NBA

NBA Extensions

Midnight marked the deadline for rookies from the 2009 NBA Draft to work out an extension with their teams. The Thunder couldn’t reach an agreement with James Harden and now he’s in Houston. In less publicized news, however, several other notable players from that draft class worked out deals just before the deadline.

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors: 4 years, $40 million

DeRozan’s reputation around the NBA has largely remained constant since his days as a draft prospect. He is blessed with tremendous physical tools, can be an explosive scorer, and if he ever makes the jump to being a 22 ppg guy and do it while being more efficient, he could be the starting shooting guard on a decent team. However, none of this has happened. He remains a talented young player, but without almost any indication he will become more efficient, he is more likely to end up like an early-career Jason Richardson than the centerpiece (or even second option) on a good team. If he doesn’t make the jump this year with an outstanding point guard (Kyle Lowry) and solid supporting cast, he may not go to any level beyond that.

Judging the contract is a little hard since post-Lockout GMs/Owners seem to be just as dumb with contracts as pre-Lockout GMs/Owners. In free agency, DeRozan likely would have received this offer from someone. The Raptors re-signing him likely means that the Raptors were also unwilling to find a trade partner. Just off the top of my head, there are a few teams that would at least field serious offers about DeRozan. The Bucks would likely be interested in re-uniting their current franchise centerpiece (Brandon Jennings) with his childhood running mate. There are certainly enough pieces to make this work, but I think the bottom line is that Toronto wants to win now. They aren’t interested in re-shuffling the deck in hopes of a better mix. Frankly, I agree with them. I have little to no interest in paying DeRozan 10m per year, but they are a pretty solid team right now and they will likely make the playoffs this year.

Jrue Holiday, Phildelphia 76ers: 4 years, $41 million

Jrue is in a somewhat similar situation to DeRozan. He is still young, still has plenty of upside, but he hasn’t made much progress year-to-year. He is a fairly important part of the 76ers plans moving forward, and I suppose continuity is worth some extra money, but he just doesn’t do the things you think he’d do. He is extremely athletic but doesn’t get to the rim in the halfcourt often or get to the line (1.8 FTA/game last year). The Sixers offense liked to run a lot last year, but he still didn’t rack up assists in those minutes. Stats are not everything, but on a team that struggled offensively last year, you’d think he would take a bigger role.

Maybe the best way to view Jrue is alongside two point guards who did not get their extensions: Darren Collison and Brandon Jennings. In Indiana, Collison was a speedy, smart point guard who (until the Orlando series) was slightly subpar on defense and was just kind of underwhelming. He would have magnificent stretches where he would hit his mid-range jumper and be aggressive and make the Pacers offense unstoppable. But for much longer stretches he’d struggle with his mid-range pull-up jumper, lose his aggression and find ways to not make full use of his skill set. When the Pacers swapped him (indirectly) for D.J. Augustin, they got a player who was not as good, but who could utilize his skill set more efficiently than Collison did. I do not watch enough 76ers games to state this outright, but Jrue strikes me as another guy with a skill set he doesn’t use efficiently.

Brandon Jennings didn’t get his extension either. He is a quick, sometimes explosive, guard with a very underrated game as a creator. The defensive-reputation of the Bucks sometimes overshadows that for long stretches last season, the Bucks were an outstanding offensive team, particularly with their passing. Jennings’ inconsistent jump shot and inability to finish in the lane (probably a height and loss-of-hops problem) have been well-documented but not nearly as well as his consistency in running the offense and being a productive player. BUT, once again the issue is efficiency. Can Brandon Jennings do his job on this team? Absolutely. Could a lesser player execute the same sets and bring similar skills at a much lower price? Yes.

That’s what it comes down to for Jrue. This contract is a hope that he becomes a player who can utilize his skill set better and jump up a level in the point guard hierarchy, but if that doesn’t happen, this contract will look fairly bad in 3 years.

Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls: 4 years, $32 million guaranteed w/ 6 million in incentives extra possible (thus the reporting of 4/38m)

Gee, I wonder who has been teaching Gibson how to yell……

Taj Gibson’s deal is a complete departure from the last two guys we talked about. The Bulls frankly couldn’t afford to let Gibson go, and yet they took a very hard line with him. It is no secret that Bulls fans hate Carlos Boozer and that the Bulls have very little interest in keeping him around. Gibson is probably the better player right now even though Chicago’s likely offensive struggles this year will be slightly ameliorated by Boozer’s presence. On the open market, I would think Gibson could get a Millsap-type deal. His offensive game isn’t as refined as Millsap, but his defense is much better and the value of each is likely similar in free agency. I think Bulls fans would have been happy to extend him for 4 years, $48 million, but they got a discount, so a small round of applause for the penny-pinching Reinsdorf.

Other Things I Wanted To Comment On

All-NBA 2012 Second Round Draft Picks

PG: Tyshawn Taylor (BKN)- There weren’t a ton of PGs in the second round that will see significant minutes and I didn’t see Isaiah Thomas (SAC) on this list.

SG: Doron Lamb (MIL)- Plenty of minutes and I am betting on a Monta Ellis trade.

SF: Jae Crowder (DAL)- Hustle, muscle, decent shooting. Marquette connections had to influence on this pick.

SF (because I didn’t want to pick a PF): Darius Miller (NO)- Should see minutes on an exciting team. If I had to pick a PF, it would be Kris Joseph, but he won’t see enough time.

F/C: Kyle O’Quinn (ORL)- Someone has to play well for them, right?

