What a season it's been in the NBA so far.
With the signings of big-name players, teams that were bad are suddenly playoff contenders and most of the teams that those players left have taken one too many steps backwards.
As usual, the Spurs, Mavericks, Lakers, Celtics, and Magic remain at or near the top of their respective conferences, but teams such as Chicago and Oklahoma City are knocking on the door.
Then there's Miami: a team constructed in basically a few months that's centered around three players with a weak supporting cast. But, they're 30-11 and 15-7 on the road.
The season's almost halfway done, so here's a look at where each team stands.
You've got to feel sorry for these guys. A team that won 61 games last year would be lucky to win more than 20 this year. Their leading scorer, Antawn Jamison, is only averaging 16.1 points per contest.
Cleveland is 27th in points per game, 26th in rebounds per game, and 23rd in points allowed. They are also last in the NBA in offensive efficiency.
With bad contracts and no star players, the Cavs' future seems bleek. The one thing their fans can take hope from is the very high possibility of Cleveland receiving the number one overall pick in the 2011 draft.
Let's just hope they don't take another phenom with an ego a little too big, who ends up leaving them in the dust after seven years.
The Wizards are going to have to make a few moves if they wan't to improve. They should ship Andray Blatche out in exchange for a good SF and play small-ball with Rashard Lewis at the four spot.
John Wall is on his way to becoming a top point guard in this league, but he'll need to cut down on his turnovers in order to do so (currently fourth in the NBA with 3.6).
Washington has two rising young players in JaVale McGee and Nick Young. Young has been playing very well as of late, averaging 15.9 points on the season and 21 in his last six games. Second in the NBA in blocks (2.6), McGee could become an elite center if he works hard on his offensive game.
If the Wizards can pick up another solid piece in this years draft, they could be looking at the 8th seed in the east next season.
Nets fans better hope and pray the Carmelo deal goes through, because without him, New Jersey is going nowhere.
Although they've already reached 10 wins this year (didn't have that many until March 29th last year), they've seen a drop-off in the level of play from their go-to guys.
Devin Harris is averaging only 16.5 points this season, as opposed to the 21.3 he averaged during his All-Star year two seasons ago.
The third-year player Brook Lopez has had a problem with rebounding. After he averaged 8.6 boards last season, Lopez's rebounding has dropped to a dismal 5.9 this season. He's not even in the top 50 in the NBA for rebounds per game.
Hopefully what New Jersey has now will be enough to convince Anthony to sign an extension with this team. If not, they could be headed in the wrong direction.
With talents such as Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings have a good future ahead of them.
Evans has had a down year this year compared to his stellar rookie season, but it's a result of a nagging ankle injury that's been consistently bothering him.
If Cousins can become mentally stronger and more mature, he will without question become one of the league's premier centers. His finesse around the basket combined with his decent mid-range jump shot makes him pretty tough to stop on defense.
If Sacramento can trade Casspi and/or Carl Landry to get an experienced shooting guard and some other quality players, they will definitely improve.
Besides Kevin Love and Michael Beasley, there isn't much Minnesota has to offer. It looks like the Wolves are in another lottery-bound season, but their future is bright.
Love's emergence as a force as well as Beasley's current scoring average of 20.9 are signs of better things to come in Minnesota for a Timberwolves team that has struggled mightily since the departure of Garnett.
Hopefully the Wolves can garner some good talent this offseason in the draft and build a team capable of winning 30-40 games next season. They certainly have the talent to do so.
It's definitely been a head-scratching past couple of years in Detroit.
Ever since Chauncey Billups was traded to Denver for Allen Iverson, things haven't been the same in Detroit for a team that made six straight Eastern Conference Finals earlier this decade.
No player has emerged as a leader and expensive free-agent signings Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva haven't lived up to expectations.
If Detroit does let go of Rip Hamilton in the Carmelo deal, they'll clear some more cap space for a team that has to accept the fact that they are in rebuilding mode.
Besides Andrea Bargnani's solid season performance thus far (21.7 pts, 5.7 rbs), the Raptors haven't had much to be happy about. Although they weren't an elite team with Chris Bosh, they've been much worse without him.
They don't have much leadership or play much defense (26th in the NBA in points allowed), but what the Raptors do have is a few talented players such as Leandro Barbosa, Jerryd Bayless, Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, and Sonny Weems.
Either some of those players will have to step up and take on a much larger role or Toronto will need to get better through the draft, trades, and free agency.
Apparently losing Raymond Felton meant much more to Charlotte than most thought. Felton played an integral part of the Bobcats' winning record (44-38) and playoff appearance last year, and he seems to be doing the same thing in New York with the Knicks.
