Posted on: October 21, 2010 11:38 pm
Edited on: October 21, 2010 11:48 pm
I called this past offseason for the Hornets one of, if not, the most important offseason in franchise history for the team. Coming off of a difficult collapse in 2009, injuries to Chris Paul forced the team to fall to 37 wins last season, resulting in the team's first appearance in the lottery in three years, signifying a dramatic fall from grace following the team's 2008 run to the Southwest Division Championship and to a game 7 in the Western Conference Semifinals with the defending NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs. Just a few years removed from that, the Hornets are at a crossroads, even after this offseason, that will determine where the team goes from this point forward. Gone from that 2008 season are former coach of the year Byron Scott, long time General Manager and former Executive of the Year Jeff Bower and soon to be gone is the only owner the Hornets have ever known in George Shinn. The impending sale of the team to Gary Chouest, which may not be finalized until the end of this season, will finally solidify this past offseason of change for the Hornets front office. When new head coach Monty Williams was hired, followed by the hiring of new General Manager Dell Demps, everyone of the assistant coaches, medical staff, scouting team, etc. were let go. Some of them had been with the team since its inception in Charlotte. But desperate to turn a new leaf, the Hornets made their moves with Williams and Demps, and the two are young, promising guys at their respective spots with the right people vouching for their abilities. That change was followed on the court, as the Hornets engaged in a number of trades that will result in at least eight new players making the roster for this season. It's still very much up in the air how all of these moves will translate on the court for the Hornets. The team has seemingly had one of the thinnest front courts in the league for years now, and that will be the same case this season. The team's ultimate success still depends almost entirely on Chris Paul, and Paul's' reported frustrations with the team are going to loom over the franchise until he's either traded or signs a new contract. But that's still two years from now, and the Hornets still moved along as a team dedicated to winning now. With pending cap relief coming up this offseason, how the team performs at the start of the year will depend largely on whether they're buyers or sellers at the trade deadline and will have a huge effect on how the team opperates from here on out. If this past offseason was one of the most important for the Hornets, this actual season will be no different. There are no guarantees it will be the most successful, but a lot is hinging on the performance of this team this season.
For the record, new additions will be italicized and rookies will have their college statistics, which will be denoted by an asterisk.
PG: #3 Chris Paul (45 Games, 18.7 PPG, 10.7 APG, 4.2 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 84.7 FT Pctg., 40.9 3PT FG Pctg., 49.3 FG Pctg.) – Coming off of his best season individually in 2009, the frustration Paul was showing at the beginning of last season was quite evident. He had gotten into on court altercations with Al Harrington, was frequently showing discomfort on the court and was very vocal in his displeasure with Byron Scott being fired going as far as to say the team should have consulted with him before the move. Two separate injuries followed, including one the day immediately following Scott’s departure, possibly creating the most frustrating season in Paul’s career. A sprained ankle and a torn meniscus kept Paul out of 37 games, and the Hornets’ win total dropped as a result.
A lot will be asked of CP3 again this season as he enters clearly as the number one player on the team. The fact that the team traded Darren Collison, last year’s first round draft pick and Paul’s primary back up, to make attempts in improving the roster brings further emphasis on the importance of a healthy Chris Paul. Before his injuries last season, he was displaying an improved three point shot and was correcting all of the holes in his offensive game. Seeing him play a healthy amount of games this season should help the team’s defense improve as well. Paul’s on court performance is crucial for the team, but he’s in a position where he shouldn’t be asked to do as much as he was in 2009. How quickly he gels with the new teammates, how well he’s recovered from the knee injury and how well he handles adversity this season all deserve close attention this season.
#33 Willie Green (73 Games, 8.7 PPG, 2.1 APG, 1.8 RPG, 83.3 FT Pctg., 34.6 3PT FG Pctg., 45.7 FG Pctg.) – Whether Hornets fans like it or not, Green enters this season as the Hornets back-up point guard. Green, in the final year of his contract, was picked up in a trade with Philadelphia and immediately became the team’s most trustworthy option as a reserve point guard. Whether or not he’s a true point guard, whether or not he’s efficient enough to run an offense for an extended amount of time and whether or not the team hopes to deploy him in this role all season are questionable. Even with Green on the roster, the Hornets had Jannero Pargo, Mustafa Shakur, D.J. Strawberry and, eventually, Curtis Jerrells all in training camp to compete for the reserve point guard job. In my opinion, the team wants one of the young guards to step up and claim the back-up job, but is keeping Green as a safety net. Green is a capable back-up in this league. He shoots a decent percentage and he could, at the very least, provide veteran experience as a reserve to start the season. However, I’d imagine the team truthfully wants Jerrells to claim Green’s spot by December or January.
#0 Curtis Jerrells * (39 Games, 16.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 77.1 FT Pctg., 36.7 3PT FG Pctg., 42.7 FG Pctg.) – Although last year was Jerrell’s first year in the league, he spent the majority of the season in the NBA’s D-League and therefore retains rookie eligibility in this season, his first with the Hornets. Jerrells went undrafted in 2009 and spent last season for the D-League’s Austin Toros, which happened to be the team that Demps GMed while he was working for the Spurs organization. About a week ago, the Hornets acquired Jerrells for a second round draft pick from the Spurs and he figures to be in the team’s future plans. Former coach Greg Popovich has gone on record as saying Jerrells is a “real NBA point guard” and the team is high on him as well. Whether or not he reciprocates those expectations right away remains to be seen, but there are high hopes for Jerrells in terms of his future as a reserve for the team behind Chris Paul. His progression is something to keep an eye on.
SG: #8 Marco Belinelli (66 Games, 7.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 83.5 FT Pctg., 38.0 3PT FG Pctg., 40.6 FG Pctg.) – No member of the Hornets roster is having as productive a preseason campaign as Belinelli. Acquired from Toronto for the frustrating unproductive Julian Wright, Belinelli has also struggled with expectations throughout his career and really disappointed in Toronto last season. But the team planned for Thornton to come off of the bench all along, and Belinelli has gone through a lot of the sets with the first team. He’s shooting the ball really effectively from beyond the arc in the preseason and is showing capabilities as a ball handler that people expected of him when he was a lottery pick in 2007. He unquestionably now enters the season as the Hornets starting shooting guard and can develop into a real wild card for the team. If he builds off of his promise early, then the Hornets can have a surprisingly efficient starting five with an explosive Marcus Thornton as a change of pace reserve for the second unit. At worst, Belinelli figures to be a three point specialist for the team, but all hopes are for Belinelli to remain as the team’s starting shooting guard for the duration of the season.
#5 Marcus Thornton (73 Games, 14.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 81.4 FT Pctg., 37.4 3PT FG Pctg., 45.1 FG Pctg.) – Contrary to Belinelli, Thornton is having one of the most disappointing preseason campaigns for the Hornets. Coming off of a surprising rookie season where the Hornets saw him emerge from second round draft pick to solid reserve to key contributor down the stretch, the team hopes to deploy him in a sixth man role similar to that of Manu Ginobili, Jason Terry or Jamal Crawford’s. All hopes should, and most likely are, for Thornton to finish games for the Hornets but the team wants to use his playmaking and explosiveness to spearhead the second unit. Thornton has struggled with his shot all preseason, and questions are already rising about the shin injury that forced him to leave the Summer League early. But still, the team will take its chances with Thornton as the season approaches and his efficient shooting from last season will be expected and should truly benefit the team moving forward. At only 23, Thornton is still in the team’s future plans. He’s been vocal about his struggles with the team moving Collison to Indiana in an offseason trade, but I wouldn’t attribute that with his early season struggles. He seems erratic out there and may be struggling with the added expectations. I expect him to settle into his new role this season after a few games.
SF: #1 Trevor Ariza (72 Games, 14.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 64.9 FT Pctg., 33.4 3PT FG Pctg., 39.4 FG Pctg.) – Coming off of a season where he was a key member of a Lakers starting line-up that won the 2009 NBA Championship, Ariza was handsomely compensated by the Houston Rockets last season and, with the injuries to Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, was quickly given the role of the go-to guy on the team. Ariza struggled in that role, however, as his efficiency and his shooting percentages decreased across the board. The Hornets still see his potential as a defensive specialist and fast break partner with Paul to trade All-Rookie First Teamer Darren Collison to acquire Ariza. In doing so, the Hornets assume the remaining four years on Ariza’s contract and are vocal about him being in the team’s future plans. In New Orleans, Ariza can return to being the third or fourth option on a team, a role he’s probably better suited for, and should be able to prepare for the shots to come to him as opposed to looking for them. He may never shoot at that consistent three point rate that he did in the 2009 postseason, but he’s still a capable player behind the arc who the team can feel comfortable enough with to help spread out a defense. Ariza is the big acquisition for the Hornets this past offseason and a lot is expected of him. He’s shown before that he’s capable of playing off of a great player, and if he does so at a more efficient rate than he did with Houston last year, the Hornets will benefit greatly because of it.
#16 Peja Stojakovic (62 Games, 12.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 89.7 FT Pctg., 37.5 3PT FG Pctg., 40.4 FG Pctg.) – Signed to a five year, 65 million dollar contract in 2005, Peja has seen his points per game average and a lot of his percentages decline every year of his contract with the team. The Hornets see his expiring 15 million dollar deal as a huge trading piece should the team find another franchise desperate for cap relief, but also see his importance as a three point specialist with the squad. Even with his declining numbers, the Hornets are a better team with Peja on the court. Last year’s 14-23 record without Chris Paul should be viewed with an asterisk. The team was 9-8 without Paul on the court while Peja was still in the lineup. When Peja missed the final 20 games of the season, the team went 5-15. He’s still a very important player for this team. Peja was tried as a reserve last year when the team unsuccessfully attempted to make Julian Wright the starting small forward. He was still efficient enough in his reserve role where the team should feel comfortable deploying him in that same spot this season, but his back still brings questions about how well he can come into a game and be effective after extended periods of rest. Whether or not he’s a key contributor or nothing more than an expiring contract to either be traded or absorbed internally this season depends largely on how well he starts the season. He’s played a sufficient amount of minutes this preseason and is still showing his range, but nothing is a guarantee in terms of his longevity of health.
