1 Lesson Every NBA Team Must Learn from Last Season for 2012-13
Last season, LeBron James captured his first NBA championship. Left in the wake of the Miami Heat are 29 other teams desperately seeking to make whatever changes necessary to secure a ring in 2012-13.
The Heat, meanwhile, will attempt to learn from what they did right—and keep doing it.
Moving forward, some teams will face familiar problems, but offseason moves could help rectify those issues. Some teams just need to stay healthy.
Here is one lesson that every NBA team must take from last season in order to improve their chances of taking home the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June.
"It begins with perimeter defense."
Last year in the Eastern Conference finals, the Boston Celtics were forced to match up Brandon Bass with LeBron James. Bass is a pretty good defensive talent, and he has good lateral movement for a power forward, but the Celtics need a better answer for King James.
That's where a healthy Jeff Green and Avery Bradley will come into play. Bradley missed the playoffs, and Green missed all of last year with a heart ailment. Both could offer the perimeter defense that Boston so sorely lacked against Miami.
Green will cover James, and Bradley will cover Dwyane Wade.
The Celtics already pushed Miami to the brink of elimination before losing Games 6 and 7. With a fully healthy squad, Boston has a legit chance at winning another banner as it did in 2008.
New York Knicks
"Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire must complement each another."
It's hardly a new or novel thought, but Carmelo Anthony is a team cancer.
The Knicks were better with Jeremy Lin running the show while Melo sat on the sidelines, and because the Knicks are already trapped with Anthony on a max contract, the only thing they can do is hope that he learns to better involve his teammates.
Amar'e Stoudemire seriously regressed last year, and he began launching far too many jumpers. Ideally, Stoudemire is featured in pick-and-rolls and gets a lot of dump-offs around the hoop, but with Anthony so focused on isolation sets, that never happens.
Stoudemire is a worse player with Anthony on the court.
For the Knicks to make any kind of progress and begin to play the kind of basketball that will please fans, they have to start playing as a team.
While not re-signing Lin may be scrutinized, the Knicks couldn't afford to keep him in town. Now that they're going back to mediocre point guards (Raymond Felton and an aged Jason Kidd), expect Anthony's ball-hogging ways to continue.
Amar'e can't play his best ball without a pass-first point guard.
In other words, the Knicks are still in trouble.
"The future is now."
Last season, the 76ers caught a break when Derrick Rose went down with an ACL injury in the first round of the playoffs. Rose's injury enabled the eighth-seeded Sixers to advance past the first round.
Then they proceeded to give Boston all it could handle in the second round. Defense was the key, but the Sixers realized in that series that they are ready to hand the keys off to Evan Turner.
Turner's emergence made Andre Iguodala expendable. That enabled the 76ers to snag Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson for the low cost of Iggy, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless and a first-round pick.
It is Turner, Bynum and Jrue Holiday who will be the new faces of the Sixers. The trio is young and still years away from peaking as players.
How they gel remains to be seen, but hopes are high in Philadelphia after an unexpected playoff run, especially after getting what many consider to be the best side of the four-team trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers.
"Help is on the way."
The Raptors finished with a .348 win percentage last season and went just 13-20 at home, but fans knew things would get better.
They were playing without their 2011 No. 5 overall pick in Jonas Valanciunas, who had one more year left on his contract in Europe.
In addition to that, they had cap room. They used that room to add Kyle Lowry via trade and also to sign defensive stopper Landry Fields. They also brought in shooting guard Terrence Ross in the draft.
Lowry is one notch down from being in the elite class of point guards in the NBA, and he was quite possibly the biggest All-Star snub in the Western Conference last season.
It is Valanciunas that will be the main reason for excitement, though. He looks like a young Kevin Garnett, and his presence will enable Andrea Bargnani to shift to power forward, which will suit the Italian big man much better.
Valanciunas needs to add bulk, but the Raptors have a very good young core moving forward. The continued growth of their young players, in particular DeMar DeRozan, will help the Raptors become a relevant team soon.
