As we move into the second half of the NBA season, some unexpected teams are surging to the top of the ranks. Of course, nobody is surprised by the Miami Heat’s position at the top of the Eastern conference, but the wrong team from Los Angeles seems to be at the top, the Clippers. Many expected the Lakers to be the dominate team in the Western Conference, but they are not even in the picture right now. Here’s a quick look at where we stand as of right now:
1. Miami Heat
2. New York Knicks
3. Indiana Pacers
4. Atlanta Hawks
5. Chicago Bulls
6. Brooklyn Nets
7. Milwaukee Bucks
8. Boston Celtics
Biggest Surprises in the East
Probably the biggest surprise is the rivalry matchup sitting in the 2 and 3 seeds currently. Both Indiana and New York were expected to be in the playoff hunt, but not sitting right behind Miami with a legitimate chance to win the East. The Atlanta Hawks can also be thrown into this surprise group, as they are right behind the Pacers and not far behind the east leading Heat.
It’s going to be an exciting run to finish the season and snagging Indiana Pacers tickets for one of the final games, as they renew their historic rivalry with the Knicks, can lead to an exciting and memorable experience. All eight teams have winning records and the top four teams all have a real chance to win the conference.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
3. San Antonio Spurs
4. Memphis Grizzlies
5. Golden State Warriors
6. Houston Rockets
7. Denver Nuggets
8. Portland Trailblazers
Biggest Surprises in the West
The biggest surprise found in the western conference has to do with the team not in the playoff picture, as of right now. The 15-20 Los Angeles Lakers were picked to possibly win more games than any other NBA team in history, at the beginning of the season, but they currently sit 10 games back from the 8th and final playoff seed. Another huge surprise lurking even further back than the Lakers is the Dallas Mavericks.
Both of these teams have recently experienced quite a bit of success, but neither is even close to the playoff hunt right now. Without a long winning streak in the second half of the season, we may see the Lakers miss the playoffs for only the 6th time in franchise history and the first time since 2004-2005. We will most likely also see the playoffs played without Dallas for the first time since the 1999-2000 seasons.
With the two biggest surprises coming from the west, predicting the NBA finals teams isn’t all that easy. At the beginning of the year, many experts picked Miami and Los Angeles Lakers to make the finals. However, it’s necessary to re-evaluate the picture now and it’s very likely a team, such as the Indiana Pacers or the New York Knicks could build enough momentum to overtake Miami in the playoffs.
The west is all up for grabs and the most likely team to go to the finals is the San Antonio Spurs, simply because they know how to get there. Another team to look out for is the Oklahoma City Thunder, as they are young and capable of making a playoff run.
Whichever teams end up in the playoffs and the finals, this season has created quite a bit of excitement. The top teams in both conferences are only a few games apart from each other and nobody is running away with the conference titles. It will be exciting to watch and fun to see how it all shakes out.
This year, I’m going to preview the NBA season by starting with the lowest of the low and working my way up to my Finals picks. If a franchise is a legitimate championship contender, I’ll focus on what stars have to line up for a title run. If a team is a playoff also-ran, I’ll identify the weaknesses that have to be shored up via trade, free agency or draft over the next couple of seasons to make it a contender. If a team is likely to miss the playoffs, I’ll take a look at the salary cap, and provide a blueprint for how the team should proceed in the near future to get back in the postseason.
#30: Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs could very well finish with the worst record just one year after finishing 2009-10 with the best regular season record. This, of course, is all LeBron James’ fault. He wasn’t supposed to leave, but he did. Not only did he drag his feet during free agency and make it impossible for the franchise to make any other significant moves, he also broke up with the city of Cleveland in the most public way possible. (Hey, at least the Boys & Girls Club made some money off of the deal.) The Cavs are trying to look forward, but it’s tough when you’re planning to start Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon on the wing and are depending on a 34-year-old Antawn Jamison to be your go-to scorer. Jamison and Mo Williams do bring some offense, and Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson will keep the front line competitive, but this team is seriously lacking in talent, specifically at shooting guard and small forward. Byron Scott is a good coach, but he’s going to have a tough time winning more than 25 games with this group. The good news, if there is any, is that the team is not in salary cap hell. They project to have about $10 million in cap space next summer and nearly $30 million in the summer of 2012. But there’s more bad news — it’s going to be tough to attract free agents to Cleveland, especially after Dan Gilbert’s open letter to LeBron.
