Recently, I wrote 22,533 words previewing the upcoming NFL season - 8,947 on the NFC and 13,586 on the AFC. It was so fun that I decided to do the same thing for the NBA. My goal is 15,000 words.
First, some overarching thoughts. My favorite sport is football, specifically the NFL. I still like basketball but not as much as I used to; blame it on the decline on the Pistons, or the incessant flopping and whining, or the copious thugs who have taken the NBA hostage and turned it into a freakshow of ego. There's a lot of factors. But I still love basketball, and I still love the Pistons, and I'm excited to preview this season.
It's a much different sport than the NFL. Rather than 22 starting players with varying roles, basketball has only 5 guys on the court and only 11 on a team. In football you can have 3 elite players and still stink. In basketball, one elite player and you're in the playoffs.
I'd like to begin in the Eastern Conference, because it's more interesting, it's more competitive, and for the first time since 1997, it's the better conference. First, the central division, which just so happens to be the least talented division in the NBA. Cleveland has won the division the past two years with consecutive 60 win seasons, but losing Zydrunas Ilgauskas will be such a devastating blow that they simply cannot recover.
CENTRAL DIVISION PREVIEW
Let’s begin with an honest assessment of the Pistons, as painful as it may be.
As long as Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are together and healthy, this is going to remain a lazy and uninspired team full of whiners and has-beens who have this gross sense of entitlement because they used to be good 7 years ago. Sorry, that’s just the truth.
Hamilton has plummeted from a top five shooting guard to somewhere in the 25-30 range at his position, and Prince has fallen from a premier defensive player to somewhat of a liability; he’s still got the talent, he just doesn’t have the desire. These two are a cancer in the locker room and on the court. Until one or preferably both of them are eradicated from the roster, Detroit is not headed back to the postseason, even in the crappiest division in all of the NBA.
The rest of the team isn’t much better. Rodney Stuckey is an ill-equipped point guard who isn’t a great ball handler or passer or playmaker. He doesn’t have the intangible “vision” needed to be an elite point guard, nor does he have NBA speed. Also, he doesn’t have an outside shot or a midrange shot. But he does have a few strengths: he’s strong, aggressive, and can score well in traffic as well as draw fouls. He’s a quality 2 guard who unfortunately plays at the 1 guard position.
Ben Gordon is an inconsistent enigma; he’ll have a few games where you swear he’s the best shooter in the NBA, and other games where he’s a walking corpse. He has never been properly utilized, on Chicago or on Detroit. Is he finally going to usurp the starting role from Rip this season? Let’s hope so, but even if he does, don’t expect much on a consistent basis.
Jonas Jerebko was about as good as he could have been last year as a rookie, showing tremendous hustle and passion and unselfishness. Great team player and great role player. But not the kind of guy to build around if you want to be taken seriously by the rest of the league. Jerebko will likely start at the power forward spot, but Charlie Villanueva should see plenty of minutes off the bench. And for $6.5 million, he’d better do something.
Ben Wallace has been re-signed to be the Pistons’ center, and will play an important role in mentoring rookie Greg Monroe. Let’s hope Monroe sees the floor early and often, and more importantly, let’s hope he warrants his top 10 selection. He needs to be much more aggressive than he was in college, which is probably going to be uncomfortable for him. But Ben Wallace certainly isn’t going to score, and Villanueva is allergic to the paint, so the burden of inside scoring falls largely on Monroe.
Bigs off the bench include Wilcox and Maxiell, who give good rebounding but little to no offense. Will Bynum and Chucky Atkins come off the bench for Stuckey and are exciting but ultimately harmless small guards.
To put it bluntly, this is a team that is subpar on both the offensive and defensive ends. The three leading scorers – Hamilton, Stuckey, and Gordon – each shot 41% from the field or worse in 2009. That’s atrocious. No Piston averaged 5 assists a game last year. Also atrocious It’s an offense with no outside shooting and no inside scoring. It’s the laziest, more selfish, and least cohesive offensive unit in the entire NBA. Just being honest.
To expect any more than 30 wins this season is overly ambitious. Last season we were lucky to win 27 with our ragtag roster and complete lack of enthusiasm. With limited changes made to the roster and a passive rookie in the paint, I’m going to predict a 29 win, 53 loss season for the Boys in Blue. Deeetroit Baskkeetttballllll.
My second favorite NBA team, Milwaukee is a trendy pick to make a decent playoff run this season, and for good reason. Last year they jumped from 34 wins to 46 wins and a 6 seed in the playoffs, thanks to the brilliant John Hammond (the same guy who built the 2004 NBA Champion Pistons and allowed Joe Dumars to take all the credit.) The development of Andrew Bogut and emergence of Brandon Jennings helped the Bucks take the league by storm, and caused many a team to “Fear the Deer.” If Bogut hadn’t broken three bones in early April, Milwaukee might have earned the 5th or even 4th seed in the East and who knows what might have happened.
The biggest story is obviously Brandon Jennings. After being taken tenth overall by Hammond, Jennings became the darling of the NBA when he scored 55 points in just the 7th game of his career. He averaged 22 points per game in November, and as his scoring numbers slowly declined, his assists and FG% climbed and he became one of the best all-around young point guards in the NBA. At just 6’1” and 170 pounds, Jennings has drawn plenty of comparisons to a young Allen Iverson, except that Jennings actually acknowledges his teammates and coaches and desires to improve.
Hammond has done a fantastic job surrounding Jennings and Bogut with the ideal supporting cast. Last year he traded for a pure scorer in John Salmons, who was then locked in for 5 years and $39 million. Salmons will replace the doldrum that is Charlie Bell. Both frontcourt positions were also bolstered this offseason with the additions of scorer Corey Maggette (ranked top ten in the NBA in free throws made last season) and rebounding specialist Drew Gooden. They’ve still got Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (an elite defender) and Ersan Ilyasova (a great hustle player), as well as Carlos Delfino and Chris Douglas-Roberts to provide offense off the bench. This may be the deepest team from 1-10 in the Eastern Conference. What else would you expect from John Hammond?
