NBA / Jan 28, 2009 / 4:17 pm

The Fake Contenders

Jason KiddJason Kidd, Dime #40

Watching the Mavs/Pistons game last Friday, I felt like I’d turned to one of those alphabet boxing title fights: Not of the IBF/WBC variety, but one of those North American Boxing Association of Arts & Sciences-type deals. Yeah, a belt was on the line, but was it really a championship fight?

That’s because Dallas and Detroit both fall into the category of the NBA’s fake contenders. While we’ve all seen the “contenders and pretenders” columns, fake contenders are something different. “Pretenders” are teams that have talent, that can get into the playoffs, but there’s no real reason for anyone to think they can actually win a championship (think ’09 Atlanta Hawks). Fake contenders are a different animal: You can’t completely write them off because of what they have — at least one playoff-proven superstar, a handful of established vets with postseason experience, usually a good coach, a deep bench and they play adequate defense — but so many things have to fall into place for them to win the ‘chip, it doesn’t make sense to take them as a realistic title threat.

Who are this year’s fake contenders?

* Why you like themDirk Nowitzki is as good as he’s ever been (25.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg), putting up almost identical numbers to the ones he had during his MVP season. Jason Kidd can still run a team (8.2 apg), and is hitting threes (39%) at a career-high clip. Jason Terry (20.3 ppg) has been the League’s best sixth man so far. Brandon Bass, J.J. Barea and Josh Howard give the Mavs enough depth and versatility to be competitive with anyone.
* Why you’re wasting your time — Kidd can’t guard Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Deron Williams, Brandon Roy (when Portland goes big) or any other fast point guard in the West. Howard isn’t as good as he was even two years ago. Dirk has his postseason demons. They don’t even use Jerry Stackhouse anymore, one of their better clutch scorers. Since winning Game Two of the ’06 Finals, the Mavs have gone 3-12 in the postseason.

* Why you like themChauncey is a certified winner who should at least help get ‘Melo over that first round hurdle, if not farther. He’s also made Denver’s defense light-years better than in years past. They can run or play half-court basketball. Nene (15 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and K-Mart (13 ppg, 6.5 rpg) are providing strong interior play. Carmelo has stepped up his defense and rebounding this year.
* Why you’re wasting your time — All things being equal (a.k.a. if everyone’s healthy), even Denver fans know they can’t beat San Antonio or the Lakers in a seven-game series.

* Why you like themRip, Tayshaun, Rasheed, McDyess and the rest of their core from last season can make the conference finals on GP. Allen Iverson is still an elite player and is desperate for a ‘chip; he also knows this may be his last realistic chance at one. Rodney Stuckey has slowly been living up to the preseason hype. The bench is among the best in the League, they play defense, they’re battle-tested and they’re tough.
* Why you’re wasting your timeIverson and Rip just don’t mesh well on the court; Rip seems to be sulking ever since Chauncey left, and A.I. isn’t playing his typical game. Michael Curry isn’t ready yet. Wallace has his moments, but he’s clearly on the decline; and as I’ve covered before, you can’t trust ‘Sheed in a big game.

* Why you like themDwyane Wade is better now than he was when he carried the Heat to a ‘chip in 2006. Udonis Haslem is a reliable vet who does all the little things championship teams need. Shawn Marion is still a solid two-way player with postseason experience. Michael Beasley is steadily improving. Mario Chalmers has been better than anyone expected and has made Miami’s defense better than anyone expected. Whenever James Jones gets back in the rotation, he and Daequan Cook give the Heat a couple legit shooting threats.
* Why you’re wasting your time — They simply do not have an adequate interior presence. Haslem is too small to guard the Dwight Howards and Kevin Garnetts of the world, and the rest of Miami’s bigs won’t cut it. The team as a whole is too young in some areas, and too old in others. Wade cannot carry them past the Eastern Conference’s elite by himself.

* Why you like them — Between Shaq and Amare playing at an All-Star level, Phoenix has the best 1-2 inside punch in the League. Jason Richardson breathed a new life into them with his explosiveness and ability to make shots. Steve Nash is still one of the NBA’s two or three best playmakers and a proven clutch shooter.
* Why you’re wasting your time — The Spurs own them. The Hornets own them. Brandon Roy owns them. Leandro Barbosa is having one of his worst years both personally (losing his mother) and professionally (not the right fit for Terry Porter‘s system). And I don’t see Porter figuring out how to get his team past a series where the Suns don’t have home court advantage.

