Pro Hoops Meets Fox’s Fall Lineup
The first half of an NBA Preview
By Adam Hoff
I have to say, the fall TV slate has been quite good. The OC is still thriving as my guilty pleasure, Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm are back and killing, I’m finally on board the Lost bandwagon, and The Amazing Race features more annoying teams than ever before. Bad news for the networks though … the NBA season is only weeks away. If there is one thing that will divert my attention from the good, bag, and ugly of network programming it is the NBA. I know this puts me in the minority because A) I’m one of the few people left in the civilized world without a TiVo so I still have to make choices about what I watch on the tube, and B) I’m one of the few people that still loves the NBA. Nevertheless, this may be the last time I have a good grasp on the pop culture side of the dial, which is why once again – for the third year in a row! – I am using the ridiculous array of Fox shows to break down the National Basketball Association. As an added gimmick and an attempt to finally write a column that hits the 4,500 word mark I’ve added the “key player” feature. So be sure to enjoy that.
Queue the Rob Thomas music!
Kitchen Confidential (the six worst teams in the league).
No offense to anyone who watches this show, but I can’t imagine any program with a decent budget being worse than this piece of crap. Fox has some good shows (don’t laugh), some entertaining shows, some gleefully bad shows … and Kitchen Confidential. 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 – Sometimes I think about what it would be like to be the GM of the Hawks and I shudder while breaking out into a cold sweat. This franchise is an absolute train wreck. They have like eight small forwards on the roster yet they took another small forward with the second pick in the NBA draft despite the fact that local legend Chris Paul was available. Then, because they still needed a point guard, they signed Joe Johnson to an absolutely ridiculous contract. Oh, and by the way, he’s a swingman who wants to play the point. Sounds perfect. What they really did is paid $13 million a year for yet another small forward … except that they will let him dribble the ball down the court. And did I mention that they had to show one of their owners the door to get it done? What a disaster.
Key Player: I think its Marvin Williams. Joe Johnson will have the ball all the time and Al Harrington will have to score, but the only hope for this team is just that – hope. They need to see some positive returns from their draft pick to gain momentum.
New Orleans Hornets – Hey, they drafted the next Isiah Thomas! That is about all I can say about this team that could be considered “positive” in any way, shape, or form. So let’s just move on.
Key Player: JR Smith. Paul is going to be great but for the Hornets to win more than 25 games this year they need their young shooting guard to make a huge leap and become a 18+ scorer. I think he can do it.
Orlando Magic – They have one of my favorite players in Dwight Howard and if he matures as rapidly as Amare then I might be off on this pick. However, a quick glance at the rest of the roster tells me I’m on the right track. Grant Hill is unlikely to get through another full season, Steve Francis is unlikely to ever pass (or smile), and Tony Battie is being counted on to play big minutes. If that doesn’t scare you, consider this: Keyon Dooling is the front runner for the starting point guard position. Keyon Dooling! The same man that posted a -138 plus/minus in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. The same man that single-handedly prevented the Heat from winning it all. The same man that forced me to post every 30 minutes on my blog to detail The Dooling Factor. Any team that plans on starting Dooling at the point HAS to be one of the worst six teams in the league. The only thing more painful would be watching a Kitchen Confidential marathon (with a really bad sunburn – we’ll throw that into the mix).
Key Player: Dwight Howard. Hill’s health and Francis’ attitude are big keys but the only chance Orlando has of making the playoffs (notwithstanding the removal of Dooling from the starting lineup) is to get 20-10 out of Howard three years ahead of schedule.
Charlotte Bobcats – Honestly, there is a lot to like in Charlotte. Gerald Wallace is a keeper and Emeka Okafor is a bona fide franchise player, plus they have some young local products (Felton and May) to draw crowds. Waiting for this team to come of age is going to be a lot like waiting for Vince Vaughn to finally be funny again after Swingers. As we know from Vinnie’s recent run, sometimes its worth the wait.
Key Player: Gerald Wallace. He needs to stay healthy. May doesn’t need to worry about coming through because they’ve got some nice big men. Felton has a great security blanket in Brevin Knight (who is getting the Jon Kitna treatment; being supplanted despite finishing in the top five in the league in assists and steals last year). That means that Wallace needs to be on the court slashing, rebounding, and playing his underrated defense on the opponents’ best players.
Portland Trail Blazers – What is great about the Blazers is that they are always interesting. Here is a sampling of the action in the Rose City the past few years:
- Ruben Patterson lives and breathes (which means that you get tracking bracelets, leaps onto scorer’s tables, fights with teammates, and a red alert issued to all nannies and au pairs in the Portland Metro area)
- Qyntel Woods hands over a playing card in lieu of a license and registration after getting pulled over by the Portland Police (which is where my buddy claims the “Po-Po” slang designation for law enforcement officers originated)
- Zach Randolph’s high school coach makes the statement that every day he looks in the paper and sees that Zach wasn’t involved in a killing is a good day … then the Blazers initiate the “clean up our image” campaign … then they sign Randolph to a max deal despite the fact that A) he never would have received that on the open market, B) they had another perfectly good power forward in Shareef Abdur-Rahim who was a much better citizen, and C) Randolph had knee problems. Great sequence.
