2010-11 NBA Season: Every Team's Biggest Weakness and How They'll Address It

Eric FelkeyAnalyst INovember 11, 2010

2010-11 NBA Season: Every Team's Biggest Weakness and How They'll Address It

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    Through two weeks of NBA action and with everyone in the win column, each team has something positive going on, whether it's an unexpected breakout from a player, improved team defense or just overall dominant play.

    And some franchises and fan bases have reason to be more excited than others. The Lakers, for example, look like they were the team that should have been pegged to win 70 games, while last year's feel-good story, the Thunder, have struggled a bit in their first handful of games.

    While there are several positive vibes floating around various teams, at the end of the year, only one will be truly content with how the season played out. The other 29 will be left wondering what went wrong.

    There are only a handful of teams that have a realistic chance of winning the title this year, and they all possess their own unique blend of skills and strengths.

    But in the end, it'll more than likely be each team's weaknesses that are exploited in the postseason and ultimately spell their demise.

    So what is each team's biggest weakness? And more importantly, is there anything they can do (a change in philosophy, rotation, player acquisitions via trade or free agency, etc.) to rectify what could be a fatal flaw?

    Glad you asked. Let's take a look at each team in alphabetical order. starting with the Atlanta Hawks.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Biggest Weakness: Half-Court Offense

    The Hawks boast one of the more athletic teams in the NBA and most opponents have trouble matching up with either their strong perimeter scoring or versatility inside.

    But as the last two postseasons have shown, they have trouble consistently scoring when the game slows down and is played in the half court instead of in transition.

    New coach Larry Drew has made Atlanta the most efficient offensive team in the league through the first two weeks, scoring 104 points per game on just 77.8 attempts. They also lead the league in field-goal percentage, shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor (49.8).

    When they go up against some of the top defenses in the East (like Miami, Boston, and Orlando), will that success continue?

    How They'll Address It

    Atlanta has relied too much on isolation sets with Joe Johnson in the playoffs, and they've been burned by it, getting swept in the second round in 2009 and 2010.

    They do have an underrated post scorer in Al Horford—unfortunately for them, he's undersized at center and has trouble against bigger, longer defenders like Dwight Howard and Kendrick Perkins. So the Hawks pretty much had no choice but to run everything through Johnson.

    How they'll adjust this year is anybody's guess. And how big of an issue their half-court game actually is will be determined in the postseason.

Boston Celtics

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    Biggest Weakness: Age

    The Celtics are old. Six of the top nine in the rotation (minus Kendrick Perkins) are over 30, and Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are all averaging over 34 minutes per game.

    But this isn't really a regular-season weakness. In the KG/Pierce/Allen era, Boston has a 78-13 record before Christmas. So they probably won't slip anytime soon.

    They were exposed for not having enough depth when Perkins went down before Game 7 of the Finals. They added Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal to help in that department—still, relying on so many older players carries its own risk.


    How They'll Address It

    Like you'll see with the Lakers, Heat, Magic and Spurs, Boston's potential Achilles' heel isn't one that can be easily fixed.

    Sure they could make a minor trade here and there, but there's no need. They match up so well with the Heat and Magic, because of Rondo, and with the Lakers, because of their interior depth, that it's pointless to try and re-tool when the window for a championship will more than likely close in the next year or two.

    Doc Rivers perfectly conducted his rotations in the second half of last season, and it paid off in May and June. He'll probably do the same this year, and monitor player minutes (Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels already have increased roles) and rest guys who need time off.

Charlotte Bobcats

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    Biggest Weakness: Offense

    Never known as an elite offensive team, Charlotte was further exposed by Orlando in the playoffs as a group that couldn't find any sort of rhythm in half-court sets. They couldn't get shots off (70.5 per game), and when they did, they couldn't make anything (85.5 points in a four-game sweep).

    This year doesn't look much better.

    The Bobcats rank dead last in scoring (89.9 points per game) and field-goal attempts (72 per game). They have a balanced scoring attack with five players averaging double-figures, but they need more firepower in the lineup.

    How They'll Address It

    The Bobcats had one of the highest payrolls in the NBA last season, and their books won't get any lighter in the next two seasons.

    They've got nearly $66 million in payroll this year and already have $59 million committed for 2011-12. Nazr Mohammed is the only significant expiring contract, so, barring any significant trades, this core group of players will remain intact for several years.

    They owe their 2010 first-round pick to the Bulls, so hitting a home run with a high-scoring post player or point guard in next year's draft will be essential to the Bobcats' future.

Chicago Bulls

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    Biggest Weakness: Too Much Reliance on Derrick Rose's Scoring

    The Bulls spent the last season completely revamping their roster. Joe Alexander, Aaron Gray, Kirk Hinrich, Brad Miller, Jannero Pargo, John Salmons, Tyrus Thomas and Hakim Warrick are out. Keith Bogans, Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Brian Scalabrine, Kurt Thomas and C.J. Watson are in.

    Even though they added a low-post scorer (Boozer, who's averaged a double-double the last four seasons) and last year's leading three-point shooter (Korver, who shot 53.6 percent from deep last year), there's still too much reliance on Derrick Rose to create offense for himself and for the rest of the team.