If DeRozan can round out his offensive game while Bargnani and Valanciunas come together as an inside tandem, the Raptors could be a dynamic team on the rise.
The Raptors may have won less than 35 percent of their games last year, but this year could very well be a .500 season and trip to the playoffs.
"Deron Williams can't do it all by himself."
Last season, Deron Williams knew he was in for a tough time when Nets center Brook Lopez went down with what was deemed a season-ending foot injury. Lopez came back, only to get shelved again.
The Nets have since fortified their lineup some by adding Gerald Wallace via trade last season and Joe Johnson in the same manner this past summer. They also re-signed Kris Humphries and Lopez.
They added the enigmatic Andray Blatche, a promising young Russian in Mirza Teletovic, swingman Josh Childress and former Bulls gunner C.J. Watson.
The Nets have a lot of weapons to aid Williams now. It's just a matter of them coming together.
Johnson will alleviate some of the ball-handling pressure off of Williams and provide another go-to guy. Lopez has the tools to be a big-time scorer and has already averaged 17.4 points per game over his career.
Williams will be able to focus more on being a point guard and less on trying to score every bucket, and the Nets will be a better team as a result.
Mikhail Prokhorov has spent the money, but this team is only good on paper right now. Chemistry is always the X-factor.
"The Rose will bloom again."
There's not much Chicago can learn from last season except the old dictum that "it happens."
The Bulls rolled through the regular season with the best record for the second consecutive year, and then disaster struck and Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the first round of the playoffs. That spelled the end of their title hopes.
They are a team that is built around a superstar with a host of very good role players, and until Rose gets back, they are just going to be a middling cast of role players playing without their stud. That's not to say this time will go wasted.
Luol Deng will have a chance to show that he is a true All-Star. He may have a career year as a result.
Carlos Boozer may revitalize himself and possibly be the 20-10 stalwart he once was.
Joakim Noah will show if his work with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar paid dividends this summer, or if he really is just a defensive big with subpar offensive talents.
There are a lot of issues for the Bulls to address until Rose gets back.
"Life is hard without a true superstar."
Many could make the argument that the Pacers had a superior team concept over the Miami Heat in the 2012 playoffs, but it didn't matter.
The Pacers lacked the supreme individual talents that are required to close out games, and after taking a 2-1 series lead, they dropped the final three games of the second-round matchup to LeBron James and the Heat.
The Pacers have a lot of talent, make no mistake. Yet what they don't have is a game-changing talent—a guy that they can ride to take over games and defeat teams like the Heat.
Danny Granger is almost that guy, but he isn't. David West was close at one point, but he has declined as a player. Paul George could be, but he's not yet. And Roy Hibbert never will be. The rest of the Pacers are role players at best.
The Pacers may need to find a way to trade some of their assets to acquire a top-tier superstar, but let's not pretend like that it is easy.
Until the Pacers get a guy that they can go to late in games—to close out teams like the Heat—they are going to remain a "near contender" but not take that next step into joining the true elite teams.
"The best No. 1 overall picks come in the second round."
The Bucks drafted Andrew Bogut No. 1 overall in 2005. Bogut's career had been going fine, excluding some all-too-frequent injuries.
Little did they know that the best player they selected in that draft was not the first overall pick. Rather, it was the guy they took 36th overall in the second round.
Ersan Ilyasova came through as a true go-to player in the post last season and made Bogut expendable.
Because they dealt Bogut, they found themselves in the luxurious position of being able to bring in talented 2-guard Monta Ellis to round out the backcourt, with gunner Brandon Jennings at the point.
The Bucks now have one of the best scoring backcourts in the league, even if it is undersized and lacking in defense.
And the trio of Jennings, Ellis and Ilyasova is as good as it is underrated. No one mentions these guys in "Big Three" discussions, but maybe they should.
This is not to suggest the Bucks are on the same level as the Heat, Lakers or Thunder, who have the true "Big Threes" that we talk so much about, but they are a lot better than people think. The emergence of Ersan Ilyasova is what made it possible.
The Bucks could scratch the playoffs, and if they do, they'll be a bigger threat than most analysts and fans think.
"Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight could be a great duo."
The Pistons went 25-41 last season, and there weren't a lot of highlights (except that Greg Monroe looks like a young Tim Duncan, minus the shot-blocking).
What Monroe lacks in excitement, he makes up for in strong and solid play. He's versatile and can hit midrange jumpers, and pairing him with speedy Brandon Knight gives the Pistons a talented tandem to build around.
They decided to take the long-term approach to this rebuilding by drafting UConn freshman Andre Drummond in the draft.
Drummond has the potential to either be the next Dwight Howard or the next Kwame Brown; his body of work is too small to know which way it will go at this point.
If Drummond pans out as a true power forward of the future and Monroe and Knight continue to grow together, the Pistons could be sniffing the playoffs by 2014 or 2015. Just don't expect it to happen this year.
"There is life after LeBron James."
Cavs fans had every right to be bitter when local product LeBron James decided to "take his talents to South Beach."
They didn't bank on things getting better for a while, but the sun only set for a brief time in Cleveland, as No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving came in and showed that he had the talent to bring the Cavs back quicker than most expected.
That sounds like a lot of hype for a team that went 21-45, but the talents of Irving and fellow 2011 lottery pick Tristan Thompson should propel the Cavs back into the playoffs within a couple of seasons.
Bringing in Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller in the 2012 draft will accelerate that building process further still.
Zeller could be the center of the future after Anderson Varejao runs his course. The 6'4" Waiters should be the shooting guard of the future, as the Syracuse product has the talent to form a great backcourt duo with Irving.
The Cavs likely won't be sneaking into the playoffs this year, but with further development from their youngsters, they will be back in the contending ranks eventually. It will still likely be sooner than pessimistic Cavs fans felt it would be after King James left.
"Role players play big roles."
For as good as the Big Three was, it wasn't necessarily just the efforts of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that won them the 2012 title.
A strong argument can be made that it was the talents of Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem that made the title possible.
Adding Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to the mix will further help the cause.
Titles are won on the shoulders of superstars, but they are not possible without the instrumental play of role players.
Everyone knows what to expect from James and Wade, while Bosh is a very important X-factor. If the Heat get Bosh to play his absolute best and get solid contributions from their host of role players, they will likely repeat.
VegasInsider.com currently has the Heat at 9/4 to win the title, while the revamped Lakers come at 11/5, and the Thunder sit at 9/2.
If the Heat are to play to those expectations, it won't be because James is doing his thing, nor because Wade is a top-eight player in his own right.
Rather, it will be because Bosh is playing like he did with the Raptors and because Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis are hitting the open threes that defenses are going to be giving them.
There is a lot more to the Heat than just the "Big Three."
"Joe Johnson is not the answer."
Eyes rolled around the league when the Atlanta Hawks signed Joe Johnson to a max contract that would pay him big bucks until the age of 35.
It just took the Hawks one more season than most to realize the mistake they had made, as they came to the conclusion last year that even with Johnson playing his best ball, they were going to continue to fall short in the Eastern Conference.
The decision was made to jettison Johnson and bring in a host of role players in a cap-clearing move that will set the Hawks up better for years to come.
They will now start Anthony Morrow at shooting guard and Kyle Korver at small forward. While that may be the best shooting tandem on the wings in the league, that is all it is. Neither can play the kind of defense necessary for the Hawks to be anything more than a middling .500 team.
Add to that the fact that Josh Smith will be a free agent at the end of this year, and the Hawks are nothing more than a team in transition at this point. They'll be forced into making some decisions as the trade deadline approaches and they receive offers for Smith.
As for what direction the Hawks take, it really is a huge unknown at this point. What was known was that Johnson wasn't going to get them over the hump, and at least they finally realized it.
