NBA Hierarchy — The Super Teams and The Teams That Picked the Wrong Year to Be Really Good

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SportsAttic is going to save you NBA fans some time today.

There’s an old saying that all you ever need to watch in a basketball game is the final two minutes. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory, when we look ahead to the 2019-20 NBA season, you really won’t need to begin watching until the month of April at the earliest.

The day of tanking for draft picks is colliding with the era of the Super Team, and the big loser is the average NBA fan who enjoys some suspense served over the course of his or her regular season. We’ve got over two months before the first tipoff that matters in the new NBA season, and we can write down with confidence seven of the eight likely Western Conference playoff teams right now.

The Eastern Conference will be more wide open in terms of playoff entrants (my gosh, even the Knicks could sniff a seven or eight seed), but we already know who the four squads most likely to advance to Round 2 are, so let’s just fast forward to April already.

Thus, as a mid-August gift to our loyal NBA-fan followers, we are giving you some time back. Enjoy the pennant races and conclusion of baseball season, and take that leisurely stroll from the diamond right onto the gridiron. Wallow in your Saturdays and Sundays, toggling back and forth between college and the pros all the way through bowl season, the NFL playoffs and this year’s Super Bowl (set for February 2 in Miami, in case you want to mark your calendars and begin planning travel).

You may continue to take your time from there, as pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training and March Madness heats up, because there will be little of interest to pay attention to in the NBA.

Oh sure, you’ll get the made-for-TV Christmas slate to flip to when the third rerun of Christmas Story begins to get monotonous (“Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!”), and there will be some intrigue for sure around how the ball sharing is going down in Houston, and over who has the edge in the Battle of the Staples Center, but this regular season figures to be nothing but a formality.

There are eleven NBA teams that will matter this year (twelve if you want to add in Dallas, with Luka and Kristaps hopefully teaming up for a European-themed ride to the west’s eight seed), and basically everybody else will be jockeying for draft positions from October through April.

So with that in mind, we’ll now leap forward to who will be worth paying attention to sometime after MLB’s Opening Day next April, with odds affixed to their chances to take home the NBA title when the dust settles in June.

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THE SUPER TEAMS

  1. Los Angeles Lakers: As much as it pains me to say it, I’m afraid a rested-for-the-first-time-in-a-decade LeBron, plus a walk-year Anthony Davis adds up to too much talent for the rest of the league to derail. Full stop. Despite protestations about how impossible it would be to add useful supporting pieces around their two stars, the Lakers dysfunctional front office pulled it off, and Kyle Kuzma (they didn’t move him for a reason, folks), Rajon Rondo, and maybe still an Andre Iguodala waiting in the wings, will be enough for the two superstars with something to prove to ride to another Lakers banner. Odds: 1-2
  2. Los Angeles Clippers: They are really pick 1-A here. Can Kawhi Leonard possibly pick up where he left off last June? His postseason efforts bringing Toronto its first title were nothing short of heroic, earning him MJ comparisons (the most rarefied of NBA air, and gasp, may I add that such comparisons were justified???), and anointing him the title of Best Player In The League Right Now. Well, Kawhi joins a Clippers team with at least as good a coach in Doc Rivers as the one he leaves behind in Toronto, and a supporting cast that put a scare into the Warriors last spring and takes the floor with a defense-first focus every night. And to that they add Paul George? Hmmm. And why aren’t they the pick over their co-tenant Lakers? Well, the problem is George. He just committed to forming a Super Team in Oklahoma, didn’t he? And then he skips town after the Thunder came up small last spring? Yeah, we can blame Russ and his ball dominant ways all we want, but is George a winner? Will it matter since he’s now paired with Kawhi? We’re going to find out, and ultimately that tale will be told in the Western Conference Finals, when the ultimate battle for Los Angeles basketball supremacy (and de facto NBA title) is waged. Odds: 3-2
  3. Houston Rockets: Poor Mike D’Antoni. He thought last year was going to be his year, and then got the soul-crushing Carmelo Anthony Whammy dumped upon him. Even though he cleaned out that stink in short order, the pall was cast, and ultimately cemented when Chris Paul demonstrated, yet again, why he’ll one day retire with zero rings and the disdain of an entire league as his going away present. So what do the Rockets do? They mortgage the future again and create another Super Team, this time teaming up James Harden with Russell Westbrook. Again, hmmm. Didn’t these two guys make a run at a ring once before? And didn’t that run also include a young Kevin Durant? Okay, we can argue that both Russ and James have evolved into alpha dog superstars since their youthful OKC days, but there’s still only going to be one basketball in play. Look for lots of regular season wins and incredible SportsCenter highlights and statistical references. But then expect a tough first-round playoff matchup versus a squad in our next grouping that shakes Houston’s confidence, followed by a second consecutive round two exit. Odds: 6-1