Nelson, the NBA’s all-time coaching leader in victories with 1,335 wins, will be replaced by longtime Warriors assistant coach Keith Smart, according to the sources.
Nelson, who had one year remaining on his contract worth $6 million, returned to the Bay Area last Sunday night, according to general manager Larry Riley in an interview earlier this week.
Riley said Nelson had been watching the team scrimmages and doing his usual office-type things to get ready for the season during that conversation.
But, according to two sources, it was obvious that Nelson wasn’t overly enthusiastic about leaving Maui, where he makes his home, and returning to coach the Warriors.
Several sources indicated that Nelson will be paid the remainder of his contract.
He “wasn’t overly enthusiastic about leaving Maui.” I’ve been to Maui twice, so I can relate. No one is really enthusiastic about leaving Maui.
So Nelson comes back to the Bay Area, wanders around the team facilities for a few days, grumbles about how he’d rather be sitting at a bar in Lahaina or lounging on Ka’anapali Beach and now he’s heading back to Maui with his full salary of $6 million?
Yet sources tied to five potential Anthony suitors, reached in recent days by ESPN.com, all relayed the same story about the Nuggets’ response: They’re pretty much ending these conversations before they even start by saying that they don’t want to engage in Melo talks.
Ujiri’s Denver superiors instead want him to lead the club’s mountain climb of a bid to try to reconnect with the 26-year-old scoring machine before they even consider trading him, hoping that some sort of positive karma exists in the reunion of Ujiri, a former Nuggets scout, and Anthony, who both arrived in Denver in 2003 and spent several formative seasons together in the organization.
I explored the various trade scenarios last week, and the main issue is that whatever team that trades for Anthony will want a long term commitment. Carmelo wants the three-year extension, so an extend-and-trade is the best way to go for all parties involved. So why he technically doesn’t need to sign off on a new trade destination, the still-unsigned extension gives him the power to do exactly that.
Ujiri has been described as a very positive person, so he’s doing his due diligence here in the hopes of convince Anthony to stay while he tries to reshape the roster. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If Carmelo starts the season as a Nugget, he’ll likely finish it as a Nugget. It will be very difficult to trade him in February if the Nuggets are in the middle of the playoff pack in the West. (Just look at what happened to the Raptors.)
With the news that the Nuggets’ latest meeting with Carmelo and his camp didn’t go that well, it’s time to start looking at Anthony’s short list of teams to see what they can offer in the way of trade.
Per Adrian Wojnarowski, the Nuggets are looking for “young players and draft picks,” so we’ll keep that in mind as we discuss the various trade scenarios.
That Wojnarowski piece also listed five teams as potential landing spots for Anthony: New Jersey, L.A. (Clippers), Houston, Golden State and Charlotte (due to Anthony’s shoe deal with Brand Jordan). Let’s fire up the Trade Machine and go team-by-team to see what they can offer. Keep in mind that it’s virtually impossible to get equal value for a disgruntled star, so most of these trades are going to look better from the point of view of the team receiving Anthony. That’s just the way it is.
New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets
New Jersey has four young(ish) players that might appeal to the Nuggets: Brook Lopez, Derrick Favors, Terrence Williams and Devin Harris. I don’t see the Nuggets getting Lopez out of this deal, but one idea is a simple swap of Troy Murphy and Derrick Favors for Anthony, with one or two first round draft picks to sweeten the deal if necessary. This would leave the Nets very thin at power forward, but they’d get a Top 15 player to build around while retaining Harris, Williams and Lopez. The Nuggets would get a power forward with a ton of potential to form a nice one-two punch with their best young piece, Ty Lawson.
Would the Nets give up Harris, Favors and Williams? They should. It’s not often that a player of Carmelo’s stature comes on the market while in his prime. Teams should do whatever they can to get him, and worry about fixing the roster later.
Los Angeles Clippers
Hmm. Maybe the Clips will get their star after all. If they do, they have Anthony’s wife, LaLa Vasquez, and her burgeoning ‘entertainment career’ to thank.
To make the numbers work, it appears that Chris Kaman would need to be involved in any trade for Anthony, unless the Nuggets were willing to take on Baron Davis (but he doesn’t exactly fit the ‘young player’ criteria). So how about Kaman, Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu? I’d be shocked if the Nuggets were able to wrest Blake Griffin away from the Clippers, so this may be the best they can do. L.A. could throw in a first round draft pick or two to get the Nuggets to bite. Denver could even throw in Chris Andersen if it wanted to dump more salary and give the Clips a center back in the deal.