I'm a Wizards fan, so I've spent much of the past year venting about how general manager Ernie Grunfeld has mismanaged my favorite team. The latest example is not re-signing D-Leaguer Alonzo Gee, a diamond in the rough that seemingly got away due to a lack of preparation on Grunfeld's part. Grunfeld could have had him easily, but fell asleep at the wheel and didn't display enough urgency to lock him up before the Spurs swooped in.
As mistakes go, I'd put that one at the top, even if it's just Alonzo Gee. Grunfeld lost him because he wasn't prepared, and there's no greater sin in sports management than not being prepared. But then I thought back to something Grunfeld said on Saturday in a hastily-called press conference before the Wizards' game against the Utah Jazz.
"I think I'm pretty good at what I do. I have a pretty good track record and we'll see when new ownership takes over what happens," Grunfeld said. "I think we've done a pretty good job here, and if you look at the other places I've been, I've rebuilt several teams, many times over. So I'm confident in my abilities. It's a good challenge and I'm looking forward to it."
Now, Grunfeld is not going to say he's not good at his job, but he's also completed one of the worst 12-month stretches of any general manager in NBA history. And yet ... he's right in one area: he does have a decent "track record" of success. A Knicks team he mostly constructed made the NBA Finals in 1999, and the Bucks went to the Eastern Conference Finals under his watch. He also did have some success with the Wizards before injuries and everything fell apart. All this despite overpaying free agents everywhere he's been, neglecting the draft and leaving all three times in shambles because the overpaid core he built stagnated.
The question then is, how important is management anyway? Does good management spur a team to contention, or does a team contend and thereby make management look better? Right now, the two best teams in the East are managed by men who dramatically overpaid Larry Hughes and Rashard Lewis, respectively, while some of the dregs of the league are managed by highly successful people like Joe Dumars, Geoff Petrie and Rod Thorn. Danny Ferry and Otis Smith have made good moves, sure, but they've also made bad ones (Smith trading away Trevor Ariza, Ferry with his disastrous 2005 summer shopping spree) and have been saved by having LeBron James and Dwight Howard on their teams. Meanwhile, as bad as Grunfeld, Dumars, Petrie and Thorn have been recently, they've also never had that great superstar to build around (no, Patrick Ewing in his mid-30s doesn't count). That's one thing Andrew Sharp's compelling piece on who deserves max money ignores: it's not like GMs can pick a max player from an assembly line. Sometimes you have to overpay the 15th-best player in the league and do what you can to make it work.
At the same time, great management can make a major difference when you don't have that once-in-a-generation player. Kevin Pritchard, for example, made several shrewd moves to end up with Brandon Roy and keeps hitting on his draft picks (with the notable exception of Greg Oden). Sam Presti lucked into Kevin Durant, but also cleverly used his cap space to add more young pieces to surround him. Donnie Nelson in Dallas has extended his team's window to over a decade despite having Dirk Nowitzki, a talented but flawed player, as his best guy. Mark Warkentien has kept Denver in contention despite inheriting a terrible cap situation. John Hammond has found perfect guys to fit Scott Skiles' system in Milwaukee and made two great decisions to keep Andrew Bogut and draft Brandon Jennings. It's safe to say that none of those teams would be where they are right now without good management, and none has that once-in-a-generation player.
So I guess the answer to the fundamental question is ... well, I don't know. This is where you, the reader, jump in and give your thoughts. About the only thing we can say for sure is that Ernie Grunfeld isn't winning any titles as Washington's general manager in the near future.
DREGS OF THE LEAGUE
30. Minnesota Timberwolves: 14-60 overall, 0-3 last week.
SBN Blog: Canis Hoopus
Last week: 29.
That's right, we have a new team at the bottom of these rankings. That's what happens when you lose 16 in a row down the stretch after losing 15 in a row at the beginning of the season.
Also, with nothing else to be proud of, the Wolves are unveiling a campaign to name Corey Brewer as the league's Most Improved Player. Supposedly, they're going to try to emphasize Brewer's improvement as a shooter, because anytime you go from historically bad to merely below-average, you deserve the most improved player award. #wordaapp
29. Washington Wizards: 21-51 overall, 0-4 last week.
SBN Blog: Bullets Forever
Last week: 28.
