Eastern Conference Preview
The season is two games old and I wanted to get something up on the improved Eastern Conference. Nine teams here.
Somebody is not gonna make it! I hope I’m wrong about the team on the outside looking in.
Teams are in order of projected finish.
Paul Pierce can breathe again. The twelve-year vet is finally surrounded with enough talent to win it all. With the addition of 2008 MVP Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, teams will be hard pressed to double team any of the big three. Kendrick Perkins has enough skill to do the job necessary to get this team over the top and should surprise this season. Get them hands ready Kendrick, you will be the recipient of many sick touch passes from the Big Ticket. All Rajon Rando has to do is hit the open jumper, get the occasional steal and run the offense. This team will win the conference if Ray Allen becomes comfortable enough to feed off Pierce passion and Garnett fire early to create his own shot. Eddie House will be asked to score in bunches from the bench.
Questions: Has James Posey’s talent leveled off? Will he finally become the player he was expected to be coming out of Xavier? Will Tony Allen be healthy enough to make an impact? Can Leon Powe, Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Brian Scalabrine add some immediate insurance muscle down low? Is Doc Rivers the man for this talented team?
Scott Skiles’ team should have the confidence to take it to the next level. Of course, this is all dependent on if Kobe Bryant struts into town. If the rumors of Kobe settling in Chicago are unsubstantiated, this team will challenge for the NBA title. Luol Deng has taken over the mantra of team leader and will be a hard guard when teams need a stop. The same can be said for Ben Gordon who will be an offensive force for years to come with his assassin like floor personality. Ben Wallace anchors the defense, but will need help from the electric leaper Tyrus Thomas and rookie energizer Joakim Noah. Andres Nocioni is a force who will take over games this season. The wild-card here is Kurt Hinrich. If he can lead by example and hit jumpers consistently, there is no telling how successful this team can be.
Questions: Is this team mature enough to finally get over the hump? Can Tyrus Thomas cash in on his limitless potential to give the Bulls stellar all around play game in and game out? Is Kurt Hinrich ready to take his place among the point guard elite? Will Aaron Gray and Joakim Noah add enough to an already young team? Is Big Ben alone?
Gilbert Arena’s is a winner. There are few players that transcend sports with a combination of a fan friendly personality with top flight generational talent. The NBA’s answer to Chad Johnson can score at will and is one of the most feared players in the league. Coming off a heartbreaking season ending injury last year before the playoffs, we’ll see just how passionate Arenas is to become the best at what he does. It seems as if Gilbert is poised to prove his worth the duration of his career. Along with Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison the Wizards provide a workmanlike alliterative to their more A list counterparts in Boston. The loss of Etan Thomas will hurt a team that lacks true muscle. Brendan Haywood doesn’t really seem to want to make big on his size, strength and deft touch around the rim. If Andray Blatche and Deshawn Stevenson can stay out of trouble, look for Washington to crash the Eastern Conference Semi-finals.
LeBron James matured into the player we all knew he would last season. His talent alone overshadows many who have ever played the game–even on a high level. The onus is on the Cav’s brass to surround James with capable talent before the rigors of super stardom blow out his passion and desire to become the best ever. He’s one of the most unselfish superstars to ever lace ’em up and should real soon become the first player to average a season triple double since Oscar Robertson. After LeBron, the level of talent drops off significantly. Daniel Gibson stepped up real proper like in the playoffs but it remains to be seen if he can do the same over the course of an entire season. Larry Hughes should provide 15-17 points a night and take some pressure of King James by helping with ball handling. This team overall is soft. Big Z is nimble around the basket but is slow on his feet. Aleksandar Pavlovic just signed a three year deal and won’t be game tight for a couple of games. Anderson Varejao is in Brazil waiting on Cleveland to give him the money he thinks he deserves. Don’t do it Cleveland, you will be strapped for the next five years. Cleveland’s front office has problems and better make the right decisions or LeBron will ultimately bolt. The rest of the roster is filled with bench players and not much else.
Questions: As I alluded to before, can the Cav’s brass sign some punch? Is Shannon Brown going to become a player to go along with his tremendous athleticism? How long will Eric Snow, Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall hold up? Do they have enough to hold off younger and more talented teams within their conference? Is LeBron the second coming of Elgin Baylor?
Detroit has been firmly perched among the NBA elite since their title run in 2003-2004. The window is closing fast physically and mentally on a team that has endured many regular season and playoff battles. Gone is home town hero Chris Webber who offered big man versatility. Jason Maxiell is poised to capitalize on Webber’s absence and give a physical presence down low with his boundless and youthful energy. Sheed moves over to center and will cause match up problems for any five in the league with his length, shooting range and impenetrable will. Chauncey Billups seemed to lose a little bit towards the end of the year and will have something to prove for those who doubt what’s left in the tank. Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince will give all they have to keep this team among the best. Rodney Stuckey and Aaron Afflalo will be asked to anchor the second team and gain experience even though they are rookies. Antonio McDyess stepped up big during the playoffs and will be asked to do the same with a team that seems to be in transition.
Questions: Is Flip Saunders capable of keeping this team fresh mentally? Will Sheed become frustrated if this team falters early? How will Chauncey respond from last season’s devastating lost to the LeBron and the Cavs? Are the Pistons still feared? What will the young players offer? Do they have enough to make one more run?