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Three Players to Watch (Atlanta Hawks)

The “Three Players to Watch” series is brought to you by the OuttaTownClowns, covering each of the league’s 30 teams providing you with insight on three guys that should demand your attention next season. As you can always expect at the OTC, not every player noted are a team’s top player, instead it may just be a player’s particular situation that’s worth following if you’re a die-hard NBA fan. Up first, the Atlanta Hawks featuring the Three J’s: Jeff, John, and Josh…

1. Jeff Teague

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Teague’s future in Atlanta after next season is definitely up in the air

A quick glance at Teague’s year-by-year regular season statistics shows steady improvement each year. Naturally his overall statistics also have to do with receiving increased playing time that hit an all-time high this past season as Teague started in all of the Hawks 66 games last season averaging 33 minutes per outing. However it’s likely Teague won’t be seeing yet another improvement in his performances next season due to the Hawks offseason moves. This summer the Hawks’ two biggest additions came at the guard positions adding Devin Harris via the Joe Johnson trade with Brooklyn and signing free agent guard Louis Williams. It’s unclear as to whether or not the Hawks organization are left unconvinced Teague’s their point guard going forward in the future; but this upcoming season surely is a make or break season for Teague that should determine whether he’ll be considered starter quality or one of the NBA’s best backup point guards come next offseason. Unfortunately Teague may be facing a challenge too tough to overcome, as it’s likely his minutes of opportunity will be decreased with both Harris and Williams on board. In order to prove his worth as a starter Teague must continue to improve his three-point shooting percentage (34% last season) and most importantly his distribution rate as he averaged just below 5 assists per game last season. It’ll be tough and interesting task to watch Teague try to improve yet again next season.

2. John Jenkins

ImageUndoubtedly one of the more NBA-ready rookies in this year’s draft class Jenkins will get a chance to shine in the Hawks rotation next season. Reviewing the Hawks depth chart that includes Anthony Morrow and DeShawn Stevenson, there’s a decent chance you may even see Jenkins starting in the shooting guard slot if Head Coach Larry Drew decides to go against the idea of a Teague/Harris backcourt that would lack the 3-point shooting threat that Jenkins certainly provides. Just recently, Jenkins received 48.6% of his peers votes as best shooter in a rookie poll that was released by NBA.com. Jenkins led the nation in three-pointers made per game last season connecting on nearly 4 treys a game. If Jenkins can quickly transition his consistent long range shooting ability to the NBA, he’ll earn a spot on one of the NBA All-Rookie teams.

3. Josh Smith

Last year he was an All-Star game snub, this year he enters a contract year. Watch out folks, Josh Smith is on a mission to get paid! Fantasy basketball players should jump on the opportunity of drafting this guy early into the first round. Last year J-Smoov nearly averaged a double-double putting up 18.8 ppg and collecting 9.6 boards a game, not to mention also averaging 1.4 spg and 1.7 bpg respectively. With the departure of Joe Johnson, Smith will average 20 points and 10 rebounds a game with ease next year. Rest assured he’ll also continue to hold down a 1.5 steals per game average and don’t be a bit surprised to see him get raise his blocks average to 2 per game. With that here’s the first bold statistical prediction for next season: 22.5 ppg, 11 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.5 spg, 2.1 bpg= Josh Smith.                                                       

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J-Smoov will produce eye-popping numbers this season

The Heat: A Few Days After

It has been a few days since the Heat completed their collapse and the Mavericks completed their first NBA Championship. I am not here to talk about that. I am not here to talk about LeBron’s post-game comments, nor the ring v bracelet debate, nor anything involved with all that. I know it is a novel idea, so do not pat me on the back too much, but I am here to talk basketball. That’s right, I am here to ponder what the Heat ought to do going into next year with the likely hard salary cap and doubts about how the big three fits together.

The first question is whether the big three is going to stay together. We all sort of realized going in that this was not the best big three that could be built (maybe Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony if we aren’t using the players involved) because Wade and LeBron did kind of the same thing and Chris Bosh was a good player who looked inflated by being the only player on the Raptors worth  noting. However, when they joined forced and Chris Bosh turned down the chance to retire as a Raptor and become the mascot, we all sort of tabled that fear because, hell, it was LeBron, Wade and Bosh on the same team. Months later, we are realizing that our initial doubts weren’t foolish or contrived, but at least had some kind of backing to them. So the question going into the offseason is if the big three needs changing. The answer is that it does not need changing, but they should look into it a little.

LeBron’s post game has been something that I, and others, have thought about a lot before this year, but now it seems like it is a necessity going into the offseason if the Heat are going to become the force we thought. He has never really had to play off the ball in his career, and so it is understandable that he hasn’t developed it, but it really would make him unstoppable-er. Regardless of if he adds this to his game or not, he is not going anywhere and is still the best player in the NBA by a fairly considerable margin. It is easy to pile on LeBron after the finals and forget how he eviscerated the Bulls and would have been the NVP had Rose not gone from fascinatingly talented to spectacular. He can get better, which is absolutely frightening, but he is not going to get moved or anything of the sort.

Dwyane Wade is Mr. Heat and I would be shocked to see him move after so many years in Miami. The “fans” would probably mutiny, and I could not blame them too much. However, from a basketball perspective, I wouldn’t blame them too much for moving him, especially if they were to find a way to make it for a certain player who also plays in Florida and occasionally wears a cape during the dunk contest. It would never happen, but are you telling me Orlando would turn down Wade for Howard? Does it not also make the Heat a more balanced team? Maybe I am missing a key component from a purely basketball standpoint, but if not for that fan mutiny in Miami, that trade is pretty interesting to me. However, it will never happen, especially with the Magic. If I were Pat Riley, I would let people make offers for Wade, but only if it was an absolutely fantastic offer. While he is an outstanding closer and one of the best players in the league he is a little redundant on this team right now.

