NBA

If these teams tip wrong way, watch out below

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Randy Hill

Veteran columnist Randy Hill is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com.
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The predicaments facing each NBA franchise generally vary from season to season.
Two popular exceptions are the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies, who — through dizzying and consistent experience with the agony of defeat — generally proceed along history's path wearing the same challenges every year. While winning and losing will greatly assist in defining the directions taken by other franchises, the approaching season's results may have even greater consequences for eight teams. Please note that while Ron Artest and Rasheed Wallace should have considerable impact on what occurs for their new employers, those teams are not on this list. Not yet. The following roll will be called in order of where these potential tipping points are aligned as training camps begin.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The franchise that was just lousy enough to land LeBron James shortly after his high school graduation may need to be just fabulous enough to keep him home and avoid organizational catastrophe. But even though his mother seems convinced he'll stick around after this season, LeBron hasn't exactly defined what qualities the Cavs must demonstrate to convince him to re-enlist.
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If they rebound from last year's playoff collapse against Orlando and snag the O'Brien Trophy, will the superstar consider his work done in Cleveland and seek challenges elsewhere? Would a near-miss inspire him to come back and finish what he started? Would it provoke a move to, oh, New York, where the difference in salary would (in theory) be overcome by endorsement potential? How much more endorsing can one man really do? It will be interesting to see how the Cavs' big maneuver to assist LeBron — the hiring of Shaquille O'Neal — affects his opinion of the franchise's ability to put a title team around him. While Shaq is working on the last year of his contract, he'll attempt to be the good soldier and allow James to dominate the attention ... if Shaq's cartoon-ish ego can be held in check. This will be a fun reality show.

Phoenix Suns

Another free-agent-in-waiting is Amare Stoudemire, whose eye injury sabotaged the Suns' ability to rally and keep their playoff run alive last season. Amare and a re-upped veteran Steve Nash are strategically on board with head coach Alvin Gentry, who has embraced the hyper-drive philosophy of former Suns coach Mike D'Antoni. But even with Stoudemire and Nash operating at full offensive capacity, the Suns may not be good enough to inspire the locals to show up and watch. And if the Suns aren't clicking as the trade deadline nears, do they deal Amare before he bolts for nothing or move Nash while he's relatively marketable (and under a fat contract)? The answers will be held by general manager Steve Kerr and owner/advocate Robert Sarver, who make up yet another potentially fluid partnership; even though Kerr is a Sarver guy, would their perceived dismantling of the D'Antoni-Fastbreak Complex lead to Kerr's either being let go or motivated to leave front-office work for a return to television analysis? This should be another fun reality show.

New York Knicks

Six rotation players are scheduled to be free agents at the end of this season. Retired Cuttino Mobley comes off the books at the same time. Contract albatross Eddy Curry is attempting to be physically ready to compete and has a player option for $11 million and change next season. So, with this ballyhooed volume of coming cap space and players playing for future work in New York or elsewhere, D'Antoni's second season with the Knicks should be some hay ride. Can the Knicks play with enough unity to demonstrate the caliber of franchise stability that might motivate a free-agent superstar to sign with them next summer? A mediocre season would make David Lee, for example, a very marketable young man near the trading deadline, but the Knicks have been working too hard to clear cap space to move any assets before their contracts expire ... right? Do they risk saving space for players who may not sign? Their tipping point may not occur until next July.

Golden State Warriors

This bunch may provide the most unintentional fun the league will notice all season. According to reports, their top two offensive options (for now, at least) don't want to work for the Warriors anymore. Unfortunately, it would seem impossible to receive market value for Stephen Jackson or Monta Ellis. The fun part should occur when Coach Don Nelson attempts to solicit more offensive touches for rookie guard Stephen Curry and sophomore power forward Anthony Randolph. Even though Ellis and Jackson have several years remaining on their deals, they probably won't be thrilled if their numbers decline. And bashful Corey Maggette is still around. Fortunately for everyone concerned, Nellie is able to furnish many players with offensive opportunities while keeping the defensive effort low enough so that energy levels aren't compromised. A lousy start could be tipping point enough for the Warriors to jettison center Andris Biedrins, who is owed $9 million for each of the next five seasons, but also happens to rebound and defend without worrying about how many shots he squeezes off. Yeah, the guy really doesn't fit in, does he?

Philadelphia 76ers

While waving bye-bye to Andre Miller should be a happy day for any team, the Sixers' replacements are point-guard-sized shooting guard Lou Williams and UCLA rookie Jrue Holiday. Williams isn't exactly a distributor and Holiday failed to validate his vast high-school hype while working at off guard as a college freshman. But if either can defend the position and initiate the offense, the Sixers can survive. Even more interesting will be Philly's ability to fit its speedy perimeter players around post man Elton Brand, who is due about $60 million over the next four seasons. Before Brand hurt his shoulder last season, the Sixers were unable to blend. A similar start could put Elton on the block by February, but how many contending teams would have the cap space (or even desire) to ante up? Another potential money pit is center Samuel Dalembert, who is owed 25 million scoots for this season and next. Failure to launch with the inside guys could result in quite a shakeup in Philly later this season or next summer.

Washington Wizards

Flip Saunders must really need the money. His players certainly don't. Gilbert Arenas is back, so the Wizards are stuck with his lovely shooting-point-guard sensibilities and Brinks truck contract. Antawn Jamison is a professional scorer with another big ticket, while Caron Butler is the best player and has a reasonable contract that — if things don't go well — could put him somewhere else at the deadline. This big party could either be enhanced or annihilated by the addition of former Minnesota Timberwolves Randy Foye and Mike Miller. Flip's first season might be eased into a playoff run by the presence of a reasonably selfless point guard. Too bad he doesn't have one. The volatility potential is off the charts.

Dallas Mavericks

Mavs owner Mark Cuban brought back Jason Kidd for $25 million over three years and acquired small forward Shawn Marion, a cat who doesn't mind doing a lot of the dirty work or whining about how he's given little notoriety for it. Kidd doesn't shoot that much anymore (thank goodness) and Marion's new teammates lack the local deity status enjoyed by two high-profile ex-teammates in Phoenix. So Shawn might keep quiet and rebound as long as his aging legs can manage. If things go tipping toward disaster, there may not be a contenders' market for Kidd and the next two years on his deal.

Houston Rockets

Yao Ming is out, Tracy McGrady is attempting to return while also making more money than anyone else in the league, and the other Rockets are role players in varying stages of glorification. While re-signing T-Mac next summer seems out of the question, we'll have to see how much he can contribute to a winning situation and find out how this weighs on Houston's decision to either move him at the deadline or let him walk and take the cap space.
Tagged: Celtics, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Warriors, Rockets, Clippers, Lakers, Timberwolves, Knicks, 76ers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Wizards, Metta World Peace, Eddy Curry, Andre Miller, Steve Nash, Gilbert Arenas, Elton Brand, Shaquille O'Neal, Jason Kidd, Stephen Jackson, Tracy McGrady, Mike Miller, Samuel Dalembert, Shawn Marion, Rasheed Wallace, Caron Butler, LeBron James, Andris Biedrins, David Lee, Monta Ellis, Randy Foye

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