New Jersey Nets
Jason Kidd is back for another triple double waiting to happen go round. His leadership somehow is media diminished but I’m not quite sure why. He will still d up his counterpart, drop dimes and rebound with the best of them. Most of his contemporaries have fell off or are out of the league all together. He is one of the ten best point guards to ever dish the rock. Vince Carter is the enigma on a franchise that has to be tiring of first and second round exits. He seems to disappear when counted on the most. His athleticism and ability alone should never be questioned, but focus seems to sway here and there. This is too talented of a team to trudge along as they exist. Richard Jefferson hopefully can play an entire year without injury and reclaim his high flyer ability. Nenad Krstic returns from injury and will be a star in the lig. Marcus Williams seemed to flourish when given playing time last season. Along with his former UConn teammate Josh Boone and ridiculously athletic Sean Williams, the second team should entertain and adequately spell the veteran starters.
Questions: What does Jason Kidd have left? Where is Vince Carter’s head? What will be his legacy be considering how he’s almost become a forgotten player? Is this team strong enough to fight it out of the lower playoff rounds? Is Lawrence Frank capable of leading this team? Can they stay healthy? Is the presence of Jay-Z a distraction?
The addition of Rashard Lewis possibly could shoot this otherwise young squad into the second round of the playoffs. Lewis has 6 years experience on Jameer Nelson even though he’s only three years older. Lewis is the prototype guard of the future. He is one of the few players in the league that could play all five positions. Dwight Howard is one of the most powerful and gifted athletes in the league. During Olympic qualifying this summer, he showed just how bad a boy he really is. The NBA has become his proving ground and he’ll be mentioned among MVP candidates for the duration of his career. If he ever fully develops offensively he will be unstoppable. Jameer Nelson seems to have recovered from the tragic loss of his father to an work place tug boat accident this summer and should enter the upper echelon of NBA guards with his powerful ground game and over average leadership skills. Hedo Turkoglu adds veteran versatility at the forward spot and can spell at the two if needed. This team has talent and could make a surprising move out of the first round this season.
Questions: Will the Magic develop a chemistry that allows them to mentally handle what is expected of them? Is Rashard Lewis a star or a superstar? Has Dwight Howard committed himself to getting better by the minute? Does this team have enough around Howard physically to deal with the rigors of the Eastern Conference? Is Jameer Nelson capable of getting this team out of the first round?
Sam Mitchell’s bunch should become a force in the NBA this season. Chris Bosh is one of the best players in the league and proved to be clutch last season. If he recognizes his potential, he could develop into one of the best forwards of his generation. This team is loaded with young talent. Andrea Bargnani is a multitalented player that can play all three front line positions. T.J. Ford is fast becoming who we all thought he was going to be coming out of Texas. He also chases down loose rebounds with his extraordinary quickness. He really came into his own last season. It’s still up in the air if Jose Calderon or Jason Capono will start. Calderon impressed late and Capono is a very capable shooter from down town. Maceo Baston looks to become an NBA shot blocking fixture after spending the better part of the decade overseas. Toughness will be the key for this inexperienced squad.
Questions: Is Sam Mitchell going to spend the season managing the egos of his young players? Is Chris Bosh ready to take over? Will T.J. Ford’s back hold up? Was the all around stellar play of Bargnani and Calderon a fluke? Will Jason Capono do whatever it takes to stay on the floor? Will Carlos Delfino add the toughness he exhibited while he was in Detroit? How will this team deal with being out rebounded? Will they be able to hang with more experienced teams late in games? How far will they go?
The Heat had a tough season. It’s going to be very interesting to see how they respond. We’ll see a different Shaq O’Neal this year. Anyone that’s gone through a divorce knows the toll it takes on every day life. I hope the best for all involved. It ain’t gonna be easy Shaq and Shaunie. Shaq will use time on the court as a stress release. I predict that he’ll give em hell one more time because of his off the court issues. I don’t think anyone in the Lig wants to be in his way when he’s spinning through the lane pointing those Dikembe lip bustin’ elbows. Don’t sleep on Shaq. Dwyane Wade is coming off a year where America felt and witnessed the pain of his shoulder separation. That he courageously returned from injury before the playoffs–putting off surgery for the team–should always be remembered in an age where athletes are labeled as selfish. He will have a great year, but it won’t be enough. Ricky Davis was brought in to give the Heat some scoring punch and Penny Hardaway has resurfaced to take some of the ball handling duties away from Flash. This might be Alonzo Mourning’s last go round. He’s been a true champion on and off the floor. His return to the NBA after being diagnosed with focal glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a degenerative kidney ailment, at the start of the 2000-01 season and subsequent transplant (from cousin Jason Cooper) was a nice moment in time. Udonis Haslem should be entering the prime of his career, Jason Williams and Smush Parker should provide steady guard play as Daequan Cook waits in the wings to eventually take over at point. At first glance Miami seems to thin and fragile to withstand a full NBA season and get back to the playoffs..let alone the ’ship.
Questions: Has the game passed Pat Riley? What affect with Shaq’s divorce have on him and the team? How will Flash respond to being the man? Are there enough bigs around Shaq to provide adequate help? Will Zo hold up one last fist to the Lig? How will injuries affect the Heat? Has this team already achieved what they’ll ever accomplish?
Time for some predictions:
Conference Finals: Boston over Chicago
Boston in six over a determined Chicago squad. Paul Pierce MVP
NBA Finals: Boston over Denver
Garnett averages 27 and 11 to beat the Nuggets in seven and is MVP of the playoffs
MVP: Kevin Garnett
Boston wins 60. Who else?
Coach of the Year: Doc Rivers
The best year of Doc’s life.
Defensive Player of the Year:
Dwight Howard…Zo part II, but bigger and even stronger.
Rookie Of the Year: Sean Williams (Everybody is picking K “Smooth Jazz” D)