|Can the Celtics make a run at the 8-seed? A lot of that depends on this man.|
Today we move up a bit on the NBA food chain, to a group of teams that if everything goes right could possibly compete for the final playoff spot in their conference, but if everything goes wrong could be sitting side-by-side with the teams we talked about in Part 1.
Before we get started, here's a reminder about the teams featured yesterday.
#30. Utah Jazz
#29. Philadelphia 76ers
#28. Orlando Magic
#27. Phoenix Suns
#26. Milwaukee Bucks
#25. Charlotte Bobcats (#12 in the East)
2012-13 Record: 21-61
Major additions: Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller
Major subtractions: Byron Mullens
MJ finally had a decent off-season. Charlotte could actually be not terrible this year if things break their way, thanks mostly to the acquisition of Al Jefferson, who is coming off of his sixth straight year of at least 17 PPG and 9 RPG. The Bobcats further bolstered their front line by selecting Cody Zeller with the 4th pick in the draft, giving Charlotte an intriguing starting line-up of Kemba Walker - Gerald Henderson - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - Zeller - Big Al with Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions and Bismack Biyombo coming off the bench. I'm not saying this team is a world beater, but for the first time in a long time (ever?) Charlotte has a bit of hope.
In fact, Charlotte is the first of what I'm calling the "So you're saying there's a chance?" teams in the East. What I mean by that is that in the Eastern Conference there are six teams that appear to stand above the rest in Indiana, Detroit, New York, Brooklyn, Miami and Chicago (randomly ordered so I don't give away further spots on the list — genius move), while the last two playoff spots really seem to be up for grabs. Clearly, I do not have the Bobcats currently penciled in to the 8-spot with their #25 ranking, but if they were to get breakout seasons from MKG, Zeller and Walker plus typical seasons from Big Al and Gordon..they'd have a shot. And sometimes that's all you can ask for.
#24. Toronto Raptors (#11 in the East)
2012-13 Record: 34-48
Major additions: Tyler Hansbrough, Steve Novak, D.J. Augustin, Austin Daye, Quentin Richardson
Major subtractions: Andrea Bargnani, Alan Anderson, Sebastian Telfair
When the Raptors brought in former Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri this off-season, the goal seemed clear: dump the terrible contracts Bryan Colangelo had saddled the team with, bottom out, and re-build from the ground up. Well, that didn't happen..at least not yet. Toronto did clear one terrible contract, shipping Andrea Bargnani and his 40+ missed games a season to New York for two picks, Steve Novak and Marcus Camby (who was bought out), but has basically kept the rest of the roster intact. For now.
There have been rumors surrounding DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay throughout the summer, indicating that Ujiri could still decide to go into full fledged sell mode, but he has yet to pull the trigger. With that said, the current edition of the Raptors appears to be similar to what last years club was — not good enough to make the playoffs, and not bad enough to bottom out. With Gay and DeRozan scoring and Kyle Lowry at the point, Toronto has a bunch of talent on the outside which somewhat makes up for their absolute lack of talent down low.
However, Ujiri has a reputation for being one of the smartest guys in the league, so don't expect him to stand pat. He has a team without a star and a star studded draft is approaching. So while Toronto is at #24..it's hard for me to imagine them staying in no mans land. I still expect another move, and a hell of a tanking effort.
#23. Atlanta Hawks (#10 in the East)
2012-13 Record: 44-38
Major additions: Paul Millsap, Elton Brand, DeMarre Carroll, Gustavo Ayon, Dennis Schroeder
Major subtractions: Josh Smith, Devin Harris, Johan Petro, Ivan Johnson (expected to sign elsewhere)
R.I.P the 2007-2013 Atlanta Hawks, the most average basketball team of all time.
For six straight seasons the Hawks made the playoffs, three times bowing out in the first round, and three times in the second. They always seemed to beat up on the worst of the NBA and come up short against the best the NBA had to offer, specifically the Celtics, even after the C's fell from elite status.
While the Hawks had already dumped stalwarts Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson after the 2011-12 season, the era officially died when Josh Smith bolted for Detroit, leaving Al Horford as the one holdover from the '08 club that pushed the Celtics to seven games.