I wrote way more about this Alonzo Gee mess here, so I'm going to ask you to read it because it sums up everything wrong with this front office's behavior over the last 12 months.
28. New Jersey Nets: 10-65 overall, 3-1 last week
SBN Blog: NetsDaily
Last week: 30.
Congratulations are in order for the Nets winning their tenth game last night in San Antonio and avoiding being the worst team of all time. I know it's a silly thing to cheer for, but you have to applaud the team for never giving up. They showed some really nice signs in the second half of the year, and it all paid off this week with three very solid wins. Now, they can focus on all the good things going for them: young talent, oodles of cap space, a crazy owner that has deep, deep pockets and potentially the number one pick in the draft. Yes, things are looking up in New Jersey, and not a moment too soon.
27. Detroit Pistons: 23-50 overall, 0-3 last week.
SBN Blog: Detroit Bad Boys.
Last week: 26.
On the other hand, the Pistons might have the most depressing situation of anyone in the bottom 10. They don't have cap space like the Nets, Timberwolves, Wizards, Kings, Clippers or Knicks. Their young talent is essentially Rodney Stuckey and Jonas Jerebko, which doesn't compare to Golden State, Sacramento, New Jersey, Philadelphia or even Minnesota. They don't have a player as good as Andre Iguodala, Monta Ellis, Tyreke Evans, Danny Granger or even Blake Griffin (assuming he recovers), and they also have a pretty bad fan situation thanks to the way the surrounding area has been hit by the recession. It's really too bad, because Detroit really has a great tradition and some great diehard fans that really understand the game. Here's hoping they figure a way out of this.
26. Golden State Warriors: 21-52 overall, 2-1 last week.
SBN Blog: Golden State of Mind
Last week: 28.
The Warriors have found a diamond in the rough in D-League callup Reggie Williams, which is key because the organization is too cheap to spend money on anyone else. (Just kidding, but not really). Just check out his numbers, which are really quite good for someone who was on nobody's radar entering the season. His performance has convinced Warriors fans to start talking about where he fits into the teams' future plans. Can the Warriors survive with him at point guard? Do they even need John Wall? Is this conversation worth having?
Is he better than Stephen Curry at making cakes?
25. Sacramento Kings: 24-50 overall, 0-3 last week
SBN Blog: Sactown Royalty
Last week: 24.
The list of walking wounded grows, to the point where Beno Udrih had to play basically the entire game against the Cavaliers on Sunday because he's the only healthy point guard on the team. If there is ever a legitimate push by teams to shorten the regular season, I'd think the Kings would be leading it.
24. Los Angeles Clippers: 27-46 overall, 1-2 last week.
SBN Blog: Clips Nation.
Last week: 23.
Before the season, I thought the Clippers could make the playoffs. I looked at the names of the players rather than the name of the franchise. Next year, I'll probably fall into the same trap and forget that there's a reason this organization hasn't done anything over the past 25 years. Sometimes, you can't escape your history.
23. New York Knicks: 26-47 overall, 1-2 last week.
SBN Blog: Posting and Toasting
Last week: 21.
Longtime Knicks legend and broadcaster Walt "Clyde" Frazier turned 65 this week, so we'll use this space to wish him a happy birthday. In honor of Clyde, let's just say I'm zipping and slipping past this spot in the Power Rankings to write about other teams.
22. Philadelphia 76ers: 26-47 overall, 2-0 last week.
SBN Blog: Liberty Ballers
Last week: 25.
The 76ers didn't lose this week, which is something that hasn't happened all season. And yet, they have to deal with the legendary hitman known as "Western Conference Scout" bashing their team.
"They are having dunk contests before games; they are running plays sloppily or not all the way through; and they aren't listening to (coach) Eddie Jordan. They have quit. They know Eddie is gone (after the season) and they think they don't have to listen anymore. The thing is, they are making themselves look like a-------. These guys think that just because Eddie is gone they will be back (next year). But nobody wants guys who give up when things go bad. Eddie's offense was a bad fit for this roster - they have to find a way to play more up-tempo - but these guys are embarrassing themselves. And everyone around the league knows it."
21. Indiana Pacers: 27-47 overall, 3-1 last week
SBN Blog: Indy Cornrows
Last week: 22.
