NBA Teams Whose Title Chances Are Suddenly on the Rocks
The NBA season unfolds like a romantic relationship. You enter with a set of expectations: high, low or indifferent. As so many of us know, when anticipation doesn't meet reality, hearts can be broken.
Sometimes that sweetheart of a team becomes "the one," but more often they become your worst nightmare until you surrender all hope. The earlier you lose that number, the easier it is for everyone.
As we move past the one-third mark of the 2012-13 season, it's time to move on from those teams that will never love you back—at least not this season.
As a string of dates through December have proven, the title chances of some teams previously thought of as contenders are currently on the rocks.
Deron Williams is not an NBA superstar.
Neither is Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez or Gerald Wallace.
A collection of great, but not incredible, talent in the starting five isn't enough to carry a team to a title. And that's exactly what is currently being exhibited by the Brooklyn Nets.
The red herring is the recent firing of Avery Johnson, or the indirect blame placed on Williams.
There's only anecdotal evidence here and there to suggest that Williams drove Jerry Sloan out of Utah, just as there's just slight fingerprints of Williams on of the recent Johnson firing.
Just days prior to the firing of Johnson, Williams spoke about the offensive style of both of his former coaches:
That system was a great system for my style of play. I’m a system player. I love Coach Sloan’s system. I loved the offense there. Is it as good as there? No. There’s just more one-on-one and isos.
But none of that matters.
This isn't about whether or not Williams ran one coach, or two coaches, out of town. The struggles of the Nets aren't as simple as Williams not being an isolation guy.
The problem with Brooklyn is directly tied to the team's extreme lack of depth. Williams can shoot above 50 percent and average 10 assists, but that doesn't mean Brooklyn is a contender.
There's no system that allows five starters to play all 240 minutes.
Too often, we jump to excitement based upon what the starting lineup looks like. In football, we discount non-skilled positions, and in baseball we discount the bullpen and utility guys. But year after year, it's those forgotten pieces that win championships.
Seinfeld needs his Newmans just like Stephen Curry needs his Jarrett Jacks.
You're only as good as the guy playing the other portion of your minutes.
It's unfair to throw a microscope on any given game, but Brooklyn's 100-86 loss to the New York Knicks on Dec. 19 is emblematic of the team's issues. The Nets played to their average potential:
- Deron Williams shot 58 percent for 16 points, also tallying 10 assists and five rebounds.
- Joe Johnson was 3-for-5 from three-point range for 17 points despite shooting at a less-than-average clip of 35.7 percent.
- Brook Lopez had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Kris Humprhies had nine rebounds.
- Gerald Wallace had a down night, scoring just six points, five below his average.
Most of these numbers offset one another to create a typical night for the Nets. And all in all, it wasn't good enough to beat a team like the Knicks because of one clear fact: no one goes big off the bench.
Keith Bogans went as nuts as he's going to go with 11 points on the night, but he was the lone bench player to have an impact.
There simply was no punch off the bench to pick up for the lack of a big night from any of the starters. And none of the starters will regularly have big nights.
Without a bench, the Nets will continue to flounder. Brooklyn is ranked No. 24 in the league in bench scoring. They are only one slot behind the Miami Heat, but none of the Nets' starters are a top-10 player in the NBA, let alone the best player.
Andray Blatche is the one guy off the bench who has been a difference-maker, as he is averaging 11.4 points and six rebounds per game. Reggie Evans has been a force as a rebounder. But neither Evans nor Blatche is going to be enough.
After beginning the season 11-4, the Nets have since dropped 10 of their last 13. The wins in that stretch have come against the Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers.
The Nets should no longer be considered even a long-shot contender.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers entered the season as one of the best-looking teams—on paper.
The problem with paper is that it's easily torn apart.
The Lakers have been cut up and built back so much already that they're starting to look like one of those third-grade construction paper snowflakes.
There are certainly holes, yet they still seem so pretty.
The offseason additions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were obvious upgrades. Expectations were that the blending of the two new superstars along with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace would translate into instant success.
But like the guy who just tried Folgers expecting an Italian cappuccino, the lesson is that nothing great comes instantly.
Mike Brown lost his job after five games. Fingers were pointed everywhere but still nothing has been resolved.
A recent five-game win streak included wins against the Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks, but the aggregate of the streak still doesn't prove the Lakers can contend.
There's a lack of overall athleticism and depth on a team that optimists believe will be at its best once they are running. Those two things don't agree.
Los Angeles still has plenty of time to figure things out, and this is the best franchise in the NBA at getting the advantage in lopsided deals. The roster would benefit from an influx of young legs in exchange for Gasol, not just another big name.
One thing that has become clear though is that Howard's back and Gasol's prime can't be guaranteed to return just because the season is growing longer.
The All-Star break is nearing and the claim that "it's still early" will expire soon.
The term "cheerleader effect" has been thrown around enough in pop culture to land back in a sports analogy.
When a blend of Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen were on the court, a lot of deficiencies could be masked.
Pierce's ability to create his own shot in isolation and Rondo's playmaking masked poor offense.
Rondo's individual defense and Garnett's interior defense masked defensive weaknesses and poor rebounding.
Allen's ability to knock down open jumpers masked rough scoring nights.
But now, as the older stars continue to decline, the Celtics are relying more on others. The cheerleader effect has vanished and things look ugly in Boston.
The biggest hope relies on the return of Avery Bradley, who took Allen's job and started 28 games last season, and helped Rondo lock down opposing backcourts. Bradley is set to return from offseason shoulder surgery sometime after the New Year.
Boston needs the defensive help. While Jason Terry has been strong offensively, they haven't received defensive help from him, Jeff Green or Courtney Lee.
The Celtics allowed the lowest opponents' shooting percentage last season at 41.9 percent. This season, Boston is allowing opponents to shoot 44.9 percent, No. 18 in the NBA in that category.
Furthermore, the Celtics are dead last in rebounding.
Ultimately, the Celtics are an average team that will finish fifth or below in the Eastern Conference, just good enough to get bounced by the Miami Heat again.