Thursday, December 10, 2009

2009-10 NBA season preview

This preview was done BEFORE the season I'm just now creating this blog so it is just now getting posted

This is my preview for all 30 NBA teams and a rough guess on their REGULAR SEASON finish, remember this is a full season preview, I don't want to be hearing from people in a week about how wrong I was about this, if I am at the end of the season let me know then, I'll gladly accept that. Also this was written prior to finding out about Blake Griffin's knee injury so the Clippers finish will have to be adjusted. Other than that enjoy and feel free to hate as much as you want.

West Predictions

1. Lakers - Everyone wants to talk about Ron Artest being the make or break player for the Lakers this season if they want to repeat. While I do believe he is a key addition and he will have a positive impact I am going to focus on Andrew Bynum. Last year he was supposed to be the key to the Lakers championship run but because of his knee injury he was basically a non-factor in the playoffs yet the Lakers still came away with the championship. This year he looks like he as his swagger back along with an additional 20 pounds of muscle. He is currently the 3rd leading scorer in the preseason. If he can even put up half those numbers in the regular season consistently the Lakers look to be a near lock for another trip to the finals. Also keep in mind that Kobe Bryant finally got an off season to rest up and get his body taken care of. He said he hasn't felt this good in a long time and that doesn't bode well for opposing teams considering he just came off two of the best seasons of his career taking home a season MVP, all star MVP and finals MVP in that span.

2. Blazers - The Blazers are no longer the "new kids on the block" they now have some playoff experience and they definitely played their best basketball at the end of the season when it mattered most. I still think that they were at least the third best team in the west entering the playoffs; they simply didn't match up well with Houston. This year I see them easily being the second or third best team in the west but I'll put them at two because they will have fresher legs than the Spurs at the end of the season. Andre Miller might secretly be the best off season acquisition by any team this year. Despite the Blazers youth and athleticism they play a more traditional half court style game and Andre Miller is among the NBA elite at distributing the ball in the half court game. Miller is getting up there in age but he shouldn't have to play more than 30 minutes a game with Steve Blake as maybe the best backup point in the league and Jaryd Bayless who I still believe to be their point guard of the future coming off the bench. Also expect a much improved Greg Oden, he may never be the dominant player most thought he would be but he is still a freak of an athlete and he is showing great strides in improvement in only his second season

3. Spurs - After the uninspiring performance the Spurs put in during last year’s playoff series to their most hated rival the Mavericks, I was sure they were done, Manu keeps getting hurt and Duncan's knees just don't seem like they can hold up for an entire season anymore and Tony Parker can't carry the entire team by himself. But the Spurs are still the Spurs and Greg Popovich always finds a way to get it done. Richard Jefferson was a great acquisition for them and I believe that they may have gotten the draft steal of the decade with Dejuan Blair. Blair will take a ton of pressure off of Duncan if he can continue his scintillating preseason performances. He is a great athlete and even though he is a little short for the position he still has great size and instincts (Charles Barkley anyone), and you know with Duncan as his new mentor that fundamentals aren't going to ever be a problem for this guy. I do still think though that the Spurs need to solidify their bench at some point this season and maybe get a little younger. When it gets down towards the end of the season I think they have to choose between resting their players, like Manu and Duncan for the playoffs and dropping a little in the standings, and trying to roll into the playoffs like they usually do and taking the chance that old age and injuries may catch up with them if they make a deep playoff run.

4. Mavericks - I'm going out on a limb here a little bit but I do believe the Mavs will be back and primed and ready crack the top four and maybe even push the Spurs for the Division crown. Last season they had a lot of turmoil they had to deal with, they had some key injuries, Jason Kidd was still trying to fit in with the team to some extent and Josh Howard had his off season struggles with marijuana and his anti-America video. This season the team looks much more poised thanks to adding Shawn Marion to an already very athletic lineup, and their first round victory over the rival Spurs. Despite getting crushed by Denver, their victory over the Spurs I believe was a great moral victory for them and that will carry over more so than the Denver series because it was their first series win since the 06 west finals. Marion was not the only key addition, they needed more help in the front court and while Drew Gooden and Tim Thomas are no all stars they do add depth and versatility to the bench. They have all the tools in a proven super star and former MVP in Nowitizki, a seasoned PG in Kidd, a great second star (if he stays healthy) in Josh Howard, who is also playing for a new contract, and the sixth man of the year in Jason Terry. Rick Carlisle is a better than average coach and despite all their problems they had last year they still finished with 50 wins and a first round playoff victory. One big concern with the Mavs, along with their in state rival, is their age. They are an older team but I wouldn't be as concerned with this as I would be with the Spurs because they play a far less physical game. Expect a revamped Mavs team with this probably being their last and final shot at a deep playoff run.

