*If you missed Part 1 yesterday, check it out here…*
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5. ANDREW BYNUM
Andrew Bynum is headed back home after the blockbuster 4-team deal sent him east to Philadelphia. He’s going to be an hour outside of the Plainsboro, NJ neighborhood he grew up in, and that might make the head-scratching big man less of a question mark. It might set him at ease, so he’ll finally be able to put together a consistent year. Or – like what can sometimes happen when a professional athlete is within spitting distance of home – it can exacerbate bad behaviors and attitudes. For some players, there’s a reduction in responsibility as they get near their childhood buddies and revert back to an earlier, less mature time. Regardless of which category Bynum falls into in his season in Philly, it’s finally time for him to come into his own. What better place, than near home?
Andrew Bynum will be entering his eighth year in the league, but his first as a team’s primary offensive option. The theory is he’ll put up monster numbers since he was an uncertain second or third option last year, capable of grabbing 20 rebounds and scoring 30-plus points in one game and only grabbing six rebounds and a couple buckets the next. Even though his production is still a bit unreliable, last year was the first where Bynum was healthy all season. His knees and general well-being as a massive 7-0, 285-pound monster are always tenuous, and that’s part of the reason why he’s headed to Germany for some Kobe-inspired, non-invasive platelet treatments. But the question mark of his health and the fact he’s getting a surgery like this at only 24 years of age is a concern, and another thing for Philly fans to worry about.
With Kobe, Pau, Lamar, Metta and others during his time in L.A., Bynum was – at best – the Lakers’ second or third option and wasn’t expected to handle double teams, a relief for Lakers fans since Bynum handles double teams about as well as a local high school center would handle NBA double teams. He panics when he’s swarmed down low and attempts to pivot away from the pressure, rather than just hold the ball above his head to look for open teammates. He’s not used to being the offensive focal point of an opponent’s defense, and if Philly is really going to use him in that capacity, Doug Collins needs to go over his recognition of defense rotations; it’s either that, or you’ll see a lot of turnovers early in the season.
The injuries and inexperience as the center of a team’s offense are not the only things that could set Bynum back in his new role for Philly. Rod Thorn recently admitted the Sixers’ were originally shooting for Howard in the deal with Orlando. Bynum’s thinking can be as enigmatic as they come (see also: three-point shot development), and it’s comments like Thorn’s that can lead to a funk where Bynum doesn’t play hard and pouts on the bench and in the huddle. He’s gotten better in this regard over the years, but he’s not far removed from another iteration of his earlier teenage petulance. It’s good that Philly CEO Adam Aron is making Bynum and Jason Richardson‘s introductory press conference a big deal because appreciating their new big man will benefit them more on the court and also give them a better chance to re-sign him this summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Whether they’ll want to sign him to the max contract he’ll likely receive from others is up to how his first year back home as the man goes. He’s under a lot of pressure for a 24-year-old that’s never been in a position to dictate the offense before. Let’s hope he handles it wisely because Sixers coach, Doug Collins, doesn’t suffer fools, and he’d rather bench the big man than have to deal with any headaches.
4. DERRICK ROSE
Remember when Chicago was a title contender and Derrick Rose was the MVP? It seems like so long ago the Bulls were looking at another mini-dynasty and the first real championship-contending team since the Jordan, Jackson and Pippen triumvirate left town. That new Chicago powerhouse led by Rose was only two years ago, and now, all of a sudden, after Derrick Rose went down with a torn ACL (usually a 1.5 year rehabilitation) in the first game against Philadelphia during the playoffs this past May, the Bulls are no longer among the elite in the East. It’s Boston and Miami at this point, and possibly New York and Philly, especially after Philly added Bynum to their roster.
Chicago made some moves this offseason, but mainly it concerned people they lost (Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik, Kyle Korver and others) and not people they picked up (Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson and Nazr Mohammed). Who they chose to let go is redolent of many mid-market teams adhering to the new CBA’s luxury tax penalties. Let’s not forget they’re still stuck with Carlos Boozer’s increasingly calamitous contract, but their Rose-less existence for much of last season’s regular season (where they had the best record in the East) won’t be as formidable for the 2012-13 campaign.
That means Derrick Rose and his surgically repaired knee will be the focal point of Chicago’s season. We’ve already highlighted what a watershed year this has now become for Rose, and his knee is basically the only thing Chicago hoop fans are thinking about as they figure out how everything changed so quickly. The G.O.A.T himself has advised Rose to take his time coming back, but every player is different and even if Jerry Reinsdorf and the rest of the Bulls front office is convinced he should be sitting out all of next year too, they need to listen to Rose, who could very well be ready in February or March. That’s enough time to increase the odds of Chicago getting into the playoffs.
C.J. Watson is in Brooklyn now, and he’s been replaced with Kirk Hinrich. Marquis Teague, their selection from Kentucky, has been underwhelming during the summer at the other guard spot, and no less an authority than Jeff Van Gundy thinks the Bulls may miss the playoffs entirely. So that makes Rose necessary sooner rather than later. If the Bulls want to have any chance next season, Rose will be in the unenviable position where management wants him to rest and avoid re-aggravating the knee, but his competitive drive wants to be back on the court helping his increasingly undermanned teammates.
It’s a lot of pressure for the former MVP, and you can be sure he’ll be trying to get back on the court as soon as possible. Whether that’s the smart play for a franchise that’s built their entire identity around their point guard remains to be seen. But you can be sure Derrick Rose will bear the burden of unmet goals and the expectations he set for himself and his team after a blistering 2010-2011 campaign that saw him win the MVP and get within one hard-fought series of the Finals. Whether he can get back to that point is still up in the air – as are Chicago’s fortunes as a whole.
3. DERON WILLIAMS
Deron Williams is bringing a gold medal to Brooklyn, but he’ll be tasked with a lot more than his intermittent guard play in London upon his return to America. The team Brooklyn just inherited from New Jersey hasn’t been relevant since Jason Kidd was around. They’re going through an overhaul behind the pocketbook of owner Mikhail Prokhorov and the long-term additions of Williams and Joe Johnson to the backcourt. We all know what to expect from Johnson (fleeting brilliance and an expensive contract that doesn’t match up with his production), but Williams is a bit of a question mark even though he controls the team’s fate more than anyone else.
Since being traded to New Jersey, Williams has shot poorly. He only hit around 40 percent of his field goals last year even though he averaged 21 points a game, and the Nets, accordingly, were awful. Sure, they’re getting Brook Lopez (and his measly rebounding) back; they’ve re-signed Gerald Wallace (after stupidly almost losing their draft pick for nothing if he had bounced this offseason); they also re-signed Kris Humphries and took on the aforementioned Johnson’s prickly contract, but it’s Deron’s team to lead or not. If his poor shooting continues and he doesn’t make up for it with increased dimes to his now-stronger supporting cast, the inaugural year in Jay-Z‘s old neighborhood could be a filled with strife.
The loss of Dwight Howard to Los Angeles doesn’t help matters, since the plan was to flip Humphries, Lopez and picks during next year’s trade deadline for Howard’s services. Howard has made it clear he’d love to be in Brooklyn, but now that he’s in Hollywood, it’s unlikely any trade will occur during next season. That means even more of the onus for the Nets’ success falls on Williams.
Brook Lopez might be the Carlos Boozer front-court player Williams lacked with last year’s team, and Joe Johnson is certainly an offensive upgrade over anyone on the Nets roster from last season (and the primary reason Williams signed an extension with Brooklyn and not his hometown Mavericks), but the team’s fortunes still hinge on Williams’ play, and he’s not at the career apogee he reached while leading the Jazz to the Western Conference Finals in 2007. If he gets back to that level, Jay will have plenty of bombastic raps next spring, but if he continues to shoot poorly and the pieces the Nets added this offseason don’t pay off, Williams and new Brooklyn fans will be forced to reconsider the decision to offer a max extension to him this offseason. There’s a lot of pressure inherent in any new franchise, and turning the tide of the Nets’ championship fortunes in one year’s time is a tall order even for a player with as much talent as Williams. The verdict on Thorn’s moves this summer remains in the air, and no player is more important to that verdict than Deron Williams.