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  • Pig

    nuggets are real man

  • http://www.traileraddict.com/trailer/black-dynamite/red-band-trailer fallinup (Black Dynamite = Best Movie Evar!)

    Haha…pretenders and fake contenders seem like the same thing to me. I certainly don’t think the 5 above teams have a chance at the title. Hence written off. Hence pretenders.

  • LakeShow84

    The only team i take seriously on that list is Denver..

    Miami is too small
    Dallas doesnt fit right
    Detroit has AI on their team
    Phoenix is San Antonio’s bi.. well you know..

    And sorry AI fans..

  • hahns

    the jazz w/o boozer arent a real threat
    and id throw the hornets in there too, but i havent seen them enough this year

  • karizmatic

    I think Miami is a Pretender not a fake contender.

  • Sanpitch

    I don’t know if I would put the Nuggets on that list. I would put Orlando Magic on that list before I would put the Nuggets.

  • calvin brodus

    Boo to you Austin!!!! BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! I always considered you a pretty insightful writer too. But you’ve blown it on this one. So the only reason the nuggets aren’t real contenders is because when 100% percent healthy they probably can’t beat the 100% healthy lakers or spurs? Well for starters, that may or may not be true. I’ll bet the spurs fold early this year. SA should have been one of your fake contenders (bring on the hate). But let’s say it is true. That makes them the third best team in the western conference. Which the Nuggets are, easily. Taking that a step further, that means that any team in the west that can’t beat a healthy lakers/spurs team is fake contender. That’s portland, utah, houston, and NO. All fake contenders? Come on man. And if Denver is fake, than portland HAS to be. And yet, portland doesn’t make your little list here. Seriously, of all the teams in the NW division, the Nuggs always take the hate from DIME. You are a flagrant homer for the pacific northwest region. Furthermore, the Nuggets have a very legit chance of seeing the second round, and possibly advancing beyond that. Very legit. The Nugs are leading the division and having one of their best seasons in DECADES. You won’t rain on this D-Town parade, Burton. But you will regret sleeping on this squad. And I will remind you of the bad things you said about Denver when the right time comes. By the way Austin, how the hell is Seattle playing this year? I just check the standings and couldn’t find them. Sucka.

  • Sanpitch


    Snoop, is that you??


  • AB_40

    hmm miami shouldn’t even be on here.
    when you’re starting center is 6-7 your power forward is 6-8 and your small forward is 6-7 AND your backup center is mark blount you can’t win jack sh…

    since golden state dallas has been done zo they should have broken up the team because well it wasn’t gonna work. now the players don’t have as much value as they used to have. think of all the players that were on the block the last 2 seasons.

  • http://www.traileraddict.com/trailer/black-dynamite/red-band-trailer fallinup (Black Dynamite = Best Movie Evar!)


    I for some reason, envisioned Calvin saying that above post with his fists clenched on a dark mountain top with lightning bolts crashing around him. Watch yer back, Austin.

  • AY

    i don’t see the difference between a pretender and a fake contender, seems like semantics to me. dallas isn’t even getting into the playoffs, they’re about as dangerous as the raptors. and i would argue denver is actually better than the spurs, they have a complete team versus the spurs that has a clear void.

  • http://GEE2.com GEE…”I saw you and him, walkin in the raaaiiin!”

    Dang AB Snoop ain’t sharing no more of that sticky icky icky wit you lol.

    AB you had to know when you went into putting this one together that the hate was coming. I mean it always does, but especially on a joint like this lol.

    I ain’t trippin I agree on most. I do think the Suns come playoff time will be a legit contender.

    Miami best get a 5 quickly. Cause Yao has even feasted on them. I am shocked it’s taken so long for them to get a 7 footer even for presence if nothing else. Haslem is not the answer.

  • Ashlov

    Wrong answer.

    Wade is capable of getting this squad to the ECF. People keep doubting, he keeps proving them wrong.

  • http://dimemag.com Austin Burton

    @Snoop Dogg — The reason Portland, N.O., Houston and Utah didn’t crack the list is because they don’t meet the qualifications I laid out earlier: Portland, N.O. and Houston don’t have playoff-proven superstars, which Denver does. And Utah, well, even if you wanna say Deron is proven in the playoffs, they’re not even in the top 8 seeds right now. So in a way, I’m giving Denver some credit. But you know they can’t beat SA or L.A. when it really comes down to it.

  • http://www.traileraddict.com/trailer/black-dynamite/red-band-trailer fallinup (Black Dynamite = Best Movie Evar!)


    and yeah, even the Magic.

    All the rest: Pretenders

    See you in the playoffs!

