Sunday, November 27, 2011

MAMBINO's NBA Preview Launch - Burning Questions for the UPCOMING 2011-2012 Season

Any text you get at 3:18 am at any point, any day, is most likely bad news. It means one of several things:

1) You've got an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend who either wants to pick a fight with you, or wants you to come over for an inter-coital incident that will leave you battered and broken the next morning, both physically and emotionally

2) You've got a current girlfriend or boyfriend that got too drunk and your car is now approximately 20 minutes away from being a $20,000 college trashcan

3) Something bad happened to someone you care about. Just got real there. Sorry MAMBINO readers.

4) Your friend needs a place to crash, and now your apartment becomes a $1,000 a month college trash can.

Friday night, nearly fast asleep at 3:18 am, Eastern Standard Time, I get a text message from my boy, OKC Thunder Fan #1 and the only owner of a Thunder Royal Ivey jersey in North America, Stolte, which read:


I put down my phone, not quite understanding what my almost assuredly shwasted friend was digitally blabbering about. About to fall back deep into my second tryptophan-induced slumber in the same number of days, I sat back up and clumsily jumped onto my Twitter app. Ken Berger, my new messiah and best friend, let me know that indeed, a handshake deal was agreed upon between the lawyers representing the players and owners and a 66-game 2011-2012 season was merely days away from becoming a reality.

Let's set aside my abject and utter joy here. I will ignore the fact that I stayed up until 3:45am researching a news story that had zero actual information available other than the paragraph I just typed, all while knowing full well I had to be awake at 8am. I have sent out approximately 20 text messages to 20 different hoopheads throughout the day, with a dozen e-mails following suit expressing my disbelief. I just had a 20 minute conversation with a fellow member of Laker Nation that was actually about basketball. We don't have enough time. Free agency will open in a week, with the season following a little more than two weeks after that. I was nearly resigned to a winter without NBA basketball (see my first post in a series of 6 detailing suitable WWE replacements for YOUR particular NBA squad) and having to follow a frustrating Jets teams, a Los Angeles Kings squad with no television out here in the East and a Boston College basketball team that's already lost to Holy Cross by 11, barely edged out UC Riverside by 3 points and lost to UMass by 36 home. Truthfully, and perhaps this was largely due to me wanting to preserve my sanity and not set myself up for disappointment, I haven't even begun to think about the 2011-2012 NBA season yet.

So now, like a your lame friend who got to the party 4 hours late and decides to chug a handle of vodka to catch up to the surprise of no one and the embarrassment of everyone, we here at MAMBINO HQ will be playing vodka handle catch up with the nubile 2011-2012 NBA season.

In our darkest days of the lockout, BockerKnocker and I devised a sneaky way to discuss the NBA without having actual basketball being played by coming up with a series of posts titled "20 Things We'll Miss About the Cancelled 2011-2012 NBA Season". Despite the self-loathing, pathetic nature of such an endeavor, we've found that even with the season revived from the brink of an almost certain death, "20 Things" is still relevant.

Thus, over the next month or so, BockerKnocker and I will begin our "20 Burning Questions for the 2011-2012 NBA Season". Our well-thought out questions from the pit of our NBA-deprived minds cover 22 teams and will serve as our de facto NBA season preview.

Obviously a 22 team season preview won't cover the entire 30-team NBA. I safely say that the remaining 8 teams remain the 8 least interesting teams in the league. MAMBINO has hardly been known as an equal opportunity sports blog. We like who we like and we hate teams that only mildly offend us. But in the spirit of equality, here's a 5 brief questions for 5 teams that you probably won't think about in the next 4 weeks:

Atlanta Hawks

Burning Question - Keeping together the core hasn't equaled postseason success, so what will Atlanta do to take the next step?

The Hawks have made the playoffs the past 4 seasons, have made it out of the first round 3 times and yet, have won a combined 2 games. Though a 4-seed is a great accomplishment in a top heavy Eastern Conference, in none of those years have the Hawks come close to being anything more than an also-ran. Each of their offseasons have had the sole focus of resigning a member of their core (Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Josh Smith) rather than adding a difference maker (like a quality center or a true point) to the fold beyond the likes of Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford.

There's no telling what the new CBA will bring going towards free agency, but the Hawks need a lot of help if they want to contend with the Heat, Celts and Bulls, and don't have a lot of cap space to make it happen. Barring a trade for a quality big to go alongside Al Horford, I don't see the Hawks improving much on last season's record. And with their track record, I don't think any difference making moves are in the works.

