Here’s Part I of my NBA Preview if you missed it. And the question remains: Why write a two-part preview when you can just make lists? For instance …
FOUR TEAMS THAT SEEM TO BE OVERRATED BY JUST ABOUT EVERYONE ON THE PLANET FOR WHATEVER REASON
1. New Jersey
Ever noticed how fantasy basketball has ruined everyone’s ability to judge NBA teams before a season? Take the Nets, for example — a popular preseason pick with three quality offensive players (Kidd, Carter and Jefferson), all of whom went in their first five rounds of your fantasy draft last month … and everyone assumes this makes for a good NBA team. Well, their backcourt can’t guard anyone (seriously, have you watched Kidd since his knee operation?); they have two Defcon 2 injury risks in their top three; and nobody else on their roster can be considered “above-average.” Also, they can’t rebound or score inside. Other than that, they look great.
(And yes, I wrote that paragraph before they got waxed by the Bucks Wednesday night. I swear on my “$40 on the Bucks to win the Central Division at 25-1 odds” ticket.)
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Your eight-man rotation for the Kings this season: Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic, Bonzi Wells, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Brad Miller, Kenny Thomas, Morrissey, Trent Reznor.
All right, I made the last two up. But from a chemistry standpoint, has there ever been a more depressing team than the Kings? All of these guys carry themselves like Charlie Sheen in “Ferris Bueller” — you might not see a single smile from a Kings starter this season. (Poor Rick Adelman should just start dressing in all black like Richard Lewis.) Seriously, I like Geoff Petrie, but how could he slap together a nucleus like that without passing out complimentary Prozac during games? I’m depressed just writing about these guys — instead of warmup jackets in the layup lines, they should wear trench coats. I see these guys playing the part of brooding underachievers for a few months, then Adelman getting fired and being replaced by either Katie Couric or Richard Simmons.
Everyone in the East got better, they got worse. That’s never a good sign. Although I’m excited for Ben Gordon to have the first ever 3-for-33 shooting night.
For three reasons: (A) Ray Allen isn’t in a contract year anymore; (B) they’ll miss what Jerome James gave them last season (although I did like the Mikki Moore signing); and (C) the dropoff from Antonio Daniels to Rick Brunson is roughly equivalent to renting “Caddyshack” at a video store and realizing when you came home that you accidentally rented “Caddyshack 2.” I see them going from 52 wins to 40.
(On the bright side, check this out. Yes, the guy whose NBA file photo looks like a mugshot of a kid suspected of planning multiple high school shootings might actually play this season. And get dunked on. Again. And again. And again. And you were worried that nobody could fill Shawn Bradley’s shoes.)
SIX QUESTIONS THAT STILL HAVEN’T BEEN ANSWERED (AND MAY NEVER BE ANSWERED)
1. Why did Miami overhaul its team?
If Wade didn’t get hurt in the Pistons series, Miami would have made the Finals. So why blow the whole thing up? More importantly, when you have a top two like Shaq and Wade, shouldn’t you be surrounding them with role players who only bring stuff to the table — not guys like Antoine Walker and Jason Williams, two up-and-down players who take bad shots and have a tendency to take stuff off the table? Just wait until the first playoff game when Walker hoists up a gawd-awful 3 with 30 seconds left in a tie game, then taps his chest and does the “my bad, my bad” routine. Why even risk it? Shades of Cabrera-for-Renteria.
Anyway, here’s my guess: Pat Riley suffered from the old Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza Syndrome. Further explanation in a few paragraphs.
2. Why did Phil Jackson come back?
Here’s my guess: Because it’s a no-lose situation. If they’re better than people thought, he gets all the credit. If they stink, everyone will blame Kobe and say that he killed the Lakers. Either way, Jackson’s checks are cashing every two weeks. And if you don’t think the Busses didn’t make a handshake promise with him along the lines of, “If Kobe starts acting up, we’ll deal him in February, you have our word,” you’re nuts. Why do you think they drafted a high school center and rolled the dice with a project like Kwame Brown? These aren’t the types of moves you make when you’re building around one of the five best players in the league. Something’s up here.
