With the season starting less than a week away, it is time to put some predictions down in print and hold myself accountable. I am going to spend the next three days breaking down the NBA preseason rankings(30-20, 20-10, and then 10-1). After that I will let you know how I think the conferences are going to finish, followed up by my NBA champion. But first, to those known best as the bottom dwellers. Today, we cover teams 30-20 in my preseason rankings.
30. Sacramento Kings
Last Year: 22-44(5th in the Pacific Division)
Hot 2012-2013 Storyline: Will they or won’t they resign Tyreke Evans?
-Sacramento falls into my deepest spot because simply their is no future here. They have a bunch of guys who don’t really fit into any particular system. You could say they are a running team, but then why did they exercise the third year option on DeMarcus Cousins? You can’t say they are a half court team with Isiah Thomas and Tyreke Evans as both score first guards; who is going to have the smarts to run an efficient offense? While John Salmons, Chuck Hayes, and the Aaron Brooks signing bring somewhat of a veteran presence, this team seems as though it may be doomed until they move out of Sacramento.
29. Charlotte Bobcats
Last Year: 7-59(5th in the Southeast Division)
Hot 2012-2013 Storyline: Is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist the franchise player this franchise has never had?
-Charlotte would be last on most people’s list because of last year’s abomination that Michael Jordan put together. They are second to last on my list because they have what the Kings don’t; a direction. Kidd-Gilchrist has the chance to be something special, and has already shown flashes through the Summer League averaging 18 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals a game. While the Bobcats are a far way away from contending for anything worth bragging about, bringing in veterans Brendan Haywood, Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon could end up being crafty moods. Gordon could be the X factor, if he cares about his image that is. The failed Detroit years have made people forgot the player he was in Chicago, specifically in the 2009 East Conference playoffs against the Celtics. If he can regain that form, he can not only help revive his own team, but help kick start last year’s draft choice Kemba Walker’s career.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Year: 21-45(5th in the Central Division)
Hot 2012-2013 Storyline: Is Kyrie Irving ready to put himself in the All-Star conversation?
-Last year continued the “who are we after Lebron?” chapter of the Cavs storyline. Unfortunately, it seems as though they are maybe one or two more years away from fully turning the page. Irving proved himself to be something special last year, but until people stop comparing him to Cleveland’s other recent number one pick, this team is still going to be living in the shadows. While Irving is a great point guard, this team still lacks a second strong scorer to go to when teams shut down Irving. C.J. Miles seems to be their answer as a second scorer this year, but a guy who has averaged 8.4 PPG in his career can’t be a long term solution. Tristan Thompson, the forgotten 2nd year man in Cleveland, should definitely make a jump this year. He will almost certainly improve in scoring, but needs to improve on the defensive side of the ball and become the lockdown player they are hoping for him to be.
27. Houston Rockets
Last Year: 34-32(4th in the Southwest Division)
Hot 2012-2013 Storyline: Is Jeremy Lin a one hit sensation?
-The Rockets went all in during the off season for a profile big man in Dwight Howard, less than a year after owning the rights to Pao Gasol for all of two hours. Even after not getting Howard, the let go of Luis Scola, Goran Dragic, and Kyle Lowry for Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. Wait, what? Yup, that is correct. While I understand Houston is attempting to bottom out to gain a top pick in the 2013 draft, and picked up interesting pieces in Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Jones and Royce White, these moves do not seem to make sense. Omer Asik is a solid defender, but is very limited offensively and does not fit in with Lin’s up style offense. Also, Houston is taking a huge risk on Jeremy Lin. While I love seeing a Harvard grad succeed in something other the neurobiology as much as the next Boston local, 40 games and no playoff experience seems to be a very small window to shell out $25 million from a team looking to rebuild. While he could be the future cornerstone of this franchise, he could also prove to be a move that sets them back another three years(See Artest, Ron AKA World Peace, Metta).
26. Orlando Magic
Last Year: 37-29(3rd in the Southeast Division)
Hot 2012-2013 Storyline: Where does this franchise go from here?
-When the Orlando Magic accepted to host the All-Star game in 2012, they must have seen a great weekend centered around the All-Star Center, Dwight Howard. And while Howard did his part in helping host the weekend, the writing was already on the wall. It is wrong the criticize the Magic for letting Howard go. The marriage was over, and they needed to move on. It is absolutely okay however, to criticize them for what they got back. When Aaron Afflalo is the best player you get back, and when Andrew Bynum is also moved in the deal, how do you not do better? What is even worse, is that Orlando may not even bottom out. While they are certainly worse, a nucleus of Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis, Afflalo and Al Harrington surrounded by an okay cast could still compete for an 8th seed in the East, and certainly won’t be worse than the likes of the Bobcats or Cavaliers. While they may finish closer to the middle of the field, I have them this low because they not only failed to rebuild from the Howard trade, but failed to bottom out far enough to gain a lottery pick unless they start throwing games.
25. Detroit Pistons
Last Year: 25-41(4th in the Central Division)
Hot 2012-2013 Storyline: Who is the franchise player, or do the Pistons have one?
