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NBA: How All 30 Teams Can Become Championship Contenders

Broox AndersonCorrespondent IIIAugust 2, 2011

NBA: How All 30 Teams Can Become Championship Contenders

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    It seems as though year after year, our NBA Champions are one of a select few "elite" teams, such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, and San Antonio Spurs.

    Exactly half of our 30 existing NBA teams are utterly devoid of a championship, and, with a lockout in position to equalize opportunities with a hard salary cap, let's take a look at what every team in the National Basketball Association could do to ensure themselves a title.

    The following slides are placed in reverse-alphabetical order, and are not in order of opinion or ranking of any kind.  

     

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    [Statistical data found on HoopsStats.com

30. Washington Wizards

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    Washington Wizards

    After their great draft accomplishments this year, the Wizards are poised to strike the NBA world with an Oklahoma City Thunder-esque uprising and run over teams with their raw talent and superior athleticism.

    Although, in order for the Wiz to rein in a Larry O'Brien trophy, they will have to be patient. Washington has one of the youngest rosters in the league, and is surprisingly deep with potential and talent.

    Their obvious core to build around is John Wall, JaVale McGee, Nick Young, Jan Vesely, and maybe even Chris Singleton.

    Most other pieces are expendable, especially Rashard Lewis and his extremely high price tag.

    Andray Blatche is a nice role player, or starter, and should most likely be kept unless Washington can string together a trade.

    Adding veterans to the roster would be a great move in part by the Wiz, too. Someone like Josh Smith, Glen Davis, or even Jamal Crawford would help kick-start the growing process and add to their win total each year.

    There's a bright future in Washington and no one can deny that so far.

    Synopsis: Washington ranked 21st in points per game, 28th in assists, and 27th in three-point field goal percentages. The Wizards have to up their scoring, pass the ball, and shoot for a better three-point percentage.

29. Utah Jazz

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    Utah Jazz

    The Jazz performed nicely in this year's draft also, adding Enes Kanter and Alec Burks to their roster of young and proven players alike.

    It's difficult to predict the immediate future of the franchise, as a trade is almost certain to take place involving one or more of Utah's post players when the lockout ends.

    There's a logjam at the 4 and 5 positions, as they have Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Mehmet Okur, and Enes Kanter.

    Doing the math, that's three players capable of putting up 20 points and 10 rebounds per night, four players with All-Star potential (Mehmet Okur has already made an All-Star appearance), and five players that deserve a starting role on a team.

    Sadly, we're not going to induce trade speculation here; we will simply expound on what the Jazz could do to claim a championship.

    First off, let me state the fact that I believe dealing Deron Williams to the Nets was irrevocably the correct move in part by Kevin O'Connor and Greg Miller (general manager and CEO, respectively), and will be an essential part in sustaining this franchise's "elite" status.

    Although they missed the playoffs this year, it's general knowledge that things must get worse before they get better. How soon things get better the better question, as no one has that particular answer.

    The first step toward championship contention for the Jazz would be to instigate a defensive mindset. Utah was utterly lacking on the defensive end this past season and needs to improve, not to mention their rebounding deficiencies. Those were two of the Utah Jazz's hallmark traits as a team in the past.

    A new offensive scheme might also help their efforts, but wouldn't be absolutely necessary.

    The team management, fans, and players all seem to trust in head coach Tyrone Corbin to bring the Jazz back into the playoffs, and that brings us to the main point I will make for Utah:

    Trust and team chemistry are absolutely essential here. Trades and injuries have taken their toll on the Jazz in the past, and they direly need to keep a healthy roster in order for the team to play, well, like an actual team.

    Utah will also have over $25 million in spending money after the lockout ends, in part due to the expiration of Andrei Kirilenko's maximum contract.

    If the Jazz can get better defensively, grow together, trust each other, staydevoid of injuries, sign the right players with their money, and build themselves up for a few seasons, I wouldn't bet against them to bring home a title.

    Synopsis: Utah ranked 26th overall in the league in rebounding, 18th in three-point field goal percentages, 13th in points per game, and 17th in turnovers. The Jazz have to be more aggressive at rebounding, try to up their three-point average, score prolifically, and make better on-court decisions.

28. Toronto Raptors

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    Toronto Raptors

    Toronto finished with the third-worst record in the NBA last season, but was only awarded the fifth overall pick in the draft (used on Jonas Valanciunas) after the Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers jumped into the third and fourth spots from sixth and eighth overall, respectively.

