Well, I don’t know if the off-season is over, but it feels over. All of the big free agents have signed ink to paper, and the one anticipated, league changing trade finally happened, (of course I’m talking about Jeremy Pargo going to Cleveland). This off-season has been manic. It is a fool's game to say exactly who is going to come out on top, but it's August and has been raining where I live. So, please indulge me. It's as though nature itself has decided to confine me indoors so that I am forced to write something.
Here we go. I did not rank these teams by some kind of predicted finishing order, as I don’t want to jinx one team in particular. So I arranged it all alphabetically. It's much less controversial that way, unless you have something against The Jackson 5.
Let’s start on the East side because, let’s be honest, it's the least important. I for one am hoping for some drama and that maybe just one of these teams can stop the
flying death machine Miami Heat.
The Boston Celtics
It is tempting to assign this team to the lottery, but these days this team never seems to be totally out of it. I for one am not subscribing to the notion that the Celtics somehow broken even with the Ray Allen situation. They lost a legend to the biggest contender in their own conference. Sure, Jason Terry is now along for the ride but he is no Jesus Shuttlesworth. The reason I have them as a playoff team is Doc Rivers. He will be able to find a scheme that allows Rajon Rando to take this team over. Their draft class should not be overlooked, either. Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo were dominant players in college ball. While they were slapped with a dreaded "bust alert merit badge," I think we should look at it mathematically. You have a player who has a 50% chance of either becoming an NBA All Star or a bench warmer for the ABA Strumica. (That is a team that currently plays in the Macedonian first league, which is like the D-League for Macedonian basketball.) How do you solve the Celtics' problem? Draft another player that has a 50% chance of either becoming an NBA All Star or a bench warmer for the ABA Strumica. Boom- an All Star just shipped off to Boston.
The Brooklyn Nets
Normally I would look at a roster that has Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace playing alongside Deron Williams and say, "Holy s*** balls batman, that team is going to be awesome." But this is the
New Jersey Brooklyn Nets we are talking about. So it is difficult to say anything about this team without heaps of reservation.They have things to prove before they are considered locks for the playoffs. It is probable they will do just that, but it is not going to be the smoothest of rides back to relevance.
The Chicago Bulls
Oh, Bulls. Last season sucked for this team in so many ways. But this wasn’t a case of incompetence as it was more just down-right bad luck. Conventional wisdom says that the bad luck will eventually turn around. When they are at full strength, this is still the only team with a solid chance of preventing the Heat from returning to the NBA finals. There are loads of things that need to happen for that to, umm, happen. Well, okay, there is one thing, Derrick Rose needs to be healthy. As it goes with these things, reports vary on when that will be. The eastern conference race was lame sauce last year because the Bulls were not on a collision course with the Heatles. I hope they get back on track soon.
The Indiana Pacers
With the Nets moving to Brooklyn, this is now the only team in the Eastern Conference named after a state. Doesn’t anybody care about stuff like that? This team gave the Heat a real scare in the second round last year. A lot of that had to do with the Heat having injury problems, but it also had a lot to do with the Pacers being a really good team. The only significant addition to this team seems to be Donnie Walsh. So, apparently the powers that be didn’t see any big reason to change the roster. The jerseys shouldn’t say "Indiana Pacers" on the front anymore; they should say "Dark Horse".
The Miami Heat
From a totally non-biased perspective, this team made it look easy last year. Mainly because Lebron is on the verge of becoming one of the best players to ever play the game. That aside, the game is 48 minutes long and anyone can win. We shall see what happens when opening day rolls around. But for the time being, this is the indisputable favorite out of the East.
Did the 1999 NBA championship feature the first match-up between teams named after antiquated clothes? Is there a stat for this? I digress. Is this team, interesting at all? I have them as a playoff team mainly because they paid a heap of money to be a playoff team. Don’t get me wrong Stat, Carmelo Anthony, and Tyson Chandler are good players and all, but this is not a contender. Each player is a specialist. This team doesn’t have a player to act as glue to keep this madness together. It is like the front office pursued the "big three" model and forgot the "big, (and no, just because Raymond Felton is overweight doesn’t make him "big"). Speaking of guards , did you know that JR Smith is their most reliable player in either guard position? And it is not even close? That is something to think about. Anyways, this team probably makes the playoffs but doesn’t go very far beyond that.