3. Now that Quentin Richardson and Brandy have finally broken up, which will be the next high-profile NBA breakup: Rafer Alston and Jeff van Gundy, Tony Parker and Eva Longoria, Phil Jackson and Jeanie Buss, Cuttino Mobley and Steve Francis, Doug Christie and Mrs. Christie, or Bill Simmons and Bobby Simmons?<p>
Here’s my guess: I think Tony and Eva call it quits — he’s too busy, she’s too famous. I just hope she falls into the arms of Shaun Livingston for the skinniest celebrity-athlete relationship of all-time. If those two ever went out to dinner and actually ate something, Sally Struthers would probably start sobbing in joy.
4. Why did Denver sign Earl Watson for $29 million when they already had Miller and Boykins and needed that money for an outside shooter?
Here’s my guess: They were planning on packaging Miller and Nene for a shooter … and then Nene blew out his kn-nee this week. Whoops.
5. Why did the Celtics shell out $15 million for Brian Scalabrine and another $7.5 million for Dan Dickau?
Here’s my guess: They thought my column was slipping and decided that I needed some new material. Well, mission accomplished. After Wednesday night’s opening win against the Knicks, my Dad called to happily rehash the game, and we went over everything — Delonte looked great, Pierce played hard, so did Mark Blount, maybe we can make the playoffs, and so on — until the following depressing exchange:
–Dad: “Did you see Scalabrine? Some of those plays he made … I mean, it was awkward to watch. I felt awkward.”
–Me: “I know. Apparently he’s a really good teammate though.”
–Dad (sarcastic pause): “Oh, well that changes everything.”
6. If you’re the Blazers and you’re making a big deal about going with a youth movement and changing the identity of the team, isn’t keeping Zach Randolph, Darius Miles and Ruben Patterson around kinda like hosting an an AA meeting at your house, starting the meeting, then breaking out a case of Sam Adams, a bottle of Grey Goose and a box of pot brownies?
Here’s my guess: Actually, I don’t have a guess for this one. I’m perplexed. Let’s just move on.
ONE QUESTION THAT CAN BE EASILY ANSWERED
1. Why did the NBA institute a dress code?
Because David Stern is a genius, that’s why. During the busiest sports month of the year (October), the NBA managed to steal mainstream media attention away from the baseball playoffs, the NFL season, college football, the NHL, “Survivor,” “Amazing Race,” the debut of the “Adam Carolla Project” on TLC, Franz Ferdinand’s new album, Kate and Tom’s immaculate conception, the first photos of the Federline-Spears baby, Jimmy Snuka’s triumphant return to the WWE … you name it, the NBA dress code overshadowed it. You couldn’t ask for better publicity heading into a season.
Which brings me to my point: They could have announced this decision in July, August or September. Instead, they waited until October … as if they didn’t know it would turn into a racial issue (what isn’t a racial issue at this point?), or that some players would react poorly, or that millionaire dopes like Marcus Camby would demand a stipend for new clothes, or that Cuban would dress like a homeless man in retaliation. Come on. It was brilliant, it worked, it got people talking and it’s just another reason why David Stern should be running the country some day.
(Imagine Stern as president after the New Orleans debacle? You know he would have come up with some convoluted way to knock FEMA off the front pages, something like “President Stern announced today that members of Congress would have to wear white wigs when they were in session like everyone did back in the late-1700s, explaining, ‘It’s time this country went back to its roots. … what, you have a problem with America celebrating its roots?'”)
OTHER THAN MILWAUKEE, TWO TEAMS THAT WILL BE BETTER THAN PEOPLE REALIZE
Did you hear the news about KG? Apparently he was kidnapped by the same people who took Walt on “Lost” — I haven’t heard his name mentioned once since the season ended. Didn’t he win MVP just 16 months ago? Couldn’t you chalk up last year’s Wolves stinkbomb to some specific reasons, like Sam Cassell pouting about an extension, Spree’s “Feed my family” debacle, KG’s knee problem, the team tuning out Flip Saunders, maybe even players being distracted during games by Kevin McHale in a double-breasted suit staggering up and down the sidelines like C3PO? I’m not crazy about some of the guys on this team, but the West is too weak for someone of KG’s caliber to miss a second straight playoff.
