Saturday, October 18, 2014

2014-14 Season Preview: New York Knicks

Atlantic Division
Coach: Derek Fisher
Power Ranking: 21

Doesn't really seem like much happened with the Knicks in the off-season.  All they did was sign Phil Jackson as their GM, pick Derek Fisher to be their head coach, re-sign Carmelo Anthony to a massive five-year, $124M contract and trade Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton for Jose Calderon
and other assets.  While the change has been immense in New York, they lack the pieces to make Phil Jackson's vision become reality, and 2014-15 could be another development year for the Knicks.  Still on the Knicks' "to-do list" is the acquisition of a passing PF who can facilitate the Triangle offense, and finding depth up and down the roster.  

With Jackson and Anthony in tow, the Knicks are, if nothing else, relevant again.  Signing Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire to massive contracts set the Knicks back a few years, as they failed to provide reliable help to Carmelo Anthony.  In New York since the 2010-11 season, Melo has only produced one playoff series win (2012-13, Boston) and his squad failed to make the post-season last year.  With so much money invested in the team, a squandered season like last year's was bound to bring some changes.  Most of those changes came in the form of a front office and coaching shake-up, with major roster changes expected following this season.  The Knicks could conceivably cut up to $50 million dollars off of their payroll before the summer of 2015, as the bloated deals to Bargnani and Stoudemire both expire.  With all of that money freeing up, the Knicks are in a good position to make a run at any of the big name free agents likely to be available in 2015.  Don't be surprised if they make a run at (and possibly sign) a guy or two from the group of elite free agents, such as Rajon Rondo and Marc Gasol.  They will also likely be contenders for second-tier helpers such as Brook Lopez, Greg Monroe, Arron Afflalo and Paul Millsap.  With the light at the end of the tunnel, the Knicks may just be hoping that this season moves quickly.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Pistons Trade Will Bynum to Boston

According to Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston (via Hoops Rumors), the Pistons traded Will Bynum to the Celtics for reserve C Joel Anthony on Friday.  The deal doesn't come as a huge surprise, as Bynum had found himself on the outside looking in after the Pistons signed D.J. Augustin and drafted Spencer Dinwiddie over the summer.  Bynum was never going to fit in Stan Van Gundy's designs due to his lack of shooting ability, something that SVG covets in his PGs.  Any minutes Bynum figured to receive this season should easily be absorbed by Brandon Jennings, Augustin and Dinwiddie.

The Pistons acquired Anthony in order to bolster a frontcourt short on size after it was announced that Aaron Gray was suffering from a heart condition that may prevent him from playing this season.  With Gray sidelined, the Pistons options at C were confined to Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.  With Monroe also slated to play a good amount of minutes at PF, any instance of foul trouble or injury for Monroe or Drummond would leave the Pistons with no depth at C.  The Pistons had added Hasheem Thabeet to their camp roster, but he has only played five minutes this preseason, indicating that he hasn't given the coaching staff any reason to believe in him.  Detroit picked up Anthony to provide an insurance policy on Monroe and Drummond, something that they thought they had in Gray.

As far as what he brings on the court, Anthony doesn't have much to offer to the Pistons.  If you combine the best per-36 numbers Anthony has managed in his career into one stat line, you still only end up with a guy who's capable of 6.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks.  As you can see, Anthony does little from a scoring standpoint and isn't much of a rebounder.  He may offer some form of rim protection, but Anthony's best years appear to be behind him in that regard.  Anthony's best years as a shot blocker came between 2008 and 2010.  Whatever he does or doesn't offer on the court shouldn't affect the Pistons season much; if they're counting on Anthony to produce, something has gone horribly wrong with Monroe and/or Drummond.  On a normal day, Anthony is six fouls and a guy holding down a spot at the end of the bench.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

2014-15 Season Preview: Indiana Pacers

Central Division
Coach: Frank Vogel
Power Ranking: 22

It's awfully tough to have an off-season much worse than the Pacers had in the summer of 2014.  First, they lost their crazy, do-it-all SG, Lance Stephenson.  Although Stephenson had become a lightning rod for criticism due to his antics, he was the clear cut second option on the offensive end.  He was also the best perimeter defender on the league's best defense, drawing assignments on the other team's best scorer night-in and night-out.  Despite a loyalty to the organization, Stephenson signed with the Charlotte Hornets, after the Pacers refused to meet the demands of the dynamic, short fused wing.  That was only the start of the bad news for the Pacers this summer.

