By Chauncey Telese
Hi everybody, Happy Tuesday and in a weekend filled with awesome sports moments (Oklahoma getting mauled by Missouri, a World Series featuring the Giants and Rangers, Brett Favre’s disaster against Green Bay, the Raiders putting up 59 on Denver) and today marks the start of the NBA season, woohoo!
This will probably be the most interesting season in a long time because this may be the only time where people are majorly invested from beginning to end because we have our first villainous team in a long time, the Miami Heat. LeBron James deciding to take his talents to South Beach and burning Cleveland became the biggest off-season story and now he, Wade, Bosh, and the rest of the cast that they’ve assembled have to nut up or shut up or the experiment will be looked at as a failure.
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The Celtics have to prove that they’ve got one last run in them before they are too old to compete (they’re signing of Shaq is a major gamble), the Magic more specifically Dwight Howard have to prove that they’re not just regular season champions who choke when it matters, the Thunder have to prove they are for real and Durant has a chance to become the best player in the league, and finally the Lakers will set out to prove that they are the best team in the league.
After crumbling in my NFL preview (I was way wrong, but then again how could I anticipate the Cowboys being this awful, Green Bay and Indianapolis being this banged up, and the NFC being a “Terminator”-style wasteland. By the way, my new Super Bowl pick is Pittsburgh over the Giants. I will try to rectify that with an NBA preview. Here’s how it’ll work, I will place the teams in each conference in order that they will finish (top 8 from each are playoff teams) and will offer my conference and final picks. Let’s tip off with the East.
Miami Heat: The big three of Miami will be under the most scrutiny and deservedly so. People think that this team will have a problem jelling and Wade and James will eventually have to decide who is the alpha dog that gets the ball at the end. Bosh has to prove he’s worth the contract he signed (his rebounding is excellent, but as a shooter?
Meh.) and the supporting cast of Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, Eddie House, Jerry Stackhouse, and Ilgauskus has to show that they can step up if need be.
I think the team jels by Christmas and that Wade and Bron will get along just fine and while they won’t win more then 72 games (the record) because they will get every team’s best shot and they’re first game is against Boston. However, they will be a juggernaut and will be a great villain to boo all year long. By the way Pat Riley is a slam dunk to win Executive of the Year because this is the most impressive front office job in a long time for any sport.
The Orlando Magic: Dwight Howard looked bad this summer because he missed out on the World Championships (he could’ve used the big game reps) but somewhat made up for it by training with Hakeem Olajuwon (only one of the greatest centers ever and all time leader in blocks) and actually tried developing a post game. If working with the Dream helped Kobe’s game (it did) then Howard should make leaps and bounds. He’s also fueled by this newfound rivalry with Miami. Orlando’s supporting cast is shaky (Jameer Nelson disappears and Vince Carter is a major underachiever) and Stan Van Gundy is a wild card as head coach. There is also the distant possibility of a Chris Paul trade looming which would make me convinced that the Magic could beat Miami but other then that the Magic will be really good but not great.
Boston Celtics: This is it for Boston because aside from Rondo and Big Baby, this is an old team. They are without Perkins until after the All Star Break because of his injury in game 6 of the Finals, so his replacements are Jermaine O’Neal (a cadaver at this point) and Shaq (who actually looks invested for the first time in years). Garnett needs to be healthy which is always an issue, Pierce and Allen have to hold down the fort and stay healthy and Rondo has to continue to be the evolutionary Gary Payton (I hate him but he’s amazing). The Celtics are basically all in this season before some rebuilding begins. As evidenced last year the Celtics don’t really need to be good during the regular season because as long as they make the playoffs they can contend with anyone. This is the biggest wild card and if they aren’t too banged up could take down Miami and, as a Laker fan, that was hard to type.
Chicago Bulls: Quietly this team had a great off-season even though they looked like losers in the Lebron sweepstakes. They got Carlos Boozer who, while injury prone (he’ll miss the first month because he broke his hand), will be great in the post and will help Noah rebound. They fortified their bench with Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, and made a great coaching hire in Tibbideaux who was the defensive coach of the Boston Celtics. Derrick Rose will continue to be one of the best point guards in the league and if they can put it all together they have the bench to match up with Boston (the Rose/Rondo rivalry will be great to watch) and could sneak into the conference finals.
