Thursday, October 16, 2014

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

Kevin Durant's foot injury could de-rail Oklahoma City's season before it even starts.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

Ready for one more round of bad feelings? I know I am. Let's throw our stink on the last ten teams in the league. If you missed Part I (the ten worst teams from last year), it's here. For Part II (with the last few lottery teams and the first bunch of playoff teams), it's over there. And this is Part III, covering the best of the best. Well, the worst of the best. These teams suck.

Miami Heat

In case you didn’t hear, LeBron isn’t playing for the team any longer.

The team completely and totally fell apart in the playoffs last year whenever LeBron wasn’t on the floor. How are they going to survive a whole season without him? Dwyane Wade is pretty much guaranteed to break down. The last time Chris Bosh carried a team, the 2010 Raptors went 40-42. At least they can take solace in the fact that everything bad going on is Mario Chalmers’ fault.

Worst-Case Scenario: Wade’s knees fall apart as he tries to shoulder a greater load. Bosh can’t step up, Luol Deng and Danny Granger are washed up, Josh McRoberts never fits in, and the Heat lose 55 games.

Memphis Grizzlies

So, the Grizzlies lost Mike Miller, but added Vince Carter and Jordan Adams. In other words, they lost their only reliable three-point shooter and replaced him with two off-the-dribble creators. Having guys that can create off the dribble is nice, but they’re back to not having a soul who can space the floor. They’re relying on Courtney Lee (34.5 percent with Memphis last year) and Quincy Pondexter (coming off a stress fracture in his foot - he missed most of last season) to be their primary spot-up guys on the wings. They can play Jon Leuer, who was 23-for-49 from three last year, but doing so for extended periods just means that they’re increasing the minutes in which one of Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol isn’t on the floor, and that’s just not the smartest idea for a team where defense, rebounding, and toughness are the three things keeping them afloat.

Worst-Case Scenario: Spacing collapses. Dave Joerger remains enamored with giving significant minutes to Tayshaun Prince. After such a big step forward last year, Mike Conley regresses, as does the defense, and the Grizzlies fall short of the playoffs.

Golden State Warriors

They fired a successful coach who was beloved by his players because the front office wasn’t that fond of him. That’s the only way to put that accurately. There are a number of unsubstantiated rumors as for why the Warriors canned Jackson, but the company line of wanting to move in a new direction seems farcical when the direction the team was going in was clearly up. They went from 23 wins to 47 wins to 51 wins, and made the playoffs in each of those last two seasons. If you want to say they fired Jackson because of losing in the first round, that’s rather disingenuous, considering (a) they only advanced to Round 2 the previous year thanks to two fluky injuries (Danilo Gallinari, robbing Denver of one of their best players; David Lee, whose injury forced Golden State to play small and bomb threes like they should have been doing all along), and (b) they went to seven games against the team with the second-best scoring margin in the league.

So, they fired a coach they shouldn’t have, and hired a coach with no head coaching experience at any level. Nice.

Worst-Case Scenario: The players revolt against Steve Kerr. Stephen Curry’s ankles once again become a lingering issue. Andrew Bogut misses time for the seventh year in a row. Shaun Livingston’s good luck with health runs out. Andre Iguodala ages 10 years overnight, and the team is left with Klay Thompson and David Lee as their only reliable players. In a season from hell, Golden State loses 50 games and wonders what the hell happened.

Houston Rockets

Remember the last time the Rockets let their starting small forward walk and signed Trevor Ariza instead? The year was 2010 - He shot 39 percent from the floor, 33 percent from three, and the Rockets tripped over themselves to trade him that off-season.

Ariza can’t create off the dribble like Chandler Parsons could. They also gift-wrapped Jeremy Lin to the Lakers. That means that Houston is down two of their three primary ball-handler/creators. The only one they have left is James Harden, and the Rockets showed in the playoffs last year that having James Harden make every relevant offensive decision doesn’t lead to optimal results.

They also dumped Omer Asik, which means that when Dwight Howard is off the floor, the Houston defense will be anchored by… Joey Dorsey? Clint Capela? Jeff Adrien? The second unit is going to be a major liability for Houston, especially in a conference littered with deep benches.

Worst-Case Scenario: Harden can’t handle all the added offensive responsibility. Neither can Patrick Beverley. Dwight Howard starts to mope and offer less effort on defense. The second unit goes in the can. Kevin McHale gets canned. Houston misses the playoffs.

Portland Trail Blazers

Let’s put it this way - four of the five Portland starters played all 82 games. They only have six different players in their starting lineups this year. For comparison, the next-lowest was Dallas, and they had nine. The Blazers used only TWO starting lineups last season. Just two. The Spurs used THIRTY. Three Zero. 30. The average in the league was 16.5. To call them lucky with injuries would be under-selling the point by a margin wide enough to drive a truck through. They were hilariously, hysterically, stomp-your-feet-while-cackling-like-a-madman-ly lucky with injuries.

The odds of that happening again? Roughly zero.