#20 Quincy Pondexter * (36 Games, 19.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 SPG, 82.7 FT Pctg., 35.3 3PT FG Pctg., 52.8 FG Pctg.) – Acquired in a draft night trade along with Craig Brackins for the draft rights to Cole Aldrich, Pondexter was supposed to enter this season with Brackins as two young, capable players in a new Hornets rotation. Brackins was traded in the Willie Green trade with Philadelphia, and the Hornets soon acquired Trevor Ariza, halting Pondexter’s quick ascension to an everyday status. Pondexter is still a capable player. He can run the floor really well, is a good enough playmaker at his position and is a capable jump shooter. The team also has high hopes in his defensive ability. He showed a lot of potential in the summer league, especially with his playmaking and defense, and will be brought along slowly for the Hornets. With Peja most likely gone either before the end of this season or by the end of this season, Pondexter figures into the Hornets future plans. Monty Williams has had success with SF projects before during his tenure in Portland, and Pondexter will be exactly that for most of this season.
PF: #30 David West (81 Games, 19.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 86.5 FT Pctg., 50.5 FG Pctg.) – The Hornets longest tenured player (he’s the only player on the team that was with the franchise before the temporary two year relocation to Oklahoma City and who was with the Hornets when they still played in the Eastern Conference), West returns this season still as the Hornets second option. For the past five seasons, Paul and West have been the go-to guys for setting the tone on offense and the same will be expected this season. Despite a second consecutive season in terms of a decrease in his points per game and rebounds per game averages, West assumed a bigger role in the offensive execution once Paul went down to injury last season. As a result, West saw a career high in assists. Whether or not his game is ready for a steep decline is up for debate, and this being basically a contract year for West (he has a 7 million dollar player option for next season), one could assume that West will be at his best for one last pay day for his career. West is still an efficient option in the offense. He shot at a 50 percent rate last season and still has plenty of range on his jump shot. His defense on the ball struggled big time last season and a lot of that probably had to do with Collison and Thornton’s inexperience on defense allowing so many easy drives to the basket last year. But if West can hold his ground defensively in the paint, it would set the tone for the rest of the team. A lot will be expected of West, again, this season. I wouldn’t be so concerned with his missing games this preseason (Monty is said to be caution with minutes to his starters in the preseason) and I wouldn’t say he’s ready for a decline in production just yet.
#14 Jason Smith (56 Games, 3.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 69.0 FT Pctg., 43.1 FG Pctg.) – Acquired in a trade that sent Craig Brackins and Darius Songaila to Philadelphia, Smith was seen as a disappointing first round project in Philadelphia but has been given new life in New Orleans. He’s surprised many fans with his strong play in the preseason, showing a very unexpected rebounding rate per minute and still showing a good enough mid range game that the team touted when he was acquired. Whether or not that carries over into the regular season is huge for the Hornets, as Smith is basically the only option as a reserve power forward. His position on the team is very creaky for the Hornets, as he’s not done a lot to calm worries about his consistency and reliability in his two years with the league. But the front office is praising Smith for his work this preseason and he’ll at least be given a clean slate in New Orleans this year. If he struggles, the team will be left without many options for the front court, and could be forced to move Stojakovic for another option. Whether or not Smith can prevent the team from having to go to those measures remains to be seen.
#44 Pops Mensah-Bonsu (20 Games, 1.9 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 54.2 FT Pctg., 39.4 FG Pctg.) – With the team on a non guaranteed contract, Mensah-Bonsu will probably be retained due to the team’s thin options at the power forward spot. Another D-League player for the Austin Toros, Pops has played well enough in the preseason to at least get a look in the regular season. He’s struggled to stick with any of the teams he’s played with for his career but has shown signs of being a viable reserve big man. Whether or not he can parlay that into a consistent run or even a consistent season with New Orleans is questionable at best and realistically unexpected. But because Jason Smith is the only other option as a reserve power forward, I’d expect Mensah-Bonsu to make the roster and at least get a chance to establish himself in the team’s rotation.
C: #50 Emeka Okafor (82 Games, 10.4 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 56.2 FT Pctg., 53.0 FG Pctg.) – Acquired last offseason from Charlotte, Okafor came into New Orleans with a lot of expectations and didn’t deliver on any of them. Whether it be because of injuries keeping him from training camp reps with the roster, him missing the entire preseason, him never developing a rapport with Paul, him being in and out of Jeff Bower’s rotations or any combination of those things, Okafor saw a career low 29 minutes per game last year and his production dropped as a result of it. This offseason, however, Monty has said to be committing to getting Okafor the ball at a more consistent rate. He’s still not going to blow anyone away as a low post option, but he’s durable and strong enough to where he can hold his own down in the paint and also be a viable defender around the rim. He’ll never live up to his paycheck, but he is still an efficient enough option at the center position in the league and is arguably a top ten player at his position. With Williams’ dedication to getting Okafor involved more with the team, we should see a more lively Okafor and, certainly, a more productive Okafor on the court for the Hornets. A big season from him could make all the difference from this team being a fringe playoff contender to a very good Western Conference squad.
#34 Aaron Gray (32 Games, 3.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 71.4 FT Pctg., 51.2 FG Pctg.) – Acquired from Chicago during last season for Devin Brown, the White Panther (as he’s affectionately known amongst Hornets fans), became the team’s best option as a reserve center immediately and did a fine enough job in that role to be given a new one year deal to keep the same position this year with the Hornets. Gray is, at the very least, a big body down in the paint, although his lack of speed still allows elite centers that extra burst to the basket more often than not. He lost a lot of weight this offseason (rumored around 30 pounds) and is still light on his feet and is good enough at holding his position around the basket, but Monty has been vocal in his desire for Gray to be quicker up and down the court. Whether or not he can really change something like his speed remains to be seen, but Gray is still a good, if not very good, back-up center for the team.
#28 D.J. Mbenga (49 Games, 2.1 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 47.4 FT Pctg., 46.6 FG Pctg.) – Recently signed to a one year contract for this season, Congo Cash (the name his former Lakers teammates gave him), steps in as competition for Gray for the reserve center job. Mbenga has had his cup of tea in the league. He’s mainly a hustle guy, has never been a consistent player in a rotation, but at least has two championships with the Lakers to show for his stay in the league. He’s 7 foot and he’s a decent rebounder, but I’m not sure how successful the team will be with Mbenga consistently getting heavy minutes. At the very least, he’s a body to push Gray and keep him staying in shape and keep him competitive. He’s another big body on the team, giving them three 7 footers on the bench. Only problem is, none of the three seven footers are all that incredibly talented.
Head Coach: Monty Williams (First Head Coaching Job) – Monty Williams is the youngest head coach in the league. While that’s pretty cool in terms of the potential stability he can bring to the team, realistically you have to expect some growing pains from a guy in his first year on the job. He’s got an impressive pedigree. After retiring as a player, Greg Popovich himself sought out Monty to be an assistant, and Monty won a ring as a member of the coaching staff for the 2005 Spurs team. He’s done fantastic in terms of player development and defense for the past couple of years in Portland, and he’s a very young, very hungry, very promising head coach. All things considered, he seems like a very good guy for the job. He’ll have to deal with Chris Paul’s ego, he’ll have to deal with a roster that’s fairly young and inexperienced, and he’ll have to do it in his first year. However, if everybody comes together really early, it’s nothing but a huge sign moving forward for the potential of this team. I have faith in Monty’s abilities as the head coach. But, being that it’s his first job, you still don’t really know what to expect. Here’s to a promising first season.
Overall: The Hornets are bringing in eight new players this season. Chemistry may be a very tough problem in the early stages of this season, but the team is young and talented enough to get past that. If they hit a prolonged rough patch, we’ll see if anyone starts pouting, if Williams becomes inconsistent with his rotations, etc. There are a lot of question marks with this team. But the potential is there. The way it’s assembled, this team isn’t a championship squad. They simply don’t have the length to compete with the best teams in the league. But they’re athletic enough to hustle on defense, talented enough to get the ball in the basket and, if healthy, they could really surprise teams this year. People always write the Hornets off as some kind of one year fluke. It should be noted that the only year the Hornets have not had any major injury problems in the past five years was that 2008 season. Maybe that does or doesn’t mean that the team competes for the division title again, but there’s no reason that can’t be a realistic goal. The Spurs, Rockets and Mavericks are obviously sexier choices for the division title, but the Hornets have the bodies to compete with any of them, and they have the best individual player out of any of those teams on their roster. Paul’s attitude and commitment are huge, as is Monty’s ability to handle all of the new players on the roster. But if this team gets off to a huge start, they could really do some damage. Probably no more than a 5 seed or so, but definitely a playoff team none the less. They’re most likely another year away from being serious threats, but that’s no reason that the team can’t be really good this year.
Tags: Aaron Gray, Al Harrington, Chris Paul, Cole Aldrich, Craig Brackins, Curtis Jerrells, D.J. Mbenga, D.J. Strawberry, Darius Songaila, Darren Collison, David West, Emeka Okafor, Hornets, Jamal Crawford, Jason Smith, Jason Terry, Julian Wright, Lakers, Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli, Marcus Thornton, Mavericks, Peja Stojakovic, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Quincy Pondexter, Rockets, Spurs, Trevor Ariza, Trevor Ariza, Willie Green, Yao Ming
Posted on: May 17, 2010 3:21 pm
I figured since I didn't do a playoff preview this season for each team as I did last year, I'll do a fun little countdown to this year's draft, since that's where my team is going to be instead of the postseason. With the draft lottery coming tomorrow, now seems to be the perfect time to evaluate each of the last ten drafts and rank them in terms of talent involved each season. The first draft to make the list, is the 2000 NBA Draft which features a whole lot of wasted potential and overall dissapointment. Let's dive in shall we?
Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
2001 Rookie of the Year: Mike Miller
2000-2001 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Tags: 76ers, Bucks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Celtics, Clippers, DeShawn Stevenson, Eddie House, Eduardo Najera, Etan Thomas, Grizzlies, Hawks, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, Hornets, Jamaal Magloire, Jamal Crawford, Jazz, Joel Przybilla, Kenyon Martin, Keyon Dooling, Kings, Knicks, Lakers, Magic, Mavericks, Michael Redd, Mike Miller, Morris Peterson, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, Pistons, Primoz Brezec, Quentin Richardson, Raptors, Rockets, Spurs, Suns, Trail Blazers, Warriors, Wizards
Posted on: March 5, 2010 2:57 am
Wow I actually miss doing these. I used to do it every week last year and it really was a joy to put them out because they got so much attention on here. Now with teams having made their moves at the deadline and now that they've been able to incorporate those new players to a certain degree, this serves as an ideal time to return with the power rankings. We'll now evaluate who stands where at this point in time and who is prime to make a run, who's running out of gas and who is flying under the radar. So here's this season's first incarnation of GoHornets21's NBA Power Rankings.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (48-14) - LeBron James has been absolutely terrific this season in every way and there's nobody playing better in the league at this point in time. The injuries to Shaquille O'Neal and the "risky trade" of Zydrunas Ilgauskas really have hurt the frontcourt, and it's going to be difficult trying to get all of those players used to the rotation and back into the flow of things right at the postseason, but the Cavs have the best player in the league to help these players come along. Mo Williams has found his shot as of late and if he can get consistent at all this season, the Cavs will be even better. Antawn Jamison still looks like an odd fit, but he's putting up numbers and the Cavs could really use some scoring from the frontcourt positions so he has to be a welcome addition for Cleveland.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (46-16) - The team is still coming along slowly since Kobe Bryant's return to the lineup. That's not to say this team is better without him. If they're going to win a championship this season, they need Kobe in top form for the entire postseason. He is the player that puts them over the top. But players like Jordan Farmar, Pau Gasol and Shannon Brown were getting all kinds of touches and opportunities to create for themselves and others, that they're now having to regress back to earlier this season and allow Kobe to get his touches again. I think the confidence built up for Brown in Kobe's absence may have already gone to waste at this moment, but there's still time to build it back up. Lamar Odom continues to play some really solid basketball of late as well.
3. Denver Nuggets (40-21) - The Nuggets continue to be a mixed bag for me. Sometimes I think they look terrific and other times I think they don't have the mental toughness to be a championship team. But they've played some really inspired basketball since George Karl's cancer announcement and they continue to stand out, to me, as the Lakers' biggest threat in the Western Conference. But Dallas is hard on their heels and the Nuggets have to continue to bring it every single night.
4. Dallas Mavericks (41-21) - Currently the hottest team in the league, the Dallas Mavericks have been a completely different team since Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood entered the starting lineup. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd both have just played some really great basketball since the trade and the Mavericks look as good as they have since the year after their NBA Finals apperance. As we know, that team lost in the first round of the playoffs, though. I don't expect that to happen this season but the Mavericks still have to distance themselves from the postseason stink that surrounds that franchise. Is a clutter of assorted individual talents going to be enough to finally get Dallas over the hump? Only time will tell. But I think this group of players is a good enough fit for this team to make some kind of run. Getting that second seed is more important to them than it is to any other team in the Western Conference in my opinion so I don't see them letting up at any point the rest of this year. This is Dirk's new best chance to get that elusive championship ring. He's playing like it.
5. Orlando Magic (42-20) - I don't know what's happened in Orlando, but Dwight Howard has really came on as of late. After that dissapointing loss in New Orleans last week, the Magic have really looked focused out there and it shows in their play on the court. Rashard Lewis is slowly starting to come along this season (finally) and if he gets a consistent shot like he had last season, this team will again challenge Cleveland in the Eastern Conference. But they need Lewis to play better than he has this season. Jameer Nelson continues to be an enigma of sorts in Orlando but when he's on this team really gels. They need him to regain some kind of consistant form and when he and Lewis do, watch out.
6. Utah Jazz (39-22) - The Jazz have been flying under the radar all season but they're playing great basketball this season. They've finally learned how to win on the road this season and we all know how tough of a team they are when they're in Salt Lake City. Deron Williams really has to enter into some MVP talks with the way he's kept this team together, and Carlos Boozer is using this contract year to really step out and he is really playing hard to get paid this summer. I still think they lack the interior toughness that championship teams possess, but the Jazz shouldn't be underestimated.
7. Atlanta Hawks (39-21) - After these first six teams, it gets a little jumbled up to me. Atlanta stands out just because they have a terrific starting 5, a solid coach (I don't care what you Hawks fans say to the contrary) and a great 6th man. Also, they've beaten the only other team I would consider for this spot (Boston) four times this season, so I believe Atlanta deserves to be here. I usually roll my eyes when people say Joe Johnson is always an underrated superstar in this league, but this year is the first time I would really say that. He's been huge for the Hawks when they need it and he's had to handle a lot with Mike Bibby's struggles this year and with Jamal Crawford not really being a true point guard. But he's handled it well. Marvin Williams has played well the next couple of games, and if they can get him to play hard they'll be just fine in the playoffs. I don't know why he's been so bland this season. But this team has the starting five, they just need to start putting it together for the stretch run.
8. Boston Celtics (38-21) - The Celtics are trying to get fully healthy for the first time this season, and if they can do so the league better watch out. The Celtics really don't need home court advantage in the postseason. They've been there and done that when it comes to winning in the playoffs and all they need is a fully healthy roster. Neither Rasheed Wallace or Marquis Daniels turned out like they wanted this offseason in Boston, but picking up Nate Robinson at the deadline looks to be a good move. What happened to Glen Davis this season? After last year's run in the playoffs, I thought he was going to emerge as a great player off of Boston's bench this season. He's only had a couple good games that I can remember all season long. I guess some of it may be injury, but how much of it is possibly because he got paid this summer?
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (36-24) - Russell Westbrook continues to be in Kevin Durant's shadow this season but continues to play some of the most unheralded basketball in the league. However, there's still no equaling what Durant's doing this season. He's been the catalyst for this surprising team all season long and has absolutely no offensive weakness to his game. If you want someone to score a point for you down the stretch, I'd put him right up there with Kobe as someone who I would want to have the ball for that possession. And I whole heartedly mean that. He's been great. Jeff Green's stats have fallen off this year as opposed to last year, but I still think he's important as a glue guy for this team. He's really gotten lost in the praise shuffle in Oklahoma City, and I think his salary may be neglected this offseason and that may hurt the Thunder's progression. But there's no reason why this team can't win at least one playoff series this year.
10. Phoenix Suns (39-25) - The surprising resurgence in Phoenix continues even after a horrible month of January. Steve Nash is still playing good basketball, Amar'e Stoudemire has been terrific since the trade deadline (someone else looking to get paid this summer) and they've gotten great contributions from Grant Hill, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye and Goran Dragic all season long. Robin Lopez had about a week where he was putting up some terrific numbers but he's regressed a bit these past few games. The Suns will need him to consistently contribute on both sides of the court if they're going to make any noise in the postseason. He's shown that he's capable, it's up to him to still find ways to contribute even when teams now make an effort to guard him.
11. Portland Trail Blazers (37-27) - The team with the worst luck in the league is slowly getting back to health and when they do, they're one streak away from convincing me they can contend for a spot in the Western Conference Finals. They're not that far off. They're incredibly deep, they have a fantastic bench, a legit superstar in Brandon Roy and one of the best home courts in the league. Getting Marcus Camby at the deadline will do a lot to soften the blow of not having Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla for the rest of this season. Juwan Howard played admirably in their absence, but no legitimately good team is going to start him at center. He probably shouldn't even be getting the heavy minutes that he is, but Nate McMillan really has no other options. They have to find a way to get healthy this year if they want to make a run, but they can do it. I like their chances.
12. San Antonio Spurs (34-24) - The Spurs continue to impress you one night, make you sick the next when they take the court. I think a lot of the inconsistency across the board is Greg Popovich's fault. All things considered, and I think Pop is the second best coach in the league to Phil Jackon, this has been Pop's worst season as a head coach at San Antonio. The main reason for the Spurs inconsistency is Pop's inability to have any stable, set rotation this season. He's given big minutes to George Hill, and that seems to be the only player outside of the big three that Pop knows what he wants to do with them. He's started Richard Jefferson and brought him off the bench; done the same to Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair and Keith Bogans as well. He needs to set a rotation, know who he wants in the game and go with that already. He's hurting this team's chance to get in any rhythym before the playoffs.
13. Milwaukee Bucks (31-29) - I've really been driving the Milwaukee bandwagon as of late. Andrew Bogut has come down to Earth a little bit after a terrific stretch of basketball, but Scott Skiles and company just find ways to win basketball games. John Salmons has been indescribably huge for them since coming over at the trade deadline, and let's not forget the contributions Jerry Stackhouse has made for them off the bench since coming on board midway through the season. You look at their bench, they have Luke Ridnour, Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas, those are players that can contribute for you on a nightly basis. They're more talented than people give them credit for. If Brandon Jennings finds his jump shot again at any point the rest of the season, watch out for this team in the playoffs.
14. Toronto Raptors (31-28) - The Raptors started off playing some good basketball after Chris Bosh initially got injured, but have tailed off since; losing their last four games. I thought Hedo Turkoglu would be an ideal fit for this team and the way they play basketball, but he's just been so unreliable all season long. Andrea Bargnani really hasn't taken that step forward this season that I thought he would either. There's a lot of players who have dissapointed up North, but the team still finds itself above .500 and they're still a solid team with Chrsi Bosh in the lineup. I had bigger hopes for them, though. Now, I can't see them winning a playoff series. Then again, I was wrong with them once.
15. Memphis Grizzlies (32-30) - The Grizzlies started off slow, played great basketball, tailed off, and are now starting to play great again. The team really goes as Zach Randolph goes. When he plays great, the team is unstoppable. When he's simply going through the motions and is just putting up decent numbers, it reflects in everyone else's contributions. The bench is still horrendously thin and that's probably going to keep them out of the postseason. But the Grizzlies have taken a step forward this season and the franchise at least has a pulse now.
