The Knights of the FanHouse Roundtable have assembled to consider the NBA in '08-09. In this dispatch, we discuss the bottom half of the Western Conference. On Thursday, we'll look higher. Be sure to also check out the hub of our NBA Preview activity.
Ziller: I think we all expect Memphis and Oklahoma City to grace the bottom of the standings. Everyone would agree Sacramento's absolute best-case scenario would be challenging for the eighth seed. There are 12 more Western Conference teams. Do they all have legitimate chances to make the playoffs? Which ones have the highest likelihood of joining the troika of suck at the bottom of the West?
Matt Moore:These questions are always hard for me because I always like the bad teams more than the good teams.
Well I for one think that the Grizzlies will be much bett ... sigh. Yeah, thirty wins. Sigh. Some day, Grizz. Some day.
Okay, let's get one thing clear. If there was a ten-point scale from stable to complete implosion, the Nuggets are at Spinal Tap. It goes to eleven. Superstar small forward with off-court distractions, expiring contract worth more than most financial firms are now worth in an aging superstar guard, no interior defense and a coach that looks like he just wants it all to end? Yeah, his team is over like snap bracelets. Unless this team gets a significant upgrade at multiple positions off a sucker team wanting AI, this could be an utter disaster.
So now we're faced with Dallas vs. Phoenix vs. Clippers vs. Golden State. Dallas is teetering, with a new coach, Jason Kidd and the incredible shrinking perimeter shot, and Josh Howard's Cirque De Silly. But Dirk's still Dirk, JET can still rumble, and Carlisle should be able to get enough out of this squad to make the playoffs. There's not another team with a wider range of possible success. Phoenix? Amare. Nash. Bell. And the vacuumous black hole of Shaquille O'Neal. Toss in Boris Diaw who's exceptionally good at ... poking Stoudemire's eyes out, and Grant Hill who is a huge supporter of universal health care for some reason and you have a salad that looks remarkably less appetizing than the Suns of the last few years. The Suns fall will not be drastic and crushing, it'll be steep but short drops that end with the Suns as something worse than bad. They'll simply be mediocre. But they'll manage to stave off that drop for another year and will barely make the eight seed.
The Clippers will be better than expected, because Al Thornton will continue riding under the radar. It won't be enough to make the playoffs but it'll be close. The Warriors on the other hand will find themselves back in dire straits, wondering how they got here. With inconsistent pieces at almost every position, this could finally be the team that drives Don Nelson to drinkin ... nevermind.
Someday, Grizz! Someday!
Brett Edwards: I thought this was supposed to be about "crap teams." So why are we talking about the Mavs and the Suns? Both clubs made trades last season that arguably made their respective teams worse, especially in the short term (as in, the remainder of last year). But does that mean they're now going to sink to the bottom of the Conference? I doubt it, at least not this season. And with both teams trotting out new coaches that have a full training camp to install their new systems, they might actually end up being better than we expect.
Now, on to the worst. The Clippers will probably be right there with Memphis in 30-win territory, and it might be less than that. There's no way Baron Davis and Marcus Camby are playing anywhere close to 82 games next season. I'm setting the over/under for each of them at 63 1/2, with the odds for the under at -160. And with a bench consisting of Ricky Davis, Tim Thomas, Eric Gordon, Jason Hart, etc., that's going to mean disaster.
Golden State should be all kinds of bad, at least while Monta Ellis is on the sidelines. And then there's Minnesota. Unless Kevin Love's trick shots are somehow relevant to the NBA game, they're going to be awful too. At least they have youth on their side, I guess. But yeah, the Clippers and Minnesota are destined to finish with Oklahoma City in the under-30 win category; Monta's return should put the Warriors slightly north of that.
Ziller: Golden State, I think, has the biggest opportunity for catastrophic failure here, with the Ellis injury and Don Nelson's undefined future. If Memphis, Minnesota or Sacramento win 30 games or less, no one will express surprise. But, despite the warning signs, Golden State could go down like the '08 Clippers if Ellis is out a long time and if Stephen Jackson doesn't mesh on offense with Corey Maggette. And if this team loses 50 games, there will be massive unrest on the roster.