The Milwaukee Bucks: Fear the Deer 2010 will be more successful then last year. Brandon Jennings will continue to develop into an elite player, Bogut is healthy (for now), and John Salmons will still be able to score at will. Michael Redd could finally contribute that is if his knees don’t fall apart like Henry and Betty’s marriage on “Mad Men.” The only red flag is Corey Maggette who is one of the most overrated players in the league and isn’t much of a team player which won’t exactly resonate with coach Scott Skiles. This team could compete with the Bulls in a seven game series, that is, if they’re healthy.
The Atlanta Hawks: Despite the fact that the Hawks overspent on Joe Johnson (they paid him 6 years $120 million) even though he was a ghost during the Magic series. Having said that, the Eastern conference is full of stars but few good teams they can get into the playoffs. Horford, Crawford, Smith, and Bibby will help Johnson lead the Hawks to a first round exit versus the Bulls, but I guess that’s all you can ask for with your star guard making $120 million. Am I right?
The New York Knicks: The Knicks were hoping for LeBron but settled for Amare and even though he is injury-prone, can’t play defense, and isn’t a leader but is expected to carry a depleted Knicks teams. Since they went all in on LeBron, they have no trade assets to acquire Carmelo Anthony so they may have to wait until next year. Having said that, Gallinari and Amare will thrive in Mike D’Antoni’s system at least well enough to get knocked out in the first round. Other than that, the league’s most overrated franchise will experience yet another year of underachieving. At least season ticket holders get to listen to “Empire State of Mind” at the end of every game. Also Chris Paul may come to them in two years so at least there’s that. Though they’ll still have James Dolan as an owner and Spike Lee will still have season tickets, oh well, sorry New York.
Philadelphia 76ers: This is a bad team but not bad enough to miss the playoffs. Evan Turner needs to adjust to the mental aspects of playing in the NBA (it took awhile in college), Elton Brand needs to remind us that he’s still alive, Igoudala has to learn to play defense, and coach Doug Collins will have to get the most out of an otherwise untalented team. I think he does but just enough to be the first victim of the Miami Heat.
The Charlotte Bobcats: Michael Jordan may own the team but he’s not playing for them. Larry Brown is still their coach (until a better job comes along) and this team still has virtually no talent. They made the playoffs last year because Gerald Wallace played like his life depended on it and Stephen Jackson was actually invested. This year Jordan signed a lot of people who are proven failures most notably Kwame Brown who is the NBA equivalent of Ryan Leaf (Jordan drafted him back in Washington, by the way), Diop and others. This team may be better than I think, but I doubt it.
The Washington Wizards: They have new ownership (the guy who turned the Capitals into one of the NHL’s most talented teams) and a new face of the franchise in John Wall (he’s just as fast as young Iverson and could have a better career). Kirk Hinrich, Josh Howard, and Thorton will contribute and Andray Blatche will continue to develop. The big red flag is that Gilbert Arenas is still on the team because the previous ownership gave him an untradeable contract. Gilbert used to be a terrific player but then he kept getting hurt and while he used to be entertaining, the gun incident on Christmas Eve with Crittendon basically was the final nail in the coffin for him. He’s proven that he’s nothing but an overrated head case and will undermine any progress that this team makes. Until he’s traded, this team will underachieve. I am optimistic, though, that the team will go back to the Bullets.
The New Jersey Nets: Mickhail Prokorov missed a field goal Chargers style in free agency and settled for signing Travis Outlaw and Jordan Farmar (many Lakers fans will miss him but seriously, while he made plays, he didn’t fit the system). The team did draft Derrick Favors who will be a good player and hiring Avery Johnson will be a great coaching move. Brook Lopez will continue to develop into one of the best centers in the league and they have that move to Brooklyn coming soon. Also “Boardwalk Empire” takes place in Jersey and that’s something to cling to right? They don’t have the assets yet to trade for Carmelo and will under achieve but they won’t be as bad as last year. This is a team on the rise and maybe the draft will go their way next year.
The Indiana Pacers: This team has some decent pieces, most notably Darren Collison who played well in the absence of Chris Paul last year. They still are not very talented and may be in one of those trading expiring contract seasons. Larry Bird has worked hard to build a team full of character guys but needs to find a star because you can’t win with character alone. Danny Granger and Tyler Hansborough will also contribute, but they won’t win a lot of games.
Detroit Pistons: Oh how the mighty have fallen, then again, at least there is a silver lining. They got bought by the guy that owns the Red Wings and Tigers so he knows how to build a winner and if he fires Joe Dumars, then fans will rejoice. While Dumars did build a great title team he also stripped it apart by trading Billups too soon and getting an angry Iverson in return, overpaying Hamilton, and just making horrible signings like Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. They still have Tayshon Prince and hopefully Maxiel can prove he was worth keeping over Billups. It will be bleak for a few years but at least the team isn’t moving and they have pieces to build on.
Toronto Raptors: After Hedo Turkoglu stole money from the Raptors and basically set them back a few years. He didn’t want to be there and just phoned it in kind of like everybody that has worked in the “Saw” movies. They traded him to the Suns (good luck with that Nash), and Bosh took his overrated talents to South Beach (though everyone knew that was coming) and now their most talented guy is Andrea Bargniani which is pretty sad. Oh well at least they’re not Cleveland.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Wow, this city must feel like Lumen on “Dexter” just broken, abused, and incapable going back to normal. Unlike Lumen, the Cavs don’t have anyone to call when their in a warehouse and have just killed someone who helped LeBron go to Miami. They have Moe Williams, Antawn Jamison, Anderson “Sideshow Bob” Varejao, Leon Powe, and Jamario Moon…yikes! The only bright side is J.J. Hickson, but they may trade him. Byron Scott is a good coach but he can’t rectify this awful situation. It’s pretty sad when Cleveland is more optimistic about the Browns who demolished New Orleans then they are the Cavs. Oh well, Cleveland is used to sports depression. Now let’s break down the West!
Los Angeles Lakers: The defending champs quietly got better. They signed Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff, and Steve Blake, who may not be marquee guys, but provide better depth then they had last year. Shannon Brown is looking like he could get better and Odom looked great at the World Championships (though let’s hope his marriage to the ugly Kardashian doesn’t eat him alive). Bynum is once again hurt, but whatever, they have Gasol. Artest looks like he’s no longer a major head case (though still a head case), Kobe is still Kobe and even though he’s getting older and the injuries are piling up, he’s still poised to become one of the greatest players of all time. The Mamba and Phil Jackson (in his last year) have the best chance to lead the Lakers to a third straight title.
The Oklahoma City Thunder: I am officially on the Kevin Durant bandwagon. I’ve been a fan of his since I saw him play in college and, while it is a bummer he couldn’t lead the Sonics to a title (their owner sold them to a guy who was hell bent on moving them to Oklahoma and succeeded), he will eventually to it for the Thunder. He almost single-handedly destroyed the world’s best and if Westbrook continues to develop this may be the scariest team in the west. James Harden will be an outstanding facilitator and Greene will only get better. Scott Brooks is becoming a great coach, the front office never whiffs on the draft so the team will continue to build. They are too young to win it all this year but trust me, with Kevin Durant being the most selfless superstar in the league, we have the potential for a dynasty down the road. I am sold on this team and look forward to seeing them in the playoffs. The Laker fan in me is a tad nervous.
The San Antonio Spurs: To quote Austin Powers “Why won’t you die?” The Spurs are like a slasher in a horror movie, just because you think you killed them, don’t turn around because they will kill you. Tim Duncan maybe getting old fast (ditto Ginobli) and they may have overpaid Jefferson and Parker may leave, but this is still the Spurs. Poppovich is still the NBA’s equivalent to Bill Belichick as a coach I don’t doubt in my mind. Duncan has one great year left in him and they could pose a threat to any team in the west except for the Lakers because L.A. has a great size advantage, but it would still be a great series.
The Dallas Mavericks: Mark Cuban must know that this maybe the last chance the Mavs have at winning a title before Dirk is too old and Cuban decides enough is enough and blows up the team. He is notorious for making shrewd trades at the deadline so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him pursue someone at the deadline. As constructed, his team is spotty at best because Kidd is almost a chalk outline, Haywood isn’t that talented and complains a lot, Jason Terry is also getting up there in age, and we don’t know how good Caron Butler really is. Having said that, the Mavericks are very good at winning 50-plus games without much talent, so I think the trend continues. Though the other trend is they usually get ousted in round two. Having said that, I’m sure Dallas residents would rather have that and a Rangers team that was in the World Series then a Cowboys team whose season basically ended tonight with Romo getting hurt and the Giants beating them at home. Any Cowboys fans reading may leave the room to pour themselves a shot of Jack or pour a 40 on the curb.
