Over the next four days, I’ll be writing on what I call my Expectation Series — a four-part set of rankings for the following: most disappointing teams, most surprising teams, most disappointing players, and most surprising players.
The playoffs are arriving, and they should be great. Just look at the leapfrogging going on at the top of the Western Conference, not to mention the comfortably elite in the East. But before we turn our attention to the postseason, let’s look at what could have been for many of the NBA’s teams. Some teams were truly unsatisfactory this year when they could have been something special.
No. 5 — New Orleans Hornets
The Hornets are only the fifth-most-disappointing team in the league because their struggles can be attributed, in large part, to significant missed time for star point guard Chris Paul. Still, 35-43 is not where they wanted to be at this point in the schedule. Aside from Paul, New Orleans has vastly underrated forward David West and traded for Emeka Okafor for the year. That acquisition didn’t work out. Darren Collison played incredibly well filling in for CP3, which makes their difficulty so much more puzzling. They need to go back to the drawing board for 2010-2011 and figure out what went wrong besides Paul’s injury — that certainly wasn’t their only problem.
No. 4 — Toronto Raptors
The Raptors, too, would be further down on this list if not for extenuating circumstances? What are they? Well, they still have a very good chance at making the playoffs. They sit at 38-38 now, holding the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings, and Chicago is a game behind. But expectations for this team coming in were much higher. Amalgamating the development of Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani with the acquisitions of Jarrett Jack and Hedo Turkoglu, north-of-the-border fans were hoping that the Raptors could establish themselves among the top dogs in the conference. Well, that hasn’t panned out. Bosh is playing the best offensive ball of his career, but his defense is atrocious. As is that of the entire team — absolutely deplorable defensive effort they’ve put together. In addition, Turkoglu is not at all the same player he was in Orlando. It seems he increased his effort for his contract season, and now he’s coasting on a lucrative five-year deal with Toronto. Too bad, because they really could have been great.
No. 3 — Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have suffered in part because of the loss of Blake Griffin to a knee injury. But with Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, and Chris Kaman up front (not to mention Marcus Camby, who they had up until the all-star break), they should have done better. It’s not really fair to blame them, though. After all, they’re cursed.
No. 2 — Detroit Pistons
Everyone knew the Pistons got lowballed in their free-agency quest this past summer. Going all in for a key player, the Pistons failed and had to resort to overpaying two mid-level players in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to keep the roster afloat. But what they had assembled was actually somewhat promising. Gordon, Villanueva, Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum, Detroit staples Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, and Ben Wallace isn’t all that bad a group. Their record says differently, as they’re 23-53 and have lost their last 11 games. Frankly, I don’t understand why they have been so bad. They have the offensive and defensive pieces to get the job done, so I figure it must have something to do with coach John Kuester. But it goes to show you why overpaying second-tier players is just a bad idea.
No. 1 — Washington Wizards
The Wizards had quite a roster: Gilbert Arenas, Randy Foye, Mike Miller, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, newly improved Andray Blatche, and Brendan Haywood make up a rather spectacular group talent-wise. Then Arenas and Javaris Crittendon started fighting like school girls and it all went down the drain. Now Arenas is out for the rest of the year, Butler, Jamison, and Haywood have all been traded away to contenders, and all the Wizards have to show for it is Josh Howard and Al Thornton. That won’t cut it. They could have had a real thing going on, but Arenas is a complete headcase. What a waste of an immense collection of talent.
Come back tomorrow for the most surprising teams of the season in part two of the Expectation Series.