Saturday, November 17, 2012

2012-13 NBA Preview


Sorry this NBA preview comes half a month after the season began.  I’m trying something new in order to increase the accuracy of my predictions: I’m going to wait until one-eleventh into the season.

Instead of trying to half-ass my way through trying to talk about teams I have no business talking about, I’ll just concentrate on the three I think I know the most: The team currently in Minnesota, the team formerly in Minnesota, and the team formerly in Seattle.

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The Minnesota Timberwolves are in win-now mode.  Which is strange considering they don’t have a team that can win now.  They do have Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, they just don’t have them right now.  Rubio tore his ACL and MCL and is out till about Christmastime/the New Year; Love broke his hand doing knuckle push-ups (although the conspiracy theorist in me wants to think he hurt it defending himself after telling his girlfriend he was cheating on her, which is totally unfounded!) and won’t be back for another six or eight weeks.  Forget about being a contender; how in the hell are you going to even make the playoffs with your two best players riding the bench to begin the season?

And yet Head Coach Rick Adelman and General Manager David Kahn think their entire roster is built out of guys with the talent of Love and Rubio.  Both of them might be trying to accelerate this woebegone organization’s timetable because they feel the pressure of time, Adelman because he wants to retire and Kahn because he wants to save his job.  But any armchair b-ball fan knows that the Woofie Dogs should punt this season and wait till both of them are at 100% from Day One.  They’re going to be at least ten games under .500 before Love comes back (even if they’re hanging tough so far), and Rubio is going to finally play when the Wolves are already five games behind for the final playoff spot in the tough Western Conference.

Guys, it’s not a big deal if they only win 35 games this year, although 30 should be a bare minimum.  But it’s as if it’s NBA title or bust for these guys.  That’s a pipe dream even with a fully healthy roster because the team still needs to develop chemistry; it’s impossible without Love and Rubio.  But it looks like they’re going to blow up this team if they fall short of a massive run in the postseason.  All they would do in that worst-case scenario is uproot a seedling just as it’s starting to grow into a tree.  Add to that the rash of injuries they’re going through to begin the year.  Maybe it’s better to get injuries out of the way, but would the Timberwolves front office understand what happened to this team if they have an itch to start over from square one?

Oh, and by the way, the fact that two-thirds of this team is white?  Adolph Rupp is proud.  From hell, Adolf Hitler is, too.  Do you know those year-end baby names lists the U.S. Census puts out?  I wonder if anyone names their kid Adolph these days.  And what’s a less popular baby name, Adolph or Osama?

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When’s the last time the Los Angeles Lakers missed the playoffs?  I appreciate that Jerry Buss will always field a contender, but sometimes you have to suck a year or two in order to replenish your roster with cheap draftees.

But Buss doesn’t do that.  He uses the cache of the Lake Show brand to keep trading for superstars in exchange for end-round draft picks and busts.  That’s how they got Steve Nash from Phoenix and Dwight Howard from Orlando (although the Magic received three first-round draft picks peppered over the next five years in the four-way trade that happened back in August).  Teamed up with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, they have the most identifiable (for lack of a better word) starting lineup than any other team in the NBA, and one which rivals 2004, when Karl Malone and Gary Payton came onboard for that elusive championship they never got.

What they are not is the best starting lineup in the NBA; that belongs to Miami, and if not them, Oklahoma City.  Neither are they deep, and that’s going to be the weakness that befalls the Lakers in what will be a Western Conference curb-stomp by the Thunder.  Does anyone really think this group, comprised of five maybe-not-current superstars and scrubs, can make an NBA finals even compelling?

And who’s to say the starting five will be intact to even develop a rapport over 82 games?  Nash is already out due to a fractured fibula.  Plus, Bryant is on the downhill side of his career, and who knows if World Peace has anything left (world peace, by the way, has nothing left due to the fact that humans treat each other like crap and has already left the planet for more civil aliens somewhere else in the Milky Way).  The Lakers’ ethos has always been NBA title or bust, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing for this franchise if they succumb to the latter fate.