2. CARMELO ANTHONY
Carmelo Anthony would have been No. 1 on this list if it weren’t for the deal that went down last week. As such, he’s at the two spot, but that doesn’t alleviate the pressure he’s brought on himself in the media capital of the world. his Knicks tenure is about to come full-circle. When he first got to town, it was like a prodigal son returning (sure he grew up in “Stop Snitching” Baltimore, but he’s originally from New York), but after one so-so quarter year in 2011, and a lockout-shortened 2012 season where a coach (D’Antoni) and a fan favorite (Lin) were jettisoned elsewhere, all the pressure falls on Carmelo to produce, which is we suppose what he wanted all along.
This is a team to Carmelo’s liking. He likes Mike Woodson, and even decided to play some defense for him towards the end of last year. He’s got a knucklehead to make him laugh from his days in Denver, J.R. Smith, and a defensive beast down low in 2012 Defensive Player Of The Year Tyson Chandler. He’s got spot-up shooters in Steve Novak and Jason Kidd. He has a point guard, Raymond Felton, that won’t take the spotlight off him, like the wonderful Lin last year, and who will be more than willing to give him the ball in all his favorite spots. He’s even got Marcus Camby down low to help out every time he’s burned by a small forward on the wing. About the only sore spot is Amar’e Stoudemire and his continued presence clogging up the elbow spots ‘Melo prefers. All of these changes were designed by Team Dolan (a subsidiary of CAA) to assuage any doubts that this was ‘Melo’s team. Now he just has to go out and bring a title back to New York, where it’s been on an almost four-decade sabbatical that even the Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing couldn’t end.
So what happens if ‘Melo’s Knicks again get knocked out in the opening round of the playoffs? If that happens, the Post and Daily News will train their headline talents on the ubiquitous “‘Melo” nickname to show his failures. The loss of Lin especially – since he was a fan and reporter favorite – will stack the deck against ‘Melo. If the Knicks come out flat, like they did after their season-opening Christmas Day win last year, then ‘Melo will have no one to blame but himself. Sure, he has a tweaked hamstring from his time with the Olympic team, but he also lost 12 pounds before the Olympics. He must work hard and stay in shape if he’s to have any chance of avoiding the doomed basketball pariah label he’s headed towards after his mediocre first year and a half in New York.
When ‘Melo was lobbying for a trade out of Denver to the basketball Mecca, he must’ve understood it would lead to an increased media presence, but on top of that, increased expectations. Like everyone else on this list, the Carmelo Knicks are supposed to compete for a title. That’s what he was brought to New York to do: win a championship. So far, he’s barely been able to make his first round opponents sweat, winning just one playoff game out of nine attempts. If that continues this year, the collective enmity of reporters and fans might give him more than just a pause. The time is now for Carmelo and more than nearly anybody, he’s got a lot riding on his play in the next season. I hope for his sake and my own as a New York Knicks fan and New York resident he comes through enough to stave off the inevitable backlash. So far he’s avoided New York’s hungry hordes of haters, but they’ll only stay away if he wins and wins right now. New York is an amazing city, but there are very few hiding spots if things go wrong. Our readers agree, he’s not even really No. 2 on this list, but 1A, so we’ll see how he responds to the pressure.
1. THE ENTIRE LAKERS TEAM
It was inevitable after the Lakers got Dwight they would rocket to the top of this list. In fact, I’d written some of this top 10 before the trade and basically had to trash the whole thing because so many teams were directly affected by the trade’s reverberations across the league. Right now, on paper, the Los Angeles Lakers might have more talent then even the defending champion Miami Heat and their Big Three. That’s because they just picked up the one guy that perfectly fits into their (feels like 2004) squad of past-their-prime All-Stars and MVPs.
Just picture walking onto the court and having to matchup against Steve Nash at the point (a two-time MVP just five years ago), Kobe Bryant (a five-time champion and MVP in 2008 who is – sorry Jerry – the best off guard not named Jordan in NBA history), Pau Gasol (a two-time champion and four-time All-Star who almost led his Spanish National Team to an upset of the Americans in the gold medal game of this year’s Summer Olympics) and the most dominant big man in the game, Dwight Howard.
