The Annual NBA League Pass Rankings, Part 1Illustration by Elias Stein
VIEWING ALERT!!!!! At 7 p.m. ET on Thursday (10/23), The Grantland Basketball Hour makes its triumphant debut on ESPN. Your hosts? Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose, who will be joined by Jeff Van Gundy, Doc Rivers, Michelle Beadle, Zach Lowe and rappers Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. We made up only two of those guests. Watch us live, add us to your DVR season pass, do whatever you need to do. One hour of free basketball chatter, 7 p.m. Thursday, ESPN. See you there.
Last year’s League Pass Rankings kicked off with Simmons writing, “If I watch more than 75 total minutes of the Suns this season, I’m gonna feel like I failed.”
So clearly, you came to the right place for intelligent analysis and an all-encompassing feel for the league. Our mission remains the same: Figure out which 2014-15 NBA teams have the best chance to steal our attention, night after night, as we’re watching five games at once. Both Simmons and Lowe awarded all 30 teams between 0 and 10 points in each of the following five categories.
Category No. 1: Relevance/Zeitgeist
Interpreted as “relevance to the playoff picture,” “relevance to NBA junkies on the Internet,” and “general day-to-day relevance.” In other words, you went 0-for-3, Philly. (And Cleveland snared a 10 from both of us. Obviously.)
Category No. 2: Hoops Nerdgasm Potential
Covers special events like, “OH MY GOD, Phoenix is playing Bledsoe, Dragic and Isaiah Thomas right now with Gerald Green at the 4 and a Morris twin at center!” — as well as everything Pop and Carlisle are doing on a daily basis, everything that Stan Van Gundy and David Blatt might try this season, and everything that gets Haralabob Voulgaris fired up on Twitter (in a good way). If you’re coaching so creatively that you coax Zach into one of those 4,500-word columns with 15 embedded YouTube clips, you’ll score highly here.
Category No. 3: League Pass Minutiae
Covers the quality of announcing teams (a.k.a. The Sean Elliott Mute Button Factor) and sideline reporters (we love you, Abby Chin!), as well as uniform colors, crowd behavior, any wide shot of empty seats on TV (sorry, Miami), the home arena’s floor pattern, the mascots, and for a second time, the mascots. You know, all the stuff Zach obsesses over.
Category No. 4: Individual Player Appeal
If you employ the likes of LeBron, Durant or Curry on your team? You’re looking great for this category. If you revolve your team around Boogie Cousins? You’re looking great with one of us and shockingly decent with the other one. But if your only exciting player is missing the entire 2014-15 season with a broken leg? You might be looking at a Robert Parish — a.k.a. the double zero.
Category No. 5: Unintentional Comedy/Irrational Affection/Personality Intangibles
This intentionally vague category covers moments like “Enes Kanter just took his 10th 3 of the night,” “Byron Scott is defending Phoenix’s 3-guard offense with Jeremy Lin, Nick Young and Steve Nash right now,” “Boris Diaw is feeling it,” any text or tweet that simply reads “Dante Exum!!!!,” “Marcus Smart just dove for a loose ball and inadvertently took out the scorer’s table while down 25 with 90 seconds to play,” “Giannis is starting at point guard,” “Dion Waiters is feeling it,” “Dirk just made his seventh straight one-legged fall-away,” “Blake Griffin just tried to dunk over four Warriors at the same time,” “Zach LaVine’s dunk from three minutes ago has already generated 220 comments on NBA Reddit,” “Jamal Crawford is feeling it,” “Kenneth Faried is playing tonight like terrorists told him he had to grab 30 rebounds or they were burning down his house,” all “STEPHEN CURRY HEAT CHECK!” texts, “Stan Van Gundy called a 20 just to stare down Josh Smith for 20 seconds,” and “Ricky Rubio has apparently decided that he’s only throwing alley-oop passes in tonight’s game.” You know, the stuff that makes the NBA’s regular season resonate with the true junkies every night.
