A few weeks ago I published my reality checks for teams A-M, which you can see here. Below is the second half of that article, reality checks for teams N-Z.
New Jersey Nets: First of all, it is I who needs a reality check. The Nets are in Brooklyn now, and not New Jersey. My apologies to Nets fans thinking I forgot about them. Now, as for the actual team; you are not a championship contender all of a sudden. Nets fans and publicists alike are talking up the Brooklyn Nets as if they are the favorites to win the East. I’m not really sure why. Don’t get me wrong, the Nets have improved leaps and bounds this offseason, despite not acquiring Dwight Howard from the Magic. Just the same, they are in a very good position moving forward. For starters, by some miracle that a mere mortal cannot understand, Deron Williams is staying with Brooklyn. (Maybe it had less to do with miracle and more to do with 100 million dollars. But that’s just a theory.) Retaining Kris Humphries was good too, meaning that the Nets will still continue tio grab boards at the very least. Factor in the addition of Joe Johnson, and the Nets are suddenly a very good team and quite the force to be reckoned with. A good team? For sure. A championship contender? Not on your life.
New Orleans Hornets: You are either going to be awesome or even worse. Austin Rivers and Anthony Davis are two pretty special reasons to be feeling happy about your 2012-2013 campaign. Two first round draft picks are enough to make anyone happy. Especially when they were 1st and 10th overall. However, what the Hornets fans and media must remember is that despite how good these two rookies are, they are still rookies. On most teams, rookies do not start ball games. The Hornets are so bad, these two will probably start. So from one point of view, it’s pretty sad to have to start draft picks, but if you have to start them, these are the two you want. From there, there are only really two ends of the spectrum in the form of scenarios. Scenario A: Austin Rivers and Anthony Davis play like rookies, and are undersized, outmatched, and outhustled. Scenario B: Austin Rivers and Anthony Davis play like total bosses, hijack the Hornets franchise, and send the good city of New Orleans skyrocketing into the playoffs. Even if scenario B doesn’t work out, the Hornets have kept speedy guard Eric Gordon, and added three-point machine Ryan Anderson. New Orleans, prepare yourself for a miracle or a train wreck.
New York Knicks: Hoo boy. I could go all day with this one. But just for kicks, here are a few reality checks: Amare Stoudamire is going to be your downfall. The Carmelo Anthony experiment is a failure. Jason Kidd is too old. You should have kept Jeremy Lin. Mike Woodson is not going to get the job done. You are overshadowed by Brooklyn. Tyson Chandler cannot do it alone. You took too big of a gamble on Steve Novak. Pick your favorite New York. Just don’t show this to Jason Kidd. We don’t want him hitting the bottle.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook is not the man for the job. The Oklahoma City Thunder are an awesome team, and as such, it was hard to give them a much bigger reality check than the one the Miami Heat gave them, and the severe one they almost received from Gregg Popovich and the gang in the playoffs. That being said, there is no sense in telling them are inexperienced. This is a problem that will literally take of care of itself, then reveal the true form of the Thunder. OKC is clearly going to be in and out of the playoffs for the next few years. They will have no shortage of hard-knocks and experience.
Now to the issue of Westbrook. If you ask me, Russell Westbrook is one of the best examples of a waste of potential. Westbrook in many ways represents the Thunder. He is young, inexperienced, full of energy, extremely hard to stop, and highly successful. Ironically enough, he is not a good fit with OKC. However, on just about any other team, he would be a true superstar. What Westbrook needs is his own team. He needs to be the man. It is clear that OKC belongs to Kevin Durant just as it is clear that he is “The Man”. That’s not to say Durant and Westbrook are causing locker-room problems or being divas, but their play styles clash so much, it will continue to be an issue. For starters, both Westbrook and Durant are scorers, so much so, Westbrook seems as though he would be happier playing the 2 rather than the 1. The only thing stopping him is his height. For example, he only averaged 5 assists per game last season. 5 assists are decent, especially when sharing with a pass-first PG in James Harden, but are not the numbers of a pure PG.
Let me clarify. There is nothing wrong with not being a pure point guard. Rajon Rondo is one, and he does fine. Derrick Rose is far from one, and does fine as well. The only problem is that OKC does not need another scoring option; they need a pure point guard. Turn Westbrook loose in a franchise like the Raptors, Magic, or Blazers, and he would ball night in and night out. But his skills are not being put to good use in a blue and orange uniform.
Orlando Magic: Where is Dwight Howard? Oh yeah, Los Angeles. At least you still have Stan Van- oh wait.
