One Burning Question Each NBA Team Must Answer Before Next Season

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterJuly 22, 2013

One Burning Question Each NBA Team Must Answer Before Next Season

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    The 2013 NBA Summer League is coming to a close, which, for all you hoops heads out there, means that the next two months will be awfully devoid of the sound of sneakers squeaking and leather balls bouncing.

    If you're really starved for some better quality basketball, you might do well to check out your local pro-am scrimmages, from the Drew League in Los Angeles to Rucker Park in New York.

    Not that there won't be plenty to talk about in the interim. The lack of actual games only gives us more time to speculate and prognosticate about who will do what, which team will go how far, and why so-and-so will either break out or break down next season.

    And just because all will be quiet on court doesn't mean the teams themselves will skate through to training camp in October. Every organization has concerns of some sort to address in anticipation of what should be a fun campaign (on the whole, anyway) in 2013-14.

    Or, at the very least, a single question for which a good answer must be devised if the coming season is to be a success of any sort for each franchise.

Atlanta Hawks: Is the 6th Seed Enough?

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    The Atlanta Hawks appear ticketed for their seventh finish in the middle of the Eastern Conference in seven seasons.

    Which is all well and good...if you don't aspire to win anything more than a playoff series or two. To be fair, the Hawks gave it a go this summer, though their bid to lure both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul to the ATL was all but doomed from the jump.

    Now, the Hawks head into the fall with a new coach in Mike Budenholzer and an odd roster that invites more questions than answers.

    Like, are the Hawks really going to play Al Horford at center again? If not, what does that mean for new signee Paul Millsap? How healthy will Lou Williams be when the season starts? And what's Jeff Teague's ceiling?

    All of which leaves Atlanta good enough to compete for the playoffs but not good enough to push past the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers as a true challenger to the Miami Heat in the East.

Boston Celtics: How Low Can You Go?

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    Doc Rivers was the first chip to fall. Then went Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry.

    Now, the Boston Celtics are firmly on the road to Tank Town. Their roster is essentially a hodgepodge of cap fodder and young assets surrounding an injured Rajon Rondo, while their incoming coach (Brad Stevens) is younger than one of their outgoing stars (KG).

    The C's have tried this whole intentional stinking act before—in 1997, in pursuit of Tim Duncan, and in 2007, when Kevin Durant and Greg Oden were due for the Association—without great success. This time around, though, the pool of elite talent should be deeper.

    And if Boston finds a new home for Rondo at some point, it should be wading that much deeper in precocious prospects come the 2014 draft.

Brooklyn Nets: Is Jason Kidd Ready to Coach?

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    If there's anything we've learned the last few years (and have probably known all along), it's that coaching matters. It may be a players' league, but without the right leadership and strategic know-how from the sideline, even the most talented of teams would be hard-pressed to bring home a title.

    The Brooklyn Nets don't figure to win a championship next year, not only because LeBron James and the Miami Heat are still top dogs in the East, but also because Jason Kidd couldn't be wetter behind the ears if he dunked his bald head in Mikhail Prokhorov's infinity pool. The guy literally hasn't coached a day in his life.

    This isn't to say that Kidd won't be a good (or even a great) coach eventually. By all accounts, he's a born leader with an unparalleled understanding of the sport who's almost universally loved by players, coaches and executives alike.

    But even the most precocious of coaches have to overcome learning curves at some point. Kidd's might not be quite as steep as most, if only because he'll be coaching an All-Star-laden roster full of players he's recently competed with and against.

    Still, putting a newbie at the head of the most expensive squad in NBA history will have its downsides. The question is, for how long will that downside last? And will it be over before Prokhorov drops the ax?

Charlotte Bobcats: Will There Be a Young Star to Welcome Back the Hornets?

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    It's official: the Hornets are "returning" to Charlotte (in 2014)!

    But will they bring a young franchise star with them?

