NBA Nothing But Ten

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NBA Nothing But Ten

The General’s NBA Nothing But Ten is a place where I will rank the Top 10 teams in the NBA in my not so humble opinion.  No I don’t use a formula, I just call it like I see it. If you like formulas you can explain to me how one pundit’s formula has the Spurs as the 3rd best team in the league.  Also included will be an “honorable mention” and a “dishonorable mention” for teams that require special attention but are not fit for the “Top 10”.

I’m not really sure where the season has gone or how it can take this long, but has anyone noticed that most teams in the NBA have played about 37 games and that puts everyone 4 games away from the halfway-point of their regular season?  Has anyone else realized that this season will last until mid-June when we FINALLY get the NBA Finals?

Honestly, how much work did it take for David Stern and his cronies to figure out how to stretch the season this long?

I suppose it would also be helpful to mention that the league is chock full of teams that could be “median teams”.  Like, if you’re better than them you’re good and if you’re not better than them you’re bad. This is where the NBA Top 10 came from.

I have no desire to pull apart a bunch of mid-range teams and try to figure out who is the “median bearer” and who isn’t.  When I said that the Packers were the “middle of the hourglass” in the NFL that was easy to figure out, but the NBA is not so clear cut.   Please don’t cite power rankings when you disagree.  I love comments, I don’t use a formula.

10.  Houston Rockets  –  Running on Avery

Houston is the best team in the history of sports at walking right through major injuries, bad trades, and using no-names to relative

success.  At the moment they are running Avery Brooks every night and letting Tracy McGrady beg for a trade while Yao Ming learns how to walk again (after marrying a hot Chinese basketball player no less) and Trevor Ariza attempts to live up to his contract.

There could not have been a worse trade than Artest for Ariza.  I know Artest is banged up in L.A., but he’s not supposed to be the man. When Houston gave Ariza all that money it immediately shined the spotlight on Ariza as if to say “Ok, you’re the new golden boy” and he isn’t really living up to his “golden boy” contract.

I really think they’re better off allowing Avery Brooks to be the star every night from the “1” and let the chips fall where they may.

At 21-16 and 3rd place in the Southwest Division the Rockets hardly seem like a team that can afford to “let the chips fall where they may” but if they don’t do it now then when?   Is there some kind of equation that Senor Daryl is going to use to figure out which undrafted free agent to pick to run the team? NO!

Avery Brooks is “the man” right now!

This may sound stupid to some of you, but Avery Brooks can easily be the star in Houston, the face of the franchise, the golden boy, everything they need. Trade McGrady, dump Yao, and start over with Avery Brooks at the center of your team kicking the ball out to Ariza for clutch 3’s and watch the W’s roll in. Keep waiting for Ariza to be “the man” and you’ll be waiting all season (and all 3 years of his contract.)

9.  Denver Nuggets –  Chauncey’s Holding The Fort

Denver is the team that no one gets.  George Karl coaches them to modest success (not surprising) but they can’t do a whole lot in the playoffs.

Chauncey is working the floor like a general (I know, I like the General reference too) and he’s looking like an MVP, though no one would ever vote for him.  ‘Melo is playing inconsistently (as usual) so the best player on their team is a “game time decision” every single day.

Does it shock anybody else that the most consistent play of ‘Melo’s entire basketball career occurred during his freshman year of college when he led Syracuse to a National Title?  I thought the whole point of going to the NBA was to get better and it seems Melo has stagnated this whole time.

To be fair, he has improved, but not at the rate of some of his draftmates.  (D-Wade won a championship in Miami and LeBron is the “Prince” of Basketball.)

Here’s where I have to blame someone. I think George Karl is stunting Anthony’s growth.  There’s something about Karl that makes me think “Does he even care and therefore do his players care?”

If you look at the smug look on Karl’s face most nights you see a face that looks more like the Principal standing outside his office waiting for a bad kid.  If you’re Carmelo Anthony and you have to look at that face everyday wouldn’t you get a little discouraged?

If you’re Chauncey Billups wouldn’t you care less because you have more rings than Karl does?  Isn’t that why Chauncey is running the show and the team instantly improved when he got there?

8.  Atlanta Hawks –  Jamal Crawford Makes All The Difference

Atlanta just beat Boston AGAIN and I had to put them ahead of Denver because I think the difference may be slight in players but

large in coaching. Jamal Crawford has been a God-send for this team.   He makes clutch assists, steals, 3’s, everything on a nightly basis.

Jamal’s the perfect foil for someone like Joe Johnson who has no desire to be “the man” the way that guys like Kobe and LeBron are. Crawford is like the other half of “the man” so we really have like a “Transformer”-type star leading this team.  Take the two of them, put them together and you get one Superstar who can play 96 minutes a game if need be.

Plus, I think Mike Woodson has really done well to earn the trust of his players, his staff, and the whole organization.  This team has gotten better every year since he arrived in Atlanta from Detroit and Woody even convinced Josh Smith to be a “team player”.  Who knew that was possible?

Josh Childress left for Greece and everyone said “This team is SO unattractive” and now Childress has been reported to be BEGGING to get back into Atlanta.  Unfortunately for him, there’s no room at the inn.  Mike Woodson wins the coaching war over George Karl because at least his players are true believers in Mike Woodson’s ways.

7. Phoenix Suns –  They Don’t Miss D’Antoni Anymore

Steve Nash is finally having another “breakout” kind of year and now it seems like he’s not missing Mike D’Antoni so much.  The ironic part is that D’Antoni MUST be missing Nash and there’s nothing he can do about it up in New York. I  remember all the arguments about how Mike D’Antoni made Steve Nash.  Maybe, as others have suggested, Steve Nash made Mike D’Antoni.

If Alvin Gentry keeps this up he’ll be challenging the Lakers all season (which is fun for me because I love to watch the Lakers and Suns go toe-to-toe.)  Oh, and getting rid of Shaq was the smartest thing they ever did.

6.  Dallas Mavericks –  This Is An Ensemble Cast

Dallas just lost a heart breaker to the Jazz on the same day that the Cowboys won their first playoff game in forever, but that doesn’t mean they suck.  It means they lost to Deron Williams’ Utah Jazz.  Dallas is a solid team that uses all of its pieces well and does well to feature Dirk as “the man”.

Jason Kidd hides very well in this club making good passes and clutch shots on a nightly basis.  He finally figured out that he’s old and that he’s a role player.  As a result, the Mavs are playing very well.

If they stay on top of the Southwest all season (which will be hard with Houston behind them) they could make a run in the playoffs.  For me, the equation that makes the Mavs work has finally fallen into place.  As much as I want to harp on the ’06 Finals (because it still hurts them), I can’t deny that this formula pretty much works:

Dirk + JT + .5(Jason Kidd) x Mark Cuban = Success. (How far that success goes remains to be seen).

5.  Portland Trailblazers –  Jerryd Bayless is Growing Up

Yes, I have the Blazers all the way up here even though they lost to the Cavs the other night, but why?  The Blazers have made some important decisions in the past few months.

First, they decided to give up on the “Greg Oden Experiment” and shelve him for the entire year.  This means, in my opinion, that they are ready to keep him as a backup but not to build their team around him.

I remember when Oden came out, Portland won the lottery and everyone was asking Kevin Pritchard who he was going to pick.   He just sort of wrote off all those questions and said “We’re evaluating a lot of prospects” or something like that.

It was as if he didn’t even think about it and he just said “We’re taking Oden!” (Can you imagine the looks on his assistant’s faces?  Then they all turn to each other and say “How can we pick a 19 year old whose legs don’t work?”)  I hope he’s rethinking his scouting efforts now that Oden has turned out to be the most injury-prone player in recent memory.

You know what’s funny?  Oden seems like he’s hurting himself the same way Patrick Ewing did, but Ewing kept playing.

Second, they decided to run Jerryd Bayless out there and work him to death as he fills in for Andre Miller.  I listened to a large portion of the Blazers/Cavs game this weekend and if the announcer said Bayless once he said it a thousand times.

