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CNNSI.Com potential "grades" for teams so far this season
CNNSI.Com potential "grades" for teams so far this season
Nice article. Bit too nice for Isiah, but still decent
Let's see how teams have lived up to preseason expectations
Posted: Wednesday March 24, 2004 1:07PM; Updated: Friday March 26, 2004 11:46AM
It's report card time, fans. True, the regular season isn't over for a couple of weeks, but this may be the last opportunity to throw darts at the dregs of the league.
Keep in mind that grading was not done on a curve -- my schoolteacher wife doesn't like curves -- even though this is a curve year, particularly in the Western Conference, where, as San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich observed recently, "We all seem to be blowing it."
Keep in mind, also, that the best teams aren't receiving A's and the worst aren't receiving F's. Grading was based on how far above, or below, its potential that a team has played. Report cards, incidentally, have to be signed by parents and returned by next Tuesday.
ORLANDO MAGIC: Yes, it was a tough blow losing Grant Hill, who is costing the Magic $13 million this year even though he's walking around in a cast. But the franchise has to get over it. Although Tracy McGrady leads the league in scoring, he's had an uneven season -- more than one rival coach has commented that T-Mac is prone to laziness on defense -- and none of Orlando's personnel moves (trading Mike Miller and Gordan Giricek, losing Darrell Armstrong in free agency) has paid dividends.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: Remember all that preseason optimism when Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson arrived as the player who would have Allen Iverson's back? Well, he's done that all right -- they have both have been injured pains in the butt. This is a franchise that has gone down, down, down since it made the NBA Finals in 2001.
PHOENIX SUNS: They traded away their best player (Stephon Marbury), and they're the worst team in the Western Conference. So why aren't they getting an F? Because they have the cap room necessary to make a bold free-agent move -- and they better make one.
CHICAGO BULLS: For every step forward taken by the backcourt, rookie point guard Kurt Hinrich and the volatile Jamal Crawford, the bonus-baby frontcourt of Eddie Curry and Tyson Chandler takes a step backward. The Bulls have a long way to go to get back to playoff contention, never mind back to the glory days of the '90s. Sadly, the Bulls have been so mediocre that Scottie Pippen's announcement that he will retire at the end of the season was all but ignored.
SEATTLE SUPERSONICS: I see these guys all the time on the nightly highlights, Ray Allen smoothly sinking jumpers and Rashard Lewis dunking on somebody's head. But what I don't see is a fairly talented team making a real push. Perhaps it will happen next season if Allen, who missed the first 26 games of the year with an injury, is healthy.
WASHINGTON WIZARDS: Kwame Brown is at last realizing his potential. Wait a minute, no he's not. Gilbert Arenas is ready to become one of the league's most outstanding players. Wait a minute, no he's not. This up-and-down team never made a move this season, and the only reason they don't get an F is because Jerry Stackhouse has missed 50 games because of injury.
BOSTON CELTICS: I'm willing to give director of operations Danny Ainge a season to see if his long-range plan will work out. But the fact is, this once proud franchise, which made the Eastern Conference finals just two seasons ago, is fighting for its playoff life against Miami and Cleveland, two teams apparently going in a different direction than the Shamrocks.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: There was a lot of life in this franchise last season; now there is little. We didn't exactly expect the Warriors to vault to the top of the Western Conference, but it's doubtful they'll get more than the 38 wins they had last season.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: Corey Maggette has emerged as a possible star. Elton Brand is as solid as a rock. And still the Clippers cannot challenge for a playoff spot. Attention, this is a recording, this is a recording, this is a recording.
ATLANTA HAWKS: They weren't supposed to be very good this year, which is the reason they're not getting an F. Their best player, Shareef Abdur-Rahim is gone, and they couldn't hold on to Rasheed Wallace, though I'm not sure I blame Atlanta for that. New ownership has taken over. Be afraid for them. Be very afraid.
NEW ORLEANS HORNETS: This team is a puzzle. It has a chance to match last year's win total of 47 under first-year coach Tim Floyd, but the Hornets should be better, even allowing for Jamal Mashburn's sketchy medical situation. One is tempted to call them a dark horse in the playoffs, but they should be riding into May as one of the Eastern favorites.
DALLAS MAVERICKS: They get an A for offense and an F for defense -- that balances out to them being an average team, albeit one capable of making some kind of playoff run. Remember, though, that they've been a poor road club this season, and the spat between Antoine Walker and coach Don Nelson is not over.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: Jim O'Brien could be replacing Maurice Cheeks as coach next season. O'Brien is an excellent candidate, but for all he's been through doesn't Cheeks deserve the chance to coach the team now that the Blazers have traded some of the poison players? I still think Portland will grab that eighth playoff spot in the West.
