The East took the title again for the the second time in three years.
While overall it's not the stronger conference, it does have some of
the stronger teams. That has to do with a few things. One. The Big
Aristotle came home to the East where he belongs. That helps. Two.
D Wade apparently went down to the crossroads and sold his soul to get
every call in the NBA finals. Worked for Robert Johnson and Eric
Clapton, so I guess I'm okay with it. Thirdly, Eastern teams have
been drafting okay because of high slots. But don't get me started on
Danny Ainge. Anyway, on with the Western Conference Preview.
1. San Antonio - My old rule was that as long as Shaq is breathing,
his team is the number one threat for the title. My new rule is that
as long as Timmy, Now! is anchoring the 4 spot, his team is a
legitimate threat for the title every year. His game is so sound and
so unselfish. It's a joy to watch and a reason that everybody who
hates on the NBA should just shut up. Even Larry Bird admitted to
hating bank shots. Tim Duncan lives by the bank shot. That's the
most purist move in the game. Plus he boxes out, hustles on defense,
and rubs guys head. Big. Manu should be healthier, Le Petit Point
gets better every year (though you can knock him around to intimidate
him), and Pop finds a way to work in veterans and Euro picks. Last
year almost worked wiht the Finley experiment (it was close versuses
Dallas) so I think this year shakes out okay.
2. Dallas. I think what dissappointed me most about these guys was
that Jason Terry dissappeared in the finals. He had been bigger than
Dirk. More than made up for an absent Nash. Come finals time though,
he looked a little scared. Dirk raised his game consistently, but the
referees and Cubans coxswain routine wore thin. Dalls choked and
combined with a seriously atrocious officating performance, they lost
the finals after going up 2-0. Almost unthinkable. So why aren't
they number one? Timmy is healthy. Last year his ankle was hurting.
Should be good this year. And Timmy is better than Dirk. That's how
3. Phoenix. How's your microfracture treating you Amare? Really?
You could Tomhawk on Megatron if needed? Okay. Even with Nash's back
spasms I'll give you the three spot. Thanks. [This prediction is null
and void if Amare cannot raise his game again. I heard Diaw got fat
off his contract this offseason, literally and figuratively. I will
concede that it may take Amare a while to come back so regular season
struggles may be present, but I think good things will happen in the
playoffs if Amare is right by then]
4. L.A. Lakers. The Zen Master worked his magic again and somehow
the surly and undertalented Lakers blew a big lead in their series
against Phoenix. I put that squarely on Kobe. But Phil's coaching
helped get them this far. And though he's only a rookie, I like the
addition of Famar. Odom should be more familiar with the triangle,
and perhaps they can get some Jordan-Pippen style action going with
Lamar initiating much of the triangle. Also too, maybe Kwame is
5. Houston Rockets - Welcome to clutch city Bonzi. No player had a
bigger playoffs than Bonzi, as he decided to wake up and earn a new
contract with a few weeks of work. It didn't pay off. Too many teams
have been burned by Bonzi at this point. Sacto let him go and Houston
got him for $2.1 million with a player option for next year. This
means Bonzi has one year to earn himself basically his last big fat
contract. He's going to play, and he's going to play hard all year.
I like that for Houston. They have a potent trio of players, and if
they stay healthy, they should be in the mix for some good things this
6. Utah Jazz - These guys have been fooling me for a while. But I
love the all around game of AK47. Deron Williams started to step up
at the PG position towards the end of last year too. And Deron spent
the offseason working out with John Stockon and learning from him.
That's a great sign about the young fella, he's willing to work and
learn, and learning from maybe the greatest pure point of all time is
a nice opportunity. And Boozer, well, maybe he's ready to start
playing up to that contract that at one point he earned. And finally,
I find it hard to believe that a Jerry Sloan coached team could miss
the playoffs again. I won't accept it.
7. Los Angeles Clippers - This was a very nice offseason for the
Clippers. They brought in Tim Thomas. They didn't ship out Corey
Maggette (yet). They weren't in the lottery for the first time since,
umm, I don't remember. Why am I not putting this team higher then?
