With the 2010-2011 NBA regular season over and the playoffs nearly upon us, here is a look at how each and every team stacks up heading into the postseason. I will also add my two cents as to what each team needs to get better, or stay at the top. Finally, I will add my personal playoff picks to find out who will be hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy this June.
As much as it pains me to put my hometown team dead last, I know as well as anyone that they deserve to be here. It shows in their record as they now own the worst record by a solid two games over Cleveland, and they have really separated themselves the last few weeks. It seems like they have actually gotten progressively worse as the season has progressed. Earlier in the year they lost a lot of close games, and now the struggle to compete with anyone. Oh well, here's to chasing that No. 1 overall pick!
What they need: A good point guard, a better center, depth, and possibly a new coach.
Hey, here's something to keep Cleveland fans optimistic! Even after losing their Chosen One in the most heartbreaking fashion possible, they aren't the worst team in the league! The Cavs aren't completely hopeless, but it is still going to take them some time to recover. At least they can say the beat LeBron once this year.
What they need: First and foremost to get themselves out of the scorned mindset. But also to rebuild through the draft and to realize it won't happen overnight.
Quick, name five players for the Toronto Raptors! DeRozan, Calderon, that Italian dude? And that's only one fewer guy than I could name last year. The fact that they aren't at the bottom of the barrel is in itself an accomplishment for the most irrelevant team in the league. I can honestly say I haven't watched a Raptors game since Vince Carter left. But they can only go up, right? I sure hope so.
What they need: True center, depth, better point guard.
One of the more disappointing seasons in my opinion. I was expecting something somewhat exciting from this team this year, something similar to what we got from the Clippers. With all the youth and all the potential in the world it seemed, the biggest story all year was the potential move to northern California. Only time will tell if DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans and company can turn this franchise around.
What they need: A disciplined coach, veteran leadership
They have a franchise point guard, which is good. But he is about the only sure thing the Wizards have in place. Sure JaVale McGee should have won the dunk contest and comes up with some ridiculous blocks, but it still remains to be seen whether or not he can become a serviceable center. And right now Nick Young is simply a gunner. This team needs some pieces, but at least they nailed their pick last summer.
What they need: Depth at every position, defensive minded wing player
This franchise needs to figure things out, to put it simply. With all of the player-coach problems over the last year and a half, its clear something needs to change. Either get rid of the problem players or get rid of the coach. And no matter what KG said or didn't say, Charlie Villanueva is truly a cancer to his team.
What they need: To completely clean house. Start from scratch.
This is a franchise I just can't figure out. It seemed for a while that they were building in the right direction, and even made the playoffs last year. But this year it all seemed to go back to the beginning. It didn't help that they traded the franchise's best player away for a first round pick. Hopefully MJ has a plan to get the Bobcats back into the playoff picture.
What they need: To use MJ's power to bring a star into town.
For the first time since Jason Kidd, the Nets have a quality point guard they can build around (if they can get him to stay) and a big man who seems revitalized by his new PG. After all the Melodrama the quickness and quietness of the Williams trade was refreshing, but Mikhail Prokhorov still has some work to do if he wants to own a contender.
What they need: To sign Deron Williams to a long term contract, and use him to draw another star (preferably a wing scorer, maybe a Danny Granger type)
Fear the Deer? Not so much this year. Brandon Jennings has come back down to earth after an overrated rookie season, and Andrew Bogut and John Salmons have also underachieved compared to expectations. To be honest, this season is probably more like what we expected last year when they far exceeded expectations, but things don't always go the way we expect, do they?
What they need: For there existing players to play like they are capable. Salmons, Bogut and Jennings all extremely underachieved this season. And the return of Michael Redd wouldn't hurt.
The Clippers seem to now be the NBA's version of America's Sweetheart team. They're the team that has been so bad for so long that even non-sports fans know they suck, now with some of the most exciting young players in the game. If anyone has ever doubted that one player can change a franchise, just look at Blake Griffin. No, he hasn't led them to even a playoff spot yet, but he has single handedly pumped life into a nearly comatose organization. Somehow, because of Griffin, the Clippers are cool again. Not bad Mr. Griffin, not bad.
What they need: Time. All this team really needs is time to improve and grow as a unit. And maybe a coach with more of a defensive mindset that will get them more fast break opportunities they love.
As much as it pains me to say it, because he is one of my all time favorite players, Nash needs to get out of Phoenix. The right thing to do on the Suns end would have been to trade their Hall of Fame point guard to a contender this February, but since when has Phoenix been about doing the right thing? It's time to start from scratch.
What they need: To dump Vince Carter, trade Nash and Hill to a contender and start building around Gortat, Warrick, Brooks and Pietrus as their role players. I would love to see the Suns find a way to get Derrick Williams in the draft.