"Goodbye, Dwight, time to rebuild!"
The Magic spent the entire year dealing with the biggest distraction in the NBA, and now they are ready to move past that and into a new era.
Very little good can be drawn from last year because the entire year was based around a superstar that is no longer with the team.
The second-best player from that team is gone, too, as the Magic dealt Ryan Anderson away to the New Orleans Hornets in a cap-clearing move that brought only Gustavo Ayon and a trade exception in return.
Now, the Magic simply develop their young talent for the future, all while tanking this year and getting ready for a high lottery pick in the 2013 NBA draft.
More fans will be dreaming of drafting Cody Zeller or Nerlens Noel rather than worrying about whether the Magic can avoid the league's worst record.
"No sense banging our heads against the Wall."
John Wall was really all the Washington Wizards had as a positive last year, and now he is out for eight weeks. That will give Bradley Beal time to shine, but there aren't a lot of players on the Wizards roster to get excited over.
They made a strange move getting rid of JaVale McGee and bringing in Nene Hilario. Nene is in the midst of his prime, and the Wiz are nowhere near contending at this point. McGee is young and only getting better.
It seems that keeping McGee to develop with Wall might have set up a nice future, but Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld didn't like the direction McGee was going mentally and decided to let Denver deal with him instead. That could haunt the Wizards for years.
But more than anything, they just realized last year that they were fighting a lost cause. McGee was hardly a franchise savior, and for all that John Wall is, he hasn't proved that he is either.
Wall and Beal could develop into one of the best backcourts in the league, but that is neither promised nor guaranteed. For the time being, they just have to focus on developing good chemistry and finding a semblance of leadership.
Last year, veteran Maurice Evans said the team had very little leadership, all but pointing the finger at Wall for not taking charge of a team that desperately needed some cohesion and decision-making.
If Wall can grow as a person and a player, the Wizards could make their ascent out of the cellar, but for the meantime, don't expect much from this squad.
"It can't get much worse than this, can it?"
The Bobcats had a historically bad season last year, winning only seven games in the 66-game shortened schedule. Their winning percentage was just a hair over 10 percent, and they dropped the final 23 games of the season.
A positive? They were almost as successful on the road as they were at home, as they won three of their 33 road games and four of their 33 at home. OK, so that's not really much of a positive, but seriously, things can't get much worse in Charlotte.
Moving forward, they're at least going to have some new talent to incorporate into their roster.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist looked great in the NCAA tournament as he helped Kentucky to a championship, and the Bobcats felt confident selecting him second overall.
If he is as NBA ready as most think he is, he could help the Bobcats possibly escape with the East's second-worst record and best the Magic in wins.
From a developmental aspect, 2011 draft pick Kemba Walker must prove he can score on the NBA level. Fellow 2011 draftee Bismack Biyombo has the time to develop his offense as he refines his already-strong defensive game.
The Bobcats have some nice young pieces, but it's going to be a while before they are much more than a lottery team.
Oklahoma City Thunder
"Serge Ibaka and James Harden must be kept."
The Thunder have two headliners: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But keeping their subheadliners might end up being what keeps them in the realm of the contending teams.
That requires financial sacrifices from star players. Westbrook made one already, as did Serge Ibaka. Harden must be next.
The Thunder can remain a top team with Durant and Westbrook. That's not really in question. However, to beat teams like the Lakers and Heat, they are going to need to keep Harden. Harden has the talent to be an alpha dog on a lot of teams, so when he's the third option, you know you're sitting pretty.
Harden must now make a decision between being a No. 1 option on a poor team and possibly winning some rings on a more talented Thunder squad. Thunder GM Sam Presti is hoping on the latter, desiring that Harden sacrifice some money and notoriety for the chance to be on a championship team.
The Thunder realized last year against the Heat that without a legitimate third option, they are going to be a two-man team that just can't win a title.
Last year made it clear that re-signing Harden is the key moving forward.