    The only other player on the roster that can consistently create his own shot is Luol Deng. But everyone else depends on someone else setting them up.

    Korver is a catch-and-shoot perimeter player.

    Joakim Noah is a terrific defender and rebounder, but he'll get most of his points from offensive rebounds or moving without the ball.

    Taj Gibson, Bogans, Brewer and Watson are role players and shouldn't be relied on to create their own shots.

    Rose is averaging 21 shots per game. His numbers are great (23.8 points, 9.2 assists), but he's taking way too many shots for a point guard. He has to be more of a creator than a scorer, and that's difficult to do when the Bulls need his scoring to stay in games.

    How They'll Handle It

    Carlos Boozer's return will alleviate some of the pressure on Rose. He's a strong pick-and-roll player who can also score with his back to the basket, something the Bulls haven't had in a long time.

    Chicago just has to find ways to distribute the ball evenly. Get Boozer and Deng more shots—even get Gibson involved in the offense a bit more.

    Rose has the ability to take games over at will, but he shouldn't be depended on to do it every game. If he has the luxury to pick and choose his spots, it makes Chicago a dangerous team, especially come playoff time.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Biggest Weakness: Inconsistency

    Even without LeBron James, this isn't one of the worst teams ever assembled. They're going to have more than 12 wins. They'll keep surprising people with how hard they compete and how efficient their offense can be.

    That said, 80 percent of this roster was signed or drafted to play with LeBron James. Each one was expected a play a certain role in leading the Cavaliers to a championship.

    A title is out of the question now, and each player will to have to adjust to new roles. Some are thriving (like Boobie Gibson); others are struggling (Antawn Jamison comes to mind).

    And it doesn't help that they're implementing an entirely new offensive system and mentality than the one that took them to the second round of the playoffs for the last five years.

    They will undoubtedly go through stretches where they don't play well. Mo Williams is a streaky shooter. J.J. Hickson, though showing tremendous improvement in his all-around game, is still young and will have his share of rough outings. And Anderson Varejao isn't exactly a low-post threat on offense (though most people would probably be impressed if you showed them tapes of Andy on offense when he first entered the league).

    Effort will rarely be questioned. But there will be nights where the Cavs will find it difficult to maintain consistency on both ends of the floor.


    How They'll Address It

    Other than completely reassembling their roster, there's not much the Cavs can do here. They just have to stay the course and keep improving as the season progresses. But as long as they continue to play with confidence, the up-and-down nights will continue to dwindle, and they'll become a more steady, consistent team.

Dallas Mavericks

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    Biggest Weakness: Turnovers

    With most teams having only a handful of games under their belt, stats will be a bit deceiving and shouldn't solely be relied upon.

    But the Mavs were third-best in the league in turnovers last season, averaging just 12.9 per game despite running an up-tempo offense.

    This year, they're averaging nearly five more per game. They went from having the fifth-best turnover differential last year to having the fifth-worst this year.

    Dirk Nowitzki, Caron Butler, Jason Terry and J.J. Barea are all turning the ball over more frequently, and the Mavs aren't getting as much on-the-ball pressure.

    Part of that can be attributed to a less aggressive, less attacking defense, which is wonderfully outlined and detailed at The Two Man Game, a Mavericks blog.


    How They'll Address It

    As Rob Mahoney points out in his analysis, the high rate of turnovers is more of a trend than a predictor for how the season will shape out.

    Most of the Mavs' mistakes have come from implementing new wrinkles in the offense and just an overall rust.

    But if the trend continues, it's bad news for an older team that's not adept at scoring consistently in the halfcourt (aside from Dirk).

Denver Nuggets

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    Biggest Weakness: Team Defense

    Put aside all of the Carmelo Anthony-related drama for a minute (even though it has to have some effect on how the team is playing).

    Denver's defense has been a problem since last season. They gave up over 102 points per game in 2010, and in the playoffs, they gave up over 100 points every game to a Utah team that was without their starting center. In all, the Jazz averaged 110.5 points for the six-game series.

    That trend has carried over to this year and was magnified on Tuesday when they allowed Indiana to score 144 points, including a 54-point quarter in which the Pacers shot 20-of-21 from the field.

    They don't get back in transition, the help is late far too often, and there is little to no defensive rotation.

    When the Nuggets made the Western Conference Finals in 2009, they were one of the top five teams in opponent's FG percentage. Until they find a way to return to that level of defense, they'll simply be masquerading as one of the better teams in the West.

    How They'll Address It

    It's tough to give your team a new identity once the season starts. The Nuggets are who they are—a high-powered offensive team that is better equipped to outscore opponents than stop them.

    If Carmelo Anthony is traded, then obviously the Nuggets will be going in a new direction. Perhaps then they could find ways to improve defensively, but they'll be more concerned with re-tooling their roster than finding one or two stoppers. So don't expect Denver to make any radical changes this year simply to improve their defense.

Detroit Pistons

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    Biggest Weakness: Rebounding/Post Presence

    Where to start, where to start...

    The Pistons rank No. 27 in the league in rebounding at 38.8 per game. Only one player averages more than 5.5 rebounds per game (Ben Wallace with 8.3).

