Every NBA Team's Biggest Concern for the 2012-2013 Season
For 28 NBA teams, the sense of urgency associated with looking ahead toward next season is officially a reality, and the remaining two aren't far behind.
With the NBA Finals winding down and the NBA draft and free agency periods rapidly approaching, the lockout-truncated season has never been closer to being put in the rear-view mirror.
And as excitement within each organization mounts at the prospect of a busy offseason and lockout-less transition into the 2012-2013 campaign, so does concern.
Because as far away as next season seems, it's never too early for teams to begin tackling the issues and obstacles that lie ahead.
Atlanta Hawks: Future of Josh Smith
The Hawks need to inject some excitement into their future, but that becomes increasingly difficult if their most exciting player isn't aboard.
After they fell to Boston in the first round of the playoffs, Josh Smith continued to exude uncertainty with regards to his future in Atlanta.
If the Hawks intend to move forward with their current core, they must seek a commitment from Smith or trade him before he leaves them for nothing next summer.
Boston Celtics: Livelihood of the Core Four
The Celtics' most recent playoff push was inspiring, but their ability to continue contending for championships is officially wavering.
Though Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo are under contract for next season, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are unrestricted free agents, leaving Danny Ainge and company with a slew of concerns heading into next season.
Do the Core Four have what it takes to make yet another title run, or is it time for Boston instill a sense of explosive youth into an otherwise aging lineup?
We'll find out soon enough.
Brooklyn Nets: A Franchise Cornerstone
The Nets have a strong foundation in Deron Williams, but for how much longer?
Though there is a strong chance that Williams re-ups with Brooklyn, there's also a possibility that he leaves for a more championship-ready team.
First and foremost, the Nets are concerned with retaining their current pillar of hope. Should he opt to take his talents elsewhere, though, they'll be forced to take to free agency and trades to find another one, because they cannot start their tenure in Brooklyn without a face for the franchise.
Charlotte Bobcats: Ensuring Things Don't Get Any Worse
The Bobcats have an array of pressing concerns that must be addressed leading into next season, none more important than ensuring the organization doesn't damage its reputation any further.
Though sheer logic would suggest it can't get any worse for this franchise, watching helplessly during the draft lottery as Anthony Davis fell out of reach suggests otherwise.
Charlotte may finally have a head coach in hand, but fresh off a season that saw the team post the worst winning percentage in NBA history, it's going to take a lot more than just a new face on the sidelines to repair the Bobcats' image.
Chicago Bulls: Moving on Without Derrick Rose
While it's conceivable that Derrick Rose will return to the Bulls' lineup before the conclusion of next season, Chicago must proceed as if he is done for the year.
The Bulls were 18-9 without Rose this past season, but 27 sporadic performances just isn't quite the same as 82 consecutive contests.
After Chicago's nightmare display against the 76ers in the postseason, a team that once stood as a symbol for perseverance suddenly finds itself struggling to keep hold of an identity.
And that's a reality the Bulls are tasked with reversing next season, sans Rose.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Keeping Kyrie Irving Happy
Kyrie Irving is not LeBron James, but playing on a team void of at least a second worthy talent can get pretty old, pretty fast.
The Cavaliers took great strides toward improving their overall performance this past season, but they must break the habit of falling out of playoff contention by giving Irving what they never gave LeBron—a truly formidable sidekick.
Whether obtaining such a sidekick is a matter of intelligent drafting, exploring the free agent market or hitting the trade rumor mill remains to be seen, but regardless of how it's done, it must get done.
Dallas Mavericks: Staying Championship Relevant
As long as the Mavericks are headlined by a competent Dirk Nowitzki, they'll always be relevant, but they toed the lines of championship irrelevancy just one year removed from an NBA title.
Dallas suffered multiple blows during last year's free-agency period and stand to incur the same genre of damage this summer, as both Jason Kidd and Jason Terry are unrestricted free agents.
