by Kevin Daly:
The NBA season is less than a month old and, already, every team has played between 10 and 15 games. For sports fans, the packed schedule has been weekday salvation. For players, it’s been a roller coaster ride with a malfunctioning seatbelt. Staying healthy has been a real challenge for every team. The teams that are best equipped for this injuries, a.k.a. deep, will be the teams to prevail in this “long short season,” as Reggie Miller eloquently explained.
It’s still early in the season, but this is the time when the standings begin to take shape, players fall into their roles after hot or cold starts to the season, and the dreaded wall appears in the distant horizon for rookies. Trade talks are also soon to heat up, particularly conversations to deport a certain someone from Orlando (no, Hedo Turkoglu, we’re not talking about you). So, in my best Tracy McGrady impersonation, with one eye looking toward the past and one eye toward the rest of the season, here are my humble NBA power rankings – biased and most likely inadequate. Enjoy.
1. Chicago Bulls: In my opinion, this is the best team in the NBA. They have shooters, the severely underrated Luol Deng, an upgrade at shooting guard in Richard Hamilton, the reigning MVP – Derrick “the Timberwolf Assassin” Rose, and – what I LOVE on an NBA team – a wealth of big men who can control the paint. What I don’t like is Carlos Boozer come playoff time (he fades too often in big games, he is inconsistent, and he can’t really challenge shots), lack of another guy who can create his own shot besides Rose, and the fact that they still probably won’t beat the Heat in a playoff series. They should have done whatever they could to get Jason Richardson. Trading for a Stephen Jackson type won’t happen. I like their chances against any other team on any night, but if they reconvene with the Heat come playoff time, expect having to watch Ronnie Brewer try to create offense again. Ouch.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: This team – the new model of how to essentially build an NBA franchise from the ground up – is the team to beat in the West. They have punishers in the post, incredible athleticism, scoring, and depth in the guard positions, and Kevin Wayne Durant. The Thunder have the best winning percentage in the league and depth at every position except small forward. They are playoff-tested, young, and defensively tough. They seem to be destined for the Finals, except for the fact that Russell Westbrook still takes on a Russell vs. the world mentality at the end of close games and hardly defers to Durant in crunch time. His me-centric mentality does not seem likely to change and time that Durant does not have the ball in big moments will continue to be time wasted. The team’s lack of a post scorer is also a legitimate concern. These are obstacles that can be overcome, but are also potentially damning.
3. Miami Heat: I can’t figure the Heat out. They’re obviously good – how good, is the big question. They obliterated an unfocused and rebooted Mavericks team, the Boston Depreceltics, and a good Indiana team. They almost lost to the Bobcats and Timberwolves on the road and lost to the Golden State Warriors on the road. They lost to the Hawks at home with a full squad, then beat the Hawks in Atlanta without LeBron and Wade. Clearly a better team at home, they are not a whole lot deeper than last year. Haslem’s health is a big boost for a team lacking size and Shane Battier has been important as a defensive pest/glue guy. They will be relying on Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, and Eddy Cur-…Joel Anthony to provide relief for the Big 3 on offense and defense. Despite an 8-4 start that many would consider mediocre, their eyes are on the big prize. Lack of a legitimate center will hurt the Heat along the way, but they are, along with Chicago, one of 2 legitimate Eastern Conference contenders.
4. Portland Trail Blazers: one of the best things about the Portland Trail Blazers is that they have 2 go-to guys in LaMarcus Aldridge and the underrated Gerald Wallace. They have the shot-blocking presence in Marcus Camby. Guards Raymond Felton and Wesley Matthews are tough defenders and efficient on offense. Jamal Crawford and Nicolas Batum are great options off the bench. An injury to Camby or his back up, Kurt “I was born looking 40” Thomas, could be devastating, but this is a team that plays cohesively on both ends of the court – every rotation player consistently plays sound defense, there is no black hole on offense – and could make a run come playoff time, especially if they have home court advantage.
5/6. Los Angeles Clakers (Clippers, Lakers…get it?): Crappy jokes and thoughts of me trying to move more quickly in this column aside, the two Staples Center tenants are similar in their lack of big man depth and severe reliance on a guard to pioneer the offense night in and night out. Lob City has been like a car’s glove compartment: a disappointingly misleading moniker. Nevertheless, Chris Paul has been the savvy floor general that Blake Griffin’s alley-oop grabbing hands have demanded. He has a near unmatched ability to control the game’s tempo and plays with a smoothness that can only be matched by the moonshine that flows from the waterfall in Mel Gibson’s Man Cave. DeAndre Jordan has been a shot-blocking machine and Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups have done a nice job fitting into the offense. Guarding bigger guards will be a challenge for the team, as will having confidence in Brian Cook and the Hard Foul Machine, Reggie Evans, to hold down the fort down low when the Griffin-Jordan combo are taking a breather.