Meet the Nuggets of the East. They are young, fast, and have a billion rotations to throw out on the floor. In addition, they added an all star center who is also young. Sure, losing the rock solid "Captain Iggy" (careful, no one calls him that) is going to have its impact ; it's tough to replace a player like that. But at the end of the day, Andrew Bynum is as good for Philly as Philly is good for Andrew Bynum. I think leaving all that crap that comes with being an L.A. Laker (I mean that in the most respectful way possible) will be good for Bynum. He was as unfairly derided when he had bad days, as he was unfairly lauded for having good days. The thing to watch this season will be how long Jrue Holiday can stay under the radar. Final analysis: watch out for this team when the games count.
Anthony Davis may have been the best pick in the draft, but Bradley Beal could turn out to be the most immediately impactful. Davis joins a team that will depend on him to be their franchise guy. The Wizards, on the other hand, already have a franchise guy and a pretty good roster on top of that. This team fills one of the voids the Magic and the Hawks are almost certainly going to leave. Nene and the aforementioned guards will become the leaders of this team. They do have questions to be answered with their forwards, but maybe all Jan Veasley, Chris Singleton, and Kevin Seraphin need is a solid training camp.
Team on the verge of making the playoffs:
This team is on here because I think that a really good point guard can make a team really good. And Kyrie Irving? Well, if he stops channeling Amar'e Stoudemire, then he should be that guy. A look down the roster does not leave one awe struck, but I don’t know, crazier things have happened. That might not be a great rallying cry for a team that is trying to get back to the upper echelon of the NBA, but it fits this wacky and ultimately alluring team.
New Lottery Teams
The Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic
Everyone knows Orlando is going to be riding the lottery train. They purchased their train tickets ages ago. And Jack Vaughn? He starts his job wearing a conductor’s hat and carrying a shovel full of coal. But why did I put Atlanta here? Because Danny Ferry is up to something. I mean, he traded their leading scorer for a draft pick, a bag of chips and Jordan Farmer. And since Jordan Farmer is now playing in Turkey, the bag of chips have a greater chance at seeing minutes. The rumors are flying about Josh Smith. If he gets traded in a similar deal, then this team is definitely taking a leap backwards in order to take a leap forwards. And I get it. I mean, who wants to be the Atlanta "making it to the second round of the playoffs is their ceiling" Hawks?
The Western Conference
Ah, the main attraction. Is this the best conference? Probably, but who cares? We at #ing the rock would watch this conference the most even if the other teams ran rosters made up of cardboard cutouts of Aquaman villains. So, here we go:
The Denver Nuggets
This team is unique, no doubt about it. While most teams are trading away for their version of the big three, the Nugs pursued a totally different model. It is not exactly the Spurs' model but it does share one key characteristic; team ball. And what a team. Javale and Kareed are a dangerous front court duo. Ty Lawson is a potential all star. Iggy is an all star. However, these players are not required to play out of their minds in order for this team to win. The rest of the team is stacked with players who can step on the gas or provide big stops. It would not be wise to sleep on the Nugs this year.
The Houston Rockets
Most analysts are calling this team’s moves crazy. And I get it. I mean, they could field a starting five of just power forwards. But something about this team reminds me of a slab of ugly rock right before it turns into a statue. Time will tell if that statue is a masterpiece or a giant replica of a badger’s left testicle. I am going with the former. If the staff makes the right calls in training camp, they could come out of this thing with a fast, talented, and hungry team. The kind of team that was behind Jeremy Lin’s ascension to super stardom. And there it is. Linsanity has a legitimate chance of taking root in Houston. If this happens expect the Rockets to have a winning percentage of at least 100 percent.
Ah, the Timberwolves. I know it is improper to like another team in the West, but I like this team. Ages ago I worked at a hospital as a member of the kitchen staff. Two of the nurses there were huge basketball fans. We gravitated towards each other thanks to some bizarre force in the universe, one of the nurses was a really cool Lakers fan who gave the Spurs genuine compliments every time I saw him. I, in turn, waxed on about the obvious awesomeness of Kobe, (btw, this was 2004 when the team was Kobe and no one else). The other nurse was a Timberwolves fan. And as the playoffs came I just felt sorry for the guy. Me and the Lakers fan were so busy talking about our teams that we ignored the poor Timberwolves who were playing their last days with Kevin Garnett and had nothing bright on the horizon. But now this team finally has that brightness. This might not be their year, but it is coming soon enough. And if everything sorts out just right they are going to be dangerous in the playoffs next year.
