Indiana surprisingly finished the first week of the season unbeaten, so Jim O'Brien should get my early Coach of the Year vote. Somehow, he's gotten a pulse out of Mike Dunleavy, Jamaal Tinsley and David Harrison. Jermaine O'Neal isn't even healthy yet.
That's some strong work
Trade request aside, Kobe Bryant is leaving everything on the floor in L.A. (AP)
It pales in comparison to what Phil Jackson has managed to get out of the Lakers, though. He's taken a team that is supposed to have been fractured and took out Phoenix and Utah going away. Granted, the first week of the regular season produces its share of strange results, and both the Suns and Jazz went into their games against L.A. gassed, but who would've honestly done a double-take if the Lakers were winless at this point? Not me. Not considering all the drama they've had to face.
Chicago couldn't overcome the curse of the Kobe Bryant trade demand, particularly Luol Deng, but L.A. did just fine. Even with Lamar Odom out and Chris Mihm still limited, the Lakers have gotten by on starting Kwame Brown and Ronny Turiaf, who keep setting the table for Andrew Bynum to come clean up off the bench. Playing with more confidence and energy than he's ever displayed, the 20-year-old Bynum is dunking everything in sight, averaging 11.0 points and a team-high 8.7 rebounds. He got off to a great start last year and couldn't sustain it, but doing so this year after being basically called out as a scrub by the team's superstar indicates he may be further along from a maturity standpoint than anyone anticipated.
Bryant, to his credit, has been a catalyst at both ends, making good on his promise to leave it all out there as long as he's wearing a Lakers jersey. No one should read into this situation as being fixed, but for now, all is fine in Lakers land, despite Magic Johnson's belief that a decision needs to be made to either keep Bryant in the fold or trade him immediately.
Take that as lesson No. 1: You should never make too much out of a single week of play, particularly the first one, where you never know who is out of shape and who isn't. With that in mind, here's our first in-season
Power Rankings, tweaked ever so slightly from the preseason version:
Current Team Previous
1 Spurs · Trends 1
Gregg Popovich says he has so much veteran talent he doesn't know what to do with it yet. You can fill a reservoir with the tears of the league's other coaches weeping for him. Then again, they could be crying over their own plights. San Antonio looks stronger than ever.
2 Mavericks · Trends 3
DeSagana Diop may have finally become the player Cleveland hoped he would be when they spent the eighth pick of the 2001 draft on him. He's lost the weight, consistently plays with fire and has become one of the league's top shot blockers. When Erick Dampier returns from rehab after offseason shoulder surgery -- he was just cleared for his first full contact practice -- he probably won't get his starting job back right away.
3 Suns · Trends 2
Phoenix is doing the right thing in holding Amare Stoudemire out of action with his knee not 100 percent. Last season's All-NBA First Team berth supplied all the proof necessary that he had made it back from troublesome microfracture surgery, so there is no need to play superhero this time around. As Stoudemire wisely said, "championships can't be won in November, but they can be lost."
4 Rockets · Trends 4
All the ingredients are there for Houston to make the big leap towards a championship, save one. They have not one, but two superstars. They have defensive stoppers, rebounding specialists and 3-point shooters. All that's missing is experience. Only Dikembe Mutombo and Bonzi Wells have ever reached an NBA Finals, so the Rockets have to gain a winning edge by notching key road wins like the one they let escape from their grasp against short-handed Dallas on Monday. For them, every big game counts.
5 Pistons · Trends 7
Detroit didn't need Richard Hamilton to escape its first back-to-back of the season unscathed, which should tell you just how ready it is to reclaim its throne atop the Eastern Conference. The addition of Jarvis Hayes is already paying major dividends, while rookies Arron Afflalo and Rodney Stuckey will be major factors in lightening the load on the Pistons starters.
