NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Friday, November 28, 2014

Friday Fresh NBA Power Rankings: November 28

                                         (Credit: Sean Davis. Click here for full image and source)

Here are my NBA power rankings for November 28, 2014. Enjoy!

#1. Memphis Grizzlies (13-2): Their two losses to the Bucks and Raptors are by a combined 5 points. Also, they have won three straight games despite getting hit with a stomach virus. Nothing appears capable of slowing the Grizzlies down.

#2. Toronto Raptors (13-2): They've won six straight games and in the process have defeated some good teams like the Grizzlies, Cavaliers, and Suns. A key to their early success has been the emergence of Lou Williams as a legitimate third option to take the pressure of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. He dropped 22 points on the Hawks and a career high 36 points on the Cavaliers.

#3. Golden State Warriors (12-2): The scariest part about this Warriors team is that Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry haven't reached their ceiling yet.

#4. Portland Trail Blazers (12-3):  The Trail Blazers will be gunning for 10 straight wins against the Grizzlies tonight in Portland. This will really tell us where the Trail Blazers are at. I'm not taking credit away from their nine straight wins, but the only really quality win they've had in this winning streak is their win over the Bulls on the 21st.

#5. Houston Rockets (12-3):  With Dwight Howard out with a right knee issue, James Harden has taken it upon himself to carry this team. So far he's doing a pretty good job (25.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 6.7 assists).

#6. San Antonio Spurs (10-4): It didn't take long for the Spurs to wake up. They've won five straight games, and with games against the Kings, Celtics, and 76ers coming up, this winning streak should keep on going.

#7. Dallas Mavericks (11-5):  Interesting road trip coming up for the Mavericks: @Toronto, @Philadelphia, @Chicago, and @Milwaukee. The only "easy" opponent on this road trip is the 76ers and the Mavericks play them on the second half of a back-to-back on Saturday.

#8. Chicago Bulls (10-6): Derrick Rose came back for Friday afternoon's tilt with the Celtics and helped lead the team to the victory, scoring 21 points in 28 minutes of action. Great news for the Bulls.

#9. Los Angeles Clippers (9-5): They have gone 2-0 so far on their four game road trip, defeating the Hornets and Pistons. However, the Rockets and Jazz should both be much more challenging.

#10. Washington Wizards (9-5): The return of Bradley Beal should give this team a huge lift.

#11. Phoenix Suns (10-6): They have to trade Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, or Isaiah Thomas. This three point guard experiment is just weird and it has to end for the sake of this team's sanity.

#12. Sacramento Kings (9-6): I gotta give these guys credit. They are hanging tough and DeMarcus Cousins is delivering the goods: 23.5 points and 12.6 rebounds per game.

#13. Milwaukee Bucks (9-7): The Bucks continue to be an early season surprise. That loss for the Grizzlies suddenly doesn't look so bad with the way these guys are playing.

#14. Denver Nuggets (7-8): These guys had a five game winning streak snapped in Phoenix, which is not an easy place to win. The Nuggets appear to be hitting their stride and should finish right around the 41 win mark that I projected them to finish at.

#15. Atlanta Hawks (7-6): They remain a little bit up and down. Upcoming home games against the Hornets and Celtics ought to steady them.

#16. New Orleans Pelicans (7-6): The loss of Eric Gordon isn't as bad as some might think. He was only giving them 9.5 points per game and all he has ever done well is score.

#17. Miami Heat (8-7): They are doing better than the Cavaliers, which is kind of humorous. But all jokes aside, this team isn't going to be a serious factor so long as Dwyane Wade remains in and out of the lineup.

#18. Cleveland Cavaliers (7-7): Are they a work in progress? Yes. Is it time to panic? No.

#19. Brooklyn Nets (6-8): Everybody thought they would be the team to first fall to the 76ers, but they ended up pulling it out. Had they lost to the 76ers, things would really be coming unglued.

#20. Indiana Pacers (6-9): David West's return should give them a lift.

#21. Orlando Magic (6-11): The early injury to Aaron Gordon does have to concern them. They better hope they didn't draft a guy who always gets hurt because he is really key to their long-term future and success.

#22. Utah Jazz (6-11): They are much improved, no doubt, but the Western Conference is as vicious as ever and as a result, they will still struggle to win games even with all their improvement.

#23. Boston Celtics (4-9): With Marcus Smart returning, it'll be interesting to see if the Rajon Rondo trade rumors heat up should Smart play well.

#24. Charlotte Hornets (4-12): Even with Gary Neal's injury problems, this team should be better than 4-12.

#25. Oklahoma City Thunder (4-12): These guys desperately need Durant and Westbrook back. Fortunately, Westbrook is playing tonight against the Knicks.

#26. New York Knicks (4-12): And now Carmelo Anthony has back problems. Things have gone from bad to really really bad.

#27. Minnesota Timberwolves (3-10): Andrew Wiggins is looking like a great pick up, but they are still a long ways off from being competitive.

#28. Los Angeles Lakers (3-12):  After getting that boost from Nick Young's return, they have since lost three straight games.

#29. Detroit Pistons (3-12): A showdown with the Lakers on December 2 at home could vault them to #28 in my power rankings.

#30. Philadelphia 76ers (0-15): They don't have a game that they can be expected to win until December 15 against the Celtics. Looks like my beard will continue to grow.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Fresh NBA Power Rankings: November 21

Here are my NBA Power Rankings as of Friday, November 21. Enjoy!!

1. Memphis Grizzlies (10-2): Despite getting hit with a stomach virus, the Grizzlies still played the Raptors tough on the road. Hopefully these guys can get healthy soon, but in the meantime, expect them to still fight, grind, and play hard.

2. Golden State Warriors (8-2): The Warriors so far have been taking advantage of this easy portion of their schedule, defeating the Nets, Hornets, and Lakers. Up next are the Jazz at home and the Thunder on the road.

3. Toronto Raptors (9-2): I'm still worried about their absence of a legitimate third option, but if Terrance Ross keeps playing like he did against the Grizzlies, the Raptors may have their guy.

4.  Dallas Mavericks (9-3): Monta Ellis is looking like a really good fit on this team, dropping 34 points on the Wizards in Wednesday's win. So long as Dirk can keep it up, this team is going to remain a legit title threat.

