With about half the NBA season in the books and the All-Star weekend upon us, it is that time of year for me to give my thoughts on the surprises and disappointments of the NBA so far. Normally, I give my surprises and disappointments from both conferences as well as some other thoughts, but I’m going to keep it to a “Good, Bad and Ugly” format. So here are my thoughts; if you have any comments or input, I would greatly appreciate it.
Is it hard to believe that the Clippers are a surprise team? They are not. With a roster that they have, especially after acquiring Chris Paul in the trade before the season started, I knew that they were going to do very well in the Pacific Division. What surprised me is how well the Philadelphia 76ers are doing so far. Who would have known that a young group of players, led by the hiring of head coach Doug Collins, would be leading the Atlantic Division which is normally dominated by the Celtics or Knicks. The only veteran players are Tony Battie and Elton Brand; the rest of the squad are a bunch of no name players (with the exception to Andre Iguodala). With that in mind, I think the organization made a great move in hiring Collins.
Now, staying in the division, another surprise is the sudden arrival of Knicks guard Jeremy Lin. With some of the Knick’s star players out of the lineup due to injury or other reasons, the season was in limbo. Yet somehow, a point guard coming off of the bench in early February took the league by storm and went on to have an amazing 8-9 game stretch. Now, is this a big deal because of his skin color or because he plays in New York? I don’t think so. I think this is a big deal because he happen to be in a system where the pick and roll system of coach Mike D’Antoni is the preferred choice of offense. Combine that with Jeremy Lin’s basketball knowledge and ability as a point guard and the Knicks found a little lightning in a bottle and short term success. Now the big question going into the rest of season and beyond: Will Jeremy Lin be able to limit/minimize his turnovers? How well will this current roster play as a team in order to generate wins? Will there be any trades to make them better?
My two disappointments are two teams but have different reasons why they’re not doing well this season. The first team is the New Orleans Hornets. This is a team with currently the worst record in the western conference because their roster has very little experience and without a star player that can lead them consistently in every game. Yes, they have Trevor Ariza and Chris Kaman. Kaman is there because of being traded from the Los Angeles Clippers in order for them to aquire Chris Paul. I always find it interesting that a team can go from being ok to a lottery team with the absence of one player. My other issue with the Hornets is the lack of ownership for the team but that is a completely different story that I don’t want to go there. The other disappointing team is the Charlotte Bobcats. This team has a good roster of players on paper, but what I think is the issue is the management. I remember listening to the sports radio one day while heading to a store and one of the national radio advertisements was an ad for the Bobcats and to buy tickets. The way they were selling the team was something along the lines of the Charlotte Bobcats being a team on the rise and to go buy tickets to see how good they are. Now, I’m not a Bobcat fan, but I was sold on the idea that they had everything in place to make a run for the playoffs for the first time since their Charlotte Hornets days. Yet somehow, they would fall short. For a team to have good players in players, a good coach and staff and to not meet expectations in a conference that was fairly easy at one point to make the playoffs as the 8th seed is kind of disappointing. Now that the Eastern Conference has gotten better in recent 3-4 years, I don’t know if they’ll be able to do anything this season. Is this a knock on Michael Jordan, who is one of the owners of the team? I’m going to say no on that one. He has other people below him that can scout for players as well as make sure the team is working well as a team, so the blame can’t fall squarely on Jordan himself, but most basketball players do have a hard time making the transition from the playing to the business portion of the industry. What needs to be done is that they need to make a trade for someone who can be a true leader on the team and help them in the right direction. As for who that player is, I’m not sure, but if they want to be taken seriously again, they need to make a move soon. Otherwise, they’re going to be a high lottery team in addition to the New Orleans Hornets.
I will now focus my attention to the Portland Trailblazers. Now, they are actually playing well and if the playoffs started today, they would make it in as the 8th seed. But the reason why I say that they’re in this category is the fans that might be wondering all the “What if’s” for their team. Before the season started, one of their star players, Brandon Roy, retired due to knee problems. And now to top it off, their number 1 overall pick Greg Oden will miss the season due to microscopic knee surgery. Oden, having not played a game since December of 2009, has had several injuries throughout his playing career (from Ohio State and now with the Trailblazers). But the ‘what if’ portion of this equation comes in two parts: 1) How good would Portland have been if Greg Oden was healthy? The team would have been better defensively with Oden being the big man in the Center position, who would have average 6 blocks and 13 rebounds a game. He didn’t have to play a big part in scoring and being an offensive player, just simply defend and rebound and I think it would have made a huge impact for the Trailblazers as well as any team that prepared to play them throughout the season. And that, I think, would have been the difference from being a one round into the playoffs and done team to a Conference Finals team. 2) How good would Portland have been if they selected Kevin Durant instead of Greg Oden? This goes back to the NBA draft the year both players were available and Portland had the number 1 overall pick thanks to them winning the draft lottery that year. Both Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, being great players from their respective colleges of Ohio State and Texas, Portland could have picked either player and would have improved their team both short term as well as long term. Before the draft, I initially said that Portland should have picked Durant because the roster for the Trailblazers at the time was very big man heavy and I wasn’t sure if the addition of Greg Oden was going to be a good idea for the team. I wasn’t surprised when Portland picked Greg Oden while the Seattle Sonics picked Kevin Durant. And after 5 years, Greg Oden has been plagued by various injuries that a typical big man in the NBA would sustain (ankle and knee related injuries). Meanwhile, Kevin Durant became an immediate impact player for the Seattle Sonics, which made the move from Seattle to Oklahoma [for various reasons] to become the Oklahoma City Thunder. And now, Durant is a superstar, who will start in the All-Star game tomorrow. And the city of Portland has a number one pick on the bench unable to play, which will probably not be able to live up to the expectations and not be offered another contract because of his history of injuries. This isn’t the first time they let a superstar slip through because of picking someone else. In the 1984 NBA Draft, Portland had the number 2 pick and selected Sam Bowie instead of a guy by the name of Michael Jordan. Sam Bowie didn’t pan out for Portland as they hoped, and Michael Jordan went on to win 6 Championships and becoming one of the greatest players to have ever played the game of basketball. Back to the current situation of the Trailblazers, they’re probably wishing they had picked Kevin Durant like the people in the State Farm Commercial saying, “I should have got a Falcon”.