The Pacers off-season got worse with an injury to their bona fide superstar.  At a televised, late Friday night, pre-FIBA World Cup U.S. Men's National Team scrimmage in early August , Paul George suffered a gruesome leg injury after colliding with the stanchion attempting to block a shot.  Now George will likely miss the entire 2014-15 season with an open fracture of the tibia and fibula.  While Stephenson was important to the team's offense, George was the lifeblood that made it run.  Without Stephenson, a poor Pacers offense figured to get worse.  Without Stephenson AND George, the Pacers offense will likely be the worst in the league (unless Philly has something to say about that). 

Now the Pacers turn to off-season acquisition Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles to fill in on an offense suddenly without its two best options.  Stuckey never established himself as a go-to player with the Pistons, and that's not likely to change with Indiana, and Miles isn't exactly the kind of player you can run an offense through.  With Roy Hibbert attempting to rebound from a horrific second half of the season and playoff run, the Pacers offense likely falls on the broad shoulders of David West.  The 34 year-old West was reliable yet again last season, but with no threats on the perimeter this season, defenses may be able to key in on the only player on the roster who can score off of his own efforts.  The Pacers will need to band together to keep an already sinking offense afloat in 2014-15, a task that may be well out of their reach.

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Trade Suggestion: Hollis Thompson

With the announcement of a fracture in his lower back that will cause Jodie Meeks to miss at least eight weeks, the Pistons all of a sudden find themselves with only one true SG on the roster.  An eight week recovery would put Meeks' return at some point in the early or middle part of December, and cause him to miss over 1/4 of the season.  This leaves the team without its most established outside shooter, and once again puts the Pistons in a position where they may need more offense on the perimeter.  While 2nd round draft pick and lone Pistons rookie Spencer Dinwiddie will likely be cleared to play by the season opener, and Kyle Singler and Cartier Martin can spotlight at SG, should the Pistons go out and acquire a SG?

While Singler and Martin may be enough to stem the tide, I think that it may not be a horrible option, considering that Dinwiddie is unproven and coming off of an injury, and the two veteran options both lack true SG skills.  With KCP likely to return from his minor knee injury by the start of the season, the Pistons won't need a starter.  What they could use is another bench wing who can stretch the floor, who won't throw off team chemistry when his minutes are slashed upon Meeks' return at a TBD date in December.  I propose that this bench wing should be sharp-shooting Philadelphia 76ers' G/F Hollis Thompson.  Here's how the Pistons could acquire Thompson from the Sixers:

                   Pistons receive: G/F Hollis Thompson
Sixers receive: PG Will Bynum, PF Tony Mitchell, Pistons 2016 2nd Rd. pick

In this deal, the Pistons solve two different problems:  First, they add depth to a wing rotation that has already seen its fair share of injuries in the preseason.  This trade also solves the problem of having one too many players on the roster.  By trading from areas of depth (PG and PF), the Pistons are able to trim the roster down to 15 players without cutting a player on a guaranteed contract.  While it may sting a bit to give up a player like Tony Mitchell, with so much raw physical talent, receiving the 23-year old Thompson in return isn't necessarily a bad trade-off.  A deal of Mitchell for Thompson straight up would likely be a push.  Not having to pay Will Bynum the $3.25M he's owed this year is added sweetener for the Pistons in this deal, which causes the Pistons to throw in a 2nd round pick.  Adding incentive for the Sixers, getting rid of Thompson would eliminate the only source of outside shooting on the roster, helping their tanking effort.

