Wednesday, October 20, 2010

2010-11 NBA Season Preview: Southeast Division

For some reason, this pic makes me think about Dr. Loomis' speech about evil...

The Atlanta Hawks

Holy crappity crap, the Hawks are screwed. Seriously, they are so screwed.

Think about it. The Hawks were a middle of the road defensive team (14th in Defensive Efficiency at 104.0) that somehow managed to be one of the Association's better offensive squads (3rd in Offensive Efficiency at 108.9) despite the fact that most of their sets revolved around isolating Joe Johnson or getting Jamal Crawford open for a jump shot. It helped that the rest of the Hawks selflessly crashed the boards and the team as a whole managed to avoid turning the ball over. Oh, and Atlanta didn't suffer any major injuries.

With all the aforementioned serendipity, the Dirty Birds managed 53 wins, which, in the Leastern Conference, was good enough for the third seed. But in the playoffs, they barely avoided first round elimination against the Bucks before getting absolutely obliterated by the Magic. Allow me to share the scores from that four-game sweep: 114-74, 112-98, 105-75, 98-84. Swept by an average of 24.5 PPG.


Even at their absolute best with nobody getting hurt and everything going right, the 2009-10 Hawks were nowhere near good enough to compete for a title. Or even a respectable series against a contender.

So what's different about the 2010-11 Hawks? Uhm, they fired coach Mike Woodson and hired Larry Drew to be their new head coach; they signed Joe Johnson to a six-year, $123.7 million deal, otherwise known as "The absolute worst contract handed out during the summer in which Darko 'Manna from Heaven' Milicic got $20 million"; drafted a couple bums; signed Josh Powell to a one-year deal at the vet's minimum; traded Josh Childress to the Suns for a second-round pick; signed Etan Thomas to a one-year deal at the vet's minimum.

In essence, the Hawks didn't get any better while at the same time destroying all future cap flexibility by giving Johnson what will probably be remembered as the most horrific contract of this decade. There's no way the Hawks will win 50 games again -- let's face it, Crawford won't have another career year, Johnson is only going to get worse and the rest of the team just isn't that good -- but they'll probably win 40-45, make the playoffs, and get sent home early and cruelly. Just like last season.

you fail

Sorry, Hawks fans.

The Charlotte Bobcats

Over the past several days, there's been a lot of chatter on the Interwebs about whether Michael Jordan could score 100 points in today's game. But here's a better, more relavant question:

Can Jordan's team, the Charlotte Bobcats, score 100 points in today's game?

Last season, the 'Cats ranked 28th in PPG (95.3), 26th in Pace Factor (90.4 possessions per 48 minutes) and 24th in Offensive Efficiency (101.5). Of course, they ranked first in Opponent's PPG (93.8) and Defensive Efficiency (100.2), which just goes to show you that this is a typical Larry Brown team: Slow it down, grind it out, churn out regular season wins, make the playoffs, get eliminated early.

And that's pretty much what happened last season. Brown coaxed 44 wins out of squad with more gaping holes than Anal Bimbos 27: Buttier Than Ever. Against all reason, Larry goaded his team to the franchise's first ever playoff appearance...during which they were mashed to an oozing pulp by the Orlando Magic. Still, it was yet another example of how Brown squeezes every last drop of talent out of his team. Before he quits on them and moves onto the next team, that is.

Still, the Bobcats are a deeply flawed bunch. And in case you're wondering how those flaws were "addressed," I'm about to tell you. Jordan let Raymond Felton walk; pulled Shaun Livingston out of his NBA grave; signed Tirade Thomas to a five-year, $40 million mistake; flipped Tyson Chandler and Alexis Ajinca for Matt Carroll, Eduardo Najera and Erick Dampier's dumpable deal (this wasn't even a salary saver, btw, as the 'Cats merely broke even on the deal, essentially giving Chandler away for nada); signed Dominic McGuire (defense yes, offense no); and signed Kwame Brown, leading to to several days worth of "What the f*** is up with MJ and Kwame Brown?!"

So basically, Charlotte didn't improve at all. Hell, they might have gotten a little worse.

Look, I understand the whole "Defense Wins Championships" concept, and to a large extent, I agree. That said, NBA teams are still expected to score more points than their opponents. Can you see this squad doing that against the top tier teams? Or even the middle tier teams on a consistent basis. Brown can probably cattle prod another 35-40 wins out of this group of castoffs, assuming 1) he maintains his intensity and committment to the team and 2) the players keep drinking his Kool-Aid.

