Jun 25 2014

2014 NBA Offseason Maintenance Report

You knew I would return with some material to keep your mouth watered, and we’re in that NBA sweet and sour spot. The NBA Finals ended ten days ago, the NBA Draft is tomorrow, and next week is the start of free agency. Now, last time I filled this space, I was mentioning how the San Antonio Spurs were going to dethrone the defending champion Miami Heat to win their fifth title. I thought it was going to go seven games, so you can hold that against me. Just like you can hold it against me that I thought the Seattle Seahawks were going to merely “squeak out” a Super Bowl victory against the Denver Broncos.

Super Bowl and NBA Finals in the same season? I might need to relaunch my website!

Unlike last year’s classic, this was a blowout of a series, with San Antonio outscoring Miami by 70 points. (Last year, San Antonio outscored Miami by five points and lost the series.) It reminded me of the Pistons-Lakers Finals of the late 1980s. In 1988, the Lakers won Game 7 off of an incredible performance by Hall-of-Fame SF James Worthy. It was a back-to-back title, and it came at the expense of the devastated Pistons, who were so close to winning Game 6 with PG Isiah Thomas gaming on a bad ankle and outscored the Lakers for the series by 18 points. Well, those Pistons came back in 1989 and mercilessly swept the aspiring threepeat Lakers – though those games were a little closer, with the Pistons outscoring the Lakers by 27 points.

The Wu-Tang Clan of NBA History.

Another note about that 1989 Pistons team: they were the last NBA Champion before the 2014 Spurs to win the title with their only All-Star being their point guard. They also became the first team in NBA history to attempt more threes than free throws during the regular season – that’s 35 years. Parker also lead the Spurs in scoring in the postseason and the Finals. So is the “Point Guard Warning” from The Formula retracted? No way! First of all, it’s a “warning” not a “prohibition”. Think yellow light, not red light. Second of all, after the Spurs became the first team in NBA history to keep all of their players under 30 minutes a game during the regular season, 38-year-old PF Tim Duncan led the Spurs in minutes during the playoffs. And third of all, after touting the importance of the small forward these last couple of years, who emerges as the Finals MVP? Not Parker, the only PG since Isiah to win Finals MVP in an All-Star season. Not Duncan, my original choice for the award going into the Finals. It was Kawhi Leonard, the 15th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers!

Top-ten picks in 2011 Draft include Derrick Williams, Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, and Jimmer Fredette. Forget tanking during the season, the real problem is teams that tank the draft! (Photo: NY Daily News)

With Duncan (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Parker (Magic Johnson), and now Leonard (James Worthy), the Spurs are the first team since the 1988 Lakers to have three Finals MVPs on the same roster. And as I wrote after the first weekend of the postseason, I could have cared less about the San Antonio offense, since their defense was the best in the Western Conference since (wait for it) 2007, the last time they won the NBA Championship. Defense, my friends, has its spot in The Formula for a reason: since the ABA merger, the only two teams that were able to win titles with defenses outside of the top-ten in efficiency were the 1995 repeat Rockets and the 2001 repeat Lakers. The 2014 Heat were outside of the top-ten in defense for the first time since The Decision. While the Heat led the league in field goal percentage again this season, it was the Spurs who set a record for highest field goal percentage in an NBA Finals! And while Miami couldn’t stop the Spurs from eating at the rim, please note that the Spurs became the first team to hold the Heat under 100 points in every game of a playoff series since the 2007 Bulls – the best defense in the NBA that season. Miami shouldn’t feel too bad though – the Spurs beat the Mavericks by a not-even-that-close 23 points in Game 7, they beat the Trail Blazers by 24 in Game 1 of that series, and they beat the Thunder by 35 in Game 2 of that series. Oh, Serge Ibaka was out for Game 2? Well, the Spurs beat them by 28 in Game 5. With Ibaka.