5. Washington Wizards (7-3): With Bradley Beal back, they should start to do some serious damage.

6. Portland Trail Blazers (8-3): They are on a very nice five game winning streak, and have good odds to keep winning for a while. They face a banged up Bulls team tonight, and then they go on a road trip @Boston, @Philadelphia, and @Charlotte before coming home to face the Grizzlies on the 28th.

7. Los Angeles Clippers (7-4): Chris Paul is still getting it done with 18.0 points and 9.9 assists per game. This team is staying relatively quiet, but all the same they are playing good basketball.

8. Houston Rockets (9-3): They've lost two straight, getting waxed by the Grizzlies and upset by the Lakers. Their next game is Saturday against the Mavericks at home. They have to win that game.

9. Chicago Bulls (8-4): Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose are both injured. At some point you just have to wonder how many injuries can this team withstand?

10. San Antonio Spurs (7-4): No shock, the Spurs are hanging around and looking prime to make another late-season surge.

11. Milwaukee Bucks (7-5): The early success of the Milwaukee Bucks is definitely the feel good story of the league so far. Can they keep it up? I don't see why not.

12. New Orleans Pelicans (6-4): I didn't have them as a playoff team before the season started, but so far they are proving me wrong. In addition to the dominant force that is Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson has been key to this team's success: 16.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game on 41.1% shooting from three-point range.

13. Sacramento Kings (7-5): I really like the Rudy Gay contract extension for 3 years and $40M. It gives them some stability for the foreseeable future but they aren't totally "committed" in case things don't work out. So far, things are working out just fine.

14. Phoenix Suns (7-5): The three point guard system is causing friction on the team. Goran Dragic recently told why he thinks they are struggling: "Because there's only one ball and we're all point guards." Odds are good one of their point guards is gone before the trade deadline. Possibly Goran Dragic since there are reports that he will test the waters of free agency next summer.

15. Cleveland Cavaliers (5-5): It's still early in the season and they have plenty of time to get it together, but with that being said, they don't want to slip too far in the standings and have to win a couple of series' in the playoffs without home court advantage.

16. Miami Heat (6-6): Dwyane Wade is in and out of the lineup and Chris Bosh is cooling off. Bosh did have 28 points against the Clippers, but before that, he registered 15 points, 10 points, 20 points, and 9 points. In essence, as Bosh cools, so do the Heat.

17. Atlanta Hawks (5-5): I still think this team needs more time to gel with Paul Millsap and Al Horford both healthy together. DeMarre Carroll is returning tonight, so that helps as well.

18. Utah Jazz (5-7): I doubt they make the playoffs, but so far they are fighting hard and making things tough for all of their opponents. I like how Quin Snyder is making these guys play hard.

19. Indiana Pacers (5-7): This team is totally dependent on the play of Roy Hibbert. If he plays well, they play well. If he is cold, they're cold. So long as he continues to ebb and flow, they will follow suite.

20. Orlando Magic (5-8): They are starting to wake up and make me look good after I sang their praises at the start of the season.

21. Boston Celtics (4-6): Danny Ainge keeps denying any interest in trading Rajon Rondo and yet the rumors keep on coming. This is fun.

22. Brooklyn Nets (4-7): They have lost five games in a row. They better get it done tonight in OKC.

23. Denver Nuggets (4-7): They have won two straight games over the Cavaliers and Thunder. I doubt they get it done for a third straight time against the Pelicans, but if they do, they could be building something.

24. Charlotte Hornets (4-8): So far, this team has been a major disappointment. Good thing Gary Neal is back.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves (3-7): With Kevin Martin out indefinitely with a wrist injury, these guys are really gonna struggle.

26. Los Angeles Lakers (3-9): Nick Young has injected some life into this team. Not enough to make them a playoff team, but enough to make them a team you cannot ignore on any given night.

27. Detroit Pistons (3-9): These guys really do stink and Stan Van Gundy needs to not worry about what opponents say about his team.

28. Oklahoma City Thunder (3-10): I'm starting to think this team is actually going to miss the playoffs, which would really make the Western Conference wide open.

29. New York Knicks (3-10): I cannot think of one positive thing to say about this team.

30. Philadelphia 76ers (0-11): I am not shaving until they get a win, but perhaps they get it done against the Suns tonight or the Knicks on Saturday.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bear Territory Thursday: Cal stuns #23 Syracuse in the Garden

     Thursday night was Cal's first real test of their young season after two cupcake games against Kennesaw State and Alcorn State, both which resulted in easy Cal victories. The opponent was #23 ranked Syracuse and the setting was Madison Square Garden, which for Syracuse is sort of a home away from home. Madison Square Garden was overwhelmingly filled with support for Syracuse, and yet Cal was unfazed by the sea of Orange.
     The key to Cal's success was pushing the tempo, knocking down open threes, and moving the ball. The Golden Bears did not have a passive approach to the famous 2-3 zone of Syracuse. They instead attacked it relentlessly and sought for every opportunity to push the ball for easy baskets in transition. By doing just this, Cal was able to set themselves up for some easy looks, knocking down 8-19 shots from 3-point range while also totaling 20 assists.
      The most amazing part about this game was that Syracuse never really threatened to win. Once Cal had the 34-22 halftime lead, they pretty much coasted the rest of the way for the victory. Every now and then Syracuse made a play that kept them alive, but never enough to actually get one to think they had a shot at coming back. This I think is largely due to Cal sticking to their game plan and not slowing down or playing conservatively.
     As a matter of fact, sometimes Cal pushed the tempo when it actually would have been better to slow things down once the game was well in hand. But all the same, they stuck to their game plan of pushing the tempo, and it paid off handsomely in the end, resulting in a 73-59 victory over the Orangemen. Jordan Mathews ended up being the guy who benefited the most from this high tempo style of play, finishing with 22 points on 6-12 shooting from the field and 8-10 shooting from the foul line.

                             (via Cal Mollie McClure/McClure Photography)  
     On Friday, Cal will face another tough opponent in Texas who is coming off a win against Iowa. Cal will certainly need to once again bring their "A-game" if they are going to win. But whether or not they win that game, they already can feel really good about what kind of team they have going forward.  Especially since they are only going to get better. Go Bears!