The Nuggets have an opportunity to explore the depths, too. But it would take a fire sale and a major injury to 'Melo for Denver to slide under 38-39 wins. Nene is good enough, and Kenyon Martin wasn't so bad last season. And J.R. Smith is starting to make people believe. Even if Denver trades A.I. for parts and picks, it's a better roster than at least OKC, Sacramento and Golden State, right?
Minnesota is an interesting team when you consider the impact of Mike Miller. On one hand, he's really good. On the other, he couldn't save Memphis from being a bottom three team the last two seasons. Ultimately, I think post defense, uneven point guard play and the lack of a perimeter stopper (R.I.P. Trenton Hassell) kills any real exciting progress here. But between Miller and Al Jefferson, the Wolves could turn into one of those world-beating squads which upends a titan every now and then.
WILL NO ONE DISCUSS THE THUNDER?!? This roundtable (the "Western Crap" roundtable) should focus completely on OKC. Besides Kevin Durant, is there any reason to ever watch?
Moore: I guess I brought up the Suns and Mavs because they're a significant slump away from abject disaster. If Nash's productivity goes back to even average levels? What if Kidd regresses further? It's no longer injury that could derail them, it's a more tenuous conglomeration.
I feel like everyone's selling the Clippers short. They're not a playoff team by any means, but Baron Davis, Al Thornton, with Eric Gordon and Cat Mobley? Even if Camby is a shell of what he once was, he takes up enough space, which is more than Golden State or OKC have.
The Grizzlies are the team I keep talking myself into. The team's shown up with more focus in the absence of a leader. With Marc Gasol bringing actual physical play down low and OJ Mayo being a potential star scorer ... crap. They're still a sub-30 win team. Dang it.
You want a reason to watch the Thunder? Russell Westbrook. Inarguably the most NBA-ready point at Summer League. Durant has a capable partner to run the floor with. If Green can develop even a bit, they'll at least have an offensive nucleus to add B.J. Mullens to next year.
I keep wanting to attach to the Wolves, if for no other reason than Kevin Love's outlet pass. Everyone was talking about it, and I thought it was ridiculous. How could one pass make that big of a difference. Then I saw it at Summer League. It's beautiful. It's glorious, like the sun on a meadow in spring. Then I realized he's tossing to Rashad McCants and Randy Foye. It's like the sun dying in a pitiful implosion.
I really feel like Golden State is headed for disaster. Without the guns to back up the lack of frontcourt firepower, they're trying to get into a shootout with a cap gun.
I don't think the Warriors have a chance at the playoffs, but at least they'll be fun to watch. I actually really like Corey Maggette, and I've never completely understood why that puts me in the minority of most NBA fans. Plus, Monta's injury might be a blessing in disguise if it gives Marco Belinelli -- who has the best name in the NBA -- a chance to step up. That said, this is a team just waiting to be blown up.
As for the Thunder, Robert Swift's tattoos are more compelling to me than Durant, who no one seems to want to admit looks like a poor man's Rashard Lewis. The firesale in Denver already started with the Marcus Camby trade, but a healthy Nene should compensate and keep them in the playoff race. I'm curious to see what the Kings do this year; at the very least, it should be fun to watch Kevin Martin contend for a scoring title on 16 attempts a game.
Will Brinson: I'm going to have to agree with Mr. Moore here. Camby and baron are both set up for failure; it's what happens every single year.
And it's understandable -- they have a miserable collective injury history. On the other hand, both have purportedly altered the way they approach the season, so why can't the Clippers exceed whatever the hell Chris Mullin thinks he's lining up? In fact, I'll go on record as saying Nellie is gone by all star break.
As for the Mavericks, well how much karma can to withstand before crumbling? I would say a season-and-a-half of mocking your coach, the national anthem and the general laws of not being stupid while on YouTube in America are enough to do you in.
The Suns, on the other hand, are theoretically a byproduct of Mike D'Antoni and therefore LESS so guaranteed a playoff spot than they were as year ago.
To be brief, it could be a whole lot less of what we should expect from the Western Conference in 2009 than what we're looking forward to. Which is good news, provided that it plays out like last season.
