Smell that? It's the scent of NBA general manager surveys. They're in the air, and they're better than love.
As it has done for the past 11 years, NBA.com polled all 30 of the league's general managers. I must say, lucky No. 12 was a doozy.
General managers were asked to answer an array of forward-thinking questions related to teams, players, coaches and so much more. There still aren't any questions on tanking, which needs to change, but overall, these surveys are a breath of fresh air.
Which team will win the championship in 2014? Who's the best at their position? Which offseason moves were the most productive?
Perspectives from the suits above are invaluable. They're paid to build the rosters, to shape the answers of these questions every year. What they have to say, or in this case write, is worth far more than your average bar-stool conversation.
Almost 17 percent of the NBA's GMs seem to think otherwise. Detroit finished atop the most improved team category, receiving 16.7 percent of votes cast. Finishing tied for second were the Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans and Washington Wizards, each of which secured 13.3 percent of the votes and all of which were better options than the Pistons.
Adding J-Smoove and Jennings makes the Pistons more interesting, I'll give them that. And if there were a "Which team will be the most dysfunctional in 2013-14?" option, the Pistons would have gotten my vote. Otherwise, they don't belong here.
Smith is a versatile, athletic freak; Jennings is just a freak shooter. Together, they'll help make Detroit one of the least-efficient basketball cities in the country. I quiver at the thought of what will become of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe next to both of them, too.
On the bright side, Chauncey Billups is back and older than ever (37). Whoopity doo.
The Pacific Division is going to be a two-team race...so says the Association's legion of front-office gurus.
Nearly 90 percent of those polled picked the Los Angeles Clippers to win the division, while the other 10 percent(ish) rolled with the Golden State Warriors. That means (drumroll please) nobody picked the Los Angeles Lakers. It also means I'm anxiously awaiting Kobe Bryant's attempt to work the No. 0 into his Twitter avatar, right next to 12 and 25.
Their exclusion isn't surprising. Kobe is still injured and his timetable is still a secret. Edward Snowden couldn't uncover the truth in Tinseltown if he tried (he probably did).
These Lakers also lost Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets, and Metta World Peace to the New York Knicks. Worst of all, they lost Earl Clark to the Cavaliers.
Basically, the offseason wasn't kind to the Lakers, who snagged 96.7 percent of last year's division votes. It's only fitting the general managers remain equally as cruel.
In other news, 90 percent of the vote is far too much for the Clippers. Splash Brother Klay Thompson will have a thing or two to say about that.
By golly, the Black Mamba is tough.
(Yes, I just wanted to write the words "by" and "golly" in succession; what of it?)
Just like he was last year, Kobe was voted the toughest player in the NBA. More incredibly, he received more votes this year (31 percent) than last year (26.7). This comes after ESPN ranked Kobe 25th among all active NBA players—and before the Mamba has officially returned from a ruptured Achilles, mind you.
Something about his recovery must be resonating with spectators. Maybe it's the high-dive escapades, or James Worthy claiming Kobe is an alien. Mitch Kupchak could also be skilled in the art of hypnosis.
Whatever, I don't care. Kobe is the most vulnerable he's been his entire career and was still named the league's toughest player. That says something about him. Says something to the folks at ESPN as well: Run.
Wipe that sweat off your brow; the Miami Heat have averted disaster.
Parity has never been more apparent in the Western Conference, and the Heat are one Dwyane Wade knee injury away from becoming the LeBron James Show again, but general managers don't care.
Miami is favored to win the NBA title. Again. Last year, the Heat took home 70 percent of the vote. This year, they've swayed 75.9 percent of general managers in their direction, not including Pat Riley. I believe I speak for (almost) everyone when I say: Holy crap, these Heatles are good.
Coming in a distant second were the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs (6.9 percent of votes). Also receiving votes were the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder and Clippers.
Yes, I'm as appalled as you are that one prank-happy GM didn't vote for the Philadelphia 76ers.
According to ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell, Derrick Rose sees the Heat as the Chicago Bulls' only true rival. Indy used to be a rival, but not anymore. Their roster has changed too much, most notably the absence of Darren Collison. Apparently.
Though anyone with two eyes and a hearing aid could understand what Rose was doing—implying it's championship or bust in Chicago—he might want to rethink his slight of the Pacers.
Indiana finished second behind the Heat in the category, "Which team will win the Eastern Conference?" Chicago, meanwhile, came in third. More than half of the general managers picked the Pacers to win the Central Division too, leaving the Bulls a close second (48.7 percent).