  • John

    Miami is not a contender, they are preparing a team for 3 years from now ,,, they where the worst team last season, so a 41-41 record would be huge to them. They start 2 rookies, Joel Anthony at center and a rookie coach ,,, Get rid of Marion, give them 2 years and a true center and them ,,, watch out

  • calvin brodus

    I’ll concede that LA is an incredibly tough team over seven games. SA can be had, mark my words.

  • mavs all the way


  • AY

    both SA and Orlando are flawed teams; you have to roll out two legit post defenders at the same time to contend. They don’t even have to contribute on offense, but if you only toil around with one post defender you can get by pretty handsomely in the regular season, then you lose in the playoffs without fail. you can say that kurt thomas and tony battie are paid specifically for that, but if they’re not in your rotation now they’re not legit.

  • Sanpitch

    Wow! Austin you make no sense. You put the Mavs on as a “fake contender” because they meet your criteria of “… at least one playoff-proven superstar, a handful of established vets with postseason experience, usually a good coach, a deep bench and they play adequate defense”

    With Dallas, who is their playoff-proven superstar and when has Dallas ever played D? I would think Houston and NO would at least fit into that category. NO has Posey and Paul did aight last year and Houston has McGrady and Battier. They have choked just as much as anyone on the Mavs. So that is a weak ass argument you put up in post 14. Sure T-Mac hasn’t got past the first round but he damn near hung a triple double twice on the Jazz last year. You never said anything about playoff success.

    And I would put Utah up as a fake contender ’cause they will more than likely make the playoff and you said nothing about teams in the hunt.

    My playoff fake contender list:

    Orlando Magic
    Detroit Pistons
    NO Hornets
    Houston Rockets

  • Sanpitch


    I agree with you ‘cept the Magic.

    Watch how the Magic do after the All-Star break. They won’t be as good as they are now.

  • mavs all the way

    i get you AB. as much as i hate to admit it, dallas ain’t going nowhere. we need to retool. bigtime. bring in shawn marion and brad miller wheeler!

  • Mark

    Touchy subject apparently, but I’m alright with the list. If you’re talking about ‘proven playoff superstars’, you might as well put Tracy McGrady on that list, proven to not get anywhere (hey, no jabs, I’m just stating history).

    Unless Houston’s healthy (keyword), they’re knocked off, first, maybe second round.

  • Mark

    mavs all the way, I’m not sure what Shawn Marion or Brad Miller would do for our squad. We need some young blood and players that complement Jim Carrey’s system. It’s time to prep for the future, unfortunately.

  • http://dimemag.com Austin Burton

    @Sanpitch — Dirk and Kidd have led teams to the Finals within the last six years. I say that’s playoff-proven.

  • mavs all the way

    these teams ain’t going nowhere!

    at the end, it’ll be cavs versus celtics on the east, and lakers versus spurs on the west. admit it fellas. but yeah that’s another story.

    houston – no chance. unless they trade away tmac for say…vc?

    dallas – unless they bring in someone, say marion and/or b.miller. (oh please not another pg…)

    utah – trade away booz to someone who is passionate for the game. it’s all about money for him. could j.o. be the answer?

    noh – still a piece or 2 away from the chip. go make that trade for tychand.

    suns – the players only want to play for d’antoknicks. send them over there.

    magic – they’ve got the right pieces. but needs more experience under their belts. they will be contenders in a year or two.

  • mavs all the way

    he does look like jim carrey. yesssss man!

  • bookkwormmaster

    I think that for the most part Austin Burton’s list is very accurate. I think the only omission ahould be the Miami Heat. Wade and Haslem I believe are the only two holdovers from that 06 championship run and while Marion has been in the playoffs alot with the Suns they haven’t had any REAL success but I’m basing this on AB’s criteria

    1) at least one playoff-proven superstar (Wade)(Check)

    2) a handful of established vets with postseason experience (only Haslem and Marion count here, that’s TWO not a HANDFUL) (No Check)

    3) usually a good coach (Erik Spoelstra is a rookie coach and therefore unproven, however he does have them winning and looking good) (TBD)

    4) a deep bench (with the execption of Beasley, I don’t believe any guys on there bench could crack the rotation on a good/great team) (No Check)

    5) they play adequate defense (this one is a toss up. When they win it isn’t because they stopped the opposition it’s usually because Wade makes enough plays, be it scoring or setting up his teammates, to give them a chance to win. But on the other hand they don’t get cracked by the great teams or even the the lesser talented teams either) (TBD)

    So based on how u feel about Spoelstra as a coach (which to be honest has alot more to do with Wade than anything else imo) and the team’s defense, they shouldn’t be on the list but still a very accurate list

  • http://dimemag.com Austin Burton

    @bookwormmaster — Great breakdown. I like Miami’s defense because they have two potential lock-down guys (Chalmers and Marion), Wade gets more than his share of steals and blocks (especially in crunch time), and Haslem/Magloire isn’t a terrible combo. (I’m basing that off the last Heat/Magic game where Magloire didn’t let Dwight destroy him.) Even Joel Anthony can block a shot or two when he’s not in foul trouble.

