NBA Preview Part I

Here is PART I of my NBA preview/power rank. I’ve watched all the tape, scoured the box scores, listened to Zach Lowe’ s podcast, and parsed out what’s important and what’s bullshit for the 2018-2019 NBA season. I’ll release one part every week(ish) leading up to the first game of the season in the middle of October. This week we have the proverbial bottom of the NBA barrel with #30 through #20. 

 

#30: Atlanta Hawks

2017 record: 24-58 (15th in Eastern Conference)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 23.5

2018 Slogan: “Please enjoy watching us tank in our brand new stadium!”

Notable Additions:

Trae Young (R), Kevin Huerter (R), Jeremy Lin, Vince Carter, Alex Len, Thomas Robinson

Lineup of Death:

Young/Bazemore/Prince/Collins/Plumlee

Offseason Highlight:

Jeremy Lin mistaken for high schooler.

What 2 Watch 4: Trae Young

Drafting Luka Doncic and immediately trading him for Trae Young has put the focus squarely on Young this season. The trade has effectively pitted the two prospects against each other and has invited comparisons and what-if scenarios that will follow them and their teams for the remainder of their careers. New GM Travis Schlenk is seemingly all-in on creating “Warriors East” by trading down for the player most resembling Steph Curry circa 2009. Despite earning Quavo’s blessing Young had an up and down Summer League. He shot 12% from 3-point range, which should raise some large red flags considering he was touted as the drafts premier perimeter shooter and the second coming of Steph. However his prodigious vision and playmaking abilities were on full display. By all indications this is a throwaway season for Atlanta and I expect them to ride Young for better or worse. As a rule, no team seriously considering contending brings in Jeremy Lin or Vince Carter. Also having the third best Plumlee is not a great look either. Young will take 20-25 shots a game and put up respectable counting stats as a volume shooter, and Atlanta will be mostly convinced they have their star of the future.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

Trae Young looks to be the prodigious shooting and playmaking talent he has the potential to be. Cleveland (who owes them their pick, top-10 protected) finishes 11th, and the Hawks find themselves with two lottery selections. His development is promising and the Hawks win the RJ Barrett lottery. Quavo signs a 10 day contract and puts up a respectable 6/2/2 line in an utterly meaningless mid-March home game against the Kings.

2018 Worst Case Scenario:

It’s funny that in both scenarios, the Hawks finish with the worst record in the NBA. In this scenario, Trae Young could be more Seth Curry than Steph Curry. Hawks finish last in the NBA and miss out on the top pick in the loaded 2019 draft. Gucci Mane is killed sitting courtside in a freak accident involving Dwight Howard and a malfunctioning VR rig, thus ending the golden age of trap.

 

 

#29: Orlando Magic

2017 record: 25-57 (14th in Eastern Conference)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 31.5 wins

2018 Slogan: “Do you HATE dribbling and LOVE length? Have I got a team for you!”

Notable Additions:

Mo Bamba (R), Jerian Grant, Timofey Mozgov, Isaiah Briscoe

Lineup of Death:

Grant/Ross/Gordon/Issac/Bamba

Offseason Highlight:

Mo Bamba – Sheck Wes

NOTE: This song actually slaps

What 2 Watch 4:SO MUCH LENGTH

The Magic have so much front court length it’s ridiculous. Jon Issac, Aaron Gordon, and Mo Bamba are going to be a fascinating front court unit that offers a ton of rim protection, athleticism, and switchability…. and an alarming lack of shooting and scoring. Frankly it’s unclear how the Magic are going to get any kind of scoring punch considering their complete lack of backcourt depth. It’s legitimately concerning how thin their are at the guard positions. They traded Elfrid Payton in the offseason and let Mario Hezonja walk. Some combination of Terrence Ross, DJ Augustin, and Jonathon Simmons should be leading their backcourt, which should be hugely concerning for Magic fans. DJ Augustin hasn’t been good since 2012. I could see them dealing Vucevic to simultaneously alleviate some of the front court clutter and bring in some more back court or wing help. The Magic are among the most listless franchises in the NBA and are starved for anything, anything at all, to be optimistic about. It’s honestly super sad that the coolest thing to happen to your franchise since Dwight Howard leaving is Aaron Gordon appearing in Uncle Drew.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

Daryl Morey broke basketball with his math and analytics revolution. Sam Hinkie broke roster construction norms with The Process. Perhaps new GM John Hammond is about to break defense with his ULTRA LENGTH approach. The ultra-long Magic could be a defensive matchup nightmare. Length and athleticism all over the floor. Opposing teams can’t complete a pass or get a shot off inside 30 feet because there are so many limbs flailing about. It’s like a team of wacky inflatable arm flailing tube men. Who cares if you can’t score when the other team can’t score either. Think 2001 Baltimore Ravens. Doesn’t matter that Trent Dilfer is your quarterback when your defense has 3 Hall of Famers and a straight murderer playing middle linebacker.