They saw a bit of a mini-implosion for an otherwise promising squad this year when the whole Sloan-Williams controversy sprang up (it doesn't matter how much they both deny it, something happened between the two that ended up with both leaving the organization). It was pretty disappointing, because it seemed like the Jazz had a pretty solid team heading into the year (I think I picked them to finish 4th after LAL, Dallas, and OKC) with an All-Pro point guard and the addition of Al Jefferson to the front court. But it doesn't look like a total rebuilding project for the Jazz, just a few tweaks should get them back in the playoffs.
What they need: To find the next long term coach who can develop the young talent quickly
That's right, the second best team in California. The Warriors have become one of the most fun teams to watch because they can score with anybody. Monta Ellis has really emerged as one of the best scoring shooting guards in the league. Sure, this team doesn't play a lick of defense. But they are maybe one more big man and a coach that suits them (uhhh, Mike D'Antoni anyone?) and they could be a fun to watch playoff team.
What they need: Mike D'Antoni at the realm, and a defensive minded center to clog up the lane.
It's time for Houston to start moving on from the Yao Ming era. Whether or not they decide to part ways with the big fella I believe will be huge in determining their immediate future. If they do, I think they could be a playoff team as early as next season. They have two very good scorers in Luis Scola and Kevin Martin, and Goran Dragic should develop into a pretty solid point guard. If Hasheem Thabeet can ever become anything resembling an NBA starting center, they Rockets could be a very solid team for a long time.
What they need: Either Yao to get healthy or Thabeet to at least come close to his potential.
With one of the only two dominant low post bangers in the league in Zach Randolph to compliment Rudy Gay and Mike Conley on the perimeter, the Grizzlies have something a lot of teams don't. I love the addition of the tough and gritty Shane Battier, and if they can keep that core in tact I am excited to see how this team grows.
What they need: To stay healthy and keep their guys together.
A lot of people make fun of the Pacers for, well, drafting a lot of white guys. Josh McRoberts, Tyler Hansbrough, Mike Dunleavy...but the fact is these guys have helped them win games. Danny Granger and Darren Collison are very underrated in my opinion, and Roy Hibbert is starting to develop into a decent center. For a small market team, they are doing things the right way. Building through the draft is the way to go for teams like the Pacers, and that's how they're doing it.
What they need: One more consistent scoring threat to take some pressure off of Danny Granger, and some depth.
The fate of the Hornets rests on the shoulders of Chris Paul. If he bolts for greener pastures, New Orleans will need to pretty much start over. If he stays, they better make sure they make it worth it to him by signing him some friends. If professional basketball has a future in the Big Easy, it must center on CP3.
What they need: To find a way, any way, to keep Chris Paul. Without him there is likely no more basketball in New Orleans.
What Doug Collins has done for this team is amazing, turning a team around that really hasn't had any major changes from last year. Even as their number two pick Evan Turner has been a bit of a disappointment, Andre Iguodala has really found his role as an elite perimeter defender and has calmed down a little bit on the offensive end. They've got a nice core in place that I hope doesn't get burnt out by Collins too quickly as others have in the past.
What they need: Evan Turner to become the talent everyone thought he was. If he does, him and Iguodala would be a nice 1-2 punch.
If Brandon Roy ever returns to doing what he did pre-injury, and Greg Oden could stay on the floor for more than 10 games, the Blazers would be one of the deepest teams not only in the west but the entire league, especially on the front line. Aldridge has proven himself to be one of the best power forwards in the league, and combined with a healthy Roy and now Gerald Wallace the Blazers would be very interesting.
What they need: To get rid of the injury bug.
Very rarely does a team lose a superstar yet possibly become better. George Karl and the entire Nuggets organization seems reenergized by finally getting rid of Carmelo Anthony and adding some nice young talent. The only thing missing from this team is the late game clutchness that made Carmelo so great. Either one of their current guys needs to step up or they will need to add another piece one way or another.
What they need: A closer. Whether its Aaron Afflalo or Danilo Gallinari or a free agent signing or draft pick, thats the missing piece.
A couple years ago I thought the Hawks were the next up-and-coming team, with so much young talent they remind me of the feelings I get when I watch the Thunder the last two years. But by overpaying their star and not really changing anything at all, the Hawks seem to be set to win 40-50 games for the next five years and never make it past the conference semi-finals.
What they need: Bring in some young talent through the draft or a new coach that will revitalize the guys who seem content.
The Magic have tried and tried to make the right moves to put guys around Dwight Howard, but it seems clear that he is beginning to get frustrated. But just as much blame should be put on him. Yes, he is the most dominant center in the league, but in reality he should be the single most dominating player in the league, not just at his position. It would be sad if both Howard's career and this Magic team's run peaked when they made the Finals in 2008.
