were incredibly turnover-prone with Xavier Henry bringing the ball up the court. 

    Kobe Bryant is out for around six weeks while a fracture in his knee repairs. He was already struggling to remain effective after returning from the Achilles injury, and there's no telling how confident and athletic he'll be after this. 

    Pau Gasol is struggling—big time. 

    This roster already isn't very good, but the Lakers insisted on trying to compete for a postseason spot. Those efforts almost seem guaranteed to be futile thanks to the rash of injuries, and the long-term prospects of this franchise are now questionable thanks to the uncertain nature of Kobe's health and future impact. 

    Ouch. 

    The only thing saving this team from the dreaded 10/10 is the incredible team chemistry, a development that is keeping the Lakers at least somewhat competitive. 

     

    Panic Meter: 9/10

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

    The Memphis Grizzlies aren't going to go much longer without blowing up the current roster. 

    Even with Marc Gasol on the team, something was clearly missing. Dave Joerger's movement-based approach didn't mesh with the roster, and it wasn't until the team slowed down that it truly started to find at least a modicum of success. 

    Mike Conley and Zach Randolph have been playing well, and this team still doesn't have enough offense to hang with even the lower-tier playoff teams in the Western Conference. A handful of games behind the top eight squads, Memphis doesn't have much hope even if it does advance past the 82nd game of the season. 

    Again, it's time to blow it up. 

     

    Panic Meter: 9/10

Brooklyn Nets

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    If the panic meter went beyond 10/10, the Brooklyn Nets would surely "earn" the bigger number. 

    Everything was starting to look a little better with Deron Williams back in the lineup, but that quickly ended. As if losing to Michael Carter-Williams and the reeling Philadelphia 76ers in overtime wasn't bad enough, it was later revealed by the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy that a fracture in Brook Lopez's foot would keep the center out for the season. 

    All of a sudden, the Nets are left reeling. 

    There isn't a way to replace the two-way production that BroLo brought to the table during what should've become another All-Star season, and that's just one more problem for Brooklyn to fix. This is a broken, battered, aging, chemistry-devoid roster. 

    Before the Lopez injury, the postseason looked like it was a possibility for the team with the NBA's highest payroll. Now that it's experienced what Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley calls "a knockout blow," that possibility has become a pipe dream. 

    Get used to seeing Brooklyn's lottery pick handed off to the Atlanta Hawks in any NBA mock drafts you happen to stumble upon. 

     

    Panic Meter: 10/10

New York Knicks

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    David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

    Sometimes, it seems like everything has gone wrong for the New York Knicks. 

    Every night, they're finding a new way to lose. Maybe it's forgetting to call a timeout. Maybe it's taking an ill-advised three-pointer instead of holding the ball, running clock and heading to the charity stripe. 

    Regardless, the Knicks look completely inept. 

    From the front office to the players, everyone is to blame. James Dolan is doing a terrible job as the team's owner, the general managers have assembled a roster that doesn't work, Mike Woodson is firmly on the hot seat and the players are struggling. 

    It's a brutal combination, and Carmelo Anthony's insane abilities to score the basketball are just about the only thing keeping New York in at least a few games. 

    This was supposed to be one of the contending teams in the Eastern Conference. Instead, the Knicks keep sinking further and further in the standings, finding new lows as they invent strange ways to lose games. 

     

    Panic Meter: 10/10