We each scored all 30 teams on our own, then combined those scores into a bigger score that you’ll read below. The lowest possible score? Zero. The highest possible score? 100. (Hypothetically achieved by the 1986 Celts, 2005 Suns, 2011 Heat and 1982 Lakers.) Without further ado, our 2014-15 League Pass Rankings, from worst to first.
AP Photo/Michael Perez
Lowe: When we first did these rankings three weeks ago, we screwed up and had Utah ranked last. And it was my fault.
Simmons: You mean because the Sixers gutted their team, spent the lowest percentage of available salary cap money in recent NBA history, used two top-12 lottery picks on players who won’t be playing for them this season and enraged the NBA to the point that it might change the lottery rules DURING THE SEASON … and we didn’t initially have them ranked 30 out of 30?
Lowe: At least we fixed it, even if we had to go back and reengineer the scores! The Sixers are going to be unwatchable. Learning Nerlens Noel’s game will be fun, and there’s still a chance Joel Embiid gets some late-season playing time. They’ll run and jack 3s, but, holy hell, they are going to be awful.
Simmons: Instead of trotting out their intentionally crappy team, maybe they should bring back former Sixers greats like Iverson, Dawkins, Julius and Moses and just play the season that way. Just throw out an old-timers team. Oh, wait, they’re already kind of doing that with Jason Richardson.
Lowe: Philly does get the edge over Utah in all the silly sideshow categories: The Sixers’ League Pass experience is much more pleasant, and they scored way higher on my “zeitgeist” scale, since they’ve tanked their way into the day-to-day NBA conversation. The league is going to change the freaking rules because of them!
Simmons: So you’re arguing that, if Philly is 4-53 in March, that’s going to make you MORE likely to watch them? There’s no way I am watching the 2014-15 Sixers unless they’re playing my Celtics, or unless someone sends me a text saying that LeBron or Durant has 49 through three quarters against them.
Lowe: You’re right: Their form of cultural currency doesn’t translate into basketball watchability. We ended up in the right place, and we’re probably even underselling Utah in their new spot.
Simmons: This made me sad.
Lowe: It’s so, so sad. I mean, this offense was borderline unwatchable in high-stakes playoff games — and that was with Paul George and Lance Stephenson. Guys were straight-up dropping the ball and dribbling it out of bounds. I love defense. Defense can be entertaining. Roy Hibbert clashes at the rim are entertaining. George going toe-to-toe with LeBron or Durant was entertaining. But offense drives the real fun, and Indy could be working in molasses.
Simmons: They have to trade David West within the next three months, right? In the Bill and Jalen Preview for the Pacers (coming Wednesday!), Jalen smartly pushes for a West-to-Charlotte trade for former Hoosier Noah Vonleh or former Hoosier Cody Zeller. The Pacers should bottom out for a year and get a meaningful asset for West … right?
Lowe: Hmm … West has a $12.6 million option for the 2015-16 season, and it’s the rare option that presents an interesting choice for the player. As a 34-year-old on a semi-expiring deal, West just doesn’t have a lot of trade value. I don’t see the Hornets giving up a potential good young big for him, but they are the right sort of team for a trade like this — a longtime sad sack with some irrational exuberance and/or desperation to accelerate their rise.
Simmons: We disagree — it’s difficult enough to find a playoff-proven veteran/locker room leader that West’s value might be higher than you think. I would flip Zeller for him in 2.2 seconds. Imagine Charlotte becoming a genuine contender. And even better, imagine West and Lance improbably reuniting. If it happens, I hope someone takes a cell phone video of West rejoicing upon hearing that he got traded to a contender … and then realizing that he has to play with Lance again.
Lowe: West doesn’t make Charlotte a legitimate contender. But Zeller–Gerald Henderson is a workable trade package in terms of salary, and I could see Henderson becoming disgruntled as he loses minutes. I just don’t think West has much trade value as a rotation wing on another semi-expiring deal.