16. New Orleans Hornets (31-31) - This was a crucial week for New Orleans and any hopes they had of making the postseason and the team didn't respond very well. Losses at home to San Antonio and Memphis have great deteriorated the Hornets' playoff opportunity. Chris Paul is said to be coming back in roughly a week, and his presence will be welcomed back among Hornets players, coaches and fans alike. Darren Collison has been terrific in his absence, but his turnovers have cost the Hornets just as many games as he's won for them. Marcus Thornton continues to be a terrific find in the 2nd round for Interim Head Coach/General Manager Jeff Bower, and the Hornets are doing the right thing by developing their young talent. This offseason is going to be critical for the direction the Hornets take as a franchise.
17. Chicago Bulls (31-30) - I'm done trying to figure out what kind of team the Bulls are going to be this year. Outside of Derrick Rose, you don't know what you're getting out of anybody on any given night. Luol Deng has rebounded very nicely this season and is the clear cut second option, but is that necessarily a good thing? Joakim Noah's injury also is holding the team back a bit, since he was playing so well at the beginning of the season. Looking at Ronald Murray, Devin Brown and Jannero Pargo, the Bulls are probably wishing they had held on to John Salmons. Hakim Warrick has always put up good numbers on bad teams, but is now being asked to contribute for a team with postseason aspirations. He needs to deliver for Chicago.
18. Miami Heat (31-31) - The Heat's decision to not pursue a second option for Dwyane Wade may have been the right move financially, but it's really hurt the team on the court. Michael Beasley showed glimpses of being able to put it all together earlier this season but started bickering at reporters and has regressed ever since. Maybe a lot of you were right when you told me he didn't have the mental toughness to survive in this league. Outside of Beasley, who of these guys do you really want contributing nightly for your team? It's such a bad roster that I'm surprised Wade has them at .500. I know they have the money for him and another superstar, but does this team have the brass to really put a decent team together? Even if you add another great player, that's still a horrible group of players and now two good players. It won't make them a championship team.
19. Houston Rockets (30-30) - After the very publicized trade in Houston, Kevin Martin has come around to finding his shot for the Rockets. They've been without Kyle Lowry for about 9 games now (I think) and that's really been a big reason why the team has struggled as of late. They were playing so well at the beginning of the year, and with all the injury problems you kind of pulled for them to make some noise but they just don't have the talent to keep up. It doesn't seem likely, but hopefully Yao Ming returns healthy next season (long shot) and this team can make some kind of sustained run together. It's not a bad, little group of players.
20. Charlotte Bobcats (28-31) - For awhile there this team looked like a lock to make the postseason and was playing great basketball. As of late, they've really looked bad. Larry Brown hasn't been able to get a handle on this team in the two years he's been with Charlotte, and he doesn't look like he's enjoying the job either. Michael Jordan buying the team pumps some life into them, but this roster doesn't have any kind of cohesive feel to it. It's a great assortment of individual talent, but none of them look good together on the court. I still like the move to acquire Tyrus Thomas at the deadline and he can be huge off the bench for the Bobcats if he plays up to his potential. Miami is catchable, but their margin for error is slim and the team needs to get an identity and they need to do so quickly.
21. Sacramento Kings (21-40) - Even though the record isn't there, the effort, the hustle, the coaching and the potential is there to create some kind of excitement around Sacramento. The move to acquire Carl Landry while getting rid of Kevin Martin's contract was just ingenious. Tyreke Evans should run away with rookie of the year honors and overall this team has a fun feel to it. Paul Westphal is the perfect balance of discipline and structure that a group of unproven players needs, and this team can really make strides these next two seasons and be back in the playoffs by 2012.
22. Los Angeles Clippers (25-36) - The curious resigning of Mike Dunleavy and subsequent trades for cap space have once again made the Clippers a barely relevant basketball team, although their record says that they're now awful this season. This team continues to riddle even the most brilliant of basketball fans, as there's no reason for a team with that kind of talent to be as mediocre as they are. They have a good point guard, a good center, and good contributors at every position out there. But they just never can put it together. Hopefully, Blake Griffin comes back next season fully healthy and this team makes some kind of stride going forward. There's really no excuse anymore to not succeed.
23. Philadelphia 76ers (22-38) - Nobody's been able to figure out what's going on in Philadelphia all season long. Eddie Jordan just hasn't given this team any kind of identity or style and the play has been indicative of that. The Allen Iverson saga has become bigger than the franchise as of late (something that most teams wanted to avoid, which is why Iverson was so available for Philadelphia). They didn't make any moves at the deadline and I'm curious as to why they didn't, because they either need to get into rebuilding mode or spend ridiculous amounts of cash to be a playoff regular. Because there isn't a more stale team in the league than this 76ers squad.
24. New York Knicks (21-39) - The Knicks can put up numbers in bunches but still look like garbage some times on the court. That effort against the Cavaliers was pathetic but at least they rebounded to beat up on Detroit last night. David Lee has been one of the most consistent players on the court league wide and if not for him the Knicks would probably be in worst shape than they currently are. Bill Walker looks to be a great find off of Boston's bench (after hearing their interest in Michael Finley, you think they're regretting letting Walker go?) but then again, everyone looks to be a great find when they get in D'Antoni's gimmicked system. They have a bad team, but that's mainly because they've freed up the space to go after who they want this offseason. For the sake of their fans, they better get them, because if not this franchise is going to be in really bad shape.
25. Washington Wizards (21-37) - Moving Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler has been so great for this Washington franchise. It's not that those were bad players, they're really good players. In fact, their new teams are both in the top four of these power rankings. And their additions are a big reason why. But Washington needed a change in identity, and disassociating themselves from anybody involved with the team's playoff runs was a good thing for the future. Now without the constraints of commitments to veterans, Flip Saunders has taken the handcuffs off this team and their play has been indicative of such. Andray Blatche, especially, has been huge since the trade deadline and looks fantastic out on the court. They're still not a good team, but at least they're a team Wizards fans can be prouder of.
26. Detroit Pistons (21-40) - The Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva signings officially look awful. In fact, they look like some of the worst moves league wide in a long, long time. It's not as if this team has the cap space to improve, the coaching that gives me confidence things can turn around, or even the young talent that you know they can build around. Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye, Will Bynum, these are all nice players for good teams but they're not players you want to hitch the future of a franchise to. When you look at the paychecks that Gordon, Villanueva and Jason Maxiell are getting in Detroit, it's no wonder why this team is so average. They've invested in the wrong types of players and this franchise is in dire needs of a makeover.
27. Indiana Pacers (20-41) - They've really taken a step back this season and injuries have been a big part of it. Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy and even the likes of Jeff Foster and Tyler Hansbrough have all missed substantial time this season. It's not as if this team was stacked with talent to begin with, so the injuries just make things worse. Jim O'Brien looks as good as gone, and this is another team that really needs some kind of makeover. I look at the players Larry Bird has brought in and the players he's drafted, and I don't think he's done a bad job in Indiana. I just don't look at the roster as a whole and say "there's something to like here." Danny Granger hasn't been able to duplicate the success he had last season and neither has Troy Murphy for the most part. Those are probably the biggets reasons why Indiana has taken such a drastic step back.
28. Golden State Warriors (17-43) - Stephen Curry has really been a feel good story in the Bay City and has done a lot to lessen the blow that is how awful this team is out on the court. He's played all year and has done a fine job in his starting role, but Monta Ellis' recent injury problems have only added on to the long list of injured Warriors on the roster. This is now becoming a recurring theme every year for Golden State, and it confuses me as an observer from the outside. Why is it that all these players are getting hurt in Golden State every single year, regardless if the player has any kind of injury history or is even getting any substantial minutes to where this injury can occur. There's some kind of bad aura surrounding Golden State right now and it doesn't look bright for the Warriors.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-48) - Finally Corey Brewer has come around to being a servicable player in this league. Maybe still not worthy of the lottery pick the Timberwolves used on him, but a good player nonethless. Outside of him and Kevin Love, everybody that was on the team last season just has dissapeared this season. This bootleg triangle that Kurt Rambis is trying to opperate just is not working. Al Jefferson is nowhere near the player he was the last two seasons. Ryan Gomes would at least show glimpses of being a good player last year and he's been virtually non-existent this season. Jonny Flynn has put up good numbers but has done nothing to stand out in Minnesota as well. This is another team that's still a bit puzzling because you don't know when the true rebuilding stage is going to kick in. They're obviously not anywhere near playoff contention yet, but what gives you any indication they will be in the near future?
30. New Jersey Nets (6-54) - For awhile there I bought into the hype that the Nets could set the NBA record for futility and surpass the 76ers 9-63 record. After last week's win at Boston, I'm convinced this team will at least go 4- 19 over their last 23 games to get that elusive tenth victory. This team has no business being this bad, and for that reason I kind of feel as if they deserve to carry that loser label around with them. They don't try, they don't perform, they're undisciplined and they don't seem to care that they're so awful of a team. Poor Kiki Vandeweghe was told to firesale the roster with the hopes of acquiring LeBron James this offseason, but he's going to be blamed for how bad this roster is. Even with all this cap space, there's no reason for a player to want to go to New Jersey, the impending move to Brooklyn is still pending, and that Russian billionare who was going to buy the team still has yet to buy them. Even still, they shouldn't be anywhere near 9-63.