They did go to the conference semi-finals after all. I think that stems
from the fact that they have two extremely fragile point guards. Sam
Cassell is a leader par excellence and an outstanding point guard.
Wherever he goes, winning happens. But he's getting up there in years
and it seems unlikely he'll be able to hold together for the whole
year. So I think the playoffs will happen, but the Clips will need to
rest Sam for a significant stretch during the regular season. And who
backs him up? Well that crazy kid that everyone keeps comparing to
Magic Johnson, Shaun Livingston. Let's forget for a minute that this
kid has thrown 12 sick passes in his lifetime to garner this mention.
He has yet to play an NBA season. And he's not even the sole point
guard. He's lithe and that means injury. I seriously doubt his
toughness as well. So without a reliable point, I think the Clips
will struggle during the regular season. Come playoff time, things
may be different.
8. Sacramento - Okay, so their new coach just got a DUI. Will there
be extreme moral outrage over the DUI of a middle-aged white guy?
Just wondering how WEEI will treat that one. Maybe it hits a little
too close to the bone. So here's the thing about this team. The
coach is an unproven commodity, but the talent is here to be a very
good team. Bibby, Honky, Artest, Abdur-Rahim, and most importantly
Vitaly Potapenko. The thing is, the Kings contending days are well in
the rear view mirror. They'll be competitive and give good show, but
they're not causing major damage in the playoffs. Just scaring a team
or two. Especially with Artest on the floor.
Sub playoff teams -
NO/Okc Hornets - Chris Paul led this resurgent team. He's a brilliant
young point guard, and worth seeing play. They brought in Peja to
shore up the offensive attack, but Byron Scott likes defense, and I
don't see Peja playing much of that. Plus, when clutch time arrives,
Peja can be found clutching his man-purse. Not much worth saying
Memphis Grizzlies - I'm not totally sure what the logo was up to this
offseason. He brought in Stoudemire (a bad test away from a
suspension), he brought back Stromile Swift in the process of getting
rid of the franchises blue collar guy, Shane Battier. I like the
drafting of Rudy Gay who is supremely talented, but his attitude and
will to win have to be questioned. These guys always make the first
round and get wiped out. Gasol is the new Garnett in that respect.
Minnesota T'wolves - The Big Ticket wasn't shipped out of town, and
I'm not sure why. He's a great player, but he's got a lackluster
supporting cast. I think Randy Foye was a nice draft pick, but he's
not really going to contribute a whole lot. Mike James is an erratic
point guard. IF you like score first PGs with a propensity for TOs,
well he's your man. There's a reason James hasn't stuck with a team
in this league yet. And he doesn't exactly boost your winning like
Sammy Cassell does. So it's another season of frustration for Garnett
and another season of speculating when he'll get traded and when
McHale will finally be shown the door on his horrible GM career.
Portland - I'm not sure what's going on here. They've drafted some
character guys, but have Randolph and Darius Miles locked up, so what
does it matter? The team is a wreck, and some of their draft picks
aren't panning out. This is going to get ugly before it gets any
Seattle - Hey, do you want a 7' prospect? How about the last few
Seattle drafts: Johan Petro, Robert Swift, Mouhamed Sene. I think I
could do a better job. And now one of the more rabid sports markets
in the country is going to lose the team to an OKC conglomurate
because the Starbucks owner is a big pussy, expecting the citizens of
Seattle to pay for his desired new stadium. Wisely, they passed up
the chance to give millions to a billionaire.
Golden State - New coach. New players. Old players. Whatever.
They're going to suck. They always suck. Can Nellie re-instate
RunTMC? Is it too late?
Denver Nuggets - I really like George Karl. I really like Carmello
Anthony. But something seems foul in the Rockies. Karl is already
wearing out his welcome and some of the players on this team just
don't seem to gel all that well. I think they might be the 8th
playoff team if Melo has a great season, but I'm not expecting a lot
out of this bunch because the whole team just doesn't strike me as
that great. Boykins, Andre Miller, Mr. Glass, Nene ($60 million,
enjoy that Denver), a fat Veshon Lenard. Whatever, not really buying