    In 2010, the Raptors selected forward DeMar DeRozan, and, although he has performed efficiently for a rookie, didn't quite meet his high expectations. Given another year or two, DeRozan will almost surely come into his own and tap into his potential as a player. That will be one of the key points for Toronto to chase a title. 

    For some reason, the Raptors seem somewhat lost as a franchise, more so now that Chris Bosh has parted with the team. Although they have great pieces like the potential superstar Andrea Bargnani, the team just doesn't seem to have a definite direction right now. 

    The development of players like Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Ed Davis, and DeMar DeRozan will be essential for the Raptors' future, but keeping players like Jose Calderon or Leandro Barbosa would be foolish if another team came knocking and Toronto was able to put a decent deal together.

    Toronto might not have the greatest odds to currently win a championship, but they will have a plethora of opportunities to change that through free agency, trades, and time. 

    Synopsis: The Raptors were 22nd in overall rebounding this year, 22nd in steals, 24th in blocked shots, and dead last (30th) in three-point field goal percentage. Toronto has to be more aggressive on the boards, get more hands in passing lanes, and desperately attempt to increase their three-point percentage.

27. San Antonio Spurs

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    San Antonio Spurs

    The Spurs nabbed the 15th overall pick this year (Kawhi Leonard via the Indiana Pacers), and emitted several signals that the team is close to a roster upheaval and may need to enter a rebuilding mode.

    There were numerous trade rumors involving Tony Parker throughout the draft week, but, surprisingly, San Antonio sent point guard George Hill to the Pacers for the 15th overall pick. 

    Before we can look at what the Spurs can do to get to the Finals, let's look at more evidence supporting the upheaval theory:

    • The No. 1 seed Spurs were beaten in the first round of the playoffs by the No. 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies
    • The selection of Kawhi Leonard presumably sealed the fate of small forward Richard Jefferson (who was also mentioned in trade talks) with disinterest from the Spurs. 
    • All-time great Tim Duncan is sadly participating in what will most likely be his last few seasons in the NBA before his retirement. 
    • Manu Ginobli has suffered countless injuries this year, and is also reaching a decline in his performance.
    • All the trade talk involving Tony Parker has undoubtedly reached him, which would not exactly give him the best attitude toward playing with Spurs in the future. 

    It's nearly impossible to disagree with the fact that San Antonio is facing a rebuilding process, and that they are at the end of a great era. 

    Synopsis: In order for the Spurs to claim a title, they will have to bring in draft picks, trade for younger players, and try to establish a young core to build around.

26. Sacramento Kings

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    Sacramento Kings

    After trading down in the draft from seventh to 10th overall, the Kings grabbed Jimmer Fredette (via the Milwaukee Bucks). With that addition, the Kings added yet another lethal scorer to play alongside Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, and DeMarcus Cousins.

    Currently, the Kings are facing a franchise "crisis," as they have been given a deadline to find a new arena in which to play in Sacramento, or else the team will most likely be moved or sold.

    Putting all the drama aside, the Kings are actually a very promising young team. Their young core of players now includes J.J. Hickson as well after a trade involving Omri Casspi and the Cleveland Cavaliers before the lockout was initiated on July 1st. 

    Synopsis: The Kings ranked 29th in the league in turnovers this past season, so that must improve drastically. As with almost all teams, they need to be patient and grow as a team. Sacramento was also 22nd in assists, 23rd in overall field goal percentage, and 26th in three-point percentage. The Kings have to move the ball, take better shots, and increase their three-point accuracy.

25. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Portland Trail Blazers

    The Blazers made a great addition to their roster in the short offseason with the acquisition of point guard Raymond Felton.

    The Blazers have an up-and-coming superstar in LaMarcus Aldridge, a great point guard in Raymond Felton, a versatile forward in Gerald Wallace and possibly a lethal scorer in Brandon Roy if he can return to form.

    When the lockout ends, the Blazers will more than likely continue to make trades in attempt to satisfy their roster needs, so don't be too comfortable with their current team.

    Synopsis: The Blazers ranked 27th in the league in rebounding (29th defensively), and shot just 34 percent from three-point range. In order to be a championship-caliber team, the Blazers must improve their rebounding and three-point accuracy.

24. Phoenix Suns

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    Phoenix Suns

    The Suns made a bold move in this year's draft by selecting Markieff Morris 13th overall while his allegedly more talented brother, Marcus, was still available. 