So, what would make Thompson a good addition to the Pistons roster?  First and foremost, he's a knockdown shooter and has been for his entire basketball career.  In his three years at Georgetown, Thompson shot 43.8%, 45.7% and 43.0% from behind the arc on almost 300 total attempts over those three seasons.  As a rookie with Philly, Thompson shot 40.1% from deep on 167 attempts.  Thompson served as a stretch four with the Hoyas, and at 6'8 with a 6'10 wingspan, he has the size and versatility to play the two, three and even the four in a small-ball lineup.  While this puts Thompson in the same boat as Singler and Martin (not a true SG), he's more athletic than those two, and the Sixers are planning on starting him at SG this season, which displays their confidence in his ability to play the position.

The other aspect of what would make Thompson a good pick-up is that he's cheap, both in terms of cost of acquisition and in terms of what he's due to be paid in the coming season and beyond.  As you can see above in the proposed deal (which I assume to be a reasonable asking price), the Pistons wouldn't have to give up anything that would upset the team's current makeup.  Thompson also comes with a very favorable contract, one which will pay him less than $1M this season and next, and includes a team option in the summer of 2016, at a reasonable rate of $1,015,696.  If Thompson flops between now and then (highly unlikely considering his track record as a shooter), they're out what they would have had to pay Mitchell in the next two seasons.

If he's a welcomed addition to the roster, he becomes a very cheap replacement for soon-to-be free agent Kyle Singler.  As an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015, Singler could possibly receive a deal comparable, or larger than, the one that G/F C.J. Miles signed with the Pacers this off-season.  Miles signed a 4-year, $18M deal with the Pacers over the summer, which comes out to $4.5M per season, or about $3.5M more than you'd have to pay Hollis Thompson in 2015-16.  While at this point in his career, Singler is a more productive player than Thompson, I'd argue that he's not worth an additional $3.5M any day of the week.  Giving Thompson more of an edge over Singler, as a shooter, he's much more diverse.  Singler did the majority of his damage from the corners, and struggled from the wings and top of the key.  Thompson was capable from every spot last season, save for below average shooting from the left corner.  Considering he's yet to have a down year shooting the ball, Thompson is a safer bet if you're just looking for a guy to stretch the floor.

Considering the Pistons' reported interest in trading for Chase Budinger, it's no secret that they may be seeking help on the wing.  When healthy, Budinger is the better player at this point, but he's way more expensive than Thompson and would cost just as much, or more, to acquire.  If I were Stan Van Gundy (I could never be, because I can't grow a good stache), I would be putting my chips on the low-cost option, seeing as the player he may trade for will only be a necessity for as long as Meeks is out.  Rolling the dice on Thompson is a safe bet, and even if the move does fail, the only asset that seems like it would hurt to give up is a 2nd round pick.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

2014-15 Season Preview: Sacramento Kings

Pacific Division
Coach: Mike Malone
Power Ranking: 23

The Kings had an interesting off-season, letting DeMarcus Cousins favorite Isaiah Thomas go to the Suns for basically zero assets in return.  They then spent a lottery pick on a SG for the second year in a row, with Noah Vonleh on the board, who could have adequately filled their void at PF.  However, they rebounded from those mistakes by signing Darren Collison to a fair deal to replace Thomas, and added good depth with Ramon Sessions on a 2-year, $4.3M deal.  Now in the second year under Mike Malone, the Kings look to expand upon improved play after the acquisition of Rudy Gay in December of 2013.  While the improvements were only minimal (.300 Win Pct. without Gay, .355 with), Gay's production was much more in line with expectations after a horrific run in Toronto.

After flirting with a trade for Josh Smith on several occasions over the summer, the Kings are still thin in the frontcourt.  The lack of help for Cousins in the post may be the Kings' biggest weakness on an otherwise talented roster.  With Cousins at C and Gay at SF, you could argue that the Kings have a top five player at two separate positions, an argument most teams couldn't make.  However, they'll need production up and down the roster in order to compete in the Western Conference and improve on last year's 28 wins.  If the Kings can get quality play from one of their young SGs and find a PF who can provide reliable minutes, they may push over the 30 win mark for the first time since the 2007-08 season.