Simmons: Come on … Big Al, West, Lance, Kemba, Gary Neal, P.J. Hairston, Marvin “Veteran Leader” Williams and MKG Who Now Allegedly Shoots Correctly in the messy East? That’s not a contender? They couldn’t win two straight playoff series in the East? Careful, you’re gonna piss off the 2,500 Charlotte fans.
Lowe: Winning two series in the East means beating Chicago or Cleveland, and I don’t see your theoretical Hornets roster doing that if both of those teams are healthy.
Simmons: To be fair, I factored in the whole “Derrick Rose hasn’t played a healthy month of basketball since a week before my daughter’s seventh birthday” subplot into that projection. My daughter is now 9½.
Lowe: Well, that was depressing. That’s ultimately why you have to go for it sometimes, though. No one thought the Pacers would be a game from the Finals in 2013. I just don’t think the current Hornets core is as good as you do. As for other places, West would be a good triangle big if the Knicks had anything to trade, and Sacramento is leading the “irrational exuberance/desperation scale.” But West is hard to deal, and Indy really values his leadership. They seem to mean it when they say they’re not tanking this one random non-George season.
Simmons: If Larry Legend weren’t involved, I’d be writing the words “That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard.” The Pacers need to emulate the 1996-97 Spurs by bottoming out for six months and hoping for their own Duncan-type miracle. By the way, if West gets traded, Indiana’s already unwatchable 2014-15 offense would revolve around Hibbert and Rodney Stuckey.
Lowe: In my “33 Crazy Predictions” column, I predicted that Stuckey would lead this team in scoring. Think about that.
Simmons: Translation: CLICK.
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images
Simmons: We gave them 24 points just three weeks ago … and they gained 10 points in the preseason without playing a real game. We’ve never changed a League Pass ranking before. What happened???
Lowe: This is more crooked than Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals.
Simmons: I’m wearing a Dick Bavetta jersey as I write these next 19 words: I’ve never done a faster 180, in my entire career, than the one I pulled off with Dante Exum. Not only did Jalen and I crush the Exum pick in our preview, but when you and I worked on the first draft of this piece, here’s what I wrote: “For me, the Exum subplot is 100 times more fascinating than anything Philly is offering. He might be superduperduper raw, and on top of that, three lottery picks taken right after him (Marcus Smart, Julius Randle and my Rookie Of The Year Choice To Be Revealed A Little Bit Later) could be kicking ass right away. That has a chance to be one of this century’s legendarily bad lottery picks.”
I nearly gave myself a concussion leaping on the hood of the Exum bandwagon as it started pulling away. Did you see him in the preseason? It looked like Kobe cloned the teenage version of himself and added an Australian accent. I’m all in! Easily my fastest flip-flop ever — and that’s saying something.
Lowe: Exum is the variance guy in Utah’s young core. They have six legitimately interesting young players — and possibly seven, depending on Rodney Hood’s development. But the buzz on Utah’s third- and fourth-year guys is sort of fading out. No one is flipping to a Utah game to see a Gordon Hayward jumper streak or some subtle rim protection from Derrick Favors. There’s a reason the Jazz tried to trade for the no. 1 pick: They know all these guys top out as second bananas, and maybe even third bananas. Exum is their guy with the unknown ceiling.
Simmons: And we were both shocked by how many 3s Utah jacked up in the preseason. And we haven’t even mentioned those eight games a year when Hayward improbably goes toe-to-toe against a playoff contender, or the coaching bump from “Ty Corbin” to “anyone else.” Should we bump their ranking again? You could talk me into the high 40s after one drink.
Lowe: We definitely didn’t award enough credit for Quin Snyder’s style bump. It was clear given his work at prior stops: Utah was going to shoot a ton of 3s and try some really interesting stuff on offense. Snyder watches film and sees crazy play-design possibilities that no one else sees. Everyone is jacking 3s for Utah in the preseason — Favors, Kanter, Jazz Bear, Matt Harpring. We made the right move bumping them to no. 28, and we’re going to regret not having them higher.
