I’ve been waiting to write this article since the end of the NBA Finals in June. I was gonna write final NBA rankings, but that seemed pointless considering the Heat had just been crowned champions. I was gonna do an offseason ranking but that became pointless once all the player movement began. And I was getting ready for work this morning thinking I had all the time in the world, when SportsCenter reminded me that the season started one week from today.
So just like they do for the NCAA, I’ll rank every NBA team from #30 to #1. There is no rhyme or reason for the rankings other than my personal opinions. With a little luck, I’ll have rankings 3 more times (1/4 a season, All-Star Break, and 3/4 season) and then I’ll drop a playoff preview for each round. Deal?
#30 – Charlotte Bobcats
As a Tar Heels fan, I can’t support any team that has Gerald Henderson on it. And even with the additions of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Ben Gordon, the Bobcats still won’t be any better. It’s gonna be another long season for MJ’s crew but I expect them to surprise a few more opponents than they did last season.
#29 – Washington Wizards
Looking over the Wizards roster, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bobcats somehow had a better season than them. John Wall needs help and I can’t imagine it taking long before he starts letting everyone know about it. Maybe I’ll get drafted by them or something when I get NBA 2K13.
#28 (From #26) – Detroit Pistons
The Pistons are a lot worse than I thought. The only names that stand out on their roster to me are Brandon Knight, old Corey Maggette, Jason Maxiell (who I’ve never thought much of), Greg Monroe (I only know him because Georgetown was in the Big East with WVU), old Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey, and Charlie “headband” Villanueva. Maybe my ignorance is getting the bets of me but I don’t think this Pistons team will be very good. And I hate the Pistons. Other than the Grant Hill years and the 2004 and 2005 Playoffs, I always hope they’re terrible.
#27 – Sacramento Kings
The Kings are still super young and don’t have an identity. Unless DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, or Marcus Thornton take on a leadership role, I’d expect another last place Pacific Division finish in Sacramento. And maybe a move to Seattle in the future?[1. I don't wish a team relocating on any city, especially after the way the Thunder were torn away from Seattle originally. But I still don't think a deal is in place yet, and Seattle has a new arena deal. Still don't agree with the shared history though.]
#26 (From #25) – Toronto Raptors
I based my original ranking on last year’s records but again, this roster made me change my mind. What is going on up there? Beyond Bargnani and Calderon, there’s not much hope for their 17th NBA campaign. This could again be ignorance on my part but the Curse of Vince Carter[2. The Raptors haven't truly been competitive since Vince started crying and got sent to New Jersey. I'm just saying.] is alive and well here.
#25 – New Orleans Hornets
Austin Rivers and Anthony Davis help. A lot. And a healthy Eric Gordon is nothing to sneeze at. I still think they’re a few seasons away from contending unless Rivers and Davis are a lot more NBA ready than anyone expects. As long as everyone stays healthy though, I think the Hornets will take giant strides from last year.
#24 (From #23) – Orlando Magic
This team could be a lot better than I expect it to be. It has the talent to maybe even sneak into the playoffs. But I don’t think Jacque Vaughn is the answer the Magic needed at head coach. They would’ve been better off keeping Van Gundy. I expect a rough first half with a decent recovery after the All-Star Break. But I don’t expect much more than that.
#23 (From #21) – Phoenix Suns
The Suns decided to be nice to Steve Nash and traded him to their division rival in the Lakers. And they’re going to pay dearly for it. Like the Magic, they have a talented roster but I don’t think Alvin Gentry works any miracles here.
#22 (From #15) – Houston Rockets
Everyone is expecting the Rockets to be terrible this season but not me. Maybe I still haven’t come down from my Linsanity but I think the Rockets will be a problem. They still have Kevin Martin and added rookie Jeremy Lamb. The frontcourt is still trying to replace Yao Ming but something about them just says don’t count them out.
Update: Lamb and Martin have both been traded to the Thunder for James Harden. While Harden is a great player, now I believe the hype that Houston will be terrible.
