Last June the Los Angeles Lakers walked off the court as NBA Champions, and that wrapped up the 2009-10 NBA season. Three weeks later the 2010-11 season began with the phrase:
“This fall I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”
These were the words of unrestricted free agent LeBron James on his ESPN show “The Decision” (highly unnecessary in my opinion) as he chose to leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, and join forces with fellow superstar Dwayne Wade, and recently acquired all-star power forward Chris Bosh.
This created a powerhouse team, probably the most “physically” talented “Big 3” ever to be assembled. It was party time in Miami as President of Basketball Operations, Pat Riley, held a celebration in Miami introducing the new “Big 3”. LeBron stated it was time to win not just one championship, but two, three, four, five, six, seven championships.
I focus on Miami here because this was the main headline of the 2010-11 season. Whether you wanted to see them fail or succeed, they were the team under the microscope throughout the year.
The new season brought in other storylines as well. Can the Lakers three-peat? Will Carmelo be playing ball in the mile high by the end of the year? Do the Bulls take the next step with the addition of Carlos Boozer? Will Amare energize the Knicks? Do the aging Celtics and Spurs have another title run? How much of an impact do rookies John Wall and Blake Griffin make? Here is an analysis on how each team fared during the regular season. Let’s start with the East.
Boston Celtics (56-26, 3rd overall)
The defending Eastern Conference champions looked primed and ready for another championship run this year as they jumped out to a 23-4 start w/o their starting big man Kendrick Perkins, who was still recovering from a knee injury. The additions of Shaq, when he was healthy enough to play, and Jermaine O’Neal covered for Perkins fairly well. Yet it was still their Big Four – Pierce, KG, Allen, and Rondo – who lead the way. Rondo fueled this team early on with his play at point including a career high 24 assists in one game. The first month and half he was throwing out dimes at a rate of 14 apg. Prior to the trade deadline, the Celtics made a gutsy move by trading the defensive presence Perkins, and rarely used Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic, and signed Troy Murphy after New Jersey bought out his contract. This trade I think hurt the team’s toughness. Although Green and Kristic played solid, it seemed there was something missing from a toughness and edge level. Either way the C’s had a terrific season and were still a favorite to win the championship.
Grade: A- (Would have been a solid A if it weren’t for the trade)
New York Knicks (42-40, 6th overall)
Amare! Amare! Amare! Oh and Landry Fields. After being one of the league’s bottom feeders for almost a decade, Amare Stoudemire’s decision to sign with the Knicks and bring back excitement to the Big Apple paid off. The team hovered around .500 all year, but were playing with a purpose now that was built around Amare, Danilo Gallinari, free agent signee Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, and surprise rookie Landry Fields. Coach Mike D’Antoni had this team scoring and fun to watch. By the trade deadline, the Knicks made a move that put New York City’s future in good hands. Enter Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. The Knicks traded Felton, Gallinari, Chandler, and some throw-ins to Denver for Carmelo and Billups. With the new additions, the team struggled to gel but played strong enough to be the 6th seed.
Grade: B- (Could be higher if the big 3 had more time to gel)
Philadelphia 76ers (41-41, 7th overall)
New Coach Doug Collins, as he usually does, got the most out of his players after a weak 5-14 start. The 76ers finished the remainder of the season 36-27 and entered the playoffs as the 7th seed. This team over-achieved as Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams, and a revived Elton Brand all put up solid numbers. This team shared the ball on offense with the core all averaging between 11-15 point per game. They were one of the best at forcing turnovers. Second overall pick Evan Turner put up ok numbers. He was nothing exciting but playing behind Iguodala, Holiday, and Williams lessened his minutes. I still expect him to be a strong contributor in due time.
Grade: B+ (Not overwhelming talent but definitely over-achieved)
New Jersey Nets (24-58, 12th overall)
At the beginning of the season, the two top veterans were Devin Harris and Brook Lopez, and they had 19-year-old rookie Derrick Favors. Favors was beast in college, and was expected to be a cornerstone for this franchise. He was solid but struggled with some inconsistent minutes. When your next key veteran is Anthony Morrow and you improve 12 games from the worst record the year before, you would think I was lying to you. Wining 24 games is pathetic, but this team did have a big win after losing out on what they hoped would’ve been their biggest accomplishment of the season. After losing out on a trade that would’ve brought in Carmelo, Billups, and Rip Hamilton; they settled for a Devin Harris/Derrick Favors to Utah for Deron Williams trade. Not a bad way to rebuild the franchise around the best point guard in the league; an upgrade to Harris for sure. Now if they can only attract other players before they move to Brooklyn…
Grade: C- (Without the trade and ballsy trade talks about Carmelo, I would’ve given them a D)
Toronto Raptors (22-60, 14th overall)
With no more Chris Bosh, soft, jump shooting big man Andrea Bargnani is now the man. 13 game losing streak. Only Canadian NBA team. Enough said.