Philadelphia 76ers: There is going to be no major change in the makeup of your team. Since the Philadelphia 76ers managed to trade Andre Iguodala in exchange for Andrew Bynum, fans and analysts alike have heralded the coming golden age of Philadelphia basketball. Andrew Bynum and Andre Iguodala are vastly different players with about as irreconcilable games as you could find, but Bynum is actually going to fill in quite nicely for Iguodala. While there is a bit of a size difference, both are scoring powers with a highly underrated defensive style. Iguodala is not going to take over at the 5 in Denver, and I don’t foresee Bynum being used as a small forward. Just the same, Bynum essentially carries the same load Iguodala would have. So while this move was flashy, there is very little substance behind it at all.
Phoenix Suns: Luis Scola is not going to save you. The Phoenix Suns are currently recovering from the loss of their All-Star point guard, Steve Nash. As a result, they are in a surprisingly successful recovery stage. Don’t misunderstand me here. The Suns are going to be a lousy team for a while. This is not a Carmelo Anthony-Denver Nuggets sort of situation, where the superstar leaves, and the team somehow gets better. This is also not a LeBron James-Cleveland Cavaliers situation where the Superstar sucker punches his team, and they are left reeling into obscurity. The Suns acquisition of Luis Scola is what’s keeping them where they are on the spectrum. Scola was a real star for the Rockets, using his size and unorthodox play style to at least make them look as mediocre as they always have. Shannon Brown is still around, and Marcin Gortat will keep the frontcourt healthy. Add in a dash of the high-risk, high-reward Michael Beasley, and Phoenix is looking alright even without Steve Nash. The Suns are not the new Bobcats, but their addition of Luis Scola is not all it takes to make them a good team.
Portland Trailblazers: The basketball gods are mad at you guys. The poor Blazers. They are probably the only team on this list who is getting a reality check that is out of their control. The Blazers never did anything to anyone. They just quietly sold a few jerseys, never really made any playoff noise, and don’t even have any rival to speak of. Really the only contribution they made to the league was Patty Mills’ “Three-Goggles”. I like to think of them as the Hawks of the West: A generally harmless team, with some good faithful fans.
As recently as last year, the Trailblazers started making some waves. They maintained a good record, were winning games, and had one heck of an offense. This sudden Portland basketball renaissance was sparked and led by none other than young Shooting Guard, Brandon Roy. Things were finally looking up for Portland. They had a solid big man in Greg Oden, and one of the most underappreciated stars in the league in Brandon Roy. It all went downhill from there. Maybe the Blazers were getting too good, and David Stern sent his secret police after Roy. Maybe it was the alignment of the stars. Maybe the universe woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and was by no means a blazers fan. At any rate, Brandon Roy’s degenerative knee condition caused him to sorrowfully and prematurely announce his retirement from basketball.
That’s where the story ends, right? Oh no. Things have to get even worse for Portland. Two years later, Roy announced that after having the same procedure performed on his knee as the one Kobe Bryant had, he was fully healthy and ready to return to the league. This would be great for the struggling Blazers, right? Oh no. Because he could no longer play, and had to retire while his contract was still in effect, Portland had no choice but to amnesty him. This essentially means that he was no longer affiliated with the team. Lets recap: The Blazers bring up a young rookie, and whip him into a star. The young star brings his team into playoff participants. The young star has to retire in his 20s from a knee problem. The knee problem is solved. The young star is free to play for any team in the NBA…except the Portland Trailblazers. Anyone else see the irony here? It is literally illegal for Brandon Roy to sign with the Trailblazers. This article has been waking up teams who put themselves to sleep. The Blazers had nothing to do with their own demise. And for that, we pity them.
Sacramento Kings: This has to get worse until it can get better. The way I see it, the Sacremento Kings live and die by DeMarcus Cousins. Those rare occasions he acts like an NBA player, and not a child, the Kings are a decent team and an overall force to be reckoned with. Basically, unless there are any major moves made, the Kings will only go as far as Cousins will take them. And the way things are going, he won’t be taking them anywhere any time soon. I suppose the keyword here is “soon”. If Cousins can manage to mature into the top five center he can be, the Kings will go farther than expected. (Solid development from Jimmer Fredette would help too.)
San Antonio Spurs: You may finally be out of magic tricks. If there is one thing fans should know about the NBA, it is that you can never count out the Spurs. Ever. Just don’t. As soon as you call Tim Duncan old, he’ll go off for 30 points, beat on some supposedly greater team, deliver the smuggest post-game press conference in history, clean off his dentures and pretend it never happened. It came to the point when no matter how bad it looked like the Spurs were going to be, they still made the playoffs, and made a run at the Larry O’Brien trophy.
