If this were the NCAA, the Los Angeles Lakers would be ruled academically ineligible.
That’s how bad their season has been. But, in going over NBA bylaws, no team can be barred for flunking in a season.
Sometimes, as students of tanking know, it actually can help. But it would figure that in this disastrous year, the Lakers don’t even have their 2013 first-round pick; they gave it to Phoenix in the trade for Steve Nash.
OK, so the suspense is gone about the Lakers. If you want to see their grade for the first half of the season, keep scrolling. And scrolling. And scrolling.
Let it be known this professor grades on a curve. So this midseason report card takes into consideration expectations teams had entering the season:
HEAD OF THE CLASS
Los Angeles Clippers (A): The Clippers were supposed to be the other team from Los Angeles, but have flirted all season with the NBA’s best record. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are All-Stars. And the Clippers have won despite largely being without two old guys who remember when tests came off a ditto machine: Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups.
Oklahoma City (A): Kevin Durant is on pace to win his fourth straight scoring title. The only guys in history to have won that many in a row are Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, who each won seven straight. Three months after dealing a guy who wanted more shots and more money, they’re saying in OKC, “James who?”
San Antonio (A): The Spurs still make the honor roll even though four of their top players (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green) were allowed to ditch school. That’s when coach Gregg Popovich sent them home to rest before a game at Miami and the Spurs got a $250,000 fine. If you’re still waiting for the Spurs to get old, cobwebs are growing on you.
Golden State (A): Everybody keeps waiting for the Warriors to make like origami (that’s fold), but it hasn’t happened. Now, we’ll see if the Warriors can end the Sprewell Curse with Stephen Curry or David Lee. They haven’t had an All-Star since Latrell Sprewell made it in February 1997 before choking then coach P.J. Carlesimo 10 months later.
New York (A-): The Carmelo Anthony-led Knicks would have gotten an A had it not been for Amar’e Stoudemire possibly starting to mess up things. New York is 4-5 since the now-plodding big guy returned from a knee injury, dropping its record from 21-9 to 25-14. At least no fire extinguishers have been harmed since his return.
Memphis (A-): The Grizzlies’ flagpole-thin bench got candlestick-thin when they traded Marreese Speights. But if shedding salary in a deal with Cleveland helps them keep Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, it’s worth it.
Chicago (B+): The Bulls have a history of surviving without star players. They somehow won 55 games in 1993-94, the first season after Jordan’s first retirement. Now, they’re getting by without another former MVP, Derrick Rose, who is out until after the All-Star break following knee surgery. The way these Bulls are playing, Rose could even go play a little baseball before he returns. Well, maybe not.
Brooklyn (B+): Carlesimo is now putting a chokehold on foes since taking over last month from the fired Avery Johnson. Carlesimo gets an A+ for his 11-2 record. But it must be taken into consideration that Johnson went 14-14 before Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov exiled him to Siberia.
Indiana (B+): The Pacers are on pace to win 50 for the first time in nine years. Then again, last-year’s 42-24 mark in the lockout-shortened season was the equivalent of 52. Indiana’s team play has to make Hoosiers legends Bob Knight and Gene Hackman quite proud.
Miami (B): The Heat might have a narrow lead for the best record in the East, but players not named LeBron James having been taking too many in-game siestas. The defending champions, who were expected to easily win the East should be turning in graduate-school work. We’ll see how they do on the final. Or, make that, the Finals. That is, if they don’t fall asleep and miss them.
Denver (B): The Nuggets are heading toward their usual 50-win season and first-round playoff exit in the rugged West. But their 25-18 record is nothing to complain about since they stayed afloat despite playing a staggering 17 of their first 23 games away from the comfortable Pepsi Center.
JUST GETTING BY
Portland (B-): This young, rebuilding team would seem to have no business being around .500. But the Trail Blazers struck it rich by drafting Damian Lillard with the sixth pick in the first round. He might already be the second-most illustrious Weber State alum. It’s tough to top J. Willard Marriott, who founded hotels in which the Trail Blazers sometimes stay.
Milwaukee (B-): The Bucks already dumped coach Scott Skiles in favor of assistant Jim Boylan. But 21-18 isn’t bad considering expectations hardly were high. This is a team with just one winning season in the previous nine years.