If even one link in the short Kaman-Davis-Camby breaks, it's over.
Brinson: Agreed on the Mayer part. I think I'd rather be J-Ho performing at a USO show than getting stuck in a Mayer concert.
Watson: See, this is what I'm talking about: it has to be seen in person ... ah, never mind.
Moore: You're all vastly underrating Thornton. Which is typical, considering he was underrated in college, underrated coming into the draft, underrated on draft night, and underrated last season. The kid killed it in the offseason. He's added the much ballyhooed "15 pounds of muscle" or whatever. All I know is that when I saw him at Summer League, he had the guns to match the wheels, if you follow. And he used it. Much more aggressive on the drive, rebounding more, playing more physical defense. Of course he had trouble breaking the rotation. MDSr.'s in charge. But even he had to step back and let the kid fire at the end of last season. I'm telling you, if Davis' Jenny Craig workout (and more importantly, the time he's spent with eternally health-conscious Nash) has him in better condition to avoid injury, Camby can just be a cog, and Kaman and Thornton can find some inside-out rhythm, you're going to have a team that may not make the playoffs, but can scare the bejeesus out of any team in the league.
I guess as always, I'm just waitin' on the world to change regarding Al Thornton.
Brinson: That's an insult to anyone who watches ACC basketball. Not like being called a John Mayer fan, but an insult nonetheless.
Ziller: Thornton had an NBA body last year, came in a year older than LeBron, and shot 43% from the field as a big forward and had a rebound rate worse than Jason Kidd. Yeah, he'll score 20 a game some day. But Ricky Davis and Larry Hughes can claim that, too. Efficiency is the game, man, and Thornton is doing it wrong. (And the turnovers! Oh God, the turnovers.)
Moore: Again, though, you can talk all you want about age, but we're still talking college to pro adjustment. Durant was in no way efficient last year yet I don't hear anyone complaining. Having talked to Thornton, that's the biggest thing he mentioned, that he doesn't want to just go out there and shoot. That's not the role he sees, or at least that's what he says. He feels like over the summer he had to improve in rebounding and handling the ball if he was going to make it at all. I'm not prepared to make him into Larry Hughes just yet, given his considerable physical talents.
Brinson: For whatever it's worth, I told my parents, upon moving from high school to college, that I wanted to graduate in four years. And they believed me. Why? Because they wanted to.
Ziller: I don't think the Clippers will be one of the worst teams in the conference ... I just don't think they are any better than Dallas, Phoenix or Portland, and probably Denver. That means the Clippers fit better in the "crap" category than the "awesome" category. The team will probably have the biggest leap in wins in the NBA, but that's because of Baron.
Speaking of the Kings ... B. Edwards picked them over the Clips and Ws in his predictions column. I'll disagree and place the Kings in fourth, ahead of the Warriors. John Hollinger bestows 23 wins on the squad, and suggests every major key player will be worse than last year. Anyone disagree?
Edwards: The Clippers have NO BENCH. None. And Baron Davis? He's played 82 games only once since 2001-02, and it just happened to be last season, when he was up for a new contract. Sorry, I'm not buying the Clips this year.
Moore: Clearly you are forgetting the awesome power of Tim Thomas and DeAndre Jordan.
Ziller: I think the key for Sacramento is Beno Udrih, and whether he expands on last year or just amplifies what he's done. If it's the latter, the team won't be as good as some of us think it could be. But if he becomes a more frequent playmaker, the team is dangerous. Udrih's arguably better than Mike Bibby has been the last few years.
Moore: Although, I'm going to say this. The only reason I'm hanging on to the Suns is because of Amare Stoudemire. I take to heart the not-doubting Nash sentiment, he's one of my favorite players of all time. But the time he has to spend lying down because of the back keeps getting longer and longer and I don't honestly know if he's believed in this team since the Shaq trade. A lot of these guys flourished because the top level talent was gearing them there. Left to their own devices, it would not shock me to see a free fall.
It's stunning how many teams' success hinge on the point guard position. I like Udrih, a lot actually. It's just a matter of how steep the curve is for moving to that starting spot. I also worry about how Garcia and Douby will do. They need consistent stuff from them and I'm not sure how much they can provide.