#21 – Minnesota Timberwolves
Ricky Rubio is going to miss half the season. Without their spark plug, I expect another cold winter in Minneapolis. Picking up Andrei Kirilenko will help but he’s now 31 even though he won Euroleague MVP in Russia last year. The full weight will fall to Kevin Love’s able shoulders and maybe second year man Derrick Williams will regain some of his 2011 NCAA Tournament form. If the Wolves can hold out for Rubio, they might sneak into the playoffs. Otherwise, hello Draft Lottery.
#20 (From #24) – Golden State Warriors
If this team is healthy, they could be ranked a lot higher. If they stay healthy and they weren’t the Warriors. The roster I’m looking at has Lee, Bogut, and Curry all injured. Harrison Barnes will help some but he can’t win all by himself in his rookie season. I don’t expect a whole lot from Golden State this year but if that lineup is healthy, they could make some noise in the first round of the playoffs.
#19 (From #15) – Portland Trail Blazers
These last few rankings have been tough, as I’ve been trying to justify my rankings of teams everyone else expects little of (thus the ellipses on some rankings as I couldn’t justify their original placement).[4. One site had the Wizards as playoff contenders. Am I really that out of touch?] After looking at the Blazers roster, I had to move them back. Outside of LaMarcus Aldridge, there’s little firepower left for a loaded Northwest Division, let alone the Western Conference. Gonna be a long 82 in Rip City folks.
#18 – Cleveland Cavaliers
Kyrie Irving is a year better. The Cavs nucleus is not. If Irving has an amazing season, he might carry the Cavs to the 8 seed in a weakened East. If Irving has a season that’s a little better than last year, the Cavs won’t be more than spoilers come seeding time. But for some reason, I like the Cavs chances at putting a good unit on the floor this season. Two years removed from The Decision, things could be moving back in Cleveland’s favor basketball wise…until Irving can test the unrestricted free agent waters.
#17 – Brooklyn Nets
The key here is Deron Williams. He should be over whatever his problem was that got him traded from Utah; should be over being stuck in New Jersey last season. Pre-2011 meltdown, I always had Williams at the top of my best point guard in the league list.[3. Even over Derrick Rose, who I still don't see as a true point guard since he's the Bulls go-to guy. Never really saw AI as a point either though but he didn't like to pass.] Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace give Williams legit options to take the pressure off, as does Brook Lopez (and sometimes Kris Humphries). Avery Johnson will have this team competing in their new Barclays Center in a hurry.
#16 – New York Knicks
This ranking might be because my friend Eric keeps telling me how the Knicks will be a Eastern Conference powerhouse and so much better than the Bulls (and is also responsible for the Bulls being ranked higher). The Knicks traded down letting Jeremy Lin go to Houston and by picking up Jason Kidd (who should have retired after the Mavs won the Title). Even if Lin never repeats his Linsanity streak, he’s still a solid point guard to run any offense. Any offense that doesn’t have Carmelo Anthony. Anthony and Amare Stoudemire have yet to coexist, and while this will be their first true season together, I don’t see it working. J.R. Smith and Tyson Chandler are the ex-factors here however. If Smith can contribute without costing the Knicks games and Chandler can return to his Defensive Player Of The Year form, they might be the competitor Eric expects them to be. But..this is the Knicks and 1973 was a long time ago and will continue to be. No Title for the Knicks this year.
#15 – Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have always been a team that finds ways to win when no one expects it to (unlike their Glenn Robinson/Vin Baker/Ray Allen year). With Monta Ellis healthy and Brandon Jennings as dangerous as ever, I think the Bucks will give teams fits. Ersan Ilyasova has come along nicely and offers some sort of frontcourt threat. As long as their holes at center and power forward don’t bite them too much, they should be competing for one of the last playoff spots.
#14 – Dallas Mavericks
Dirk Nowitzki is still one of the best players in the league at 34. They went out and signed Memphis castoff O.J. Mayo. They have proven players like Elton Brand, Vince Carter, Chris Kaman, and Shawn Marion. And that’s enough to get them to the postseason. While a repeat of 2011’s storybook run isn’t entirely out of the question, it’s definitely highly unlikely. Mark Cuban should never be counted out though, so a few trades could bring the Mavs back into contention at midseason.
#13 – Atlanta Hawks
After dumping Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, some may think those pesky Hawks are finally going to lay low for a few seasons. Not this Hawks hater. Devin Harris and Jeff Teague make up a solid backcourt and Josh Smith is a reliable enough scorer for the Hawks to have more wins than losses by season’s end. The addition of Lou Williams (it was Anthony who introduced me to his song with Meek Mill.) on the bench doesn’t hurt either.
