Atlanta Hawks: Josh Smith is not going to take you anywhere. Smith is an excellent player at his position and has served the city of Atlanta well. But when you take his seemingly sporadic shot selection and random desire to take mid range jumpers, mixed in with his uncaring “Bad-boy” attitude, you are left with two options.
Option 1: Trade Josh Smith for some more focused talent, or high draft picks. That is the only way you can cement the future of the Hawks franchise. (And maybe actually get them past the first round).
Option 2: Bring in some talent to help Smith. Smith seems to be the only bright spot on an otherwise underwhelming ball club. Do what the Clippers front office did for Blake Griffin. Give him some help. A dominant center paired with Smith could make for one of the better front-courts in the eastern conference. Until either of these happens, Smith is a thorn in the side of the franchise. Oh, and losing Joe Johnson isn’t going to help either.
Boston Celtics: You are old, and Rajon Rondo does not magically make anyone younger. The Celtics franchise has proved quite nicely that being old is not a huge issue. If you don’t believe me, watch some of the footage from this year’s playoffs. They were one quarter away from knocking out the Almighty Miami Heat, making LeBron jokes an even bigger trend, and advancing to the NBA Finals once again.
However, yet another year has gone by, and the core of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett did not get any younger. This is where Rondo comes in. Celtics apologists always point to Rondo when they are confronted with the fact that their team is old. While he makes his teammates better, Rondo can’t make them faster, or save them from injuries. The Celtics are a great team, and well-led by Rajon Rondo. But if father time catches up, not even Rondo can save the team then.
Charlotte Bobcats: You are still the Charlotte Bobcats. And Michael Jordan is still your GM. That’s all I got.
Chicago Bulls: You are not going to be as dominant as you were for a while. I’m not talking about the Jordan days; I’m talking about six months ago when Derrick Rose was the man, and made the Bulls into the best team in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, Rose is not the man at the moment, as he continues to nurse his torn ACL, and there are no guarantees that he will be the same player when he returns.
Keep in mind that the Bulls are still a great team, and should float about the fourth or fifth seed in the standing until rose returns to bump them up to at least third. They will definitely be a part of the playoff picture, but advancement past the second round seems unlikely. Should Rose make an epic recovery, 2013-2014 Champs seem possible, but for now, mediocrity shall be the lot of the Bulls fan-base.
Cleveland Cavaliers: You won’t be seeing the playoffs anytime soon. This one broke my heart a little, because I really do like the Cavs. They don’t really have anyone on the team who is a huge jerk, sans Dan Gilbert if you happen to be LeBron James. Kyrie Irving is a really nice young talent, and will certainly carry the Cleveland ball club very far in a few years. The key phrase here is, “a few years.” The idea of Irving blossoming into a perennial All-Star is not preposterous as he displayed excellent work ethic and a decent basketball IQ in his stellar rookie season.
On almost any other team, this would be just good enough of a scenario to put a team in the playoffs. A young up-and-coming PG like Irving could spice up any team. Right? Unfortunately for the Cavs, when it comes to talent, Kyrie Irving is it. Sure Anderson Varejão can rebound well, Tristan Thompson is an exciting acquisition, and Luke Walton-well never mind. The point is, the Cavaliers are filled with potential, but really not much else. A Cavs team three years down the road could make some serious playoff noise, but this season? Not so much.
Dallas Mavericks: You have done literally nothing to get any better. It’s not a big secret that the Mavericks ended their season on a real sour note by being knocked out of title contention by the unstoppable freight train of youth, enthusiasm, and facial hair that was the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the playoffs, the Mavs looked, old, slow, tired, and just overall defeated. Dirk has made it clear to all of us he cannot simply carry the team the way he used to. In fact, he pretty much disappeared during the playoffs. There really isn’t much to say. The Mavericks still have some good pieces in Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion, and will more than likely make the playoffs. If the even survive past the first round remains to be seen. If things don’t get better around Dallas, they are going to get a heck of a lot worse.
Denver Nuggets: Having Andre Igudala does not make you a title contender. I admit AI is a great fit in Denver. The Nuggets are a fast paced team with one of the best offenses in the NBA today. They are quick, efficient, and decently deep and should be considered as one of those teams who are “on the rise”. The addition of Javale McGee and Andre Igudala, plus the budding of SF Danilo Gallinari will make the Nuggets a serious threat down the road too. Assuming their system continues to work, Denver will have a bright future and the soap opera that was Carmelo Anthony will be long behind them. All those wonderful things being said, The Nuggets could not even get past the dysfunctional Lakers in last year’s first round of the playoffs. Nuggets fans are rejoicing as their chosen one has come to save them. Not so fast Denver, but your time will come.