The Pacers apparently remembered that they're best known for winning 30-35 games every year and never getting anywhere past mediocrity, because they just won five pointless games in a row before falling to Atlanta on Sunday. Oops.
On the bright side, Danny Granger has been unbelievable recently, playing like the all-star he was last year. And for that, he can thank ... an elbow to the face?
The secret to Danny Granger's recent success just might've been that elbow to the face in the final minute of the Charlotte game on March 16. Granger missed the next outing, a five-point loss in Cleveland and ever since he returned has been ablaze.
In the six games since bonk to the noggin, Granger has averaged 31.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.83 steals, shooting .529 from the field and .452 from the 3-point line. This, of course, includes his career-high 44-point outing against Utah Friday.
"Everybody keeps telling me that," said Granger. "Maybe something got knocked right in my head that was wrong before. For the most part since I got that blow to the head, spent the night in the hospital and then I get hot. I don't know. I can't figure it out."
In his 10 previous games, Granger had averaged 23.7 points on .425 shooting.
Maybe the elbow to the face got Granger going, but it also might have downgraded the Pacers' draft pick from Derrick Favors to Cole Aldrich. Maybe it wasn't worth it.
20. New Orleans Hornets: 35-40 overall, 1-2 last week.
SBN Blog: At the Hive
Last week: 19.
The 2010 draft class could be historically deep, if only because so many underclassmen are going to declare early instead of waiting for 2011, when a lockout might be on the horizon. And yet, the Hornets might not be able to take part. They're going to be way over the luxury tax in 2010/11, meaning they need to do some serious salary dumping. Considering they have tons of really bad contracts, they might have to give away their lottery pick to convince a team to take on that bad contract.
They might not, of course, but don't be surprised to see it happen.
19. Chicago Bulls: 35-38 overall, 2-1 last week.
SBN Blog: Blog A Bull
Last week: 20.
18. Toronto Raptors: 36-37, 1-3 last week.
SBN Blog: Raptors HQ
Last week: 18.
Can we just give Cleveland a bye into the second round of the NBA playoffs? It's depressing to watch both these teams right now, yet one of them will make the NBA Playoffs instead of the up-and-coming Grizzlies. At the very least, we can accelerate all the speculation about what happens to Chris Bosh this summer.
(Oh wait, nevermind, we're already speculating. I forgot that discussions about the Summer of 2010 are special in that they can take place anytime).
17. Houston Rockets: 36-36 overall, 0-3 last week
SBN Blog: The Dream Shake
Last week: 16.
The Summer of 2010 drug is so dangerous that it may have even infected Yao Ming. Yes, the same Yao Ming that hasn't played since last May due to another debilitating foot injury.
Apparently, Yao still hasn't ruled out opting out of his contract and becoming a free agent this summer. Yes, really.
Though it has long been assumed Rockets center Yao Ming's foot injury and extensive surgery would prevent him from opting out of his contract after this season, Yao said Saturday he was "not sure" if the uncertainty with the NBA's labor negotiations would lead him to become a free agent this summer.
Wrong answer, beep. Yao, nobody's going to sign you to a big contract because you haven't proven you can stay healthy. Sorry, but it's the truth. I don't care how many free throws you can shoot.
Although it is true that the Wizards have cap room...
16. Memphis Grizzlies: 38-35 overall, 0-2 last week
SBN Blog: Straight Outta Vancouver
Last week: 15.
For argument's sake, let's assume the NBA scrapped conferences and just gave the 16 best teams playoff berths, regardless of record. Here would be our matchups if the season ended today:
1. Cleveland vs. 16. Charlotte
2. LA Lakers vs. 15. Memphis
3. Orlando vs. 14. Miami
4. Dallas vs. 13. Milwaukee
5. Utah vs. 12. San Antonio
6. Boston vs. 11. Portland
7. Atlanta vs. 10. Oklahoma City
8. Denver vs. 9. Phoenix
Hmm ... now we have some interesting playoff series! Especially at the top. The Grizzlies have given the Lakers problems this year, playing them tight, particularly in Memphis. They have the frontcourt strength to bother the Lakers, and while Kobe Bryant would probably go off, O.J. Mayo can be a great defender when motivated. It would definitely be a great series, no doubt about it. This would also allow Charlotte to slide down to play a Cleveland team they've beaten three times, meaning the Cavs won't get the walkover they'd get from facing Toronto or Chicago in the first round. Suddenly, those two series become really, really interesting.
