State of the NBA (Part 1: East; Atlantic)

So now that the season and the draft are over, I feel like it’s time to take a look at the NBA now and, this being my blog, I’ll go ahead and do just that.  I’ve got another blog on the economics of the NBA on its way, which will outline my perspective on the collective bargaining agreement, the lockout and all things money-related in the NBA.  But for now, I’ll focus on the state of the league from a basketball perspective.  I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this, but it’ll probably end up being very long and far more in-depth than I initially planned.

Right now there are mad firecrackers going off outside my window, which at first scared me, as they sounded awfully like gunshots, but then I remembered that today (or yesterday by the time this will be posted) was the 4th of July, so all’s good.  Also, in the time it took me to type that sentence, I’ve decided to do this blog as a multi-part breakdown of each individual team.  Yay, look alive, because I’m actually going to talk about each team individually (even the ones I don’t like) and this blog (or series of blogs) won’t just be about the Jazz.  So in reverse order of standings in the 2010-2011 season:

As I mentioned yesterday in my draft recap, I’m not hot on the Toronto Raptors.  One of the things that commentators always talk about is the “culture of winning.”  Well, Toronto happens to be one of those franchises that has never won anything.  With Bosh the Raptors were a 1st round exit team, which is probably the worst place possible to be; without him, they turned in an uninspiring 22-60 performance.  Unfortunately for them, they landed the 5th pick (2 worse than their record predicted).  But that’s where “luck” stopped being the driving force in their ineptitude.  This team is terrible: their top scorer (Bargnani) shot under 45% from the field and their second best scorer and starting 2-guard (DeRozan) shot under 10% from 3.  And they drafted a guy (Valanciunas) who won’t help them at all this year, plays the same position as their top scorer and looks, from my perspective, as a likely bust candidate.  The team is not really young, doesn’t really have great young talent, and doesn’t have anyone to build their franchise around.  So for a final, state-of-the-team grade, I give them a solid D- (I don’t believe in grade inflation).

One of the more intriguing teams is the New Jersey Nets.  Although their record indicated they were far from good (24-58), that record means almost nothing, since they reconfigured their entire team mid-season and then lost Deron Williams to a wrist injury.  The problem now is that outside of Williams and Brook Lopez, the team seems comparable to a SuperFriend-less Heat.  Humphries (former Utah Jazz pick) came on strong after the all-star break, but this team still needs a bit of punch to be truly competitive.  Losing their first-round pick (to the Jazz) in the Williams trade didn’t help their rebuilding process, but their long-term prospects don’t look too bad.  Problem is that in the NBA, you either have to be the cream of the crop or you’ll be stuck in basketball purgatory – first round exits and weak draft picks.  At the same time, I know a lot of teams that would trade rostors with NJ right now.  Final grade: C+

Speaking of basketball purgatory, the Philadelphia 76ers have been there for a long, long time.  Since 2004, the 76ers have finished in neither first or last place in their division and have lost in the first round 4 times.  Like Toronto, they lack any real star (I don’t use the term in the “player-you-sell-as-the-face-of-your-franchise” sense, but rather in the “legitimate-player-around-whom-you-can-build-a-successful-franchise”) and have a glut of potentially great role-players on a championship team and young athletes (think Hawks 3 or 4 years ago).  Sadly (not actually, because I don’t really care about Philly), I really don’t see any way out of this bind for the franchise without blowing the whole thing up and starting from scratch.  Their “pieces” are not enough to trade for (or attract in free agency) a serious star, but good enough to get the team stuck in perpetual purgatory.  Final Grade: D

Another team whose record last season means less than [insert your favorite Drew Carey “Whose Line is it Anyway” joke] is the New York Knicks who made a gigantic free-agent signing (Stoudemire) last summer and then added two more players (Carmelo and Billups) in a blockbuster mid-season trade with Denver.  Besides my disdain for the way the Carmelo trade happened (with Anthony dragging the Nuggets through a year of whiningly demanding a trade to the Knicks), I really like the trade for both teams.  Carmelo had proven he was a star, but couldn’t win by himself (just like Lebron…oh snap) and Denver was able to recoup a lot of his value in the pieces they received in return.  Especially for New York, the core of Billups, Anthony and Stoudemire is very, very attractive, even though they do need a couple more pieces.  Even without Anthony for much of the season, the Knicks finished above .500 for the first time in 10 years and  look poised to be a major threat in the East for a number of years, thus earning a B+

A lot has happened since the Boston Celtics were just 12 minutes from the franchise’s 18th championship.  Now, instead of being seen as a dynasty, the Big Three’s legacy is kind of bittersweet.  A team that was supposed to compete for a number of championships; a team that was built upon three veteran stars and well-chosen youth; a team that was the Celtics’ ticket back to NBA prominence has given very mixed results.  So now Boston, just like the Spurs of the last 3 or so years, are at a crossroads.  If they follow the San Antonio route (hanging on to their stars and depreciating as they do), they can look forward to a few more deep playoff runs, but probably no more championships.  However, the other option, to blow everything up and start over, is a complete crapshoot.  Boston’s biggest problem is that they only have 1 truly good player under 34 years of age – Rondo.  Unless the Celtics can magically revamp on the go without losing any key pieces, I see them destined for purgatory.  Final grade: B

So that’s the Atlantic Division.  I’ll have the other divisions released slowly throughout the week, mainly because I’m lazy and won’t get them all done quickly.  Also, I’ll release that NBA economics blog sometime this week, too (the link above won’t work until later this week).

Yours Truly,

Basketblogger

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  1. July 5th, 2011
  2. July 8th, 2011

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