5. Jazz - The Jazz were definitely a disappointment last season, they battled injuries and chemistry issues all season and limped into the playoffs only to get dismantled by the Lakers. This season expectations are much lower because of the uncertainty with Boozer and him not being satisfied playing in Salt Lake anymore. I think though that this team will have a big regular season, Deron Williams is the best player in the league to not make an all star team and he has improved with each season. Milsap is a great role player with the potential to go off on any night and the Jazz have the right balance of athletes, 3 point shooters, big game players and a great head coach. The team still definitely has issues with Boozer's attitude, their inability to play on the road and their poor defense, despite having one of the best and versatile defenders in a league and a defense first coach. This season though I expect that Boozer will keep his act together so that he can get a big new contract next year and if plays well the Jazz will be reluctant to trade him. They are still probably the best home team in the west and they won't need to play defense to have regular season success this season with their offensive fire power. I expect for them to be a very dangerous team in the regular season but unless they really buckle down on D and convince Boozer he is better off in Utah I wouldn't expect them to make any sort of real run in the playoffs.

6. Hornets - The Hornets continue to mystify the basketball world, two years ago they seemed ready to take the next step and become legitimate contenders for this previous year. However injuries caught up with this team in a hurry as Chandler sat out most of the year and both David West and Peja battled chronic injuries all season. The team also seemed to give up on Byron Scott towards the end of the year despite the team still winning 49 games after all their adversary. I think though that the team will bounce back this year to some extent and ellipse the 50 win mark again. They still need a lot of help off the bench but if they can stay healthy they have a very formidable starting five with Emeka Okafor, David West, Peja Stojakavic, Morris Peterson and my 2009-10 MVP Christ Paul. Chris Paul will have to carry this team again but probably not to the extent he did last year, he will have monster numbers again this season. Do not under estimate what Okafor can bring to this team; he is a better offensive player and a better a better low post defender than Chandler. He is also very capable of matching Chandler’s production on the glass and with this shot blocks. Okafor has been viewed as a somewhat disappointing player but he has never played with another star and has never had a PG that can consistently find him easy baskets. Okafor will welcome the change of scenery and I believe has his best season of his career this year. If Peja and West stay healthy this team could surprise a lot of people, I don't think though they have what it takes for a deep playoff run until they get more help off the bench but because of their salary cap issues I don't see that happening this season.

7. Nuggets - No I did not just start writing this article and then realize I completely forgot about the Nuggets and had to insert them somewhere. This team still has a ton of talent and they do have what it takes to be a contender again this year but I don't believe they will repeat their season success of last year. Take into consideration George Karl for starters, no matter where he goes his players seem to continually grow tired of him. It was easy for the Denver Divas to come together when they were winning but with George Karl not having much control of his team I can see them easily falling apart at the first sign of trouble. Also George Karl has consistently followed up good years of coaching with bad years the following season (Bill Simmons preview: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/part2/091023&sportCat=nba). Also after watching the Nuggets play the Lakers last night there two things that really jumped out at me, one is that Lawson and Afflalo can both have big years coming off the bench for the Nuggets which gives them possibly the best bench in the game, and that the attitude in Denver hasn't really changed at all from what it was before. J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Chris Anderson are all still the childish punks they have always been and those three are only going to behave as long as they get what they want. If they don't get what they want then mommy and daddy (Billups and Karl) are going to have their hands full this season, unfortunately mommy (Billups) can only do so much and daddy (Karl) doesn't really care enough to do anything about it. At some point this season the Nuggets will struggle and we will see the same old Nuggets who are all I before team, with the exception of Billups. If however they do find a way to keep this team cohesive and playing at a high level then they have a chance to climb into the top three but I just don't see that happening.

8. Suns - The Suns are clearly not what they used to be but this team did improve by dropping Terry Porter as their coach and trading away Shaq. With Alvin Gentry calling the shots for the entire season now we'll probably see the Suns once again soar to the top of most offensive categories. Steve Nash is still an elite PG and Staudamire will be at all star form with Nash running the team like he used to. The team still has plenty of talent and I believe that adding Channing Frye was a great move for this style of team; he is long and athletic and is big enough to hold his own defensively against most of the west's centers. Leandro Barbosa is a sixth man contender and Jason Richardson and Grant Hill still possess their offensive firepower. A return of the old Suns however does mean that defense will be at the bottom of the priority list. I wouldn't expect great things for this team, just a lot of top 10 plays on Sports Center but they will run their way to a playoff spot this year, but their window for a championship has definitely passed by them.

