NBA Report Cards: Predictions For Improvement Or Regression For Each Team
The year 2010 is nearly in our rear-view mirrors and oh, what a year it was for basketball.
LeBron James and Chris Bosh moved teams in the most lively free agent period in memory, basketball in New York was rejuvenated, a lockout is looming and the Los Angeles Lakers grabbed another title, notching Kobe Bryant his fifth and Phil Jackson his 13th (as a player and coach).
The 2010-11 season started off with a much ballyhooed game between Boston and Miami that lived up to the hype, although it displayed a Heat team with holes. The Heat would go on to go 25-8 from there, while the Celtics would go on to fill out the rest of the year at 23-6. Not too shabby.
With the 2010 portion of the season over, we have a trade deadline still to come, which is sure to be ripe with player movement, and a playoff season that is sure to be one of the most watched ever.
The NBA is back in a big way, whether it is at the expense of a handful of teams or not, it cannot be denied that the NBA is booming as much as it has since the Michael Jordan years.
The 2011 portion of the season is sure to be just as exciting as the 2010 bit, and there is sure to be just as much to talk about.
With all of this excitement and anticipation, it seems necessary to take a look at the league, and make a few predictions about the league, so I'm going to look at every team, and predict an improvement or decline for each.
Current Record: 21-13
2010 review: Atlanta is continuing to cling to its status as an elite team in the Eastern Conference, and they have not given up that title yet.
Many people criticized the size of the contract that the Hawks gave Joe Johnson, and so far he hasn't lived up to it, ranking 12th in PER for shooting guards.
They have survived on the excellent play of Al Horford, Josh Smith, and the revitalization of Mike Bibby, turning him from Mike Bibby's corpse to Frankenstein's Monster Mike Bibby, a player who still isn't what he used to be, but hey, at least he's alive.
2011 outlook: They have done much better than I had expected so far this season, and have done so by playing as a team and playing beautifully flowing basketball.
They are a mere 3-8 against teams above .500, so I can't see much improvement coming, they'll probably remain about the same and stay in the fifth playoff spot unless a team above them struggles.
Current Record: 24-6
2010 review: The 2010 portion of the season has seen the Boston Celtics playing as an ageless team, keeping up with the youngsters in the league in a big way.
They have shown that they may be the best Eastern Conference team in terms of playing as a team, but still, one must wonder how their age will affect them going along.
2011 outlook: Kevin Garnett went down on Wednesday night with a strained right leg, raising questions about whether they can last at this pace.
They are an old team, with Garnett, Paul Pierce, Shaquille O'Neal and Ray Allen all over 33 years old, and their play last season is always in the back of the minds of every Boston fan.
It's hard to see them continuing to torch opponents during the regular season. I see them shutting it down a bit for the winter months and picking it back up in April.
Boston will end up falling a bit during the regular season, but they should still make a push to represent the East in the Finals.
Current Record: 11-19
2010 review: Obviously, Charlotte did not have a good 2010 half of the season. They lost a head coach due to their disappointing play, and are on track for either a fire sale or a mediocre record, neither of which make for an exciting 2011 half in Charlotte.
2011 outlook: It all really depends on which direction Michael Jordan wants to take his team. A fire sale means a much worse team, doing nothing means just that, nothing.
No improvement or regression will come from this team if they stand pat, as they seem to be uninspired against good teams, and only play their best against the lesser teams in the league.
Plus, they have DeSagana Diop playing double-digit minutes, which is never a good sign.
Current Record: 20-10
2010 review: Chicago, even with its dilapidated roster, has grabbed the top spot in the Central Division and is one of the best teams in the East.
They have only played nine games with their normal starting lineup, and in those nine games they went 7-2 in the form of a seven-game win streak after Carlos Boozer got back in the swing of things.
2011 outlook: After they put a healthy unit on the floor night in and night out, they could put together the top squad in the league.
I can see nothing but bright lights in the future of the Bulls, so after Joakim Noah returns, there can really be only good for the Bulls.
Current Record: 8-24
2010 review: Cleveland started out looking like they were going to prove all of their critics wrong, starting the season at an impressive (for them) 4-3, with an opening night win over the Boston Celtics.
From there, they went a terrifying 4-21 and dropped to the bottom of the league.
2011 outlook: Oh boy, is this going to be a doozy of a second half for the Cavaliers.
They are going to end up having a roster in March that will not resemble that of the one they currently boast at all.
All signs point to a fire sale for the Cavaliers, and everyone on their team is a possible player to be moved before the trade deadline in February.
If they strike gold with their moves, they could end up winning north of 25 games, if they make a move for more draft picks than players, they could end up with a team full of D-Leaguers and cast-offs, and end up winning around 18 games.