The Portland Trailblazers: This team was absolutely fascinating last year because they had to overcome more injuries then any other team in the league. Brandon Roy proved how tough he was by playing with a severe injury during the playoffs and, if he’s healthy, should show that he is one of the best players in the west. We may never see Greg Oden play more then a third of the season unless he’s finally over his injury issues and if he is, should be a good defensive presence. Camby is still a great inside player even at this stage in his career, LaMarcus Aldrige is becoming a great player as well. I’m not sure if Andre Miller and Roy can get along but if they do, then Portland could go deeper in the playoffs then they have in quite some time. The big red flag was last season’s firing of Kevin Pritchard, which was completely unjustified. He kept that team afloat and cleaned up all of the problem children they had during the “Jailblazer” era. Owner Paul Allen blames him for not drafting Durant, yet he hired Danny Ferry to replace Pritchard even though Ferry’s moves made LeBron leave. The front office tension has also spilled onto the coaching staff, so this could be a combustible team. By the way, Kevin Pritchard is such a class act that his last day of work was the draft and he still drafted as if he worked there, did his scouting, and gave Portland some decent picks. I hope he gets a good gig with a better team.
Phoenix Suns: This is the most maddening team in the league because if their owner wasn’t so cheap, they would’ve had the most entertaining championship team since the Showtime Lakers, but over the last six years, they gutted all of the guys that made up the ‘seven seconds or less’ offense except Nash. They fired Steve Kerr, traded for Hedo Turkoglu, and for some dumb reason paid Channing Frye $30 million. However, as previously stated, they have Steve Nash who is the only one who can make this all work. Even at 36, he’s still a great passer, he’s a hockey player in a point guard’s body, and makes everyone around him better. The Suns’ success depends on him and Nash hasn’t had a team win less then 45 games in his six years with the Suns, so I’m not going to fight history. Robin Lopez is developing just fine and maybe Jerrod Dudley follows suit. They won’t be as fun but they still have a future Hall of Fame guard that is a team first guy and that is worth a trip to the playoffs.
Utah Jazz: In Jerry Sloan’s 23 years as coach, he’s only missed the playoffs once. That’s pretty remarkable right? He has one of the best guards in Derron Williams and the team could possibly trade Andrea Kirilenko in order to get some more shooters. Paul Millsap will only get better and Al Jefferson will have a career revival in Utah. They won’t beat the Thunder in round two, but this team will play excellent defense and give them a fight.
The Houston Rockets: I was tempted to put the Clippers here because of how much talent they have but they’re still the Clippers. The Rockets may not have a ton of talent but they are well-coached. Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Battier, and Aaron Brooks will lead this team because we all know Yao won’t make it all year. He’s missed so much time and is already in his 30s, which means sadly his career will end sooner than it should have. The Rockets also benefit from having a great GM in Darryl Morrey who will pull off something at that deadline but it won’t save them from being ousted by the defending champs in round one.
The Denver Nuggets: I’m guessing Carmelo Anthony is traded by the All-Star break because the Nuggets don’t want to get LeBroned. While he’s there, he’ll put up points but sadly this team will be nothing but chaotic. K-Mart (aptly named by the way) is unhappy, Chauncey Billups is getting old (that hurt to type), J.R. Smith and the Birdman are going to cause problems, however the bright spot is Aaron Afflalo who has shown he can play defense. Coach George Karl is still recovering from chemotherapy and may not be around all year. This team has dysfunction written all over it.
The Los Angeles Clippers: Despite having Blake Griffin who will be an absolute beast, Eric Gordon, Baron Davis, and Chris Kaman this team will struggle. It won’t be new coach Vinny Del Negro’s fault either, this team just has a lot of bad karma. I anticipate some major injuries because that’s what always happens. This team won’t be a contender as long as Donald Sterling is the owner, plain and simple.
The Sacramento Kings: Many are predicting doom for this team despite having last year’s rookie of the year Tyreke Evans team with this year’s rookie DeMarcus Cousins who should dominate unless he’s as much of a head case as many think he will be. Also they have Carl Landry who should provide some defensive help. This is going to be a team on the rise but they definitely could use some more star power and by the way this team may end up moving soon. Here’s hoping the Maloof brothers get the Vegas franchise they’ve been hoping for (I doubt David Stern would approve but it’s worth hoping for).