The beautiful game doesn’t matter if San Antonio doesn’t defend. (Photo: Rant Sports)

I said it last year, and I shall say it again: offense wins games, defense wins championships.  Your personnel is validated by your ability to defend. While Miami got critical stops last year and were able to shut the Spurs down in Game 6 and 7 last year, the Spurs thrust Boris Diaw into a bigger role this time around, and Miami had no answers on either end of the court. Diaw, not Parker, led the Spurs in assists during the NBA Finals, while Miami was stuck with decrepit options up front in Rashard Lewis, Chris Andersen, Shane Battier, and Udonis Haslem. Even with a Game 1 cramp that everyone should have been able to see coming, LeBron James had an incredible statistical Finals, but fellow All-Stars Chris Bosh (not enough touches) and Dwyane Wade (not enough legs) were the only other players in double figures, and neither of them defended well enough. Miami ran out of players, as former top-two picks Greg Oden and Michael Beasley were useless. Meanwhile, the Spurs showed the value of depth from October until June, from future Hall-of-Famer Manu Ginobili outplaying Ray Allen to point guard Patty Mills outscoring both of Miami’s point guards by himself. As a result, the Spurs are now one of only four NBA teams with five championships, and they did it with only one player on the team, Tim Duncan, who was drafted 14th overall or higher.

Gregg Popovich: More rings than lottery picks!

So now, a segue into what we’re all looking forward to, the NBA offseason. Let’s be real, the NBA Draft is for the new players to have their moment into the league. The teams matter, but let’s not act like there will be ten All-Stars just waiting to save these general managers. Instead of focusing on prospects, I will focus on each team’s major weakness in my eyes and go from there. The NBA is a free agent league, not a draft league like the NFL. You win or lose based off of the big money and trades. As I wrote last year:

The last #1 pick to lead the team that drafted him to a title was Tim Duncan in 1997. In fact, the Spurs, with Duncan and Robinson (#1 pick in 1987), are the only NBA team since the start of the lottery in 1985 to win a title at all after having the first overall pick (the Bulls won six championships without the help of the first overall pick, but none since getting Elton Brand first overall in 1999 or Derrick Rose first overall in 2008). The last #1 pick to actually win a title at all is LeBron James, drafted in 2003. And since the 2004 NBA Draft, the only top-ten picks to win championships are Andrew Bynum, Adam Morrison, and Corey Brewer.  Bynum (10th pick by the Lakers in 2005) won two titles with the Lakers, but didn’t play at all this past season in Philadelphia and is now a free agent. Morrison (3rd pick by the Bobcats in 2006) was the 12th man on those Lakers teams and has been out of the league since 2010. Brewer (7th pick by the Timberwolves in 2007) was the 12th man on the 2011 Dallas Mavericks and is a free agent after two years in Denver.  No player drafted in the top ten since 2008 has won a championship.

At least we have this though!

Hopefully, this year’s draft won’t be as painfully bad as last year’s rookies were. I have a starting lineup of terrible rookie seasons just in the 2013 top-ten: PG Trey Burke, SG Ben McLemore, SF Otto Porter, PF Anthony Bennett, C Alex Len – plus Nerlens Noel, injured. Without further adieu, let’s get on with the script for all 30 teams – including the only one to win 70 games this past season:



Cleveland Cavaliers (#1, #33): For the third time in four years, the Cavaliers have the first pick in the draft. It’s a shame Joel Embiid broke his foot, because Cleveland needs an answer up front, just like last year.  Cleveland finished 29th in 2-point field goal percentage this past season, and center Spencer Hawes is a free agent who had only two dunks in 804 minutes as a Cavalier. SF Luol Deng is a free agent as well, so they could fill that hole in the draft while looking at free agency and the second round towards filling the 5.


