Here at the Beef, we are in full-blown playoff mode. Sixteen teams are jockeying for the ultimate goal: the NBA Championship. However, there are 14 teams that are looking past the championship and towards next season. These lottery-bound teams all have their own problems and even nightmares to work out in order to improve. The Kobe Beef has a little bit of advice for these general managers.
First, let’s start out East and take a trip to Canada to visit our ailing Raptors. Toronto had a run for the playoffs at the end of the season but without Chris Bosh, what did we really expect them to do against the Cavs? Bringing in Hedo Turkoglu was a pretty big mistake. He was working out in Orlando but that was under an offense that allowed him and other three-point shooters to flourish. Alongside Dwight Howard, he was what we call an x-factor. You can’t trade an x-man and expect the same numbers. His rebounding and shooting were their worst in years. The Raptors had two promising players in Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon but they are in the playoffs with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Jose Calderon’s numbers have been down as well and I still really don’t understand why bringing in Reggie Evans ever sounded like a good idea. This team has been affiliated with several questionable trades and short-lived Canadian NBA careers (Shawn Marion and Jermaine O’Neal instantly come to mind). DeMar DeRozan will hopefully get better adding to the front court but there might be a big hole at the forward position come this summer’s free agency. Chris Bosh is going somewhere. Where? We don’t know yet.
It has been speculated that general manager Bryan Colangelo has made moves to help convince Bosh to stay in town but bringing in Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems doesn’t seem like enough. In fact, nothing seems like enough for these Raptors. The team needs to make several moves. Bosh’s place will need to be filled. It’s not going to be easy since he has turned into both an All-Star and leader on this team. In addition, a better bench will need to be built. This team really screwed itself by turning into the revolving door that it has been for the past few years. The problems are too numerous and complex to list out and Toronto had no business even being in the playoff chase.
Next, let’s take a look to the Midwest at a team that is obviously at a mid-point in it’s development. The Pacers have come a long way from the Malice at the Palace. Larry Bird has come in and really cleaned this team up by shipping off Ron Artest, Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson. Indiana brought in a lot of good players with Mike Dunleavy, T.J. Ford, Troy Murphy and Earl Watson. They have built an amazing player in Danny Granger and even though I can’t help but hate him, Tyler Hansbrough might turn into something.
Despite the upsides and potential signs of life coming out of Indiana, they are on the outside looking in. Jeff Foster only played in 18 games all season and underwent season-ending surgery on his lower back in February. When playing, he didn’t score in double digits all season. Roy Hibbert will be a great center one day but it’s a little soon for this rookie to step up completely. In addition, the division was a very difficult one this season with the emergence of the Milwaukee Bucks and the dominating Cavaliers.
The Pacers ended the season fairly well winning 10 of 14 and they put together a few good winning streaks over the course of the season. They managed to sweep the Pistons for the first time in five years and the Nets for the first time in 20 years. It’s nothing impressive but at least it’s something. If the Pacers stay healthy, keep their core together and build at the guard position, they might be competing past mid April.
Only one name even comes close to resembling the silver lining in New York. David Lee had one of the most underrated and least talked about seasons. This Florida alum averaged a double-double with just over 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. Over the past two regular seasons, Lee has proven his consistency and should be considered a solid building block in the Big Apple along with Danilo Gallinari and rookie Toney Douglas. Outside of those three, the team is pretty much a bunch of has-beens and wash-ups. Tracy McGrady looked good for the first game before fading into obscurity. Al Harrington hasn’t been a high-caliber player since Indiana and very rarely shows his former talent or emotion. Eddie House is old and Eddy Curry is Eddy Curry.
It used to be tradition for the Knicks to be a dominating, powerhouse team. As of late, it seems to be the opposite. From Isiah Thomas to Stephon Marbury, New York just can’t be taken seriously. Mike D’Antoni isn’t the man for rebuilding especially with such a sad group of apathetic trash. The Knicks have a ton of problems and it may be time to clean house completely and start from scratch. Don’t hold your breath this offseason. LeBron is NOT going to the Knicks. He is trying to win a ring and not rebuild a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in seven years.