The Golden State Warriors: Despite a new owner, a new logo, and a new coach this team still has one or two years before they are any good. I like that they signed David Lee as he will compliment Stephen Curry well. Curry by the way will be an excellent facilitator in the future and with the right talent this team could really do some damage. I think they also trade Biedrinis down the line. I don’t know how Monta Ellis will play this year depending on how bad they are but things are definitely looking up in the Bay area.
The New Orleans Hornets: This is a team that has talent but is also slashing payroll. Chris Paul is unhappy though he is trying to just play through it until he is traded or his contract runs out. Management is aware that even though they tried to give him help with Ariza they still won’t get him to stay. I don’t blame him, they prematurely fired Byron Scott and gave away David West and Collison. Peja Sojakovich is also on his last legs and won’t be a good three point shooter anymore. I feel bad for Paul because he is looking like this generation’s Isiah Thomas (except Paul is likeable) and his talent will be wasted until he joins Melo and Amare in New York within the next two years.
The Memphis Grizzlies: Despite having O.J. Mayo (got USC basketball in a lot of trouble), Marc Gasol (Pau’s brother), Mike Conley, and Rudy Gay (who they way overpaid for) this team will be a doormat. I liked the drafting of Xavier Henry but they don’t have any big men because Thatbeet has proven to be a bust so they will get killed by bigger teams. Tony Allen could be a good defender and Zach Randolph matured a lot last year and hopefully that continues (doubt it) because they could get the eight spot but only if a lot of things go their way. In other words, don’t count on it.
The Minnesota Timberwolves: Oh boy, this a bad team. They may have the worst GM in David Kahn who took two point guards last year (neither of whom were Stephen Curry) in Wes Johnson (yuck) and Ricky Rubio who is still in Spain which is a bummer because his passing abilities are astronomically good. Kevin Love showed that he’s a good low post guy during the World Championships and should really grow as a big man. For some reason Kahn paid Darko Milicic $20 million despite him being one of the biggest busts in league history. He also traded Al Jefferson for a non-lottery pick and Coach Kurt Rambis is trying to run the Triangle, but this team as constructed can’t do it. Kahn also published a back page ad saying that the team won’t contend. He’s right, but as a fan that must really make you long of the days when they had Garnett. Oh well.
Eastern Finals: Heat over the Celtics: As much as I’d love to see Kobe and Shaq against each other in the finals, I think by this time Bron and Wade are leading this team and are in full combat mode. This will go seven, as Boston has proven that they will not go down without a fight, but Miami wins just because I’m anticipating an injury that the Celtics can’t bounce back from. Heat in 7 games.
Western Finals: Lakers over Thunder: Kevin Durant scares Laker fans because if he puts it all together can lead the Thunder to the finals. I don’t see this happening due to the fact that while Fisher can’t keep up with Westbrook, Gasol and Odom will eat up Jeff Green and basically force Durant to do everything which he can’t do. Kobe is still one of the best players in the league and needs one more ring to tie Jordan and Kareem and get the debate going as to his place amongst basketballs’ greatest. No way he would let L.A. lose in the conference finals. Lakers in 6 games.
NBA Finals: Lakers over Heat. The Lakers have more bench players that fit the system then the Heat does. I don’t see Bosh being a factor as Odom/Gasol/ and Bynum (assuming he’s around) taking him and Mike Miller away. Kobe and Wade will be an intriguing matchup (Kobe is better though) and Artest isn’t nearly as good as LeBron, but will give him fits. Phil Jackson wants to go out with his twelfth ring and can easily outcoach Spolestra. The Heat will win multiple rings but not in year one. Lakers in 6 games.
I hope I don’t completely whiff on this and will miss both the NFL and NBA next year because there is a good chance both will have a lockout which means I may just start following hockey again (not a bad thing) or god help me, I may have to fully invest in baseball (just opened a handle of Sailor Jerry). That, by the way will only be enjoyable if Kenny Powers were real, was a pitcher for the Dodgers, and his postgame interviews weren’t bleeped. If I do in fact get this wrong, it will be in June, so no one will remember, besides as I said with my football column, I’m just the movie guy, what do I know?
Thank you for reading and stay tuned as Friday I have something fun for you on Halloween.