    Al Jefferson, pleasantly productive as he may be, doesn't fit the bill. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist might if he ever learns to shoot. Ditto for Kemba Walker with his shot selection, ball security and defensive aptitude.

    This team will be better in time for 2014-15, but how much better? That'll depend largely on the development of the team's youngsters, including Cody Zeller, who Michael Jordan has to hope won't be his next Adam Morrison.

    The task at hand for new head coach Steve Clifford will be anything but easy. The growth/arrival of an up-and-coming star, though, would do plenty to lighten the load.

Chicago Bulls: How Good Will Derrick Rose Be?

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    The constant line of questioning concerning Derrick Rose, while tiring and rote at this point, is the only one that really matters for the Chicago Bulls.

    If Rose is healthy, he makes things easier for everyone on his team simply by being on the floor. Opposing defenses must account for the tremendous threat that he is, often resulting in softer coverages for the likes of Luol Deng and Joakim Noah.

    And if Rose is anything close to his pre-ACL-tear self, the Bulls become instant contenders in the Eastern Conference. Their defense is already stout, thanks to Tom Thibodeau's overloading tactics and the bruising bigs who put them into practice. Slide Jimmy Butler over to shooting guard, as Thibs plans to do this season, and the Bulls have themselves a starting unit that can score from just about anywhere and defend like gangbusters.

    But if Rose isn't right, then Chicago's entire outlook changes, as does the way in which every other team treats the 2011 MVP and his colleagues.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Will Andrew Bynum Play?

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    Health is a major concern for just about every player of consequence with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Three of the team's principal starters—Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao—combined to miss 101 games in 2012-13.

    Adding Andrew Bynum to the mix does anything but improve the Cavs' prospects for a collectively clean bill of health. Bynum signed a two-year deal to come to Cleveland this summer, after sitting out all of last season in Philadelphia on account of recurring problems in his surgically repaired knees.

    Not that the Cavs are entirely dependent on Bynum. If 'Drew doesn't pan out, they'll be on the hook for "just" $6 million of the $24 million for which he signed. And, with Mike Brown back to man the bench, the Cavs might just be able to skate by in the Eastern Conference with a bit of discipline on defense.

    But a healthy Bynum would, hypothetically, accelerate the Cavs' rebuild in a big way. A run at, say, the fifth seed wouldn't be out of the question if Bynum were to rediscover some modicum of his former All-Star self.

Dallas Mavericks: What's the Plan Now?

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    No Deron Williams last year. No Dwight Howard, Chris Paul or even Andrew Bynum this year.

    Instead, the Dallas Mavericks will surround a 35-year-old Dirk Nowitzki with Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert and the aging Shawn Marion and Vince Carter.

    What does that get the Mavs? Probably not much. If they're lucky, they'll be in the running for one of the last two playoff spots out West, with the Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans also making their respective pushes.

    Or, Dallas will end up in the same category as the Los Angeles Lakers: a team trapped in NBA purgatory, with an over-the-hill superstar whose presence demands taking one last shot at title contention. Even if the available pieces and the overarching circumstances suggest that the organization should go a different route.

Denver Nuggets: Is Ty Lawson Ready for Prime Time?

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    With Andre Iguodala (and George Karl and Masai Ujiri) gone and Danilo Gallinari on the shelf until well into 2013-14, the onus falls on Ty Lawson to be the Denver Nuggets' rock in hard times. 

    Ideally, that'd entail Lawson taking a Jrue Holiday-like leap toward All-Star status while keeping the Nuggets afloat in the ever-deepening Western Conference. He'll certainly have the requisite workload to make his own case among the best point guards in the West.

    Nonetheless, this next season figures to be the 25-year-old Lawson's toughest as a pro by a long shot. He'll have to do more scoring while Gallo's out, while distributing the ball to a roster that's still surprisingly deep and trying to turn JaVale McGee into something other than a human lowlight reel.

    Good luck with that.