What can’t be said about the Pistons that hasn’t already been said about the city of Detroit itself. It’s desolate, empty and dead. It too, like the city, was full of life and flourished. Now, the talent is gone and the names that do remain are rarely mentioned. However, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum will hopefully serve as a bailout for this team. Richard Hamilton’s three pointer doesn’t seem so deadly anymore and Teyshaun Prince really is that lazy. Ben Gordon would have been a great pick up a few years ago but his game is too marred by inconsistency. They also have what could be considered the worst duo of fives with Kwame Brown and Ben (yes, I almost retired) Wallace. Charlie Villanueva had a decent season but he too was inconsistent and isn’t the player he was last season in Milwaukee.
Detroit has some problems but with their nice set of young guards they have something to build on. It’s time to clean house though and let Ben Wallace go on and retire. Hopefully Villanueva will get back into a rhythm next season and give them something to work with in the frontcourt. They need new fours and new fives but the same can be said for nearly every lottery team. It’s going to take a lot to get the bad-boy swagger back in Detroit. Again, don’t hold your breath. Unless this team tests the market (no matter how small it might be) for Prince and Hamilton, don’t expect any significant changes to this squad.
Sending Andre Miller to Portland is looking pretty stupid right now for Philadelphia. Jrue Holiday does show promise but Miller is lighting it up for a team that actually did make the playoffs. Elton Brand is looking like a huge bust seeing as he has only played in 37 games over the last two seasons. This shouldn’t have been a surprise to ANYONE that actually follows basketball. If you are an injury prone player, you don’t loose the habit as you get older. The 31-year-old is not getting any stronger and I’m sure that contract is really starting bug general manager Ed Stafanski. Firing Mo Cheeks was certainly a blessing for him since he is thoroughly enjoying his position with the Thunder. Bringing in Allen Iverson was the single-most pathetic moment of the entire NBA season. No question. Samual Dalembert’s rebounds were enough to make sure I didn’t make fun of him too much but his season was still nothing to brag about.
Positives? Marreese Speights is shaping out to maybe be a pretty good center. Andre Iguodala had a down year but it will hopefully turn around and Lou Williams had a decent year despite injury. The team experienced a 12-game losing streak from late November to December without him. With only two impressive wins on the season (Mavericks 92-81 on January 22 and Atlanta 105-98 on March 26), Phili has a lot to work on. They are pretty young outside of Brand and Iverson. They also are pretty thin in their frontcourt. With another solid scorer at the four position, the 76ers might be poised for a less-embarrassing season next year.
Washington. Bad break. Where do I start? We all know the story. Guns, trades and subsequent loosing all defined this team’s forgettable season. With new coach Flip Saunders, Washington was expected to compete. The Core of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendon Haywood was suppose to finally click this season. Instead, none of them even played for the lowly Wiz after the All Star break. I like the acquisitions of Mike Miller and Randy Foye. Andray Blatche has done a good job at stepping up and we called JaVale McGee pretty dead on seeing how his game is becoming more and more consistent.
It was a season worth writing off completely and the amount of rebuilding needed is significant. Luckily, they freed up quite a bit of cap space but it definitely came with a heavy price. It’s time to replace all of the All Stars they lost and it wont be easy. After all that happened this season, Washington isn’t really looking like a place that any top free agents would really be attracted to. However, their plan is to utilize the draft as well but the rookie learning curve can be slow and I really don’t see winning big in the stars for Wiz anytime soon.
Speaking of seasons that need to be forgotten, let’s move on to New Jersey. What else needs to be said about the lowly Nets? It was a long time coming that this team would be this bad. Over the last three seasons, the team has done nothing but dump its former All Stars in Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. We all knew rebuilding was in their cards but the LeBron talk really needs to stop (Again, it’s NOT going to happen). Let’s get realistic and talk about what the Nets really need.
The only good news coming out of NJ is that all of their annual contracts are pretty low right now with only one player, Bobby Simmons, making more than $10 million last season. Pretty big waste of money too since his last game was back at the beginning of January. Being a point guard, Devin Harris is really only going to be as good as the players around him and without anyone to pass to, his development at the position could get hampered. Brook Lopez offers another glimmer of hope for the Nets. Yi Jianlian and Courtney Lee are the only other players on the team that averaged over 10 points a game.
