Going Fishing in April

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There’s a small part of every fan that begins the new season with a sense of optimism, no matter what the prognosticators say about their team in pre-season previews and power-rankings. The scars of the past year have been healed by a few months away from basketball. New faces have arrived, some familiar ones may have left, and there’s a small sense that the ingredients are in place for a change of fortune.

But that’s the small part. As much as there’s a place for delusion and denial in assessing how good (or bad) your team’s going to be, for the most part, fans can see the writing on the wall come September. Losing your best player, having a roster filled with young, unproven talent, or trying to win games with a guy that seems to have the term ‘knucklehead’ prefixed to his name, is a recipe for 82 games of misery, and a place in the draft lottery come June.

So let’s not sugarcoat things. The following 5 teams are going to struggle mightily. Their fans will need patience, a good sense of humour, and an interest in NCAA basketball, to get through the year.

Houston Rockets

For the past few years, the Rockets have been in a kind of basketball no-man’s land—a place that no forward-thinking fan wants their team to be. Always on the cusp of a playoff position, but never good enough to contend, the Rockets have been stuck banging their heads against an 8th place ceiling in the West. You either want to be really good, and always have the chance to win some hardware, or really bad, and get better through high draft picks. The Rockets had been neither.

This season the Rockets should finally be bad enough to make some headway on an overdue rebuilding effort. It didn’t appear to be by design, however. G.M. Daryl Morey did gut his entire roster—out went the likes of Dragic, Lowry, and Scola—but it was in an effort to land Dwight Howard. That plan failed, of course, and the Rockets are left with a team led by Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, an out-of-favour Kevin Martin, and not a lot else. Lin should put up great numbers in Houston—McHale will let him run the offense—but other than inexperienced young talent, the likes of Jeremy Lamb and Royce White, he doesn’t have much to work with. Expect a lot of turnovers, and a place at the bottom of the Southwest division.

Detroit Pistons

Between 2003-2008, the Detroit Pistons made it to 6 straight Eastern Conference Finals, winning it all in 2004. Those days seem very far away now. The Pistons have struggled immensely over the last few years. Some of it has been down to the natural process of star players aging/retiring or moving on—Ben Wallace wasn’t going to be ripping down boards forever—but a lot of it has been self-inflicted.

Joe Dumars is a hard G.M. to figure out. His moves are either genius—trading Jerry Stackhouse for Rip Hamilton, or Grant Hill for Ben Wallace—or they’re positively baffling. You can file the trade that sent Chauncey Billups to Denver for Allen Iverson, or picking up Charlie Villaneuva, under the latter. And unless Dumars gets back to working some more of his pre-2005 magic, the Pistons will struggle again this season.

In Greg Monroe, the Pistons have a potential all-star centre, and a piece to build around over the next few years, but the remainder of their roster comes up short. Brandon Knight struggled at times last season, and while Rodney Stuckey has some upside, he’s not the kind of player who’s going to have a major impact on Detroit’s season. Pistons fans will hope that rookie Andre Drummond develops into the interior beast he has the potential to be. That won’t happen this season, however, and the glory days of the early 21st century will continue to seem like a lifetime ago.

Sacramento Kings

It not only seems like a lifetime ago since the Kings won something (they did technically win the NBA championship in 1951, but as the Rochester Royals) but it actually seems like forever since they put out a team that was over .500 for the year. It was the 2005/06 season, in case you’re wondering.

The off-season for the Kings has been dominated by news of a potential relocation to a new market. But on the court, the coming season doesn’t promise much of anything new. The Kings have no shortage of talent on their roster—that’s never really been the issue—but the same toxic blend of dysfunction, and character problems, will haunt this team again.

