Just Supposin': The 10 NBA Teams With Questions to Answer in 2010-11
Considering the unbelievable hype pumped into this summer during the months leading up to free agency, I think we can all agree that, now that the smoke has cleared, it was a relative anticlimax.
However, a certain team has made a couple of league altering acquisitions during the sunny months. Many other teams made a splash in free agency too, once word of Miami's potential super team drifted from front offce to front office.
Several key trades were made throughout the league, and the Eastern Conference in particular was radically re-ordered as a result of the off-season rush.
So as hype-heavy rookies, and newly formed contenders ready themselves for basketball's biggest stage, many questions arise as to whether their pre-ordained success can become a reality.
Have the trade-busy teams really made a difference to their rosters? Will a possible deal be done? Will he stay or will he go? Can they win it all again?
It's time to look at the 10 NBA teams with big question marks as we approach the 2010-2011 season.
Houston Rockets: Can Yao stay healthy and help them contend in the West?
This picture is a sight we have seen all too often. Yao Ming in street clothes, leaving his now robustly undermanned squad to take on a Western Conference giant in the playoffs.
Daryl Morey has established himself as one of the most aggressive and talented GM's in the league, last season raking in a bona-fide scorer in Kevin Martin.
With alot of the offensive burden off of Yao's massive shoulders, with the arrival of K-Mart, Brooks' continued development and Scola's increased offensive output, we may see Yao complete a season for the first time since his sophomore year.
But the disturbing truth for 300 pound seven footers in this league is, that prominent and recurring leg injuries, do not just disappear.
Is Yao ready to lead this team once more? When he's healthy, there are few if any big men in the league that can guard him efficiently. And with its revamped roster, there is no question that Houston are a Western powerhouse with Yao in the middle.
But this is last chance saloon for Rick Adelman and his Rockets. With Yao entering his last year under contract with Houston, he has claimed that if he suffers another break in his left foot, he will be forced to retire.
However, like we witnessed last season, Yao could fly through the grueling regular season without a hitch, and then leave his team in another inescapable David and Goliath situation when he is struck with a shocking injury.
This is a huge "if" for Yao Ming, and undeniably for Houston.
New York Knicks: Do they really have a bright future?
One of the biggest stories of this summer was Amar'e Stoudamire signing with New York, on a count of their insanely deep pockets. And since this acquisition, rumors have been spiraling around basketball circles that another big name could land in the Big Apple next season (i.e Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony).
But is the future of the franchise really as bright as it is made out to be?
We all know Amar'e signed for the cash, and since he did he has been pleading with the likes of 'Melo to come and join him in New York.
But since Isiah gutted the team during his tenure as general manager, and since New York traded away its next two first round picks in last years Tracy McGrady deal, have they really enough assets to entice more players to join Amar'e in New York.
Carmelo has allegedly claimed he would choose New York as his next destination if he opts to leave the Nuggets. And understandably, considering the market he would be entering, the cash available and the rich history the franchise boasts.
However, it is evident that New York's roster as it stands has no chance of contending in the East. Let us not forget that Amar'e is not in a tandem with the Hall of Fame bound Steve Nash anymore. He now plays with Raymond Felton...far from all-star material.
With this in mind we can expect a significant drop in his numbers, despite the increased touches he will get in New York. Felton is indeed a significant upgrade from Chris Duhon, but he is by no means the player that attracts perenial all-stars to your franchise.
If the Knicks are shut out next season, and recieve no difference makers to aid Amar'e, it will take many long years of lucky drafting, wise trades and a couple of miracles from above for them to stand a chance atcompeting for a championship, and defeating Long Beach's finest in the East.
Los Angeles Lakers: Can they do it all again?
Many pundits around the league have backed the Lakers to win their third straight championship, despite the assembly of superstars in Miami.
One point that continually arises for this argument is: Chemistry
And this is a very valid point. Gasol could not be a more perfect compliment to the Kobe Bryant. A talented, and undemanding big man, with no ego, yet still plays with a fiery passion and a burning desire to win. Artest and Kobe have gelled surprisingly well on the perimeter, and the roster is relatively unchanged.
