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Fran Blinebury

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Have the Magic and Hawks slipped down a few rungs on the East's contender ladder?
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Slick summer remodeling didn't happen for these teams


Posted Aug 13 2010 9:23AM

It's been a summer that's seen the excitement of some teams zooming ahead in the fast lane and others falling behind like an old clunker with its muffler being held up by a coat hanger and smoke pouring from the tailpipe.

Then there are those that have been stuck in the mud, spinning their wheels and going nowhere.

Atlanta Hawks

Let's face it, the Hawks were in a tough, almost unwinnable spot. If they had refused to pony up for Joe Johnson, they'd have been accused of being unwilling to pay what it takes to hang with the big boys of the NBA. But by re-upping Johnson to a six-year, $120 million deal, they have boxed themselves in financially to a place where they will be mired in the middle of the pack. Johnson, while a four-time All-Star, is at best the No. 2 option on a great team and, at 29, isn't going to add to his game to get the Hawks out of the second round. Atlanta has proven capable of winning 53 games in the regular season, but has likely dropped back in the Eastern Conference playoff pecking order behind Miami, Orlando, Boston and maybe even Milwaukee.

New Orleans Hornets

With apologies to new general manager Dell Demps and new coach Monty Williams, the biggest story of the Hornets' summer was Chris Paul's grumblings of discontent because the Hornets have not significantly upgraded their roster. CP3 sees his good buddy LeBron James go to Miami for fun and frolic on the beach with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and he gets what? The acquisition of Trevor Ariza, the re-signing of journeyman free agent Aaron Gray and a couple of rookies named Craig Brackins and Quincy Pondexter do not make them a playoff contender. Especially when they had to give up Darren Collison. No wonder Paul is giving wedding toasts while fantasizing of a better future.

Not much has gone right since the Hornets won 56 games and finished with the No. 2 seed in the West in 2008. They compounded their problems a year ago by making the deal that sent out the up-and-down Tyson Chandler for the uninspiring play of Emeka Okafor and are now strangling on his whopping contract. Toss in the last year of Peja Stojakovic's big deal and the fact that the former sharpshooter has a hard time staying on the court these days and another season in the Big Easy could be anything but.

Orlando Magic

The last time they looked, the Magic were coming off back-to-back 59-win seasons and had every reason to feel good about themselves as the class of the Eastern Conference. Then in a whirlwind several hours of early July, the world turns upside down and suddenly Orlando isn't even regarded as the best NBA team in Florida. How do they convince themselves that Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson compare with LeBron James and Chris Bosh? Duhon gives them more depth at the point behind Jameer Nelson and Richardson brings another outside shooter to loosen up the collapsing defenses on Dwight Howard. But Orlando will still need Howard to improve is free-throw shooting so that he can be a finisher and not a liability to close games. The Magic still need Vince Carter to play at a consistently higher level and Rashard Lewis to return to his 2009 All-Star form if they're going to challenge the new big dogs in Miami for Florida bragging rights.

Golden State Warriors

They have new ownership and new players and a new attitude. Again. No franchise seems to delight in constantly blowing up the laboratory like the Warriors. Don Nelson, now the winningest coach in NBA history, says he'll stay on the beach in Maui until management makes up its mind about what it wants to do with the final year of his contract. Last year's up-and-coming big man prospect Anthony Randolph -- the star of summer league -- was dealt to New York in a deal that landed former Knicks All-Star David Lee. He should enjoy the up-tempo running style playing with Monta Ellis and Rookie of the Year runner-up Stephen Curry. But Andris Biedrins is grumbling and seems to want out and their first-round pick Ekpe Udoh is already sidelined 4-6 months with a wrist injury. This movie is like the Rocky Horror Picture Show where everyone knows all the lines.

Los Angeles Clippers

In pet stores all over the world, there are hamsters running inside those little wheels who chuckle at the notion of the Clippers ever making any progress. Can you really celebrate a summer whose highlight so far is that last year's No. 1 draft pick, Blake Griffin, hasn't suffered another season-ending injury? They cleared out all of that salary cap space, told themselves they were a serious contender in the LeBron Sweepstakes and even got a brief sitdown with The King. They did land free agents Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes and gave Vinny Del Negro a soft landing spot as their new coach. At the end of the day, they're still the Clippers, running in circles, until proving otherwise.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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