9. Clippers - I wanted so desperately to put the Clippers into the final playoff spot, not only because of the addition of Blake Griffin but because this team was already very talented. They were supposed to contend for a playoff spot last year until Elton Brand decided to set sail for Philadelphia and leaving the Clippers in a state of disarray and Baron Davis to pout all season. Now that Griffin has joined the Clippers Baron Davis should cheer up since he is probably going to be an upgrade over Elton Brand this season and definitely for the future. Also now that Randolph is gone the moral of the team should certainly be way higher this year, factor that into that no rookie was more dominant in the second half of the season then Eric Gordon and both Al Thornton and Deandre Jordan could both be ready for breakout years. Factor all that in and you come to the conclusion that.... it's still the Clippers and no matter what they do it is impossible to give them the benefit of the doubt. If they can stay healthy and find their team chemistry then they have a great shot at the playoffs, but with the Clippers you just feel like that is just asking too much. This team will be fun to follow all year but they need to prove themselves before we start expecting big things from them.

10. Thunder - If this team can keep together it's young core of Durant, Green, Westbrook and now Harden for the next several years then they quite possibly could be amongst the NBA's elite sooner than later. However it is tough to see this as the year that they take the next step because of how strong the west is and how young this team still is. This is another team that I expect to see a ton of highlights from and a very fun team to watch but defense is still an issue for them. I expect a huge year from Kevin Durant this season, he has improved consistently and he has dedicated himself to defense this offseason. Not only that but he is coming into this season with a chip on his shoulder from all the criticism he has endured for his +/- numbers the past two seasons. If the Thunder can somehow sneak into the playoffs then expect for Durant to be in the middle of the MVP discussion. Also I could see Harden sneaking up and stealing away the ROY award from Griffin because he will have far less pressure on him and will be able to just flow within the offense instead of having to be the work horse like Griffin could be called on to be. Expectations might be too high for this young team but if they can just go out there and play they have the potential to surprise some teams but they simply don't have enough experience to make it down the stretch but they could play spoiler for some teams throughout the year.

11. Rockets - No team had a tougher offseason than the Rockets did with the season ending surgery to Yao Ming. McGrady still doesn't look healthy and the jury is still out on Ariza to see if he can handle more offensive responsibilities. This team does not possess much talent but they do play with a ton of heart which could keep them in the playoff race. Aaron Brooks could be up for most improved this year if he can play with a little bit more consistency and continue to improve his outside jumper. Chase Budinger was a great second round steal in the draft, his effort and hardnosed play will fit in great with the never say die Rockets and he has first round talent. Don't expect big things from Ariza this year, he is a great role player and a great perimeter defender. He will have his moments this year but he doesn't have a superstar around him to help create open shots, or anyone down low who creates double teams that can kick it out to him or find him cutting to the basket. Also a big factor for this team is their lack of height, to start the season nobody on their roster who will have any sort of significant playing time is over 6'9" and that will catch up with them. This team will play with enough heart to stay competitive but they can only go so far with their talent level that they have.

12. Timberwolves - I love the team that Minnesota is assembling in Minnesota, they have a bunch of talent on their roster and the pieces there seem to fit well. I think that Ramon Sessions was a great signing, Johnny Flynn does have a bright future in this league but he still needs time to learn the pro game and how to run an offense, in the mean time he will do well playing behind Sessions. Wayne Ellington was another good pick for this team and should enjoy a productive rookie season. Corey Brewer is the guy I am most interested in seeing, he looked great in the preseason and appears to have regained the swagger that he had at Florida. If he can big a productive player this could be a dangerous team. They will miss Kevin Love at the beginning of the year with his broken hand and may start off slow with him out of the lineup. He will help this team a great deal once he is back in the lineup with his rebounding and ability to spread the floor. Al Jefferson is nothing short of a beast in the paint, he has come into this season lighter and a step quicker, we will see if that pays dividends for him as the year plays out. Kurt Rhambis will have his struggles as he takes on his first head coaching gig but his tough defensive mentality will help balance out the offense first Wolves. This is a dangerous team but they still have a lot of growing pains to go through as this young team continues to mature and grow together but they will improve from last year.

13. Warriors - This team is a mess, plain and simple. There are dozens of coaches in the league that would kill for the kind of talent that that Don Nelson has in his team but unfortunately the Warriors seem to be overtaking the Clippers as the worst franchise in the NBA, (they better hurry though if they want to hold off the Kings). This team is like a bunch of negatively charged magnets, there is zero chemistry in the locker room with these guys. They don't have faith in their coach and why should they? He has given up on them and after promising Monta Ellis the PG position he goes and decides to put Curry there and keep Ellis off the ball. Their "leader" (Stephen Jackson) is doing everything he can to split town and they made one of the most perplexing trades in recent memory in shipping off Marco Belinelli for the washed up Deven George. The only thing I can think of that justifies this trade is that George's play only when I feel like it attitude will fit in perfectly with the Warriors. The Warriors are a great fit for Stephen Curry and he should thrive in his rookie season with the wide open offensive game that Golden State plays but he is not a very good fit for the Warriors. They are all ready to small at the guard position and lack any sort of interior game. They will put up a lot of points but they aren't going to win many games. They might surprise people if they can trade away the disgruntled Jackson for a low post player but otherwise this team will be nothing but a disappointment. The only reason I don't have them last is because of their individual talent level.