    Phoenix has to face the fact that Steve Nash is nearing the end of his career as an NBA player, and either trade him for assets or let him stay and be a mentor.

    The Suns are yet another franchise that boasts a young, talented roster with players such as Aaron Brooks, Hakim Warrick, Jared Dudley, and Robin Lopez. Still, they do have a plethora of veterans including Vince Carter, Grant Hill, Steve Nash, and Mikael Pietrus.

    Phoenix would be at an advantage to bring in future draft picks, and trade a few of their veterans for younger players that they can build around.

    Synopsis: Phoenix ranked 21st overall in blocked shots, 23rd overall in rebounding, and 25th in steals. The Suns need more energy on the defensive end to go along with their stellar offensive performances to compete for a championship.

23. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Philadelphia 76ers

    The Sixers picked up center Nikola Vucevic in this year's draft to play alongside Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, and the rest of the Philadelphia crew. They also selected forward Lavoy Allen out of Temple. 

    The NBA world has exploded with Andre Iguodala trade rumors in the past few months, and, if any of these rumors sport some form of validity, we can expect to see him dealt quickly after the lockout ends. 

    The Sixers have a strong core group of players consisting of Elton Brand, Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala, and upcoming players Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner. 

    Synonymous with other teams, the Sixers are in need of quick development from their rookie and sophomore players, such as Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Jodie Meeks, Craig Brackins, Marreese Speights, and newly acquired Nikola Vucevic and Lavoy Allen.

    Philadelphia claimed the seventh seed in the 2010-11 Eastern Conference playoff bracket, which pitted them against the Conference Champions, the Miami Heat, in the first round. 

    The Sixers are a very interesting team, and I can't imagine them not being in the playoffs for the next few seasons. Their roster is full of promising players who haven't reached their full potential and proven stars alike. 

    Synopsis:

    Philadelphia has done a very nice job accumulating draft picks and picking up young and talented players in the past five or so years. The Sixers would now be at an advantage to switch gears, leave the rebuilding mode behind, and enter the next few seasons with a mindset to do some damage in the playoffs and make a run at the title. 

    Philadelphia ranked 19th overall in points per game and 22nd in blocked shots last season. At the same time they ranked first in turnovers per game, and sixth in overall assists. The Sixers need to give themselves more opportunities to score and perform better with their help defense to block shots in order to become a championship-contending team.

22. Orlando Magic

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    Orlando Magic

    The Magic received a ticket out of the first-round of the playoffs this year from the Atlanta Hawks.

    Orlando has declined somewhat in every year since their Finals appearance against the Lakers in 2008-09, going, then, from the Finals all the way to their first-round exit this year. 

    In order to ascend back to their previous status, the Magic must, first of all, make a franchise-altering decision involving center Dwight Howard. Do they trade him in an attempt to retain some of his value as a player, or do they wait out his contract and pray he will stay in Orlando? 

    The majority of the Magic's roster consists of seven- to 11-year veterans, with a small handful of younger talents. Orlando would be making a great decision to began to accumulate draft picks and younger players.

    There's also the head-scratcher of bringing in Gilbert Arenas to compete with Jameer Nelson for playing time and starter minutes at the point guard position.  

    Synopsis: Orlando ranked 18th overall in points per game, 26th in assists, 27th in steals, 17th in blocked shots per game, 25th in turnovers, and 17th in field goal percentages. In order for the Magic to return to contention, they must score prolifically, pass the ball and use their teammates, rev up their defensive energy, help defensively, drastically improve their decision-making, and take better shots.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Oklahoma City Thunder

    Oklahoma City made an appearance in the Western Conference Finals against the NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks in this year's playoffs.

    The Thunder are arguably a championship-caliber team right now, and their young roster can only get better. 

    Oklahoma City needs to gain more experience as a team, and a few players need to grow and find some maturity. 

    Synopsis: The Thunder ranked 24th in the league in three-point field goal percentage (34 percent), 20th in turnovers, and 25th in assists per game. The Thunder also ranked first in blocked shots, fifth in points per game, and and fifth in rebounding. In order for the Thunder to claim a title, they must be more accurate from three-point range, make better decisions, pass the ball, and get teammates involved.   

20. New York Knicks

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    New York Knicks

    The Knicks raised a few eyebrows in this year's draft, picking up "defensive" guard Iman Shumpert with the 17th overall pick. 

    New York was beat out of the first round of the playoffs this year by the Boston Celtics. The sixth seed Knicks matched up against the third seed Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. 