"One of these stars must become a superstar."
Denver is following the path of the early-2000s Pistons. The Nuggets are a very good and talented team without a superstar, and whether or not that method of team-building can produce a title still is a huge matter of debate.
But they are very good.
The Nuggets had the third-highest offensive rating in the league last year (109.2) and finished with the ninth-best record, but the improvement must come defensively.
The Nuggets gave up over 100 points per game last year while scoring a league-high 104.1. To take the next step, two things have to happen:
1) Play better defense.
2) One of their stars must become a go-to superstar.
Factor No. 2 will require that either Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari or Andre Iguodala steps up.
Since Iguodala's already maximized his potential and stands out mostly as an All-NBA defender type, it will be up to Lawson or Gallinari to show they can provide the late-game scoring needed to make the Nuggets a true contender. Both are very good, but neither are great at this point.
Vegas oddsmakers don't consider the Nuggets anywhere near the realm of true contention, placing their title odds at 40/1.
The fact remains, though, that if Lawson or "The Rooster" could become 20-plus point-per-game scorers, they could shake that status of being a bubble team and become a serious threat to the best teams in the league.
"An eighth seed is only worth so much."
Utah crept into the playoffs and was swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. The games were not particularly close, and the Jazz had nowhere near enough talent to match up with the heavily favored Spurs.
That's why focusing on veteran talent won't do them much good. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are both free agents at the end of the season, and the Jazz have talented young players backing them up in Derrick Favors and 2011 No. 3 overall pick Enes Kanter.
Is now the time to look forward to developing Favors and Kanter, or do the Jazz strive to maintain mediocrity with Jefferson and Millsap?
Both Jefferson and Millsap are All-Star talents. Jefferson has been posting elite numbers for a center for the last half-decade, and Millsap made the climb from being a very good sixth man to a legitimate starting power forward.
Still, neither offers franchise-cornerstone talent, and the Jazz have no such talents on their team.
That will make ascending to the ranks of these super teams impossible, so it might make sense for the Jazz to trade Jefferson and/or Millsap at the deadline to try to get something back for the big men, while also focusing on rebuilding in the years to come.
Jazz fans like a competitive team, but how competitive are you when your main objective is merely to sneak into the playoffs and get swept?
Portland Trail Blazers
"LaMarcus Aldridge is all we have left."
After the tragic injuries to Greg Oden and Brandon Roy, the Trail Blazers came to realize that LaMarcus Aldridge is the only remaining vestige from what at one point looked like a potential dynasty.
Things are going to be bad in Portland this year, but developing rookie point guard Damian Lillard into the type of talent that can facilitate Aldridge in the future is about all Blazers fans have to look forward to.
They decided to retain Nicolas Batum, who was heavily courted by the Timberwolves. Batum will be a valuable asset moving forward, as he has the game-changing defensive abilities to be a featured player.
Shooting guard Wesley Matthews has proven himself to be a great scorer, and J.J. Hickson still has a lot of untapped potential that may show itself this year if he gets playing time alongside Aldridge.
It's been a hard road for Blazers fans watching their team devolve over the last few seasons, but Aldridge and Lillard give them hope that things will get better again.
"You gotta love Rubio."
The Timberwolves were on the cusp of possibly being a Cinderella team for the 2012 NBA playoffs. Then, Ricky Rubio went down with a season-ending injury, and those playoff hopes evaporated into a ring of smoke, as the Timberwolves were forced into starting J.J. Barea at the point while platooning Luke Ridnour alongside him the remainder of the season.
Kevin Love solidified himself as unarguably the best power forward in the NBA, and he found his way into the top 10 of the ESPN rankings that were compiled this summer.
Pairing Love's shooting and rebounding prowess with Ricky Rubio will make the Wolves contenders for a long time to come.
In addition to Love and Rubio, the Wolves realized that they had too much young talent on the team (what a great problem to have!) and that they would be better served importing some veterans. Out went Wes Johnson and Michael Beasley; in came Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy.
