The Semi-Dirty 30

by Lang Whitaker

Fri-day! Yes! And Farmer Jones himself is here in the big city today, which means no snide comments below from Ryan.

Sam’Ron is out sick — he actually left me a voice mail in which he said “I’m calling in sick,” which I didn’t know you actually had to do — and things are kind of slow here today. Funniest part of the day thus far? The SLAM photo shoot going down here in our photo studio today. I can’t tell you who we’re doing a photo shoot with, but he apparently showed up with a 16 person entourage and there’s a lot of nervousness from the higher-ups here about some of the smells emanating from the studio.

And what’s really impressive is that despite this guy’s massive entourage and possibly addled state, he beat me to the office this morning. I’m not talking, I’m just saying.

Speaking of entourages, anyone see last night’s episode of “30 Rock”? Ghostface made an appearance and had a scene with Alec Baldwin. I already liked “30 Rock” a ton, but now I’m officially co-signing. I mean, Ghostface on a network sitcom in primetime? Brilliant.

Moving on…

While watching the NBA on TNT last night and unsuccesfully trying to motivate myself to write coherent game notes about the Clips/Sonics snoozer, I realized there was one type of column I’ve never written for SLAMonline: The power ranking list. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of those lists, where a writer tells us who he feels are the best teams in the NBA. But I was trying to come up with a way to talk about the best and worst teams in the NBA, and this is what I got.

30. Memphis — The Grizz and their historic lack of defense continue to amaze. Right now they’re giving up 106 points per game, the second-highest amount in the NBA this season. But what’s really incredible is that last season they gave up an average of 88.5, the best in the League. From first to worst. Congrats, Grizzlies. You did you.

One other thing: It’s impossible to relay how big a star Pau Gasol is in Spain, particularly in Catalonia. There were posters and ads and articles with him all over Barcelona. Imagine if he was on a good team? There was also a great commercial I saw there for some watch line called Time Force featuring Gasol and Rafael Nadal running around together. I went to buy one of those watches after seeing the ad but they only came in European sizes.

29. Boston — Not sure what to say here. Now that Wally Szczczc is definitely out for the season, the Celts are on a collision course with the top of the lottery. And while Bill Simmons keeps drooling over the possiblity of his Celts nabbing Kevin Durant, I recently spoke with a well-connected NBA person who told me: “If the Celtics get the number one pick, there’s no way they pass on Greg Oden.”

28. Philadelphia — The Sixers are still in the NBA? They’ve been awfully quiet since losing AI, no? If any team needs to make a splash this summer, it’s Philly. But here’s betting Billy King doesn’t do jack.

27. Seattle — When they move to Oklahoma City and draft another French prospect, will they still be called the Sonics?

26. Portland — Lots of people talking about Steve Patterson packing up and moving on, though I don’t really understand why everyone’s so happy about this. The Blazers finally have a coach willing to put in the work, they’ve got a lot of nice young players, made some great moves on Draft night, they’re almost to the point where they’ll be under the luxury tax…they just need a few vets and some time for their guys to learn. Shouldn’t they be trying to get Patterson to stay?

25. Charlotte BETcats — Michael Jordan. That’s about all I know about the BETcats, that MJ is running the show these days. They’ve got a good nucleus, but they’ve been busy promising their fans that they’re going to spend a lot of money this summer, which seems like an odd way to show that you’re committed to winning. Why not promise that you’ll do whatever it takes to get better?

24. New York Knicks — What a country. The Steve Francis debacle is amazing, Jamal Crawford is hurt, Isiah won’t let David Lee start…and yet the Knicks are in the playoff hunt. Pretty soon we’ll start the campaign for Eddy Curry to make next year’s All-Star Game. He can at least double as the bodyguard for T-Mac.

23. Atlanta — Sigh. I couldn’t put them below the Knicks, OK? They’re six games out of the Playoffs in the East, but sadly, they’re not going to make the Playoffs. No way. I wish they would, and I guess they have a chance and all, but they’re not going to make it. They still need another strong post player and a frigging starting point guard. And Mike Woodson needs to loosen up a bit — Byron Scott completely outfoxed him down the stretch the other night.

22. Minnesota — All Alone 21.

21. Milwaukee — I want the Bucks to be a good team. They should be a good team. They’ve got good players at every position, they made some nice moves over the summer. Michael Redd was hurt for a while, but otherwise there’s no excuse for them clanging around 16 games below .500. Well, there is one excuse. As I wrote in the SLAM NBA Preview, “The career coaching record of Mr. Terry Stotts is a rollicking 92-137, so nobody’s expecting a lot from the Bucks, least of all me.” Expectations are a pain in the butt, especially when you’re a bad NBA coach.

20. Sacramento — Nice of the Kings to do something at the trade deadline. They’re only about 3 games out of the Playoff hunt, but they just seem like such a dysfunctional group of players. And has Ron Artest been exposed as a guy unable to carry a team on his own? They have a choice: You can finish in last place and have Kevin Martin average 21 points a game, or you can shake it up and build for the future.

19. Orlando — The Magic were fun to follow earlier this year, but they’ve since cooled. Let’s leave this one for Charles Barkley, who said this last night on TNT: “Orlando’s problem is that this is like their second time around in the batting order. They are not getting any more fastballs — they are getting sliders and curveballs. Teams in (the NBA) are going to adjust. No one knew what to expect from Orlando when the season started and they came out like gangbusters. As the season progresses, your flaws show up…there are no surprises. Orlando is cooked.”

