Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Your NBA Team Sucks - A Glass-Half-Empty Season Preview (Part II)

Kobe Bryant. Not pictured - Kobe Bryant's Achilles injury.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

This is Part II of our Your Team Sucks series, previewing the worst parts of every NBA team for the upcoming season. In Part I, we covered the 10 worst teams from last season, and tomorrow we're covering the 10 best teams from last season. That means today, we've got the middle 10, including our first batch of playoff teams.

Toronto Raptors

In the first draft of this series, I didn’t write a section about the Raptors because I forgot to add them to my list. That’s how much they suck. I forgot they existed.

First of all, their “star” is Rudy Gay. The same Rudy Gay that had negative offensive win shares at the time he was traded from Memphis to Toronto last season. The same Rudy Gay that attempted almost 17 shots per game last season and sported a true shooting percentage 1.3 points lower than the lowest-ranked team in the league.

Rounding out the squad is Kyle Lowry (who is in a contract year and is surely bolting after the season), DeMar DeRozan (who is somehow even more inefficient than Gay), and Jonas Valanciunas, who is still at least two seasons away from being anything other than just a solid big man.

Worst-Case Scenario: Gay decides what has been holding him back from true superstardom over the last handful of years is positional flexibility, so he insists on playing point guard "like LeBron does." He averages six turnovers per game. Terrence Ross continues to come off the bench until Dwyane Casey realizes he can neither dribble nor shoot, at which point he is inserted into the starting lineup, just to play a joke on DeMar DeRozan. The Raptors begin to tank right after the All-Star break, justifying Aaron Gray's employment.

Philadelphia 76ers

Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Jason Richardson, Lavoy Allen, Kwame Brown, Royce White, Arnett Moultrie, James Anderson, Tim Ohlbrecht, Tony Wroten, Darius Morris, Nerlens Noel’s knee injury, and Michael Carter-Whoops I Threw It To the Wrong Team. That’s 14 members of a 15-man NBA roster. Unless the 15th man is LeBreem-Abdul O’Nealajuwon, this team ain’t winning 15 games.

Worst-Case Scenario: Against better judgment, Nerlens Noel returns to the lineup after New Years, and his rebounding and shot-blocking presence vault Philadelphia back towards the middle of the lottery instead of locking up the worst record in the league by the All-Star break. 

Milwaukee Bucks

Ditching Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis sounds like a good idea in theory until you realize that their offense is left with absolutely no creativity. Isolation basketball has almost reached a point where it’s so overrated that it’s underrated again (kind of like Blake Griffin’s career), and offenses that don’t have players who can score in isolation situations are usually dead on arrival. O.J. Mayo is the only Buck capable of creating his own shot on even a semi-consistent basis, and he was roughly the 5th-most efficient scorer on a middling offense last season.

Worst-Case Scenario: Brandon Jennings flourishes in Detroit and Monta Ellis rejuvenates Dirk's career in Dallas. O.J. Mayo plays like he did last year, only without the scorching start that saw him shoot 52% from three for the first six weeks of the season. Nobody can figure out how to pronounce Giannis Antetokounmpo's name; he becomes discouraged and retires from basketball before ever playing an NBA minute.

Dallas Mavericks

Monta Ellis is prominently involved. I could probably leave it at that, but I won’t. Monta Ellis is sharing a backcourt with Jose Calderon, which means Dallas is probably sporting the worst defensive backcourt in NBA history. Brandan Wright and DeJuan Blair are also on the roster. If all four are ever on the court together I think the opponent will somehow find a way to score 12 points on a single possession.

Worst-Case Scenario: Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon team up to allow Jeff Teague to score 27 points and dish out 11 assists on opening night. This proves to be the worst performance by an opposing point guard against the Mavericks this season. Fantasy owners everywhere rejoice as even journeyman guards like Beno Udrih and Luke Ridnour morph into all-pro's when facing Dallas. The defense drops Dallas' hopes like an anchor, they lose 50 games.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics have already given up on the season. You know this. I know this. We all know this. They traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries and weren’t drunk at the time. They gave Keith Bogans a three-year contract worth more than he’s made in his entire career combined. That’s not so unusual for a player leaving his rookie contract, but Bogans is 32 years old and has been in the league for 10 seasons. The teams starting point guard is either going to be Avery Bradley, Phil Pressey or (gulp) Jordan Crawford. The hopes of the franchise’s future are tied to one player who currently has a torn ACL, and the other a center with the wingspan of a T-Rex.

They had one of the three or four best coaches in the league and seemed content to let him walk away from the organization with no recourse. They replaced him with a college coach, because coaches jumping from college to the NBA have such a spectacular track record, especially for the Celtics – isn’t that right, Rick Pitino?

Worst-Case Scenario: Rajon Rondo returns to the lineup with a major chip on his shoulder and drags the Celtics back towards the playoffs. Brad Stevens is a miracle worker, whipping Gerald Wallace into shape and coaxing positive contributions from MarShon Brooks and Jordan Crawford. The Celtics look poised to be the 8th seed in the East before Rondo tears his ACL again. The Celtics get swept by Brooklyn, losing each game by 40 points. Kevin Garnett averages a quadruple-double in the series. The Nets go on to win the title in each of the years they surrender first-round picks to the Celtics. Paul Pierce gets his jersey retired by the Nets and not the Celtics. 

