A Foxy NBA Preview
Borrowing once again from TV’s most ridiculous network
By Adam Hoff
Here’s a question I asked right around this time last year: which entertaining spectacle features more freaks, acts of debauchery, and thrilling twists and turns – the NBA season or Fox’s fall television lineup? I still can’t decide so once again I’ve decided to combine the two in my NBA preview columns. I know I can’t devote an entire column to the warm memories of The North Shore, the upcoming fireworks of The OC, or the hideous spectacle of Rebel Billionaire, but I’m always going to find a way to sneak these gems in somewhere. Maybe it was all the baseball playoff games on Fox, but I’m so familiar with their programming that I feel like I work for the network. I think we all feel that way. Now, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I do know that I’m glad that inane reality shows and ridiculous teen soap operas will be replacing inane Tim McCarver comments and ridiculous camera shots of Tony LaRussa in his porn star shades. Bring it on Fox!
As we heard ninety million times last year, courtesy of the “radio friendly” version of the Black Eyed Peas … let’s get it started.
The Rebel Billionaire (the six worst teams in the league).
No offense to anyone who plans on watching this show, but I can’t imagine anything that could possibly be more stupid. Fox has some good shows (don’t laugh), some entertaining shows, some gleefully bad shows … and Rebel Billionaire. I don’t even want to waste any more space talking about it. But I will waste some space putting the dregs of the NBA in this category.
Atlanta Hawks – Just a horrible team. All you really need to say is that Kenny Anderson is the starting point guard. Beyond that, there is no center, no shooting guard, no bench, and they drafted two small forwards in Josh Childress and Josh Smith that will be lucky to ever be as good as starting small forward Al Harrington. The real irony with the Hawks is that Harrington is a pretty good “real life” NBA player but wildly overrated in fantasy hoops, while Antoine Walker is just going to kill Atlanta’s development but serve as a terrific fantasy option. It’s a crazy world. If you ask me, Atlanta should have made a hard play for Jamal Crawford and Stromile Swift and started building now. Instead, they’ve decided to wait a year and threaten the record for worst season ever in the process, despite the fact that there’s no guarantees anyone will sign there next summer either. Prediction: the Hawks will lose even more games than the Bobcats.
Seattle Sonics – Not good times in Seattle. This is a great city full of wonderful people, but they are being forced to exalt their recent WBNA title as the end to a 25-year city-wide streak of failing to win a pro title. That just isn’t right. The Mariners bombed this year, the Seahawks are failing to live up to expectations, and now the Sonics are prepared to plummet into the cellar out West. This is going to be ugly. Jerome James is slated to start at center. They are trying to choose between Vlad Radmonovich or Nick Collison to start at power forward and defend against all those mediocre big men in the West like Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Elton Brand, and Dirk Nowitski. I’m sure whoever they pick will work out just fine. Rashard Lewis is a great guy and a wonderful talent but has become too one-dimensional. Kind of like the NBA version of Ray Ramano. Ray Allen will put up huge numbers this season as he tries to outgun Kobe, but he needs some help and has become a grumbler since heading to the Emerald City. They should probably just trade him and start over. Luke Ridnour is the point guard of the future, but coach Nate McMillan likes Antonio Daniels better. They should probably just fire McMillan and start over. Safe to say that starting over is just about the only plan at this point.
(I would like to say, for the record, that Seattle should have taken up my suggestion last year and dealt Radmonovich and Flip Murray to the Nets for K-Mart. New Jersey was looking to slash salary and would have been happy to take on two young, cheap talents, while Seattle would have been able to max out K-Mart this winter and instantly solve their interior woes. Of course, they didn’t do anything and now Murray and Vlad are both worthless while Martin is joining a playoff team in Denver.)
Los Angeles Clippers – What a shocker that this team is in the “worst” group; never saw that one coming. I could probably write the same thing I did last year and it would hold up just fine. In fact, let’s try:
October 29, 2003: “I’m so confused right now. For years Donald Sterling has sealed his wallet and let his team struggle along in infamy. Then suddenly, he ponies up for Elton Brand and Corey Maggette. Why? Does he hate these men and simply want to enslave them in their misery? It’s not like he really wants to put a winner on the court. If he did, he would have signed a couple of additional checks and kept talents like Lamar Odom and Andre Miller in town. Brand is a fantasy stalwart and a solid player, but he can’t be asked to single handedly lift a franchise from the cellar. Likewise, Maggette is a hard worker and an up and coming player but he’s certainly no T-Mac. What is the long term plan here? How are they ever going to get better? I think the answer is there is no long term plan and they aren’t going to get better. As Martin Lawrence said to Will Smith in Bad Boys (when Will appears ready to kill Jo-Jo the tire guy), ‘So sad.’”
