Predicting the Biggest Disasters of the 2013-14 NBA Season
Despite the expectations of each organization, a lot of NBA teams and their fans are going to get their feelings hurt this season.
Although each draft pick, player trade and free agent signing is a well-meant decision to improve the prospects of winning, the decisions are still nothing but calculated gambles that do not pay off sometimes.
These disappointing but unavoidable misfortunes are what Kurtis Blow calls "The Breaks" in his aptly titled 1980 hit.
Storylines of the current NBA season are already developing, and underneath every feel-good report are a bevy of bad breaks just waiting to get out.
As unpleasant as failure can be, it’s just a natural part of the risk that is competitive sports.
There are going to be some teams that will sorely underperform despite having what looks like a talented roster on paper.
Highly touted rookies are going to fall flat.
That veteran who has been defying Father Time in recent years will finally look his age, much to everyone’s chagrin.
This season will be filled with calamitous missteps that will lead to catastrophic failure for players and teams all over the league.
Predicting these tribulations is no easier than naming the next MVP or crowning this year’s champion, but debating their possibilities is just as intriguing.
Let’s take a look at the storylines that have the most potential for unhappy endings.
Most Disappointing Team: Brooklyn Nets
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Pretty great, I bet.
Now let’s remove those names and replace them with ages: 29, 32, 36, 37 and 25.
Not so impressive now, is it?
The names on the roster certainly read like a top-tier club, but a closer inspection reveals that writing in a championship coronation may be jumping the gun a little bit.
This team’s championship hopes hinge on five key players, all on the wrong side of 30, trying to prove they have enough left in the tank for another championship run.
Garnett hasn’t played more than 71 games in any of the past six seasons and averaged just 64 the last couple of years.
Pierce’s field goal percentage hasn’t topped 45 percent since the 2010-11 campaign.
Terry left the Dallas Mavericks, where he has a key contributor averaging 15.1 points per game in 2011-12, and came to the Boston Celtics, where his point production dropped sharply to 10.1 points per game.
The steady decline of the three most important acquisitions shifts the focus from when should the team be measured for their rings to just how viable is this squad’s health?
And maybe it wouldn’t all be too bad except that the man in charge of it all, Jason Kidd, has zero years of coaching experience.
There is no questioning how much Kidd knows about the game of basketball; however, there is a huge leap from making decisions in the flow of play to managing entire schemes in advance for various opponents.
The coaching nuances of minutes management, practice schedules, player motivation, chemistry development and many others are things that he has very little time to grasp before the playing days of his already old core are completely over.
Despite having many veterans who are smart players, the one or two actual seasons they’ll have together will not be enough to jell and become the force their combined reputations suggest they can become.
Let’s make sure that the pencils used to write in Brooklyn’s championship parade date have erasers.
Early Playoff Exit Alert: Oklahoma City Thunder
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What a difference a player makes.
Harden’s play eventually priced him out of Oklahoma, and he was dealt to the Houston Rockets.
With the loss of such a potent scorer, it was surprising to see that the Thunder’s regular-season scoring output actually increased in 2012-13, but that all changed in the playoffs.
Oklahoma City put up 101.3 points per playoff game in 2011-12 and made it all the way to the NBA Finals before losing to the Miami Heat in five games.
Their 2012-13 campaign was not as spectacular, as they only scored 98.5 points and lost in the second round to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Granted, Russell Westbrook was taken out of the playoffs with a knee injury in the first round, but that scoring decline is indicative to the gap that Harden’s departure left as he could have filled in well.
Even though the Thunder will eventually return to optimum health before the postseason, there are quite a few Western Conference teams who made strides in the offseason and are poised to challenge for supremacy.
The Rockets may very well compete for the division's top spot.
Up in the Northwest, the young core of the Portland Trailblazers is looking to break into the playoff bracket.
Other postseason teams have enough returning personnel to mirror the success of last year’s run.
Their hunger may be enough to dash Durant’s championship aspirations yet again.
2012-13 Playoff Teams That Won't Make It This Season
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Barring any unforeseen major mishaps, the top five teams from both conferences should find themselves back in the postseason this year.
Things get really dicey for the bottom seeds.
In the Eastern Conference, the team most likely to miss the playoffs this season after showing up in late April of 2012 is the Milwaukee Bucks.
Their very busy offseason full of trades and free agent signings have left the Bucks with practically a brand new roster that is headed by a brand new coach.
To put that into perspective, only four players on the current Milwaukee payroll were on the team last year.
It’s one thing to infuse a player or two into an already experienced group of players, but a complete personnel flip creates a learning curve that one season cannot remedy.
Add to that teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons, who both made very specific acquisitions to improve overall talent, and the Bucks could very well be on the outside looking in during the playoffs.
The Western Conference team most likely to be at home once the postseason commences is the Los Angeles Lakers.
At the end of the 2012-13 season, L.A. was the No. 7 seed in a bottom-three playoff grouping that also featured the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.
Over the course of this summer, the Lakers managed to lose an All-Star center in Howard and eccentric small-forward, Metta World Peace; the only thing the team gained was the news that a date for the return of their all-time great Kobe Bryant is none too certain.
This team barely made the playoffs this past season.
Being without Bryant will deny them important wins that will prove costly down the stretch and lead to the Lakers missing the postseason for the first time since 2004-05.
2013 Draft Bust: Shabazz Mohammed
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It would be easy to dismiss Muhammad’s disciplinary transgressions of this past summer as unintentional mistakes, but the young athlete’s history suggests that this is yet another incident in a string of questionable decisions.
There is no denying the young man’s on-court potential; however, that may not be enough to earn him genuine opportunities for reforming.
In the wake of being dismissed from the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program, Timberwolves’ GM Flip Saunders said stern disciplinary action could be used if the Muhammad doesn’t shape up.
That punishment could include a stint playing for the team’s NBDL team, the Iowa Energy (via Scott Schroeder at ProBasketballTalk.com).
His poor play is definitely not making it any easier for the team’s management to hold a lenient stance should his off-court exploits continue.
Despite the hype that surrounded him as an NBA prospect, Muhammad had a less than impressive summer league run and managed one meager point in just under four minutes of playing time in Minnesota’s preseason opener.
The former Bruin has plenty of time to shape up and make amends, but it’s questionable whether or not he has the maturity to see himself through this rough start.
It seems very plausible that the harder the team may try to influence his behavior, the more he will resist and find himself out of a roster spot.
Celebrated Veteran Most Likely to Topple: Kobe Bryant
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Sports injuries are seldom the result of specific sequences of events set in motion at some predictable point in time.
They just happen.
Bryant ruptured his Achilles tendon on a play he has made hundreds of times before without incident.
Now his future is in limbo as he goes through the grueling process of rehabbing an injury that has the reputation of being a career-ender.
Kyle Wagner of Deadspin.com did a very comprehensive piece pointing out how the numbers don’t bode well for Kobe returning to pre-injury form.
Using the data presented by a group of doctors at the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Annual Meeting in Chicago, Wagner details how players like Dominique Wilkins are the exception and players like Isaiah Thomas are the rule as to how a complete Achilles tear affects an athlete’s career.
So what’s the difference here?
The answer is total logged playing time.
The effects of the injury coupled with time Thomas logged up to that point (39,732 combined regular season and playoff minutes) were too much to overcome, so he retired.
Bryant has 17 seasons under his belt and a combined 54,048 regular and postseason minutes.
Based on the aforementioned study, the involved doctors were able to find 18 cases of NBA players who to some degree suffered an Achilles tear between 1988 and 2011.
Of that number, seven players had their careers ended, 10 played again but with less proficiency and Wilkins was the only one who was able to continue playing at a high level.
Remember, Bryant’s minute total is nearly double that of Wilkins’.
If he does manage to return, it will more than likely be with severely diminished abilities that will make watching him play very hard to watch.
Very few all-time great players get to choose how they end their career.
If Bryant wanted to go out with his sixth championship, that daunting task just became a lot harder.
Laker and basketball fans the world over are hoping for a speedy and successful recovery; they may get that. But any hope for the Bryant of old may have to be tapered.