4. Mitch Kupchak/Jim Buss
Lakers fans would probably be fine with having this past year washed from their memories completely. Watching Kobe average 40 points per game in his last two outings of the season while the rest of his team failed to support the effort was almost unbearable. Trading Lamar and Fischer for chump change? Being content with Sessions as the big trade deadline acquisition? These aren’t the usual trends of one of the league’s most illustrious franchises, but as long as number 24 is still in purple and gold, the Lakers have a place on every NBA watcher’s radar. Kupchak and Buss have to make some big decisions in the coming months, particularly whether Bynum is reliable enough to be Kobe’s #2 guy or if Gasol is worth dealing for a more consistent piece. Either way, something needs to be done.
5. James Harden/Serge Ibaka
With Durant and Westbrook signed on for the next five years, GM Sam Presti has to set his sights on the next two most important pieces on the Thunder’s roster. Ibaka’s low-post defense and Harden’s playmaking ability were key to getting out of San Antonio, and in order for the Thunder to continue their run, they’ll need to do all they can to retain their services. Both players could become restricted free agents after next season and will most likely have some pretty attractive suitors, both players being worth 8-digit salaries in today’s market. So we’ll have to see what kind of tricks Presti has left up his sleeve.
6. The Perfect Formula
There’s always the possibility that a team just finds the perfect ingredients for a championship run, somewhat similar to 2011’s Mavericks or 2004’s Pistons. The Clippers, Spurs, Celtics, Grizzlies, 76ers and Pacers are some of the teams that could be a couple key moves away from getting over the hump. Even though they may not have the same superstar status as the Heat or Thunder, sometimes a deep and motivated team can make all the difference.