2018 Worst Case Scenario:

The fears of a lack of scoring and playmaking could come true. They could be the lowest scoring team in the league. Jon Issac doesn’t take another step and they can’t get a decent return on the inherently flawed Aaron Gordon and the contractually immovable Vucevic. Another year stuck in neutral. People literally forget Orlando has a basketball team and the team shutters. Honestly nobody gives a shit about the Magic and I’m surprised anyone read this far about them. Sad!

 

#28: Sacramento Kings

2017 record: 27-55 (12th in Western Conference)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 28.5 wins

2018 Slogan: “If you fling enough shit against the wall, something is bound to stick. So if you draft enough forwards one of them might be good?” – Vlade Divac, probably

Notable Additions:

Marvin Bagley (R), George Hill, Iman Shumpert, Yogi Ferrell, Nemanja Bjelica, Deyonta Davis

Lineup of Death:

Fox/Hield/Bagley/Giles/Stein

Offseason Highlight:

This team is legit so boring. If I was a Kings fan I would commit seppuku no lie.

What 2 Watch 4: Bagley

The Kings don’t own their own draft pick, so it doesn’t make sense for them to tank this season. Which could only mean the Kings, a hot mess for the better part of two decades, are finally trying to be good. Watch out, Western Conference, here comes Iman Shumpert and George Hill inexplicably playing 25 minutes a game! De’Aaron Fox was pretty good in his rookie campaign, and pairing him with the sharpshooting Buddy Hield, who shot 43% from 3 last season, is an intriguing young backcourt. However knowing the Kings, they most likely take the short view and devote too many minutes to Hill and Shumpert in favor of the development of Fox and Hield. For some reasons they brought Deyonta Davis into a frontcourt logjam that already includes Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos, Harry Giles and Zach Randolph. Among this group, my bet is Giles is the one who emerges as a productive center to play alongside Bagley. He was the top recruit in the nation in a 2015 class that included Jayson Tatum, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, and Markelle Fultz. He had a great summer league and, most importantly, looked healthy for the first time in almost 3 years. Bagley was basically a no-brainer, best available pick that will immediately make an impact. The question is how they are going to use him. He could be the small ball center in a Fox/Hill/Shumpert/Bogdanovic that probably only looks good on paper. Or he could play small forward in a bully ball lineup alongside Giles or Stein or Skal. Neither of these lineups are good, however they are interesting. And for a team who literally can’t tank, interesting is probably as good as it’s going to get.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

Hield and Fox both take the next step, Harry Giles plays like the top recruit that he is, and a legitimate core begins to take shape. They will most likely still suck but the development of their young core is enough to get excited about. Jeff Bezos buys the team and moves them to Seattle in 2020, where they rebrand as the Seattle Amazon Fire TV Sticks Free Shipping For Prime Members.

2018 Worst Case Scenario:

Hield and Fox both fail to progress, and they development is cannibalized by Shumpert and Hill taking minutes in an effort to win games because Vlade and Vivek think the Kings can actually compete with this roster. None of their big men turn out to be any good and they are forced to play the husk of Zach Randolph to put asses in seats. Vince Carter returns for his 29th season and leads them in scoring. They lose the bid to move to Seattle in 2020 and are forced to play in shitty old Sacramento FOREVER.

