Posted Sep 24 2010 7:36AM
In any given NBA season forecast, the numbers don't change. Roughly three or four teams enter the year with very realistic championship hopes, another five or six can reach the conference finals and a dozen are virtual locks to make the playoffs.
And then there are eight or so with no chance at the playoffs unless something drastic happens or they get lucky. That's the cold, hard truth in a league where talent is not evenly distributed, where free agents will only sign with a few choice destinations, where rebuilding overstays its welcome with certain teams, and where poor drafts and/or trades have set some franchises back years.
The 2010-11 season won't be any different. A half-dozen or so teams face steep odds to play more than the standard 82 games, for a variety of reasons. Nobody should definitely be counted out before the opening tipoff, and just the same, a fair amount of teams will struggle to be counted in.
Call them the Anxious Eight, Aching Eight or the Eight behind the Eight Ball. We nominate eight teams who will begin the season with their noses pressed against the window, wondering if they'll crash their way into the playoffs:
Timberwolves. Well, Ricky Rubio can look at the bright side: He's not missing anything. Perhaps in a year, if he gets the itch to leave Spain for the NBA, the Wolves will be in position to make a move up the standings. Even that looks dicey for a team that just placed a good deal of faith and money in Darko Milicic. The Wolves are not built to last this season, and they'll need a good lottery pick and another addition to brighten their outlook for the season beyond. They've won 33 or fewer games the last five years and look to make it six. Too many developing players need breakout seasons -- Martell Webster, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Corey Brewer -- for the Wolves to shock anyone in 2010-11.
Nets. At least the arrow is pointing up for the Nets. You say, after a 12-win season, how could it not? Well, the Nets could be coming off a poor season and stuck with a roster full of '74 Pintos and a penny-pinching owner. That's not the case here. They still lack a true star, but Brook Lopez is a 23-year-old center, and everyone raves about the upside of first-round pick Derrick Favors, and former All-Star point guard Devin Harris is only 28. The new coach in town, Avery Johnson, took Dallas to the NBA Finals once upon a time. And the new owner is only the richest in the NBA if not all team sports. Therefore, you kind of like where the Nets are going, just not this season. No team makes the playoffs a year removed from threatening to be the biggest pushovers in league history. Basically, you don't like where they are now. But wait until they move to Brooklyn in two years.
Pacers. How many big-time scorers wasted their prime years on lousy teams? Pete Maravich? Dave Bing? Yes, there have been a few, and you wonder if Danny Granger is next. The last three years he averaged 19.6, then 25.8, then 24.1 and never made the playoffs. He'll turn 28 at season's end and will likely blow out his candles at the dinner table while watching the playoffs on TV, because there's no relief in immediate sight for the Pacers. Yes, they did add Darren Collison, the long-awaited savior at point guard, but he isn't proven over the long haul. Indiana is still in retooling mode, at least until next summer, when they shed some salary and get cap relief. Until then, this we can be sure: Indiana will play hard but miss the playoff fun for the fourth straight season, and Granger will light it up.
Pistons. Detroit, you know, won the championship six years ago. Just thought I should remind you of that, because it seems like 16 years ago for a franchise that, to phrase it in a way befitting of Motown, is stuck in reverse. The last few years in particular have been rough: 39 wins and a first-round sweeping, then 27 wins and a public relations beating. The Chauncey Billups trade (for Allen Iverson) set the Pistons on their current slide and what's chilling is there's no sure sign that things will get better anytime soon. There's very little trade value on the roster, or All-Star sparkle, or significant cap relief on the horizon. Their best four or five players might not crack the starting rotation on a great team. And then there's the ownership issue and whether Karen Davidson will find a buyer soon or later. Do the math, and if you're a Pistons fan, you won't like the answer much.
Wizards. A few years ago this team was going somewhere. And then came the collapse, caused by Gilbert Arenas, first by getting hurt (not his fault), then by bringing his toys to work (definitely his fault). But that's history, and now the Wiz are working with a new owner, new point guard (John Wall) and a pair of intriguing big men in JaValle McGee and Andray Blatche. Throw Kirk Hinrich in the mix, and can you see the Wizards fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the weak East? Yes, for sure. But there's still the issue with Arenas and whether he's good or bad for the Wiz. That's enough to remove the benefit of the doubt.
76ers. Doug Collins managed to elevate every team he joined as coach, the Bulls and Pistons and Wizards. Collins has great honeymoons, basically, and there's no reason he can't enjoy another one with the team he once starred for as a player. Put it this way: the Sixers are actually on the radar in Philly for the first time since Iverson left. And they're not as bad as the 27-win season they just had. You can see the Sixers fighting with, say, the Raptors for the final spot, especially if Collins finds the right way to rejuvenate Elton Brand and gets Jrue Holiday to enjoy a breakout season. It's really a coin flip, which will fall the Sixers' way if Evan Turner doesn't play like a rookie.
Kings. Perhaps if they played in the East, they'd have a shot. You know, young team weathers the 82-game grind and overachieves. Well, that's not happening in the West, where the No. 8 team won 50 games last season. And the Kings, although their foot is on the accelerator, aren't going there. What they can do, and possibly will do, is gain plenty of respect for the way they've nipped and tucked the roster in the last year. They could have a Rookie of the Year winner (once again) with DeMarcus Cousins and a Most Improved Player candidate in Carl Landry. Add Omri Casspi and Tyreke Evans and you see why the Kings, 25-game winners a year ago, will indeed make the playoffs ... in 2012.
Warriors. OK, here's the highlight: Stephen Curry makes the All-Star team and develops good chemistry with David Lee, almost (but not quite) in the Stockton-Malone vein. There, ladies and gentlemen, is your 2010-11 Warriors feel-good angle. Anything beyond that is gravy for a club that will no doubt labor in the rugged West. Whether the Warriors' rebuilding stretch is lengthy or not depends on the anticipated housecleaning and if they can get value for Monta Ellis, their lone trade asset.
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Serge Ibaka chases down Tony Allen and gets the block, and on the other end Kevin Durant fakes the shot then finds Ibaka for the one-hand spike.
Jeff Teague crosses up Evan Turner and drains the wing triple.
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Russell Westbrook inbounds to Nick Collison who makes the pocket pass to Kevin Durant for the inside jam.
Off the jump ball, Marc Gasol heaves it out front to Tony Allen on the break for the emphatic slam.