Detroit Pistons: What Else Does Joe Dumars Have in Store?

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    The signing of Josh Smith to a relatively reasonable deal (four years, $54 million) would seem to set up the Detroit Pistons for another big move in the near future. Smith essentially crowds a Pistons frontcourt that already features two young talents in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.

    Granted, new coach Mo Cheeks could just as easily slot Josh Smith at small forward, though putting him on the floor with Monroe, Drummond and, say, Rodney Stuckey and Chauncey Billups would cramp Detroit's offensive spacing in a big way while leaving the team without a reliably healthy point guard to run the show.

    Don't be surprised, then, if GM Joe Dumars decides to dangle Greg Monroe on the market at some point, as Grantland's Zach Lowe recently suggested might be the case. Smith's presence would seem to set up the Pistons to go hard after Rajon Rondo, who played high school ball with Smith at the famed Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.

    Not that Rondo's wonky shot would do much for the flow of the Pistons offense. But a core trio of Rondo, Smith and Drummond may yet give Detroit the foundation of another defensive juggernaut.

Golden State Warriors: Who's the Odd Man out of the Starting 5?

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    There are certainly worse problems for a basketball coach to tackle than having more players who "deserve" starting lineup slots.

    That's the question that faces Mark Jackson in the wake of Andre Iguodala joining the Golden State Warriors. Iggy's addition creates something of a dilemma for Jackson, who must now decide which member of last season's starting five to relegate to bench duty.

    Does he designate Harrison Barnes, who finished his rookie campaign with a flourish during Golden State's playoff run? Does he opt for David Lee, a well-paid All-Star who should be back at full strength from his postseason hip injury? Does he consider sliding Klay Thompson to the pine as a second-string shooting specialist?

    Or does he throw everyone for a loop by giving Iggy the keys to the reserves?

    Possibilities abound for a Warriors squad whose ceiling is considerably higher with a bona fide defensive stopper and jack-of-all-trades type on the payroll.

Houston Rockets: What's the Deal with Dwight Howard's Back?

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    The Houston Rockets can worry all they want about how Dwight Howard and James Harden will mesh or whether there are enough shooters on the roster or if Dwight is ready to lead or what style the team should play to maximize the roster's now-considerable talent or whether they'll be ready to contend for a title right away.

    None of that will matter, though, if Dwight isn't right—if his back is as much of a problem this coming season as it was last with the Los Angeles Lakers. Howard was remarkably productive during his lone campaign with the Purple and Gold, despite playing through pain and weakness after a summer spent shuffling around Beverly Hills rather than working on strength and conditioning in the gym.

    A more normal offseason (free agency notwithstanding) should do Dwight's body plenty of good in that regard. Still, if Howard can't dominate in Houston the way he did during his heyday with the Orlando Magic, then the Rockets may have to postpone any realistic championship chase while they devise ways to cover for their new center's shortcomings.

Indiana Pacers: How Healthy Will Danny Granger Be?

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    There's an argument to be made in the wonky world of counterfactuals that the Indiana Pacers would've ended the Miami Heat's title defense had Danny Granger been anything close to healthy. According to, the Pacers outscored the Heat by a combined 46 points in the 178 minutes their starting five played during the Eastern Conference Finals but were outscored by 76 points when Paul George, Lance Stephenson, George Hill, David West and Roy Hibbert weren't all out there together.

    Which is to say, Indy's bench stunk. Granger would've had a tough time making up for all the mistakes made by D.J. Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough, Sam Young and Ian Mahinmi. But at least Granger wouldn't have been a guaranteed negative like the rest of Indy's reserves were.

    Luckily for the Pacers, Danny won't have to do it all by himself off the bench now that he's expected back from a season lost to chronic knee pain. He'll be but the most prominent name on a second unit that now includes C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland and rookie Solomon Hill.

    But the more like his old self Granger is, the more realistic Indy's chances of upending the Heat and winning a championship in 2014 become.