What they need: To stop trying to remake the 2008 team and find some wing players that can both take the pressure off Howard and also give him some help on the defensive end.
I know their record should but them far below number 8, but the reality is once this team gets it together they are scary. While most teams in the NBA don't even have one established guy they can rely on in the final minutes, the Knicks have three (Carmelo, Amar'e, Billups), and that makes them dangerous. If they can mesh quickly enough they could pull off a major upset this postseason.
What they need: A coach who is going to get the most out of them, and eventually a point guard for the future.
With Dirk getting up there in age and no one really knowing how many good years he has left, this may be his final shot being the guy on a championship team. But once again Dallas feel like a team thats going to underachieve in the postseason.
What they need: Tyson Chandeler to play great defense, and Jason Kidd to play like he did 10 years ago.
Two months ago I probably would have had Boston in either the first or second slot on this list. But I just think the Kendrick Perkins trade hurt them too much, both logistically and with their chemistry. Maybe I should believe they will just turn it on in the playoffs once again, but its just hard to do because most teams can't do that. Especially teams with three aging stars.
What they need: To find whatever mojo the found going into the playoffs last year (and a little of the same luck they had, too)
Even though their record should put them much higher, but they really haven't played as well this second half of the season, and their age is starting to show a little bit. However, they've proven they know how to win as well as anyone the past decade so you can't count them out...ever.
What they need: The fountain of youth.
The Thunder are by far the most fun team in the league to watch. The same was the case last year as well, and they ended up taking the Lakers to withing a tip-in of seven games in the first round. And while they still center around Kevin Durant, they aren't the same team anymore. Russell Westbrook has now established himself as an explosive guard who is capable of scoring 35 plus if too much attention is paid to Durant or a triple double if things just go right. And Kendrick Perkins gives them the defensive toughness that they lacked against the Lakers last year.
What they need: To stay healthy and keep their core in tact.
Obviously, everyone is sick of the Heat. But regardless of whether you think they are the greatest team ever or you think they are all cowards for teaming up, the fact is they are one of the best teams in the league and will be for a while. Its not a question of whether or not LeBron and Wade will take care of business, but will the role players take care of their end?
What the need: Consistency from the role players.
Derrick Rose and the Bulls are everyone's favorite darling team this year because in a league where all the superstars are flocking to each other, Derrick Rose has seemingly put the team on his back by himself and led them to the best record in the east. If they can continue to play defense at the same level they did all season they can beat anyone.
What they need: Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng to step up offensively when the pressure is turned up on Rose.
As much as I hate to put them back at number one, I don't really have much of a choice. Since the All-Star break the Lakers have been far and away the best team in the league (until their recent five game skid). And the fact is until someone proves they can beat the Lakers in 7 games, they're still the champs. And unlike the Bulls, if Kobe is having an off game, the Lakers have a myriad of options to pick up the slack.
What they need: To stay injury free.
- Chicago vs. Indiana: Chicago in 5
- Miami vs. Philadelphia: Miami in 6
- Boston vs. New York: Boston in 7
- Orlando vs. Atlanta: Orlando in 4
- Chicago vs. Orlando: Chicago in 7
- Miami vs. Boston: Miami in 6
Eastern Conference Finals:
- Chicago vs. Miami: Miami in 7
Chicago is just too one dimensional, and when Miami wants to be it is the most dominant defensive team in the league. I think they will either find a way to shut down Rose and force someone else to step up or let Rose get his and shut down everyone else. Either way Miami will find a way to shut up the critics.
- San Antonio vs. Memphis: San Antonio in 6
- Dallas vs. Portland: Portland in 7
- Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans: Los Angeles Lakers in 4
- Oklahoma City vs. Denver: Oklahoma City in 6
- San Antonio vs. Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City in 5
- Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland: Los Angeles Lakers in 5
Western Conference Finals:
- Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder: Oklahoma City Thunder in 7
The Lakers are the defending champs and obviously have the experience, but OKC is a much more playoff-ready team than they were a year ago. The Lakers age will show against a younger team that matches their depth. A true upset for the ages is coming.
This will be a true battle of philosophical approaches to the game. One team is an all-star cast put together in one of the most tasteless ego-fests I have ever witnessed, the other is a small market club that has built through the draft and the leadership of its young superstar. Some may see it as an argument for good versus evil, the right way to go about this sport versus the wrong way. But what will occur is the final step in the revitalization of the NBA, as fans will get everything they could ask for: A series filled with superstars, subplots, and fresh faces.
Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder: Oklahoma City Thunder in seven games