With all the story lines the league produced last year, it is hard to imagine that we may be missing the entire 2012-13 season.
But we will try and turn that frown upside down and look ahead to next season (whenever that is) and break down what to expect. This list is geared towards evaluating the situations players were in as the season ended and what they need to prove going into the offseason and into the next year.
Some of these selections may be obvious, but all of these players have a lot on the line. We are talking legacies here. The expectations are high, and these players need to deliver.
This one is obvious. He was in the main picture after all.
To say that LeBron has a lot to prove next season is putting mildly. Very, very mildly. LeBron might be preparing to embark on what may be the most pressure packed season any one player has faced in any sport ever. And no, I am not exaggerating.
I found his NBA Finals performance to be shocking. But not because I expected LeBron to be the baddest man on the planet, instead because I watched the way he put it to the Bulls in the conference finals. He crushed them. He suffocated them. He showed them who their daddy was. He had the look of a killer in his eyes.
I thought, "It finally clicked."
But then when facing the Mavs, he crumbled liked a folding chair that Charles Barkley sat down on. Maybe he wore down. Maybe the pressure finally got to him. Maybe he thought they'd be able to run through the Mavs. It doesn’t matter.
All the matters is that LeBron needs to step up and show everyone he can win a title, then multiple titles.
The criticism is not going away. None of it. Not until he brings a title, not his talents, to South Beach.
When it comes to people who were happy about LeBron James’ short comings in the NBA finals, perhaps no one was more happy than Pau Gasol.
If it was not for LeBron, Gasol’s child-like playoff performance would not have been so quickly forgotten. Many may forget that in the playoffs last season, Gasol averaged 13 points and seven boards a game, that is a far cry from his 18 and 10 he averaged during the season.
Although it is tough to pin the entire short-comings of the Lakers on Gasol’s back, he was without a doubt the one who came across the worst. There were rumors of girlfriend issues, which caused him to get killed in the media. No one wants to hear about an All-NBA second teamer playing poorly because of a girlfriend. This isn't high school, I don't blame them.
Gasol has been very good while in La La land. But it just takes one bad series to throw that all down the drain. As the franchise moves forward, it is important to remember that Kobe is only getting older. It is hard to imagine him being able to stay at the level he has been for much longer, so that means Gasol is going to need to shoulder more of the load. That is what he needs to prove, that he can take that load and toss it on his back.
And the rumors of Dwight Howard heading west don’t help him either. He needs to regain the city's confidence if he wants to stay in LA.
Everyone including the Utah Jazz knew that Deron Williams was going to hit the road once he became a free agent and would leave Salt Lake City in his rear view mirror. So in an attempt to avoid a Carmelo Anthony-like situation, the Jazz shipped to New Jersey a year early and got something back in return for their star.
You may be wondering what Williams, who has proven himself to be an elite point guard, needs to prove. I say it is simple, he needs to prove his worth.
Williams has stated that if he likes the way things are shaping up in New Jersey when his deal is up, he would like to stay there. If this is the case, he would need to be able to recruit another star, or even two, to the squad in the hopes of satisfying their new Russian kazillionaire and make the Nets a winner when they move to Brooklyn.
If he does not decide to stay, his play needs to make him wanted on the market. He will almost certainly be the second most sought after point guard on the market after Chris Paul. He needs to create suitors. There are only so many possible contenders who will be willing to shell out top dollar for a point guard.
Will he be able to do this all while playing on an undermanned team in Jersey?
This may seem a little nit-picky to all the “stat guys” out there, but Westbrook showed in the playoffs how far he still has to go in his development as a point guard in this league.
Coming out of college, Westbrook was not a point guard and has been asked to become one in the NBA. Learning a new position while playing at the highest level is maybe the hardest thing to do in sports no matter the position.
But Westbrook has made an incredible adjustment to his new responsibiities and is actually a better pro than he was a collegiate player. He made his first All-Star team and was a second team All-NBA selection last year, but when the postseason rolled around, he suffered a similar fate to that of Pau Gasol.
In the playoffs, the Thunder were a hot team to pick among many analysts. Between Durant, Westbrook and the young nucleus they had, many had them making a deep run.