One basketball will not be enough to satisfy the shot demand for Wade, Bosh and James. Yes they have played together on the national team, but playing at least 82 games together will require them to keep their egos in check, not an easy task for three star pro athletes.
The Lakers are again blessed with a considerably simple path to the Finals, if they play like they did last season that is. Few if any teams in the West pose a real challenge to their second dynasty in a decade.
But this is very circumstansial. The East is now more stacked than it has been in years, and if they can wear down or even defeat the Conference favorites, Miami, then another championship should be theirs for the taking.
New Orleans Hornets: Can they hold on to Chris Paul?
He is frustrated, very frustrated. Like a guy stuck in a dead end job, going nowhere, and there is nothing being done about it.
The Hornets immediate and long term future rest on the shoulders of this incredible player. When 100 percent healthy, he is nearly always the best point guard in the league.
However, the squad that surrounds him is not nearly of the caliber of the team he led to the conference finals a few years ago.
The Okafor experiment did not work nearly as well as it was supposed to, and being surrounded a million aging swingmen did nothing to persuade Paul to stay.
The Ariza trade however is a great move. Paul now has a young, and ridiculosuly athletic three-man who will be relish at the opportunity of having the best passer in the league lobbing alley oops in to his grateful hands, all season long.
As an outstanding defender also, Ariza can help relive Paul of the enormous defensive burden he carries on the perimeter.
But its still just Trevor Ariza. He's not an all-star, and he definitely won't persuade Paul to stay. It is simply not enough.
Paul loves N'awlins. He loves the franchise, and it's breaking his heart having to look for a new home, because he can't get a championship where he is. But he realizes that if he doesn't make a move when he is young, then he will age on a one-horse team, going nowhere and doing nothing about it. Not everyone is as lucky as Kevin Garnett.
Paul will have offers from all around the league, the most enticing of which may come from New York. A young all-world guard, with no ego, a fantastic work ethic and locker room presence, who will do literally anything to win.
He wants to stay, but the Hornets franchise better make it easy for him, and fast.
Paul has realised that loyalty will not win a title. Its about time the Hornets did too.
Denver Nuggets: Can they keep Carmelo Anthony?
The Nuggets are in a situation similar to that of the Hornets. However, hanging on to their franchise player should be much easier, but the stakes are just as high.
The Nuggets boast a decent squad with a mixture of both youth and experience. But they aren't a contender. Carmelo can see sunnier shores in New York (metaphorically speaking), with Amar'e already there with an abundance of cap space.
But 'Melo has a more than decent supporting cast in Denver, with probably the greatest leader in the league as his point guard, a decent big man in Nene, and talented scorers around him. They just don't have that championship X Factor.
One well organized trade could be the difference between Anthony staying in the mountains, are heading to the big city in search of a championship.
OKC Thunder: Are they now an elite Western Conference team?
Armed with youth, a fantastic coach, a great front office staff and arguably this years front-running MVP candidate, the Thunder have easily the brightest future in the league.
The question is, are they they there yet?
The Lakers are unquestionably the Conference head-liners. The Suns have dropped off without Amar'e, the Spurs are aging, as are the Mavericks. The Rockets have a positive immediate future, but too many questions hover above Houston.
So are Oklahoma a top four side? The only real mark for a solid improvement in this team is if they can garner a home-court position in the West, amongst some of the most talented competition in the league.
Westbrook is fast becoming one of the best point guards in the league, and Kevin Durant has no visible ceiling.
After this side made the playoffs last season, many thought they overachieved somewhat, albeit as eighth seed.
The Thunder should be a top side in the conference this season, considering their competitive young roster, and their incredible talent in Durant. The West isn't a walk in the park, but if they manage to gain home court and avoid the Lakers in the first round, they have a legitimate shot at a conference final appearance.
Washington Wizards: Can they have a good comeback season?
With this years No.1 draft pick manning the point, and previously one of the leagues best scorers returning from serious injury and scandalous legal trouble, with both Wall and Arenas healthy the Wizards could boast one of the best backcourts in the league.