This is a well-rounded and tight-knit group of players, and they’ll be playing with confidence after the first winning season in Milwaukee since 2002. Bogut and Mbah a Moute are among the NBA’s best defensive players, and first-round pick Larry Sanders is a defensive specialist with a ridiculous 7’7” wingspan. This has the potential to be an elite defensive team; last year they finished 7th best and will certainly move into the top 5 this season barring another injury to Bogut. The question will be – can the offense get the job done, and that burden ultimately falls on Jennings. This is a big season for him, but fortunately, he has plenty of help. The Bucks can score inside and outside, and the additions of Maggette and Salmons take a lot of pressure off Jennings and allow him to play within himself and be a pass-first point guard; if he can shed the score-first mentality that got him into trouble sometimes in 2009, he could average upwards of 10 assists per game. If the Bucks remind you of the Billups-led Pistons, that’s because they were assembled by the same genius.
--Defensive aces at the 5 and 3 positions. (Wallace & Prince, Bogut & Mbah a Moute)
--Unselfish point guard (Billups, Jennings)
--Scoring wingmen (Hamilton, Salmons/Maggette)
--Energy players off the bench (Delfino & Maxiell & Hunter, Delfino & Ilyasvoa & Gooden)
Scott Skiles is a great young coach and has an immaculate rapport with Jennings, who recently said he hopes Skiles will be his coach for his entire career. I don’t think that’s just a load of bull. I think Jennings genuinely loves being a Buck and will especially love it after a 51-31 season helps Milwaukee win the Central Division for the first time in a decade.
This is the Year of the Deer.
The Pacers’ roster just keeps getting whiter and whiter, which I’m starting to think is no coincidence. After all, isn’t the Klu Klux Klan based out of Indiana? I’m not really sure, but I do know that four of their five best players are whities, which explains why the Pacers are so perennially uncompetitive.
Danny Granger is the team’s only good player, and he’s a small forward. So I was extraordinarily surprised when Pacers’ President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird selected Paul George (a black dude!) with the 10th overall pick. Why? Because George, like Granger, is a small forward. In fact, George’s scouting report says the NBA player he most resembles is none other than Danny Granger. So rather than addressing the glaring needs at the 1, 2, 4 and 5 positions, the Pacers opted to grab another 3. I’m as confused as anyone.
Indiana hasn’t added or lost anyone in free agency, for two reasons. One – because they are stuck in financial hell thanks to the $30 million they are paying Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, and T.J. Ford in 2010; and two – because no free agent would want to play in boring Indianapolis, a city dominated by football and car racing, when they could go to Chicago or New York. The NBA is a sport of gangsters and thugs, so naturally they gravitate towards big cities. Indianapolis is not appealing in any sense, which is why Granger is likely to leave once his contract runs out in 2013.
Rounding out the starting lineup are Murphy, a 6’11” guy who can rebound and shoot the three but is soft and extremely Irish; Dunleavy, a typical coach’s son with all the fundamentals and none of the athleticism; Ford, a diminutive point guard; and Brandon Rush, an athletic swingman who can’t shoot.
The bench consists of pseudo-flop Roy Hibbert, a Jamaican 7-footer who can play some defense but can’t really score; Dahntay Jones, their best perimeter defender; and a handful of Caucasians – Tyler Hansbrough (the NBA’s Tim Tebow), Jeff Foster (a dead clone of Freddie Prince Jr.), Josh McRoberts (isn’t that the whitest name you’ve ever heard), and their coach – king of the whities – Jim O’Brien.
The Pacers rely far too much on Granger for offensive production. Last year they went 7-14 in games that Granger missed due to injury – including an eight game losing streak. And despite his extraordinary year in 2008 (25.8 ppg on 44.7% shooting), Granger deteriorated as a shooter last season dramatically. Here are two telling statistics:
One - Among players who scored 20 or more per game last season, Granger had the worst FG% at 42.8%.
Two - He was the only player in the NBA to average more than 7 three-pointers attempted per game.
Think there’s a chance those two statistics are related?
When Granger isn’t hitting his shots, this offense essentially stands still. Murphy, their second-leading scorer, is primarily a big man who shoots from beyond the arc. Hibbert and Foster can’t get much done in the paint. Ford and Jones and Rush are unable to create their own shot off the dribble. There is no offensive catalyst; no point guard who makes the engine run. The closest they have is Earl Watson, and he’s an unrestricted free agent looking at joining the Lakers or Celtics or Rockets in the near future. Why didn’t they draft a point guard instead of Paul George???
Defensively, the Pacers were the third-worst team in the Eastern Conference in 2009, and I wouldn’t expect that to change much. Hibbert is a quality shot blocker and Jones is a quality on-the-ball defender, but that’s about it. The four guys who led the team in minutes – Granger, Murphy, Rush and Ford – are all subpar defensive players. Last year Indy won 32 games, and there’s no reason to project that number to increase. For 2010 I’ll say they finish 25-57.
The favorite to win the Central Division now that Cleveland is depleted, and rightfully so. However I already picked Milwaukee, but I do think Chicago gives them a good run for their money.
The key acquisition was obviously Carlos Boozer, a nightly double-double who gives the Bulls exactly what they needed – interior scoring. Not signing LeBron James or Dwayne Wade actually helped Chicago in some respects, in that they weren’t forced into a financial straightjacket and could get not only Boozer but also Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, and C.J. Watson in free agency. Adding those pieces to a core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng gives Chicago a legitimate chance to compete in the East.