Stephen Jackson's name has been in trade rumors lately, but the Bobcats should keep him because of his varied offensive game and experience.
Gerland Wallace has been bothered by injuries this year, so he hasn't posted the same kind of explosive numbers that he did last year in his lone All-Star appearance.
The Bobcats are weak at the power forward and center position. If they want to return to the postseason, they'll need to address those problems quickly.
Poor Nash. Eight months removed from the Western Conference Finals, his team now sits at 11th place in the west. Although he's having a solid individual season, his Phoenix team has struggled greatly on the defensive end.
They're currently 28th in rebounds per game and 30th in points allowed. There's no way team with that kind of lackluster defense is going to earn a playoff berth.
The Suns have talented individual players (Vince Carter, Hakim Warrick, Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye, Grant Hill), but they don't fit together well as a team.
If you watch a Suns game, you notice the poor chemistry between the players. They all have similar styles of play and don't complement each other on either end of the court.
Phoenix needs to make some moves if they want to keep Nash in the desert.
After a slow start to the season, the 76ers seem to be improving steadily. They have some valuable young talent in players such as Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams and trading chips in Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala.
In his second NBA season, Jrue Holiday has truly come into his own. He's averaging 14.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, and 6.7 apg. He seems likely to play an important role in the development of this team in the future.
It seems like Iguodala has been on the trading block for years. A talented all-around player, Andre would fit well on most NBA teams. There's been interest from New York and Los Angeles as well as many other clubs. If the 76ers are able to loose his contract and get some value in return, it would be a step in the right direction.
Doug Collins has been able to turn this team around and has a chance to get to .500 before the season ends.
The Bucks are in the same boat as the Bobcats. After ending last season with a 46-36 record, everyone was expecting the Bucks to not only top that, but make some noise in the postseason as well.
Brandon Jennings has upped his scoring average from last year (15.5 to 17.9), but he's still shooting a dismal 39.1 percent on field goals and 36.7 percent on three pointers. He needs to convert on more of his attempts in order for this Bucks team to be successful.
Milwaukee was expecting big things from their free-agent signings this summer. Corey Maggette has done next-to-nothing, averaging only 10.8 ppg this year compared to the 19.8 he averaged last year in Golden State (albeit that players stats tend to become inflated with the Warriors).
Meanwhile the Bucks savior last year, John Salmons, hasn't been very consistent this year. He's averaging 14 points but shooting 38.4 percent from the field.
Andrew Bogut has been relatively strong for the Bucks this season, averaging 11.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks (leads NBA). But it seems the theme with this Bucks team is shooting percentages, because Bogut is only connecting on 42.7 percent of his free throws.
It's pretty simple with the Bucks: make more shots and they'll win more games.
When the Warriors signed David Lee this offseason, it seemed like they would be an improved defensive team because of Lee's ability to rebound the basketball.
Instead, Lee's only averaging 9.6 rebounds (his lowest since '07-'08) and Golden State is 19th in rebounds per game and 27th in points allowed.
The problem with Golden State is that because they play such poor defense, they are forced to outscore their opponent in order to win. However, they haven't been doing that very well. They are only 9th in the NBA in points per game and 15th in offensive efficiency.
The Warriors do have two of the most explosive offensive players in the game, Monta Ellis (25.6 ppg) and Stephen Curry (18.2 ppg). If those two along with David Lee could figure out a way to play together effectively, this would become a very dangerous team.
This Indiana team has improved from last year and has become a very good rebounding team (fifth in the NBA).
Granger's had a decent year (20.9 ppg and 5.6 rpg) but his shooting percentage from three (37.7 percent) along with his overall field goal shooting percentage (42.2 percent) needs to be improved.
An early candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year, Roy Hibbert has seen a significant drop in production lately. He'll need to become a 20-10 guy if the Pacers want to have a winning record.
In their past ten games, the Clippers are 6-4. That's right Clippers fans - a winning record. They even beat Miami this past Wednesday.
Blake Griffin, an athletic marvel, is putting up huge numbers (especially for a rookie). 21.8 points per game, 12.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and shooting 51.8 percent from the field. Griffin's helping to make "the other" Los Angeles basketball team relevant again, but he's not doing it alone.
Eric Gordon, the NBA's 10th leading scorer at 23.6 ppg, has been a big part of the Clippers' recent success. Clearly his experience with Team USA this summer has made him into a very mature player. He has an all-around offense game - three-point shot, penetration ability, and solid passing (4.5 apg on the season).
You may have never hear this before...but watch out for the Clippers.
Who knows where Carmelo's going...or when?
This entire season has seemed like a lost cause for the Nuggets, who know Carmelo's departure is imminent. The sooner they can get a deal done the better.