Los Angeles Clippers: What's Doc Rivers Going to Do About the Defense?

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    As Grantland's Jared Dubin recently noted, the new-look Los Angeles Clippers will have to depend more on scheme than on individual talent if they're to succeed on the defensive end next season.

    The loss of Eric Bledsoe, arguably the team's best defender, in the trade that brought J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley—two decent team defenders but hardly stoppers in and of themselves—looks injurious enough. Replacing Bledsoe with Darren Collison, a skinny sieve who couldn't keep a starting gig ahead of Derek Fisher and Mike James in Dallas last season, is cause for even more concern.

    As is the Clips' current dearth of big men. At present, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Ryan Hollins and Byron Mullens are the only players over 6'9" on the roster.

    There's still time and room enough for the Clippers to add another pivot of reputable size. Even so, this group will be hard-pressed to play championship-caliber defense unless Griffin and Jordan step up and the entire team buys into whatever semblance of Tom Thibodeau's system Doc Rivers brings with him to L.A.

Los Angeles Lakers: To Tank or Not to Tank?

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    As much as the native Angeleno within me wants the Los Angeles Lakers to win forever, I also understand the importance of losing from time to time as a means of renewal.

    The fact is, the Lakers, as currently constituted, are far closer to the bottom of the Western Conference than they are to the top. The additions of Jordan Farmar, Nick Young, Chris Kaman and Wesley Johnson do little to negate just how old and fragile this team is at heart.

    If the Lakers were smart, they'd do what they could to surreptitiously keep the team from competing for the eighth seed out West. That means encouraging Kobe Bryant to take his time getting back from a torn Achilles, enabling him to shoot to his heart's desire once he does, and shopping Pau Gasol and Steve Nash if/when they prove healthy enough to draw interest from other teams, among other things.

    That way, the Lakers can set themselves up for a sweet spot in the 2014 draft order, from whence they can find another young star to carry the franchise into the future and (perhaps) attract a marquee free agent or two to join forces with Kobe next summer.

Memphis Grizzlies: Same Personnel, Different Results?

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    On the one hand, the Memphis Grizzlies did well to stand as pat as they did this summer, save for promoting Dave Joerger to head coach and swapping out Darrell Arthur for Kosta Koufos. The Grizzlies ground their way to a franchise-defining season (56 wins and a trip to the Western Conference Finals) on the strength of a historically stout defense—the chief proprietors of which are still in town.

    On the other hand, the Grizzlies were eaten alive by the San Antonio Spurs in the conference finals. The Spurs shredded Memphis' vaunted D with crisp passing and frustrated the Grizzlies' cumbersome offense by clogging the paint and daring the River City residents to beat them from three.

    That lack of perimeter shooting figures to be the Grizzlies' Achilles' heel once again in 2013-14. They've yet to add a marksman of any repute, thereby putting that much more pressure on Quincy Pondexter to take major strides next season.

    Otherwise, the Grizz may find that staying among the upper crust of the Western Conference is a tall order for a one-dimensional team.

Miami Heat: When Do the Playoffs Start?

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    Like the Grizzlies, the Miami Heat haven't made major changes to the team so far this summer.

    Not that they needed to. After all, they're coming off a historic season in which they won 66 games, including 27 in a row, on the way to their second consecutive championship.

    At this point, the Heat's biggest challenge will be staying healthy and motivated for another long playoff run. It's not a coincidence that no team since Larry Bird's Celtics has played in four straight finals. Playing 100-plus games per year over a four-year stretch is a lot to ask of any team, especially one whose core has been as constant as Miami's has.

    And especially when that core features an injury-prone superstar (Dwyane Wade), another (Chris Bosh) who still seems to swim in uncertainty more often than he should, and a supporting cast with no fewer than four principals on the wrong side of 30.

