Everyone wants to talk about super teams. Of course, the Heat, Knicks, Clippers, Celtics and all the rest of ‘em capture the imagination of the NBA fan base. There’s nothing quite like feeling the anticipation and excitement in the air when you see that news hit telling you Chris Paul has finally been traded and he’s going to the Clippers. What immediately follows is typically more invigorating than what eventually happens. The promise of what could be is almost always better than what is. Even here at Dime, we find ourselves talking about one third of the NBA about 80 percent of the time. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about everyone else.
In the final week before the regular season tips off for real this Sunday on Christmas, we have broken down each division, team by team in an effort to give you an overall look at what to expect in what’s sure to be a relentlessly exciting season.
We started things off by getting our East Coast bias on and diving into the Atlantic on Monday, then the Central Division and Southeast. After hitting up the Western Conference’s Northwest and Pacific Divisions, today we’re wrapping it up in the Southwest Division.
5. New Orleans Hornets
The New Guys That Matter: Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu
Projected Starting Five: Jarrett Jack, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Carl Landry, Emeka Okafor
I wrote just after the trade that shook the world that this could be the worst team in the NBA. While I caught a lot of criticism for that, crazier things have happened, like Common dissing Drake for basically being a 2002 Common. Offensively, this team will be one of the worst in the league. Their best scorer, Eric Gordon, isn’t a playmaker. They have Ariza, who might own the worst shot selection since Cheddar Bob. Jack is a solid player, and would make the perfect backup on a championship team, but he’s neither a scorer nor a creator. He does the little things, and now since he’s being asked to do the big things, I have the feeling he’s going to have some serious trouble. Okafor can’t score whatsoever, and Kaman is ripe bait for a trade (Besides, if you plan on running your offense through Kaman, be prepared to watch him fumble the ball against double-teams, throw bad passes out of the post, take at least four head-shaking shots a game and generally leaving you saying “Our offense sucks.” It’s not that he’s a bad player. Far from it. But Kaman inevitably leaves you wanting more.)
Defensively, because they’re coached by Monty Williams and because most of their rotation at least gives a better than average effort, they should be as good as they were last season (12th in defensive efficiency). That’s the true heart of this team and if they have any shot of winning close to 30 games, it’ll be what they ride night after night.
It also hurts to be put in the league’s “A Division.” Memphis, San Antonio and Dallas could all be considered title contenders, and Houston is perennially the most underrated team in the NBA. That leaves New Orleans, stuck in transition with too many distractions, too many holes and not enough time to answers all of those questions.
Major turnover within an organization is almost never a positive, especially in a season that’ll be raining games almost every single night. But New Orleans – whether by design or not – has undergone MAJOR changes in the last few years. As the blog At The Hive writes, “In fact, only one member of the 2010 side (Emeka Okafor) is still on the team in December 2011.” Think about that.
BEST CASE: With the storm circling them, the players come together and play harder than anyone in the league. The crowds in turn get behind them and Gordon becomes so good as a scorer, they have to invite him to the All-Star Game. New Orleans finishes at nearly .500 as the surprise team in the league. Meanwhile in L.A., Chris Paul’s knees deteriorate and the Clippers barely sneak into the playoffs.
WORST CASE: They become the worst offensive team in the league and struggle to give the same defensive effort every night. Kaman spends most of his time hunting, shooting off fireworks and generally seeping further and further into the backcountry. Gordon shows he’s much better as a No. 2 option and then decides he’s much better off somewhere else down the road. Then to top it all off, the Clippers make the Finals while the Hornets hope for nice ping-pong ball bounces.
4. Houston Rockets
The New Guys That Matter: Marcus Morris, Samuel Dalembert
Projected Starting Five: Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, Luis Scola, Dalembert
All those plans. All those expectations. Out the window. Houston had been building for this moment for two-plus years, building up assets and picks and cap room. So when Pau Gasol became available, when Nene showed he was willing to come to Houston, the reshaping phase seemed over. Well, we all know what happened after that. Chris Paul ended up in Los Angeles. Gasol went back to L.A. Nene went back to Denver. And the Rockets were left to sign Dalembert.
While Dalembert isn’t a bad player – he averaged 8.1 points and 8.2 rebounds a night last season, which is almost exactly what his career averages are – he won’t be carrying any teams to the playoffs.
Inevitably on Christmas morning, someone will give me a DVD. Considering I rarely seem to watch movies anymore, this is somewhat of a fallback option: easy to find… I won’t be dissatisfied… and they make for simple gifts. These aren’t clothes; Everyone is not rushing to exchange DVDs. That’s how I see the Rockets. Tough. Gritty. Neither spectacularly good or bad. They are what they are. And David Stern assured them this summer they’ll be that again this season.
One thing Houston does have is the most underrated backcourt in the whole league. Lowry is one of the five most disruptive small guys in the game, and Kevin Martin was second in the whole league in points per minute. They will keep them in games.
BEST CASE: Everyone continues their trend of playing out of their minds, Dalembert doesn’t slack off now that he’s paid and is nearly 30 years old, and Kevin McHale is the direct opposite of what he was as a GM. Houston sneaks into the playoffs.
WORST CASE: McHale is awful, the team fumbles through the first month of the season still mourning the trade that didn’t happen, they fall behind in the standings and even their backcourt has trouble replicating their past performances.