Posts Tagged ‘San Antonio Spurs’

All NBA fans everywhere are staring down the barrel of a self-destructive lockout these days.  Earlier, I wrote about why I think the NBA’s labor situation is much different from the NFL.  While it appears, at least somewhat, that their football bretheren have finally gotten their collective acts together, it took months of contentious negotiations and court preceedings to get here. 

Hopefully, the NBA won’t follow suit, but with the owners taking a severe hard line tack to this point, I’m pretty certain they’ll soon be playing in a coutroom near you.  Make no mistake, as much criticism as the NFL players took for turning litigious, that effort is precisely why the owners have found the will to compromise, and don’t think the NBA players aren’t paying attention.

But that isn’t the point of this piece.  Having had almost two weeks to digest all the goings on at the draft, I’m going to detail who I believe were the biggest winners and losers from draft night 2011.  This article is for the losers. 

For the sake of optimism and the purposes of this piece, I’m going to assume, rather naively,  that there will be a full season this year.  I’ll do this in reverse order of what I believe are the five biggest losers.

5. Boston Celtics

I like JaJuan Johnson, I really do.  Before the draft I had him pegged as a guy who is going to be a much better player than many anticipate.  It’s just that I liked Marshon Brooks a whole lot more.

When Boston selected Brooks, I immediately thought that was the best pick of the draft.  I had images of a slashing, high scoring guard who would start to transition Boston into a new era.  I was imagining Brooks, a guy who pulled down more than 7 boards a game as a guard in the Big East in the same backcourt with arguably the best rebounding guard in the NBA in Rajon Rondo.  Then they traded him.

Johnson is a nice player, but he’s not going to be a game-changer like I believe Brooks will be.  This move is obviously an effort to make one more run with the same old parts in Boston.  The Celtics faded hard last season, and its difficult for me to imagine them getting through another grueling season with these guys all healthy enough to make a legit run.  Of course, a shortened season may change that, but I doubt it.

With youthful teams like Miami and Chicago in the East, I really feel like Boston needed to start a transition.  Brooks at the two, move Ray Allen for some inside muscle and that would be a good start.  Johnson taking Glen Davis spot and little else, not so much.

4. San Antonio Spurs

Before the draft, I had Kawhi Leonard listed as one of the top possibilities to be an NBA wash out.  When the Spurs traded George Hill to move up and get him, I questioned myself.  The Spurs have a good reputation for being talent judges.  But then again, they did inexplicably give Richard Jefferson a nice contract last offseason coming off a miserable failure the year before.  So I went back to my original belief, Leonard will flop at this level, and not in the useful Ginobili way.

Then, they proceeded to reach for Texas point guard Corey Joseph at the end of the first round, ostensibly to take Hill’s, and possibly Tony Parker’s place. Don’t be surprised if neither of these guys are in the league very long after their rookie contracts are up.

The Spurs, like the Celtics, need to rebuild.  Tim Duncan’s closer to retirement than he is to being an All Star, Ginobili simply can’t stay healthy for a full season and through the playoffs and it kills them every year. Tony Parker took a lot of heat for saying the Spurs days of serious contention are over, but he’s absolutely right.  This draft did nothing but expedite that.

3. Charlotte Bobcats

Will someone please put Michael Jordan out of his misery?  As great a player as MJ was, he’s building an equally bad resume as an executive.  Bismack Biyombo, or as I like to call him, Haseem Thabeet 2.0, is destined for a future on all time NBA draft bust lists.  To make matters worse, they swapped the only useful player on their roster in Stephen Jackson to actually trade up to get him. Not that it really matters much, but he’s also got a contract issue with his current team that will likely keep him out of the league next year.

Of course, they also picked up Corey Maggette in the trade, so that’ll make it all work out, right?  Just look at the kind of difference maker he was for the Clippers, the Warriors and the Bucks.  Maggette hasn’t been a useful player since he suited up for Duke.

Charlotte then nabbed Kemba Walker at the number 9 slot.  I think Walker could be pretty good, but in the Chicago-era Ben Gordon, or Dallas-era Jason Terry mold.  The problem is that you actually need a team for that kind of guy to be useful.  Look how invisible Gordon has been in Detroit the past couple seasons.  Walker’s a future NBA sixth man award winner…for the team that trades for him in a few years.

Charlotte is my odds-on favorite to be the worst team in the league this season.  Of course, that will give them a chance to add to their roster of classic draft busts next year.

2. New York Knicks

We can count on several things every summer; hot weather, high gas prices and the Knicks over reaching on a first round pick.  Taking Iman Shumpert at 17 is probably the worst pick in the draft. Someone was going to pick Biyombo in the top 10 if Charlotte hadn’t, nobody was picking Shumpert anywhere near that point.

Of course, New York then proceeded to buy Kentucky center Josh Harrelson from New Orleans in the second round.  Failing that move by the Knicks, he might not have been drafted at all. 

Before anyone gets carried away about a New York superteam to rival Miami, maybe the Knicks need to learn what the draft is all about.