    They don't really have anyone with a developed back-to-the-basket game. Charlie Villanueva was signed to play power forward, but he's really just a small forward in disguise. And any time your $35 million free-agent signing averages more three-point attempts (5.4) than rebounds (4.9), it's a good indicator of how potent your inside game is.

    With no post presence, it makes it easy for defenses to key in on perimeter scorers like Richard Hamilton and Ben Gordon. As a result, the Pistons are in the bottom third of the league in terms of scoring (92.6 points per game), shooting (43.1 FG percentage) and free throw attempts (24.1 per game).

    But it all starts inside. Even if their forwards and centers aren't great scorers, they need them to be physical defenders or strong rebounders (a la Ben and Rasheed Wallace in 2004-05). And right now, they're not getting anything like that from anyone on the roster.

    Losing Jonas Jerebko before the season started didn't help either, since the Pistons already didn't have much depth inside.

    How They'll Address It

    Detroit will have to go about rebuilding their frontcourt through the draft. Committing $90 million in free agency two summers ago to Gordon and Villanueva didn't exactly help them financially in the long term.

    They selected Greg Monroe in last year's draft, but Monroe was known as more of a finesse post-player than a physical one. He's more comfortable with the ball in his hands facing towards the hoop than he is with his back to it.

    So they need to find a strong, physical center that can rebound and efficiently score inside. Unfortunately, those type of players in today's game are hard to find.

Golden State Warriors

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    Biggest Weakness: Interior Defense

    The Warriors are off to a fast start with a 6-2 record—the fourth-best in the Western Conference. Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis and David Lee are a legitimate big three—on offense at least.

    But they're still primarily an offensive-minded team, giving up over 100 points in six of their eight games (not surprisingly, they won the two games they held opponents under 100 points).

    Lee is a soft defender, and Golden State doesn't have many strong one-on-one lock-down players aside from Andris Biedrins.

    With so many solid power forward and center combinations in the West, the Warriors will find it difficult to consistently keep opponents from dominating inside. Case in point: in Golden State's biggest loss of the season (a 24-point blowout at the Lakers), Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom controlled the entire game, combining for 42 points (57 percent shooting), 26 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks.

    How They'll Address It

    Golden State can't change who they are—a fast-paced, up-tempo, run-and-gun team that wants the opposition to play at their level.

    For the time being, there's no point trying to match the size and physicality of other teams. Drafting Ekpe Udoh last year was a good start for the future, however.

Houston Rockets

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    Biggest Weakness: Health Problems

    After getting Yao Ming back, the Rockets were ready to enter this season at 100 percent and make a run back to the playoffs.

    Five games into the season, they suffered another setback when Aaron Brooks went down with a sprained ankle. He's expected to miss about a month.

    Kyle Lowry has been battling back and ankle problems for the last month or so.

    Then Yao Ming left a game against the Wizards after just six minutes with a strained tendon in his left leg.

    Houston has plenty of depth and talent on its roster, but it's difficult to compete when two of your top four guys go down and you still have to slowly integrate your starting center back into the rotation. It's shown, as they're just 1-6 to start the season.

    How They'll Address It

    There's not much Houston can do to address their past injury problems. Yao's situation is comparable to Bill Walton, a guy that carries too much stress on his feet and ankles to ever fully bounce back from injury.

    One way to try and improve is on defense, however. The Rockets are giving up a league-worst 112.7 points per game and allowing opponents to shoot 44.4 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from the three-point line, and attempt 31.2 free throws per game.

    It's unrelated to the team's health concerns, but playing better defense will give any team a better chance of winning.

Indiana Pacers

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    Biggest Weakness: Opponent's Free-Throw Attempts

    The opposition has been torching the Pacers defense from behind the three-point line this season, connecting on 39-of-92 attempts for a blistering 42.4 percent.

    But what's worse is that they're also allowing opponents to shoot over 30 free throws a game, giving them a chance to pick up an extra 23-24 points per game.

    Indiana was second-to-last in that category last year as well, as opponents shot an average of 28.6 free throws per game.

    They're not that strong of a defensive team in the first place, and giving teams extra opportunities at the foul line isn't ideal to help limit scoring.

    How They'll Address It

    Indiana has guys that love to take chances defensively, especially when it comes to anticipating and jumping passing lanes.

    Since they have a 7'2" eraser in Roy Hibbert camping out in the lane, it allows them to take those chances. But they just have to get back to fundamentals—closing out on shooters, keeping your man in front of you, and not bailing opponents out with cheap fouls early that allow them to get into the penalty.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Biggest Weakness: Baron Davis

    Maybe Davis shouldn't be considered so much a "weakness" as a "disappointment"...but as the supposed leader of a team that was supposed to be ready to make a leap this season, Davis simply hasn't gotten the job done.

    He showed up for training camp overweight. And that's not the first time this has happened.

    There are different versions of Baron Davis, as Clippers, Warriors and Hornets fans know all too well. LA fans were hoping that the one that fueled Golden State's improbable playoff run in 2007 would show up.

    Instead, they got an out-of-shape, seemingly over-the-hill point guard who looked unmotivated and unfocused.