Individual players can be outliers in terms of avoiding injuries (Andre Miller and Derek Fisher, to name two recent examples, you could probably throw LeBron in there as well). But at a team level, everyone regresses to the mean. Nicolas Batum played 82 games for the first time in his career last year, he missed an average of 13.6 over the previous five years. Robin Lopez missed an average of 22 per year over his first three seasons before bouncing back with two consecutive full slates in 2013 and 2014. Damian Lillard has yet to miss a game in his two-year career, but bumps and bruises always accumulate. Wesley Matthews has played four injury-free seasons (2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014), but missed 13 games in 2013 with various ailments. Injuries happen. They always do.

Worst-Case Scenario: Portland regresses way past the mean and the injury bug bites early and often. Lopez joins his brother on the injured list with a fractured foot. Lillard sprains his ankle. Batum strains his hip flexor. Without the good grace of last year’s health, Portland tumbles out of the playoff picture.

Indiana Pacers

Speaking of injuries…

Good luck scoring when they only two perimeter scorers from last year’s team have either skipped town or suffered unspeakable leg injuries. Roy Hibbert post-ups will be a heavy part of the diet, so expect Indiana’s offense to take off like a North Korean rocket.

Worst-Case Scenario: Imagine the end of last year, when they went 10-13 in their last 23 games, only without either of their two most reliable scorers, and then imagine that for a full season. This team could conceivably lose 60 games.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers have a jarring lack of depth on their front line. If DeAndre Jordan is hurt for any extended period of time, what was a top-10 unit last year could quickly plummet well below league average. And without Jordan’s presence around the basket on offense, Blake Griffin’s tick-tack-toe passing from the elbow becomes useless, and Chris Paul won’t have alleys to penetrate against a warped defense squeezing down on a rolling Jordan.

And that’s before we even get to Chris Paul, who very quietly has missed 32 games over the last two seasons, and if you recall back to 2010, had part of his meniscus removed (instead of repaired), the same procedure that Brandon Roy had and partially led to his knees being completely wrecked by the time he was 27. And Chris Paul is 29. Just sayin’.

Also, we have no idea what kind of owner Steve Ballmer is going to be once the ball is rolled out. Could a few hiccups lead to a shake-up? Is Ballmer the type of guy who wants everyone to know that there’s a new sheriff in town?

Worst-Case Scenario: Jordan goes down with an injury. By the time he returns, Chris Paul is on the sidelines, and the Clippers season falls apart at the seams. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, another Donald Sterling lawsuit pops up and the team crumbles under the distractions, finishing 40-42.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Well, Durant is already hurt. So they’re already doing the work for us.

Consider the case of Marvin Jones. Marvin Jones plays wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals. He suffered a Jones fracture to his 5th metatarsal (name unrelated), the same injury that Kevin Durant currently has. Jones suffered his injury in preseason and began rehabbing. He was scheduled to miss 6-8 weeks (the same time-table given for Durant). During his rehab, he re-injured the fracture and is now on Injured Reserve, out for the season. Another NFL wide receiver, Julio Jones (I swear the names are just a coincidence) also suffered a Jones fracture to his 5th metatarsal, proceeded without surgery, and then ended up exacerbating the injury a third of the way through last season. He also went on IR.

It seems that re-injuring a fractured 5th metatarsal is more common than, say, re-injuring a repaired labrum, or ACL. Oklahoma City displayed extreme caution bringing Russell Westbrook back into the lineup last season, they could do the same for Durant. But if they aren’t careful, Durant could end up missing the entire season.

Worst-Case Scenario: See two paragraphs above.

Cleveland Cavaliers

What happens if these Cavs start out the same way the 2011 Heat did? That Heat team started 9-8, but they had the patience of Pat Riley pulling all the strings. What happens if a Dan Gilbert super-team fails to impress for the first two months? Everyone on the team save for LeBron might get dealt. Kevin Love might just get run out of town. And there’s a believable explanation for why it might happen - the defense might straight-up suck. The early stages of the Heat could always defend because they had LeBron and Wade wreaking havoc on the wings, Chris Bosh flying out at high screeners, and underrated defenders like Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony picking up the scraps. This Cleveland team has Kevin Love (unequivocally poor defensively), Kyrie Irving (really, truly awful defensively) and Dion Waiters (unacceptably terrible defensively). The only plus defenders in their regular rotation will be LeBron, Shawn Marion (who is 36), and Anderson Varejao (who is 32 and made of papier-mâché). David Blatt will need to be a miracle worker in order to get them to defend at anywhere close to an NBA level.

Worst-Case Scenario: Love struggles to fit into a secondary role. Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Dion Waiters fail to make the leaps that everyone expected playing next to LeBron. Varejao gets hurt, leaving them impossibly thin on the front line. Shawn Marion, Mike Miller, James Jones, and Ray Allen (if he ever actually signs) are too old to contribute consistently, and Cleveland is upset in the Eastern Finals.

San Antonio Spurs

Come on. Let’s be serious. They’re the Spurs.

Worst-Case Scenario: 55 wins.

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