Though Nowitzki remains one of the most prolific players in the league, he cannot carry the Mavericks toward contention on his own. Dallas must ensure it does its due diligence and brings in—or back—players that prevent the team's championship window from closing.
Denver Nuggets: Finding a Superstar
The bitter taste Carmelo Anthony left in the mouths of the Nuggets still lingers, but it's clear they need a bona-fide superstar nonetheless.
Can budding youngsters Danilo Gallinari or Ty Lawson breach the threshold of stardom, or must Denver take to free agency and trades to add a marquee name that can anchor in their roster?
That's a quandary the Nuggets will continue to battle leading up and into next season.
Detroit Pistons: Low Post Sidekick for Greg Monroe
The Pistons finished the regular season as the fourth worst rebounding team in the NBA, grabbing just over 40 per game, which is a deficiency they must correct.
And correcting it starts with finding a partner for Greg Monroe. He needs help in the low post that Jonas Jerebko and Jason Maxiell simply cannot provide; he's shouldering the burden of Detroit's entire low post production on his own.
If the Pistons are serious about building a team worthy of seeing the postseason again, they must concern themselves with finding some relief for Monroe in the form of a competent power forward.
Golden State Warriors: The Effectiveness of Their Big Three
The Warriors took an enormous risk when they dealt Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut.
While the accord gave Golden State a marquee center to pair along with Stephen Curry and David Lee, Ellis was guaranteed production. Now, however, the Warriors must move forward with a question mark in Bogut, in addition to the uncertainty Curry presents.
If Golden State's Big Three gets the job done, the front office will reflect well-oiled ingenuity and Joe Lacob is off the hook.
Should the fresh dynamic crash and burn, though, there will be plenty more blame and dissatisfaction to go around.
Houston Rockets: Starting Point Guard
Both Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry had breakout seasons for the Rockets this year, and yet, Houston still finds itself between a rock and a hard place.
With Lowry becoming increasingly unhappy and Dragic set to enter free agency, the Rockets have the potential to lose two starting-caliber point guards. And while they could tie their loyalties to one, there's no telling which player is the better fit.
What if Lowry never sees eye-to-eye with Houston's coaching staff, regardless of any changes? Or what if Dragic turns out to be a one-year wonder?
Those are the questions Houston must attempt to answer in order to shore up the point guard position.
Indiana Pacers: Staving off Mediocrity
The Pacers are a fundamentally sound team, yet there's something keeping them from becoming legitimate championship contenders.
While talents like Paul George, Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and David West are effective, Indiana's inability to exploit the weaknesses of other teams on a consistent basis separates them from the cream of the crop.
As the Pacers prepare for next season, they must be mindful of what it's going to take to propel them to the next level. Whether that means re-signing Hibbert and/or chasing another star-caliber talent doesn't matter; they must ascertain a way to surpass mediocrity.
Los Angeles Clippers: Futures of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul
For the first time in years, the Clippers were exciting to watch again this past season.
However, their ability to remain that way hinges on the futures of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, both of whom can test the open market next summer.
Neither Griffin or Paul is going to remain without a definitive team blueprint for winning. Los Angeles must surround them with pieces that compliment their talents now as to ensure both athletes want to commit their futures to this team later.
Should the Clippers fail to do this, though, they risk standing idly by as two of the most prolific athletes to ever don their uniform traipse their way to greener pastures.
Los Angeles Lakers: What to Do with Pau Gasol
Los Angeles is in a complex situation. At this point, it seems almost impossible for Gasol to remain with the team, but if a deal isn't struck by the start of the season, this entire saga risks becoming an unsettling distraction.
The Lakers are also tasked with establishing favorable parameters of any deal. They want to move him bad, but are they willing to accept lesser in return just to trade him, or must another star-caliber player grease hands?
Either way, life is about to get more interesting than usual in tinsel town.
Memphis Grizzlies: Staying the Course
The Grizzlies are a great team.
