The NBA season is off and running. While we are less than 10 games into the season, you would be hard pressed to tell if teams do not already have an eye toward the stacked 2012 Draft class. Or maybe it is the frenetic pace of the schedule and the truncated training camp that has some teams playing with a little less energy than others early on.
The league usually does not have to worry about teams tanking or putting in lackadaisical efforts just three weeks into the season. The good teams have not been able to have enough games to separate themselves quite yet and the young teams, the rebuilding teams and the bad teams are still within striking distance. All hope is not lost yet.
That might be tough to tell with a few teams already.
Entering Friday's games, the Wizards were still winless. The Rockets have a reportedly disgruntled star in Kevin Martin, who was rumored to be upset about being dangled in that nixed Chris Paul deal, and some big shoes to fill after Yao Ming's retirement. And the Kings have already fired their coach in the midst of a coach-player spat.
That is a lot of early season drama for three teams that already had some low expectations.
It is not so much that each team was expected to struggle this year and that they are struggling. It is the way the teams have come out of the gate and the stories surrounding those struggles.
The Kings situation has been well chronicled. After Paul Westphal announced that DeMarcus Cousins had requested a trade and then Cousins refuted that, it became clear there was something wrong in that Kings locker room. Sacramento fired Westphal and then, in a very strange admission, Kings owner Joe Maloof told Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated that the team did not approve of Westphal's release that Cousins had requested a trade.
If there were any doubts that Westphal's dismissal came quicker because of this apparent miscommunication, those should be put to rest now. Maloof said that for all that he knew, Westphal sate Cousins down for the always vague "basketball reasons."
The Kings responded with an energetic comeback against the Bucks for their third win of the season. A new voice in the locker room and the easing of the tension helped. Sacramento is still not likely going anywhere in the standings though. And the false start is going to have long-lasting impacts to a young franchise that had some promise entering the season.
The real concern probably comes from Washington.
Last year's No. 1 overall pick, John Wall, came into the league with lots of optimism and a happy-go-lucky nature. Let's put it this way: if anyone can teach you how to Dougie, it was Wall. If it weren't for Black Griffin, Wall is likely the rookie of the year.
It must take a lot to erase the joy of playing the game from a 20-year-old point guard. But that might be where Wall is at after Washington's slow start and the depressing tenor surrounding the team. That is the sense that Jason Reid of The Washington Post wrote about earlier this week:
"Washington's awful start this season quickly worsened when Wall, who has the smarts to recognize dysfunction when it's all around him, revealed he was 'not enjoying myself playing basketball.' The Wizards -- the NBA's only winless team after their loss to Orlando on Wednesday night made them 0-6 for the first time in franchise history -- are truly horrendous, but it seems there's more to Wall's discontent than their ineptitude on the court.
"Wall's body language last season told the story that he's now also choosing to express with his words. Any gifted player could become frustrated working with this bunch, and the Wizards need Wall's outlook to brighten substantially, and soon.
"It's really that simple. The status quo cannot continue. The development of Wall is the Wizards' best (only?) hope to at least become competitive again. It may not happen if Wall's psyche is damaged beyond repair so early in his career."
That is dangerous if you are talking about one of the most promising players int he league. You don't want him establishing losing habits early on in his career. And if he is as disheartened as Reid reports, there is going to be big trouble for the Wizards and their future.
So far this year, Wall is averaging 13.8 points per game and 6.8 assists per game, both down from his rookie year. Worse still, he is shooting 32.9 percent from the floor. Whether that is because he is trying to be more assertive on offense, thus increasing his usage rate to 24.2 percent (not a huge increase after using 23.8 percent last year), or just a sophomore slump is something the rest of the season will prove.
But either way, it is not a good sign when a player like Wall makes a comment like this. And several players concurred that this team is going backwards and the aura is not good following the blowout loss to the Magic. It was so bad that the team had a players only meeting before practice Thursday and veteran guard Maurice Evans told the team to go out and earn their minutes and place in the NBA and that the sense of entitlement in the locker room is as bad as he has seen it.
Things got better Friday night when the Wizards lost to the Knicks by only three behind 22 points and nine assists from Wall. Still, a loss is a loss. And there is certainly plenty of questions for Washington moving forward. Questions that could have long-range impact on Wall's development as a professional player.
Then there are the Rockets.
This was a team that, despite Yao Ming's retirement, had Playoff aspirations. They finished above .500 last year and felt it was close. But Houston has come out extremely slow and extremely lethargic. It might be a possible hangover from the near trade that ripped the team apart, but a 2-4 start is not what they had in mind. And the team just seems to be devolving further.
Just read how Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle started his recap of the Rockets' loss to the Clippers from Wednesday:
"The defense has not been invented that can work without energy and effort, the qualities the Rockets so glaringly lacked on Wednesday.
"It can't happen. You can put every coaching genius to ever blow a whistle or sit in the front row of the bus together to brain storm and if players don't give a damn, they would fail.
"The Rockets played as if they didn't give a damn. Nothing Kevin McHale planned or prepared in a rare shootaround between back-to-back games had a chance.
"The Rockets, however, seemed to lack more than effort. They also seemed to have no clue."
That does not sound like a team that has Playoff aspirations in mind. Not at all. The tone for Houston's season was set when the NBA sent Kevin Martin and Luis Scola back to Houston in that failed Chris Paul trade. Early on, Martin has not been happy and it has been difficult to get him and some of the other players to re-focus.
There is still time for all three of these teams to turn things around. Remember the Heat in Dwyane Wade's rookie year started 0-10 and came back to make the Playoffs. The season is not lost.
But if these efforts while the teams are relatively fresh in these cramped schedules are any sign, it could be a long season. And it just seems so early to be saying that about anyone.
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