NBA playoff teams face pivotal summers

by Max Kanefield | 5/22/16 6:20pm

The four NBA powerhouses battling for the Larry O’Brien Trophy seem to have grabbed the attention of the basketball and sports world. But for the majority of basketball fans, the season has already ended. We take a look at six playoff teams facing pivotal summers that will shape the trajectory of their respective franchise.

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons have a great young core with NBA rebounds leader Andre Drummond, floor general Reggie Jackson, swingman Ersan Illyasova and newly acquired small forward Tobias Harris. They are strong defensively, because they are young, hungry and athletic. On the offensive side of the floor, however, they need development from more than just one-dimensional players. Their success next year will hinge on 2015 first round draft pick Stanley Johnson’s development. As a 6-foot 7-inch swingman already tasked with defending opponent’s top scorers, he needs to develop an offensive game. If the Pistons want to succeed next season, their young core must develop from hungry and athletic to sharp and skilled.

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers already took a massive step forward this past year through the recovery of Most Valuable Player-caliber forward Paul George from injury. They relied on an versatile back court that featured George, George Hill and Monta Ellis, presenting challenging matchups for opponents in the back court. But when they lost David West to the San Antonio Spurs in the free agency last summer, they lost their only scoring option in the front court. This past season, they filled that void with rookie Myles Turner and Ian Mahinmi. While both provide defense, they are extremely limited. The Pacers will look at Turner to develop an offensive game that will help them challenge teams in the postseason.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics already have perhaps the most important building block for a title contender — 39-year-old head coach Brad Stevens, who previously led mid-major Butler University to back-to-back NCAA tournament title appearances. Stevens’ team does not have a traditional superstar. The fifth seed in the Eastern Conference in this year’s playoffs, the Celtics were one of the most inexperienced teams. Their young roster built an identity around defense, hustle and teamwork. Their skillset, however, did not translate to success from beyond the arc, where they posted a third-worst in the league 33.5 percent 3-point percentage.

The Celtics have eight picks in the 2016 NBA draft — three in the first round and five in the second, making up the biggest stockpile in the NBA. They should invest in players who can come in as rookies and knock down threes at a high rate.

Houston Rockets

Dwight Howard could be on the way out, and that might not be a bad thing for the Rockets. While Celtics showed off some team-first basketball, the Rockets showed virtually none. The Rockets rode their starting five to a playoff appearance, but their bench is simply not good or experienced enough. NBA veteran Jason Terry, who anchored the Houston bench this past year, has logged more seasons in the league than fellow Rockets bench players K.J. McDaniels, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Sam Dekker, Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell combined. This team, to put it simply, is not built for success. This offseason, they need to build a roster that better fits a slashing and isolation-heavy superstar like James Harden.

Portland Trailblazers

The Trailblazers sit in one of the best spots of any team in the NBA. Projected as a team destined for the lottery, they earned a five seed in the Western Conference behind their explosive young duo. Damian Lillard has become a star, and C.J. McCollum won this year’s Most Improved Player award. In the playoffs, they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers and hung tough against the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. They are a team with plenty of cap space to go after a big man like Joakim Noah or Al Horford and fight for home court advantage in next year’s playoffs.

But the Trailblazers, one of the youngest teams in the league, could be even better. While none of their role players project as superstars, they could develop into key cogs. With McCollum’s contract up after next year, they could be looking at signing him to a max deal. If they invest in a pricey free agent this summer, they could limit their flexibility in the down the road. The future is bright in Portland, and there’s no need to mortgage it for the present.

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks are one of the few teams riding out the twilight of their franchise superstar’s career. They received yet another strong season from 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki and paired an interesting mix of young energizers, including rookie Justin Anderson, with banged-up veterans, such as Deron Williams. The mixture, along with some of head coach Rick Carlisle’s magic, did just enough to earn Dallas the seventh seed in the Western Conference, where they were steamrolled by the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. This team needs to get younger and, above all else, begin the search to find Nowitzki’s replacement as the Mavericks’ icon and leader.