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Monday, October 13, 2014

2014-15 Season Preview: Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics
Atlantic Division
Coach: Brad Stevens
Power Ranking: 24

After five years with a core of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and a few years of Ray Allen, Boston decided last summer that it was time to enter re-build mode.  Rondo missed 52 games in the process of returning from a torn ACL.  Pierce and Garnett were shipped to Brooklyn before the season started, for a band of misfit players and three first round picks, in 2014, '16 and '18.  The deal is already starting to look like a steal for the 17-time NBA champions, even if it did contribute to the team missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007.  Garnett's game has deteriorated, and Pierce will be playing for Washington this season, leaving Brooklyn with nothing to show for the trade but one playoff series win.  A tip of the cap to Danny Ainge for initiating the re-build in great fashion, but he still has plenty of work left to do to restore Boston to playoff status in the Eastern Conference.

Just exactly what that work is has been unclear for the past few months; Boston has navigated the off-season delicately, only making minor moves in free agency.  One option would be to continue building a depth of assets to further fuel the re-build.  That strategy would begin with trading Rajon Rondo away before he becomes a free agent in the summer of 2015.  Rondo could fetch a nice return from a team with a need, or desire, to improve their play at the PG position.  Candidates for a trade include the Kings, Rockets, Mavericks and even the Pacers, who were linked to Rondo when the league calendar flipped at the start of July.  Those teams have wildly different levels of trade-worthy assets, but it wouldn't be surprising if Ainge would continue to add draft picks to the ones he already has stockpiled.  Boston owns as many as 9 first round picks in the next four drafts (protections on a pick from PHI will likely reduce this to 8), including a likely three firsts in the 2016 draft.  If Rondo is dealt, Boston will face a similar decision with F Jeff Green, whose value as an inefficient volume scorer could be tough to judge.  In any case, Boston has the assets with which to further a re-building effort.

The other option is to give Rajon Rondo another upper-echelon player to help him shoulder the load.  Kevin Love's name has come up repeatedly among C's fans, fueled by Love's weekend trip to Boston in early June, which involved taking in a Red Sox game with Rondo.  However, talks of the Celtics trading for Love have quickly evaporated since LeBron James signed with Cleveland, as the Love sweepstakes now appears to be down to the Cavs, Warriors and Bulls.  While the Celtics have assets to offer, they lack the contribution-ready young player(s) that Cleveland, Golden State and Chicago can offer the Wolves.  This leaves few other options on the trade market, unless Boston chooses to pursue a player or two from the NBA's second tier of solid players.  With Love out of their reach, it's hard to see the Celtics adding a big enough name to dissuade Rondo from testing free agency next summer.  If things aren't looking good come All-Star weekend, expect to see Rondo's name come up in trade rumors on a frequent basis.

Coached by ex-Butler whiz Brad Stevens, the Celtics will look to add a few victories to their meager 25 win total from last season and monitor the growth of their young core.  Kelly Olynyk (23 years old), Jared Sullinger (22) and Avery Bradley (23) will be joined by Marcus Smart (20) and James Young (19) to form a young stable of players who can contribute to a winning effort down the line.  With no pressure to win now, and practically no expectations of a playoff berth, Boston can afford to let this group figure out the NBA game at their own pace.  I'm far from a Celtics fan, but it's hard not to respect the patience and asset-building that Ainge has done in Boston's re-building period.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

2014-15 Season Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves

Northwest Division
Coach: Flip Saunders
Power Ranking: 25

The future is underway in Minnesota, as 2014-15 will be the first time a season starts without Kevin Love on the roster since 2007.  Love was dealt to the Cavaliers over the summer, in return for Thad Young, Anthony Bennett, and most importantly, the hope of the franchise: Andrew Wiggins.  The first overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft will be charged with leading the franchise into the future, as life after Love begins to take shape (sorry, sorry).  The Wolves are hoping that Wiggins can blend into the roster with Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Young and Nikola Pekovic, in order to avoid a full-on rebuilding project.  They're also hoping that Bennett, the first overall pick in 2013, can reconfigure his career after a horrendous NBA debut last season.  Bennett was a laughingstock with the Cavaliers, only playing 663 minutes and struggling to make any positive impact.  Nonetheless, the Kevin Love issue will no longer be the defining story for the Wolves.

