— We're not sure if there will be Frisbee-catching dogs, fire eaters or acrobats on stilts, but we are anticipating a variety of halftime NBA acts in coming days.
A clear mid-term agenda is coming into focus as teams approach the half-way point. For some, it is a time to reassess, rearm and or perhaps recognize that it simply is not going to get any better.
In other words, what better time to take inventory of all 30 teams, with a division-by division outlook?
Boston: To a degree, the early-season success with Shaquille O'Neal, and, to a far lesser degree with Jermaine O'Neal, is little more than window dressing. What matters most is what comes next, and that's working Kendrick Perkins back into the rotation once he returns from offseason knee surgery. Only then will the Celtics truly have a defined sense of where they stand.
New Jersey: The more you look at the Nets' roster and their stockpile of draft picks, it becomes apparent that this isn't a team as much as a warehouse of collectibles that New Jersey hopes to turn into Carmelo Anthony. The Nets' season effectively comes down to that singular proposition, because right now it most certainly is not coming down to the playoffs.
New York: Like so many teams, the Knicks' perspective comes down to the prospective addition of Carmelo Anthony. But that also might be selling Donnie Walsh short. When he didn't get LeBron or Wade or Bosh, Walsh got Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton and salvaged an offseason. There are worse people to have on the clock than Walsh, as New York looks to take one more step.
Philadelphia: Doug Collins quietly has worked the 76ers back into contention (which, in the East isn't saying much), yet Philadelphia hasn't been really working Evan Turner into something tangible. While Collins is a short-timer and a playoff berth is tantalizing, the 76ers can't lose sight of the big picture when it comes to needed development with Turner.
Toronto: The Raptors' reality is if they want to make a move for next season, they may have to make it now. This is not a team likely to attract much during free agency. That could mean moving Jose Calderon, taking a shot with the $12.2 million trade exception gained from the loss of Chris Bosh, or moving Peja Stojakovic's expiring contract.
Chicago: Joakim Noah's return automatically makes the Bulls a better team, but there remains a need for a consistent perimeter scorer. Chicago has enough chips available to make something happen in that regard, though Luol Deng's contract remains a sticking point. Carmelo Anthony would be the ultimate answer, but the pieces for that don't appear available.
Cleveland: Can the Cavaliers afford to not do anything? Yes, the fans have been remarkably loyal, but these also are fans who renewed for 2010-11 before knowing if LeBron would be around for 2010-11. There has to be something to sell beyond the hope provided by coach Byron Scott. That could mean having to part with a valuable piece such as Anderson Varejao in order sell off some of the dead weight.
Detroit: In a perfect world, Joe Dumars undoes his mistake of signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in the 2009 offseason. But no one else was offering this type of money then, so why would be market outlook be any better now? It already is clear Richard Hamilton would like to be gone and there is some sentiment that the Pistons would be better off with Rodney Stuckey gone.
Indiana: Is Danny Granger a franchise cornerstone? And how long does a team wait to find out? For that matter, is Roy Hibbert an answer in the middle? Jim O'Brien does a terrific job pushing his players until there simply is nothing left to push. A roster upgrade is needed and it figures to take more than the ongoing dangling of Jeff Foster.
Milwaukee: With Brandon Jennings expected back soon, the Bucks can continue to grow from within. What Scott Skiles has to avoid is leaning too much on go-nowhere veterans such as Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette at the expense of developing players such as Jennings and Larry Sanders.
Atlanta: Are the Hawks content with being good, but not good enough? To a degree, the Hawks are the Jazz of the East. There is a limited upside. So with Jamal Crawford poised to walk as a free agent, the Hawks may soon have to address their own mortality and move on.
Charlotte: Can you be any more interim than staying with Paul Silas as your head coach? That can't possibly last. After losing Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton for essentially nothing last summer, the Bobcats can't afford to cast the impression they are in sell mode yet again. But Gerald Wallace is breaking down and Stephen Jackson appears to be at his Charlotte expiration point.
Miami: The Heat lack the means to do much in the trade market, and already have allowed one $1.75 million exception to expire. That means the growth will have to come from within, namely from Mike Miller making it all the way back from his preseason thumb injury. A healthy Miller could make an already-imposing team even more imposing.
Orlando: With so many potential chips to put into play, from J.J. Redick (if he approves a deal) to the expiring contract of Jason Richardson to (dare we say it?) Jameer Nelson, the Magic have the means to address issues in the power rotation beyond Dwight Howard. Otis Smith didn't come this far with this makeover to stop now. Then again, he might just let this all marinate right now amid the winning.