  • My 2 Cents

    It will be either Celtics or Lakers winning it this season, other teams are all pretenders!

    Also to consider Miami winning it all!, you must be joking or on crack!

  • doc (i like kobe AND bron)

    I like Denver out the group.Melo is the x factor aB.Him and Chauncey with help can get teams out of here.

  • bookkwormmaster

    @ Austin Burton

    I agree with everything you just said. Chalmers should have made the Rookie/Sophmore game based on his defense alone. His offense as far as his jumpshot and slashing to the basket I think is underratted when people look at his game. I completely forgot about Magloire though. I think he can be a bit of a factor for them as long as he focuses solely on rebounding and clogging up the lane. I like Joel Anthony too. Dude can block shots with the best of them but like you said he can’t stay out of foul trouble.

  • Sanpitch


    Sorry Austin but I thought you were taking “heart” into consideration.

    That’s my bad. You win this argument.

  • Sanpitch

    Actually austin, i am just giving you crap. i think you nailed it. well, i think post 15 nailed it. everyone else is a fake contender or pretender ‘cept lakers, spurs celtics, and cavs. so really all the playoff teams are fake contenders ‘cept those 4 and everyone else is pretending.

    your going to catch shit for no matter who you put up. i think denver will make some noise in the playoffs but when it comes down to it, they just pulling a “fakey” on everyone.

  • http://www.ballersnetwork.com QuEst??

    excellent post.. however i think that denver’s, Phoenix’s, and Detroit’s problem can be fixed by hiring a new coach. Think about how many matchup problems the pistons can give the others team in the east is they ran ala phoenix. MEMO TO MICHAEL CURRY: YOU HAVE IVERSON, STUCKEY,HAMILTON AND PRINCE WHO ALL RUN VERY WELL AND VERY FAST!. If they implemented that run and gun style, with their defense and their bench, can be an elite team.

  • Ian

    again i think only 4 teams can win and those 4 teams will meet in the conf finals.

    calvin the spurs fold early????? wtf??? they might not win but ill ask u when was the last time duncan folded in the first round in his career??? dont look it up the answer is never.

    denver will prob make the second round and lose to the spurs or lakers easyyyyy like everytime they face each other.

  • Ian

    quest is right those teams can be fixed except the suns till they get the spurs.

  • http://www.ballersnetwork.com QuEst??

    oye ian como estas bro! mira que juegos tu tienes d playstation 3

  • Andrej

    i find that the nuggets can get to the 3rd roundish and heat if they go against the hawks can go to the second round if they get a big for marion (jermiane)

  • Blue

    miami has beat the lakers, cavs, magic and spurs. they’re not the most consistent team, but i think they’ll surprise people come playoff time.

  • Jim

    I don’t see why people here are sleeping on the Hornets. Following the normal progression of things, they could/should make the jump this year to the WCF.
    I don’t think we should act like we can skip right to the final four like everyone assumes, and I’m a Spurs fan.

    And as far as the Nuggets…I assure you every Spurs, Hornets, and Lakers fan is hoping that the Nuggets are their 2nd round opponent instead of one of the other 2, no disrespect to Chauncey.

    And for people saying the Heat should be taken more seriously, I think that’s the idea of the list. They are dangerous and could beat anybody in a series, but they aren’t going to win four series.

  • Blue

    i think the reason i pointed out that the heat can beat the elite teams is to say that they can be title contenders! the ’06 team that won the championship didn’t dominate the regular season. and if they are dangerous and can beat anyone…they can win four series.

  • Andrej

    the heat 2nd round wud be great for them definatley not a title contender
    i no the hornets beat the nuggets but i take the nuggs more serious then the hornets hornets are a disapointment to me this season

  • Ian

    Quest solo estoy jugando little big planet y rock band 2. Mi psn id es plizken

  • rban

    This dudes a moron he bases all of his opinion of ESPN headlines, so we shouldnt pay attention to anyone basically then Boston, LA and Cleveland. What a season…..