Here we are in the middle of January, folks, and things have certainly been a lot more exciting in the past few weeks. Things are shaking up! Rivalries are beginning to emerge! And as the playoff picture makes itself more and more clear each scoring period, it’s become an all-out arms race! I’ll talk about all that and more in this update, but first, here are some of the headlines from the past couple of weeks:
There have been quite a number of trades recently with a lot of parts moving around. After zero activity on the trade market for more than a month, we’ve had six (six!) major trades since Dec. 26! Big names like Dirk, Rondo, Rose, Pierce, Harris, Green and Waiters have all found themselves new homes. And as teams like Boston and Chicago fall farther and farther out of the playoff hunt. It’s become a guns-a-blazing fight for the top spots in the playoff seedings, with several competing teams (Houston, Atlanta, OKC, Washington and the Lakers) adding pieces in the hopes that it will push them over the top.
East better than the West?
Somehow, inexplicably, the Eastern Conference may have – MAY have – just emerged as the superior conference. This is a complete turnaround from earlier in the season, when the East had a few teams over .500 and the rest were appearing to limp into the postseason race. The West still has a more competitive playoff race, but only eight teams are above .500. Meanwhile, the East has a solid 10 teams that are fielding competitive squads – including the entire Southeast Division. It’s entirely possible – in fact, extremely likely and probably inevitable – that four of the five Eastern wild card teams come out of the Southeast. Please, new owners of the Hawks, move them birds out of Atlanta!
Now, since I’ve been babbling about the playoff race so much, let’s take a look at where things stand:
In the hunt: Atlanta (1 game behind), New York (2 games behind), Brooklyn (8 games behind)
See you next season: Indiana, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia
6. Golden State
7. LA Clippers
8. LA Lakers
In the hunt: New Orleans (2 games behind), Denver (2 games behind), Dallas (4 games behind), Portland (4 games behind), Phoenix (5 games behind), Utah (5 games behind)
See you next season: San Antonio
So that’s where we stand. Unfortunately, two teams in the top 16 (Atlanta, 8th and Utah, 16th) in total points are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, while teams like Charlotte and Detroit have received a 7-team boost in the standings from total points to actual standings. While a team in the top 8 in scoring should figure into the playoff picture, I suppose this makes it a more competitive league. Challenge accepted, schedule!
One final piece before I sign off. This new column, which I am dubbing the “Tank Rank,” will take a look at the teams who are tanking and rank them by how bright their future could be. Embrace the tank, y’all!
1. Indiana (1-45)
Young assets: Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, Zach LaVine, Dario Saric, Gary Harris, Rudy Gobert, Dennis Schroeder, Bruno Caboclo – and don’t forget Paul George on a cheap, long-term contract.
Future picks: Three 1st rounders in 2015, one in 2016, one in 2017.
Trade assets: Meyers Leonard
The undisputed king of the tank, Indiana tops the Tank Rank (who’s surprised?) with a dismal 1-45 record. A gruesome injury to Paul George gave the Pacers the head start in the race to the bottom, and so far it’s worked out great. With one pick of their own (sure to be in the top 3) and two acquired from other teams (unfortunately, they’re quite good teams), the Pacers are all set to go for the future.
2. Boston (8-38)
Young assets: Jusuf Nurkic, Jordan Adams, Phil Pressey, Jerami Grant, CJ Wilcox, Markel Brown
Future picks: Four 1st rounders in 2015, two in 2016, two in 2017.
Trade assets: Steve Blake, Nate Robinson, Kyle Singler, Derrick Williams, Elton Brand, Terrence Jones.
What a terrible year it’s been for Boston – terrible, that is, until the Celtics embraced the tank. Now it’s good to be bad. Just like the real Celtics, the Real Deal Celtics have amassed an absolute mass of draft picks – eight over the next three seasons – and are all in on building for the future. Also just like the real Celtics, the question remains if Boston will really go forth with all those rookies, or will they trade some away to compete in a year or two?
3. Chicago Bulls (8-38)
Young assets: Andrew Wiggins, Reggie Bullock, Alex Len, Grant Jerrett, Adreian Payne, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, James Young
Future picks: Two 1st rounders in 2015, one in 2016, one in 2017.
Trade assets: Omer Asik, Ricky Rubio, Paul Pierce, Eric Gordon, Andrei Kirilenko
Chicago’s season has not gone well, and it appears that the Bulls, too, are ready to embrace the tank. At number 3 in the Tank Rank, this team has potential to get a lot worse (and by that I mean better). Plenty of really nice assets – Asik, Rubio and Pierce or Gordon if you can afford them) still remain, and a nice foundation of young players has already been established. Chicago could be a dark horse to rise in the Tank Rank.
4. San Antonio Spurs (13-33)
Young assets: Kawhi Leonard, Nerlens Noel, Gorgui Dieng, Elfrid Payton, James Ennis, Matt Dellavedova, Kendall Marshall.
Future picks: One in 2015, two in 2016, one in 2017.
Trade assets: Kendall Marshall? Kosta Koufos? Eh.
What a challenge to take on for a new owner. But this team already has a great young core of Payton, Leonard, Noel and Dieng to build around. The reason they’re below Chicago on this list, however, is that that’s really all they have going for them. With only four picks over the next three years and no trade assets to speak of, it looks like the Spurs are kind of stuck for now. But with luck, that young core could turn the franchise around as early as next season.
5. Philadelphia 76ers (12-34)
Young assets: MCW, Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Clarkson, Mitch McGary, Will Barton
Future picks: One 1st rounder in 2015, one in 2016, one in 2017.
Trade assets: Wilson Chandler, Anthony Morrow, Danny Green, Channing Frye.
Philly needs to step their tank game up! With only a few notable youngsters to build with and a paltry three picks over the next three years, the 76ers need to begin trading if they want to contend in the great tank race. This season is lost – it’s time to start building for the future.
And there you have it! That’s the mid-January recap. Leave some comments, guys, instead of just telling me “good job!” (Although that is always appreciated. Thank you!) Are you embracing the tank? Are you one of the 558567 teams left in the playoff hunt? Have you been getting screwed by the schedule like me and Utah? Let me know in the comments!