The Lakers new offense under Mike Brown – aptly called the “GIVE KOBE THE F#@*$&! BALL! YES, YOU LUKE WALTON! WHY ARE YOU NOT ON THE BENCH?” offense, the Kobe System, and a questionable/miraculous German surgical procedure have all worked wonders for Bryant and, by extension, the Lakers. Despite his unmatched ability to adjust his game to declining athleticism and aging, he is 33 and scoring 40 points a game for the Lakers to win is unsustainable. Speaking of unsustainable, Andrew Bynum is healthy. He and Gasol have been the Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams to Kobe’s Beyonce. Metta World Peace is a backup dancer. All 3 in the group need to stay healthy. Otherwise, Jack Nicholson and David Beckham, along with the rest of the Lakers faithful, will be subjected to the Josh McRoberts/Devin Ebanks Show. If that doesn’t scream one and done, I don’t know what does.
7. San Antonio Spurs: the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed in last year’s playoffs. Not many people outside of western Texas are fans of Gregg Popovich’s motley crew, yet they have been the league model of consistency for the past 10 years. Though the ultimate WNBA player in a 7-foot man’s body, Tim Duncan, has lost some of his blinding speed over the years, he is still the heart of the Spurs team. Tony Parker has had to bear even more of the offensive load with Manu Ginobili’s hand injury sidelining him for the next 6 weeks or so. Yet the team has survived and will continue to do so in its distinctly Spursian way. The team’s young players – James Anderson, Thiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard, and DeJuan Blair – are playing a significant role in the team’s success. While it’s an undoubtedly encouraging sign for the front office, management understands that they are currently a team in transition and these players are still developing. Winning in the playoffs during a transitional period is possible, but not likely – even when Ginobili returns – for Tim Duncan and the Alamo gang.
8. Philadelphia 76ers: Fellow SSB writer and loyal Philadelphian Joe told me to put the 76ers in the pole position of my power rankings. To this moment, I am still unsure whether he was serious in this request, but with his threat to claim my entire rankings system as a houx (how he plans to do this, I don’t want to know) in mind, I will apologetically put the 76ers 8th – 3rd in the Eastern Conference. With that said, they deserve to be 8th – Doug Collins has done a hell of a job in helping his young players develop and pushing the team to performing at a high level both offensively – 3rd in points scored per game – and defensively – 2nd in points allowed. Lou Williams, Jrue Holiday, and the homeless man’s LeBron James, Andre Iguodala, have spearheaded the Sixers’ attack. Evan Turner has developed into a solid rotation player in his second season. The biggest key to the Sixers’ hot start has been the play of Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes. Neither have been statistical phenomenons, but they – Spencer Hawes in particular – have done a great job grabbing rebounds and blocking shots, you know, things that big men are supposed to do. The Sixers have not had reliable center play for the past few seasons, so they’ll be hoping that Hawes’s high level of play doesn’t fade like Joaquin Phoenix’s career.
9. Denver Nuggets: One of my favorite teams to watch. They play fast on both ends of the court and, once again, George Karl has been able to put together a winning rotation despite having two of his starters from last year bail for China before the end of the lockout. They don’t have a true No.1 option, but Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari have established themselves as the team’s offensive leaders. Andre Miller, Al Harrington, and Nene Hilario have also provided offensive punch, along with veteran leadership for the team. What hurts the versatile Nuggets is the lack of a defensive anchor, despite the team’s wealth of big men. Luckily, they make up for that through their international appeal, with players from Italy, Russia, Brazil, Spain, and wherever the hell Kosta Koufos is from. Desire for Chinese citizenship is rumored to be the real reason why Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin went to China. Anyway, Denver can outshoot, outpass, and outscore opponents on any given night. If George Karl can get his team to limit turnovers, the team will be even more dangerous.
