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2014-15 NBA Preview: The Lottery Bound

For the first time in a few years, the NBA appears to be in as much flux as it’s ever been.  Superstars have left championship contenders to form new super-groups.  Teams have gambled on acquiring that “missing piece”, only to strike out on their top targets.  A much-hyped rookie class will finally be donning NBA jerseys on a court.  And many of the top players in the league are looking forward to the inevitable rise of the salary cap—and their next maximum contract—tied to a new media deal.  We here at the Bad Man Bureau are going to go through all thirty of the league’s teams to provide an idea of what to expect from each of them.  We continue our discussion of each of the league’s teams with the five clubs that are bound for the lottery.  To see our prior breakdown of the Bottom Feeders, click here.

Power ranking in parenthesis.  Note: There is no correlation between the current power ranking and predicted win-loss record.

 

Boston Celtics (25)

Last Year’s Record: 25-57

Biggest Addition: Marcus Smart

Biggest Subtraction: Jerryd Bayless

Projected Starting Lineup: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk

Key Reserves: Marcus Smart, Evan Turner, Brandon Bass

The Celtics are in an odd place.  They’re in the second year of their rebuild, and they added nice young, cheap pieces via the draft in Marcus Smart and James Young.  They acquired some decent youngsters during the offseason in Dwight Powell, Tyler Zeller, and Erik Murphy, the kinds of players who might turn out to fill a defined role competently.  They’ve got players like Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and Vitor Faverani on cap-friendly deals as well and signed the oft-maligned Evan Turner to a short contract.  On the other side though, they basically wiped out their cap space to grab some draft picks in acquiring Marcus Thornton and losing Keith Bogans, whose unguaranteed contract this year and next year is a nice bargaining chip.  They still have Gerald Wallace on the books making more than $10 million a year.  Avery Bradley got a 4 year, $32 million contract, which while some would argue is a decent deal, his development has stalled out quite disappointingly.

 

Jared Sullinger has been much improved this preseason, but is it enough to placate a disgruntled Rondo? (Source: Kathy Kmonicek/AP Photo)

 

The biggest question for the Celtics—as has for the last five years it seems—is the future of Rajon Rondo in the green and white.  He’s currently sidelined with a hand injury, which while the Celtics are buying Rondo’s account of being clumsy in the shower, there are rumors that Rondo injured it while on a trampoline.  Boston has almost certainly received offers from a number of teams in the league for Rondo’s services; he’s an elite distributor, a great defender, and an underrated shooter.  However, he’s also never lead a team since he was given the reins to Boston’s offense to anything more than mediocre;  the franchise’s offensive efficiency has cratered from 106.8 points per 100 possessions in 2008-09 to 99.3 points per 100 possessions last year. Yes, Rondo has been injured, but even when looking at the last season in which he played more than 50 games in the season (2011-12), the Celtics’s offensive efficiency number was still only good for 24th in the league at 97.6, an even worse number than last season.

The Celtics aren’t looking for a quick fix; the front office knows a proper rebuild will take time.  But question marks still surround the franchise, starting with the biggest name on the team.  It wouldn’t be a surprise if Rondo were moved if the deal were enticing enough, but it also wouldn’t be surprising if Rondo re-signed with Boston in the offseason.  The goal for this team should probably be trying to unload another veteran contract for future considerations; get rid of a player like Gerald Wallace or Brandon Bass, and that should be considered a success for the front office.

Win-Loss Prediction: 26-56

 

Milwaukee Bucks (24)

Last Year’s Record: 15-67

Biggest Addition: Jabari Parker

Biggest Subtraction: Self-Respect

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup: Brandon Knight, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders

Key Reserves: Jerryd Bayless, OJ Mayo, John Henson

This team is going to be fun to watch if things fall right.  There’s a ton of exciting youngsters here, all oozing with potential: Knight, the Greek Freak, Jabari, Sanders, and Henson are all capable of making hardcore NBA fans squeal with glee.  If things go extremely well, there’s the potential for this crew to stun the league and push for a playoff spot in the East.  The problem with such a young team—and one with a couple players with less than ideal character—is that if things go wrong, things can get ugly very quickly.  It doesn’t help that the team is led now by Jason Kidd, a coach in which the jury is still out on whether he’s actually any good at doing it (his post-playing career highlights are “Sodagate” and then the sleazy negotiations to seize the Milwaukee head coaching position from Larry Drew while Kidd still had a job in Brooklyn and Drew was still head coach of the Bucks).  He does have a team he can grow with, and the owners clearly believe in him as evidenced by the hiring saga.

