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The NBA, A-through-Z: Questionable attempts at 45 wins

Chris Kaman and Mitch Kupchak laugh it up (Getty Images)

The free agents have just about all been signed up. The NBA is down to a series of Instagram photos from moving yachts and crossed fingers from worried teams hoping their players stay safe in the summer off. There’s nothing going on, save for that clock on the wall that is ticking down to the 2013-14 season.

And it’s moving SO SLOWLY.

This is why we’ve decided to pick 26 things we’re looking forward to in 2013-14. Or, at the very least, 26 things that intrigue us as we wait out an offseason that feels like it has thousands of miles left to cross before we can get to Halloween and opening week. Because there are 26 letters in the alphabet – you guessed, NBA A-through-Z.

We continue with questionable attempts at 45 wins.

There’s tanking – bottoming out in order to save cap room for the 2014 offseason while acquiring lottery picks for the upcoming boffo 2014 NBA draft – and then there’s going for it all. Perhaps eight teams have legitimate title aspirations, and that’s not including the two outfits in New York City that have legitimate, legitimate cash to throw around.

Then there’s the creamy middle. The often disappointing middle, the egg white in between the delicious yolk and deep-friend sausage part of the NBA’s Scotch egg. The teams that seem to be shooting for 45 wins in 2013-14, history be damned.

Let’s take a look at this litany of shrugged shoulders.

Atlanta Hawks

Earlier this month we discussed the Hawks at length and pointed out that this team could rank as entertaining in ways that would far outrank the playoff staple that often bored us to tears during the Josh Smith years. That said, apologies, but this team will be entertaining and engaging on its way toward a middling record next year, unless new coach Mike Budenholzer turns in a Thibodeau-like performance with this crew. At least they’ll have cap space next summer. Again.

Cleveland Cavaliers

I hesitated to drop the Cavaliers in here, because it’s become clear this team has no interest in topping out at 45 wins, unlike most teams on this list. The Cavaliers, in a swift and smart reaction to their poor planning for the 2010-11 campaign, are going with a slow rebuild – even considering the Andrew Bynum (still just 25) signing. It’s true that they’re shooting for 45 wins in 2013-14, but that’s just part of the process on their way toward, hopefully someday, quite a few 65-win campaigns.

Dallas Mavericks

We’ve covered Mark Cuban’s well-intentioned dismantling of the 2011 champion Dallas Mavericks nearly as much as we’ve talked about the two-time title-winning Miami Heat or goofball Los Angeles Lakers in these pages. Mark re-loaded with yet another crew of relatively moderate-priced helpers, leaving his team once again wide open to add help for Dirk Nowitzki’s final championship push the summer of 2014. This year’s model will have no such aspirations.

Detroit Pistons

We’ve also talked up the Pistons this summer, as the team committed to a massive payroll with Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings all before Greg Monroe’s upcoming contract extension talks kick in. For years the Pistons were noted by ardent NBA League Pass watchers as acting as the least-entertaining of the terrible basketball teams, and while Jennings and Smith’s awful shot selection won’t change that too much, this could be a train wreck worth tuning into; especially with all those goofball lefties. This is the payroll, these are the choices, and this is your team, Detroit. Not what we’d call “championship caliber.”

Los Angeles Lakers

If Chris Kaman ever stops putting the ball on the floor … Pau Gasol is allowed to return to the low post … If Mike D’Antoni stops with this “stretch 4” nonsense with Jordan Hill – If Kobe Bryant doesn’t try to smite all the disbelievers by shooting 25 times a game … this could be a fun team. And though the bottom of the Western bracket is crowded, and nobody (seriously) on this club can guard anyone, there is still a chance that the Lakers could once again make the playoffs if the injuries don’t pile up. Plenty of things have to go incredibly correctly, though.

Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee’s collection of front court talent is admirable, and despite “losing” Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings and J.J. Redick over the offseason, big men like John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, and the soon-to-be-re-signed Larry Sanders (at four-years and $44 million, definitely a bargain if he mellows out a bit) should create an outfit that could defend its eighth seed appearance from 2012-13. That’s the issue with Milwaukee, though. There are still no stars here, and very little potential beyond all these pretty good players. It’s a younger run to the hoped-for 45-win mark than Milwaukee is used to, but that’s cold comfort to Buck fans that are tired of this passionate pursuit of mediocrity.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Again tabbed by BDL as an entertaining outfit, a must-watch on the League Pass dial, the Wolves are still at best a middle of the road bunch with little room for growth – championship level growth, we should say. The team features one of the better big forward/center combos in Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, and the list of shooters and scorers on this squad is long, but this team can’t really hope to approach the level of the West’s elite unless Ricky Rubio turns into an elite-level point guard. And elite-level point guards don’t start their NBA career by missing over 64 percent of their shots from the floor. At least David Kahn is gone.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans are a more distressing case. This team will be FUN, with all those undersized guards poking around and Anthony Davis hopefully finding his sea legs. They’re also pretty well committed to this particular roster, and attempting to vault up a notch ahead of the typical rebuilding process by signing Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans to their second contracts, while trading for Jrue Holiday on his second. Holiday, Ryan Anderson, and Davis’ deals are absolute steals; but Evans and Gordon have a lot of making up to do after a few years in the wilderness. And that’s not even getting into how well these parts will mesh on offense, and the myriad defensive issues that Davis alone won’t be able to solve.

Toronto Raptors

Under the smart guidance of new general manager Masai Ujiri, the Raptors don’t really feel like the “shoot for 45 wins at all cost”-outfit that Bryan Colangelo put together last year. We’re sure that Rudy Gay could be had for the right price, and that Ujiri wants to go slow and smart with his rebuilding process. If Gay’s eyesight and overall efficiency improves, though, the Raptors (coming off of a 36-win season) could find themselves a step ahead in the process, and possibly making the playoffs. As always, Kyle Lowry’s leadership and decision-making will be key.

Washington Wizards

As every desperate Wizards fan knows by heart now, Washington actually split the team’s final 50 games after a 4-28 start. Despite rampant criticism following a stagnant second year and injury-plagued start to 2012-13, point guard John Wall improved considerably in his third season in terms of both production and decision-making. The Wizards were a top-five defensive team last year, almost unheard of for a 29-win squad, and they’re hoping the scoring skills of rookie Otto Porter will help the Wizards out of the offensive cellar. A 50-game, .500 run isn’t to be sloughed off, but the East improved over the offseason, and it is possible veterans like Emeka Okafor, Nene, and Trevor Ariza could take a step back, production-wise.

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