 

#27: Phoenix Suns

2017 record: 23-59 (15th in Western Conference)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 28.5 wins

2018 Slogan: “Finally trying to conten- oh wait Devin Booker is hurt? Nevermind”

Notable Additions:

Deandre Ayton (R), Mikal Bridges (R), Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Deanthony Melton

Lineup of Death:

Booker/Jackson/Ariza/Warren/Ayton

Offseason Highlight:

Devon Booker roasting regular people

What 2 Watch 4: Devin Booker

Booker has benefited immensely from the “good player/bad team” effect thus far in his career. Shit, it earned him a 5 year, $158 million extension last offseason. He has put up impressive counting numbers thus far in his career, albeit with Kobe-levels of usage and his team failing to win more than 30 games in any of those seasons. His usage levels last season rivaled Harden and Westbrook, two historically ball dominant lead guards, and the trade of Brandon Knight signalled that Booker will shoulder the bulk of ball handling responsibilities in a similar type of role. The signings of Ariza, trading for Ryan Anderson, and drafting of Bridges and Ayton point to the Suns at least trying to win games this year after a Process-lite decade of don’t-ask-don’t-tell tanking. Ayton should be a total force. I think the Patrick Ewing comps are totally warranted and I think his situation in Phoenix will afford him an opportunity to learn from Tyson Chandler, a premier interior defender. Ariza and Jackson give them two legit ball stopping wings and Anderson will compliment Ayton nicely. They still have TJ Warren who is a legit tertiary scoring threat and Chandler will help anchor their second unit defensively. I honestly don’t hate this roster, I just have serious reservations about whether Booker can be the do-it-all lead guard they want him to be. Booker also recently had hand surgery and will most likely start the season on the injury report. I’m not sure this team has enough scoring and playmaking outside Booker to survive anything beyond a short injury turnaround.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

Devin Booker transitions into the ultra-efficient lead guard they were hoping he could be, able to score efficiently and distribute the ball. Ayton picks up a few things from Chandler to become a formidable interior presence and his jump shot is as good as advertised, landing him ROY honors. Josh Jackson fixes his ugly ass shot and becomes a premier 3 and D wing. The Suns barely miss the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference and have a good mix of young stars, veteran playmakers, a pair of first round picks, and salary cap flexibility that give them a lot to be excited about in 2019.

2018 Worst Case Scenario:

The Devin Booker lead guard experiment is a total failure. He can’t transition to a more efficient scoring profile and the roster’s overall lack of playmaking skills hurt the development of Jackson and Ayton. The Suns slip into yet another season of tanking but not tanking and they are back in the lottery for the millionth time in the past decade. Devin Booker starts dating in the Kardashian/Jenner-sphere triggering a precipitous, Lamar Odom-eque decline.

 

#26: Chicago Bulls

2017 record: 27-55 (13th in Eastern Conference)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 27.5 win

2018 Slogan: “In GarPax We Suck”

Notable Additions:

Jabari Parker, Wendell Carter (R), Chandler Hutchinson (R)

Lineup of Death:

Dunn/LaVine/Parker/Carter/Markkanen

Offseason Highlight:

Zach La Vine ETHERED online by Maryland seafood restaurant

What 2 Watch 4: Allergic to Defense

Lauri was a surprise breakout last season and actually made a compelling case that the Dirk 2.0 comps were founded. He showed 3 point range and a willingness to bang inside. The young core of Markannen/Carter/Dunn//La Vine has a ton of upside and there is both a lot to be excited about and a lot to be worried about. Carter seemed to be the do it all kind of guy they expected him to be in the Summer League. He can defend inside and out. He can score close to the basket and from behind the arc, shooting 50% from three during SL. His intelligence and feel for the game were evident and he might have been the Summer League’s best player. I think Minnesota cut bait on Dunn a bit early and at only 24 still has a few years to go in his development. His defensive upside and improving outside shot are enticing. I’m still scratching my head at the La Vine deal last summer. It seemed like it was a GarPax cover-your-ass exercise after the Jimmy Butler deal two seasons ago. I don’t think they can come away with the deal empty handed so they decided to double down on La Vine. La Vine is still a fundamentally flawed player, both a premier scorer when healthy and an utter liability on defense. He is a player who relies so heavily on his athleticism and giving him a contract of that size coming off the ACL doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Also getting flamed online by a seafood restaurant is not a great look for the presumed cornerstore of your franchise. Adding hometown hero Jabari Parker to the mix gives them more scoring punch but also doubles down on their lack of defense next to La Vine. Carter should fil a lot of holes defensively in addition to Dunn, but leaning so heavily on a rookie is certainly a gamble.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

The young core exceeds expectations. La Vine is jumping at pre-ACL levels. Markannen makes the leap and Dunn lives up to his defensive upside. Parker blossoms as the utility scorer he was touted as out of college. They sneak into the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference. Gar Forman and John Paxson fall into a vat of industrial slime, melding the two into the all-powerful GarPax.