10. Indiana Pacers: Another team that is the product of solid drafting, smart free agent acquisitions, and shrewd trades. The team’s success this season can be attributed to the coaching of Frank Vogel, the further maturation and development of Paul George, Roy Hibbert, and Tyler Hansbrough, and the additions of George Hill and David West to the rotation. Once Danny Granger regains his shooting touch, the offense will only improve. The Pacers can make some noise with Granger as their No.1 option in the playoffs, but they will need Hibbert to become a consistent force as center, David West to continue recovering from his torn ACL at the end of last season, and the continued development of Paul George at the shooting guard position. Their dismantling at the merciless claws of LBJ and the Sunshine Band showed that Indiana does not have a title contender yet. But as long as the young guys keep improving and the team continues to beat the teams they should, Indiana will contend in the near future.
11. Atlanta Hawks: Just remembered that I do know what screams one and done: Tracy McGrady’s career. It’s fitting that he’s joined a team which has made the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in the past 3 seasons. What does that spell for the Hawks? In all likelihood, crippling regression. But then again, that was what the Hawks signed up for when they agreed to pay Joe Johnson almost $25 million when he is 34. Even with Tracy McGrady struggling to stay healthy from day-to-day and center Al Horford’s torn pectoral muscle keeping him out indefinitely, the Hawks will win 35-40 games this season. Jeff Teague has proved to be a capable NBA starting point guard – leading the team in assists and steals, Josh Smith has been a terrific defensive presence – stepping up his game in Horford’s absence, and Vladimir Radmanovic and Zaza Pachulia – the Eastern European Sylvester Stallone – have been their lovably serviceable selves. The team will miss Horford’s steady inside presence and post scoring ability and Marvin Williams might need to step up for once in his purgatory of an NBA career. Journeyman Ivan Johnson has been a godsend and has really helped to carry the burden of Horford’s absence.
12.Orlando Magic: Not sure if there’s ever been an elephant quite like the pending Dwight Flight in an NBA team’s room. The team is 8-3, but they have only beaten one potential playoff team in the Clippers, and Dwight’s surrounding cast are strictly .500 worthy. Ryan Anderson has been enjoying a career year, largely due to his increase in playing time and great shooting percentage. The team’s starting guards, Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson, have been playing below par. Hedo Turkoglu has been great in his role as a renowned defensive liability and hunchbacked point forward. The main problem with this team, however, is lack of depth. When J.J. Redick and Glen “Big Baby” Davis are the first guys off your bench, your team is NEVER going to challenge for a championship, no matter how hard the guys in the front office try to convince themselves otherwise. If the Magic receives a suitable offer for Howard in the next 2 months, they need to accept it, attach Turkoglu as a financial deadweight disguised as a bonus player and begin with the rebuilding process ASAP. Trading Howard, obviously, will be like taking the one talented Pussycat Dolls member out of the group halfway through a video. The rest of the Magic’s season, post Dwight Howard, will like the remainder of the video: little substance, the music/play goes from average to awful, and the audience quickly realizes that there is nothing worth seeing.
13. Dallas Mavericks: The Dallas Mavericks didn’t realize it, but they replaced Tyson Chandler in the offseason with his bizarro form: Vince Carter. While Tyson Chandler inspired communication, energy, and effort on defense, Vinsanity’s defensive indifference is contagious. The Mavericks lost more than many people realized when the team traded Tyson Chandler, and Brendan Haywood does not provide the athleticism, rebounding, or leadership that Chandler delivered on a nightly basis. While the team is 8-6 and 4th in points allowed, all but one win has been against competition with losing records. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry have their lowest scoring averages in years, Ian “The French Space Eater” Mahinmi is the team’s 5th leading scorer, and Lamar Odom’s marriage to Khloe “The Fat One” Kardashian is causing him to lose his soul and basketball playing ability. Hey, had to happen at some point. The team is already looking forward to the summer, where they will have a lot of cap space to work with. Repeat? Not happening.
14. Utah Jazz: I never expected for the Utah Jazz to have a winning record this far into the season. I did not like the team’s mix of a few veterans with mostly young players. I thought that Al Jefferson should be traded to open up minutes for Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. I was also unsold on coach Tyler Corbin, mainly because of the team’s very poor play under him after Jerry Sloan’s resignation last season. Like past Jazz teams, Utah’s record this season has been great at home. Unlike past Jazz teams, however, this team does not have Stockton, Malone, Deron Williams, or even Carlos Boozer. Al Jefferson has really stepped up as a defensive presence and as a leader for the team. Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors have respectively provided rebounding and athleticism down low. While Devin Harris has been a shell of his former self at the point, another former Maverick, Josh Howard, has been one of the best free agent acquisitions of the early season (which says a lot about last year’s free agent talent). Gordon Hayward needs to play with more aggression and the team probably hopes to see more out of rookies Alec Burks and Enes Kanter as the season progresses. If the team continues to dominate at home, they will make the playoffs.
15. Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies surprised most of the NBA world when they upset the No.1 seed Spurs in last season’s playoffs. Power forward Zach Randolph and center Marc Gasol controlled the paint and their dominance down low played an enormous part in the Grizzlies’ series win. Randolph is sidelined for up to 8 weeks with a slight MCL tear, and the team has struggled to get on track as a result. The acquisition of power forward/center Marresse Speights for the cost of Xavier Henry and a second round pick was vital. He provides much needed depth and has the potential to be a very good scorer. Rudy Gay, the No. 1 option on the team, is still trying to get back in the groove of things following a lengthy shoulder injury that sidelined him for much of last season. O.J. Mayo has, once again, been a fabulous underachiever for the team, which needs scoring more than ever. Mayo has the ability to be a starting shooting guard in the NBA, he just needs to put in the effort on a regular basis. Tony Allen and Mike Conley are both great on-the-ball defenders, the latter has been a good, if not great, facilitator at the point. In my opinion, this team needs to make a splash in order to be serious about repeating and even exceeding last season’s success. The key? Trade for Steve Nash. Memphis need to make an offer that the Suns will outright accept, and I believe that could be Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, and a 2012 1st round pick. I’ll talk more about this later, but it would provide Nash with an opportunity to make a run with a good team and give the Grizzlies a great floor general. It’s a risk, but a necessary one if the Grizzlies want to legitimately challenge in the West.
16. New York Knicks: What depresses me about this Knicks team, more than Knicks teams in the past, is 2 things. The first is that this was the year that the Knicks had BIG expectations. No more waiting, the Knicks were back. Needless to say, play has fallen way short of people’s expectations. The second is that this is a D’Antoni team that sucks on offense. This team was more exciting with Nate Robinson and David Lee as the offensive leaders than with Carmelo “Black Hole” Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire – obviously not better, but more entertaining. D’Antoni’s offense is predicated on quick ball movement and taking open shots. Black Hole Melo stagnates the offense. Amar’e, more often than not, looks lost without pick’n’rolls executed by an above average passer. The Knicks don’t have one. I believe that Carmelo Anthony was created to f*&$ up D’Antoni’s offense. I always thought that a top 10 offensive player would make an offense better, but I also believed that a top 10 offensive player makes scoring easier for his teammates. The neophytes have not performed at a high level. Landry Fields has regressed since Anthony’s arrival in the Big Apple, rookie Iman Shumpert can’t shoot at a high level, and Toney Douglas is a poor man’s Ben Gordon. Tyson Chandler and Shumpert have done a lot to improve the team’s defense. The team will get better, but they aren’t very deep, their best point guard has to be Baron Davis – there is no way he’s worse than what they currently have, and Bill “Sky” Walker and Josh “Jorts” Harrellson are in their rotation. If a team is that reliant on a good point guard, there are some severe issues with the team and/or the system.
17. Boston Celtics: the problem with the team is more an issue of depth than of age. Decline occurs when your old players get older, but it is also a consequence of trading Kendrick Perkins for a guy with the heart health of Bill Clinton and Nenad Krystic – currently playing for a Russian team famous for its affiliation with the Soviet army. Lovely. Newcomer Brandon Bass has been an upgrade from Big Baby Davis, but he is still a very solid back up at best. Rather than becoming immersed in a winning environment, not-so-lovable losers Chris Wilcox and Keyon Dooling have brought their techniques of defeat to the TD Garden. This season has been a result of poor draft choices, poor luck – Jeff Green’s heart operation has thrown more minutes in the way of Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlolic, and lack of offensive punch. At this point, Greg Stiemsma, while marginally functional on the offense end, protects the paint better than Jermaine O’Neal. O’Neal has lost much of his athleticism and offensive ability. I don’t believe the original Big 3 will be traded, despite past disregard for “Ubuntu.” With that said, a championship cannot be won in Boston unless young players like Avery Bradley, E’Twaun Moore, and JaJuan Johnson can start pulling their weight (not likely), Mickael Pietrus and Marquis Daniels can offer more scoring off the bench (also not likely), and Chris Wilcox gets out of the rut which has been his entire NBA career (less likely than the chance of Starburys becoming popular outside of China). The team MUST use its two first-round picks wisely in this year’s deep draft. For this year, unless the team’s play radically improves, Boston is likely going to be a 7th or 8th seed in the playoffs and unlikely to advance to the second round. This very disappointing result probably will, for better or worse, result in a roster shakeup.