#12 – Utah Jazz
I’m half tempted to knock the Jazz down in the rankings just because they have Mo Williams on the roster, but I won’t be that petty. The Jazz soldier on under Tyrone Corbin and only for the better. They return Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson and added Marvin Harrison from the Hawks. They have Gordon Hayward coming into his second season.[5. I saw him in Indianapolis in 2010. That boy is a star in the making. I still have my Butler beads.] Don’t be surprised to see the Jazz in the second round come playoff time.
#11 – Memphis Grizzlies
I want to take a moment to personally thank Mike Conley for making it to the NBA so that my name is now said in video games. With that said, this is a dangerous team. With San Antonio only getting older and Dallas standing pat, this is the year for Memphis to make their push to the Western Conference elite. With Randolph healthy, the team is now fully in his and Rudy Gay’s hands now that O.J. Mayo is a Mav. Marc Gasol fills out a frontline that will give any team trouble on any given night. The Grizz will go as far as they let themselves go and I’m thinking a possible Western Conference Finals upset appearance isn’t out of the question.
#10 – Indiana Pacers
Remember when everyone thought the Pacers were going to beat the Heat in the second round? That was a nice thought wasn’t it? The good thing about those memories is the fact there will be more opportunities to beat the Heat. Despite my stubbornness in keeping the Bulls higher than them, they could easily win the Central Division. Danny Granger will have to make a decision: either stay the team’s focal scoring option or defer to Paul George, Roy Hibbert, or David West. The Pacers can’t afford for their captain to be wishy-washy. As I expect the Bulls to not go far into the playoffs, the Pacers will be lining up against Boston or Miami in the playoffs’ later rounds. I don’t think they’re ready to make the jump yet but they should be a fun watch.
#9 – Chicago Bulls
Derrick Rose will be back. Ahead of schedule. Better than ever. That’s what I keep telling myself anyway. I believe in Tom Thibodeau though and I think we can still win the Central. Luol Deng will have to play as well as he did when Rose was out last season and Boozer cannot disappear down the stretch of games. A healthy Joakim means the team’s energy level stays up and I like Nate Robinson enough to think he can help us in spots. But much like last season, the Bulls ability to fight through adversity will make or break their season. And hopefully, Derrick’s knee won’t make the whole season a wash.
#8 – Denver Nuggets
George Karl deserves to win an NBA Title. And while he probably won’t do it, this team could be his best last shot at pulling it off. Andre Iguodala gives the Nuggets their first real go-to guy since ‘Melo left town and he has some nice pieces around him in Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and the veteran Andre Miller. A meshing of pieces not seen since the ’91 Bulls would have to occur for title to finally come to Denver and Karl but a second round exit is more likely.
#7 – Philadelphia 76ers
I have a lot of faith in this Sixers team and that’s saying something considering they knocked my Bulls out of the playoffs. But any team who gets one of the league’s best big men in a steal of a trade has to be taken into consideration. Forget Bynum’s knee problems and his past lethargy; he’s going to have a break out season. No Kobe in his ear, no aging Phil screwing with his head, this will be his first truly free season. Doug Collins has proven he’s still a coaching force in his years in Philly and now it’s time for a real move up the East standings. Holiday and Turner grew up a lot in last year’s playoffs, so I expect this to be a big year for them as well. Adding Jason Richardson into the mix will give them a legit threat off the bench too. Third in the East is a little high for some, but I fully expect the Sixers to be there and to push the Celtics or Heat to the brink in the second round. Hell, they might even beat the Celtics. Yeah, I said it.
#6 (From #5) – Los Angles Clippers
The Clippers will go as far as Chris Paul can take them. Even though I personally feel he’s overrated, his direction will dictate what Los Angeles’ second show does this year. His tantrums in the San Antonio series last year sunk LA when they needed him the most but at least he’s surrounded by a better core this season. Blake Griffin had a whole summer off thanks to his knee injury for the Olympics, so he should be in top form. Lamar Odom should return to pre-Mavericks form now that he’s back in LA.[5. Lamar had no excuse for last season. He didn't work out during the lockout, he was out of shape, and went into a depression when the Lakers tried to ship him out for Chris Paul. I watch Khloe & Lamar, I see these things. Play basketball, you idiot.] DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford will be key as well; if Jordan continues to improve and Crawford plays consistently, the Clippers might be seeing Game 7. They can’t win a Game 7 in the Western Conference Semis but they might be there.
