- The Season's Over -

Western Conference Playoffs: Seven NBA Teams On the Outside Looking In

April 21, 2009

Mike Dunleavy Sr.By Zachariah Blott

The season is over for seven Western Conference teams and their front offices and fans are already looking ahead to next year and wondering if they can improve enough to make a run at the playoffs. Here’s the rundown of how the 2009-10 season is looking for these clubs.

LA Clippers (19-63)

Local Optimism: Poor. Everyone knows the three perpetual truths of LA’s JV team: they were bad last year, they are bad this year, they’ll be bad next year.

Case for Improvement: They look good on paper: Zach Randolph (20.9 PPG, 9.4 RPG), Eric Gordon (16.8 PPG as a rookie), Baron Davis (7.7 APG, the guts to shoot important shots), Chris Kaman (8.0 RPG), Marcus Camby (2.1 BPG), Al Thornton (16.8 PPG). Someday they’ll get over the injury bug.

However… They have tons of guys who are great to use in video games but who do none of the little things that make a team win (see also: the opposite of the Houston Rockets). Everyone shoots bad shots. They need to start over, again, if they ever plan on winning games.

Verdict: Playoffs! At some point in the next 20 years. Maybe. They could have the worst record in the league next year.

Mike Dunleavy Sr. photo credit: Icon SMI

Memphis Grizzlies (24-58)

Local Optimism: Some. Fans like the improved production Coach Lionel Hollins got out of the team after he was put in charge in late-January. The players feel good about the team’s direction and fans expect an improvement from a club that started three rookies this season, but they stop short of mentioning playoffs for the near future.

Case for Improvement: They have several young players who look good on paper in scorer O.J. Mayo (18.5 PPG – tops among rookies), athletic forward Rudy Gay, hard-working rookie Marc Gasol (13.5 PPG and 7.8 RPG after the All-Star game), and slowly improving point guard Mike Conley (shot 41 percent from downtown this year, 4.3-1.7 A-TO ratio). As a team, the Grizzlies improved in every area after Hollins took the helm. They have money to spend this offseason.

However… The group of talent they have just feels like a collection of shiny toys; one has to wonder if they can gel as a team in a way that equals wins. They possess the deadly combination of poor shooting and poor rebounding. The Grizzlies need more frontcourt muscle and help off the bench.

Verdict: No playoffs. They should improve, but I’m curious to see if they are more than a collection of guys you’d like to see play 1-on-1 at the local YMCA. If they add depth to the frontcourt (Blake Griffin?), they could win 30-some games and be in a nice position for the future.

Breaking down the other five Western Conference also-rans, after the jump…

The Maloof Brothers Can’t Be Happy

The Maloof Brothers Photos Credit: Icon SMI

Sacramento Kings (17-65)

Local Optimism: None. At. All.

Case for Improvement: Kevin Martin (24.6 PPG) missed 31 games due to injury. Young big men Spencer Hawes (11.4 PPG and 7.1 RPG) and Jason Thompson (11.1 and 7.4) are quickly improving. Seldom-used Ike Diogu showed by the end of the year that he could be a valuable bench player next season. Your little sister could be their coach and it would be an improvement. They are guaranteed a top-4 draft pick, so they’ve already narrowed their scouting appropriately, not to mention they have the best chance of landing Blake Griffin.

However… They’re bad. Like really bad. Opponents shot a league-high .483 against them, including .406 from deep. They desperately need a point guard, but is Ricky Rubio the answer?

Verdict: No chance of playoffs. A steady point guard, a healthy Martin, and continued improvement in the frontcourt (especially defensively) could get the Kings 20-27 wins in 2009-2010.

Phoenix Suns (46-36)

Local Optimism: Not so bright. Fans want GM Steve Kerr to pack his bags and for the rebuilding to begin, but there are still some people who think the Suns should/can make the playoffs next year. A much higher percentage would like to see Phoenix clean house, starting with Kerr.

Case for Improvement: Steve Nash can still shoot and pass with the best of them. Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Richardson, and Amare Stoudemire are more-than-capable scorers. Interim Coach Alvin Gentry will hopefully be signed as the guy and continue his dedication to the running game they were built for.

However… Is anyone willing, able, or healthy enough to play defense? Most of the key pieces are getting old (Nash, O’Neal), have injury issues (Stoudemire), or are free agents (Grant Hill, Matt Barnes). This roster could be totally retooled next year, necessitating time to gel and find an identity.

Verdict: Possibility of playoffs if Gentry gets the Suns back to being the Suns on offense. Without improvements in the D, however, they could end up around .500 next season. If they truly are a team that’s strictly rebuilding next year, expect a massive drop in the win column.

Oklahoma City Thunder (23-59)

Local Optimism: Decent. Ticket sales are up and the organization talks like the playoffs are impending. Most fans like the team nucleus, but aren’t expecting a quick-fix miracle and will be satisfied if the Thunder continue to grow the right way.

Case for Improvement: They have an exciting core of youngsters—Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russell Westbrook—who all can do a little of everything. They lost 14 games by 5 points or less, which should drop as this group gains more experience. Without anyone on the team averaging more than 6.9 rebounds, the Thunder were still seventh in the league with a +1.41 rebounding differential. Starters Nenad Krstic (center) and Thabo Sefolosha (guard-forward) weren’t present for a combined 95 games. Can wunderkind point guard Shaun Livingston continue his solid play in the summer league and actually play a full regular season?

However… Their defense is terrible. The offense isn’t much better. They turn the ball over a lot and don’t force opponents to do so. They drastically need a big man who can be physical and solid in the paint.

Verdict: No playoffs. They need to improve a lot of areas, and a defensive-minded big man who won’t get shoved around would be a great start. Chalk them up for 28-33 wins.

Kevin McHale: Inexplicable

Kevin McHale Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Minnesota Timberwolves (24-58)

Local Optimism: Not much. The whole organization is a mess, but some fans think Kevin McHale has done a passable job as coach considering Al Jefferson missed the last 32 games (before which the Wolves were 17-33). Most people, however, want McHale and owner Glen Taylor out of town yesterday.

Case for Improvement: Al Jefferson is the truth (23.1 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 1.7 BPG) and hopefully will be OK to go by the beginning of next season. Rookie Kevin Love averaged 10 RPG for the second half of the season and showed an improved shooting touch. They have a hodgepodge of other players who could be important pieces: Randy Foye (16.3 PPG), Sebastian Telfair (9.8 PPG, 4.6-2.0 A-TO), and Mike Miller (career 40.1 percent 3-point shooter, 9.0 RPG over last 11 starts).

However… Taylor will still own the team. They play defense about as well as Michael J. Fox’s team at the beginning of Teen Wolf.

Verdict: No playoffs. They should be fine inside, but they still don’t have a guard you can trust to win some games. Modest improvement in record at best.

Golden State Warriors (29-53)

Anthony Randolph is Special

Local Optimism: Poor. Fans don’t trust the front office after a Lemony Snicket-esque series of bad decisions. The “We Believe” days are ancient history.

Case for Improvement: Rookie power forward Anthony Randolph is a physical freak who can do it all (15 PPG, 11 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 1 BPG in the last month of the season). They still run and shoot 3’s well enough to win some games they shouldn’t.

However… They are like the Isiah Thomas Knicks: they have a ton of guards who are supposed to be good, none of whom can actually lead a team. For all the points they score (108.6), their opponents do just fine scoring more (112.3). They were last in the league in rebounding differential (-5.06). They overpaid everyone.

Verdict: No playoffs. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked to see their record get worse.

Zachariah Blott is an English teacher in Portland, not an Amish Charles Dickens character.

Anthony Randolph photo credit: Icon SMI

8 Comments »Posted by ETB Contributor on Apr. 21, 2009 at 4:30 am in NBA

8 Responses

For a new contributor, it’s been a highly conspicuous start for you Mr. Zachariah Blott.

Your Kobe article straight up dismissed the fact that he owns 3 titles. In which, I hope you can agree, he had his hand in. You say he couldn’t win without a post presence. But maybe he couldn’t put up 60% win ratio without TALENT. Kwame Brown and Smush Parker were his starting Center and Point guard. COME ON. What did you expect from him? Anything over .500 ball is a miracle.

And now for this article, you could have done SOME research. At least show some effort. If we’re calling Cuttino Mobley a case for improvement for the Clippers, perhaps it’ll come in the form of a retracted trade for Z-BO. Because that’s the only way he can helo the Clippers now. HE’S RETIRED — FOR THE KNICKS.

But YES, I guess you were partially right, by the end of the season, Bobby Brown was showing how (un)valuable he was by the end of the season to the TIMBERWOLVES. NOT the Kings.

Hope you teach your kids in Portland to research before they turn in their papers. This can be your first example! Yay!

Posted by: SL on April 21st, 2009 at 5:40 am

You are correct, SL. Apologies on the Mobley/Brown oversights. I’ve removed their mentions.

Andrew

Posted by: Andrew Thell on April 21st, 2009 at 10:07 am

Big Al, A Randolph, Rudy Gay, The Durantula, B-Diddy – these guys make the Lig worth watching, not Tim Duncan.

Looking foreward to next year/.

Posted by: D-Fowler on April 21st, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Durantula? I haven’t heard that one before, great nickname, sounds like a cereal or chocolates or something.

Blott, can’t believe you got that one wrong. Maybe you should stick to your day job. We should have a petition or vote of some kind to put a permanent moratorium on your career at ETB, not on Kobe for MVP.

SL – I can’t remember exactly which commentator it was, but during the 06-07 Suns vs. Lakers series, he inadvertently summed up the state of the Lakers with a comment at halftime: the Lakers were down big as they headed for the locker room, and the commentator said something along the lines of: “With PHX’s doing the damage in the first half, Kobe and his friends are going to head into the locker room to try and forge a plan to get back into the game.” It really seemed as though Kobe had just rounded up some of his friends to go up against the Suns. Kobe and his FRIENDS… LOL. Made Odom/Kwame/Smush sound like a bunch of losers. (if you didn’t see it, you probably wont find it as funny as I did)

Posted by: r.i.p_petrovic on April 22nd, 2009 at 2:16 am

Durantula was something thought up back in the Sonics days, god rest their soul. And also, I’d disagree that Tim Duncan is not worth watching. If you appreciate watching Al Jefferson’s masterful footwork, there’s no reason to disrespect all the little things Duncan does.

Posted by: Jason on April 22nd, 2009 at 2:49 pm

I disagree with the thunder comment,
i got them competing for that 8th and final place in the playoffs next year, i think they are good enough,
With another lottery pick, it should bolster their already young talented core.

That’s just my opinion,
feel free to disagree

Posted by: J-Kizzle on April 23rd, 2009 at 1:15 am

j-kizzle – i agree. i haven’t looked around for stats to back this up, but i cant remember the last time the same 8 made it back to the playoffs. and out of the 8 teams that didnt make it, IMO the thunder seem most likely to take a playoff place (along with maybe the suns)

Posted by: r.i.p_petrovic on April 23rd, 2009 at 11:01 pm

Great read!

Posted by: marc on April 24th, 2009 at 6:44 am

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