Utah (B-): Tyrone Corbin has a record under .500 since taking over for Jerry Sloan in February 2011. Not a great way to follow a legend who didn’t exactly leave the cupboard bare. Making matters worse for Corbin, the legend is still around. He attends some Jazz games.
Atlanta (B-): Larry Drew did one of the worst things a coach in the final year of his contract can do: Artificially raise expectations. Even though the Hawks weren’t all that great, they started out 19-9. Since then, they’re 4-9. That is not good news for Drew.
Houston (C+): The Rockets were a .500 team without James Harden and they’re a .500 team with him. Harden has increased his scoring average by nine points since balking at a Thunder contract offer and getting traded to Houston. But he only can hope his former teammates will be nice enough to leave tickets if he wants to watch some live NBA action in May and June.
Minnesota (C+): The Timberwolves have been dribbling on thin ice all season due to injuries to Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, but they haven’t fallen in. Top-notch coach Rick Adelman has kept then within striking range of the playoffs even though they have slumped lately after Love broke his hand a second time.
New Orleans (C): Rookie Anthony Davis has brought excitement back to the Hornets, who have won seven of nine. When rookie Austin Rivers helped his Hornets to a victory last week over Boston and daddy coach Doc Rivers, he got some serious summer bragging rights. It almost doesn’t matter what happens in the March rematch in New Orleans.
Charlotte (C): Before you wonder how a 10-31 team can have this grade, consider the Bobcats are taking remedial courses. Their 7-59 mark last season set an NBA record for the lowest winning percentage. So winning 20 games would be a good season by Charlotte standards.
DOG ATE THEIR HOMEWORK
Boston (C-): Doc Rivers might even consider this grade too generous. After his team lost the third of what is now a four-game losing streak, he threatened trades and said, “I’m clearly not doing my job with this team.” The job many thought he would do was challenge the Heat in the East.
Dallas (C-): Continuing with the theme of underachieving former champions, one at least gets the feeling the Mavericks could turn it around. They’ve won five of their last six, the only loss in overtime to Oklahoma City. When Dirk Nowitzki recently barked about the team, it was like E.F. Hutton. People listened.
Detroit (C-): The Detroit Edsels, er, Pistons are heading for a fifth straight losing season. At least with young guys Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, they’re showing a little improvement.
Toronto (C-): Another bad team that is at least playing better than last season. But unless Amir Johnson is doing strange things, it’s hard to remember the Raptors are still in the league.
Sacramento (C-): The SuperSonics, er, Kings, at least have a chance to have the most wins in franchise history in a lame-duck season. They went 31-41 in their last season in Rochester in 1956-57, 30-52 in their final season in Cincinnati in 1971-72 and 31-51 in their last season in Kansas City in 1984-85. They’re on pace now to win 31.
Philadelphia (D+): Andrew Bynum has bowled more than played basketball this season. Still, there’s no way a team that came within one game of the East finals last spring should be playing this poorly. Doug Collins is on pace to have the worst coaching season of his solid career.
Orlando (D+): The Magic were expected to fall off after losing Dwight Howard. But by this much? At least they have something to play for the rest of the season. At 14-27, they’re just three games behind Howard’s Lakers, and they’re 1-0 this season against the departed one.
Cleveland (D): Injuries aren’t a valid excuse. Cleveland is 3-11 this season in games in which Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao both played. With Varejeo now out for the season due to a blood clot, there’s no hope at all.
Phoenix (D): It’s usually just spin doctoring when a team claims in a press release a coach has left due to a mutual parting. This time, it might be believable. The Suns are going nowhere and Alvin Gentry might have wanted no part of a team that has fallen apart since going to the West finals three years ago.
Washington (D-): So how does a team with the NBA’s worst record not get an F? Well, the Wizards have somehow beaten both Finals participants from last year in Miami and Oklahoma City. They are 4-2 since point guard John Wall came back from a knee injury. And the Lakers deserve their spot all by themselves.
Los Angeles Lakers (F): So who needs to stay after classes during this mess to clean the erasers? How about the teacher himself? Mike D’Antoni is 12-19 since taking over as coach, and the Lakers (17-24) look lost. At least Kobe Bryant, who finally has joined Twitter, has a new forum to complain.