    A trade that took place midway through the season sent forward Carmelo Anthony and guard Chauncey Billups, among others, to New York via the Denver Nuggets. Before the trade was finalized, there was some speculation that Chauncey Billups would buy himself out of his contract and return to Denver if he was included in the trade.  

    Although that did not actually happen, you have to wonder if Billups is the answer for the Knicks at the point guard position. There are a few teams that would love to acquire Chauncey Billups, and the Knicks would almost certainly deal him for the right price.

    For example, the Utah Jazz could bring in Billups to mentor fellow Colorado University player (and 2011 draftee) Alec Burks, and also provide their team with a much needed leader and veteran point guard. The Jazz would be looking to move center Al Jefferson or point guard Devin Harris in this deal, and there could also include a "deal-sweetener" like guard/forward C.J. Miles.

    The Knicks, athough Amar'e Stoudemire was playing through an injury, seemed to lack defensive intensity in their losing effort against the Celtics. New York seemed to lack sufficient team chemistry as well.

    With nearly a full season under the belt of the new-look Knicks, rest assured that they will have a lot more edge against the opposition in the upcoming season. 

    Synopsis: The Knicks ranked 20th in the league in rebounding, so that must improve. And, although they ranked 15th in assists per game, that will almost certainly improve with time alone. New York also ranked 20th in overall field goal percentage (45 percent) and 15th in the turnover category. In order for the Knicks to make a run at the title, they will have to be better at collective rebounding, use teammates outside of their "big three," take better shots, and make better decisions on the floor.

19. New Orleans Hornets

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    New Orleans Hornets

    The Hornets placed seventh in the Western Conference's playoff bracket and competed, in a losing effort, against the second-seed Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. 

    The franchise has been under a lot of duress in this past season and was actually purchased, and is operated, by the NBA, which is significant because teams are usually owned and operated by a large corporation or business such as American Airlines (Mavericks, Heat), EnergySolutions (Jazz), Toyota (Rockets), Staples (Lakers, Clippers), Pepsi (Nuggets), etc.

    The Hornets made no draft selections this year.

    There have been countless rumors involving Chris Paul being traded or leaving via free agency. Now, after what happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers when LeBron James signed with the Miami Heat, other teams are becoming more and more careful with their marquee players. 

    If Chris Paul does not pronounce that he will stay in New Orleans or notify the team management otherwise, then we can almost certainly expect that a trade will take place before the trade deadline in February next year.

    David West has also stated that he will test the free agency market this year.

    Synopsis: The Hornets ranked 25th in the league in rebounding, 26th in points per game, 21st in assists, and 22nd in blocks per game. In order for the Hornets to become a championship-caliber team, they have to improve their rebounding and scoring, pass the ball, and give better defensive help. 

18. New Jersey Nets

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    New Jersey Nets

    The New Jersey Nets picked up Marshon Brooks (via the Boston Celtics) in the 2011 NBA Draft. In my opinion, it was the best fit possible for the Nets and an obvious draft steal at 25th overall. 

    The Nets also traded for All-Star point guard Deron Williams in February, sending guard Devin Harris and forward Derrick Favors to the Utah Jazz in the deal. 

    In a press conference after arriving in New Jersey, Deron Williams stated that he was excited to be with the Nets and that the franchise was going to attempt to "bring in someone," whose identity Williams could not reveal, that would begin a dynasty and build a great team as they begin the move to Brooklyn, New York next season. 

    The future is somewhat hard to predict right now for the Nets, as the franchise's stability is in the hands of Deron Williams and his decision to sign, or not sign, a contract with the team, as well as the Nets' ability to bring in a 'big' free agent.

    Synopsis: New Jersey ranked 20th in three-point field goal percentage (34 percent), 28th in overall field goal percentages (44 percent), 30th (last) in steals per game, 18th in rebounding, and 27th in points per game. They also ranked 19th in assists per game, but that will most likely improve with Deron Williams running the offense next season. In order for the Nets to make a run at the title, they must consistently make three-pointers, take better shots, rev up their defensive intensity, have a rebounding motor, and find the determination to score prolifically.

17. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Minnesota Timberwolves

    The Minnesota Timberwolves finished with the worst record in the NBA last season, and were awarded with the second overall pick in the draft. They used that pick to bring in forward Derrick Williams out of Arizona. 

    Whether or not a trade will take place involving one of the T'wolves' forwards is yet to be determined. There is quite a logjam at the small forward and power forward positions in Minnesota, with Derrick Williams, Michael Beasely, Kevin Love, Wes Johnson, and possibly even Anthony Randolph, and Anthony Tolliver on the roster.

    Ricky Rubio, a past draft pick, will also be joining the team this year. 

    Synopsis: Minnesota ranked 24th in the league in assists per game, 18th in steals, and 26th in overall field-goal percentages (44 percent). The worst statistic for Minnesota was their turnovers per game, which ranked 30th (last) in the league. The Timberwolves were also ranked first in overall rebounding this year, seventh in three-point percentages, and eighth in points per game. The T'Wolves must improve their turnover rate (decision making), passing ability, defensive intensity, and shot selections in order to make a run at the title.

16. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Milwaukee Bucks

    The Bucks are another team that worked some "draft magic" this past June. They acquired guards Beno Udrih and Stephen Jackson, among others, in return for their draft picks. 

    For a team that is in dire need of offensive help, those acquisitions played out nicely. 

    Milwaukee has a nice core of players, including Brandon Jennings, Andrew Bogut, Drew Gooden, Stephen Jackson, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and newly acquired Tobias Harris. This is a group of players that can indefinitely make runs in the playoffs. 

    Synopsis: First off, Milwaukee ranked 30th (last) in the league in points per game; that is a mandatory area for improvement if the team wishes to continue getting better. They also ranked 30th in assists, 30th in field goal percentage (43 percent), 22nd in three-point field goal percentage (34 percent), and 16th in rebounding.

    In order for the Bucks to become a championship-caliber team, they absolutely must improve their entire offensive repertoire (mindset, scheme, attitude, desire, determination, etc.). They also will have to improve their rebounding and three-point shooting accuracy. 

15. Miami Heat

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    Miami Heat

    The Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat made an appearance against the Dallas Mavericks in this past year's NBA Finals. The Heat also made a strong draft selection by nabbing point guard Norris Cole.

    A large percentage of people thought that Miami had an automatic ticket to claim a title this year with the additions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, but a large percentage of people were also proven wrong by the veteran Mavericks who beat the Heat and were named our NBA Champions.

    Miami was so close, yet is still so far away. An entire lockout and regular season stand between the team and the answer to our collective question: will the new-look Miami Heat claim their first title next year?

    Synopsis: Miami ranked 29th in the league in assists per game, which is somewhat surprising. They also ranked 24th in steals. Other than those two categories, the Heat ranked in, or just outside of, the top ten in each statistical "slot." It definitely wouldn't hurt for Miami to work a little bit harder at everything, but wouldn't be absolutely necessary either. In order for the Heat to claim a title, they must improve their ball movement and use teammates outside of their "big three." They also have to get more hands in passing lanes, and "click" more as a team. 

14. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Memphis Grizzlies

    The Grizzlies stunned the NBA world with an awe-inspiring upset of the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs this year. The Grizzlies are the first eighth-seed to beat a first-seed team since the Golden State Warriors beat the Dallas Mavericks in 2007-08.

    It is a point of debate whether the Grizzlies should trade guard Rudy Gay or not. Memphis seemed to do just fine without him (due to injury) in the first round, but some argue that the team could have done even more damage with Gay on the roster. 

    With or without Rudy Gay, the Grizzlies are a team on the rise with pieces like Zach Randolph, O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and the newly acquired Josh Selby. 

    Synopsis: Memphis ranked 28th in the league in three-point percentage (33 percent), 22nd in assists per game, and 15th in rebounding. They were also ranked first in steals per game. In order for Memphis to make a run at the title, they have to improve their rebounding efficiency, ball movement, and drastically improve their three-point accuracy.

13. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Los Angeles Lakers

    Plainly said, the Los Angeles Lakers have won more championships, save the Boston Celtics, than any other team in the league.

    Synopsis: The Lakers simply need to instill a collective goal amongst their players to reach the Finals. During their embarrassing "sweep" by the Mavericks, Pau Gasol seemed to completely disappear from games and the Andrew Bynum-Kobe Bryant arguments didn't help their cause either. Los Angeles doesn't necessarily need to trade anyone or bring in a big free agent; they only need to put a stop to the internal strife. 

12. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Los Angeles Clippers

    The Clippers, theoretically, could have claimed the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft had they not decided to go ahead with the Mo Williams-Baron Davis swap involving the Cleveland Cavaliers that required them to surrender their first-round draft pick.

    Los Angeles has an extremely talented core of players. A few of those players are forward Blake Griffin (Rookie of the Year Award winner), guard Eric Gordon, point guard Mo Williams, and forward/center DeAndre Jordan.

    Blake Griffin is the obvious cornerstone of this franchise, and will be a huge piece moving forward. The Clippers are on a definite rise, and will undoubtedly be increasing their win total in sequence for the better part of this coming decade. 

    I wouldn't be surprised—if the lockout results in a hard salary cap—if there was an "elite" status swap between the two teams that call the Staples Center, and Los Angeles, home.

    Synopsis: The Clippers ranked 17th in the league in points per game, and that must improve quickly. They also ranked ninth in assists per game, whereas the Los Angeles Lakers ranked 13th. On the other hand, the Clippers ranked 21st in steals, 13th in blocks (this needs to improve drastically with the amount of physical talent on the team), 28th in turnovers, 18th in overall field goal percentage (47.5 percent), and 25th in three-point field goal percentage (33.8 percent).

    In order for the Los Angeles Clippers to become a championship-contending team, they must improve their scoring, defensive awareness, second-effort defensively and offensively, on-court decisions, and their shooting accuracy.  

11. Indiana Pacers

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    Indiana Pacers

    The Pacers traded their draft selection, Kawhi Leonard, to the Spurs in return for point guard George Hill. 

    The acquisition of Hill creates somewhat of a logjam at the point guard position in Indiana, so don't be too comfortable with their current roster. After the lockout ends, I fully expect the Pacers to be, so famously put, wheelin' and dealin'. 

    The Pacers claimed the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket this year. They played, in a losing effort, against the Chicago Bulls in the first round.

    Danny Granger has been mentioned consistently in trade talks, as he would fetch a fairly high price from desperate teams. The Pacers have a nice group of prime players consisting of Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger, Tyler Hansbrough, Roy Hibbert, and newly-acquired George Hill.

    Synopsis: Indiana ranked 15th overall in the league in points per game, 27th in assists, 19th in steals, 27th in turnovers, 27th in overall field goal percentage (44 percent), and shot just 35 percent from three-point range. In order for the Pacers to become a championship-caliber team, they will have to score prolifically, use their teammates and play a passing game, rev up their defensive intensity, make better decisions on the floor, reign in their shot selections, and increase their three-point accuracy.

10. Houston Rockets

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    Houston Rockets

    The Rockets made a bit of a splash in the draft by picking up big men Marcus Morris and Donatas Motiejunas out of Kansas University and Lithuania, respectively. They also managed to grab Johnny Flynn from the Minnesota Timberwolves in a draft-day deal.  

    They also made a few headlines when the team parted ways with head coach Rick Adelman and replaced him with all-time great Kevin McHale. 

    The Rockets have a plethora of good players, but seem to be lacking a true superstar. Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Johnny Flynn and Chuck Hayes are some of their veteran players, while Kyle Lowry, Chase Budinger, Hasheem Thabeet, Patrick Patterson, and newly-acquired Marcus Morris Donatas Motiejunas make up a portion of the Rockets' future lineup.

    There seems to be a logjam at the point guard and low-post positions in Houston, and not a lot of depth in between. I would expect at least one trade to take place involving the Rockets after the lockout ends. 

    Houston was only a few games out of the playoffs this year, and if they can continue to be a better team, they will be in the playoff picture almost immediately.

    Synopsis: First of all, the Rockets need to find a superstar or a marquee player to build around; that would help their efforts indefinitely. The Rockets ranked 21st in the league in overall field goal percentages (45.4 percent), 19th in blocks, and 20th in steals. They also ranked first in assists per game and second in points per game. In order for the Rockets to make a run at the title, they have to improve their shooting accuracy and defensive intensity/awareness.

9. Golden State Warriors

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    Golden State Warriors

    There has been a lot of trade talk involving the Warriors and Monta Ellis this year. Whether or not anything comes to fruition is yet to be seen.

    Golden State selected sharp-shooter Klay Thompson 11th overall in this year's draft, passing on Alec Burks (generally thought to be a better prospect) who was quickly snatched by the Utah Jazz at pick No. 12.

    The Warriors have a dynamic, and I mean utterly explosive, backcourt with Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis. They also have a prolific big man in David Lee. Those three players make up a large percentage of the team's points per game, with little help from their bench. Dorell Wright, Andris Biedrins, and Lou Amundson are productive players, but wouldn't be starters on nearly every other team in the league, which falls in contrast with Golden State's starting lineup, save Wright.

    The team hired a new coach this offseason, and has promised its fans that they will make the playoffs this year. That's a very bold statement.

    One of four Californian teams, the Warriors are defnitely in the second- or third-best in comparison. Still, they are not quite as promising as a Sacramento or Los Angeles Clippers team.

    Synopsis: The Warriors ranked 24th in the league in turnovers per game and 19th in rebounds. They also ranked first in three-point field goal percentages (39.2 percent) and second in steals per game. In order for Golden State to claim a title, they will have to make better on-court decisions and sustain a rebounding motor.

8. Detroit Pistons

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    Detroit Pistons

    The Pistons have, sadly, fallen from grace in the span of only a few seasons. Internal conflicts and coaching changes have made this team a target for criticism.

    Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton will most likely be gone by the beginning of next season via free agency and trades, respectively.

    The best move I can see the Pistons making would be to rid themselves of the maximum contracts of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, and acquire draft picks and players who are entering their prime. 

    The Pistons drafted point guard Brandon Knight with the eighth overall pick in this year's draft, and many thought he would go as high as No. 3 to Utah. Whether or not that makes him a draft steal is yet to be determined.

    Detroit has a great group of young players consisting of Austin Daye, Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe, and newly acquired Brandon Knight. If they could move a few of their veterans and allow these young players to grow and improve, the Pistons would be at an advantage.

    Synopsis: The Pistons ranked 30th (last) in the league in rebounding, 17th in assists, and 22nd overall points per game. In order for Detroit to contend for a title, they need to institute a rebounding mindset, move the ball, and find determination to score on the offensive end.

7. Denver Nuggets

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    Denver Nuggets

    The Denver Nuggets exited the first round of the playoffs this year by the hand of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Nuggets also picked up Jordan Hamilton (26th overall) in this year's draft while sending Raymond Felton to the Portland Blazers in return for guard Andre Miller.

    After the "epic" Carmelo Anthony trade was finalized, Denver ended up with a plethora of good players and a ludicrously deep bench. 

    There is some debate surrounding center Nene Hilario and whether or not he will test the free agency market or remain with the Nuggets. Nene's situation and decision will make an impact on Denver's future. 

    Synopsis: First off, the Nuggets ranked first in the league in points per game, which is an excellent statistic along with ranking third in both overall field goal percentages and three-point percentages. In contrast, they ranked 13th in steals, 26th in blocks, and 22nd in turnovers. In order for Denver to make a run at the title, they must play with intense defenisve effort and make better on-court decisions. 

6. Dallas Mavericks

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    Dallas Mavericks

    Our reigning NBA Champions: the Dallas Mavericks. 

    The Mavs selected Jordan Hamilton in this year's draft (26th overall), but sent him to Denver in a three-way deal involving Portland that landed guard Rudy Fernandez in Dallas.

    Synopsis: It's pretty obvious that the Mavericks are a championship-caliber team. We're basically comparing 29 other teams to this one. In order for the Mavericks to sustain their champion status, they will need to keep as much of their roster together as possible. Adding Fernandez was a great move on the part of the team management, too.

    Dallas ranked near the top in every category except rebounding (17th), steals (23rd), and blocked shots (26th), which are three specific areas that the Mavericks' roster doesn't seem to be built for, or actually need to improve upon for that matter.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Cleveland Cavaliers

    After landing the No. 1 overall pick, which turned out to be guard Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers are set to begin a median-term rebuilding process.

    I don't believe that the rebuilding process in Cleveland will be a long one, simply because of the pieces they have (Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison, Baron Davis), but in no way will it be a short and easy process, either, because of their inexperienced core and shallow bench.

    Cleveland has a few key pieces to build upon over the next decade, including Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Omri Casspi, and possibly Alonzo Gee.

    The Cavs' future is very intriguing, and a hard one to predict at that!

    Synopsis:

    Cleveland finished with the second-worst record in the NBA last season. They ranked 22nd in the league in three-point field goal percentage (34.2 percent), 29th in overall field goal percentage (43.4 percent), 18th in turnovers, 29th in blocked shots, 26th in steals, 19th in assists, 21st in rebounding, and 25th in points per game.

    In order for Cleveland to become a championship-contending team, they have to score prolifically, display rebounding intensity, pass the ball and use teammates, rev up their defensive intensity, provide better help defense, make better on-court decisions, make better shot selections, and shoot the ball with more accuracy.