Bayless is capable of running this team RIGHT NOW and I think he might be the future in Portland with Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge.  I’m going to call it the “Avery Brooks Effect”.  Small guy comes in to sub for superstar and proves he’s better than superstar and franchise has to rethink its direction.

4.  Boston Celtics –  Old, But Good

Why do I have Boston up here?  Well, they keep winning.  It’s a balance of power thing more than anything else.  As much as we can

talk about the East being the stronger conference we all know that it isn’t the deepest.

True, there are bad teams in both conferences, but the worst of the worst are still in the East.  Boston’s only true threats are Cleveland, Orlando and (now) Atlanta.  If they were in the West they would have threats going all the way down to the 10th or 11th seed.

Why don’t I rank them lower if I think they’re so coddled?  They’re winning!

They are older than dirt and it will show late in the season and in the playoffs, but right now they’re winning and I have to respect that.  If I didn’t respect Ray Allen’s incessant clutch shooting, or knack for squaring his shoulders (even if he isn’t facing the basket) I’d be playing with fire.

3.  Orlando Magic –  Is Vince Carter Enough?

If Dwight Howard learns how to make free throws this team could be really dangerous, but they are running on fumes in the injury

department. Jameer Nelson still isn’t right and Vince Carter is banged up so they’re relying heavily on J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, and Jason Williams.

Now, I’m not saying any of these guys are bad players, but they aren’t great either.  Vince is one stubbed toe away from losing his mind, Jameer is supposed to make things tick but isn’t, their points leader is Vince Carter (serious ego problem coming here), and their assist leader is Jason Williams (who Vince will demand the ball from.)

Either they learn how to make this work or it all crumbles at the wrong time with some hurt feelings like it did last year with Rafer Alston.  Orlando is playing well, but this is a tenuous “well” at the moment.

2.  Los Angeles Lakers –  It’s Slump Time

The Lakers had the best record in the NBA before hitting a dry spell that included injuries to Kobe, Pau, and Artest.  The defense is getting lax (in part because Artest and Kobe are hurt) so all of the people saying that the defense left the Forum need to slow down.  If coaching is as big a deal as I say it is then Phil can right the ship.

Will I get over the Christmas Day loss to Cleveland?  Yes.  Will I get over some defensive mishaps?  Yes.  Why?  Because I don’t care about 70 wins and neither should the Lakers.  Everyone expects them to ride at the top of the league all season and it just isn’t going to happen.   When it takes from October to April to play the regular season there’s bound to be bumps in the road.

Here’s difference with the Lakers–they recover from bumps in the road.  Orlando may not be able to recover from an “ego explosion”, the Celtics can’t stop the aging process, and the Blazers can’t stop Bayless from being green, but the Lakers can stop a skid and come back from injuries.

Look at what they did after they lost the ’08 Finals only to come back and win it all in ’09.  This team is resilient AND has hardware.  This should count for something and we’ll have to see if I’m right, but I really think I am.

1.  Cleveland Cavaliers –  I Don’t Buy It

The Cavs are on a roll at 30-10, but I still must ask questions.   Yes, I respect how they’re playing and I can’t deny the fact that they

are playing really good basketball right now.  Hooooowever, don’t we all find it a little bit odd that Anderson Varejao is leading the team in Blocks and Rebounds while LeBron leads in Assists and Points but Shaq is nowhere to be found?

Shaq’s averaging 10 points, a block, and 7 rebounds a game in 23 minutes.  First off, he can say that he knows his role, but that’s a lie…eventually he’ll be OVER THIS!   Second, LeBron pretty much has a block per game too.  Don’t you think that burns Shaq up inside?

Why am I picking on Shaq?  Easy…he’s left the Magic, Lakers, Heat and Suns ALL on bad terms and those are the only teams he’s ever played for besides the Cavs.  He’s got to know that the Cavs have been the Braves/Bills of the NBA and he wants to take them to the Promised Land.

