2013-14 Season Preview Part I
Eighteen wins would be a massive accomplishment for the Sixers.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
With less than two weeks remaining before the start of the 2013-14 NBA regular season, all 30 teams have some degree of hope.
Hope could come in the form of an NBA title, or a trip to the Finals. Some teams would dance on the rooftop just for making the postseason. And this season, some NBA squads would be downright giddy losing as much as possible.
Here is one man's ranking of all 30 teams, in order, ineptitude first. This list will only feature the 14 teams that will be lottery-bound, which, doesn't necessarily mean they are the worst 14 teams in the league this season. Sadly, eight Eastern Conference teams have to make the playoffs.
Good luck in the race for Andrew Wiggins ...
30. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Here's what I'm envisioning at Sixers home games this year: remember in "Hoosiers" when the Hickory team, sans Jimmy Chitwood, come out at the opening pep rally? They chant "We want Jimmy. We want Jimmy." Substitute Andrew Wiggins for Jimmy and this could be the 76ers in 2013-14. Hopefully, Brett Brown doesn't admonish the crowd.
There's no mystery over the Sixers' plan - they intend to be bad, and develop Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel when he returns from injury. They will use their own pick and probably a pick from the New Orleans Pelicans (top-five protected) to build the organization through the draft. General manager Sam Hinkie hasn't even been too mysterious about the plan. It's solid. Mediocrity is a death sentence in the NBA. You can't attract free agents, and you'll never draft high enough for true impact guys. So, what Hinkie is doing could work. Yes, the strategy is based on the luck of ping-pong balls, but positioning yourself to have the most ping-pong balls is a strategy.
In the mean time, the 2013-14 Philadelphia 76ers will be dreadful. The all-time worst record of 9-73 by these same Sixers in 1973 is in play. When Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes are your best players, it's a problem. When you have no genuine two guard on your roster, it's a problem. When you have no depth, it's a problem. Can anyone on this team knock down a jumper? Hawes, maybe.
Sit back and count the ping-pong balls, Sixers fans, because getting 18 wins would be a massive accomplishment, albeit one that might kill your Wiggins chances. If the 76ers win 20 games, Brown would be one miracle shy of canonization in the Catholic church.
29. PHOENIX SUNS
Through most of last season, I wrote, "I don't get the plan in Phoenix." Fast- forward a year, I'm still not sure the plan. They traded for Eric Bledsoe, who, by a lot of accounts, is a breakout star, but that assessment shows a ton of faith in his ability (I'm not sold on this at all). Either way, the Suns' two best players are both point guards - Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. That always works well.
Alex Len was Phoenix's first-round pick and he's already been under the knife. The Morris twins are there to bolster twin bobblehead night, they don't have a legit wing player and Marcin Gortat should be traded at some point during the season because he's talented and a free agent come summertime. I do like the future of Archie Goodwin.
The Suns' roster is better than the Sixers', but it's going to be another long season for Phoenix.
28. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
It's shocking that a team that landed one of the best free agents on the market would be on this list, but that comes with the reputation earned by the Charlotte Bobcats. They could ruin Christmas morning.
Al Jefferson was a good signing despite the fact his career winning percentage is astronomically below .500. He scores and rebounds, but he's already hurt and we haven't played a regular-season game yet.
The Bobcats surprised some when they took Cody Zeller (an NBA Rookie of the Year candidate) fourth in the draft. He impressed with his athleticism and range in draft camps.
Charlotte has done well in recent drafts with Kemba Walker, who had an anonymously great season in 2012-13, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They're building toward a solid team with good secondary pieces. They haven't landed the big chip yet and until they do, they won't be very good.
27. ORLANDO MAGIC
Victor Oladipo will be an adequate to fine NBA player. Worthy of being the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft? That's another story, but it best illustrates how the 2013 Draft stunk out loud.
The Magic came out of the summer of 2012 blockbuster not only the winners, but the only team with any of the pieces still in uniform. Arron Afflalo is still in the Magic Kingdom, while Andrew Bynum hobbled his bowling ball to Cleveland, Andre Iguodala turned traitor and went to Golden State and Dwight Howard is a Rocket. Orlando got a ton of picks for their effort and some of their young guys like Nikola Vucevic, Mo Harkless and Tobias Harris, who they flat stole from the Milwaukee Bucks for J.J. Redick, look like real players.