So there you have it. Swap out the failure to sign Odom and Miller and insert the lame Kobe Bryant pursuit as this year’s Sterling Payroll Reduction Plan and you’ve got a low payroll and an owner making a profit at the expense his own team. Why not go to plan B after Kobe didn’t sign? Why not match Q’s offer in Phoenix? Why not make Jamal Crawford the point guard of the future and draft Emeka Okafor to pair with Brand? There are a lot of questions and only one answer: Donald Sterling cares not. In fact, you could argue that the whole Kobe pursuit was just a ploy to trick the fans while he dumped even more payroll. There’s no hope here whatsoever.
Charlotte Bobcats – Unlike the NFL, expansion teams don’t have much of a chance the first couple of seasons in the NBA. The reason for this is that while both leagues have salary caps, the NFL version creates far more surplus in terms of talent. There just weren’t a lot of options for the Bobcats to field a competitive team. Besides, why rush to bring in a bunch of head cases when you have a built-in honeymoon period? I’m pretty sure that’s what Bickerstaff was thinking when he brought in a host of bargain basement players. Just sit back, see what the young guys can do, and then start building next offseason. It appears that the ‘Cats have three players worth considering as part of the long term plans. First round pick Okafor is off to a slow start in the preseason but has the potential to be a Ben Wallace type of defensive player with slightly better offensive skills. The only problem with that comparison is that outstanding defensive players are usually only noteworthy on good teams. Just look at Trenton Hassell, Bruce Bowen, and Wallace himself. Crappy teams had their hands on all these players but let them get away simply because it’s hard to appreciate what specialists like that do when they are doing it for a 50-loss team. Just like it’s hard to appreciate Edward Norton in a romantic comedy or 50 Cent on a Destiny’s Child remix. It’s all about context. The other Bobcats to watch are Primos Brezec and Gerald Wallace. Brezec is a skilled big man that could remind people of Pau Gasol while Wallace is an outstanding athlete that could play a similar type of game that Ricky Davis played in Cleveland before LeBron arrived. Without the insanity and shady triple-doubles , of course.
Golden State Warriors – If you are a Warriors fan, you had to be pulling your hair out this past offseason. Good, young coach fired and replaced by a career college coach, Derek Fisher and Adonyle Foyle signed for a combined $80 million. Troy Murphy inked to a $60 million extension. And no help on the horizon. What a train wreck. This year they feature Jason Richardson as their best player, Murphy as their only interior threat, and Mike Dunleavy as the hope of the franchise. Yikes. You know things are bad when the lead story out of camp is that “lock down” defender Mickael Pietrus is out until December. Isn’t he like the eighth man? Is there nothing else to talk about? This is going to be even worse than watching a British mogul say stupid things while “risk takers” jump out of hot air balloons in order to become president of a Fortune 500 Company.
(Here’s something fun: When I was spell-checking this column, Mickael Pietrus’ name came up with “piteous” as the recommended replacement. I thought that was pretty ironic considering that the word means wretched, pitiful, and pathetic … perfect for the Warriors’ section.)
New Orleans Hornets – This team was already headed for a fall before they got shipped West. Now? It’s just going to be downright sad. Their best player, Baron Davis, is the definition of injury prone. Jamal Magloire is improving but limited. Jamal Mashburn might never play again, certainly not this year. P.J. Brown is turning 74 next week. David Wesley and Rodney Rogers are a couple of Hornets with little-to-nothing to offer. They feel like the NBA version of Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon in “The Banger Sisters” – just horribly washed up and never really that good to begin with. Other than rookie J.R. Smith, there’s not much hope for the future. Good luck, Byron Scott.
The “My Obnoxious Boss” Group (four bad teams that I can’t help liking).