1. Sacramento Kings

The biggest loser of all on draft night was none other than Sacramento.  Not only did they trade their only point guard, Beno Udrih, in exchange for John Salmons and the right to drop down from 7 to 10, they drafted a player who’s a chucker that will have to play out of position on a team full of chuckers. 

The Kings have a roster that includes faux-point guard Jimmer Fredette, and consciousless shooters Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton and now Salmons.  I’d put the over-under on their team shooting percentage at about 38%.  Has an NBA team ever ended a season with more turnovers than assists?  The Kings might become trend setters in that regard. 

The pre-lockout fleecing of Cleveland for J.J. Hickson mitigates this a bit, but only if they are bad enough long enough for that protected first round pick to turn into a second rounder.  That’s what passes for optimism in Sacramento these days.  By the end of this season, the city might just be begging the Kings to move to Anaheim.

The other day, I looked at the NBA’s Eastern Conference and it’s relative lack of depth.  Today, it’s the West and it’s over-abundance of good teams.  In fact, there is only one team out of 15 that I couldn’t conceive of any possible chance at making a playoff run.  Every other team has either the pieces in place or the potential to get it done.  Not that they all will, and there are a couple dominoes left to fall in terms of possible big-names on the trade market, but here is an early look at how I see the West shaping up.

15.  Denver Nuggets-  Has anyone noticed how old and mediocre this team really is?  Without George Karl late last season, they went completely belly-up.  If Karl either can’t go or has to step away again this year, these guys are toast.  Melo wants out to join with one of the other high-profile superstars grouping in different places around the league.  Billups is another one who could be traded to a contender.  Everyone else on the roster is either a role-player or a major injury risk.  This team could go south and get that way in a hurry.  I look for a slow start, a firesale and retirement for Coach Karl.

14.  Golden State Warriors-  Even with Don Nelson no longer ruling the roost, these guys are going nowhere fast.  Monta Ellis may soon find himself elsewhere, David Lee’s production is certain to fall off a bit, and the Warriors are pretty clearly going to be the worst team in the Conference’s worst division this year.  Stephen Curry has all the makings of a star, but there’s just not enough material here to compete in the West.

13.  Minnesota Timberwolves-  This is the only team that has absolutely no possibility of seeing playoff basketball under any scenario.  They’ve gone from a team that had little talent to one full of career underachievers, like Darko Milicic, Michael Beasley and Martell Webster.  If guys like Kevin Love and Johnny Flynn continue to grow and one of the before-mentioned threesome decides to actually play up the their potential, and if Ricky Rubio comes to the NBA next year, and if he is some sort of other-worldly immediate superstar, then they might be able to talk about being a .500 team in 2011-12.  But this year, it’s another likely single-digit lottery pick.

12.  New Orleans Hornets-  This is a team that, if they keep Chris Paul and the young guys improve, could sneak into the lower area of the playoffs.  They did a great job playing without Paul last season.  But they have a rookie coach, a rookie GM, and the scuttlebutt is that Paul is fed up and wants out.  The trade of Darren Collison brought in Trevor Ariza, but it also hurt the Hornets depth in case the injury prone Paul has to miss time.  It does seem to have quieted the trade talk around their star point guard, but that will change if they’re not winning. Either traded, injured or disgruntled, without a top-flight Paul on the floor, these guys have no chance at the playoffs.

11.  Memphis Grizzlies-  I’m just not completely sold on Memphis.  Sure, they had a great first half last year and held it together enough to finish at .500, but really, can we expect Zack Randolph to get through another complete season looking and playing like an actual all-star?  Rudy Gay is a solid player who was somewhat overpaid, but that is understandable.  O.J. Mayo is 22 and still figuring it out, although he could be a big star in the next couple years.  And I love Marc Gasol.  An actual physical European center.  They also have a couple pieces that have solid future potential, but lightning doesn’t strike twice that often.  Without another fast start, Memphis regresses a bit from last year.  But just a bit.

10.  Sacramento Kings-  Go big, young man.  If DeMarcus Cousins is for real–and in my eyes, all signs point toward yes, he is–then the Kings have a young inside/outside duo potentially better than anyone else in the league sooner than later.  They drafted size, traded for size and seem to have a plan.  Bang down low, do all of the dirty work and rely on a slashing guard who can do it all.  Sounds good to me.  They won’t get into the playoffs this year, just barely, but next year, watch out!  OKC-Sacramento Western Conference Finals matchups could become a regular occurrence.

9.  Portland Trailblazers-  The last team out of the playoffs.  Realistically, how many years is everyone going to keep saying, “this is the season Portland puts it all together.”  Is Brandon Roy healthy and going to stay that way?  Is Greg Oden a complete bust and will he ever stay on the floor for enough games for anyone to find out?  Will Rudy Fernandez be traded or ever see the floor?  Will Nicolas Batum or Jerryd Bayless step up and fulfill predictions of greatness that guys like Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster before them were unable to?  Why, again, did they sign Andre Miller, a complete mis-match as a point guard for this team?  But the biggest questions of all are, now that GM whiz Kevin Pritchard is gone, who will be the first team to fleece the Blazers on the trade market, and is head coach Nate McMillan next out the door? 