- Continuing the image clean up, Portland signs Nick Van Exel. Let that one sink in for a minute.
- The Blazers pass on several stud prospects to take Sebastian Telfair with the #13 pick in the 2004 draft despite the fact that he was sure to be available when they drafted again at #23.
- They draft a guy named Outlaw, which is just about the most perfect thing to ever happen (although he is actually a terrific prospect)
- They let the legendary Darius Miles run Mo Cheeks out of town
There’s a taste of the good times. Now they are still combustible, still in a salary cap bind, but also young, inexperienced, and terrible. What a team!
Key Player: Zach Randolph. He absolutely has to produce. He’s coming off microfracture surgery and has been exposed as a guy that can’t play any modicum of defense. He needs to go big this year on and off the court to step up as the leader of this young franchise. Only 20-and-10 a night with improved D and rock solid behavior can validate that heinous contract.
Toronto Raptors – I read somewhere that it was “hard to believe that the Raptors could be this bad.” How so? If you ask me, the Raptors are the blueprint for bad. They have a terrible GM in Pete Babcock (the Vince trade, the last two drafts, pretty much everything), a coach in Sam Mitchell that bullies people around like he’s coaching an Indiana high school JV team circa 1955, and virtually no talent (thanks to Mitchell alienating anyone good and Babcock trading them all away). So no, it’s not hard to believe the Raptors are this bad.
Key Player: Chris Bosh. Read my comments for Dwight Howard and the Magic. Same thing applies here. I hope you are up for a 20-10 season, Chris.
The “So You Think You Can Dance?” Group (four bad teams that I can’t help liking).
Is it okay to admit that I kind of like this show? I’ve only seen it a few times but the comedy is off the charts. These people take themselves so seriously and the five-person panel of judges is almost too good to be true. Anyway, it’s the perfect show to describe this group of teams – I kind of secretly like watching them and will be pulling for them to emerge as sleepers, but I don’t have enough faith to pick them to do anything of note.
Golden State Warriors – There is a lot of hype surrounding this team; talk of the playoffs, of packed arenas, and even – gulp – talk of Chris Mullin being a “genius” for bringing in Baron Davis. Granted, stealing the Baron from the Hornets was a great move, but genius? This is the same guy that kicked off his career as an NBA exec by signing Derek Fisher and Adonyle Foyle to monster deals. Genius? I think not. Nevertheless, I think the G-State Warriors will be exciting and, at times, very good. The key is the phrase “at times.” As in, when Baron Davis is healthy. As in, about 40-50 games. I see Dunleavy Duece having his best year, J-Rich evolving into a great second banana (dip in fantasy numbers, but better all-around player), and Ike Diogu making a dent once he gets healthy. However, I also see Montgomery freaking out after a 135-128 loss. I see beatings at the hands of versatile teams like the Nuggets and Spurs. And I see the inevitable Baron injury that will completely derail this team.
Key Player: Baron Davis. Obviously.
Boston Celtics – Given the turnover on this team, it is hard to see the C’s getting back to the playoffs. However, if they lose, it will be an adventure along the way. They are caught between trying to win with some (relatively) old hands like Paul Pierce, Ricky Davis, and Raef LaFrentz, while also trying to turn the team over to a new generation that includes Tony Allen, Gerald Green, and Al Jefferson. I think they should deal Pierce for draft picks and cap space and really go young, but that might cause Doc Rivers to speak in a really deep, throaty voice and make ridiculous coaching decisions. Oh wait, he already does that. Still …
Key Player: Pierce. If he stays and has his best season (something tells me it is possible), he could carry this young team into the playoffs. If he gets traded, they plummet but start mounting a charge for 2007-2008.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Any team with KG is fun to watch. Who else combines skill and intensity the way Garnett does? The man comes to play – and dominate – every night. That said, it is hard to see Minny getting back into the playoff picture. Marko Jaric puts up nice stats when healthy but is a disaster at running a team. Wally Z is definition of one-dimensional. Rashaad McCants comes fully equipped with a bib and diaper. Throw in a new coach, lack of quality big men, and the incredibly bad contract awarded to Mark Madsen (seriously, McHale is very, very suspect as a GM), and I think you are looking at a .500 team.
Key Player: Marko Jaric. The one thing that would change Minnesota into a winner would be production at both ends from their lead guard. Jaric doesn’t look like that guy, but if he is, they will be pretty good.