As for the guys the Hawks brought in, it's kind of a weird crew. The team obviously went hard after Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, but had to settle for Paul Millsap and Elton Brand once the big name guys rejected them. Millsap is a quality player, consistently churning out 15 and 8, but he's a pure power forward which once again puts Horford in the center position. While Horford is clearly good enough to play at the 5, he's a mismatch against almost all of the power forwards in the league due to his combination of size and speed, and has made it clear he'd prefer to play at the 4. The Hawks also re-signed Jeff Teague after flirting with the idea of a Teague for Brandon Jennings deal. I'd feel a lot better about the Hawks if they had a decent option at small forward, but right now DeMarre Carroll appears to be the starter.
#22. Boston Celtics (#9 in the East)
2012-13 Record: 41-40
Major additions: Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, Kelly Olynyk, Vitor Faverani
Major subtractions: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry
When I started making this list, I really thought I'd have the Celtics lower than 9th in the East. But then I started really looking at the other teams in the lower half of the conference, and..sheesh. As everyone knows by now, the Celtics ended an era of their own this off-season (and with all due respect to the Hawks, it was a slightly bigger deal) by shipping Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn. There is no doubt that the move makes the C's worse in 2013-14, but the question is — how much worse?
As of now, the Celtics have a gluttony at both shooting guard and power forward, an elite point guard coming off of ACL surgery in Rajon Rondo, a potential breakout performer at small forward (Jeff Green over his last 45 games in 2012-13 (including playoffs): 17 PPG, 5 RPG, 50% FG, 44% 3 PT FG), and a bunch of guys who aren't true centers competing for minutes at the 5. It's a weird roster..but it's not terrible for an Eastern Conference team.
However, much like in the case of the Raptors, I don't think the C's are done making moves. Guys like Kris Humphries, Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee are prime candidates to be shipped out in an effort to shed salary (Boston is currently $800,000 over the luxury tax) and perhaps pick up assets for the future. The Celtics could also decide to deal Rondo, thus causing them to plummet down this list. But as of now, the C's have a punchers chance at a playoff spot. Sure they'd be terrible out West (I'd have them 14th), but last I checked they weren't in danger of being re-aligned.
While the C's could easily slide behind teams like Atlanta and Toronto if Rondo missed more time than expected or if Green reverts to early 2012-13 form, they could also move up a few spots if #9 comes back strong or if Kelly Olynyk proves to be as dynamic as he showed during the NBA summer league.
#21. Sacramento Kings (#13 in the West)
2012-13 Record: 28-54
Major additions: Greivis Vasquez, Carl Landry, Ben McLemore, Luc Mbah a Moute
Major subtractions: Tyreke Evans
I love, love, LOVE what the Kings did this off-season. They dealt a score first point guard in Tyreke Evans (3.5 APG last season) for a pass first one in Greivis Vasquez (9.4 APG), drafted Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore, and re-signed Carl Landry after he spent last season in Golden State. And most importantly, they did not give up on DeMarcus Cousins, despite the fact that his consistent run ins with team officials had the organization close to shipping him elsewhere last season.
Cousins is a potentially dominant player, and has shown flashes of that over the past two seasons. Since 2011, Cousins has averaged 17.6 PPG and 10.4 RPG over 139 games for the Kings, this despite the fact that he does not turn 23 until next week. If Cousins could ever get his head on straight, look for those numbers to skyrocket. He will also be helped by the addition of Vasquez, who isn't nearly as explosive as Evans, but could be a better fit for Cousins because of his propensity to share the ball. Sacramento enters training camp with a starting line-up of Vasquez - McLemore - Luc Mbah a Moute - Landry - Cousins with an explosive second unit which includes Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, John Salmons and Jason Thompson. Sac Town figures to be at least a year away from possible playoff contention in a loaded Western Conference, but they'll knock off their share of good teams this year, especially at home where Kings fans should be in celebration mode after the NBA announced the team would be staying in Sacramento instead of bolting to Seattle.
Tomorrow: Part 3, where a few teams that haven't made the playoffs find themselves back in the mix.
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Part 1 of the NBA summer power rankings Michael Dyer 8/05/2013 03:54:00 PM Tweet