Tags: 76ers, Al Jefferson, Allen Iverson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Andray Blatche, Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Antawn Jamison, Antonio McDyess, Austin Daye, Ben Gordon, Bill Walker, Blake Griffin, Bobcats, Brandon Jennings, Brandon Roy, Brendan Haywood, Bucks, Bulls, Carl Landry, Carlos Boozer, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Channing Frye, Charlie Villanueva, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Clippers, Corey Brewer, Danny Granger, Darren Collison, David Lee, DeJuan Blair, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Devin Brorwn, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, George Hill, Glen Davis, Goran Dragic, Grant Hill, Greg Oden, Grizzlies, Hakim Warrick, Hawks, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, Hornets, Jamal Crawford, Jameer Nelson, Jannero Pargo, Jared Dudley, Jason Kidd, Jason Maxiell, Jazz, Jeff Foster, Jeff Green, Jerry Stackhouse, Joakim Noah, Joe Johnson, Joel Przybilla, John Salmons, Jonas Jerebko, Jonny Flynn, Jordan Farmar, Juwan Howard, Keith Bogans, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Kurt Thomas, Kyle Lowry, Lakers, Lamar Odom, LeBron James, Luke Ridnour, Luol Deng, Magic, Marcus Camby, Marcus Thornton, Marquis Daniels, Marvin Williams, Mavericks, Michael Beasley, Mike Bibby, Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams, Monta Ellis, Nate Robinson, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, Pau Gasol, Pistons, Raptors, Rashard Lewis, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Jefferson, Robin Lopez, Rockets, Rodney Stuckey, Ronald Murray, Russell Westbrook, Ryan Gomes, Shannon Brown, Shaquille O'Neal, Spurs, Stephen Curry, Steve Nash, Suns, Thunder, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Troy Murphy, Tyler Hansbrough, Tyreke Evans, Tyrus Thomas, Warriors, Will Bynum, Wizards, Yao Ming, Zach Randolph
Posted on: February 10, 2010 1:46 am
We're approaching the all star weekend in the NBA; the unofficial midseason point for NBA teams. At this point, we all have a pretty good understanding and grip on what certain teams are going to be able to do and what a lot of teams are unable to do. Lots of trades are being rumored to go down even though nothing looks concrete as of yet. But why are teams in this situation? A lot of them are where they are because of the moves they made this offseason. Last year, I wrote a report on how the NBA's biggest offseason additions worked by the all star break. Some, like the Mo Williams acquisition for the Cavaliers, worked. Some, like the Jermaine O'Neal experiment in Toronto, flopped. So we're going to give it a shot again. Here's a look back at the biggest player movements during the offseason and how they've worked thus far in the 2009-2010 NBA Season.
Cleveland Cavaliers trade Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to the Phoenix Suns to acquire Shaquille O'Neal
San Antonio Spurs trade Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto to the Milwaukee Bucks to acquire Richard Jefferson
Boston Celtics sign Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels
Los Angeles Lakers sign Ron Artest
Orlando Magic trade Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee and Tony Battie to the New Jersey Nets for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson
Atlanta Hawks trade Acie Law and Speedy Claxton to the Golden State Warriors for Jamal Crawford
Tags: Acie Law, Allen Iverson, Andrew Bynum, Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace, Bobcats, Bucks, Cavaliers, Celtics, Charlie Villanueva, Chauncey Billups, Courtney Lee, Delonte West, Dwight Howard, Emeka Okafor, Fabricio Oberto, Glen Davis, Hawks, Hedo Turkoglu, Hornets, Jamal Crawford, Jermaine O'Neal, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett, Kurt Thomas, Lakers, Magic, Marquis Daniels, Mo Williams, Nets, Paul Pierce, Piston, Rafer Alston, Raptors, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Jefferson, Rockets, Ron Artest, Ryan Anderson, Sasha Pavlovic, Shaquille O'Neal, Spurs, Suns, Tony Battie, Trail Blazers, Trevor Ariza, Tyson Chandler, Vince Carter, Warriors
Posted on: September 29, 2009 2:19 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2010 2:45 am
The NBA: where amazing happens. Don’t believe me? Well then you get watch the propaganda spewed out by David Stern with his commercials during the NBA Playoffs. Or, if you want more concrete evidence, watch the Orlando Magic’s meteoric rise to the NBA Finals last season. Given no credit during preseason predictions last season, the Magic went from being an “above average” team to now being the defending Eastern Conference Champion. But the Magic did not make it without problems. The credibility of their coach came into question at the first quotable reference from Shaquille O’Neal. The offensive game of Dwight Howard was critiqued at every level. Hedo Turkoglu was criticized, loved, and then all but disowned by the Magic fan base and organization. So even though the Magic are the defending division and conference champion, they enter this year with new players, a new mentality but with the same goal as everyone in this division: win the NBA Championship.
1. Orlando Magic – Last season’s run for Orlando was a sight to behold. Dwight Howard captured hearts and accolades with his performance all year and is now established as the unquestioned best center in the league. Things looked bleak as far as a run in the playoffs was concerned when Jameer Nelson was lost for the season. But the Magic pulled off a terrific trade for Rafer Alston and made the NBA Finals. Stan Van Gundy was mentioned as one of the best coaches in the NBA, but when he got into a public exchange of words with Shaquille O’Neal, he was accused of being a “master of panic” and immediately Van Gundy was under intense scrutiny. Every mistake, every play was overly scrutinized in the postseason and every time that Van Gundy’s Magic lost a game, he was immediately blamed for it. Even Marcin Gortat, the backup center for the team, came out and criticized the coach in a newspaper published in his native country during the postseason. Somehow, Van Gundy was still able to rally his troops to upset victories in series against the defending champion Boston Celtics and the indestructible Cleveland Cavaliers before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers (another loss he was blamed for).
Tags: Al Horford, Allen Iverson, Antawn Jamison, Bobcats, Boris Diaw, Brandon Bass, Brendan Haywood, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Chris Quinn, Courtney Lee, D.J. Augustin, Daequan Cook, DeSagana Diop, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Emeka Okafor, Fabricio Oberto, Gerald Wallace, Gilbert Arenas, Hawks, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, Hornets, Jamaal Magloire, Jamal Crawford, Jameer Nelson, Jason Williams, Joe Johnson, Joe Smith, Joel Anthony, Josh Smith, Lakers, Magic, Marcin Gortat, Mario Chalmers, Matt Barnes, Maurice Evans, Michael Beasley, Mickael Pietrus, Mike Bibby, Mike Miller, Nazr Mohammed, Nick Young, Rafer Alston, Raja Bell, Randy Foye, Rashard Lewis, Raymond Felton, Ronald Murray, Ryan Anderson, Tony Battie, Tyson Chandler, Udonis Haslem, Vince Carter, Vladimir Radmanovic, Wizards, Zaza Pachulia
Posted on: December 22, 2008 1:06 am
1. Boston Celtics (1) - There's no better team in the league than Boston and they're head and shoulders above the rest of the league. They're going to approach the NBA's record 72 wins in a season though I can't see them overtaking that record. It's not outside of the realm of possibility, though and they're the class of the league.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (3) - Delonte West has settled in extremely well at the shooting guard position for the Cavaliers. They're an unorthodox bunch, what with a 6'9" point guard, two big men (one who rebounds, one who scores) and two shooting guards but they find different ways to win. Mike Brown's insistence on defense has really done wonders for this team and everyone, including some Cavaliers players, are finally starting to see why this mentality is so critical to success. Just look at Boston. An aggressive, smart defense will always keep you in ball games. LeBron James will find ways to win many close ball games.
3. Orlando Magic (4) - They've really legitamized their placement atop the league this week with big victories over both San Antonio and the Lake show. This group is dangerous when everyone's connecting. They got Dwight Howard back from injury and had a tremendous week from Jameer Nelson and he was huge in both of the victories. They're a group of misfits but they find a way to work and they play hard. Stan Van Gundy has done a tremendous job with this organization.
4. Los Angeles Lakers (2) - Kobe Bryant has tried to do it all this week and for the first time all season, the Lakers look vulnerable. We know these tough patches come every year so I don't believe it's anything worth throwing up the white flag, but there is trouble with this team. Andrew Bynum isn't having the season he was supposed to have this year but they're getting really good production out of Trevor Ariza and Jordan Farmar off the bench. Lamar Odom doesn't seem as comfortable off of the bench as he did in the starting lineup. When he started against New York this week, he looked a lot like the player who was a huge contribution to last year's squad. I think Lakers fans really undervalued his importance but I doubt he'll start next season as a Laker.
5. New Orleans Hornets (8) - The Hornets are on a roll right now and are doing a tremendous job on the defensive side of the ball. Tyson Chandler has looked energized this week and James Posey continues to be a tremendous force off of the bench. Peja Stojakovic's injury is cause for concern and this week will be the true test as to if the Hornets run is legitimate, and they need a healthy Peja to really have a fair shake.
6. Atlanta Hawks (7) - Even though they loss to Boston this week (who hasn't) how strange was it to have people circling a game at Atlanta? This squad has the attention of the best team in the league and has had them on the verge of defeat two times this season. They ended the week with a strong defensive performance against Detroit and this team continues to overacheive. Al Horford has proved last season was no fluke.
7. Portland Trail Blazers (11) - I can't seem to get a firm enough understanding of this squad and I move them up between the top half of the league every week. Brandon Roy is right behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade this season as far as MVP candidates are concerned and his 52 point performance against Phoenix Thursday night was amazing. The players play well as a team and they all know who the go to guy is. Minnesota fans have to look at Randy Foye and shake their head.
8. Houston Rockets (9) - Ron Artest seems pretty comfortable off of the bench and, honestly, Shane Battier's game may be better suited starting off for the Rockets. Rafer Alston's injury doesn't help matters but Aaron Brooks has done a fine job in the starting role. The team finds ways to win basketball games and Yao Ming deserves acclaim for his job so far this season as the anchor for this team.
9. Denver Nuggets (5) - This is the lowest the Nuggets have been since Chauncey Billups' arrival but they've hit a wall this week. After Carmelo Anthony's tremendous week last week, he shot horrible from the field this week. Their lack of explosiveness in the front court is crippling and they still seem to lack something to be taken serious as a Western confrence contender.
10. San Antonio Spurs (6) - I may have gotten too crazy with their run last week but the Spurs had two tough losses to New Orleans and Orlando this week. I'm shocked at the lack of minutes being distributed to Ime Udoka and Bruce Bowen but Popovich knows best about this squad. Kurt Thomas has seen a huge increase in minutes lately and I'm wondering if the Ian Mahinmi experiement is ever going to come to fruition.
11. Utah Jazz (10) - The Jazz organization is so caught up in the Carlos Boozer situation (his injury, whether or not he'll return next season) that they're letting it overshadow a very dissapointing start to this season for Utah. They've been very inconsistent this year and they still struggle on the road (unless they're playing Detroit). Deron Williams has yet to regain that level of play he's displayed the last two seasons but I see it only as a matter of time before he gets his feet back. When he does this team will take off, but it needs to happen soon.
