Eight more teams had their seasons ended for them over the weekend, some due to bad circumstances, some to being out-manned, out-classed, or some combination of the three. As we all know, what makes sports fun isn’t appreciating the moment or celebrating a hard-fought season, but lamenting your teams failures and speculating on what you know they need to do to improve. So with that said, let’s take a look at the eight teams eliminated from the first round, and whether this season can be deemed a success or failure and what their outlook is moving forward.
They came into this season expecting it to be a rebuilding year, sneaked into the eighth seed in a uber-competitive Western Conference where they ran into a wall against the hungry, vengeful, under-appreciated Spurs team. Not much you can do there. In fact I don’t think any of the bottom seven playoff teams (Utah, Dallas, Denver, Orlando, Philly, Atlanta, and New York) would have won a game against San Antonio. Not to say these teams are undeserving of their playoff spots, just that the Spurs are potentially the best Duncan-Ginobli-Parker team yet.
Going forward, Utah needs to give their current coach an extension, trade one or two of Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and Paul Milsap for a tangible point guard, and get either a late first round pick or good utility big man for Devin Harris. It won’t make them the best team in the league by a long stretch, but we’re at a point in the NBA’s history where all Utah can ask for is to be in the playoffs. If you’re reaching and/or competing for the Finals on a regular basis it isn’t much more than a fluke.
The good news is they really don’t seem to give a shit, and most people don’t seem to blame them. That Finals victory over Miami had to be one of the more gratifying in NBA history. Not only for the LeBron factor but from Dallas fans, players and owners perspective, they paid back the Heat for the title the refs basically stole away from them in 2006 (which I say definitively to incense Heat fans). The season was far from a success, in fact as far as title defenses are concerned it’s an unequivocal failure (ironically, it’s the worst since Miami’s in 2007), but too many of the players were convinced the season was over, partied too long and too hard in the off-season, Cuban let half their bench and Tyson Chandler leave, and it all comes back to everyone seeming not to care because they have their eyes set on 2012-2013.
Speaking of which, during this off-season everyone knows the Mavs are going after Deron Williams and maybe trying to execute a trade for Dwight Howard. Neither of which is a terrible move, but if the Magic wouldn’t trade Howard for Bynum or the gaggle of players the Nets were offering, I don’t know what Dallas thinks they have in the tank that’s so valuable. If it were 2004 they could offer up two of Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, and Jason Terry. But it isn’t, so there’s no sense in dwelling on pipe dreams.
On the other hand, unless Williams can be convinced that the move to Brooklyn will spike his Q-rating, it feels like he’s almost definitely going to Dallas. Williams will get them back into the top five in the West, it remains to be seen if Nowitzki is going to care going forward or if he just took off this season. Either way, he only has a few more years left, Williams might want to seek out an auxiliary plan.
You know Dwight Howard is a valued commodity when he’s going to dominate a post about losing playoff teams when he didn’t even play. It has become popular opinion that between his back injury and recent disputes with management, his trade value has absolutely plummeted from two months ago. I’m not sure I agree, this guy is still the premiere big man defender in the league (sorry Tyson Chandler), and there’s a high premium on that because not only is he exceptional in a historical sense, it’s as rare a commodity in today’s NBA as it has ever been. It’s almost impossible to find even five guys who control the paint as effectively as Howard, and none of them hold a candle to him when he’s actually playing. So the Magic still should have their pick of options. We’ll see if they handle them as poorly this upcoming year as they did the last.
As for the season, I mean, outside of the Knicks it was the playoff team in the most constant disarray, mainly because of the combativeness between Howard, Van Gundy and management. Although they lost in five games to the Pacers, all but one of those games were competitive. They have plenty of assets despite what any Howard apologist will tell you. If this team could simply could get it’s act together they would be the same formidable opponent today they were in 2009. But that’s never going to happen. It’s time to accept your fate, trade Howard and move on already. They should look to Houston and if Darryl Morey likes Howard’s metrics as much as he does Gasol, Orlando should attempt to get the same deal they offered the Lakers that fell through or look to acquire some lottery picks.
New York Knicks
I don’t think anyone can regard this Knicks season as anything more than an abject failure. To their credit, they were forced to the bitter end to adjust their lineup and as a result their rotation. Between injuries, coaching changes and Linsanity, this team never looked like the same team for more than a month. They still have potential but it’s difficult to ever see it being matched. I think being on the Knicks is part of the problem with this team (hence the title of this season summary I wrote awhile back), they are one of the more scrutinized teams in the NBA (second only to Miami) and they just haven’t had the personnel, either on the bench or court, to adequately deal with it.