New Jersey is a mix of obscure and super obscure players (if that’s even possible). Some are young and some are old. I don’t like building a team around centers but it may have to happen with the Nets and Lopez. Yi has proven he is both inconsistent and injury prone while Lee is simply a role player and not a leader on the court. He was an x-factor in Orlando last season and we have discussed how these types of players do not transfer well to other teams (look at Turkoglu). His success in Orlando was also due to the sheer amount of scorers on the team and the mismatches he would attract. That doesn’t seem to be the case in Jersey. Chris-Douglas Roberts started the season off strong but faded. Other than those few players, no one else on the team is worth mentioning. This team needs to look at developing at the point guard position and transition Harris to shooting guard since that’s what he really is. In addition, another scoring threat at the three or four needs to be brought in to help these Nets out offensively since they only average 92.5 points a game this season. New Jersey needs to think of something very quickly. We complain that Eastern Conference is weaker but we saw the emergence of a lot of former losers this year. This means two things for the Nets: the conference is harder but it’s also possible to rebound a team quickly. The Nets have money to spend and hopefully some fiscally-wise decisions will get the bags off of these fans’ heads.
Out West, we have even more problems so let’s start with the biggest one in Houston. Last season seems like such a fluke for the Rockets. Yao Ming only missed a few games and they actually won a playoff series without T Mac. This season, Yao went on to miss the entire season just to add to his injury-riddled career. All Ming has proven over the last five seasons is that A. the Houston Rockets might be the most patient organization in the league and B. that Chinese fans must the dumbest fans on the face of the planet. However, for this season, the Rockets worked out a disabled player option under the NBA Salary Cap that allowed them to spend $5.7 million to acquire free agent Trevor Ariza. Despite his numbers going up dramatically, we pretty much haven’t heard anything about Ariza this season and his scoring has been very inconsistent. In addition, he is not the leader that this team needs.
The team made major strides by sending off Tracy McGrady and bringing in Kevin Martin. It will take a while to get the offense situated around Martin but it will eventually work. Loosing Carl Landry in the trade was unfortunate but nothing works out perfectly. Aaron Brooks had an amazing year and got our pick for Most Improved Player. Shane Battier’s shooting percentage fell dramatically but he is the type that needs to play around other stars in order to draw better mismatches. This may seem like a weird concept but their misfortune this season can be attributed to not having Yao; however, they will only get better by getting rid of him. Their rebounding was the same as last season and their overall points per game went up by nearly five points. It’s not like his legs are getting any younger. Houston, give up on the Yao experiment and go small at center. This team has a lot of athletic players and while the defense did get worse this season (which can also be attributed to the loss of Ron Ron) it’s worth looking at. The Spurs are doing it with Dejuan Blair and the Nuggets don’t have a definite, orthodox center. Again, spending a majority of your team’s cash on a center is essentially a waste of money. Yes, strong centers do help teams win championships but no team outside of the 90’s rockets has been successful by building around a five. The NBA is getting faster and faster and the once great centers are fading while more athletic players are gaining the attention.
The West is getting harder and harder. While the East has seven terrible teams that are not and should not be in the playoffs, the West only has four that I consider in the same position. That eight and even seven seed in the West will be even harder to get. Jesus, all eight teams that made the playoffs had 50 wins. It was an off year for multiple teams but that wont repeat itself next year. The conference is going to get better and the Rockets will get left out in the cold again. It’s a scrappy team build around a 7 foot 4 inch freak. It has not worked out for them yet and never will. Get used to it and move on. This needs to be Kevin Martin’s team. Period.
Now that that’s out of my system let’s talk about a team that will be the reason that the eighth seed will be so hard to get. The Memphis Grizzlies are no laughing matter and had a shot until Marc Gasol went out with an injury. With both him and Ronnie Brewer out, this team barely had a chance but still went down swinging. They played the final stretch with some actual pride and they are only going to get better. Rudy Gay (Connecticut), O.J. Mayo (USC) and Mike Conley (OSU) all came from powerhouse programs and know how to deliver on a big stage. They are all under 24-years-old. Gasol is an example of an athletic center that can score and just barely missed averaging a double-double. It has been speculated that Hasheem Thabeet might give him a run for that starting position but that’s not happening (read some of the previous articles). Comically, Zach Randolph has turned into a veteran leader on this team and put up some crazy numbers.
The only thing hurting the Grizzlies is their youth. Like I said earlier, the West is hard and a team doesn’t just turn into a winner overnight. Jamaal Tinsley was pretty invisible all season and Darrel Arthur’s injury didn’t help out at all. Management needs to keep this core of players together and see what Ronnie Brewer can contribute in a full season. They may want to work on bringing in another veteran for this team to learn from but the main thing they need is time to mature. I’ve seen multiple games slip out of their grasp due to late game frustration and blown leads. With wins against Cleveland, Dallas, Orlando, LA and Boston this season, Memphis should be convinced that they have the ability to win in the future.
The injury bug plagued New Orleans as well this season but not all hope is lost for the Hornets. Chris Paul’s injury really hampered both this team and several fantasy basketball teams around the nation. The Hornets severely missed him while he was out for 25 games with a busted knee. The team went 8-17 with their starting point guard out but this time saw the emergence of both Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison. Paul will return next season with his usual dominance and the Hornets now have an extremely heightened level of depth in the backcourt.
At the end of their disappointing postseason last year, the team had to make room on their payroll. When free agency began last summer, the Hornets found themselves $7 million over the cap so something had to happen. Tyson Chandler was shipped off to the Bobcats for Emeka Okafor who I like but had a down season. They freed up even more payroll by sending Devin Brown to Chicago and now find themselves $300,000 below the luxury tax threshold. They also picked up several picks in the NBA Draft. This team has enough shooting specialist with Peja Stojakovic and James Posey but a more consistent shooting threat needs to be put out on the court alongside David West. It was a bad break for New Orleans this season but they really aren’t sitting in a bad position. They need to figure out who will coach this team next season and start thinking about the draft.
I never liked Blake Griffin in college at Oklahoma. If you are a power forward that only has size to dominate in a conference such as the Big Twelve, you will not succeed in the NBA where you wont have that advantage anymore. Outside of Kansas, the conference lacks depth and sheer size. Do that in the Big East or the ACC and we may have something to talk about. I think he is an idiot and will never amount to anything in the NBA. With that said, I really enjoyed watching the Clippers select him at the No. 1 pick in the 2009 Draft.
On October 23, Griffin apparently broke his kneecap during the team’s final exhibition game against the Hornets. At first, the team just claimed that the rookie had a sore knee and was questionable for the season opener. The injury ended up sidelining Griffin for six weeks. It was later discovered that his knee wasn’t healing properly and that he needed season-ending surgery. It really makes the Clips look that much dumber when we see what this rookie class has turned into with Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Stephen Curry, Marcus Thornton and Dejaun Blair.
Later, on February 4, head coach Mike Dunleavy resigned from his position as head coach. He remained in a position in the team’s front offices but was later fired. He received the news from the Internet and some friends that called him that day. Dunleavy has now filed for arbitration since the Clippers cut off his salary even though his guaranteed contract doesn’t end until after the 2010-11 season.
For this season, the Clips brought in Baron Davis and Marcus Camby to bring a little veteran leadership to this team. Camby was shipped off to Portland to help them with their injury woes for Steve Blake. Davis has had a good season but the lack of national interest in this black hole out in LA has brought very little attention to his efforts. Chris Kaman had a good season as well by averaging almost a double-double. To be honest, it’s really hard to nail down what the Clips need to do to turn this program around. Letting go of Elton Brand was a step in the right direction and Kaman only missed four games all season. He missed more than half of last season and has only played 77 games in the previous two years. Eric Gordon is a very promising young guard but his assists will be hampered by Davis’ presence. His three-point shot is deadly and his shooting percentage is great. Travis Oulaw’s defense and shooting have improved but it’s nothing to write home about. There really isn’t anyone else worth talking about on this squad and we still have yet to see if Griffin works out. It’s going to be a crazy free agency this summer and I can’t imagine the Clippers not getting involved. However, there are more questions than answers for the other team that plays at Staples Center. Hell, we don’t even know who their coach will be next season but hopefully Kim Hughes will find out he doesn’t have the job from the Clippers’ front offices and not the Kobe Beef.