They also added former Celtics center Greg Stiemsma to back up Nikola Pekovic. Stiemsma is a solid backup, while Pekovic is the kind of center that the Timberwolves can rely on to man the middle as the team becomes a legitimate contender.
Add to this mix Derrick Williams, who only began to scratch the surface of his immense talent last year as a rookie on a crowded roster, and the Timberwolves have a lot of reasons to be excited, even if last year was a disappointment after Rubio suffered his knee injury.
Los Angeles Lakers
"Time to stock up."
For as good as the Lakers already were, they found out they didn't have quite enough last year when they lost 4-1 to Oklahoma City in the second round of the playoffs.
The Thunder were getting better while the Lakers were a team on the decline, but GM Mitch Kupchak knew that he was commanding a team that has always been able to get things done with their roster—cap restrictions or not.
That philosophy worked. The Lakers acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, and now they have what is—on paper—one of the best starting lineups ever.
Nash and Howard by themselves are enough to lead a team deep into the playoffs, and throwing the second-best player ever and Spanish center Pau Gasol into the mix only makes the Lakers that much more unbeatable.
The quartet of Kobe Bryant, Nash, Howard and Gasol helps form one of the best starting fives ever, even with Metta World Peace or Antawn Jamison rounding out the starting lineup.
The Lakers knew they would need to bolster their lineup after last year, and they did just that.
Los Angeles Clippers
"Nick Young is not Chauncey Billups."
The Clippers were rolling and well on their way to a deep playoff run before Chauncey Billups suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon tear on Feb. 7. The injury forced the Clippers to rush to replace Billups, eventually settling on gunner Nick Young to supplant "Mr. Big Shot" in the lineup.
The team was never the same after that.
They found a way to still finish fifth in the West, and they escaped a seven-game series with the Grizzlies in the first round but were eventually swept by the Spurs in the second round.
Many wonder whether the Clips could have advanced clear to the conference finals with a healthy Billups.
Since that time, they have gone out and further fortified their roster, adding a host of veterans to place around the young talent on the roster.
They added Grant Hill, Ronny Turiaf, Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford and Willie Green. None of those guys are game-changers at this point in their respective careers, but that's not a problem because the Clippers have that already in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Like other teams in this slideshow, the Clippers found that missing a key starter could be enough to dash title hopes, but their roster is now deep enough that even a key injury may not be enough to stave off title hopes if it happens again in 2012-13.
"All good things come to an end."
Steve Nash stayed with Phoenix for the duration of his contract and never demanded a trade. That's respectable. The Suns remained competitive because of it, finishing with a .500 record in the West despite having little talent outside of Nash.
They're now rebuilding.
With Nash gone, the Suns will look to Goran Dragic as their point guard of the future, and he provides a lot of reasons for hope, as many bill him as Nash 2.0. Dragic was already Nash's backup before leaving Phoenix, but now he's back to take the reins firmly for himself.
They also acquired Wes Johnson and Michael Beasley from the Timberwolves, two young talents that could become the wingmen of the future for the Suns.
Signing amnestied former Rockets forward Luis Scola to pair alongside Marcin Gortat in the frontcourt will help the Suns remain competitive, but hopes are not pinned on another playoff appearance, nor do the Suns expect to contend any time real soon.
Last year was the end of an era for Suns fans, and as hard as it was to say goodbye to Nash, the time had come.
Golden State Warriors
"This backcourt is too crowded."
When the Warriors drafted Klay Thompson in 2011, they knew they were setting up a potential logjam in the backcourt, as they already had both Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis.
They also had a hole at center that they had tried unsuccessfully to plug with Kwame Brown. That made trading Ellis for former Bucks center Andrew Bogut a near no-brainer.
The team already had a bit of a redundancy in the backcourt with two combo guards that were both too small to play shooting guard.