Milwaukee Bucks (#2, #31, #36, #48): Of the 11 players that ended last season in Milwaukee averaging at least 20 minutes per game, only big men center Larry Sanders, power forward Ersan Ilyasova, and John Henson were playing for the Bucks when they were swept out of the 2013 playoffs by Miami. Sanders and Ilyasova were terrible, and their injuries and struggles played a role in the Bucks finishing 29th in the NBA in defensive rebounding. Ilyasova in particular saw his shooting plummet, and the former double-double beast had only eight all season (after 20 two years ago). They were the worst defense in the league, and there is still a lot of money tied up in the big men, so look for Milwaukee to start their rebuild by taking the best healthy player available. Jabari Parker is the best fit here, so they’ll be hoping Cleveland doesn’t take him.


Philadelphia 76ers (#3, #10, #32, #39, #47, #52, #54): As you can see, the 76ers traded this past season in for a ridiculous bushel of draft picks. Despite losing 26 straight games, Philadelphia still wasn’t the worst team in the NBA, and now they have two top-ten picks. (Just ask Cleveland how nice it is to have two top-ten picks in the same draft!) However, their entire roster should be up for sale, especially after finishing with the NBA’s worst offense and the most turnovers. Interestingly enough, Philadelphia’s top 11 players in minutes played had more assists than turnovers – that was tops in the NBA, edging out the Spurs. That said, even Rookie of the Year point guard Michael Carter-Williams should be on the block. General manager Sam Hinkie messed around and flipped an All-Star PG last year, so no one should be surprised if he tries to flip on the next guy. Even if Carter-Williams stays, Philadelphia could stand to bring in another player who can handle the basketball better than Tony Wroten. I could absolutely see Dante Exum picked here, along with Aaron Gordon.


Orlando Magic (#4, #12): No one talks about the Magic being a bad team, but they have at least ten more losses than any other NBA team since trading Dwight Howard and blowing everything up in 2012. They had the best rookie season of any top-ten pick, but that says more about how bad that draft was than it does about SG Victor Oladipo’s impact.  At least one of Orlando’s lottery picks should be used to address their lack of rebounding aside from C Nikola Vucevic, who averaged 11 rebounds a game but missed 25 games. The Magic were 24th in offensive rebounding, and that was with a top-ten offensive rebounder; players such as power forward Tobias Harris have not helped them on the offensive glass. Noah Vonleh would be an ideal fit, though I know they’re trying to find a point guard to replace Jameer Nelson. It would be interesting to see Kyle Anderson, aka Young Diaw, go here as well.


Utah Jazz (#5, #23, #35): The Utah Jazz went from the best team to miss the playoffs last year to being the worst team in the Western Conference. In a way, that was expected. They were the worst defensive team in the West; again, with upside comes inconsistency, so that was expected. But what wasn’t expected was for Utah’s young players to look unimpressive for the most part. Point guard Trey Burke was particularly bad, as he took the most shots of any player who had fewer points than shot attempts while collecting only 42 steals, a poor number for a small guard. The Jazz were 29th in forced turnovers, and while Burke may not be replaced as a starter, it is clear that the Jazz need a guard who is capable of being disruptive defensively, especially if SG Gordon Hayward walks as a restricted free agent. Call me crazy, but I’d like to see Marcus Smart here.

Just something to think about...

Just something to think about… and that should be 7 Lakers titles, but you get the picture.


REMAINING LOTTERY TEAMS (also see The Silver Lining)


Boston Celtics (#6, #17): The Celtics sold out of the Three Amigos era, and they are in position to use a top-ten pick for the first time since 2001. Of course, the Celtics used that pick on Joe Johnson, who was deadline-dealed out of Boston in his rookie year. The last time the Celtics were in position to use a top-ten pick, they traded the rights to Jeff Green for Ray Allen in 2007, then later pulled off a blockbuster deal for Kevin Garnett. Those were championship moves, and the Celtics may be in the market for Minnesota’s current All-Star forward. They could use one of their picks as insurance for shooting guard Avery Bradley, who is an injury-prone restricted free agent. Bradley is a strong defender who has improved every season, and though he is a dreadful passer and playmaker, he is one of the few Celtics who can actually make threes, making 40% of his attempts. With or without him, Boston needs to improve an offense that ranked 28th in 3-point shooting percentage and had C Jared Sullinger launch an outrageous 208 threes at 27%. Embiid won’t slip past here, and the Celtics will absolutely find a shooter if they keep their other pick.