    And when Davis missed a few games with a swollen knee, Eric Bledsoe thrived in his absence. That only creates a stickier situation—trying to work a veteran back in the lineup when a rookie might be the better fit, both for right now and down the road.

    To make matters worse, he has one of the two most untradeable contracts (along with Gilbert Arenas). So the Clippers have to take the risk of him being a malcontent behind the scenes if he is healthy and not playing.

    How They'll Address It

    Like I said, Davis is pretty much untradeable—not many are lining up to get a shot at acquiring him.

    It's out of the Clippers' hands. Maybe Davis sees this a new beginning and will re-dedicate himself to getting in shape and being the leader that this young team needs.

    But if he doesn't, it's going to be a long three years for Clippers fans—and a waste of $42 million.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Biggest Weakness: Andrew Bynum's Knee

    Is this even a weakness? The Lakers have looked scary-good in their first eight games, even without the starting center from the last two NBA championship teams.

    Kobe is scoring effortlessly and doesn't appear to be expending much energy, a good sign for the playoffs.

    Pau Gasol is playing the best all-around basketball of his career.

    And Lamar Odom just gives them an added element that no one can match up against. When he plays well, the Lakers are almost unbeatable.

    So unless they suffer an injury to one of their "big three" (Bryant, Gasol, Odom), it's almost impossible to imagine a scenario where they get beat in the playoffs. Teams that can beat them four out of seven games are few and far between.


    How They'll Address It

    I thought the Lakers would coast through the regular season and even be content with the No. 2 or No. 3 seed, as long as they were healthy and focused for the playoffs.

    But with all of the attention showered upon the Heat this summer, L.A. came out with a purpose—to remind everyone why they are back-to-back defending champions.

    The scary part is, even if they lose a player or two, they have guys like Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown ready to step in. Through 16 days, the Lakers by far have the least to worry about.

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Biggest Weakness: Inside Depth 

    Memphis has a solid one-two combination at power forward/center in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.

    The two combined for 35 points, 20 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks per game last season and are on their way to matching that production again this year. The points are down (27 combined per game), but rebounds, assists, steals and field goal percentage are up.

    Unfortunately for Memphis, there's not much depth behind them.

    Hasheem Thabeet and Hamed Haddadi have been unproductive in their minutes, combining for less than two points and five rebounds in their limited action off the bench.

    Memphis has the athletes to play small-ball, but since they're not a great defensive team, it really weakens them—especially inside. 

    How They'll Address It

    They sent Thabeet down to the D-League last year and the results weren't horrible—he put up 13.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game in six outings.

    But those were similar to his college numbers. When you put a 7'3" guy up against smaller, less athletic players, he should dominate. That hasn't translated to any success in the NBA.

    After inking Rudy Gay and Mike Conley to lucrative contract extensions, the Grizz won't have much cap space to go after free-agent bigs. So they'll have to keep looking for bargain signings or draft picks to provide Z-Bo and Gasol a little relief.

Miami Heat

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    Biggest Weakness: Interior Presence

    I know we're just two weeks into the season, and the Heat are under more scrutiny than any other team in the league...and any team in recent memory. But is it possible they had the wrong blueprint in the offseason?

    Here's a list of every NBA champion team in the post-Jordan era and their power forwards/centers:

    San Antonio ('99): Tim Duncan, David Robinson

    Los Angeles ('00): Robert Horry, Shaquille O'Neal

    Los Angeles ('01): Horace Grant/Robert Horry, Shaquille O'Neal

    Los Angeles ('02): Robert Horry, Shaquille O'Neal

    San Antonio ('03): Tim Duncan, David Robinson

    Detroit ('04): Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace

    San Antonio ('05): Robert Horry, Tim Duncan

    Miami ('06): Udonis Haslem/Antoine Walker, Shaquille O'Neal

    San Antonio ('07): Robert Horry/Fabricio Oberto, Tim Duncan

    Boston ('08): Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

    Los Angeles ('09): Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum

    Los Angeles ('10): Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum

    Notice the trend?

    Even with rule changes that allow point guards to dominate more than they have in decades, teams win championships with post players that can control the paint, rebound and provide a strong defensive presence. The only two possible aberrations ('04 Detroit, '06 Miami) each had physical bangers patrolling the lane.

    So the question is, can Wade and LeBron be good enough to add Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony to that list?

    Bosh is averaging less than six rebounds per game and less than one offensive rebound—he's never had less than 2.4 offensive boards per game in his career.

    Udonis Haslem is a great pick-and-pop player and underrated rebounder, but would you really trust him guarding Garnett or Perkins, Gasol or Bynum, or Duncan and Blair in the playoffs?

    Zydrunas Ilguaskas and Juwan Howard are on their last legs—at this point they can't give more than 15 solid minutes a game.

    As for Joel Anthony...he is who he is.

    Maybe we're blowing things out of proportion a bit. Maybe Bosh will eventually thrive in his role and become an unstoppable third-wheel on a dynasty. But he hasn't been tested in big games (11 career playoff games) and interior defense was never a strong part of his game.

    If these bigs can't hold their own (and maybe do a little more) in the playoffs, then there's no way the Heat can beat the Lakers or Celtics (and perhaps the Magic) in a seven-game series.