Simmons: I like these dudes. I like watching Harris, Oladipo and Nicholson. Vucevic plays hard. I’m excited to watch Aaron Gordon run around like he just drank a 48-ounce coffee, and I’m excited for his 20 Set-YouTube-Ablaze dunks. Most of all, I’m excited for my 2015 Rookie of the Year pick, Elfrid Payton, who’s going to haunt the Sixers, Hornets and (especially) Kings while making Gordon’s career 287.3 percent more fun. I’m all in on Elfrid. All in. Bought a few of his Panini rookie cards and everything.
Lowe: Wait … did you actually buy his rookie card? Do people still collect cards?
Simmons: I’m taking you to the 2015 Sports Collectors Convention. There are hundreds and hundreds of single white males wearing Hawaiian shirts who want a word with you.
Lowe: Orlando is kind of like Utah East, only its unproven young dudes have more of a caffeinated bounce. Oladipo is a League Pass–friendly guy. Both of their rookies should be fun.
Simmons: Serious question: Would this team win more games with Jacque Vaughn or Mo Vaughn coaching?
Lowe: You’re joking about Vaughn, but that’s an interesting subplot here: At some point, your identity has to be about more than hard work and character. There has to be an on-court ideology. This is Year 3 post-Dwight. The fart smell has cleared out of the locker room, and the clock is ticking on the Magic to show us something coherent.
Lowe: I ranked them much higher than you, but I still had them in a four-way tie for spots nos. 16-19 — a ranking that would have been unthinkable for a run-and-gun George Karl Denver team. Two writers don’t make a trend, but maybe Denver’s appeal has stagnated. Brian Shaw is still feeling his way with a team that sort of bucked under him last season, and this is a weird roster — seven dudes make between $4.65 million and $11.6 million, and that doesn’t even include Kenneth Faried. They have a middle-rung ceiling.
Simmons: I feel like I’ll spend 10 times more time with them on the Trade Machine than on League Pass.
Lowe: Scott Hastings being a top-five overall League Pass homer and constantly railing on referees — that did not help my ranking.
Simmons: I bumped them two points just because marijuana is legal in Colorado — on a night with a low number of games, at least we can watch Denver’s home games and guess which opponents may have wake-and-baked that morning.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Simmons: Boogie!!!!!! BOOGIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lowe: He has made strides every season. This should be a monster year for him — a chance for his first All-Star appearance. They’re making noise about a breakneck pace and position-less basketball, but let’s see how much of that carries over. The juicier story line is what happens when ownership realizes this team is not nearly as good as they think. A panic trade? A coach firing? A way-too-big commitment to Rudy Gay?
Simmons: I just want to say — your genuine praise of Boogie brought tears to my eyes. This is the best day in Boogie Fanboy Club history other than the time he carried us to the World Cup gold medal over Serbia when we were 33-to-1 favorites.
Lowe: Hey, Boogie keeps getting better. He’s a beast. That contract is a steal. He mostly tries on defense now. I know it’s hard to believe, but trying helps! He’s also the new king of the one-man fast break that could end in disaster for literally every one of the 10 guys on the floor.
Simmons: I just want you to know, those two backhanded compliments bounced right off me. BOOGIE!!!!! Anyway, I can’t wait for Vivek’s annual Make-A-Splash trade that will undoubtedly boost this ranking. Do they have the balls to rent Rondo for a few months? Would they roll the dice with Deron Williams? Could this be our David West team? My money is on Deron. Just a gut feeling.
Lowe: The Kings trading the farm for a point guard after signing Darren Collison and anointing him the missing piece even though he’s not good, then signing Ramon Sessions to play ahead of Ray McCallum, then trading the farm for a point guard — that would be fantastic. The Nets are optimistic about Williams’s ankles, but they should dump him the first chance they get. Rondo on an expiring deal, turning 29 soon and still proving himself post-ACL surgery — that’s one of the trickiest trade pieces ever. And Boston asked for a ton in the few initial talks that have happened over the last year or two.
Simmons: What about Rondo for the Derrick Williams/Reggie Evans expirings, Ben McLemore and a top-seven-protected 2015 pick? That trade makes the 2015 NBA season 5 percent more fun — admit it.
Lowe: I think Boston would do that. But let’s say the cap sticks at the projected $66.3 million for 2015-16, then rises into the mid–$80 million range in 2016-17 — an outcome that is not a foregone conclusion on either side, by the way. That could present Boston with the chance to re-sign Rondo this summer at a number that ends up looking good. I’ve always thought that was the best scenario for them, barring a knockout trade package — to get Rondo back below the max and use him as a lever to draw the next big star to Boston.
Simmons: We agree that Danny Ainge isn’t trading Rondo just to trade him. But Minnesota thought it was keeping Kevin Love this summer … and then, BOOM! Somebody was writing an SI letter that didn’t include the names “Wiggins” and “Bennett” and the rest was history. The Celts are banking on an out-of-nowhere Rondo suitor to reveal itself. Eventually. It’s the right way to play it.
Lowe: Or Rondo could take a one-year deal so he could reenter free agency in 2016.
Simmons: Stop taunting me.
Simmons: Our most shocking League Pass Rankings moment other than us nearly getting into an online fistfight about Charlotte — you gave the Celts more League Pass points than I did! I gave them 21, you gave them 23. I lost some major homer cred here.
Lowe: This is called “Bill comes to his senses.” You rated Boston above the Spurs last year.
Simmons: You promised me you’d never bring that up again.
Lowe: Honestly, it was hard to forgive you. But, hey, Boston looks kind of feisty in the preseason, with all the perimeter defense, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk gunning 3s, and some other fun things! Add Rondo, a great court, and the right dose of Tommy Heinsohn, and they could be watchable, right?
Simmons: It’s an endearingly bad Celtics team. Brad Stevens truly cares — he will absolutely try to win all 82 games, even if that makes no sense whatsoever. Marcus Smart is a badass who will become a fan favorite in Boston. I’d buy a Smart jersey if I weren’t in my mid-forties. That Smart-Bradley defensive backcourt will be a nightmare for certain guards. The whole Rondo soap opera is going to be riveting — not only is he playing for a new deal, he hasn’t played in a relevant NBA game since Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern finals, and that has to be gnawing at him. Sullinger has three fun games a month. I can’t wait to watch The Steal of the 2014 Draft. And I think Kelly Olynyk is going to surprise a ton of people. (Did I win my homer street cred back yet?)
Lowe: You earned it back. I read that and thought for a second that Boston might win 50 games. Bradley proving that his 3-point percentage last season wasn’t a fluke would be huge, because the backcourt is going to feature a ton of guys who can’t shoot. Toss in a lack of rim protection and the C’s have two fundamental flaws. But they will still be semi-entertaining!
Simmons: No shooting and no rim protection … ladies and gentlemen, your 2015 NBA lottery winners, the Boston Celtics!
Simmons: If you’re offering me Bosh, Deng, Chalmers, Josh McBob, a washed-up Granger, a somber Spo and a declining Dwyane Wade, accompanied by empty seats and bummed-out announcers, I’m passing if that’s OK. If you’re offering me a rejuvenated Wade in Eff You Mode trying to reclaim superstardom and doing a reasonable impression of 2011-12 Wade … I’m much more intrigued.
Lowe: That’s the thing — they offer some post-LeBron mystery, but if the big reveal is that this team just isn’t very good, where’s the entertainment value? If Wade can’t act as a primary off-the-bounce force, they could have huge issues creating offense — even with a super-smart head coach who will find quirky solutions. Their bench could be horrific. You know it’s bad when you’re reading preseason stories about Udonis Haslem playing extended minutes. Also, DOOOOOSSSS MINUTOS.