Washington: The is no question that John Wall is the future, the question is whether the Wizards want the likes of Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee to be part of that future. Even before the Gilbert Arenas trade, this set up as a transition season for Washington. That said, the trading deadline could wind up as a means to further expedite that transition.
Denver: Something must happen, the only question is whether it simply will be amove of Carmelo or a complete makeover that also impacts Chauncey Billups and perhaps impending free-agent guard J.R. Smith. The Nuggets' short-term future is in doubt as any franchise. By the Feb. 24 trading deadline they could remain a contender, or find themselves in rebuilding mode.
Minnesota: The future of David Kahn's rebuild centers on the notion that Ricky Rubio arrives next season to save the day. Is there enough confidence to move one of the point guards in place, either Jonny Flynn or Luke Ridnour? That portion of the plan could be at hand.
Oklahoma City: The Thunder have been a borderline defensive disaster this season. While the record says contender, the defensive numbers say something far different. Unless the defense improves, Oklahoma City could be at a crossroads, as a team without enough of a defensive component to make the postseason breakthrough many anticipated.
Portland: This franchise might be worth watching in coming weeks, considering the attractive pieces it could offer contenders, from Marcus Camby to Joel Przybilla to the oft-coveted Nicolas Batum. With the loss of Greg Oden and the uncertainty surrounding Brandon Roy, an argument could be made that there is not enough in place to remain a legitimate contender. But it also might be too early to give up.
Utah: The Jazz have survived the departure of Carlos Boozer but whether they can continue to thrive amid the absence of Mehmet Okur is another story. The Jazz need to get Okur back into the mix if only to see where the chemistry stands with Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Okur's game is unique and something Jefferson will have to adjust to.
Golden State: While Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry have shown an ability to coexist, the reality is the Warriors need so much help at so many other positions that it might be time to consider alternatives to such a backcourt-driven approach. A defensive component or two would be a good place to start, especially in the power rotation. Still there is such an "interim" sense around the team that waiting for the offseason might be prudent.
L.A. Clippers: Blake Griffin is a star and while on any other team Eric Gordon would be recognized as a significant breakout talent. Baron Davis again seems as if he cares, yet there still could be something to be said about selling him off before the next brood-fest. What the Clippers can't afford to try is to chase victories in vain by playing veterans with limited upside.
L.A. Lakers: Suddenly, with Matt Barnes sidelined and Steve Blake largely inefficient, depth has become an issue, especially with Luke Walton an injury waiting to happen. The question becomes how much more Jerry Buss wants to pour into the championship chase, or whether he simply views this as a time for Kobe and Gasol to step it up. The Lakers' trade chips are somewhat limited and it's not as if anyone is making a play for Ron Artest.
Phoenix: Steve Nash. Those two words will override everything else that goes on with the Suns between now and the trading deadline. His name could become as ubiquitous on the trade market as Carmelo Anthony. And, frankly, amid the Suns' recent swoon, it simply might be time, while the value is still there to fetch young talent and draft picks in return.
Sacramento: Tyreke Evans is playing well again, flashing the form of a player who might yet turn into a franchise type. That means there still could be a future with the teams' younger players. And that's about as good as any direction at this point. If the Kings can get anything for Samuel Dalembert, they'd be foolish not to move him. Orlando just might bite.
Dallas: The Mavericks are close to a return engagement to the Western Conference finals. That means Mark Cuban isn't about to stop now, especially with Caron Butler out for the season. Dallas will do something before Feb. 24, because it likely will take more than the return of Roddy Beaubois. Dallas has plenty of chips at its disposal, including a serviceable big man in Brendan Haywood.
Houston: If nothing else, the latest setback for Yao Ming brings closure to the notion of the Rockets settling down as any type of post-up team. That makes getting Aaron Brooks up to speed essential, since Houston will have to survive by playing small ball. Now the question is whether Shane Battier is a keeper or someone who might be lost in free agency.
Memphis: Too much drama and not enough success. It is time to deal O.J. Mayo and Hasheem Thabeet. That, of course, is a tough one for general manager Chris Wallace, since it essentially is an admission of failure. Both players hold excessive views of themselves.
New Orleans: In the real world, it would be all about one last-ditch effort to find enough quality pieces to keep Chris Paul content. This is not the real world, but rather some parallel universe where the NBA owns and operates the Hornets. That will make the trade deadline particularly bizarre. What if a trade looks lopsided, how does the NBA deal with the fallout? Does David Stern have to sign off?
San Antonio: There is one constant when it comes to the Spurs and the times when they stand as frontrunners: Keeping Manu Ginobili healthy. Whether that means sitting him for the balance of the regular season or something a bit less extreme, the Spurs have to have Manu ambulatory to do in the playoffs what they have done so far during the regular season.