Mailbag: Too early to judge NBA teams? - NBC Sports

Mailbag: Too early to judge NBA teams?
Plus, reader questions on Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni's struggles and the fall of Michael Beasley
AP
Injured New York Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire clowns around with injured Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash. Both will change the make-up of their respective teams once they get healthy.
December 15, 2012, 3:12 am

Q. Now that we've played a quarter of the season, is it safe to say we know where this is headed, like the Knicks are good, the Lakers aren't and the Spurs are back? -- Steve, Miami.

A. The quarter-pole is awfully early to make judgments in any sport, especially the NBA, and especially this season.

Here's why: Several teams that still could emerge as playoff factors have yet to reveal their identities because of missing pieces.

To cite your examples, until the Lakers get Steve Nash back, we won't know their full story. We know Nash will make them better, because that's what he does; that's what he's always done. Will he be enough? That's another story.

Then there are the Knicks, who have exhibited the NBA's best chemistry this side of the Spurs to start the season. But what happens when Amare Stoudemire comes back? Will the ball still swing from side to side, from 3-point shooter to 3-point shooter? And what happens when Iman Shumpert comes back? Will Mike Woodson opt to go for more defense in advance of the playoffs at the expense of minutes for gunners such as J.R. Smith or Steve Novak?

The December Lakers and Knicks will not be the Lakers and Knicks of March and April. Big personnel changes from within loom for both teams. How they adjust to rebooted rosters could tell just as much about their directions as their play through the first quarter of the season.

And the Knicks and Lakers are not alone. An abundance of teams - several that have emerged as playoff contenders - will morph in coming weeks and months.

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Then there are the rich who could become richer, with the Mavericks to get Dirk Nowitzki back and the Clippers to eventually return Grant Hill to the court. Both make their teams better by their mere presence.

Beyond that, there are the players who could potentially reinvent their teams' seasons, depending on what Derrick Rose looks like when he returns to the Bulls and what Danny Granger looks like when he rejoins the Pacers.

In the shorter term there is Ricky Rubio's return to the Timberwolves.

As for Andrew Bynum, who is yet to play this season, there are no guarantees for the 76ers. And with John Wall, it simply appears too late for the Wizards' fortunes to change.

The point is that while we're nearly two months into the season, several teams only now (some not even yet) are gaining initial impressions of what they truly will look like in March and April.

A year ago, the NBA season started on Christmas. This season, several teams have presents they're about to open, gifts that could provide untold riches or wind up proving redundant, potentially needing to be re-gifted.

What do we know at the quarter pole? This season . . . not nearly as much as we think we know.

Q. What were the Lakers thinking with Mike D'Antoni? -- Ron, Benicia, Calif.

A. That Steve Nash was closer to a return than has been the case, and therefore D'Antoni could essentially have a coach on the floor to make the transition to his offensive system easier.

That Dwight Howard would be closer to 100 percent from his offseason back surgery, something that hasn't been the case.

That all the good already put in place defensively by Mike Brown would be augmented by the unique offensive system introduced by D'Antoni.

Or, that they weren't thinking at all, that the arrival of D'Antoni would essentially remove the advantage they had with Pau Gasol at power forward and the potential big-to-big passing between Gasol and Howard, something that requires patience during the shot clock and not jacking up the first available jumper.

At least when Mike Brown opted to go with the Princeton offense, he did it knowing he would have an entire training camp. So far, the Lakers don't look like they are playing any style of offense. And it's a lot easier to recover on defense when there is continuity on the other end.

Yet just as significant might be the lack of a strong voice in the organization. When Heat players initially were questioning Erik Spoelstra at the start of 2010, there was the no-nonsense championship voice of Pat Riley. Mitch Kupchak never has had such a hammer and Jim Buss simply doesn't command the respect that Jerry Buss did.

Q. Ira, where are all those experts who thought Michael Beasley was going to be as good as Derrick Rose coming out of college? -- Mike, Flint, Mich.

A. Well, they used to be in Miami, then Minnesota, and for a brief while this season in Phoenix.

Rose went on to become MVP in 2011. Beasley went on to fail with the Heat, Timberwolves and now with the Suns.

It was one thing for the Heat to take him No. 2 in the 2008 draft ahead of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, O.J. Mayo and even Brook Lopez. It just was. He arguably was coming off one of the greatest college seasons ever.

But Beasley never has been the same player in the NBA, yet he continued to be cast as a leading man, with the Timberwolves and now with the Suns.

For the Timberwolves, the cost was a mere late draft pick. It was worth the risk for a bad team yet to fully realize what they had in Love.

But what the Suns were thinking with this offseason's free-agent contract is another story. Put it this way, at go-to time, Goran Dragic has become Phoenix's go-to scorer, while Beasley often watches from the bench.

Beasley's next contract well could be for the minimum. No, the 2008 draft wasn't a one-player draft. With all due respect to Rose, it was one of the deepest in years, when also factoring in Danilo Gallinari, Eric Gordon, Robin Lopez, Roy Hibbert, JaVale McGee, Courtney Lee, Serge Ibaka, George Hill and Omer Asik.

But it also wasn't a two-player draft, with Beasley among the biggest draft disappointments in decades.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http.//twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.



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