Milwaukee Bucks – This team is going to be bad, make no mistake of that. They grossly overpaid for Michael Redd (one of the most overrated players in the league) and their best offseason move was to bring in Bobby Simmons … but they overpaid for him as well and he plays the same position as the underrated Desmond Mason. Plus, a big part of the optimism abounding in the land of beer and cheese is the return of TJ Ford, a guy that had his spine fused back together. I’m not buying. Not only will the Bucks be bad, they will also be fun to watch, if for no other reason than to see the good people of Milwaukee rain down books on the cocky, awkward, and wildly overrated Andrew Bogut. I see comedy on the horizon when the crowd starts chanting “Gad-zur-ich, Gad-zur-ich! – complete with his new pronunciation – as a form of protest against the Aussie. In fact, when do the Bucks host Miami? I might drive up for that one.
Key Player: Joe Smith. Kidding! Wanted to see you if you were still paying attention. Honestly, it is probably Ford. Bogut and Redd both have an “all eyes on me” kind of pressure this year, but they are so limited in their skill sets that I don’t really see how they could be the make-or-break player on the roster. Ford is the only guy with game-changing skills, so if he stays healthy and hits jumpers, he really could win some games.
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. (By the way, I wrote that last year, so you know they need to put an end to The Idol.)
Seattle Sonics – Heads up, everyone, the Sonics are coming back to earth. Ray Allen is back and Luke Ridnour should be improved, but that’s where the good things end. As they proved in the playoffs, Antonio Daniels was more important to this team than big money man Rashard Lewis. Lewis is back and ready to hoist about a million shots, Daniels is not. Nate McMillan proved that he can win big when a team will play disciplined offense and tough perimeter defense (again, Daniels), while Vlad Radmonovich seemed dead set on staging his own personal revolt against both concepts. You know where this is going: Rad Man is back, McMillan is not. And so on. Unless the Sonics get crazy and play Damien Wilkins (most underrated guy on the team; I wish I was his agent, I’d get him a four year, $18 million deal in a heartbeat) 35 minutes a game, they have NO defensive presence on the perimeter. Remember the way they clamped down on Ginobili and Parker and nearly beat the Spurs? Yeah, that’s over. It’s all over. I’d be shocked if they won more than 38 games.
Key Player: Wilkins. I know it seems crazy, but this dude is a beast defensively and an athletic dynamo in the open court. For the Sonics to trap and pressure the ball and push it the other way, they need that type of guard that can do what Daniels did last year. He’s the only guy on the roster capable. He needs minutes.
Chicago Bulls – It’s inevitable. It isn’t just the swap of Curry for Sweetney in terms of front court scoring and it isn’t because they failed to get Finely in the free agent market. In fact, the “going down” designation has nothing to do with the Bulls and everything to do with everyone else. The East is significantly better this year, up and down the board. For once, we have more than eight legit teams and are likely to get all .500 or better teams in the playoffs (three cheers!). I just don’t see how Chicago can repeat their finish from a year ago.
Key Player: Kirk Hinrich. They obviously need Gordon to be magic again and Deng to ball and, well, they need all hands on deck. But the only way this team approaches their success from ’04-’05 is if Hinrich continues to evolve, this time to an All-Star level. They will need that one fearless leader to will them through some tough times.
Phoenix Suns – Obviously they are going down, the question is how far? I think they take a real nosedive. Last year already had that “lightening in a bottle” feel and now they are down three starters from the run-and-gun starting lineup that reached the Western Conference Finals. The loss of Q was negligible, although his rebounding was overlooked. The loss of Johnson won’t seem as bad as it is, since his new contract and team will make him look overrated, but he was huge for them. And the loss of Amare for four months (at the earliest) is just crushing. The only good thing to come out of all this is that the 30-28 start the Suns are about to embark on will prove once and for all that it is AMARE STOUDEMIRE, not Steve Nash, that is the MVP of the Phoenix Suns. They cannot and will not win big without him.
Key Player: Amare. (In his absence it is Kurt Thomas, who has to do a decent portion of everything Stoudemire did. Good luck with that, Kurt.)
Memphis Grizzlies – Second year in a row for the Grizz on this list! They just don’t look anything like a playoff team. Sorry, Memphis.
Key Player: Pau Gasol. The time has come for Pau to play like he did for that five minute stretch against Phoenix where he was throwing down dunks over double-teams. The lame injuries, the disappearing act against tough post players, the whining, it all has to stop. Step up time!
Washington Wizards – I hesitate to put this squad here, because I think Eddie Jordan is a good coach and will do everything he can to keep the Wiz in the playoff picture. That said, the same logic applies here that was used in the Chicago situation. The East is just so much better this year and that spells trouble for a team like Washington. I don’t even attribute this to the loss of Larry Hughes, because I think Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels more than replace him. Just a bad draw, I guess.
Key Player: Caron Butler. I know Daniels will bring his aggressive style and tough D, so it is up to Butler to stay healthy, assert himself on the offensive end (even if it means wrestling the ball away from Arenas and Jamison), and become a 18+ scorer.
So there you have it … half of the NBA’s 30 teams grouped Fox style. We’ll be back next time with Part II of the preview as well as my bold playoff predictions. See you then.
Adam Hoff is a columnist for the Webby-winning WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.