Tuesday, September 19, 2006

NBA 2010, Part 2

The problem with espn.com's little exercise, is that two to three years isn't really a very long time. And then Marc Spears keeps cheating and using free agency three summers from now as part of his answer.

Look, anyone can IMAGINE that Kobe could get hurt or LeBron could get hurt. Problem is, Kobe has averaged 73 games a season for 10 seasons, and has never missed more than 17 games. LeBron's never missed more than 3 games in a season. So, there's no justification for imagining that one of them might could hurt. Might Cleveland or the Lakers suffer without their respective uber-stars? Sure. And in the immortal words of Wayne Campbell, monkeys might fly out of my butt. (That's not really apropos, but I do like Wayne Campbell.)

Now, surmising that 32 year old, Steve 'gimpy back' Nash could miss a significant amount of time in a season? That's not unreasonable.

But it's not always injuries and defections that change a team's fortunes. Bear in mind that the Phoenix Suns had the 6th worst record in the league a mere 3 seasons ago (the same span that we're projecting forward) with a team that included Stephon Marbury, Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson. Obviously, this says something about Starbury, but it also says something about coaching and systems. If D'Antoni were to leave Phoenix, or if the rest of the league were to figure out what he is doing, the wheels could conceivably come off for the Suns. Especially as Nash slows down.

I also look at the Lakers (who at number 10, are the team closest to the lottery already.) This is a team that won 34 games with Kobe and Lamar in 04-05. Is there any reason to think they have more talent now than they did then? They're still basically Kobe and Lamar and a bunch of other guys who probably shouldn't be starting in the NBA. They have nothing remotely resembling an NBA point guard, and let's face it, this is uncharted territory for Phil Jackson. He's never had to play guru tricks just to get a team into the first round of the playoffs. It seems possible to me that his Jedi ways won't work without the Ring as the ultimate prize. I Kwame Brown really gonna sit on the plane and read Lao Tse just so the Lakers can finish 6th in the West? I'm guessing he'd rather play PSP.

Miami will decline, but probably not to the 'low lottery'. Remember that 5 of their top 8 players are over 30, and that really big guy is 34, with a body type that has never been known to thrive into the late 30s in the NBA. Moses Malone played in his last all-star game at the age of 33. His minutes per game dropped from 34 at the age of 34 to 23 at the age of 35. Wilt averaged 27 ppg at 33, 20 at 34, 15 at 35, 13 at 36 and then retired. 34 or 35 seems to be the wall for the mega-giants. When you're carrying around 300 pounds, the legs are gonna go, no matter what kind of freakish specimen you are.

And what about Detroit? They have a coach who has experience taking teams from the Conference Finals to the lottery, and they are beginning to experience some bad luck after an uninterrupted string of colossally good luck that allowed them to get 5 of their super 6 (Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace) for a late first round pick, Zelkjo Rebraca, some money and the remains of Grant Hill. If you subscribe to the 'Joe Dumars is a genius' school of thought, then the Pistons will remain a top team. If, on the other hand, you take a more 'Joe Dumars has been lucky and his luck will run out' approach, they could slide. We'll see. I'm assuming they'll re-sign Billups, and remain a playoff team, but with a bloated payroll and not enough talent to get back to the finals as their comeuppance.

And then there are the Clippers. On paper, with young, signed stars, younger improving future stars, and a fairly obvious path toward keeping this group together (re-sign restricted free agents, re-sign Brand in 09, etc.), the Clippers should be a playoff team for awhile. BUT, do not discount the Clipper mystique. One botched negotiation (say an acrimonious departure of Chris Kaman) and the 'worst franchise in pro sports' talk could start again, and from there things could go south in a hurry.

It isn't always an injury that dooms a formerly top team to mediocrity.