It's almost a month into the season and things are still kind of unsettled. Usually things would start to even out and we'd have a better idea of who the best teams in the league are, but this year has been all over the place and a few teams are finding themselves down farther than they anticipated. This leaves a few organizations at a crossroads: do they blow it all up or let the dust settle?
Houston Rockets (4-6, 12th in the Western Conference)
Time to Panic?: Not yet.
The Rockets have been really confusing so far. The team that went 65-17 last year to go along with the best offense in the league is nowhere to be found. It's hard to imagine the Rockets taking the Warriors to Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals this season. A regression was to be expected, especially on the defensive end, with the offseason departures of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, but nothing to this extent. To fill the gaps they left, Houston signed Carmelo Anthony, James Ennis, and Michael Carter-Williams, and traded Ryan Anderson to the Phoenix Suns for Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight. There isn't the same fast-paced fun that surrounded the Rockets and their offense last year. Missing Harden for a week hurt, but even with him on the floor the team just seems out of it. It doesn't feel like these guys want to be out there and it shows, especially in last night's embarrassing 98-80 loss to the Westbrook-less Thunder. Something needs to click for the Rockets soon if they want to be serious contenders come April, and I think they'll be fine. They have a very salvageable record and can position themselves as a top seed in the West, there just needs to be a sense of urgency to improve.
Minnesota Timberwolves (4-8, 13th in the Western Conference)
Time to Panic?: Well, it's not time to be calm.
It's getting close to panic time in Minnesota. Jimmy Butler really went and sucked the sole out of this team after whooping everybody's ass in that highly-publicized preseason practice. I don't think Karl-Anthony Towns or Andrew Wiggins like basketball anymore. Towns is averaging 18.3 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.2 assists on 44.3/40.7/90.6 shooting. He's not having a bad season by definition, but he isn't having a KAT season. Towns is playing bored and in the process hurting his statistical output and the Timberwolves' success. Speaking of hurting the Timberwolves, Andrew Wiggins sucks. He's putting up 17 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on splits of 41.6/39.6/80. Minnesota is paying him $30 million a year to play OK, and they're stuck with him for four more seasons. It's a shame that Wiggins seemingly only cares about getting paid, because he had such a high ceiling coming out of Kansas. Hopefully he can find that spark he once had but for now, Derrick Rose is outplaying him, which is another one of Minnesota's problems. It's great seeing Rose put up big numbers again, but the Timberwolves shouldn't be relying on him so heavily. He's putting up a strong case for Sixth Man of the Year (18.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists), but shouldn't have to be a go-to scorer. The Wolves have two All Stars (Jimmy Butler and KAT) and a $150 million man (Wiggins) to play through; Rose should be supplementary to it all.
The only solution is to trade Jimmy Butler. I can only imagine how awkward the locker room and plane rides are, and it's surely hurting the team. Head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau is probably going to get fired after this season so there isn't much incentive for him to deal his best player, but it has to be done for the long-term success of the team. It's been an interesting saga to follow and it'll hopefully have an equally entertaining conclusion.
Cleveland Cavaliers (1-10, 15th in the Eastern Conference)
Time to Panic?: Fuck it.
There's not much to say. With a record like that it seems as if panicking is warranted, but the Cavs are such a mess that everyone is probably super calm around the organization. Ty Lue got canned and Larry Drew is now the head coach, although very reluctantly. Kevin Love is out for about a month and half and JR Smith and Kyle Korver want to be traded, and apparently none of the players on the team believe in rookie Collin Sexton. It's been reported that multiple veterans on the Cavs don't think Sexton knows how to play basketball, which is ironic because it doesn't look like anyone on the team can.
The Cavs' leading scorer (excluding Love) is Jordan Clarkson, who's putting up 15.2 points a night to go along with his new neck tattoos. What a mess of an organization.
Washington Wizards (2-8, 14th in the Eastern Conference)
Time to panic?: Blow it up!
The Wizards need to slam the panic button. I'm not sure if the political climate or the Wizards' roster is the bigger mess in Washington. Their two stars, John Wall and Bradley Beal, are having fine seasons but just don't work together. They've made it to the playoffs every year since the 2013-14 season to little avail. Trading one of the two makes sense at this rate and all signs point to Beal. Wall would likely net more of a return on the open market, but his four-year/$170 million extension kicks in after this season and $42,5 million a year for a point guard with no Eastern Conference Finals appearances is a steep price to pay. If the piss pore play continues for the Wizards, they may be inclined to move Beal, who's averaging 22.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.7 assists a game this year on 44.6/33.7/79,1 shooting. Tracy McGrady floated the idea of Beal to the Lakers on ESPN's "The Jump", and I'd personally love to see it happen. If the Lakers didn't have to give up too much for Beal, it seems like a no-brainer.
Journeyman Dwight Howard still hasn't had time to make an impact on this team, which should be kept in mind. In three games, Dwight is averaging 12.7 points and 8.0 boards on 63.6% shooting. He's still coming back from injury, but Dwight needs to start pulling down a lot more rebounds in order to have a real impact. How large of an impact Dwight can provide remains a question mark, making this Wizards' season much more of an anomaly.
It's still *technically* early, but teams won't be able to use it as an excuse for much longer. The rumor mill is about to start heating up so hopefully a few interesting moves are going to be made throughout the Association.
Note: I'm completely fine with the Bulls playing great for three-and-a-half quarters and then losing for the rest of the season. I really want Zion in Chicago.