Sometimes expectations just don't match up with reality in the NBA. Here's a look at some teams that have busted the narrative after the start of the season.
Teams That Need to Get Real
Knicks fans are no strangers to cognitive dissonance. They've been subjected to the old New York formula of buy a superstar, watch him fade, then buy whoever's left on the market in a futile attempt to make up for lost production. It's the ultimate irony of always being in 'win now' mode and as a result never winning anything. Of course, losing defensive linchpin Tyson Chandler for the first half of the season wasn't their fault (well, maybe it was their fault for betting their season on a center who's on the wrong side of 30), but the rest of the blame for this year's debacle lay squarely on management's shoulders. The signings of Andrea Bargnani and JR Smith didn't fit the team's needs, and the public shaming of Iman Shumpert is pure mismanagement of one the team's best young assets. Although benching Raymond Felton with an exaggerated hamstring injury in order to trade for a real point guard like Kyle Lowry might be secretly genius.
Man, does this team need to get real. Playoffs? Hah! Lebron? Dream on! Anthony Bennett? OK, now this is getting sad. Deciphering the Cavs draft history is simply flummoxing. Cleveland hasn't had a worse lottery pick than 4th overall in the last three years, but you wouldn't know it from watching them play basketball. I know everybody says they could be a GM, but in this case it's probably true, anybody could be a better GM then Chris Grant. Here are some players that were drafted after Dion Waiters in 2012: Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, John Henson, Jared Sullinger... this is not including positions that the Cavs had filled at the time, like Rookie of the Year point guard Damion Lillard. And its not like they were concerned about filling positional needs anyway, as two years later Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters have proved to be completely incompatible within the same offense. Kyrie's days in Cleveland are already looking like a countdown to free agency. What a waste.
Compared to how things usually go in Sacramento, the kings have gotten remarkably real this year. New ownership, new coach, renewed lease on life in central California. I'm not even too down on the Rudy Gay trade, which at least should get a chance to succeed before its lambasted as a splash happy ownership buy. The bad news is that the Western Conference keeps getting better, and this is still the kings we're talking about. For all their effort at reshaping the face of the franchise, they're still a long way from relevancy in a crowded west coast playoff race and DeMarcus Cousins still has plenty of growing up to do before he reaches real stardom.
First the Bradley Center, then the nightclub. The Bucks are in a literal downhill slide right now. Offseason splash LARRY SANDERS! has swung himself back down to Larry Sanders, and Brandon Knight and OJ Mayo are Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis 2.0 (we all know sequels are never as good as the originals). Just 3 years ago, GM John Hammond was awarded Executive of the Year. Some of the moves credited to this achievement were signing and supporting coach Scott Skiles (who 'mutually parted ways' last year, leaving a legacy of three losing seasons and one first round playoff exit), trading Amir Johnson for Carlos Delfino, signing the ghost of Jerry Stackhouse from free agency, and generally failing to meet the modest goal of earning a bottom rung playoff seed. Said Hammond of the honor: "I was just chosen." Awards are funny sometimes. Speaking of jokes, your 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks, ladies and gentlemen. Playoffs? No, c'mon, we were just joking around about that!
Teams That Are Getting Real
For an NBA fan, nothing beats watching a young, talented team improve through growth and chemistry. It helps when that team is 1st in the league in offensive rating and 2nd in points per game. But the Blazers' big improvement has come from coach Terry Stotts' emphasis on defense, which has improved from 26th in the league to 18th today. GM Neil Olshey has been working on the depth issue, bringing in Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson to beef up the frontcourt and Mo Williams to provide Damian Lillard some respite from ballhandling pressure. You may recognize Neil Olshey as the man who brought Chris Paul (along with relevance) to the Clippers. Not a bad job so far in Portland.
Masai Ujiri is about to get real on the Raptors. When Masai took over in Denver, his first real management move was trading Carmelo Anthony. He followed that up by drafting Kenneth Faried, turning a second round pick into Corey Brewer, dumping Nene before his injury clock started ticking, and turning Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, and picks into Andre Iguodala. After winning the 2012-13 Executive of the Year award, Masai moved on to Toronto and promptly dumped Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay. The phrase "nobody is safe" is floating around the Raptors these days, yet it sounds positive. Armed with picks in a loaded draft and an owner who knows how to use them, hope is in the Air Canada Center.
These guys are doing everything right. They're loaded with young, cheap talent and have picks coming in next year's draft. The only real danger for the Magic is winning too many games against their pathetic Eastern Conference foes. Maybe the Magic can conjure up some mysterious injuries this spring.
Things are way too real in Chicago these days. This is one tormented fanbase. There's a real chance that Derrick Rose won't be the same player he was before his latest injury ever again. Whispers of Penny Hardaway are already in the air. The franchise is now at a critical juncture - do they begin to plan for a future without D-Rose? Or stick with the gameplan and patiently await his return.
I imagine that due to color commentator Tommy Heinsohn's maturing age, he is given a call sheet typed with extra large lettering that only fits one talking point on the paper, so Tommy is forced to belabor this lone point throughout the entire game despite play-by-play man Mike Gorman's sincerest efforts to fit anything else into the dialog. For team with so many instances of the word "tanking" being thrown around in the preseason, the Celtics have improved remarkably as an example of development on the fly. Danny Ainge has exhibited a habit of selling high on his players if there are buyers, and while I wouldn't be surprised to see a much different Celtics team by this time next year, the current group of guys has executed positively on rookie Coach Brad Stevens' statistic-based schemes.
(Jokes aside, I love listening to Tommy call games. Who doesn't?)