I have to admit that this show looks kind of funny. Sure it’s a lame rip-off (The Apprentice) and a lame spin-off (Obnoxious Fiancé) at the same time, but that fake boss looks like a crackup. “I could kill you.” Like the teams in this category it looks like the show could be mildly entertaining at first. However, the previews are indicating some sort of stupid plot twist that takes their only strong point – the witty boss – out of play. No doubt this will only end in disaster. Again, this phenomenon mirrors these four teams quite nicely.
Chicago Bulls – Last year I had them in the “on the way up” group. Won’t be making that mistake again. The Bulls have made some wholesale changes to the look and feel of the team by drafting Ben Gordon and Luol Deng and signing Andres Nocioni of Argentina. The perimeter players should be gritty and unselfish, led by young star Kirk Hinrich. Unfortunately, the hopes and dreams of this team still rest with the Baby Bulls in the paint. Eddy Curry showed some signs of getting serious by dropping a ton of weight heading into camp. Unfortunately, he’s already been benched twice in the preseason and suspended for the first two games of the regular season for his involvement in a preseason scrap with the Wizards. Tyson Chandler has the work ethic that Curry lacks, but not the offensive skill. Plus, he’s the new Grant Hill. The guy just cannot stay healthy. He’s like 14 years old and yet he has missed three-quarters of his career with a bad back. Great sign. But yeah, trading Elton Brand for him was a terrific move. The bottom line is that the Bulls are still playing catch-up from past mistakes. I went into this at length last year, but had they simply made the correct moves (all fairly obvious at the time), they would be looking at a team consisting of Brad Miller, Elton Brand, Donyell Marshall, Ron Artest, and Kirk Hinrich/Jamal Crawford. That just makes you sick to your stomach.
Orlando Magic – Given the weakness of the Southeast division, the Magic could fight for a playoff bid this year. Make no mistake though, they are still bad and very deserving of this category. The East has gotten better in terms of title contenders but the strength of the conference as a whole is worse than its ever been – and Orlando could be the beneficiary. They have the Rockets’ old backcourt of Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley, but without the Van Gundy factor and the burden of forcing the ball into Yao. Expect those two to go nuts in the Magic Kingdom. I think we’ll see Franchise get back to his insane numbers from 2001-2002 (nearly 20-7-6 ever night – all while playing with migraines) and Mobley could hit 200 three’s. Inside they’ve basically got Dwight Howard and a bunch of stiffs. The youngster is my choice for Rookie of the Year and could very well be the next Amare Stoudemire. He’s gained 25 pounds, he’s aggressive, and he’s athletic. He still needs to refine his game, but that will come rather quickly. The real key for this team is whether or not they can really get the 15-6-6 that Grant Hill looked capable of in the preseason. If he plays 28 minutes a night for at least 65 games this year, Orlando makes the playoffs. At the very least, they’ll be a fun team to watch.
Washington Wizards – They aren’t going to be jump-out-of-your-seat exciting, but the Wizards are worth keeping an eye on this year. First of all, they are in the East and they aren’t the Bobcats or the Hawks, so they’ve got a decent shot at making the playoffs. We can sit back and watch Antawn Jamison show the Mavericks what they were wasting. We’ll find out if a healthy Gilbert Arenas is worth the big price tag. Perhaps most importantly, it looks like we’ll be able to enjoy Jarvis Hayes (my favorite college player two years ago) getting quality minutes. Plus, the development of Larry Hughes continues and Etan Thomas and Branden Haywood battle to see who gets to be the main man in the middle … all while Washington runs Eddie Jordan’s Princeton offense. If the Wizards are on TV this year, I’ll definitely tune in to watch them lose, err, play.
Toronto Raptors – Another team from the East (a sweep in this group!) and another team that should be fun to watch and that could compete for the playoffs even though they suck. Toronto has an intriguing storyline at every position. The new point guard, Rafer Alston, is a street ball legend that goes by the name of “Skip to my Lou,” and is a steals and threes machine. He will make J-Will look conservative with his pull-up bombs in transition. Vince Carter is a whining baby that fakes injuries, avoids contact, never steps up, and now wants to be traded. That should be fun. Donyell Marshall is a fantasy stud that gets absolutely no love. Jalen Rose has just about run out of chances. And Chris Bosh is an incredible talent on the rise. Toss in new coach Sam Mitchell and his run-and-gun approach and it’s plausible that the Raptors could play exciting basketball this year.
