NBA at Midseason
With the Dunk Contest over and the All-Stars aligning, we move forward with this NBA Season. There is still a lot of basketball to be played, players to be traded, and playoff seeding at stake. The storylines start with the NBA Trade Deadline…
The first big domino has already fallen, when the Memphis Grizzlies traded former franchise star Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors in the 3-team trade. The Gay trade was widely rumored and went through without much fanfare overall. The Raptors got what they wanted, a player they can build around with star talent and an exciting skill set to spur ticket sales. The Grizzlies got what they wanted, by relieving themselves of Gay’s contract and adding young pieces that fit well with their system. Overall, Toronto is a bit better as a result of the trade, and the Grizzlies are having some difficulty adjusting to life without their former star. Memphis has gone 4-3 in its seven games since the Rudy Gay trade, with the only notable win coming against Golden State at home. It remains to be seen whether this trade will have any influence on playoff seeding, although at the moment it seems that it will only serve to make the road more difficult for Memphis who will have to replace Gay’s scoring load.
The most tantalizing trade rumors that have not come to fruition are those concerning Boston Celtics All-Star Kevin Garnett. It would seem that those rumors will stay as just that, as Garnett has a no trade clause and can effectively veto any deal that is put before him if he does not wish to be moved. Garnett has stated on a few different occasions that he would not waive this clause for a number or reasons (he loves playing for Doc Rivers, he won’t leave Paul Pierce, he “bleeds green”). These rumors are interesting though, because Boston is currently attempting to decide the future of its entire franchise. Rajon Rondo is out for the season, and many believe this injury will spell the end of the Celtics title chances for this current season as a result. Kevin Garnett, Pierce and the rest of the Celtics have been stubborn enough to prove these critics wrong in the short-term, with the Celtics only losing one game since Rondo went down. These Boston Celtics have ensured that their leader will not be traded; they sit at four games above .500 at the All-Star break and will look to continue to move up the standings. Kevin Garnett is in control of his deadline destiny, and he will look to play out his contract as a Celtic.
The Los Angeles Clippers are looking to make a deal. They have been involved in a number of rumors including a deal centering on Eric Bledsoe for the aforementioned Kevin Garnett. There have also been more rumors about Bledsoe’s availability in a proposed trade with the Utah Jazz for their young forward Paul Millsap. DeAndre Jordan and Caron Butler have also been mentioned in trades. The Millsap trade doesn’t really seem to fit this team due to the amount of minutes that DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are already allocated. This deal only makes sense if it is a precursor to another deal involving Jordan, where the Clippers can get good value for their bench. The Clippers are in “win-now” mode and think they are close. They have the best point guard in the game, Chris Paul, they have a young superstar power forward in Griffin, and are looking to make a deal that can take them to the next level. The Clippers have further motivation in making deals: they need to entice Chris Paul to stay with the team long term. Los Angeles has spent the better part of their history as a franchise as a league cellar dweller, and have recently tasted the sweetness of being an exciting team with a chance of winning because of Paul’s presence. They do not want to lose that and Paul has yet to commit to the team in the future, and is currently scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. The Clippers need to make a deal that can not only help their chances this year, but will also help to keep Chris Paul in Los Angeles in the future. For the Clippers, the trade deadline has become as much about the players they would never want to lose, as it is about the players they are looking to move.
Playoff Seeding, Yet to be Determined
The NBA Playoffs are fast approaching and teams are looking down the stretch to which matchup may be most advantageous to their championship prospects. There is still a ton of basketball to be played, but there are definitely some plots that will need to be watched in the coming months. Let’s do some predictions from 8th to 1st
8: Philadelphia 76ers
This could be a fairly interesting race to get beaten by the Heat in the first round. While Milwaukee currently holds onto the 8th seed in the East, there are rumors they are looking to move point guard Brandon Jennings. It’s hard to imagine the Bucks improving with a potential deal like that, and other teams around them are improving. Notably the Philadelphia 76ers who could still get Andrew Bynum back from injury and recover just enough to sneak into the playoffs.
7: Atlanta Hawks
This team could still make a move, and trade away Josh Smith. Smith is a good player, but it seems as if the team makes him available for trade every year and his departure could serve to unite the remaining Hawks. They have enough talent for the 7th seed.