Detroit Pistons: This team has a lot of maturing to do before anyone can mention the word “playoffs.” The Pistons are all about the future. Ever since Rasheed Wallace ended his beautiful tenure in Detroit, the bad-boy ball club hasn’t looked so big or bad. Thankfully for the fans, the rebuilding phase has ended, and now we must simply wait for things to develop. However, this can often be just as a painful process as rebuilding. It is a frustrating thing to see a team filled with talent unable to win games simply because their game hasn’t developed yet.
Unfortunately for Detroit, there will be at least another year of under development before Detroit even considers the eighth seed as part of their plan. There have been times when this rag tag bunch of has-beens and draft picks were decent. They went on a bizarre 9 game win streak last season, and seemed for a brief time, to forget that they were a terrible team. This year will have a few more bright spots and the year after that more still, eventually, the bright will become the majority, and the Pistons will be a force to be reckoned with yet again. Sadly for the fans, this time is still a ways off.
Golden State Warriors: You guys are seriously stuck in neutral. Warriors, welcome to basketball purgatory. Population: You and the Raptors. The Golden State Warriors always intrigued me to be honest. It seems as they have done nothing since the Baron Davis days, and even those were fairly a lackluster time for the basketball fan base of Oakland. All that has really changed over the last few years is the logo, but even that cannot cover up the double-digit losses they are bound to make the fans suffer through this season.
The reason that I find this so interesting is that Golden State has never had a severe lack of talent. First it was Baron Davis, then Monta Ellis (with a little Nate Robinson mixed in), and now Andrew Bogut. The Warriors have also been plagued with the awful position of just being bad enough to be a non-factor in the playoffs, and yet good enough to not get any incredibly good draft picks. So, as long as nothing changes, the Warriors are going to be essentially the same team they have been for the past 10 years! To me, it seems less like the Warriors can’t be good, and more them somebody in the front office doesn’t want them to be good. At any rate, if management doesn’t change, neither will this team.
Houston Rockets: Having Jeremy Lin does not make you good, or even playoff bound. Alright, I know this one is going to make a lot of people angry. Jeremy Lin is fantastic. I absolutely jumped aboard his bandwagon in an act of uncharacteristic sports hypocrisy. He is a great a guy, a great role model, and electrifying player, but he is not going to turn around the Rockets franchise by any stretch of the imagination.
The problem with the point guard position is that it seems to be limited. Not in the sense that PG’s are not allowed by NBA policy to do enough, just that the nature of the position makes it hard to carry a team. Granted there have been a few exceptions to this rule with players like Chris Paul and Derrick Rose, but usually, even the most proficient 1 cannot play enough offense and defense to flip a team around. Lin is simply too young and inexperienced to be considered in that rare category with Rose and Paul. The new look Rockets remind me strangely of the Cleveland Cavaliers in that their only source of incredible talent is a young, scoring point guard. And what will happen if Lin was to be injured, or even choke under the pressure of trying to get the Rockets into the playoffs. Adding Lin was a good move for Houston, but it won’t magically make them better.
Indiana Pacers: You are one awesome player away from being an incredible team. The thing I love most about the Pacers is that they are a great team, but yet don’t have “the man”. Kobe is LA’s man, Dirk is Dallas’ man, and John Wall is the Wizards man. Who is “the man” for the Pacers? I haven’t a clue. This comes as a blessing and a curse. First of all, it solves the problem of egotism becoming a cancer to the locker-room. On the other hand, leadership can be iffy, and deciding who takes that game winner is not an easy task for the coach or his players.
Unfortunately for the Pacers, the “not having a man” method is only going to get them into the second round of the playoffs, only to be knocked out by some team who does, in fact, have a “man”. The Pacers have struggled at the point guard position in recent years. George Hill isn’t bad at his job; he is just not the answer for Indiana. Unfortunately for the Pacers’ front office, Job One this year was making sure Roy Hibbert kept his massive self in a Pacers jersey. However, by next year, if the Pacers can acquire a “man” from free agency, they could truly be a force to be reckoned with.
LA Clippers: You are a high-flying, blue and red, overpaying, playoff disaster. Let’s face it. There was a reason the Clippers got swept in the second round of last year’s playoffs. In fact, I was simply impressed that they even made it past Memphis. As for their loss to San Antonio, I don’t even know where to start. It could have been the Clippers shallow bench, or their lack of an effective center, or maybe it was their youth, or inexperience, it might have had something to do with their lousy coaching. If you ask me, those factors more than likely contributed to the downfall of Lob City. If nothing changes in LA, you can expect another early golfing trip for this Clippers team.