The American Idol Group (five teams on the way down).
This is a show that just needs to end. American Idol started as a fun spectacle that combined talented vocalists and horrible wannabes with dubious hosts and judges; creating fireworks when producers took all those groups and mixed them together like a Jamba Juice smoothie. There were tears, laughs, and plenty of magical moments. Now? It’s just another formula reality TV show that is dragging along for ratings. It’s on the way down … and so are these teams.
New York Knicks – Because they are in the East (do I sound like a broken record yet?), the Knicks could conceivably nab the #4 seed in the playoffs. Doesn’t change a thing. This is a team full of horrible contracts, shoot-first guards, and stiff big men. They have the wrong coach and a dubious team president. In short, they are going to be mediocre … for a long time. Now, there is some hope for this team, but they need to make a few important decisions.
1) Start Michael Sweetney. This guy is the right-handed Zach Randolph with better defensive instincts. He ranked in the top-10 in the NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes last year and had some huge games in the preseason. If NY would just put Kurt Thomas on the bench where he belongs (as opposed to signing him to a huge extension which they did last year), Sweetney could play 38 minutes a night and hang a 20-10 just like Randolph did. Unfortunately it’s going to be an even split or worse. If Thomas is laboring for 30 or more minutes a night at the 4, the Knicks will suck.
2) Embrace the gunners. With Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford, Trevor Ariza, and Tim Thomas on the perimeter, the Knicks can get out and run. Even the big men like Kurt Thomas, Sweetney, and Nazr Mohammed can run the floor. Don’t fight it. Put Allan Houston out to pasture. Keep Vin Baker and his “low post scoring ability” on the bench. Don’t let Shandon Anderson anywhere near the court. Lenny Wilkins is going to be tempted to play guys for defensive purposes, half court scoring, and a variety of other reasons. He must not do it. The only way these Knicks can be anything but mediocre is to run wild. Marbury and Crawford are both vilified for their shot selection but if you take a closer look, you see two true talents. Starbury averaged over 9 assists a game in New York last year and Crawford put up terrific numbers in Chicago despite playing for an organization that wanted nothing more than to mess with his head. The two could become one of the most explosive backcourts in the league.
If the Knicks embrace what they have and get Sweetney on the floor, they could be pretty good. If they don’t, they are going to be brutal and keep getting worse. Knowing who they have running the show over there, I’ll just assume the latter.
Portland Trail Blazers – How can a team from the “going down” category last year be back for another go around? Only in Portland. The sad thing is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are just a few things that Portland should have done differently over the past 12 months:
- First, they should have traded Zach Randolph to the Rockets last year for Steve Francis and a first rounder. Houston wasn't happy with Stevie and they were willing to deal him. Portland could have had a do-everything guard to run the team for the next 10 years while dumping one of the last holdovers from the Jail Blazers mentality. Zebo was never the worst culprit off the court, but he’s had several issues and he’s a holdover from that culture. Randolph will be a problem time and time again. Plus, he's soft and plays no defense whatsoever. By trading him, they not only improve the backcourt, but they could have given Rahim the extension they just gave Randolph, but for like half the price. You get the same low post scoring without the headaches and inflated dollar signs.
- Obviously, Franchise would be the centerpiece of the team. Anyone who thinks he can't lead a winner is crazy. Just watch him in Orlando over the next 3-4 years. He was terrific two years ago while playing with migraines. It turns out the only thing more likely to shut him down than excruciating headaches was Jeff Van Gundy. Good coach, but he killed Stevie. With a mentor in Mo Cheeks and an open style, Francis would be one of the best players in the NBA. He would join a starting lineup featuring Ratliff, Rahim, and Miles. His backcourt mate could have been Derek Anderson or …
- They should have signed Brent Barry. They let him get away. Portland offered Trenton Freaking Hassell $28 million for four years but they couldn't give that to Barry? He would have given them a true passer to pair with Francis, who is more of a dribbler. Plus, Barry solves shooting issues that come with having Miles at the 3.
- Finally, they should have draft Kirk Synder instead of Sebastian Telfair. That was one of the most idiotic picks of all time. Synder would have given them a two guard stud for the future as well as more shooting off the bench. Even if you just have to go with a high school player, why not J.R. Smith?