Mean, but not inaccurate

Bosh is the member of the Heat trio most likely to leave, and while there will certainly be suitors, I do not think they can get value for him like they want. However, they might not have much of a choice given the potential hard cap and the unlikely scenario of someone wanting to take on Mike Miller for his current price and giving the Heat anything for him. If Bosh leaves, that means one big thing and one smaller thing for the Heat. The big thing is that LeBron would need that post game now rather than later. Bosh was never really a low-post scorer, but just the option of scoring in the paint without a dribble-drive would be nice for the Heat. The smaller issue would be getting full value for Bosh if he is moved. He is better than he is perceived to be right now and it could be hard to get the pieces you want for him, especially with his contract. I do not think he will get moved, but I wouldn’t be too shocked if he did as he is clearly the weakest of the trio.

So what gets changed? Almost nothing if you ask me. I would try to move Bosh for a defensive big man who is a good rebounder and a few other pieces if someone will offer it. I am in no way comparing Jordan to LeBron here because they hardly belong in the same sentence, but think of it as adding a less crazy Rodman to Wade and LeBron’s Jordan-Pippen. A Joakim Noah type would be fantastic, though they are never going to get a guy like that.  Even with the hard salary cap coming, I am not sure if they will be able to move Bosh even if they want to.

The role players will change themselves, and that is probably for the best. Less Mike Bibby and Juwan Howard is good for everyone. As long as they can find serviceable role players around the league, and there are a litany of them, they will be fine and should be considered favorites going into next year. It is easy to be reactionary and say “blow it up” but there are no rosters I would take over theirs right now. In a one-game situation, they probably have the best defense in the league, have the potential to have the most dynamic offense in the league if they can play together, and still should make any team’s coaching staff lose sleep. They failed when it mattered most but they are still fantastic players.

Are there changes they can make that will make them better? Absolutely, and not making those moves would be a disservice to the players and fans, but let’s not get crazy after a Finals disappointment. Once you get over your visceral reaction, if you can, to what a dick-move LeBron pulled on Cleveland, and get over everything involved with that, there are few teams who have the potential to play better basketball than the Heat. They can play the energetic, athletically jaw-dropping defense we crave, and the virtuoso offensive performances we all want to see. If the names on the jerseys were erased and the faces were blurred out, everyone who loves basketball, and only basketball, would love the Heat. Of course, you can’t erase the names, faces, or the emotions we all carry about the Heat, but from a purely basketball standpoint, you cannot help but be fascinated by this team. They are worthy of every ounce of your hate if you are from Cleveland or still hold “The Decision” against LeBron (and ESPN), but no matter what, there is an element of you that loves the way the Heat are capable of playing. It is what makes them such a compelling team to hate. Like the Joker in The Dark Knight, Tyler Durden in Fight Club  and others, the enemy is most compelling when we see something of ourselves or something we admire in them. The Heat really can, and occasionally do, play beautiful basketball. You can hate them if you want, but you cannot claim to really love basketball and not hold out some respect for them.

So they need to make some changes, but it likely will not be directly with their big three. The biggest changes that have to be made are within each of the players, especially LeBron who is the best player in the league as it is. Can he accept coaching? Can he look inward and realize what he has to change? Does he have the drive he needs to push himself without anyone else pushing him? I don’t have the slightest clue, but by the end of next year we will know if LeBronis the next Wilt, stacking up the stats on pure athletic superiority or a player worth admiring for his prodigious play regardless of athleticism like Bird and others.

Congrats to the Mavs. Here is everyone's favorite Mavs picture.

No matter what, two things are sure. One, the CBA could change everything I just wrote; and two, no single team gives us more to hate and like at the same time than the Miami Heat.

 

A few unrelated thoughts just to close us out:

  • I want Deron Williams to go to LA. To the Clippers.
  • Steve Nash should get a shot at a title next year, Unfortunately he will be with the Suns or Knicks, eliminating that possibility.
  • The Lakers are done as title contenders. So are the Celtics. So are the Spurs. All of this barring some big changes.
  • I like the Warriors next year if they can move Monta Ellis for a proper center and find a wing in the draft or elsewhere.
  • DeShawn has a tattoo of the $5 bill on his neck. He wore a shirt asking LeBron how his Dirk tastes. He jsut got arrested for public intoxication where he did not know where he was. He called the Heat classless after the finals. We need to rename the all-crazy team after him.
  • That was one of the better Finals I have seen in a long long time.

 

2010-11 NBA Preview: Southwest Division

Dallas Mavericks (55-27 last season)

Dallas needs the Mavericks to play well since their beloved Cowboys have been garbage.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Jason Kidd

Shooting Guard: Caron Butler

Small Forward: Shawn Marion

Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki

Center: Brendan Haywood

Key Reserves:

Guard: Roddy Beaubois

Guard: Jason Terry

Center: Tyson Chandler

The Dallas Mavericks are going to be strong again and the addition of Tyson Chandler to back up Brendan Haywood should help on the defensive end.  Chandler has lost a step in his game, but he still has the skills to be a great reserve big man.  The shooting guard and small forward spot will also be interesting to watch.  Caron Butler and Shawn Marion cannot carry their positions alone.  They will need Jason Terry, Roddy Beaubois and rookie Dominique Jones to figure into the mix and log solid minutes.  Beaubois could even be the eventual replacement to Jason Kidd.  Roddy has an explosive first step, three-point range and has the ability to finish at the hoop.  This team still hinges on Dirk Nowitzki’s success and will prove to be a top team in the West.