Well, on 22 minutes, 10 points, 7 boards, and a block Shaq isn’t taking the team around the corner.    He’s got to sit back and let LeBron play and I KNOW that he can only stand that for so long.  As soon as he saw Kobe becoming the man in L.A. he got himself traded by acting like a fool and pissing off Kobe enough for Kobe to say “It’s him or me”.

Next, he left the Heat when everyone credited D-Wade with their championship.  In Phoenix when Steve Nash wouldn’t just hand the ball over Shaq got pissed and now we’re here in Cleveland thinking Shaq is the Answer.  There’s only one Answer, by the way, and that is AI.

I think the Cavs will be #1, #2, or #3 all season, but in the playoffs this little charade will slowly crumble and it may not happen until the Finals.  This charade will cease to exist because Shaq’s ego is NOT in check, it never has been and it never will be.   Take Shaq off this team and replace him with Nene or Zaza Pachulia and you’ve got something going, but leave Shaq on this team and he will infect everyone before the season is over.

A volatile guy like Delonte West can’t be around a guy like Shaq all year before Shaq’s attitude, overt or not, makes West think he can be the man.  That attitude spills over to Mo Williams, and then it’s on Jamario Moon, and then Ilgauskas starts jacking up 3’s for no reason, and the season’s over in a heartbeat like it was last season in Orlando.

They will repeat their recent history, but it will sting more because all eyes will be on Shaq.  Everyone will know he was the cancer and there won’t be anything he can do about it.

Beware Cavs fans…there’s a snake in the grass.

Honorable Mention – Oklahoma City Thunder –  Cinderella’s At The Ball

Okie City has the next superstar on the verge of going completely insane (he’s averaging 32 points a game in his last 10 games)

playing alongside Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook.  They’re fielding James Harden and Nick Collison as well and I don’t see how I can go wrong here.

At 20-16, they have all the makings of a Cinderella and none of the baggage.  In the infamous “If the playoffs started today” scenario the Thunder would be the #8 playing the Lakers.  My Lakers!

Trust me when I say that though I have full confidence that the Lakers can win another title, I WOULD NOT want to start off as the #1 playing #8 Oklahoma City.  This team is scary and it’s not just Durant.  He’s raising up a whole army of players who will fight to the death with him.  Just watch.  I’ll bet you anything they beat the Spurs and the Mavs in their next two.

Dishonorable Mention – Chicago Bulls –  They Aren’t Babies And They Stink

Chicago came within a hair of beating Boston in the best 1st Round Playoff Series ever last year and now they can’t even buy a win.

They’re 16-20 and 12 games out in the Central (ALREADY)!  Derrick Rose leads the team in points but he’s only scoring 18 a night.  That just isn’t enough!

If you’re this far behind in a weak Eastern Conference then what are we supposed to do with you?  The beat down they issued to the Pistons isn’t a defense either.  Detroit is just as disappointing as the Bulls, but at least we thought the Bulls were going somewhere.

They aren’t the “baby bulls” anymore and their level of expectation needs to shoot through the roof before someone comes in and cleans house.   BTW,  this isn’t Vinny Del Negro’s fault.

Vinny’s got Luol Deng making $10 million this year and scoring 17 a night.  That’s pathetic given all the hype that surrounded Deng.  If the Bulls paid me $10 million a year to play basketball and I wasn’t scoring AT LEAST 20 a night I’d be stricken.

Kirk Hinrich is making $9 million and he’s a nice little shooter but he isn’t making the team GO anywhere.  Brad Miller’s the highest-paid player on the team at $12 million and he’s too old to run up and down the court consistently.  That’s why he only gets 21 minutes a game!

To wrap it up let me say that I still have faith in my Lakers.  I will respect the Cavs and Celtics.  I will not respect the Bulls or the Pistons, and I’m on the lookout for KD and the Thunder.

I could sit here and say that I’ve got it all figured out, but there are more questions than answers.  As we play into the A;;-Star Game hopefully somebody will make a statement that brings us clarity.  Until then we can only watch and wait.

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