Grade: D (Would’ve given them an F but Toronto is a great city)
Chicago Bulls (62-20, 1st overall)
Derrick Rose, what can I say? 25 ppg, 8 apg, 4 rpg, 1 spg, sick handles and drives to rim = NBA Regular Season MVP! Last September, I predicted this team, with the addition of new coach Tom Thibodeau, Carlos Boozer and role players – Ronnie Brewer, Keith Bogans, and Kyle Korver to be playing in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls were 9-8 after a loss to Boston the first week of December. Enter Carlos Boozer who missed the first 16 games of the season. The Bulls took off, racking up win after win even while Center Joakim Noah missed the next 2 months to injury. Noah used to annoy me during his thuggish Florida days – wait, he still is, but a thug I enjoy watching – once he returned from injury and solidified the Bulls front-court with Boozer and Luol Deng, the Bulls were on another level finishing the season 27-4 to the best record in the league and home-court throughout the playoffs. They were driven by defense and rebounding which they were 2nd overall in both categories.
Grade: A (Derrick Rose led the way, need I say more)
Indiana Pacers (37-45, 8th overall)
Ok, Indiana Pacers. My second favorite overall NBA franchise. From the Vern Fleming, Chuck Person, Reggie Miller days to the Mark Jackson, Rik Smits, Reggie Miller days to the Ron Artest, Jermaine O’Neal, Reggie Miller days to the current core Darren Collison, Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough, and Danny Granger. This team hovered around the 5-7 games under .500 for the whole season which in the Eastern Conference was good enough for the 8th seed. Head Coach Jim O’Brien was fired mid-season and Frank Vogel was made interim Head Coach. A bright side to this team was they were one of the best rebounding teams in the league.
Grade: B- (I predicted this team to win 20+ games. They proved me wrong.)
Milwaukee Bucks (35-47, 9th overall)
When you hear of a team being 3rd in points allowed at just under 93 ppg, you probably would’ve thought this was a championship contender. Right? Most definitely wrong. The Bucks, 12 games under .500, surprisingly were one of the top teams defensively. That’s because they took the mentality of Head Coach Scott Skiles, a hard-nosed, tough point guard back in the day (and a fellow Spartan). As good as they were defensively due to their style of play and three underrated defensive players – often-injured Andrew Bogut and journeymen Drew Gooden and John Salmons – they were terrible offensively. Last in scoring and assists. There 3 top guards – Brandon Jennings, John Salmons, and Carlos Delfino – shot barely an average of 40% from the field. Improvement in this area starts and ends with their talented point guard Jennings.
Grade: C- (They’re lucky their defense kept them in games)
Detroit Pistons (30-52, 11th overall)
5 things sum up my home team’s season:
1.) The franchise finally retired Dennis Rodman’s number which I’ve been wanting for the past 13 years.
2.) Multiple key veterans boycott a shoot around and were each hit with DNP-CD.
3.) Head coach John Kuester feud w/ Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Rodney Stuckey. All separately.
4.) Who will the Pistons be sold to? Will they remain in Detroit?
5.) Greg Monroe – Pistons big man of the future.
This definitely was not a typical Detroit Pistons season. There’s never been a season in my lifetime that was in shambles and yielded uncertainty like this one. Although they had on ‘paper skilled’ players – Rodney Stuckey, Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Tayshaun Prince, Tracey McGrady, Charlie Villanueva – it was a group that had too many players the played the same position and it was never really figured out how to utilize the players they had. Oh, being last in rebounding didn’t help either. They could’ve used Jonas Jerebko who missed the whole season due to a torn Achilles tendon.
Grade: D+ (When players begin to tune out the coach, rightly or wrongly, not a good sign)
Cleveland Cavaliers (19-63, 15th overall)
The record and play of the Cavs was not a surprise after losing one of the most physically talented players in the league. To sum up the season: 26 game losing streak at one point, barely avoiding the worst losing streak in American sports history. Embarrassing.