Sure, it would be easy to put all the pressure on Howard in this spot. Lord knows he deserves to be under the microscope after the way he treated the fans, coaches and executives in Orlando. Some of the comments when Dime asked readers about who has the most pressure on them entering the 2012-13 season rightfully designated Howard as either No. 1 or No. 2 behind ‘Melo, but since Howard is surrounded by other All-Stars, the pressure falls on the team. They either win the 2013 NBA title or they don’t and they’re a failure. It’s an either/or situation. Sure, they’ll still have Nash, Kobe and Pau next season and theoretically they’ll be able to sign Howard to an extension next summer (adding the bedrock for future, post-Kobe, Laker championships), but let’s be honest: if the Lakers fail to win the title this year, they will have under-performed and not lived up to their potential.
Such is life when you’ve got a dream-like NBA 2K13 All-Star roster assembled before September. Kobe Bryant was tripping all over himself for a chance to get back to the States and marvel at the squad Mitch Kupchak (and, less so, Jim Buss) put together when he was off partying with Nas over the Olympics. Steve Nash went from running a high screen-n-roll with Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat to Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. He went from a geriatric Michael Redd and Grant Hill in his backcourt to Kobe F-ing Bryant. About the only person in this whole bizarre turn who hasn’t been getting a lot of pub and doesn’t have nearly the level of expectation as his more publicized teammates is Metta World Peace. Metta has been overshadowed during an offseason that saw them add one of the best point guards in the game AND the BEST center in the game. That’s another indication they’ll have the most pressure on their shoulders come autumn. MWP better add a couple more therapist visits before this circus season starts.
It’s not like the all-star collection of Laker starters are in their primes, either. But Nash was productive enough for a crappy Suns team last season. They were on the verge of the playoffs until the last couple weeks of the season. Gasol might be older and still (unfairly) labeled as soft, but he’s the best foreign-born player not named Dirk in the league (sorry, Marc) and his skill set is perfectly matched for Howard. Howard – as anyone that’s read the Internet over the last week is aware – brings rebounding and shot-blocking as a near-unanimous DPOY selection over the last half-decade (the only reason he lost last year was his back injury and the media enmity engendered after that ridiculous press conference where Stan Van Gundy claimed D12 had gone to management to get him fired, only to have Howard deflect reporter’s questions right after he said it). On top of all that, you have Kobe Bryant, just one of the top 10 players of all time. No big deal.
Winning an NBA Championship isn’t as easy as just assembling the parts (ask the 2004 Lakers and 2011 Heat about that), so it’s not a given the collection of talent will deliver a title. That’s where the pressure comes in. Nash has never been a favorite like this in his entire career. Those Amar’e/Nash teams were never the favorite regardless of their offensive exploits in the “SSOL” offense. Dwight was never been expected to win a title with Orlando’s three-point shooting supporting cast. Sure, Pau and Kobe have been under the magnifying glass as title favorites after capturing back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, but this is a whole ‘nother ball game. About the only one of the Lakers stars that’s relishing the new pressure is Kobe. Kobe thrives off of pressure, and it doesn’t get any more pressure-packed than this.
It’s on Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard to match Kobe’s enthusiasm for the challenge, and just as importantly, it’s on Mike Brown to manage the egos of this superstar-laden team. If this Lakers team doesn’t win a title, it will be a failure, and Brown will most likely be gone. Aside from the 2011 and 2012 Heat squads (who buckled under that pressure the first year), no team has been this favored (ostensibly, at least) to win a title before the season even started. And, just in case you forgot, the Lakers’ burden is augmented further when you realize they’ll have to go through the defending Western Conference champion, Oklahoma City Thunder, the still-strong San Antonio Spurs, the one-year stronger Los Angeles Clippers, the Grizzlies, the Mavericks, the Nuggets and whatever other challenges arise in the West. After vanquishing all those teams in the West, they would then have to face off against their doppelgÃ¤ngers in the East, the Heat, in a Finals showdown that’s likely to set a Nielson ratings record and engorge David Stern with an uncomfortably overt tumescence in June.
If – and only if – they beat all those teams and win the 2013 Larry O’Brien trophy will their season have been a success. Anything short of a title, any slip-up along the way or dint in their armor, and the season is marked as a failure.
Pressure? What do you know about pressure?
[Notable Omissions: John Wall, Jeremy Lin, Dirk Nowitzki, Roy Hibbert, DeMarcus Cousins, Aaron Afflalo, Andrew Bogut, Stephen Curry, and Anthony Davis]
Which players do you think have the most pressure on them next season?
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