    But as long as LeBron James is around and the rest of the roster stays relatively upright through mid-April, the Heat should be in the mix for a three-peat of their own. 

Milwaukee Bucks: Is This It?

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    Another year, another landing spot in the muddled middle of the Eastern Conference for the Milwaukee Bucks.

    Or so it seems, anyway. Whether Brandon Jennings returns to Milwaukee or not, it won't do much to shift the Bucks' fate. At best, they're once again an eight seed ticketed for an early exit from the playoffs. At worst, they're 10th or 11th in the East.

    Not good enough to make noise in the playoffs, but not bad enough to land a prime lottery pick with which to add an impact player on the cheap.

    It's understandable that such middling performance comes under the directive of former United States Senator and longtime owner Herb Kohl, who, at 78, probably isn't interested in watching a terrible team in his old age. There may come a time, though, when fans stop showing up to support a team that isn't going anywhere.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Are You Ready Yet?

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    Last season was supposed to be a breakthrough for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Instead, it devolved into a nightmare of injuries and squandered opportunities.

    Having Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio healthy from the jump should make a huge difference for the T-Wolves in 2013-14. So, too, should a healthy Chase Budinger, the addition of Kevin Martin, and the return of Corey Brewer from his sojourn around the NBA.

    Minnesota still has to lock up Nikola Pekovic to ensure that the team doesn't take another massive step back. At this point, the extension of that union seems all but a foregone conclusion. But if contract talks collapse and Pek ends up elsewhere, the T-Wolves will have a tough time snapping their decade-long playoff drought. 

New Orleans Pelicans: What's Next for Anthony Davis?

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    It's understandable that nearly all of the buzz around the New Orleans Pelicans this summer has focused on the team's influx of perimeter talent. Trading for Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, along with the presence of Eric Gordon, gives the Pelicans a trio of multi-talented guards whose gifts wouldn't seem to mesh all that well, at least not at first glance.

    But as easy as it is to obsess over whether or not New Orleans should've accelerated its rebuild with a couple of expensive 20-somethings, let's not forget that the future of this organization isn't riding on any of those three. Rather, the Pelicans' fate comes down to the development of Anthony Davis.

    Davis put together a productive rookie campaign in the Crescent City, averaging 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 28.8 minutes per game. But injuries, a slight frame and a steep learning curve in the frontcourt left fans and analysts wanting more from last year's No. 1 overall pick.

    If Davis develops as he should—in terms of both his body and his game—then surrounding The Brow with the talented trio of Holiday, Evans and Gordon will look like a stroke of genius for GM Dell Demps.

New York Knicks: Have They Already Peaked?

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    I hate to break it to you, New York Knicks fans, but last season might've been your team's best chance to compete for something more than an early playoff exit with its current core.

    Amar'e Stoudemire is broken down, and Tyson Chandler's body isn't far behind. In addition, J.R. Smith is out for at least the next few months after major knee surgery, while Carmelo Anthony can opt out of his current contract after the 2013-14 season. In the meantime, the Knicks will have to look to Andrea Bargnani, Metta World Peace and rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. for a much-needed infusion of new blood.

    Don't get me wrong: This team can still contend in the East if 'Melo challenges for another scoring title, Chandler's troublesome neck heals up, Smith is effective after his surgery, and Bargnani rediscovers his shooting touch.

    But that's a ton of "if's" for a team with a payroll well over $80 million, in an Eastern Conference that's stacked with surer things at the top. 

Oklahoma City Thunder: Who Else Is Helping Out?

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    If you're the Oklahoma City Thunder, you know what you're getting from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. You could surround those two with a team of weekend warriors from your local YMCA and still make a run at a 50-win season.

    But the Thunder have bigger goals than that. After all, they were in the Finals just over 13 months ago, and when you have two of the 10-to-12 best players in basketball on your side, getting back should always be the goal.

