Monday, May 4, 2009

Who's Up and Who's Down in the NBA?

Obviously, the eight teams that remain in the NBA playoffs are all up. No question about that. But let's look at the teams that aren't playing anymore. Of the 22 teams watching the playoffs, which ones are closer to being a factor and which ones are trending downward.

DOWN: SAN ANTONIO SPURS. The Spurs just looked so old in their first round loss to the Mavericks. Tim Duncan's knees are creaky from so many years going deep into the playoffs. Manu Ginobili will be 32 and is coming off a season where he was never healthy. Tony Parker emerged as an elite player, but he isn't the kind of player that can do it all himself. The Spurs staples of great defense and a solid bench just wasn't there this year. The one thing about the Spurs is that they have never burdened their payroll so they can make changes easier than others can.

UP: CHICAGO BULLS. The Baby Bulls put on quite a show against Boston. Is this the start to something great? Maybe. One key is if they can bring Ben Gordon back. That could be hard since Kirk Hinrich still has three years left on his deal and John Salmons emerged in the postseason. Still, Gordon was the go-to guy and that's hard to replace. Oh, and remember that Chicago didn't have Luol Deng in the playoffs.

DOWN: TORONTO RAPTORS. The one blessing for the Raptors is that they are shedding a ton of salary off the books. No more Shawn Marion, Anthony Parker or Jorge Garbajosa eating up cap space. But the big issue is Chris Bosh. Bosh went from a man on the rise to disgruntled pretty quick. He's one of those big free agent names in 2010 and you know that Toronto is going to look at unloading him at some point before then. This team just doesn't seem to match correctly and may be heading to the bottom.

UP: CHARLOTTE BOBCATS. Charlotte started and ended up badly, but this was a playoff team during the middle third of the year. The trade that brough Boris Diaw and Raja Bell to the Queen City gave the team an identity of tough, physical play. The key for Charlotte is finding some offense. They were one of the lowest scoring teams and still haven't found a go-to scorer. Not to mention, do they have anyone that can score in the paint?

DOWN: UTAH JAZZ. I very rarely count the Jazz out. But this team didn't look like a typical Jazz team down the stretch. Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver may all bolt via free agency. Deron Williams' monster deal kicks in next year. AK-47 and Matt Harpring will be in the last year of their deals. Not to mention that there have been some rumblings that Jerry Sloan could retire.

UP: MIAMI HEAT. The Heat had one of the best turnarounds in NBA history. And they did it by adding relatively nothing but a healthy Dwyane Wade. Next year will be big for Miami, pretty much everyone will be in their contract season ... including Wade ... and there could be some urgency.

DOWN: PHOENIX SUNS. The roster is just old. Shaq and Steve Nash will be in the final years of their monster contracts. Amare Stoudamire can opt out after the season. One or all three could be gone before the trading deadline. Grant Hill is a free agent now. After that, this team has slim pickings.

UP: PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS. Duh, but this team is so talented. They have young, athletic cats all over the roster. All they need is some experience. That six-game soiree with the Rockets gave them some. Now the key is the development of Greg Oden and Jerryd Bayless. Oden just hasn't given them No. 1 pick numbers and Bayless could fill a sort-of need at the point guard slot.

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