Hello hoopsters! Cowboy here with your NBA Weekly Roundup. As we approach Al-Star Weekend there is plenty of news to report on. On Thursday, the hapless Cleveland Cavaliers fired GM Chris Grant. The Cavs have been a massive disappointment this season and somebody had to take the fall. Their locker room is, by all accounts, a complete mess and it has been reflected in their play on the court. Personally, I blame head coach Mike Brown as much as (if not more than) Grant, but he will most likely survive the season due to his contract. A home loss to the Lakers (who only dressed eight players for the game) was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Grant oversaw the past two drafts for the Cavs which resulted in the picks of Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett. Waiters is a talented gunner with a notoriously poor attitude and Bennett, while showing some signs of a pulse lately, has been a colossal disappointment during his rookie season. Not exactly what you are looking for out of two top 5 picks. In Grant’s last move of significance he acquired Luol Deng from the Bulls for Andrew Bynum and a draft pick. Bynum’s contract actually had value as whatever team acquired him had the ability to walk away from the deal. Needless to say this has backfired. The team has struggled terribly since the trade and the chances of Deng resigning in the offseason sit somewhere between slim and none. This is an organization in shambles and any thought of luring LeBron back home can be safely tabled unless there is a dramatic turnaround in the last third 0f the season.
In other news, the Pistons parted ways with first year coach Maurice Cheeks on Sunday. This is a puzzling move by the Pistons brass led by Joe Dumars. While they have certainly been disappointing, the season hasn’t been a total disaster for Detroit. They currently sit in ninth place in the East and are actually on a two game winning streak. Their main problem this season, in my opinion, is the inability for newly acquired Josh Smith to fit in as a small forward. This was fairly easy to predict as Smith has played significantly better throughout his career as a power forward. Unfortunately, the Pistons already have Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, two very promising young big men, so the only place for Smith to play is at the three. It’s not Cheeks’ fault that Dumars decided to pay huge dollars for Smith to play out of position. They should have given Cheeks more than 50 games to figure things out. He’s a coach with a proven track record who I felt was a great fit for this team. Bad move Pistons!
In game action this week, I’ll lead with the upstart Orlando Magic. You heard me right… the lowly MAGIC! Let’s just say they had quite a two game stretch. First, on Friday night, they beat the mighty Thunder on a buzzer-beating dunk by Tobias Harris. While this was surprising enough, Orlando followed this up by erasing a nine-point deficit at the end of the third quarter to take out the league leading Indiana Pacers 93-92. While I don’t see the Magic making a playoff push this year (although it is not totally out of the question given the wasteland that is the Eastern Conference), this week gives a glimpse into their sizable potential going forward. Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, and Harris are three young thoroughbreds who will be causing the rest of the league headaches for years to come. Oladipo, in particular, has the skillset to be a very special player. He is a Swiss army knife PG/SG hybrid with ridiculous athleticism and great defensive instincts. He’s already one of the better defensive guards in the league, but has been quite inconsistent on offense. If he figures it out and develops a more reliable jumpshot, watch out. He reminds me of a young Dwyane Wade and I think that he has the ability to raise his game to that level over the next couple of years. Needless to say he has made the Cavaliers look pretty foolish for choosing Bennett over him in the draft.
In other action the Dallas Mavericks had a perfect 4-0 week, which included a double-digit road win in Memphis, and moved into seventh place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference race. While the Mavs roster may not jump off the page, they are one of the more well-coached teams in basketball. Rick Carlisle does a fantastic job with this group. Dirk has really gotten it going recently and Monta Ellis has embraced the team concept and is having a very nice first season in Big D. Houston also had a perfect week at 3-0. The only win of note was a home win against Phoenix, but they Rockets have won five straight and have pushed themselves up to fifth in the conference. This Rockets team is one that no one wants to see in the playoffs. While they certainly have defensive deficiencies, they can simply score the basketball. If James Harden and Chandler Parsons get hot from distance there’s nothing you can do. Throw in Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones down low and Jeremy Lin providing a nice spark off the bench and the Rockets are going to be a tough out for anyone. If the season ended today they would be matched up with the Clippers in a ridiculously high quality first round matchup.
In the aforementioned East, things remained similar to the way they have been all season: you have the Heat and Pacers and then everyone else. Brooklyn has made a nice push over the last few weeks and they sit at sixth. Their roster has the playoff experience to possibly make some noise if they hold up physically. Chicago has somehow managed to remain in the mix despite losing Derrick Rose to injury and Deng to the Cavs. Another testament to Tom Thibodeau. He is just a great coach who has refused to let his team pack it in. Other than that, I don’t see any other team having a chance to take Indiana or Miami to six games in a series, let alone beating them. The Heat seem to be acting accordingly as they have settled into the two seed and are conserving energy for the playoffs. The race at the bottom of the conference for ping-pong balls is almost as exciting as the playoff race. Milwaukee is the leader in the clubhouse, but the Sixers are making a late push (capped off by their 46 point drubbing at the hands of the Clippers on Sunday night).
All in all it was another exciting week in what has been a great season so far. I expect things to heat up from here and really kick into high gear after the All Star break. As always, we here at PTBN will be here to bring you the best news and analysis in the industry. Cowboy out!