18. Cleveland Cavaliers: Possibly a team that will be fighting the Celtics for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East this season. Of all the teams that the Timberwolves played in their tough early-season schedule, only the Cavaliers have been the only team to clearly outplay them. While they have also lost twice to the lowly Raptors, the Cavaliers have beaten other teams near the bottom of the league’s pecking order and have come to play just about every night. First overall pick, Kyrie Irving, has been very good, if not great, at the point while Anderson Varejao, the Sideshow Bobian pest in the middle that most people know and hate, has been a leader on the boards and on defense for the young team. Another leader has been Antawn Jamison, who has been one of the team’s best players on the offensive end and is still scoring at a very respectable rate. Rookie Tristan Thompson is still feeling his way into the league, but he has the athleticism and shot-blocking ability to be a Derrick Favors type.
19. Houston Rockets: A team that, to use a Walt Frazierism, never ceases to astound and confound on a given night. On some nights, they can play lights out. On other nights, they get blown out. Either way, this team features 2 of the most underrated players in the league, Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry – 2 guys that lead by example in the way that they bring their full effort to every single game. The talent level on the team is average at best, but a wealth of high-energy, fundamentally sound players like Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, and Chandler Parsons personify the team’s physical, hard-working style of play (5th in rebounds per game). It shouldn’t be a surprise given that Kevin McHale – a low-post bruiser in his day – is the coach. Playoffs probably won’t be a reality this season for the .500 caliber club, but an upgrade at center from Samuel Dalembert and stability to the platoon of small forwards would change that.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves: A team that is right around the corner from .500 ball and possibly playoff contention – thanks in a HUGE part to Rick Adelman, who should be a candidate for Coach of the Year if the team reaches .500. The big issue for the Minneapolis Wolverines this season has been their inability to finish games, and a lot of that is attributed to their inexperience and the injury to Michael “Lefty Melo” Beasley. While Beasley has many oh-God-no moments, he is the probably the best option to take the final shot of the game – for now. Ricky Rubio has been better than advertised, an absolute stud on both offense and, surprisingly, defense. He and Kevin Love have provided for a bulk of the offense while the team deals with the inconsistency of Anthony Randolph and rookie Derrick Williams. The team needs stability at the shooting guard position – Wes Johnson’s confidence level is in the negatives – and in the center position – Darko Milicic misses shots 2 feet from the basket. J.J. Barea has been a great signing, providing instant offense and veteran stability, but neither he nor Luke Ridnour should be defending shooting guards for most of the game. When Beasley returns with his form from last season, Williams develops rhythm from game to game, and Anthony Randolph plays over Darko Milicic (PLEASE RICK, END THE SUFFERING), the team will be very exciting to watch – and even more so next season.
21. Golden State Warriors: It’s been a rough go for the Oracle Arena faithful, who have seen their team reach for Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan, yet end up with Kwayme “HOLY SHIT HE GOT AN OFFENSIVE REBOUND” Brown, former No.1 overall pick and the only NBA player to be accused of assault via the throwing of cake. I wish I were joking. The team has also dealt with Stephen Curry’s numerous ankle injuries. This has placed more pressure than usual on Monta Ellis to shoot the ball – he has gladly obliged. Without Curry, he, David Lee, and Nate Robinson are the only producers of offense on the team – as seen in the team’s semi-recent loss to the Spurs. Rookie Klay Thompson has looked awful so far and Dorell Wright seems to have taken a step back after last year’s breakout campaign. While Ekpe Udoh has had his moments and the overpaid Andris Biedrins is always lurking, the team needs a high quality center to help mask David Lee’s defensive deficiencies and protect the rim. I believe that Mark Jackson will be a very good head coach, but he needs more than what he’s currently got on the roster.
