Glasses one-fourth full
Five NBA teams surpassing most forecasters’ expectations
The 2013-14 National Basketball Association season is just past the first quarter.
Several of its teams were expected to be in for rebuilding seasons, coping with growing pains as they hope to rise to the top of the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery and snare one of the coveted college standouts in one of the better drafts in recent history.
Other franchises that were expected to be challenging for division titles or, at the very least, playoff berths have stumbled out of the gate and fallen far below what was forecast for them.
The following is a look at five teams that must make a turnabout in a hurry to make up for lost ground:
New York Knicks7-16, fifth in Atlantic Division
The Knicks went 54-28 in winning the Atlantic Division championship in 2012-13 and beat Boston in a first-round playoff series 4-2 before falling to Indiana 4-2 in the second round. They did some tinkering with their roster during the offseason, acquiring sharp-shooting Andrea Bargnani from Toronto and adding veterans Metta World Peace, Kenyon Martin and Beno Udrih along with rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. The holdovers and the newcomers simply haven’t meshed. Carmelo Anthony has held his position as one of the NBA’s most productive scorers (25.6 ppg), but the Knicks have never found that “second star” to shine alongside him. Bargnani is the team’s second-leading scorer at 14.6 ppg. New York hasn’t recovered since center Tyson Chandler sustained a fractured right fibula against Charlotte on Nov. 5.
Brooklyn Nets8-15, third in Atlantic Division
Brooklyn finished second to New York in the Atlantic Division with a 49-33 mark a year ago before losing a 4-3 opening-round playoff series to Chicago. The Nets made one of the blockbuster deals of the 2013 offseason when they acquired future Hall-of-Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce along with veteran guard Jason Terry and forward D.J. White from Boston in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans and first-round draft picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018, as well as the right to swap first-round picks in 2017. They also hired another future Hall-of-Famer, Jason Kidd, as their head coach despite his lack of any coaching experience. The overhaul hasn’t panned out. Garnett is averaging just 6.3 ppg, Pierce 11.8 and Terry 5.3. Center Brook Lopez, the team’s top scorer at 20.5 ppg, has missed eight games while point guard Deron Williams has missed 11 due to ankle injuries. Veteran forward Andrei Kirilenko has been limited to four games by back spasms. Youngsters Andray Blatche and Duke rookie Mason Plumlee have helped pick up some slack, but the Nets will be snowbound without their veteran core intact.
Cleveland Cavaliers9-14, fourth in Central Division
Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving ranks second in NBA All-Star backcourt voting behind Miami’s Dwyane Wade, but Cleveland has struggled to surround Irving with an effective supporting cast. Irving was scoring a team-best 21 ppg, but ranked only 18th in the NBA in assists at 6 apg through 22 games. Cleveland’s most significant offseason transaction was the signing of center Andrew Bynum as a free agent. Bynum, riddled by injuries for the past several years but still coveted for his upside in a league with few dominant centers, made only 13 starts in the Cavs’ first 22 games and was averaging 8.6 ppg and 2.1 rpg in 19.2 mpg. The Cavs also drafted forward Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, but Bennett’s adjustment to the NBA has been difficult. He is averaging only 2.3 ppg and 2.10 rpg in 10.3 mpg and has yet to make a start. Second-year guard Dion Waiters, the team’s second-leading scorer at 14.1 ppg, but has become disgruntled with his role on the team and is rumored to be on the trading block.
Los Angeles Lakers11-12, fourth in Pacific Division
There were those who believed the Lakers’ win column would see addition by subtraction when center Dwight Howard left Tinseltown to sign with Houston as a free agent over the summer. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. The Lakers wound up well below their usual standards, but still went 45-37 and made the NBA Playoffs before being swept in four games by San Antonio in the first round. Kobe Bryant missed the first 19 games during his extended recovery from a torn Achilles tendon. Steve Nash was sidelined after six games with a back ailment. Veteran guard Steve Blake and guard Jordan Farmar, one of the team’s key offseason acquisitions, have been sidelined by elbow and hamstring injuries, respectively. Pau Gasol, back at the center position, is averaging just 14.4 ppg. Through 22 games, the team’s leading scorer was none other than Nick Young (14.5 ppg), a reserve in 16 of his 22 games. The Lakers will continue to depend heavily on such young players as former Bucks guard Jodie Meeks (13.3 ppg), Xavier Henry, Jordan Hill and Wesley Johnson, so don’t expect a dramatic upswing unless Bryant makes a rapid recovery.
Memphis Grizzlies10-13, fifth in Southwest Division
The Grizzlies enjoyed a 56-26 regular season in 2012-13 and finished second in the Southwest Division, just two games off the pace of San Antonio. They ousted the Los Angeles Clippers (4-2) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (4-1) to advance to the Western Conference Finals, where they were swept by the Spurs (4-0). They fired Head Coach Lionel Hollins over the summer, and their defense hasn’t been the same since. Then they lost starting center Marc Gasol – one of the NBA’s most underrated players -- to a medial collateral knee ligament sprain 13 games into the season and have felt the pain. Forward Zach Randolph’s production has tapered off to 15.8 ppg, and key reserve Quincy Pondexter will likely miss the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his right foot. Now some are talking about this franchise, a conference finalist just one season ago, becoming a seller rather than a buyer.