However, there was a price to pay for acquiring Boozer and company. Kirk Hinrich was traded to the Wizards, Hakim Warrick was sent to the Suns, and starting center Brad Miller signed with the Rockets. Each of those losses is significant for Chicago; Miller and Warrick each provided about 8 points and 4 rebounds per game, and Hinrich is one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA and a good passer. Those losses will hurt, no question about it.
But let’s not let the addition of Carlos Boozer go totally unnoticed in the hoopla of LeBron’s decision and all that other crap. Boozer is a better player than Amare Stoudemire, a better player than Joe Johnson, and quite possibly a better player than Chris Bosh. He’s one of the best pick-and-roll big men in the NBA, and executed the offense perfectly with Deron Williams in Utah. Now he gets to play with a very similar young guard in Derrick Rose, and will be surrounded with very similar weapons in Chicago as he was on Utah. In fact, very similar weapons might be an understatement. Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver both spent a few years on the Jazz along with Boozer. It makes you wonder if John Paxson and new Bulls’ coach Tom Thibodeau have some sort of obsession with the Jazz, sort of like Rod Marinelli when he built the Lions out of Tampa Bay castoffs. Fortunately for Chicago, Utah has been pretty good for a while now.
This is a team, like Milwaukee, that’s stacked from top to bottom. The starting lineup of Rose, Boozer, Noah and Deng is one of the best in the East. It’s yet to be determined who will start at the 2 position, but a revolving door of Korver (outside-shooting specialist) and Brewer (defensive specialist) will be sufficient. James Johnson and Taj Gibson give Chicago a couple of young, athletic hustle players at the 3 and 4 positions.
This will either be a good team, or a very good team, and that will depend on the development of Rose in his third NBA season. The former #1 overall pick looked an awful lot like Magic Johnson as a rookie and improved across the board in his sophomore campaign with averages of 20.8 points, 6 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 48.9% shooting. He’s got to improve the free-throw percentage and create more steals (especially in the absence of Hinrich), and more importantly he’s got to get Chicago above the 50 win mark before he can ascend into the ‘Best Point Guard in the NBA’ discussion. But he’s close.
Last year Chicago snuck into the playoffs at 41-41 and was swept by Cleveland. This year I’d bet on at least 45 wins; I’ll guess 48 and the fifth seed.
All you need to know is on this page: Cleveland is the only NBA team to have no additions in the 2010 offseason. No free agents acquired, no trades or sign-and-trades, not even a single draft pick. LeBron is gone. Big Z is gone. Shaq is basically gone. What hope is there for the Cleveland Cavaliers to even win 30 games with LeBron James? Take a look at their projected starting lineup:
Mo Williams -1
Anthony Parker -2
Antwan Jamison -4
Anderson Varejao - 5
JAMARIO MOON – 3
So… let me get this straight Cleveland … you’re going to replace LeBron James with Jamario Moon? Was that really your backup plan?
How could Cleveland have possibly NOT known they were going to lose LeBron this summer? Didn’t they hear the undertones in his comments back in 2008 when he said that everyone should fall asleep until July of 2010 because it was going to be ‘big?’ Didn’t they see him wearing a Yankees hat and Knicks shoes? Didn’t they see him give up in the playoffs against Boston? How could they have possibly not had a backup plan for if LeBron left??
Oh, wait, they did have a backup plan. Burn their LeBron jerseys and cry.
But even in LeAftermath, this is still a more talented roster than some in the Central Division (namely the Pistons and Pacers). Mo Williams and Antwan Jamison are capable dudes as long as you’re not too interested in winning playoff games, and they’ve got honorable hustle players in Varejao and J.J. Hickson. They’ve still got Boobie Gibson (who I would imagine is crushed by LeDecision as much as anyone) and Delonte West (an underrated 2 guard who was arrested in September of 2009 for carrying three guns in a guitar case while riding his motorcycle … yup true story) and Leon Powe (an adequate but not exciting big man.) This isn’t the worst team in the NBA. Though it is close.
The chances of them winning 60 games for a third straight year are somewhere between 0% and 1%. The chances of them even making the playoffs are no better than 10%. My prediction is right around 17 wins, the same number they had before they drafted LeBron on that fateful day in June of 2003.
You know who has to be really pissed right now? New Cavs coach Byron Scott.
Prediction – 18-64.
Here’s a recap of the Central:
ATLANTIC DIVISION PREVIEW:
Even though Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett continue to use the moniker “Big Three,” it’s obvious that Rajon Rondo emerged as the Celtics’ best player sometime last season. There’s really no denying that fact. He was a top five NBA point guard during the regular season and the best point guard on the planet during the playoffs. Going into this season he has to be considered a top 15 overall player.
Allen and Garnett have almost 70 years between them and Pierce is no youngster at 32. Boston basically had a choice this offseason: either keep the core together and make one final run at a championship, or disband and start building towards the future. Smartly, they re-signed Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and will compete with Miami for a chance at the NBA Finals. And considering they had a double-digit lead in the second half of game 7 of the NBA Finals this year, I think they should still be considered fairly competitive. If just one or two of the Lakers’ shots in the fourth quarter were misses instead of makes, we could be calling Boston the defending champs. If Kendrick Perkins doesn’t blow out his knee in game 6, Boston might have sent Kobe home crying. Basketball is full of hypotheticals, of course, but that was one of the closest and most competitive NBA Finals in decades and Boston went toe-to-toe with the best team in the West and very nearly won.