As it stands, Portland doesn’t have the Francis-Barry backcourt. They don’t have Snyder waiting in the wings. They have too many power forwards, one of whom may or may not have been involved in a homicide this summer (the guy they gave the extension to) and another that is a great guy getting screwed over by being forced to play out of position while watching his value drop every day. The emerging small forward they just signed to a long-term deal (Miles) is sitting on the bench. They claimed to be changing the image of the team yet they traded for Nick Van Exel of all people. They explained that move by talking cap space, then used it all up by signing Randolph way too early. On top of all that, Qyntel Woods is running illegal dog fights in his backyard. I’m telling you, this is an absolute train wreck. Nevertheless, I can’t wait until the first Blazers-Lakers game this year when Portland racks up 19 technical fouls, Miles hits only the backboard on several jump shots, Ruben Patterson makes not one but a half dozen leaps onto the scorer’s table while waving a towel, Bill Walton yells “That’s not basketball!” … and the Blazers still win the game. There’s nothing quite like this new era of Portland hoops.
New Jersey Nets – This is getting long, so I’ll just say this: no K-Mart, no Kittles, about half of a Jason Kidd. Yeah, they are going down.
Memphis Grizzlies – They aren’t sliding too bad in the long run, but they will take one of the biggest tumbles in the standings this year. As fun as it is to watch them run a YMCA rotation and play team basketball, they simply don’t have good enough players to win in the West. There have been a lot of comparisons to the Pistons, but you’ve got to be kidding me if you think they are in the same league as Detroit. J-Will doesn’t have the mental toughness of Billups. Mike Miller and Bonzi Wells are both a far cry from Rip Hamilton. There’s no Ben Wallace in the middle. Plus, no one on that Memphis roster plays D the way their Detroit counterparts do. Only James Posey can draw a favorable comparison to Tayshaun Prince. Plus, the Grizzlies play in the West. So let’s just leave all the Pistons comparisons on the cutting room floor.
What Memphis’ season really comes down to is the play of Pau Gasol. If he plays like the NBA version, he’ll continue to be a good player that improves each year but can’t carry a team through a playoff series. However, if he plays like the Spanish National Team version, he could be one of the 10 best players in the league. I believe the key for Gasol is getting him out of the center spot. If he has to bang on the block every night, he’s going to wear down quickly, both mentally and physically. However, if Memphis can go get a center (Eddy Curry, anyone?) and move Gasol to power forward, they could be on the way back up. As it stands, I’ve got them at .500 and missing the playoffs.
(One last thing about Memphis, even though it will probably take this preview over 4,500 words. For the love of all things good and holy, can they please figure out what they want to do with Stromile Swift? They won’t play him more than 20 minutes a night despite the fact that he’s like 21-12-4 per 40 minutes. Fine, that’s there perogative. Then they won’t trade him. Then they won’t let anyone else sign him by threatening to match any offer. Real nice. The guy could be having a monstrous breakout year somewhere this season and instead he’s Gasol’s backup. Again. This is my wish for the season: that the Grizzlies set Stromile free!)
Milwaukee Bucks – This team made a nice run last year and could always do it again in the Leastern Conference, but on paper they look much worse than the did a year ago. T.J. Ford is out indefinitely, leaving the point guard duties to guys like Mike James, Moe Williams, and Erick Strickland. Keith Van Horn is being called “critical” to the team’s chances. Joe Smith is one of their three best players. Desmond Mason hasn’t shown any signs of taking a big step forward. Dan Gadzuric is the starting center. The only thing they really have going for them is Michael Redd, who is an efficient scorer and a good guy. That’s not quite enough to get me pumped about their chances.
So there you have it … half of the NBA’s 30 teams grouped Fox style. Since nine of the teams were from the East, that means at least two squads from this list will be playing postseason basketball next spring, maybe a few more if some of the top 15 falter. My guess is that New York and Toronto will be playoff bound and that the Magic and Wizards are just as likely to make the playoffs as the Celtics, Cavs or Sixers … three teams that we’ll discuss tomorrow. That’s right; we’ll be back with Part II of the preview as well as my bold playoff predictions. See you then.
Adam Hoff is a columnist for WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by sitemail at adamo112.