It's holliday season, and I know exactly what you've been wishing for...that's right, another of my blog posts!!!!!!!!! (Okay, maybe not) Still, its been almost two months since I talked about the NBA, I couldn't resist bringing out the power poll on the eve of the Christmas Day games. Remember, these rankings reflect who I think has the best chance to win the title.
The John Wall Sweepstakes
30. Golden State Warriors: Synonym for dysfunctional. It's almost a given that they'll trade Anthony Randolph for a bag of peanuts and he'll immediately blossom into a 20-10 guy. At least those fans can enjoy themselves at Raiders games. Oh wait....
29. New Jersey Nets: I can't believe how much I overrated these guys. They're four deep, and that four isn't all that good and often injured. Of course, we all know that it's not about this season, so no harm done. Here's the only thing I don't get: why fire Lawrence Frank? It's not his fault that the personnel is terrible; he made sure that the team played hard and was well-prepared, and he did a terrific job of developing young guys like Brook Lopez and Devin Harris. The Nets aren't going to find a better coach on the market.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves: Did I really peg this team as a sleeper? I should've seen this coming. I like Al Jefferson, and I like Kevin Love...but I don't like them in tandem; they simply can't play together (and really, how far is your team going if either of those two is your alpha dog?). I thought they could be a really nice high post-low post tandem, with Big Al handling the low block and Love playing the high post where he could showcase his shooting skills and amazing passing. The problem is that they can't stop anyone defensively. Part of the problem is that the decision to hire Kurt Rambis looks worse and worse by the second. Because he insists on implementing the triangle offense (a system designed for skilled wing players that can create their own shots as well as big men with passing skills), Jefferson is semi-useless and the Ramon Sessions/Jonny Flynn Combo is totally useless. Seriously, they were able to sign an uper-echelon starting point guard (Sessions) for a dirt cheap price, but Rambis rides him on the bench because he's not the ideal fit for the triangle. Kurt, if that's the case, why did you sign him in the first place? Now that you have him, why not go to an up-tempo attack, where Love can use his wicked outlet passing skills to set up the guards on the fast break? And really, is Sessions that bad of a fit that you feel the need to stash him behind Damien freaking Wilkins?
27. Washington Wizards: What a flop. Everyone knew they had no defense...but wow, I thought they at least had a chance at the playoffs. What a surprise that their big 3 can't stay healthy, or that their bigs can't do anything? Add in all their albatross contracts, and I'm not sure there's a less depressing franchise.
26. Philadelphia 76ers: I'm glad that they signed Iverson, Philly needs him back. The team is pathetic and going nowhere. Igoudala is less effective on this team because he has to carry them, and he'd be more valuable on a contender where he can just focus on defense and running the floor. There are a lot of teams that would love to have Iggy, so why see if anyone is willing to take Brand's albatross contract for the prospect of acquiring Iggy for 20 cents on the dollar?
25. Chicago Bulls: How is Vinny del Negro still there? He actually regressed as a coach, and he's done an absolutely pathetic job of developing the young guys. Blowing the 35 point lead is just the icing on the cake, he's been giving the franchise reasons to fire him for a while now. I'm starting to wonder if letting Ben Gordon walk away was the right move. Last year he was their whole offense, and he was the perfect complement to Derrick Rose because he took care of the scoring while Rose focused on everything else. The benefit to letting him leave is that now they have cap space this summer, but i'm not sure if Bosh or Wade would come to a franchise with such a terrible coach and front office. Speaking of Rose, has there been a more disappointing player this year? I know the coaching is bad, but you would expect him to improve his shaky defense and shooting. Two months ago I thought he would be the best point guard in the league; now I'm not sure if he's better than Rajon Rondo or even Tony Parker.
24. New York Knicks: Pretty much exactly at expectations. Zero talent, zero effort...if any Knicks fan still expects a major free agent to come to this mess, then I don't know what to tell you.
23. Toronto Raptors: The worst defensive team of...well...actually, i think they might be the worst defensive team ever. I think I could score one-on-one against guys like Calderon, Bargnanni, and Turkoglu, and while Bosh is an excellent defender its ridiculous to expect him to be able to cover up for these guys. Have fun watching CB4 Toronto, because he's leaving in June.
Hemorraghing Dollar Bills
22. New Orleans Hornets: CP3 and David West are mortal locks to be traded for a bottle cap apiece, and maybe the other team will be generous enough to throw in the rights to some Division 3 College Basketball player. Let's move on, this is too depressing.
21. Miami Heat: What is more comical than watching Heat games, where the lower decks are routinely half-empty, to say nothing of the upper decks. At least we know that this year doesn't matter. By the way, I love Pat Riley questioning Dwayne Wade's Commitment. Pat, you're the one who only coaches the team when it's good and bails when the team starts sucking (often because of your terrible GM skills). If you want D-Wade to play harder, why don't you surround him with a real team?
Running in Place through a Morass of Molasses
20. Indiana Pacers: Stuck at 38 wins and a lat lottery pick every year for the next 100 years. Now much to say.
19. Charlotte Bobcats: Ditto. They have nice pieces, but you just can't win with Gerald Wallace as your star. I'd love to see them start over by sending G-Force to a team where he can thrive in a complementary role, but you know Larry Brown doesn't understand the concept of rebuilding.
18. Detroit Pistons: They squandered all their cap space by slightly overpaying Air Gordon and ridiculously overpaying Charlie Villanueva. Lets face it: Joe Dumars is not a horrible GM, but he's not the personnel genius that his reputation would suggest that he is. I could certainly see Detroit making a playoff push if everyone gets healthy, but I could also see them trading away Tayshaun Prince (and Rip Hamilton, if possible) and trying to rebuild.
Brighter Days Ahead
17. Memphis Grizzlies: Zach Randolph is actually playing well and not being a cancer. Who knew? The more I think about it, I can talk myself into the Mayo-Gay-Gasol era. That may not be a 65-win foundation, but that's an excellent young nucleus, and they can be a contender if the team adds more smart draft picks (this means not making picks like Hasheem Thabeet. After seeing him play I can't believe I thought such an offensively inept, uncoordinated player would be as good as I thought he would be. Even if he realizes all his potential he's basically just another Tyson Chandler.)
16. Los Angeles Clippers: I still think they have a decent chance at getting Lebron, and even more so if they make a nice push this winter and early spring. Too bad we didn't get to see Blake Griffin play yet, but I'm excited because I still think he'll be a stud. If he's the franchise guy then the Clips might have a limited ceiling, but Blake will no doubt be a 25-12 guy (assuming he expands upon his arsenal of moves in the low post) with terrific defense and leadership, and as the second fiddle to Lebron he's be unstoppable, as would the team as a whole. Also it bears noting that Eric Gordon actually looks like he won't be another failed Clipper lottery pick. When he came out I thought he was just a shooter, a Mike Miller Type. But he's bigger than I thought, he's a good defender, and he actually attacks the rim very well. I see Gilbert Arenas-like potential.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: OK, I'll admit it, I really missed the boat on Brandon Jennings. A lot of people compare Chris Paul to Isaiah Thomas, but the truth is that CP3 is more like John Stockton, only with 50000000000000 times more flair. As far as Jennings...this guy is Isaiah 2.0. Overall, a Jennings-Bogut future looks good, and its all the better if they can trade Michael Redd for some more assets.
14. Sacramento Kings: As predicted, Tyreke Evans is a stud. At the time of the draft I had Evans ranked as the third best prospect, but I thought that the Kings would rue the day that they passed on Ricky Rubio. Well, what with Rubio's messy buyout situation, as well as the fact that Evans looks like he's simply much better than Rubio, I have to say the Kings hit this one way out of the ballpark. Now if I were the Kings I would hand the keys of the franchise to Evans and try to solve the logjam at shooting guard by trading Kevin Martin (who has a very reasonable contract) for a point guard who can shoot and make plays for Evans. The Hawes-Thompson frontline is the most underrated in the league...yeah, I'd say things are good in Sac-town.
13. Seattle Supersonics: I was wrong about James Harden, he can play. It finally looks like everything is starting to ferment, and if I was the Lakers or the Spurs I would definitely not want to see these guys in the first round.
12. Houston Rockets: The team is filled with role players, so why are they here as opposed to the previous category? Well, clearly Darryl Morey knows what he's doing. The players on this roster are terrific at their specific roles, and he has enough assets that I think he can get a quality NBA guy from a team pulling a firesale. Obviously they don't have quite as much room for optimism as the other teams in this group, but for now they are better than those teams and may even win a playoff series.
Stuck in Neutral Just Short of the Finish Line
11. Dallas Mavericks: They have a major trading chip (Erick Dampier's contract) in a seller's market, so they could make some changes to move up (perhaps rent out Chris Bosh for half a season). Still, as presently constituted its hard to take them seriously; Dirk isn't getting any better defensively, Kidd isn't getting any younger, and Marion will never be as good as everyone thinks he is.