So how washed-up do the “Big Three” become in this offseason? Will Garnett still have anything left next season? Last year he averaged less than 30 minutes per game for the first time since his rookie season, and it’d be crazy to expect him to have a sudden renaissance with all the health problems he has had. And then there’s Ray Allen, who also logged the lowest minutes per game he’s had since 1998. These guys are running out of gas, and to give Boston a chance at repeating in the East their going to need players to step off the bench and play considerable minutes. And not just play, but play well.
While Boston has had a busy offseason, I’m not sure they’ve made all the right moves. Re-signing former slam dunk contest winner Nate Robinson is a mistake in my opinion. Why? Just watch this video and you’ll see what a stupid punk he is. also, notice at Carmelo at :37 seconds. He throws a punch and then runs away. Real tough.) Boston also made one of the worst free-agency signings of all time, paying the rotting corpse of Jermaine O’Neal $12 million to replace Rasheed.
Losing role players Tony Allen and Shelden Williams won’t cause complete disarray to the Celtics, but it won’t be helpful. Allen was one of their best defensive players and could guard pretty much any 2 guard. Also important will be how center Kendrick Perkins recovers from the knee injury that caused him to miss game 7 of the Finals. If Perkins’s recovery is anything like Andrew Bynum’s “recovery,” the Celtics could be in serious trouble. Their only other big men are Garnett, O’Neal, and Big Baby Glen Davis. Davis is an energy player, so you don’t want him playing more than 30 minutes in a game. But they may not have a choice. I don’t think they’ll get squat from O’Neal.
As much as losing Rasheed to retirement is a blessing for Boston, it’s also a blow because of his alleged ability to shoot the 3. Granted, he missed a vast majority of the 3s he shot, but defenses never seemed to realize that. They could have left him unguarded, but they didn’t, and by stretching the court to guard him they opened up the paint for Rondo and Pierce. Even by missing countless shots Rasheed controlled what defenses did. But now, the only big man they have with any outside shooting capability is Brian Scalabrine, and he’s expected to sign elsewhere soon. (Rumor has it he might move to Miami.)
Obviously this is still a ridiculously good starting five – Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett, and Perkins. Probably the best starting five in basketball. But aside from Rondo, you can’t expect any of those guys to play more than 35 minutes a game. And if Robinson and Davis are players 6 and 7 off the bench, I don’t love that if I’m a Celtics fan. Which I’m not.
Last year Boston won 50 games on the nose, and that was despite some very uninspired play, especially late in the season. They battled injuries and indolence and idiocy (Doc Rivers), but still won 50 games and got the 4 seed. This year, they’re older and slower, but also liberated from Rasheed Wallace’s stupid antics. I’m going to say 54 wins.
Other than Cleveland, New York was the biggest losers in the LeBron lottery. They signed Amare Stoudemire to a lucrative contract hoping to lure LeBron, but his mind was made up a long time ago. Now, by losing David Lee to the Warriors, New York essentially replaced one of the best rebounding centers with one of the worst rebounding centers. Amare’s offensive game is much better, but at the price of losing all the rebounding and defense that Lee provided night in and night out.
But losing Lee wasn’t a total loss; they acquired three Warriors in the sign-and-trade: Kelenna Azubuike (quality scoring 2 guard), Anthony Randolph (a Tayshaun-like defender), and Ronny Turiaf (provides defense and size). They also brought in former Bobcats’ point guard Raymond Felton via free agency, and he’ll likely start at the 1 position.
New York also lost several players this summer along with David Lee – Al Harrington, Chris Duhon, and Sergio Rodriguez. The only incumbent member of the starting lineup will be Italian sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari at the 3. The rest of the starters will likely be Felton, Azubuike, Amare and Turiaf, with Wilson Chandler and Randolph playing most of the minutes off the bench. A player to keep an eye on is 7’1” center Timofey Mozgov, a monstrous Russian the Knicks signed this summer. He’s young and reportedly can play on both ends of the court. Of course they said the same thing about Darko.
Basically, last year New York was a mess. They were still in full-fledged recovery mode thanks to Isaiah Thomas. But clearing cap space for LeBron turned out to be a blessing even though they didn’t get him. They were able to land essentially a whole new starting lineup. And when Eddy Curry’s hilarious $11 million contract comes off the books next summer in 2011, we could see Carmelo Anthony and/or Chris Paul joining the Knicks.
Can you imagine –LeBron/Wade/Bosh on one team and Paul/Anthony/Amare on the other. It could very well happen. Which could make for one of the most interesting eras in NBA history. As well as one of the most boring for Pistons’ fans.
But that’s next summer. In order for that dream to become a reality, Kew York’s role players are going to have to show Carmelo and Chris that they can play this season.
I’ve heard some ridiculous crap about Amare Stoudemire joining the Knicks, up to and including that he’s the best Knicks’ player since Patrick Ewing. Let’s get something straight here – he isn’t. I honestly don’t think he’s a better all-around player than David Lee. But I have to admit, he’s a perfect fit in New York, where coach Mike D’Antoni has no interest in little things like defense and rebounding. It will be like Phoenix East. If they can grab Chris Paul next summer to play the role of Steve Nash, look out.
New York won 29 games last season thanks to the worst defense in the Eastern Conference. This year their win total should increase thanks to Amare and the crew of former Warriors, but I don’t want to get too carried away. I’ll say 43-39. Good enough for a playoff birth.
(EDIT: Breaking News - - Chris Paul is requesting a trade before the season starts and New York is atop his list. Wow.)
Another team that was wounded badly by the summer of LeBron. New Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov invested a lot of chips in LeBron and lost all of them. And after winning just 12 games in 2009, the Nets missed out on both John Wall and Evan Turner and settled for Derrick Favors with the third overall pick.
They’ll retain their two best players, PG Devin Harris and C Brook Lopez, along with 2 guard Courtney Lee. Favors will likely begin the season in the starting lineup at the 4 spot, and the 3 spot will probably be occupied by Terrence Williams. So yeah, not a great lineup.
