By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Sizing Up The NBA At The Mid-Point Of This Season
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The mid-season break for the NBA is about to come up in a week or so and it is time to assess where the 30 NBA teams are this time of the season, where are projected award winners headed and assess some of the recent deals that went down.
To begin with let’s not really look at the obvious scenarios. The following teams are headed to the playoffs: Detroit, San Antonio, Dallas, and Phoenix. That is the easy part. As a matter of fact it is fairly safe to say that for right now, barring any injuries or snafus of any sort, the Detroit Pistons will be three-time Eastern Conference champions and right now I will even give Flip Saunders coach of the year honors at the mid-season point. We’ll talk about the other three teams further down in the story. But what about the rest of the league? Where do these teams stack up as the ‘real’ season starts to take shape? Well here’s where the movers become movers, the shakers become earthquakers and teams like the Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks become lottery picks once again.
5. Miami Heat (29-19): To be honest, I haven’t been too enamored with the return of Pat Riley and the 1980s look. The Armani suits and the slowed tempo that was known as New York Knicks’ basketball in the early 1990s, isn’t sitting to well with me. I think if anything, the fact that this team is 29-19 has more to do with the fact that they are just playing ball rather than a new coaching change.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers (27-19): If Saunders hadn’t had the Pistons playing so well right now, first year head coach Mike Brown could be a run away lock for the COY award. It’s going to be refreshing to see the Cavs in the playoffs this year if they continue playing steady basketball.
7. Los Angeles Clippers (28-17): The little sisters of the poor have become the big time players who ain’t faking the funk. Another COY candidate, Mike Dunleavy has found a way to get some serious veteran leadership from Cuttino Mobley and Sam Cassell but more importantly, Elton Brand has become the ‘franchise’ player he should have been a couple of seasons ago. As long as Elgin Baylor and Donald Sterling let Dunleavy coach, the City of Angels could have two teams in the playoffs; a first in quite some time.
8. Denver Nuggets (26-23): The report on the Nuggets is that NeNe could be on the way out at the end of the season and that working Marcus Camby back in is a priority. That is the good news. What’s an even better prognosis is that this team does seem to buy into coach George Karl’s system. For the Nuggets, that’s good news; especially if K-Mart lets his athleticism take him to new heights and he controls that gawd-awful temper tantrum he likes to throw.
9. Memphis Grizzlies (26-20): One of the subplots of the season, the Grizzlies need to find a way to win games on a consistent basis. Pau Gasol needs to establish himself as that franchise player. In other words with the gritty look he has had this season, he needs play just as hard because that is how this team feeds their wins.
10. Los Angeles Lakers (24-23): The “Kobe” and the Lakers’ show may be a top ten sell right now, but if this were an exercise in evaluating stocks, I’d be telling you to SELL this stock and buy futures. This team will make the playoffs but folks, there’s nothing here but one superstar; everybody else is just fortunate to be playing on the same team.
11. New Jersey Nets (24-21): Lawrence Franks is just happy to be here; at least his team is. These guys aren’t doing anything spectacular but because they are in the East, they can just play .500 ball most nights and possibly get into the playoffs; the same formula for about four teams in that conference.
12. Milwaukee Bucks (24-22): Rookie of the Year runner-up, Andrew Bogut, continues to impress many experts; including this one. Despite another injury to the roster, the team seems to be playing very steady and if they can just survive this week, they can take a well deserve rest and make a charge for a spot in the playoffs.
13. Philadelphia 76ers (24-23): If Billy King were a truly smart man, and that is not saying that he isn’t, he’d have a serious talk with Cwebb and find out where his heart and mind are. It would be a waste so see A.I. not have a decent season because of what we call trivial B.S. Webber needs to lead by example and put some work ethic into his game. He does that, and everybody else will play their butts off and possibly take over the Atlantic Division.
14. New Orleans Hornets (24-22): It’s too bad that Chris Andersen will miss the playoffs because of stupidity but the people of Oklahoma City could be rewarded with a chance at playoff tickets. Rookie of the Year projected winner continues to dazzle the 18,000 plus fans and this writer.
15. Utah Jazz (23-25): Can I take Marc Stein’s comments about this team? “Uh-oh, continued: Utah’s slide is now at 2-6 and Jazz have two point guards (McLeod and Palacio) looking steadier than No. 3 pick Williams.” In other words, the Jazz have a decision to make about that kid; either get him some playing time and build his confidence, or sit him down and let him learn from the pine.
16. Washington Wizards (22-23): Hard to figure out which way this team is going. Coach Eddie Jordan needs to get these guys to think on the floor and just play within themselves. Somehow they have to regain that early season confidence that they had when Arenas was lighting up folk with no fear.