Don Nelson surpassed Lenny Wilkins as the winningest coach in NBA history. It’s kind of sad when you see that he has only won 55 games in the last two seasons as head coach of the Golden State Warriors. The team they had two years ago is now looking more and more distant. It was a fluke season of the right players (thugs) in the right place at the right time. However, I do believe that the 2006-07 Warriors did help turn Monta Ellis into the player he is now. I also believe that his late season injuries were not season ending but rather an attempt to rest this young guard from games that essentially didn’t matter. Drafting Stephen Curry turned out to be good idea and his size doesn’t appear to be the issue that I initially believed it would be for this rookie out of Davidson. He plays with a heightened level of confidence and knows how to take big shots. In addition, he works very well alongside Ellis and gives Nelson the ability to play very small.
Just like almost every other team on this list, injuries ruined this team’s season. They had more injuries than any other team this season with 13 players going on the DL. The second was the Knicks with seven. At one point, Nelson had less than 10 players to work with.
Despite these injuries, we did see several young players emerge on this roster. Kelenna Azubuike was averaging over 13 points a game until he went out with a bad knee in November. C.J. Watson and Anthony Morrow were having promising but inconsistent seasons until they both went out with injuries in late April. Andris Biedrins had a terrible season and went out with a groin injury in March. I expect this young center to return to form next season. Even Correy Maggette had a great season and played in 70 games. This is another case of a team that is pretty hard to figure out. It’s hard to decipher what the problems are when most of the team is on the disabled list. The Warriors are very young and hopefully this season will help some of these players build on their inconsistency. Defense is an issue for this team but that’s true for any squad that Nelson coaches. Several stars had very high scoring games against the Warriors including rookie Brandon Jennings’ 55 early in the season. It may be time to teach a little bit of defense out there in Oakland but it’s hard to teach an old dog like Don new tricks.
Just to show you how bad this team is at covering the elite scorers in the NBA, here is a list of every occasion someone scored 28 points or more against the Warriors.
Rudy gay- 29 pts. (Nov. 4)
Danny Granger- 31 pts. (Nov. 11)
Brandon Jennings- 55 pts. (Nov. 14)
LeBron James- 31 pts. (Nov. 17)
Dirk Nowitzki- 28 pts. (Nov. 24)
Tony Parker- 32 pts. (Nov. 25)
Kevin Durant- 28 pts (Dec. 7)
Rodney Stuckey- 29 pts. (Dec. 12)
Caron Butler- 28 pts. (Dec. 18)
Zach Randolph- 33 pts. (Dec. 22)
Steve Nash- 36 pts. (Dec. 26)
Rajon Rondo- 30 pts. (Dec. 28)
Kobe Bryant- 44 pts. (Dec. 29)
Brandon Roy- 37 pts. (Jan. 2)
LeBron James- 37 pts. (Jan. 11)
Dwyane Wade- 35 pts. (Jan. 13)
Chauncey Billups- 37 pts (Jan. 20)
Chris Paul- 38 pts (Jan. 27)
Gerald Wallace- 30 pts. (Jan. 29)
Stephen Jackson- 30 pts. (Jan. 29)
Kevin Durant- 45 pts. (Jan. 31)
Russell Westbrook- 28 pts. (Jan. 28)
Kevin Durant- 29 pts. (Feb. 6)
Jason Terry- 36 pts. (Feb. 8 )
Carlos Boozer- 30 pts. (Feb. 19)
Joe Johnson- 31 pts. (Feb. 21)
Chauncey Billups- 37 pts. (Feb. 25)
Dwyane Wade- 35 pts. (Mar. 2)
Dwight Howard- 28 pts. (Mar. 3)
Josh Smith- 29 pts. (Mar. 5)
Marcus Thornton- 28 pts. (Mar. 8 )
David West- 28 pts. (Mar. 8 )
Bradon Roy- 41 pts. (Mar. 11)
Kobe Bryant- 29 pts. (Mar. 15)
David West- 36 pts. (Mar. 17)
Rodrigue Beaubois- 40 pts (Mar. 27)
David Lee- 37 pts. (April 2)
Danilo Gallinari-29 pts. (April 2)
Chris Bosh- 42 pts. (April 4)
Nick Young- 29 pts. (April 6)
Kevin Durant- 40 pts. (April 11)
Staying in California, let’s talk about a team that didn’t goof up with their draft pick. On March 31, 2009, Tyreke Evans declared himself eligible for the 2009 Draft. It has turned into a decision that both he and the Sacramento Kings wont be regretting anytime soon. This young guard out of Memphis will be leading the charge of rebuilding this decimated franchise. Last season, we were saying it was Kevin Martin that would be putting this franchise on his shoulders but after coming back from injury and not fitting in, the Kings decided to take a different route. Martin is now in Houston and Carl Landry should be a good fit alongside Evans. Some have argued that Evans may need to make the move to shooting guard but his jump shot and free throws aren’t good for the switch quite yet.