Grade: F (No team should ever lose 26 games in a row by double-digit average)
Miami Heat (58-24, 2nd overall)
The most-hated and scrutinized team this year outside of Miami. Every thing this team did or did not do or said or didn’t say was analyzed. If one of the “Big Three” (especially LeBron) had a jock itch it would be on ESPN. The team struggled out of the gate with a 9-8 record. Rumors stirred about coach Eric Spoelstra’s job being on the line. The Heat responded with a 22-1 run over the next 2 months. They were winning and playing top-notch defense. I’d like to say offensively too, but how do you analyze an offense where LeBron, Wade, and Bosh took majority of the shots. The Heat were beating everyone they should be yet at times they lost some games by blowing big leads. They struggled to beat any of the elite teams though – winless vs Chicago, Dallas; one win vs. San Antonio, Boston; two wins vs. the Lakers, Magic. At the same time, the knock on the Heat were they couldn’t close out close games which was portrayed in a 5 game losing streak after the all-star break. Yet, this team ended up with the third best record in the NBA. If they had Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller for most of the season, I wouldn’t be suprirsed if they tinkered with the 70 wins mark.
Grade: B+ (6-11 vs elite teams and a blew a 22pt lead to Utah at home kept them from an “A”)
Orlando Magic (52-30, 4th overall)
The Magic made two December trades. ‘Rashard Lewis for Gilbert Arenas’ and ‘Vince Carter/Michael Pietrus/Marcin Gortat for Hedo Turkoglu/Jason Richardson’. From an offensive punch this was a great trade for the Magic. However, I think the loss of Gortat was big. This basically left the Magic with Howard as their only true big. Their was hope that Arenas could come in and provide that scoring punch this team needed, but Agent Zero could not find his shot. Richardson, on the other hand, played great and fit in well in the starting lineup. Turkoglu was solid, but nowhere near his performance in his previous stint with Orlando. The Magic struggled at times more so from the standpoint of trying to incorporate Arenas’ game into their strategy, which I believe made the Magic take a step back and sacrifice some wins.
Grade: B (Still strong defensively and could still shoot the light outs)
Atlanta Hawks (44-38, 5th overall)
With new coach Larry Drew replacing Mike Woodson, the Hawks seemed to take a step back this season vs. 2010. Early on in the season it was noticeable the Hawks lacked perimeter defense. Most of the blame would go to their starting point guard Mike Bibby. Never really being a solid defender, Bibby was no longer quick and lacks size. In February, the Hawks traded Bibby to Washington for a bigger, better defender Kirk Hinrich. The Hawks finished the season on a 6 game losing streak. Something was missing from this year’s team vs. the 53 win team from last year – Mike Woodson?
Grade: B- (Solid 3 guard rotation and another all-star year from Al Horford)
Charlotte Bobcats (34-48, 10th overall)
After making the playoffs in 2010, the Bobcats took a couple of steps backwards. The loss of point guard Raymond Felton I think hurt Charlotte. D.J. Augustin is a solid player and maybe more talented, but there’s a learning curve with a young point guard. After a 9-19 start, Larry Brown stepped down as head coach. By trade deadline, one of their most popular and talented players – Gerald Wallace, was traded to Portland for Joel Pryzbilla. Great trade for Portland. Not much to say except the Bobcats struggled the remainder of the season. Who wouldn’t when you’re bigs are former lottery picks Kwame Brown and DeSagana Diop.
Grade: D+ (Again, look at their centers)
Washington Wizards (23-59, 13th overall)
Same favorite number as Cleveland – 26. This was the number of consecutive losses on the road by the Wizards which dated back to last season. They started the season 0-25 on the road before beating the lowly Cavs. I respect coach Flip Saunders and do not wish this stat on his resume. John Wall had a terrific rookie season averaging 16 ppg, 8 apg, and 2 spg. The future looks bright for this young team that includes Wall, leading scorer Nick Young, Andray Blatche, and JaVale McGee. The team is extremely young and lacks experience. Rashard Lewis is not the answer to rebuild this team though.
Grade: D (Win a road game before playing 60% of your total road games for the season)
So that’s that for the East. Western Conference is up now as well. Also look out for a Draft Recap…