    How They'll Address It

    Unfortunately for Miami, the available centers and power forwards on the market are slim pickings. Erick Dampier is still on the market after negotiations with the Rockets fell through but Pat Riley didn't want to sign him a few weeks ago—why would that change now?

    Despite a few overreactions that suggest Miami should look to make a trade to boost their depth inside or find more complementary players, the Heat will keep this roster in tact and hope it's enough. And if Bosh becomes more comfortable with his place in the offense, it gives them another dynamic that most teams simply can't prepare for.

    The problem is that if Bosh is neutralized, it's difficult to win in the playoffs relying solely on one guy to carry your team...even if it is LeBron or Wade.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Biggest Weakness: Backup Guards

    Brandon Jennings had a tremendous rookie campaign, but part of that can be credited to Scott Skiles and Luke Ridnour.

    If Skiles didn't like the way Jennings was playing (maybe he was out of control, maybe he was taking too many shots, maybe he wasn't running the offense correctly, etc.), he could turn to Ridnour, who would assume full point guard responsibilities.

    This year, the Bucks don't have that luxury. Even though he was an awful defender, Ridnour was someone that could be counted on to run things efficiently on offense. Instead, Milwaukee now has Earl Boykins providing relief for Jennings.

    And outside of Carlos Delfino, there's not much backup for John Salmons either. Milwaukee has plenty of depth at forward, but having to play Salmons and Jennings so many minutes won't be good for them long-term.

    How They'll Address It

    Skiles gets the most out of his players (for the first couple of years, at least), so while Keyon Dooling and Earl Boykins might not seem like ideal back-ups, they'll play tough defense and do things the way Skiles wants them done.

    Aside from that, Milwaukee will just have to depend on the continuing maturity and growth of Brandon Jennings as the season progresses.

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Biggest Weakness: David Kahn

    The following things have happened in the last 18 months in Kahn's tenure:

    The T'Wolves selected three point guards in the 2009 Draft (to his credit, they did trade Ty Lawson to Denver for a future first-rounder), only they whiffed on the two best guards available (Steph Curry and Brandon Jennings) to select Jonny Flynn, who struggled as a rookie, and Ricky Rubio, someone who has yet to play in the U.S. (and it's unknown when or if he ever will).

    They signed backup point guards (Ramon Sessions, Luke Ridnour) to multi-year contracts after they already drafted Flynn and Rubio.

    They traded for Martell Webster after drafting swingmen Wes Johnson and Lazar Haywood in the '10 Draft.

    They traded Al Jefferson for Kosta Koufos and two conditional first-round picks, neither of which will be lottery selections.

    Part of the reason for that trade was to free up more minutes for Kevin Love...only Love is averaging less minutes this season than he did last year.

    And to shore up the middle, they signed Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic through 2013...except they could have avoided this by not giving away Al Jefferson.


    How They'll Address It

    New owner. New president of operations. New GM. New everything.

    Just don't trade Kevin Love for 25 cents on the dollar first.

New Jersey Nets

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    Biggest Weakness: Lack of Scorers

    Most of the time you'll hear people (OK, maybe just me) complain about teams that use too many isolation sets on offense. Unless you have one of the top two or three scorers in the league, isolations are a poor excuse for offense—and if you do have one of the top scorers, then you're not utilizing them properly by just having them go one-on-five every possession.

    But it doesn't hurt to have a player that can occasionally take a game over by himself when needed.

    The Nets don't have that.

    Devin Harris is one of the quickest guards in the league, but he isn't a great one-on-one scorer, especially in a half-court game.

    Derrick Favors is raw and still developing.

    Anthony Morrow, Troy Murphy and Travis Outlaw are all players that need others to be on point so they can get theirs.

    And Brook Lopez seems to be regressing this year. In games against Miami (twice), Cleveland (twice) and Charlotte, teams Lopez should dominate because they don't have a strong low-post presence, he's averaging just 13.8 points on 35.6 percent shooting with 5.6 rebounds, and doesn't have as much of an impact on games as he should.

    Because of a lack of offensive firepower, the Nets will have to rely on constant ball movement and dribble-penetration to score points. If they're not hitting shots, it'll be tough for them to win games.

    How They'll Address It

    Hmmm...if only one of the league's top scorers was on the trading block.

    Oh wait, he is! Adding Carmelo Anthony to a Devin Harris/Brook Lopez foundation would be a solid start for the Nets—if he's willing to sign a long-term extension there, of course.

    It still wouldn't put them atop the East just yet—they still would have a ways to go to catch Boston, Miami, Orlando and Chicago. But they'd have a young foundation that would be competitive in the foreseeable future.

New Orleans Hornets

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    Biggest Weakness: Inconsistent Centers

    The Hornets traded for Emeka Okafor knowing he would be a downgrade from Tyson Chandler's athleticism but hoping Okafor's consistency and physical play in the paint would thrive alongside David West's offensive versatility.

    The results have been mixed, even with New Orleans starting 7-0.

    His stat lines have been all over the place, ranging from zero points and nine rebounds to nine points and four rebounds to 26 points and 13 rebounds.

    There's not much depth behind him either. Jason Smith, a career 4.2 point, 2.9 rebound player, is the lone center seeing minutes behind Okafor.

