With the NBA opening its training camps all over the place, and the season so close to starting, lets kick things off with:
Training Camp Power Rankings:
1. Boston Celtics: The champs will always be number one on my rankings, at least during the preseason. The loss of Posey, however, could cause them lose some of their defensive intensity and thus lose this top spot in the future. The signing of Darius Miles was basically Danny Ainge’s way of giving Kevin Pritchard of the Portland Trailblazers the finger. Other than that, there was really no need to sign an older, gimpier version of Bill Walker…especially when the Celtics just drafted Bill Walker in the second round.
2. San Antonio Spurs: They have won every odd year since the Lakers three-peated early on in the decade. The injury to Ginobili could be a blessing in disguise as it will keep him fresh for the stretch run and the playoffs and force other role players to finally step up. This is going to be Greg Poppovich’s toughest year yet, but does anyone really doubt that he will be up for the challenge? On the other hand, their biggest signing was Roger Mason so uh yeah…they have that going for them too I guess.
3. Los Angeles Lakers: On paper there is just so much talent from Kobe to Pau to Bynum to Odom, but the fact remains that there is just one ball. This is a crucial training camp as players are going to have to figure out their roles and how to play along. What is not helping form a new chemistry is Odom already complaining about his role before training camp even starts. I guess it’s never easy in LA. The basic key in my mind then is how much is Pau Gasol willing to sacrifice? If he willingly plays in the high post and racks up assists feeding the ball to Bynum and a cutting Odom while rarely looking for his own offense so as to give the others the touches they so want, the Lakers will return to the finals. If not, look for Odom to be shipped off by the trade deadline or at least for Trevor Ariza to start in his place and bring him off the bench.
4. New Orleans Hornets: This team has a starting five that is on par with anyone else’s, but their depth is shallower than a high school sophomore. They especially have no one to back up Chris Paul or Tyson Chandler as Mike James has been erratic since his arrival to the big easy and Hilton Armstrong sounds like a hotel chain that specializes in gyms.
5. Detroit Pistons: This team has a solid starting five and now has good depth at pretty much every position. Michael Curry however has to get their effort to be more consistent, use his bench much more than his predecessors Flip Saunders and Larry Brown, and emphatically delete the offense installed by the aforementioned Saunders. If he can do all of that, there is no reason this veteran team cannot return to the finals.
6. Houston Rockets: Can Yao Ming stay healthy? Can Tracey McGrady? Can Ron Artest play good soldier and force up too many shots? Can he also consistently guard power forwards? Can the point guards like Rafer Alston run the half court sets more efficiently while also playing defense at a high level? Will Shane Battier be able to adjust once more in order to benefit the team? If even half these answers are yes, then the Rockets will be an emerging force in the west this year. Judging by the high rankings, Rocket fans, I think you will be happy with this season.
7. Utah Jazz: One thing that most people don’t realize with this team is that it is actually quite weak defensively. So to counteract this weakness, Jerry Sloan has his players slow down the pace and limit the amount of possessions the opposing team has in a game. That is really why this team ends up with respectable traditional defensive stats at the end of the year. However, there aren’t that many smokes and mirrors on the offensive side, which remains as potent as ever. Will the fact that it is the contract year of so many of the teams players help or hurt them? It says here that Jerry Sloan will make sure that it helps them.
