New Jersey is the other Atlantic team with three All-Star caliber players – they just surrounded their high-energy trio with a herd of donkeys. Not saying that guys like Krstic, Magloire, and Collins can’t defend the key – it’s just a shame that a brilliant point man like Kidd is forced to lead a squad that plays classic, brutal Eastern Conference ball. Expect more turnovers and long jump shots from Vince Carter, the man who gets the least out of his God-given talent.
The Raptors are a nice little team – with a healthy T.J. and Bosh, and an underrated supporting cast, they gave Toronto fans a reason to care last year. Unfortunately, their big offseason addition was Jason Kapono, a skilled shooter who got 11 ppg out of a career year. They can get into the postseason with this little-engine-that-could, but until Barngnani turns into at least Mehmet Okur, won’t go anywhere. And we’re talkin’ about a 22-year old kid.
The Knicks can be summed up in one sentence: Isiah doesn’t know what he’s doing. Actually, one word: fail. The Sixers have Iguodala and Miller and a couple of upside young guys but won’t sniff the playoffs for several years.
Two names that I like on the Pistons this year: Jason Maxiell and Jarvis Hayes. I could care less about ‘Sheed’s offseason Atkins diet or the human trapeze artist Tayshaun Prince. The four established starters are what they are. They’re going to put Detroit in the hunt. A healthy Hayes is a surprising talent and Maxiell is the Paul Millsap of the East – and the depth they provide could put them over the top.
The Bucks are going to the playoffs. I love their roster. One caveat: Charlie V and Yi combine for an unprecedented amount of multi-lingual whining and destroy team chemistry. Look for Bill’s boy Bobby Simmons in a good comeback year.
The Cavs are garbage. Larry Hughes is looking like he’ll never live up to being shouted out in a Nelly song, Big Z continues to age, and Drew Gooden, despite removing that awful patch of hair from the back of his neck, hasn’t been able to live up to his Kansas pedigree. I’d like to see Boobie Gibson succeed. But honestly, “Mr. Entertainment” Damon Jones? No Pavlovic or “Wild Thing” Varejao? This team will not make the playoffs, and Cavs management should be ashamed.
I don’t believe the Danny Granger hype, and I don’t believe in the Pacers. Hope the fans there enjoy Jim O’Brien’s “Up-chuck” offense. Indiana will of course sign Tony Delk midseason to bomb away with Dunleavy and Troy Murphy.
Magic: I really feel the sky is the limit for Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Jameer Nelson. The thing that will push this squad past the other Eastern also-rans will be the health of J.J. Redick and Trevor Ariza.
Arenas, Jamison, and Butler, as always, will log a lot of minutes in Washington. Is the team better than the Bucks, Raptors, or division rivals Orlando? Not so sure I can say “yes.” Staying home this spring.
I can see Charlotte as a squad that could surprise some people – they’ve got some excellent athletes (J-Rich and Wallace) with a physical specimen (Okafor) inside and an emerging point guard (Felton). However, with this team’s injury history, they’re going to need better bench depth, and losing May and Morrisson hurts big time.
Will someone in Atlanta please step up? Joe Johnson has a solid game, and Josh Smith is clearly emerging as a stat-stuffing force – otherwise, you have five(!) nondescript point guards, two unimpressive pivot men, and four guys fighting for time alongside Smith at the 4. It’s time to separate the dimes from the nickels – someone needs step up here (my guess is Law and Horford) or else make a big trade.
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL FOUR:
Bulls – Celtics – Heat – Pistons
EAST CHAMP: Celtics
Golden State had a successful first-run with Nellie Ball, and even though I really like some of the foreign guys on this team (Pietrus, Biedrins, and Azubuike), pretty much all the American players here are assholes. I don’t root for assholes, and I don’t have to treat them fairly in my season preview. 8th seed.
The Lake Show is over. No playoffs this year in LA, whether or not Kobe is traded. I don’t care to elaborate, because I’m sick of hearing about it myself. More of the same in Sac-town for the Kings – Kevin Martin’s great but Artest and a bunch of guys who peaked five years ago won’t go anywhere. I don’t think the Clippers will be as bad as people think (there’s actually some good vets on this club). But it’s still gonna be pretty bad.
Scoop Jackson thinks the Nuggets could make the NBA Finals. They have ‘Melo and Allen I. A healthy Kenyon Martin would buttress a strong frontcourt. But there are too many ifs and too many big egos involved here.
Love the youth movement in Portland. There will be some hard knocks, but this season will hone a capable roster of young guys when Oden joins them next year. Channing Frye has a chance to make Isiah Thomas look like an even bigger fool.
Seattle: the Hawks of the Western Conference. Maybe the roles are slightly more well-defined, but until Durant becomes a dominant force – they’re an also-ran. Minnesota’s young guns will kind of be like last year’s Celtics. Actually, a lot like last year’s Celtics. Last place. At least Ryan Gomes can finally get some burn.
Dallas – much like the Spurs, I’m not particularly intrigued by their brand of basketball, other than the electrifying Josh Howard who has made THE LEAP. They solidified their bench (Jones, Hassell) and probably won’t get bounced in the first round this year.
Congratulations, Houston. You’ve built your team around two injury-plagued superstars who can’t perform in the clutch. Your coach is Rick Adelman – a capable guy renowned for playoff failures. Your roster now has Bonzi Wells AND Steve Francis, as well as a variety of similarly skilled stiffs who will be complaining all season about playing time. First-round playoff exit. Write it down.
New Orleans Hornets – hmm. Peja is just 30 years old but has been on the decline for what seems like years. Mo’ Pete is a fine player with uneven output. If Chris Paul can pilot a healthy Hornets squad, they can steal a playoff berth out West.
Memphis - they’ll be better, but not that good. There’s that unresolved point guard situation and the Swift/Warrick power forward combo is brutal, unless Darko can man the middle and one of the pretty-hair twins, Gasol, steps in at the 4.
Jazz – Mavs – Spurs - Suns
WEST CHAMP: Suns