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wednesday Windmill: Why Karl Malone is the Greatest Power Forward of All-Time

                                          (credit: JazzFanatical

     Karl Malone is the greatest power forward of all time. Not Tim Duncan, Charles Barkley, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin McHale, James Worthy, or Moses Malone. All of those players deserve to be in the discussion, no doubt, but upon analyzing all of their career accomplishments and statistics, it seems pretty obvious to me at least, that Karl Malone is the greatest power forward to ever play the game of basketball.
     He once averaged 31.0 points and 11.1 rebounds per game during just his 5th season in the NBA. He won two NBA MVP awards and went to the NBA Finals in back-to-back seasons. He is a 14x NBA All-Star, 11x All-NBA First Team, 3x All-Defensive First Team, a member of the NBA's 50th Anniversary Top 50 Greatest Players of All-Time Team, the NBA's #2 all-time leading scorer, a member of the original 1992 Dream Team, and posted career averages of 25.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals, and .8 blocks per game. Those are mighty impressive accomplishments. Accomplishments which I believe in totality make him the greatest power forward to every play the game of basketball.

     However, not everybody is convinced that he is the greatest power forward of all-time. As a matter of fact, few people today call "The Mailman" the greatest power forward of all time and instead say it's Tim Duncan a.k.a. "Mr. Fundamental". The argument for Tim Duncan is a pretty straight forward argument: He is a 5x NBA Champion, 3x NBA Finals MVP, 2x NBA MVP, 10x NBA All-First Team, 8x All-Defensive First Team,  and the 1998 NBA Rookie of the Year. What makes many put Duncan ahead of Malone is the fact that Duncan has won five NBA championships and Malone has won zero. As a matter of fact, that seems to be the only reason.

     I don't think it's wrong to factor in team accomplishments into the equation of who is the better of two players, but I do think it's a mistake to make it the only criteria. If rings are the only criteria, then Bill Russell is hands down the greatest basketball player of all-time, and Dennis Rodman is a better power forward than Karl Malone and Charles Barkley. But clearly, it feels wrong to make these statements, since obviously, we all know there is more to comparing players than just rings. It's one area to take into consideration, but not the only area.

     In addition to rings, here are some other areas to take into consideration when comparing players: Who has the better statistics both in career average and in their best seasons? Who did the player compete against? Who did the player have on his teams? How long was the player successful for (i.e. longevity)? Who would you rather start with to build a team around?

     Upon looking at these other factors, Karl Malone I think takes the cake over Duncan and over everybody else I mentioned above. However, for the sake of time, I will just compare Karl Malone to Tim Duncan, though I may reference another one of those players as I see fit. The reason I am choosing Duncan is because he is considered the greatest power forward of all-time by most basketball experts and so if I can convince you that Karl Malone is greater than Tim Duncan, I thus have a strong case for why he is the greatest power forward ever.

                                          (Via Bleacher Report: Rocky Widner/Getty Images) 

     Let me start off by addressing each additional category that I've asked us to consider. But before I do, let me re-establish that Tim Duncan does have Karl Malone beaten in the championships department and that I think it is one of the categories or areas that we have to look into when determining who the greatest power forward is.

     The first area to look at is who had the better statistics both in career average and in their best seasons? During the entire course of his career, Karl Malone averaged 25.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals, and .8  blocks per game. As for Tim Duncan, he has averaged 19.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, .7 steals, and 2.2 blocks per game. I think upon analyzing both of their career stats, Karl Malone is the better overall player, though Tim Duncan is the better post defender given the advantage in shot-blocking.
      As for best individual season, Karl Malone averaged 31.0 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals, and .6 blocks per game in the 1989-90 season, his fifth season in the NBA. Tim Duncan's best season came in the 2001-02 season in which he averaged 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.7 steals, and 2.5 blocks per game. He won MVP that season.
     Once again, I think that Karl Malone's best individual season is better, given the amount of points he scored, though I give Tim Duncan the edge in defense due to the blocks. However, it should be noted that Karl Malone got twice as many steals as Tim Duncan, which may also point to how both players played defense differently. Duncan I grant was the better defender, but Karl Malone was a great defender in his own right, too.
     The next area of consideration is who did these guys play against? For Karl Malone it would be Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon. As for Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant both would be considered the best players he ever faced, along with LeBron James. In this department, I think Karl Malone had a tougher hill to climb than Tim Duncan because Hakeem Olajuwon is arguably the greatest center to ever play the game of basketball and Michael Jordan is hands down the greatest player of all time.

    However, what people want to quickly point out is that Malone still ended up ringless and Duncan walked away with five rings (and counting). The issue I take with this, is that Tim Duncan never actually defeated Shaquille O'Neal in his prime. That's right. Shaquille O'Neal won three straight championships as the leader of the Lakers in 2000, 2001, and 2002 and Duncan didn't stop him. Duncan did get the better of Shaq and the Lakers in 2003, but one could argue that Shaq and the Lakers were no longer in their prime at that point.

     As for who they faced in the NBA Finals, Karl Malone easily had the hardest task in taking down the great Chicago Bulls teams of the 90s lead by Michael Jordan. I don't think anybody would say that Tim Duncan had a task so hard as that. Duncan didn't have a cake walk in all of his trips to the NBA Finals, but he never faced a team as good as either of those Chicago Bulls teams.

     Luckily for Tim Duncan, he never had to deal with Michael Jordan as a threat to a championship. Instead, he had to face an 8th seeded New York Knicks team in 1999, a solid, but not intimidating New Jersey Nets team in 2003, a very sound and complete Detroit Pistons team in 2005, a Cleveland Cavaliers team that had LeBron James and a bunch of scrubs in 2007, and a Miami Heat team led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in 2013 and 2014,  losing only to the Heat in 2013.

     I would argue the toughest team that Duncan faced was that Pistons team in 2005. That team won the championship the year before in 2004 and was one of the most complete teams we've ever seen, led by Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, and Rasheed Wallace. Those Pistons teams were great teams because they played together as a collective unit, something that the Spurs have mirrored over the course of their own championship runs.

