Before I begin, let me wish nothing but luck to the thousands of people affected by Hurricane Sandy’s arrival to the Eastern seaboard. Having just lived through a hurricane weeks back, I can sympathize with all that they’re going through. Hopefully people heeded the authorities’ warnings and either evacuated or prepared to stay put through the storm.
Sandy’s arrival will likely put a damper on Opening Night for the NBA. Even so, the season will kick off tonight, October 30th and not end till June of 2013 with someone hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. So who could it be? Let’s take a look at the teams.
The Lottery Bound: These are the teams that will likely be looking forward to ending up with the #1 pick in next year’s draft and a chance to add Nerlens Noel, James McAdoo or Shabazz Muhammad to their roster.
Atlanta Hawks: They found a taker for Joe Johnson and his massive deal as well as for the disappointing Marvin Williams. Depending on how the season goes, expect rumors of deals for every other player but Al Horford to surface during the year. They still have Josh Smith, Devin Harris, Kyle Korver, Zaza Pachulia and DeShawn Stevenson and his $5 tattoo around. There’s a good chance they will finish gutting the team and hoping to attract big free agents next summer.
Charlotte Bobcats: It may be a surprising thing to say about the Bobcats’ offseason but they seem to have made all the right choices. They let go of Paul Silas and hired Mike Dunlap as head coach. And they drafted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the highly-touted Kentucky forward. It’s up to Dunlap to make this into a team now: getting Kemba Walker, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas and Bismack Biyombo to play up to their draft status and moving towards something akin to respectability.
Detroit Pistons: A long distance from the heady days of a decade ago for the Motown Bad Boys and for coach Lawrence Frank. Ten years ago, the Pistons were a contender and he was a hot, young coach. Now, Frank’s got a lot of individual parts — Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye, Charlie Villanueva, Corey Maggette, Johnny Flynn and rookie Andre Drummond — but do they form a team? I’m not sure. They could be players in the trade deadline, moving contracts out and looking to get assets for free agency.
New Orleans Hornets: Adding rookie Anthony Davis and Ryan Andersen while keeping Eric Gordon will prove a boon in years to come for the Bees. But they’re still a team coming together and will need to add depth while finding their SF and PG of the future. Is that Greivis Vasquez? Or is it Austin Rivers? I am bullish on the Hornets’ future, but they are still a team that needs lots of work and depth to battle in the deep and tough Western Conference.
Orlando Magic: If nothing else, life post-Dwight Howard will be quieter in the Magic Kingdom. But losing their best two players — Howard and Ryan Andersen — will be tough to overcome even with the bushel of players they got in return. Coach Jacque Vaughn will hope rookies Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn can be their new talented, big men and that Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Al Harrington, Arron Afflalo and the other Howard trade pieces keep them in games.
Phoenix Suns: There’s some mighty big shoes to fill in Arizona and rookie Kendall Marshall will be tasked with filling them. The loss of Steve Nash will be felt and it will fall to Marshall, Goran Dragic and Shannon Brown to try and replace his scoring and passing touch. Marcin Gortat, Luis Scola, Markieff Morris and Channing Frye all up front should still provide scoring and rebounding. But without their key cog, the Suns are in transition and who they’ll be is up in the air.
Sacramento Kings: The Kings can’t play defense. Or maybe they just don’t want to. They’ve amassed a lot of young talent — Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, rookie Thomas Robinson, John Salmons, Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette — but they need someone to step up and lead. Can coach Keith Smart find his best 5 and make them into a team? This is a young team and young teams often make mistakes. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make some moves to become better balanced.
Toronto Raptors: Another season for the Raptors were they will likely not go much of anywhere. They will hope that Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas mesh well up front and that Terrence Ross brings his scoring touch from U-Dub to the NBA. Beyond that, the team is a mesh of journeymen and veterans. Dwayne Casey can hope this season becomes one of foundation-building.
Fighting for a Playoff Spot: These are teams that will battle to earn a spot on the NBA’s postseason but will likely fall just short for one reason (injury) or another (inexperience). I think one or two might hang around till season’s end – specially in the weak Eastern Conference.
Chicago Bulls: The Bulls appeared destined for a collision course with the Miami Heat for the East’s crown last season. Then Derrick Rose went down with a torn ACL. Now, everything is up in the air. The team still has Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer and coach Tom Thibodeau still knows how to get the most out of his team. But Rose is the key to the Bulls’ success and he’s unlikely to return till 2013 — with no idea if he’ll be his former self once he’s back.
Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs are a team in transition back towards respectability. But they still have a lot of things to work out. Can Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters mesh as a backcourt unit? Will Tristan Thompson make the leap that justifies his high draft spot? Will Tyler Zeller take the spot of Anderson Varejao — giving them a trade asset in the tall C? Is Byron Scott the man to lead them into the future or will he burn his bridges here as he’s done in Jersey and New Orleans?
Dallas Mavericks: While I’m not as down on the Mavs as some of the more famous bloggers out there, I do think the loss of Dirk Nowitzki for the first 6 weeks will be tough for them to handle. Even with Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, OJ Mayo and Elton brand ready to bear the load, it won’t be the same. Nowitzki is the fulcrum around which Dallas spins. Replacing him will not be easy – specially when they may start Eddy Curry in his place.
Golden State Warriors: Year 2 of Mark Jackson’s reign out in the Bay starts with questions on Stephen Curry’s future. Can he stay healthy enough to be the leader they need? The Warriors historically like to score but get scored on. With David Lee, Klay Thomspon and rookie Harrison Barnes around, they’ll score. It’ll be up to Andrew Bogut to stay healthy and provide the defensive spark for this team.
Minnesota Timberwolves: I was all set to put the Wolves in the playoffs. Then Kevin Love hurt himself and will be out for 6-8 weeks. Ouch. They’ll hope Ricky Rubio returns from his injury with much of the same verve and pop that he showed last year. But that’s their two big stars dealing with injuries in the same year. Meanwhile Rick Adelman will look for someone to be Love Lite while his big man returns. Is that Andrei Kirilenko? Is that Chase Budinger?
Portland Trail Blazers: Who exactly are the Trail Blazers this year? Are they a team poised to return to the playoffs? Or are they a team that’s rebuilding? Having LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum points to one end. Drafting Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard points to another. New coach Terry Stotts takes over for Nate McMillan and he’ll have to put this team’s two halves into one whole.
40 Games in 40 Nights: These will be the teams that take part in the NBA’s postseason soiree come late March-early April. And don’t you just love back-to-back-to-back playoff games on TNT? Constant EJ, The Jet, Sir Chuck and…Shaq. Damn, we still got Shaq.
Boston Celtics: The Big Three Era in Beantown is over with the departure of Ray Allen. To replace him, the Celtics brought in Jason Terry. With Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett still around, the C’s should have enough to make it into the playoffs. They’ll hope one of Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo blossoms into a frontcourt partner for Garnett and Brandon Bass. And fingers crossed that Jeff Green finally lives up to the hype of his potential talent.
Brooklyn Nets: The Nets finally made the move north into BK and bring some big money talent with them: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace will be the core of this team. Stepping into the NY area will put them in direct competition with the Knicks, but if Avery Johnson can bring them together, the Nets could make the Knicks into NYC’s other team. It’s what owner Mikhail Prokhorov will want.
Denver Nuggets: Another year, another season where the Nuggets will likely feature in the postseason. They have a solid team in Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler, Andre Miller and Timofey Mozgov. They’ve added Andre Iguodala and rookie Evan Fournier. And coach George Karl is one of the best in the league. Yet this team feels like it’s reached its apex and can’t go any further – which would be a shame as they’ve become one of the best teams to watch in the league.
Houston Rockets: I was all set to put the Rockets just out of the playoff picture. Then they traded for James Harden. The All-Star G paired up with Jeremy Lin will be the Rockets’ backcourt of the future. They’ll hope newly-acquired Omer Asik brings his defense from Chicago and that he and rookies Donatas Motiejunas, Royce White and Terrence Jones all mesh. It’ll be a fight but they might make it.
Indiana Pacers: Last year’s Pacers were a minor revelation. This year, they have to be just behind the Heat in terms of favorites for the East. With Paul George, David West, Tyler Hansbrough, Roy Hibbert and DJ Augustin all back, they’ll have the firepower. It’ll be up to them and coach Frank Vogel to prove that they belong in the conversation for contenders. The East is up for grabs. Can they reach up and take it?
Los Angeles Clippers: Lob City is going to have to put it all together this year, as Chris Paul will likely hit the FA market next offseason. They will hope Paul and BLake Griffin have a healthy season, that Grant Hill, Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom provide the veteran leadership and that DeAndre Jordan begins to live up to that huge contract he signed last year. If things don’t go well, maybe Vinny Del Negro becomes the first coach on the chopping block.
Memphis Grizzlies: Can the Grizzlies take that next step forward and move into the upper echelon of the Western Conference? Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley are all still here as is Rudy Gay (who might become trade bait come the deadline). Making the playoffs and being a tough out is now old hat for this team. Can they be more though? Coach Lionel Hollins will try to make the Grizzlies into a true contender.
Milwaukee Bucks: On paper, the Bucks have the talent to comfortably make the playoffs in the East. Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and rookie Doron Lamb in the backcourt; Ersan Ilyasova, Drew Gooden and rookie John Henson in the frontcourt. They also have Scott Skiles coaching them. If they were in the West, I may have some worry over their chances. But in the East, they could comfortably earn one of the top 4 playoff seeds.
New York Knicks: The Knicks will start the season without Amar’e Stoudemire and Imam Shumpert due to injuries. And with Linsanity now in Houston, the onus falls again on Carmelo Anthony to lead this team. He’ll have help from Jason Kidd, Ray Felton, Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace. Coach Mike Woodson trusts Anthony far more than Mike D’Antoni ever did and it’ll be up to ‘Melo to return that trust with performances and leadership. (Don’t smirk).
Philadelphia 76ers: After beating Chicago in last year’s playoffs, the Sixers have been players in the offseason trade market. They ended up with Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson thanks to the Dwight Howard trade and Dorrell Wright from Golden State. They’ve also added Royal Ivey, Nick Young and drafted Maurice Harkless and Arnett Moultrie. These parts will join Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young into a team that will hope to go further in the playoffs. Doug Collins knows that he needs to get this young team to mesh to be a true contender.
San Antonio Spurs: Can the Spurs put it all together for one more run? It’s one of those questions to look for this season. Tim Duncan is back, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Stephen Jackson, Kawhi Leonard and the rest of the gang is back and Gregg Popovich is still here. They’ll be in the mix all throughout the season, but it becomes a question of whether those old legs still have enough left in them to get them all the way.
Utah Jazz: It may be the last, best chance for this Jazz team to put it all together and make a run. After this year, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Raja Bell will all be free agents and with Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors around, it’s unlikely they’ll bring all those players back. They’ll also be hoping that Marvin Williams finally puts it all together.
Washington Wizards: The Wizards will start the season without PG phenom John Wall and will rely on Jordan Crawford, Martell Webster and rookie Bradley Beal to hold things at the guard spots while he returns. There’s still enough in this team, with Nene, Jan Vesely, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza to get them into the postseason in a weak East. But they need Wall to return and form a good partnership with Beal to go anywhere.
The Title Contenders: And here we are. The 3 teams with the biggest chance to win it all.
Los Angeles Lakers: With two moves, the Lakers have rebuilt themselves from a team looking at rebuilding into a contender. Adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace creates arguably the most talented starting 5 in the league. Let’s set aside the question of Mike Brown meshing all these talents together and worry if the Lakers have the bench/depth to give those talented but old legs a break. The Lakers’ title chances may be down to Steve Blake, Antawn Jamison, Devin Ebanks and the rest of the Lakers squad.
Miami Heat: The Most Hated Team in Sports (2010-11) finally won their crown. Now it’s time for them to go for their “Not Two” title. Everything goes through LeBron James, the biggest/best player in the league right now. With Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller and Shane Battier all back and newly-acquired Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, they’ll be another year comfortable in their abilities. If there’s any question, it lies with the long-term health prospects of Dwayne Wade, who hasn’t had a healthy season in a long while. That said, they have to remain the preeminent favorites for the O’Brien Trophy.
Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder are arguably the only team that could trade James Harden away and not miss a beat. They can do that cause they still have Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook. The trade netted them Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb to cover for the loss of Harden off the bench. They’ll also look to Hasheem Thabeet to begin putting all the pieces together. Oh and they drafted Perry Jones. Scott Brooks’ squad made it to the Finals last year. Can they go all the way?
So, just a slight recap:
|Eastern Conference||Western Conference|
|Miami Heat||Los Angeles Lakers|
|Indiana Pacers||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|Brooklyn Nets||Denver Nuggets|
|Boston Celtics||Memphis Grizzlies|
|Philadelphia 76ers||Los Angeles Clippers|
|New York Knicks||Utah Jazz|
|Milwaukee Bucks||San Antonio Spurs|
|Washington Wizards||Houston Rockets|
As for the Awards:
MVP: Kevin Durant – who scores a ton and begins the “Is Durant better than LeBron?” discussion.
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis – who shines as a defensive stud in his rookie year.
Rookie of the Year: Bradley Beal – who ends up scoring a ton and just beats Davis.
Sixth Man of the Year: Ray Allen – who comes off the bench to sink key 3s for the Heat.
Coach of the Year: Frank Vogel – for leading the Pacers to the 2nd seed in the East.