12. Dallas Mavericks (12) - Dallas has had a quiet season but with the return of Josh Howard I think this team is ready to start taking strides. Jason Kidd can't do much at this stage in his career, but he can run an offense and Dirk Nowitzki's production with Kidd on the court is a testament to that. They take advantage of lesser competition and that's a huge upgrade from the beginning of the season. They just need to find ways to beat the better teams.
13. Phoenix Suns (14) - The Phoenix Suns have quietly had a huge week and a monster performance from Brandon Roy is all that kept it from perfect. I know Shaquille O'Neal is a punchline on these forums but his play this year has been solid for this team. I don't believe all that much has been lost from last season, but this talented bunch isn't having fun and I guess that means you complain regardless of record. I'm getting tired of the whining in Phoenix but that's a tradition Mike D'Antoni instilled that can never be replaced amongst that bunch.
14. Miami Heat (15) - Dwyane Wade had a tremendous week and this team as a whole had a tremendous week. A big Friday night victory against the Lakers was followed with a solid performance against New Jersey and this team seems to have finally developed some kind of a groove. Shawn Marion may not be playing up to his potential and Michael Beasley may be a huge dissapointment (statistically speaking) in the rookie class, but they have to love what they found in Mario Chalmers and I think Daequan Cook is doing a tremendous job in his important role off of the bench. They got a solid little team if they can get physical inside.
15. Detroit Pistons (13) - Rodney Stuckey has performed very well since his insertion into the starting lineup. They have, legitimately, no front court, though, and that bench that was so widely praised at the beginning of the season looks incredibly weak without Stuckey on it. Players like Aaron Afflalo, Walter Herrmann and Amir Johnson have dissapeared and have not lived up to preseason expectations. Jason Maxiell plays like a guy who received a huge contract instead of the guy who for the past couple of seasons looked like he was playing for his career. It's amazing to see how lackadaisical this team is. I don't think Flip Saunders was the problem.
16. Chicago Bulls (17) - Drew Gooden's injury is an inconvenience but the Bulls continue to play solid basketball. They may lack consistency but they're a legitimate playoff threat with Derrick Rose surprisingly playing at the current level of play he's displayed. They'll be around all season.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (20) - The Bucks have had a really solid week and have played well since Michael Redd's return from injury. They've been under the radar all season long but have to be pleased with the production that Scott Skiles has gotten out of this bunch. They're weirdly assembled but they play hard every night and that's reason enough to believe in them. Scott Skilles proves once again that he's a tremendous coach.
18. New Jersey Nets (16) - Devin Harris' performance against the Mavericks was unbelievable and New Jersey has to feel it made out like bandits with that trade. Eduardo Najera also played in that game against the Mavericks but quickly collected another DNP. They've gotten good minutes out of Ryan Anderson lately and Rod Thorn's done a good job building this team from the ground up. I can't see Vince Carter staying past the deadline if the Nets have an opportunity to trade him, and he's played well enough this season to where I can see some team taking a chance on him. They need to continue and complete the rebuilding cycle.
19. Philadelphia 76ers (21) - Well the destruction I wished on that franchise didn't happen and they've played well under new coach Tony DiLeo. Elton Brand's injury will show if this team is really better suited to run a spread out, fast court game. I think that fits the styles of their players better and I think they'll play well without Brand for a month.
20. New York Knicks (19) - Seven man rotations and no defense, D'Antoni ball is in full effect over in New York. All cheap shots aside, he's done a good job with that bunch and even though Al Harrington has cooled down considerably, Nate Robinson has picked it up with a very good week for the Knicks. They probably won't make the playoffs but the fact that people are believing they have a shot speaks for the job D'Antoni has done with this overacheiving bunch.
21. Los Angeles Clippers (23) - Marcus Camby has awoken this week and played at level that he displayed while with Denver. The Zach Randolph trade has worked out well for the Clippers but Baron Davis' play is holding this team back. You have to wonder if his priorities are in order, but I guess if you willingly sign for big money to play for the Clippers your priorities are already put into question. They can't move him, he has to work out there, but he can't continue to shoot this team out of ball games.
22. Indiana Pacers (24) - The unfortunate flu epidemic nailed the Pacers locker room and they played inspiring ball near the end of the week even though they were without three of their top four scorers in Marquis Daniels, Danny Granger and Troy Murphy. Jarrett Jack gave them a tremendous week as did T.J. Ford and overall, I'd say both Ford and Rasho Nesterovic have been nice additions to the Pacers team. They lack any kind of consistency but have talent over in Indiana. I just don't know if it will ever be fully tapped.
23. Memphis Grizzlies (22) - The Grizzlies lost both of their games in a quiet week and O.J. Mayo finally scored in single digits in a game. Yes, I know it was a quiet week in Memphis. I'd like to see Hakim Warrick start to get more minutes over in Memphis, though. He does well given the lack of opportunities he truly has.
24. Golden State Warriors (25) - Jamal Crawford single handedly got the Warriors a victory, and they're getting good production out of Marco Belinelli. Monta Ellis is gearing up to return sometimes in the next month but this team still lacks a true point guard. Hopefully, though, Ellis can return to form and give this Warriors fan base reason for excitement this season.
25. Charlotte Bobcats (27) - Boris Diaw looks rejuvenated in Larry Brown's offense and has done a fantastic job in his new starting role. Raja Bell looks unhappy in Charlotte and who can honestly blame him? Aside from that, though, the Bobcats look to be open to the thought of trading Raymond Felton. To me, it's amazing that he hasn't succeeded there but D.J. Augustin's performance is quietly pushing him out of favor with the organization.
26. Toronto Raptors (18) - The drop may be a tad drastic but this team is in awful shape. Chris Bosh is getting booed, they're losing to Oklahoma City and they don't play as a team anymore. Bryan Colangelo has truly done a bad job with this bunch but they're just not that talented to begin with. Jermaine O'Neal has done fine this season but it was fair to see all season that he just couldn't be that inside guy that Toronto truly needed. This team needs to do a lot of restructuring within the organization.
27. Sacramento Kings (26) - Reggie Theus' firing infuriated me but I'm not surprised. A team full of outcats from other organizations probably should be in playoff contention. When Brad Miller is your most consistent start you're not going to be in great shape and new coach Natt's 1-3 record since taking over isn't surprising. Theus deserved better for what he did last season and I don't think stressing that this team play hard and try to win should be overlooked simply for playing younger players and accepting poor performances.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (28) - The Timberwolves are reeling big time and Kevin McHale is winless as Minnesota's coach. Al Jefferson is a fine player but he can't do it all by himself. This shouldn't come as a surprise as, even in his last seasons, Kevin Garnett couldn't do it by himself in Minnesota. This is a poorly run organization and the team is horribly assembled. They may never get better with McHale at the helm.
29. Washington Wizards (29) - Mike James has played well since arriving in Washington but it's made no change to their record. Who can be surprised? Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison are playing really hard and it's difficult to watch those two players fail but the organization as a whole just has no real direction. They're in a hole, too, with the contract that was given to Gilbert Arenas.
30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - They finally got a win this week! They're playing hard every night now, which is an upgrade, they just don't have the talent on the team to win. Kevin Durant has played fine ball since Brooks was introduced as interim coach but after him, nobody is consistent enough to really give this team a chance to win on a nightly basis. They're still a few years away.
Tags: 76ers, Aaron Brooks, Al Harrington, Al Horford, Al Jefferson, Amir Johnson, Andrew Bynum, Antawn Jamison, Baron Davis, Bobcats, Boris Diaw, Brad Miller, Brandon Roy, Bruce Bowen, Bucks, Bulls, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Chauncey Billups, Chris Bosh, Clippers, D.J. Augustin, Daequan Cook, Danny Granger, Delonte West, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Devin Harris, Dirk Nowitzki, Drew Gooden, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Eduardo Najera, Elton Brand, Gilbert Arenas, Grizzlies, Hakim Warrick, Hawks, Heat, Hornets, Ian Mahinmi, Ime Udoka, Jamal Crawford, Jameer Nelson, James Posey, Jarrett Jack, Jason Kidd, Jason Maxiell, Jazz, Jermaine O'Neal, Jordan Farmar, Josh Howard, Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Kurt Thomas, Lakers, Lamar Odom, LeBron James, Magic, Marco Belinelli, Marcus Camby, Mario Chalmers, Marquis Daniels, Mavericks, Michael Beasley, Michael Redd, Mike James, Monta Ellis, Nate Robinson, Nets, Nuggets, O.J. Mayo, Pacers, Peja Stojakovic, Pistons, Rafer Alston, Raja Bell, Randy Foye, Raptors, Rasho Nesterovic, Raymond Felton, Rockets, Rodney Stuckey, Ron Artest, Ryan Anderson, Shane Battier, Shaquille O'Neal, Shawn Marion, Spurs, Suns, T.J. Ford, Thunder, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Trevor Ariza, Troy Murphy, Tyson Chandler, Vince Carter, Walter Herrmann, Warriors, Wizards, Yao Ming, Zach Randolph
Posted on: December 1, 2008 4:02 pm
Edited on: March 21, 2009 1:26 am
1. Los Angeles Lakers (1) - They've been number one all season long, and even though a part of me really wants to move them behind Boston, I simply can't. They've been winning, they've been winning consistently and they've been winning with a new player stepping up every night (ironically, the same can be said about Boston). They, though, have been great since the start of the season and I can't move them behind Boston. Not yet.
2. Boston Celtics (2) - Kevin Garnett is having probably his quitest season. Paul Pierce has been wildly inconsistent and Ray Allen's been a steady version of last year's diminished Ray Allen, yet this team continues to win. Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo, the two unheralded starters, are giving this team quality starts and they compliment what the big three do so well. Perkins' game has really improved this season.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (3) - I hear people asking "who have they beat", well they've only lost 3 times this season-all on the road. A mark of a good team is winning games that you're supposed to win and that's what the Cavaliers are doing. Charles Barkley is right in saying that LeBron James needs to shut it and start diverting all of his attention to the game and to his team, but a part of me believes that LeBron is more infatuated with the money and stardom than he is actual results on the court, which is why he'll always be a notch behind Kobe Bryant.