Current Record: 24-6
2010 review: Dallas is looking as good as they have since their foray into the NBA Finals in 2006.
All of their pieces are clicking and they are playing their best basketball against teams that are above .500, as they are 13-3 against the best the league has to offer.
They are completely annihilating the league.
2011 outlook: It's hard to see this team slowing down much over the second half of the season, even though they, like the Celtics, are a rather aged team.
Dallas should end up streaking into the playoffs as one of the top teams in the West, and from there, they could either soar to the Finals, or fail miserably.
One thing is for sure, with this good of a team behind him, this will be the season that cements the legacy of Dirk Nowitzki.
Current Record: 18-13
2010 review: Denver did a very good job of getting as far ahead as they could before they end up trading bits of their team off.
They have gotten good play from Aaron Afflalo and Nene, along with some good play by Mr. Gets Buckets, Al Harrington.
2011 outlook: A selling off of players is likely on the horizon for the Nuggets, and they could end up with a team sans Carmelo Anthony, Chaunce Billups and J.R Smith by the time the trade deadline comes to pass.
Due to that, there is probably no way that they can gather up enough wins to stay in the top eight teams in the West, but they just may end up proving everyone wrong.
Current Record: 11-21
2010 review: The Pistons did not have a pretty first half of the season, only winning 11 games, putting them ahead of only the Cavaliers in the Central Division.
They don't have a single player with a PER of over 19, and their team is struggling to get every win.
2011 outlook: Detroit is a team that is mired in mediocrity, and will be for a while unless they start selling off bits of their team for draft picks.
They should end up trading off at least a few of their players by the time the trade deadline rolls around, and, depending on whether they go for picks or players, they could get better or worse.
I'd say worse.
Golden State Warriors
Current Record: 12-19
2010 review: Despite their record, Golden State has been one of the most exciting teams in the league, due to their excellent guards, and the great number of offensive options they have.
Unfortunately, they have sacrificed offense for defense and are allowing nearly 107 points per game.
2011 outlook: Quite a few of their players are defensive liabilities, but a large bit of that can be changed with a few players being moved and a different mentality, which could require a new coaching staff.
The Warriors really only need that and maybe one more player to be a playoff team, and a few types of those players should be available this season, as teams are going to be selling guys off like crazy.
Current Record: 15-16
2010 review: The Rockets were hit with a wealth of bad luck with injuries to Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks.
They are, however, getting back on track having won seven of their last 10 games, and look like they are settling into a nice groove.
2011 outlook: Houston should climb their way out of the hole that they dug at the beginning of the season, as they are a much better team than their record shows at this moment.
The Rockets could end up grabbing a playoff spot by the end of the season, with Denver probably falling and Portland unable to stay free of injuries.
Current Record: 13-17
2010 review: Indiana has put together a roster that will be the basis of a team that should end up helping the Pacers crawl out of the hole of mediocrity that they have been stuck in for the past few seasons.
They may not have a beautiful record, but they are the final team in the playoffs in the East as of right now (yep, with only 13 wins), and are playing some more exciting games.
2011 outlook: With the East looking worse by the day near the bottom of the conference, Indiana shouldn't have much of a problem making the playoffs.
If they end up grabbing a few more players in the next few months, they could end up getting even better, and end the season close to a .500 record.
Los Angeles Clippers
Current Record: 10-23
2010 review: The Clippers have already ridden a roller coaster in the first portion of the season.
They started off with high expectations by Clippers standards, and promptly tanked in a form that only the Clippers could pull off.
Los Angeles then, after starting off 1-13 went on a 9-10 clip since their ugly start, which includes five wins over the past seven games.
2011 outlook: With the exciting play of Blake Griffin, and the promise of a bright future, Los Angeles could end up with a record that is nearly good by the end of the season.
With a few trades, and getting rid of a few distracting players, the Clippers could end up playing .500 basketball in the 2011 portion of the schedule.
Los Angeles Lakers
Current Record: 22-10
2010 review: The Lakers have played their way to an unimpressive 22-10.
The fact that they are 22-10 isn't the unimpressive part, it's the fact that they have only played eight games against teams with winning records, and won only three of them, that is unimpressive.
After laying a Christmas-sized egg against Miami on Christmas, questions have started to arise about whether they are on the decline.
2011 outlook: Don't freak out too soon folks, Los Angeles should still be the favorite in the West to go to the NBA Finals.
Remember, just a year ago when the Boston Celtics finished 50-32, fourth in the East (LA is currently fourth in the West), and had a 22-22 record against teams with winning records. All they did is come within a win of a championship.
There should be no worries about the Lakers until they are on the brink of elimination from the playoffs.
Current Record: 14-18
2010 review: Memphis has shown very little improvement record-wise from a season ago, but they are playing much better together as a team.
