As NBA season previews go they can be cliché, boring and not filled with much that you didn’t already know. You probably have a pretty good idea of what to expect from each team this year but maybe there's a few things you have missed. Maybe I have missed them as well, so leave comments. With that being said, let’s get right to it! We will start with the Eastern Conference first.
1. Miami Heat
The Miami "Everyone From Outside of Florida is Rooting Against them" are my logical choice to win the NBA title. Anything less, will be a disappointment for that team. They said so themselves. As I wrote previously, this will be one of the most anticipated teams to watch in sports history, not just basketball. If LeBron has a bad game one night-which should be noted is very rare-more than likely Dwyane Wade will still have a good game and vice versa. They don't even need to worry about production from Chris Bosh until the playoffs, but either way he will produce in the regular season. Many who are choosing to pick against the Heat keep using the argument that they will have to sacrifice on offense and that may not go so well. This may be true, but even if the Heat couldn't share the ball that would limit them to what, 99-101 points a night? Can you imagine the defense they will be able to play with LeBron chasing down everything and Dwyane Wade already being the best shot blocking two guard in the league? Basically, if the Heat can't score who will score on them?
2. Orlando Magic
If Dwight Howard truly shows improvement from working with Hakeem Olajuwon in the offseason then the Magic will finish second. If Stan Van Gundy does move Rashard Lewis back to small forward and starts Brandon Bass at the four spot, they will be dangerous. If they trade for Gilbert Arenas then we will have a very interesting Conference Finals matchup with the Heat. The Magic are a great team with obvious flaws those are a little too obvious to their opponents. Namely, living by the three, and forcing Dwight Howard to score 50 in order to beat you. If Dwight does turn into a 26 plus per game scorer, than the Magic just might come out of the East. In any event though, he would still have to combat a three headed monster by himself, that's where Gilbert would come in to help. Make the trade Otis Smith. Make the trade.
3. Chicago Bulls
Boston is not going to care about the regular season because they don't have to. So this spot will go to the Bulls who will be much improved in addition to being younger and deeper. Derrick Rose will be even more dangerous with a legitimate pick and roll partner in Carlos Boozer allowing Joakim Noah to clean up whatever is left off the table on defense and offense. Luol Deng will thrive as a third option on this team. Has anyone been more forgotten this offseason? It shouldn't surprise you if you hear Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy singing his praises during their nationally televised games this season. And lest we forget about Ronnie Brewer running the break and playing solid defense to boot, since he doesn't take bad shots and is above 50% on field goals for his career. I don't even need to get to Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and Taj Gibson coming off the bench. Maybe this team should be above the Magic. Yep, they will be.
4. Boston Celtics
Here they are, Kevin Garnett and the rest of the gang. Everyone knows that they're a year older, that chemistry could be an issue and that Rajon Rondo needs to attack more, and that Kevin Garnett has a lot of miles on his knee(s). With that being said, the regular season won't matter to them and they're fine with that, which is great. They won't worry about all of these issues for 6 months and they shouldn't have to. Sports Illustrated stories asking if they're finished, Bill Simmons panicking, ESPN dropping them in power rankings, no matter. At the end of the day do you want your favorite team playing them in the playoffs? This is who they are now, sleeping giants. Shaq will help them because he will sop up minutes in the front court, further conserving Garnett and Paul Pierce's legs for the postseason. He could have a Bill Walton like 6th man of the year campaign. He'll come in, slow the game down, score on a high shooting percentage and still be a presence on defense. Jermaine O'Neal will prove to be a decent addition in the starting lineup as he is statistically just as effective as Kendrick Perkins. On offense he will probably play better alongside Garnett because he can shoot from the outside. By the time they get to April and May Ray Allen will still be clutch, so will Paul Pierce and Garnett will still be able to lock down on D. If Rondo adds a consistent outside touch or go-to move, this team might end up going seven with the Heat.
5. Atlanta Hawks
Relying on internal growth should always be commended although it is a risky proposition. Everyone is always quick to criticize when a team doesn't do what it takes to keep a team together but the Hawks have had the least amount of roster upheaval in the conference over the last four years. All that has gotten them is a firestorm of criticism for re-signing Joe Johnson this offseason. Think about this, what if Al Horford turns into a 20 and 10 guy this year? Here's another, what if Josh Smith does become a consistent three point threat? What if Joe Johnson thrives in the proposed to be new offensive system installed by new head coach Larry Drew? What if Jeff Teague turns out to be a Shannon Brown like spark off the bench but with even more skill? That's a lot of ifs but none are out of the realm of possibility. This team can out run almost any team if they want to, play defense and score with the best of them. Since we have so many if's they will have to hang out here, in the 5th spot, waiting to circle the Celtics in the first round. By the way, don't sleep on Joe Johnson playing with a chip on his shoulder because of him being "overpaid" this year. Sure he would be the first player ever to do so, but still.
6. Milwaukee Bucks
This is where things start to get complicated. Nobody knows what Andrew Bogut is going to be like this year which muddles this teams prospects. We do know that Brandon Jennings will be improved and Corey Maggette loves to play against the central division and the rest of the eastern conference, check his splits. He's never played for a coach that emphasized defense so it will be interesting to see him garner more of the positive attention he has long been deserving of. Milwaukee kept the team's core together while adding some rebounding and scoring in the post with a newly hired staff of Drew Gooden, Jon Brockman and Ben Wallace Jr.; Larry Sanders. With an underrated but efficient front line and plenty of perimeter scoring, this team just needs a few years to grow together and the future will be bright. This year really depends on how Bogut will return though, unless Jennings decides to average 20 and 10 on 45% from the field, I'll stick with the former.
7. New York Knicks
I've always been an Amar'e Stoudemire fan and I will not let my bias completely affect my judgment on this one. The Knicks will make the playoffs this year. Take that for what it is. The Knicks will be an interesting story this year because they could just as easily miss the playoffs entirely. Many fans are expecting Anthony Randolph to have a big year in the Apple but they shouldn't forget that Mike D'Antoni's leash is about as long as Randolph's previous coach, Don Nelson. With this roster it is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of talent complimenting each other. If they can fit together they should make the playoffs, if not, they won't.
8. Philadelphia 76ers
That's right, a sleeper pick. Honestly, I see this final spot going down to the last few games of the season with the Pacers ala the Toronto and Chicago race of last year but with the Bobcats joining the party as well. When trying to determine teams that haven't played yet, I have to go off roster, depth, talent and coaching. The 76ers beat out the Bobcats and Pacers in two of these three categories. Just two years ago they had made the playoffs two years in a row and now everyone talks about them like they're a D-League team.. Also, has any other number two pick in the Draft flown under the radar further than Evan Turner in the last 10 years? As a more athletic Brandon Roy, once he learns the NBA who will be able to take away his vast array of strengths? He averaged 9 rebounds a game in college, as a guard. Also, how can we criticize Turner and Andre Iguodala for having similar skill sets but then think the Heat will thrive because for Wade and James it will be an advantage? Not to make this all about Turner but now Jrue Holiday will have a lot less pressure on him to be a great point guard. Turner is my dark horse pick for Rookie of the Year but he won't win it. Too bad he didn't get to go to Minnesota because then it would have been a landslide.
9. Indiana Pacers
Yes I am excited about the addition of Darren Collison but not as excited as I need to be to get them into the playoffs. Paul George will have to start or play a ton of minutes for them to make a strong push for that 8th seed and produce. That should happen for him in an up and down system like Jim O'Brien's. The glaring weakness for the Pacers is their depth up front. If anyone goes down on that front line, it's going to be tough cookies in the rebounding department. They will be strong on the perimeter though and much improved from last year. The future looks bright but there are only so many spots in the East this year. Oh yeah, they've got Danny Granger which will help as well but we know what to expect from him. He won't be a problem.
10. Charlotte Bobcats
I'm a big Shaun Livingston fan and if he realizes his potential the Bobcats will make me look bad this year. Then again, if Gerald Henderson doesn't get to play more this year, this will be a very thin bench. If Tyrus Thomas is starting and vastly improved he will help with a playoff push. Their roster is also set up in a way that they can't really afford to have a major injury. This will be a very impressive coaching job by Larry Brown if they get back to the playoffs because the roster was not improved in the offseason.
11. Washington Wizards
If Gilbert Arenas is still with the team at season's end, then things will have gone very well for the Washington Wizards. He and John Wall will be devastating on the fast break and Andray Blatche should continue to put up good numbers. The bench will be solid and everyone is expecting Wall to walk away with the ROY trophy. All of this will add up to an exciting season that will have everyone picking the Wiz as ready to leap next year into the playoffs. Again, that is if Gilbert stays with the team. If not, then look for development between the new young trio of Wall, Blatche and JaVale McGee. Wall has been chosen as the franchise player from this point on, but it would be too much to ask of him to single handedly lead this team into the playoffs in his first year. With or without Gilbert, it should be with though.
12. New Jersey Nets
The Nets can be penciled in for at least 15 more wins just for naming Avery Johnson head coach. Derrick Favors looks like the real deal and will be brought along slowly but this team will have a huge front line and Brook Lopez will continue to produce. There's also no reason Terrence Williams shouldn't start this year unless the Nets happen to acquire Carmelo Anthony. In which case, he would be great starting next to him at shooting guard because if they have to give up Devin Harris to get Anthony, those entry passes to Brook will get a lot more difficult. The Nets are on the right track but one shouldn't expect them to make the playoffs this year, if they do coach of the year will not need to be voted on.
13. Cleveland Cavaliers
You know a team with Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Ramon Sessions and J.J. Hickson doesn't look terrible on paper. No one expects another run to the playoffs, but they do. Hickson could be an Andray Blatche like revelation this year. Jamison can still be counted on for at least 19 and 8 and this team will do nothing else but run. Running is a great formula for a team in transition, which is what the Cavs are. This will be Byron Scott's first time coaching a team without a top five point guard as well, so, will he be able to elevate Mo or Ramon to that status or will he find another way to win games? He will likely choose the latter. It remains to be seen how many games that will turn out to be.
14. Detroit Pistons
This team has an interesting mix of veterans, young players and promising youth. No one seems to know which direction they're going or what will be their calling card this year but one thing is for sure, Greg Monroe should start. The Pistons have nothing to lose in starting Monroe and no one should be in front of him. Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince have said all the right things over the past couple of years but pretty much everyone expects one or both of them to be traded soon. Wherever they go they will help, right now though it doesn't really make since to have them on a team where Joe Dumars has high hopes for the new Tayshaun, Austin Daye, or for Richard Hamilton to be in front of their prized acquisition from last year Ben Gordon. This team is also in transition but maybe Tracy McGrady will come out like its 2004 again and make everyone eat their words. If he does, even then would we know what to make of this team?
15. Toronto Raptors
Chris Bosh is gone so now the keys to the future are being handed to Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan. This team will run, rebound, run some more, and then keep running. The injury to promising rookie Ed Davis will hurt the team early because if nothing else he was a symbol of something good that happened in the offseason. The Raptors will have two simple tasks ahead of them this season. Turning DeRozan into a 20 point per game scorer and making sure that Bargnani is the second best shooting big man in the game today. If both happen which they should, then the Raptors will have something to hang their hats on. Until then let the rebuilding begin! Or let DeRozan prove us all wrong and have the greatest Most Improved Player of the year campaign ever. That will be the only way they could get into the playoffs.
Leave a comment and thanks for reading, check back soon for the Western Conference preview.