8. Phoenix Suns: As Bill Simmons pointed out in a column that he wrote during last year’s playoffs, it was really bad luck that this team ran into the Spurs in the first round, and even when they did, it was a much closer series than the five games it took to beat them indicates. The key to having a better year this time around is not Nash staying healthy, because I guarantee that he will. What will determine this season for the Suns is the presence and demeanor of Shaq. Off the court he cannot undermine Terry Porter like he did Stan Van Gundy simply because he has 4 rings. On the court, the more he plays, the more minutes Amare Stoudamire can play power forward. If you remember, Stoudamire became unguardable the moment he learned how to play along with Shaq. With a full season this time around to create team chemistry, the Suns not only will return to the playoffs, but they have a legitimate shot at toppling the Lakers (who have their own chemistry issues) for supremacy in the Pacific Division.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers: Record wise, this team would have been tenth in the Western conference last year, but once they got to the playoffs they showed that they are more than just Lebron James; maybe not on the offensive end, but this team show a defensive intensity so great that during the finals the Celtics often remarked how open they felt against the Lakers now that the Cavs swarming defense had been dealt with. Thus, the offensive-focused Mo Williams may not be as great an addition as people think if he shows he cannot play defense to the high standard of Mike Brown. After all, the defense is built to withstand one poor defender in Lebron James, (although he has improved into an acceptable defense since the current schemes have been created) but the addition of another average at best defender could end up killing the Cavs in the end.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: This team was one big man away from challenging in the East and then they got one in Elton Brand. A few years ago, Brand was a legitimate MVP candidate who gave the Suns fits in the second round of the playoffs before the Clippers eventually bowed out. If he can regain that form coming off his injury, the Sixers could sneak into the conference finals at which point all bets are off.
11. Dallas Mavericks: Remember that time you had a crush on a hot, award winning actress, and would do anything to meet and date her even if it meant dumping your young, kind of cute girl friend? Well turns out if you had met and eventually dated her, she would have almost immediately gotten old real fast while your ex would start to get better and better. Even if the ex never had a prime like the famous actress where she was drop dead gorgeous, you didn’t date her in her prime anyway while the ex’s prime could have been good enough to keep you competitive enough to win a championship. Ok so the metaphor has stopped working, but you can bet Mark Cuban wishes he had kept his ex (Devin Harris) rather than go after Jason Kidd who looks like he has lost a step on offense and an even bigger step on defense. In other news, the Lakers did hold on to Andrew Bynum (the ex) rather than roll the dice with Kidd. They made the finals, and Dallas did not. Expect more of the same this year.
12. Orlando Magic: While everyone else who has a chance to contend in the east made trades, got a new coach, signed a big name, or won a championship, Orlando decided instead to ignore their weaknesses at point guard and refuse to bolster their depth at big man, but hey they did sign Mickael Pietrus AND Courtney Lee. Somewhere, JJ Redick is getting ready for the upcoming season by getting wasted and crying while watching reruns of his games at Duke.
13. Los Angeles Clippers: They clearly tampered with Baron Davis and no one can tell me differently. Still, for what it’s worth, good for him getting one last, large contract. Many of my friends would have preferred he get it from the Warriors, but as the biggest reason that the team ended their large playoff drought and upset the Mavericks, he deserved to get paid somewhere. With Camby and Kaman in the front court, this team will be good enough to make the playoffs and promptly lose in the first round.
14. Miami Heat: I actually have no idea what to make of this team. With Dwayne Wade back and better than before as well as the additions of Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley, they could be a challenge in the east. However, with no point guard or dependable center, they could also quickly find themselves out of the playoffs. Still, a return to the playoffs is a step forward for this franchise which otherwise mortgaged its future to win one ring with Shaq.
15. Portland Trail Blazers: Everyone thinks that this team will sneak into the playoffs in the uber-competitive west, but you know what? I don’t see it at all. For one, Travis Outlaw is already grumbling about the amount of shots he feels he deserves but doesn’t get. Another thing is that Greg Oden already has hurt his ankle in practice the other day, which is huge because last season their defense got by without an interior presence anchoring the line. That won’t work again this year as more and more teams will get into the paint and score whenever they want unless Oden can play. The last point I want to make is that point guard is a real weakness for them. Yes, they have a ridiculous amount of prospects at the position, but I would actually say that it could backfire as all of them desperately need minutes before they can realize their full potential, but with the current logjam there is a better chance that none of them get the minutes they need and all end up as mediocre. At any rate, they probably will be no help this season, which will put more pressure on Steven Blake who should be a backup. Look for Roy to play a lot of minutes during the season at point as an attempt to solve the situation, but that move would also leave the team weak at the swing man spot with no one to back up Rudy Fernandez. While the talent certainly exists on this team, let’s just say it could be a very long season in Portland if things go down as I see them.
