EAST | WEST
Just as every contender has a weakness to hide in the playoffs, every lottery team has a weakness to fill at season's end.
And by the looks of it, some cash-strapped lottery teams could be in for an extra-long offseason.
We don't have a clue what the new collective bargaining agreement will do to the belts around the league, but we're guessing they will be tightened. We do know how much money is coming off each team's books in expiring deals -- thanks to salary data from Storyteller's salary database -- giving us something of a guide going forward.
So here's where each lottery team needs to improve and how it can fast-track its return to the playoffs.
2011-12 $M: -$25.0
Pop quiz: Which team improved its efficiency the most after the trade deadline? OK, it's Denver. You probably got that right. But who's next in line? The Rockets. Houston was on fire to finish the season, led by Kyle Lowry's sensational point guard play and a much improved defense. In fact, the Rockets finished with a better efficiency differential than three Eastern playoff teams (the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers). And they don't deserve a playoff spot why?
But I digress. The Rockets are good and they're in great shape to continue their upswing. Chuck Hayes will become a free agent this season and it would be a surprise if he didn't stay put in Houston. The Rockets are in love with what he brings defensively, but his days of being one of the biggest bargains in the game are soon to be over.
With money left over from Yao Ming's expiring contract, the Rockets should be on the hunt for a starting center to complement Luis Scola on the block, and, if they can afford it, a midlevel small forward like Andrei Kirilenko makes sense here. Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler would be an ideal fit for the defensively-challenged squad. If anything, it would certainly provide some interesting intra-division drama between Dallas owner Mark Cuban and Houston general manager Daryl Morey, two of the most analytics-savvy decision-makers in the game.