    How They'll Address It

    Just get solid, consistent production out of Okafor. If he's going to average 12 points and 10 rebounds, you don't want to see him reach those numbers by sporadically posting games of five points and six rebounds, 10 points and 10 rebounds and 21 points and 14 rebounds.

    It's doubtful that New Orleans will continue their blistering pace, and they won't be able to add significant pieces via free agency for a few years. So Okafor will remain the key component in the Hornets' interior game.

New York Knicks

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    Biggest Weakness: Defense

    A real shocker here, huh?

    Mike D'Antoni's teams have never been ones to focus on defense. This team is no exception.

    Other than Ronny Turiaf and Wilson Chandler, most of the roster is either an average or below-average one-on-one defender. Couple that with a system designed to force the opposition into quick shots and the defensive product won't be great.

    They have made progress. Last year, I thought they were one of the worst defensive teams ever assembled—this year they're only giving up 104.5 points on 47.9 percent shooting. So they are getting better...if only slightly.

    How They'll Address It

    They won't!

    Just kidding. It's not like D'Antoni doesn't want his team to play any defense at all. But the goal is to get the other team to take quick shots and not make a lot of passes.

    If they're successful in that element, they'll play enough defense to win games and be a playoff contender.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Biggest Weakness: Protecting the Rim

    With added pressure and increased expectations heading into 2011, America's new favorite team has stumbled out of the gates thanks in large part to to two glaring weaknesses—offensive execution and interior defense.

    The former may be easier to amend. OKC goes through spells on offense when ball movement is at a minimum—instead, players just go one-on-one.

    Russell Westbrook looks like he might have made too big of a leap from the FIBA World Championship. He's looking to score too much, and often times monopolizes the ball. As a point guard, he has to do a better job getting others involved in the offense.

    They're not running Durant off screens as frequently as they did last year, instead forcing him to score in isolation sets rather than moving off the ball.

    They don't look like the fun-loving, great-chemistry team of last season—more like a group of guys that just met an hour before the game. Odds are that will change as the season progresses, but it's still a little troubling.

    But the second weakness could be one that comes back to haunt them.

    Last year the Thunder were No. 11 in opponent's points (98.0), No. 7 in opponent's FG percentage (44.8), No. 7 in opponent's assists (19.7), No. 5 in opponent's turnovers (15.1), No. 3 in opponent's three-point percentage (34.0) and No. 3 in rebounds (43.5).

    This year, the opposition averages 104.0 points (No. 22), shoots 48.1 percent (No. 28) from the field and 41.8 percent (No. 29) from the three-point line, tallies 23.3 assists (No. 27), turns the ball over just 14.2 times (No. 24) and scores 48 points per game in the paint.

    Quite a staggering drop in numbers.

    Granted, it's a smaller sample size of games, and the Thunder are without Nick Collison, but the fact that OKC has slipped so much defensively is eye-opening. They really need to patch up the holes in their defense if they want to be a title contender this year.


    How They'll Address It

    The Thunder are too talented of a team to keep making the same mistakes on offense and defense throughout the season. They figured out how to give themselves a winning identity last year, and at some point, that innate ability will seep back into their collective game.

    But they're not sneaking up on anybody this year. To use the oldest cliché imaginable, the hunter is now the hunted.

    Teams know they can exploit Nenad Krstic on defense. They know it's best to pound the ball inside. They know it might be beneficial to try and let Russell Westbrook go off while keeping other players under wraps.

    Getting Collison back helps because he sets great screens and grabs rebounds. But I think the Thunder might have to rely more on rookie Cole Aldrich.

    He's played just 39 minutes in four out of six games. But he's exactly what they need—a tough, physical presence inside, someone that does what Collison does (rebounds, screens) but is more naturally gifted.

    A great case for Aldrich getting more minutes can be read here. He could be a key piece, especially defensively, heading forward for OKC.

Orlando Magic

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    Biggest Weakness: Perimeter Playmaker

    Dwight Howard looks like a new man on the block. He has a face-up game, improved footwork and even a close- to-mid-range jump shot.

    But the Magic still need another ball-handler on the perimeter that can create shots for himself and others and give Howard a little more breathing room.

    Even with Howard's improved post game, Orlando is attempting 26.8 three-pointers per game—most in the NBA. And they're connecting on just 32.3 percent—good for No. 25 in the league.

    When the Magic let Hedo Turkoglu go in free agency last summer, they traded for Vince Carter in hopes that he would be the guy that could take advantage of defenses keying in on Howard. But Carter is sporadic: At times he shows flashes of the guy that could score 50 in a game, at others, he allows himself to be bullied and taken out of the game. The Celtics showed in last year's playoffs that if you play him physically (constantly body him up, push him off his comfort spots, etc.), he tends to disappear.

    So can Orlando depend on him to be the playmaker that complements Howard, frees up other three-point shooters and takes them to the next level?


    How They'll Address It

    The elite teams in the NBA will find it hard to address their weaknesses. They're not going to blow up their rosters in hopes of landing an extra piece that takes them over the top—they'll just keep making minor tweaks and changes to the roster and rotation throughout the year to find the right lineups for the postseason.