8.  Houston Rockets-  If Yao Ming is back and healthy, the Rockets could climb way up the West standings.  When, exactly, has that ever happened?  Already, we’re told he’s going to limited to 24 minutes a night.  Will that help the Rockets or hinder their game?  They have some nice, versatile pieces in Luis Scola, who could be an all star this year, Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, Shane Battier and Courtney Lee, but without a close to 100% Yao, they are a bottom tier playoff team lacking enough inside punch to be a serious threat in the West.

7.  Los Angeles Clippers-  That’s right, the Clippers who did nothing in free agency, are going to make the playoffs.  If it hadn’t been for all of the roster upheaval due to free agency and the trade market, L.A.’s other team could well get some of the attention it’s going to deserve for being one of the league’s most improved teams.  Plus, they still have all that cap space, and some interesting trade chips with guys like Paul and Melo going to be available sooner than later.  Eric Gordon is ready to burst on the national scene, Chris Kaman is the best center in the league that nobody ever mentions, and how good is Blake Griffin?  If he comes out as a 20-10 star, these guys will be very good.  Baron Davis has been somewhat on auto-pilot, but with all of the young talent all over the court, he may just wake up.  Or he could find himself in the middle of some kind of multi-team trade that ends up bringing a Chris Paul or a Tony Parker to town.  Whether or not they add a superstar, these guys, much like OKC last year, could get hot and not know any better, riding it into the last playoff position.  How about a Lakers-Clippers 1st round matchup?

6.  Utah Jazz-  The Jazz look to be a mirror image of themselves, replacing Boozer with a version of himself in Al Jefferson, and Kyle Korver with a version of himself in Gordon Hayward.  AK47 and Mehmet Okur are another year older into their career downslopes.  Deron Williams is a bonafide superstar, and he, along with the fact that even a moderately talented Jerry Sloan team will win lots of regular season games on fundamentals alone, should get them into the playoff tournament.  But to me, they look even less suited for post season success than last year. 

5.  San Antonio Spurs-  Much has been written about the demise of the Spurs this season, with many people predicting their eventual fall right out of the playoffs.  Well, hold on just a minute.  They still have Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.  They resigned Richard Jefferson.  They have up-and-coming talent like DuJuan Blair and George Hill playing big, important minutes.  And now, they’ve finally added the elusive 6′ 11″ European star-to-be Tiago Splitter.  This is a bigger, better, deeper, more talented team that the one that knocked off The Mavs last year, and could conceivably be a major roadblock to any team with championship aspirations.  If not for the injury risk to their big three, they’d be even higher.  Plus, if Hill continues on the upswing, free-agent-to-be Parker becomes a great trade chip for filling needs later this season.

4.  Phoenix Suns-  The Suns are another team being written off by just about everyone after the loss of Amare Stoudemire.  Again, not quite so fast.  After adding Hedu Turkoglu and Josh Childress to an already deep roster, this team has the ability to score tons of points and create matchup nightmares against just about anyone.  Add to that the fact that Goran Dragic has grown to the point that team icon Steve Nash won’t need to play 40 minutes a night, and the Suns most definitely haven’t set out West.  By the end of this season, it’s far more likely that Stoudemire will miss Phoenix much more that they will miss him.

3.  Oklahoma City Thunder-  Usually, when a young team comes out of nowhere to suddenly make noise, I’m a little leery of whether they can back it up the next season.  OKC is an exception.  Kevin Durant is a legit MVP-caliber superstar, and this team is loaded with young, improving talent all over the court.  And, unlike most young teams, they play hard defense with high energy.  They are a serious threat to unseating the Lakers.  Maybe they won’t get it done this season, but their day is most definitely coming.

2.  Los Angeles Lakers-  Okay, so I pick them second, that doesn’t mean they won’t come out of the West or win it all when all is said and done.  What it means is that I think they’ll be a little complacent at times during the dog-days of the regular season.  Plus, like it or not, Bryant, Artest, Bynum, Fisher, Gasol et al, aren’t getting any younger and it only makes sense to hold them back some when your real goal is to hoist the trophy at the end.  They’re still the best team in the league.  And the addition of Steve Blake could be the best free agent pickup this season, Lebron included.  The only question is can they stay healthy and motivated enough to get it done? 

1.  Dallas Mavericks-  Dallas had the best record in the league last season after the trade for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood.  They’ve added size, strength and athleticism, particularly in the post, and they still have superstar Dirk Nowitzki along with Butler, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, etc, etc.  Now, they can possibly score with the faster teams and match up with the stronger teams.  I can easily see them getting the best record in the regular season.  I can also see them getting beaten in the playoffs.  But unlike the past couple years, whoever does beat them is going to earn it.

So if the playoffs were the top 16 teams in the entire league, it’s possible that the West could feature 10 or 11 of those spots.  As it stands, the West could be  a conference 1-10 separated by less than five games.  And whoever emerges at the end will head into the NBA Finals tested and ready, unlike the winner of the East, who likely will get to coast through a round or two.