If you missed Part 1 of my Western Conference retro-preview, click here. Here’s Part 2
Preseason Prediction: 41 wins (10th)
Revised Prediction: 41 wins
I covered Melo’s surreal situation in a sidebar last Friday. (The CliffsNotes version: He owes it to Denver fans to say either “I want to stay” or “I want to go.”) We thought the Knicks could acquire him Dec. 15 (once 2010 free agents can be traded) if they offered Danilo Gallinari, Anthony Randolph, $20 million of expirings and $3 million in cash for Melo and Kenyon Martin’s expiring (saving Denver $19 million this season). But the trade rumors sent Gallo into a Tskitishvilian funk; if the Knicks made him the centerpiece of a Melo offer, it would anger the Nuggets (much like we get angry when someone offers a dumb fantasy trade).
So now what? Unless Jersey panics and ponies up a Dec. 15 Godfather offer like “Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, Travis Outlaw, $16 million of expirings and $3 million for Melo, K-Mart and Billups” — a trade that saves the Nuggets $26 million this season and reinvents their team — Denver’s front office finds itself stuck in no-man’s land with an increasingly bummed-out team. The Nuggets’ only hope? That their guaranteed $65 million pre-lockout extension offer will trump LaLa Anthony’s desire to live in New York (even if it means riding out the lockout and settling for less money). Either way, Vegas just gave me 5-1 odds that LaLa will be complaining about the decision her ex-husband made in eight years on “Basketball Wives, Season 9: More Bitter Than Ever.”
Reason No. 14,733 I love the NBA: In Season 1 of “Basketball Wives,” Antoine Walker’s former fiancée came off like a gold-digger who ditched Antoine only because he went bankrupt. Did she get engaged this week? Of course she did. Is her soon-to-be husband a professional athlete who makes millions per year? Of course he is. Does he also appear on VH1 reality shows? Of course he does. Is her new name going to be Evelyn Ochocinco? Of course it is. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Preseason Prediction: 44 wins (7th)
Revised Prediction: 43 wins
Add this to Steve Nash’s Hall of Fame résumé: “Turned Hakim Warrick, someone who has two discernable basketball skills — he finishes well on fast breaks, and he rolls hard to the rim off screens — into someone who can explode for 20-25 on any given night.” It’s his greatest feat ever. Even better than making Shawn Marion a top-10 player and getting Amare Stoudemire a $100 million contract.
The one thing I can’t figure out: Instead of stupidly splurging on Josh Childress and Channing Frye, then dealing for Hedo Turkoglu’s appalling deal ($44 million through 2014), why didn’t Phoenix pursue restricted free agent Luis Scola? The Suns could have given him a five-year, $60 million offer with the first year front-loaded for $14 million (then $13M, $12M, $11M and a non-guaranteed fifth year for $10M), brutal for the Rockets because they were well over the luxury-tax threshold (meaning Scola’s first front-loaded season would have cost them $28 million). Would you rather have Childress, Frye and Turkoglu, or Scola and Leandro Barbosa? Come on. Houston ended up stealing Scola for $36 million over four years (that’s the actual value of the contract, not the $53 million number that’s been incorrectly reported), with a non-guaranteed fifth year for $11 million. Inexcusable. Where were the Suns? And where was Mutant Russian Mark Cuban?
Reason No. 14,732 I love the NBA: Fake trades! Here’s one for the scenario “Steve Nash fed up by being Sarvered and demands out”: Jason Kidd, Caron Butler (expiring) and DeShawn Stevenson (expiring) to the Knicks; Jason Terry, Ray Felton, a Dallas No. 1 and $6 million in cash to the Suns (they save $17 million with the deal); Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill and Eddy Curry (expiring) to Dallas; and the added bonus of a crying Dirk Nowitzki and a sobbing Marc Stein greeting Nash at Dallas’ airport by running toward him in slow-motion with “Imagine” playing, like Sam Waterston running toward Haing S. Ngor at the end of “The Killing Fields.”
6. OKLAHOMA CITY
Preseason Prediction: 62 wins (1st)
Revised Prediction: 50 wins
Young team, tons of hype, overachieved a little last year, failed to improve last summer, slipped defensively, too predictable offensively had my Durant man-crush not blinded me, I may have seen this one coming. (Nope. Picked ’em to make the Finals.) In my defense, I thought James Harden was the No. 3 pick in the 2009 draft and might be better than an 11th man. When I wrote last spring about what life could have been like had Oklahoma City taken Tyreke Evans or Stephen Curry (the one I wish it had taken), the catch was always “That’s easy to say now with Curry and Evans playing well, but just wait until Harden gets going.”
So how long do we have to wait?
Every fantasy junkie knows that Year 2 is always the season when young guys take off. You buried your rookie jitters, figured out how to spend your paycheck, got used to the travel, made friends, found a place to live, survived the Rookie Wall, spent the summer working on your holes and then BOOM! Year 2 happens and you hit your stride. If it doesn’t happen? Major problem. Sure, you can have your occasional late bloomer (see: Billups, Chauncey), but anytime you’re waiting for a high lottery pick to “get it” past Year 2, there’s a good chance you’ll be waiting forever. Top-six picks since 1997 who back up that statement: Antonio Daniels, Ron Mercer, Robert Traylor, Jon Bender, Stromile Swift, Marcus Fizer, Kwame Brown, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Darko Milicic, Marvin Williams, Shelden Williams, Ty Thomas and Yi Jianlian. If you want, we can throw Hasheem Thabeet in there right now. Up to you.
The concern with Harden? He might be another Marvin Williams: solid player, good character guy, a borderline starter but ultimately pretty forgettable (other than his Kimbo Slice beard). How would you even describe him? Decent 3-point shooter. Decent athlete (not great). Streaky scorer. Doesn’t fill the box score. Disappears for minutes at a time. I know he’ll get better, but with how the Zombies were built, don’t they need him to get significantly better? And soon?