Los Angeles Lakers (#7): This is the highest the Lakers have picked since drafting James Worthy first overall in 1982, but the 1982 Lakers were champions. These Lakers lost the most games in franchise history, allowing the most rebounds in the NBA and the most in franchise history since the ABA merger. They let Tobias Harris go off for 28 points and 20 rebounds this season, and chances are if you were a big man in need of a big game, the Lakers were the team to eat against. Power forward Jordan Hill was their best option all season, but he’s a free agent, and his durability issues (in addition to the team’s sorry small ball/stretch four philosophy) factored into him getting 30+ minutes only 11 times all season. The Lakers are the only team without a coach (the next one will be their fifth in as many years) and they only have a few players under contract. It’s hard to see how the Lakers stomach another season of getting bullied on the glass after building an entire legacy upon dominating the boards, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they went with Julius Randle here.


Sacramento Kings (#8): The Kings had three players average 20 points per game this past season, but they didn’t have any decent players beyond that and their defense was poor again.  C DeMarcus Cousins averaged 23 points and 12 rebounds per game and is locked up long-term. SF Rudy Gay averaged an efficient 20 per game and opted in for next season. Point guard Isaiah Thomas averaged 20 points per game and has outplayed fellow 2011 draft classmate Jimmer Fredette, 2012 free agent Aaron Brooks, and 2013 trade acquisition Greivis Vasquez. But Thomas is a restricted free agent, and he’ll always be 5’9″. Sacramento was also 27th in forced turnovers, and even if Thomas stays, backup Ray McCallum wasn’t ready to defend last year. Much like the Jazz, Sacramento could use some help in terms of a disruptive guard, and drafting Tyler Ennis would obviously speak volumes.


Detroit Pistons (#38)The Charlotte Hornets have Detroit’s lottery pick as a result of the Pistons trading Ben Gordon to get the last 257 minutes of Corey Maggette’s career. Talk about a parting gift from Joe Dumars. Detroit has now missed the postseason five seasons in a row, the longest drought in the Eastern Conference and the longest for the Pistons since 1983. Stan Van Gundy is the team’s fifth head coach in as many years, and he inherits, among other things, the 2nd-worst 3-point shooter in NBA history, minimum 1,000 attempts (SF Josh Smith) and the only player drafted after 1955 to average at least 15 shots per game while shooting under 40% (PG Brandon Jennings). But the biggest Pistons problem is the fact that, despite the presence of center Andre Drummond, the Pistons were 29th in 2-point field goal percentage allowed. Drummond will be Van Gundy’s Dwight Howard project in Detroit, and improvement from the young center defensively is to be expected. But the Pistons will need a backup for Drummond at the least, and then there will be the issue of PF Greg Monroe’s restricted free agency.


New Orleans Pelicans (no picks): The Pelicans are one of five teams (and the only non-playoff team) not to have any draft picks going into the 2014 Draft – a consequence for securing PG Jrue Holiday from Philadelphia. Of course, the Pelicans had the 1st and 10th picks in the 2012 Draft, so don’t feel too bad for them since, you know, they have SG Austin Rivers. The Pelicans also have All-Star PF Anthony Davis, but they have a lot of issues around him. For one, Holiday needs to get healthy after missing 48 games. Second of all, the Pelicans need to get serious about the center position after watching Jason Smith, Alexis Ajinca, and Greg Stiemsma start 77 games there this past season (adding C Omer Asik, at the expense of another future first-round pick from division rival Houston, would certainly qualify). Third of all, they need to start Tyreke Evans at SG, and find a suitor for Eric Gordon. Fourth of all, they need to hope PF Ryan Anderson can return from his neck injury. And finally, small forward Al-Farouq Aminu is a free agent, and though he can’t be trusted with starters minutes, it is important to note that the Pelicans were dreadful on defense once again this past season. They were 29th in the league in free throw attempts allowed, and they need to sign a player who can start and defend the wing effectively.