Alas, Memphis will have to settle for showing signs of progress. Oh well.
15. Charlotte Bobcats: 38-35 overall, 3-1 last week.
SBN Blog: Rufus on Fire
Last week: 14.
The Bobcats are about to make the playoffs with Theo Ratliff as their starting center. I don't know whether this means I should praise Larry Brown or bash the rest of the East for being really, really bad.
14. Miami Heat: 40-34 overall, 3-0 last week.
SBN Blog: Peninsula is Mightier
Last week: 14.
Five wins in a row for the Heat, which shows they could be a tough out in the playoffs if only because they play their game and squeeze the most out of their talent. I know I keep harping on that point, but it's true - on paper, they should not be a playoff team. Better yet, Miami's winning against teams right in their tier, with victories over Chicago, Milwaukee and Toronto this week. They won blowouts, and they won close games, so they're capable of playing any sort of game. Could they beat Atlanta or Boston in the playoffs? I don't think it's out of the question.
GOOD, BUT NOT GREAT
13. Milwaukee Bucks: 40-32 overall, 1-2 last week.
SBN Blog: Brew Hoop
Last week: 10.
It took a couple injuries to throw the Bucks off their rhythm, but they went right back to their winning ways in defeating the Grizzlies in overtime on Sunday. I would be shocked if they dropped out of the fifth spot.
Also, it's good to hear that Carlos Delfino will likely recover from this terrible injury (fast forward to the 1:10 mark). I'm honestly surprised that we don't see more people accidentally stepping on players on the floor when trying to grab a rebound.
12. San Antonio Spurs: 44-29 overall, 2-2 last week
SBN Blog: Pounding the Rock.
Last week: 11.
The Spurs seem content to make their point when needed and rest their players otherwise. One night after emphatically blowing out the Celtics in Boston, the Spurs held Manu Ginobili out against the Nets with some phantom injury. I'm saying "phantom injury" because Ginobili looked just fine doing this against the Celtics the night before.
I guess I see the logic in making sure your team is fully healthy for the playoffs, but if you're San Antonio, would you rather face a team like Dallas or Utah, or the Lakers? The choice seems pretty easy, which is why I'm confused about the Spurs giving up games in the race to get out of the eighth spot. After the Lakers, it's a pretty big free-for-all in the West. Why not give yourself a better chance at advancing in the playoffs?
11. Oklahoma City Thunder: 44-28 overall, 2-1 last week
SBN Blog: Welcome To Loud City
Last week: 12.
Sunday's loss to the Trail Blazers was the second one in about a week where the Thunder were outsmarted in a close game at home by a more veteran team. It happened against the Spurs on March 22, and it happened again against a Blazers team led by Andre Miller and Marcus Camby. Now, close games are essentially coin flips, and it could just be that the coin came up on tails twice in a row. However, there's also some skill involved, and it's concerning that the young Thunder can't finish off the teams they're competing with for playoff positioning in key late-season home games.
Is this a product of being a young team? Perhaps. The Thunder's execution on Kevin Durant's last-second three-point miss against Portland was pretty bad, and it's not the first time they've struggled to run a late-game play properly. As defenses tighten up in the playoffs, offensive execution matters even more. The Thunder will have to improve their late-game execution to get anything done come playoff time.
10. Portland Trail Blazers: 45-29 overall, 3-0 last week.
SBN Blog: Blazers Edge
Last week: 13.
On the flip side, the Blazers are a team that executes what they need to execute extremely well. Thank Andre Miller for that. The veteran point guard has ultimately become everything the Blazers hoped he would be when they signed him last summer. They desperately wanted someone who could execute in the half-court and take pressure off Brandon Roy, and Miller has become exactly that. It's why I think Portland might be the most dangerous of the lower-seeded Western Conference playoff teams.
9. Denver Nuggets: 48-27 overall, 1-4 last week.
SBN Blog: Denver Stiffs.
Last week: 4.
8. Atlanta Hawks: 47-26 overall, 2-1 last week.
SBN Blog: Peachtree Hoops.