17. Chicago Bulls (20-26): Saturday’s loss to the Suns proved one thing to me about this team; they really do miss Eddie Curry. Can you imagine what a healthy Tim Thomas could be doing for this team right now? That’s a hint John Paxon; just a hint of what you need to do to help Skiles get into the playoffs.
18. Indiana Pacers (23-22): Don’t let this record fool you. The Pacers are in the right spot for the right reason. The Artest trade finally went down but if they had made this move like in, umm, January, maybe this team wouldn’t be looking for Hawkeye Pierce to keep them together for a playoff run. It’s also a sad day to see a young player like Al Harrington hang up a promising career at just 2a5 years old.
19. Minnesota Timberwolves (21-25): Ricky Davis will make a difference for this team. What that equates to is the fact that KG may have just found his ‘Tonto’ to his Lone Ranger act and that will be good for this season.
20. Boston Celtics (18-30): Sczerbiak makes a better fit for Paul Pierce and that will equate to this team having a better one/two scoring attack. Still it would be nice if the youngsters go out and perform and help.
21. Golden State Warriors: (21-25): Which personality will win this season, Baron Davis or Mike Montgomery? How about both just need to let this dust settle and they try to co-exist for the sake of the basketball team? This is one of the teams who have an outside chance at a playoff spot; albeit it might be the eighth seed at the most.
22. Orlando Magic (19-26): If Central Floridians are wondering what’s that sound, it’s the sound of Brian Hill scratching his head over his team’s lackluster performance. Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to Grant Hill this season and maybe Stevie Franchise too.
23. Sacramento Kings (20-27): The Maloofs have brought in troublemaker Ron Artest and they are hoping that the gamble pays off. Well this may be one of the few times that this gambling brothers duo roll snake eyes as even Artest won’t save the Kings’ miserable season. First casualty of the year will be head coach Rick Adleman should this team not make the playoffs.
24. Seattle SuperSonics (19-28): If you are hearing rumors about Detlef Schrempf coming back as a player, check your latte. Coach Bob Hill is going to have enough problems trying to just keep this team afloat and free from controversy. Things won’t get much better either. This team is in disarray right now so wins will be hard to come by and the losses will mount.
25. Houston Rockets (18-29): The jury is going to be out on this team for a another month or so. The potential for a playoff push is there but with Yao Ming just coming back and Tracy McGrady nursing his back, one has to wonder if the Rockets are just biding their time till the end of the season.
26. Toronto Raptors (17-31): Management gave Rob Babcock the boot but that may be a little too late now. Add to their problems the possibility of Antonio Davis not honoring the trade that sends him back where he doesn’t want to be, and you have a real problem in O Canada. Yet I’m thinking that Davis will be a pro about the situation, ‘man up’ and help Chris Bosh be a better player.
27. Portland Trail Blazers (17-29): Don’t know what to really expect from the Trailblazers right now. They play hard every night and the few games that I did catch, I saw a team that is on the brink of maybe playing a spoiler role if they can stay consistent. It seems they really play better ball when they are at home or when they are going up against the elite teams. Err San Antonio, Dallas, do you copy that line?
28. New York Knicks (14-32): Let’s face it, the Knicks are a mess…just a hot NBA mess. With President Thomas facing harassment charges, one can only hope that would be defacto leader Larry Brown can get Jalen Rose to be comfortable enough to just shoot the rock.
29. Atlanta Hawks (14-32): The Hawks will be missing Tyronn Lue for about six weeks and that’s not good as this team doesn’t have any other true point guards to run the show.
30. Charlotte Bobcats (12-36): Bernie Bickerstaff knew he was going to be in for a tough ride but it shouldn’t be this tough. Yet injuries have sidelined two of the teams top players and there’s no way around such a problem. The only thing that the Bobcats can be hoping for is a quick heal and a kind road trip that allows them to get a few quality wins before All Star weekend.
MID-SEASON AWARDS AND PROJECTIONS With the All Star weekend celebration coming up faster than a moon crater, I’d thought I would give my mid-season selections on some of the league’s hardware.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Right now I have to give my nod to Flip Saunders. Last year he was a scapegoat in an organization that didn’t know what it was doing. This year he is Motown’s favorite coach and have them thinking about another title. There are some other candidates as well. Avery Johnson is running a tight second with Mike Brown of Cleveland coming up third.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Chris Paul is my clearcut winner and he was that at the beginning of the year. The only other player who is even coming close is Andrew Bogut of Milwaukee.
SIXTH MAN AWARD: This one is going to be up in the air for the time being as nobody has really stood out for it. Now either that means that there are too many players who are eligible for the honor the the competition is that watered down.
Just a quick FYI, Black Athlete Sports Network will be at the 2006 All Star game. I’ll have a complete recap of this year’s festivities when the event is over.