Denver Nuggets (#11, #41, #56): The Nuggets missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003 this past season, though you probably didn’t notice since the Nuggets have only won two playoff series in the last 20 years. Denver’s best player is point guard Ty Lawson, but Denver ran out of players at the position with Lawson missing 20 games, Nate Robinson tearing his ACL, and Andre Miller keeping it real all the way to Washington. The Nuggets were another team that didn’t do a good job getting steals, ranking only 18th despite playing such a fast pace. Denver has a lot of talent recovering from serious injury (Robinson, C JaVale McGee, SF Danilo Gallinari, C J.J. Hickson), but they were overdue for a higher caliber prospect to join the roster. A player like Elfrid Payton would be a great fit in Colorado.


New York Knicks (#34, #51): The reason New York doesn’t have this lottery pick is because it was used to acquire small forward Carmelo Anthony, who is a free agent.  Say what you want about Anthony, but he’s coming off a year where he played more minutes than any since his rookie season, went over 2,000 points for the first time since 2005-2006, grabbed a career-high 8.1 rebounds per game, blocked a career-high 51 shots (LeBron James had only 26 blocks this past season) and shot the three better than ever (40%, career-high 167 made). Whether or not Anthony comes back to New York, the Knicks need to acquire a player who can defend the wing better, as fouls continue to be a problem for the Knicks (24th in the NBA this past season). With big men Amaré Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani set to take up $34 million of cap space next season, things will get ugly in Manhattan if the Knicks can’t retain or replace a player who they gave up several assets for in 2011.


Minnesota Timberwolves (#13, #40, #44, #53): The Timberwolves just became the fourth franchise in NBA history to reach a playoff appearance drought of at least ten years, joining the 80s Clippers, 90s Mavericks, and 2000s Warriors (all Western Conference teams!) on the Mount Rushmore of NBA futility. To make matters worse, everyone feels sorry for All-Star PF Kevin Love being unable to make it to the playoffs. Love can do a lot of things, and he was the centerpiece of Minnesota’s top-ten offense, but he and center Nikola Pekovic can’t block shots at all. Minnesota finished dead last in blocks with only 297, and that complete lack of rim protection showed up often when the Timberwolves were blowing closing games late. With the injury-prone Pekovic locked up long-term, Minnesota’s best bet to improve defensively is to acquire a shot blocker. Maybe the Timberwolves could also move Pekovic if they felt Gorgui Dieng was ready to handle 30 minutes a night. Trading Love will obviously hurt, but they can use him to improve defensively. Expect the Timberwolves to take the best scorer available (Doug McDermott?) if they keep their lottery pick.


Phoenix Suns (#14, #18, #27, #50): The Suns swapped spots with the Utah Jazz from last year, going from the worst Western Conference team to the best team to miss the postseason, despite a top-ten offense. The Suns have three first-round picks to complement the fact that three starters are free agents. SG Eric Bledsoe is the priority, but small forward P.J. Tucker will be the wild card. Tucker had a great bargain-basement season for Phoenix, improving his shooting while proving to be a strong defender. But do you overpay to bring him back, or do you look for a more athletic type? The Suns can definitely use another athletic defender, as they ranked 27th in free throw attempts allowed this past season and particularly slipped defensively when Bledsoe missed time. The Suns might elect to stash Dario Saric with one of these picks.