Jacque Vaughan is a great young coach and Orlando looks like it is slowly coming together, much like well-cooked ribs. Take your time and the ribs will fall off the bone. Take your time in Orlando and it will work.
26. UTAH JAZZ
The Utah Jazz finally did what was expected - they let their prize big men Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk and went with youth. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter will be the new skyscrapers in Salt Lake. You could see this decision coming years ago and it should reap benefits. Not in the 2013-14 season, but in time.
Utah went all youth and got Trey Burke in a draft-day trade. He was going to start at the point until a broken finger sidelined him for a while. Burke, Favors and Kanter should form a solid nucleus with Gordon Hayward, but there will be bumps in the road this season. Although, Favors' athleticism and size scare me to my very soul, he might end up being a dominant force.
25. SACRAMENTO KINGS
Speaking of people who scare me, not just to my soul, but in every way imaginable, DeMarcus Cousins got his contract extension. He's a bit of head case, yes, but young big men with 18/10 potential don't come around too often.
The Kings are staying in Sacramento. That's good for a team that had the worst home attendance in the NBA last season. Have to keep them in a town that won't go watch them! (Would it shock you to learn that the Kings were 12th in road attendance, because it did me?)
The Maloofs are gone. Good riddance. Pete D'Alessandro is in as GM. He brought Mike Malone as head coach and, finally, there's some stability.
Sacramento got a potential steal in Ben McClemore with its first-round pick. The sneaky Kings can go 10-deep and should be fairly entertaining to watch, especially with the underrated Greivis Vasquez at the point. The Kings' unconditional devotion to John Salmons puzzles me, however.
24. BOSTON CELTICS
Tanking has been a cute word since June. Tanking is not playing your best players in order to lose. No one is doing that. The Sixers' best players just stink. The Jazz best players can't rent a car.
The Celtics are definitely rebuilding, but no team with a top-five point guard in the league like Rajon Rondo is tanking anything. Jeff Green can score. Gerald Wallace has too much heart to tolerate losing at a record clip. Kelly Olynyk looked very good in the NBA Summer League and could be a sleeper Rookie of the Year pick.
Brad Stevens will have some growing pains in the NBA. There hasn't been a successful coach from college to the NBA since ... Larry Brown?
The Eastern Conference is top heavy. There are three open playoff spots and here's a crazy prediction - if Rondo comes back healthy early and is willing to be the leader and not rock boats, the Celtics could make the postseason. Rondo is the biggest question mark this season. He could embrace this role of franchise player or could bully his way out by February. Toss up.
23. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Count me among the group not buying into the Cavs as a playoff contender.
Kyrie Irving is already one of the game's best and at the most important position. He can not lead this team by himself, which is why the Cleveland brass has tried to surround him with talent (and because they've been luckier than any team in the universe).
The Cavs got the first pick ... again. The Cavs shocked a lot of people by taking Anthony Bennett. He's a matchup problem, yes, but not a franchise guy. Hey, someone had to be the first pick in this dreck, why not a guy named Tony Bennett?
The reason Cleveland isn't a playoff team yet is because these high picks won't turn into enough of a supporting cast. Dion Waiters scored a decent clip, but doesn't have one other great skill. Tyler Zeller is the very definition of average and should aspire to be Nick Collison. I'm pro-Bennett, but not right away and Tristan Thompson figured out what ailed him his first few years - he SWITCHED HIS PRIMARY SHOOTING HAND! (he's not terrible, so apologies.)
Then, there's Bynum. It was low-risk, high-reward to sign him for two years. Anything you get from him is delicious gravy, but if you count on him for a single thing, you're a fool. The guy who nearly died from a collapsed lung has a better chance of playing
22. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Also, count me out on the Pelicans, starting with this silly name.
It's easy to appreciate everything New Orleans did in the offseason. They acquired a 23-year-old All-Star point guard for a potentially damaged center and a top-five protected pick.
Jrue Holiday is a very good player, but it's doubtful, to me anyway, he will become great. That's not a knock on Holiday, but is he worth possibly two No. 6 picks, including one in a loaded draft? I don't think so.
Greivis Vasquez was more than capable. Is Holiday an upgrade? Yes, but the gap between the two is not as large as some might think.