With the Kevin Love issue resolved, the Wolves now move on to figuring out how to handle a contract extension for Ricky Rubio.  They'll also have to make a decision next summer on what to do with Thad Young, who will be an unrestricted free agent.  How this season plays out will likely have an effect on those decisions, as the Wolves aren't locked into either player right now.  The good news is, they did a great job handling the Kevin Love trade and received, in my opinion, top dollar for their best asset.  Whether that pays off in a playoff berth down the line, will be determined by what they can do to build around Wiggins.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

2014-15 Season Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

Pacific Division
Coach: Byron Scott
Power Ranking: 26

The Lakers continue to float between rebuilding and competing, held in basketball purgatory by the impact of Kobe Bryant's massive contract and aging joints.  Kobe is back this season, after only appearing in six games during the 2013-14 season.  He'll have to be in prime form for the Lakers to contend for a playoff spot in 2014-15, as the Lakers supporting cast is devoid of established NBA talent, aside from the aging Steve Nash and Carlos Boozer.  Nick Young looked like he was developing into a valuable contributor last season, however a thumb injury suffered in training camp will have him out until December.  Unless Boozer and Nash have found the fountain of youth, Kobe figures to be short on help this year.

The Lakers will be coached by journeyman Byron Scott, who hasn't lead a team to a winning record since the 2008-09 New Orleans Hornets.  Bryant, Nash and Boozer, Scott also appears to be well past his prime, as he hasn't shown any semblance of being able to coach since he was fired for not being able to get the Nets over the hump in the early 2000s.  His successful run in New Orleans coincided with Chris Paul's presence, creating a situation where it'd practically be harder to lose than to win.  In Los Angeles his pupil with star potential will be PF Julius Randle, who finds himself in a suddenly crowded front-court, fighting for time with Jordan Hill, Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis and Ryan Kelly.  Unless things go off the rails early, Randle may have to fight for his share of time in the post.  With Kobe still in town, the urgency for a youth movement may not be strong.  How much that delays his development will be seen in the coming months and years.  The impact of fighting off what seems like an obvious call to rebuild will also seen.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Talking Pistons with Behind The Buck Pass

Click on over to Behind The Buck Pass to catch my answers to some Pistons-related questions posed by Editor Joe Dexter in advance of tonight's pre-season tilt with Milwaukee.  Joe does a great job covering everything Bucks and has a wealth of information on the team as the season draws near.  Give him a follow on Twitter, @joedexter and make sure to check out Behind The Buck Pass on the FanSided network throughout the season.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

2014-15 Season Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

Central Division
Coach: Jason Kidd(!)
Power Ranking: 27

Hope seems like a fair word to use for Bucks fans after securing the 2nd overall pick in the draft this summer and selecting potential superstar Jabari Parker.  Even better for the small market Bucks, the 19-year old forward from Chicago wants to be in Milwaukee.  While they aren't exactly his hometown Bulls, Parker will enjoy Milwaukee's proximity to the Windy City and the ability to be the guy the offense runs through.  The Bucks don't boast a player with even similar talent on the perimeter, as Brandon Knight is still improving and Giannis Antetokounmpo remains a project.  This should make Parker "the man" right off the bat in Milwaukee, something that I believe fits his personality well.

Speaking of people who think they're "the man", Jason Kidd will be coaching the Bucks this season, after his own hubris saw himself forced out of Brooklyn.  The Bucks sent two 2nd round picks to the Nets (2015 and 2019) in return for the services of Kidd, who oversaw a ho-hum season in Brooklyn last year.  He's now the man responsible for molding a team around Parker that can be successful.  Kidd's coaching career is going to have to be much less eventful than it has been in the first 12 months if he's going to make progress with the Bucks.  On top of trying to force his way into the front office with the Nets, Kidd was also responsible for an embarrassing scandal that saw him tell G Tyshawn Taylor to knock a drink out of his hand and onto the court in order to stop play.  If we go back 27 months, Kidd's parade of excellent behavior includes a DUI/DWI arrest in the summer before his last season as a player.  Kidd will need to right himself before he can right the ship in Milwaukee.  He's certainly qualified as a basketball mind, but he needs to understand that leading is a big part of coaching.