The 6'7" Klay Thompson brought an end to that problem, and pairing Bogut with the overpaid (yet still very good) David Lee now gives the Warriors one of the better frontcourts in the league.
The Warriors are going to be exciting. They always are. But now, it's a matter of seeing whether the roster can gel and also if they can begin to play some defense to augment what is already a good scoring team.
Last year, they gave up 101.2 points per game, good for the third-worst defense in the NBA. They did that while putting up only 97.8 per game.
Mark Jackson must preach defense to his squad if he wants to finish any better than last season's .348 win percentage.
Rounding out the roster by acquiring Bogut will go a long way, and they have Thompson to fill the role that Ellis vacated. But without defense, this team can only fill seats, not win titles.
"Young talent can only win so many games."
The Sacramento Kings have one of the best collections of youngsters in the NBA, but without veteran experience, it hasn't gotten them very far.
Jimmer Fredette may be a bust, but it's too early to go ahead and label him that yet. He spent his summer refining his midrange game and adding a tear-drop jumper. Many feel that with the right seasoning, Fredette could be a big-time player on the NBA level, as he was at BYU.
But the Kings aren't placing all their hopes on Fredette, needless to say.
They added the best power forward in the NBA draft in Thomas Robinson of Kansas and are going to continue to hope that DeMarcus Cousins fulfills his immense potential while avoiding off-court problems at whatever cost.
Tyreke Evans must progress as a player, as his best season so far still has been his rookie campaign when he became only the fourth rookie in NBA history to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists.
He joined the elite territory of LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson. Since then, he has regressed and been quite average.
Marcus Thornton has the talent to be an All-Star, and he can score with the best of them. Isaiah Thomas was the steal of the 2011 NBA draft, going last overall.
So, the pieces are there. Now it's just a matter of turning all that young talent into an actual team that plays together and wins basketball games.
With the immense amount of talent on the roster, they should be able to win more than one-third of their games, as they did last season.
San Antonio Spurs
"Rebuilding may not be so overrated, after all."
Ah, the Spurs. The team that remains on top without ever rebuilding. Or is that so?
After sweeping their first two opponents (the Jazz and Clippers) in the NBA playoffs, they found that they weren't quite as good as their record indicated when they ran up against another true contender. They were bounced by the Oklahoma City Thunder, 4-2, in the conference finals.
The Spurs have the talent to contend, but Tim Duncan is on his last legs, and Manu Ginobili is right up there with him. Tony Parker is still in his prime, but what happens after Duncan and Ginobili call it quits?
Fortunately for the Spurs, they still have a host of younger talents to keep them competitive for years to come.
Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal and Daniel Green will form the new nucleus of the Spurs as the torch is passed to the young generation. The Spurs can continue to compete; few doubt that.
Duncan just signed a three-year extension, so the Spurs may keep it going for another few years, but his effectiveness will continue to wane.
It is now a matter of how they play their cards in this quasi-rebuilding effort. They tend to draft great talents in the late first round (while remaining a top team).
It's not an easy task, but the Spurs have done it for over a decade. Will we ever see the Spurs blow it up and start from scratch?
"Even with Rudy Gay, we're still not quite there."
The Grizzlies were able to take the Thunder to seven games and almost advance to the conference finals in 2011 without Rudy Gay. The thought was, with Gay back on board, they would be a serious threat to advance further and possibly break the cusp as a fringe contender.
With Gay back on the team, they were unable to advance past the first round in one of the more highly anticipated No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchups in recent years. They pitted themselves against a talented Clippers squad in the first round, losing in seven games.
So, what can this Memphis squad do to get over the hump if even having a fully healthy roster isn't enough? That's unclear.
The Grizzlies have one of the best front lines in the NBA with Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Still, they have merely an average backcourt with Mike Conley and defensive demon Tony Allen.
It seems that for the Grizzlies to take the next step, they're going to have to add another perimeter scorer.
Or would that even do it?