Prediction: 35-31, 3rd in the Southeast, 5th place in the East

Charlotte Bobcats

Burning Question - can Michael Jordan keep a rebuilding team interesting?

Considering their best young players are DJ Augustin, Gerald Henderson and Bismack Biyombo and veterans are the likes of Corey "Black Hole of Ball-Stopping" Maggette and Boris Diaw, no. Michael's role as one of the most hard-line owners during the whole lockout has spoken volumes about how badly the Bobcats are losing money. He's said numerous times that he'll spend money when it will help the team win, but I don't see this team being at all in that sphere.

More to the point, even the worst teams in the league have an exciting young player[s] to showcase and build around (Minnesota, Cleveland, Clippers, Washington), while the 5'10' Augustin, the designated shooter Henderson and defensive stalwart (supposedly) Biyombo are not worth the entertainment value that Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams, Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving and John Wall will give you. It's going to be a long season for Bobcats fans. All twelve of you. Maybe not the worst, but certainly the most boring team in the East.

Prediction: 17-49, 5th in the Southeast, 13th in the East

Denver Nuggets

Burning Question - Can the Nuggets survive the Chinese purge of their players? And free agency?

More than any other team coming out of the lockout, if everything stands as it did before September, they will be losing 3 potential players from their 2011-2012 squad.

The Chinese Basketball Association notoriously proclaimed that only free agents could sign with any of their professional team and that they would not be allowed out of their contracts if the lockout were to end mid-season. Wilson Chandler, JR Smith and Kenyon Martin, all Denver free agents, decided that the cost of perhaps missing a potential NBA season wasn't prohibitive enough to miss out on $3 million dollar CBA contracts.

Personalities aside, these three were huge pieces for the surprising 2011 Nuggets squad. Though Martin wasn't likely to be resigned, Chandler (as a restricted free agent) and JR Smith (a young knucklehead, albeit a talented one) are both pieces that could have been back for this year's campaign.

Will Denver be able to survive this purge of talent? Not to mention their free agent center Nene, whose bruising attack and true post game could be another team's to use in a few weeks time? Though still talented, I'm guessing without the post-Melo FU wave they were riding last year, the Nuggets won't be able to finish better than 7th place in a crowded Western Conference

Prediction: 35-31, 3rd place in the Northwest, 7th place in the West

Indiana Pacers

Burning Question - Will Danny Granger become anything more than the Bobby Abreu of Fantasy Basketball?

Bobby Abreu is the best player that ever hit fantasy baseball. He was a reliable .300 hitter, with 20 homers, 100 RBI and 20 stolen bases per year. Though highly regarded amongst statisticians, Phillies fans and fantasy baseball managers, he never really broke through towards being a household name. For the five dozen of us that play Fantasy Basketball, you know that Danny Granger is our Bobby Abreu. A consistent source for key fantasy statistics, Granger is not considered as elite in real life as he is in the sadder, yet just as real lives of fantasy basketball managers.

With the Pacers having plenty of cap room in order to sign potential free agents and have the squad become more than a 5 game first round fodder for the Heat, Bulls or Celts, is this the year where the country recognizes Granger's talents? More importantly, is this year he becomes just more than a good player on a terrible team?

I'm not so sure that it is. Granger is great, but his skill set translates to nothing more than a great second or third option on a great team. With sign and trade rules still being in effect for now, as well as bigger market teams wanting to make a splash coming out of the lockout gate, I don't see the Pacers being able to get the franchise player they're hoping for, or Danny Granger turning into that guy.

Prediction: 33-33, 2nd place in the Central, 7th place in the East

Milwaukee Bucks

Burning Question - Will the Bucks be relevant again? Will they regret giving up Jimmer for Stephen Jackson?

Many many moons ago, before our hearts and minds were locked out, along with the NBA players, a trade surfaced including Milwaukee, Sacto and Charlotte, with the end result being that Stephen Jackson going to Milwaukee, while the Bucks' 10th pick in the draft, BYU legend Jimmer Fredette, going to Sacramento.

