1. Oklahoma City Thunder
Quick Recap: Start of the season: “Can they survive without James Harden?”
Few weeks in: “No wonder they let Harden go, Ibaka is a beast!”
Mid season: “Durant is on another level, Westbrook is finally distributing the ball”
Going into playoffs: “OKC-Miami Finals, write it down!”
Westbrook gets hurt- *blood curdling scream* “Why?! Oh, the humanity!” 1
Now: “Is Durant going to be the next ringless superstar ala Barkley or Malone?”
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MVP: KD baby! It’s scary to think that, after earning three scoring titles in a row, Durant is still getting better. His passing and playmaking abilities were noticeably better this season (career high in assists), as was his rebounding in big situations (9 RPG in playoffs). On top of that he became the sixth member of the 50-40-90 club.
What they need to do next: For the love of god, please amnesty Kevin Perkins. They owe him $17 million over the next two seasons and he’s completely useless at both ends of the court. If they can use that money to sign a willing bench player to go with now-matured Reggie Jackson2 then the Thunder can (maybe) move past the Harden debacle. Especially if Perry Jones or Doran Lamb can contribute in their second year.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Recap: What a season by the Spurs. Every year, people are ready to write this team off. Too old, not athletic enough, Tony Parker isn’t a top 5 point guard3. Same stories, different year. Duncan turned back the clock and averaged 17.8 and 9.9 with 2.7 blocks. He also shot a career high from the free throw line at 82%. I think he cemented his legacy as the best player of his generation4. I think Kawhi Leonard changed the non-athletic part. He had a good season but really established as a star in the playoffs, going toe-to-toe with LeBron. He looks ready to be the face of the franchise. Tiago Splitter, Danny Green & Gary Neal had very nice seasons as role players and there was a time in the playoffs where Green & Neal couldn’t miss from 3. Finally, TP is a top 5 PG and was a dark horse MVP candidate before LeBron decided he wanted to go crazy.
MVP: Tony Parker 20.3 ppg, 7.6 apg 52% from the field.
Next Step: We could be seeing an end of an era in San Antonio. There is talk of Duncan, Ginobili, and Pop retiring, but I can’t imagine they go out like that5. I can’t even imagine the Spurs without Timmay or Pop. I think Pop and Duncan definitely stay but that Manu takes a hard look at retiring. He looked old this whole season, and that was before his terrible finals performance. He is a free agent and will definitely make less than the $14 million he made this year, if he comes back. Splitter is a free agent, and may have played himself into too big of a contract for the Spurs to match. Parker & Duncan will be 1 year older, but the Spurs are the Spurs and anyone would be dumb to count them out while Duncan, Pop & Parker are leading them.
3. Denver Nuggets
Recap: The Nuggets were my favorite team to watch this year6. They averaged the most points per game basically because all they did was run. Nine players averaged 8+ ppg. JaVale McGee actually had a good season. Ty Lawson proved that short, fast people can be successful. Iggy and Brewer stole every ball that cam their way. They had a guy named Manimal, what more could you ask for out of a team? They were 38-3 at home!!! This finally felt like the season the Nuggets would do something in the playoffs. Nope, Gallo got injured and the Nuggets fell to the Warriors Steph Curry.
MVP: Ty Lawson 16.7 ppg, 6.9 apg shot 46% from the field which is pretty good for being listed as 5’11”
What do they do next? Well apparently the first round loss didn’t sit well with the Nuggets because they let their GM leave, (executive of the year) fired George Karl (coach of the year)7, and Andre Iguodala has been rumored to opt-out of his deal. The biggest offseason task is obviously resigning Iguodala, who might be the only player on the team who likes playing defense. Next year, look for Evan Fournier to have a larger role.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
Recap: The Clippers season was a success and a failure at the same time. One on hand, they won their first ever division title and had a 17 game winning streak, but the playoffs were another story. In a year where the Western Conference was wide open (no Westbrook, the Lakers were starting a D-League roster8) they lost in the first round, and looked terrible in doing so. Blake Griffin continued to evolve his game by adding a midrange jumper, but it still seems like he cares more about dunking than rebounding and blocking shots.
MVP: Cliff Chris Paul 16.9 ppg, 9.7 apg, 2.4 spg, became a State Farm Agent.
What do they do next?: While these Doc, Pierce, and KG rumors to the Clippers are juicy, they will be irrelevant if the Clips can’t re-sign CP3. Deandre Jordan9/ Lamar Odom were a terrible offensive rotation at center and that has to be upgraded. Also Blake needs to learn some post moves and toughness. They need fewer players to be honest. It seems like every game, someone who played the game before got a DNP. Prediction time! Going out on a huge limb, but I think that CP3 stays in Lob City. He has to like the trade for Doc Rivers as Vinny Del Negro obviously wasn’t doin’ it for him. He is the top PG in the game and the Clippers need him.
5. Memphis Grizzlies
Quick Recap: After a midseason trade that sent Rudy Gay packing and brought in veteran Tayshaun Prince the Grizzlies’ defense became an absolute monster. So much so that I compared them to the 2004 Detroit Pistons and predicted them to take out the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. This, like most things I predict, did not happen. Regardless, the Grizzlies have a good core. It’s offensively challenged, but good.
MVP: Marc Gasol is one of the few centers in the league that you can run an offense through consistently. He has become a force at the high block with his pinpoint, inventive passes (best passing big man in the league in my opinion) and flat-footed jumper. Oh yeah and he won Defensive POY so I guess there’s that.
What they need to do next: They need to get some outside scoring preferably from the wing positions. Prince and Allen are both great defenders but when the playoffs come around their inconsistency beyond the arc allows defenses to collapse down on Gasol and Randolph which shuts down their offense. However with very little financial freedom look for Memphis to take a shot at a pure shooter of the Kyle Korver or Mike Dunleavy ilk.
6. Golden State Warriors
This Season: A great playoff run capped a very solid season from the soon to be “most-watched-team-on-league-pass” and “most hyperbolized” team in the league. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and David Lee led a team that has been terrible for years into the second round and played San Antonio tough. It’s easy to gush over this team – who make shooting threes look like layups, and make layups look rarer than catching a wild Abra (but seriously Abra, if you teleport one more time while I’m trying to imprison you in one of my pokeballs, I’m going to chuck my Gameboy out the window and throw a tantrum for the rest of this road trip) – but some perspective tells us this team needs some fine-tuning to really compete for titles.
Next Season: Unfortunately for the Warriors, their collection of bigs (ironically the weakest part of the team) is costing them more than a Kimye baby shower. With Andres Biedrins no doubt picking up his $9 million player option for next year (that’s not a typo, 9 mil for Andres!!) and Lee and Andrew Bogut making about $30 million combined next year, more than half of their cap space is eatin up by guys they don’t really need to play in the system. Sure, Lee was an All-Star, but that’s doesn’t make up for the other two. The worst part of it all is GS will have to let Jarret Jack and Carl Landry (they’re only two bench players) walk in free agency. So while the core should be a little better next year, losing their bench and not having a single draft pick, or the flexibility to sign a free agent, will result in the Warriors taking a slight step back.
7. Los Angeles Lakers
MVP: Kobe Bryant: 27.3/5.6/6.0 – 23.0 PER
This Season: A season that began with title expectations ended with a sound four-game sweep to the eventual Western Conference champ Spurs. Following an off-season where LA acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the Lakers stumbled all the way up until the end of the year when they somehow clinched the 7th seed in the final week of the season. Injuries, egos and a major coaching switch up turned a team most people had penciled in for at least the finals before the year began, into a team with more questions than answers going forward.
Next Season: The biggest questions for the Lakers concern Kobe, Dwight and Pau Gasol. It’s amazing to think there is a small chance NONE of them will be back next year (though gun to my head, I think they’re ALL back next year). Dwight could leave, Pau could be traded and Kobe could be amnestied (saving the Lakers almost $60 in one year once the luxury tax is factored in). Will any of that happen? Who knows. Even if they all return, it will likely be a struggle for this team to even make the playoffs. I won’t count them out, but for the first time since Shaq left, the Lakers future seems very murky.
8. Houston Rockets
MVP: James Harden: 25.9/4.9/5.8 – 23.0 PER
This Season: What a season for the Rockets. Desperate to obtain a superstar last off-season they made a huge deal to land a guy who, at the time, was an incredible 6th man, borderline star, and facial-hair god. What happened was the cocooning and birthing of a beautiful, albeit even hairier, NBA superstar – all in about the span of 3 weeks. This was the season of James Harden, and this was the season of Darryl Morey outsmarting the seemingly un-outsmartable Sam Presti, acquiring the best 2-guard in the league (in the next 5 years) for a handful of nothing. Not only did they secure their future, but the Rockets even made a push and competed valiantly in the first round of the playoffs.
Next Season: The Rockets face another off-season of Dwight Howard hysteria and whether they land him or not, this team is headed for improvement next year. Adding Howard would be huge, but unless he’s the 2009/2010 Howard, not adding him might be the smarter move. Their core will continue to get better and hopefully Thomas Robinson can figure it out enough to throw up 12-8 every night. Depending on whom they target in free agency, their game plan may change, but they’ll still ride another wave of 3s to a middle seed next year and most likely advance to the second round. They either go for broke with Howard this year, or save some cash for 2014.
9. Utah Jazz
MVP: Al Jefferson: 17.8/9.2/2.1 – 20.9 PER
This Season: Utah had a very blah season. They were in the hunt for much of the year and took a massive nose-dive at the end to miss the playoffs. Because they were in contention, they refused to trade one or two of their impressive 4-man stable of bigs and will have to let Jefferson and/or Millsap walk for nothing. And was there any team more boring to watch than the Jazz this year? Probably, but it’s damn close.
Next Season: With the final lottery pick the popular choice has been a PG for the Jazz who will most likely let Mo Williams walk this off-season. Whether it’s Shane Larkin or the kid from Germany, they probably will try to address that need. A sleeper could be Shabazz Muhammed if he drops, to add some much needed wing scoring and excitement to the stalest team this side of Philadelphia. And they will either overpay Big Al and/or Millsap, or overpay FA’s at different positions. I predict they make a run at Andre Iguodala.
10. Dallas Mavericks
Recap: The Mavs basically gave up on this season before it started. Dirk was surrounded by 1-year contracts because the Mavs want Dwight and/or CP3. The Mavs missed the playoffs for the first time since 2000. Vince Carter was all of a sudden relevant, and they started Mike James at point guard. (Yes the Mike James that played for the Pistons back in the day) O.J. Mayo was actually pretty good, and looks like he will receive a nice contract this year. Dirk was injured and then he was typical Dirk, shooting fadeaways on 1 leg. Let’s get to next season.
MVP: Dirk’s beard. Seriously check this thing out.
What do they do next?: Dallas placed all their eggs in this summer’s free agency basket, but it looks like they strike out with both Paul and Howard. There is talk of Dirk saying that when he is a free agent after the 2013-2014 season, he will take a small contract to help sign some big free agents. I think that Cuban entertains this idea, and again loads up on 1-year deals. They actually have a lottery pick for a change so it will be interesting if they use it or trade it. Weird times in the D-town.
11. Portland TrailBlazers
Quick Recap: After starting the season 25-23 the Blazers hit a little bit of a rough stretch. An 8-26 rough stretch. However, they were also the only team in the league to have four different players average 34+ minutes per game and each one of them is 27 or younger (Aldridge, Lillard, Batum, Matthews). So at least they have something to build around.
Team MVP: Damian Lillard. Good news: Fourth unanimous ROY in history and one of four rookies in history to average 19 ppg and 6.5 apg with Oscar Robertson, Allen Iverson and Damon Stoudamire being the other three. Bad News: He looked more like Damon Stoudamire than the other two guys. That’s not to say that he can’t evolve into something better but a lot of his numbers seem to come from the fact that he led the league in minutes played.
What they need to do next: There are rumors that Lamarcus Aldridge could be moved soon. With him being young, tall, and proven he should bring a top ten pick back at the very least. But if Aldridge is unhappy they need to move on and anoint Lillard as their man. Other than that the Blazers clearly have a game plan for the future, they just need to get some depth and veteran leadership to help those young players continue to grow.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves
by Drew (the only Timberwolves fan left…)
MVP: Nikola Pekovic: 16.3/8.8/3.7(O-Reb) – 20.2 PER
This Season: Another disappointing season for the Timberwolves – in a way. Since Kevin Garnett left the team in 2007, the Wolves have been terrible. They have had zero talent and made more mistakes in the draft than anyone this side of the Clippers. However, this year was their best record since 07, and it wasn’t talent that hurt them this year: it was being literally hurt that hurt them. At one point during the run-up to the All-Star break (when playoff teams start playing well) the Twolves had over 70ppg of their lineup sitting behind the bench in street clothes. It’s hard to win with that kind of injury plague.
Next Season: Another off-season equals another attempt to hope for the best. With disgraced GM David Khan out of the way, the Wolves look to make an impact move with two first rounder’s (9 & 26) and by possibly adding a key FA. As this is my team, I will give my opinion on what they should do. I would try and trade up to draft Oladipo or Maclemore (giving up Derrick Williams to do it). If not, draft KCP or Shabazz Muhammed – this team desperately needs a scorer. I would resign Nikola Pekovic. I would, depending on whom they draft, give JJ Redick or OJ Mayo a serious offer (the Wolves ranked dead last in 3-point shooting this season). Any of those moves, combined with Love and Rubio returning to 100% will put the Wolves in playoff contention, which is a good start for a franchise so long on the ropes.
13. Sacramento Kings
Quick Recap: Despite finishing near last place in the standings the Kings and their players actually led the league in a lot of promising categories. Their “star” Demarcus Cousins led the league in suspensions (three), technical fouls (17, one away from a mandatory suspension), and was second in ejections (4). Kings management led the league in recent lottery picks being traded away for nothing (5th overall Thomas Robinson traded to “save money”). The Kings also led the league in rumors about moving cities when there were talks about going back to Seattle. So don’t worry Kings fans, there are things to look forward to with this team.
Team MVP: Does it really matter who I pick? Is it Cousins with all of his issues? Tyreke Evans, who’s points, rebounds, and assists have each dropped for four consecutive years? I’ll just give it to recently fired head coach Keith Smart for not murdering any of these clowns and then getting the hell out of town.
What they need to do next: Part ways with Boogie Cousins. In the alleged words of Kevin Garnett he is a cancer to his team and the league. He has proven time and time again that he cannot act adult enough to build a team around. He acts like a gigantic child. Lucky for the Kings, he’s also a 22 year old double double machine and trading him would guarantee a big return.
14. New Orleans
Quick Recap: Even before Anthony Davis got hurt practicing with the Olympic squad, the Hornets didn’t have the highest expectations. This was definitely a rebuilding year but they took some positives away from it. 1st overall pick Davis, despite struggling with injuries, averaged 13, 8 and 2 blocks and had a couple monster games (20, 18 @ MEM, 23,11,5 blocks against CHA, and 20,11,4 blocks against GSW to name a few). In his first year as a full time starter, Greivis Vasquez led the league in total assists (while averaging 9.0 per game) and Ryan Anderson continued his incredible three point shooting. Who cares if Austin Rivers may have had the worst season of all time?
Team MVP: Greivis Vasquez. He put up great numbers and played consistent basketball even though Davis and Gordon missed a combined 58 games.
What they need to do next: I think we can all agree that the first thing they need to do is change their name to something clunky that doesn’t roll of the tongue. Oh they did that? Well then the Pelicans are already half way there. Next they need to continue developing Davis, keep him healthy in the offseason and maybe convince him to shave. If they can draft an immediate contributor 6th overall, get Austin Rivers his confidence back, and move Eric Gordon for more picks or at least someone that can stay on the court for a full season then in a couple years this could be a playoff team.
15. Phoenix Suns
Quick Recap: The Suns came in dead last in the West but at least they have no clear plan for the future. They just have a bunch of role players that have maxed out their talent. Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, and Luis Scola are what they are. They aren’t going to suddenly bloom into building blocks. Yet all five of them were in the top eight in minutes played and each started at least 20 games this year. What are you doing?
Team MVP: Goran Dragic. You could see Dragic coming into his own a little more this past year. He led the team in points and assists (14.7 and 7.4) as he established himself as the focal point of the offense. If you watch his game you can really see the influence Steve Nash had on him when Dragic backed him up in his first stint with Phoenix.
What they need to do next: This is much easier said than done but Phoenix needs to get a plan in place. No doubt this starts by nailing the 5th overall pick this year. They will also likely move Marcin Gortat, most likely for draft picks either this year or next. But put simply, as of right now, Phoenix has a few terrible years in their near future.
1. Ok, a Hindenburg shout out might be overkill. And just slightly insensitive.
2. The pressure cooker that is the NBA playoffs can do that to a player.
3. He’s second only to Chris Paul in my opinion.
4. Yes, over Kobe “Let Me Ride Shaq’s Coattails” Bryant
5. I would have bet anything that Duncan would have made that 4 foot lay-in over Battier.
6. 2nd favorite Nuggets team ever behind the 2008-2009 team with Melo, J.R. Billups, Birdman and K-mart.
7. Seriously, is Red Auerbach walking through the door or something?
8. The Lakers seriously played Darius Morris, Jodie Meeks, and Andrew Goudelock significant minutes in the playoffs.
9. What a bad contract. Maybe they thought they were signing Michael Jordan