I passed on writing a 2010-11 NBA preview after inadvertently stepping all over it with my 2010-11 NBA season ticket rankings. The thinking: “I’ll wait a few weeks, then write a two-part retro preview that accomplishes all the things I would have done with the regular preview, only with the bonus of hindsight.”
Translation: There’s no way I can be wrong! None! I’m a genius. This week: the West. Either next week or the week after: the East.
In descending order from worst to first
15. L.A. CLIPPERS
Preseason Prediction: 42 wins (9th)
Revised Prediction: 19 wins
I couldn’t attend the second Clips home game of the year (Sunday afternoon against Dallas); neither could my friend Tollin, who shares the tickets with me. We put the tickets on StubHub for about 90 percent of their value, hoping that a Mavs fan or Blake Griffin bandwagon-leaper might grab them. Within a few hours, Tollin e-mailed me, “Somebody bit! We sold the tickets!” First time we had gotten close to full value for Clippers tickets in three years. Two weeks, six losses and 359 sagged Griffin shoulders later, we were on the phone wondering what to do with last Friday’s Pistons tickets and Tollin said, “Who knew the StubHub sale would be the highlight of our Clippers season?”
We both laughed. But it wasn’t a joke.
The good news: Unlike other dreadful Clips seasons (and this will be one of them), at least they have a foundation for something: Griffin (a future franchise player), Eric Gordon (invigorated by his Team USA experience), Eric Bledsoe (a post-lottery steal) and Al-Farouq Aminu (Luol Deng 2.0) are four under-22 keepers.
The bad news: We didn’t even get to Thanksgiving before the Clipper Skunk sprayed Blake. Within 10 days, he had that same glazed hostage-video look on his face that Clips fans have been seeing for 30 years.
I knew this could be bad, and I’d been warned by everybody, but still, I didn’t know it would be THIS bad.
A few late-game collapses and deader-than-dead crowds will do that to you. In the preseason, when Blake was flying around like an insane cross between Young Shawn Kemp and Young Larry Johnson, he looked like one of those aspiring actresses who just moved to Hollywood dreaming of owning the city. Within a few weeks, he looked like that same actress after she had just fought off the advances of a few lecherous producers on casting sofas. Get me out of here. Monday’s home game against New Jersey was frightening: Blake got eaten alive by Kris Humphries, nearly had his neck broken by Devin Harris (who was kicked out of the game for a flagrant foul), then jogged through the second half like he was thinking, “If I went back to Oklahoma, would I be able to regain my college eligibility?” I actually took the Sports Gal to that game (her first of the year); at one point, she blurted out “I thought you said Blake Griffin was good?” Like I had lied about Blake’s talent to get her to come to the game. Bad sign for his rookie of the year campaign.
Reason No. 58 I need to bring my wife to more Clippers games: In the span of four quarters Monday, she complained about Brook Lopez’s neck hair (“He obviously doesn’t have a girlfriend, because she would have made him shave it”); bristled when I mentioned that the new Clippers sideline reporter follows me on Twitter (“Great, why don’t you ask her out?”); decided that Blake Griffin as a baby looked exactly like he does now (solid point, actually); checked out on the Vinny Del Negro era after 10 minutes because she didn’t like his tie or his hair (again, solid points); went into a two-minute tirade about how our daughter’s musical had better choreography than the timeout routines from “Clipper Strippers” (her term for the Clippers cheerleaders); then got upset when the fans chanted for Brian Cook during the tail end of the game (“It’s just mean, that’s all I’m saying”). Does anyone know if @sh-tmywifesaysduringclippersgames is taken as a Twitter handle yet?
Preseason Prediction: 22 wins (14th)
Revised Prediction: 20 wins
Small-picture issue that doesn’t involve the question “Wait, is Tyreke Evans a point guard?”: The Kings have only 96 minutes available for Sam Dalembert, DeMarcus Cousins, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson every night, which means Thompson (a 6-foot-11 banger) has been playing out of position at small forward, which makes no sense, which is why the Kings are a mortal lock to be involved in our first in-season trade. Fortunately for them, the Pistons are Bizarro Sacramento: too many perimeter guys, not enough bangers, too many guys feuding with their coach, and if that’s not enough, they have Charlie Villanueva and Charlie Villanueva 2.0 (Austin Daye). Can you imagine Joe Dumars accepting the Larry O’Brien Trophy within the next five years and telling Stu Scott, “I knew once we had two soft forwards with size who love to jack 3s and can’t rebound or guard anyone, the league would eventually be our oyster!” Me neither.
The Picasso of the Trade Machine offers these suggestions: either Daye straight up for Thompson; Dalembert straight up for Tayshaun Prince (who’s so disgruntled that he’s practically ungruntled); or a three-way deal with Dalembert going to Detroit, Prince going to Dallas and Caron Butler and $3 million of Mark Cuban’s money going to Sacramento. Thank you, and please drive through.
Big-picture issue that doesn’t involve the question “Wait, is Tyreke Evans a point guard?”: We knew Cousins was a tough guy to, um, manage. (Recent reports of strife between Cousins and his coaches weren’t exactly shocking.) We knew he’d be a work in progress, that he might launch an occasional gawd-awful 3, draw a dumb technical or make you say “We’re losing by 22, why is he laughing hysterically on the bench right now?” But I never realized how much Cousins would struggle to stay on the court. Through nine games: 196 minutes, 40 fouls. That’s 9.8 fouls per 48 minutes, which (if it held) would be the highest number for anyone averaging 16-plus minutes since Danny Fortson’s legendary 12.0 in 2005. You watch Cousins, thinking “No, no, don’t go for the upfake NOOOOOOO!” and “No, don’t jump over his back, NO!!!!!!” Then he’ll take over a game for 60 seconds so easily it makes you say “I’m going online and buying 10 Cousins rookie cards.” What a roller coaster.
Reason No. 14,727 I love the NBA: I fully expect to change my opinion on Cousins 570 times before his career is over. Minimum.
Preseason Prediction: 19 wins (15th)
Revised Prediction: 25 wins
A fascinating DirecTV team lately because of Kevin Love’s epic rebounding binge (although that 30-30 game was inadvertently a bad career move since there’s no way the T-Wolves will deal him now), Michael Beasley’s uber-rejuvenation (163 points in his past five games) and Darko Milicic’s historically atrocious offensive start (first 11 games: 22.7 MPG, 28.8 percent FG, 50 percent FT, 1.91 TO, 5.0 PPG, although he did rally this week). Minnesota GM David Kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahn effectively traded Al Jefferson for Darko, Beasley and two non-lottery picks, so if Beasley redeems his career — that’s a defensible trade. Well, unless you’re one of the other Western teams and you want to wring Kahn’s neck for giving Jefferson to Utah.
As for Kahn, the 2009 draft fiasco speaks for itself: He whiffed on Stephen Curry twice and totally miscalculated the Ricky Rubio situation. He will never be able to justify giving Darko $20 million under the bizarre logic, “We need a passing center for the triangle,” given that the triangle hasn’t succeeded in the NBA without MJ or Kobe being involved so a 15-win team severely overpaying a four-time castoff based on the logic “We need him for the triangle” would be like TBS badly overpaying a bandleader based on the logic, “We need him for Lopez!” And it still hasn’t explained why the T-Wolves embarked on a multiyear rebuilding plan when they don’t own their own first-round pick in 2012; at some point soon, they’re going to have to suck it up and deal Rubio’s rights for immediate help.
(Hold on, big “Having that said that” coming )
Having said that
Stealing Beasley for two second-round picks was a freaking heist. Maybe he couldn’t handle South Beach. Maybe he couldn’t adjust to playing off the ball with Dwyane Wade. Maybe his personal demons were worse than the girl’s from “Drag Me to Hell.” But watching him this month has been a revelation — even if he’s a defensive liability, there aren’t 12 NBA players right now who can drop 30 points easier than him.
Couldn’t someone have trumped two second-round picks? Why would Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo turn down Beasley in the Bosh/Heat sign-and-trade when Miami would have thrown him in for free? Where was Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti, who could have easily trumped Minnesota’s offer and added Beasley (one of Kevin Durant’s best friends) as a much-needed bench scorer? And where the hell were the Clippers???? I know he played terribly last season, and I know about the off-court concerns, but if you watched him in college I mean how could the No. 2 pick of the 2008 draft be worthless two years later? That was such a steal that I’m suspending all “Kaaaaaaaaahn!” jokes indefinitely. Great, great trade. And shame on the rest of the league for falling asleep.
Reason No. 14,728 I love the NBA: Colangelo had a choice between paying Beasley $11 million for two years (with a qualifying offer of $8.1 million in 2012-13) or signing Amir Johnson for $34 million for five years and chose Johnson!? Did he suffer a head injury right before the 2006 draft and not tell us? I’m dumping Kahn for Colangelo as this season’s GM Whipping Boy. He didn’t just ruin the Raptors these past four years; he shoved them down the stairs, beat them to death with a baseball bat and buried them in a sanitation site.
Preseason Prediction: 42 wins (8th)
Revised Prediction: 35 wins
As recently as four or five years ago, if your best players were Luis Scola, Shane Battier, Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin, as long as they were flanked by average role players, you could win 47-49 games. You know how I know this?