Phoenix Suns management has been the laughing stock of the league for the past few years, but with new GM Ryan McDonough in charge, the rebuilding process can begin anew. Here’s my HoopsHabit article grading all his offseason moves and why Suns fans can be optimistic about the future.
The Suns finished dead last in the Western Conference this year, so here’s my HoopsHabit piece grading each player’s performance this season. Spoiler alert: If my future children ever bring home a report card looking like this, they will be grounded immediately.
Here’s an update on the latest NBA free agency news via Reup Sports, including analysis on Jeremy Lin becoming a Rocket, updated Dwight Howard trade rumors and recent signings in Los Angeles. Check out the article here.
For the latest news and analysis on all the action of NBA free agency over the last few days, check out my article via Reup Sports. Today’s post includes Jeremy Lin heading to Houston, Phoenix picking up Luis Scola, the ongoing battle for Nicolas Batum and more!
We’re a little bit past the midway point of the regular season already, so now is a good time to take a look at which teams are contenders and which are just pretenders. We already know that Oklahoma City, Chicago and Miami are all definite contenders, but the rest of the league is a little more difficult to make out so far. It’s still early, but here are the picks.
Indiana Pacers – Contender. The Pacers were my sleeper pick at the beginning of the season and they haven’t disappointed so far. They’re currently 3rd in the East and have won their last four games, rebounding from a disappointing five-game losing streak. Indiana has a young core, gained valuable playoff experience last year against the Bulls (in a series that was much closer than its quick 5 game span), and are being led by All-Star seasons from Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert. Nobody really pays much attention to them, but they could surprise a few people if they continue to play at a high level.
Orlando Magic – Pretender. The Magic are having a lot of problems right now, even with Dwight Howard putting up superhuman numbers. Considering that the Magic will try and get all they can for the unhappy Superman as the trade deadline approaches (draft picks might be key here), the Magic aren’t going to be making very much noise this year if he leaves. And what may be even worse for Orlando is if Howard doesn’t leave, as the Magic’s chemistry will continue to suffer with the awkward position that Howard, the team and the entire city of Orlando is in right now.
New York Knicks – Contender. The Knicks showed they’re not contenders just yet in a disappointing loss to the Heat, but it’s hard to believe this team won’t develop into a highly competitive playoff team. While I don’t think they have the chemistry to reach the Finals this year, I do believe they can make a decent playoff run and give more competitive teams a run for their money. If Jeremy Lin can keep his turnovers down while making sure Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and JR Smith all get more involved on offense, the Knicks could become a big contender for the next few years.
Boston Celtics – Pretender. I’ve already written about what’s happened to the Celtics, so there are no surprises labeling them as pretenders here. With the Heat, Bulls, Pacers and Hawks in the East, I think Boston’s window of opportunity for winning championships is over. The Boston Threeparty is getting too old and Rajon Rondo can’t pick up the scoring load for them. Defense is their best weapon, but it won’t be enough for a substantial playoff run.
Philadelphia 76ers – Pretender. This pick is definitely the riskiest of the bunch, but I don’t think the 76ers have what it takes this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were wrong about this one, but there’s just something about this 76ers team I don’t like. Maybe it’s their current five-game skid. Maybe it’s how different this Philly team is with big man Spencer Hawes sidelined. Or maybe it’s unnecessary and idiotic trick shots like this that suggest the team’s lack of focus. But whatever it is, I don’t believe in the Philadelphia 76ers just yet.
Atlanta Hawks – Contender. I honestly don’t think the Hawks have great chances in the East, but I believe in them more than the Magic, 76ers or Celtics, so I’ve got to put them down as contenders. The absence of Al Horford has really hurt them, but they still have a good record and Josh Smith is putting up great numbers in multiple categories. The Hawks have disappointed fans in the playoffs in the last few years, but I think they have the edge over some of the other teams in the East who are in the playoff running right now.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Pretender. The fact that the Cavs are a part of this discussion at 13-18 shows how set-in-stone the East is already shaping up to be. The Cavs are only 1.5 games behind the Celtics for the 8th spot in the East right now, but even though Boston is not shaping up to be a contender, the Cavs are unlikely candidates to oust them for that final spot this season. Next year looks more promising for the impressive rookie Kyrie Irving, Antawn Jamison and the currently injured Anderson Varejao.
