The Most Disappointing Teams Thus Far
Phil Jackson used to say that an NBA team shouldn’t be judged until 20 games into a season. Well, we’re now at the 20-game mark and there are a number of teams that can be labeled as early disappointments. Here are the four biggest disappointments thus far:
Charlotte Hornets, 5-15: Entering this season, the Hornets had some lofty goals, but they’ve failed to live up to expectations in a big way through their first 20 games.
Last year, Charlotte won 43 games and made the playoffs for just the second time in their franchise’s history led by their defense, which was ranked sixth-best in the NBA. Going into the 2014-15 season, the Hornets were expected to be even better since they had one year of experience under head coach Steve Clifford, young players who were one year closer to their prime and veteran additions such as Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams, Jason Maxiell, Brian Roberts as well as first-rounders Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston. Charlotte seemed poised to be a top team in the Eastern Conference and take the next step as a franchise.
Now, at 5-15, that obviously hasn’t happened. The Hornets are outside of the playoff picture in the East, with the 12th-best record in the conference. They recently had a 10-game losing streak and they’ve already lost to non-playoff teams like the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic. The biggest head-scratcher is that their defense has been awful, ranking 25th in the NBA. Couple that with their 26th-ranked offense and it’s obvious why this team is struggling.
Stephenson has been extremely underwhelming on offense, averaging just 10.4 points while shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from three-point range. His body language has also been terrible, particularly when he doesn’t get the ball.
Charlotte’s first 20 games have been so bad that the front office is reportedly looking at their trade options. Fortunately for the Hornets, they play in the East so they still have a shot at the postseason – they are only four games back from the eighth seed – but they’ll need to turn things around quickly in order to compete for a playoff berth.
Detroit Pistons, 3-18: Stan Van Gundy is an exceptional head coach, but he’s not a miracle worker. That’s what we’ve learned in the early stages of the 2014-15 season, as the Pistons continue to struggle and appear headed for their sixth-straight trip to the lottery.
When Van Gundy was hired as Detroit’s head coach and president of basketball operations, many people were excited and felt like this could catapult the Pistons into the playoffs in the wide open Eastern Conference. However, Detroit has lost 18 of their 21 games and currently have the second-worst record in the East (behind only the Philadelphia 76ers, who are putting on a tanking clinic). The Pistons are ranked 29th in the NBA in offense and 19th in defense, so they obviously have a long way to go until they’re able to be competitive. This team seems to have regressed from last year, which is tough to do coming off of a 29-win season.
While the hire will likely pay off in the future, Van Gundy hasn’t been able to turn this roster into a winner just yet. The trio of Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe continues to struggle together, while Brandon Jennings and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have been shooting the ball very poorly and playing inefficient basketball.
It seems like Van Gundy will need to make major changes to this roster in order to be successful, since the current group of players aren’t executing his system well. It’s worth noting that Van Gundy inherited many of these core players, so it’ll be interesting to see what the roster looks like after this season when the team will have his fingerprints all over it. Going forward, he should have more cap flexibility so he can build the roster to his liking. Monroe will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and Smith has been mentioned in trade rumors, so their frontcourt could undergo some significant changes soon.
Perhaps the biggest individual disappointment in Detroit has been Drummond, who many expected to break out this season and thrive under Van Gundy. However, the big man has averaged just 11.4 points and 11.7 rebounds, while shooting 47 percent from the field (all of which are down from last season’s numbers). He’s also averaging a career-worst 3.7 fouls and 1.7 turnovers while playing fewer minutes. Drummond is only 21 years old, so there’s still plenty of time for him to realize his full potential as a dominant center, but he has left a lot to be desired so far this year.
This down year has been a disappointment, but it could allow Van Gundy and the Pistons to get a top pick in the loaded 2015 NBA Draft and right the ship rather quickly with a talented young core.
New York Knicks, 4-18: The Knicks weren’t expected to be a contender this season, but many thought they’d be a middle-of-the-pack playoff team. After re-signing Carmelo Anthony, hiring head coach Derek Fisher to install the triangle offense and adding players like Jose Calderon, Jason Smith, Samuel Dalembert, Quincy Acy and Shane Larkin among others, fans in New York were hoping they’d return to the postseason after missing the playoffs last year.
This seemed realistic, since the Eastern Conference is wide open and just two years ago this Knicks squad with many of the same players managed to win 54 games and finish as the East’s second seed. When New York opened their season with a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, fans were even more optimistic.