Still, I don't know how the 'Cats are going to get by without a real, honest-to-goodness point guard. Last season, Felton did a decent enough job masquerading as a PG in order to earn a contract. But Livingston of the Living Dead is not an answer to anything other than "What is one of the saddest stories in NBA history?"

The Miami Heat

I'm not going to go on and on about this team. I mean, we're all a little sick of hearing and reading about them already, right?

Here's as brief a summary as I can manage: They're going to be awesome. For the most part, Pat Riley surrounded the Nazgul with enough talent to contend despite cap limitations (something many people thought he couldn't do). Miami is strong on the perimeter but f***ed at center. They won't win 70 games this season, but they're a lock for 60+ wins and a deep playoff run. Not sure they're going to get by Boston or Orlando (or the Lakes if they make it to the Finals) this season, but the Heat are going to win a title some time in the next few years. Just accept that and move on.

The Orlando Magic

The Magic are one of those trick-or-treat "contenders." They're really, really good -- last season they ranked 2nd in both Offensive Efficiency (109.5) and Defensive Efficiency (102.2) -- and yet not quite good enough, you know? I mean, look at their three best players. Unless Hakeem Olajuwon worked some serious voodoo this summer, Dwight Howard's offensive game still isn't polished enough to prevent him from getting shut down by big, talented frontcourts (such as the ones he'll face in Boston and L.A.). Vince Carter is a superstar against lesser teams who's guaranteed to disappear or quit in the playoffs. Ditto for Rashard Lewis, only with 20% more disappearing.

Who's going to step up and lead this team when it really counts? J.J. Redick?

Look, Quentin Richardson gives them more three-point shooting and Chris Duhon will be decent as a backup point guard, but the team lost toughness when Matt Barnes walked and their best three players don't have the skills or mental fortitude necessary to beat out the Celtics, Heat (maybe) or Lakers. And frankly, I only see Carter and Lewis declining, while I'm not sure Howard hasn't maxed out as a basketball player (again, unless The Dream has actually physically possessed him).

Orlando is going to win 55-60 games and flame out in the playoffs. Again. Years from now, we're going to look back on their five-game loss to the Lakers in the NBA Finals and realize that was this team's apex.

The Washington Wizards

Washington messed up, okay? The Wizards settled on a core of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. They gave those guys big contracts and tried to build around them. And that was a real boner.

Still, the Wiz have been trying to fix the problem. Jamison and Butler are now in different zip codes, and Arenas will be gone about 0.1 seconds after some idiot team agrees to take on his cap-gobbling contract. Which, unfortunately for Washington fans, will probably be never.

Oh well. Two out of three ain't bad.

On the bright side, the Wizards got crazy lucky, winning the NBA draft lottery and selecting future superstar John Wall with the number one overall pick. Apparently, that good fortune was too much for Washington's batshit front office to accept, so they tried to negate that dumb luck by trading for Kirk Hinrich.

Don't get me wrong. Captain Kirk is a solid backup PG who provides solid defense, can play three positions and will be an excellent veteran mentor for Wall. But as ESPN's John Hollinger pointed out, based on the workings of this particular deal, the Wizards basically paid $3 million to take on Hinrich's contract, which will cost them $17 million over the next two seasons.

I guess they just love bad contracts in Washington.

Other offseason moves included: Trading for Chairman Yi, letting a trio of vets (Mike Miller, Randy Foye, James Singleton) depart for greener pastures, signing Hilton Armstrong (yawn), signing Josh Howard (whatever) and giving Andray "Shoot It If Ya Got It" Blatch a three-year, $28 million extension.

That's it. That's the state of Washington's rebuilding effort thus far. Sweet Jesus. I haven't seen something this poorly thought out since KISS Meets The Phantom of the Park:

I'm not sure how this ragtag bunch of shothappy bums and fools is going to win more than 25-30 games. Drafting Wall and adding a savvy vet like Hinrich will help, but this team is a flat-out mess. The Wizards are still several years -- at minimum -- from returning to anything remotely resembling respectability. And the artist formerly known as Agent Zero has become a depressing slob with a crummy beard.

Another season of Washing Generals jokes anyone?

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