It's about that time again, time to get the NBA previews down and in
order. Due to claiming the championship, the East will be up first.
I'll start with the favorites and go down to the cellar.
1. Detroit "Rock" City - Unexpectedly grabbed the title last year. Were
they the best, or were the Lakers just a sinking ship that took on too
much water when they got to the finals (Phil's book will answer this
question)? They lost Memhet Okur, who barely played after Rasheed
Wallace came on board. They gained Carlos Delfino (will spell Rip and
Tayshaun sometimes. 22 y.o. and can ball. Just came off an olympic gold),
Antonio McDyess, and this kid from Western Kentucky named Nigel Nixon.
McDyess is a wait and see. His injury history is not positive, but
he has looked decent in the preseason. He reminds of Larry Johnson
during his Knick years. A guy who was done physically, but because of
his natural agility, awareness, and experience could still be
effective. They don't need McDyess starting or playing more than 20
minutes a game so he should be a nice boost for Detroit. The dude
that makes me think Detroit might repeat is Nixon. This kid was up to
425lbs in college! He lost 100lbs last year to get himself to a
svelte 325 lbs. In spite of his weight this kid can move! He
devestated the C's this preseason with great defense. He really
doesn't have an offensive game, but does anybody on Detroit have one?.
With this guy backing up the Wallace Brothers at the power spots
Detroit is in very, very good shape. I think they're going to win the
crown again and I think this kid could be a big part of it. He
reminds me of O. Miller a little. I could see him ballooning right
back up after a good season too.
2. Indiana Pacers - Made it to the conference finals last year and Ron
Artest didn't blow up or cost his team any games. They let Al
Harrington walk because he wanted too much money and wanted to start.
That's fine because Harrington isn't that good (great sixth man, he
won't handle max minutes well). In return Atlanta shipped Stephen
Jackson off to Indianna. I think this is a great move as it gives
Indy more offense and better perimeter defense. Jackson demonstrated
in San Antonio that he can be a team player and deliver in the clutch and in
Atlanta he proved he can be a GREAT Roto player. The big question is
who will step up for Indy to help out O'Neal. He's a beast, but has
looked tenative. Some more muscle would help. Brad Miller, where are
you? The other question about this team is can Reggie pull that fork
out of his back? It's time to hang 'em up Quark. Tayshaun showed you
the way out, now take it.
3. Miami Heat - The heat stripped down their quick playoff engine and
rebuilt it with a monster Diesel. This team is going as far as Shaq
can take them. Supposedly he has lost weight and is looking good.
But he's getting up there in years and has had some nagging foot
injuries that can be tough for big men to bounce back from. Shaq will
tear through the imposters that play center in the East but how ready
will he be for the playoffs? Moreover, who is going to help out Shaq
besides all-world player Dwyane Wade? Eddie Jones might benefit most
from having Shaq around as he's a good outside shooter and has lost a
step so cannot defend or get to the hole as well as he once did. With
Shaq having his back defensively and drawing players from the arc to
double down Eddie Money could have a big year. Thisis the most
exciting team in the East and they have the biggest
expectations, but ultimately I think they will be dissapointed.
4. Boston - This is where the talent drops off a lot, hence the line
in the sand. However, the core of the group that got Boston to the
playoffs last year is intact and
Paulie should have some help this year. Blount has maxed out his
talent, but it's good enough for the East and a lot of NBA teams would
like to have him on board. This team could be volatile too with G.P.
and Ricky Davis playing games all season. But if they can keep the
winning up, that should cover up their problems. To earn this ranking
LaFrentz has to play 85% of the games at the minimum. Word out of
Boston is that Summer league aside, Al Jefferson is not ready to go
major minutes. If LaFrentz goes down at all there is a major void at
the 4-spot. I have to like the C's here though because the rest of
their division is total dog shit.
5. Orlando - This team got a long overdue makeover. Tmac wasn't getting
it done and was looking to put the blame anywhere but on his
shoulders. He's a great player, but a top five player doesn't let a
team sink to the depths that McGrady let this team sink to. I like
that the Magic got Stevie Franchise and Cat Mobley. These two almost
made the playoffs in the West without Yao so they should get the job
done in the East. They also picked up some servicable veterans in
Tony Battie, Hedo Turkoglu, and Stacey Augman. With Pat Garrity back
and the Top pick Dwight Howard cutting his teeth (could have an Amare
type year based on the burn I've seen him have in the preseason) this
team should be able to hold their head above water. And if Grant Hill
plays the whole season, they could make a little noise in the playoffs
6. The Wiz - I really like them bringing Antwan Jamison on board. If
Gilbert Arenas stays healthy (big if) these two pack a lot of
offensive punch of the high low variety. Kwame Brown is still an
enigma. He has all the physical tools to be a very good player, but
his head is out of the game. Too bad M.J. couldn't detect the lack of
fire. That said, this is a contract year for him so he should be
motivated to play hard. Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood are
servicable at the center spot, Larry Hughes may be learning how to
apply his talent, and Jared Jeffries still has some promise. So I
like the feel of this team. Last year having Stack and Arenas miss
most of the season killed their chances. I think with a healthy core,
Eddie Jordan is going to show why he was hired to coach this crew.