In short, if he wants to play in a big market with a capable coach and make an immediate impact in a weaker conference, this is where Chris Paul should ultimately end up. If they can find a way to parlay Amar’e contract into something that includes an offensive big man not five years away from crutches, that would be a step in the right direction as well. It’s the Knicks, they can turn everything around in a heartbeat since so much of the NBA seems to aspire to play in Manhattan (Note: I write this while on a train to Penn Station, and I sort of get it), it’s just a matter of the front office wooing and selecting the right prospects.
There probably isn’t a more disappointed fan base in the country, but even without the requisite injuries that are solely responsible for their first round exit making them the fifth #1 seed in the history of the NBA to lose to an 8th, disappointment was inevitable. Because anything short of an NBA title would have been regarded as a failure, and at least in our own regard, that was never happening.
Long story short, the Bulls aren’t going to compete for an NBA Title until they get Rose some significant help on the wing(s). They can’t have anymore erroneous signings like Boozer, where they offer a second-tier “name” first-tier money, only for him to under-perform even the expectations they had which weren’t going to get them a title in the first place. It would help if they got in the Dwight Howard business, or started discussing trading a few of their talented role players for a different top-fifteen players, because while Rose is one of the league’s five best players, they either need more bulk to their depth or a player who makes a tangible difference and doesn’t simply murder their salary cap for the foreseeable future.
The Nuggets can only be regarded as having a disappointing season because they lost in the first round and it doesn’t look like they will get past it in the West with this current crop of talent or their current competition (this story might be different if they were in the East). So while it may seem somewhat encouraging in the short term, it’s somewhat discouraging in the long. I’d advise trading some of their underrated yet still third-tier players for a first-tier star or someone with the potential to be one. But the problem with this approach is being in Denver, you can’t guarantee you will re-sign whoever you actually procure.
Unfortunately for the Nuggets and several teams like them, they can be as efficiently ran as any team in the league but they aren’t in a city with a lot of pull. The Nuggets are well ran (they’re better off now than with Melo, and they were one of the few entities to believe that at the time of their trade), but they’re stuck in NBA purgatory. Their ceiling is limited to whoever they can score high in the draft, but their too good right now to land a high draft pick. Otherwise, they absolutely have to stay healthy all season to snag a higher seed and give themselves an easier path to the Finals.
Some might apply my description of the Nuggets to the Grizzlies as well, but I think the Grizzlies have enough talent right now to actually make a playoff push, and that they missed it this year. Sure, they could use an upgrade at point guard and really, their entire back court could use a couple extra pieces. Either in the form of starters or sparks off the bench. But they pissed away this series against the Clippers (they were almost objectively the better of the two teams, despite losing the series and all) and that would have given them a rematch against the Spurs, whom they beat last year in the first round as an eighth seed.
Of course, I don’t think they were repeating the upset: the Spurs have a healthy Ginobli and a deep bench, two things they were lacking last season. But the opportunity was their and they didn’t seize the moment. I imagine if Randolph doesn’t miss 80% of the season with a knee injury that they actually win that first round series in five or six, compared to the rest of the league and how abundant actual playoff injuries have been for the rest of the league, however, that’s about the smallest amount of adversity any team should be expected to overcome. Basically, I have no sympathy for the Grizzlies, as I rarely do when the better team loses a seven game series.
Speaking of lacking sympathy, this isn’t a team anyone is shedding any tears for. Atlanta fans would be more disappointed than Chicago’s if their inevitable first round exit from multiple blown leads wasn’t so preordained. We’re going on seven years now of playoff disappointments (going back to 2005 when Joe Johnson was traded from the Suns) and it’s time to simply pull the cord on this specific project. They’re never getting out of the second round and with the emergence of Miami, Indiana, Chicago and (maybe) New York, they’ll be lucky to ever get out of the first.
It isn’t that the Hawks are short on talent. Quite the contrary, as they have one of the more naturally gifted teams in the league. But they’re getting older, and it’s clear that both Joe Johnson and Josh Smith might find teams that could better use their talent. This is an instance where a fresh start is needed for everyone. So while Atlanta might be stuck with the absurd contract they offered Joe Johnson, they can always part ways with Smith and get something worthwhile back for him.
Will they finally go through with this? My guess is no, but there will be a lot of teams overreacting to the results of a strike-shortened season. If Atlanta is smart they will capitalize on their impulses. Because while a number of teams are going to be basing their moves off the shortcomings of a remarkably unique season, Atlanta has over half a decade of failure to decide where they should take the franchise.