They let O.J. Mayo walk, as he had shown little improvement since his rookie season, and they added Jerryd Bayless, who will fill the same role as Mayo. But these lateral moves won't help the Grizzlies beat the best teams in the West.
The team is too good to blow up, yet not good enough to contend.
So where do they go? What did they learn from last year?
Just that they're not quite there yet, and since the only injured player last year was backup forward Darrell Arthur, the Grizzlies have nothing to blame except insufficient talent.
"Good thing we got one in 2010-11."
It seems more than anything that losing Tyson Chandler crippled the Mavs' interior defense beyond what Mark Cuban and management thought was possible. Chandler went on to win Defensive Player of the Year with the Knicks, while the Mavs were swept by the Thunder in the first round of the 2012 playoffs.
They've made some roster changes, bringing in Darren Collison to run the point, O.J. Mayo to start at 2-guard and Chris Kaman to fortify the paint, but does adding three replacement-level starters bring the Mavs back to contention?
I doubt it.
The window on the Mavs has likely closed, but Mark Cuban isn't one to just throw in the towel on winning more rings while Dirk Nowitzki is still playing. Still, it's tough to see this Dallas team doing much more than getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs again this year.
That might be a tough pill for Mavs fans to swallow, but how can one make the argument that the Mavericks are any better than they were when they won in 2011?
Meanwhile, all the teams that fell short during the Mavs' 2011 title run have improved significantly.
"At least we're going to have cap room and draft picks."
The Rockets spent most of last season trying to convince themselves that a Dwight Howard rental would pay off. That never happened, and the team finished two games below .500 and out of the playoffs.
But they knew they would have three first-round picks and some cap room, and they continued to make their push to obtain Howard. They offered all three of their first-round selections, Kevin Martin's expiring contract and more picks in exchange for Howard.
Yet the Magic didn't bite.
Now, they bring aboard Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, two players that were both deemed overvalued. People scrutinized the Rockets' spending, but could Lin and Asik silence doubters?
Might adding Lin to a talented cast of youngsters be enough to move the Rockets up in the standings, past the airs of doubters that say that this team is nothing more than a collection of overpriced players and unproven youngsters?
Terrence Jones, Royce White and Jeremy Lamb were the Rockets' heist from the 2012 NBA draft, and all three have pretty good NBA potential. However, the Rockets may be a couple years away from making any real impact in the playoff race.
For the meantime, Rockets fans are likely still shaking their heads in disbelief that Orlando Magic GM Rob Hennigan turned down the Rockets' rebuilding package in favor of what the Magic settled for in the four-team trade that sent Howard to the Lakers.
New Orleans Hornets
"One step backward is three steps forward?"
The Hornets finished tied for the second-worst record in the league last year, but most expected that after losing franchise point guard Chris Paul.
The player they obtained in exchange for Paul, Eric Gordon, spent almost the entire season injured, and that set the Hornets up to be the lottery squad they were.
But then that dismal season resulted in the No. 1 pick in a draft with a true No. 1 talent: Anthony Davis.
Davis will give the Hornets a big man to build around, as he has been the most coveted center to be drafted since Dwight Howard in 2004. He has franchise-changing talent, and the Hornets have put the cast around him necessary for this team to become a true contender—in time.
How long will that take? That's anyone's guess.
The Hornets could be a playoff team by the end of next season (some even speculate this season, but they're overrating the value of young talent), or it could take another two to three seasons.
But the Hornets have one of the best young starting fives in the league.
They have Austin Rivers of Duke attempting to learn the point, Eric Gordon healthy and possibly on his way to being a perennial All-Star, Most Improved Player of the Year Ryan Anderson spotting up for threes, Al-Farouq Aminu becoming the kind of glue guy that every team needs, and the aforementioned Davis possibly becoming the NBA's next dominant big man.
That lineup along with the addition of role players over the next couple of seasons could make Hornets fans happy that Paul went packing.
The team never seemed to have enough to get over the hump, even with the best point guard in the league, and now they have a great collection of young talent.