The big problem with the Pelicans' offseason was the acquisition of Tyreke Evans. Actually, the acquisition wasn't the problem, the contract was. Not my money, but four years, $44 million is a lot for a young player whose scoring numbers have declined every year in the league (20.1 ppg in his NBA Rookie of the Year campaign in 2009-10 to 15.2 ppg last season). Granted, Evans was on the U.S.S Sinking Ship Sacramento where no one knew what to do with him, but would you count on Evans as a major contributor for your team?
Also, losing Robin Lopez will hurt some. He rebounded at the same clip as a bunny rabbit, but Lopez scored 11.3 ppg, which is very solid production for the position.
With the new name and a few seasons of subpar basketball, New Orleans wanted to make a splash quickly. Just didn't love the waves they made.
This next group of teams could easily make the postseason, but I'm betting against it.
21. TORONTO RAPTORS
Here's what to like about the Toronto Raptors:
- the hiring of Masai Ujiri as president of basketball operations.
- a starting five that will be able to score with any in the league.
- Kyle Lowry in a contract year.
- the continued improvement of Jonas Valanciunas, the only player in the NBA whose name I'm incapable of consistently pronouncing correctly.
- trading Andrea Bargnani and somehow getting a first-round pick for him.
- the underrated toughness of Amir Johnson.
Here's what's not to like about the Toronto Raptors:
- their three best players' casual indifference to defense.
- head coach Dwane Casey.
- Rudy Gay's massive, silly contract, which will crush the Raptors like a baby grand piano falling out of a window and squashing a cartoon rabbit. And it gets worse when you consider the contract versus what Gay actually gives you on the court, which is scoring and nothing else.
- the fact that the Raptors went 18-18 after Gay arrived and, while Gay's scoring improved, Toronto scored less.
- their uniforms are ugly, too.
20. WASHINGTON WIZARDS
The Wiz are my "Can't Buy Me Love." I know the movie isn't "Schindler's List," but I love it.
The Wizards intrigued me the minute John Wall came back last season. Maybe the love should be directed at him, but Washington struck me as a group of professionals who played hard.
Remember, the Wizards were in bad shape after the 2011-12 season. The culture in Washington needed to change (hear that recently?). And head coach Randy Wittman and GM Ernie Grunfeld did that.
But it's all back to Wall. When he returned from a knee injury, the Wiz went 24-25. Doesn't sound like much, but it would've gotten them in the playoffs if you count Eastern Conference records over that time period.
Wall got paid and got paid handsomely. There's legitimate playoff hope in D.C. and the Wiz have to embrace it.
Problem is, injuries are already either hindering, hampering or downright hurting the Wizards.
Emeka Okafor has a disc issue in his neck. Don't downplay his importance. He's part of the professional overhaul, along with Nene, and has career averages of 12.3 ppg and 9.9 rpg.
Second-year guard Bradley Beal rested his legs most of the offseason, which isn't a rosy optimistic approach for a 20-year-old shooter. Otto Porter, Jr., the third pick in the draft, has missed time during camp with a bum hip.
It's too much for Wall to overcome.
It's worth noting that all three of the following Western Conference teams would be the sixth or seventh seed in the East.
19. DALLAS MAVERICKS
Mark Cuban had a plan that came nowhere close to fruition. After winning the NBA title in 2011, he gutted the team for financial freedom and it paid off with ... Monta Ellis?
Deron Williams, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul all spurned the star of "Shark Tank." It was a blow, but all of Cuban's dealings in place of bona fide stars have been short term, so Dallas could be back in the free-agent picture for a long time.
The Mavs probably would've made the playoffs last season if Dirk Nowitzki was healthy at the start. Gone are O.J. Mayo, Elton Brand and the revolving door of underachieving point guards.
So Cuban and Donnie Nelson did what they could do when Howard and Paul shot down the Mavs. The roster isn't bad per se, but Ellis, Jose Calderon (four years?), Samuel Dalembert and Devin Harris don't move the dial far enough to make the postseason.
18. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Portland had a fantastic offseason. They strengthened a bench that was embarrassing last season. The Blazers have a ton of young talent, two superstars in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, and a group of versatile pieces.
The Blazers just aren't quite there yet. There are nine better teams out west, that's the only reason Portland isn't headed to the postseason. Sometimes, the explanation is that simple.
17. DENVER NUGGETS
They lost the NBA Executive of the Year, Coach of the Year, their best player, starting center, fifth-leading scorer and a huge bench piece, and will be missing their second-leading scorer until December.
How do we think they'll make the playoffs again?