I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this, because I'm not sure anybody cares. But I care enough to at least get some predictions written down. Let's start in the Eastern Conference. Remember, it's a 66-game season, crammed into 120 days.
Miami Heat - They still have big fat nothings from the point guard and center positions, but the addition of Shane Battier is exactly what Miami needed: an unselfish hustle player, an elite defender, and a solid outside shooter. With LBJ and Wade sharing the ball and attacking the rim, the Heat have just enough shooters (Chalmers, Bosh, Battier, James Jones) to take full advantage. Defensively, they'll probably be the NBA's best team.
Potential downfall: aside from LeBron's manic desire to be loved which somehow caused him to be hated, and LeBron's allergicness to fourth quarters, there is still the tumultuous head coaching situation. Erik Spoelstra is in way over his head and all his players know it. But I still have the Heat going 53-13 for the #1 seed.
Chicago Bulls - Led by MVP Derrick Rose, last year's #1 seed was ousted from the Eastern Conference Finals in 5 relatively easy games by the Heat. Instead of making a big move for Dwight Howard or Tyson Chandler, the Bulls picked up past-his-prime Rip Hamilton, and not much else. They don't get any scoring from the center or the 2-guard, and we can't expect much from Boozer anymore either.
Cakewalk: last year the Bulls won the Central Division by 25 games. It's the least competitive division in basketball or any sport for that matter. So they can suffer lots of injuries, all shoot left-handed for the entire month of February, let Rose skip 15 games to sail around the world, whatever they want, and they'll still win the division easily. I'll say 46-20, which barely earns them the #2 seed.
New York Knicks - Other than Chris Paul to the Clippers, the Knicks pulled off the biggest move of the offseason so far, obtaining Tyson Chandler in free agency, outbidding at least 10 other teams who wanted him. Chandler gives the Knicks exactly what they needed: defense. With Melo, Amare and Chandler the Knicks have by the far the league's best frontcourt, and all they need is for the guards (Baron Davis, Mike Bibby, rookie Iman Shumpert) to not mess things up.
Do they have what it takes to beat the Heat? That will be the question of the year for the entire league, but the Knicks may be the best-suited to upset Miami in the playoffs. Miami is too small to guard New York's bigs. If Amare replicates the amazing season he had last year (25 ppg, 8 rpg, 2 blocks), New York will stand the best chance of keeping Miami out of the Finals. Regular season record: 45-21.
Boston Celtics - This is where it gets ugly. The NBA this season, especially in the East, is all about disparity. The three top teams (all located in marquee cities, not coincidentally) are loaded with superstars, depth, defense ... while the rest of the conference is inferior and uncompetitive, and they know it. David Stern has tried to emulate the NFL and become a parity-driven league, but he's also tried to maximize revenue and load the big cities with big stars and make the NBA internationally popular. Unfortunately, you can't succeed at both.
Boston's "Big Three" is now a thing of the past, as Rajon Rondo is their best player by a wide margin. Rondo was dangled in trade rumors for months and is now disgruntled, and the losses of Perkins and Glen Davis have depleted Boston's depth in the paint. Jeff Green hasn't panned out, Jermaine O'Neal is awful, and the formerly great trio now averages 35 years of age.
One More Shot: Does the Celtics aged roster have enough in the tank for one last hurrah? Or will they start out slow and overreact by dealing Allen and/or Rondo to a contender for future picks and young players? I think the latter will happen, and the Celts will still manage to finish 40-26 for the #4 seed.
Atlanta Hawks - The Hawks continue their quest to finish with the 5th seed as many times as possible in a single decade. Good enough to always make the playoffs, never good enough to sniff a Conference Finals. By locking their lynchpin players (Johnson, Smith, Horford) down for long-deals, they'll be in the middle of the playoff pack once again. Adding Tracy McGrady and losing Jamal Crawford drops them a step backward. 39-27 gives them a 59% winning percentage, right on pace with the past several years.
Any Chance: could this be the year that Atlanta finally makes a leap into serious title contention? Uh ... nope...
Orlando Magic - The big enigma for obvious reasons. Dwight Howard could be traded before I finish this sentence, or he could retire as a member of the Magic in 10 years. Most likely, he'll play at least some games for Orlando this year, maybe in a hostage-esque situation like Carmelo last year. (You know I'm leaving, so you may as well try to get some value for me). Orlando is committed to dumping Hedo Turkoglu's contract to whoever takes Howard, which makes him considerably less attractive. The Lakers, Nets, Bulls, Mavericks, Rockets ... heck pretty much every team is a factor. But Dwight wants to be in a big market, so it'll probably be either New Jersey or LA or maybe Chicago if he wants to take less money and win titles.
Life Without Dwight: Orlando will be looking to add at least 3 or 4 first-round picks for Howard as well as create some serious cap space and add a couple young building blocks. He's the best center in the NBA by a mile and could end up with a career in the Hakeem-Shaq echelon. With Jameer, J-Rich, Big Baby and Ryan Anderson, the Magic should be able to make the playoffs even without Howard. The East is a very sad conference. I'll say 36-30 for the Magic, with Howard playing in the first 10ish games.
New Jersey - Moving to Brooklyn. Owned by a Russian billionaire who apsires to be President of Russia. Part-owned by Jay Z. Superstar point guard in Deron Williams. New arena, excited new fans. Aaaand ... Brook Lopez is their second best player. Ugh.
The Nets have everything in place to be an elite franchise, except for the players. They missed out on Wade, LeBron and Carmelo. They pulled off a nice trade for D-Williams, who then left for Turkey, but came back. But now the Nets need to pry Dwight Howard from Orlando somehow, otherwise they're never getting past the first round. I'm going to say they go 35-31 for the 7th seed. Unless they get Dwight early in the season, in which case they'll finish 3rd or 4th and be a scary playoff matchup.
From here on out, there is a list of 8 teams that absolutely do not deserve to be in the playoffs. It's really just a fight for which of these 8 doldrums gets to be swept by the Heat. This is why the title of this blog is 'Haves and Have-nots.'
Milwaukee, Indiana, Washington and Philly are the only teams that seem to be building towards anything remotely promising; of those, John Wall could make a superstar leap and bring Washington into relevancy.
Cleveland, Toronto, Charlotte, and Detroit are just completely worthless, and will be going through the motions as bottom dwellars. It's amazing to think that just 6 years ago, one of those teams went to consecutive NBA Finals and had the best starting 5 in basketball. I have all of these teams 15 games below .500, and it doesn't make any difference who finishes with what record because of the stupid ping-pong ball lottery. But for the record, Detroit will finish the year with the worst record in the NBA, 11-55.
So much for keeping this short. How about this:
1 seed - Dallas
2 seed - Clippers
3 seed - OKC
4 seed - Memphis
5 seed - Lakers
6 seed - Spurs
7 seed - Nuggets
8 seed - Blazers
Playoffs ... blah blah blah, Chris Paul alley-oop to Blake Griffin, Spurs are dead, Kobe is pissed, Heat over OKC in 6. Good for you LeBron, you a-hole.