It doesn’t always pay big to play big
Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 23:01
The NBA offseason was marked by big name acquisitions for marquee franchises that have not paid the dividends that were expected.
The Los Angeles Lakers made the biggest splashes by acquiring the heralded tandem of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. After these deals, the Lakers were expected by almost everyone to be in the upper echelon of elite teams in the NBA. That has not come anywhere close to fruition, as the Lakers have sputtered to a dismal 17-21 record and are currently three games back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They are also on their second head coach this season after they fired Mike Brown just five games into the season for the likes of Mike D’Antoni.
The Philadelphia 76ers were expected to be amongst the best teams in the Eastern Conference after acquiring all-star center Andrew Bynum in the same trade that netted the Lakers with Howard. However, Bynum is yet to play a game for the Sixers after having knee surgery in Germany in the offseason and re-injuring it while bowling. The 76ers find themselves four games out of the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Three teams stick out as the best teams in the league, and none of them made a flashy addition to their roster. Those teams are the defending champion Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Los Angeles Clippers.
The Thunder made a flashy subtraction when they dealt reigning sixth Man of the Year to the Houston Rockets right before the season. James Harden forced their hand by declining a Thunder contract offer in hopes of getting a max contract elsewhere, which he received upon arrival in Houston.
Despite losing Harden, the Thunder raced out the gates to an NBA best 30-8 record. Kevin Durant has led the Thunder and has some experts believing that he, not LeBron James, is the best player in the NBA. Durant has become the closer for the Thunder and raises his game to another level when the game is on the line, something James has been criticized for not doing since he entered the league.
All is not bad in the world of LeBron James, though, as the Heat own the best record in the Eastern Conference. He also leads his team in points, rebounds, assists and steals.
The biggest surprise of the elite teams in the NBA is the Clippers. They have spent the majority of their existence as the other team in LA, but this year they have truly broken out. They trail only the Thunder in the Western Conference by a mere half a game. The addition of journeyman sixth man Jamaal Crawford has helped elevate the Clippers into elite status, along with the emergence of backup point guard Eric Bledsoe.
The Lakers are not even the second best team in the state of California. The perennial bottom dweller Golden State Warriors have shocked the NBA this season, as they own the fifth best record in the West.
Throughout the years, the Warriors have possessed high draft picks, and those picks have turned around the franchise. Young studs Stephen Curry and Harrison Barnes have helped lead the way, along with veteran David Lee.
It is hard to judge who the real contenders are this season beyond the likes of the Heat, Thunder, Clippers and Spurs. Teams such as the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls have all been up and down this season.
Of those teams, the Bulls have the best chance to break out and become a legitimate contender. They currently sit fifth in the Eastern Conference and have done so without former MVP Derrick Rose. Rose is currently rehabbing a torn ACL that he suffered in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
Upon his return, the Bulls should become one of the scarier teams in the league and could contend for a spot in the NBA Finals. As it sits now, it is hard to make an argument for any teams outside the Heat, Thunder and Clippers.
Of the big name acquisitions this year, Rose returning to the Bulls will have the biggest impact among the contenders. Unless there is some drastic change in power in the NBA, it most likely will come down to those four teams to hoist the trophy come May, when the contenders and pretenders will be separated in the playoffs.