However, since that win they’ve lost 18 of 21 games and dropped near the bottom of the east standings. New York is currently ranked 27th in defense and 22nd in offense. The Knicks have struggled with the adjustment to the triangle offense, and head coach Derek Fisher recently said that his players aren’t trusting the triangle and doubting whether the system is right for this team.
“I think there still is some doubt that we can do this the way we’re working on doing it,” Fisher said, according to Ian Begley of ESPN New York. “When the pressure goes up, the stress goes up, the tendency to revert to old habits and not sticking with what you’re developing now [happens]. It’s understandable to be that way, but we just have to continue to stretch out the amount of time that we believe in what we’re doing. … [We need to] trust that the things we work on every day will work in good times and bad times.”
The Knicks have lost eight straight games and are the third-worst team in the East. They’ve lost to non-playoff teams like the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves and Charlotte Hornets.
Next offseason, Phil Jackson and the Knicks will have significant cap space so it’s very possible that things could turn around rather quickly for this franchise, but this season has certainly been a disappointment. Fortunately for the Knicks, the own their 2015 first-round pick, which looks to be a pretty high selection.
Denver Nuggets, 9-11: Last season, injuries depleted the Nuggets’ roster so it was no surprise that the team finished 36-46 and outside of the playoff picture in the Western Conference. Entering this season, Denver was being picked as a team that could potentially make the playoffs now that they were completely healthy and had added some new contributors such as Arron Afflalo, Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic and Alonzo Gee among others.
However, Denver continues to struggle. The team is 9-11 and has been incredibly inconsistent this season. They had a six-game losing streak earlier in the year and they are currently in the midst of a three-game losing streak that could go on for quite awhile since their upcoming games are at Toronto Raptors, vs. Miami HEAT, at Houston Rockets, vs. San Antonio Spurs, vs. Houston Rockets and vs. Los Angeles Clippers.
Denver is currently ranked 23rd in defense and 16th in offense, which isn’t a combination that will get it done in the Western Conference, where they’re in 11th place.
Some people around the league have speculated that if Denver continues to struggle, they could be a team that looks to sell off some of their veteran pieces before February’s trade deadline. This could make sense, since they do have a lot of attractive assets that other teams may covet such as Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler, JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov, Danilo Gallinari, Arron Afflalo, Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson and Randy Foye among others. Teams will certainly be calling the Nuggets if they continue losing.
Perhaps the most concerning thing about Denver’s early struggles is that a number of reports have come out indicating that there’s a lot of drama and tension behind the scenes. There was an ESPN report that the organization isn’t crazy about Faried and only extended him because their hand was forced. There was another report indicating that Lawson has butted heads with Coach Brian Shaw, with our own Steve Kyler adding that most of the roster has lost faith in Shaw.
Things in Denver are ugly and, in addition to all of the losses, there seems to be a lot of finger pointing behind the scenes.
Which team has been the biggest disappointment, in your opinion? Leave your thoughts in a comment!
Lowry, Aldridge Named Players of the Week
The Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry and the Portland Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Dec. 1, through Sunday, Dec. 7.
Lowry led the Raptors to a 2-1 week behind an NBA-best 29.3 points. He handed out 8.7 assists, grabbed 3.0 rebounds and recorded 1.3 steals as Toronto won road games in Sacramento and Utah on back-to-back nights. On Dec. 3, when the Raptors topped the Jazz 123-104, Lowry recorded a career-high 39 points (13-of-22 field goals) and added five rebounds and four assists.
Aldridge helped the Trail Blazers to a 3-0 week, which included road wins at Denver and New York. He ranked third in the league in scoring (27.0 ppg) and sixth in rebounding (11.7 rpg). Aldridge posted a point-rebound double-double in all three contests, including a 39-point, 11-rebound effort on Dec. 2, as the Trail Blazers beat the Nuggets 105-103.
Other nominees for the Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week were Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Dallas’ Monta Ellis, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Houston’s James Harden, Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Orlando’s Tobias Harris, Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams, Phoenix’s Goran Dragic, San Antonio’s Tim Duncan and Washington’s John Wall.
NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year
Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.
With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.
“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”
Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.
“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”
In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.
“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”
Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.
“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”
One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.
“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”
Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.
“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”
The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.
“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”
With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.
NBA Opening Night Storylines
Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.
The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.
Rejoice, hoop heads.
Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.
With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.
As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?
Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.
Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.
And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.
The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.
But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.
While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.
By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.
Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.
Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.
Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.
And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.
Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.
This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?
Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.
Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.
While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.
Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?
After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.
“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”
It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.
That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.
Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.
With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.
NBA AM: Is It Smart To Bet On Yourself In This Market?
Many extension-eligible players opted to bet on themselves and a questionable free agent marketplace next summer.