    Maybe Vince finally develops that killer instinct, goes into "eff you" mode, and repeatedly takes over games when Orlando needs him to. But at this point in his career, it's not likely that trait will suddenly exhibit itself.

    So the Magic will have to rely on Howard's continued improvement, their three-point shooting, and tough interior defense.

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Biggest Weakness: Cohesiveness

    I scoured over the box score from last Friday's Cleveland/Philadelphia game and was taken back a bit. On paper, it seemed like Philly should have blown out the Cavs.

    Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams aren't elite point guards by any stretch, but are they really that much worse than some of the other PG combos around the league (like in Charlotte, Cleveland, Toronto, Minnesota, Miami or Detroit)?

    Andre Iguodala shouldn't be the featured player on a team, but he's still more talented than 95 percent of the league. Evan Turner is on a similar path.

    Thaddeus Young and Andres Nocioni can score in bunches. Elton Brand is showing signs of being relevant again.

    On paper, they're not half-bad. They certainly would be considered a favorite for one of the final two playoff spots in the East, at least.

    But basketball isn't played on paper. Teamwork, chemistry and player cohesiveness are key elements of a consistent team, and Philly doesn't seem to have any of the three working. And until they do, they'll be stuck in mediocrity for as long as they owe Iguodala and Brand max money.

    How They'll Address It

    Find a buyer for Iguodala.

    We saw in the FIBA World Championship how integral of a player he could be on a good team. If he's the third option on offense and gets to focus on defense, rebounding and occasionally creating a shot or two, then you've got a damn good team.

    Unfortunately, he's asked to be the No. 1 guy in Philadelphia, and it just hasn't worked. Nor is it going to.

    So dangle him in front of contenders. Get good character guys and draft picks in return. On Bill Simmons' podcast the other day he suggested the Thunder offer James Harden, Morris Peterson's expiring contract and one of their No. 1 draft picks for Iggy. That's not a great deal for Philly, but it's not like they'd be going from a perennial playoff contender to a lottery team.

    If the Sixers can get some talent and save some money in return, it's in their best interest to part with him and look to get themselves back to playoff contention a few years down the line.

Phoenix Suns

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    Biggest Weakness: Power Forward Production

    Instead of paying Amar'e Stoudemire this offseason, the Suns decided to try and manufacture his production by shelling out contracts to Channing Frye, Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress.

    The combined stats of the three: 22.5 points and 13.9 rebounds on 47.2 percent field-goal shooting and 22.6 percent three-point shooting.

    It's not horrible, but if you're going to pay nearly 80 percent of what Stoudemire made for three role players, you want a little more.

    And that's not even bringing up the attention that Stoudemire got from opposing defenses, the game-planning to find ways to keep him out of the paint, and the fact that the Nash/Amar'e pick-and-roll was one of the most lethal and effective plays from any team in the last five years.

    Couple that with Hedo Turkoglu's struggles, and there's a lot of pressure on Nash and Jason Richardson to perform. They're capable, but they probably can't continue that kind of production for an entire season.

    How They'll Address It

    Turkoglu, Childress, Warrick and Frye are all under contract until 2013-14—there's not much room to bring in more players through free agency.

    If Turkoglu continues his subpar play, Warrick might see more minutes. He's scored more than 15 points in the four games in which he's played more than 21 minutes, and is a strong pick-and-roll finisher—definitely a positive when playing alongside one of the best pick-and-roll PGs of all time.

    If Channing Frye gets out of his slump and starts knocking down threes again, it'll give Phoenix an extra perimeter dynamic and create more space in the lane for Nash and Warrick.

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Biggest Weakness: Brandon Roy's Knee/Injuries

    This article posted yesterday by Jason Quick of The Oregonian only gives Blazers fans more reason for concern.

    Brandon Roy is experiencing swelling and discomfort in his knee, but not the one that was operated on before the playoffs last year. He's had his left knee, which was operated on in 2008, drained twice and the Blazers have scrapped isolation sets that go through Roy because of his ineffectiveness.

    Add that with injuries to Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla, and it's definitely cause for concern in Portland.

    If the Blazers ever get healthy, they'll be one of the Lakers' toughest challengers in the Western Conference. But their past injury history has to be taken into consideration when determining the legitimacy of a potential playoff run.

    How They'll Address It

    Pray. Or maybe the bad karma that's haunted Portland from the days of Bill Walton's feet to Sam Bowie's knee and is now carrying over to Oden and Roy will finally disappear.

    The Blazers have enough depth and talent to be contenders. Whether or not they can get healthy is out of anybody's hands.

Sacramento Kings

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    Biggest Weakness: Inexperience

    Sacramento's oldest player is Samuel Dalembert. It may seem like he's been in the league forever, but he's only 29 years old and won't turn 30 until May.

    The roster combines for 78 playoff games played—36 of which come from Beno Udrih. Aside from him and Darnell Jackson, no one has any playoff experience beyond the first round.

    The Kings started hot last season but faded in the second half of the year. Some of that can be attributed to a lack of depth and experience.

    The nucleus of Udrih, Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi and Carl Landry will have another year's experience under their belt. Last year's team was blown out early and often, losing 28 games by double-digits. But this year, they're hanging around—the biggest point differential in a game was just 12—and they're starting to learn how to win a few of them as well.

