Dallas has had the title for almost a week now, and already we’re hearing about what the Heat need to change to win it all next year, what the Lakers need to change to rise again, who Dallas returns and if their core will be too old, changes LeBron doesn’t want to make, etc.
We got odds for the 2012 Championship (Heat, Lakers, Bulls, Thunder all before Mavericks), so I guess it’s time to start considering what adjustments each contender needs to make in order to improve their run at the title next season.
Finish in 2011: NBA Finals, 58-24
Issues and Adjustments for 2012: What needs to change with this team (and LeBron James) has already been written about ad nauseam, so let’s just recap the key points you’ve been hearing for over a week.
1) James has issues when the going gets tough in the playoffs. Considering next year will be his ninth season in the league and he’s made comments indicating he doesn’t feel he needs to change anything, his post-season meltdowns probably aren’t magically turning around quickly. 2) Neither James or Wade are good outside shooters, and when franchises build super teams like the Celtics did just a few years ago, it seems like you need at least one of the guys to spread the floor with his jumper. 3) Outside of the Big Three, the Heat desperately need three-point shooters and tough interior players who can rebound and play defense. They’re on the books in 2011-12 for over $65 million already, so the new CBA certainly won’t help them pick up quality versions of these obvious needs. 4) Miami is in no position to make any meaningful trades or draft picks this summer. All this being said, the only thing that is within their control to change is James. His game has obvious holes but he’s not evolving, and his head seems to be built more for marketing himself than for winning Championships. If the guy who coined his own “King James” nickname in high school can ever get out of his ivory tower long enough to realize his development is the key to this franchise winning a ring, they will.
Finish in 2011: Eastern Finals, 62-20
Issues and Adjustments in 2012: The Bulls had the league’s top record during the regular season chiefly due to defense and rebounding. This isn’t even debatable, yet the MVP narrative that was created around Derrick Rose became one of the biggest stories of the year and caused him to think he could do it all by himself. His shooting percentage in 2010-11 dropped to 45% and he had a pedestrian Assist-Turnover rate for a PG (7.7 to 3.4), but when the playoffs hit he only held onto the ball more and forced the action even worse than before. He predictably shot worse (40% FG, 25% 3FG), and at the same time Carlos Boozer came up with nothing on the offensive end. Boozer was brought in to be the other big scorer, but he actually fell far behind Luol Deng’s 16.9 ppg in the playoffs. Not only that, but all of the playoff teams started playing as hard as Chicago did during the regular season, so the Bulls lost that advantage.
Moving forward, I believe they have everything they need to advance into the Finals, and the changes are fairly clear. Rose needs to be more of a distributor than a hero-scorer because he becomes terribly inefficient when doing so if he doesn’t get to shoot 20 free throws. Collapse the defense and kick it to your many 3-point shooters or dump it off to Boozer or Joakim Noah for shots near the rim. The other change is that Boozer needs to score more; this could be tricky because we never have a clue how injured he’ll be in any given year or how it will affect his scoring. If he can have another one of his healthy seasons (of which 5 of his 9 have been) and see more of the ball so that Rose doesn’t finish second in the league in missed shots again (886 to Kobe’s 899), this should happen. Keep in mind they were within just a few points of having a 3-2 lead on Miami, so they’re closer than you might think.
Finish in 2011: Eastern Semi-finals, 56-26
Issues and Adjustments in 2012: The core of four is still a good one, so that’s the reason they’ll be a contender again. The problems, however, are all linked back to that missing hole in the middle that was once Kendrick Perkins’ toughness and defense. He’s gone, and so is the center who replaced him; Nenad Krstic signed with a Russian team and is leaving the NBA. Jermaine O’Neal is still around, so that’s…something. They did well for years with a big-bodied, defensive-minded, rebound-grabbing center who could provide the frontcourt bite to KG’s bark. Not only that, backup PF/C Glen Davis who also added a lot of heft could be gone to free agency, especially since the C’s already owe everyone else around $65 million.
It is imperative that Boston does whatever it takes to get some large defenders in the middle who will be willing to bang some heads while going for rebounds. It’s tough to figure out where they’ll get them from since trades and decently paid free agents won’t really be possible, but Danny Ainge worked some magic back in 2007, so now’s the time to work it again if they don’t intend to waste the last season KG and Ray Allen are under contract.
Finish in 2011: First-round exit, 52-30
Issues and Adjustments in 2012: Many people think Orlando’s window as a contender is closed, but any club with the lone center in the league that virtually any team could build both its defense and offense around will always have a chance. The main issues are obvious: almost everyone not named Dwight Howard has either glaring consistency issues with their jumper or glaring capability issues with their perimeter defense. If the guys surrounded Howard are having trouble shooting, the big man gets double teamed and turns the ball over.
If the guys surrounding Howard can’t disrupt opposing shooters on the perimeter, then the opponents won’t try to get the ball into the paint where the 3-time Defensive Player of the Year makes his money. The Magic need reasonably athletic shooters on the wing who can defend – guys like Mickael Pietrus who they traded away mid-season. With virtually everyone signed for the next two years (except Jason Richardson, who is now a free agent) and a bloated payroll filled with nearly untradeable pieces, fans are turning on GM Otis Smith for good reason. The only hope is that Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu come out of their late-career haze (I’m not buying it, either), and the rest of the bunch can start hitting 3’s again after their torrid post-season display. If Orlando can manage to nab even one athletic perimeter defender who can guard opposing SG’s and SF’s, that should go a long way toward easing the burden this current roster is upon Howard’s bulging shoulders.