Winners and Losers from Week 1 of NBA Training Camps
Most NBA teams have had relatively uneventful training camps thus far, and that's a good thing.
Veteran clubs like the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs have quietly gotten to work, perfectly happy to stay out of the headlines. If we're being entirely honest, they're the real winners in all this—there's just not much to report at the moment. No news is good news for organizations that have developed a winning formula.
The newsmakers, however, fall into two distinct categories: those who are winning and those who are still trying. In that respect (and that respect alone), training camps are a microcosm for the regular season. Though it's the finish that counts, how a team starts has a lot to do with that finish.
With preseason games underway, we'll seen wins and losses—albeit entirely meaningless ones. The real winning and losing is happening on the practice courts, at the bargaining tables and in the ultimate court of public opinion.
Here's a look at the winners and losers from the first week of training camp.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
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They've been winners all summer long, and nothing's stopping the Los Angeles Lakers from keeping that vibe going into the preseason.
The closest thing to a setback came when Kobe Bryant sat out a day's worth of practices on account of a sore foot. He returned the next day and played 19 minutes in L.A.'s first preseason game the day after that.
So much for setbacks.
Meanwhile, Dwight Howard's recovery from back surgery in April has gone swimmingly, and his participation in practices means the club won't have to worry about any delays or worst-case scenarios. No one doubts the team could have survived a brief absence anyway, but the early return will make it a bit easier for coach Mike Brown to get all his new talent on the same page.
Therein lies the Lakers' biggest training camp victory: having a full training camp in the first place. With prominent new pieces like Howard, Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, this roster needed an opportunity to convert its on-paper qualifications into a well-oiled machine.
That might not happen instantaneously, but the head start helps.
Loser: Philadelphia 76ers
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We won't really know who got the better of the Dwight Howard trade for a few years, but the early-going hasn't been especially kind to the Philadelphia 76ers.
After the excitement surrounding Andrew Bynum's arrival, the honeymoon isn't necessarily over—just on hold for the moment. The 24-year-old has been relegated to learning as a spectator in practice while he rests his knees after receiving offseason treatment.
John Mitchell of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Bynum should be available to start the regular season, but there's no question some preseason repetition would have been helpful, at the very least easing the seven-footer into life as a 76er.
Bynum gives the club a guy who averages a double-double and aims to become a go-to scorer, so 76ers fans are anxious to see him in action—and healthy. When all is said and done, Philly will almost certainly emerge big winners from this summer. It's not reaping the rewards just yet though.
Winner: Shaquille O'Neal
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
What matters is that it still got Howard's attention.
The ultimate response would have been not responding. Instead, Howard took a defensive posture (via ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin):
He hated the fact when he played that the older guys were talking about him and how he played and now he's doing the exact same thing. Just let it go. There's no sense for him to be talking trash to me. He did his thing in the league. He's one of the most dominant players to ever play the game. Just sit back and relax. You did your thing. Your time is up. So, I don't really care. I don't really care. He can say whatever he wants to say.
Howard can say he doesn't care, but the fact that he's saying anything at all suggests otherwise. Shaq may be frustrated by the constant adoration afforded Howard and the possibility that the young center may one day surpass his legacy, but that's really beside the point.
What matters in this instance is that when the Diesel speaks, people still pay attention.
Chances are O'Neal was merely attempting to air an opinion, stir up some controversy and press some buttons. Check, check and check—mission accomplished once again for the most dominant big man of our generation.
Loser: Washington Wizards
Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE
The Washington Wizards losers?
What else is new?
Besides sharing a city with one of the most unpopular U.S. congresses in recent history, the Wizards' attempts to turn around a struggling franchise are on hold. The team entered training camp with starters John Wall and Nene sidelined, meaning practice will consist primarily of getting acquainted with Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.
Rookie Bradley Beal could use the crash course too.
But without Wall running the show, these Wizards won't get a perfect feel for the offense until he returns well into the regular season. That doesn't necessarily doom Washington's season, but it certainly slows its roll.
Winner: New York Knicks
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Though the New York Knicks probably could have done without that injury to Marcus Camby's calf, they have to be pretty happy with their training camp otherwise.
Amar'e Stoudemire is making strides with his new and improved post game, and Carmelo Anthony is looking every bit the superstar who at times dominated the London Summer Olympics. If the two scorers can put all of that together and sustain it while on the floor at the same time, the Knicks could put that one-sided first-round exit to the Miami Heat out of their minds once and for all.
This will be the team's first full season under head coach Mike Woodson, so training camp also serves as an opportunity for the club to build upon a set of defensive principles that were sorely lacking under Mike D'Antoni.
More than any development made by an individual player, the evolution of that defensive culture could be the single biggest difference-maker for the team.
Loser: Milwaukee Bucks
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The Milwaukee Bucks have yet to work out an extension with point guard Brandon Jennings despite his interest in sticking around for the long term.
That's especially concerning given that Monta Ellis' contract has an early-termination option he could exercise this summer.
Though there's no guarantee either backcourt star is leaving, there's also a very real possibility they both wind up on other teams next season. Given that there probably won't be many elite free agents knocking on the Bucks' door this summer, losing the in-house talent could put a serious crimp in the franchise's attempts to get back to the postseason.
Until the organization locks up Jennings, Milwaukee will be saddled with an unwanted distraction involving arguably its best player.
Winner: Royce White
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The rookie made arrangements with his new team to avoid team flights whenever possible and bus to them instead. Because of an anxiety disorder and deep-seated fear of flying, White wanted to get off to a healthy start in his pro career, and this was an important step in the right direction.
There have never been any doubts about the guy's talent, but his mental health was something of a red flag at the draft.
Thanks to the Rockets' accommodations, White is well on his way to proving the skeptics wrong and adding his unique blend of talents to Houston's young roster.
Loser: Tracy McGrady
Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
How can Tracy McGrady be a training-camp loser when he wasn't even part of a training camp?
Precisely because he wasn't.
In fact, the once-prolific scorer appears to be headed for China, joining the likes of Stephon Marbury as stars who prematurely left their NBA careers to head east—far east. It's hard to imagine T-Mac leaving the league at age 33, but injuries weren't kind to the multi-talented swingman.
His celebrity will remain intact in China, and his skills might not look that bad either. Marbury even managed to win a championship this year.
Still, you'd think McGrady would find a way to pursue a championship in the NBA. But despite workouts with the New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs and Charlotte Bobcats, nothing came together.
Winner: Los Angeles Clippers
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The short-handed Los Angeles Clippers may have fallen flat in their first preseason game, but they've gotten off to a strong start otherwise.
All-Star Blake Griffin is improving his shooting stroke, and center DeAndre Jordan is developing a legitimate post game. Both young players are known for their explosiveness, and added skill dimensions could be even more valuable than this roster's personnel upgrades.
Of course, those upgrades won't hurt.
The Clippers needed this training camp as much as any team precisely because of those upgrades. Though they may be veterans, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Willie Green need some time to get used to one another. They just might form the league's deepest bench, and this preseason will help them get off to a more seamless start.
Loser: Enes Kanter
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Second-year center Enes Kanter was the biggest loser of all coming into training camp.
In a matter of speaking, anyway.
The Utah Jazz prospect lost 51 pounds, according to the Salt Lake Tribune's Bill Oram. Kanter played just over 13 minutes a game last season, and he'll be in good enough shape to play a lot longer than that this season. Of course, his limited playing time has a lot more to do with just how deep Utah's frontcourt is.
In other words, after losing all that weight, it remains entirely unclear what Kanter will gain. Without a deal moving Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap or Derrick Favors, Kanter remains an afterthought in Ty Corbin's interior rotation.