Playing Panic or Patience with Struggling NBA Teams
Widespread Panic is a band I've never spent any time caring about. But its namesake concept has become a cottage industry in the world of sports media.
Everyone is on the hot seat. Every NBA team should make a move.
It can become hard to decipher when there are real, foundational, systemic issues with a team, as opposed to just short-term issues that even good teams must weather. Thus, the following list breaks down which teams should legitimately panic vs. which franchises need to remain patient.
Boston Celtics: Patience
Go .500 on the road, and take care of your home court. That's the mantra you often hear from NBA coaches.
At 4-5 away from home and 7-4 at the TD Garden, the Boston Celtics aren't quite there. But they aren't far off, either.
If they continued to win home games at that pace for the rest of the year and split their road matchups, they would finish the season 47-35 (.573). That would be Boston's worst regular-season record since Kevin Garnett arrived, but the team "only" won 50 games in 2009-10 and finished last year with a .591 winning percentage. In those "down" years, they lost in the NBA Finals and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, respectively.
In that context, this slow start shouldn't be deflating.
The fact is that the Celtics haven't paid much attention to the regular season since 2008-09, and it hasn't spelled doom yet.
Garnett and Paul Pierce are each one year older, and Ray Allen has of course left town. So this doesn't mean that the Celtics should be expected to come out on top against the Miami Heat or, perhaps, even the New York Knicks in the playoffs. But Boston started off last season terribly as well, and it all worked out in the end. For the most part.
The Celtics must improve their play to be taken seriously at all in the postseason, but they are still shooting well, they remain difficult to score on, and Rajon Rondo is running the offense.
One bad 20-game stretch isn't enough to bury these grumpy old men.
Los Angeles Lakers: Panic
The Los Angeles Lakers are 9-13 and have lost eight of their last 11 games. On the season, they have only beaten three teams (the Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors) that are now above .500.
This is not what the 16-time champs had in mind.
It has been clear that this simply isn't a good basketball team without Steve Nash and Pau Gasol playing well. Now, after a huge stretch of futility to open the year, the question has become whether the shell-shocked Lakers even can be a good basketball team with those two.
Certainly they can be "good" in the sense of making the playoffs.
That, however, is worthless in Hollywood.
This team was constructed to win a ring, but with each passing game, that goal seems to move further away. The Lakers are like Peter from Office Space: every day they wake up is their worst day of the season.
Mike D'Antoni has so far not been the answer, and the "Is Pau washed up?" question looms larger than ever as he watches from the sideline while his team continues to lose.
Last night, after Los Angeles lost to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers, Royce Young of the Daily Thunder highlighted the state of Laker Nation right now.
Don't worry you guys, a 38-year-old point guard coming off a broken leg will fix all of this.— Royce Young (@dailythunder) December 12, 2012
Unfortunately, the team has little it can do besides cross its fingers. The top brass has already canned one coach, and it can't revisit that well. No matter what you hear from team sources, trades for Gasol are certainly being debated. Too bad his knee problems, age and salary mean he is unlikely to return any clear route out of this mess even if the front office does decide to pull the ejector seat.
The Lakers have no easy way to fix this. They mostly just have to hope—nay, pray—this works itself out. The only thing that is certain is that when you look at Gasol play, look at Nash and then look at the bench, it is definitely time to panic.
Brooklyn Nets: Patience
"It was all good just a week ago," once said the famous Brooklyn poet Shawn Carter.
On the final night of November, the Brooklyn Nets smacked around the Orlando Magic to improve their record to 11-4. Then, a funny thing happened after climbing to the top of the Atlantic Division: They haven't won since.
The first few games they dropped were no big deal. Who doesn't come up short on occasion to the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder? Sure, they were out-classed in both games, but it happens.
Then they lost three more.
The victors in these contests—the Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks—are no slouches either, so it isn't like they are losing to the Phoenix Suns or Cleveland Cavaliers.
But a loss is a loss is a loss, of course, so there is reason to analyze the problems.
When you do, one stands out.