But they should certainly improve from the ghastly 12 win season, if nothing else because of Favors, who has potential to be a truly dominant big man. He also has potential to be a major bust, and frankly neither would surprise me.
When they missed on LeBron, New Jersey quickly got active and signed Travis Outlaw to what’s been called one of the worst contracts of all time – 5 years, $35 million. How does a bench player with a career 9.5 scoring average earn a $35 million contract? I have no idea. New Jersey also locked in former Lakers guard Jordan Farmar (a good backup) and French 7-footer Johan Petro (a rebounding specialist) for three years each. Lastly they traded a draft pick to the Warriors for three-point shooting specialist Anthony Morrow, filling a huge need for outside shooting.
Are the Nets still the NBA’s worst team? No, probably not. Are they still bad? Yes, absolutely. But just like the 2008 Detroit Lions, the Nets did the smart thing by ridding the roster of as many players as possible to try to re-create an atmosphere of winning, or at least of hope. Letting losing linger is the worst thing a franchise can do.
With Harris and Farmar at the 1, Lee and Morrow at the 2, Williams and Outlaw at the 3, and Favors, Lopez and Petro as the bigs, this is a roster than could surprise people and make a playoff push. It likely won’t, but they do have one major advantage – head coach Avery Johnson. I’m going to predict a 30-52 season.
I’d like to start by saying that Philly is my sleeper team to make the playoffs this season, and also will have the honor of being swept by LeBron, Dwayne and Co.
As good as John Wall is and will be, I think Philly got the best player in the 2010 Draft with Buckeye Evan Turner. Although Turner played point guard on Ohio State, he’s more natural at the 2 or even the 3 position. He’s 6’7” but handles the ball like a point guard and can score at will, off the dribble or running off screens. He can do just about everything on offense. He’s in that Oscar-Magic-LeBron mold as far as being a tall guard with great vision and passing ability, though I’m not willing to say he’ll have the career of any of those guys or even close to it. But he is special, and he’ll definitely be the face of the Philly franchise for a few years at least.
It’s important for Philly to find a point guard to run the offense and allow Turner to be comfortable. So far they haven’t done that, and that’s this team’s biggest weakness. Jrue Holliday, drafted in the first round last year, is slated to be the starting point guard, but I don’t see that working too well. They’ve got Lou Williams to back Jrue up.
The Sixers’ leading scorer has been Andre Iguodala for the past 5 seasons, and it will be interesting to see how willingly he passes the torch to Turner. Iggy still has 4 more years on his contract, so he better learn to adjust. If he tries to hold on to his status as “the man” in Philadelphia, he’ll become despised by the Philly fans and eventually suffer an “injury” that keeps him off the floor. But hopefully he can get used to playing second fiddle to a future star like Turner.
The 76ers suffered a huge blow when center Samuel Dalembert was traded to the Kings. In exchange Philly received Spencer Hawes and Andrew Nocioni – viable role players but not elite rebounders like Dalembert. The big Haitian ranked in the top 15 in both rebounds and blocks for the past 4 seasons. How many other players can say that? None (the only one close is Marcus Camby).
Replacing Dalembert in the starting lineup will be 22-year old Marresse Speights, and that’s a downgrade on both ends of the floor. The Sixers will need power forward Elton Brand to convalesce from the injury that’s kept him out for the past 3 seasons and reclaim the 20 and 10 form from his years on the Clippers. Brand is only 31 years old; by contrast Camby is 36 and he’s averaged double digit rebounds for the past 11 seasons. So no excuses Elton, get your lazy ass back on the court. You can’t be injured 4 years in a row.
Coming off the bench Philly has one of the most athletic energy guys in the NBA in Thaddeus Young, who should in fact be starting and probably will be by the end of the season. They’ve also got one of the NBA’s best outside shooters in Jason Kapano as well as veteran Willie Green.
Philly’s best starting five would be Brand at the 5, Young at the 4, Iggy at the 3, Turner at the 2, and Jrue at the 1. If they can get all those guys on the court at the same time and everyone defers to Turner as the primary scoring option, this could be a good team. For whatever reason, I have a good feeling about them. I’m gonna say 40-42 (a 13 win improvement from last season) and the eighth seed in the East.
On paper, this is probably the least talented team in the NBA. With Chris Bosh departing and Hedo Turkoglu being traded to the Suns, it’s tough to even guess who the Raps’ best player is. Newly acquired Leandro Barbosa (AKA the Brazilian blur) perhaps? Or point guard Jose Calderon? Or maybe youngster DeMar DeRozan, last year’s 9th overall pick? This roster is a mishmash of leftovers and castoffs and vagabonds, guys who couldn’t find a job in America so they were forced to Canada. It’s the one city that absolutely no NBA player wants to play in, as Chris Bosh proved with overly blunt starkness last month. Anyone who develops into an NBA star in Toronto is just biding their time before they can leave.
When that happens in the NBA, the only way to build is through the NBA draft. You can’t attract free agents and need to hit a bulls eye in the first round every year. That’s how the Spurs dynasty was born – picks of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili in three consecutive years. So that’s a lot of pressure on DeRozan and this year’s lottery pick Ed Davis, power forward from UNC, who will attempt to fill the shoes left by Bosh.
And then there’s Amir Johnson, a nice kid with decent defensive ability and outstanding length, but really no offensive game or basketball instincts. On the Pistons, Amir’s claim to fame was that he led the NBA in fouls per 48 minutes. His average stat line was 8 minutes, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks, 4 fouls. Why do I bring him up? Because the Raptors, in full panic mode, just re-signed him to a uproarious 5-year, $34 million dollar deal. That’s right up there with the worst contracts of the summer.
