Sleeper Report: Version 1
Sleeper Report! In 2008/09 the Bucks established themselves as the breakout team of the year. A new season brings about new changes. Players develop, injuries heal, big signings happen and so on. Here are a few teams that could take on the same role this season and break back into the playoff picture
New Orleans Hornets
Things certainly haven’t been going that easy in the Big easy for the Hornets of late. While the Saints have continued improving over the last few years, the Hornets have seemingly done the opposite. Ever since their inaugural season in 08 when they racked up 56 wins and came oh so close to the Western Conference Finals, their win total has consistently worsened (49 in '09 and 37 in 2010) and their overall level of play has declined significantly. But things may turn around sooner rather than later for this franchise. A lot of their ineptitude was due to injuries and a lack of depth, however with everyone healthy the Hornets could return to prominence. CP3 seems to have settled down since indirectly demanding a trade after getting frustrated with NO's lack of activity during the off-season. They acquired veteran swing-man Trevor Ariza from the Rockets, (giving up backup point guard Darren Collison to get him). With Ariza's athleticism he and Paul will work wonders around the rim and on the fast-break. Marcus Thornton is a rising star and will likely start at shooting guard for the team and veteran all-star power forward David West returns for his 8th season. Depth is still a concern here, but Okafor, Stojakovic, and Belinelli all remain serviceable players and should help address the issue. New Orleans does play in a competitive division, but a rise from cellar dwellers to division kings is not out of the question for this club. The West got a lot weaker with so many big name free agents departing for the East this off-season, which leaves the door open for new teams to step up and claim dominance, and the Hornets will likely do just that.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are certainly known for disappointing rather than surprising, but I really think this year could be the opposite for them. First off, we will finally get a chance to see the much hyped Blake Griffin play for the first time since he was drafted with the first overall pick in 09. This alone will provide a huge upgrade for the Clippers, who have been lacking at the position ever since Elton Brand stunned them and signed a mega deal with the 76ers a few years back. Griffin will form a nice tandem with versatile center Chris Kaman, who earned his first all-star appearance last season. Every year Kaman adds to his repertoire and is now among the most underrated players in the league, and certainly one of the best pure centers in the game today. The backcourt will be led by Eric Gordon, who is having himself one heck of a tournament at the Worlds. He leads the team in three pointers and has been so efficient coach K hinted he might supplant Billups in the starting line-up. I really believe he could become the true franchise player the Clippers have lacked for so long, but to do so he will need to be more aggressive and establish himself as the team’s #1 option on offense. Baron Davis has a lot to prove to the Clippers organization as he has yet to show any of the production he achieved while in the bay area with the Warriors. Head coach Vinny Del Negro will certainly have his hands full trying to motivate him, but if he succeeds the Clippers will have a solid backcourt to pair with their frontcourt. I know Clippers fans were hoping for a little more than the additions of Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes in free agency, but both will find a role as serviceable backups. Overall the Clips have a shot at the playoffs, which would be a great accomplishment for this group of players. Would I call them contenders? No. But if they’re young players develop in the right way this group could emerge as a force to be reckoned with in years to come.
The glory days with A.I. are only a distant memory now for 76ers fans. Ever since his tenure in Philly ended there really hasn’t been much to get excited about in the City of Brotherly Love. The 76ers made the playoffs as a 6th seed in 09 and gave the Magic a scare, but last season they were abysmal to say the least (27 wins). This sent Eddie Jordan and his Princeton offense packing after one season. When you look at their line-up, it certainly wouldn’t suggest this was a team that finished third last in the porous Eastern Conference last season. This team is oozing potential as they possess the talent and depth it takes to compete with playoff calibre teams, they just need to fix their chemistry woes. This off-season I believe they addressed that issue. The team traded often disgruntled center Samuel Dalembert to the Kings for Spencer Hawes who is a versatile big man with 3 point range. This trade was good for both teams as Dalembert’s presence in the locker room was hurting the team and Spencer needed a change of scenery after failing to establish himself in Sacramento. The 76ers then drafted Evan Turner with the 2nd overall pick, and he is likely the most NBA ready player to come out of the draft. A poor performance in summer league, and questions regarding the positive co-existence between him and Iguodala have slowed the excitement surrounding him, but Turner has all the intangibles to become a star in this league and he will pan out. The 76ers then hired former broadcaster Doug Collins who has a high basketball IQ and will likely earn the respect of his players soon. Couple that with the fact the 76ers have several viable options in their front-court (Brand, Hawes, Nocioni, Speights) and a promising young back-court (Lou Williams, Iguodala, Turner, Young, Holliday) and it wouldn’t be out of the question to believe this team could make some noise this season.