Last week: 9.
Josh Smith. Game-winning putback dunk. That's all that needs to be said.
7. Boston Celtics: 47-26 overall, 2-1 last week.
SBN Blog: Celtics Blog.
Last week: 6.
The Celtics were playing really, really well until they got blown out at home by the Spurs on Sunday. Just when we thought they were rounding into shape, they took a giant step back.
How giant? Well, Jeff Clark of Celtics Blog sums it up pretty well.
Bad habits are sometimes hard to break. I was hoping that this team had put the habits they formed in that 18 - 19 bad run of the season behind them. Not so much. They showed up again tonight. Slow rotations. Lack of hustle to loose balls. Poor rebounding. Lack of offensive flow.
Now, I don't want to overreact too much to one game. If you put this game into the context of the last 10 and you could make the case that these things happen from time to time. The troubling thing is that it reminds us too much of what we've seen way too often this year since Christmas.
The Spurs are a solid, veteran team and Ginobili is healthy again and looking great. But this Celtics team is good enough to beat anyone and simply didn't bring it tonight. I'd like to see how they respond in the next game, but it is safe to say that this game is concerning.
Then again, what are the Celtics really playing for at this point? They clearly don't need home court advantage, judging from their struggles at home this year. There really isn't too much of a difference between getting the three seed (facing Miami) and getting the four seed (facing Milwaukee). They probably match up better to Orlando than Cleveland, but they certainly have a better shot of beating either of those teams than Atlanta. So really, what's the point of charging hard into the playoffs? There isn't one, really.
6. Phoenix Suns: 47-26 overall, 2-0 last week
SBN Blog: Bright Side of the Sun.
Last week: 7.
Seven in a row for the Suns, who keep sneaking up the Western Conference playoff ladder. There's a tendency to look at them and wonder how they're doing it, but they're still doing it, so perhaps you're looking in all the wrong places.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Amare Stoudemire thinks you're "retarded" if you think his recent surge is just a contract year push. Obviously, his choice of words was wrong, but he does have a point. He made an even bigger surge in the second half of the 2007/08 season, and he wasn't playing for a new contract then. I don't see this year's surge as a contract year push either, unless you want to say he was distracted by all the trade rumors before the break and now isn't.
(And ohbytheway, another day, another ho-hum posterization by Amare).
5. Utah Jazz: 49-26 overall, 3-1 last week.
SBN Blog: SLC Dunk
Last week: 5.
Utah's place in this hierarchy is tricky, if only because they have achieved more regular-season success than postseason success since their run to the Western Conference Finals in 2007. A lot will depend on who they match up against in the first round of the playoffs. If they draw San Antonio, they'll be in good shape. If they draw Oklahoma City, well, that's going to be an issue. It'll be interesting to see who they ultimately get.
4. Dallas Mavericks: 49-25 overall, 3-1 last week.
SBN Blog: Mavs Moneyball.
Last week: 8.
FREE RODDY BUCKETS!
3. Orlando Magic: 52-22 overall, 2-1 last week.
SBN Blog: Orlando Pinstriped Post.
Last week: 3.
If you're still questioning the wisdom of letting Hedo Turkoglu go and getting Vince Carter instead, read this please and get back to me. Vince ain't perfect, but he's worked out way, way better than Turkoglu has in Toronto.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: 54-20 overall, 2-2 last week.
SBN Blog: Silver Screen and Roll
Last week: 2.
Two bad losses for the Lakers this week - one in blowout fashion to the Thunder on Friday and one last night to the Hornets. I hate to say they're the third-best team in a three-horse race, but I like Orlando and Cleveland's chances to win the title better at this point. In order to win, the Lakers need to be getting lucky and hitting their outside shots. It could happen, but I also don't think we can say they're the favorites at this point.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: 58-16 overall, 2-1 last week.
SBN Blog: Fear the Sword
Last week: 1.
Earth to the Cavaliers: great teams don't keep changing their uniforms. They keep it simple and stick to one style. You don't see the Lakers or Celtics throwing out 100 zillion road and alternative uniforms, do you?
This week's edition of Cavaliers hate was sponsored by Gatorade. Gatorade, where our company name rhymes with Haterade.