Houston Rockets (42-40 last season)

Yao is healthy and ready to take Houston far in the playoffs.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Aaron Brooks

Shooting Guard: Kevin Martin

Small Forward: Shane Battier

Power Forward: Luis Scola

Center: Yao Ming

Key Reserves:

Guard: Courtney Lee

Forward: Chase Budinger

Center: Brad Miller

Yao Ming is back!  This is great news for Rockets’ fans.  Yao has also been playing like his old self in preseason.  With a healthy Yao all season, I have big expectations for this team.  Their leader on defense is back and a huge low post presence will be reinstated in Houston.  Granted, the number of minutes he will play will be low, but he is the key to the Rockets reemergence.  Trevor Ariza is gone and Chase Budinger will be the one to benefit the most from this loss.  Budinger has everything you would want in a small forward.  He can jump, shoot, defend and pass.  Look for a great second season for the man from Arizona.  Kevin Martin will also be poised for another 20+ point season.  I think the Rockets have the best chance to knock off the Lakers if they can make it to the Western Conference Finals.

San Antonio Spurs (50-32 last season)

Take your pick on who gets injured first.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Tony Parker

Shooting Guard: Manu Ginobili

Small Forward: Richard Jefferson

Power Forward: Tim Duncan

Center: Antonio McDyess

Key Reserves:

Guard: George Hill

Forward: DeJuan Blair

Forward-Center: Tiago Splitter

For the first time in years, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are entering the season fit and healthy.  I believe this big three still has some game in them left to be played, but time is running out.  Two-time Spanish League MVP, Tiago Splitter, was brought in to back up Duncan and should provide great defense and rebounding.  If Splitter can provide, Duncan can hopefully be fresh for the playoffs, and this is what head coach Greg Popovich wants.  Richard Jefferson also needs to bury a disappointing last season and be ready to produce for the Spurs on both ends of the floor.  I think this will be a good team, but the greatness of the Spurs has run out.

Memphis Grizzlies (40-42 last season)

Gay will be looking to propel the Grizzlies to greatness.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Mike Conley

Shooting Guard: O.J. Mayo

Small Forward: Rudy Gay

Power Forward: Zach Randolph

Center: Marc Gasol

Key Reserves:

Guard: Tony Allen

Guard: Xavier Henry

Center: Hasheem Thabeet

Rudy Gay is slowly turning into a big time superstar.  By playing with Team USA this summer, Gay will be taking that next step to becoming great and the rest of the Grizzlies must follow suit.  With Gay, O.J. Mayo and Zach Randolph, Memphis has no trouble putting the ball into the hoop, but defense is their major issue.  Centers Marc Gasol and Hasheem Thabeet need to be the catalysts for defensive presence.  Mike Conley also needs to excel his game.  Now entering his fourth season, Conley needs to improve from being just a mediocre point guard for the Grizzlies to be playoff contenders.  This team is very young and has the potential to have a 2009-10 Oklahoma City type season.

New Orleans Hornets (37-45 last season)

CP3's eyes are on the prize, but does he have the team to do it?

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Chris Paul

Shooting Guard: Marco Belinelli

Small Forward: Trevor Ariza

Power Forward: David West

Center: Emeka Okafor

Key Reserves:

Guard: Jerryd Bayless

Guard: Marcus Thornton

Forward: Peja Stojakovic

I feel the Southwest Division is very competitive and even though the Hornets will be an improvement from last season, they will still finish last.  Chris Paul is back to being healthy and he has two new exciting swingmen: Trevor Ariza and Jerryd Bayless.  With Paul at the helm, the Hornets are definitely going to push the tempo to take advantage in the open floor.  Ariza thrives off of this style of play, and Bayless could prove to be a great back up for Paul.  Bayless will also get time at the shooting guard position to play with Paul.  Emeka Okafor and David West need to improve the defense which had an open-door policy to the rim last season.  All-in-all, I just don’t see it happening for the Hornets this year.

2010-11 NBA Preview: Pacific Division

Los Angeles Lakers (57-25 last season)

The reigning champs would love for a three-peat.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Derek Fisher

Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant

Small Forward: Ron Artest

Power Forward: Pau Gasol

Center: Andrew Bynum

Key Reserves:

Guard: Steve Blake

Guard-Forward: Matt Barnes

Forward: Lamar Odom

I believe this Laker team only got better by adding Steve Blake and Matt Barnes.  Blake will prove to be a much better backup to Derek Fisher than Jordan Farmar.  Blake is a savvy veteran with a solid shooting stroke and will run this team very well.  He will also help the Lakers dismal three point percentage that they had last season.  Kobe Bryant will be Kobe Bryant, regardless if he’s hurt or healthy.  The man is the closest to Jordan that I have seen.  If Ron Artest can play like he did in the playoffs for the entire season it’s game over.  The Lakers are still the best team, even after the moves the Heat made, and they will prove it with their third title in a row.

Phoenix Suns (54-28 last season)

When will the "fountain of youth" run out of water.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Steve Nash

Shooting Guard: Jason Richardson

Small Forward: Grant Hill

Power Forward: Hedo Turkoglu

Center: Robin Lopez

Key Reserves:

Guard: Goran Dragic

Guard-Forward: Josh Childress

Forward: Jared Dudley

The Suns have improved in some areas and in others they are going to be drastically lost.  Losing Amar’e Stoudemire is going to be tough to get over, and Robin Lopez must step up big time if Phoenix wants to prove they can still play in the West.  Rebounding will be an important stat to keep in mind, because even with Stoudemire they weren’t that great.  Channing Frye, Hedo Turkoglu and Hakim Warrick all need to bring down more rebounds than they are used to doing.  I still have faith that this new look team can make the playoffs, but will they make it past the first round?  For more on the Suns check out this article: Planet Orange Shining Bright

Los Angeles Clippers (29-53 last season)

Healthy and ready to show why he was the No. 1 pick.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Baron Davis

Shooting Guard: Eric Gordon

Small Forward: Ryan Gomes

Power Forward: Blake Griffin

Center: Chris Kaman

Key Reserves:

Guard: Eric Bledsoe

Forward: Rasual Butler

Forward: Al-Farouq Aminu

The Clippers are going to be a much improved squad this year, and it really can be thanks to a healthy Blake Griffin.  He is an immediate impact player and will be a significant boost to the chemistry of this team.  The starting lineup for the Clippers seems solid, but the reserves will be a little shaky.  None of them have really proven to be NBA dependable and there are also a lot of rookies on the roster (Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu and Willie Warren).  Ultimately, the Clippers are going to go as Baron Davis goes.  He will have the ball in his hands a majority of the time trying to set up other players, and if he’s off then the rest of the team will be out of sync.  I see the Clippers missing the playoffs, but not by a whole lot.

Sacramento Kings (25-57 last season)

The catalyst of this youthful team.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Tyreke Evans

Shooting Guard: Beno Udrih

Small Forward: Omri Casspi

Power Forward: Carl Landry

Center: Samuel Dalembert

Key Reserves:

Guard-Forward: Francisco Garcia

Forward: Donte Greene

Forward-Center: DeMarcus Cousins

A lot is going in the right direction for the Kings: Tyreke Evans is turning into a superstar, they are stacked at the power forward and center position, and the losing ways could be over this season.  This team reminds me of the 76ers though.  They have no shooters.  Tyreke is improving but still isn’t quite there.  Omri Casspi is a streaky shooter and same with Beno Udrih.  Both Donte Greene and Francisco Garcia have a chance of cracking the starting lineup and shooting consistently will be the key.  Also look for DeMarcus Cousins to slowly start taking more and more minutes away from Samuel Dalembert as the season progresses.

Golden State Warriors (26-56 last season)

Out of New York and out of the pressure.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Stephen Curry

Shooting Guard: Monta Ellis

Small Forward: Dorell Wright

Power Forward: David Lee

Center: Andris Biedrins

Key Reserves:

Guard: Charlie Bell

Guard-Forward: Rodney Carney

Forward: Louis Amundson

David Lee must provide for this team.  The Warriors shipped three players away to acquire Lee and they are looking for something in return.  Stephen Curry is proving that he can play in the NBA and he is coming off an impressive rookie season.  His continued development will be the main focal point because who knows how much longer Monta Ellis will be around.  Golden State should have no problem rebounding with Lee and Andris Biedrins and their defense should be much improved by adding Louis Amundson.  With a few bright spots, I still feel this team will finish last in the division.

2010-11 NBA Preview: Northwest Division

Oklahoma City Thunder (50-32 last season)

How could I not put up a picture of Kevin Durant? MVP? I think so.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Russell Westbrook

Shooting Guard: Thabo Sefolosha

Small Forward: Kevin Durant

Power Forward: Jeff Green

Center: Nenad Krstic

Key Reserves:

Guard: Eric Maynor

Guard: James Harden

Forward-Center: Serge Ibaka

The Thunder are still so young, yet so talented.  They can’t get ahead of themselves though.  This new success needs to be handled correctly and it cannot get into their heads or else they could possibly have a massive meltdown.  For example, take the 2008-09 New Orleans Hornets.  They are the perfect example of that.  They biggest concern I have for the Thunder is their shooting.  Other than Kevin Durant, it was an adventure for them last season.  Hopefully the additions of Daequan Cook and Morris Peterson can help in that department.  OKC is a lock for the playoffs and look for them to make a deep run.

Portland Trail Blazers (50-32 last season)

Will Oden ever last through an entire season?

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Andre Miller

Shooting Guard: Brandon Roy

Small Forward: Nicolas Batum

Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge

Center: Marcus Camby

Key Reserves:

Guard: Wesley Matthews

Guard-Forward: Rudy Fernandez

Center: Greg Oden

No team ever avoids injury, but no team is ever stung as bad as Portland was last season.  With a complete lineup, this team has the potential to be the best in the West.  They allowed the fewest points of any team in the West (94.8) and defense is definitely their calling card.  Wesley Matthews was brought in for his defense and also to provide a spark off the bench.  Marcus Camby is still a great defensive center, even at 36-years-old.  Nicolas Batum has the length to block shots and get a couple of steals per game.  The great thing about the Trail Blazers is that they are also very young as well.  I realize that Camby and Andre Miller are not, but the rest of the team is.  This team will be good for years to come, as long as Brandon Roy is still hanging around in the future.

Utah Jazz (53-29 last season)

I think Hayward has a potential to be another Kirilenko.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Deron Williams

Shooting Guard: Raja Bell

Small Forward: Andrei Kirilenko

Power Forward: Paul Millsap

Center: Al Jefferson

Key Reserves:

Guard: Sundiata Gaines

Guard-Forward: C.J. Miles

Forward: Gordon Hayward

Deron Williams might be the best point guard in the NBA thanks to last season.  His playmaking ability is getting to a ridiculous feat and with the players around him it could even get better this year.  Getting the additions such as Al Jefferson, Raja Bell and Gordon Hayward acclimated quickly is crucial.  Williams and Carlos Boozer were the second coming of Stockton and Malone (obviously not as good as these two) and I believe Jefferson can fill the shoes of Boozer and put up 20 points and 10 rebounds for the season.  Jefferson is also going to have to find chemistry with Paul Millsap.  Both will want to control the paint, but each have to pick and choose when to make their moves.  The Jazz will most likely be a middle of the pack playoff team, but I see them losing first round.

Denver Nuggets (53-29 last season)

Will he stay or will he go?

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Chauncey Billups

Shooting Guard: Arron Afflalo

Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony

Power Forward: Kenyon Martin

Center: Nene Hilario

Key Reserves:

Guard: J.R. Smith

Forward: Al Harrington

Forward-Center: Chris Andersen

Most people probably are wondering why I have the Nuggets finishing fourth in their division, and the reason is because Carmelo Anthony will either be gone from the team or not focused enough to lead.  Carmelo is an elite player, and if he gets traded the Nuggets will turn into another run-of-the-mill team not making the playoffs.  We all saw the breakdown this team had without head coach George Carl, and without their superstar, all hell might break loose.  J.R. Smith is a hothead and even though he is in a contract year, his play will still be very streaky.  Kenyon Martin is always getting hurt, so the play of Al Harrington will be a huge part to the success to this team as well.  In the end, with Carmelo or not, I just don’t see it this year for the Nuggets.

Minnesota Timberwolves (15-67 last season)

A world of potential and only 21-years-old

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Luke Ridnour

Shooting Guard: Corey Brewer

Small Forward: Michael Beasley

Power Forward: Kevin Love

Center: Darko Milicic

Key Reserves:

Guard: Jonny Flynn

Guard: Wayne Ellington

Forward: Wesley Johnson

The Timberwolves are going to be even worse this year.  With the loss of Al Jefferson to division opponent Utah, Minnesota has no “go-to” scorer.  Michael Beasley is their best bet, especially since in 2008, he was projected and considered to be a better prospect than Derrick RoseKevin Love is developing into a great player but he does most of the nitty-gritty work.  Rookie Wesley Johnson has the skill set to be great and he will definitely get ample amounts of playing time with this team.  Darko Milicic has ANOTHER chance and again it will be a failure.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this team finishes with less wins than they did last season.

2010-11 NBA Preview: Southeast Division

Miami Heat (47-35 last season)

Miami is still Wade's town.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Carlos Arroyo

Shooting Guard: Dwayne Wade

Small Forward: LeBron James

Power Forward: Chris Bosh

Center: Joel Anthony

Key Reserves:

Guard: Mario Chalmers

Forward: Mike Miller

Forward: Udonis Haslem

I’m sick of having to play the injury card, but it really is that important to a team.  The big three of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh must stay healthy for the Heat to win, but three players cannot win a championship.  The role players (Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem) must step in and deliver if this team wants to win an NBA championship.  The most important thing for the big three to control is their egos though.  Does anyone care about the last shot?  Or how many touches?  Or who averages the most points?   Time will tell if they coexist.  Regardless, they are strong enough to win their division.

Orlando Magic (59-23 last season)

Arguably one of college basketball's greatest players, Reddick will make huge strides this season.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Jameer Nelson

Shooting Guard: Vince Carter

Small Forward: Mickael Pietrus

Power Forward: Rashard Lewis

Center: Dwight Howard

Key Reserves:

Guard: J.J. Reddick

Guard-Forward: Quentin Richardson

Forward-Center: Marcin Gortat

Get ready Magic fans, because Dwight Howard is coming off a summer spent with free throw shooting and Hakeem Olajuwon.  Will Dwight finally have a couple moves up his sleeves other than the occasional baby hook at times?  We’ll have to see if this possible MVP candidate can up his game.  The main focal point around this team is at shooting guard though.  Vince Carter is either going to cash in and have another solid season, or check out and become that veteran off the bench.  J.J. Reddick is slowly starting to get ushered in for the appropriate time to fill the starting shoes.  He is on the cusp of taking that next step and this could be the year.

Atlanta Hawks (53-29 last season)

With Mike Woodson gone, Josh Smith can breathe a sigh of relief. NO MORE YELLING!

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Mike Bibby

Shooting Guard: Joe Johnson

Small Forward: Marvin Williams

Power Forward: Josh Smith

Center: Al Horford

Key Reserves:

Guard: Jeff Teague

Guard: Jamal Crawford

Center: Zaza Pachulia

I really like this team and they are still very young especially if Jeff Teague takes the starting job away from Mike Bibby.  Bibby was very inconsistent last season and the most unproductive starter.  Teague definitely has the skills to start with a solid shot and a superb passing ability.  Joe Johnson got paid big time so hopefully he doesn’t go on cruise control until the playoffs because he is the glue to their offense.  If the Hawks want to go far in the playoffs, they need to pray they don’t meet Orlando.  Dwight Howard always has field days against Atlanta because they have no one to stop him.

Washington Wizards (26-56 last season)

Agent Zero no more, now number 9.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: John Wall

Shooting Guard: Gilbert Arenas

Small Forward: Al Thornton

Power Forward: Andray Blatche

Center: Javale McGee

Key Reserves:

Guard: Kirk Hinrich

Forward: Josh Howard

Center: Yi Jianlian

This will be one of the most exciting teams to watch this year.  With John Wall and Gilbert Arenas in the backcourt, who knows what jaw-dropping things can be done.  Arenas must stay healthy though (again with the health, it really is important).  Andray Blatche is also going to love having Wall pass him the ball.  Blatche is going to put up the numbers that he did after the All-Star break last season (20+ ppg).  Javale McGee has a ton of potential to be a very good center.  He is just starting to grow into his body, and his lankiness will cause a lot of blocks and altered shots in the key.  The Wizards have a definite shot at a playoff berth, but I think they are a year or two away.

Charlotte Bobcats (44-38 last season)

The league's best shot-blocker and rebounder, pound for pound.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: D.J. Augustin

Shooting Guard: Stephen Jackson

Small Forward: Gerald Wallace

Power Forward: Boris Diaw

Center: Nazr Mohammed

Key Reserves:

Guard: Gerald Henderson

Forward: Tyrus Thomas

Forward: Derrick Brown

The Bobcats are still a good team, I just feel that this division is stacked and they will be at the bottom of it.  I believe the loss of Raymond Felton will have a huge toll on the offense.  He doesn’t get the credit he should deserve and D.J. Augustin won’t be that problem solver.  Stephen Jackson is also at that point on a team where the honeymoon could be over.  He never seems to last long on teams because of his fiery and aggressive attitude.  With Jackson and Gerald Wallace this team still has a shot to be a very good defensive unit.  Look for Tyrus Thomas to also chip in both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.  As for the playoffs for the Bobcats…not happening.

2010-11 NBA Preview: Central Division

Chicago Bulls (41-41 last season)

Most liked in Chicago since Michael Jordan?

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Derrick Rose

Shooting Guard: Ronnie Brewer

Small Forward: Luol Deng

Power Forward: Carlos Boozer

Center: Joakim Noah

Key Reserves:

Guard-Forward: Kyle Korver

Guard-Forward: Keith Bogans

Forward: Taj Gibson

Derrick Rose is the man!  1st season: Rookie of the Year.  2nd season: All-Star.  3rd season?  It’s anyone’s guess to how good Rose can be.  Speculation is that a three point shot is in the works for him as well.  I’m excited to see the leadership he will bring to this Bulls’ offense.  Taj Gibson is also going to have to play well for the first couple of months as Carlos Boozer recovers from his broken hand.  The last interesting point I have for this team is who will end up taking the shooting guard position.  Ronnie Brewer is good all-around and Kyle Korver has the shooting stroke, but can either make the spot his own?  Regardless, Bulls win their division.

Milwaukee Bucks (46-36 last season)

A new lefty has risen in Milwaukee, sorry Michael Redd.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Brandon Jennings

Shooting Guard: John Salmons

Small Forward: Corey Maggette

Power Forward: Drew Gooden

Center: Andrew Bogut

Key Reserves:

Guard: Keyon Dooling

Guard-Forward: Chris Douglas-Roberts

Forward: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

The toughest part for this team will be buying into a rotation that will gel on the court.  The Bucks are really deep and this is among one of the better problems one could talk about.  The key for this squad to excel is Andrew Bogut.  If he can come back strong from the injury he endured last season, I believe the Bucks have a legitimate shot at the second round.  Also, the continued development of Brandon Jennings will sure be fun to watch.  This kid is still very raw and still has a broken shot, but he is only going to improve and become a top point guard in the league.

Indiana Pacers (32-50 last season)

Thanks to the CP3 injury, Collison has a starting job.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Darren Collison

Shooting Guard: Mike Dunleavy

Small Forward: Danny Granger

Power Forward: Tyler Hansbrough

Center: Roy Hibbert

Key Reserves:

Guard: T.J. Ford

Forward: Paul George

Center: Jeff Foster

This team is my sleeper for the year.  Everyone has them finishing 4th or 5th in the division, but I feel that if they can stay healthy and Danny Granger plays like he did in last season, except for 82 games, and Darren Collison also plays like last season, they have a shot at the 8th seed.  Call me insane, but this is my crazy pick for the year.  Also be on the alert for Roy Hibbert to have a breakout year.  He could possibly be a good candidate for the Most Improved Player award.

Cleveland Cavaliers (61-21 last season)

From LeBron James to Jamario Moon. Good luck Cleveland.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Mo Williams

Shooting Guard: Daniel Gibson

Small Forward: Jamario Moon

Power Forward: Antawn Jamison

Center: Anderson Varejao

Key Reserves:

Guard: Anthony Parker

Forward: J.J. Hickson

Forward: Leon Powe

A natural disaster struck Cleveland and it was the loss of LeBron James.  A miracle needs to happen for this team to make the playoffs.  Yeah, they have Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao, but without LeBron they are nothing.  Almost 30 points per game is lost and there isn’t anyone good enough to fill that spot.  I’m sorry Cleveland, but get ready for a rough year.

Detroit Pistons (27-55 last season)

Please prove me wrong, because I loved you, T-Mac!

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Rodney Stuckey

Shooting Guard: Richard Hamilton

Small Forward: Tayshaun Prince

Power Forward: Charlie Villanueva

Center: Ben Wallace

Key Reserves:

Guard: Will Bynum

Guard: Ben Gordon

Forward: Austin Daye

I have no faith in this team.  Something about them just doesn’t rub me the right way.  Charlie Villanueva had an abysmal debut year in Detroit and injuries plagued them all year long and into this preseason.  Ben Wallace is nowhere near to where he used to be as a player back in the glory days of the Pistons, and Rodney Stuckey does not have the playmaking ability to lead this team.  Maybe they won’t finish last in the division, but they sure aren’t making the playoffs for a while with the transactions they are making. Cough, Tracy McGrady, Cough. Washed up!

 

2010-11 NBA Preview: Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics (50-32 last season)

Don't let their age fool you, they still have what it takes.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Rajon Rondo

Shooting Guard: Ray Allen

Small Forward: Paul Pierce

Power Forward: Kevin Garnett

Center: Jermaine O’Neal

Key Reserves:

Guard: Delonte West

Forward: Glen Davis

Center: Shaquille O’Neal

The Celtics are coming off a great year in which they made it to the finals and lost in Game 7.  They were a surprise to everyone in the playoffs as the No. 4 seed while most people thought the Cavaliers or Magic would make it. The key for the Celtics is to stay healthy.  Five players are 32 years of age or older (Allen, Pierce, Garnett, and both O’Neals) and limiting minutes will have to be in the works for Doc Rivers.  The second unit will also have to be fired up most nights because they are a very important part to the success of the team.  If the Celtics want to make another run at the championship, the entire squad must be healthy and whole in April.

New York Knicks (29-53 last season)

Amar'e is "The Man", but Felton could be the key to the offensive.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Raymond Felton

Shooting Guard: Wilson Chandler

Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari

Power Forward: Amar’e Stoudemire

Center: Timofey Mozgov

Key Reserves:

Guard: Roger Mason Jr.

Guard-Forward: Kelenna Azubuike

Forward: Anthony Randolph

Ok, so no Lebron James for the Knicks, but they did acquire Amar’e Stoudemire who will have to carry this team on his back.  Look for Stoudemire to put up better numbers than he did in Phoenix.  Some people think he won’t play better because Steve Nash is what made him good, but I don’t believe that at all.  Another key addition is spark plug, Raymond Felton.  Felton knows how to win basketball games and will be an improvement from Chris Duhon.  Things are looking up for the Knicks and if Amar’e can stay healthy and his knees don’t give out on him, I believe the Knicks will make the playoffs.

New Jersey Nets (12-70 last season)

Harris and Lopez could be that one, two punch that lead the Nets to victory.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Devin Harris

Shooting Guard: Anthony Morrow

Small Forward: Travis Outlaw

Power Forward: Troy Murphy

Center: Brook Lopez

Key Reserves:

Guard: Jordan Farmar

Guard-Forward: Terrence Williams

Forward: Derrick Favors

Avery Johnson is looking to turn things around for this young New Jersey team.  They aren’t going to blow you away with their offense, so defense must show up for them to win games.  Brook Lopez and Devin Harris are the most important players on the team and having them healthy all season will sway this group into a possible playoff berth.  The Nets will need an incredible season to reach the playoffs but anything can happen.  Give them another couple years, let Derrick Favors get some seasons under his belt and be ready for a powerful Nets team in the future.

Philadelphia 76ers (27-55 last season)

A star in college now has to learn to take a supporting role.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Jrue Holiday

Shooting Guard: Andre Igoudala

Small Forward: Thaddeus Young

Power Forward: Elton Brand

Center: Spencer Hawes

Key Reserves:

Guard: Evan Turner

Guard: Louis Williams

Forward: Andres Nocioni

The first thing that comes to mind when I look at this starting five is that there isn’t a solidified shooter.  Andre Igoudala is probably their best shooter and he isn’t very reliable from outside.  Either Jason Kapono or Jodie Meeks will need to earn a spot in the rotation and provide for them what Kyle Korver used to.  This is a fairly young team and the faster Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner develop their offensive games, the better the Sixers will be.  Elton Brand is a team chemistry destroyer, and this is why I do not see the 76ers having a great season.

Toronto Raptors (40-42 last season)

Can Bargnani show the fans of Toronto why they drafted him number one?

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Jarrett Jack

Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozen

Small Forward: Linas Kleiza

Power Forward: Reggie Evans

Center: Andrea Bargnani

Key Reserves:

Guard: Jose Calderon

Guard: Leandro Barbosa

Forward: Amir Johnson

The Raptors had a terrible offseason losing Hedo Turkoglu and Chris Bosh.  Their whole team is mixed up and they will most likely be one of the worst teams in the league.  The only positive feeling I can say about this team is that things can only go up after the season starts.  One of their young players will certainly need to step forward with a larger role.  I see that player to be Andrea Bargnani.  He was a number one overall pick and has a really good skill set.  Also look for the Raptors to possibly pick up a star closer towards the trade deadline thanks to their Bosh trade exception.  

2010-11 NBA Preview-Overview

The NBA season is less than a week away and many are getting excited for what should be a fantastic thrill ride.  I will be posting division previews sporadicly during the course of this week and into the weekend.  Stay tuned for analysis on your favorite team, but for now, here is a division breakdown with projected records and the four important awards handed out at the end of the year.

Eastern Conference

Can New York make the playoffs thanks to Amar'e?

Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics (51-31)

New York Knicks (36-46)

New Jersey Nets (32-50)

Philadelphia 76ers (29-53)

Toronto Raptors (25-57)

Central Division

How will the Cavs fare without LeBron?

Chicago Bulls (50-32)

Milwaukee Bucks (47-35)

Indiana Pacers (32-50)

Cleveland Cavaliers (30-52)

Detroit Pistons (29-53)

Southeast Division

Wall and Arenas will be a fun duo to watch!

Miami Heat (61-21)

Orlando Magic (54-28)

Atlanta Hawks (46-36)

Washington Wizards (37-45)

Charlotte Bobcats (36-46)

Western Conference

Northwest Division

Oklahoma City Thunder (52-30)

Portland Trail Blazers (51-31)

MVP! MVP! MVP!

Utah Jazz (47-35)

Denver Nuggets (41-41)

Minnesota Timberwolves (22-60)

Pacific Division

Los Angeles Lakers (59-23)

Phoenix Suns (46-36)

Los Angeles Clippers (36-46)

Sacramento Kings (30-52)

Golden State Warriors (28-54)

 

Southwest Division

How many games will Yao play in?

Dallas Mavericks (51-31)

Houston Rockets (47-35)

San Antonio Spurs (45-37)

Memphis Grizzlies (41-41)

New Orleans Hornets (37-45)

 

My pick for the NBA Finals is Lakers over Heat in a seven game series.  Here are the awards for the end of the season.

MVP: Kevin Durant

Most Improved Player: Hedo Turkoglu

6th Man: Jamal Crawford

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard

Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin