The Saturday Starting Five: Your Season Assured

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Hey, so, you’re stuck with me on the weekends, so I thought we’d put together something you can count on. Every weekend here at PBT we’ll have the Saturday Starting Five. Five elements, chosen thematically (so I’m not just basically vomiting words onto a screen for you) and brought for discussion about the NBA. Our opening topic?

Five things you can count on in the NBA this and every year (except next year when we’re locked out because that’s totally going to happen.).

#1: At least two teams are going to completely exceed all expectations.

Startling, I know, but in a league as dead-set predictable as the NBA, this is actually worth mentioning. Last season the Bobcats were considered by many to be one of, if not the worst teams in the league. This despite Larry Brown’s penchant for overachieving with lesser parts. Granted, pundits couldn’t see the addition of Stephen Jackson coming down the pipeline, but the fact is that last year, just like this year, the Bobcatss were slated to be terrible. Now the Cats might actually be terrible, but it’s still good when you’re rolling down those teams and dismissing them to stop and ask “Are they actually that terrible?” Because when spring rolls around and that team’s in a playoff race, it’s going to seem so obvious that they’d be good.

Oh, and a side note, every columnist, pundit, and blogger is praying that the team they think is terrible won’t be the one to exceed expectations. I personally am dreading if Darko Milicic is actually a viable center, Kurt Rambis actually plays Kevin Love and Wesley Johnson is any good. I’m going to look dumb. Like, really dumb. Exceptionally stupid. Worlds O’ Dumb.

#2: One team’s going to bottom into nothingness.

Perhaps you don’t remember this, but the Nets weren’t supposed to be that bad last season. No kidding. They weren’t going to be title contenders, or anything, but a nice reasonable near-.500 record was expected. Instead, they just lost and lost and lost. I watched several of those games early on, including the Miami buzzer beater loss. And you could just feel that cloud descend over them. It would follow them for almost the entire season.

Think last season was an outlier? Chicago went from an Eastern Conference favorite to giving Scott Skiles a pink slip on Christmas. This happens. Consistently. And there’s almost no way to see it coming.

It’s going to happen to a team we don’t suspect. Minnesota should have been the worst team in the league last year. It took an extraordinary plummet by the Nets for them to be second worst. And that may happen again this year. There’s no real way you can see it coming, either. Heck, it could be the Heat. That’s how tentative this league is. (It will not be the Heat.) So keep that in mind while you’re talking up how your team could make the playoffs.

#3 A mid-teen drafted rookie will blow us away.

10. Paul George
11. Cole Aldrich
12. Xavier Henry
13. Ed Davis
14. Patrick Patterson
15. Larry Sanders
16. Luke Babbitt
17. Kevin Seraphin
18. Eric Bledsoe
19. Avery Bradley
20. James Anderson

One of those guys is going to be much better than we expect. It may be one of the guys 20-plus, like Darren Collison last year, though Ty Lawson qualifies. One of these guys will be better than we expect, much better. It’s only natural. There are so many misses in the top 10 usually, that someone’s going to slip, and when you slip, you can slip by handfuls. Of those options, it’s hard to identify the easy one. But then, each year it’s hard to identify. My money’s on either Patrick Patterson or Larry Sanders, but wouldn’t it be ridiculous if the Celtics landed themselves another great point guard? Or if Cole Aldrich was, actually, you know, good?

Just be prepared for one of these guys to make a huge jump.

#4 At least one coach is cashing one of his final paychecks.

My favorite fired coach story of the past few years was Scott Skiles. The Bulls fired him on Christmas Eve. Think about that. Oh, hey, it’s the holiday season. A season of love and peace. Hey, Scott, we got you a present! It’s the curb! It’s all yours! And we got you this boot to get you there! I mean, seriously. Who does that? The answer is “probably the same people who get into a shoving match with a coach who they later lame duck for about six months after they shouldn’t have hired him in the first place anyway.”

The point is, before the calendar hits 2011, we’re going to see a coach released back into the wild. Sometimes it’s a long time coming, sometimes it’s a reactionary move that speaks to the front office’s short leash. Jay Triano is one that comes to mind, if the team once again comes out with a terrible defensive rating. Whoever suffers element #2 above is also a strong candidate.

It’s sad that we know someone’s going to lose their job this far in advance, but we do. This is the NBA. It has benchmarks like every other league. And Christmas is the time for coaches to exit, stage right.

#5 An MVP candidate will come out of nowhere.

Carmelo Anthony really did have a strong case for the first two months of the year last year. Then Amar’e Stoudemire made a really strong case towards the end of last year. Those are two more predictable candidates, but they’re still outside of the Big 4 (LeBron, Kobe, Wade, Dwight). With two candidates (sorry Chris) on the same team, there are more spots open (with one already awarded to Kevin Durant automatically).

It’s one of the best parts of the season, a player making a huge leap that suddenly makes you wonder if he’s the best. For all the disappointing injuries, suspensions, team turmoil, and this season, CBA talks, there are bright spots, and watching players make leaps to elite status is one of them. I for one, am ready for it. 24 Days, kiddos.