     However, as I said above, the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls teams of the 1990s would have beaten those Detroit Pistons, and likely would have beaten any Spurs team that Tim Duncan was on. It's no knock on the Spurs or Tim Duncan. It's just pointing out how dominate those Chicago Bulls teams were. Those Utah Jazz teams with Karl Malone and John Stockton probably would have won an NBA championship or two if it weren't' for those Chicago Bulls teams, who similarly ended the title hopes of other great players like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and Reggie Miller.

     The next area of consideration is who did each player have on their teams. In this area, I think Karl Malone may have had more help around him given the fact that John Stockton is arguably the greatest point guard of all time. Tim Duncan has played with some great players like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Bruce Bowen, but none of those players come close to being as great as John Stockton. John Stockton is a household name, which is why I think that Karl Malone probably had more help around him.
     However, Tim Duncan may have had more complete teams around him and also wasn't asked to deliver the amount of production that Karl Malone was asked to do. The Spurs championship teams  have been much more reliant on a community effort while the Jazz were essentially telling Karl Malone to get them 25-30 points every night while John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek took the pressure off by getting him the ball and knocking down open threes.
     As for the area of longevity, Karl Malone blows Tim Duncan out of the water. Karl Malone's career averages are 25 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals, and .8 blocks per game. Tim Duncan's best season is 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, .7 steals, and 2.5 blocks per game. In essence, over an 18 year career Karl Malone was able to average numbers close to Tim Duncan's best career season!

     In addition, Karl Malone averaged 20.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in his last season with the Utah Jazz at the age of 39. Tim Duncan, who is 38 years old, hasn't averaged 20 points per game since he was 30 years old. Karl Malone arguably peaked when he was 33 and 34 during his two trips to the NBA Finals with the Utah Jazz in 1997 and 1998, whereas by that point of his life, Tim Duncan was on the decline, playing around 65 games per season. As for Karl Malone, he was still playing 80-82 games per season.
    Lastly, the final question we need to ask ourselves is who would we rather have on our team? Or who would we rather have to build a championship team around if we could only have one of the two players? To make this question more simple, assume that you are starting a franchise from scratch and have to draft one of these two players as your franchise player. Who would you pick?

     I would take Karl Malone over Tim Duncan. He produced more on average, he played more total games, got hurt less, and was more productive over the entire course of his career. He was "The Mailman". He delivered rain or shine every night. It's not to say that Tim Duncan didn't, but he wasn't the sturdy brick that Karl Malone was. As a matter of fact, nobody was the sturdy brick that Karl Malone was except for Michael Jordan, the very man who defeated Karl Malone in two straight NBA Finals.
     In addition, the Utah Jazz wouldn't have won two championships if Tim Duncan replaced Karl Malone, especially considering how Tim Duncan was producing when he was 33 and 34 years old. On the contrary, if the San Antonio Spurs had drafted Karl Malone in 1997, I think odds are good that under the guidance of Gregg Popovich the Spurs would have won 5 championships.
     In conclusion, my article isn't to undermine the great Tim Duncan or slurp Karl Malone. It's to analyze both players and compare them across multiple areas of consideration. I think very highly of both players and I have no problem with anybody saying that Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time. He deserves to be mentioned in this discussion.

However, I personally think that Karl Malone is the greater player of the two and thus the greatest power forward of all-time with Tim Duncan as the #2 greatest power forward of all-time. Of course, some say that Tim Duncan is actually a center, but that is an interesting debate for another time.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Fresh NBA Power Rankings: November 14

Welcome to my second power rankings of this young and exciting NBA season! Enjoy and make sure to check this every week to get a pulse of what's happening across the league!

1. Memphis Grizzlies (8-1): We've always known this team is dangerous, but now they are morphing from "dangerous" into "legitimate title threat". The biggest difference has been Courtney Lee. He is averaging 15.3 points per game and is averaging 2.0 three point shots per game as well. Plus, he hit the game winning shot on Thursday night to stun the Kings. Even though it's early in the season, it's not too early to start thinking about this team as threat to win the NBA championship after what we've seen them do in the past.

2. Houston Rockets (7-1):  In their loss to Golden State, Dwight Howard was unavailable to play, so in a way I can't really knock them for that loss. I still want to see Howard average more than 20 points per game, but the 11.3 rebounds per game is overall solid as are the 2.1 blocks per game. For all the criticism he gets, he is still the best center in the NBA and in the process is playing a big role in his team's impressive start.

3. Chicago Bulls (7-2): The most amazing part about this Bulls team is that even with Derrick Rose in and out of the lineup, they are still winning games and looking like a contender. So far, Rose's injuries only appear to be minor setbacks as he gets back in the swing of playing a full NBA season. Once he finds his groove, these guys will be really tough to stop.

4. Golden State Warriors (6-2): Winning against Brooklyn was huge since that prevented a three game losing streak. What has been most impressive about this start is that they have been playing without David Lee. Draymond Green has filled in very nicely for him, averaging 14 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

5. Toronto Raptors (7-2): Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are a fantastic 1-2 punch. I just wonder how far they can go without a serious number three option. Jonas Valanciunas is supposed to become that guy but right now he is still a project. His 10 points and 7.3 rebounds per game average is solid production, but not enough for a guy who supposed to round out a "Big Three".

6. Washington Wizards (6-2): If they can keep the boat afloat without Bradley Beal for a couple more weeks, that would be huge. The biggest concern for this team is health and they are being put to the test early.

7. Portland Trail Blazers (6-3): They've won five of their last six games with the only loss being a 4 point loss at the Clippers. They will certainly be happy to get Nicolas Batum back. In the meantime, they get to see what Allen Crabbe can do.

8. Dallas Mavericks (6-3): Dirk Nowitzki is still going strong. He's now #9 on the all-time scoring list and #1 all-time among foreign born players. He appears to have a lot of gas left in the tank and the capability to lead this team in another deep playoff run.

9. Miami Heat (5-3): Puzzling loss at home against the Pacers. But they should get back on track against the Hawks, Bucks, and Nets before the Clippers come to town. This team is truly the definition of a "sleeper team". Everybody assumes that with LeBron James gone they are no longer a threat. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dwyane Wade is still productive and Chris Bosh appears to have found new life.

10. Cleveland Cavaliers (3-3): I admit I'm reaching a bit by putting the Cavaliers in the top ten this week, but I think that they are a top five team in the NBA overall, it's just that right now they're not warranted to be ranked any higher than #10. The emergence of Kyrie Irving will be something to watch over the course of the season. He's scored over 30 points in two of his last three games and appears to be on the verge of a breakout season.