That might be hastened with the surprise bleep-canning of Mike Brown.  The Lake Show has replaced him with Mike D’Antoni, a guy who is still on crutches, has an offense that meshed much better with Nash and Bryant than Brown’s Princeton offense, and still hasn’t won an NBA title.  Too much chaos for them to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Do you know who has won the NBA title?  Phil Jackson.  Initially I thought that the Lakers (and, more importantly, Lakers fans) needed to wean themselves off of the Zen Master’s teat.  But then Jim Buss, the son of owner Jerry Buss and the man who essentially runs the team, screwed Jackson over.  Guess here is that Bryant told Buss he wanted Brown fired but was alright with either Jackson or D’Antoni.  Jim Buss, however, had no intention of bringing back Jackson because he hates him; Jackson’s demands of an ownership stake in the franchise and the prerogative to not go on certain road trips were the excuses Buss needed not to hire him back for a third stint.  Waking him up at midnight to tell him the Lakers are going in a different direction was just Jim Buss enjoying a perk of the job.

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I need to investigate further the inequity between NBA franchises in large and small cities, because I thought the Association had a good-enough revenue sharing plan to ensure that teams in places like Oklahoma City would be able to massage the salary cap and luxury tax with as much latitude as the Lakers and the New York Knicks.  At the very least, with the way NBA Commissioner David Stern greased the Seattle SuperSonics’ exit out of that beautiful city for an outpost of Red State America, I would assume he would find a way to keep James Harden in OKC with an exception he gives to no other owner.

Harden forced Thunder GM Sam Presti to this dawn-of-the-season trade to Houston.  He may be the most offensively efficient player in the league, and even though he may not deserve max player money, that reputation alone means a team would give him max player money anyway.  Maybe he and/or his agent recognize that, because in the end he thought he deserved more than the four-year, $55.5 million deal Presti gave him.  It’s awesome money, but it’s not Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook money, more like Serge Ibaka money.  OKC could have acceded to his demands, but estimates say that signing Harden to the contract he wanted would mean they would have to pay a luxury tax equal to that amount, so in effect the Thunder would be paying two James Hardens for the price of one.

So Harden said no and he was traded to Houston, where he can be the man (which he has been so far) and has just signed a contract only a player who thinks he is the man can get.  The man, of course, demands the ball when it’s crunch time, and Harden is developing a Kevin Garnett-like propensity to defer when circumstances demand hero ball.  Either he has to shake that or starting point guard Jeremy Lin will have to inject ice in his own veins.

For the Bastard SuperSonics, meanwhile, this basically guarantees they won’t win the NBA title.  Sure, they’ll make the Finals again.  But they no longer have the advantage over the Miami Heat in better third scorer.  And unless either Jeremy Lamb or Kevin Martin blossom into a mighty X factor, the Heat have the superior bench, too.  The Thunder have struck gold with the nucleus they have now.  But the Harden trade proves that every franchise has to face the reality of change and instability.  We’ll see if lightning strikes twice with Presti and the Thunder.

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Predicted finish of teams in each division (playoff teams in bold):

Atlantic: Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Brooklyn, Toronto

Southeast: Chicago, Indiana, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit

Central: Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Charlotte, Orlando (God, this division is bad)

Southwest: Oklahoma City, Denver, Minnesota, Utah, Portland

Northwest: Lakers, Clippers, Golden State, Phoenix, Sacramento

Pacific: San Antonio, Memphis, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans (best division in the NBA)

I’ll make this short and sweet:

Eastern Conference Finals: Miami over Chicago in 4

Western Conference Finals: Oklahoma City over the Lakers in 4

NBA Finals: Miami over Oklahoma City in 4

LBJ will put The Decision in his rearview mirror in one the most boring postseasons in NBA history.

Posted by WilliamSou at 12:12 AM

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