All this negativity has coincided with Brook Lopez getting hurt. Those are just the breaks when you put so many eggs in one basket.
As far as the rest of the frontcourt, Andray Blatche has played well in Lopez's absence, and Kris Humphries and Reggie Evans are two of the NBA's finest rebounders. But neither of those latter two can score on their own, and they don't play imposing defense. Lopez doesn't either, but he at least makes up for it on the other end and has shown improvement this season on both his rotations and general awareness.
Mostly, this seems to be a team that is struggling because it misses an indispensable player—due to role, if not talent. Coach Avery Johnson says he isn't worried about the injury, however, rating his concern as a two on a scale of one to 10.
I'll take that to mean they are being cautious by not flying Lopez to Toronto (according to Howard Beck of The New York Times), and I'll continue to think that, until they start losing a lot of games at full strength—with Lopez—there is little to worry about.
Indiana Pacers: Panic
Pop quiz, hot shot: You just gave two non-elite players $100 million combined this summer, your best young player hasn't progressed as quickly as hoped, your only high-level scorer is sidelined with a bum knee, and your best player is a 32-year-old on an expiring contract.
What do you do?
The Indiana Pacers had so much hope coming into this season. They finished the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season with the league's fifth-best record and genuinely put a scare into the Miami Heat by going up 2-1 in their second-round playoff matchup.
Now, they have one of the NBA's worst offenses and can't hardly put together even two straight quarters of capable scoring. Meanwhile, the horrendous bench play the team has endured all year has become a full-blown crisis.
Things have gotten so bad that the backup point guard they signed this summer, D.J. Augustin, just got benched in favor of Ben Hansbrough. He's a 24-year-old undrafted rookie who, according to Wikipedia, "struggled to get playing time" for the German team he signed with after he ran out of eligibility at the University of Notre Dame.
David West has been phenomenal this season. Paul George and George Hill have each shown flashes of excellence. But this was a team that was supposed to build off of last year and continue to gradually improve over the next several campaigns. The cohesion of playing alongside one another was supposed to lift the team's starless roster to such heights that it could challenge the NBA elite.
That currently seems foolish.
Moreover, at 10-11 through nearly a quarter of the schedule, Indiana's ability to compete even in 2012-13 looks to be in jeopardy. Lacking trade assets, simply waiting for Danny Granger to return and Roy Hibbert to stop missing all his layups may be the team's only real option.
But it certainly isn't one that encourages a lot of hope.
Not for this year. Not for the next half-decade.
Denver Nuggets: Patience
The Denver Nuggets have played 16 of their 22 games on the road. They have also endured the league's fifth toughest schedule in terms of the opponent win percentage, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Such fate is out of their hands.
They aren't doing so hot with the things they can control either—especially in the backcourt.
First off, they are still struggling to replace an ace three-point marksman who was a true shooting guard (Arron Afflalo) with a bigger wing who thrives more when slashing or putting the ball on the floor (Andre Iguodala). It isn't that Iggy has been playing badly; it's just that there is a team-wide adjustment period that is making scoring from the outside even harder than it was last season.
Their franchise point guard, on the other hand, has been playing badly.
This isn't great news, naturally, but it seems impossible for Ty Lawson to continue to shoot this poorly. The Occam's razor explanation is that Lawson has just been in an early-season funk, and he will snap out of it before the All-Star break.
The move toward the mean has already begun.
Prior to December 5, Lawson had only scored more than 20 points once this season, a 21-point "outburst" (on 20 shots, no less) against the Houston Rockets way back on November 7. In his four games since December 5, he has done it three times, most notably by dropping a season-high 32 points (on 16 shots) against the Atlanta Hawks last Wednesday.
The Nuggets are 5-1 at home and can put a lot of points on the board no matter where they play. Those indicators reflect a sustainable way to be good more than the negatives feel like they will hold.
The schedule will ease up, Lawson won't always be this bad, Danilo Gallinari will start to make a few more threes (shooting 28.2 percent from deep) and Iguodala will continue to cement his role.
This team is better than .500. The record will reflect that soon.