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THE OTHERS (also see The Bandwagon Report)


Atlanta Hawks (#15, #43): The Hawks got off to a strong start, but their lack of depth was exposed as the season went on. They still made the playoffs for the seventh straight season, the longest streak in the Eastern Conference – and they have zero Conference Finals appearances to show for it. Atlanta utilized “Spurs East”, finishing second to San Antonio in assists. However, despite the addition of All-Star power forward Paul Millsap, Atlanta finished 29th in offensive rebounds. Horford’s return would help, but the Hawks could use another big man in the rotation, especially with Mike Scott and Elton Brand unsigned.


Charlotte Hornets (#9, #24, #45): The bees are back! Charlotte rode C Al Jefferson’s interior dominance and a top-ten defense to a postseason appearance, only two years after the worst winning percentage in NBA history. Now, the former Bobkittens are the only playoff team with a top-ten pick. Power forward Josh McRoberts provided a useful skill set as a shooter and passer, but he is a free agent, and Charlotte’s offense was still an eyesore this past season. They were particularly bad at failing to rebound their bricks, as they were 28th in defensive rebounds allowed. Charlotte used a top-ten pick on Cody Zeller last year, but a player like Adreian Payne would be a great fit here.


Brooklyn Nets (no picks): Draft picks alone won’t always change your team, but Brooklyn looks pretty bad for losing 3.5 first round picks for the right to watch power forward Paul Pierce and C Kevin Garnett take another leap out of their primes. Pierce is a free agent, and while the move to the 4 helped him stay effective last season, Brooklyn’s small lineup was a factor in their poor rebounding (29th overall). It will be interesting to see how the Nets handle their big men, as Garnett is of retirement age, Brook Lopez is coming back from another foot injury, and Andray Blatche is a free agent.


Washington Wizards (#46): The Wizards gladly gave up a first-round pick to Phoenix in order to acquire C Marcin Gortat once Emeka Okafor’s neck injury surfaced. Gortat helped the team win only their second playoff series since 1982, and he is a free agent. Washington should re-sign Gortat, but they’ll most likely have to let small forward Trevor Ariza walk after drafting Otto Porter third overall last year and re-signing Martell Webster. I liked Porter’s ability to get to the free throw line at Georgetown, and the Wizards were 29th in free throws made this past season. For Washington’s sake, they better hope Porter’s 319-minute rookie season was a complete aberration.


Chicago Bulls (#16, #19, #49): The Bulls have only gotten 50 games from PG Derrick Rose since they were eliminated from the 2011 Conference Finals, and he has to show that he is still an effective player. Chicago’s defense has been stellar in his absence, as center Joakim Noah helped the Bulls to finish 2nd in field goal percentage allowed. However, the Bulls have been garbage inside the last two years, finishing dead last in field goal percentage. It’s clear that PF Carlos Boozer is expendable and that Taj Gibson is overdue to regain his starting role, but that would only increase Chicago’s need for interior scoring – Nazr Mohammed will be 37 in September and is also a free agent.


Toronto Raptors (#20, #37, #59): The Raptors rode one of the strongest backcourts in the NBA to the playoffs, and re-signing bulldog PG Kyle Lowry will be a priority, as he teamed up well with All-Star SG DeMar DeRozan. While the Raptors had a top-ten offense this past season, they were only 23rd in 2-point field goal percentage, despite the presence of center Jonas Valanciunas (53% from the field) and PF Amir Johnson (56% from the field). Tyler Hansbrough was Toronto’s next biggest player at 6’9″, 250, and Psycho T is too limited to be a backup 5. The Raptors were one of the youngest playoff teams, so they could also get improvement from their young core. But they definitely need another player above the rim up front.