22. Milwaukee Bucks: Carlos Delfino should not be an NBA starter. I know, I know, I’m risking whatever remaining credibility I have with this brash statement, but I’m going to go all out with my claim and say that the Bucks need an upgrade for the Argentine. Brandon Jennings has done his share scoring the ball, but he needs to do more in setting up his teammates for easy scores, even though some of that has to be attributed to Stephen Jackson’s and Andrew Bogut’s poor shooting thus far in the season. Surprisingly, even with Drew Gooden and rookie Jon Leuer, the Bucks are a very poor rebounding team. Even with the offseason acquisition of Jackson, the team needs another scorer – possibly Chase Budinger or Michael Beasley in the offseason if they amnesty Beno Udrih. The team has been great at home, and they will need to maintain their solid play at the Bradley Center if they have any shot at making the playoffs.
23. Sacramento Kings: It has been another rather unhappy season in Sacramento despite an impressive season-opening win over the Lakers. Every loss intensifies discussions of the King’s home being transferred into the back of a moving van. For me, Jimmer Fredette has been the biggest disappointment of the young season. He has had trouble finding his shot and has done very little in terms of running the offense. He and John Salmons have been models of inefficiency in the faulty jalopy that is the Kings team. DeMarcus Cousins, a leading candidate to be the Vince Young headcase of basketball, has surprisingly been one of the few sources of on-court stability for the Kings. Tyreke Evans has seemingly plateaued and Marcus Thornton is a scorer, not much else. Chuck Hayes was a good signing, bringing in a veteran who provides the team with needed defense and toughness. More than anything, the team needs a floor general, a guy who can create offense for others and has a basketball IQ that surpasses that of a sock puppet. With this draft being touted as the Draft of the Big Man, the team may have to address their point guard problem through free agency, with Raymond Felton being a possible target, or trade. The Kings hope that their point guard of the future is already on the roster.
24. Toronto Raptors: Despite being known in the NBA lunchroom as “That team that lost to the Washington Wizards,” there have been signs of hope for the Raptors and new coach Dwane Casey. The first is that the team is actually ranked 7th in points allowed per game. The second is that they have some young players – DeMar Derozan, Ed Davis, James Johnson – who are playing pretty well. The third is Jose Calderon, who has had an excellent assist to turnover ratio. The fourth is that Andrea Bargnani has become a good rebounder. Ok, the last one wasn’t true. Bargnani has been great scoring this year, but has not made any real strides in defense or rebounding. In other words, he still only tries on one end of the floor. Whoa, never saw that one coming. For all his faults, the team will need his scoring going forward, seeing as they have been near the bottom of the league in that department. To make the grand emergence from bottom dweller to middle of the pack, the team will need to keep giving their young guys minutes and hope that they keep improving. What really hurts the team is the lack of a good wing scorer – expect that to be the number one priority come draft time. Nothing would please the Raptors more than Harrison Barnes falling into the team’s lap on draft day.
25. Phoenix Suns: You have to wonder if the Suns’ front office has heard Richard Bach’s famous words: If you truly love something, set it free. Steve Nash is beloved in Phoenix, but, for many Phoenicians, the desire for Steve Nash to wind up on a winning team trumps having him on the Suns. The front office either secretly hates Nash or is deluded to the extent that they feel like this team can still make the playoffs. They need to trade Steve Nash while they still can. He becomes a free agent in the summer and he undoubtedly has value, especially for teams fancying their chances at making a playoff run – you know, besides the Suns. Nash is still playing at a very high level, and will probably play for another year or 2. I believe that the Grizzlies are the team to make a move for the finest Canadian athlete outside of hockey and moose riding. Trading for Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo would give the Suns their starting guards for the next few years. Mayo is a free agent at the end of the year and would much prefer going to a team where he starts, so odds are that he doesn’t return to Memphis anyway. Oh yeah, and about the Suns? Markieff Morris has been a pleasant surprise for the team and Marcin Gortat is a quality center. Robin “Bizarro Brook” Lopez is not. The team needs upgrades at the shooting guard and power forward positions.
26. New Orleans Hornets: All David Stern had to do to get an array of interesting young players and hope for the future of his franchise was piss off just about every basketball lover in the nation and cause milions of people to question the league’s integrity. Gripes about the commissioner aside, the Hornets have some nice picks/young players in this post Chris Paul era. Once Eric Gordon and Xavier Henry return from injury, the team will have a couple of very talented shooting guards. Jarrett Jack has played well at the point and Chris Kaman, Carl Landry, and Emeka Okafor have played a big role in the team’s current position as 3rd in the league in rebounds per game. Monty Williams is a very good coach, but his team is clearly in rebuilding mode and probably will be next season too.