    The question is, does OKC have enough support in place to survive a loaded Western Conference? Can youngsters like Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson provide the sort of scoring that James Harden once did and that Kevin Martin tried to last season? Will Serge Ibaka live up to the value of his $12.25 million annual salary? 

    And if the rest of the roster continues to decay, will there come a time when Durant and Westbrook start thinking about greener pastures elsewhere?

Orlando Magic: How Does the NBA Feel About Self-Sabotage?

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    It's never wise to put much stock in a player's performance in the Summer League, but Victor Oladipo's experience should raise a flag or two.

    The Orlando Magic made it clear that they wanted to see what the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft could do at the point—a position he's never manned with any regularity in his basketball life. He was still able to put the ball in the basket (19 points per game) but racked up nearly as many turnovers (4.8 per game) as assists (5.0).

    Was that lesson enough for the Magic to reconsider their plans for Oladipo? Or does it merely embolden them to go forward with their foolhardy plan?

    Remember, the Magic aren't trying to win right now. If anything, slotting Oladipo at the point—ahead of Jameer Nelson, no less—would allow Orlando to "tank" for the 2014 draft while feigning progress, with the incessant losing explained as the result of Oladipo's "growing pains" on the ball.

Philadelphia 76ers: Who's in Charge Here?

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    There's no question that new GM Sam Hinkie is running the show for the Philadelphia 76ers. He's already moved aggressively to strip the roster down by swapping an All-Star (Jrue Holiday) for an injured rookie (Nerlens Noel) and could continue his tanking program by offering up Evan Turner and/or Thaddeus Young as sacrifice for the chance at Andrew Wiggins in 2014.

    At some point, though, Hinkie is going to have to settle on a coach to lead this intentional calamity of a club, be it Michael Curry as a stopgap or Brett Brown as a long-term solution, per ESPN's Marc Stein. The Sixers can stink it up all they want in pursuit of franchise-changing talent, but until there's a foundational philosophy of some sort for the players to buy into, Philly will remain as rudderless as it was under former coach Doug Collins.

Phoenix Suns: Who Is the Point?

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    New Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek has already made it clear that he'll see what Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe can do as a backcourt.

    And why wouldn't he? It's not as though anyone's expecting this team to win immediately. Chances are, the Suns will be bound for the basement of the Western Conference amidst a season spent sorting through its assets and laying out a rebuilding plan under new management.

    So if Dragic and Bledsoe prove to be a clumsy, defensively deficient pairing, then so be it. That'll give the front office that much more incentive to try to move one (or both) of them in return for other building blocks.

    And if it works, then Phoenix will be set at a position or two, depending on who ends up playing where, and can, in turn, focus its efforts on filling other spots on the roster.

Portland Trail Blazers: Should He Stay or Should He Go?

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    The end appears to be near for LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers. According to Chris Haynes of Comcast Sports Net Northwest, Aldridge's representatives have already met with the Blazers to discuss possible trade scenarios to free the All-Star forward from Rip City.

    Depending on what the Blazers get in return for Aldridge, such a move would all but guarantee another step back in the team's immediate future. The rest of the starting five is ripe for improvement, with reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard leading the way, and the bench should be leaps and bounds better in 2013-14 than it was last season with the additions of Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and No. 10 pick C.J. McCollum.

    But none of that will matter much if Aldridge isn't around to help carry the load up front. Snagging a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference will be tough enough even with Aldridge around.

    Without him, it'll be darn near impossible for Terry Stotts' squad to keep playing past mid-April.

Sacramento Kings: Can a Regime Change Save DeMarcus Cousins?

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    The Sacramento Kings have every reason to be excited about the new, post-Maloof ownership regime. But if there's one person who stands to benefit the most from new owner Vivek Ranadive's takeover, it's DeMarcus Cousins.

    During his first three seasons as a pro, Boogie became the poster child for the damage wrought by the toxic environment in Sacramento. For all of his obvious talent, Cousins couldn't seem to avoid confrontation long enough to keep his head in the game and his feet on the floor. He led the league in technical fouls last season while racking up four ejections, three flagrant fouls and more suspensions than anyone would care to recall.