11. Phoenix Suns (5-3): I picked them to win 50 games this year. So far they are right on track to do just that. As for the team itself, the back court of Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic, and Eric Bledsoe appears to be working out ok. I still think odds are good one of them gets dealt at the trade deadline, but all three are playing well enough that some team will make a good offer to get one of them.

12. Atlanta Hawks (4-3): Kyle Korver is flat out balling right now. He leads the team in scoring (16.7 points per game) and he's making 3.7 three pointers per game. In addition, the team is starting to wake up, winning three straight games over this past week.

13. San Antonio Spurs (4-3):  The win at Golden State was a statement game in a way. They sent a message to the rest of the West that they are still the team to beat. However, I can't rank them any higher than this given their record, but they should continue to rise up the rankings as the season goes on.

14. Los Angeles Clippers (4-3): I think I can speak for the vast majority of NBA fans when I say I expect more out of this team. To be fair, their schedule has been fairly rigorous so far, but even so, they are supposed to be an "elite" team.

15. New Orleans Pelicans (4-3): So far they are hanging around in the playoff mix, seeded #7 in the Western Conference. It's early yet, but so long as Anthony Davis keeps up his fantastic play (24.9 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 4.4 blocks per game), they should remain in the playoff picture all season.

16. Sacramento Kings (5-4): They had an opportunity to really make a statement in Memphis and they absolutely booted it. Courtney Lee made a fantastic play at the rim, but no way he should have been wide open on a backdoor cut to the rim with .3 seconds to go. This team is heading in the right direction, but they still have a lot of growing pains to go through first.

17. Brooklyn Nets (4-4): This team has had a rough trip out west with losses in Phoenix and Oakland. It's not going to get any easier when they visit Portland on Saturday.

18. Milwaukee Bucks (4-4): Hats off to them for hanging around the .500 mark. I doubt they can keep it up all year, but as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker continue to develop, they should increasingly become a team that you cannot sleep on.

19. Charlotte Hornets (3-5): Slow start for this team, but I still really like their squad. I think Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker alone is a really good 1-2 punch and the addition of Lance Stephenson was huge just for his rebounding and defense alone. They'll climb up the rankings as the season goes on, I'm sure.

20. Oklahoma City Thunder (3-6): This team is looking hard pressed to be a playoff team at this rate, but I like how they are fighting despite losing their best two players for the first few weeks. They just need to win the games against cupcake teams. The game at Boston was one of those games as is their upcoming game at home against the woeful Pistons.

21. Boston Celtics (3-4): The future of Rajon Rondo is an ever darkening cloud over this team. They need to soon make a decision on his long-term future and roll with it.

22. Indiana Pacers (3-6): Without Paul George, they will continue to struggle. However, Roy Hibbert has played well for them and that is very encouraging for their long-term future. Now is the time to find out what kind of guys they can look to put around Paul George for the future and so far Hibbert is looking like a keeper.

23. Orlando Magic (3-6):  I think I overrated this team at the beginning of the season, but to be fair, they are playing without Victor Oladipo.

24. Utah Jazz (3-6): Gordon Hayward is living up to his contract and that alone means the Jazz are off to a good start, regardless of their record. Plus, Quin Snyder seems to be doing a good job and the players appear to be responding well to his coaching.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves (2-5): They are playing hard, but they are still really young and have a lot of growing pains to go through. It does hurt that Ricky Rubio is out for the foreseeable future with his ankle injury.

26. Detroit Pistons (2-6): They are on a three game losing skid in the midst of a four game road trip. This trip concludes on a back-to-back at Oklahoma City and at Memphis. Expect both of those games to be losses.

27. New York Knicks (2-7): This team is the laughing stock of the NBA. All the rest of the teams ranked this low had no expectations going into this season, but the Knicks had all this hope with the arrival of Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson. So far it's been a disaster and to make things worse, Phil Jackson doesn't seem to be showing a lot of patience.

28. Denver Nuggets (1-6): So much for "winning" the Carmelo Anthony trade. This team continues to go downhill.

29. Los Angeles Lakers (1-7): Kobe Bryant can't save this team or this season. They too are a joke.

30. Philadelphia 76ers (0-8): These guys are literally the equivalent of a D-League all-star team. Their front office should be embarrassed for putting a team like this out on the court.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord  

Bear Territory Thursday: Looking ahead to the 2K Classic


     The regular season tips off for Cal on Friday night against Alcorn State as part of the 2K Classic. In this event, money will be raised for the Wounded Warrior Project, and Cal will travel to Madison Square Garden in New York City to face Syracuse and either Iowa or Texas, depending on the results. There are two regional games before the Golden Bears travel to New York City. Alcorn State is Friday as was previously mentioned and Kennesaw State is on Sunday.
    Even though it's early in the season, I think there is a lot that Cal can learn over the course of this week long event. Getting a chance to face a Syracuse team that is ranked in the Top 25 this early in the season is great for Cal because it really lets them know where they stand in relation to the best teams in the country. As a bonus, win or lose, they will get to face a second Top 25 team since Iowa and Texas are also ranked in the Top 25.
     In addition, this event lets Jabari Bird know where he stands in relation to the nation's best players. There is a lot of hype surrounding Jabari Bird, and it will be good for him to know early on in the season just how good he really is and how far he still needs to go. This can also be said for Tyrone Wallace and David Kravish, but I think that right now we know how good they can be and how good they should be. Jabari Bird we still don't really know where his ceiling is and so this week will be the first measuring stick of the year, making it a very important week.
     Another key thing that Cal can learn in this week is what kind of team they are. Are they an inside-out team, are they a perimeter team, are they a pick and roll team, or are they something else entirely? Will they have to rely on their top four players (Bird, Mathews, Kravish, and Wallace) to win against the best teams in the country or can they trust their bench? While these questions won't be fully answered over this coming week, we should still have a better feel for what kind of team we should expect to see.
     Lastly, this week will be an early test to see how Cal can handle the big stage. Playing under the bright lights of New York City in Madison Square Garden on ESPN 2 against Top 25 teams is as big as it is going to get until March in terms of exposure and national attention. There will be much more high pressure games later in the year like the games against Stanford and Arizona, but none of those games have the feel of a game at Madison Square Garden. You cannot replicate that feeling anywhere else.
     Overall, I'm looking forward to the 2K classic. I've got my season tickets, so I'll be present at the regional games on Friday and Sunday. I'm excited to see what kind of team Cal has and how they stack up against two teams that are both ranked in the Top 25. This should be a fun and beneficial week for the team win or lose.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bear Territory Tuesday: Five things we learned from Cal's exhibition games

Yes, it's "Bear Territory Tuesday", but "Bear Territory Thursday" will be this upcoming Thursday, so nothing is changing with the segment. I put this off until today because Cal's second exhibition game was last Thursday and I wanted to do a recap of sorts for both exhibition games. Anyways, here is a list of five things that I think we learned from Cal's two exhibition games.