Toronto also added former Nuggets big man Linas Kleiza and bench-warmer Dwayne Jones from the Suns, as well as Barbosa in the Turkoglu trade. The only other additions of the offseason were Davis and a second round pick.
It’s a simple formula really: when you missed the playoffs despite having Chris Bosh, and then lost him without replacing him in any way, you can’t expect to make the playoffs the following year. I don’t care how well DeRozan develops or how good of a rookie Davis is, there’s no way Toronto is coming anywhere close to the playoffs this season, and they know this as well as anyone.
Their projected starting line-up looks like this:
Jose Calderon at the 1, DeRozan at the 2, Sonny Weems at the 3, Amir at the 4, and 7-foot Italian Andrea Bargnani at the 5. With apologies to the Nets and Timberwolves and Wizards, this has to be the worst starting 5 in basketball. I’m going to predict a league-low 17 wins.
Recap of the Atlantic:
New York 43-39
New Jersey 30-52
SOUTHEAST DIVISION PREVIEW
Don’t even know where to start. There’s so much to say, I’ll try to keep it brief:
1) First off, LeBron is now the biggest douche in the NBA. He cemented this fact with his hour-long TV special which was as anticlimactic as it was painful to watch. For a narcissistic ego-maniac, he lacks the charm and personality to be the “global icon” he dreams of being. His goal with the TV special was to become more than just a sports icon, but a genuine celebrity who is known to non-sports fans just like MJ and Tiger. He succeeded. But not in the way he hoped. Instead, LeBron is now synonymous with “that jerk who stabbed his team in the back on national TV so he could play with that guy from the Fave 5 commercials.” LeBron needs to fire every single one of his “business partners” or “homeys” or whatever those goons call themselves, and hire a real PR team. The Decision was a trainwreck in every way possible.
2) Miami’s fans are the luckiest sons of bitches in the country, maybe ever. They were 2 seconds away from losing Wade to Chicago and having a 20 win team led by Michael Beasley. Instead, just a matter of two days later, Miami re-signed Wade and brought in Chris Bosh, giving them one of the NBA’s best teams. Just surviving the Wade free agency was enough luck for a lifetime for Miami fans; adding Bosh was like winning the lottery. And adding LeBron was like winning the lottery while being struck by lightning while simultaneously finding a diamond the size of a plum in your coat pocket.
Imagine being a mid-90s Detroit Lions fan and Barry Sanders is contemplating free agency. He’s leaning between 3 or 4 other teams, and you’re pretty sure he’s about to leave. Then suddenly he says “Not only am I staying, but Reggie White and Deion Sanders have decided to join me in Detroit.” You would be ecstatic, but then imagine that a few days later John Elway and Jerry Rice decide that they too will come to Detroit. That’s the Heat. No wonder everybody hates them.
Or in real life terms, it would be like sitting a table at a fancy restaurant waiting for a blind date when the most hideous, revolting, monstrous girl you’ve ever seen comes over and sits down for a few minutes and farts three or four times, but then says “Oh, I’m sorry, never mind, wrong table,” and as she leaves this other girl sits down and she’s like a cross between Megan Fox and Princess Diana. She’s simply gorgeous, but as if that’s not enough, she falls instantly in love with you and wants to marry you. And then she calmly explains that her parents are the owners of the Qdoba franchise and they own several islands in the Mediterranean and she’d really like you to quit your job and go live with her on an island and eat Qdoba every day. That’s LeBron joining Wade and Bosh, if you’re a Heat fan. I hope those sons of bitches know how lucky they are.
3) Everyone is obsessed with making the following comment: “The Lakers are still the best team in the NBA.” Every analyst has said this, every writer, even Dwayne Wade said it. But guess what. It’s not true, and I think both the Heat and the Lakers know it.
Here’s another phrase that keeps being tossed around: “LeBron is now the Robin to Wade’s Batman.” Okay, Wade was there first and it is his team. I get all that. But let’s not for one second act like LeBron is an inferior player to Dwayne Wade. That’s outrageous. Wade is a great player and a great athlete, but LeBron is transcendental. He’s the best athlete in NBA history. He is a much, much, much, much, much better player than Dwayne Wade.
If LeBron had joined the Knicks, they would have become the best team in the NBA. (Need I remind you that the Cavaliers, not the Lakers, have had the NBA’s best record two season in a row?) If LeBron had joined the Nets – best team in the NBA. If he had joined the Texas Longhorns, they would have been the best team in the NBA. I’m not kidding. Wherever he went was instantly a 60 win team. He’s that good.
So spare me the “Lakers are the favorites” speech. I’m not buying it. LeBron joined a team with two All Stars. He could have won 60 without them. With them, he’s got to be seriously considering 70 wins.
Here’s another thing. Everyone keeps talking about how LeBron, Wade, and Bosh will all see a decline in their personal stats. That’s true, and it pretty much locks up the scoring title for Kevin Durant for the next 5 seasons. But it doesn’t mean LeBron is out of the MVP discussion or necessarily out of the “all-time great” conversation either.
He won’t score 30 per game any more, but he’ll notch at least 24 easily. More importantly, LeBron will play a Magic-esque point-forward position for the Heat (why do you think they’ve made no effort to secure a point guard?) and will average 10 assists per game without breaking a sweat. As Bill Simmons points out, LeBron will become only the third player in NBA history to lead the NBA in both scoring and assists in different seasons. That’s a guarantee.
All LeBron needs to do is focus on rebounding the ball every night and he could join Oscar Robertson as the only player to average a triple-double. It’ll be hard with Bosh in the mix, but doable. One thing’s for sure, he’s going to have unreasonably good stat lines on a regular basis. His 24-9-13 will place him squarely in the MVP discussion, along with Durant’s 32-8-3 and Kobe’s 27-6-5 and Howards’ 15-14-2-3. But as of now, I’m definitely thinking the MVP is LeBron’s to lose.
