Philadelphia, PA – Thirty teams start out, all with the same goal.
Realistically, we know there are just a handful whose dreams are rooted in reality. But for now, with the 2012-13 NBA season to begin on Tuesday, all 30 teams have an equal right to think they can win the NBA Championship.
Time to squash those fanciful notions as we rank the non-playoff teams for this upcoming season...
30. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
Remember the scene in "My Cousin Vinny" when Joe Pesci's character gets his act together to offer a solid objection? The judge says, "that is a lucid, well-thought objection. Overruled." That applies to this year's Bobcats. After a 2011-12 season with the worst winning percentage in NBA history, the Bobcats tabbed Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second pick in the draft. That was a lucid, well-thought out selection. Will it help turn the franchise around any time soon? Nope. Kidd-Gilchrist will eventually be Joe Biden on a good team, not President Obama. The Kentucky product isn't a franchise player in waiting, but a great second guy. His selection was a good start and will help down the line, but not right away. The 2012-13 Charlotte Bobcats slogan should be: "We won't be historically bad!"
29. ORLANDO MAGIC
It's still pretty amazing to consider that the Magic had the biggest trade chip in the summer's blockbuster (Dwight Howard) and came out with the least to show for it. Arron Afflalo is a nice player and draft picks are great, but any team whose best players are Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Afflalo and Glen Davis is destined for a lot of ping-pong balls this summer. Howard handled last season as poorly as a human being could, but the organization was no great shakes. General Manager Otis Smith is gone. Head coach Stan Van Gundy is gone, replaced by Jacque Vaughn. The direction of this franchise can seriously be questioned.
28. HOUSTON ROCKETS
Howard plays a role in how bad the Rockets will be, as well. Rockets' general manager Daryl Morey sold everything in Houston but the Astrodome to generate enough cap space to land Howard. Well, Superman is on the Los Angeles Lakers and the Rockets big splash came in the form of Jeremy Lin. The Rockets ponied up over $25 million over three years for a guy who has had exactly 24 good games in the NBA. Kevin Martin will be trade bait at the deadline and the Rockets will have a ton of cap space next offseason. This season will be rough on head coach Kevin McHale and company. At least Houston still has the Astrodome and the Texans.
27. PHOENIX SUNS
When a team like the Suns jettison a two-time MVP like Steve Nash, there are bound to be bumps in the road. This team is now littered with journeymen (Channing Frye/Sebastian Telfair), underachievers (Wesley Johnson/Michael Beasley), legit hard-workers (Jared Dudley, Marcin Gortat, Luis Scola) and an underrated new point guard in Goran Dragic. What does it all add up to? Do you have faith that all of these players jell this season to make the eighth seed, something the team, with Nash in the last two seasons, failed to do? How can you? Jermaine O'Neal, who probably signed with Phoenix to work with their top- notch training staff, and those players mentioned are your rotation. That's not good enough.
26. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Kyrie Irving is the next in line to be a great young point guard. He's following John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams and Chris Paul and Irving is that good. In time, and with more help from the draft, the Cavs will grow behind Irving. Problem is, with back-to- back fourth picks in the draft, they walked out with Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, who was already benched in a preseason game for not knowing the plays. Nothing to say they won't be players someday, but right now they aren't and the Cavaliers offer very little help to Irving over 82 games, especially if Anderson Varejao is traded during the season. And, I hated the Waiters pick.
25. SACRAMENTO KINGS
The Sacramento Kings are more dysfunctional than the Lohan family. The Maloof brothers and owners backed out of a deal for a new arena in Sacramento, so you could be looking at the future Seattle Kings, Anaheim Kings or even Virginia Beach Kings. On the floor, the Kings' two best players, DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans, have displayed attitude problems. The frustrating part of the Kings is that there is a lot of talent. Cousins is a legit big-man stud and Evans has it in there somewhere and he better find it. The Kings didn't offer the 2009-10 Rookie of the Year a contract extension. Does everyone remember that Evans was the fourth player in NBA history to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in his rookie year? The other three are Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. That is a staggering group, except for Evans. Now, Evans can't even get a contract offer from that team three years later? That's a gigantic fall. That's John Travolta not getting work after "Saturday Night Fever" bad. The Kings need to get some stability and quick or real-estate agents in Virginia Beach will be busy.
24. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
With two picks in the top 10 in this past NBA Draft, including No. 1 overall Anthony Davis, Bourbon Street should be excited. Davis is the real deal. His jump-shooting is so strong already, head coach Monty Williams is talking about Davis playing the small forward spot. Defensively, he will be a game-changer. Austin Rivers is hobbled by a bad ankle, but he'll be fine come the regular season. Eric Gordon missed almost all of last season, but he is back, begrudgingly. Gordon signed a restricted free-agent deal with the Phoenix Suns, but the Hornets matched. They had to or they would've given Chris Paul away for literally nothing. Let Davis, Rivers and Gordon grow, add another high lottery pick, stay away from a second hurricane at Pat O'Briens and watch out for New Orleans. Just not quite yet.
23. PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS
Five years ago, almost any team would've traded places with the Blazers. They had Greg Oden, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge for the most promising young nucleus in the league. Fast-forward to present, Oden is not playing this year, but clings to hope to play again. He's hilarious. Roy came out of retirement to join the Timberwolves, but has zero cartilage in both knees. At least Aldridge is an All-Star talent. They are trying to rebuild once again, this time around Aldridge and first-round picks Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard. The Trailblazers are a good organization and they can become relevant once again, but they aren't now. Hopefully, the Blazers doctors looked long and hard at Lillard's and Leonard's knees.
22. TORONTO RAPTORS
Call me a sucker, but the Raptors intrigue me. The offseason acquisition of Kyle Lowry was smart. Andrea Bargnani is close to fully realizing his potential as a former No. 1 overall pick. DeMar DeRozan is a scorer and Jonas Valanciunas is going to surprise people with how ready he is for the league. They'll have a poor record, but teams will earn their victories against the team from the great north.
21. WASHINGTON WIZARDS
The John Wall injury kept the Wizards from being higher on this list. Washington transfused its roster when it dispensed of Andray Blatche, Nick Young, Rashard Lewis and JaVale McGee. In their place came Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, all solid lunch-pail guys. But the Wizards can't replace Wall for the two months he'll be gone. Bradley Beal was a great choice and he and Wall will be a great backcourt one day, just not a day during this season.
20. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
A lot of pundits see playoff team when they look at the Bucks. It's a good roster with Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Samuel Dalembert, Ersan Ilyasova, Luc Mbah a Moute (I may ask my dad to spell that one day), Mike Dunleavy, Marquis Daniels, Larry Sanders (the young center, not the Garry Shandling fictional character), Beno Udrih, Drew Gooden, Epke Udoh, Tobias Harris, John Henson and Doron Lamb. Have these players ever won anything in the NBA? Negative. Head coach Scott Skiles will be gone and so too will be either Jennings or Ellis at the deadline.
19. DETROIT PISTONS
Here's the pick that is farthest on the limb. Chalk this up to an unhealthy love of Greg Monroe. He is a spectacularly talented big man who is the cornerstone of the franchise after a season when he averaged 15.4 points per game and grabbed 9.7 boards. Add in Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey at his natural off guard spot and first-round pick Andre Drummond, and now you've got a stew. You have to like Drummond to like this positioning of the Pistons, but remember, this team went 4-20 to start last season and finished 21-21. It was going to take forever to recover from the hideous Joe Dumars summer of 2009 when he signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to long-term contracts. Gordon is in Charlotte and Villanueva anchors the bench for the Pistons like a cinder block tied to the ankle of a mob informant.
18. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
The T-Wolves were a playoff team last season before Ricky Rubio got hurt in March. They finished 4-17 with the Spanish guard on the shelf and he's not expected back until at least December. Kevin Love, the best power forward in the game, broke his hand doing knuckle push-ups (what's wrong with regular ones?) and will probably be out until close to Christmas. Roy came out of retirement and how can you count on him for anything? So how do we figure the Timberwolves survive until Love and Rubio return? Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, Derrick Williams and Luke Ridnour do not scream playoffs at anyone. If totally healthy, the T-Puppies are easily a postseason team. Love is that good and Rubio is that important.
17. DALLAS MAVERICKS
The Mavericks haven't missed the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season. It was in January of that season Mark Cuban purchased the majority stake of the Mavs. Shawn Bradley, Cedric Ceballos and even Dennis Rodman were on that Dallas team. (Well, Rodman played 12 games, got ejected twice, then waived.) The Dirk Nowitzki era in Dallas was punctuated with consistent success and an NBA title just two seasons ago. But the plan for the Mavericks has gone awry. They tried to free cap space to sign Dwight Howard, Deron Williams or both. Williams passed, in part, blaming Cuban's absence at the pitch meeting, but it's not like the reality show, "Shark Tank" can survive without Mark. Dallas landed no big fishes, or sharks, and instead signed players to shorter contracts. They brought in some quality veterans, but the team still revolves around Dirk. He underwent knee surgery when swelling wouldn't go down after treatment. Nowitzki's expected to miss a few weeks at the start of the season. Too many Western Conference teams made too many strides to automatically pencil Dallas in the postseason. Cue up Boyz II Men's "End of the Road."