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NBA AM: Is It Time For A Change?

There are a few NBA teams that are really struggling. Is it time to explore a change or is this who they are really going to be?

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Time For A Change?:  For most NBA teams the season is barely 12 games old. However, in the grand scheme of the season most teams have played almost 15 percent of the season and while some teams are in pretty good shape, there are a few teams that are still struggling to grasp an identity, which begs the question is it time for a change?

New Orleans Pelicans – 1-9

It’s easy to point to the massive injuries the Pelicans have endured since the start of training camp, but even with the injuries the new system head coach Alvin Gentry has put in place has not yielded the results expected.

Last season under head coach Monty Williams, the Pelicans averaged 99.4 points per game and had a positive differential defensively. In short, they scored more than they gave up despite having a very basic offensive system. Gentry was supposed to ramp up the tempo and get the Pelicans scoring. So far through 10 games, the Pelicans are averaging 100.2 points per game, which is 11th best in the Western Conference.

To make matter worse, Pelicans star Anthony Davis, who himself is banged up with a hip injury, got off to a really slow start and is posting career lows in field goal percentage, free throw percentage and offensive rebounding. For a system that was supposed to put Davis firmly in the hunt for MVP, the Pelicans have struggled to make it work.

Admittedly injuries have played a big factor, especially along the front line for the Pelicans. However, the guard play in New Orleans has not been great and many of the changes Gentry had hoped to install have sputtered to say the least.

The Pelicans are not really in a situation where a trade makes a lot of sense, at least not until mid-December when most of the roster trade restrictions tied to off-season contracts are lifted.

Gentry warned in the preseason that it might not be until late December before he gets his entire team healthy. The problem with that is a 10 game hole in the West is incredibly tough to climb out of, especially if what you are doing now really isn’t working.

It’s clear something needs to change in New Orleans, however, putting your finger on what exactly the solution is isn’t easy, especially with all of the injuries.

Brooklyn Nets – 1-9

The Brooklyn Nets are not a very good basketball team. The talent on the team, except for forward Thaddeus Young, is under performing their respective career norms. Head coach Lionel Hollins, a defensive minded coach, is not reaching his team defensively and the roster just lacks anyone outside of Brook Lopez that can truly create their own offense.

 The Brooklyn Nets are a classic example of a team that needs to tear it down and start over.

Nets guard Joe Johnson is shooting a career low 32.5 percent from the field and just 19.4 percent from three, but is playing 34.9 minutes a game and is massively under-performing.

Nets guard Jarret Jack is also posting career lows in field goal percentage, despite producing career highs in assists and in points per game. Brook Lopez is also posting career lows in field goal percentage.

It’s hard to win in the NBA when your best players are posting career lows statistically. Some may say it’s the system Hollins is running, which is not getting players shots in rhythm; others may say it’s hard to win with so many second tier players playing big minutes in Brooklyn.

What is clear is the Nets are not likely to turn the corner with this roster based on their first 10 games. However, if any of the Nets simply shoot their career average, Brooklyn would be more competitive, so there is a glimmer of hope, however misplaced it may seem today.

The Nets do have Joe Johnson’s expiring contract to trade, however, with $24.894 million is an awfully big number for most NBA teams to absorb, especially for a player on the low end of his career averages.

As the NBA trade deadline gets closer the Nets will have paid an ever increasing portion of the bill, however, salary cap rules still require the Nets to take back a ton of salary in a Johnson deal, which would be hard to pull off without including three or four players, making a Johnson trade a long-shot.

It does seem clear that changes across the Nets organization are coming considering Hollins and General Manager Billy King are in the final years of their respective contracts. It’s hard to imagine either are going to be back if the losing continues.

The question is, does a change at either position now mean much for a roster that’s under-performing so significantly?

Los Angeles Lakers – 2-9

The Lakers are trapped in the middle identity wise. As a franchise they should clearly be embracing their rebuild and getting their young guys as much time and experience as possible. However, with guys like Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams, Kobe Bryant and Brandon Bass as core parts of the roster and Byron Scott at head coach, all parties want to win games. The obvious plan is getting muddied by conflicting agendas.

There is something to be said about measuring out how much pressure you put on young players. Throwing a poor swimmer into the deep end of the pool usually makes that swimmer afraid of the pool. So there is something to the notion that young players need to have their confidence and comfort built up before you simply throw the world at them. However, with the Lakers there continues to be a “put the veterans on the floor” mindset, and that’s not necessarily the best course for a rebuilding team.