14. Grizzlies - After this past draft I was very excited for this team, I'm not a fan of Thabeet but I did say there were two teams he could go to and do fairly well because he could be put into a position to develop, those teams where the Thunder and the Grizzlies. This team has enough offensive talent where Thabeet can come off the bench and just worry about blocking shots and rebounding but I still think he is fairly useless until he develops some bulk. This team has a ton of young talent and was in a position to mature and grow as a unit, and then GM Chris Wallace and pulled one of the stupidest moves he could have done in signing the moral killer Zach Randolph, there isn't one player in this league that can suck the life out of a team quite like the overpaid, lazy and immature Randolph...or is there? Oh shoot I almost forgot about Allen Iverson after that pathetic excuse for a season he put in with Detroit, but Wallace wouldn't possibly sign Iverson to an already guard heavy team would he? Oh shoot I forgot again that we are talking about the bone headed Chris Wallace because he did exactly that. If you want to stick with the magnet analogy Wallace had a perfect blend of positively and negatively charged magnets that were all coming together and right before they meshed he took two huge chunks of dead weight wood and shoved them in the middle so that nothing will bond together. Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, Mike Connelly, Marc Gasol and Hasheem Thabeet are as good of a young core as you can have and all showed great strides in their development last year. But now instead of this being a season of growth for this young team (average age 24) it will simply be a season of just persevering and hoping to get through to the lottery next year and dropping off their dead weight. It is going to be another long and disappointing season for the team from Tennessee.

15. Kings - Sorry to all my Nor-Cal friends but I didn't have a choice here, I tried very hard to move this team up but they really just don't have a lot going for them. They have two young combo guards but no true PG; there front court is young but inexperienced and not very talented. This team’s recent draft history continues to perplex me. They keep drafting players who are NBA ready but don't have a whole lot of upside (Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson and now Tyreke Evans). There only pick that shows a lot of upside is Omri Cassipi but he is so raw that it may take years before he develops any sort of game that is NBA ready. This team should be building for the future but instead they keep trying to solve their problems with immediate fixes when it just isn't realistic for them to do so. I think Kevin Martin is a great player and he will be able to will his way to some team victories but besides him they just don't have any type of star talent. Tyreke Evans will be productive but he is about as fully developed as basketball player as he is probably going to get. The only chance this team has is if it decides to strip its front office and completely start over, they have nothing else to lose so they might as well start somewhere. I admire the few of you Kings fans who have stuck with your team through this tough times but you are going to have to wait another year or two before things start looking up, with this teams talent level they could challenge the 72-73 sixers for the worst record in NBA history but I'm betting they get at least 15 wins this season, one bright spot they play the Warriors and Suns a combined 8 times so at least we'll see some big offensive numbers put up from them at times during the year..

East Predictions
1. Celtics - Great leadership and experience? Check, seasoned and dedicated coach? Check, at least two stars to consistently rely upon? Check, a solid bench? Check, a deep hunger for a Championship? Check. This team has everything it takes to win another ring, but this could be there last season to do so. If I didn't have a bias for the Lakers then this might the team I pick to win it all. Pierce, Garnett, and Allen are all getting older but if they can stay healthy they still have one more year of the Big Three being on top. Rasheed Wallace was a brilliant signing and can really help space the floor when he comes off the bench and he is an underrated defender. The two concerns I have with this team are if they can stay healthy or at least be healthy for the playoffs with their aging roster and how Rondo will react to being shopped around during the offseason. For the life of me I cannot figure out what Danny Ainge even considered moving Rondo, there is no way the Celtics even come close to going as far as they did without him last year and he is still getting better and developing!! If he can get over that and use it as motivation then this team is very scary, especially because that seems to be the route Rondo has taken (the guy is just as fast and he looks like a Mr. Universe contestant this season). Another thing they have going for them is that they play in probably the weakest division in the league which could lead to a lot of blowouts and extra rest time for their stars. They have a good bench but it isn't very deep, I expect them to make a mid season trade or signing to try and shore up their rotation for the post season and if they do that they should win the East and have the much anticipated rematch with Kobe and the Lakers even though they may slip down to the number two or three seed to rest their players.

2. Cavaliers - I have the Cavs here basically because they lost a coin flip, they are an elite team and they will be deserving of a number one seed, but they have to fight for it with the Celtics and Magic. That being said I'm not a big fan of the Shaq trade, he really doesn't provide them with much help except to help guard Dwight Howard four times a year and maybe more if they meet in the playoffs and even with that do you really think Dwight needs any more motivation to be more dominant than ever this year after he got embarrassed in the finals and took some deserved and undeserved criticism for his play? This trade to me is just a desperate move to try and keep Lebron in Cleveland past this season but with the end of Shaq's career getting ever so closer I don't think that it will work, especially since the Cavs are already owners of the highest payroll in basketball by a mile. Shaq will take pressure of Lebron but he may also prevent him from doing what he loves most and that is driving to the rim. Shaq can only play down in the block and Varejo is no good unless he is inside the paint so that leaves very little room for Lebron to get to the basket which means his own team will be forcing him to take outside jumpers. I don't have a lot of faith in this team right now to perform in the playoffs once they get there, they rolled to the post season with LBJ as their leader and the rest of the troops meshing together to form a very cohesive team but once they faced a real challenge the team fell apart and Lebron willed his team to a six game series loss when they should have been swept. It will be interesting to see if the Cavs can regain their mojo back after getting handled by Orlando and then Danny Ferry making a ton of free agent signings, a sign that he doesn't trust anyone on that team but Lebron. For years Cleveland has been over paying for washed up players and it has come around to bite them in the butt time and time again, this year won't be much different than last. They will crush the teams they are supposed to beat and struggle against the NBA's elite (3-8 against the Lakers, Magic, Spurs and Celtics last year). Also nobody wants to talk about how crappy a coaching job Mike Brown did last year in the playoffs, in my mind he is the worst coach to ever get coach of the year. During the Orlando series he didn't manage the games at all, he made no attempt to get anyone else involved in the offense other than Lebron and for some reason he refused to double team Howard. I could go on about this team but to me they have a lot to prove still and I think they will have a lot more drama to deal with this season than people think, it's going to be a very interesting season for Cleveland this year.

3. Magic - If it wasn't for the signing of Rasheed Wallace by Boston than this would be my hands down pick for the finals, they did lose Hedo and gain the aging Vince Carter but I actually believe this to be a better trade off. Carter can spread the floor as well as Turkalu can and he is a much better penetrator going to the basket. He still has plenty of gas in the tank and this is the first time in his career that he hasn't been asked to carry the team by himself, in all honesty he may be the fourth option on this team and that is scary as hell. He is going to get more open looks then he knows what to do with between playing with an all star PG and the most dominant big man in the game in Dwight Howard. I expect a huge season from Dwight Howard, he averaged over 20ppg last year with one offensive move, no range and poor free throw shooting and all he did this off season was dedicate himself to developing his offensive game. Despite his fun and playful demeanor he is a ferocious competitor and I expect him to showcase it ever chance he gets this season, don't be surprised if he averages close to 30ppg this year but with the talent around him he probably won't be required to do that much scoring. This team faced adversity all throughout the season last year and it did nothing but motivate them further, they may get off to a slow start this year with Rashard Lewis being suspended for the first ten games, but come playoff time this team will be waiting to defend its conference title and get another shot at the Larry O'Brien trophy.

4. Hawks - This team isn't going to surprise anybody this year, they have a solid team all the way around but their lack of a true superstar will hurt them again come playoff time. This team has a ton of athletes who all can go off on any particular night but nobody outside of Mike Bibby has a high basketball IQ. This team needs to grow up, they cannot rely on the "nobody believes in us" motivation anymore, it is time for them to prove themselves this year but it is going to be tough with the top three teams in the conference so stacked. The two keys to me are Marvin Williams and Mike Bibby. Bibby still has the ability to be an all star PG in this league but at times he looked as if he was 40 years old during games. He is only 31 and should still have plenty of juice in the tank; the addition of Jeff Teague will provide a nice boost for him to get some extra rest during the season. If Bibby can stay fresh and be the floor general for this team then they will have another good season. Also Marvin Williams is going to have to play to his full potential this season if this team wants any chance of pushing the big three. Remember that he was drafted before both Chris Paul and Deron Williams and it's time for him to reach an all star level. He has the ability and if he can average 20ppg and 8rpg than this team will be very dangerous. This team has what it takes to make it to the second round of the playoffs again but unfortunately that means for them a matchup with either Orland, Boston or Cleveland and no matter what they accomplish this season they will be hard pressed to get passed any of those teams, but strangers things have happened before.

5. Bulls - This is the team that I am most looking forward to watching in the East, mainly because of one guy, Derrick Rose. Rose may not have been spectacular the entire season but he was a true pro for the whole season and rarely looked like a rookie. He was absolutely sensational against the Celtics, although he did have his fair share of mistakes. He just turned 21 and still has a lot of growing to do but he is an elite PG in the making and we all saw what Deron Williams and Chris Paul did in their sophomore campaign. If he can work on his outside game and cut down on the turnovers he is going to be a matchup nightmare for any team. A lot has been made about Ben Gordon’s departure but I don't believe that this will hurt them nearly as much as people think. I love Gordon’s game and his ability to score but he wasn't always that efficient in his scoring. With Luol Deng back and healthy Salmons can slide back down to his natural position at the 2. Salmons may not have the ability to score 40 points a game but he can consistently get you 15-22 and he is much more efficient. In past years the Bulls have had to rely on Gordon to create his own shots and hoist up 30+ shots a game, with Rose and the rest of the Baby Bulls coming along Chicago is probably better off with leaving the team in Rose's hands and letting Salmons flourish as a reliable second or third option, where Gordon would never be comfortable with that. Hinrich and Miller anchor a very solid bench and although I still think that the Bulls should have drafted Dejuan Blair I do believe that made very solid picks in Taj Gibson and James Johnson who both should contribute right away. With Tyreke Thomas and Joakim Noah having another year and some playoff experience under their belt they both could take the next step in their development. With the Bulls new found front court depth they don't necessarily need any of those guys to be great all the time, it will be production by committee for the Bulls big men and while this may not carry them far into the playoffs it will win them their fare share of games.

6. 76ers - This is a difficult team to figure out, they definitely have the talent and ability to be a dangerous playoff team but with the departure of Andre Miller it will be interesting to see how this team runs its offense. Again I'm not as much of a cynic as a lot of others are about this team; I think Louis Williams is a great fit at PG for new coach Eddie Jordan. The fact that Louis Williams is a shoot first PG is a concern for a lot of people but remember who Eddie Jordan coached for several years in Washington, Gilbert Arenas. Jordan knows how to handle shoot first PG's and he will bring out the best in Williams with his new Princeton offense, plus the young guard has a ton of help around him. Also this team is much better on defense without Miller; he is to slow to keep up with guards like Rondo and Devin Harris. Williams makes this team much more athletic which will help with their style of offense. Thaddeus Young looks like he could turn into a perennial all star, he got better and better throughout last season and is poised for a breakout season. Elton Brand may never return to his old form but he has an incredible work ethic and he is a true professional and brings an element to this team that they lacked last year with him sitting out with injury. Andre Igoudala is a freak of nature athletically is continually becoming a better all around player; he could very well make the all star team this year. I really like what this team can do, especially with the way they played in the second half last season, keep your eye out for these guys.

7. Heat - I have the heat in the top 8 simply because of Dwayne Wade. There are two guys in this league that you don't want to piss off because they just turn around and torch you and everyone else they can when they are called out, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade. The problem is people don't realize that about Wade like they do with Kobe, Dwayne Wade despite not being happy with the Heat will have another monster year as he looks at his options for 2010. But the guy is a competitor and will still do everything he can to win this year. Other than Wade there is only one other guy on this roster that I like, and that is their second year stud...Mario Chalmers. Eric Spoelstra is a coach known for player development and I expect Chalmers to be in the discussion this year for most improved and he will allow Wade to play more off the ball and take some pressure off him. Chalmers is one of those guys who just gets what it takes to win, he is a special player and has the heart of a champion, and he will help this team win even if he isn't the most talented guy at his position. Michael Beasley is a guy with a world of talent and if he can get his act together can be a real force if he can get his head straight but I don't see that happening. I never supported this pick for the Heat, the guy has had reports of him being a problem since he was in AAU ball and he just doesn't seem to enjoy life or basketball. He might be good for this team this year because of his talent level but he is not a long term option for this team, they should ship him while he still has value but that won't happen since the Heat have invested so much into him. He claims to have changed his ways but he has a lot to prove before we can believe that. The walking corpse of Jermaine O'Neal is one of the biggest disappointments in basketball and might have his nights but it doesn't look promising for him to be reliable option for an entire season. Wade will get this team to the playoffs but it is going to be a long season for Miami, if they want this to be a productive season they better start trying to find a way to get some talent for Wade during the offseason to keep him around, otherwise he is gone faster than Kanye West's reputation.

8. Raptors - I have this team in the playoffs simply because of their talent level and the mismatches they can create for teams on a nightly basis, but I’m not sold on them by any means. It’s hard to argue with the signing of Turkalu, he had a very good regular season and a fantastic post-season, and this team is loaded with talent in the front court. They are very deep and could be a very dangerous team but I have two major concerns with them. The first one is the fact that they completely overhauled their roster, they have 10 new players on their 15 man roster this year, 10!!! That is a big change and it is going to take time to adapt, chemistry is so important in this league especially come playoff time and we’ll see if Toronto can build it in time. The other major concern I have with this team is they are a strictly finesse team, there is very little toughness on that roster. That’s what happens when you build a roster based on Euro ball. It will win them games but there is no way with the toughness that team has they will be able to hold their own against teams the big boys in this league. They will look really good at times and we should see another all star year out of Chris Bosh but I just think that expectations are far too high for this team, for this year. The offense will be great but the defense, chemistry and toughness are all in question to me and those are the three main components to any championship caliber team.

9. Pacers - This is my sleeper pick of the NBA, they nearly snuck into the playoffs last year and they were one of the most injury plagued teams in the NBA. If they stay healthy then they have a real shot at the playoffs in my opinion. Danny Granger is a fully fledged star in this league, he is a terrific scorer and is an underrated passer and rebounder. He needs to improve his defense this year but if Jim O’Brien can continue to emphasize defense over offense we should see an improvement in the defense of Granger and the rest of the Pacers. The Pacers also did a nice job in the off season, they didn’t acquire any big names but they addressed their needs, mainly defense and toughness. There was not a tougher guy in all of college basketball for the past four years than Tyler Hansborough, he may not have a high talent level but you cannot ignore his toughness and work ethic. He plays the game so hard and he could do wonders for that locker room, we often over look changes to moral and just focus on talent and on court situations but Hansborough is a guy who could truly change the attitude of this team. He won’t put up big numbers but he will help this team win. T.J. Ford is the best PG that nobody talks about, he has been riddled with injuries during his career but when he is healthy he can be an offensive nightmare with his lighting quick first step. He should put up big numbers this year, even with the arrival of Earl Watson. Dahanty Jones was a good signing for this team, which is tough for me to say because I personally can’t stand the guy but he is an excellent defender and a good athlete, he should really help this team with their defense this year which has been the point of emphasis for this team. Also Roy Hibbert looks ready to take the next step in his career, he was the leading shot blocker in the preseason and if he can continue to do that and grab rebounds at a reasonable rate than this teams defense really should be greatly improved. They are also surprisingly deep, they run at least two deep at every position and there isn’t a whole lot of drop off in talent level from the starters to the bench players at virtually every position, keep your eyes on this team in the upcoming season they might surprise you, one more fun fact, this was the only team to beat the Lakers, Celtics, Cavaliers and Magic all last season.

10. Pistons - I had a really tough time not including the Pistons in my top eight, especially with the signings of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, but these signings indicated something to us. This team no longer cares about championships, just about filling the stands every night. Gordon and Villanueva are fantastic offense players but both of them have always been somewhat of a liability on defense, which has been this teams staple since before I was born. Also the chemistry is in question mainly because of the guards, Gordon and Hamilton are going to have to share minutes much like Hamilton and Iverson did last year and Hamilton never really bought into that system. Gordon will be more willing to come off the bench that Iverson but minutes are still going to be tough for these two stars to share. Gordon might get some time at the point but the Pistons also have two solid PG’s, Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey. There is no indication as to which one of these guys is going to be the main PG this year, Stuckey is their “point guard of the future” but has failed to become a consistent and reliable option while running the team. Bynum has been more consistent and was the better player last year but doesn’t have as much upside as his counterpart. The problem is that all four of these guards they have are shoot first type players, there is nobody there who’s first option is get the offense flowing and distribute the ball. This could create a lot of tension for the team and some big chemistry concerns. Also outside of Villanueva, there is no depth or consistent front court play from the Pistons big men, this team still has a lot of questions and with the East getting better and deeper each year I’m afraid that this is the year that the Pistons finally fail to make the playoffs. Don’t worry Detroit fans you still have the Red Wings.

11. Wizards - This team is locked and loaded for the upcoming season… on offense. With Arenas finally “healthy” the Wizards should show dramatic improvement and put themselves in position to make a playoff run. Flip Saunders will get his guys to play his style of ball and get this team off to a good start. I’m worried though that this team just doesn’t have what it takes to close it out at the end of the season. People are putting so much emphasis on Gilbert Arenas being healthy and he has played a combined 15 games over the past 2 seasons. He has had triple knee surgery and he is supposed to all of a sudden return to his old from? I think that is asking a lot out of any player. He may very well do it and lead this team to the playoffs but he is also supposed to transform into this Chauncey Billups type player where he can put up the big scoring numbers when necessary but his job is to be a distributer? Again I think we are asking too much of him. He may buy into the system for the first half of the season (if he lasts that long) but by the time the all star break rolls around I think we will see the same old Arenas trying to be the ultimate scoring machine and having no recognition of what it means to play defense. Like I said this team is loaded with offensive talent but their defense has not improved at all and I don’t think their new offensive system can carry them into the playoffs on its own. It isn’t impossible and I will not be surprised at all if this team finishes as high as even 5 but there are way too many if-factors for me to put them into the playoffs right now. I hope this teams proves me wrong but I think it is going to be tough for them to have a 25+game turnaround from last season simply based on a guy who may not even play half the year. Only time will tell though with this group of players.

12. Bobcats - This is a solid team, not loaded with talent but no real weaknesses. They may be hard pressed for points this season at times but with Brown in his second year with the team he should be able to get his guys to buy into a defense first mentality and they have the players to be a very good defensive teams. If Tyson Chandler can anchor the front court on D then they will cause problems for other teams, they are extremely athletic on the wings with Gerald Henderson, their first round pick, Gerald Wallace and Raja Bell. The one thing that everyone is wondering about with this team is how the PG situation will play out. Both Rayond Felton and D.J. Augastine are former lottery picks and each bring something new to the table. Felton is more of a pass first PG while Augastine possesses more of a scoring punch. I like the combo of these two guards but it will be interesting to see how they do with sharing minutes as Augastine looks to have improved coming into this sophmore campaign. Brown does seem to favor Augastine as he gave him a lot of solid minutes off the bench last year and even gave tim starting time. In the games that Augastine started he averaged over 17ppg and 5apg, he could easily average those numbers for the entire season if he gets adequate minutes. If he continues to perform this year I wouldn't be surprised to see Felton get shipped to a playoff team in need of point guard help. This is another team that could find it's way into the playoffs and I think this is one of 5 teams in the East that will be battling for the final playoff position but they will need to get each player to play to their full capabilities if they want to reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

13. Knicks - Is there any team that we care less about this season when it comes to performances? As long as this team keeps adequate cap space for the summer of 2010 this season will be a success. That means the Knicks can go into this season with a carefree attitude and just run wild in D'Antoni's 7 seconds or less offense. The most interesting thing to watch with this team is to see if Darko Milicic can finally tap into his special set of offensive tools in this wide open offense. This is the one place that Milicic can have a possibility of resurrecting his career. Unfortunately for the Knicks there really is nothing else to talk about until they make their big push for Lebron and one other star to join him the basketball capital. The only thing that I am looking forward too is if Nate Robinson can set the record for posterizing players that are at least 1 foot taller than him, he could do it and I expect a lot of sports center highlights this year. When this team plays the Warriors it could be the most painfully fun game to watch this season Nov 13, I'll create a facebook event for this game to remind everybody.

14. Nets - This is another team that could be fun to watch and will be a very solid playoff team in another year or two, with their young core of Brook Lopez, Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Yi Jianlian and first round pick Terrence Williams. But realistically they don't have any veteran depth and Devin Harris can only carry this team so far. These players still need to develop but until they find a true number one scoring option they won't win a whole lot of games. Rafer Alston could be a cancer in the locker room if he decides he is unhappy as a role player off the bench and I don't see him being more than that if Devin Harris comes close to matching his performance last year. Nets fans shouldn't expect much from this team this year but a year of development and a possible shot at Lebron in 2010 could make this team a force to be reckoned with for quite a while in the east. The only thing to watch for this year is to see if they are bought out by Russian Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and if he intends to move the team to Brooklyn. If this plays out for the Nets they could surpass the Knicks as the likely destination for Lebron other than Cleveland for 2010.

15. Bucks - I'm not sure if this team could even compete with the top schools in college basketball, forget about the other 29 pro teams. Michael Redd will score his fair share of points but that is if he stays healthy. He only played 33 games last season and only 55 two seasons prior to that, he is over 30 and seems to be passed his prime, unfortunately he is all Milwaukee has. If the average fan went and looked at their roster you might recognize 3 or 4 names on there. This team simply has zero proven talent outside of Redd, Bogut is a solid player but he has failed to live up to they hype after being selected number one overall in 2005, over players like CP3, Deron Williams, Danny Granger and Marvin Williams. He will probably average a double double this season but he isn't a reliable second scoring option and this could be one of the most painful teams to watch play this year. They are the only team in the east that I give absolutely zero chance of making the playoffs. They do have a couple of good young athletes in rookie Brandon Jennings and second year player Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, but both of these guys are raw and unproven. If their are any Bucks fans out there, good luck getting through this season and good luck with your chances in the lottery next year.

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