-The 2004 NBA title that the Pistons one with one of the greatest “team first” units seems eighty years away instead of eight. Unfortunately, Detroit could be putting themselves into a position of NBA no man’s land; where they aren’t good enough to make the playoffs but aren’t bad enough to gain a top pick to land a new franchise player. Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight are certainly the future of this team, and will continue to grow this year. Until on them makes a huge leap, however, their could a huge hole in that their is no go-to guy within this franchise. Who takes the final shot when the team needs a win? Who is the lock down defender that can handle the opponent’s best scorer? And can last year’s 27th ranked offense get any better without making any substantial additions? Only time will tell.
24. Toronto Raptors
Last Year: 23-43(4th in the Atlantic Division)
Hot 2012-2013 Storyline: Is Valanciunas the long term answer or a short term mouthful?
-Canada’s team has ironically always had a sore spot for International talent, and Jonas Valanciunas is the new wonder boy ready to turn the Raptor’s team around. The Lithuanian Olympian had a less than stellar Summer Games however, and has continued to show flashes of both greatness and mediocrity throughout the preseason. While the Landry Fields signing should prove worthy as he can only get better, he is not a franchise changer. Unless Demar Derozan makes another jump, and Valanciunas proves he is worth the wait, everyone’s elses sexy pick for the 8th seed in the East could turn ugly.
23. Washington Wizards
Last Year: 20-46(4th in the Southeast Division)
Hot 2012-2013 Storyline: Who are the Wizards now that they aren’t the knuckleheads?
-Javale McGee: Gone. Andre Blatche: Gone. Nick Young: Gone. The knuckhead Wizards, as sad as it is to people who love comedy, are dead. What’s left is a Wizard’s franchise who think they have a superstar in John Wall, and have finally put some veteran leadership on a team(Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor) that sorely needed it. While Ariza and Okafor as by no means superstars, they certainly bring a presence to a franchise which has lacked discipline and any sense of success through effort in recent history. Bradley Beal looks to be the rookie they are hoping for him to be, and Jan Vesely seems to be getting more accustomed to the NBA game everyday. While this team is by no means done growing, they have certainly taken the right steps to once again become a playoff team.
22. Phoenix Suns
Last Year: 33-33(3rd in the Pacific Division)
Hot 2012-2013 Storyline: Who are the Suns now that Nash isn’t gone?
-Steve Nash was not only the face of this franchise, but he was the lifeblood. A true leader and example setter in the locker room, he leaves a large void and a feeling in Phoenix that maybe they should have gotten more than a couple of Conference Finals appearances. What makes it even worse is that he went to the Lakers. So where does Phoenix go from here? Luis Scola will be forced into the new leadership role here left by Nash and Grant Hill, and Goran Dragic is a nice piece to where they have a solid point guard with no gap after Nash. While he will never be Nash, He can certainly lead a team and has shown flashes of brilliance. The Michael Beasley tour continues to the Suns, where he has the prove he can do something besides score while also knowing which knee is his. This team is definitely in rebuilding mode, but at least has started those steps towards becoming a contender once again.
21. New Orleans Hornets
Last Year: 21-45(5th in the Southwest Division)
Hot 2012-2013 Storyline: Exit Chris Paul, Enter Anthony Davis.
-After Chris Paul left last fall, the Hornets knew they needed to look into rebuilding after losing a player that meant so much to the city of New Orleans. They started the process right away by locking up Eric Gordon(with a little haggling), and then got lucky by gaining the number one pick. Anthony Davis is going to be an NBA ready player right away, and having been a member of the Olympic team only made him better. Austin Rivers is an extremely raw rookie, but has the talent and work ethic behind him to become an effective point guard. What may be their most important signing however, was stealing Ryan Anderson from the Magic. Last year’s most improved player got paid, but shows no signs of slowing down. Believe it or not, Anderson is only 24(doesn’t it seem like he’s been around for 7-8 years now?) and has continued to improve his defense while continuing to be a deadly big man scorer. While this team won’t go deep, they could surprise a few people.
20. Portland Trailblazers
Last Year: 28-38(4th in the Northwest Division)
Hot 2012-2013 Storyline: Could Lillard be the steal of the draft?
-Remember when the Blazers started last year off with a 7-2 record that included wins over the Thunder, Lakers, and Nuggets? Yup, me neither. With the Oden saga finally over, many new faces(including a new coach in Terry Stotts), and what many are calling the sexy ROY pick in Damian Liliard, the Blazers are ready to turn the page. A team that has lived in mediocrity since the Drexler era, Lillard brings a ray of hope that Portland may have struck gold with the 6th pick in the draft. Lillard led the Summer League in points, and was top ten in all other major categories amongst guards. While his numbers have gone down a bit in the preseason, he has shown that he has the talent to be an NBA guard. Many people have forgotten Lamarcus Aldridge was an All-Star type talent two years ago, and while they may have paid to high for him, Nicholas Batum will prove to be a solid role player. But what else is there? A bunch of question marks, including Adam Morrison(yes, him) fill out a roster headed for nowhere.
Tune in tomorrow for teams 11-19, but until then as always an excellent NBA YouTube clip.