2018 Worst Case Scenario:

La Vine is a shell of his former self athletically. Markannen doesn’t take the next step. Dunn solidifies himself as a bust. Valentine tops out at the role player talent level. They bring up the rear in the already weakened east. Gar Forman and John Paxson are tarred, feathered, and finally ran out of town.

 

#25: Cleveland Cavaliers

2017 record: 50-32 (4th in Eastern Conference, Lost to GSW in NBA Finals 4-0)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 30.5 wins

2018 Slogan: “Love and Sex(ton)”

Notable Additions:

Collin Sexton (R), Sam Dekker

Lineup of Death:

Sexton/Smith/Osman/Love/Thompson

Offseason Highlight:

Tristian Thompson vs Draymond Green ROYAL RUMBLE

What 2 Watch 4: Collin Sexton

Kevin Love got the bag for sticking in out in Cleveland, so it’s going to be interesting to see the Cavs offense centered around him. Will it be like his Minnesota years all over again? Or will Ty Lue find a way to fuck it up? Probably the latter. I kinda miss the old Kevin Love, with his potato ass body and chinstrap beard putting up 20 and 20 games like clockwork. I kind of don’t hate the Cavs roster as it’s constructed. They brought back basically everyone from last year and drafted IMO one of the best point guards available in Sexton. Love will be what drives the Cavs but it will be Sexton determining how far they will go (nice). He has a certain alpha presence, cut from the Marcus Smart mold. Just look at this video (that’s him on the left). The kind of guy who will do anything to win. They brought back Rodney Hood on a super cheap deal and have enough pieces for contenders to pick them for parts come the trade deadline and receive a couple draft selection in return. Frankly there not a ton to be excited about in Cleveland, but I think that will benefit the team. The Lebron media black hole is gone, and the players can go back to focusing on basketball rather than explain each of Lebrons subtweets and instagram stories. The post-Lebron vaccuum was swift and brutal but it’s what we expected, and Cleveland as a franchise needs some time in the wilderness in the second post-Lebron era of the franchise. Lebron does so much to cover up (and create) holes in rosters and most teams without Lebron would never be able to weather. They have a long rebuild ahead of them, but I think they are in an ok place. I’m glad they didn’t sell the farm to win one extra game in last year’s Finals, and not caving to Lebron’s insistence on trading their top pick showed some long range vision. They owe Atlanta a top-10 protected pick in one of the next two seasons, so they will most likely be all in on tanking.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

Love goes back to the inside-outside threat he started his career as. Collin Sexton is like Marcus Smart with a jumpshot. They sell of their remaining Lebron-era pieces (Korver, Frye, JR Smith) at the trade deadline, and stock up on late round picks. All of a sudden they have a couple first round picks to build around Love and Sexton.

2018 Worst Case Scenario:

Honestly, losing Lebron is probably the worst thing that could happen to your team, so there really isn’t much lower Cleveland can sink at this point. However I know they can stomach a few seasons of inferiority, like when they first drafted Kyrie. Worst thing that could happen is for them to actually be good and watch their lottery pick convey to Atlanta.

 

#24: Brooklyn Nets

2017 record: 28-54 (13th in Eastern Conference)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 32.5 wins

2018 Slogan: “Still paying Deron Williams!”

Notable Additions:

Dzanan Musa (R), Kenneth Faried, Jared Dudley

Lineup of Death:

Russell/Dinwiddie/Levert/Hollis-Jefferson/Davis

Offseason Highlight:

Kenneth Faried is somehow as popular as Mike Trout

What 2 Watch 4: Not Paying Deron Williams

The Brooklyn Nets are still climbing out of the hole of the disastrous “Trade That Must Not Be Named” from 2010, and almost 8 years later, finally see the end of the tunnel. Or hole. Whatever. They finally control all their own draft picks, plus an incoming 2019 first round pick from Denver and two second round picks from New York and Indiana. It would seem that the Nets are aiming to retool in the 2019 draft. They have become an Island of Misfit Bad Contracts from the summers 2015 and 2016, taking on bad contracts in exchange for draft capital. Portland GM Neal Olshey probably creamed his jeans when Brooklyn agreed to take on Allen Crabbe and his $19 MILLION contract. Sheesh! Still, there is a lot to like about their roster. Demarre Carroll, Kenneth Faried, and Jared Dudley are all veteran wings that, although flawed and washed, present some interesting lineups that coach Kenny Atkinson can throw at teams. They can go small with Fareid at center or big with Carroll at SG. People forget Carroll was basically Jae Crowder 1.0 on the fantastic Atlanta teams of 5ish years ago. Caris Levert and Spencer Dinwiddie might be victims of the bad team good player syndrome however it’s not inconceivable they continue to progress. Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier were both sneaky good pickups. Snitch-ass D’Angelo Russell actually looked good last season. Perhaps not superstar potential, however enough to be a serviceable NBA playmaker that can distribute the ball effectively. The Nets finally have a reason to be bad, however I don’t think coach Kenny Atkinson will approach this season like that. I think he’s a much better coach than his record would suggest. Just look at the production he has got out of fringe players like Caris Levert and Spencer Dinwiddie. Rather than go Full Process, I can see them following the Celtics blueprint of staying as competitive as possible and stocking up on draft picks. They get enough salary off the books (close to $55 million) after next season to sign 1.5 max level players, and between the allure of the New York market and the collection of affordable role players give them a compelling free agent pitch. (SIDE NOTE: they are somehow still paying Deron Williams through 2020. Holy shit.)

2018 Best Case Scenario:

D’Angelo Russell makes another leap and becomes the elite playmaker he can be. The Nets are good, but not too good. The Nuggets implode and the Nets find themselves with two lottery picks and enough cap space to make Kyrie, KD, Jimmy Butler, or one of the other star free agents a meaningful offer. A new era of basketball emerges in NYC with Brooklyn and their new star at it’s center.

2018 Worst Case Scenario:

The Nets are good, as are the Nuggets, and their two lottery picks become late round selections. They can’t put together a good enough pitch to one of the big 2019 free agents and are resigned to another year of being a leper colony of bad NBA contracts. Russian oligarch owner Mikhail Prokhorov liquidades the teams assets and the team is forced to fold because of insolvency. They move to Russia and rebrand as the Leningrad Comrades.

 

#23: Memphis Grizzlies

2017 record: 22-60 (14th in Western Conference)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 34.5 wins

2018 Slogan: “It’s OK to be OK!”

Notable Additions:

Jaren Jackson (R), Kyle Anderson, Garrett Temple, Javon Carter (R)

Lineup of Death:

Conley/Selden/Jackson/Parsons/Gasol

Offseason Highlight:

Marc Gasol legit out here saving lives

What 2 Watch 4: Health

The Grizzlies will continue to be hamstrung by the three max contracts handed out during the summer of 2016 to it’s three stars Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Chandler Parsons. The three have struggled to stay healthy and in the past three years there have been few time periods where all have been healthy. Parsons has played sparingly in the past three seasons and is becoming one of the NBA’s biggest albatross contracts (and most thirsty IG follows). Even though Gasol has struggled to stay healthy recently, he has been among the NBA’s most productive big men in the past five years or so. He fits perfectly into the ‘new’ NBA model for centers; combining rim protection and defensive leadership with playmaking and floor-stretching shooting ability. Conley has also been one of the NBA’s most consistent and solid point guards on both ends. Memphis, in giving these contracts, has basically said they are ok with topping out with just making the playoffs and perhaps winning a series or two. There’s nothing wrong with winning games. In fact, I find it kind of refreshing that a team is content with being ‘very good’ and are rewarding fan favorite players. However these players, the vestiges of the grit and grind era of the Grizzlies, are reaching the end of their NBA shelf life. Presumably now is the time to cut losses. However financially it might prove to be difficult. Gasol is 33 and Conley is 30, and both are still on the books with near-max deals for the next two seasons. Parsons is effectively an unknown quantity after playing only 60ish games in the past two seasons. It’s unlikely, given the size of their contracts, the lack of cap space around the league especially among contenders, that any of these guys get moved before then. This might ease the Grizzlies transition from deconstructed contender to rebuild. The steady, veteran leadership of Gasol and Conley should help bring along young players like top pick Jaren Jackson, Ivan Rabb, Dillon Brooks, and WVU rookie Javon Carter.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

Gasol and Conley can stay on the court and young players like Jackson help them slip into the playoffs in the west. Chandler Parsons is arrested for cocaine possession in Miami and ruled ineligible for the NBA, and by some legal miracle his contract is considered null and void.

2018 Worst Case Scenario:

Gasol and Conley struggle to stay healthy and the Grizzlies effectively tank the 2018 season. Chandler Parsons goes the Joakim Noah route and, rather than rehabbing his injury, goes to Brazil to smoke weed in the jungle with Phil Jackson.

 

#22: Los Angeles Clippers

2017 record: 42-40 (10th in Western Conference)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 35.5 wins

2018 Slogan: “We will make Uncle Dennis President of Basketball Ops if Kawhi signs”

Notable Additions:

Marcin Gortat, Boban Marjanovic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (R), Jerome Robinson (R), Luc Mbah a Moute

Lineup of Death:

Gilgeous-Alexander/Bradley/Harris/Gallinari/Gortat

Offseason Highlight:

Firing color analyst Bruce Bowen for criticizing Kawhii

What 2 Watch 4: Depth and Versatility

The Clippers are now fully in a post-CP3/Blake/DJ world after Deandre Jordan left for Dallas in the offseason. They still have the roster profile of a contender and will, in my opinion, be Kawhi’s most attractive LA-based destination come next offseason. The Clippers were decimated last season with Gallinari, Beverly, and Teodosic all going down with season ending injuries, which ultimately might have expedited the reconstruction process. I don’t hate the infrastructure they currently have and they seriously beefed up their backcourt by taking Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from Kentucky and Jerome Robinson from Boston College. SGA might have been one of the more polished guards coming out of the draft and his UK pedigree overshadowed his unique blend of size, athleticism, and vision. He should be an immediate boon next to the defensive minded Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverly. The Robinson pick was a bit of a head scratcher. He was an elite scorer at BC that could shoot off the dribble and with range. But I’m not sure it warranted a lottery pick. I really like the mix of scoring, playmaking, and perimeter defense their backcourt brings to the table. The have a lot of interesting personnel packages they can deploy, and they have enough wing scoring talent between Gallinari and Harris where they don’t need to lean too heavily on them scoring-wise. Throw stopped Luc Mbah a Moute into the mix and you start to see some legit wing depth. Trading for Marcin Gortat and signing Boban Marjanovic should give them enough toughness up front to stay in games and let their perimeter defenders do their work. This team has 3 legit perimeter stoppers and could give guard heavy teams like Portland and Golden State fits. This team is Doc Rivers’ first true rebuild and so far they have a solid foundation to bring on a star like Klay or Kawhii next offseason.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

Doc is able to find the right backcourt mix. Gallinari and Harris put up the elite scoring numbers they are capable of. Gortat injects some attitude and toughness to their frontline. Doc is able to deploy Boban Marjanovic, the NBAs most lethal scoring weapon, effectively. The Clippers end up a playoff team and are set up nicely to make Kawhii think twice about which LA team he wants to go to.

2018 Worst Case Scenario:

Their guard depth doesn’t look quite as deep as they thought. Robinson is a bust, SGA has a tough time adjusting to the NBA speed, and Beverly and Bradley are shipped to contenders before the All-Star break. Gallinari still can’t stay healthy and Harris can’t transition away from the midrange game. The NBA continues to pass Doc Rivers by and the Clippers fade off into obscurity once again, perhaps moved to Seattle by entrepreneurial owner and Microsoft alum Steve Ballmer.

 

#21: Charlotte Hornets

2017 record: 36-46 (10th in Eastern Conference)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 35.5 wins

2018 Slogan: “BLOW IT UP PLEASE FOR CHRIST SAKE”

Notable Additions:

Tony Parker, Miles Bridges (R)

Lineup of Death:

Walker/Batum/Kidd-Gilchrist/Williams/Biyombo

Offseason Highlight:

Frank Kaminsky joins Barstool

What 2 Watch 4: BLOW IT UP!

The Hornets have been stuck in neutral for a couple seasons now, and they are primed for a blow up. This team is just bloated with garbage contracts. They have $44 million committed to CODY ZELLER, Marvin Williams, and Bismak Biyombo for the next 2 seasons. Yuck. Kemba will be the first shoe to drop. He was reportedly on the trade block last season and didn’t ultimately get dealt. He’s got one year left on his deal for $12 million, which a contender in need of a point guard could totally stomach even without reassurances he would re-sign. Perhaps a team like Phoenix, who is so desperate for guard talent, would be in the mix. I wouldn’t rule out Walker’s hometown Knicks either. He would compliment Ntilikina nicely in the New York backcourt. The signing of the aging Tony Parker seems like the backcourt insurance policy once Kemba is moved. MKG and Nicolas Batum are also candidates to get dealt. It’s unclear whether MKG has a place in the modern NBA with the complete lack of a jumpshot, and I’m not sure a contender would be willing to take on his 2 year/$25 million left on his deal for what is effectively a defensive/rebounding wing. Batum is on a hefty deal and unless they can find a willing salary dump partner they will most likely be forced to ride it out with him. Miles Bridges and Malik Monk are interesting young pieces however the roster as a whole is shockingly devoid of much young talent. This is basically the formula for what happens when you are a mid-market fringe playoff team for the better part of 5 seasons (also see: Atlanta Hawks 2013-2016). You are too low in the lottery to land players with any upside, not good enough to attract big name free agents, and not good enough to compete for titles. You have to rely heavily on your scouting and development department to identify and cultivate talent, and avoid mistakes like passing on sure-thing Justise Winslow at #10 in favor of Frank Kaminsky.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

They get a good return on Kemba and are able to find trading partners for both MKG and Batum. They get a buttload of draft capital and young players to keep them interesting. Monk turns into the elite scorer he profiled as, and Miles Bridges proves he can do more than just dunk really good. Frank Kaminsky becomes the second coming of Ryan Anderson and all of a sudden they have an interesting mix of young talent. Michael Jordan recuses himself from all personnel decisions.

2018 Worst Case Scenario:

Kemba walks next summer and they are stuck with MKG and Batum. Bridges is basically Tyrus Thomas 2.0 and Monk is Jimmer Fredette 2.0. The suck, but don’t suck enough to land a top 10 lottery pick and once again are stuck with a middling 10-15 pick.

 

#20: Dallas Mavericks

2017 record: 24-58 (13th in Western Conference)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 34.5 wins

2018 Slogan: “Dirk is 41, so for that reason, I’m out”

Notable Additions:

Luka Doncic (R), Deandre Jordan

Lineup of Death:

Smith/Doncic/Matthews/Barnes/Jordan

Offseason LOWLIGHT:

#MeToo movement reaches Dallas

What 2 Watch 4: Luka Doncic

The Mavs made a bold and almost consequenceless move in trading up for Doncic, who many believed was the best player available in the draft. Personally, I was extremely high on Doncic coming into the draft. He’s the most accomplished 18 year old basketball player in the history of the sport. He won a EuroLeague title and a EuroLeague MVP as an 18 year old playing against grown ass men. There are many differences between the college game and international game, the primary difference being the physicality of the game. Which only makes Doncic’s season that much more incredible and further legitimizes his claim as the best player coming out of the draft. He couldn’t just jump over or overpower his competition, like most college stars are able to do to their peers. He had to bang and figure out how to thrive playing with grown men. The Mavs are thrilled to have what looks to be their backcourt of the future solidified with Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. My guess Doncic ultimately becomes the de facto point guard and Smith slides into the off guard role that he profiles a bit better in. Bringing in DJ was huge despite his age and salary burden, and will cover up a lot of their defensive deficiencies. Harrison Barnes is a solid secondary/tertiary scorer and Wesley Matthews is still a serviceable guard. They don’t have their own pick next year, so the team has no incentive to tank. Plus, I don’t think that a Mark Cuban team will spend more than half a season actively tanking. And I think they will do their best to put together one final playoff run for Dirk in his presumably final season. It will also be a proverbial passing of the Euro superstar torch, from Dirk to Luka.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

Doncic continues his success, and Dennis Smith Jr thrives in his new scoring/slashing role. The Mavs are the dark horse of the western conference and sneak in to the playoffs in a 7 or 8 seed. Dirk is able to recapture some of the magic from the 2011 Finals and lead them to a 7 game defeat against the Warriors/Rockets. A fitting end to an amazing career for Dirk, who becomes a Mavs assistant next season.

2018 Worst Case Scenario:

Doncic joins the long list of European players who don’t quite pan out in the NBA. Smith can’t keep production up when he’s not handling the ball and DJ loses the spring in his step that made him such a defensive powerhouse. The Mavs implode down the stretch, miss the playoffs entirely, and Dirk retires unceremoniously to an alfalfa farm in Boise.

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