Utah Jazz

They barely finished over .500 last season (in fact, they were outscored over the course of their 82 games) and decided the best way to move the franchise forward is to ditch the three guys who played more minutes than anyone else on the team. They continued their savvy off-season ways by paying north of $24 million (by way of salaries for Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, and Brandon Rush) for two late first-round picks, the same picks that teams are often willing to sell for a quarter of that price on draft night.

They traded two of their own first round picks to move up to draft Trey Burke, generally considered to be a not-overwhelming player in one of the worst drafts in recent memory. He’s responded to this doubt by playing incredibly poorly in Summer League and in preseason.

Meanwhile, their two best players (Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward) are each about to reach the end of their rookie contracts. Naturally, the Jazz have made no move towards offering either player a contract extension.

Worst-Case Scenario: Trey Burke continues his disappointing play throughout the regular season, and in the process starts a chain reaction of regression among all of Utah's young players. By mid-March, Utah's front office is trying to persuade John Stockton and Karl Malone to come out of retirement to return to the Jazz. Both decline, Utah sets a franchise record for losses, but fails to secure the No. 1 pick in the draft. 

Atlanta Hawks

They parted ways with their coach and have spent the last two years ditching their most recognizable star either for pennies on the dollar (Joe Johnson) or no return whatsoever on their investment (Josh Smith). If the pattern continues, this time next year they’ll be trading Al Horford and throwing in three future picks in the process.

To replace the departing Josh Smith, they signed Paul Millsap, a 27-year old indisputably positive contributor whose rebuilding team didn’t want to bring back, and Elton Brand, a (supposedly) valuable frontcourt player about whom just about every other team in the league said “thanks, but no thanks.” They also re-signed Jeff Teague in a very begrudging fashion, which will surely instill a great deal of confidence over the four guaranteed years they gave him.

Worst-Case Scenario: Josh Smith leads Detroit to the Eastern Finals, where they run into Joe Johnson and the Nets. The Hawks, through a glitch in NBA playoff seeding, find a way to lose to both teams in consecutive rounds. Following the season, they trade Al Horford to Denver for JaVale McGee.

Chicago Bulls

Remember the last time a former No. 1 overall pick missed an entire season with a knee injury and then came back and immediately reclaimed his previous form? You don’t? Me neither. Chicago fans should talk to Greg Oden before they try to reserve tickets for mid-June.

It’s always a good sign when a team is spending over $29.5 million for two starters (Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng) who might not even be as good as the guys backing them up (Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler), and are on the books for less than 30% of the price.

By seemingly any measurement, this team is worse than they were in 2011. They aren’t as deep, Boozer and Deng are older, and their best player is trying to come back from an ACL injury. In 2011, they got their asses handed to them by Miami, a team whose 2014 iteration is clearly better than its 2011 version. If 2011 Miami > 2011 Chicago, 2011 Chicago > 2014 Chicago, and 2014 Miami > 2011 Miami, then the transitive property would clearly state that 2014 Miami >>>>> 2014 Chicago. Better luck in 2025 when LeBron has retired.

Worst-Case Scenario: This happens again. 

Houston Rockets

You’re asking Dwight Howard to be the center on a NBA championship contender? That’s cute. Ask the Lakers and Magic how they turned out with that model.

PS, this is the same team who couldn’t even beat Oklahoma City after Russell Westbrook got hurt. For context, that’s the same sans-Westbrook OKC team that got stomped on by Memphis in Round 2. And THAT’S the same Memphis team that got stampeded by San Antonio in the Western Finals. So Houston isn’t even in the same universe, let alone the same ballpark as San Antonio, and adding a little crybaby Dwight Howard isn’t going to change that (again, refer to 2013 Lakers).

Worst-Case Scenario: The change in scenery does nothing for Dwight Howard - he continues to mope and complain through another season, this time about his desire to develop a three-point shot, which he does not understand why the coaching staff doesn't support. He continues to play up his "Superman" alter-ego until he is sued by D.C. Comics for copyright infringement. The legal battle keeps him off the court for an extended period, during which time Omer Asik takes over his starting spot and plays so well that Howard is relegated to the bench upon his return. Incensed, Howard takes James Harden and GM Daryl Morey hostage and absconds to Martinique, where a standoff between Howard and law enforcement cannot be resolved in time for the postseason. Houston loses in Round 1 to the Lakers.

Los Angeles Lakers

Speaking of the Lakers, they suck. They suck so much that Dwight Howard would rather play somewhere that ISN’T “the most prestigious franchise in basketball.” Their supposed “best player” is out with an Achilles injury, there still is no timetable for his return. Their 2nd-best player is 33 years old and in obvious decline – all of his relevant statistics have been in steady decline over the last three years. Their 3rd-best player is a 39-year old point guard with more chronic injuries than career assists. He missed 32 games last year and had his worst season since Clinton was President.

Their 4th-best player is Chris Kaman. Their 5th-best player is Nick Young. I don’t even need to make a joke there.

Worst-Case Scenario: Kobe Bryant rushes back from his Achilles injury and re-injures it on opening night, forcing his retirement. After discussing his future with Brett Favre, he attempts a number of comebacks, each more depressing than the last. Chris Kaman and Nick Young form a duo they call "KY." They fail to realize the irony. After his final comeback attempt, Kobe Bryant is awarded a minority stake in the Lakers' ownership. When the team once again tries to hire Phil Jackson, he flatly replies that he will never agree to work for Kobe Bryant, no matter how small the ownership stake.

Tomorrow: Part III - The Final Installment of Your NBA Team Sucks

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