1. Brandon Chauca has some issue with the NCAA

Freshman point guard Brandon Chauca has some sort of issue with the NCAA that is keeping him from playing and no, it has nothing to do with academics or benefits. Ryan Gorcey made that part clear in a tweet earlier today.

2. Sam Singer has improved his shot

Sam Singer is one of the best players that Cuonzo Martin has coming off the bench. He showed improvements with his shot during these two exhibition games, knocking down some threes while looking much more comfortable with his shot.

3. Kingsley Okoroh is raw, but capable of making an impact this season

There is no doubt that freshman 7'1 center Kingsley Okoroh lacks offensive polish, but I liked what I saw from him on the defensive end with his shot blocking and rebounding abilities. He blocked four shots against CSU-San Marcos and he throws really nice outlet passes after he grabs a defensive rebound.

As for his offense, he needs to do a better job positioning himself in the paint and getting higher up in the post. But even there, he seems more comfortable with the ball in his hands than Kameron Rooks did at this same time last year.  

4. Tyrone Wallace is much better as a point guard 

Tyrone Wallace looks so much more comfortable on the floor as a point guard and it really showed during these two exhibitions. When he has the ball in his hands, he really is able to do a lot of cool things in terms of creating for others as well as slashing to the rim and finishing. It was hard for him to play shooting guard last year alongside Justin Cobbs for the vast bulk of his playing minutes. Expect him to thrive this year as the team's primary ball handler.

5. Cuonzo Martin still isn't sure who to play alongside David Kravish in the post 

As of right now, Christian Behrens is the starting power forward and David Kravish is the starting center. However, Behrens didn't get a large chunk of minutes in comparison to other guys who can also play alongside Kravish. Kingsley Okoroh and Dwight Tarwater also got a fair amount of minutes. I still think Kingsley Okoroh is the best guy to start right now.  He's the only true center on the team who is healthy, and David Kravish is a natural power forward.

 If Christian Behrens is able to log in a lot of minutes at power forward, that would be different. But if it's going to be musical chairs in the post with Kravish as the only consistent post presence, I think Cuonzo Martin might as well start Kingsley Okoroh and really develop him over the course of the season. Plus, as I mentioned above, Kingsley is already a very solid defender and rebounder, so it isn't like he's a liability on the court.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Fresh NBA Power Rankings: November 7

     Welcome to my first power rankings of the 2014-15 NBA season! Make sure to read this every week if you want to get a bird's eye view of what's happening across the NBA.

