Wednesday, July 24, 2013
14 Teams to Watch in 2013-14
The NBA season is still a ways away, but the offseason has been an interesting one. Here are 14 teams to watch in the upcoming season, some for obvious reasons ... others for not so obvious reasons.
1. Miami Heat
Many (if not all) signs point to this being the final year of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh playing on the same team. And they are the defending champions, so I guess we'd better pay attention.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
What can Doc Rivers do to move this team from exciting to real contender in the West? His showing up is a good start. The Clippers are automatically more of a playoff threat with Rivers at the helm.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook's injury in the playoffs was obviously a huge loss. The Thunder were an obvious threat to beat the Spurs and have a rematch with the Heat in the finals, but without Westbrook, well, Durant can't pass the ball to himself. The curious thing about the Thunder is that they really haven't bothered to find a third superstar. Kevin Martin did okay coming off the bench as a shooting guard, but he's gone and he was no James Harden. OKC would be a really interesting place for Kevin Love to land in the near future. Think about that potential lineup.
4. Indiana Pacers
People seem to have already forgotten that the Pacers were within reach of defeating the Heat in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. This team is rock solid defensively, physical, and a virtual rebounding machine. Who is to say that the Pacers don't knock off the Heat this year in the playoffs?
5. Brooklyn Nets
Jason Kidd, one of the smartest players in the NBA, becomes the coach of the Nets and does one of the stupidest things a person can do before even coaching a game: DUI. But aside from that terrible leadership, the Nets have a really interesting combination of players after acquiring Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. All in all though, I'd say there is a good possibility of problems in Brooklyn. Joe Johnson is overrated. Garnett can still play good basketball, but his name is bigger than his game right now. I'd say the same is true of Pierce. Add to that Deron Williams and Brook Lopez and Jason Kidd and you have a lot of big names and only one basketball with a first year head coach who just retired. I think they'll win games, but I'm also keeping my hopes up for a train wreck.
6. San Antonio Spurs
I love the Spurs. I think with Tony Parker they have one of the top three point guards in the NBA they are also blessed with some young talent with guys like Danny Green and Gary Neal, but the Spurs need a replacement for the aging Tim Duncan. Where are you going to find such fundamentally sound leadership? Add the Spurs to the list of teams that will be in the Kevin Love sweepstakes after the 2014-15 season.
7. New York Knicks
The Knicks had a very good year in 2012-13. Not only were they largely unaffected by what could have been a Linsanity hangover, they seem to finally understand that Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony cannot coexist on the court at the same time. Both players have three years left on their contract and highly doubt that both players will finish out their contracts in New York.
8. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are one of the quiet, sexy teams in the NBA right now. Stephen Curry, David Lee, and Klay Thompson made for a dangerous, relatively unknown "Big Three." Both Lee and Thompson are stars in their own right, but Curry seems to be the type of leader that can bring out the best his teammates. They also added Andre Iguodala to the roster for this season, making them even tougher. Golden State's biggest problem is the laundry list of competition in the West.
9. Houston Rockets
I remember last year when the Lakers got Dwight Howard (and Steve Nash), there were analysts claiming the Lakers were better than the Thunder and Heat and everybody else. And they weren't. Now the Rockets have Howard and many people are ready to crown them Western Conference champions. I'm not. The Rockets finished eighth in the West last season and the only team that I know they are better than this year in the West is the Lakers ... who were seventh. Yes, I think they may have an edge on the Grizzlies and the Nuggets. But can you really have any certainty that the Rockets will improve by more than one spot in the West? Certainly they have the potential, but historically superstar driven teams take a year to gel before the dominance comes forward.
10. Chicago Bulls
Derrick Rose is supposedly healthy. What does that mean for a team that finished fifth in the East without him? Probably that they'll finish fifth in the East with him. It's obvious that Rose may not be the same player he was in 2010-11, but you'd think he could provide the boost needed to put the Bulls in the top two in the East. Well, they are not better than the Heat. The Nets improved significantly in the off-season. I think the Knicks are figuring some issues out. And the Pacers are as good as ever. The West is a bit deeper with the good teams, but the East's top five teams are nothing to sneeze at.
11. Memphis Grizzlies
In 15 playoff games, the Grizzlies had three players average 17 points a game: Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley ... a terribly unsexy Big Three. But the Grizzlies won with defense. They only allowed 89.3 points per game last season, best in the NBA. It doesn't look like much has changed for the Grizzlies. Can they get closer to spoiling everyone's Western Conference?
12. Denver Nuggets
Did you know that the Nuggets were the third best team in the West last season? They seem to get lost in media coverage. Here is another fun fact for you. In 2012-13, the Nuggets were ranked number one in scoring, number two in rebounds, and number three in assists. They were very balanced on offense and seem rather similar to the Pacers and the Warriors as a team with really good players, but not guys who jump out at you as obvious superstar material.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves
Without injuries, I believe the Timberwolves would have been a playoff team last season. Their best player, Kevin Love only played 18 games last season. The Timberwolves went 9-9 in those games. Stud point guard Ricky Rubio also missed significant time. The Wolves have had a pretty good offseason, but their main concern this offseason has been making sure their top guys are healthy. If Rubio and Love remain injury free, I expect the Timberwolves to make the jump to a playoff team. They'll only be eighth in the West, but that's enough for a franchise that has been on a playoff drought since Kevin Garnett left town.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers
Most people were surprised by the selection of Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick. Perhaps just as many were surprised that the Cavs signed Andrew Bynum to a two year deal soon after. Add Kyrie Irving to the list and you high three high ceiling players. The East is pretty weak outside of the top five teams. I can see the Cavaliers playing .500 basketball and making the playoffs. If Bynum holds up, who knows where they could end up in another few years with their talent and youth.