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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Around the NBA

The regular season is a mere week away, so rosters and rotations are starting to shape up. Some teams are looking pretty, others have issues, and a few already have fans tearing their hair. So here are my quick thoughts on a couple teams from each category.

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As already noted, no actual NBA games have been played so far, so in that sense preseason doesn't matter. But if players are playing poorly, or rotations look iffy, or injuries have already hit, well, some of that might carry over. The Los Angeles Lakers looked terrible in the preseason after they acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard a few years back. Everyone wrote it off as meaningless, but the disorganized play and ill fitting team continued in the regular season. Of course teams can and will turn it around, but those with severe issues could be on the path to dark seasons.

The Good

Anthony Davis. I don't know how much I can keep talking about Anthony Davis. Actually, I do. I can talk about him a lot. The fact is, Davis had a historic performance last season at age 21, and now in an up-tempo offense crafted by Alvin Gentry, he will be fully unleashed. The three point shot has been added to his repertoire (he has hit 5-8 in preseason play) and when defenders try to close out on him, his superior handles and athleticism make him a terror going to the basket. The Pelicans' surrounding cast could be better, but Davis might be good enough to push them near home court advantage in the first round as long as their injury problems aren't persistent. He is that good.

Paul George/Kevin Durant. George missed almost all of last season after a severe leg injury in the run up to the 2014 Olympics, and Durant only played in 27 games because of foot issues. However, both of them have looked terrific so far this year: Durant is scoring as effortlessly as ever, and George has adapted well into his new position at stretch four. While George might be a bit overrated as an overall player (his offense isn't quite superstar level, and missing an entire season is tough), he is somewhere in the top 10 or 15, and a healthy Durant is easily one of the five best players in the NBA. It is great for the NBA, for their teams, for the fans, and most importantly for KD and PG-13 that they are back in uniform and showing out.

The New York Knicks. While nobody thinks the Knicks are suddenly going to be a playoff contender, their preseason play has been intriguing. The awful cast of characters from last years' disastrous show have been mostly cast off, and Carmelo Anthony has looked healthy and deadlier than at any time in recent memory. The addition of seasoned veterans Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo should help, along with the youth infusion of Jerian Grant and Kristaps Porzingis, both of whom look quite promising. Perhaps the most under the radar pickup, however, is Kyle O'Quinn, who slowly lost ground in the Magic's rotation, but looks terrific so far in New York. It is never fun to see any team struggle, especially a marquee NBA franchise, and the Knicks have certainly had their share of issues for the past decade and a half. It could generate a lot of excitement to see them turn the ship around.

The Bad

Minnesota Timberwolves.  The Timberwolves have made all sorts of bad moves over the years, though the Andrew Wiggins trade and Karl Anthony Towns pick could make up for a lot. The issue now is in the surrounding cast. This past offseason they added or re-signed Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller, and Tayshaun Prince. The combined age of those players is downright biblical. Garnett might still be a useful player in small minutes, but quite honestly they all seem to be wastes of valuable roster space, and it's very hard to see them as reliable backups. The bigger issue is that the other young guys are not playing well so far. Shabazz Muhammad looks lost on defense after a breakout sophomore season, Adreian Payne combines a lack of numbers with poor decisions, and Zach Lavine continues to struggle in the mental aspects of the game. None of the three looks like a viable rotation piece, and while they still have time, soon enough the development will need to keep up with Wiggins and Towns.

Cleveland Cavaliers. While the preseason record of 0-6 means basically nothing, some of the issues leading to that record are a bit worrying. Tristan Thompson's contract has not been settled and doesn't look close to getting finished any time soon, removing the Cavaliers' 3rd big and most versatile defender. Iman Shumpert is out until January, leaving JR Smith as a starter. While Smith is explosive as a scorer and can do quite a few other things on the court, he is far more valuable off the bench. Kevin Love has returned from his shoulder injury and  he looked good on Sunday night, but it remains to be seen how long it will take him to fully recover. Kyrie Irving still doesn't have a timetable to return, pushing Mo Williams into the starting spot. Mo is actually a good replacement for Kyrie, but he's better as a backup, and the Cavs aren't the Cavs with Mo and JR in the starting five, no Thompson, and a thin bench. Lebron's back has already noted the fact that it has played 12 seasons and 35,800 minutes plus 178 playoff games and another 7500 minutes, and that is not even counting international competition--just saying.  They are going to be fine in the long haul, but putting extra stress on LeBron early in the year is not a good thing for him or the team at this stage of his career.

The Ugly

The Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs roster this season never looked like a world beater, but a litany of injuries have pushed them farther and farther into the realm of non-relevance. Deron Williams is already injured, and might miss a bit of time in the regular season. Wes Matthews and Chandler Parsons are iffy for the season opener as well, and both will need time to readjust to the pace of the NBA. Two of the Mavericks potential starters at center, Sam Dalembert and Javale McGee (double yikes) are struggling with injuries, leaving Zaza Pachulia as the only viable option there. That means their opening game starting five could very well be Devin Harris-John Jenkins- Justin Anderson (a rookie)-Dirk- Zaza. That is not good at all, and it's an insult to Dirk and his generous salary reduction that he has to carry the load in fighting for a playoff spot. Even if Wes and Parsons eventually fully recover, it probably won't be enough to push Dallas over the hump.

The Philadelphia 76ers. I think I understand what Sam Hinkie is trying to do. I have even liked a lot of the moves he has pulled. But I'm not sure I could handle all of this if I were a fan of the team. This is year three of the Hinkie, and while things are a bit more hopeful than they were back in 2013, the end is nowhere in sight. Jahlil Okafor looks like a promising post player, but he is an awkward fit in today's NBA, and rookies are rarely very good. Nerlens Noel came on strong at the end of his first season, but his offensive game is still a work in progress. Robert Covington appeared out of nowhere to become a decent 3 and D player last year, and Hollis Thompson is a similar if lesser player at the shooting guard position. After that things get hairy. Nik Stauskas was got on the cheap, but despite a great pedigree at Michigan he looked awful his rookie year. The PG position is staffed by borderline NBA players Isaiah Canaan, Kendall Marshall, and Tony Wroten, who might be awesome if they were somehow merged together, but as individuals kinda suck. The rest of the roster (outside of a hilariously out of place Carl Landry) is made up of D-League and Euro League fodder. The 76ers are going to be terrible again this year, truly ugly. The hope is that Dario Saric comes over next year and Joel Embiid is able to get over his injury issues. If not, this could be the end of Hinkie and his bold experiment in bad basketball.