No Big Surprises On Draft Extensions
The big news yesterday wasn’t a new extension for a 2014 first round draft pick, it was the news that the San Antonio Spurs reached a three-year, $72 million extension with veteran LaMarcus Aldridge.
The news was surprising for a couple of reasons. The biggest being the Spurs had shopped Aldridge in trade scenarios this offseason under the idea that he was a problematic fit for the Spurs.
Ultimately, Aldridge and the Spurs ended up in the same place on his deal. The Spurs were not going to be big free agent players and locking Aldridge in now gives them some security as well as trade leverage later. In Aldridge’s case, his camp saw the marketplace this past summer and all of the mouths that need to be fed in July and realized he wasn’t likely getting more money on the open market come free agency.
One of the things the Spurs found out was that trading a player with a player option is not an easy task as teams that would give up value want to know what comes next, either way. Over the past few years, player options have become almost toxic in trade, mainly because there are two classes of trade partners, one that wants the ending contract and a player for a stretch run in the postseason and teams that want the player for next season. The options make valuing the player sticky at best.
In doing a deal for Aldridge, the Spurs basically lock him into their roster for this season but give themselves a trade chip next summer, if they need it. This was smart for both sides. The Spurs locked in the player and the trade asset, Aldridge locked in money he likely wouldn’t have gotten in the open market.
For those players drafted in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft, yesterday closed the window on the “Early Extension Period.” While there were talks all the way to the wire on several players, the bulk of the deals that didn’t get done didn’t get close enough to seal the deal.
The Boston Celtics and Marcus Smart frequently talked about an extension, and his camp labeled the talks as getting “close” but ultimately, future luxury tax concerns killed a possible deal before the extension deadline, meaning Smart will hit free agency in July.
The Celtics will have a couple of months to see if Smart continues to evolve before they have to make decisions, and they now know what a deal would take for Smart to sign outright. Given the Celtics tax concerns, there is a window for a team with cap space to poach him in July if they come with the right kind of offer sheet. While the Celtics can obtain the right to match Smart with a $6.53 million qualifying offer, the tax issues won’t go away without a cap dump of a trade. Equally, the Celtics roster is loaded with point guards, so the C’s have the luxury of seeing what unfolds in the next three months before the February 8 trade deadline.
The Orlando Magic and their pair of 2014 draftees, Aaron Gordon and Elfird Payton, talked about extensions, mostly out of courtesy. The Magic would have done deals if it favored the team, but the new front office in Orlando has been open and honest that they are still very much in evaluation mode on the roster and were not going to pay a premium at this point.
The Magic’s reluctance to do a deal wasn’t about valuing either player as both are said to have been very good so far, this preseason. The Magic don’t have a clear-cut direction yet and inking a long-term deal with either would have been counter to their goal of flexibility. Equally, the Magic also know that both players are unlikely to get huge free agent offers unless they blossom this season, which would make matching an easier decision after seeing how they play this season.
Neither player entered the process expecting to reach a deal, so there is no ill-will about not getting an extension. Both players have said publicly and privately they knew they had to earn their next deal and came into camp with that mindset.
The Utah Jazz and guard Rodney Hood engaged on an extension most of the summer. The Jazz are very committed to Hood, but would not commit to a deal at this point for a bunch of reasons, the biggest being they don’t really know what the team is yet. Hood is going to get a big opportunity this year, and the Jazz want to see if he can handle the increased load and stay healthy. Injuries have ravaged the Jazz lately, and they were reluctant to lock in a big number to a player that hasn’t been durable.
Of the bunch, Hood is the most likely to get a deal without the restricted free agent offer sheet process next summer—the Jazz may simply pony up and pay him if he can fill the void they hope he can for the team.
The Milwaukee Bucks and injured forward Jabari Parker did talk about an extension despite him having torn his ACL for the second time. The Bucks looked at the idea of locking Parker in at a value, but ultimately, neither side got close enough for it to be realistic. Parker is expected to return to action sometime in February, meaning he may log enough games for a big deal in July to be realistic, especially if the Bucks are as good as they project to be this year and land home court in the postseason.
The big hurdle for all of the players that did not get an extension is that the free agent marketplace in July does not project to be as robust as it was even last year. A number of agents urged their clients to take the security of money on the table this summer, and many players opted to bet on themselves, which always sounds like a great idea until the reality of restricted free agency sets in.
Nerlens Noel and JaMychal Green were both causalities of a shrinking marketplace this past summer. It will be interesting to see if some of the players that got close this week get less in the open market in July.
More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton, @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_ and @Ben__Nadeau.