6: Chicago Bulls
At this point, it doesn’t seem like Derrick Rose is coming back this season. His recent comments only serve to drive that feeling home, which is a tough proposition for the Bulls who have been holding together well without their floor general. The Bulls play great defense, but without a clear star, winning tough games late in the season becomes even more difficult.
5: Boston Celtics
As mentioned, they are without Rajon Rondo, but they are playing better without him. This defies logic, but the remaining players are gelling at the right time. The upcoming West coast road trip should show a lot about this team. They do lack depth, but they are well coached and have been in this position before. They know how to grind out wins down the stretch of a long season.
4: Brooklyn Nets
I don’t believe in Brooklyn, and I don’t think they deserve the Number 4 seed, but the East is so weak, and the Nets have just enough talent to beat out the Celtics for this spot. I think it will be close, but the Nets can capitalize on the Celtics injuries and end up with home court advantage in the first round.
3: New York Knicks
The Knicks started out the season on a tremendous roll, and have come back down to earth a bit. The All-Star Break will be good for them, and help them gain back some of their momentum, but they won’t be able to regain their form from the first month of the season.
2: Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are an interesting team, with a budding star in Paul George. They can defend well, but can’t score enough to make real noise in the playoffs. The Pacers will make the playoffs as the number 2 seed in the Eat, but this is a commentary on the weakness of the Eastern Conference this year rather than an endorsement of Indiana.
1: Miami Heat
They are four games ahead of the number 2 team at the break and they haven’t maintained their focus for stretches this season. This is the best team in the East. This cannot be debated. They only drop lower with major injuries.
8: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have been the biggest disappointment in the league this season. I think they can get it together enough to make the 8th seed. They have an easier schedule down the stretch than Portland who limped into the All-Star break, losing five straight. The Lakers have all the talent, and with the Jazz potentially shaking up their roster, I think the Lakers can make it to the postseason.
7: Denver Nuggets
This is a team that I compare to the Hawks in the East, a team that plays well together but doesn’t have enough star power to win many games down the stretch of a season where the pressure builds up. The Nuggets are a good group, and worthy of the playoffs, but they will drop a bit, and settle on the 7th seed.
6: Houston Rockets
The Rockets back court plays so well together, and has enough scoring to be able to keep pace with the rest of the lower tier teams in the West. James Harden has proven he is a legitimate star this year and the Rockets have enough to make it to the 6th seed.
5: Memphis Grizzlies
The Gay trade doesn’t change all that much, but it does alter the chemistry and offense of this team enough that Memphis slips a bit. This team can still make a ton of noise, but losing a major rotation player in the middle of the season is difficult to overcome, and will cause the team to lose one of the four home court advantages in the West.
4: Golden State Warriors
This is a fast improving team who can score and rebound with the best teams in the league. The defense isn’t always there, but the team is still adapting to life with Andrew Bogut in the middle and integrating him into their system. Coach Mark Jackson can get this team to play well enough to take advantage of some of the other Western teams stumbles.
3: Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul will come back and right the ship here. The Clippers have struggled when he has missed time, but they have enough to take the 3rd seed. There is also the possibility of a trade from someone like Paul Millsap who could further improve the team, or at least not put them in a worse position than they sit currently.
2: Oklahoma City Thunder
They are the best team in the conference and will prove this in the playoffs, but they lack the depth necessary to win the most games in the regular season. Kevin Martin has been a pleasant surprise, and has mitigated the loss of James Harden (a little bit). Oh, and they employ Kevin Durant, the best player not named LeBron.
1: San Antonio Spurs
This team is just so consistent. They don’t have a big time scorer. They don’t have a high flyer. They just play team basketball, have a ton of depth, the league’s best coach, and the perfect blend of veteran leadership and young talent. Tony Parker will continue to be the engine for this team and Tim Duncan will continue to do more than he will ever get credit for in the minds of most basketball fans. This is a true team.
This concludes the analysis and predictions for both the trade deadline and the playoffs. I know we will all be watching and a lot will happen between now and the start of the postseason. I think it’s clear that we have yet to see the best the league has to offer this year.