16. Denver Nuggets: The only reason I have them this high is because of my respect for Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. Other than that all I can say is that the best way to fix a defense is not to trade away your best help defender and perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Marcus Camby. If things go south even faster than I think, then expect a trade for Iverson by another desperate team. One question I have to ask is with all this poor management, why do they think Anthony won’t jump ship as soon he can become a free agent?
17. Golden State Warriors: Last year, had they played in the East, not only would the Warriors have made the playoffs, but they also would have had home court advantage in the first round for the first time in over 15 years. Instead, this offseason they lost their best player and point guard to a division rival, settled for an above average player from said division rival when the star from that rival blew off a huge contract offer to go play in the east, traded for a point guard who has trouble passing in Marcus Williams, lost their best young player for most of the season to a LOW SPEED MOPED ACCIDENT, and basically set themselves up for a top five pick in the upcoming draft which is expected to not be that great or deep. Luckily, for the Bay Area fans their favorite teams in baseball and football project to be just as bad. (Yes, I know the San Francisco 49ers are 2-2 and playing a division so bad that they have a chance to make the playoffs, but let’s be honest, once they make it, they will still be beaten down so badly by whomever they face that people will be turning off their TV sets by the 3rd quarter.) Right now the only thing the Warriors have going for them is that their owner isn’t Al Davis. So, Bay Area fans, how about them Sharks?
18. Washington Wizards: No offense to the Wizards and their players, but the east got a lot tougher this year, and their reaction was to sign their erratic and often injured point guard to a 100 million dollar deal. In other Washington news, the economy is dying, which prompted my former roommate and economics enthusiast Seabass to send me this Facebook message, and since I have nothing else to add about the Wizards I will show it to you:
i. : “I’d say its only the beginning unfortunately. We got too used to borrowing what we don’t have or can’t make up for within the fiscal year, whether its Wall Street Execs making 48 mill in a year borrowing against company assets, or John Smith refinancing his home without thinking long term when the rates would reset… It’ll probably play out like this… Housing Crisis –> Credit Crisis–> Inflation Crisis; then it’ll be over hopefully… “
So uh, to all my loyal readers and their associates…watch out for that
19. Toronto Raptors: It figures that the team from Canada would have their team all backwards. Their depth at the point guard and big man positions are much better than their depth at the swingman spots. Jamario Moon was a nice surprise last year, but I’m pretty sure that Raptor fans would be even happier if Sam Mitchell would pull out a better surprise and be able to bring him off the bench. Their other starting swingman is Candice Parker’s brother, which has to be the first time anyone has been referenced that way with a WNBA player unless you count Cheryl and Reggie Miller.
20. Sacramento Kings: No offense to Kings fans, but this is one of the bleakest rosters in the NBA especially with the fact that they play in the west. Kevin Martin is the only player with any experience who isn’t also past his prime. The rest are either decent prospects who have a long way to go or veterans who are too old to help make a playoff push. Even so Reggie Theus and his zone defense will get this team to play better than the sum of its parts and place somewhere around here in terms of regular season records. You normally don’t want to advocate tanking under any circumstances, but if it happens here…I understand.
21. Chicago Bulls: My cousin Sam in India is a huge Bulls fan who checks up on them daily. He swears that they will turn it around and not only make the playoffs, but cause some damage once they get there. You would think that he is trustable because of how religiously he follows his team, but when you think about it, he’s also the guy who tried to sell me on how Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry were going to be the dominant big men who would return Chicago to its glory days of MJ and company. Also, Sam once told me Marcus Fizer (who recently got cut by his Euroleague team.) would be a decent small forward in the league. So, there is no way I am going to just take his word for it and place them any higher than I have here. Also, on another topic, what the heck happened to Kirk Hinrich? He went from being a candidate for the Olympic squad, and a true up and coming point guard who could score, pass, and get away with blatant holding on defense to being so bad that the Bulls rushed to sign Derrick Rose. I think he desperately needs a change of scenery and with a manageable contract (it actually lowers his yearly salary towards the end) he could and should be gone by February’s trade deadline for his own sake.
