Everyone wants to talk about super teams. Of course, the Heat, Knicks, Clippers, Celtics and all the rest of ’em capture the imagination of the NBA fan base. There’s nothing quite like feeling the anticipation and excitement in the air when you see that news hit telling you Chris Paul has finally been traded and he’s going to the Clippers. What immediately follows is typically more invigorating than what eventually happens. The promise of what could be is almost always better than what is. Even here at Dime, we find ourselves talking about one third of the NBA about 80 percent of the time. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about everyone else.
In the final week before the regular season tips off for real this Sunday on Christmas, we’ll break down each division, team by team in an effort to give you an overall look at what to expect in what’s sure to be a relentlessly exciting season.
We started things off by getting our East Coast bias on and diving into the Atlantic on Monday, then the Central Division yesterday and the Southwest ealier today. Now, we’re hitting up the Northwest Division.
5. Utah Jazz
The New Guys That Matter: Josh Howard, Enes Kanter, Jamaal Tinsley, Alec Burks
Projected Starting Five: Devin Harris, Raja Bell, Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson
Although on the surface the difference between Minnesota and Utah seemed barely visible, it was in fact enormous last season. The Jazz won 22 more games, but even that was misleading. Once they got rid of Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan got up and left, Utah went 12-29 during the second half of the season. Throw in that Minnesota’s point differential shows they should’ve been much better than 17 wins and you can begin to understand this ranking.
The Jazz have quietly put together one of the nicest young rosters in the league, amazing when you think about how weak they drafted towards the tail end of the Stockton/Malone era, and how you constantly hear people say no one likes playing there. When we asked Ronnie Brewer to compare living in Utah with Chicago earlier this fall, he laughed out loud. As for the current team, Derrick Favors is just starting to turn the corner, Gordon Hayward might soon grow up enough to get facial hair and Enes Kanter, an enigman of an enigma (He was already sort of unknown before Kentucky, then when he wasn’t allowed to play, he became an even bigger mystery), could be special down the road.
But as good as the kids are, you don’t win in the NBA with the Brady Bunch. Utah’s record will come down to how well Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap play together (I can almost guarantee one will be traded at some point this year), and if this Devin Harris isn’t actually the undead zombie of the guy who used to terrorize opposing backcourts.
They won’t win much this year, but between the dope new uniforms and the young frontcourt, I like their future.
BEST CASE: Favors becomes the future star this team needs while some of their veteran bigs are shipped out for more help on the wings. By the end of the year, they know who the keepers are and finish off the season just barely missing out on the playoffs.
WORST CASE: The potential of their young players prove to be mirages and the team finds it has neither the talent nor the leadership to pull a sinking ship out of the water.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
The New Guys That Matter: J.J. Barea, Brad Miller, Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams
Projected Starting Five: Luke Ridnour, Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Darko Milicic
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves: Minnesota is scaring the NBA in the same way the Scary Movie series used to frighten people. That is, hardly at all. The Wolves can’t be taken seriously just yet. But for once, they have a plan and in just 12 months, everything has turned around. It’s funny to view the trajectory of David Kahn. He was a joke for years, running in circles. Eventually at some point last year, we all started to look around and think “Wait… is Minnesota quietly putting together a nice future?”
The bulk of the credit probably can’t go to the front office. I truly doubt they thought Kevin Love would develop into this. Now 25 pounds lighter, Love might go for a 40/40 this year (Not really, but what else can this kid do?). He boards. He shoots threes. He works his ass off every day. He scores against anyone. And now, Love should be constantly thanking whoever blessed him with Rick Adelman. Every hour. The infuriating triangle is out and so is Kurt Rambis. Adelman’s presence alone should equals seven more wins.
Now that they have a three-point guard rotation of Ridnour, Barea and one of the league’s most promising rookies, Ricky Rubio, David Kahn point guard jokes can at least calm down. Ridnour isn’t horrible, but he’s merely keeping the seat warm until Rubio takes it over. Barea has basically the exact same role he did in Dallas (albeit he’s being paid A LOT more).
My gut tells me Beasley gets moved at some point within the next year to open up more space for Derrick Williams, who already looks like a future stud. A frontline of Love, Williams and Beasley sounds promising, but there’s little doubt they would struggle to go deep in the playoffs with a small lineup like that.
BEST CASE: They become the most fun team to watch in the league as every one of their fans comes back. They sneak into the playoffs and cause major problems for one contender. Rubio shows he’s the real deal, and Williams/Love develop great chemistry.
WORST CASE: Rubio can’t handle the spotlight, Love takes a step back and the feel-good vibes surrounding the team go up in fumes as the pressure of anticipations start to wear them down. Then, Kahn strikes again.