And to a degree they did. They made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals where they were outclassed by the Mavericks. Along the way, Westbrook seemed to struggle even while putting up numbers. His value as a point guard was exposed when he showed he was still an inconsistent play maker for others.
He was criticized for failing to get Durant the proper looks and for taking too many shots himself. He was even benched during a pivotal game against Memphis when coach Scott Brooks went with back-up Eric Maynor instead of Westbrook.
Since this run ended, there have been rumblings about how Westbrook can not stay in Oklahoma City with Durant, his style of play warrants him being the number one banana and how a pass first point guard would work better with the Thunder. Unless Westbrook proves these detractors wrong, this talk won't stop anytime soon.
Though a trade is unlikely, Westbrook is going to be getting a big payday soon, and he needs to show he can be the point guard the Thunder need moving forward.
Last year against the Heat in the playoffs, there was a changing of the guard. With the Heat blowing by the Celtics in five games, it showed that the likes of the original Big Three up in Boston are no longer what they once were. They cannot carry the same load that they once could, they need to be turned into a bit more of situational players.
That is where Rondo comes in. Moving forward, it is going to be less about the Big Three and more about Rondo and the crew. He is also the youngest of the group, he is the future of the franchise. With this realization, it means that his game needs to develop accordingly as well.
Maybe it is just me, but whenever I watch a Celtic game and see Rondo’s defender defending him four feet away while he is standing just outside the free throw line, it makes me want to slap my grandma. I just can't take it.
I feel that with the success the team has had in recent years, many have looked past Rondo and his inabilities on the court. Yes, I love Rondo as a player. His defense and passing skills in the open court are arguably second to none in the league, but his inability to hit a 15-foot jumper and offensive limitations have killed his team in different situations.
As this team gets older, Rondo's needs become more of a focal point in the offense, he needs to accept this and become more of a threat with the ball in his hands. If in the near future he is still unable to hit a jump shot when left open, Celtics fans will have something to worry about.
John Wall definitely showed some flashes in his rookie season. His mind blowing speed and ball handling allowed him to be effective from day one in the league. But the big question is whether he can transfer that potential into becoming an elite point guard.
Is he the next Derrick Rose or is he another Stephon Marbury? He has shown a bit of both, but I am worried he will end up closer to ending up like Marbury minus the weird Ustream videos and head tattoos.
Some red flags went up when he lost his cool and started throwing punches at Heat center Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the middle of a game last season. He also showed some less than desirable “look at me” qualities with his pre-game dance routine he became known for. Not to say these are the worst things I have ever seen an athlete do, because they aren’t, it just doesn’t seem like that is what you want from your point guard.
Wall needs to show he is maturing and taking the steps to become not just a number producer, but a quality NBA point guard.
Before last season, Rudy Gay signed an $80 million contract with the Memphis Grizzlies. Many thought the team overpaid for his services, but they were willing to make him the face of their franchise going forward.
Fast forward to the 2011 NBA Playoffs and the Grizzlies are the darlings of the league. They pulled off a first round upset of the number one seeded Spurs and then gave the Thunder all they could handle in the conference semis. But here's the thing, Gay was on the sidelines for all of this.
Gay suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. The team made him an afterthought with the way they played in his absence. Most fans who don't follow the Griz may not even realize that Gay is the man the team is supposed to be built around. Now that man seems to be Zach Randolph, who shined in Gay's absence.
Next season, Gay needs to prove that they did not simply win without him, but they would have won more if he was there. If he is able to stay healthy and play the way he is able to, he could lead the Griz from being an eight seed to potentially even getting home court advantage in the first round.
He needs to show why he deserves the money that is sitting in his bank account.
Besides his teammate LeBron James, no good player got as much junk talked about him last year as Chris Bosh did. All year, it was a free-for-all to bash Bosh. Critics referred to the Heat as the Big two (leaving Bosh out) and called Bosh the most overrated player in the league on an almost daily basis.
All this criticism makes it hard to remember that Bosh still is a six-time All-Star and averaged 18 and eight for the second seed in the East. He was getting killed and did not really deserve it. Is he on the level as his big name teammates? No, but let's remember he is no slouch.