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GREAT TEAMS THAT PICKED THE WRONG YEAR TO BE REALLY GOOD

4. Philadelphia 76ers: I thought about making the Sixers the fourth Super Team in this listing, but they simply aren’t there yet (and maybe never will be). Tons of talent for sure, but something still smells bad to us here, despite the fact that without a last second, miracle heave from Kawhi Leonard, this team could very well be our league champions today. Yeah, the Embiid/Simmons pairing is young, immature and needs to show us all the championship mettle that was so lacking a year ago. Adding Al Horford was a terrific step in the character direction (and taking the rival Celts down a peg was an added bonus to the Horford signing), but you can’t tell me Josh Richardson is an uptick over Jimmy Butler, and losing J.J. Redick’s leadership and three-point marksmanship will be a tough hole to fill. The fact that no Super Teams live in the Eastern Conference leaves a gaping path to the conference finals for Philly, and with that the opportunity to lose in five to the survivor of the Battle for Los Angeles come June. Odds: 5-1

5. Milwaukee Bucks: The lack of Super Teams in the east is a plus for the Bucks, too, but last year was their moment. And when given the chance to step on the neck of the Raptors and seize the east, Giannis and Milwaukee instead pulled their punch and now see their window closing. Bringing back Khris Middleton was the right move, and they are still a tough contender with a respected coach in Mike Budenholzer, Eric Gordon lighting it up in anonymity from the backcourt, as well as some decent depth, but this team isn’t going to win it all. And probably won’t even emerge from the east. Odds: 10-1

6. Golden State Warriors: How excited are the Dubs to play a season with no title expectations?  I’m guessing pretty damn excited. They’ll still roll out Steph, Draymond and Klay (at some point after the All Star break), and by the time the playoffs roll around, this will be the club the Super Teams don’t want to face. Adding Willie Cauley-Stein at center will prove to be much more important than the D’Angelo Russell acquisition, and in a league with no Super Teams, they could actually be a dark horse to ride Steve Kerr’s ball movement system to an unexpected title. But alas, this is just not that year. They’ll still be more fun to watch in a different, team-basketball kind of way then the KD Super Team Warriors of the past few years, as they christen their new, sold out downtown arena, but it is the wrong year for a sixth consecutive title run to come together in the Bay Area. Odds: 15-1

7. Boston Celtics: We are about to find out just how good a coach Brad Stephens is this year in Boston. And we’ll also get to answer the question of whether Kyrie Irving was truly the problem that derailed the 2018-19 Celtics from what had appeared last summer to be a pre-ordained date with the Dubs in the 2019 Finals. Picking up Kemba Walker was a meh/yawn/whatever signing, but one that had to happen in light of the departures of Kyrie and Terry Rozier, but it’s hard to see that making the Celtics much better than the 2018-19 model. Then pile on the surprise Horford departure, and even with Enes Kantor bringing some much needed toughness in the middle, it’s hard to imagine this club taking out the Bucks or Sixers and making it out of the east, despite their considerable depth and talent. Odds: 20-1

8. Portland Trailblazers: How hard must it be to run the Blazers organization? You’re already boxed in, knowing you have two wildly popular superstars that will never be able to get you over the top to a title, because both reside in your backcourt. You thought you had a center who could be the missing link to take you to the next level, but every time you start to feel a bit giddy over that plan coming together, the talented big man ends up in an awkward heap on your hardwood. So you trade for another center, however he’s grossly overpaid and has already proven incapable of elevating good but not great teams. So you head into the season knowing you have improved an already strong team, but that it really doesn’t matter. Because you’ll probably run into Golden State in the playoffs for what feels like the thousandth year in a row, and you will lose and maybe even get swept. Again. It’s enough to make you drown your sorrows at some cool Rose City vineyard while binging on a couple dozen Voodoo Donuts. Odds: 25-1

9. Denver Nuggets: Sorry Nuggets fans, but we are sensing a regression heading our way from this young, athletic squad in 2019-20. Denver thrived under the Western Conference radar and posted a tremendous regular season a year ago. However, they were exposed by Portland in the playoffs, and still have to be a bit shaken as they regroup for the new campaign with essentially the same club returning. Normally that would bode well for a young squad building title momentum, but with everyone else in the west seemingly improving, look for the Nuggets to be a playoff club that is quickly dismissed by one of the Big Three in round one out west. Odds: 30-1

10. Utah Jazz:  Same for you, Jazz fans. This is another Portland story in the making. Yeah, we all loved the Mike Conley pickup until the real stars started to play musical chairs. Donovan Mitchell isn’t a Level 1 superstar either, and though the supporting cast is strong, it’s no match for the rest of the loaded west. They’ll have to be satisfied with 45 wins, a seven seed, and maybe one win in the first round against the Lakers or Clippers before heading home for summer vacation. Odds: 50-1

11. Brooklyn Nets: To borrow from their Brooklyn Dodgers ancestry, “wait til next year.” This team was a feel-good story a year ago, riding a patient organizational plan and true team effort from solid, veteran role players to earn a playoff berth nobody expected. Now there’s expectations, and with KD on the shelf until 2020-21, those fans anticipating immediate contention are likely to be disappointed. Yup, there’s talent here, and if we are all wrong about Kyrie being a me-first, coach-killing, locker room poison, maybe they’ll climb to 50 wins and make a run at the east. But I just don’t see it. Look for improvement by a few games over 2018-19’s 42-win total, and then a first round, upset defeat at the hands of an inferior squad that plays a lot like last year’s Nets. Odds: 35-1

There you have it. In our present-day world of stress-provoking multi-tasking, with never enough hours in the day to even think about being present and woke, you now have been granted some time back to savor over the next eight months of your NBA Fan lives.

Use it wisely, and we’ll see you in April!

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