All The Fixings: 5 NBA teams in need of help entering the 2015-16 season
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By ALAN GOLDSHER
Last week, FanDuel Senior Writer Alan Goldsher looked at six NBA teams who are poised to take a giant leap forward. Today, he'll examine five teams that have taken a couple steps back, and offer suggestions on how they can return to form.
2014-15 RECORD: 60-22
KEY ADDITIONS: Tim Hardaway Jr. (acquired from New York in trade), Tiago Spitter (free agent)
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: DeMarre Carroll
WHAT HAPPENED?: Nothing, really. Sure, losing Carroll to the Raptors was a massive bummer—before spraining his knee in Game 1 the Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland, DeMarre was having an insane playoff run that saw him average 17 points and seven boards—but a draft night trade with the Knicks landed them Tim Hardaway Jr., which incrementally softened the blow. However, Atlanta was exposed in the playoffs by not only the Cavs during the series sweep, but also in round two by the Washington Wizards. Yes, the Hawks beat the Wizards 4-2, but John Wall et al bullied them for six tough games, so one can assume Atlanta will see plenty of physical play in the coming season. And they don't seem to dig physical play.
HOW CAN THEY FIX IT?: Right now, frankly, they can't. They are who they are, and there's nothing wrong with that—they're still an excellent team from top to bottom—but considering that both Cleveland and Chicago come into the season fully healthy, and Miami and Indiana have improved dramatically, there's no way Atlanta will come close to last year's 60-win total. The Hawks are about to enter basketball purgatory: Just good enough to sneak into the playoffs, but not bad enough to land a fortune-altering lottery pick.
2014-15 RECORD: 38-44
KEY ADDITIONS: Andrea Bargnani (free agent), Wayne Ellington (free agent), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (first-round draft pick)
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Alan Anderson, Kevin Garnett, Mason Plumlee, Mirza Teletovic, Deron Williams
WHAT HAPPENED?: After a meh regular season in which they managed to make the postseason thanks to a meh Eastern Conference, the Nets gave Atlanta all they could handle in their first round series, which made people forget how meh they actually were. Losing all of their depth in the middle (Plumlee, Garnett) will hurt them more than they realize, and without anybody to spell center Brook Lopez, they could find themselves regularly playing small ball, whether they like it or not.
HOW CAN THEY FIX IT?: Sadly, Brooklyn can't be fixed this year, so it's time to plan for the future. When healthy, Lopez is a hard-working semi-stud, so give him as much playing time as he can handle, and let the young guys—Hollis-Jefferson, Shane Larkin, Markel Brown, Bojan Bogdanovic—learn from Lopez's example while strutting their stuff. (At the very least, this will allow GM Billy King to determine if his kids have any stuff to strut.) And if they can somehow trade Joe Johnson for youngsters or draft picks, do it.
2014-15 RECORD: 50-32
KEY ADDITIONS: Justin Anderson (first-round draft pick), Zaza Pachulia (free agent), Wesley Matthews (free agent), Deron Williams (free agent)
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Al-Farouq Aminu, Tyson Chandler, Rajon Rondo, Brandan Wright
WHAT HAPPENED?: We're going to spare the feelings of our readers and not rehash the DeAndre Jordan saga. Suffice it to say that free agency was not kind to Dallas, and they were forced to make some moves they would've preferred not to make.
HOW CAN THEY FIX IT?: This year will probably be a wash—Dallas owner Mark Cuban has all but admitted as much—so the Mavs should let the roster have as much fun as possible. Give Dirk Nowitzki all the burn he wants, feed him the ball incessantly, and let him put up some career numbers. Give the sweet-shooting Matthews the green light from anywhere on the floor, including the other side of the court. Let multi-talented Chandler Parsons play all five positions in a single quarter. If they're going to go down, at least they can go down smiling.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
2014-15 RECORD: 51-31
KEY ADDITIONS: Al-Faruoq Aminu (free agent), Ed Davis (free agent) Gerald Henderson (acquired from Charlotte in trade), Mason Plumlee (acquired from Brooklyn in trade)
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews
WHAT HAPPENED?: In 1998, after they won their sixth championship, the Chicago Bulls watched Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson ride off into the sunset. Rather than rebuild around Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, they dumped everybody from their core other than Toni Kukoc, hired Tim Floyd to replace Jackson, and, in a strike-shortened season, compiled a miserable 13-37 record. The Blazers won't be that bad, as they managed to fill out their roster with players more qualified than ex-Bulls Kornel David, Rusty LaRue and Cory Carr, but in the rough and tumble Western Conference, the playoffs are probably a pipe dream.
HOW CAN THEY FIX IT?: The Blazers braintrust has made it clear they're comfortable giving Damian Lillard the keys to the car, and that makes perfect sense—he's a genuine all-star who's entering the early part of his prime. But Lillard, even with a prolific scorer like Aldridge by his side, has a Russell Westbrook-ian tendency to dominate the ball. Without another stud on the floor, defenses will key in on Lillard, so it's essential he gets his teammates involved, big-time. The Trail Blazers would be wise to give plenty of run to second-year combo guard C.J. McCollum, who, in Portland's playoff series loss to Memphis, averaged 17 points in 33 minutes. (Hey, here's a thought for Blazers coach Terry Stotts: Start C.J. in the backcourt with Lillard, and bring Henderson, a less-than-mercurial scorer, off the bench. You're welcome.)
2014-15 RECORD: 49-33
KEY ADDITIONS: DeMarre Carroll (free agent), Cory Joseph (free agent), Norman Powell (second-round draft pick)
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Amir Johnson, Lou Williams
WHAT HAPPENED?: The Wizards happened. When Washington swept Toronto out of the playoffs, it became painfully obvious that the Raptors, as constructed, were an average team who won nearly 50 games thanks in part to subpar competition. (They were 33-19 versus the East and 12-18 against the West.) With an improved Eastern Conference and no true starting power forward, a return trip to the playoffs for Drake's favorite squad is far from guaranteed.
HOW CAN THEY FIX IT?: Cross their fingers that DeMar DeRozan stays healthy, and if he does, ride him into the ground. (In 2013-14, DeRozan averaged 22.7 points in 38.2 minutes, plus he's only 25, so he can handle the workload.) Also, it would behoove them to acquire a legitimate starting four to replace Johnson, whose loss will be felt far more than anyone expects. Oh, and avoid the Wizards.