With the 2011 NBA Season in the books and the Dallas Mavericks crowned champions; it’s never too early to start looking to next year and seeing how this year’s playoff teams look going into the offseason. Is their team stock rising or dropping? Are there best years ahead of them or is their championship window closed?
Part I: Bottom Half of the East
Indiana Pacers: While the Pacers looked like a young, upstart team the truth of the matter is they are missing the most important piece. They don’t have a go-to scorer, and while Danny Granger is a scorer he wasn’t able to step up in the fourth and the Pacers suffered late game collapses because of it. With Darren Collison, Roy Hibbert and Paul George playing along with Granger the Pacers do have a nice young nucleus. While the young core in Indy looks promising, without getting “That Guy” the Pacers will continue to fight it out around the bottom half of the playoff picture in the East. Sadly and quite honestly, I could see this team back in the lottery next year in favor of teams like the Bucks, Bobcats and Nets.
Stock: Leveling out
Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers somehow seem to end up in the playoff mix year in, year out. Going forward this team is going to have to make a decision on Andre Igoudala. They draft Evan Turner with the second overall pick just last year and he has the same skill set and plays the same position as Igoudala. They have a logjam at the point with both Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams, two young guys who still need to develop. The problem is how either develops with the other there. They are not going to be looking at any cap space until at least next year, but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily be able to lure a big time free agent. They were actually one of the hotter second half teams last year, but they could be headed for a roster shake up. Even if they keep the same roster, I still see this team as a bottom playoff team with no legitimate chance of advancing in the playoffs.
New York Knicks: Probably one of the most intriguing teams heading into next year. How will the nucleus of Carmelo Anthony, Amare Staudemire, and Chauncey Billups fare? We saw both good and bad from them this year, and even saw flashes of them being a top team. Will they be able to pick up some defenders in the offseason? Quite honestly they might be able to outscore weaker teams, but that strategy won’t work against the Bulls, Celtics or Heat. We saw last year Amare fade as the season played out, with Melo there from the beginning he will be able to pace himself better. I see them evolving into a top 4 team in the East, but without an improvement on the defensive end they will not be a serious contender.
Atlanta Hawks: This offseason could see the end of the Josh Smith era in Atlanta. With rumors of change coming to the roster, the most tradable asset becomes Smith. Joe Johnson is severely overpaid, and Al Horford is still very young and plays a position that is scarce in the NBA. The question now becomes whether Hawks management feels that the Jeff Teague that showed up against Chicago is the real Jeff Teague or not. The guy who showed up against the Bulls was going head up against Derrick Rose and playing well doing so. He showed more than just scoring ability, he was damn near dominating the game for the Hawks. If the Hawks believe that Teague can continue that play it makes you wonder whether or not they give it one more try with this group of guys. One guy surely on the way out is Jamal Crawford, he is simply going to cost too much for Atlanta to retain, so they are going to have to hope Hinrich can provide scoring off the bench or address it in the draft.