Simmons: Here’s a clip of Dan Le Batard walking the streets of Miami in February.
GIVE IT TO ME AGAIN!!!!!!
Lowe: We slotted these guys into the exact same spot. We might be shell-shocked a bit from last season, when we thought they’d be entertaining and watched them turn into a flaming poop bag filled with bad jump shots, horrible defense and nonexistent coaching.
Simmons: Our best-case scenario for their 2015 League Pass experience: Andre Drummond progressing as a future franchise center … Brandon Jennings’s big comeback season (not kidding, I think it’s happening) … SVG’s wardrobe … every replay of SVG reacting to an ill-timed Josh Smith 3 … solid uniforms, decent court design … 10-year Artest Melee Anniversary Night … and Tommy Heinsohn saying the words “Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.” (Did we rank these guys too low? We might have ranked them too low.)
Lowe: Stan Van Gundy is a top-five coach. This team will be frisky, but the Brandon Jennings–Josh Smith combination — even if they play fewer minutes together — has reached “do not trust until you see them do good basketball things” status.
Simmons: Do you think Danny Ferry will be jealous of a team that plays Kyle Singler and Aaron Gray at the same time? You’re right, too soon.
Lowe: This team isn’t fun to watch, but they destroy the “minutiae” category with that awesome-looking court and the single best top-to-bottom announce team in the league.
Simmons: I reached my League Pass limit for Joe Johnson and Deron Williams about 20 months ago. And KG’s farewell tour and Brook Lopez’s make-or-break season aren’t exactly sucking me in. Why did we rank these guys so high again?
Lowe: Because Ian Eagle is a god among mortals.
Simmons: I gave them an 8 out of 10 in “League Pass Minutiae” for two reasons: Irina Pavlova and Ian Eagle. Between the Joe-Deron backcourt and the way Brooklyn lights its court, you’d fall asleep during every Nets game if not for Eagle. I hope Prokhorov is paying him $20 million a year.
Lowe: They figure to play slower this season with Brook Lopez back and Paul Pierce gone, but the Mirza Teletovic–Bojan Bogdanovic–Andrei Kirilenko trio offers some weirdo positional versatility. Bad news: Kirilenko started suffering back spasms right when camp started, and he cut his hair.
Simmons: When is the Brook Lopez–Larry Sanders trade happening? Do we have an official date? Tell us, Zach — you know things.
Lowe: Well, Jason Kidd supposedly pushed that trade as the Nets coach, and now he’s coaching Sanders. The Bucks aren’t in a rush to sell low on Sanders, and nobody will touch Lopez until he proves his feet aren’t an issue.
Simmons: Sorry, I have to …
Simmons: Giannis, Jabari, Sanders, Ilyasova, Brandon Knight playing for a new deal, Jason Kidd figuring out how he’s gonna shank John Hammond and grab control of the whole team, Giannis a second time, Jabari a second time, Mallory Edens plotting her eventual coup d’état of Adam Silver to become the NBA’s first female commissioner … I mean, how were they just one point higher than the Nets?
Lowe: Well, they sure as hell don’t figure into the league’s zeitgeist. And there’s an entertainment ceiling for bad teams — even ones with freakish young guys, a potential Rookie of the Year, a shooting power forward who sort of looks like Frankenstein’s monster, and the comedy stylings of a hothead who once did this upon ejection:
Simmons: Hey now.
Lowe: The Bucks could, and perhaps should, outperform projections. Even so, they probably won’t be playing meaningful games after February 1. And if they are, they might look to trade their way back in the standings. They do have some interesting trade pieces.
Simmons: I am picking November 26, 2014, as the day when everyone collectively says, “Wait, how the hell did Wiggins go ahead of Jabari in the draft?????” The following is true: Cleveland had the first overall pick in the 2013 and 2014 drafts, but if you redid those drafts, the two Milwaukee guys (Giannis and Jabari) would go first. Bucks fans should be thrilled. They might not be as thrilled three years from now when those guys are playing for the Seattle Bucks … but right now, they should be thrilled.