If they do receive Devin Harris and Derrick Favors from New Jersey, the Nuggets would still remain a solid team. The playoffs would probably be out of reach but Harris and Favors are two good pieces to build around.
This gritty Rockets team has struggled without Yao Ming, especially on the defensive end. They are 25th in the NBA in points allowed.
However, they are a very good offensive team (even with Aaron Brooks' extended absence). They rank 4th in the NBA in points per game, 3rd in assists per game, and 9th in offensive efficiency.
Luis Scola has been a borderline All-Star with his play this season. 19.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, and shooting 50.1 percent from the field, Scola has been a consistent offensive force for Houston. His craftiness around the basket makes him extremely difficult to contain.
If the Rockets want to improve, they'll need to do so on the defensive end. With explosive offensive players like Scola, Kevin Martin, and Aaron Brooks, they have no problems with scoring.
This year hasn't worked out in Memphis exactly as planned. O.J. Mayo's been a shell of his former self, only averaging 12.7 points per game this season. Mike Conley has played fairly well (13.2 ppg and 7 apg), but the Grizzlies might need to shake things up if they want to get to the next level.
Memphis doesn't excell in any one category. They're 13th in the NBA in points per game, 24th in rebounds per game, 23rd in assists per game, 17th in points allowed, and 20th in offensive efficiency.
The big question Memphis has to ask itself is this: whose the franchise leader? Rudy Gay's been pretty good this season, averaging 21.1 ppg and 6 rpg. Zach Randolph has also been very solid (20 ppg and 12.9 rpg).
They're still a relatively young team, but if Grizzlies management needs to address some key problems (defense, O.J. Mayo, etc.) if they want this team to excel.
Being at .500 without Brandon Roy or Greg Oden is very impressive from this injury-plagued Portland team.
A big reason for this has been the stellar play of LaMarcus Aldridge. Current averages of 20.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg, and 1.2 bpg have given him rightful consideration for the All-Star team.
16 points and 3.1 rebounds. Whose averaging those numbers? Wesley Matthews. It seems like the Blazers were right in giving him that 30+ million dollar contract after all. Matthews has really stepped up in Brandon Roy's absence. He's averaging 19 points per game in his last five games.
It's sad but it's true: Portland seems destined to stay at .500 without Roy or Oden.
Flying under the radar as always, David West is having another great season. 18.8 ppg and 7.2 rpg are his averages. In his past 32 games, he's scored in single-digits only twice.
Second in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating (PER), Chris Paul is also having another tremendous season. Although most of his stats are down from their usual high marks (currently at 16.4 ppg, 9.8 ast, and 4.2 rbs), he's averaging a league-leading 2.8 steals per game.
If New Orleans wants to keep this franchise player after 2012 free-agnecy, they'll need to fix some of their current problems. The shooting guard and small forward positions are huge weaknesses for them (Trevor Ariza hasn't lived up to expectations). Hornets management needs to find some good wing players who can play with Paul if they want to succeed.
It's been a quiet 26-14 for the Hawks, whose defense has been very good this season (they rank 8th in the NBA in points allowed).
Joe Johnson has struggled a little this season. He's averaging 18.8 points but only connecting on 29.9 percent of his threes. Because he's an elite player, expect Johnson to find his stroke as the year goes by.
Al Horford has steadily improved with each year. His jump shot from 15 feet looks solid as well as his free throws (82.1 percent from the line).
Another year, another stat-stuffing season for Josh Smith. 15.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.9 bpg, and 1.4 spg, one of the league's most underrated players has been doing it all for this Hawks team.
If Atlanta wants to get to the next level, it's clear Mike Bibby needs to accept a backup point guard role. The Hawks, still regretting not taking Chris Paul or Deron WIlliams in the '05 draft, need to find an elite point guard who can make them into a contender.
When Carlos Boozer left for Chicago, Utah dropped its elite status. But with the quick and smart signing of Al Jefferson (currently at 16.6 ppg and 8.8 rpg), not only did the Jazz regain the quality of play they had with Boozer, they increased it.
With Deron Williams at the point, the Jazz's offense has been very fluid so far this season. They're 11th in the NBA in points per game and 3rd in assists per game.
Williams is having another All-Star season, but the emergence of Paul Milsap has been huge for Utah. Averaging 17.6 ppg and 8 rpg, Milsap gives the Jazz a solid third option on offense.
The Jazz have been able to earn many comeback wins this season, a skill they'll need if they want to make noise in the coming playoffs.
Arguably the best duo in the NBA, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combine for the following stats on a nightly basis:
If the Thunder can find a quality scoring big man, they'll become a legitimate contender for an NBA championship.