#1. Houston Rockets (6-0): So far this team isn't missing Chandler Parsons one bit. Trevor Ariza has filled in nicely at the small forward position, averaging 15.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest. In addition, James Harden is putting up 26 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game, making him an early MVP candidate.
#2. Memphis Grizzlies (5-0): When the Grizzlies are knocking down the three ball, they are a really scary team. Courtney Lee scored 22 points on Wednesday on 4/5 shooting from 3-point range and as a result the Grizzlies got an easy win in Phoenix. Their upcoming schedule is relatively light with games against the Thunder, Bucks, Lakers, Kings, and Pistons over the next week. Expect them to be in my top five again next week.
#3. Golden State Warriors (4-0): If there is anything to silence the critics of the Mark Jackson firing, it's the fantastic 4-0 start that the Warriors have had. Two of their wins are against the Clippers and Trail Blazers, so they have beaten good teams. Look for Saturday's tilt against the Rockets to be a good one.
#4. Chicago Bulls (4-1): Any time Derrick Rose goes down, even when it's just a minor ankle injury, there has to be concern in the Bulls' front office and locker room. Thankfully, Rose has returned and appears to be doing ok. As for the team itself, Pau Gasol appears to be a fantastic offseason acquisition. He is averaging 18.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game this season.
#5. San Antonio Spurs (2-2): The Spurs are doing what they do in the early season, which is chill out and let everybody else get off to an early head start. They are still the best team in the NBA in my opinion, but at the moment,  I cannot be justified to put them any higher than #5 on my list.
#6. Washington Wizards (4-1): After losing their season opener at Miami, the Wizards have rallied off four straight wins against the Magic, Bucks, Knicks, and Pacers. None of these wins is all that impressive, but if you are going to be a contending team, you have to win the games you are supposed to win.
#7. Toronto Raptors (4-1): The Raptors get power forward Amir Johnson back tonight from an ankle injury. He's been averaging 15 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
#8. Portland Trail Blazers (3-2):  After a puzzling loss to the Kings and going absolutely brain dead against the Warriors, the Trail Blazers have bounced back, throttling the Cavaliers and Mavericks. These guys are looking prime to run away with the Northwest Division.
#9. Sacramento Kings (4-1): It's always really hard to figure where to rank teams who are projected to stink but put up a solid record early in the season. I think I have the Kings ranked appropriately here at #9. Not to take away from their early success, but two of their wins have been against the Denver Nuggets. Tonight's game in Phoenix will give us a better sense of where they are at.
#10. Dallas Mavericks (3-2): Getting thumped in Portland after two days of rest was rather embarrassing.
#11. Los Angeles Clippers (3-2):  This team really needed the time to regroup after getting waxed 121-104 by the Warriors on Wednesday. They better bounce back on Saturday when the Trail Blazers come to town.
#12. Miami Heat (3-2): Chris Bosh is turning back the clock to his Toronto days, averaging 24.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per contest. If he keeps playing like this, the Heat will be hanging around all year in a wide open Eastern Conference.
#13. Phoenix Suns (3-2): Getting slaughtered in Utah was surprising even though it was a back-to-back. However, the biggest surprise has to be the way Isaiah Thomas has taken over as the team's number one player, averaging 18.6 points, and 4.0 assists per game.
#14. Minnesota Timberwolves (2-2): So far, the Timberwolves look like they're going to be a fun team to watch all season. All the young talent they've acquired, including Anthony Bennett, appear to be quite promising.
#15. Cleveland Cavaliers (1-3): All I'll say is that they're a work in progress. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love are too talented of a trio to not become a contender by May and June. However, one does have to wonder whether or not their head coach David Blatt is the right man for the job.
#16. New Orleans Pelicans (2-2): Anthony Davis is averaging 23.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 4.0 blocks per game. That's an MVP candidate if I ever saw one. He alone makes them a dangerous team every night.
#17. Brooklyn Nets (2-2): This team desperately needs Brook Lopez healthy if they are going to make any sort of dent in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
#18. Charlotte Hornets (2-3): Lance Stephenson is still adjusting to his new role in Charlotte, averaging just 6.6 points per game. They need to get more scoring production out of him, though he is still doing his part in other areas, averaging 10 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game.
#19. Utah Jazz (2-3): Gordon Hayward's game winning shot to beat the Cavaliers is just what the doctor ordered in terms of boosting Hayward's confidence and validating the max contract he signed this summer.
#20. Milwaukee Bucks (2-3): Since you are probably looking for a Jabari Parker update, here it is: He's averaging 10 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game. His season/career high is 13 points on the road against the Wizards.
#21. New York Knicks (2-3): I just found out that Amar'e Stoudemire is the #2 highest paid player in the NBA. That kinda sums it up about where this team is.  
#22. Atlanta Hawks (1-2): Not a whole lot of data on this team yet with just three games, but so far, Al Horford and Paul Millsap are under performing. The good news of course is that they are healthy and able to play together. So long as that continues they should be fine.
#23. Boston Celtics (1-3): With Marcus Smart waiting in the wing to be the next point guard of this franchise to go along with their poor start, this team has to seriously be looking at what offers they can get for Rajon Rondo.
#24. Denver Nuggets (1-3): Once JaVale McGee and Danilo Gallinari get back up to full speed, this team should be much improved.
#25. Detroit Pistons (1-3): I told you they would stink in my Central Division preview. So far I have no reason to change my mind.  
#26. Indiana Pacers (1-4): After a really strong outing to start the season (22 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 blocks), Roy Hibbert has fallen back to earth. He's averaging 12.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 4.2 blocks per game. Not bad numbers defensively, but offensively he has to be doing a lot more. The fact of the matter is that with Lance Stephenson in Charlotte and Paul George out for the year, this team is going to struggle.  
#27. Oklahoma City Thunder (1-4): It feels like a meteor has hit this team. Kevin Durant is out for a while, Russell Westbrook is out for a while, Perry Jones III is out indefinitely with a knee injury, etc. As a result, they are where they are.  
#28. Orlando Magic (1-4): This team's only win is against the 76ers and it came via buzzer beater by Tobias Harris. This team really is struggling without Victor Oladipo and will continue to do so until he comes back.  
#29. Los Angeles Lakers (0-5): Kobe Bryant is averaging 27.6 points per game, but has no help around him. Ironically enough a lot of that is his own fault. If he wasn't so selfish he may have attracted higher quality free agents.
#30. Philadelphia 76ers (0-5): Knowing them, they'll keep Michael Carter-Williams out for as long as possible. It's November, and yes, they are already eying the 2015 NBA draft.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Monday, November 3, 2014

2014-15 Pacific Division Preview

I conclude my season previews with a look at the Pacific Division, home to the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, and Sacramento Kings. As has been the standard protocol, I will address each team in order of where I think they will finish in the division with their projected win total in parentheses.

                                                Los Angeles Clippers (56) 

     Now that the Clippers along with the rest of the NBA has kicked Donald Sterling to the curb, a new era of Clippers basketball commences this season under the ownership of Steve Ballmer. It is an exiting time to be a Clippers fan. The team is good, the new ownership is energized, etc. This franchise has remarkably transformed itself from a laughing stock to a contender in a very short period of time.
     The biggest acquisition they made was adding center Spencer Hawes who played last season for the dismal 76ers. He averaged 13.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game last season and is certain to be a main contributor on this Clippers team. Especially since he is a big man who can shoot and make foul shots.
     As for the rest of the team, it's more or less the same crew from last season. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are still being asked to carry the bulk of the load, so not much has changed on that front. What could of course change is how much better they are. Blake Griffin continues to get better, which means that the Clippers by default should be better.
     How much better he will be of course remains to be seen, but the Clippers need Griffin to transform himself from a guy who can throw down dunks to a guy who can hit silky fade away jump shots like Karl Malone. If Griffin is able to hit a mid-range jump shot with more regularity this season, the Clippers will be much better.
      As for Chris Paul, I expect him to continue to be as good as ever, which makes him the best point guard in the NBA. The biggest concern for Chris Paul will be his health. He hasn't always been able to stay healthy and that has hurt this Clippers team. If he can stay healthy, that along with Blake Griffin's improvements, will make the Clippers a much better team this season.
     While it is true that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are the best two players on this team, they have a good supporting cast around them with J.J. Redick, Spencer Hawes, DeAndre Jordan, and Jamal Crawford. Barring injury, this team is prime to once again win the Pacific under the guidance of Doc Rivers, who is one of the league's best coaches.

