NBA PM: The NBA’s Weakest Division
On Wednesday in this space we took a look at the NBA’s toughest division. With the Southwest losing Yao Ming and Chris Paul while the Spurs continue to age and the Mavs lose even more of their championship core, the Atlantic now looks like the toughest division in the NBA.
On the flip side, we have a much more difficult call in determining which of the league’s divisions might be the worst. It is actually tempting to pick the Southwest, with the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets likely playing for high lottery picks and losing a ton of games in the process. The thing is, the San Antonio Spurs will likely be a home court advantage team and the Memphis Grizzlies might be, as well. The Dallas Mavericks are something of a dark (blue) horse, as a lineup with a number of discarded players with something to prove could yield yet another 50-win season for Dirk Nowitzki and company.
No, the Southwest is no longer top dog, but it’s also not the bottom feeder.
It’s also tempting to go with the Central, where the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers could both be contenders, but the Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers are all a significant step below. Still, there are enough young players and players with potential on all three of these teams to make them interesting, perhaps interesting enough for at least one of them to be in the race for the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed.
Scratch off the Central.
There is only one division in the NBA with three teams who are all but certain to miss the playoffs, and ironically it’s also the division with the defending NBA champs. Pound for pound, the Southeast Division is likely to be the worst in the NBA in 2012-13. The Miami HEAT will likely be even tougher with the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, and the Atlanta Hawks could very well be a better team with the pieces they were able to add in the way of the Joe Johnson trade. After that, however, there is a severely steep slide.
First and foremost, the Orlando Magic have gone from a perennial playoff team and championship hopeful to a lottery lock after trading Dwight Howard for young players and draft picks. The Magic are officially rebuilding, and the next step in their rebuilding process will be landing someone like Nerlens Noel or Cody Zeller to hold down the middle in the franchise’s new era. To get one of those players, the Magic will have to lose a lot of games. And they will.
Next up we have the Charlotte Bobcats, the worst team in the NBA last season. They were hoping that their seven-win season might be enough to land the Anthony Davis with the top pick in this year’s NBA Draft, but the lottery gods weren’t kind and the Bobcats are still without their next franchise big man. Charlotte will win more than seven games, but they are still more likely to challenge Orlando for the East’s worst record than they are to push for a playoff spot.
Finally, we have the Washington Wizards. There’s a chance that the Wizards could be pretty good this season. They have certainly made some interesting upgrades with Emeka Okafor, Nene, Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal. On paper, John Wall has the best team around him that he’s had as a pro; the problem is, there isn’t much reason to believe that underachievers like Okafor and Nene will suddenly live up to their significant potential, especially without a great coach to help make it happen. If healthy, the Wizards will be better than last year, just not better enough to pull their division out of the NBA’s basement.
By all indications, the HEAT will have as many wins as the Bobcats, Magic and Wizards combined . . .and their division will still have more cumulative losses than any other division in the NBA.
Josh Howard’s Last Chance?
Of the few meaningful NBA free agents still on the market, none might be more intriguing than Josh Howard. A key part of the Dallas Mavericks’ Finals run in 2006 and a one-time All-Star, Howard was once seem as one of the NBA’s true rising stars, but a couple of injuries later Howard is instead fighting just to stay in the league.
Howard’s is really an unfortunate story. When still playing for Dallas he put off surgery because he had a family-born stigma against any kind of surgical procedure. The reality, however, was that he finally figured out that he couldn’t expect his ailing ankle to just get better on its own. After months of rehab that never really allowed him to be the quick, mobile player he was before the injury, he finally went under the knife. From there, however, knee injuries began to surface and he never got back to full speed.
Once upon a time Howard averaged 19.9 points and 7.0 rebounds for the Mavericks, with the ability to score from anywhere on the floor. He was also among the best small forward defenders in the NBA, but there are now serious questions about whether or not he can be that player again. He appeared in just 35 games in 2009-10, 18 in 2010-11 for the Washington Wizards, and 43 last season for the Utah Jazz. Even when he was healthy last season he was a shadow of that All-Star player of a few years ago. In his 43 games, Howard averaged just 8.7 points and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 39% from the field and 24% from three.
Still, there are almost always teams willing to give one more shot to a player who was as good as Howard was, and it sounds like he will get one more shot to prove he still belongs in the NBA. The Charlotte Bobcats are considering bringing Howard back to his North Carolina roots. The Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell reports that the Bobcats are looking for another forward after missing out on Antawn Jamison, Kris Humphries and Carl Landry, and that Howard’s local appeal, as an alum of nearby Wake Forest University, could give him some extra consideration.
The New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls are also said to have interest in Howard, but right now he’s working out in Charlotte and looks like a likely candidate to be a Bobcat in 2012-13.
Blake Griffin Breaks Down the Clippers
All of the talk about Los Angeles basketball revolves around the Lakers these days. And why not? With Steve Nash and Dwight Howard joining Kobe Bryant and company, the Lakers are as exciting to talk about as any team in the NBA. That said, there’s plenty of reason for Clippers fans to be excited, as well. All-Star power forward Blake Griffin was on Fox Sports Radio recently and said he’s happy with the moves his own team has made.
“I was very excited about them,” said Griffin. “A lot of the guys, we picked up Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom and all of those guys are going to be great for us. Got a nice mix of veterans and guys that have a lot of experience winning games in the playoffs so I think that will be great for our young guys, myself included to kind of learn from them.”
With Crawford, Odom, Grant Hill and Willie Green joining the fray, Griffin believes the Clippers added enough pieces to keep them in the same class as their cross-arena foes.
“Yeah, I believe that we did. I thought we added some great players and some great pieces that we needed and I think we got better as well but they obviously did as well and it’s great for L.A. basketball, it’s great for the NBA and looking forward to getting out there with them.”
Griffin said his knee is now about 99.9% healthy, but it did cost him an Olympic performance, which was tough.
“Yeah, I was definitely looking forward to it and was looking forward to the opportunity, but in the end everything will work out. I’m glad I was able to get this fixed and really be ready.”
The Clippers have an opening at general manager in the wake of Neil Olshey’s departure to the Portland Trail Blazers, and Griffin has been vocal in saying he believes Gary Sacks, Clippers Director of Player Personnel. should get the promotion.
“He did an unbelievable job, Gary Sacks did, along with Coach Del Negro. I think they both kind of teamed up and I think we have a lot of respect for Gary. As far as the players go, we have a lot of respect for him and everything he’s been able to do. I know a lot of us are pulling for him to get that GM job and definitely hope he gets it.”
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NBA Chats: There are two chats scheduled for today, featuring Yannis Koutroupis at 12 pm EST, followed by Larry Coon at 3 pm EST. As always you can checkout our entire upcoming chat schedule along with our previous chats list.