They have only won four games out of a possible 14 against teams with winning records, so they still have a lot of work to do.
2011 outlook: The biggest problem for the Grizzlies is depth.
They have pretty good starters at each position, but on the bench there is not much after OJ Mayo. They should end up having luck with trades if they dangle a few players out as bait to bolster their bench.
I'd say 2011 is a bit brighter than 2010 for the Grizz, but probably not much more. They are probably staring at a .500 record.
Current Record: 25-9
2010 review: 2010 started out rocky for the Miami Heat, as they started the season by running their record to 10-8 by the end of November, then they decided to start playing like they mean business.
They went on to lose only one game in December, running their record to its current 25-9, and have done it while looking as impressive as any team could.
2011 outlook: Because of this run, they have won seven games against winning teams, which is the eighth most in the NBA.
They have gotten up off their seats to run up a very impressive record, and are looking better every day.
2011 is definitely going to be better for Miami than 2010, the only thing in question is how well they will perform in the playoffs.
Current Record: 12-18
2010 review: Milwaukee came into the beginning of this season with hopes that they could continue their success.
They promptly face-planted to a 12-18 record, leading to questions of whether the previous season was a fluke.
2011 outlook: I am of the belief that some players are just slow starters, and that may be the case with a majority of the Bucks players.
Last season, the Bucks had the exact same record at the end of December. That's right, they were exactly 12-18 one year ago to the day.
Because of that, paired with the weakness of the bottom two-thirds of the Eastern Conference, makes it seem as if the Bucks will turn it on yet again and come screaming into the playoffs.
Current Record: 8-25
2010 review: Continuing what has been a trend since Kevin Garnett left, Minnesota is giving competition to the teams in the bottom of the league for the worst record.
Another thing they have a swinging chance at is the individual rebound title this season, as Kevin Love has been absolutely ablaze.
Other than that, and the emergence of Michael Beasley as a good player, not much good has come of Minnesota's season.
2011 outlook: Is there good news for the next portion of the season, you ask? Why maybe, they did win four games in December compared to just three in November, so there is improvement there.
Hell, they could end up winning five games in January, how wild would that be?
I do see them getting a bit better over the coming months, but probably not substantially better.
New Jersey Nets
Current Record: 9-23
2010 review: There are two sets of good news for the Nets from the 2010 portion of the season.
First, their first-round pick Derrick Favors is doing a pretty good job in the time he has played, and second, they aren't going to be threatening the worst record in league history again this season.
Otherwise, the season has been another one to forget for the Nets.
2011 outlook: New Jersey will probably end up competing with the Cavaliers for the worst record in the East, and will end up as a high percentage lottery team again this season.
They may end up improving their standing a bit in the second half of the season, but they are unlikely to make any big leaps and bounds in the 2011 portion.
That is, of course unless they drag Carmelo Anthony out of Denver and he actually tries to make an impact in New Jersey.
New Orleans Hornets
Current Record: 18-14
2010 review: No team has had as wishy-washy a season so far as the New Orleans Hornets.
They came out of the gate winning eight straight, and 11 of their first 12, and then crashed back to earth with a 7-13 record the rest of the way through November and December.
New Orleans was also taken over by the league after their sale faltered, with the team teetering on the brink of sale to any buyer who would come along with a decent offer.
2011 outlook: New Orleans showed who they really are over the past month, as they won only six games in the month.
They will likely continue to go downhill and probably end up falling out of playoff contention by mid-March.
New York Knicks
Current Record: 18-14
2010 review: The Knicks' season has gone much the opposite of how New Orleans season has gone.
They started off miserably, running up a record of 3-8, followed by them winning 13 of 14 games and their bandwagon getting creaky with all of the people jumping on.
New York has gone 2-5 since, leaving people wondering exactly which part of the season accurately portrays the Knicks.
2011 outlook: It seems that the Knicks will spend the season as an incredibly streaky team, one that will win in bunches and then fall off for a bit.
This will enable them to finish the season over .500 by a handful of games, and depending on how they enter the playoffs, whether it be on a hot streak or a cold streak, they could end up making a large impact in April.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Current Record: 22-11
2010 review: Oklahoma City has quite a good record, but it isn't quite as good as many people had expected.
Many expected Oklahoma City to be the team to supplant the Lakers as the cream of the crop in the west, but they have struggled to be dominant, and are currently fifth in the conference.
The good news, however, is that Oklahoma City has an 8-7 record against teams above .500, showing that they do have what it takes to beat the league's best.
2011 outlook: The second part of the season will end up going much the same way as the first, as they should compete all season long against the best teams in the league, but because they are a young team, they will have the occasional downfall.
The Thunder will roll into the playoffs probably around the same spot that they are currently in, and give other teams in the west a run for their money.
