Before we break into the Top 10 I feel I need to make a disclaimer. I feel if I had watched the Celtics preseason opener before making this list the Celtics may have made my top 10. You see, Brian Scalabrine was so freaking hilarious in his role of Celtic Homer Announcer that you almost couldn’t help but wonder aloud if Tommy Heinsohn was secretly whispering what he should say into a hidden ear piece. It reached a highlight while they were talking about Darko or when he compared Jeff Green to James Worthy. If he started handing out Tommy Points I would have officially lost it. It also led to me imaging Tommy and the White Mamba at a Turkish hotel bar at 2AM the night before the game, drinking scotch and smoking cigars as Tommy gave Brian announcing tips;
Tommy: <<Gravelly voice>> Now listen to me Bobby.
Brian: The name is Brian, you called my games for like 5 years.
Tommy: Whatever Bradley, listen to me. No comparison is too far fetched. Ever! I once saw you grab down a rebound in traffic and said out loud that this Brandon kid looks a lot like Moses Malone.
Brian: Tommy, I’m Brian, are you sure you aren’t thinking about Brandon Bass? At least he’s African American, I’m a gigantic ginger.
Tommy: Listen Billy, I know what I’m talking about here. Bass was more of a young Lew Alcindor.
Brian: OK, whatever Tommy, maybe I’ll just compare Jeff Green to James Worth.
Tommy: Now you got it. Bing! Bam! Boom! That’s a Tommy Point for you. Now let’s drink some more scotch!
10. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs moved all over the place on these rankings. More so than any other team. They missed out on their top off season targets, but quietly managed to salvage the off season when you weren’t paying much attention. They added Brand and Kaman to add much needed toughness up front. If you remember the playoffs last year, I’m sure most Mavs fans don’t want to, the Thunder (a team more town for their outside play) abused the Mavs down low in that series. They added Mayo, who has the talent to be a great player in this league if he gets his head on straight. As well as role players Jones and Collison. They also still sport perhaps the most under appreciated player the NBA has seen in about forever in Shawn Marion. So the supporting cast is there. The problem is how deep the West is, and how much one man can carry them.
What does Dirk have left in the tank? How much does he have left to prove? By winning the title two years ago he cemented his legacy as the best forward of the last 20 years not named Tim Duncan. He also put himself in the conversation with a couple of other white guys for the title of best offensive forward ever. However last year he looked a step slower, especially at the beginning of the season, and put up his worst numbers in a decade. Was it just a side effect of the lockout, short training camp and just being unprepared for the season to start? Or was it a 7’0″ tall 32 year old starting to show the signs of early aging that usually come with being that tall in the NBA? I, as well, as every Mavs fan hopes it was the former. It’s fun to root for a goofy looking big guy who in the past has confessed a love of David Hasselhoff, it just is. I want at least three more years of super competitive Dirk. Sadly, we can’t always get what we want. I will be watching though, and hopefully those first few weeks we get 2010-11 Dirk, and not last year’s version.
9. Portland Trailblazers
If you watched Summer League like I did one of the players that stood out to you more than any other was the Blazers first round draft pick. While the competition wasn’t exactly what he will see in the NBA, Blazers fans should still be incredibly excited for this kid from the obscure college world of Weber State. Once every generation we seem to get a point guard from an obscure college who goes on to dazzle in the NBA. The late 90s/2000s saw Steve Nash come out of Santa Clara. The late 80s and 90s had John Stockton of Gonzaga, which at the time definitely fit the billing of obscure school. The late 70s and 80s had Dennis Johnson of Pepperdine. The late 60s and 70s had Walt Frazier of Southern Illinois. All of these players are Hall of Famers. Now I will not be so bold as to predict Damien Lillard will be a Hall of Famer before he even steps on an NBA court in a regular season game. The reason I make this comparison is two-fold however. First, I want to show you the potential I think Lillard has. Second, and more importantly for this piece, I want you to know how excited I am to see this kid play.
If you watched the Trailblazers last year it was quite clear that their biggest problem was at the point guard position. They had nobody to get the ball to their all world big man LaMarcus Aldridge. So on draft day when Lillard fell to Portland everyone in the Prudential Center saw a perfect match. Summer League only reinforced this thought. I’m excited to see what the Blazers can do this year, and I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see them grab a playoff spot in the stacked Western Conference.
8. Golden State Warriors
In our first installment I joked that the Knicks were built like a bad fantasty team. I mentioned there was one other team like this as well, welcome to that team. The Golden State Warriors are your classic, “If they stay healthy” team. Three of their five starters are all classified as big injury risks. At this point I feel if a player looks sideways at Steph Curry he may turn his ankle. Andrew Bogut has missed a season and a half worth of games in the past 4 seasons. I’m not as worried about David Lee, as he may have been shut down last year to help out Golden State’s lottery odds. I am however always a little hesitant when a 6’9” guy starts having hip problems. The problem with these teams is that they so rarely ever work out. You need to get really, really lucky.