Sure, Memphis fell in underwhelming fashion to the Clippers, but when playing up to its potential, there are few teams as deep or as talented.
However, the Grizzlies have a boatload of money invested in Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, and the team is approaching the luxury tax, which has led to unsubstantiated Gay trade rumors.
As the franchise prepares to welcome in a new owner, a glaring question must now be addressed—should Memphis opt to stay the course and keep its team together, or will finances ultimately determine the fate of their current core?
Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade is one of the best guards to ever play in the NBA, but as injuries and first-half disappearing acts continue to mount, his mortality as an athlete is steadily being realized.
Whether or not the Heat bring home a championship this year is almost irrelevant; win or lose, Wade will turn 31 next season, an age where most players have already seen their best days, especially those with an injury history like his.
While there's little justification behind trading Wade—unless of course the Heat lose—Miami's ability to make good on LeBron James' promise hinges on his health and effectiveness.
And for perhaps the first time in Wade's career, the latter is a source of uncertainty.
Milwaukee Bucks: Fitting the Pieces Together
The Bucks have a plethora of talent on the perimeter but are proof that sometimes, there can be too much of a good thing.
Monta Ellis, Ersan Ilyasova—should they re-sign him—and Brandon Jennings are all adept at much of the same things. And now, Milwaukee must find a way to balance their talents while compensating for their absence of a dominant low-post presence.
The Bucks may have been a fringe playoff team this past season, but regardless of how talented their nucleus is, there is no guarantee that they'll find a way to co-exist.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Strength of Ricky Rubio's Knee
Ricky Rubio did wonders for the Timberwolves this season but was limited in how much of a transformation he could spark, courtesy of a torn ACL.
While Kevin Love has solidified his superstar status, Minnesota needs a playmaker to push them over that postseason hump. And with Rubio at the helm, distributing the ball and breaking down defenses, the Timberwolves are arguably a playoff-bound team.
Without him, though, they're nothing more than a perennial lottery bound organization; their playoff hopes rest upon their point guard's surgically reconstructed knee.
New Orleans Hornets: Anthony Davis' Transition into the NBA
It hasn't happened yet, but the Hornets are going to select Anthony Davis with the first overall pick in the NBA draft. And as soon as they call his name, let the worrying begin.
As polished and NBA-ready as Davis is considered, the Association is no stranger to busts. The in-bound rookie could easily cave under the pressure he'll be exposed to right out of the gate.
New Orleans' future is going to hinge on Davis' performance next season, and regardless of what else transpires between now and then, his transition into the pros is easily what the team cares about most.
New York Knicks: Superstar Cohesion
The evolution of Jeremy Lin is something the Knicks are heavily vested in, yet even that doesn't trump the currently unstable dynamic the team boasts in Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.
While these are two players that lobbied to play together, they've hardly proved they're capable of co-existing, something they need to do for New York to be successful.
And with so much money, time and past assets invested in Anthony and Stoudemire, the Knicks now find themselves at the mercy of their willingness to play off one another.
Oklahoma City Thunder: The Futures of James Harden and Serge Ibaka
Staving off elimination at the hands of the Heat isn't the only conflict plaguing the Thunder.
Both James Harden and Serge Ibaka are set to become free agents after next season, and both are also sure to command max, or near max, contracts, the type of cash a team like Oklahoma City is unlikely to pony up.
The Thunder's impending financial predicament has already fueled Harden-to-the-Bobcats rumors, and speculation will only worsen once the NBA Finals are over.
What's a championship contender in a small market to do?
Orlando Magic: Dwight Howard's Soap Opera
Same team, same story, different season.
After voiding his Early Termination Option, Dwight Howard's future is no closer to being resolved than LeBron James is to going back to Cleveland.
As the Magic prepare to establish a definitive team direction, they must first turn Howard's soap opera into an issue of the past, whether that entails signing him to an extension or getting him the hell out of Orlando.