18. L.A. Clippers — True story: The other night I was doing my League Pass fliparound and I came across a Clippers game. I hadn’t watched a ton of the Clips lately, so I settled in to see what they were up to. Within two minutes, I found myself wondering, Who’s that big guy on the Clips so obviously dogging it on the floor?

Who was it? Tim Thomas!

Sometimes you think a franchise is fixed, that everything is going to be OK. And then you realize they’re still the Clippers.

17. New Jersey — I’m on the verge of just being done with the Nets. I can accept and appreciate JKidd for the way he plays every night, but Vince increasingly does absolutely nothing for me, playing perhaps the most soulless, joyless brand of basketball in the NBA. I want to enjoy watching him play. Smile sometimes, dude.

16. Golden State — This is another team I think is underacheiving right now. They won’t shock the League, but I think they’ll step it up over the final 7 weeks of the season, get a lot of guys back from injury (Baron, Stephen “Whoo!” Jackson) and be alright.

15. LA Lakers — I can’t tell you how much I loved the Vlad Radmanovic stuff. First, that he went to Park City for All-Star Weekend. Second, that he tried to convince the Lakers that he had gone to Park City but hadn’t been playing in the snow. And finally, his apology, which is laugh-out-loud hilarious:

“First of all, I’d like to apologize to my teammates, coaches, Lakers management and Lakers fans for initially lying about the circumstances of the injury to my shoulder last weekend. I’d like to, however, come forward and set the record straight at this time. The truth is that I hurt myself in a fall while snowboarding. Being young and sometimes immature, I initially panicked and made up a false story about how I hurt myself. However, over the past few days my conscience has been bothering me terribly. I am not a dishonest person and could no longer live with this deception. Therefore, I came forward today and told the truth to the Lakers. It is just as important to me though, to be honest with Lakers fans and the public in general, therefore I am making this statement and apology. I can’t express enough how deeply sorry I am, not only for the activity that led to my injury, but also for the initial deception of my story. I hope for everyone’s understanding and forgiveness. I vow to work as hard as possible to rehabilitate my shoulder and rejoin my teammates as soon as possible and to help us become a team that Lakers fans can be proud of.”

14. New Orleans — Imagine the Hornets with an outside shooter capable of making open jump shots. That was supposed to be Peja Stojakovic’s gig. Even without Peja, the Hornets have a nice team with a handful of guys able to hit shots from all over the place. One nagging thought that bothers me when I watch them play is, Is David West really a true secondary NBA star they can build around? He’s been awesome and produced well, but something about him makes me think we’re seeing the best of him right now.

13. Toronto — They’ll win the Atlantis Division and then flame out in the first few rounds of the postseason, mostly because they’re such a young team. I’m more curious about the long-term prospects in Toronto. Does Sam Mitchell keep his job? Please?

12. Denver — Are they too high? Well…maybe. I don’t know. They’ve been through a ton this season, and yet they’re still at .500 and have yet to really find their stride. If that happens during the Playoffs, watch out West.

11. Miami — No idea what to do with this team, either. I would not be shocked if they completely miss the Playoffs, I would not be shocked if they make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

10. Indiana — Again, a team on the cusp of being elite. They haven’t played well in a few weeks and they keep taking hits on the PR front, but I get the feeling they’re starting to finally come together. Amazing that Darrell Armstrong is logging 35 minutes a night, isn’t it?

9. Chicago — Of the remaining teams, I trust Chicago the least. I know they’ve got a talented group of players and they always play hard, but I don’t think they’re quite ready for a postseason run just yet.

8. Washington — And I’m not sure the Wiz are either. They’re more experienced, so I’ll give them that, but Gilbert’s been maddeningly inconsistent of late, and I think Detroit — and for that matter, Cleveland — can shove the Wiz around in the post.

7. Utah — Eh.

6. Houston — Now here’s a team that gets me fired up. Not sure why, but I have supremely high hopes for the Rockets. Here’s a team that had Dikembe Mutombo logging an average of 30 minutes a game in January, and yet they’re 13 games over .500 and will be adding Yao Ming, arguably the most dominant center in the NBA this season, back to their lineup. It took Jeff Van Gundy to transform a franchise named for rockets into a boring team, but he did it. And they’re winning.

5. Cleveland — Perhaps they’re too high, but they’re starting to crank it up and I thought they looked really good against Dallas last night. Their major problem is that if LeBron doesn’t have the ball in his hands, nobody else is able to make anything happen. Dallas took them out of their game last night by doubling Bron and making the Cavs rely on Sasha Pavlovic and Donyell Marshall. Can a team with a title with Pavlovic and Marshall playing key roles? No way. But they can contend for their Conference. At least, that’s the way things look.

4. San Antonio — The Spurs are still a force — 21 games above .500 right now — but they don’t have a shot at winning the West, at least not the way they’re currently constructed. They still need another agile big guy and a swingman. But to be rolling along through the regular season the way that they are is a total testament to thecoaching staff and Coach Pop.

3. Detroit — I’ll say it: Flip Saunders for Coach of the Year? This team lost their best defensive player and added a one-legged power forward and have since rolled to the top of the Eastern Conference. Moreso, they seem to have adopted an identity, not quite an us-against-world thing, but they do seem to have found that chip on their shoulder. Now can Flip keep them interested through the Playoffs?

2. Phoenix — See below…

1. Dallas — You knew which teams were going to be one and two. In this bizarro NBA we’re in, it’s these two teams just flattening teams night after night. And while Phoenix has had their hot flashes, Dallas has been consistently awesome — right now they’re forty games above .500, and they haven’t even played 50 games. Phoenix is still amazing, and it’s heartening to see Amare playing like he’s playing, but I still give Dallas the edge.