They're definitely going to the playoffs.
7. Philly. Allen Iverson is back at the Point and Willie Green is
going to get a chance to play some 2 guard. I'm not sure how this is
going to work. Iverson has managed to dish out around 5 assists/game
over his career, but that's not as the guy who sets the table. That's
coming off fastbreaks/steals/and chaotic drives to the rim that draw
weakside help. I thought we were past the Iverson is a PG thing but
apparently the Sixers were done with Snow. Still Iverson has so much
fire and competitiveness that he can will this team into the playoffs.
The big reason they didn't make it last year was all the time he
missed with injury. Samuel Dalembert can really play and looks to be
a less brittle version of Marcus Camby. Andre Iguodala was a GREAT
draft pick. I think he's going to vie for Rookie of the year if he
gets burn. He has Richard Jefferson with better defense written all
over him and I think he will make a real difference with Philly.
Kenny Thomas does a lot of the dirty work as an undersized 4 with
heart, I like him a lot and he always sneaks onto my roto team. They
still have marksman Kyle Korver, and
somewhere in the back room the Big Dawg is still wimpering. They
should trade him because he plays NO D and that is how this team is
going to win a lot of games. Plus,
he's getting injured too. And he ruined my Roto team last year. I
don't like him basically. Still, Philly in the playoffs, but won't
make it out of the first round.
8. NY. This pick I'm very iffy about. I guess Starbury's presence is
the only thing that warrants an appearance here. This team is WAY
overpaid and isn't very good. Marbury is too selfish and not a table
setter at the PG. He would be much better suited to being a two guard
ala Iverson. I think Allan Houston may be done. He looks so creaky.
And bringing in Jamal Crawford at huge expense? I think Isiah is
really reaching or he's expecting Houston to not contribute. As it
stands they have Shandan Anderson, Penny, Marbury, Houston, and
Crawford. All guys limited to the 1 and 2 spots. If Lenny coaches
this team to 50 wins it will be the greatest job of his career. I'll
be impressed if they're at .500 come May. I don't like this pick, but
I'm not really sure who else will be here.
Vying for the last playoff spot:
9. Cleveland. Losing Boozer is going to prove to be a very huge
problem. Who is getting tough rebounds for them now? I like that
they brought in Snow, and I love their draft pick of Luke Jackson.
Jackson could definitely be Robin to Lebron's Batman. Luke can shoot
lights out and has good size and atheleticism. It remains to see what
kind of on the ball D skills he has because Oregon relied heavily on Z
due to their undersized back court. Now imagine if they kept Boozer
on board. This team would be up a few. Paul Silas is a great coach
and I've underestimated Lebron before. If he starts willing this team
ala MJ, then they will be in the playoffs. But it's going to be hard
work for him.
10. Milwaukee. I don't have them in because I think the possibility
that TJ Ford may not come back this year is a big, big problem. They
also lost Brian Skinner, who is junk, but was 6'11 and played okay at
the 4 spot. Toni Kukoc is still on the team, but really has lost a
step and can't go more than 20 minutes a game. Michael Redd is
awesome, but he needs more help. This is where Van Horn needs to step
up. He needs to get close to a double-double and be aggresive. His
career track record suggests that he may have a hard time doing this.
However, being buried in a small Market may be one of the better
things that's happened to him. Still without TJ Ford I see this team
11. New Jersey. Traded Kmart and extended Jefferson. This was a bad
move. Jefferson is great, but he's kind of one dimensional. Kmart
was big, played his ass off on D, and had decent offense. They also
didn't get anything in return for Kmart as the old owner is just
dumping salary to make the team sale attractive. Kidd's knee seems to
be a problem and he's making noise about being traded and what not.
That said, if Kidd stays on plan then he and R.J. and crew should be
good enough to get this team into the playoffs where they can enjoy
being swept. That's a big if and that's why I have them outside
12. Atlanta. Walker and Harrington make for an interesting front
court. But Walker will be gone, possibly by the trading deadline and
is heading for a career of obscurtity. The rest of this group is a
motley collection of over the hill veterans and role players. It
would take a miracle for Atlanta to get to the playoffs.
13. Chicago. It pains me to say it. But they won't fool me again
this year. The problems: Eddie Curry is in shape, but he's still
soft as hell. Chandler rebounds and plays D but is totally retarded
on offense. Oh yeah, his back is shot too. So that's the front
court. The rest of the team is really, really young. And while I
like the rest of the team that they've got (Gordon (r), Deng (r),
Nocionni (r, Argentina), Heinrich) they're all back court players.
They'll need time to gel, but maybe the Bulls can sucker somebody into
giving up either a high draft pick or some respectable size for one or
both of the Baby Bulls.
14. Toronto. Vince carter is a bitch. 'nuff said.
15. Charolette. Great grab in Emeka Okafor, but there isn't much
help on this team. Another dip in the lottery and a full salary cap
next year should help them make some moves. There will be a good free
agent crop this year and they'll be in position. It just won't happen
for an expansion team in the NBA, the rules handicap them severly just
coming in. But Charolette is a great basketball market and I expect
with good management they'll be back in business soon.
Eastern Conference finalists:
Detroit and Indiana.
Western conference preview coming soon.