Kings center, DeMarcus Cousins, has the talent to be an all-star every year, and last season he put up fantastic numbers (18 and 11), but there are few players that make you shake your head in exasperation more than Boogie. Whether it’s taking terrible shots, wanting to fight Devin Harris, or just generally creating a bad atmosphere around the team, Cousins seems like a nightmare for any coach (just ask Paul Westphal). To compound the issue, the Kings have Tyreke Evans—a perennial headache—and newly acquired point-guard, Aaron Brooks; a player who’s had his fair share of locker room disputes. This Kings team just has too much of a powder keg-type quality—and not in a good way. Expect their record to reflect that.

Orlando Magic

Remember when the Orlando Magic lost a future Hall-of-Fame centre for nothing? That was Shaq back in ’96…oh wait, that’s right, it happened again.

The Magic didn’t literally lose Dwight Howard for nothing, of course, but when your player is the centerpiece in a four-way trade, and next two best players in the trade (Bynum and Iguodala) don’t end up on your team, it’s a little alarming.

Orlando ended up with Arron Afflalo, a solid defense-first shooting guard, and Al Harrington—the same Al Harrington coming off two knee surgeries. Afflalo and Jameer Nelson, whom the Magic inexplicably signed to a new contract, will shoulder most of the scoring load. It’s a sobering fact that tells you everything you need to know about the problems the Magic will have in the coming season.

J.J. Reddick and Hedo Turkoglu, who looked good shooting 3s when Dwight would draw his frequent double-teams, aren’t going to have anywhere near the kind of open looks this year. Last year’s winner of the NBA Most Improved Player Award, Ryan Anderson, was traded to the Hornets, while the Magic will rely heavily on Glen Davis at center. Davis works hard, but if you were trying to find Dwight Howard’s polar opposite at the 5-spot—undersized, non-athletic, and a poor defender—Big Baby would be your man.

Despite the fact that the Magic will be terrible to watch this year, they should at least feel at ease with the Dwight saga behind them. The fans were fed-up, as were the players, and with a new coach in place, there’s a chance for a fresh start. Just don’t expect that fresh start to include more than 30 wins this year.

Charlotte Bobcats

Oh those poor Charlotte Bobcats. Last year’s edition were officially the worst NBA team to ever grace the hard court. They won an astonishingly bad 7 games last year, losing their last 23, and finishing with a winning percentage of .106. Owner Michael Jordan earned the unique distinction of being a major part of both the best (’95-96 Bulls) and the worst teams of all time.

Some fans jokingly suggested, and they might have been right, that a 49-year old MJ would’ve won the Bobcats a couple more games if he’d suited up. He hasn’t been too impressive off the court, however. We see it in every sport—star players failing as coaches or general managers—but it does seem improbable, almost depressing, that a guy who played with a competitive fire that is still unmatched, is partly responsible for an ensemble better suited to a bad sports comedy movie. Jordan has been accused of taking a laissez-faire approach to his team’s fortunes—more concerned with his golf game than with how things are going on the court.

This year might prove slightly less painful viewing for MJ and Bobcats fans, but only slightly. Rookie forward, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, should add something defensively, but it’s unfair, and unrealistic, to expect him to right a sinking ship—as it was for Kemba Walker last season. Gerald Henderson, and new signing Ramon Sessions, will provide most of the offensive output. As with the Magic, it’s a bad sign when two average players are your go-to-guys on offense.

Other than that, there isn’t much else for Bobcats fans to get excited about. New arrival, Ben Gordon, will continue to shoot way too much, while it’s difficult to see the under-achieving Tyrus Thomas, fulfilling his potential in this kind of environment. Bobcats centre, Bismack Biyombo, has major upside on the defensive end, but he’s extremely limited offensively at this stage of his career.

The Bobcats will surely win more than 7 games this season, if only because they’ll have 16 more games in which to try. Despite small improvements, they are still the worst team in the NBA by a long way, and their fans will simply hope that the 2013 draft class is a strong one. Unfortunately, as Bobcats fans well know, being the worst team of all time doesn’t guarantee the number 1 pick. There’s definitely no Anthony Davis on this roster.
 

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