Finally, the Pacers tied the Spurs for second place in "Which team will win the 2014 NBA Finals?"
Not the Bulls, the Pacers.
Gregg Popovich is a G. Still. And he's gon' be a G forever.
Five questions in the general manager survey were directly related to active NBA head coaches, and Coach Pop finished in first place four freaky-deaky times.
According to the Association's general managers, Pop is the best manager/motivator of people, makes the best in-game adjustments, runs the best offense and is just the best head coach overall.
What's he not? The coach who runs the best defensive schemes.
Damn you, Tom Thibodeau.
LeBron can't win.
Actually, he can; other people just have trouble admitting it. Like current NBA players, for instance.
ESPN The Magazine previously polled 26 of LeBron's present peers and not one of them would have him attempt the last shot of a game if both Kobe and Michael Jordan were on the floor. Not a single, solitary one.
Our suit-sporting friends weren't as brutal when it came time to pick who they would have take the last shot, but they weren't exactly kind either.
Coming in first was Kevin Durant, with 39.3 percent of the vote. Second place was given to Kobe, who earned 32.1 percent of the ballots. Next came Carmelo Anthony and LeBron, who received 7.1 percent of the votes each.
Also getting votes were Ray Allen (Game 6, baby), Manu Ginobili, Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Paul. Weird. At the very least, those votes should have gone to LeBron. Because he's clutch. If he's on my team, I want him taking the last shot. Every time.
Shoot, if you're feeling spunky, LBJ, come on down to my youth basketball team's next game. Those kids I coach—14 and under—will be more than willing to give you the rock with time winding down.
Voting criteria for the NBA's best defensive player stinks, because it's nonexistent.
Tyson Chandler was voted the Defensive Player of the Year in 2011-12, but didn't make first-team All-Defensive. Last year, he was barely a blip on the DPOY ballot's radar yet earned first-team honors. OK then.
Marc Gasol won DPOY in 2012-13 and, like Chandler before him, was only named to the second team. Hmm.
When asked who the best defensive player in the NBA currently was, Gasol didn't finish in the top three. Or four. He finished fifth. Or sixth.
Gasol's name was mentioned, but down in the footnotes. Andre Iguodala, Tony Allen, Howard and LeBron all finished ahead of him (that we know of). If the secondary list is done in order of votes received, he finished behind Tim Duncan as well.
General managers didn't get this entirely wrong.
When answering the question "Which team is the most fun to watch?" the Golden State Warriors came out on top with 41.7 percent of the vote. As they should. This team is pass-on-the-ball-pit-at-Chuck-E.-Cheese fun.
Stephen Curry rains down threes like they're free throws. Fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson does the same. David Lee's always fun to watch, mostly because of his ferocious double-doubles, but also because he'll sometimes pump his fist for no apparent reason.
Harrison Barnes is entertaining, too. His drives to the basket are sensational, unless he settles for high-percentage jumpers, which are incredible. His low-percentage shots are even entertaining. Add Andre Iguodala into this explosive, three-point-shooters-for-life cult and you've got yourself a high-end product to watch every night.
So Golden state coming out on top here wasn't a problem; it deserved to win. The absence of the Heat, however, was mystifying. Not a single general manager voted for LeBron and friends. The Clippers finished in second, the Thunder in third and the Nets and Spurs (who are you calling boring?) in fourth.
Also gaining attention were the Rockets, Pacers, Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings. The Sacramento Kings. Entertaining. Because who doesn't love them some brazen chaos?
Surely the team that just won two championships and employs the best player on our planet—and likely the other eight planets in our solar system (miss you, Pluto)—who throws full-court alley-oops like they're a mandate is "fun to watch."
Am I right or am I right? Never mind, you don't have to answer. I'm right.
Despite Kevin Durant's repeated attempts, D-Wade has been reluctant to pass the shooting guard torch off to someone else. No matter, the league's best roster-building minds have done it for him.
James Harden was voted the best shooting guard in the NBA and it wasn't even close. He brought in 56.7 percent of the vote to Wade's 3.3.
Oh, and here's the thing: Wade wasn't even second. Or third. Let me see, he was—carry the two—sixth. Kobe came in second with 20 percent of the vote, and there was a three-way tie for third between Paul George, Curry and Durant (what the hell?).
Just so we're clear, Wade was beaten out by the very player he won't pass the torch to (Harden). Then he was taken down by a battered 35-year-old (Kobe). And then he finished behind his biggest social media nemesis, who doesn't even play this position (Durant).
Jeepers. I'd say Wade has some serious Instagramming to do.