The Lakers are not going to win many games this year, despite the veteran players they have on the roster.

Fans have been calling for head coach Byron Scott’s job, however, that too does not make a lot of sense. In 2014 Scott signed a four-year, $17 million deal that would carry him through the 2017-2018 season, however, the Lakers hold a team option on that final year.

Firing Scott now simply becomes an expense for a team going nowhere quickly and given the perception the Lakers front office has in terms of picking a coach, they are not likely to fire another one unless they absolutely have to.

It’s far more likely the Lakers look at eating the final guaranteed year on Scott’s deal in July, once they have a sense for how the young guys are progressing and a better sense of what they’ll do in free agency. Keep in mind the Lakers hired the experienced and proven Scott as an attempt to lure in proven free agents, not to do a long-term rebuild with a development mindset.

As much as it seems that there needs to be a change for the Lakers, there does not seem to be a change that’s likely.

The Lakers still plan to swing for the proverbial free agency fences in July and for that to make sense there has to be a respectable core of veteran support players and a head coach that could win with more talent.

Tearing down the team likely takes the Lakers out of the picture for the top-level free agents, and firing the coach mid-season could send a damaging message that simply does not help the current state of affairs in Laker-land.

Houston Rockets – 4-7

Weren’t the Houston Rockets supposed to be contenders this season? That’s the burning question surrounding what’s become a clearly dysfunctional Rockets team.

On-court bickering, poor effort defensively and more and more excuses have become all too common for the 4-7 Rockets.

Rockets guard James Harden, who was a serious MVP candidate last season, is shooting a career low 37.2 percent from the field and a career low 26.2 percent from three-point range, while logging a career high in minutes per game. Harden’s line looks respectable from a distance with 27.3 points, 5.8 assists and six rebounds per game, but considering how much the Rockets need from him to win, that’s simply not enough, especially in the efficiency department because of his team-high usage rate.

Ty Lawson, who was supposed to be the missing piece for the Rockets, has struggled to find his groove and is averaging a career low in virtually every statistical category, including just 5.6 assists per game (he averaged 9.6 assists a year ago with the hapless Nuggets).

Sources close to the team wonder if the roster has started to tune out head coach Kevin McHale or if the parts genuinely just don’t fit together.

The Rockets players continue to say the right things, that they have to stay positive and that things can turn just as quickly as they have gone south.

The Rockets were supposed to be substantially better than their 4-7 record. The question becomes, is there a change that can truly right the ship or is this who the Rockets really are and have to figure it out internally?

Philadelphia 76ers – 0-11

It is not funny anymore. The 76ers are dreadfully bad this season. So much so that a sports book put out odds on what would happen first, the Golden State Warriors losing a game or the 76ers winning one, and the favorite was the Warriors losing by a huge margin.

While that’s means very little in the grand scheme, it’s just another sign that the 76ers plan, while developing talent, is not delivering an improved product and at some point that has to change.

As our own Alex Kennedy pointed out, there is a benefit to what could be another epically bad season for the Sixers; they not only hold their own draft pick, but they have the rights to the Lakers first-rounder assuming it falls outside the top three. They also hold the right to Miami’s first-rounder, which is top-10 protected and a first-round pick from the Thunder that is top-15 protected.

All of that sounds great for the Draft in June, but for a fan base that was hoping to see some progress, things haven’t changed much. The Sixers are losing games by an average of 12.8 points per game and scoring just 90.6 points on average. Last year the team averaged 92 points per game and was losing by an average of nine points per contest. Yes, the Sixers are regressing.

There are some bright spots on the roster for sure – Nerlens Noel has become a virtual double-double every night. Rookie Jahlil Okafor has been everything advertised and guys like undrafted rookies T.J. McConnell and Christian Wood have been excellent finds for a roster without much going for it.

That said, isn’t it time to start turning the corner?

The 76ers have the youngest roster by average age of any team in the NBA at 23.3 years. They have 6 undrafted players on the roster.

It’s hard to imagine the 76ers being any worse than they have been, but at 0-11 it’s hard to envision that a win is coming anytime soon, and unless the Sixers start trading for more proven talent, this might be how it goes all season.

The 76ers do have Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall on the horizon, as both are recovering from respective ACL injuries, but it’s hard to imagine that the 76ers have many options to turn things around and given their draft situation in June, it’s hard to conceive there is much motivation to make a meaningful change.

While there is clearly a lot of basketball yet to be played, there is little doubt that some of these teams are clearly heading in the wrong direction. The question becomes what will each franchise ultimately do about it?

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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