27. New Jersey Nets: With or without Brook Lopez, this is probably one of the least talented teams in the league. New Jersey gutted its roster to acquire Deron Williams last season, and it doesn’t have the assets to acquire Dwight Howard without a third party becoming heavily involved. Shooting guards Anthony Morrow and rookie MarShon Brooks have been necessary scoring contributions while Kris Humphries grabs the basketball real good when he sees the ball in the air (I don’t have a deep appreciation for Humphries basketball IQ, or lack of). It’s probably for the best that Humphries and Kardashian weren’t together for long. They would have had some really stupid offspring. Damion James is a poor excuse for a small forward. They desperately need an upgrade for him. They need…they need…Hedo Turkoglu! Of course! Imagine Magic’s GM Otis Smith’s surprise if Mikhail Prokhorov called him and demanded a trade for Hedo Turkoglu. The conversation would probably go like this, Otis: “You’re sure? You don’t want Dwight anymore? Prokhorov: No…just…the Turkish man…no more Damion James. I give you 4 first round picks. I think that the Nets will find a way to land Dwight – before the deadline or in the offseason. Until then, the team will continue to suffer from lack of Hedo.
28. Detroit Pistons: Who would have thought that it would be the 2009 signings of young players and former Huskies Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva that would set the franchise back? Clearly not Pistons GM Joe Dumars, who gleefully handed the duo a grand total of $90 million over 5 years. Little did he know that neither player likes to do much besides shoot 3’s. “Anything else is for the weak,” says Villanueva, from his current position at the end of the bench. I think the team can move forward with Jonas Jerebko and Greg Monroe, a future star, as their big men. The problem with the team is Dumars, who should have let Tayshaun Prince go. Instead he signed the past-his-prime Lank Master of Inefficiency to 4 more years and $27 million. Brandon Knight was a good draft pick, he’s played decently thus far and is a truer point guard than Rodney Stuckey, but Austin Daye hasn’t exactly panned out, and did I mention that Tayshaun Prince was resigned for 4 years and $27 million? The team needs Doron Lamb in this year’s draft if he declares. They need big upgrades at the shooting guard and small forward positions and a GM who is not an agoraphobe. For those that don’t know, agoraphobia is fear of open spaces. In Dumars’s case, he is afraid of open cap space and does all he can to destroy it. The Pistons need a new guy controlling the books in Motown.
29. Charlotte Bobcats: The least talented team in the NBA. An NBA team should never have Hoosier legend D.J. White or Cory Higgins in its rotation. Matt Carroll? Are you kidding me? The Bobcats need a new slogan: If you don’t think you can play in the NBA, think Bobcats. The Smush Parker countdown has started. Credit must be given to the Bobcats for seeing potential in B.J. Mullens, who was buried in the depths of the Thunder roster. He has been one of the team’s best players and, while that’s not saying much, his shooting touch has surprised a lot of people. Boris Diaw gained weight and tried to do his best impersonation as a center. While giving a valiant effort, he lacks the size to battle with 7 footers in the post. Gerald Henderson has played well in his first year as a full-time starter. The team’s point guard situation is one to keep a check on: many people would like to see Kemba Walker start, but D.J. Augustin is currently the established starter in Charlotte. Augustin is the better playmaker, while Walker is more electrifying. The team is going nowhere this season, and should hope for Kentucky’s Terrence Jones or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to be there for them on draft day.
30. Washington Wizards: A team with a wealth of young talent that is going absolutely nowhere without the development of John Wall and a head coaching change. Signs of divisions have appeared following their loss to the Rockets and the team needs a fresh philosophical start. Wall had a 38-point explosion after spending the beginning of the season in a lackadaisical malaise. He needs to keep his foot on the gas, make smart decisions with the ball, and take smarter shots. If McGee stays focused, he has the athleticism and defensive prowess to become one of the top centers in the game. I liked the team’s draft selections: Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton. The former, an athletic standout, needs more time to adjust to the NBA game and Singleton is a solid player who can develop into a more athletic Shane Battier type. They have a number of guys who can score – Jordan Crawford, Nick Young, Andray Blatche – without contributing much else to the team’s potential of success. Keyword is potential, definitely not success. The team doesn’t have serious needs to address through the draft. More than anything, they need to move in a different direction, and time.