If you’re curious, Wade will put up 26-6-4 and Bosh will be right around 19-11-3-2.
4) Lastly, I suppose we should talk about the Miami supporting cast a little bit. They lost Jermaine O’Neal and Quentin Richardson and Michael Beasley, but re-signed Udonis Haslem and also brought in Big Z from the Cavs. And don’t overlook the addition of outside-shooter Mike Miller, as well as second-round pick Dexter Pittman who may start next to Bosh in the frontcourt.
Rounding out the bench are a bunch of lucky goons, including Carlos Arroyo, Juwan Howard, Jamaal Magloire, and a few others. I’m still expecting Shaq and/or Iverson to join the Heat. And believe it or not, they’ve had discussions with Penny Hardaway about joining as well. Yes, as a player, not a coach.
5) In terms of a prediction, I’m going to play it safe and guess 65. That’s seven short of the 95 Bulls’ record, but it gives them something to shoot for next year. And just for the record, I’m saying Miami wins the 2011 Finals, and LeBron gets the last laugh while Cleveland fans light themselves on fire.
As bad as LeWhatever was for Cleveland and New York and New Jersey, it was also bad for Orlando. Why? Because now the Southeast division is no longer theirs. They’ll have to battle for second. And there’s nothing they can do about it.
The only notable loss for Orlando this offseason was bad-boy Matt Barnes, and they replaced him with a couple of capable offensive players in Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon, as well as re-signing J.J. Redick to a three-year deal. This will be a good team once again, but it seems anti-climatic to try to hype them up in light of Miami. But I’ll try anyway I suppose.
Dwight Howard, winner of back-to-back D-MVPs, is a top 10 NBA player and may be close to the top 5. He has plenty of weaknesses (free-throw shooting obviously, and he could use another post move or two) but makes up for it with dominant size and strength that hasn’t been seen since Shaq. He’s an absolute beast and makes it possible for Orlando to jack up threes like crazy.
Last year they topped the NBA in three-pointers attempted and shot the third best percentage from downtown. And it wasn’t just one or two guys – a whopping eight guys averaged at least 2 attempts per game from behind the line. Adding Quentin Richardson (who shot 5 per game) and Duhon (4 per game) will be interesting. I like the way GM Otis Smith is assembling this team, though it is risky.
If you ask me, Orlando’s best chance at keeping pace with Miami is to dump Vince Carter and his $17 contract or at least move him to the bench. He’s a terrible team player who can’t forget about his glory days; the less Uncle Rico players you have, the better. Replace Vince with Quentin in the starting 5, and along with Dwight, Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, and Mickael Pietrus (a highly underrated French player), you’ve got a competitive team that could easily win 50 games and maybe more.
My guess is right around 52, which would be a 7 game drop-off from last season. I think they lose just a little bit of motivation knowing that their division is unwinnable, and probably lose focus in a few easy games. But 52 wins will keep them on their home-court in the first round at least.
Last year Atlanta was the most league’s disappointing playoff team but one of the best regular season teams. They won 53 games behind coach Mike Woodson, the most they have won since 1996. But alas, they barely beat the Bogut-less Bucks in the first round and then were swept by Orlando by an average of 25 points per game.
Then they fired Woodson and went into panic-mode, fearing that they would lose “star” player Joe Johnson. So they did what the Godfather would do. They made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. 6-years, $119 million. That’s roughly $20 million a year for a guy who averages 21-4-5, doesn’t play defense, doesn’t shoot a high percentage, never gets to the free-throw line, and is already almost 30. This is a terrible contract for this season; in three years, it will be unforgivably atrocious; in six years it’ll be considered the worst contract in NBA history. Johnson isn’t even a top 25 overall player in the NBA, and he’s being paid like he’s the best.
So, with all that said, I’m not optimistic for Atlanta. I think Johnson is a money-first guy, and now that he’s been given the big bucks he’s going to relax, shoot more threes, and play even less defense. (Basically he’ll take a page from Rip Hamilton’s book). Josh Smith is an elite defender and a physical freak, but not an efficient offensive player. Same goes for 6’9” center Al Horford. The other two starters – Mike Bibby and Marvin Williams – are average players at best. Off the bench Atlanta has shoot-crazy Jamal Crawford, who will be shooting even more now that he’s the sixth-man of the year. That’s a recipe for losing.
The Hawks didn’t do anything this offseason other than over-pay their “star” player and secure the fact that they won’t be in the ECFs for another decade. Too bad. 44-38, and a first round exit.
If you’re the greatest basketball player to ever live, and your job is to evaluate players who will never be as good as you, it must be pretty difficult. But such is the life for Michael Jordan, owner and president of the Charlotte Bobcats.
Since becoming an NBA team in 2004, Charlotte has never won 45 games and has only made the playoffs one time – last season, when they were effortlessly swept by Orlando. This offseason brought more upheaval to a Charlotte roster that can’t seem to grasp the idea of continuity; with two integral starters relocating, the rebuilding process continues.
Point guard Raymond Felton, who Jordan chose in the 2005 draft largely because of their shared UNC roots, has been Charlotte’s starter at the 1 position for five seasons, and was lost in free agency to the Knicks. Meanwhile center Tyson Chandler, who was brought in last year to replace #1 overall pick and miserable bust Emeka Okafor, was sent to Dallas in a 5 player trade last month.
In exchange, Charlotte received a trio of role players – underrated center Erick Dampier (a very productive rebounder), spot-up shooter Matt Carroll (who spent 4 seasons on Charlotte previously), and Mexican power forward Eduardo Najera (a hustle defender who should be a favorite of Larry Brown.) Each of these players will contribute and add depth to a barren roster, but only Dampier should be expected to start.
