Which NBA Playoff Teams Should Be Worried Next Season?
The 2011 NBA Playoffs were full of questions that captivated fans into watching from all over the world. Can anyone stop the Heat in their title run? Will D-Rose lead Chicago to their first championship since Jordan? Are Kobe and the Lakers going to pull off the three-peat? How much do Dirk's Mavs have left in the tank?
These questions culminated into a championship matchup between the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks that gave ABC their third highest television rating while broadcasting the Finals ever during the game six clincher. Last season's playoffs were so good that some fans even wondered whether they were the best ever.
Unfortunately, the NBA Playoffs aren't like your child's first grade birthday party—not everyone in the league is invited. With the Larry O'Brien Trophy being awarded to Dallas a little over a month ago, here are five playoff teams from last season that should be concerned about their place in the party all together.
5. Denver Nuggets, 2010-11 Record: 50-32
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50 wins is usually the benchmark for a good season in the NBA, so why would the Denver Nuggets have anything to worry about?
Two words: free agency. The Nuggets have seven different players that could potentially leave the Mile-High City this off-season. Of their seven free agents, five are major contributors with Nene, Kenyon Martin and Wilson Chandler being starters.
Denver appears to be headed in the right direction though, already offering contracts to restricted free agents Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler and Gary Forbes.
As we saw last year the Nuggets have a deep roster, going 17-7 after trading away their super-star Carmelo Anthony. However, if big man Nene were to depart via free agency, Denver would become very thin on the front line—even if they're able to retain the aging Kenyon Martin.
Nuggets fans be warned—change is not always a good thing.
4. Portland Trail Blazers, 2010-11 Record: 48-34
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If you go through the Portland Trail Blazers roster you can form a starting five consisting of players who could head to the injured reserve on any given night.
Brandon Roy and Greg Oden make the cut based on their lack of knee cartilage. Nicolas Batum's shoulder issues gives him the starting nod, while Gerald Wallace's ever increasing lack of memory and Marcus Camby's myriad of health problems rounds out the All Injury-Prone Team. Even current head coach Nate McMillan can lead the squad, considering he previously ruptured his Achilles tendon while filling in as a practice player two seasons ago.
The lone player for Portland that has never been injured, Andre Miller, was traded during the NBA Draft for Raymond Felton. While Felton appears to be an upgrade over the thirty-five year old guard, Miller has played at least 80 games 11 out of his 13 years in the league.
After trading away their iron man, the Trail Blazers then extended a qualifying offer to Oden, the former number one overall pick that has played a total of 82 games in three seasons.
When Portland is fully healthy they have one of the best rosters from top to bottom in the NBA. The problem is, all of their players have yet to be healthy at one time for a whole season.
3. Atlanta Hawks, 2010-11 Record: 44-38
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I'm convinced that no one outside of the Atlanta Hawks organization saw a series victory coming over the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs last season. Realistically, how could anyone, when the Magic pummeled Atlanta by over 25 points per game in a four game sweep the prior postseason.
Two key contributors to the Hawks' success in the playoffs—Jamal Crawford and Josh Smith—might not even be with the team after the lockout is lifted. Crawford, the former Sixth Man of the Year, is a free agent and it's uncertain whether there's a future for him in the ATL, considering his age.
The homegrown Smith on the other hand, is an entirely different case. It's clear that "J-Smoove" can be a perennial All-Star when he stays down low instead of camping out at the three point line. The honeymoon may be over in Atlanta though, as it seems there's a new Josh Smith trade rumor every other day (seriously, just type "Josh Smith" into the search bar at the top of the page and see for yourself).
Hawks fans better hope forward Zaza Pachulia picks up something from playing in Turkey with Deron Williams this summer if they lose Crawford and/or move Smith. Without those two, not even Dominique Wilkins could imagine Atlanta in the playoffs again.
2. Philadelphia 76ers, 2010-11 Record: 41-41
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The Philadelphia 76ers are a young team. Of their 17 players currently on the roster, 10 are 24 years old or under. Still, in his first year with the team head coach Doug Collins managed to guide the green Sixers to the playoffs, and a respectable defeat to the Miami Heat in the first round.
Surely fans can expect Philly to continue to build upon last season's playoff birth. Not so fast.
While it's conventional wisdom that the NBA lockout helps younger teams and hurts older teams, this may not be the case in Philadelphia. Generally the off-season would provide the Sixers a period of time to practice and further learn Coach Collins's system. Instead, Andre Iguodala and Co. are left to their own devices with zero contact from any team personnel.
Speaking of Iguodala, did you hear that he might be traded? Unloading A.I. would further add to Philly's regression because of the many contributions he makes other than scoring.
Restricted free agent Thaddeus Young could be packing his bags along with Iguodala if another team shows him the money. Suddenly the future isn't so clear in Philadelphia.
1. New Orleans Hornets, 2010-11 Record: 46-36
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Trivia time: Which team is currently owned and operated by the NBA? If you happened to guess the New Orleans Hornets, then you're right on the money!
It's true, last December the NBA purchased the Hornets from previous owners George Shinn and Gary Chouest. Things got so bad on Bourbon Street that fans and local business owners had to buy enough season tickets to block an escape clause that would have allowed the team to leave New Orleans.
And I haven't even begun to cover the Hornets's on the court issues. All-Star Chris Paul did his best David impersonation during the playoffs, coming away with two wins against the heavily favored Lakers. The lack of a supporting cast for Paul was undeniable however, and it could get even worse with both David West and Carl Landry being free agents.
New Orleans is in a catch-22 with West, who is coming off of a torn ACL late last season. Does the team use what little cap space it has to re-sign the former All-Star and hope for the best, or do they move on and begin another roster overhaul?
Surrounded by several unknowns, don't be surprised if Chris Paul demands a trade next season. It might be the only way CP3 can reach the playoffs again.