In addition, rookie Omri Casspi has shown signs that he could be this teams answer in the front court. The team is very young and has already shown that it’s rebuilding time with pickups of Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes and Francisco Garcia. However, all three still have a lot of developing to do in various aspects of their games. Garcia is considered a sleeper that is waiting to bud. However, he is 29-years-old and was injured for a great deal of the season. Hawes has a good three pointer and he has a knack for getting rebounds due to the softness of the rest of the team’s frontcourt. Thompson has a habit of getting into shooting jump shots and doesn’t take it to the basket nearly enough. His energy level on the court has been criticized too.
The good news is that they have shown that it is time to rebuild in Sacramento and they aren’t doing it by bringing in older, washed up players that can be signed for cheap. It’s a good mix of young players but it takes time to win in the West. It’s going to be a while before the Kings are competing and like I said earlier, those lower seeds in the West are going to be harder and harder to get in the coming years.
Now to a team that had maybe one of the most confusing drafts of 2009. The Timberwolves walked into the draft with four picks in the first round. Subsequently, it sounded like a good idea to management to draft three point guards: Ricky Rubio, Johnny Flynn and Ty Lawson. Ricky Rubio and his parents had planned on getting picked by New York. The young Spaniard couldn’t contemplate playing out on the frozen tundra so he headed back to Spain. Minnesota couldn’t work out a deal with DKV Joventut for a buyout of Rubio so he is still in Europe and the Timberwolves still maintain his draft rights. Ty Lawson was later traded to the Denver Nuggets. Johnny Flynn remained in Minnesota but was overshadowed by the impressive seasons of the rest of this year’s rookie class. He started the year on the ROY radar but slowly fell out of the spotlight when his stats lowered. Flynn experienced severe growing pains during his transition to the NBA and was bitten by the turnover bug with nearly three a game.
Center Al Jefferson led the charge for the Timberwolves with nearly a double-double a game and did surprisingly well for a player coming off of ACL surgery. Kevin Love continues to grow at the forward position and accepted his role coming off the bench. He proved critics wrong by coming back strong from a broken hand and really manhandles other teams on the glass. He will be moving to a starting position due to the sheer lack of depth on Minnesota. Corey Brewer is starting to look more and more like a bust as he isn’t living up to the hype that was set for his perimeter defense. He doesn’t shoot a lot of threes and his shooting all around isn’t very impressive. Wayne Ellington didn’t had a good season for a rookie transitioning into the pro game and could give Brewer a run for that shooting guard position if his development continues. Rammon Sessions had a down season but he is still adjusting to coming off of the bench.
The Wolves are essentially looking for a piece to fit into their frontcourt. With five centers, this team is still pretty shallow at the four and three positions. Ryan Gomes‘ shooting percentage went up a little bit it isn’t going to be enough for this team that only racked up 98 points and less than 20 steals a game. Essentially, Kurt Rambis has a lot to work on with such a young team in the West.
This season we have seen several teams turn into playoff contenders. Good decisions in Oklahoma City, Charlotte and Milwaukee have actually turned these teams around and gotten them into the playoffs. How they do there is another story but we will get to that later. However, because of smart draft picks and trades, these teams have made the postseason, which is a first for both the Thunder and the Bobcats. It shows that building and rebuilding is hard but not impossible. For some teams, it’s time to give up on the past and move on. For others, it’s a matter of building the right teams with the right chemistry to handle an 82-game season. Injuries are unfortunate but they are a natural part of the game. I’m not saying that these teams will make the necessary changes and be competing in the playoffs. However, it is possible to fix a team.