TORONTO RAPTORS: With a league-low 85.4 points per game, they are the Team That Can't Shoot Straight. The Raptors are still fighting for a playoff spot, but the deal that secured Donyell Marshall and Jalen Rose and unloaded malcontent Antonio Davis hasn't paid the dividends that it should have.
NEW JERSEY NETS: Now that coach Lawrence Frank has come back to earth after his initial winning streak, reality has set in. The standard set in New Jersey by fired coach Byron Scott was making it to the Finals, and that will be impossible for the Nets to do this year if Jason Kidd doesn't get healthy.
HOUSTON ROCKETS: This could easily be a C team, which it will indeed be if it somehow misses the playoffs. But I think they'll hold on and improve on last year when a 43-39 record kept them out of the postseason. If Steve Francis was playing better, the Rockets would be battling for first in the Midwest instead of scrambling to make the playoffs.
NEW YORK KNICKS: This is one of the grades I could hedge on; they will be an A if they clinch a postseason berth (I think they will), and a C if they don't. But one thing is for sure: They were an F before Isiah Thomas took over for Scott Layden as general manager.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS: It hasn't been easy going for the defending champs, what with the injury to Tim Duncan and a rare contretemps between Popovich and one of his loyalists, backup forward Malik Rose. But through it all, the Spurs persevere and prosper, and their stubborn defense can still lock down good teams when it has to.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS: Through this ongoing soap opera of Kobe Bryant's legal troubles, feuds and injuries, the Purple and Gold is still in position to claim one of the top three seeds in the West, though I doubt that they will catch Sacramento for first place in the Pacific Division. Trust me on this: Nobody wants to play L.A. in the postseason.
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: This may seem like a high grade for a team that might not finish with 40 wins, but remember that they tied Denver for a league-worst 17 victories last season. Once maligned general manager Jim Paxson has made some other savvy moves besides calling out "LeBron James" on draft day.
DETROIT PISTONS: I have consistently undervalued Detroit over the last two years, as a certain Pistons official has let me know. I even did it after they traded for Rasheed Wallace, who has made a tough Detroit defense even tougher. But as good as Larry Brown's boys have been, remember that this was a team that didn't exactly underachieve last season and one that must amp up its offense in order to reach the Finals.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS: The Beer Town Team has faded a bit of late, but let's consider what they've done without Gary Payton, Ray Allen and Sam Cassell. Michael Redd has turned into an All-Star and the Bucks have turned into an opponent that no one wants to play in the first round of the playoffs.
MIAMI HEAT: The South Beachers didn't exactly crawl into a hole when Pat Riley left the bench for the front office, did they? The Heat play tough defense under Stan Van Gundy, they're getting consistent play from the enigmatic Lamar Odom and they have the third-best rookie in the league in Dwyane Wade. I can see Miami getting to the second round.
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: The T'wolves' extensive offseason cosmetic surgery was successful enough that they're challenging Sacramento and Indiana for most wins in the league and Kevin Garnett is a lock for MVP. The only reason they're not awarded a straight A is that they must advance out of the first round for the season to be called a success.
SACRAMENTO KINGS: Their best player misses 59 games and almost no one would've noticed had Chris Webber not managed to get suspended for legal problems and drug issues. The Kings' defense, though, hasn't been as strong as it was last season, and, unless Sacramento makes it to the NBA Finals, it will have nothing to brag about.
INDIANA PACERS: The Pacers had a nasty public relations problem to clear up when the season started -- star Jermaine O'Neal's dissatisfaction with the firing of coach Isiah Thomas. But they started tough, stayed tough, and they're the only Eastern team that consistently amps it up against the powers in the West. If O'Neal is healthy, the Pacers will be the Eastern Conference representative in the Finals.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: The easiest grade in the league. Most observers thought they didn't have a chance to get 30 wins, yet they might reach 50. Here's another easy pick: Hubie Brown as Coach of the Year.
UTAH JAZZ: And if not Hubie, then Jerry Sloan. How many teams could lose two Hall of Famers (Karl Malone and John Stockton) and the player (Matt Harpring) who was destined to be their leading scorer without collapsing? In addition, Sloan is dealing with the ongoing cancer battle being fought by his wife, Bobbye. If the Jazz holds on to make the playoffs, it will be one of the feel-good stories of the year.
DENVER NUGGETS: But, then again, so would a Nuggets playoff appearance, which hasn't happened since '95. Persistent rumors have put coach Jeff Bzdelik's job in jeopardy, particularly if Denver slides out of the playoffs, but for the life of me I can't figure out why. Carmelo Anthony is a terrific player and he's going to get better, but it's not as if he's turned around the franchise all by himself.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jack McCallum covers the NBA for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com."
One of the few articles that gives Indy some true props for what has been accomplished so far this season and for what might be later in the playoffs.
2012 PD ABA Fantasy Keeper League Champion, sports.ws
2011 PD ABA Fantasy Keeper League Champion, sports.ws