The lockout is finally over and it’s just about time for free agency and the regular season to begin. So, before we get there, I’m releasing my reverse power rankings with 5 teams each day, and ending just in time for Friday’s December 9th free agent frenzy. Obviously, by the time any of these rankings are released, free agency rumors could leak and everything I wrote could be rendered meaningless, so I’m mentioning all that here rather than placing asterisks and explanations in every individual ranking. Now, without further adieu, here are your bottom five:
30. Charlotte Bobcats
Ladies (do we have any of those reading this blog?) and gentlemen, I present the 2011-2012 worst team in the league. After losing Raymond Felton, Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson, Stephen Jackson, Emeka Okafor, and Tyson Chandler over the last 4 seasons with absolutely nothing to show for it, the Bobcats are now entering full rebuilding mode. Corey Maggette has been brought in to replace Stephen Jackson as their new ballhog and leading scorer, DJ Augustin is still undersized and will now have competition for minutes, and, somehow, Tyrus Thomas has become a top player on an NBA team. If nothing else Bismack Biyombo and Kemba Walker will make for intriguing rookies, but don’t be surprised when they’re joined by a high draft pick next year.
Notes: The Bobcats launched this embarrassingly bad rookie introduction campaign after the draft that’s really too funny not to point out: http://www.nba.com/bobcats/110623_release_draft.html
29. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors, a 22 win team last year, opted to improve their future prospects in the last draft. By drafting Jonas Valanciunas, who we almost certainly won’t see until next year, they sacrificed any chance of success this season. Despite the addition of new head coach Dwayne Casey, their roster should not look too different than it did last year when Andrea Bargnani reinforced his lack of ability to lead a team. Jose Calderon will battle to be the best Spanish born point guard in the league (See: Timberwolves) and Ed Davis could surprise after a quietly effective rookie season. Look for improvements in DeMar DeRozan’s game and he alone should be good for frequent appearances for Canada’s team on Sports Centre (not to be confused with the American Sports Center).
28. Detroit Pistons
If last year was any indication of the direction the Pistons are headed, look out for another disastrous season for this recently proud franchise. Detroit must decide on a direction to go right now with a core of both players from the glory days (Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace) and the gory days (Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva) who still have to figure out how to mesh with the young guys. If they can somehow manage to greatly improve under the guidance of new head coach Lawrence Frank, they will only be hurting themselves. This season should be all about developing second year center Greg Monroe and rookie point guard Brandon Knight and hoping those ping pong balls bounce their way for the strong upcoming 2012 draft.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers
Ranking the Cavs this high is essentially a courtesy to the team and to Kyrie Irving after drafting him number 1 overall last June. While I don’t agree with the pick by any means (See: Timberwolves, again), I remain intrigued, and Cleveland obviously saw something in Irving that I still do not. However, even more befuddling is why Cleveland would draft Tristan Thompson at number 4. Again, these are not players I have seen play yet, and they could easily prove me wrong, but I think there were much better options on the table for them at both picks (or in a trade package involving both?). Having said all that, it will be interesting to see how Baron Davis and Antawn Jamison handle babysitting duties for the younger players, and look out for newcomer Omri Casspi to become an instant fan favorite for this losing team.
Note: See, you can talk about the Cavs without mentioning LeBron. Whoops. Never mind.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves
Make no mistake, this will be Minnesota’s most entertaining season in Garnett knows how many years, but that will not necessarily translate into wins. Rick Adelman should prove to be a huge step up in the coaching department and Ricky Rubio will certainly be the most interesting Spanish point guard prodigy drafted in 2009 who then disappointed in Europe instead of coming straight to the NBA. Leaving the unproven Rubio aside, look for Kevin Love to grow after his first all-star appearance and winning the most improved player award, Derrick Williams should prove to be the star of this draft and is my pick for Rookie of the Year, and Michael Beasley will do his best not to screw things up. Also, look for quietly solid contribution from second year player Wesley Johnson, and if I could predict what to look out for from Anthony Randolph this season, this is the spot I would do it. Unfortunately, he’s as much a mystery as the rest of these young wolf pups.
Note: The Minnesota Lynx, the Timberwolves’ WNBA counterpart, won the championship last year. I just wanted to point that out. Don’t expect the same from the Timberwolves.