First Boozer was out. Now Noah is out. Through it all, Chicago's maintained a solid record and third place in the Eastern Conference.
Derrick. Rose. 24.3 ppg, 1.1 stl, 8.0 ast, 4.8 reb, and 1.6 3PM.
Boozer's also been a monster for the Bulls, averaging 20.5 ppg and 10.1 rpg after returning from an injury that kept him out until December.
The one problem keeping Chicago from an NBA title is their shooting guard spot. Keith Bogans currently starts, but he's only valuable on defense. Although more than half his shots have been taken from behind the arc, Bogans has only made 29.9 percent of them. His scoring average of 3.4 isn't good enough if the Bulls have any aspirations of holding the Larry O'Brien trophy in the coming years.
If the Magic continue to play this well, Otis Smith will contend with Pat Riley for Executive of the Year. With the additions of Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Earl Clark, Orlando's offense has been fun to watch.
But it's not their O that's led them to an 8-2 record in their past 10 games. The Magic rank 6th in points allowed in the NBA and Dwight Howard seems like the frontrunner in the Defensive Player of the Year race.
Turkoglu's had a resurgence in production since his return to the Magic. Averaging 11.8 ppg, 6.4 apg, 4.9 rpg, and 1.4 spg, Hedo's all-around offensive game has elevated the play in Orlando.
A key problem the Magic need to address is a quality big to backup Dwight Howard, whose consistently been in foul trouble. They could use Jameer Nelson as a trading piece to acquire the player they want.
After making the Finals two years ago and the Conference Finals last year, the Magic have the talent to make another run at a title.
3-7 in their last 10 games, it's clear the Mavs aren't a great team without Dirk (and Caron Butler). Nowitzki was an early season MVP candidate and having one of his best seasons in years, including posting an incredible 54.5 FG percentage.
Dallas better hope to get him back as soon as possible before they drop too low in the standings.
It seems like all the drama in LA has stopped, mostly due to the 9-1 record the Lakers have posted in their last 10 games.
The Lakers are one of the most well-rounded teams in the entire NBA. They're 7th in points per game, 2nd in rebounds per game, 9th in assists per game, 10th in points allowed, and 2nd in offensive efficiency.
But, and no disrespect to Derek here, the Lakers need to improve their point guard position. Although he's still incredibly clutch and a great leader, Fisher's getting too old to start for the Lakers. He's only making 37.7 of his field goals and averaging 2.8 assists per game. That's not the kind of production the Lakers need if they want to dominate the Western Conference as they've done in the Pau Gasol era.
Miami's big three have been posting stellar numbers thus far (particularly Wade and James) but the Heat's lack of depth is clear.
They could use a low-post scoring big man who could complement Chris Bosh's outside jump shot.
Carlos Arroyo, the current starting PG, has been shooting the three at 45.9 percent this season. That's a great number but that's pretty much all he's capable of doing. Not a good defender, Arroyo may loose his starting job if Miami can find better talent at his position.
Speaking of defense, the Heat as a team have been stellar at that end of the court. 5th in the NBA in points allowed, Miami has the capability of shutting any team down (as they did Christmas Day with the Lakers). James and Wade are two of the league's best perimeter defenders and Joel Anthony has forced many elite big men, such as Amar'e Stoudemire, to have poor games against the Heat.
It'll be interesting to see how Miami does come playoff time without a low-post threat, but if they manage to acquire one before the postseason begins, they'd be my pick to go all the way.
Let's all be honest. With four sure-fire Hall of Famers on this team and one more potential candidate (Rondo), anything less than the first seed in the Eastern Conference and top three on this list would be a disappointment.
Fifth in points per game, fifth in assists per game, and first in offensive efficiency, this Spurs team has been unbelievably good.
All-Star caliber individual seasons by Tony Parker (17.1 ppg and 7 apg) and Manu Ginobli (18.9 ppg, 4 rpg, and 4.7 apg) have catapulted this team to the NBA's best record.
Keep in mind, all this success has come with Tim Duncan averaging 29.3 minutes per game.
Gregg Popovich deserve to win Coach of the Year with the job he's done with this team. He's been able to limit Duncan's minutes in order to keep him fresh come playoff time, but he's still gotten this team to 34 wins faster than anyone else in the league. He's also been able to turn a defensive, slow-playing team into a fast-paced running team in less than a year.
For all their offensive improvement, the Spurs are still solid on the defensive end. They're 11th in the NBA in points allowed and 7th in rebounds per game.
This team really has it all. Experience, quality young players mixed with veterans, exceptional play on both sides of the ball, and an excellent coach leading the way. Duncan and Pop may be on their way to their fifth title.