Dallas Mavericks (no picks): Long story short, the Mavericks don’t have a first-round pick as a result of receiving Anthrax from Los Angeles via Lamar Odom, and they used their second round picks to bring back C Tyson Chandler. The Mavericks returned to the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 years and pushed the eventual champion Spurs to 7 games in the first round. Dallas was also 2nd to only San Antonio in 3-point percentage, though they just swapped one of the best three-point shooting guards in PG José Calderón for one one of the worst, PG Raymond Felton. Power forward Dirk Nowitzki is a free agent, and while he is certainly coming back to Dallas, the team needed to improve upon the big men around him – swapping out C Samuel Dalembert for Chandler is only a start. The Mavericks ranked 26th in rebounds this past season, and the lack of durability of Chandler and reserve Brandan Wright suggests that Dallas find a way to add more depth up front.


Memphis Grizzlies (#22): Everything Memphis does is grungy, from their rough and tumble personnel to their messy front office proceedings. It will be interesting to see what they do with double-double machine PF Zach Randolph, a free agent who helped Memphis finish second in offensive rebounds allowed this past season. Memphis absolutely needs to upgrade the other forward spot, as small forward Tayshaun Prince is no longer an effective starter. The Grizzlies were dead last in free throws made this past season, and Prince only shot 34/60 from the stripe for the entire season. Quincy Pondexter is signed for four more seasons and is set to return from injury, but Mike Miller and James Johnson are both free agents, so there is room for Memphis to add another wing scorer here.


Golden State Warriors (no picks): The Warriors won 50+ games for the first time in 20 years, played elite-level defense for the first time in forever, and all anyone wants to talk about is new head coach Steve Kerr’s offensive plans. The Warriors gave up their first round pick in order to acquire small forward Andre Iguodala, who exemplifies the state of the Warriors right now: elite defensively (Golden State finished 3rd in 3-point percentage allowed), yet middling offensively (Golden State finished 26th in free throws made). Giving up players such as Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and David Lee for at least Kevin Love seems like a lot, even if it would make Golden State a much better offensive squad. The Warriors need more depth, as Barnes struggled to carry the second unit.


Portland Trail Blazers (no picks): Portland gave up their first round pick as part of their 2011 trade to get Gerald Wallace, who was shipped out in Portland’s 2012 fire sale a year later. Don’t feel too bad for the Blazers, as they basically flipped this pick for the pick that became All-Star point guard Damian Lillard last year. Portland’s other All-Star, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, teamed up with C Robin Lopez to dominate the glass as the Trail Blazers led the league in rebounding. I mentioned this last year, and it’s the same deal for Portland this offseason – the lack of steals (dead last) is not a good look defensively. The Trail Blazers didn’t have a single player who averaged one steal per game this past season, and that puts too much pressure on the big men. If Portland cares to improve defensively, they can replace Mo Williams with a better defender, in addition to expecting improvement from 2013 lottery pick C.J. McCollum.


Houston Rockets (#25, #42): On one hand, the Rockets are celebrated for their chaotic offense, powered by All-Star SG James Harden and C Dwight Howard, which allowed Houston to lead the league in free throws made and attempted. However, Harden’s defense has become a major source of scrutiny, and Houston starts point guard Patrick Beverley in part because he is the only guard on the team who can defend anyone. Like the Nuggets, the Rockets are terrible at forcing turnovers, finishing 22nd in that department despite their breakneck pace. The problem is magnified when Beverley misses time or is out of the game for better offensive threat Jeremy Lin (another substandard defender). The Rockets have bigger plans when it comes to upgrading their personnel, and they aren’t to be taken lightly in that department, especially considering the Omer Asik trade. However, they absolutely need to consider drafting a guard who can defend at least as well as Beverley with perhaps better playmaking upside.


Miami Heat (#26, #55): The Heat only lost three playoff games on their way to their fourth straight NBA Finals, and they were able to steal a game in San Antonio. Miami’s offense was still incredible, as they led the league in field goal percentage despite all of the games Dwyane Wade missed and Chris Bosh taking more threes than ever. However, the Heat defense finally cost them a title, and they finished dead last in rebounds for the second season in a row. Almost the entire roster is in 2010 territory with almost no one securely under contract. Power forward Shane Battier has retired, and regardless of what LeBron James does, Miami needs to add useful size to the team. The Heat were the oldest team in the league, and they looked like it at the end with their inability to find another big man besides Bosh who could play 20 minutes.


Indiana Pacers (#57): The Pacers traded their first-round pick to Phoenix for big man Luis Scola, who only played 20+ minutes 17 times during the season (including playoffs) in what turned out to be the worst season of Scola’s career. Indiana’s defense was sturdy, as the big Pacers led the league in field goal percentage allowed. For this reason alone, trading All-Star C Roy Hibbert shouldn’t be looked at as a necessity. I would instead focus on Indiana’s destructive chemistry since the All-Star break, and zero in on Indiana’s below average backcourt. While SG Lance Stephenson is a free agent and perhaps the root of the locker room issues, he performed well for the most part. Bringing Evan Turner, another free agent, onto the team was a disaster waiting to happen. But for Indiana to truly improve, they need to make a decision on point guard George Hill. The Pacers were 27th in assists, and while Hill is a decent player who won’t turn the ball over and can defend and shoot, he looked lost sharing the court with Paul George and Stephenson, two turnover-prone players. Hill would have more value coming off the bench, and if I were the Pacers, I’d start recruiting Kyle Lowry hard.


Los Angeles Clippers (#28): Some teams just aren’t destined for good things, and the Clippers appear to be one of them. They had the NBA’s most efficient offense, finishing second in free throws attempted, and are led by 2009 first overall pick power forward Blake Griffin and 2011 trade acquisition Chris Paul. In 2013, they received the services of head coach Doc Rivers (I profiled Rivers’ Celtics draftees for ClipperBlog), and the team won the most games in franchise history. But their owner provided a dark cloud over the franchise that threatens the stability of the team this offseason. Besides the ownership chaos, and the fact that Rivers is losing assistant coaches every week, the Clippers aren’t as deep as they appear to be. The biggest depth issue is up front, where the Clippers were 29th in offensive rebounds allowed. The Clippers only had four players who grabbed at least four rebounds a game this past season: Griffin, Paul, C DeAndre Jordan, and SF Matt Barnes. Los Angeles absolutely needs a frontline contributor coming out of this draft – it’s just a shame they won’t be able to acquire the top forward available in free agency.


Oklahoma City Thunder (#21, #29): The Thunder have MVP small forward Kevin Durant, who is entering his seventh season in Oklahoma City with PG Russell Westbrook. Even with Westbrook missing so much time during the season, the Thunder finished 5th in free throws attempted this past season, with Durant leading the league in makes and attempts. While Oklahoma City has a top-ten defense anchored by PF Serge Ibaka, they finished 28th in personal fouls, and swingmen such as Thabo Sefolosha and Caron Butler shouldn’t be relied on next year. The Thunder have used late first round picks on Perry Jones and Andre Roberson, but they could still stand to add another wing defender who can stay on the floor for more than 25 minutes.


San Antonio Spurs (#30, #58, #60): Another under discussed secret of the Spurs defense is their ability not to foul, ranking second in that department. That offset the fact that the Spurs were last in free throws attempted, the first NBA champion to pull that off since the 1969-1970 Knicks. While small forward Kawhi Leonard was the Finals MVP, the Spurs could look to add another wing scorer, especially with 2013 first round pick Livio Jean-Charles blowing his knee out in July. It will also be interesting to see if key reserves Boris Diaw and Patty Mills return as free agents. And don’t look now, but head coach Gregg Popovich is entering a contract year, and the only player under contract beyond next season is C Tiago Splitter. The Spurs have never won back-to-back titles – successful or not, is next year the end of the line?

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Next season will be the 13th year that these 3 will be together - and it could be the last.

Next season will be the 13th year that these 3 will be together – and it could be the last.


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  1. NBA 2014 Summer Moves: Western Conference »

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  2. NBA 2014 Summer Moves: Eastern Conference »

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