    New ownership, a new GM and a new coach may not be enough to turn Boogie around in Sacramento, but at least there are people in place who care enough about the long-term health of the franchise to provide a worthwhile support system for their potential franchise star.

San Antonio Spurs: How Much Do Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili Have Left?

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    On paper, the San Antonio Spurs seem set to contend for titles for years to come. They came mere seconds away from winning another this year and will return in 2013-14 with that roster more-or-less intact.

    That seems like a great thing, considering how well they did last season. However, when you consider the serendipity inherent in the Spurs dodging the Thunder in the playoffs and the transcendent play of a 37-year-old Tim Duncan along the way, San Antonio's path back to the top may not be quite so clear-cut.

    Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter constitute a strong foundation for the future. Danny Green isn't likely to shoot the lights out like he did through the first five games of the Finals, though his emergence as a "3-and-D" specialist shouldn't be overlooked.

    But this team isn't going to win big next season unless Duncan takes another dip in the fountain of youth—and brings Manu Ginobili along with him this time. His brilliant Game 5 and solid Game 7 in the Finals aside, Ginobili looked like a shell of his former self during the Spurs' most recent playoff run after surviving yet another injury-plagued campaign. A healthy Ginobili and a consistently effective Duncan make all the difference for San Antonio.

    But, at this point in their respective careers, that may be asking too much.

Toronto Raptors: Who Else Is Getting the Boot from Masai Ujiri?

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    Andrea Bargnani's contract is the first big one to have been trimmed from the Toronto Raptors roster since Masai Ujiri took over the front office, but don't expect it to be the last. Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields and Amir Johnson will all be subject to a myriad of trade scenarios in the coming months, depending on how they perform this season.

    Dwane Casey will be under similar pressure, considering he'll be out of contract after 2013-14 and the man who controls the fate of his employment wasn't the same one who hired him back in 2011.

    There will be no need to trade Casey, though. For Ujiri, the more important task at hand will be identifying those players who fit the franchise's long-term vision and swapping out those who don't for others who might.

Utah Jazz: Who's Ready for the Future?

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    Terrible campaigns are not the Utah Jazz's forte. They've won fewer than 30 games in a season just once since the early 1980s.

    That lone year of pain (2004-05) yielded a superstar in Deron Williams through the draft, but he made enough noise within the organization to force the franchise to trade him to the Nets.

    The Jazz are hoping for similar results this time around, albeit without the tumult that comes with a player of D-Will's caliber trying to dictate all of the terms. Utah is set to stink it up this season, especially after taking on the leftover garbage from the Golden State Warriors roster.

    Not that there won't be parts of the team that are worth watching in Salt Lake City. The quintet of Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and rookie Trey Burke constitute a young core from which the team can and should ultimately construct a productive supporting cast to keep in town over the long haul.

    That is, so long as the Jazz find themselves a bona fide cornerstone to be supported, be it in the draft or by way of an opportunistic trade.

Washington Wizards: Will John Wall Take the Next Step?

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    It's high time for John Wall to perform like the superstar for which he was pegged upon entry into the NBA.

    His development was understandably derailed last season by a prolonged injury-related absence at the outset, though he did plenty upon return to suggest that the Washington Wizards should still be excited about his future. He logged personal bests in scoring, field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage while cutting down his turnover numbers a bit and (more importantly) leading the Wizards to a respectable record of 24-25.

    Washington would appear to have the pieces in place to make its first playoff appearance since Gilbert Arenas brought his gun into the locker room, so long as Wall does his part at the point. He'll be under plenty of pressure to do so, with the Wizards having the option to sign him to an extension before the season or wait for restricted free agency.

    Either way, Year 4 is replete with make-or-break consequences for Wall's still-young career.