Lowe: That’s a low blow. The arena issue there got more interesting with the league’s new TV deal, though. Really? We’re gonna give another batch of rich dudes another pile of public money?
Simmons: That’s part of my 2016 sports czar campaign — regular citizens will no longer be allowed to fund stadiums for professional sports owners if those owners spent the past two years destroying a players’ union in a one-sided lockout, creating an owner-friendly salary structure and doubling/tripling the value of their franchises with the latest media rights megadeal. The good people of Wisconsin shouldn’t spend ONE PENNY on that new stadium. Tell those billionaires to screw off.
Simmons: Actually, here’s the team that should move to Seattle.
Lowe: Atlanta seems like too big a market to ditch, and the lease and debt agreements would make moving pretty onerous for any buyer.
Simmons: Yeah, but still. This year’s Hawks have some underrated Hoop Nerdgasm potential — Horford and Millsap playing together, Korver doing Korver things, Coach Budz doing Coach Budz things, the random Mike Scott Heat Check games, and Pero Antic being Pero Antic. He’s replaced Pekovic for me as “The No. 1 NBA Player Who Should Be In A Liam Neeson Movie.”
Lowe: And yet despite all this — all the beauty of Mike Budenholzer’s system, all the talent on hand — you ranked them 10 spots lower than I did. Nothing divides us like the Hawks and Grizzlies. The Hawks are a delight to watch, and they have an awesome new court. Also, should we call Mike Scott the regional manager? The office manager? Does going by “Mike” instead of “Michael” invalidate this? The character Michael Scott was awful at basketball, but he was a chucker — just like Mike Scott!
Simmons: Why not just call him “The Office”? Would you consider Charlotte a 2015 contender if they flipped Noah Vonleh AND Cody Zeller for Al Horford? Who says no? Sorry … you know I have to do this every 1,200 words. It’s part of my contract.
Lowe: I think the precise wording is every 1,200 words and six podcast minutes. But with Horford instead of West, you’re getting somewhere. Horford is a better all-around player, and it’s not even close on defense. Horford could provide at least some rim protection for a team that really needs it, and when you get a dose of rim protection, it opens up new lines of attack defensively. This all assumes that Horford is healthy after two pectoral tears. He could be an interesting trade piece depending on how quickly the ownership situation resolves itself (and what the new bosses want to do). We’ve seen a few new owners tank to varying degrees — including the NBA when it owned New Orleans.
Simmons: Two pectoral tears, a racism scandal, a crazy ownership situation and possible tanking … maybe the Hawks ARE ranked correctly.
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
Portland Trail Blazers
Simmons: We inadvertently baited the Portland Soccer Moms with this ranking. I can already feel the 625-post Blazer’s Edge thread coming. Just remember, Portland fans: Words hurt.
Lowe: Your blood feud with Blazer’s Edge is one of the better ongoing Grantland subplots. I’ll say this for Portland fans: I like their particular kind of crazy. It comes from a deep adoration of their only big-four professional team. When a Portland fan accuses you of not having watched all 82 Portland games — hey, no crap, I cover the whole league — you at least know that person has watched all 82 of those suckers. They don’t seem angry, they’re not conspiracy theorists, and they don’t think the national media hates their team. A great fan base.
Simmons: Couldn’t agree more. That’s also been one of the five best home crowds, year after year, going back to the Walton era. Only the Jail Blazers soured them — and think about what THAT took. To me, they’re the role model for one-team city fan bases. But I can’t be the only one who was disappointed that the team didn’t improve in any way, shape or form this season, right? And don’t throw Chris Kaman at me. Just don’t.