And Grant Hill continues to play like he graduated Duke in 2004.
#5 – San Antonio Spurs
This is still the mosrt dangerous team in the league. With Duncan back, Parker with a bad eye thanks to Drake and Chris Brown, and Manu being Manu, don’t expect the Spurs to go quietly into the night following last season’s Conference Finals loss. Popovich is still one of the league’s sideline masters and the Spurs could easily replace the Thunder or the Lakers in the Conference Finals or NBA Finals. I still don’t think they have an answer for Kevin Durant though so going through the Lakers is their best shot at the Finals.
#4 – Boston Celtics
The Celtics should’ve been in the NBA Finals last year. They would’ ve lost to the Thunder but they should’ve been there. But no one was ready for LeBron’s monster Game 6 in the Garden. With that bitter defeat in their hearts, the Celtics should be the #2 seed in the East. Garnett and Pierce will almost will it to happen. I also expect Rondo to have a huge season as I think him and Rivers have come to some form of understanding. Not being dangled as trade bait in February will be nice as well. Jason Terry gives the Celts a much needed bench boost that Ray Allen didn’t want to give. Jared Sullinger should come along nicely with Garnett as a mentor. Only injuries or an uncanny season by one of the East team’s listed below them can stop their return to the Conference Finals. I don’t think they can beat the Heat anymore though.
#3 – Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are still the best in the West. They have the second best player in the league in Durant. They have a point guard in Westbrook who, although he makes bonehead decisions and takes shots away from Durant, can put points up and lead an offense.
And they just traded away their third piece of the puzzle (Harden) for Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb.
Maybe it’s because I was raised on the NBA in the pre-free agency era, but if you were 3 wins away from the Title, why would you trade away one of your core’s biggest pieces?! If Harden had played well in the Finals, we might have even had a seven game series. I just feel like this deal hurts OKC this season, the draft picks will help in the future.
With that out of the way, this team is still very good. And as good as Martin can be, I don’t think he can step right into Harden’s shoes. Ibaka, Perkins, and Sefolosha still bring a lot of matchup problems. But I think they won’t overcome the veteran Lakers this year. Unless Durant lays waste to everything in his path during their playoff run.
#2 – Los Angles Lakers
I was ready to write an article on Kobe after the Lakers lost to OKC in the second round. About how he was now facing something Michael never had to: getting old and losing playoff series. But I forgot: these are the Lakers. They aquired Steve Nash and then made one of their classic trades to get Dwight Howard for nothing. Round that off with Metta World Peace and a fully confident Pau Gasol and the West is in trouble. If everyone is healthy for the stretch run, the Lakers have too much talent and wisdom to lose to the more athletic Thunder. And with wishy-washy Howard in the mix, this may be the only season the Lakers have to win Kobe ring number six. Kobe is going to have to give up the ball but with all the new talent, he should be willing to do so. Let’s just hope a repeat of the Lakers 2003-04 season isn’t in store.
#1 – Miami Heat
I hate to say this but I always said I would when LeBron did two things: change his number and win a championship. The Decision brought me my first wish and LeBron’s decision to finally unleash his full potential on the Thunder last June did the other. But here we go:
LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world. And the Heat will repeat.
The Heat won the Title with Bosh and Wade both hurt. It was LeBron who finally did what the world has always demanded of him when he became Superman in Game 5 against Boston. Adding Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to the bench gives the Heat more depth and people forget Mario Chalmers is only in his 5th season. He’ll be more than ready to lead the Heat on another deep playoff run. Wade will also thrive now that he and LeBron figured out their roles in the Indiana series. And as we all finally saw when Bosh came back from injury against Boston, he adds a valuable presence in the middle and he can hit the three. Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem will continue in their unsung hero roles but the results will be a second consecutive Title for LeBron and crew.
Heat beat Lakers 4-2. And that’s your first edition of Ranking The NBA.