Do people realize that Vinny Del Negro is still coaching the Clippers? This is particularly confounding when people like Stan Van Gundy are not currently coaching a basketball team. They got a little better over the offseason, but this is still the Griffen and Paul show with a limited supporting cast. This is the kind of team that could really use an elite coach like Stan Van Gundy to take them to the next level. Did I already say that?
The Los Angeles Lakers
Here is a team we #ers have completely ignored talking about during the off-season. I kid. Sambunnell wrote an excellent piece which pretty much sums up the new look Lakers. Sure, Dwight is awesome, but he is not a 100% and he brings in as many questions as he does answers. Sure, Kobe is Kobe, but he obviously is changing his game to accommodate father time. Nash is an x-factor. He could propel this team to one year of greatness or just sit back as Kobe and Dwight fight over who gets the last doughnut in the break room. And the other guys? Well, they form a solid supporting cast but all have their down sides. At first glance this team looks scary, but when you break out the magnifying glass, cracks appear. And, of course, after each year those cracks are going to get bigger. The Lakers-Heat talk is basically just a reversed rehash of the Lakers-Cavs nonsense a few years back. Let us hope that Nike doesn’t roll out puppet commercials again.
The OKC Thunder
This team and the next team are the hardest to write about because the wounds are still fresh. Momentarily pushing the bias aside, this is a good team. Their core is solid and Durant is pretty much f***ing unstoppable. They can and have been beat, though. Miami, with a few nights of playing "out of their mind basketball," demonstrated this. I, for one, think the secret lies in cutting off James Harden’s beard. Samson and Delilah style.
What a great town. Have you ever been to Memphis? Beal street- what an experience. And the view of the Mississippi River on the Hernando De Sota bridge is magnificent. I digress. The team itself is good but not great. They are hard working and play team ball. Their front line is still scary. They will make the playoffs because of these traits. They could be dangerous if the right things happen.
There is a reason why Tim Duncan signed for two more years. The system is finally at its peak. There is a cohesion on this team that is difficult to match. There were times last year that the Spurs transcended basketball and were orchestrating something else: art. Whether it was a laser-guided pass from Manu Ginobili to Timmy in the post, or a blinding drive from Tony Parker all the way to the basket for a plus one. If you just watched what all the players were doing off the ball, they made basketball beautiful and they are not finished. This team is like a really fast car. Sure it didn’t win the race last year, but it got really friggen close, so why go and replace it with another car? Nah, you just do some tinkering (hello Nando De Colo) and give it another go.
Team on the verge of making the playoffs:
The New Orleans Hornets:
Well this team made out like bandits in the draft, and they made some good, if not great, off-season moves. However, considering that Hakim Warrick is their highest paid player, this team is obviously in development land. Mr. Davis is clearly the center of those developments (no pun intended). So, with a player like him, Eric Gordon, and the mysterious Austin Powers Rivers, this team will figure things out sooner rather than later. I just don’t seem them doing it this year in a stacked conference. But watch out for this team further down the road; as in like two or three years from now.
New Lottery Teams
The Jazz are a good team. They are a probable lottery team because someone has to go, not because they are that bad. I also think that they should have been in the lottery last year for the benefit of the "bigger picture". So maybe they will realize this and draft awesomely next year.
Okay, we all know Mr. Cuban is not the picture of stability, but what the f*** has been going on in Dallas? They win the championship and gut the entire team aside from Dirk Nowitzki, Sean Marion, Brian Cardinal, and Vince Carter in two years. Their top three highest players? Dirk, Elton Brand and Chris Kaman. This is not a championship contender. But this is not an obvious tank job either. What exactly is this? I don’t know. Chances are Marc Cuban doesn’t even know. All I know is things are probably going to get ugly in Dallas rather quickly.
Most talked about player: Dwight Howard
Most Probable Most Valuable Player: Lebron James
Least Probable Most Valuable Player: Mike Bibby
Most talked about teams: The Lakers and The Heat
Least talked about teams deserving of talk: The Spurs and The 76ers
Team with the worst record: The Kings
Most "must watch" team (other than the Spurs): The Rockets
The two teams most likely to have a mascot fight: The Clippers and The Grizzlies
Biggest winners: All of us because reading a basketball blog in August is just not the same.