20. Memphis Grizzlies: Down
The Good: Marc Gasol came on very strong and makes the dealing of his brother Pau not look like a complete theft anymore. Gasol and Randolph make up a very good front line and O.J. Mayo will get his chance to really blossom as the premier perimeter scorer on the Grizzlies assuming Gay leaves. A solid nucleus is in place in Memphis.
The Bad: Rudy Gay, maybe their best player, is all but gone this offseason. With all of the decent teams that have cap space, why would Gay want to stay with a franchise that has shown little commitment to winning and more commitment to saving money?
Another bad thing for Memphis: Zach Randolph is doing Zach Randolph things again (and in no way is that a good thing). Oh yeah, their number two overall pick in last year's draft played in the D-League for a portion of last season. That's definitely bad.
What they need to improve: Point guard. When the Grizzlies drafted Mike Conley at number 4 in the 2007 draft, they hoped that he would turn into an elite NBA point guard. Conley was actually decent last year, averaging a 12-5 and shooting almost 39 percent for three point land. But that's all Conley will ever be. If the Grizzlies want to make the playoffs they need more than that from their point guard.
Ability to improve: It's hard to believe that Zach Randolph will have another season like last years', that Hasheem Thabeet will ever have a decent NBA career, and that Rudy Gay will stay. Even after winning 40 games last year it might be rebuilding time in Memphis again.
2010-2011 Prediction: O.J. Mayo is a guy to keep and eye on next year with Rudy Gay''s expected departure, but as a team, Memphis doesn't have too much promise. (Maybe Grizzlies fans can hope for a crazy Zach Randolph arrest to spice the season up).
19. Milwaukee Bucks: Down
The Good: Brandon Jennings was considered a risk when Milwaukee took him in the lottery last year, but Jennings rewarded them greatly for that risk. He scored 55 points in a game during the regular season and showed up in the playoffs. Former number one overall pick Andrew Bogut decided this year was the time to show up as well and made third team All-NBA.
The Bad: Bogut suffered a horrific arm injury at the tail end of the season. Can he recover and be as effective as last year? Can the whole team of below average talent duplicate last seasons' playoff birth? Hmm....
What they need to improve: Talent level. Only Brandon Jennings, Andrew Bogut, and John Salmons are All-Star worthy talents and they are all on the borderline of average-above average players at their respective positions. Can a team really count on guys like Carlos Delfino, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Ersan Ilyasova to play major minutes and be effective?
Ability to improve: Michael Redd will come back and make a brief cameo before injuring his knee again. If he can stay healthy, Redd can improve the Bucks with his outside shooting ability, but staying healthy is a major question for Redd. It's also a major question if they Bucks role players can perform as they did last year.
2010-2011 Prediction: The Bucks will once again be that pesky team that nobody wants to play, but it's hard to see them making the playoffs again. Then again, most people never thought they would make the playoffs this past season either. FEAR THE DEER!
18. Charlotte Bobcats: Down
The Good: Stephen Jackson proved he only need a change in scenery to be a All-Star level player. He was great last year in Charlotte and Gerald Wallace was as well.
The Bad: Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace are getting to the age where they shouldn't be playing the best basketball of their careers. Teams with many average veterans playing key roles tend to not do as well when they are aged a year more.
What they need to improve: Scoring. Stephen Jackson is the only pure scorer that Charlotte has. Sure, Wallace and others have their nights, but if they want to make any kind of noise in the postseason, they need to go get another player who can score.
Ability to improve: Not many free agents want to come to Charlotte. Jordan doesn't draw players. They're finally out of the lottery this year. Could they be back in 2011?
2010-2011 Prediction: Larry Brown hasn't guaranteed he would be back for next year. If he's not, things could be ugly in Charlotte, but even if he is back, don't expect big things from the Bobcats.
17. Los Angeles Clippers: Up
The Good: Number one overall pick Blake Griffin will play his first minutes as a Clipper next year. Any time a team adds a number one pick to their team, it's good. Hopefully his knee holds up. I'm not a Clipper fan at all, and I'm actually rooting for Griffin to have a great NBA career just to break the Clipper curse. Nobody has beaten the curse yet though.
The Bad: Like I said before, they are cursed. I don't believe in curses and I believe the Clippers are cursed. They're like the Chicago Cubs on steroids, but not lovable and minus Steve Bartman to blame. Where do I sign up for Clippers season tickets?
What they need to improve: Front office incompetence. It needs to be broken. Getting rid of Mike Dumbleavy was a good start. Now only if Donald Sterling could be fired. Alas.
Ability to improve: The Clippers are adding the 2009 number one overall pick to their team and will have enough cap space to sign one of the big free agents. Griffin is sure to improve the team and if they do get some sort of medium elite free agent (Rudy Gay level) the Clippers could be a playoff team. Not that they would do anything in the playoffs, but still. The PLAYOFFS!
2010-2011 Prediction: The Clippers should improve with Griffin joining the mix and Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon playing well. They should get an okay player in the draft as well. Things are looking up for LA's other team (Who in Los Angeles is actually a Clipper fan? It has to 99.5-0.5 Lakers-Clippers right?).
16. New Orleans Hornets: Up
The Good: Chris Paul should be back healthy and in his absence, the Hornets found some very talented youngsters in Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton. Hopefully the owners aren't too cheap to keep all of these guys.
The Bad: The Hornets are in a loaded Western Conference. Which of the eight teams that made the playoffs are going to be considerably worse than last year? New Orleans just doesn't have the overall talent level necessary to compete in the Western conference.