At this point you may be saying to yourself, “You’re really hating on the Warriors. Why do you have them rated so high?” I got three reasons for you. Number one, when they are healthy they will put some product on the floor. On paper they look fantastic. You have the three aforementioned players with rookie Harrison Barnes and sophomore Klay Thompson rounding out the starting five. You also have a solid bench backing them up highlighted with Carl Landry, Richard Jefferson and Jarrett Jack. On paper this team makes the playoffs. Sadly for Warrior fans we don’t play the season on paper. If we did, they probably would have won the 1976 NBA title.
The second two reasons have nothing to do with the players on the court and are the reason that regardless of what the Warriors put on the court, they will always have a spot in the top half of these rankings. One is their fans. Outside of MSG there is not an arena in the country that explodes the way the Oracle does when the Warriors give them reason to. Those fans love their basketball, and they know how to cheer. Need proof? Just look to the 2007 playoffs when the Mavericks lost to the 8th seeded Warriors. The Mavericks did not stand a chance when they went to Oakland and the Warriors took all 3 games by an average of almost 15 points a game. Finally, we get to the man behind the mic. If you are a League Pass veteran you definitely know who he is. If you are not you may recognize his voice from this past Olympics or the NBA 2K series. This man is among the best at what he does and his name is Bob Fitzgerald. Too often with League Pass games you get saddled with some simply bad announcing or blatant homerism. You never have to worry about this with the Warriors because Fitzy is that good.
7. Los Angeles Clippers
As amazing as Chris Paul is, part of me still just wanted to write Blake Griffin about 100 times for this paragraph and just move on to number 6. I’ve hated a lot on Griffin’s game in the past. There are many holes. He can’t play face up defense. His passing leaves a lot to be desired. His one offensive move is dunk. Just about everyone I have ever played basketball is a better free throw shooter than him. The thing about Blake Griffin is that once you put on a Clippers game your eyes are fixed on him. You just never know when he is going to deliver the kind of dunk that just rips out an opposing defenders soul and basically just defecates on it. His dunks are that devastating. Then throw in the best point guard alive right now, the drama that is Lamar Odom, along with the return of Billups and the arrival of Hill and there are just enough fun story lines to keep you invested.
I still haven’t decided if Vinny of the Black coaching them helps or hurts their ranking. It kind of depends on the mood I am at the time. Sometimes his awful coaching decisions will entertain me. At other times I will be annoyed because I will come to the realization that this team could be so much more than they are. Last year Simmons joked that they should fire Del Negro and have Billups become the player coach. It wasn’t a horrible idea. Now they have a player though that would fit that role even more in Grant Hill. Who in the world of basketball does not respect Grant Hill? Who has not pictured Grant Hill on a sideline coaching a team somewhere in the next decade? We can make Billups his assistant or something. If this happens, the Clippers may just move up to number 1 in these rankings. It won’t however, so we will leave them nestled in here at 7.
6. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have so much going for them in these rankings. Greg Popovich post game pressers are usually worth the price of admission alone. If we ranking those, the Spurs would be number one. There would be no number two. The other thing the Spurs have going for them is the brand of basketball that they play. When they went on that incredible winning streak at the end of the season into the playoffs, they were playing basketball at an unbelievable level. I compared their passing to the 70 Knicks games and 77 Blazers games which I had seen on ESPN Classic, which is just about the highest praise I can give a team. Sadly for the Spurs, the Thunder realized they could use their length to disrupt their passing lanes and the Spurs may have missed their last chance to win an NBA Title. The thing is there are so few teams that can do what the Thunder did to the Spurs, so for many of their games, I expect to see them execute a brand of basketball that is simply incredible to watch.
Then there are the little things the Spurs have going for them. These include but are not limited to;
Before closing out the Spurs I would just like to let you know that I could not be held accountable for my actions if the answer to that last question ends up being Eddy Curry. If Curry starts throwing up double/doubles in a Spurs uniform, everything is off the table. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I may just try to set the internet on fire. That can happen, right? Just be prepared for an afterward that is about 3,000 words where I spit hate at Eddy Curry and the Spurs and expound and Greg Popovich’s and Eddy Curry’s deal with Satan that was sealed with a threesome in an abandoned EuroDisney theme park while Peter Gabriel serenaded them. All rationale shall be abandoned. Just be prepared.
Originally this was supposed to be only three parts. That was before I wrote over 5,000 words on Part III. I hope you enjoyed teams 10-6. Stay tuned for top 5 which will feature in alphabetical order; Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder.