[NBA] The 4 Point-Play: The NBA Season Spectacular (Part 2)

Last week, we here at The 4-Point Play, gave all 3 of your readers the lowdown on the Eastern Conference. In it we included a standings projection, a conference finals projection, and some player projections. Now it’s time to hit up the West. While the number of great teams has dropped in the West, the overall depth of solid teams is still a he advantage the West has over the East…it makes predicting very difficult because an injury or big trade can literally take a team from the bottom to the top in some of these divisions. However, I have to look at the team as currently constructed, probability of injury or trade, and then GM ability to make the RIGHT trade. Let’s get into it.

Pacific Division

1) Sacramento Kings-

Why?- Especially after an 0-2 start you must be wondering what on Earth I’m thinking. The shooting guard is one of their best rebounders, their best shooter isn’t shooting well, and Rick Adleman leads the NBA in faces that seem to say: “I did NOT tell them to do whatever the hell it is they are doing right now.”

However, here’s the deal: This team has key talent at every position, serious depth, and a PG who has a knack for consistently hitting every big shot they need. Over 82 games all these factors give them an advantage over every other team in the division. The Suns seem to lack the depth (not to mention the absence of Amare for 4 months), GS hasn’t played a meaningful game in April since Run TMC, the Lakers are in a transition, and the Clippers don’t appear like enough of a defensive threat yet. In what should be a tight division the Kings should reign.

What could possibly go wrong?- Newcomer Bonzi Wells might be the proverbial gun that goes off just as Geoff Petrie is inspecting to see if the barrel seems clogged. This guy has talent….always has….but there are some players that just don’t last long on teams for a reason: Bonzi Wells is that guy.

From and X’s and O’s standpoint his lack of shooting shouldn’t hurt the team too much. They have a great shooter in Peja, however, he isn’t a great passer and one has to wonder why Petrie would go with a thick post-up player at the 2, when his team is built more on speed and cutting.

Finally, while the team does have plenty of rebounding talent at the 4 and 5, they lack one interior player that can demand the ball down low and get his shot off whenever he wants. The pick up of Abdur-Rahim was very solid, but he’s about as much a wing player as he is a post up threat. Brad Miller is great on offensive rebounds, is a nice passer, and has a nice jumper from the elbow, but you can’t funnel the ball through him and expect him to take over a game.

The season hinges on….- The bench stepping up and providing a slight 82 game advantage over everyone else in the Pacific. This team lacks a bit of something compared to the star power in PHX and LA. It’s going to take a solid effort every night by the whole team to win this division, especially when you consider the immanent Bonzi implosion.

2) Golden State Warriors-

Why?- What’s so hilarious about this team is that it’s coming off an offseason 2 years ago that I felt was one of the worst in history. It ranked up there with season that Cain slew Able or the season TJ Hooker got cancelled. Even now when I think about the almost 80 million dollars given to these two men I turn into Bob Wiley from What About Bob: “I get dizzy spells. Nausea. Cold sweats. Hot sweats. Fever blisters. Difficulty breathing. Difficulty swallowing. Blurred vision. Involuntary trembling. Dead hands. Weak ankles. Fainting spells. Numb lips. Finger-tip sensitivity.

The big “But” here is that since then Chris Mullin has done a solid job. He has resigned most of the key components of the team; he was able to rip the Suns off for Zarko Cabarkapa; and he has drafted players like Ike Diogu and Andris Bierdins. The biggest move, however, was plundering the Hornets for the fragile (though talented) Baron Davis. That move put energy in a team and solidified the backcourt for several years. In fact, because of that latter move the team actually finished the season on and 19-10 run.

What could possibly go wrong?- Is there a more scrutinized body part in the S.F Bay Area than Baron Davis’ knee? Besides Barry Bonds’ incredibly expanding head….probably not. The simple fact of the matter is that the team must have a healthy Davis all year to overachieve into 2nd place. The division could be packed so tight that an injury to him could mean a drop from 2nd to last place. While that possibility should worry all 3 Warrior fans, the simple facto of the matter is that even us talking about GS and 2nd place should be a wonderful change.

The season hinges on……- In the immortal words of John Mellencamp they need a center that won’t drive them crazy. Expect to see a lot of Troy Murphy at the center spot this season when Montgomery goes “small”, which in this case is just a polite way of saying “going TALENTED”. The X-Factor here could be Bierdins. He has been fairly impressive in spot duty and if can make any sort of leap he could be in line to steal Foyles job. He’ll have to work on not fouling as much.

3) Phoenix Suns-

Why?- They should have run away with the division again. While they had a VERY up-and-down offseason they still appeared to have the talent to win a pretty mediocre Pacific. Some of that changed when Amare Stoudemire felt a tweak in his knee. I don’t see any one game being the problem, that is to say the Suns still have the talent to beat anyone on any given night, the problem is going to be over the long haul. This team was already fairly thin to begin with and, like last year, I foresee a fast start followed by a slow end. In my mind they are a bubble playoff team and we’ll see exactly what happens when Stoudemire gets back….if he gets back at all.

Still, the talent is there from the starters. Steve Nash returns to run the show. No defense, but he’s able to feed even mediocre scorers and make them better than they really are. James Jones takes over at the forward spot. You might remember him from being underutilized on Indiana because of THEIR solid bench. He should do fine for awhile, but like most mediocre players they aren’t mediocre because they lack real talent….they just can’t be consistent WITH the talent. Raja Bell, Shawn Marion, and Kurt Thomas are all solid defenders. Kurt’s defense is slipping but he is better than much of what the Suns have currently and will be relied on to provide the tough rebounding. Marion brings it every night and while his shot looks horrible, his well rounded game is what allows the team to be so creative with its small lineups.

What could possibly go wrong?- The team is still undersized, especially without Stoudemire. Kurt Thomas is an inch above 6’8 if I’m a Prussian general. While the team has better depth than last year, it still isn’t on the level of the Kings. It remains to be seen if the team can have a smallish team without the athletic ability of Amare inside. I think it’s a real stretch relying on Marion at the PF slot again with only Kurt Thomas inside.

I also wonder about Steve Nash’s ability to log huge minutes like he did last year. Leonardo Barbosa has improved to the point where he can take more minutes, but the team runs so differently with him, as opposed to Nash, that I wonder what will give. Will the team lose a few extra games now because Nash sits more….or lose them later when he’s physically burned out. My guess is the latter. As I said before expect a hot start and a very slight fade from this group. Like GS, in a crowded division, they could end up in 1st or 4th.

The season hinges on……- It depends on what you’re talking about. The regular season hinges upon D’Antoni’s use of the bench and its play throughout the season. If it can give the starters some rest and same the heavy wear-and-tear, then they should have a nice run; if it can’t expect some trouble around April.

However, any kind of post season run depends on what happens with Stoudemire’s knee. If he can’t bring it this season then it would be foolish to expect much from this team once the playoffs hit. Especially if they are a low seed and get paired up against the Rockets or the Spurs….the Spurs in particular being a disaster for them.

4) L.A. Lakers-

Why?- I thought a lot about them vs. the Clippers for last place. It was interesting that the Warriors, for once, weren’t involved in this process. I think the Lakers will pull it out because they have the best player on either team (Kobe Bryant) and they have the better coach. The only question here is if that player and that coach can co-exist on a team that is going to be far inferior to the one both were united on just 2 years ago.

The good news for the Lakers is that Phil Jackson is going to do wonders for Lamar Odom. Unlike other stars Odom’s problem has never really been the selfish “thing”. His problem has always been teams utilizing his talent properly and then him not hitting the crack pipe just because it’s a Thursday afternoon. I think that last year Kobe and Odom had potential to really be a dynamic duo, but the coaching was as such that Kobe turned into the “Kobe show” and Odom (never aggressive about demanding the ball) just kinda faded into the background. That won’t happen this season.

What could possibly go wrong?- Let’s see, Kobe and Phil could have another lovers spat. Kwame Brown could decide he doesn’t feel like showing up for practice….or games, Mitch Kupchack could get too involved and try to do things like sign players of make trades, and Devean George could remember that he’s Devean George and suck horribly.

The season hinges on…..- I think it’s Kwame Brown. Really we know what to expect from the other players on the team. Chris Mihm will excite and then infuriate from one moment to the next. Kobe is gonna play nice for at least 7/8th’s of the season. Lamar Odom will have his best year as a pro. And Phil Jackson will grow some sort of facial hair nightmare. However, we have no clue what Kwame Brown will do. He could give them 17 and 10 or fly to India and charm cobras…either one is exactly equally possible.

5) L.A. Clippers-

Why?- At what point do you just chalk up the fact that the Clippers are doomed? Every year the talent improves and every year they fall outside the 8th spot in the conference. Sometimes it’s because of some horrible injury, sometimes it’s a coach meltdown, sometimes Elgin Baylor decides his team is getting too good and does something terrifying and horrible, and sometimes Donald Sterling decides he isn’t making enough money from the sucker NBA teams that pay him from the luxury tax pool ever year.

This season all of them are at play. Sterling let Bobby Simmons go in a move that wasn’t horrible on its face (the Bucks DID pay too much), but it was bad from the perspective that keeping the core together would have been a huge boon for the team from a chemistry standpoint. While bad teams do turnover talent, teams that turnover talent do seem to be consistently bad.

Then came the injury bug. Poor Shaun Livingston. The team and fan base is so excited about him….it’s like when your dog thinks he’s going to the park but really you’re taking him to be put to sleep. It’s sad really. In the span of 12 months I think he’s had everything happen but a broken neck (see TJ Ford) and gonorrhea (see Dajuan Wagner).

Finally, Elgin Baylor decided he would replace Simmons with Cuttino Mobley. Not only will this move Maggette to SF (he’s a bigger mismatch at SG), but it means even less shots for poor poor Elton Brand.

What could possibly go wrong?- Livingston is out all year. Acquisition Sam Cassell decides it’s a contract year and he can’t find a shot he doesn’t like to take. Everyone on the team forgets that Elton Brand exists and can score down low. I happen to think every single one of those things is going to happen.

The season hinges on…..- Probably new additions Cassell and Mobley. If they share the ball this team can be a threat because it’s really well balanced. In actuality it’s more balanced than the Kings in many respects. However, if they are jacking up shots and lowering the team FG%, I don’t expect the team to be in the race for very long. The team was already going down that road with Maggette, but there enough shots for him to go nuts. Cassell and Mobley can’t follow in that stuff.

Northwest Division

1) Minnesota-

Why?- When did it become cool to write off Kevin Garnett. In my view he was clearly the 2nd most valuable player last year….and yet it’s like he died and went to NBA purgatory.

The TWolves had a decent offseason, and for Kevin McHale that’s actually an improvement. Additions Marko Jaric and Rashad McCants will help. As will another year under the belt of Eddie “No not the actor” Griffin. The only problem I see is that the human NBA abortion Mike Olowokandi is still the team’s “center”.

At the end of the day you don’t bet against Kevin Garnett when he has at least SOME talent around him. And even if I have no idea what Wally World is going to provide, there are some better pieces around this team than last year when Sam Cassell was on one leg and Sprewell was worrying about grocery money for his family.

What could possibly go wrong?- The chemistry issue could be…well…and issue. As I said before teams that change TOO much, all the time, tend to show it in the standings. This is essentially the 87th core group of players surrounding Garnett since he’s been a pro. Remember he once looked to his left and saw JR Rider, then to his right and saw a pouty Christian Laettner. So from the that standpoint I could see some reverse Reese’s Pieces going on here….great tastes that don’t taste great together. Insert your prostitute joke here.

The season hinges on…..- The center position. Can it get anything out of the center position. Being a big man for the team should be a piece of cake. You rebound and you hang around for the best passing PF in the game to hit you on penetration or solid entry passes. Somehow, inexplicably, Olowokandi has turned screwing that up into an art form.

2) Denver Nuggets-

Why?- The team is really the only team in the division that is solid at every position and has some quality backups. Center is only a weakness if Marcus Camby gets hurt for any length of time, and that’s only because the team just lost Nene for the season. I actually really like backup Francisco Elson, but if Camby goes out he isn’t ready for the 82 game grind.

PF is manned by Kenyon Martin. Good defender who could do better shooting a higher % and rebounding….it’s surprising how poor of a rebounder he actually is. However he is murder on the break and adds some intensity to a team that seems unable to manufacture it without him.

SF of course is Carmelo Anthony. Seems weird thinking that he’s at a crossroads in his career but he is. He’s either going to be Dominic Wilkins or Glenn Robinson and this might be the year he decides which way he’s gonna go. Clearly the 3rd best player from that draft and I’m not even sure he’s that much more valuable than Chris Bosh.

The guard positions are really a hodge-podge of players but the most important is Andre Miller. What’s shocking about him is that he can average 11 assists on a slow Cleveland team and then not pass much on a run-and-style team like the Nuggets. In between those stops he did make a pit stop on the Clippers, which could explain a lot.

This team is really solid and would be my pick for first in the division if Carmelo Anthony was actually a true superstar. He isn’t….so they aren’t. I’ll take KG in that prize fight.

What could possibly go wrong?- Well things could go from bad to worse if the normally brittle Camby should happen upon a piece of felt or a tissue paper. He might wreck his back or his knee or something….and it’s always something. However, he has been fine the past few seasons so it’s possible that all that stuff is behind him. It better be because the team would be in some very big trouble without him. I say that even though I like Francisco Elson, but I mentioned that already didn’t I?

Another issue could be minutes at the PG spot. The team already had a mini-issue on its hands with Miller and Boykins. Typically, Miller would start, they would play some together, and then Boykins would finish. However, the team gave some serious cash to Earl Watson in a move that was probably going to facilitate the trade of Andre Miller. How that situation plays out will impact team unity and chemistry. It will be a juggling act for head coach George Karl.

The season hinges on…..- Trades. I think this team is poised to make a major midseason deal. They have the depth at the guard position to land a big body. Also even though Nene is gone for the year maybe a team deals something for him knowing that he’s a free agent at the end of the year and his injury will drive his price down….much like the Eddy Curry situation this year. What GM Kiki Vandewehg can bring in is going to change the face of the team, hopefully it makes them more defensive minded.

3- Seattle Supersonics-

Why?- A very strange patchwork team that I wanted to actually put lower, but couldn’t because I’m unsure what to make of the Utah team just yet. The offseason was a mixed bag for the Sonics. They did overpay Ray Allen, to keep him, but let go some key parts of the team: Nate McMillan, Antonio Daniels, and Jerome James. The losses of Daniels and McMillan could be deeply felt. Daniels’ play was key to the team maintaining its level of play when the starters went out. He was an efficient player who can play both guard positions. McMillan did a great job coaching the team to it’s unorthodox strengths. The key to this season will be the play of the up-and-coming Luke Ridenour and Nick Collison. Both men need to play more so that the Sonics know what kind of players they have. Both men will want new contracts in upcoming seasons.

What could possibly go wrong?- Last year the team overachieved and had the kind of special season that I’m not sure they can replicate. They had the fortune of having a deep team with a fantastic coach. The depth departed through free agency and the coach left to coach the rival Trailblazers. If one assumes that the team will level out and not play so far above it’s head then there will be a natural drop…and that’s would be even if the team remained the same. When you add the FA losses to it there should be quite a drop. Not enough where the team should miss the playoffs, but the win/loss will be impacted quite a bit. If the team sees an aging Ray Allen drop in production then the team could fall even harder. It was believed that he had his best season last year….that’s bogus. He actually had a fairly mediocre year for him and his totals were only higher because of increased minutes. I could see a slight dip in his play.

The season hinges on…….- Coaching. As I already pointed out, last year, Nate got as much out of this team as one could reasonably expect. They made no real splashy acquisition and yet they won a ton more games than anyone projected. This means that they did two things: 1) They snuck up on a lot of people 2) Because of that teams took longer to figure out the book on how to stop them.

As the season went on last year they, unlike the Suns, faded as the shooting cooled back down to normal AND as teams realized how to defend them. Because they don’t get as many easy buckets as the Suns, it was easy to predict that the Sonics would fall and the Suns would maintain their early season pace.

Coaching plays into this because it will be interesting to see how this team operates under a different coach. Will they remain the perimeter team they were last year or will they try to use Collison more in an attempt to have some sort of offensive balance? I don’t think trying to replicate last year will work for this team. They don’t have the guard depth they had last year and I think teams understand better how to defend them. More balance will be the key.

4) Utah Jazz

Why?- Boy I really wanted to put them up higher. Unfortunately they have some deep question marks that still have to be answered. However, we do know about some of their strengths. Andrei Kirlenko is their best player and really one of the true game changers in the league. It’s said about many players that they can “do it all”, however with this guy the term fits: Blocking shots, stealing the ball, rebounding, and passing. The only area that needs work is a more consistent and diverse offensive game. His FG% has volleyed between 45 and 49%. Much of that, however, is due to his activity on the boards and the ability to get to the rim. His jump shooting FG% was around 42% last year…..and that was a good year. If that can rise just a few points higher he will truly be the entire package.

Another strength for the team is Mehmet Okur. In 29 minutes last year he had very respectable numbers: 13ppg and 7.5 rebs per game. Solid numbers for a center in the NBA. Being that he is still only 26 years old and will have another year in the offense, I would expect a mini-breakout season for Okur. Considering that the Sonics don’t have a real center to speak of, this can be one area that the Jazz can make up some ground on Seattle.

This team, though, has some issues that I think will prevent it from passing Seattle. First, is the fact that Carlos Boozer’s status is uncertain. He is injured to start the season and even when he was playing there were some concerns from the coaching staff as to his ability to pick up the offense and play the “Jerry Sloan Way”, whatever in the hell that means. If he can’t regain his Cleveland form then it’s a whole lot of money wasted at the PF position.

The final question mark is at the guard positions. Deron Williams was drafted 3rd to be the teams PG of the future. The question is going to be if he has enough offensive game to propel the team. It’s pretty clear he was picked over Chris Paul because he lacks some offensive punch…again only Jerry Sloan would want a PG who is worse simply so Sloan can impose more of HIS will on the offense, but it is what it is. Williams is a solid defender but it remains to be seen if he has the speed to deal with opposing PG’s. The problem the Jazz had last year was that it fouled teams so much that they gave up way too many cheap FT’s. The news rules were not kind to them. If Williams’ lack of speed is a problem, he will only make this worse.

What could possibly go wrong?- Health. Yes you could say that of any team, but this team has the track record to think it could happen against this year. Kirlenko was hurt last year, as was Boozer. Boozer is hurt again and Kirlenko has that skinny body type which makes me wonder if he won’t be battling injury his whole career. If Andrei goes down this team has NO shot of doing anything during an 82 game season. He’s just too valuable. Should anything happen to Okur, we have brontosaurs Greg Ostertag backing him up….he’s a walking nightmare and the team would be in deep trouble if it had to give him 30 minutes a game all year.

The season hinges on…..Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. At this point both are question marks that the team has invested heavily in. In Boozers case it’s his contract. Max years and nearly max money. In Williams’ case it’s a high draft choice. No team in the NBA can afford to blow high draft choices, the results are too catastrophic. To this point he seems clearly a notch below Chris Paul, whom the Jazz passed on. He must not fall too far behind Paul or his stay in Utah could be very short and set the Jazz back at least a year.

5) Portland Trailblazers-

Why?- In an attempt to rid the team of all of it’s problem children, owner Paul Allen, has given the directive to behind putting the Greek fire to the team. All of the old “jailblazers” are gone minus Ruben Patterson (and he’s going next), and in are some fresh faces. Sebastian Telfair, Joel Przybilla, Travis Outlaw, Jarret Jack, and others are in.

The team will continue, however, to bank on Zach Randolph and Darius Miles to provide most of it’s offensive punch. Randolph is back from micro fracture surgery and Miles have been given more of a green light to shoulder more of the offensive burden. Both men will need all-star years for this team to even sniff the playoffs. The team is definitely headed in the right direction, but it would take some major years from it’s youth movement to get this team out of last place.

What could possibly go wrong?- The youth might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Any team that will play as much youth as the Blazers will, always has a shot be really horrible. Chemistry issues could also be a concern as Randolph has never been known as an easy player to get along with. He is horrible/unwilling to pass out of double-teams and this must change; not only for the teams sanity, but for his growth as a player. Another player that must fit in is Darius Miles. While he isn’t a particularly selfish player, there is a reason why the guy has been passed around more times than Debbie was in Dallas. Can Miles take more shots without it hurting the team’s flow? That will be something for Blazers fans to monitor this season.

The season hinges on……..- The potential chemistry problems. With young teams it really does go either way. With little pressure and fun-loving personalities the young teams have a great opportunity to surpass expectations. It feels like there are enough shots for all and the pace is generally faster…which young players like. However, at some point all the players are hungry to make a name for themselves. Secondarily, most of them are on short contracts and they want the stats that will ensure a long term deal. It’s happened with the Clippers a million times where all the young bucks want to make a name for themselves and they cannibalize the team in the process. I don’t think that will happen here, but it’s something that will dictate the rise or fall of this team.

Southwest Division

1) San Antonio Spurs-

Why?- Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Mike Finley, Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry, Nick Van Exel, Brent Barry, Nazr Mohammed, and Greg Popovich. Enough said. There is a TON of talent on this team, to the point where the only concern will be how to divide the minutes up. However, the best thing about this team is not just that it has stars on it, but that it’s top 3 players are also it’s most unselfish players. None of them will whine when Pop benches them in blowouts to decrease wear-and-tear. None of them will whine about shots of the lack of. This team is built for an 82 game season just as much as it’s ready to defend it’s title.

What could possibly go wrong?- Not a whole hell of a lot. There are some age issues from a few of the players that the team will be counting on. Finley, Van Exel, Horry, and Bowen have all seen their best days pass them by. It seems like it happens all the time where a team goes from great to not in a matter of a season…all because they collectively age at once. What should prevent this with this team is that the big 3 are all either very young or in the prime of their careers. It would take a massive bench collapse to hurt this team.

Another issue could be that they are in a brutal division. At least 2 of the other teams in this division are title contenders, and even the Memphis Grizzlies could be a very solid team out West. Maybe the cumulative effect of all those tough games, plus the long title run last year, could wear the team out. But I don’t see it. I see another division win and another run at the ring.

The season hinges on……..- Center play. The team got some solid play last year from Nazr when they acquired him from the Knicks for Malik Rose. The team is able to cover up Nazr’s defensive liability, but his rebounding and solid FG% are huge boons for a team that really has used him properly since acquiring him. The fact of the matter is that a player like him is infinitely more valuable on a great team, than a bad one. Many players (mostly guards) are the exact opposite. The backup is Rasho Nesterovich. He is basically garbage and his signing was probably one of the very very few mistakes RC Buford has made in his time with the club. He needs to step up and be slightly better than garbage if for no other reason than to justify his contract and his existence on this planet.

2) Houston Rockets-

Why?- What a dogfight it should be at the top of this division. The Spurs, Rockets, and Mavs are all title contenders in my book. The reason I have the Spurs on top is because of depth. The reason the Rockets are 2nd is because they have some serious individual talent and maybe the most dynamic player in the game: Lonny Baxter. Just kidding.

Tracy McGrady had the kind of explosion last year that made even JVG take the reigns off his prehistoric offense. McGrady scores something like 9 points in the final 10 seconds of a game last year (or something ridiculous like that) and from that point on Jeff Van Gundy basically let TMac play the best way for him to play: Wide open. Yes in the half court the ball still went through Yao Ming, but the shackles were off McGrady and he had a great 2nd half of the season.

The key this year will be how well new additions play. The team signed Stromile Swift to bolster the defense. Contrary to popular belief Ming isn’t a great defender because he’s incredibly slow. You’d expect several more blocks from him, but he just doesn’t have the foot speed to be a big time weak-side helper. Swift should improve that. Swift also puts up solid offensive numbers in limited minutes.

Rafer Alston was brought over in a trade involving Mike James. While Alston is more talented one wonders about that move. James is the typical JVG PG: Tough, clutch, and not prone to trying to take games over one-on-one. Alston appears to be the exact opposite. This relationship has “3 Mile Island” written all over it.

What could possibly go wrong?- Well TMac is already hurt. That would destroy this team like nothing else. He should be back, but injury has always been an issue for Tracy. The PG situation that I talked about could blow up in the teams face. James and even Bob Sura were better fits than Alston, but it appears like the front office wants a more dynamic team. How that fits into JVG’s plans will loom large.

Lastly, will Yao Ming make the “leap”? If he doesn’t or he regresses, one wonders what kind of psychological impact that will have on him and the team. He was a very hyped #1 pick who was expected to carry the torch from Shaq. So far the only torch he’s grabbing is the one from Rik Smits. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but life is about expectations, not just production. And Ming will always be held to that kind of expectation. Hopefully, he starts living up to it.

The season hinges on……- A midseason move. Simply put this team is right there with the Spurs in terms of overall talent. From star player to coach they can hand with the Spurs’, the Pistons’, and Heat of the league. What the team seems to lack is some depth and some outside shooting. Getting a big-time 3pt threat could be the final piece. One big advantage the Rockets have over other teams are that they are strongest exactly where the Spurs are weakest. The Trailblazers and Kings almost used that formula to best the Lakers during their run. They have the most dynamic player on either team and they have a much better center. Can they fill in the pieces? That’s the question Rocket fans are asking this season.

3) Dallas Mavericks-

Why?- A lot of people are projecting some minor doom-and-gloom for this team. Gone are Steve Nash and Mike Finley. Gone appears to be the Don Nelson run game for a more “traditional” philosophy that stresses some defense and ball control. While some of the star power is gone, I personally think that some of the smart moves of the past will help this team actually be better than it has been in years past.

First was drafting Josh Howard, Marquis Daniels, and Devin Harris. All three either provide defense or guard depth. Since the team has little shot in besting the guards of the Spurs, they at least can match their defensive intensity and/or depth. Howard, in particular, will be the lynchpin to a vastly improved defense. He’s solid swiping the ball and he’s an above average shot blocker for his position.

Next was acquiring Jason Terry in a deal with the Atlanta Hawks. It’s true that Terry has never been a prototypical PG, however last year he turned in a marvelous playoff performance and solidified his spot in the starting lineup. While he isn’t the playmaker that Nash is, he is a better defender and the drop off was very slight….not to mention he’s considerably younger.

Obviously, the reason the team contends is because of Dirk Diggler. Yes his defense is awful, but he is probably the best offensive weapon in the league. You have a 7 footer who is one of the best defenders in the game, who can get to the line just about whenever he wants, and who has developed a nice post game to compliment all the rest of what he does. He should get even more touches this year and the team will be better for it. Since voters almost never look at defense when voting MVP, Dirk could very easily win it this year.

What could possibly go wrong?- What could go wrong starts and ends with the center position. For starters Erick Dampier should continue his decline into obscurity. He was never that valuable to begin with, and he continues to be way more hyped than he is valuable. He provides some toughness against crap teams, but shows very little against the top flight players. If he can’t shut down the Okurs of the world then he’s pointless to have on the team because the team could go several other ways.

What’s sad is that Dampier is as good as it gets for the Mavs at that position. Behind him are names of “legendary” status: DeSagana Diop, Didier Ilunga-Mbenga, Pavel Podunkadunk, and Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. If this group provides very little, it will hurt this team in the playoffs. And as we all know: “But DeSagana harvest is when I need you the most!!”

The season hinges on…..- The PG position. Jason Terry and Devin Harris have to work out some sort of rotation that is acceptable to both and then within that they have to play in a way that optimizes the teams strengths. They must defend and they must feed Diggler as often as possible without neglecting Josh Howard. It’s gonna be a real balancing act for the team, but I think both players will be better able to handle that this year than last.

4) Memphis Jerry Wests-

Why?- If you understand what the Grizz are doing, please raise your hand? It isn’t that I don’t like what is going on down there, but I’m not sure exactly where this is all going. Out are James Posey, Jason Williams, Earl Watson, and Stromile Swift. In are Eddie Jones, Damon Stoudamire, Bobby Jackson, and John Thomas. To me it appears like shuffling chairs on the deck of the Titanic….except this team isn’t nearly the disaster that was.

The starting lineup, however, is intriguing: Stoudamire, Jones, Battier, Gasol, and Wright. It’s has balance between offense and defense while having offensive balance between backcourt and frontcourt. My guess is that West is intent on acquiring tons of solid players in an attempt to pull off some 2-for-1’s to get some stars around Pau Gasol. But that’s a guess because, as I said before, I have no idea what West is actually doing. One thing I do think he did right though was drafting Hakim Warrick, who looks like he could have a solid future in this league.

What could possibly go wrong?- Well there are questions at almost every position. The guards are old and injury-prone. Not that they have each had a ton of disastrous injury, but both play styles that seem conducive to injury. Jones is a defender who likes to mix it up whenever he can, and Damon likes to get in among the trees to rebound.

At the SF spot you have Shane Battier. On one hand you could seem him as a do-it-all type who doesn’t need a ton of shots to be happy and plays solid defense. On the other hand he doesn’t do anything spectacularly and isn’t a great shooter on a team that needs it. On a team with plenty of scoring he’s fine, but I wonder this team will have consistent offense this season….and his lack of punch is partially why.

Finally, Lorenzen Wright. He needs a big year because frankly he has been pretty pedestrian in recent times and doesn’t provide as much rebounding as one would expect from a guy with the kind of physical presence as he has. He can score 18 one game and then literally 2 the next. I felt for a long time that Gasol and Swift were the better frontcourt combination, but West kept Wright….so we’ll see.

The season hinges on……- The platoon system. Every since Hubie Brown the Grizz have stuck with this stupid platoon system. In theory it seems like a smart idea. Take advantage of the teams depth and wear other teams out. However, all it seemed to do was take minutes from players who clearly needed more (Gasol and Swift) and give them to players who clearly didn’t (Wright). Secondly, I think it hurt some of the shooters like Mike Miller from finding their rhythm. Depth is one thing, but I happen to believe the old axiom that if you have 8 starters it means you really don’t have 5. In the Grizzlies case they have had some dynamic players…..they just haven’t given them proper minutes.

So this year we will see if they continue it or if they go to a more “traditional” substitute pattern. I hope for their sake that they do.

5) New Orleans Hornets

Why?- They don’t have the horses. The only interest in their season will be if the young backcourt of Paul and Smith can be as dynamic as it appears. Secondarily how well will Chris Anderson play. If you get a chance to watch him (not in dunk competition) it is definitely worth the price of admission. I have never watched a player and actually thought he was insane. Ok, Rodman was….but nobody else. And then this comes along and I have to wonder. I think Denver made a huge mistake letting him go, but they didn’t have the minutes for him so I understand what happened.

If it seems like I’m not talking much about the team it’s because they have no shot of doing anything. I’m sure they will have their share of win streaks and so on, but it’s 82 games people….they don’t have it.

What could possibly go wrong?- Well for starters the city is under water. That’s probably problem #1. Secondly, the owners are total morons who couldn’t make a pro team work in the womb of basketball (UNC, Duke), and have now basically done nothing of import in N.O.

The team lacks serious talent for a few more seasons and for whatever reason they dealt the only good pure center they have for a SF that is basically a solid player….but nothing they actually needed.

In other words, what could possibly go wrong….has.

The season hinges on…..- The development of Paul and Smith. If they turn out to be fantastic players than this season will not be a waste no matter how it turns out. The only thing I’m keeping my eye on is if they do better or worse than the expansion team that just took their city: The Bobcats.

Preseason Awards

MVP- Dirk Nowitzki
Yes I do put defense in the picture, but this guy puts a solid Dallas team on his back and gets them deep into the playoffs.

Rookie of the Year- Chris Paul
Could win ROY for the whole league as long as he does what all PG’s do on teams that have a little talent as this one: Score like crazy.

Coach of the Year- Greg Popovic
I still can’t tell if it’s the players who are unselfish or if he has the kind of personality that demands it of his team. Probably both, but he gets a ton of credit for how this team functions. The anti-Lakers.

Most Overpaid- Adonal Foyle/ Mike Finley Tie
Finley is making 18million this year and was a cap cut for the Mavs. His value is diminished because he will be a backup. In Foyle’s case he’s being paid roughly 9 million bucks a year to suck. Thank you Chris Mullin!

Best Nickname- Zarko Cabarkapa
I call him CrapCakes and I have no clue why. Especially since he might turn out to be a nice player.

Who’s in the playoffs:

San Antonio Spurs
Houston Rockets
Minnesota TWolves
Denver Nuggets
Dallas Mavericks
Golden State Warriors
Sacramento Kings
Phoenix Suns

WCF:

Rockets over Spurs in 7

NBA Finals:

Rockets vs. Heat (Always dangerous to project teams with Shaq and TMac going far due to injury)

It’s the final countdown…..do da doodoo

Thanks to Patrick for continuing to tell you all about my work. Luckily for me the guy is a hell of writer and funny, which means you love him and that means you see my name at least once a week.

Eugene talks about MLB offseason needs. For a part-time MLB fan like me, this column was fantastic because it broke it all down into tiny nuggets that even I could understand. I found myself saying “I have no idea who they need, but I’m taking THIS guys word for it.” Go check it out.

Nick does what he does, which is always fantastic, but this week there is the added twist of telling you who your team’s MVP is up to this point. You might agree with him about your team’s MVP, but he makes a solid argument in every case.