Archive for August, 2009

The Season Ahead… for the East

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Should I re-introduce myself? Yes, it has been THAT LONG since my last entry and for that I certainly apologise. I suppose I don’t really have a plausible excuse, other than a lack of time on my schedule. Writing blog entries and articles - something I’ve always loved and something that I hope one day earns me a crust - has sadly given way to writing reports and essays. Ah… the life of a University student. No, don’t get me wrong. That definitely isn’t a complaint. I love Uni for so many reasons, but it is a tad all-consuming.

Anywho, enough about me. Most of you will know that Pmac and I have been releasing new episodes of the show fortnightly over the last little while, and that’s for two reasons. The first, again, is a scheduling issue - between Pmac’s work and Uni timetable. The second reason is because of the down-time the NBA off-season is currently in. I’m not entirely sure if you guys have noticed, but there’s not much breaking news happening right now (which explains why the Rockets’ signing of Pops Mensah-Bonsu has somehow made it to Yahoo! NBA’s homepage). Once the season draws nearer, as P and I have said, episodes will be released more frequently.

I guess you guys are wondering, “why post another blog entry now of all-times since the draft, R-Diddy?” Well, I’ll thank you not to think of me as R-Diddy, but the answer is because of a few not-so-subtle (yet much needed!) nudges by our good buddies Tarek and NY_buddah. They asked… and they received. Now, that’s not to say I’m going to post a new entry every time one is asked for, because that could well lead to 5-6 entries per day and that ain’t happening. One thing is for certain though, you’ll be seeing semi-regular updates from here on out. Until the season tips off, check back here once every 2-3 weeks.

So after three paragraphs and 320 words worth of pre-amble, I’d better get this shit off the ground. This week’s entry is all about which Eastern Conference teams I’m predicting to finish where (regular-season wise) in the ‘09/’10 season.

Note: It ain’t pretty for us Nets fans, and Knicks fans, it isn’t all beer and skittles for you either!

1. Boston Celtics

One can only assume that Kevin Garnett will play the majority of this coming season, unlike his injury-interrupted ‘08/’09. That alone is just about enough to ensure the Celtics finish on top, but the addition of Rasheed Wallace, the return of Glen Davis, and the continued development of Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins cement the team from Bean-town at the top of the East’s standings.

2. Orlando Magic

Last season’s runner up has made more roster-improving changes than any other team in this off-season, and barring any last-minute blockbuster deals, the Magic seem destined for another deep playoffs run. Putting the world’s largest man-crush to one side for a second and looking objectively at this roster, I still think it’s probably the most stacked roster in the NBA (yes, maybe even more stacked than the Lakers’). As the ‘07/’08 Celtics proved though, depth-less rosters can win Championships as long as they have star power in key positions… hmmm… Dwight Howard at C, Vince at SG, Rashard Lewis at SF, and Jameer Nelson at PG…. check.

The only thing stopping the Magic from finishing with the East’s best regular season record is Rashard Lewis’s 10-game suspension.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

From now until next off-season, Cavs fans will be asking themselves one question: “Have we done enough to the roster to make LeBron want to stay?”. At this stage, if roster quality was the deciding factor, LeBron would be headed to one of the two teams in the tri-state area. By trading for Shaquille O’Neal, it seems the Cavs have made somewhat of a last-ditch bit to win that elusive Championship. Instead of trying to upgrade their power forward and two-guard spots, the Cavs made a move for a pure center - who is still one of the best in the league, admittedly - when they already had a very good, established player at that position. This tells me that panic mode may have already set in, with Danny Ferry realizing that the Magic will be even better than they were last year when they knocked his team out of the playoffs, and that the Celtics - again with Kevin Garnett - may well be back to their best.

4. Atlanta Hawks

This season will show that, just like last time around, the East has a big-three at the top of its standings, followed by “the rest”. “The rest” will once again be headed by the Hawks.

Atlanta goes in to ‘09/’10 effectively with the same rotation of players from last season, with the additions of Jamal Crawford and Joe Smith. This will mean that Atlanta will have some of the league’s best depth, but it’ll also mean that Mike Woodson will have a job on his hands managing a rotation with Mike Bibby AND Joe Johnson AND Jamal Crawford.

5. Washington Wizards

Last season, one of the East’s best teams (health permitting) was again cursed by injury. It seems to be said about the Wizards season after season after season, but IF Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, and Gilbert Arenas play 65+ games together, then they make up the nucleus of a very good playoff team. Again this season, it’ll only take an injury to one of the “big three” to plummet the team back down to mediocrity, but at least this time around, they won’t fall any further than that. With Mike Miller, Fabricio Oberto, and Randy Foye now on board, this team will still have enough depth to possibly even contend for an 8th seed without one of their three stars.

6. Miami Heat

It seems our boy Q-Rich has finally found somewhere to unpack his suitcase. Miami, sans Dwyane Wade, is just about the worst team in the NBA. With him though, they’re highly competitive against just about anyone. That’s the thing about D-Wade, like water to two-minute noodles, just add him to any team, stir, wait for two minutes, and you’re in for one tasty treat! This is precisely what has the Nets and Knicks salivating over next off-season.

7. Chicago Bulls

Not only did the Bulls not re-sign Ben Gordon, they let their best scorer sign with a division rival. Nope… not their brightest move. Because of their failure to replace BG with anyone capable of producing even half his scoring output, well, because of their failure to replace him at all, the Bulls are officially treading water. They’ve taken a step back, and the only reason I still have them finishing with the East’s 7th best record is the continued development of Derrick Rose. I truly believe he’s already so good that he can take a terribly mediocre team and make it look ‘ok’.

8. Philadelphia 76′ers

Last season’s Sixers took an eternity to get their season off and running, and that was with a veteran PG with great leadership qualities at the helm. Heading into this season, they don’t have any starting quality point guard of any description. Yes, they have some nice young pieces in their backcourt - Holiday and Williams - but neither should be expected to lead a team yet. One of them will be vaulted into the main role, but neither is ready. Why, then, do I think the Sixers can still sneak into the playoffs? Because I’m assuming Elton Brand will actually know his role in a re-structured system better suited to his game and that he’ll stay healthy for the majority of the season.

9. Charlotte Bobcats

The Bobcats curiously traded themselves out of what I thought was a playoff position with the Emeka Okafor/Tyson Chandler swap. No, Emeka wasn’t the true center the Bobcats needed, but they shouldn’t have felt the need to trade him to get it. Tyson Chandler is a nice defensive player and a very good rebounder, but he provides nothing on offense when he’s not on the receiving end of alley-oop passes.

What the ‘Cats have done though, with the Okafor trade, is set themselves up for a season with a roster full of Larry Brown-type players - guys who love nothing more than being part of (or building) a successful team. You won’t find any prima-donnas in this roster… unless they bring in Allen Iverson. Even then though, he and Brown have worked together before (who remembers their Finals run with the Sixers are few years back?). If anyone can manage A.I’s ego and get through to him, it’s Larry.

10. Detroit Pistons

The Pistons have completely re-invented themselves… or at least tried to. You won’t find any hard-nosed, backs to the wall defense from Detroit this season. What you will find is a team that’s more suited to an up-tempo scoring focus. Problem is though, they’re not good enough to play that style and succeed. I have a lot of respect for Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince (and yes, even Ben Wallace) but when you combine Rip and Tay with Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva you have three scorers and one defender. When you combine those four with Kwame Brown, you have three scorers, one defender… and Kwame Brown. See my point? The main upside for Detroit fans this season will be the elevation of Rodney Stuckey’s game. That kid is a budding superstar.

11. Toronto Raptors

Toronto is just about the hardest team in the entire league to predict the ‘09/’10 fortunes of. Why? Because there’s so many, ifs, ands, buts, and maybes about them. If Hedo Turkoglu’s play with the Magic directly translates to the Raptors and Andrea Bargnani continues his development at the same rate as the latter stages of last season, then those maple-syrup guzzling bacon-munchers are in for a sweet ride. But, over the off-season this team still hasn’t managed to bring a starting-calibre two-guard to fill their biggest void. There’s something not quite right about a free-flowing, volume shooting offense without a shooting guard. Maybe Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon, and Hedo Turkoglu can lift the Raps out of the mire, but I just can’t see it.

12. Indiana Pacers

If it wasn’t for Mike Dunleavy Jnr’s injury, last season’s Pacers could have surprised a bunch of people (myself included) and made a serious playoff push… but this isn’t last season’s Pacers. Over the off-season, they let Marquis Daniels and Jarrett Jack go, and while they aren’t the most noted names around the league, they’re still very productive. The Pacers effectively replaced them with a bunch of nobodies plus Tyler Hansbrough. How, then, are we expected to believe that Danny Granger’s superb all-star calibre efforts over the space of 82 games won’t once again be in vein? Sooner rather than later, the Pacers need to be looking into trading both Troy Murphy and Dunleavy Jr. to get some legit young talent in to support Granger. If Larry Bird leaves it too late… well let’s just say as they get another year older, I can’t see these two increasing their trade value.

13. New Jersey Nets

Here we go… the business end of this post (for those who haven’t already skipped ahead). I’d like to be able to say that the Nets young, exciting, talented core is going to surprise everyone this season and make the playoffs… but they won’t. The Nets did the right thing when they traded VC. Even though they’d traded J-Kidd and RJ previously, it was only with the VC trade that they truly decided to start from scratch. To re-build. Now, with Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, Courtney Lee, Terrence Williams, and (hopefully) Yi… the Nets have a team for the future with enough money left over for TWO big-name, franchise player-types. You guys will have heard this all before, but it’s not about ‘09/’10 for the Nets. It’s all about ‘10/’11 and beyond.

In terms of things to look out for this season Nets fans - watch Brook like a hawk and see for yourselves just how great the kid will be. In three years from now, the only Center in the NBA better than him will be Dwight Howard. Also watch Devin Harris evolve as a leader when he’s given the team’s captaincy. At times last season, he did seem a little self-centered but VC had that reputation as well at stages throughout his career. The point here is that people can do remarkable things when given the responsibility to take control; to lead. Devin will know that he’s the guy to take this team and move it forward, and I think it’ll be great for him and his (still developing) game. Courtney Lee and Terrence Williams will show us just enough flashes of brilliance throughout the season to wet our appetites for the not-too-distant future.

14. New York Knicks

Before I get delve into the Knicks, I will admit that the only reason I’m putting them at #14 and not #13 is my sheer hatred for them. There’s almost a probability, not just a possibility, that they’ll finish above the Nets in the standings but when we’re talking about two cellar-dwelling teams, who gives a flying Milicic? …segue… the Knicks had a chance to improve their roster significantly this off-season (as they will every off-season with Money Bags Dolan running the show), or at least stabilize it, but they did neither. Their biggest addition was Darko fucking Milicic! Has the world gone bananas? Why are teams actually looking to trade FOR this guy? Granted, Darko isn’t the raging disappointment he looked certain of being a few years ago, but come on… he’s still Darko. The Knicks enter this coming season with him and a slimline 320 pound Right Hon. Goodyear Blimp anchoring the front court and that, amongst a multitude of other reasons, is why they’re again destined for nonthingness.

Nets fans - be scared for the 2010 off-season with these guys around. REALLY scared. The Knicks have shown time and time again that anything is possible when it comes to player movement and with their two best players (Lee and Robinson) not locked in to contracts beyond this season, they could have even more “cap” space than we thought they would.

15. Milwaukee Bucks

I’d like to be able to say that Andrew Bogut will finally be playing for a competitive Bucks team, but again, he won’t be. The Bucks lost Richard Jefferson to a title contender and practically paid for Charlie Villanueva’s plane ticket to Detroit, and replaced them with Hakim Warrick and Carlos Delfino. Serviceable players, sure, but clear and serious downgrades in both counts. I’m not sure even a healthy combination of Bogut and Michael Redd will be enough to lift the Bucks from the bottom of the East, but they’ll have at least two Western Conference teams beyond them propping up the league ladder. The losses of RJ and Charlie-V and the inevitable departure of The Crossover’s own Ramon Sessions will see the Bucks lose at least ten more games than last season.

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