(Besides, when I found out this summer that KG was getting himself into shape by running on the beaches of Malibu all summer, I vowed to pick him for the playoffs. The sheer comedy of a 7-foot-1 African American sprinting on the sands of the whitest, most uptight place on the planet makes me downright giddy — some Malibu residents probably haven’t seen a black person in 25 years. Why aren’t there cameras recording this? Not since Apollo raced Rocky has there been this much potential for hilarity with a black athlete running on a beach.)
On paper, they aren’t any better than last year. But two major things happened. First, the West got worse. Second, for the first time in the Cuban Era, they stopped tinkering and brought back last year’s group intact (one exception: Doug Christie and Mrs. Christie replacing Michael Finley). I know that sounds simple, but I’m telling you, that’s the biggest reason San Antonio and Detroit ended up in the 2005 Finals.
Think of it this way: Putting together a basketball team is like cooking a Stouffer’s french bread pizza — you have to preheat the oven, wait 15 minutes, slide the pizzas inside, wait another 35 minutes, check to make sure you didn’t burn them, let them cook another five minutes, pull them out, then let them cool down for another 10 minutes so you don’t burn your mouth … and then, and ONLY then, do you eat the pizzas. That’s how the good general managers build their teams. But these new-wave owners and general managers want to eat the pizza right away, so they slip them in the microwave, zap the hell out them, scarf down in three bites and end up burning their mouths, and the pizza doesn’t even taste good as it’s going down. That’s what Cuban did for the last few years. And it didn’t work. Now he’s cooking the right way. Whether it lands them in the Western Conference Finals remains to be seen, but that’s a potential 60-win team.
TWO TEAMS I WOULD FEEL MUCH BETTER ABOUT IF THEIR LAST NAMES WEREN’T “THE WARRIORS” AND “THE CLIPPERS”
1. Golden State
Any time your playoff hopes hinge on the words, “If Baron Davis can stay healthy,” that’s always a red flag. When those same words involve the No. 1 star-crossed franchise in the league, as well as the most tortured (and insanely loyal) fans around … that’s even more of a red flag. I’m already bummed out about Baron’s impending knee injury and it hasn’t even happened yet.
So here’s what I think Warriors fans should do: You guys need to reverse-jinx this baby. Instead of saying, “If Baron can stay healthy … ” or being foolish enough to expect him to stay healthy, go the other direction — say things like, “Well, if we can just get 40 games out of Baron before he blows out his knee again” or “Hopefully he’ll get hurt in November, then he could be back in March in time for a playoff push, right?” Lower your expectations to the absolute minimum. Then, if he gives you more than 50 games, it will be like finding a $1,000 chip from Vegas in your jeans pocket.
2. LA Clippers
Basically the same team as last season, only with a real point guard (Sam Cassell), better outside shooting (Cuttino Mobley) and a healthy Shaun Livingston (hopefully). Considering that last year’s team won 37 games, blew about 15 wins in the final minute and featured the worst set of point guards in the history of organized basketball, 45-47 wins seems totally reasonable. Then again, these are the Clippers.
(More importantly, in case you were wondering, the new NBA dress code does not affect Elgin Baylor — he can still wear Bill Cosby’s wardrobe from the 1986 season of “The Cosby Show” to home games. What a relief.)
NINE 2005-06 SUBPLOTS THAT LEGITIMATELY HAVE ME FIRED UP
1. The Return of Ron Artest
Maybe the Pacers aren’t wheeling him out for the pregame intros in the Hannibal Lecter dolly … but it’s still fun to have a completely insane player back in the league, isn’t it? Now I can finally erase the Pistons-Pacers melee from my TiVo.
(On second thought … nahhhhhhh. )
2. Kobe’s new nickname
An actual excerpt from Ric Bucher’s ESPN The Mag cover story about Kobe and Phil (and no, I’m not making this up):
“Granted, there’s still a dark side that Bryant embraces. He’s known in his inner circle as Mamba, which, he is happy to explain, is a kind of snake that can grow to 13 feet and is one of the world’s quickest, and one of the most venomous, serpents. He referred to this summer as the ‘blackout,’ in which the snake grew a new skin through a seven-days-a-week conditioning program.”
Wait, there’s more!
Here’s Kobe explaining his new nickname: “The mamba can strike with 99 percent accuracy at maximum speed, in rapid succession. That’s the kind of basketball precision I want to have. Not being able to train the last two summers, I was in a gunfight with a rusty butter knife. I did my share of killing, but I was just fighting to survive.”
All right …
First of all, I love when any celebrity gives himself a new nickname to change his identity. It’s funny when wrestlers change gimmicks and end up with a new nickname, it’s funny when Diddy changes nicknames, and it’s downright hysterical when an NBA star once accused of sexual assault decides it would be a fantastic idea to embrace the identity of a 13-foot serpent. Second, when they explain the choice of the nickname with a beauty like, “The mamba can strike with 99% accuracy at maximum speed, in rapid succession,” and refuse to credit “Kill Bill,” it reminds me why I still love writing this column. And third, I don’t think this nickname is catching on, since I have been delightedly telling everyone I know about the Mamba story, and nobody has heard of it, so I’m calling Kobe “Mamba” in this space from this point forward. Long live Mamba.
3. The Juvenation of Darko
Actually, I don’t want to jinx it. Let’s see how this plays out.
4. Joel Przybilla, accepted fantasy draft pick
And I know this because I said the words “I’ll take Joel Przybilla” during the 10th round of my West Coast draft on Tuesday … and nobody laughed.
While we’re here, two other highlights from my draft:
• Thinking he was out for only four weeks, my friend Nick took Amare Stoudemire with the ninth pick of the first round, followed by stunned silence, followed by everyone glancing around with “Should we stick him with Amare?” looks, and then me finally chiming in, “You know he’s out until March, right?” and Nick turning purple. As Jim Nantz would gush, “What a moment!” Since he hadn’t paid yet and obviously could have just fled from the room and started running, we allowed him to repick (he took Dwyane Wade) and immediately named his team, “Thanks For The 165 Bucks.”
• About five rounds later, Nick took Donyell Marshall … followed by an awkward silence … followed by our friend Hench thumbing through his sheets and saying, “In this CBS SportsLine draft sheet I printed out, Marshall went 29th” … followed by us making the “Oh, that’s good news” sounds and Nick smiling happily … and then Hench quickly following that up with, “The draft took place three years ago though.” Brought the house down. And you thought you had heard every fantasy draft putdown. Poor Nick had to be helped to his car after the draft.
5. Pat Riley stealing Stan Van Gundy’s job
I couldn’t be more excited for this one — as soon as Miami loses three straight games, you know Riles is stepping right in on the Hedgehog. And why not?
6. Marv Albert, Nets Announcer
Has there ever been a TV scenario quite like Marv doing Nets games on the Yes Network, the same network named after his catch phrase? We will be back on … YES! Right after this! Is that why he chose to go there? I mean, if there was an Oh, My! Network, wouldn’t Dick Enberg have to work for it? What about a Boo Yeah Network and Stu Scott? I really think Marv wanted this just so he could run into random people at cocktail parties and have exchanges like this:
— Random: “So, what are you doing now?
— Marv: “I’m doing some football games on Westwood One. Also calling NBA games on TNT. And, I’m announcing all the Nets games.
— Random: “Really, what channel?
— Marv: “Yes!”
7. LeBron vs. Wade
Mandatory TV every time. Although I’m not as high on the Cavs as others — does anyone else find it ironic that a guy who couldn’t play defense (Danny Ferry) put together a team that doesn’t look like it can play defense?
15. Charlotte (15-67)
14. Orlando (18-64)
13. Toronto (23-59)
11. Atlanta (26-56)
12. New York (28-54)
10. Philly (36-46)
9. New Jersey (39-43)
8. Boston (41-41)
7. Chicago (42-40)
6. Cleveland (48-34)
5. Miwaukee (50-32)
4. Washington (50-32)
3. Indiana (59-23)
2. Miami (60-22)
1. Detroit (62-20)
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
COACH OF THE YEAR
8. Mark Blount, Identity Change
Heading into this season, Blount announced that he wants everyone to pronounce his name “blunt,” which is funny on about 40 levels. More important, the name change is going to end Tommy Heinsohn’s broadcasting career, as poor Tommy keeps saying things like, “What a rebound by Blount! Er, Blunt!” Tommy seems to be about seven more slips away from throwing a drink and screaming on live TV, “Ah, BLEEP this, I’m still calling him Blount, I don’t give a rat’s ass what his new name is!”
(And by the way, the name change is working — Blount’s looked good enough for the past five weeks that I have been able to direct all my anger and hostility toward the Scalabrine signing. Thank you, Mr. Blount. Er, Blunt.)
9. The Hulkster, Chris Kaman
In one of the craziest developments in the history of the league, Chris Kaman apparently bought Hulk Hogan’s hair from Wrestlemania V on eBay — long blonde strands, receding hairline, bald spot in the back — basically everything that ultimately convinced the Hulkster to start wearing that yellow bandanna 24/7 in the late-80s.
So that got me thinking …
If Kaman is going to play the 2005-06 season with Hulk Hogan’s hair, then why can’t the Clippers take it a couple of steps further? Why not have Kaman grow Hogan’s semi-circle mustache as well? Why not have him start calling his fans the “Kamaniacs” and saying things in TV interviews like, “Whatcha gonna do when Kamania runs wild on you?” Why not have him wear a yellow-and-red “Kamania!” T-shirt that he could rip off during the pregame introductions? Imagine the Clippers introducing their first four starters, followed by a couple of seconds of silence, and then “I Am a Real American” could start playing, and Kaman could emerge from the tunnel flexing and pointing to everyone as the crowd goes bonkers?
(Or … maybe not.)
THE SEVEN TEAMS THAT CAN WIN THE 2006 NBA TITLE
(Note: I would have included Denver until Nene’s injury, which squashed their plans to trade for another shooter. They don’t have enough now. Too bad.)
1. San Antonio
Loaded team, phenomenal bench, resident superstar on hand, tons of confidence … why couldn’t they finish like 74-8? Who’s stopping them? I feel like every Spurs loss would be an accident — this is the most stacked NBA team since the ’97 Bulls. I can’t even think of anything interesting to say about them.
Playing with a collective “We can win without Larry Brown, just watch!” chip on their shoulder, which makes them exceedingly dangerous.
Love the team, love the chemistry, love the coach. But here’s my big question: Game 7, Eastern Finals, down by one, 20 seconds left, Indy has the ball … who takes the big shot for them? Who steps up? Are you really happy with Artest taking that shot? What about Stephen Jackson? The Lithuanian? A fallaway from Jermaine O’Neal? None of the options make me feel that good. I’d rather go with the previous guys.
I think they missed their big window last spring. We’ll see.
The best bet to sneak into the Western Finals and get shellacked by 20 points a game.
Let’s say they manage to hang around .500 past the trading deadline … and Amare comes back right around March Madness … and he rounds himself into shape by mid-April … and they end up being a seventh seed. Would you want to play them? Me neither.
7. LA Lakers
Never understimate the danger of Mamba. You know, the mamba can strike with 99 percent accuracy at maximum speed, in rapid succession …
The pick: San Antonio over Detroit in five.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine and his Sports Guy’s World site is updated every day Monday through Friday. His new book “Now I Can Die In Peace” is available right now on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.