Heading into next season, whenever that is, Bosh is going to need to assert himself much better. Last season, though he was good, he was not perfect and looked out of his element and a little lost at times. But in his defense, playing with players like Wade and James is not something he was accustomed to in Toronto.
Bosh needs to prove from the outset that the Heat have a Big three, not a Big two. He is the post threat the team needs and needs to be more effective on the glass. Last season, I can cut him a break, there were some special circumstances. But next year, it is go time. No more excuses.
Griffin came back from his knee injury and had a monster rookie year. He tossed aside any worries about injuries by playing all 82 games and posting averages of 22 points and 12 rebounds a game. Remarkable for a rookie.
Griffin demonstrated he is one of the best big man athletes to come along since Amare Stoudemire broke onto the scene. He seems to have rejuvenated the L.A. Clippers as a franchise and if Donald Sterling stays out of his way, can put them back on the map.
This may sound a bit nit-picky, but Griffin needs to expand his game. He needs to show the work ethic in developing all areas of his game. His number one concern should be developing a knockdown jump shot. Having this would truly put his athletic ability on display. Look at how Stoudemire’s game blew up once he was able to keep defenders from playing off him.
Remember, the Clippers were bad last season. It is a lot easier to put up big numbers on a bad team. Griffin posting these numbers while also improving the team's record will go a long way in him becoming a true superstar in the league.
Showing improvement in his second year will give NBA fans a taste of what they can prepare to see down the road from the reigning Rookie of the Year.
To say that Andrew Bynum needs to prove he can stay healthy would make me the most unoriginal writer to ever comment on the young center. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. He needs to stay healthy.
It doesn’t stop there though. Bynum needs to prove that he deserves the “untradeable” tag he was given a few years back by Lakers management. I realize that he is the third or sometimes fourth option for the team, but 11 and 10 a night is not what an untradeable player averages. It is starting to appear that Bynum is exactly what he is and is not better than what he has been. He is still only 23, but whenever the next season starts he will be entering his seventh as a Laker. Maybe his potential was overstated from the beginning after all.
With all the rumors swirling about Dwight Howard possibly wanting to head to the Lakers, it is imperative that Bynum is able to come out and show the Lakers fans and management that the team does not need a new center. If he doesn’t send this message next season, we may be talking about Bynum being part of the trade that brought Superman to the Lake Show.
For Carmelo Anthony, it is simple. He needs to prove all the fuss about him was warranted. So far, he has the reputation of a superstar and gets paid like one, but has not really shown it on the court like a star should.
His numbers are great and this may not be all his fault, but he has failed to lead a true contender in this league. I am willing to give him a break for the teams around him in Denver, they were not the worst teams in the world, but it is not as if they were loaded.
Heading to New York marks next season as his time. He now is teamed with an elite post player in Amare and a very good point guard in Billups. Many wonder if he and STAT can coexist on the same team. This is a real concern, especially with how they struggled at times against bad times in their short time together last year. But if they are both all they are cracked up to be, this will get figured out.
I happen to think Anthony is a bit overrated. I believe he is a pure scorer, but not much else, especially in the leadership department. I do not believe in the Knicks going forward, but there are many that do. Next season will show whether Anthony deserves to be considered one of the best and if he can be the leader that a contending team needs.
He has been given to keys to the car, it is time to see if he deserved it.
Michael Beasley is not the caliber player that many on this list are. But coming out of college, he could have been.
Beasley might be the best one-and-done player in recent years and when he bolted for the NBA, he had the look of a stud. He was drafted second overall by the Heat and has since been a total flop.
Looking at his numbers doesn’t show you the real picture of how bad he has been. It is an attitude thing with Beasley. He has spent some time in rehab before getting shipped out of town to the Timberwolves. There has been some positives since being sent to NBA seclusion up north, he had a very good season last year. He averaged 19 points and six boards a game for the basement dwelling Timberwolves.
Maybe Beasley turned himself around, or he is putting up meaningless numbers on a bad team. It is probably the latter.
His issue a few weeks back where he shoved a fan in the face while getting down at Rucker Park is not a positive indication for him. But this could be a make or break year for Beasley to get himself taken seriously in this league.