6 Celtics · Trends 8
Everything is coming up roses for Boston at the moment, but there are still issues to contend with if this team is going to be there in the end, starting with a legitimate backup to foul-prone center Kendrick Perkins, who isn't going to be enough alongside Kevin Garnett to help Boston win a ring. Scot Pollard alone isn't going to cut it; Danny Ainge may need to give P.J. Brown a ring.
7 Raptors · Trends 12
T.J. Ford sure looks like he's been working hard on his jumper, the final missing piece keeping him from becoming a complete player. He's not going to grow any taller, but he's got the speed and passing down and his managing of the game will come in time. He can become one of the league's most lethal point guards -- in spite of his size -- if his outside shot falls consistently.
8 Nets · Trends 5
Antoine Wright has turned not having his contract extended prior to the season into a positive, responding the way New Jersey hoped he would the last two seasons. If he keeps it up, he and Bostjan Nachbar would give the Nets significant punch off the bench behind Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter, making them all the more formidable.
9 Hornets · Trends 17
Being unable to sell out the home opener was a bad sign. Things look even worse after the team's second home game drew less than 10,000 fans, barely 55 percent capacity, despite the fact the team came in undefeated. Friday night's game against San Antonio should draw well, but it looks like it might not matter whether the Hornets are good or bad. New Orleans is going to have a tough time filling those seats, regardless.
10 Nuggets · Trends 9
J.R. Smith is back after a three-game suspension, but don't expect George Karl to bend over backwards to accommodate his return. The Nuggets would normally welcome another scoring option next to Allen Iverson, but Smith's history of insubordination and off-court incidents have him on his last life line in Denver.
11 Magic · Trends 16
Hedo Turkoglu has quickly become one of Orlando's top offensive options, nicely complementing Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard up front. He loves the freedom Stan Van Gundy's free-wheeling style affords him and is taking full advantage, going at guys off the dribble and confidently firing from beyond the arc. The Turkish forward has never been shy. Right now, he's one big walking matchup problem.
12 Lakers · Trends 18
Lamar Odom's impending return from his shoulder issue will get L.A. as close to full strength as it has been since the early portion of last season, giving it an opportunity to put all the bad vibes in the past. Of course, if they struggle with him, it could be the final straw in the saga, finally resulting in sweeping changes.
13 Jazz · Trends 10
Andrei Kirilenko still takes some bad shots, but you can tell he feels much more plugged in this season just by looking at his early assist totals. He's always been an exceptional passer, yet the eight helpers he dished out in the season opener were more than he recorded in any game last season. That's a great sign for Utah.
14 Bulls · Trends 6
The Ben Wallace is old and done talk has already started, but keep in mind that not only is he a notoriously slow starter, but he's also had to deal with the effects of his first career ankle sprain suffered late in the preseason. By the time December rolls around, this poor start will be long forgotten.
15 Bobcats · Trends 22
Jason Richardson is fitting in nicely as Charlotte's top scorer, but it's Raymond Felton who has made the most resounding early impression. He's always been regarded as a distant No. 3 in his draft class behind Deron Williams and Chris Paul, but that gap looks like it's closing. He's got a great grasp on the Bobcats' up-tempo offense and is poised for a breakout season.
16 Hawks · Trends 25
Atlanta made a big mistake not giving Josh Smith a lucrative contract extension, because word around the league is that he'll be one of the more coveted free agents come offseason. The Hawks will be able to match any offer he gets, but it's going to be expensive to keep their highly regarded wing. Smith continues to progress offensively and is already one of the NBA's most established game-changing defenders. He'll turn 22 in early December.
17 Cavaliers · Trends 11
Although there are fans dutifully plotting ways to get anything back for disappointing guard Larry Hughes, they better get used to his presence. There are going to be very few teams willing to take on a player with his injury history who is owed nearly $40 million through 2010, unless they get to lose a bad contract in return.
18 Clippers · Trends 24
Sam Cassell and Brevin Knight have settled into a platoon designed to keep both veterans fresh and give L.A. two different looks at the point. If both can stay healthy, they'll more than make up for the absence of Shaun Livingston and might be able to help keep the Clippers afloat until Elton Brand returns to help fuel a playoff push.
19 Pacers · Trends 27
You could've made yourself a nice chunk of change if you had Danny Granger as the first Eastern Conference Player of the Week in your office pool. Considering the flashes of brilliance he displayed in his second season, his early effectiveness isn't as much of a surprise as that of his team's.
20 Warriors · Trends 13
Kelenna Azubuike could wind up becoming one of the NBA's biggest bargains if his fast start is any indication. The University of Kentucky product's explosiveness has endeared him to Don Nelson as the primary replacement for the departed Jason Richardson and suspended Stephen Jackson.
21 Wizards · Trends 18
A rough first week did have a silver lining thanks to center Brendan Haywood. Formerly discarded by head coach Eddie Jordan, Haywood showed up intent on helping plug the void left by Etan Thomas' extended absence, coming in displaying a mean streak and attacking the boards. If the pieces around him get it going, the Wizards are going to be dangerous.
22 Heat · Trends 14
It sure didn't take long for Smush Parker to fall out of favor with Pat Riley. Forcing the action with ill-advised passes and silly behind-the-back moves in traffic doesn't fly with a traditional old school coach, so Parker better learn how to tone it down and get with ex-hot dog Jason Williams for tips on what he can and can't get away with if he wants back in the rotation.
23 Bucks · Trends 19
Andrew Bogut has vowed to be more aggressive this season, but probably didn't count on foul trouble being part of the plan. Playing with more intensity is great, but he's got to find a way to stay on the floor to be the presence Milwaukee needs him to be. He's the Bucks best option in the post, with the drop-off behind him pretty steep from an offensive standpoint.
24 Grizzlies · Trends 20
It's a credit to Mike Conley's character that he has accepted his apprenticeship so gracefully. Despite not currently being in Marc Iavaroni's plans, the No. 4 pick is working hard on his game to be ready when called upon and saying all the right things about being stuck behind teammates Damon Stoudamire and Kyle Lowry. In this day and age, that's a novelty. Expect him to be a key contributor by season's end, in part because of that winning attitude.
25 Knicks · Trends 21
The Knicks won their first home opener since 2001 against Minnesota, but it was disconcerting to watch them struggle against what is undoubtedly the league's worst team. Stephon Marbury still looks uncertain about what his primary role is out there and has been out-played by backup Nate Robinson, while small forward Quentin Richardson is also struggling to carve out a niche.
26 Trail Blazers · Trends 23
It hasn't translated into wins, but you can see the Blazers have been working hard to make individual progress this offseason. LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy have made healthy strides, while small forwards Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw both look a lot more secure in what they're doing.
27 76ers · Trends 29
The acquisition of Reggie Evans looks like a home run, one of the few Philadelphia's front office has hit in an offseason where it failed to add immediate help through the draft or reach an agreement with franchise player Andre Iguodala. Evans has made it in the NBA primarily on effort, so his work ethic will definitely be a positive influence on his younger teammates.
28 SuperSonics · Trends 28
Luke Ridnour has found himself the odd man out in P.J. Carlesimo's early rotation at the point guard, so it may only be a matter of time before a team swoops in with an offer for his services. The former Oregon star has struggled with his defense and hasn't been able to shoot the ball well enough to offset that, but may be best-served by a change of scenery.
29 Kings · Trends 26
Sacramento is off to as ugly a start as Brad Miller's new look. At least the veteran center can undo his braids. It's going to be much harder for the Kings to undo their fortunes. Ron Artest's return on Nov. 14 should help, but there are just too many holes to expect him to provide an instant quick fix.
30 Timberwolves · Trends 30
Rashad McCants is playing with a swagger that had been absent from his game in his first two injury-riddled seasons in the league and has been given carte blanche to shine by head coach Randy Wittman. If he can stay healthy, he could have a big year.