Current Record: 21-12
2010 review: Is it just me, or has Orlando seemed like kind of a flat team this season. They have been good, but not as impressive as they have in years past.
They are not winning games with the gusto they once did, and ran off a streak of eight losses in nine games earlier in the month.
2011 outlook: Orlando has been scrambling to put together a team that can still be one of the elite teams in the East, and may have given up some of their edge as a result.
They have never been an exceptionally physical team in the past, but reacquiring Hedo Turkoglu makes them a bit squishier.
They may keep up their winning pace, but they won't strike fear into their opponents aside from Dwight Howard, making it seem like they could be an afterthought in the playoffs.
Current Record: 13-19
2010 review: Philadelphia has done a good job this season of winning games when they need to, and have really come on in December, going 8-6 in the month, putting them in eighth in the East.
2011 outlook: Philadelphia will likely end up trading Andre Iguodala in the flurry of trades that are to come, and that will probably end up hurting their record in the process, but help their future.
I see them falling a bit, and missing the playoffs and landing ninth or tenth in the East.
Current Record: 13-17
2010 review: Despite the fact that they have a less than stellar record, Phoenix is still a fun team to watch, thanks mostly to Steve Nash.
Without Nash, Phoenix would probably be the worst team in the league, but he is so good at running an offense that he makes everyone else better just by being on the floor with them.
Watch a game with them, they nearly always end up having a terrible lull when he is off the floor.
2011 outlook: If Phoenix ends up trading Nash to fund their future, then the second half is going to be quite glum, otherwise, they will steadily be mediocre.
Trading Nash may make many of the locals upset, but really it would be for the best, as they would get quite a good return for his services.
Portland Trail Blazers
Current Record: 17-16
2010 review: Portland, in quite a stunning change of events, actually had a few players get injured in the 2010 part of the season.
Wait...that's not right...everyone expected that.
Injuries, as has been the norm for the Blazers, have forced them to a record that is barely above .500.
2011 outlook: It is quite impressive what the Blazers have done without centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla for the majority of the season.
When they get back to decent health, they should end up picking up their pace a bit, that is if they avoid injuries, which is infinitely improbable.
Current Record: 6-23
2010 review: For some crazy reason, I, and many other people in the country, expected the Kings to finally start to improve.
Of course, they didn't, they are struggling just as mightily as they did a season ago, and are looking lazy and uninspired.
2011 outlook: Sacramento is unlikely to buck their current trend in 2011, as their team doesn't seem built for a turnaround.
The Kings should compete for the top lottery spot.
San Antonio Spurs
Current Record: 28-4
2010 review: I really don't want to allude to anything, but the 1995-96 Bulls had a record of 29-3 in their first 32 games, so I'd say the Spurs are doing pretty well.
Everybody said they are getting too old, and can't possibly continue such a high level of play, they responded by putting forth the best 2010 portion of the season of any team.
2011 outlook: San Antonio is doing one of the smartest things that an old team can do. Tim Duncan is getting fewer minutes to avoid a late-season breakdown similar to the one that Kevin Garnett had two seasons ago.
By doing this they are giving more minutes and experience to Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter, so I don't really see this team getting any worse.
San Antonio will grab the No. 1 spot in the West, and possibly the best record in the league.
Current Record: 11-20
2010 review: Toronto was, as expected, a very bad team in the first half of the season.
They won only 11 games, and were the earliest team to start looking to the future by trading away Jarrett Jack, Marcus Banks and David Anderson in mid-November.
2011 outlook: Toronto will continue to struggle, and continue to trade away players, as they still have quite a few good assets to trade away.
They could end up competing for a playoff spot in the East, which is not very deep after the first six teams, but it is quite unlikely that they get it.
Current Record: 22-10
2010 review: After losing Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver in the offseason, it seemed a given that the Jazz would have a downfall.
Well, the pick-and-roll combo of Deron Williams and Paul Millsap has become deadly, Al Jefferson has been solid yet again, and Andrei Kirilenko has improved quite a bit over his previous four down seasons.
2011 outlook: Utah will continue to improve, as the team is continuing to gel and work out its kinks, which will lead to a tougher team.
They are becoming one of the more exciting teams to watch in the league, and that can only improve their reputation as a very good team.
Current Record: 8-22
2010 review: Washington has had another unimpressive season thus far, but one good thing has happened for the Wizards.
They finally got rid of Gilbert Arenas, and in return they got a very good player in Rashard Lewis, who is still working his way into the offense.
2011 outlook: Washington will improve over the second half of the season with the younger players gelling together, Lewis further becoming incorporated, and John Wall getting healthy.
They still won't be a great team, but they should have a small bit of improvement in the 2011 portion of the season.