4. Denver Nuggets (4) - Even though they had a dissapointing loss at home to New Orleans on Thursday, this team continues to chug along with Chauncey Billups in the lineup. This past week J.R. Smith really heated up and if he regains the form he had for much of last season then this team can only get better. Chris Andersen coming back helps, but he can't be a savior for this frontcourt.
5. Orlando Magic (6) - Rashard Lewis is starting to play really good ball (even if you would like to see better rebounding numbers out of someone his size) and Dwight Howard is improving on his free throw shooting. Losing Mickael Pietrus for three weeks will hurt but this team continues to do what they did last year, quietly win ball games.
6. Portland Trail Blazers (9) - I got some criticism putting them as high as I have the past couple of weeks but they proved me right this week. Brandon Roy is one of the hottest players in the league and they're getting great production out of players like Travis Outlaw and Joel Przybilla. They're deep and they're talented.
7. Houston Rockets (5) - They get Shane Battier back and now Tracy McGrady is having problems with his knee (he's looked dinged up all season, what with his shoulder and whatnot). They are still winning, though, and they're doing it without any of their players playing consistently great ball. Luther Head has stepped up the past couple of games, but Adelman's system allows this team to make up for whoever is struggling on that given night. That's the sign of a good team.
8. Utah Jazz (8) - They had a bad loss to New Jersey but Deron Williams is slowly regaining some of the form he showed last season. It's slow, but steady, progress. Meanwhile, Paul Millsap has been outstanding in Carlos Boozer's absence and you have to believe he's going to see an amazing increase in minutes even when Boozer comes back.
9. Atlanta Hawks (10) - They're getting better play out of Mike Bibby (which is good because teams are starting to double Joe Johnson consistently) and they're surprisingly getting great contribution from Maurice Evans lately. This team just continues to stay around.
10. Phoenix Suns (7) - I've had this team high all season but the intensity and execution they showed the first couple of games has worn off and the honeymoon period has already ended in Phoenix. Amare Stoudemire is now complaining about coach Terry Porter's system and the team is searching for an identity all over again. A tailspin may be in this team's future.
11. Detroit Pistons (11) - Allen Iverson is already missing practice and Rasheed Wallace continues to jack up three pointers. Michael Curry was supposed to bring needed change in attitudes in Detroit but the players and player styles and attitudes continue to hold this talented team back. They should be in better shape than they currently in.
12. New Orleans Hornets (12) - A good win at Denver and a quiet four game winning streak have gotten the Hornets back on track, but they still need some consistent ball out of anyone not named Chris Paul.
13. San Antonio Spurs (19) - Despite the loss to Houston, this team is above .500, they're getting good production out of their young players, and both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are back. Those pesky Spurs just never go away.
14. New Jersey Nets (17) - People said I had them too high last week, I probably have them too high this week, but they're playing tremendous basketball. Devin Harris has played tremendous basketball so far this season and he and Vince Carter have consistently been there every night. They're supporting cast is hit and miss but they're getting a different person to contribute each and every night.
15. New York Knicks (14) - They need to get this Stephon Marbury situation over and done with, because it's clouding what's been a good season so far for the Knicks. David Lee has played great and Tim Thomas has been lights out since coming over from Clipper land. His best season came with D'Antoni in Phoenix, though, and his increase in production doesn't surprise me, and it won't surprise me when his production dips.
16. Dallas Mavericks (18) - There's not a hotter player in the NBA, currently, than Jason Terry and he's keeping this team afloat lately. They still can't get consistent production out of the small forward position and aside from Terry they can't really get an answer at shooting guard either, but Jose Juan Barrera looks like a solid backup at the point guard position.
17. Toronto Raptors (21) - They turned a horrible last week into a solid week this week until they ran into the Lake show. Chris Bosh has been outstanding this season and currently there's not a better big man in the league. They're getting great play out of Andrea Bargnani lately which is very encouraging, though the injury to Jermaine O'Neal isn't.
18. Miami Heat (13) - The Heat have been wildly inconsistent this season and it has to be frustrating for any Heat fan to watch this team win one, and then lose the very next game but at the same time they have to be happy with Dwyane Wade's production. This team is still relatively young and still has room to improve and should probably be around the playoff picture all season long.
19. Chicago Bulls (20) - All things considered, I believe Vinny Del Negro has done a solid job with this team. They're slowly starting to get healthier (and will be better when Kirk Hinrich returns) but they still are an inconsistent bunch. Drew Gooden has played well lately and Luol Deng is slowly returning to form as well.
20. Philadelphia 76ers (15) - Andre Iguodala has played like a guy with a fat new contract, in other words he's definitely underperformed but I think with the offense having to adjust to the half court offense that Elton Brand flourishes in takes away from the strengths of both Iguodala and Andre Miller. Maurice Cheeks needs to succeed this season if he wants to keep his job and it looks increasingly difficult for him to do.
21. Milwaukee Bucks (16) - They're struggling without Andrew Bogut but Richard Jefferson is quietly having a solid season. Charlie Villanueva has put up good number this season but still hasn't brought it consistently like he should in a contract year. He needs to develop a solid game and put that tremendous talent to use but he plays like a small forward and is too slow to play that position. He should look at a player like David West and try to emulate a version of his game and then he can fully reach his potential.
22. Indiana Pacers (22) - The Pacers are puzzling because they just can't seem to get over that hump and win basketball games. Danny Granger has been great, proving last year was no fluke, and Marquis Daniels has continued to play encouraging ball but they can't seem to get going as a unit. Early in the season it was T.J. Ford playing while everyone else was struggling and now Ford has lot a step lately. They need to get it together and I believe they will in the coming month.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (25) - It feels weird putting them this high but I believe they're the best out of all of the lower tier teams. Sebastian Telfair has been a steady force at point guard with Randy Foye and Mike Miller has had a couple of good games lately. They won't make the playoffs, but winning nearly 30 games this season would be a huge step in the right direction for this squad.
24. Charlotte Bobcats (27) - Jason Richardson has returned and rumors are circling whether or not he will be shopped around. Gerald Wallace has also been rumored to be out the door lately as well and this team looks to be in questionable shape. D.J. Augustin has continued to play great and looks to be the best draft pick the team has made, which is ironic because he was not drafted at a position that needed filling and therefore his selection was criticized.
25. Golden State Warriors (24) - This team has been stuck in reverse all season long and they have to be hoping that when Monta Ellis returns they will make some progress this season because this team is young and in need of a step in the right dirction. Andris Biedrins has cooled off lately and Jamal Crawford, though a need at guard, can't run the offense like they need someone to.
26. Sacramento Kings (23) - This team is reeling and is doing so in a hurry. Even with Mikki Moore's return, this team still needs Kevin Martin as he's not only their best player, he's the team's leader. John Salmons will be a great running mate when Martin returns and if Beno Udrih plays as well as he has without Martin in the lineup then this team can take off. Until then they will continue to struggle.
27. Memphis Grizzlies (26) - The team is slowly reaching irrelevance again and they're really struggling to find ways to win basketball games. I don't think coach Marc Iavaroni has any chance to retain his job which is sad as he was once a promising candidate around the league.
28. Los Angeles Clippers (28) - Zach Randolph was a good acquisition and Al Thornton has played as well as he did last season but this team is missing something. I don't know what it is, but I think this team would be making a horrible mistake in ridding themselves of Chris Kaman. Even though he and Randolph don't mesh well, Kaman is a better player than Randolph and is a much better player than Marcus Camby. They should find a way to keep him on this roster even though they could get a lot for him. Eric Gordon has played great this week.
29. Washington Wizards (29) - As predicted last week, Eddie Jordan was fired but nothing has changed with this team. They have Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and not much past those two players. Because of the guaranteed contracts, this team is in such a deep hole that they're going to be stuck in this position for the next few seasons and may lose their best player (Butler) soon.
30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - The 14 game losing streak is over and Kevin Durant and Jeff Green have played great ball this week. The offense looks a lot more fluid with Scott Brooks running the show. Why is Earl Waton still starting and how many chances is this team going to give themselves to draft a productive center in the lottery?
Tags: 76ers, Al Thornton, Allen Iverson, Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller, Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Andris Biedrins, Antawn Jamison, Beno Udrih, Bobcats, Brandon Roy, Bucks, Bulls, Carlos Boozer, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Charlie Villanueva, Chauncey Billups, Chris Andersen, Chris Bosh, Chris Kaman, Chris Paul, Clippers, D.J. Augustin, Danny Granger, David Lee, David West, Deron Williams, Devin Harris, Drew Gooden, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Elton Brand, Eric Gordon, Gerald Wallace, Grizzlies, Hawks, Heat, Hornets, J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford, Jason Richardson, Jason Terry, Jazz, Jeff Green, Jermaine O'Neal, Joe Johnson, Joel Przybilla, John Salmons, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Martin, Kings, Kirk Hinrich, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Lakers, LeBron James, Luol Deng, Luther Head, Magic, Manu Ginobili, Marcus Camby, Marquis Daniels, Maurice Evans, Mavericks, Mickael Pietrus, Mike Bibby, Mike Miller, Mikki Moore, Monta Ellis, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, Paul Millsap, Paul Pierce, Pistons, Rajon Rondo, Randy Foye, Raptors, Rashard Lewis, Rasheed Wallace, Ray Allen, Richard Jefferson, Rockets, Sebastian Telfair, Shane Battier, Spurs, Stephon Marbury, Suns, T.J. Ford, Thunder, Tim Thomas, Timberwolves, Tony Parker, Tracy McGrady, Trail Blazers, Travis Outlaw, Vince Carter, Warriors, Wizards, Zach Randolph
Posted on: October 10, 2008 7:05 pm
Edited on: October 25, 2008 1:33 pm
"Man I'm so hyped right now! Anything's possible!" Amidst the crying, yelling, and screaming that followed, we were able to distinguish Kevin Garnett above it all. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were not as overly jubulant and we may have been able to make out what they were saying, but let's not fool ourselves: after years of those three superstars wasting away in mediocrity they were able to come together and give one of the greatest single season performances in NBA history. The Boston Celtics were an extremely proud franchise but had not been able to recover from the retiring of Larry Bird. Many experiments followed. The Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker tandem created the most excitment, but who expected Kenny Anderson and Tony Delk to lead this team to the promised land? Soon Walker left and the Celtics relied on Ryan Gomes and Sebastian Telfair (amongst a strange assortment of other players) to be missing pieces alongside Paul Pierce. Needless to say, the losses piled and the Celtics continued to look at mediocrity as a haven for the current state of their franchise. But then the Celtics found a rebuilding Supersonics team and it all changed. What followed was something right out of a fantasy league. Nobody could have imagined a team pitting Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen on the same NBA squad and hardly anyone could have imagined the three being able to mesh so seamlessly and also be able to generate the most out of a questionable supporting cast. But the "Boston Three Party" quickly came together and created a euphoria in Boston that was unimaginable just one year prior.
It's amazing what a couple of deals can do to the face of a franchise: and all of the teams in the Atlantic division can attest to it. They all seemed to mirror the Celtics vision of changing your franchise's outlook and direction with a couple of transactions and an influx of new players. For better or for worse: the Atlantic division teams are all brand new: except for the Celtics. Nobody can blame the Celtics for staying put, especially since the assortment of players performed so well last season and with Kevin Garnett still serving as the anchor for this squad we have no reason to believe that motivation and hunger should be an issue. But all of the other teams made moves, maybe in a panic, to grab that trophy that's currently in the Celtics possession. From the 76ers acquisition of Elton Brand, to the Raptors rolling the dice on Jermaine O'Neal, followed by the "Firesale For LeBron" sweepstakes in New Jersey and the arrival of a new regime in New York.
Yes, change is abundant in the Atlantic but as the old saying goes, "the more things change the more they stay the same." Plenty of big name players and contracts have been added to the other four competitors, but none of the aforementioned squads will be able to test the Celtics on their quest for back to back championships. All of the other teams will prove to be more competition to the Celtics than they were last year, but at the end of the day the team with the experience, talent, coaching and love for defensive play will stand tall above the rest of the teams in the division. Here's the outlook on the Atlantic division.
1) Boston Celtics - After last offseason's wheeling and dealing, the Celtics won a championship and had the luxury of keeping the team intact for this season. Hunger will be the only obstacle facing this team in its quest to capture a second championship trophy. Kevin Garnett is still the MVP of this team and will handle the onseason leadership role while Paul Pierce continues to show that his spot on the Finals MVP trophy is completely deserved. Ray Allen's production will continue to decrease as he settles into the role of a spectacular spot up shooter (but not much else). Rajon Rondo is already the best defensive point guard in the league and the sky is still the limit for this young guard as he figures to be penciled in as a top ten point guard for the next few years. Kendrick Perkins isn't much more than a big body and bruiser but he isn't needed for much more than his presence. Obviously the departure of James Posey hurts this team (and definitely cripples the bench) and will lessen the Celtics chances at a repeat. His production just simply cannot be replaced by Tony Allen, Eddie House, or Darius Miles. Doc Rivers emerged as someone who looks like he can coach after his taking Phil Jackson to school in the NBA finals. Time will tell if this team is as motivated as it was last season. All signs point to yes.
2) Philadelphia 76ers - Trying to capture the Magic that the Celtics obtained last season, the Sixers set out to pick up an inside presence that would allow Reggie Evans to slide back into a better suited bench role. Elton Brand is just what the doctor ordered; or at least it looks like it on paper. Elton Brand is one of five current players to have career averages of 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. He's had a stellar career but has lacked success regardless of his location. Of course, playing with the Bulls post-Jordan and then suiting up for the Clippers for seven years doesn't give you many opportunities to be successful but now is his best opportunity to show that he's not just a player who puts up good numbers on bad teams. If he can't get it done this season, he's nothing more than Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Andre Iguodala had a solid season last year in response to the critics who bashed Iggy for turning down the contract extension he was offered the previous summer. Iguodala still got his big contract but his performance against the Pistons last postseason is enough to make people second guess his ability to lead and deliver in clutch, crucial situations. As far as point guards go in this league, there aren't many as effecient and effective as Andre Miller is. He never misses games, plays good defense and owns one of the best lob passes in the league. Samuel Dalembert continues to improve at the center position and players like Louis Williams, Thaddeus Young and Willie Green help form the identity of what looks like a promising team. As has been pointed out, their lack of three point shooting could hurt them when the playoffs come around but it won't prevent them from reaching the postseason.
3) Toronto Raptors - Last year was a setback in many ways for the Toronto Raptors players, franchise and fans. The arrival of Bryan Colangelo seemed like a match made in heaven and the 2006-2007 Raptors brought Chris Bosh to the spotlight, got Sam Mitchell a coach of the year award and gave big expectations to Andrea Bargnani entering his second year in the league. Sam Mitchell proceeded to mishandle (badly) the point guard situation with T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon. An injury to Chris Bosh midseason derailed the Raptors and they never recovered. And Andrea Bargnani? When he wasn't pulling down 3 rebounds a game he was shooting near 30 percent from the three point line. Because of his horrible sophomore slump last season, the Raptors looked for an inside presence that could put this team into contention for an Eastern Confrence crown. As far as big names are concerned, acquiring Jermaine O'Neal is a big deal (even if it would have looked much better a few years ago). The team had to part ways with T.J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic but with Jose Calderon poised and ready to step into the starting point guard role and with Jermaine O'Neal replacing Rasho Nesterovic, this team should be better than what they were last season. Still, let's not fool ourselves. This is a team that was outsted from the playoffs in five games. Unless Jermaine O'Neal turns the clock back three years they will suffer, roughly, the same fate this season. O'Neal never lived up to that humongous contract that the Pacers gave him and it's hard to imagine that playing out of position alongside a player who is a better version of what O'Neal used to be is going to revive O'Neal's game and career. Jason Kapono is deadly from three point range but aside from that, the Raptors don't posses that type of wing player who's capable of taking over a game with his playmaking abilities. Anthony Parker is equally effecient from behind the arc but isn't as lethal a shooter or as much of a threat as Kapono is. Their lack of a true center and their lack of effective, effecient wing players will prevent the Raptors from making a huge splash in the postseason.
4) New Jersey Nets - If you entered last year expecting the Nets to make one last run at an Eastern Confrence crown with Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter then don't feel foolish. It seemed like a match made in heaven - Jason Kidd running the court with outstanding leapers Jefferson and Carter by his side. For whatever reason, that "big three" was never able to get past the semifinals and after watching last season's mediocre season unfold, the Nets went into firesale mode. But don't confuse this as rebuilding. This team has nothing to build around; except for the prospect of landing LeBron James in 2010. Gone are Kidd and Jefferson, in come the promising Yi Jianlian and the ever talented but annoyingly inconsistent Devin Harris to help reshape this Nets team. Jianlian faltered greatly down the stretch last year as he did not handle the 82 game season very well. It's hard to imagine playing for China in the Beijing Olympics helped matters but we'll see what steps he took to improve this season. Devin Harris has been on the cusp the past few years, people eager to see him take over and lead a team. He's yet to do so but posted solid numbers after leaving the Mavericks for Jersey last February. Vince Carter is there in contract and in scoring but not much else. He just seems to glide nowadays and is a shadow of the player that he was back in Toronto. Add that to the frontcourt by committee and it's hard to imagine this team being anything more than competitive this season. But look for them to make some progress this season, especially if Carter is traded by midseason.
5) New York Knicks - Oh, the New York Knicks. What's left to be said of this team that hasn't already been said? After five plus years of torture inflicted onto the fickle New York fanbase courtesy of Isiah Thomas, in comes Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni to save the day. Players love playing for D'Antoni's free spirit and light it up type of offense. Add that to the attractive market that is New York and the Knicks could be perceived as a team ready to turn the corner. Unfortunately, Isiah Thomas left this team stuck in the mud. With atrocious contracts being given to Eddy Curry, Jared Jeffries and Jerome James coupled with taking on ridiculous contracts of Stephon Marbury, Zach Randolph, Quentin Richardson, and Malik Rose, this team is in financial hell and God himself couldn't save them for this season or next. D'Antoni has his work cut out for him asking Curry and Randolph to leave the buffet table to run the floor and fit into his offense. If it looked awkward trying to incorporate Shaq into the Suns offense last season, one can imagine the fun of watching Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph running up and down the court and hustling. Good luck with that. Stephon Marbury seems like he would be a good fit for this offense, but didn't he look like a good fit alongside Kevin Garnett in Minnesota? Didn't he look like a good fit as the cornerstone in New Jersey? Didn't he look like a player who could bring the Suns what Jason Kidd couldn't? Looks can be deceiving. Stephon Marbury has underachieved on every team he's played for and aggrevated plenty of teammates and personnel over that period. The Knicks have players that fit the system in Richardson, Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson and David Lee but the reigns of the D'Antoni offense will no longer be handled by Steve Nash, but instead should be headed by Chris Duhon. The only big time free agent acquisition for the Knicks is a low key guy who would be a solid backup on a really good team but hardly is a man to run a complex offense of overpaid crybabies nor is he a candidate to lead them anywhere. His "party boy" tendencies also could be further exposed with the New York media paying close attention to him. Look for New York fans to be extremely patient this year and with this roster as currently constructed, they'll need all that patience and then some.
Tags: 76ers, Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller, Andrea Bargnani, Anthony Parker, Antoine Walker, Bulls, Celtics, Chris Bosh, Chris Duhon, Clippers, Darius Miles, David Lee, Devin Harris, Eddie House, Eddy Curry, Elton Brand, Jamal Crawford, James Posey, Jarred Jeffries, Jason Kapono, Jason Kidd, Jerome James, Jose Calderon, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett, Knicks, LeBron James, Magic, Malik Rose, Mavericks, Nate Robinson, Nets, Pacers, Paul Pierce, Pistons, Quentin Richardson, Rajon Rondo, Raptors, Rasho Nesterovic, Ray Allen, Reggie Evans, Richard Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Samuel Dalembert, Sebastian Telfair, Stephon Marbury, Steve Nash, Suns, T.J. Ford, Thaddeus Young, Tony Allen, Tony Delk, Vince Carter, Willie Green, Yi Jianlian, Zach Randolph