It may be a day or two late but no matter: I was reminded by my kind editor Anthony that it is indeed NBA season once again. World Series fever aside, I had a job to do: preview the National Basketball Association and give my expert analysis on the teams, trends and trophies that will come and go with the 2009-2010 season.
What makes me an expert, you ask?
That’s right: I have the credentials of the average basketball fan and then maybe a little bit more. I was never really all that good at playing the sport. I coach it now, but only at a junior high level. I write for a newspaper and occasionally cover basketball games. But “analysis” is different. “Analysis” requires no street cred; rather, it just is a funny, hollow word attached to retired players on ESPN and TNT when they complain about how much better the game was “in their day.”
So I, as a retired player myself, must also do the same. Bear with me as I guide you through the sure-to-be tumultuous and exciting season that 2009-10 will be!
We’ll start from the bottom up, natch.
15. NEW JERSEY NETS (34-48)
This team has a roster that represents a living, breathing checklist for “lottery-bound:”
- A lame duck coach (Lawrence Frank, who frankly deserves better)
- Several young assets who are still a bit too young to be cornerstones (Courtney Lee, Brook Lopez, Terrence Williams, Chris Douglas-Roberts)
- Overrated and overpaid role players (Yi Jianlian, Eduardo Najera, Keyon Dooling)
- Expiring contracts galore (Tony Battie, Trenton Hassell, Bobby Simmons, Rafer Alston, Jarvis Hayes, Josh Boone)
The Nets will look entirely different a year from now; hell, they may not even be in the same arena. Devin Harris is nice but hasn’t ever been a winner, while the rest of the youth is still very green. They’ll take their lumps, trade some role players to contenders for expirings and fire Frank by January before playing the young guys full-time. This is the first of the “LeBron ’10 or Bust” group of teams you’ll see in this preview.
14. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS (35-47)
The problem this time?
There is no scorer.
Raja Bell, the team’s best defender who has slipped in effectiveness over the past few years, is putting off surgery while dealing with a bum hand. Sort of an important part of being a defender, no? Other guys, like Boris Diaw, Nazr Mohammed and Vlad Radmanovic, are good at what they do but aren’t usually motivated enough to do so. Tyson Chandler, acquired in the offseason for Emeka Okafor, is a step down on offense aside from injury concerns – further adding to the problem. Ray Felton and D.J. Augustin are decent point men, but neither has set the world on fire early in their careers. Gerald Wallace, the face of the Bobcats since their inception, has been solid when he’s been healthy enough to get on the court.
Brown is still a terrific coach; there’s no doubt about that. He’ll steal some wins with a hard-working, defense-playing team. But with Michael Jordan in the shadows and Brown still able to pull some front office strings, expect more of the same kind of players and more of the same kind of performances from Charlotte in 2010.
And that translates to the same kind of winning percentage.
13. MILWAUKEE BUCKS (34-48)
Just like Larry Brown, Scott Skiles is the kind of coach who wins you a handful gf games a year. He’s a motivator, but in a different kind of way; okay, a very abrasive and difficult kind of way. Much like Bulls fans got tired of him, Milwaukee would have every right to complain about his antics – if they were contenders.
See, that was the problem in Chicago: the fans expected a title contender and got a mishmash of talent and a bunch of logjams. The Bucks are built of a very similar ilk – injury-prone Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut lead the charge while steady Luke Ridnour and rookie Brandon Jennings fight for point guard time and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (fit that on your jersey) and Hakim Warrick are intriguing combo forwards. There will be minutes to go around to everyone, including an aging Charlie Bell and Carlos Delfino behind Redd and up-and-coming small forward Ersan Ilyasova, a 6’9, 22-year old shooter who should have a nice year after a few seasons overseas.
The Bucks lack a third scorer behind Redd and Bogut; Jennings might get there but it would likely be at the expense of his teammates. Still, this squad isn’t in as bad shape as others because they aren’t banking on a big 2010 free agent haul. A nice draft pick, a decent mid-level free agent signee and a trade or two before next year and Milwaukee could very well leapfrog some of the teams currently ahead in the predictions and battle for a playoff spot next year.
There’s always next year, right?
12. NEW YORK KNICKS (Last year: 32-50)
You all know where this is going. This is a lost season. 12, 13 guys and a mustachioed coach going through the motions and throwing caution to the wind as they wait for their entitled saviors to arrive in 9 months (by free agency, not childbirth).
As the common sports saying goes: “LeBron James is NOT walking through that door!” The Knicks have a lot to play for if they want to this season: pride, contracts and fun are just a few of them. They have guys who will put up some crooked numbers in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense (see Lee, David). Danilo Gallinari was ironically the key to the Knicks’ success last year (14-14 with him, 18-36 without him) and if he stays healthy should be a bright spot.
All in all, though, the Knicks are playing for next year and the fans probably know that, even if they don’t like it. The draft pick isn’t going to matter to New York; they owe theirs to Utah from a couple years ago. How surprising would it be if the Knicks attempted to actually make the playoffs? Enough to maybe get LeBron and a few others to consider New York as a 2010 destination.
11. INDIANA PACERS (Last year: 36-46)
A collection of nice players that not too many casual fans know about. Jim O’Brien, another coach who likes to play a fast and furious style, has a bit more of a balanced team than last year’s which went 36-46. What remains to be seen, though, is the same problem that plagued them last year: they still have to stop the opposing team on defense.
Danny Granger is one of the most dynamic scorers in the league and Troy Murphy is as fine a guarantee at power forward as they come (averages of 14 and 12 with 45 percent three-point shooting). T.J. Ford is a bit fragile but one of the league’s second tier point guards, while Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough have been unheralded lottery selections for the Pacers over the past couple years. The duo will bring some grit and defense to the frontcourt along with vet Jeff Foster as they hope to keep scoring (105 ppg last year, fourth best in the league) while addition Dahntay Jones may help Brandon Rush shore up the shooting guard position on both ends of the floor.
A healthy Mike Dunleavy, Jr. would certainly help in more ways than one as well. The former Duke product had a very nice year in 2007-08 for Indy (19/5/3.5) but only made it onto the court for 18 games last year and won’t return until at least the New Year.