Jimmer was one of the most exciting players in college basketball the past two seasons, but everyone seemed to have questions of whether or not his size and seeming lack of defensive acumen would translate to a noteworthy NBA career. If so, will the Bucks, worst in the league in scoring last year, regret giving up a guy who could potentially be a 15-20 point a night threat? Stephen Jackson is a great addition for Mily-walk-kay (which in Algonquin means, "The Good Land"), providing both passing and defense that the departed Corey Maggette seemed allergic to. I'm not sure if Jackson is the answer, as ball movement wasn't the problem entirely with the Bucks, but rather it was the fact that no one could put the ball in the hoop.

Prediction: 29-35, 3rd place in the Central, 9th in the East

Philadelphia 76ers

Burning Question - Can Evan Turner take the next step? Will the 76ers continue to be the biggest market team in the NBA that continues to have the least amount of impact?

Ever since the departure of Allen Iverson, Philadelphia has been largely a team full of role-players who play extremely hard with little notoriety and similar fanfare. Especially contrasted with the Flyers' recent postseason success and the free-agent bonanzas that the Phillies and Eagles have gone on the past few seasons, it only magnifies the fact that the big market 76ers are grab so little regard in the NBA.

They've been afflicted with the Curse of the Mediocre; good enough to make the playoffs as a low seed, not bad enough to win a round but not bad enough to get a great draft pick.

Miraculously, he 76ers finally overcame the Curse of the Mediocre two seasons ago when they were awarded the number 2 selection in the 2010 NBA Draft. With it, they took Ohio State swingman Evan Turner, over other prospects such as Georgia Tech forward Derrick Favors and Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins. Turner went on to have an average rookie season, scoring only 7.2 ppg and shooting around 42% from the field.

Though I saw some moments of potential, I, along with a lot of other NBA pundits, have already labeled Turner as a bust, especially considering the potential shown by both Favors and Cousins in their rookie campaigns. While it's early, I don't think Turner will improve enough in this sophmore season (if ever) to justify picking him over the two big men I just named. More importantly, I don't think he'll be enough to make Philly into a relevant watchable team. Well, at least there is the Dream Team across the street Philadelphia fans. You won't notice how bad the Sixers are when the Eagles are in the NFC title game.

Prediction: 27-39, 3rd in the Atlantic, 10th in the East

Toronto Raptors

Burning Question - Will new coach Dwane Casey get the Raptors to care about defense?

No. Calling Leandro Barbosa, Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and Linas Kleiza "defensive sieves" might actually be too generous of a term. These gentlemen get called out for being soft by Stephen Curry. The question isn't really whether or not Dwane Casey, who helped Dallas turn into a defense-first squad the past 3 seasons, can get his guys to lock down and play hard on both ends of the court. It's more the question of whether or not they are even capable of it. DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and Jerryd Bayless rank as the only other regulars that have a chance to become the players Casey hopes they can become.

Also, keep in mind that help isn't necessarily on the way. Their first round pick, 5th overall, Jonas Valanciunas won't be able to come over from Europe until after next season. It will be another rebuilding year in 2011-2012 for the Raps, and with such a fertile draft class available next summer, I fully expect the Raptors to start trading players for draft picks this year.

Prediction: 17-49, 5th in the Atlantic, 14th in the East

Utah Jazz

Burning Question - Will the first full season without Jerry Sloan at the coaching helm in 20 years mean a disastrous year for the Jazz?

Yes. With Deron Williams off the roster and Andrei Kirilenko's comically gigantic contract nothing more than a memory, the Jazz have gone into full blown rebuilding mode. Jerry Sloan abruptly retired in the middle of last season, leaving the Jazz without the consistent identity that's defined them since 1988.

With Memhet Okur's $10 million dollar salary expiring after April 2012, I'd expect the Jazz to deal him, as well as Raja Bell ($7 mil over 2 seasons), Devin Harris ($19 mil over 2 seasons) and maybe even Paul Millsap ($14 mil over 2 seasons). Derrick Favors and draftee Enes Kanter, not to mention Al Jefferson, are all emerging options in the front court, there's no reason to keep those players in a season of transition for the Jazz. Coach Tyrone Corbin had a rough two month stretch to end the season (8-20) and I'm not sure if he's a much better coach than that.

Prediction: 21-45, 5th in the Northwest, 14th in the West

Check in with MAMBINO over the next few weeks as we slowly but surely unveil our 2011-2012 NBA Season Preview. Welcome back everyone. We're back in business. I've never been so happy with a 3:18am text message in all my life.

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