Winners and Losers from the First 2 Months of NBA Action

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2013

Winners and Losers from the First 2 Months of NBA Action

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    You can check the standings if you’re interested in the technical winners and losers from the first couple months of the NBA season. Around here, we’re more concerned with the individuals who stood out in November and December, for better or worse.

    We already covered the overall winners and losers from the past calendar year, so don’t expect to find LeBron James or Dwight Howard in this space. They dominated the last 12 months, and while they’re still making big news now, we feel they’ve already had their due.

    Seriously, how many more times do you need to hear that James won every award and Howard shoved his image off of a cliff in 2012? That’s old news.

    Here, we’re featuring guys who have made headlines over just the past 60(ish) days. Some of them are proud to have been big stories, while others probably wish they could have a do-over on the start to their seasons.

    We hate to break it to you, but you were lied to as a kid. It’s not how you play the game, it’s whether you win or lose.

Loser: Mike D'Antoni

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    Offensive genius! Savior! Mustache!

    When the Los Angeles Lakers’ head coaching gig dropped into Mike D’Antoni’s lap this season, even he had to be a little surprised. After all, nobody really expected the Buss family to be so egomaniacal and vindictive that they’d only pretend to dangle the job to Phil Jackson before greedily yanking it back.

    But that’s what happened, and everyone hurriedly convinced themselves that D’Antoni would sort out the offense (which was never actually the problem) and return the Lakers to immediate championship contention.

    Now, D’Antoni’s been exposed as a coach who can only win when the stars align, as they did for a few years in Phoenix. When he has the benefit of a transcendent MVP in his prime, a million shooters and zero expectations, he’s great. In every other situation, he’s apparently very mediocre.

    The Lakers’ personnel aren’t going to suddenly start defending, and the bench is a joke, so L.A.’s failure to launch isn’t totally the coach’s fault. But we now know for sure that Mike D. is anything but a salvation-toting offensive genius.

    He does have the mustache, though.

Winner: Everyone Involved in the James Harden Trade

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    Two roads diverged before Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti as the 2012-13 season began, and when he took the one less traveled, it made all the difference.

    In an unpopular move, Presti shipped fan favorite and sixth-man extraordinaire James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, some picks and a few long-shot spare parts. He didn’t need to do it, and many lambasted him for robbing OKC of at least one shot at a title this year. But he pulled the trigger.

    Somehow, everyone involved came out ahead.

    Harden proved he could thrive as an alpha dog, dominating the pick-and-roll and hauling the Rockets into the playoff picture.

    OKC’s stars flexed a little harder, developed a little more and compensated nicely for the departed Harden.

    Kevin Martin adeptly filled his ideal role as a scoring threat off the bench.

    And Sam Presti looked like a genius.

    Winners all around.

Loser: DeMarcus Cousins

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    Let’s see here, what made DeMarcus Cousins a loser during the first two months of the 2012-13 season?

    Maybe it was the two-game suspension he earned for confronting Sean Elliott after a game.

    Oh wait, I know! It was the low blow on O.J. Mayo that earned him another ban.

    Then again, it could have been the indefinite suspension he got for “unprofessional behavior” in December.

    Actually, just take your pick. Any of the above knuckleheaded indiscretions would have earned Cousins a “loser” tag, but taken together, they feel like overkill. The Sacramento Kings big man is basically a petulant kid, and he hasn’t shown any signs of developing the maturity needed to be a reliable NBA player (or a grownup in general).

    The Kings aren’t innocent in all of this either. Their lack of organizational control and failure to take a firm stance with Cousins are clearly part of the problem.

    Sure, Cousins has loads of talent. Big deal. Until he overcomes his ridiculous “me against the world” attitude and smartens up on and off the court, he’s hopeless.

Winner: Mark Jackson

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    Coming into this season, there was no reason to believe Mark Jackson was a capable NBA coach. He’d spent the first 10 months of 2012 making ridiculous playoff guarantees, embroiling himself in an embarrassing scandal and spewing out more hot air than a steam engine.

    But when the Golden State Warriors tipped things off in November, all of that changed. Oh, the blustery rhetoric was still there—that’s never going away—but there were signs of actual progress too.

    After a couple of early hiccups caused by offensive predictability and questionable rotation decisions, Jackson proved he really could manage a winning team. The Warriors have undergone the league’s biggest defensive and rebounding improvements under Jackson’s watch, and his offense sensibly utilizes the Warriors’ mix of elite shooters and willing passers.

    Suddenly, the Dubs are one of the league’s best teams.

    A brutal January schedule will provide Jackson and the Warriors’ toughest test, but with a 21-10 record despite getting nothing from Andrew Bogut, Jackson’s a clear winner so far.

Loser: Michael Beasley

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    We’re done here, right? We’ve officially got all of the data we need to conclude the Michael Beasley doesn’t belong on an NBA team, don’t we?

    Look, Beasley’s talent has never been in question. He’s got good size at his position, he moves well and he’s skilled. But the guy clearly has no idea how to use his gifts for the betterment of his team.

    Instead of employing his athleticism and touch around the rim, he floats around the perimeter and casts off contested jumpers. As a result, he's shooting just 37 percent from the field.

    He hasn’t put in the work to develop his right hand, and he never punishes opposing small forwards on the block. Essentially, he’s the same player he was when the Miami Heat drafted him at No. 2 overall, only his attitude has worsened.

    The Phoenix Suns made the mistake of thinking they could draw out some untapped potential in Beasley by paying him big money and giving him plenty of shots, but that move has backfired in a major way.

    Now, the Suns are stuck with a totally unproductive (and toxic) player that they’ll only be able to unload by taking on an equally worthless piece in return. And you can bet that we’re saving a spot in the loser category for whichever team is dumb enough to acquire him.

Winner: Matt Barnes

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    You could defensibly put a whole bunch of L.A. Clippers in this spot, but we appreciate a little grit around here, so Matt Barnes gets the nod.

    The inked-up reserve is giving the NBA’s best team 10.7 points per game on 50 percent shooting, but the numbers don’t really do him justice. Barnes might be the best cutter in the NBA, which, combined with Chris Paul’s vision, seems to yield at least a couple of easy buckets per game.

    In addition to that, Barnes gives L.A. some real toughness and attitude. Before he came along, the Clips were defined by the all-bark, no-bite posturing of guys like Paul and Blake Griffin. Barnes gives L.A. a legitimate wild card with a proven track record of fisticuffs.

    He’s only playing around 26 minutes per game, but Barnes’ demeanor is a big reason the Clippers have been such big winners so far.

Loser: Deron Williams

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    If you go through enough ugly breakups (and this is the second for Deron Williams), you have to eventually acknowledge that maybe you’re the problem.

    The Brooklyn Nets canned Avery Johnson, whose micro-management and totally uninventive offensive style probably would have gotten him fired down the road anyway, and Williams was right in the middle of it.

    Brooklyn’s ownership issued the pink slip right after D-Will publicly explained how he preferred his prior coach’s offensive sets.

    Ironically, he was referring to former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. You know, the surefire Hall of Famer who resigned amid speculation that he just couldn’t put up with Williams’ bellyaching anymore.

    Hey, Deron, maybe you should spend your energy getting a few extra shots up after practice instead of taking shots at your coaches. Your abysmal shooting had just as much to do with the failure of Brooklyn’s offense as Johnson’s play-calling did.

    With his poor play and a mounting body count, Williams cemented his reputation as a coach-killing malcontent in the season’s first two months. That earns him a “loser” label, folks.