4. Chicago Bulls

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    Chicago Bulls

    The Bulls were so close to reaching the "elusive" NBA Finals this year, but, sadly, came up short. 

    Of the four teams that are irrevocably championship contenders right now (the Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, and Oklahoma City Thunder), I would label the Bulls as absolutely having the most promise as well as the greatest chance of claiming a title in the next four or five years.

    The reasoning behind my view is this: Chicago is young, experienced, well-coached, and, most importantly, boasts a deep bench. In all honesty, you can not label any other conference finalist as fulfilling all of those descriptions. Not to mention that the Bulls have the MVP Award winner on their roster!

    Dallas is experienced, well-coached, and deep, but not exactly in their prime. Miami is young, experienced, and (debatably) well-coached, but not very deep. Oklahoma City is young and well-coached, but not necessarily experienced or deep in comparison to other playoff teams.  

    The Bulls have just the right combination of individual and team traits to make them eligible for a valid run at bringing home a Larry O'Brien trophy.

    There is, however, one glaring issue that needs to be resolved: Chicago needs a shooting guard. End of discussion. 

    With the brilliant performances made by the younger Taj Gibson in the playoffs, I would assume that the odd man out is Carlos Boozer. 

    Trading Boozer would allow the Bulls to run a three- to four-man rotation with Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah, Omer Asik, and possibly Luol Deng, with a third-tier, backup forward/center in Kurt Thomas.

    It would also allow Chicago to trade for an elite shooting guard. That specific player would most likely have to match Carlos' contract, and performance, value. In essence, this would even out the wrinkles in the Bulls' lineup, and most importantly, provide that final punch, push, or shove into the Finals.

    Synopsis:

    Chicago ranked 20th in the league in points per game, which could easily be improved with the addition of a true scoring guard at the two-spot. They ranked 17th in steals, 14th in turnovers, 19th in overall field goal percentage (45.5 percent), and 16th in three-point percentage (35.5 percent). They could also stand to improve their passing game (ranked 12th in assists) with such a talented lineup and an MVP point guard.

    In order for the Chicago Bulls to claim a title, they have to improve their scoring, get more hands in passing lanes, make better on-court decisions, make better shot selections, shoot the ball accurately, pass the ball, and use their teammates.

3. Charlotte Bobcats

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    Charlotte Bobcats

    The Bobcats are moving in the right direction after picking up forward Bismack Biyombo and guard Kemba Walker (seventh and ninth overall, respectively) in this year's draft.

    Owner Michael Jordan has received unfounded amounts of criticism in the past for his decisions and ability to run a franchise, but the draft-day trades that Charlotte was able to put together worked out very nicely and prove that the Bobcats' ownership is adequately adept. 

    Kemba Walker has been placed in a great learning position under now-teammate D.J. Augustin, who will more than likely be a starter throughout the season and have the responsibility of mentoring Kemba. 

    Synopsis: Charlotte ranked 29th in the league in points per game, 24th in rebounding, 17th in assists, 28th in steals, 18th in turnovers per game, 22nd in overall field goal percentage, and 29th in three-point percentage. In order for the Bobcats to become a championship-contending team, they will have to improve in almost every category: scoring, rebounding, passing, intensity, decision making, accuracy, etc.

2. Boston Celtics

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    Boston Celtics

    The Celtics are another of the league's "elite" teams. They have won the most championships out of any team in league history.

    Still, Boston's team is now past its prime, and they need to find younger players and accumulate draft picks. 

    They have made a step toward rebuilding with the trade for Jeff Green, who they believe can blossom into a perennial All-Star and a flat-out prolific player.

    Synopsis: In order for the Celtics to regain their elite status, they will have to bring in draft picks, trade for younger players, and try to establish a young core to build around.

1. Atlanta Hawks

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    Atlanta Hawks

    The Hawks were handed a ticket out of the playoffs in the conference semifinals by the Chicago Bulls. 

    A lot of Atlanta's future lies in the hands of free agents Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford, as well as in the performance of guard Joe Johnson.

    Synopsis: The Hawks ranked 17th in the league in three-point field goal percentage (34.9 percent), 14th in overall field goal percentage (45.9 percent), 25th in blocks, 29th in steals, 14th in assists, 28th in rebounding, and 28th in points per game. In order for Atlanta to make a run at the title, they must improve their shot selections and shooting accuracy, rev up their defensive intensity, use their teammates and pass the ball, rebound with determination, and score prolifically.

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