However, some of the ideas coming out of Milwaukee may not be so encouraging when piecing them all together.  The projected starting lineup might have serious issues guarding on the perimeter.  Larry Sanders took a step back on the basketball court and found himself in a courtroom last season.  Ersan Ilyasova’s game fell off a cliff last year.  OJ Mayo is just getting those checks.  The logjam among the bigs has been sorted out, but now there’s a logjam on the perimeter with Bayless, surprise rookie Nate Wolters, Kendall Marshall—who revived his career with the Lakers last year, OJ Mayo, Jared Dudley, and gunner Khris Middleton all vying for backup minutes.  Knight is playing for his first big contract this season, and Jason Kidd has talked about playing the nearly-seven foot Antetokounmpo at point guard.  There’s real danger here that despite all of the potential highlights the players on this team will provide, there will be far more lowlights.

Win-Loss Prediction: 22-60

 

Detroit Pistons (23)

Last Year’s Record: 29-53

Biggest Addition: Stan Van Gundy

Biggest Subtraction: Rodney Stuckey

Projected Starting Lineup: Brandon Jennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Singler, Josh Smith, Andre Drummond

Key Reserves: D.J. Augustin, Jodie Meeks, Greg Monroe

There’s a lot of questions surrounding the future of one player here in particular.  Greg Monroe, irked at the offers the Detroit front office was sending his way, opted instead to sign for just the qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent next year.  Approaching more quickly though is his role on the team.  It’s not an understatement to say that last year’s frontcourt experiment of Smith-Monroe-Drummond was an unmitigated disaster.  Smith thought he could shoot threes—and a lot of them.  Monroe’s midrange jumper failed him.  Drummond was unable to find spacing offensively and couldn’t nearly clean up all of the messes defensively.  As for now, Monroe is the one who’s going to be the leader of the second unit.  Greg seems resigned to the fact that he’s the odd man out: “I hope everything that’s given here is earned.  If he has to bring someone off the bench I would just ask that you do it purely on what people have done on the court.  My only question is, if I signed the extension, what would it be then?”  Given a quote like that, it’s fair to ask if Greg Monroe is long for Detroit this season.  Will the front office even offer him a contract next offseason?

 

 

Between the contentious extension negotiations and his likely coming off the bench this season, it appears Greg Monroe may be on his way out of the Motor City. (Source: Michael Dwyer/AP Photo)

 

Stan Van Gundy is an excellent coach, and he can improve the team on both ends of the floor.  Ever since his hire, people have envisioned Detroit playing the same as Van Gundy’s Orlando teams: surround the franchise centerpiece—Dwight Howard in Orlando, Andre Drummond in Detroit—with shooters at the other four positions.  The Pistons aren’t there yet because Stan doesn’t have all of the shooting needed and still has holdovers and recent acquisitions from the last regime of the increasingly incompetent Joe Dumars.  Still, you can start to see something taking shape, and with Stan Van Gundy at the helm, brighter days in future seasons are ahead for this proud franchise.

Win-Loss Prediction: 35-47

 

Los Angeles Lakers (22)

Last Year’s Record: 27-55

Biggest Addition: Kobe on the court

Biggest Subtraction: Pau Gasol

Projected Starting Lineup: Jeremy Lin, Kobe Bryant, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill

Key Reserves: Nick Young, Julius Randle, Ed Davis

Before we begin, it’s important to get the narrative on why this team is so bad correct.  It isn’t because of Kobe’s gargantuan, misguided extension.  Yes, having an enormous portion of your cap space tied up in one player coming off of an Achilles injury is not a good move at all, and it does limit what a franchise can do in free agency.  The fact of the matter is though that this team was simply nowhere near a contender at any stage.  Last offseason’s premier free agents like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh simply weren’t going to commit to a team that even with one of them on the roster wouldn’t have been able to put together a championship contender (or even, once two max contracts were on the books, a team that could even reach the playoffs in the brutal Western conference).  Where a franchise is located is still a piece of a free agent’s decision, but more and more these days we’re learning that the desire to win a ring as soon as possible is a huge factor in a superstar’s decision.

So after striking out on all of the name players, the Lakers simply acquired everyone’s castoffs.  Jeremy Lin was acquired while Houston lost on their Chris Bosh gamble; Ed Davis was signed after Memphis—who had always underutilized him—let him walk.  Carlos Boozer was snapped up after Chicago finally amnestied him.  On paper, this team has the star power that you’d expect from a Lakers team; it’s name player after name player.  But good lord is this team bad.  Their preseason results might just hint at the fact that this Lakers squad could be one of the worst teams defensively in league history.  Their point guards can’t contain anyone; their wings are overrated defenders; and they have no rim protection among the bigs.  New retread head coach Byron Scott has publicly discussed that the way to win games for this Lakers team is by actively avoiding the three pointer.  It flies in the face of modern basketball wisdom, as we’ve seen champion after champion in recent years win because of—and not in spite of—the shot behind the arc.

 

Steve Nash’s season is already over–and after stubbornly refusing to leave the game last season to collect the last of his checks from his big three-year deal with the Lakers–is probably curtains for his career. (Source: Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

 

The roster is a mismatched group of outcasts.  The coach is trying to play a style of basketball that is contrary to the modern game.  Their best player is coming off of major injury, and their best point guard can’t stay healthy and is now out for the season due to hurting his back while picking up his bags during travel.  They won’t play defense, and their offense could easily get bogged down in borderline-unwatchable me-first basketball.  How is this team not intentionally tanking like the Sixers?

Win-Loss Prediction: 17-65

 

Indiana Pacers (21)

Last Year’s Record: 56-26

Biggest Addition: Rodney Stuckey

Biggest Subtraction: Paul George’s health

Projected Starting Lineup: George Hill, Rodney Stuckey, Chris Copeland, David West, Roy Hibbert

Key Reserves: C.J. Watson, C.J. Miles, Luis Scola

Last year the Pacers played some depressing basketball down the stretch, as they stumbled and tripped over themselves for the last three months of their season.  They still somehow managed to reach the Eastern Conference Finals and did take two games off of the Miami Heat, an impressive feat given just how poorly they played since the All-Star Break.

Now that depressing basketball has leeched into all aspects of the franchise.  Gone is Lance Stephenson, arguably Indiana’s most exciting player.  After being offended by Larry Bird’s offers, he bolted for a shorter, similarly-priced contract with the Charlotte Hornets.  Also gone in a uniform is Paul George, who suffered the gruesome injury to his leg at a Team USA scrimmage this summer.  With the team’s two best all-around players gone, it’s now up to the aging David West to try to be the first option on a team that was nearly allergic to putting the ball through the hoop last year with George and Stephenson.  These sudden changes have forced everyone to take a bigger role and has thrust role players and the other starters into lead designations.

 

There’s going to be more pressure than ever for David West, George Hill, and Roy Hibbert to produce offensively with the loss of Lance Stephenson to free agency and Paul George to injury. (Source: Cary Edmondson/USA Today Sports)

 

Obviously the biggest shift in demands are going to come from Indiana’s starting point guard and center, who combined are making nearly 23 million dollars this season but only contributed 21 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists as a duo.  Hibbert was derided for his failure as a tall seven-footer to score or rebound at all as the season wore on last year, even putting up goose eggs in the playoffs.  But Hill hasn’t emerged as anything other than serviceable since signing a 5 year, $40 million contract with the Pacers a few years back.  If the Pacers are going to be able to show any fight to make the playoffs, they’ll both need to step up big time.  Unfortunately, even their teammate David West is downplaying Indiana this year: “What we were looking for, obviously what our goals were as a group the last couple of years, the light just went out on that”.  Not great expectations coming from what’s going to end up as Indiana’s primary option this year.

Win-Loss Prediction: 26-56

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  1. 2014-15 NBA Preview: The Middle of the Pack | BMB

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