24 days.

Basketball Hall of Famer John Kundla dies at 101

AP
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — John Kundla, the Hall of Fame coach who led the Minneapolis Lakers to five NBA championships, died Sunday. He was 101.

Son Jim Kundla said his father died at an assisted living facility in Northeast Minneapolis that he has called home for years.

Kundla coached George Mikan and the Lakers in the 1940s and 1950s, helping them become the NBA’s first dynasty. He went 423-302 before retiring at the age of 42 and went on to coach his alma mater, the University of Minnesota.

Kundla was the oldest living Hall of Famer in any of the four major pro sports.

Kundla was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995. A year later, he was named one of the league’s 10 greatest coaches as part of the league’s “NBA at 50” celebration.

 

Report: Magic signing Marreese Speights to one-year, minimum contract

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It’s a tough market for free-agent centers, as Marreese Speights learned the hard way.

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

I wonder whether Speights regrets opting out with the Clippers, who were also slated to pay him a minimum salary. Not only is he stuck with a low-paying deal, he’s on a worse team and one with center depth.

Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo should play only center, where Speights is best. Speights can also play power forward, but Aaron Gordon should get all his minutes there. Maybe Jonathan Isaac should, too, though it’s more tolerable to play him at small forward while the rookie adjusts to the NBA.

Simply, there won’t be much playing time for Speights unless Orlando makes a trade (maybe this is a harbinger) or plays too big of lineups (a lesson it should have learned last season).

Likewise, the Clippers will be fine, though less versatile, without Speights. The acquired Willie Reed (free agency) and Montrezl Harrell (Chris Paul trade) to play behind DeAndre Jordan.

Speights clearly isn’t essential, but he has expanded his range beyond the 3-point arc. He defends with effort, though not necessarily well. There’s a place in the league for stretch fives like him. But he turns 30 in a couple weeks, and his stock is clearly low. At least he’ll have a chance for a bigger payday next summer.

Kristaps Porzingis on Knicks: “This is where I want to stay… this is where I want to win”

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There were multiple, connected reasons it was time for the Knicks to move on from the Phil Jackson era — a triangle of reasons, really — but this one should have been at the top of the list:

He was alienating Krisptaps Porzingis.

We don’t know yet if Porzingis can be a franchise NBA player, however, he shows the potential to do it. He could become a top five NBA player you can build a contender around. You endear yourselves to those kinds of players, not get into power struggles that lead to said player blowing off end-of-year meetings and being guided out the door.

With Jackson gone, Porzingis has more motivation to stay a Knick and be the guy that turns the franchise’s fortunes around. KP was running a youth hoops camp in his native Latvia and was taking questions from the children when one kid got in a question the New York media would have loved to ask: Are you going to abandon New York? Here is Porzingis’ answer, translated and obtained by the New York Post.

“I feel that it is the best place to win. And if you win in New York, you are king. For the last two years, I have had so many positive emotions here that this is where I want to stay and that this is where I want to win.”

The Knicks have their cornerstone big. Now they need a guy on the outside (Kyrie Irving will get mentioned, but he is not the only answer), they need to get and develop young players to go with their stars. It’s the next phase for the Knicks.

But if they can keep Porzingis happy, they can lock him up to a max rookie extension after next year and have that piece in place. Then it’s up to Steve Mills and Scott Perry to put the pieces around him.

Report: LeBron James won’t waive his no-trade clause

AP Photo/Ron Schwane
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They Cavaliers have had a frustratingly lousy offseason.

They ousted trusted general manager David Griffin. Since, they’ve watched Golden State load up while their roster stagnates, as stars like Paul George and Jimmy Butler have landed elsewhere. Now, Kyrie Irving is requesting a trade and reportedly blaming LeBron James for that leaking.

LeBron has practically thrown up his hands and left ownership and management to figure out everything.

But LeBron – with rumors swirling about him leaving in 2018 free agency – won’t take an earlier exit.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

LeBron James will not waive his no-trade clause for any teams at any point during the 2017-18 season, league sources tell ESPN.

Cleveland essentially has two options with Irving:

1. Trade him for better, older players

2. Trade him for worse, younger players

No. 2 becomes much more palatable if the Cavs can also flip LeBron (and Kevin Love) and launch into a full rebuild. But as long as LeBron is around, it’s hard not to contend for a title.

But if they trade Irving for immediate help and LeBron leaves next summer, the Cavaliers could be left with a ghastly roster. That might be the risk they’re forced to take now.

It’s hard to believe the Cavs would trade beloved LeBron, even if he didn’t hold veto power. It would turn owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman into Cleveland villains, co-conspirators in LeBron leaving again. If Gilbert and Altman dare LeBron to leave in free agency, LeBron would have to own the decision himself.

Still, if LeBron and Irving would return incredible hauls of younger players and draft picks – I can’t even imagine what LeBron would draw in a trade – Gilbert and Altman should at least consider it. It just doesn’t seem the Cavs will have that option.