LA Lakers: Not only was signing Dwight Howard not that big of a deal, it doesn’t guarantee you anything. If there was one single team in the entire NBA who could possibly use Dwight Howard less than anyone else, it was the Los Angeles Lakers. They had Andrew Bynum as their staring center for goodness sake! There are some that would argue Bynum was better than Howard anyway. The Lakers essentially went from the second best center in the league to the best. The Lakers already had an elite center anyway. And while Dwight Howard’s defensive ability far surpasses that of Andrew Bynum, Bynum makes up for it with his offensive proficiency. What will happen if Howard decides he does not like being a Laker or having to share a spotlight with Kobe and Nash? Howard has proved he can be a diva without the season even taking place. The Lakers have a taken a low reward high risk gamble on Dwight Howard. I don’t mean to play NBA judge and jury, but if the whole thing blew up in their faces, it would serve them right for getting greedy.
Memphis Grizzlies: If you had a bench, you might be a contender. I like the Grizzlies. I don’t know why, but I do. Ever since I saw them upset the Spurs in last year’s playoffs, they just grew on me. I like their intense play style, I like their fans, and I like how most of their players actually look like grizzly bears. However, once you get past a great starting lineup and facial hair, there isn’t much going on there. If the Grizz had been successful in their alleged attempts to sign Ray Allen in this offseason, we would have a different story. But they didn’t, so we don’t.
They have a great front court in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, but there is simply no one to back them up. The Grizzlies front office needs to place some calls to people such as Jermaine O’Neal, Darko Milicic, and Chris Kaman. In the meantime, see what’s going on with PGs around the league. The Grizzlies are a scrappy team. They don’t need a glitz Dwayne Wade or Blake Griffin; they just need some good old fashioned bench fodder to hold down the fort while Zach Randolph enjoys his daily 5 gallons of Gatorade.
Miami Heat: You are not the only scary team any more. I came right out and said I loved the Grizzlies. To be fair, I hate the Miami Heat and everything they stand for. Their players make me sick, their coach makes me cringe, and the fans make me hang my head in shame. All of those horrible things being said, they are an incredible ball club. LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh? Ok, maybe not that last guy, but just the same, the Heat are nothing short of a super team. Mario Chalmers is certainly going places too. They are studded with perimeter shooters and could become one of the better 3-point teams in the league thanks to Shane Battier and Ray Allen.
However, the rest of league caught on, and seemed to have made themselves Heat proof. Take a look at the Celtics for example. Kevin Garnett eats Chris Bosh for breakfast, Paul Pierce should be giving LeBron James lessons in clutch, and for good measure, they brought along Miami’s old friend: Jason Terry. Take a look out west. Behold, another Big 3 has been born. Dwight, Kobe, and Nash are quite the matchup with Miami, and have a somewhat decent bench for the first time in a while. Do I even need to mention the Thunder and Bulls? The Miami Heat may be an elite team, but they have shown they are mortal. Now that the secret is out, everyone is on the attack.
Milwaukee Bucks: You will not have the best back court in the league. Upon hearing Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings were teaming up in Milwaukee, my heart skipped a beat. Was a lousy team about to become good? No. A lousy team almost made the playoffs, but didn’t really change that much and were still lousy. How did this happen? For reasons known only to the basketball gods, things are not working out well in Milwaukee for the only ball club in town. Quite frankly, the Bucks are left with two options. A. Figure out how to make Monta and Brandon play well together. Or B. Trade one or the other for some talent that could aid the team. This would create the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin effect if done perfectly, and perhaps restore some dignity to one of the league’s most underwhelming franchises.
Minnesota Timberwolves: If you are going to be any good, you need to get bigger. The Timberwolves got stiffed all last season. They missed the playoffs, Ricky Rubio sustained an injury, and Kevin Love did not win MVP. That’s hardly a banner year for the struggling franchise. However, all bad luck aside, if Minnesota had the ideal season with all the pieces that they had, the probably would’ve lost in the second round of the playoffs anyway. The Timberwolves idea of a center is Nikola Peković . That’s funny, because coincidentally, my idea of an over-hyped, over-paid, foreign player is Nikola Peković. Just the same, let the record show that the T-Wolves are already on the right track. Rubio is recovering, last I checked Kevin Love is still Kevin Love, and the recent acquisition of blocking super-freak Greg Steimsma will definitely be helpful.
Tune in soon to see Reality checks for NBA teams N-Z.