Lowe: Well, they thought they had Spencer Hawes up until the very last second (when he U-turned for the Clips). Kaman is often out of shape, and he went into Byron Mullens Mode last year, starting his shooting motion before he had even really caught a pass. He shot everything. But he’s an upgrade in the sense that he can do more than Joel Freeland, Meyers Leonard, and (probably) Thomas Robinson. He should work in Terry Stotts’s scheme, and he’ll dial back the chucking now that he’s on a good team.
Simmons: Sorry, but “he can do more than Joel Freeland” didn’t exactly get me fired up.
Lowe: This is a fine ranking for Portland — solid team, appealing style, nice court, and ultimately unspectacular. Continuity matters. These guys have played a ton of minutes together and know each other well.
Simmons: I’d like to see them package $7 million to $13 million of expirings with C.J. McCollum and a first-rounder and get one more impact player. But we’re nitpicking. (By the way, they DID offer the max to Hibbert once … and Indiana might blow up its 2014 team, as we discussed earlier. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.)
Lowe: Robin Lopez is one of those expiring contracts, and one way or the other, Portland is going hard after a center in the 2015 offseason.
Simmons: News flash: A “Hibbert, George Hill and Donald Sloan for McCollum, Lopez and the Wright–Freeland–Robinson expirings” deal works on the Trade Machine.
Lowe: You ranked them nine spots higher than I did!
Simmons: Yup, I was responsible for 31 of these 55 League Pass points. What can I say? Who doesn’t want to see Kobe stubbornly jack up 25 shots a game and fight off Father Time? How can you not root for a Nash comeback or Linsanity 2.0? How many times will a wide-open Julius Randle get looked off in the span of six months? What about Byron Scott brazenly antagonizing the advanced-metrics community with his seemingly uneducated hatred of 3s? And is this the worst defensive team ever assembled? How many players will have their career high for points against the 2015 Lakers? I say the over/under is 24.5.
Lowe: Is this some kind of homerism by association? Does boosting the Lakers make you feel as if you are boosting the Celtics, since they are both historic giants dealing with a double dose of potential long-term irrelevance? Is this nostalgia?
Simmons: The Lakers employ an inordinately high number of players whom I enjoy watching (Aging Kobe, Aging Nash, Linsanity, Randle) or secretly enjoy watching (Xavier Henry, Nick Young, even Bob Sacre). And I’ve never NOT enjoyed Carlos Boozer getting overly excited for a relatively mundane basketball moment. Throw in Leo and Jack and Dyan and Flea and I don’t know what to tell you.
Lowe: All of the above subplots sound wonderful until the Lakers are 15-25 and Boozer is getting minutes over Ed Davis and Randle. Watching an opponent layup line gets old after a while, especially since Robert Sacre can celebrate only Lakers baskets.
Lowe: You had them 11 spots lower than me. Eleven. Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, Z-Bo, and a roster of D-League players should rank at least 15th on this entertainment scale. Are you mad that Trick or Treat Tony didn’t realize his full potential until he left Boston? Is it Chris Wallace being back in charge? Did you overdose on barbecue during the Western Conference finals two years ago?
Simmons: I knew you’d be disappointed. Here’s my defense: I know what I’m getting with the 2015 Grizzlies. There’s no mystery. They haven’t changed, fundamentally, in five years. We’ll get to watch them on national TV, and we’ll get to watch them in the playoffs. I don’t need to waste huge chunks of League Pass time on them when I could be doing better things … like watching Stephen Curry drop 67 points on the Lakers.
Lowe: But there is intrigue here in Memphis! A lot of front-office personnel with fancy internal projection systems have the Grizzlies as the incumbent Western Conference playoff team most vulnerable to slipping out. That surprised me. They won 50 games last year despite some major injuries, they bring defense every night, and they’re getting some solid wing depth in Vince Carter and the returning Quincy Pondexter. But some of their key players are aging, and projection systems do not like older players.
Simmons: Wow, I really regret not ranking them higher.
Lowe: I’ll never convince you. I’m angry. Let’s just move on.
Filed Under: 2014-15 NBA Preview, Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic, Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies