As a certifiable Celtic-phile I seldom write about the rest of the NBA. I depart from this policy with some trepidation, but there has been such a sea change in the Association that it seems an abandonment of duty to not look over the opposition. Rather than rehash the deluge of material written about the usual suspects (L.A., the Thunder, Miami, Spurs), or even review the second tier teams both old (Bulls, Knicks, Mavericks, Knicks, Clippers, Grizzlies, Indiana) and new (76er’s and Nets), I’d like to offer some possible sleepers breaking out.
Dateline: September 12, 2012––18 days until the start of training camp!
In the resolution of the Dwightmare Indecision, the involved team that is overlooked is Denver. Giving up only Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, and the worst of their two 2014 first-round draft picks, they add All-Star Andre Iguodala. This team played better after shedding themselves of Carmelo, have good young talent plus depth at every position, and a savvy coach well known for getting the most out of his players (Melo and J.R Smith excluded but I’m not at all sure that is a knock on Karl). Last year they snuck into the playoffs, this year they may be making noise going into the postseason. They are athletic, fast, and deep—and that plays perfectly in the Mile High arena. The knock on them is a lack of star power, but to me that just means a team approach which should endear them to Celtics’ fans.
The Golden State Warriors have a legitimate center for the first time in, well, forever? O.K., since Robert Parrish was traded away for underperforming and found his mojo in Boston. If Bogut regains his health, and he’s in his second year beyond surgery following his grotesque elbow injury, then Mark Jackson might have the defensive center around which to build the defensive-minded team he promised at his hiring. The Warriors have plenty of firepower but their next gritty defensive stop will be their first. If Jackson and Bogut can really instill a defensive mindset, then the Golden State stop on the NBA tour will become a stern test for visiting teams.
Utah has languished for some time, seeming to lose their way after Jerry Sloan stomped off into the sunset disgusted with the entitled Deron Williams undermining his relationship with management. Still, without any major offseason moves, they enter the 2012-13 season with probably the top four-man rotation of big men. While most pundits point to a problem of whether or not the young chargers (Kanter, Favors) get playing time over the established vets (Jefferson, Milsap), this is the kind of problem that 29 other teams wish they had. Far less settled are the back court and the scoring wings. At point guard Mo Williams is passing the dreaded 30 career cliff (something Celtics’ fans have lived with for half a decade) and is backed up by two mid-thirties journeymen. Still if Mo can recapture the groove that made him such a dangerous complement to LeBron in Cleveland, the pick-and-roll will be alive in well at the Hive. There is a stable of talent at the wing with Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Randy Foye, and Marvin Williams but all have been inconsistent. It’s not going to happen but if Jerry Sloan returned, I think this bunch would scare some Western fat cats.
My fourth sleeper is the Houston Rockets. They are supposed to be mired at the bottom, having missed out on their big star chase and jettisoning most of last year’s rotation in the process. While it is hard to expect them to be in the playoffs, I do think they will be one of the most interesting teams to watch in the upcoming season. They may not have gotten their star but they have had an enormously active offseason. In just over two months, the Rockets have signed seven players including four rookies, acquired another seven through trades, and waived seven. While you could cobble together a starting five from the returning six Rockets players, it is safe to say that Kevin McHale’s training camp will be a wide-open affair.
McHale has five rookies in his 20 (the maximum) players going to camp. Only three have more than three years of experience. Half the team can play power forward. Half a dozen of the kids can play at least two positions—or maybe no position. Part of the fun (problem) is where they line up.
Kevin has a pretty simple approach to this conundrum—let them do what they do best on offense and try to figure out who they can cover on defense. Hopefully they can solve that puzzle in training camp but there is nearly a 100% chance that the Nov.1 roster will not be the Apr. 1 roster, and the same claim probably holds true for the starting five and the rotation. What is also likely true is that the guys in red will be a better team in April than in November—how much better will decide whether they are selling tickets for the playoffs or booking flights to sandy beaches.
Boston, and all points beyond