10. Portland Trail Blazers: I thought they were a legitimate title sleeper. Unfortunately the injury bug stopped by Portland and left carnage not seen since World War II. Batum, Rudy, and Outlaw will be back in time for the playoffs, but the Blazers can't win without Oden and Pryzbilla. The sad thing is, Oden was actually living up to the hype before the injury; he was playing like a more better, more athletic version of Robert Parish. Unfortunately now he'll probably never be more than a decent player, because a fractured patella is probably the worst injury that can happen to your knee. If there is a silver lining, its that now maybe Nate McMillan will start playing more up-tempo(a tactic that this Blazers team is built for, especially now that Jerryd Bayless looks like Steve Francis minus the attitude problems), but you can't win a title by going small all the time, and the Blazers lost all of their size for the rest of the year.
9. Utah Jazz: What a mess! Did this same team really make the conference finals just three years ago? It does help that they have the Knicks lottery pick in a fairly strong draft, but still this is a very disappointing season. I thought they had a punchers chance at a title, but it looks like Kirilenko has completely fallen off a cliff, and Boozer isn't exactly lighting the NBA on fire in his contract year.
Mirage of Pyrite
8. Phoenix Suns: No defense, no rebounding...eventually this house of cards will come crashing down. Nice to see Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire rejuvenated, too bad they were both pretty overrated to begin with.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers: I say this with the caveat that the Cavs could use Shaq's expiring deal to bring in some help (Anthony Randolph anybody?). But at the moment, they don't have anything close to a championship caliber supporting cast; it's a miracle that Lebron is even able to pull them up this far.
A Cut Below the Elite
6. Denver Nuggets: Carmelo made a huge jump this year. for his first five years he was just a volume scorer, last year he learned to score less but at a more efficient rate, and now he's just scoring at will, and he's become pretty good at rebounding, defense, etc. There isn't a more unstoppable scorer than Carmelo (sorry, but I'd like to see Lebron improve his post up game, and Kobe isn't quite as good as the delusional Laker fans would have you believe).
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
5. Atlanta Hawks: The best story of the year. Josh Smith decided he was going to live up to his potential, Joe Johnson became a borderline superstar, Al Horford became a terrific third banana, Jamal Crawford swallowed his pride and turned into the 6th man of the year...the hawks made a smart trade (diaw for johnson), drafted smartly, and used their cap space on the right free agents; this is how teams should be built, and I'd love to see them win. Honestly, they can take any of the best teams to 7 games, but its hard for me to see them winning a title without a true center. But don't sleep on them; the East is still dominated by the big 3, its just that the Hawks have replaced the Cavs in the elite group.
4. San Antonio Spurs: Richard Jefferson hasn't been nearly as good a fit as expected, and Dejuan Blair has had the impact that everyone (not including me) thought he would. But it would be foolish to panic and sleep on the Spurs; for them the season doesn't even start until January, and I still expect them to be battling the Lakers to 7 games in the Western Conference Finals.
3. Boston Celtics: Rasheed will fit in swimmingly. Keep in mind, they can still pull off a trade for someone (I hear Tayshaun Prince is available, and his presence would make Boston the overwhelming title favorite). In my heart of hearts I think that they'll be better than the Lakers in June, but as of now Boston can't be considered the title favorite. No matter, the Big 4 (yes, Rondo is that good) will be ready in June.
2. Orlando Magic: Not quite as good as I expected. Who kidnapped Dwight Howard? Because the guy that Orlando is trotting out there every night is not the same guy that I picked for MVP; this year Dwight routinely gets in foul trouble and doesn't dominate the glass like he did last year. But I've already made my case that if healthy, they have the best playoff team. And that's all that matters.
1. Los Angeles Lakers: I'll admit, I was partially wrong about Artest. Everyone was. I still believe that defensively he's not quite as good as Ariza because he doesn't have the same quickness that he had in Indiana and Sacramento, but the Lakers can partially cover up for that because Gasol and Bynum can protect the rim. However, I was wrong to assume that he would ruin the triangle with his sticky fingers. The truth is that the Lakers have so many offensive options that he doesn't have that much room to mess up their sets, because basically he just sits in the corner to hit 3's and occasionally posts up. Do the Lakers have holes? Yes. The bench isn't anywhere near as good as advertised (when will everyone realize that all these guys had good years in 2008 and have done absolutely nothing since), they can't guard quick, penetrating point guards, and Tuesday's game against the Thunder showed that they're susceptible to faster teams. And in a 7 game series in June I'd probably take the Celtics or the Magic over the Lakers. But if L.A. keeps playing like this then they have the best chance to win the title, and that's what's important in this space.