Barring a massive injury to any of the Wizards key players, their comeback season should be one of relative success.
Once Arenas was suspended for the remainder of the 2009-2010 season, the Wizards knew they had no immediate future. Burdened with an ageing roster and an unwanted spotlight attracted by the Arenas incident, the Wizards front office had a fire sale.
Antwain Jamison was traded to the Cavs, just before the trade deadline, and many other low profile Wizards were shipped around the league as the Wizards underwent a rebuilding campaign, provoked by Arenas' criminal activity.
When Washington hit the jackpot in the draft lottery, it was all but assured that John Wall would don Wizards apparel in the 2010-2011 season.
But can they play together? Two ball hungry guards rarely compliment eachother in this league, despite the fact they are both gifted passers. The success of the back court with Wall, Arenas and the newly acquired Kirk Hinrich, is key to any success the Wizards can garner this season, because they have little talent elsewhere on the roster.
Orlando Magic: Are they a contender?
They are effectively the same roster that lost to Boston in the Conference Finals last season. But older.
With Dwight Howard as the always dependable defensive anchor in the middle, Orlando are still a top five team in this league.
However, Vince Carter is a year older than the Carter that performed at a poor level last season. And the always inconsistent Rashard Lewis isn't exactly in the prime of his youth either. Good players, yes. But not pieces that will earn you a championship.
And with the new South Beach super-trio, they have a lot of competition in their division and indeed in the conference.
Can they make it to the conference finals to stand a chance for their second title shot in three years? Only time will tell. But for me, a few big moves are a must if they intend to seriously compete with Miami in the playoffs.
Boston Celtics: Are they too old to contend?
The ancient Celtics, just got older.
By adding OAP's Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal, they have considerably beefed up their frontcourt. But that leaves effectively all of their key players (with the exception of Rondo) with considerable mileage on their injury prone bodies.
The Celtics are easily the leagues best defensive squad when playing at their finest level, but with the departure of Tom Thibodeau, the C's efficiency may decrease on that end of the court.
When playing in his best form, Jermaine O'Neal is a ferocious interior defender. Perkins shares a similar attribute when defending the paint, and with Kevin Garnett at the defensive controls in and around the post area, its extremely difficult to see the Celt's give up many points in the paint this season.
They have plenty of offensive firepower as well. With one of the leagues best orchestrators in Rondo leading the attack and directing Boston's excellent perimeter shooting regiment, they should have no significant problems scoring the ball this season.
But after seeing injuries to both of the Celtics newly acquired stars last season, and after witnessing their original squad hampered with injuries too, I find it very difficult to see them making a complete title run, especially with the increase in significant competition in the East.
Is there too many years on this squad to get home court during the regular season, and still complete a title run come playoff time?
Only time will tell, but if Boston somehow manage to string together a legitimate title run, it will almost certainly be their last.
Miami Heat: Can they live up to the hype?
Dynasty! Championship! Team-mates! Unbeatable!
Just a few of the terms that have been tossed around since the formation of the greatest team in recent memory. However I can easily think of another few terms that could sum up this teams upcoming season.
Not enough shots on the planet! Injuries! EGO!
Don't let the media fool you. Yes, this is easily the most talented team the NBA has had in forever, but talent simply does not translate into wins. However, it certainly helps.
The problems this squad will have will be being able to keep their egos in check, although one player may have an more difficult time doing this than others...
Its not easy coming from being the man on your team, to becoming the second or even third option on offense.
One scenario I put forward that summarizes this perfectly is:
NBA Finals, Game 7, Heat versus Lakers, down by one, five seconds left... Who takes the shot? Someone ain't gonna like the answer to this question. I'm sure Eric Spoelstra will have easier decisions in his life.
With the sheer volume of hype that has encircled this team, anything less than a dynasty will be a let-down to many fans in South Beach. Although I'm sure this team should have a relatively easy time forming one, should this experiment work well.
I look forward to seeing how this team will perform come opening night at the American Airlines Arena. The Miami big three is unquestionably the greatest collection of talent I may ever see in my life time.
Some people even say they are the greatest team ever assembled!
Yeah, some people are crazy.