Los Angeles Lakers – Contender. As the season started, the Lakers looked terrible, old and defunct. But then Kobe completely took over the Lakers’ offensive game plan, put the team on his back, and set the wheels in motion for Los Angeles to be tough to beat every time they take the floor. Mike Brown’s defensive coaching fits perfectly with the Lakers because their bench leaves so much to be desired. And now that the Lakers are feeding the ball to their talented big men, they look like a much more complete team. Pau Gasol is having an All-Star season and Andrew Bynum has been putting up fantastic numbers while staying healthy. Derek Fisher needs to contribute more consistently on offense and the Lakers bench is a huge weakness, but Kobe Bryant alone makes the Lakers competitive. Especially in the playoffs.
Denver Nuggets – Contender. The Nugets wouldn’t even be in the playoffs if the season ended today, but don’t forget that Denver is a completely different team with Danilo Gallinari and Nene on the floor. Despite the apparent Nuggets’ nosedive recently, they are only a half game back in the standings and will be getting Gallinari back soon. If all goes according to plan, the Nuggets will be peaking when it matters.
Dallas Mavericks – Contender. I was a little torn on this one, but the Mavs should still be seen as contenders for now. Last year, nobody picked Dallas to be a contender at the start of the playoffs, but elevated play from Dirk, Jason Terry and the entire bench showed the world how tough they are to beat when they hit their stride. Even with Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea gone this year, Dirk is starting to pick up his game again and the Mavs are competitive almost every night. If they get hot in the playoffs and get favorable matchups, it’s possible for them to at least reach the Western Conference Finals.
Houston Rockets – Pretender. The Rockets have been surprisingly good this season and are currently in the 6th spot in the West. However, I don’t think the Rockets stack up against any of the other contenders with only Luis Scola in the paint. They have fantastic guard play from Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin, but other than that, the Rockets lack the necessary depth to make a real playoff run.
Los Angeles Clippers – Contender. The loss of Chauncey Billups is a definite blow and will most likely prevent them from going as far as they might have, but the Clippers are still a force to be reckoned with in the West. Chris Paul has shown the ability to take over late in the game and Blake Griffin’s electrifying play not only produces good numbers, but it also has the ability to ignite the crowd, which could be a definite advantage in the playoffs if they can secure a good seed. The Clippers will need consistent offensive production from Caron Butler and Mo Williams, but they will also need increased production from DeAndre Jordan and Randy Foye in the playoffs to be a truly tough team to beat.
Portland Trail Blazers – Pretender. The Blazers are deadly at home, but I don’t think they’ll get enough wins by the end of the season to secure enough home-court advantage for the playoffs when it would matter the most. Portland has an awful road record (5-11), and they’re even starting to drop games at home too (they’ve lost four of their last six at the Rose Garden). And given the age of Portland’s big men behind Aldridge (Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas), if the Trail Blazers have the same unfortunate injury luck they’ve had in the past few years, the bench’s lack of depth may hurt them.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Pretender. It’s hard to call a team a pretender when they are only in playoff contention right now, but since I don’t think the T-Wolves will be contenders this year, I have to label them as pretenders. Rubio and Love are the promising future of Minnesota basketball, but it’s a little too much for fans to ask that their team makes a deep playoff run in their first year together. The future looks promising, but I think the T-Wolves will come up a little short this season, even though I do believe they’ll make the playoffs.
San Antonio Spurs – Contender. The Spurs have racked up a big number of wins in the past two regular seasons, and although they were a huge disappointment in the playoffs last year, I think they learned their lesson. Don’t forget this team was the number one seed in the West a year ago, and this year they’ve been streaking without Manu Ginobili on the floor. The Spurs aren’t the most entertaining team in the league, but they know how to win and will start grabbing people’s attention soon.
Memphis Grizzlies – Pretender. Without Zach Randolph on the court, the Grizzlies have to remain pretenders for now. They should be getting Z-Bo back soon and Rudy Gay should have been an All-Star this year, but the Grizzlies should be so much better than they are right now. This is not the same team that stunned the number one-seed San Antonio Spurs and gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a run for their money last year. Part of that can be attributed to Randolph’s absence, but the rest lies in the fact that the Grizzlies don’t always beat the teams they should (Phoenix and Utah twice).
So there you have it. Do you agree with my picks? Or have I unfairly ruled someone out? Sound off in the comments section.
Here are the major highlights of Sunday’s NBA action:
Thunder vs. Nuggets – The Thunder got a quality win in overtime in the best game of the day, outlasting the Nuggets 124-118 thanks to a monster game from Kevin Durant, who finished with a career-high 51 points and 8 rebounds. Russell Westbrook would have been the story with 40 points and 9 assists if not for Durant’s big night. The Thunder closed the first half on an 8-0 run as Denver came into Oklahoma City determined despite not having Danilo Gallinari or Nene. But the run carried over into the second half as OKC opened the third quarter on a 12-0 run. Although the resilient Nuggets surged to tie the game at 83 heading into the 4th, the Thunder would not be denied as Kevin Durant scored 5 points in the final 35 seconds to send it to overtime. Serge Ibaka finished with a triple double of 14 points, 15 rebounds and 11 blocks, while Arron Afflalo led the Nuggets with 27 points. The Thunder got a great overtime win here, but look for the Nuggets to go back to their winning ways once Gallinari and Nene return.