For this, I always envied San Antonio. When they were upset by the Grizzlies in last year’s playoffs, I thought they were through. Boy was I wrong. They swept their way into the Western Conference Finals, only to lose to Oklahoma City in 6 games. Oh well, the Spurs are still the Spurs, so they’ll be back next year! Not this time. San Antonio may finally be out of miracles. Maybe Greg Poppovich will run out of Pixie Dust, maybe Tim Duncan will run out of those ensure shakes, or maybe Manu Ginobili’s contract won’t be covered by AARP anymore. Don’t expect the Spurs to have a losing record. Heck, don’t even count on them missing the playoffs. But after the near silent offseason San Antonio had, don’t expect them to be winning any banners any time soon. Duncan is 36 and Ginobili is 35, even their supposed young gun Tony Parker has reached the 30 mark. Will the Spurs end in a fiery crash? Probably not. Expect them to ride off into the sunset, to fight another year.
Toronto Raptors: You have made zero progress in actually becoming a playoff team. I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but Toronto is not exactly a dream destination for the stars of today’s NBA. Aside from Chris Bosh and Vince Carter, the Raptors have never really landed themselves a big name superstar. In fact, both Carter and Bosh were drafted by the Raptors, so they didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter anyway. The fact that the Raptors are bad could probably be blamed on the fact that they are in Toronto. No big players want to play, or stay in Toronto. Its cold, and probably not their home country. Because no big players wanted to play there to begin with, the team is lousy, and therefore no other big name players want to play there either. Unfortunately for Toronto, this cycle of mediocrity will essentially get them in the same spot they were the year before as long as they let it. However, as recently as a few months ago, the Raptors had a chance to get themselves out of the endless cycle of failure and quite possibly into the playoffs.
The first instance was even rarer than the second, because one of the biggest stars in the league was interested: Steve Nash. Nash is a legal resident of Canada and has been known to be extremely proud of his heritage as well as his country. So the idea of getting to finish his career in Toronto, one of the largest and most beautiful cities in Canada, would obviously be very appealing to him. However, the combination of a heroic speech from Nash’s childhood hero, Wayne Gretzky and the Raptors front office could not get the job done.
The lights of LA were simply too bright for Nash, turning down the Great White North for the hills of Hollywood. Their second, and less rare opportunity came in this year’s NAB draft. The raptors have been sorely missing the big man defense and play style because of their loss of Chris Bosh, and have seem to have had a 7 foot tall hole that needed filling with another powerful big man. This brings me to their draft picks. The closest thing to getting bigger Toronto did was draft forward Quincy Acy. While they did acquire an elite point guard in Terrence Ross, that was not what they needed. The Raptors actually have a fairly underrated backcourt. To get off this cycle of failure, Toronto needs to get bigger. And the way things are going, that will not be happening any time soon.
Utah Jazz: You need to find a “Man”. The Utah Jazz have a bad case of the Pacers. My only diagnosis, and the only cure, is get themselves a superstar not named Al Jefferson. Big Al may be just big enough o drag that sorry excuse for a team into the playoffs for another year or two, but when he stops producing, so does the team. While I see nothing wrong with the idea of a team depending on a player, that player sure as heck better be a top 5 player in the league. Jefferson is by no means a top 5 player. He might not even be a top 20 player! When your star player isn’t much of a star, your supposed playoff team isn’t much of a playoff team. The Jazz need a star so bad, they don’t even need a good one. My suggestion? Find some shmuck in free agency or dying to get back into the league, preferably a point guard to team up with Al Jefferson. No matter how bad a team is, a big guy-little guy combo can make you look decent. If you don’t believe me, ask Ricky Rubio and Kevin love, or maybe Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Somebody get Gilbert Arenas on the phone. If it wasn’t too late, I’d suggest Andray Blatche. Heck, can you imagine if Allen Iverson laced up his shoes once again to go play in Utah? It doesn’t’ matter who, but the Jazz need to find “The Man.” And they need to find him fast.
Washington Wizards: John Wall isn’t going to do it alone. The only way John Wall is going to do anyone any favors all alone, is if he is in a one on one tournament. Wall is undeniably the future of the Wizards, aside from the fact he is a point guard, he is great to build around due to his intensity, work ethic, and versatile play-style reflected by very few guards in the league, much less those even close to his own age. He can become a championship caliber player as well as “The Man” for the Wizards. Notice how I said he can become on, not he certainly is. In fact, no one could under his circumstances. Aside from a few notable draft picks, the Wizards haven’t really been making John Wall’s tenure worth his while. Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld plays a dangerous game by not bringing in any talent for Wall. Howard was alone is Orlando, so he left. Bosh was alone in Toronto, so he left. Paul was alone in New Orleans, so he left. I also seem to recall a certain player for the Cleveland Cavaliers making a similar career move two summers ago. The point being, John Wall isn’t going to bring a championship to Washington, let alone evn bring himself there, is he does not get a talented supporting cast. Wall is keeping up his elite level of play. Can the Wizards front office follow suit?