22. Atlanta Hawks: Yes, they made the playoffs last year, and yes they made the Celtics sweat it out in a seven game series, but don’t let that fool you. People who don’t follow basketball or the Hawks very closely would say that the loss of Josh Childress wasn’t all that important, but it is in fact closer to crippling than insignificant. According to the people behind the Wages of Wins who have created a formula to determine how much every player on every team contributed to his team’s wins, Childress was easily the best player on that team in terms of importance to winning, and comfortably produced more wins than the more known players such as Josh Smith and Joe Johnson. However, the loss of Childress isn’t the only reason this team will miss the playoffs. As good as Al Horford is as a young player in this league, he is the only big man on this team that deserves more than 15 minutes a game. Josh Smith is a small forward who is forced to play power forward because this team literally has no one else.
23. Milwaukee Bucks: This team could find themselves much higher than this by the end of the season. They have quietly built themselves a quality team, and if Ramon Sessions is given the minutes that he deserves, Joe Alexander has a nice rookie season, and Richard Jefferson, Michael Redd, and Andrew Bogut perform up to their capabilities then this team could sneak back into the playoffs. New coach Scott Skiles should immediately instill a sense of discipline and defense.
24. Indiana Pacers: There isn’t a blander team in the league. With new coach Jim O’Brien it will be interesting to see how he fits his young pieces together. Granger should continue to develop and become quite the player in this league, but this team needs to get at least one more star before they become a perennial playoff team anytime soon. Also, they might as well cut Jamal Tinsley as no one in the league is crazy enough to trade for his contract.
25. New Jersey Nets: Hey remember when you sent your cute girlfriend to New Jersey to play with Vince Carter who three days later admitted to the press that he didn’t even know your cute girlfriend was on his team? I guess the moral of the story is that it sucks to be her, or in this case Devin Harris. There are some decent players on this team, and even a few cornerstones who will lead this team back into the playoffs in a few years (as soon as they add Lebron James), but this year in particular will be a tough one for Nets fans as the team simply won’t or can’t play consistent defense. There will be at least 45 losses for this team, and a real chance for 55. Look for this to be the last season for the hardworking Lawrence Frank as Nets head coach.
26. Charlotte Bobcats: Hopefully, Raymond Felton takes Larry Brown’s drafting of DJ Augustin as motivation and hopefully Emeka Okafor stays healthy. Larry Brown for all his crazy antics is a good coach, but this homecoming may end up a lot like his last job, because simply put, the talent is just not here. It’s going to be a long, painful journey before this team gets into the playoffs for the first time ever, and for that to happen, Bob Johnson the owner will have to be convinced to open up his wallet even more.
27. New York Knicks: You know, if things don’t work out in Miami, Toronto, or Denver, I could definitely see two of Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, or Carmelo Anthony jumping ship and heading to the big apple. That’s about it as far as positives go for this team. D’antoni has his work cut out for him as his high end rookie is already hurt and Eddy Curry, his best scoring big man, could use a month long stay in a Hilton Armstrong to burn off his immense weight gain. Chris Duhon is expected to play Steve Nash and Jamal Crawford is the only shooting guard on the roster, which will force New York to either play small ball in the back court or to play either the gimpy Quentin Richardson more (he already is a projected starter) or the aforementioned rookie Danilo Gallinari who as I said before is hurt. Neither option is something to look forward to. While Isaiah and eventually Marbury will be gone this year, it is going to be a very tough season for New York fans to watch. At least their supremely talented baseball teams didn’t both miss the playoffs or anything… I will say one thing to the owners of the Knicks. They had better hurry up and become good again fast, because the longer they stay like this, the more fans will convert towards the Brooklyn Nets who at least have somewhat marketable stars and players and will more than likely gain Lebron James.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves
29. Memphis Grizzlies
30. Oklahoma City Thunder: These three teams are the absolute dregs of the league. All have their young bright spots whether it be Kevin Durant, Al Jefferson, or Rudy Gay, but none play defense and will immediately struggle on offense this year whenever the above players are double teamed unless OJ Mayo plays to a level that will earn him rookie of the year.