    This year, they're 3-0 in games decided by three points or less.

    I'm not saying that teams without experience can't make a huge leap—look at the Thunder last season. But it will take a strong commitment to defense and an ability to win close games to make that happen.

    How They'll Address It

    Classic on-the-job training. You can't teach experience—sometimes you have to take your lumps before you develop a winning culture.

    The Kings have had impressive comeback wins against Cleveland and Toronto, so maybe they're starting to take some of what they learned last year and apply it to this year's squad.

San Antonio Spurs

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    Biggest Weakness: Depth/Bench Scoring

    To me, the Spurs are unnecessarily overlooked when talking about Western Conference contenders.

    Obviously the Lakers should be considered the favorites. And many have given Utah, Portland and even Oklahoma City the best chance to knock off the back-to-back defending champions in the playoffs.

    But why not San Antonio?

    The Parker/Ginobili/Duncan trio is getting up there in years, and that's a cause for concern. If the Spurs are going to make another run toward an NBA title and give Tim Duncan another title in his final years, then they'll have to rely on their bench.

    This year Greg Popovich has moved DeJuan Blair and Ginobili into the starting five. Moving Ginobili takes away an explosive scorer off the bench—who will fill that void?

    George Hill, Tiago Splitter, Antonio McDyess, Gary Neal and James Anderson are combining for around 31 points per game off the bench, a solid number for a second unit. But other than McDyess and Hill, the bench is inexperienced and unproven.

    How They'll Address It

    Popovich is a top-five coach in the league and always gets the most out of his players, especially come playoff time. He'll juggle rotations to find out which lineups work and which don't coexist.

    By limiting Duncan and Ginobili's minutes, it'll create more playing time for some of the bench guys, getting them key experience heading into the postseason.

    And if the big three are at or close to 100 percent in the playoffs, maybe they won't even need too much from the reserves.

Toronto Raptors

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    Biggest Weakness: Long-Term Contracts

    Andrea Bargnani at $50 million through 2015.

    Jose Calderon at $28 million through 2013.

    Jarrett Jack at $15 million through 2013.

    Amir Johnson at $28 million through 2015.

    Linas Kleiza at $15 million through 2013 (possibly $20 million through 2014).

    Some of these aren't necessarily bad contracts, but when an average team's franchise player leaves town, you don't really want to be saddled with deals that last for three to four years. It makes rebuilding that much more difficult.

    How They'll Address It

    The worst conundrum for the Raptors is the Calderon/Jack situation. Your two point guards shouldn't be signed for $40-plus million for the next three years, especially when they split time. Jack would be easier to trade, but he's probably a bit more effective in their offense than Calderon...and Jack's contract isn't unreasonable by any stretch.

    Unless the Raptors make some trades, this is the nucleus they'll have for awhile. If they want to do more than just compete for a playoff spot, they'll have to find a way to move some of these contracts.

Utah Jazz

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    Biggest Weakness: Outside Shooting

    Even though the Jazz are among the league leaders in points per game (104.3), they're a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of three-point percentage and connect on just 5.3 three-pointers a game.

    With Deron Williams' ability to score and set up teammates in a variety of ways, Al Jefferson's low-post presence, and Paul Millsap's all-around game, the Jazz already have a dynamic offense.

    But they lost Kyle Korver, the league's leader in three-point percentage last year. And they weren't that strong of a team from the perimeter anyways.

    Newly acquired Raja Bell is shooting just 31.8 percent from deep. C.J. Miles and Ronnie Price are struggling and rookie Gordon Hayward is just one for his first seven from behind the line.

    Jazz guards are going to get open looks—they just need to knock them down.

    How They'll Address It

    Maybe down the line Utah will look to add a shooter through the draft, but this is the team they're going to field. And odds are that the new additions will become more comfortable in their roles and start knocking down shots more consistently.

    Raja Bell is a career 41.0 percent three-point shooter, so his numbers should improve.

    Gordon Hayward shot nearly 45 percent as a freshman from the three-point line at Butler—he definitely has long-range capability.

    And getting Mehmet Okur, a 7'0" pick-and-pop shooter that can further spread the floor, back from an Achilles' injury will only help as well.

Washington Wizards

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    Biggest Weakness: Youth

    A rebuilding franchise heading in a new direction couldn't ask for a better prize than landing the No. 1 overall pick and perennial All-Star in-the-making John Wall.

    Other than Gilbert Arenas' massive deal, they don't have any contracts that will cripple them in the future. By 2012 they'll have just Wall, Arenas, Andray Blatche and possibly JaVale McGee and Trevor Booker under contract—a solid nucleus to build around.

    As bad as the situation looked 10 months ago for the Wizards, things are definitely on the up-and-up in D.C.

    But because they're such a young team with little veteran leadership, they're still not ready to compete for the playoffs. Only one player on the roster (Josh Howard) has any playoff experience that goes past the second round. It's going to take them some time to develop chemistry and a winning attitude and formula.

    How They'll Address It

    Not much the Wiz can do other than allow this team to keep playing and figure out which pieces will fit into future plans. They have a good foundation to build on—it'll just take time.