Knicks vs. Mavs – The Mavs came into Madison Square Garden on a six-game winning streak and Dirk played at his best, scoring 34 points. But the Knicks would not be denied and proved themselves as legitimate contenders in the East with a 104-97 win. Despite having 9 turnovers, Jeremy Lin led the Knicks with 28 points and 14 assists, while JR Smith had 15 points in his debut in New York. Steve Novak and Lin led the late charge as they Knicks erased a third quarter deficit capped off by Lin’s steal and dunk, while Novak then knocked down four 3’s in the 4th quarter. Six players scored in double digits for New York. With an impressive win like this over a quality defensive Dallas squad, one has to wonder how good the Knicks can be when Melo returns. Just think about this starting lineup: Lin, JR, Melo, Amare and Chandler.
Heat vs. Magic – Although the Knicks/Mavs contest was an exciting game to watch, the Heat showed they are still the beast of the East from the get-go, winning 90-78. Wade had 12 points in the first quarter, including an impossible fadeaway in the corner and two alley-oop dunks from James (one from half court). LeBron James almost ended up with a triple double with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists and Wade pitched in 27 points. The Magic looked underwhelming once again and it seems they may not be a very functional unit until Dwight Howard is either traded or commits to staying. JJ Reddick started for Jason Richardson (who sat out with chest pain) and led the team with 17 points. Howard had 12 points and 15 rebounds.
Timberwolves vs. 76ers – The Timberwolves were able to edge the 76ers 92-91 with .01 seconds left on a pair of Kevin Love free throws in a close game that came down to the wire in Minnesota. Jrue Holiday led the 76ers with 20 points and 5 rebounds, while Ricky Rubio led the T-Wolves with 22 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Love finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds. Look for the Timberwolves to be in the hunt for the playoffs this year, even if the 76ers may be slightly overrated right now.
Suns vs. Lakers – The Suns exacted a little revenge on Kobe and the Lakers at home in a dominant 102-90 win after surging to a 63-40 halftime lead. Jared Dudley had a season-high 25 points to lead Phoenix. Marcin Gortat ended up with 21 points and 15 rebounds while Grant Hill added 15 points. Kobe Bryant continued his personal dominance against the Suns, finishing with 36 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists.
Cavs vs. Kings – Kyrie Irving hit two free throws with .04 seconds to go to give the Cavs a close 93-92 win over the Kings. Irving’s free throws came just seconds after Demarcus Cousins hit a bucket to give Sacramento the lead. Irving finished with 23 points and Antawn Jamison had 21. Isaiah Thomas had a career-high 23 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds in his second start.
Pistons vs. Celtics – Boston continued to struggle and show signs of frustration with a 96-81 loss to the streaking Detroit Pistons, who have won seven of their last nine games. Greg Monroe had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists while Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 18. Boston was missing Kevin Garnett due to personal reasons, as well as Brandon Bass who is still out with a knee injury. Doc Rivers and Chris Wilcox received technicals for arguing calls with the referees. Rajon Rondo received two technicals in less than ten seconds after throwing the ball at the referee and was ejected.
Pacers vs. Bobcats – The Pacers looked to keep the momentum going with a 108-73 blow out of the Bobcats after their last win, which followed a five-game losing streak. Roy Hibbert had 18 points and 14 rebounds for Indiana, while Danny Granger and David West each chipped in 14 points. Derrick Brown led the Bobcats with 16 points and Kemba Walker added 15. The Bobcats have lost 17 of their last 18 games. Keep an eye on the Pacers going forward; they may not have flash, but good teams beat teams they’re supposed to.
Nets vs. Bucks – The Bucks beat the Nets 92-85 thanks to career highs from Ersan Ilyasova, who had 29 points and 25 rebounds. Brandon Jennings had 17 points while Deron Williams led New Jersey with 26 points. Brook Lopez, who has missed the entire season with a broken foot, played 22 minutes and had 9 points and 2 rebounds. Be sure that Brook Lopez is no longer on your IR in fantasy leagues.
Rockets vs. Jazz – The Rockets held off a late rally by the Jazz in a 101-85 win thanks to Kyle Lowry’s 32 points and 9 assists. Luis Scola had 26 points, while Al Jefferson led Utah with 23 points and 11 rebounds. The win has the Rockets as the seven spot in the West.