The Bobcats were one of only three teams who weren’t involved in the 2010 NBA Draft (the others Cleveland and Denver), so they’ll continue their method of trying to build and re-build through free agency. The only two additions so far have been point guard Shaun Livingston (the victim of one of the ugliest injuries in sports history) and bench-warmer Dominic McGuire. Neither of these guys will do anything noteworthy.
Which means that Charlotte’s core players will be, once again, knucklehead Stephen Jackson and defensive superstar Gerald Wallace. GW is one of the NBA’s 20 best players and the second best defensive player next to Dwight Howard, but his offensive game leaves something to be desired. Jackson is an offensive-minded player who takes too many shots and shoots a very low percentage. As a general rule of thumb, when your leading scorer shoots 42% from the field, you’re not going anywhere. In fact I’d be willing to bet all the money I have that no team has ever won an championship with a leading scorer who shot 42% from the field. So until either Jackson learns to take better shots or the Bobcats find a new go-to offensive player, they’ll continue to settle for mediocrity.
I’ll guess 36 wins and they miss the playoffs.
Two of the biggest stories in the NBA last year focused on the Washington Wizards, but alas, they were the fourth-worst team in the standings.
First, their $130 million dollar man, Gilbert Arenas, brought guns to the stadium like the incomprehensible idiot that he is, and then treated the whole issue like a joke. He pointed pretend guns at teammates and laughed about the issue with reporters, and said outright that he wasn’t sorry. Commissioner David Stern responded by suspending Arenas for the rest of the season.
I never really got into this issue, because if was so utterly absurd that I didn’t even know where to start. Who brings guns into their workplace and acts like it’s no big deal? What would happen to a regular person if they brought guns to their office and left them on the desk. There would be no reporters, no news story, just an immediate firing and possibly jail time. Who does this idiot think he is?
By losing Arenas, their franchise player who was locked-in for one of the biggest contracts in NBA history, Washington began a complete upheaval process smack-dab in the middle of the season. They traded their second and third best players, Caron Butler and Antwan Jamison, to the Mavericks and Cavs, respectively. In return, they didn’t get much. For Jamison, they got a first round draft pick (used to select Trevor Booker, more on him later) as well as small forward Al Thornton. For Butler, they got admitted pot-smoker Josh Howard, and role players Quinton Ross and James Singleton; none of those three are currently with the Wizards. They also lost Brendan Haywood, their starting center in this deal, but also acquired Dallas’s first round pick.
So bottom line: they cleaned house and didn’t get anything in return, except draft picks. Going into June’s draft, Washington was the only team which held three first-round picks. And not only that, but the #1 overall pick, which was used as expected to take freshman sensation John Wall from Kentucky. Therein lies the other major story referenced in the opening sentence.
John Wall will be immediately expected to be a superstar, and is likened to a LeBron and Magic Johnson on a consistent basis. A more fair comparison is Derrick Rose or Deron Williams, but in any event, Wall is a freakish talent that only comes along every few year. He’s both an elite passer and an elite shooter, and will be one of the fastest players in the NBA off the dribble. He’s unselfish but not afraid to attack the basket; he’s a great free-throw shooter, a good three-point shooter, and a pretty good rebounder. He’s the complete package, and will compete with Evan Turner for rookie of the year. It will be interesting to see how Arenas and Wall share the point guard position, but of course it’s Wall, not Arenas, who the team will be built around.
The other two first-round picks were the aforementioned Trevor Booker, a solid defender and rebounder at the 4 position, and Kevin Seraphin, a French center known for high-flying dunks rather than jump shooting. By shoring up the frontcourt with these two picks, and obviously establishing Wall at the 1 position, Washington has put the building blocks in place for a successful rebuilding project.
Of course, dividends won’t pay off immediately and to expect the Wizards to make the playoffs is a little bit crazy. The rest of their roster is still ragtag at best, although they made a couple of strong additions this summer by adding SG Kirk Hinrich and PF Yi Jianlian. They’ve also got a number of ‘project’ players with 25 year old SG Nick Young, 22 year old C JaVale McGee, and 23 year old PF Andray Blatche, who made a splash last season in Jamison’s absence by average 21 points and 8 rebounds in April. Each of these players has loads of potential but is raw and completely untested. Washington has the youngest roster in the NBA and is the only team with no players 30 years or older; Kirk Hinrich is the veteran at 29.
It’s likely that the starting five for Washington will be Wall, Arenas at the 2 (Gilbert playing the “shooting guard” position next year will be one of the greatest ironies of all time), Thornton at the 3, and McGee and Blatche at the 4 and 5. With Jianlian and Hinrich on the bench, there are plenty of weapons for John Wall to work with, but ultimately this team is coached by Flip Saunders which means you can’t expect any kind of cohesion or effort, but rather another dismal season and playoff absence. But I will give them 36 wins, a ten game jump from last year.
Here’s a recap of the Southeast:
And that wraps up the Eastern Conference. Let’s take a look at the Playoff Picture.
1 seed - Miami (65)
2 seed - Boston (54)
3 seed - Milwaukee (51)
4 seed - Orlando (52)
5 seed - Chicago (48)
6 seed - Atlanta (44)
7 seed - New York (43)
8 seed - Philadelphia (40)
Miami sweeps Philly
Boston over NY in 5
Bucks over Hawks in 6
Chicago upsets Orlando in 7
Miami sweeps Chicago
Boston over Bucks in 6
Miami over Boston in 5
Next up, stay tuned for the Western Conference preview, which should be done in about 5 days, which is probably how long it will take you to read this whole thing … which is roughly 9,300 words.