Derrick Rose returns tonight. (Finally!) I know I missed him, but he’s been gone so long I forget what I missed. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)
21. The Orlando Magic won’t be very good this season. They may not even be very good next season. But that’s ok, because Orlando is building a team that should compete for a long time, and more importantly, they’re doing it well. They’re collecting young talent (Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson) and stockpiling draft picks (three additional first round picks over the next four drafts). It’s a similar model to the one the Rockets used to snatch James Harden and sign Dwight Howard. But unlike the Rockets, the Magic may have a budding superstar of their own in 2013 pick Victor Oladipo.
Also, Orlando’s front office is the real deal. They fleeced Milwaukee in the JJ Redick deal by getting Tobias Harris. They flipped Dwight Howard (who was leaving anyway) for a collection of assets including Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vucevic. They’re task now; create cap space.
I like Orlando. I’m reserving bandwagon seats for the 2017 season. (FYI: I hated the 76ers trade that sent Vucevic to Orlando when it happened. Even then, 76ers fans knew he could play. Doug Collins was the only one who either didn’t see it or didn’t care. Giving away Harkless also hurt as he’s one of the youngest and most promising players in the league. Again, nice job Philly. Well done.)
20. What do the Lakers do? The Lakers swung and miss with the Dwight Howard saga. They’re tied to Kobe Bryant for at least three more seasons unless he breaks up with them sooner. (His contract ends after this season but there’s no way he doesn’t play out his days with the Lakers.) Pau Gasol is a goner, and Steve Nash’s quickness retired two seasons ago. So, what will the Lakers do?
There are those who believe the Lakers are contenders for LeBron James while others are certain they’re not. I think there’s zero chance LeBron goes to LA to play with Kobe. Nothing good could come of that situation, at least from LeBron’s viewpoint. This is a bridge year for the Lakers. They have three players under contract for next season and a fourth with a player option. In other words, the Lakers could go in a million different directions. If I’m the Lakers, I tank, grab one of the top talents in the loaded 2014 draft and pair him with whatever star you attract to LA. This is a lost season. Grabbing a future star in the draft is the best move for a solid foundation. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be surprised if Carmelo Anthony ended up with the Lakers.
19. Derrick Rose returns TONIGHT. It’ll be his first game since April 2012. Rose’s injury was a costly one. Rose lost an entire season. The Bulls were stranded for a year in no-man’s land. Worst of all, basketball fans missed out on TWO Bulls/Heat playoff series. I’ll be honest, I hardly remember Rose before the injury. Put it this way, my daughter is almost 17 months old. She hasn’t been alive for an NBA game featuring Derrick Rose. Needless to say, we’re excited to have Rose back in our lives.
18. The Golden State Warriors and lofty expectations. Like 98% of the population, I love Steph Curry. Sure, I had a heart attack every time he rose to fire another three against the Spurs, but it’s hard not to like the guy. He’s one of only a handful of players in the league that can turn a game on its head all by himself. With that said, I have a few issues with the Warriors.
1. Curry’s ankles. Though he played most of last year, the ankle became a problem in the playoffs. Until he goes through a full season or two without issue, this will always be Golden State’s top concern.
2. I’ve been a 76ers fan since I was old enough to know what I was watching (the Barkley years). I’ve seen enough of Andre Iquodala to know that A. He’s a terrific defender and B. It’s never a good thing when he’s one of your two best players. Iquodala thrived with the Olympic team because he wasn’t one of the team’s top players. His role was clear and defined. Though I like the role I think he’ll play in Golden State, I still can’t ignore that Iquodala’s teams underachieve more often than not.
3. The Warriors need the right matchup in the playoffs. Teams like the Clippers, Grizzlies, and maybe Rockets – teams that can pound and score down low – could terrorize the Warriors in the postseason. Don’t forget, it was Tim Duncan who swung the tide in the Golden State series last year. If Andruw Bogut is healthy, some of those fears are eased, but expecting Bogut to be healthy late in the year is even more wishful thinking than Curry playing the entire season.
17. The revamped Clippers have all the pieces; top tier coach, all star point guard, explosive forward, shooters to spread the floor, depth, and enough playoff disappointments to fuel a deep run come late spring. On the flip side, the Clippers still don’t know if Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can be on the floor together late in games. They don’t know if Griffin is just a very good forward or a game-changing, will-imposing beast. To date, Griffin has been all flash and little substance, getting bullied out of the playoffs by Tim Duncan and Zack Randolph in consecutive seasons. He’s also a major reason the Clippers cant get stops late in games. Many think Doc Rivers will fix the defensive issues, but that’s assuming Griffin wants to be a great defender. I’m not convinced Griffin wants to do anything but run the floor, dunk, and stare down opponents and their fans.
While we’re throwing stars under the bus, I think it’s time we throw a little heat in Chris Paul’s direction. For “the greatest point guard” in the game, Paul has accomplished very little. He has yet to play for a conference title. Though he’s as tough as nails, his teams are soft. At some point, we can’t ignore that Paul’s greatness hasn’t elevated his teams to new heights. I mean, isn’t that a major component of being great?
(Oh, I can’t forget to mention how excited I am for Doc Rivers’ end of quarter plays. You know, the ones where Player X dribbles outside the three point line until five seconds remain, at which point Player X heaves an off-balance, fade-away jumper or dribbles into a triple team as the clock expires. Good times.)