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Sunday, October 5, 2014

2014-15 Season Preview: Utah Jazz

Northwest Division
Coach: Quin Snyder
Power Ranking: 28

The Jazz are at a bit of a crossroads heading into this season.  They have plenty of talent on the roster, but it's yet to be determined if they have enough to ever contend for a playoff spot with this group.  Derrick Favors is solid, but he hasn't lived up to what some saw as superstar potential when he entered the league.  Enes Kanter is a solid rotational big, but he has yet to show that he can be more than a role player.  Trey Burke was okay as a rookie, but he struggled to score efficiently.  Alec Burks is a nice player, but is he good enough to be a starter on this team?  They matched a max contract offer to Gordon Hayward this off-season, keeping the promising young wing from leaving for Charlotte.  However, that contract will look like less of a good idea if he doesn't bounce back from a down shooting year in 2013-14.

Also still to be seen is how Quin Snyder will handle the role of NBA head coach.  Snyder has worked his way back to primetime after a somewhat disgraced exit from his role as the head coach at Missouri.  Although Snyder was never proven to have a hand in any major violations at Mizzou, the lack of control within his program ultimately led to his demise.  After working himself back into good graces in the D-League, Snyder has bounced around as an assistant in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Moscow and Atlanta.  Now, he's the head man in Utah and has a major task on his hands: assembling the spare parts and pieces into something useful.  That task should be made easier if Dante Exum is what draft analysts claim him to be.  The dynamic 6'5 guard enters the season relatively untested after emerging as a major name out of Australia via the Nike Hoop Summit and strong performances in international play.  How he fits in the backcourt with Burke and Burks is yet to be seen.  However Snyder chooses to use him, Exum will likely add playmaking and length to a roster short on both.

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

2014-15 Season Preview: Orlando Magic

Southeast Division
Coach: Jacque Vaughn
Power Ranking: 29

The Magic enter their third season without Dwight Howard with considerably less established talent on the roster than in the previous two years.  Snubbed All-Star Arron Afflalo was dealt away for pennies on the dollar and long-running veteran PG Jameer Nelson was waived and has since landed with the Mavericks.  The loss of Afflalo figures to be the greatest change for the Magic this season, as he did it all for them in 2013-14.  The dynamic wing led the team in scoring, was a key cog in running the offense and was a great defensive mentor for Victor Oladipo on the perimeter.  He's back in Denver now, to be replaced by a combo of Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Mo Harkless and Evan Fournier, who was acquired as part of the return for Afflalo.

The youth movement did take a bit of a detour this off-season, as the Magic added veterans Channing Frye, Ben Gordon and Luke Ridnour to what is otherwise an inexperienced roster.  While the Magic overpaid for all three,  they figure to increase the learning pace for the young core.  Third-year coach Jacque Vaughn will also be tasked with increasing that pace as the front office will likely start to demand some return on their investment in years of rebuilding.  Vaughn's first season only yielded 20 wins, and he followed that with 23 wins in 2013-14.  Does he have enough in the cupboard to add a few more?  That all will likely hinge on how fast he can integrate some odd pieces into an offense that was one of the worst in the league last year.  Can he figure out where Aaron Gordon works best or will he just be the next Derrick Williams?  Between Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, who's the PG and where does the shooting come from?  The pressure could mount in year three for Vaughn if things don't improve and he fails to answer those and other questions.  The good news is that Nikola Vucevic is developing into one of the best young big men in the game, and they have a deep stock of other young, talented players to build upon.  If the Magic are going to build on last year's minor improvement, they'll need those young players to take the next step, as they can no longer rely on Arron Afflalo to shoulder the load.

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