What they need to improve: Ownership. Hornets owner George Shinn is a notorious cheapskate who is always trying to cut costs. There have even been rumors about them cutting ties and trading Chris Paul. Hey, George, here's a tip: DON'T DO IT. (There have also been rumors that Shinn is trying to sell the team. Hornets fans are praying for this.)
Ability to improve: Getting Chris Paul back for the entire season helps. It REALLY helps.
2010-2011 Prediction: The Hornets will be much improved with the return of Paul and the continual improvement of their young players, but they will likely fall short of the playoffs once again.
15. New York Knicks: Up
The Good: The long awaited "Summer of 2010" is finally here! It seems pretty unlikely that LeBron will end up there, but they could land a Wade/Bosh combo or something like that. That would be something to be very excited about in New York.
The Bad: Free agents might want to go to New York, but nobody wants to play for the Knicks. The Knicks haven't exactly been tearing up the NBA for the past decade and the marquee players know that. If I was Dwyane Wade or LeBron James there is no way I would be going to the Knicks. (Not to mention the team they would be joining would have a terrible supporting cast. Two players can only do so much.)
What they need to improve: Landing a big ticket free agent (aka Wade or James). Knicks fans will be disappointed if they end up with a Joe Johnson/Amar'e Stoudemire duo. Can a team who hasn't even sniffed the playoffs for such a long time land one of the league's best players?
Ability to improve: They're going to sign two (maybe three) very good players this off-season. Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer as a team's top two players isn't terrible. It isn't great, but it's better than a David Lee-average player X duo.
2010-2011 Prediction: The Knicks won't land James or Wade, but they will get a pair of All-Stars that will finally make them relevant in the NBA again.
14. Atlanta Hawks: Down
The Good: Josh Smith and Al Horford blossomed last year and took some of the pressure off of Joe Johnson's shoulders.
The Bad: Joe Johnson is all but gone. Hawks fans can't decide if that's good or bad yet because of the royal stink bomb that Johnson dropped against Orlando in the playoffs. Johnson is good during the regular season though and will be missed.
What they need to improve: Playoff gutsiness. They showed no heart against Orlando as they lost by a combined 101 points in four games. It was just flat out embarrassing.
Ability to improve: As much as Johnson sucked in the playoffs, he was the best and most important player on the Hawks all season long. If he goes, several wins go with him.
2010-2011 Prediction: Johnson will be gone, but Josh Smith and Al Horford should still be able to salvage a playoff birth in the weak Eastern Conference, or the Hawks could go back to being, well...the Hawks.
13. Utah Jazz: Static
The Good: Deron Williams might have taken his place as the best point guard in the league with his incredible play+Chris Paul's injuries last year. To think, two teams in that draft passed on BOTH of them.
The Bad: Carlos Boozer had been rumored to be done in Salt Lake City for what seems like five years now. If he does indeed bolt, Paul Millsap would fill in nicely, but he's not quite the physical offensive force that Boozer is.
What they need to improve: Interior defense. The Jazz' center-power (Okur-Boozer) forward combo last year combined for 117 blocks (in 151 combined games). To compare, Greg Oden had 48 blocks in 21 games.
Ability to improve: Utah lucked out (with many other teams) in dealing with the Knicks when Isaiah Thomas was their GM, so they have a lottery pick. Giving a playoff team that made it past the first round a lottery pick helps that team considerably (umm...duh).
2010-2011 Prediction: Subtracting Boozer and adding a lottery pick just about evens out. The Jazz won't be quite as good next year, but will battle for a playoff spot once again.
12. San Antonio Spurs: Down
The Good: Add Dejuan Blair to the list of great later round draft picks by R.C. Buford (a very underrated name) and Co. If his ACL-less knees hold up, he could be a low post scoring/rebounding machine (think a better version of Boozer).
The Bad: Tim Duncan is finally showing signs that he is indeed not a super human. Although his numbers didn't dip too much, it was clear that he wasn't the dominant force he once was. Every era has to end eventually.
What they need to improve: Age. The Spurs are not getting any younger. Duncan and Ginobili will turn 34 and 33 next season. George Hill and Dejuan Blair are the only promising under 25 year olds on the team, and they are even uncertainties.
Ability to improve: San Antonio will get a higher than normal draft pick for them, so it will be interesting to see how they make use of it. Just a memo to anybody in the organization that is thinking about trading Tony Parker- don't do it!
2010-2011 Prediction: The dynasty is over, Gregg Popovich+Tim Duncan=playoffs. There's a reason the Spurs have made the playoffs every season of the Duncan era.
11. Houston Rockets: Up
The Good: What's not to like about next season as a Rockets fan? Yao will be back, T-Mac's ugly contract is off the books, Kevin Martin is in town, and you have a GM who is not afraid to pull the trigger on a big deal. Sounds pretty good to me.
The Bad: Yao is a ticking time bomb as far as injuries go. Can he really make it through an entire season?
What they need to improve: Health. If all of the Rockets stay healthy, they're a clear playoff team. Rockets fans know that this is a super uncertainty though.
Ability to improve: They have one of the best (maybe the 2nd best) center in the league rejoining the fray, Kevin Martin feeling at home, and Aaron Brooks improving another season. So, yeah...they should only get better.
2010-2011 Prediction: It's anyone's guess whether Yao can make it a full year on his bad feet and various other parts, but if he does this is a playoff team. I don't see him playing in 75+ games, but he'll play enough for the Rockets to be a playoff team.