As the raps win our hearts and commitments back with probably their best game of the season, the question simply becomes, push or tank?
Fans rest assured that making the playoff's is not a fantasy, it is definitely a challenge but very attainable. The true question for teams debating whether to make a push or not, is what is the motive? With the added variable of whether it is financially worth it to make a playoff run or trade away contracts, the race definitely gets more interesting. So despite the similar records, lets take a closer look at who really is and should be in this race.
You truly have to wonder what's the point of making the playoffs for them. Their market has definitely shrunk due to the crisis and although playoffs will probably sell out, what can two games in their stadium really do for their profits. The Bucks roster is also not losing that much in the offseason with the key questions really being whether to bring back Charlie or Sessions and given that they are restricted, at this point they really don't have to prove anything to their players. It's definitely nice to make the playoffs, but they might be better off next year getting a nice pick and perhaps trading Jefferson for a more defensive focused SF. I'd have to say the Bucks whether they want to or not, can't make the playoffs but the smart thing would be to not even try.
The Knicks: The Knicks are the most unique team in this race because for them, the outcome really doesn't matter. After trading their best two players, it's pretty clear that everything is on 2010 and anything else is just gravy. Everything they do in the next two years is going to be focussed on signaling to fa's of 2010. With the interest of attracting talent and being able to afford to, again it might be simply smarter to get a nice pick who will sign a lower contract and not be such a hindrance on the cap. Then again, making the playoffs also sends a signal to these FA's that this team has talent, great coaching and a key FA or two could push them over the top. We all know how that value played into the equation for Brand despite how the actual situation panned out. The only question really is although it sends a signal of talent and chemistry, what is the practical use when nobody knows who of the Knicks will be there come 2010. This really is the hardest team to read but I have to think in the interest of keeping small contracts, cheep rookies and value trades so they can keep Robinson and Lee, the lottery is the way to go. With their difficult second half schedule, they may not really have a choice in the matter anyways.
The Bulls: This is the one team in this race that has a clear goal and desire and NEED to make the playoffs. With such an abundance of young talent, the last thing they need is another young draft pick. It's time they put their talent together, make the playoffs and the necessary trade to bring in Bosh, O'Neal, Boozer, Stoudamire or Wallace. With a great basketball market, they are less encumbered by the economy and making the playoffs will definitely have a much higher value in development and selling point over saving a few bucks. If I were them however, I would wait till the offseason to decide about Hinrich or Nocioni. With the improved play of Thomas, he may be able to fill their whole at PF and the team can instead consider trading Hughes, Thabo or Gooden for a good big man and have a solid big man rotation instead of a stellar one. Combined with their fabulous small man rotation, they truly are simply one big man away from contending. I've said it so many times, but Toronto is one of the few teams who has the goods to get some solid pieces from the Bulls but make both teams better.
The Pacers: Why bother writing about the Pacer. Their better than last year, other than that, not much else to say. Some nice random wins, a great player in Granger but they rely too much on a three they don't shoot so well and their lack of post presence is going to prevent them from being able to make a run. This years lottery will be pretty interesting because so many teams are going to have similar odds and any order can really show up. The Pacers need a young post big man and it all honesty, the draft is probably their best option. Whether they use the draft or package it in a trade, it is still their best option. They don't have the market or the franchise power at this point to really attract quality bigs and their really aren't that many post bigs on the market besides Boozer.
The Bobcats: I like to call the difficulty in predicting the Bobacts the Brown effect. Who knows who will play, who will be there, who won't be injured, who will be in the dog house. One thing I've noticed however is that he has a specific taste in player and knows who they are. When that richardson trade went down, I thought it was a steal for the underperforming Bell and Diaw but lo and behold, they are thriving under brown. Meanwhile, Radmonovic looks like he did in his seattle days with a great debut game. With Brown at the helm, and Jordan in the back, you know this team wants to finally make the playoffs but barring another trade, which is probably likely, I think without Wallace and a bench, they will find it extremely difficult to make a run in an sf loaded conference and will probably end up just missing the playoffs. They may even get as far as losing because of a head to head matchup.
The Nets: This has got to be the suprise team of the year. With a two man team,a captain with motivation issues and almost no other significant talent or threats, nobody expected the Nets to contend for anything except the first pick. As I mentioned in a previous post however, the Nets play the season like most teams play the game, with a series of runs. Ironically most of them start after beating the Raptors but unforunately for them, our matchups are done. Being a young team, they will need to get some big road wins to help spur their momentum but with a tough schedule and many teams positioning for a run, this seems unlikely. They caught the league by suprise early on and I think most teams know what to expect from them. The x factor will be Lopez, if he becomes a 15-10 player for the rest of the stretch, it could be just enough to squeeze them in. Unfortunately, it looks more likely that some of their vets, Carter included will be moved by the deadline for young picks an players which will surely take them out of the running.
The Raptors: So many believe that the Spurs game was O'Neal's last as a Raptor. Honestly, I don't know what to think of this. I liked O'Neal, I thought he was very professional and sacrificed for the team. Not to mention, he did a great job on TD, something we can never usually say about a Raptor. Personally I'd rather see Bosh go for some solid players and keep O'Neal. I like having a big play in the key but unfortunately he may be just too old and injured to gamble on. I definitely would have rather had him in his prime than Bosh. My only hesitation to make a move now is that the win over the Spurs could have some great momemtum and with another roster change, we may lose a lot of that. The only exception may be if we do in fact get Marion, a player who can thrive without really knowing the system and doesn't need plays for himself. Anyone else could really shift our progress though. The Raptors to me are the second most likely team to grab the 8th spot behind the Bulls. Primarily because the break comes at a good time to rest nagging injuries, the undermanned games have given a chance for players like Kapono, Graham to mature, find their role and it will definitely give them confidence and greater ability when we are full strength. Combine this with perhaps the easiest ending schedule in the NBA and the Raps are in a good position. The only thing that could hurt us is that we are behind in a lot of head to head matchups with other teams in the race so we definitely have to get our act together quick. A tied record won't be good enough.