Philadelphia 76ers: Moving on from Andre Iguodala
Andre Iguodala has done wonders for the Sixers, but the verdict is in, and he's clearly not the type of star that will propel Philadelphia to championship prominence.
But how can you put a price on efficient versatility? The Sixers have toyed with the idea of trading Iguodala for years, yet they haven't and once again find themselves in the exact same position.
Philadelphia clearly needs to sever certain ties if it wishes to engage in a legitimate pursuit for an NBA titles, but is one of the aforementioned ties Iguodala's? And if so, where does the team go from there?
It's undoubtedly going to be an interesting few months for the Sixers.
Phoenix Suns: Steve Nash's Replacement
Steve Nash isn't going to re-sign with the Suns, and deep down, Phoenix knows it.
Though the Suns will attempt to sell Nash on a sentimental sales pitch, such a tactic simply doesn't hold a candle to the point guard's pursuit of an elusive NBA title.
Subsequently, Phoenix must now pillage through draft prospects, free agents and players on the chopping block to fill an irreparable void.
Portland Trail Blazers: A Floor General
Raymond Felton crashed and burned in Portland, leaving the Blazers in dire need of a competent floor general.
With a ton of cap space and two lottery picks under their belt, the Blazers have options, but which route do they choose? Portland will have to use a large percentage of their cap room to retain Nicolas Batum, and rookie point guards are hardly synonymous with championship contenders.
So, while the Blazers have options, they're far from out of the woods.
Sacramento Kings: Their Owners
The Kings have plenty to be concerned about heading into next season, but somewhat obnoxiously, their owners pose the biggest threat—I mean questions.
Sacramento has been run into the ground by the Maloof brothers. While the Kings cannot be righted without addressing their on-court needs, their on-court needs cannot be resolved until the owners invest ample time and money into the cause.
And once again, Sacramento is forced to wait and see what it is the Maloofs will do next.
San Antonio Spurs: Getting Younger
After being forced into submission by the Thunder in the Western Conference finals, it's become clear that the Spurs are in need of a healthy does of athleticism, as well as a touch of youth, moving forward.
Tim Duncan is a lock to return to San Antonio, and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker aren't going anywhere either, but the Spurs must instill a sense of youthful exuberance into their rotation if they wish to improve upon their success this season.
But how do they achieve that dynamic without ruining or disrupting what they've already built?
That's the issue San Antonio will be most wary of leading into next season.
Toronto Raptors: To Rebuild or Not to Rebuild
You wouldn't know it by looking at their record, but the Raptors are not a team committed to rebuilding at the moment.
But should they be?
Chris Bosh's departure two summers ago undoubtedly shook the franchise, yet with names like Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan headlining the roster, Toronto has yet to commit to exploring either direction.
The time has now come for the Raptors to decide, though. Either rid the payroll of players like Bargnani and Calderon, or being searching for complimentary pieces that can help fuel a playoff run.
Utah Jazz: Balancing out Roster
The Jazz have a plethora of talent in the low post but are wafer thin on perimeter.
Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter and Paul Millsap are all star-caliber talents, but they cover just two positions between them.
After being exploited on the perimeter by the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs, it has become clear that the Jazz need to level off their offensive and defensive attack.
And while that may entail breaking up their low post foursome, such sacrifices will prove to be a necessity if they wish to develop into a team capable of contending for a title.
Washington Wizards: John Wall's Workload
John Wall is young and prolific, but the Wizards shipped out one of his most consistent finishers in JaVale McGee when they traded for Nene.
While Nene will prove to be an asset in more ways than one—especially off the pick-and-roll—he's injury-prone, placing a heavier burden upon Wall's shoulders.
Washington has two seasons left to convince Wall to stay long-term and must ensure that he is not thrust under unreasonable circumstances. They need to surround him with competent talent on the wing, as well as another big man not named Andray Blatche.
Wall is at his best when he can play off his teammates. Right now, though, there are very few allies he can actually depend on.