                                                          Golden State Warriors (54) 

     Like the Clippers, the Warriors are entering a new era of their own. Only instead of changing owners, they are changing coaches. Mark Jackson is gone and Steve Kerr is in. Kerr has never been a head coach before, so once again the Warriors are rolling the dice on a rookie head coach. While the Warriors had good reason to fire Jackson, there will be a lot of second guessing across the Bay Area if the team regresses under Kerr. This naturally puts a ton of pressure on the Warriors' front office.
     The other big news surrounding this team was the decision to not trade Klay Thompson for Kevin Love but instead sign him to a 4 year, $70M extension, which happened on Friday. Klay Thompson along with Stephen Curry are the best shooting backcourt in the NBA. Both guys are absolutely explosive from beyond the arc and are capable of putting up points in bunches. The Warriors are showing Thompson and Curry the money because they believe that their offensive potency can lead them to a championship. This of course means that Thompson and Curry better deliver the goods.
     As for the rest of the team, they have a solid front line with David Lee and Andrew Bogut and some good options at small forward in Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala, who is a stalwart defender. Just about all of those guys have had injury issues over the last couple of seasons, which means that health will be key to the Warriors' success. If they can keep their core players healthy, they should be able to make a serious push for the Pacific Division crown. If they are unable to stay healthy, they will fall short.
     This team doesn't have a ton of depth outside of the six players I just mentioned. Leandro Barbosa might be able to give them something, but he cannot be expected to be a consistent off the bench threat now that he is at a later stage of life. The only other guy who could really be of use off the bench is Draymond Green. If he has a big year, that would be huge for this team.
      The Warriors really need their top six players (Curry, Thompson, Lee, Bogut, Barnes, and Iguodala) to step up and produce. That is why health is so key. If any of those guys goes down for an extended period of time, it's a serious blow.
     Overall, the Warriors should be very competitive this season. Assuming the team stays healthy or at least healthy relative to other teams, they should be fine in terms of making the playoffs and possibly winning the Pacific Division. However, they aren't ready to make a serious push to reach the NBA Finals.
     The Oklahoma City Thunder's injury problems with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook opens things up a bit, but the Thunder still should be able to make the playoffs and have both of their star players healthy. Plus, there are a lot of other good teams in this conference as well who I've already addressed in my previous previews.
     The West is LOADED and the Warriors are just one of several teams who are capable of winning the Western Conference. It'll be tough for them to come out of the West, but I expect them to be in the mix all season and certainly pose a threat to all who come their way.

                                                          Phoenix Suns (50)

     The Phoenix Suns missed the playoffs last season after winning 48 games which for them was both heartbreaking and encouraging. They were expected to be a terrible team and instead they made a really strong push for a playoff spot. I expect them to continue to build on their success from last year and make an even more serious push to make the playoffs.
     The problem for the Suns of course is the same problem that the Warriors have which is that the West is really stacked. However, with Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Eric Bledsoe in their backcourt, the Suns should have plenty of firepower to hold their own in the hostile Western Conference.
     The most interesting thing to see in this Suns team will be how Dragic, Thomas, and Bledsoe co-exist since all three are natural point guards. It could be really fun to watch and dangerous, or it could just be really fun to watch. Their head coach Jeff Hornacek will have to get creative in terms of figuring out how to maximize the most out of all three players.
     In addition to a loaded backcourt, Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris provide a sound inside post presence. Both brothers continue to get better each season and should also be main contributors on this Suns team. Dragic, Bledsoe, and Thomas are going to need help if the Suns are going to make the playoffs, and I think the Morris twins might be the perfect duo to give them the help they need.
     I like this Suns team a lot because of their back court. Thomas, Dragic, and Bledsoe all have all-star potential and could form one of the more frightening backcourts in recent memory. If they can figure out how to gel, then the Suns will be really scary. If they don't and there is tension, then look for the Suns to trade one of them. This team will certainly be interesting to follow.

                                                          Sacramento Kings (32)
     The Sacramento Kings are an interesting team in that they have a lot of talented pieces, but all the same are projected to stink. How can this be? For one thing, they are young and secondly, it's unclear whether or not Rudy Gay is worth all the money. He's very good, no doubt, but he takes a lot shots and might detract too much from the Kings' franchise player DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins is a budding superstar and is likely going to be the best big man in the NBA in a couple of seasons aside from Anthony Davis.
     Rudy Gay on the other hand is a really good scorer who kind of likes to do his own thing. He doesn't really fit, but on paper he makes the Kings a lot better. The Kings need to put guys around DeMarcus Cousins who compliment him; not guys who also need teams built around them. I'm confident that Rudy Gay can be a franchise player somewhere, but I don't think Sacramento is the right place given the fact that their centerpiece is a big man who needs a lot of touches.
     In addition to Gay and Cousins, the Kings have a couple of talented shooting guards in Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas. Both guys are really young but could become key players for them in the future. How they develop this season will be something to watch if you are a Kings fan.
     In conclusion, this team has some talent, but they are not a team that will make a dent in the Western Conference playoff picture. They'll be slightly improved and win more than 30 games, but there is still a wide gap between them and the teams in the West that are competing for playoff spots.

                                              Los Angeles Lakers (25) 

     Just about the only good news for this Lakers team is that Kobe Bryant appears to be rejuvenated and capable of putting up a ton of points. Outside of that, they are an utter and complete mess. Their 1st round selection Julius Randle, the #7 overall pick, is done for the season with a broken leg and Steve Nash is done for the season with various back problems. Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin were added in the offseason to provide some support, but neither player is good enough to elevate the Lakers into playoff status.
     This proud franchise is hitting rock bottom. Their great owner Jerry Buss has passed away, Kobe Bryant is getting old, and they have nobody who they can have confidence in as a star for the future. Things look bleak in Los Angeles and it's not going to get any better if they stay the course.
     The only thing that would make things better for this team is if they actually traded Kobe Bryant and got something back for him that they could use to build around. This would of course anger Kobe Bryant, but they need to do the best thing for their long-term future given that they are nowhere near having a championship team.
     As it stands, the Lakers are destined to stink for the remainder of Kobe Bryant's career and be left with absolutely nothing to build around once he retires. It's sad and rather pathetic. This franchise shows no signs of getting better, and they aren't going to be better simply by being the Lakers. People say that the Lakers will bounce back and be good in five years, but their only reason is "They are the Lakers". I'm sorry, but as a philosophy major at UC Berkeley, I am not easily convinced by such arguments.
     I want to see good decisions being made that indicate this is the case. So far I haven't seen such decisions which is why I remain skeptical. This franchise seems more focused on pandering to Kobe Bryant's wishes than they do on winning games. This indicates that their front office is filled with a bunch of idiots which in turn indicates that they will continue to stink.
      If their front office is as stupid as I think they are, they will indeed continue on the path towards irrelevance and ineptitude. They'll become the New York Knicks of the Western Conference, only worse.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord