Well with the season nearing and with all of the players basically signed up to play for the upcoming 2008-2009 NBA season, I'm going to throw my predictions out there (even if it is too early). Their playoff seeding will be by the team name.
1. Boston Celtics (1) - The defending NBA champions throw out, roughly, the same roster and the biggest question is how hungry the big three will be after winning their championship. That may be a problem down the road but Kevin Garnett and company will not have hunger issues this season.
2. Philadelphia 76ers (3) - Obviously the addition of Elton Brand was huge for this team but it will be interesting to see how he meshes with this up tempo type team. Andre Miller is getting up there in age and Andre Iguodala had an awful postseason so there's room for skepticism but for some reason everything just looks as if it will mesh. Maurice Cheeks will have pressure to get out of the first round and if he can't deliver then he may be gone by next season.
3. Toronto Raptors (6) - Picking up Jermaine O'Neal gave them virtually a Chris Bosh carbon copy as both have similar games. Still the addition of another big man will always help and if O'Neal can be healthy and man down the center position (two tall tasks), if Chris Bosh plays like he did in the olympics, and if Jose Calderon plays like he did last season then this team could surprise. Too many if's for me, though.
4. New Jersey Nets - Even though this team was virtually in firesale mode this offseason I really liked the moves that they made. They picked up Yi Jianlian and I think he's going to be a great player in the league. Devin Harris is coming into his own as a point guard and the additions of role players like Bobby Simmons, Jarvis Hayes, and Eduardo Najera will keep this team playing hard. Is it just me or does anyone else see Vince Carter having a great season this year?
5. New York Knicks - Mike D'Antoni's gimmick offense worked when it had talent on his team. People forget how "great" his offense was when Leandro Barbosa was running the point the year before Steve Nash arrived. I don't know how he's going to involve Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry and company but if the offensive genius can do it then he'll have to do it with Chris Duhon at point guard. Good luck with that.
1. Detroit Pistons (4) - The talks of the Pistons demise have been dramtically overexaggerated. I, too, thought that Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace needed to go but that Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince should be retained. Turns out all of them are there. This doesn't mean that the team is going to lose in the first round. This team is every bit as talented as any of the teams that have gone to the last six eastern confrence finals. The problem is, it's as talented as all of the teams that have collapsed in those same confrence finals the last three seasons.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (5) - The addition of Mo Williams was drastically overrated as his style doesn't look like it will match up with LeBron James. Maybe they know something I don't, though. It looks like a shoot first point guard who didn't really run an offense (Delonte West and Daniel Gibson) were already on the roster so it looks like he was brought in for his gaudy stats. Unless LeBron James truly can do it all and play center then this team will have no inside presence. Zydrunas Ilgauskas tries but he's too old to be a dominat presence. Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao don't deserve mention.
3. Indiana Pacers (8) - For the first time in a couple years I see the Pacers coming into the season with a direction. It may not be talented enough to make a huge splash but the playoffs are every bit a possibility. Mike Dunleavy finally came into his own last year and now the key is doing it on a good team. Danny Granger is as talented as they come and the additions of T.J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic will help make this team better than it was last year when it fielded Jamaal Tinsley and Jeff Foster in those spots. Foster is better off the bench and the Pacers could be in position to make a legitimate run at the postseason.
4. Milwaukee Bucks - Scott Skiles was a huge addition for this team. He'll be able to get the pass-first point guards like Ramon Sessions and Luke Rindour get the ball into Andrew Bogut and Richard Jefferson. Michael Redd is still a one trick pony and any team with him as your best player is not going to go anywhere deep in the postseason so the key is to get Bogut going this season. Now's as good a year as any.
5. Chicago Bulls - Last year I had them in the confrence finals, this year they still haven't proven to me they've overcome last year's turmoil. I said it would be interesting to see how everyone responded to almost being traded for Kobe Bryant and sure enough they collapsed. Was last year just that or is that mental weakness and turmoil still in the clubhouse. Vinny Del Negro as your head coach is a head scratcher and who knows where this team is headed this season. I don't think it's the postseason. Joakim Noah should have an awesome season, though.
1. Orlando Magic (2) - Dwight Howard is right behind LeBron James and Kobe Bryant as far as best players in the league go. Rashard Lewis is going to put up similar numbers as he did last year (Though you'd like to see more rebounds) and the key is getting Hedo Turkoglu to repeat his performance from last season. Seeing that this is a contract year I think it's a big possibility. I wish Jameer Nelson would play all season like he did in last year's postseason and this team would be much better. They still lack that legitimate power forward and shooting guard but overall this team will be carried wherever Howard takes them.
2. Washington Wizards (7) - Losing Gilbert Arenas and replacing him with Juan Dixon isn't a blueprint for success and neither is dedicating all your money to two players on a team who haven't gotten your team out of the first round the past few seasons. This is a team destined for mediocrity and even though I love the games of all three members of the big three, they just don't spell championship success for a team. Caron Butler is great and I think with Arenas missing most of the season he can lead this team to the postseason.
3. Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade has made me a believer. After watching him in the olympics I can't wait to see him do it for a whole season. Problem is it's not likely he'll do it for more than 65 games. This year, though, they have Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley to pull some weight but the lack of a point guard or center could definitely kill this team. Spoelstra is a great selection as coach, though.
4. Charlotte Bobcats - Larry Brown was a fine addition to this club and they finally have a legitimate head coach. They just don't have legitimate players on the club. Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace don't mesh well together and Emeka Okafor would be better serves as a power forward on a contender. He's a fine player who was wrongfully given great player expectations. The selection of D.J. Augustin over Brook Lopez makes me scratch my head but it goes to show how much they don't think of Raymond Felton. Adam Morrison and Sean May's production expectations are anyone's guess.
5. Atlanta Hawks - My how they've fallen. Say what you want to about Knight but when he was fired I mentioned how bad of a move it was. Next thing you know this team lets Josh Childress leave, horribly mishandles the Josh Smith contract situation and are going to throw out a frontcourt of Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Al Horford. An aging Mike Bibby and floundering Joe Johnson won't save this team from taking a humongous step back from last season's promising playoff appearance.
1. New Orleans Hornets (2) - This team looks poised to take a step forward from their breakthrough performance last season. Inside presences like Tyson Chandler, fantastic scorers like David West and Peja Stojakovic, championship experience and toughness/defense in James Posey, athleticism and dedication from Julian Wright and Hilton Armstrong in addition to the best point guard in the league in Chris Paul leaves this team with no glaring weakness. The only problem for them will be how they handle expecting to win.
2. Houston Rockets (3) - The addition of Ron Artest is big and I really do look for Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming to have huge seasons. This team will mesh together very well and the flexibility off the bench with players like Shane Battier, Chuck Hayes, and Carl Landry (whose offer sheet I expect them to match) give this team a lot of depth and talent. But I still can't see a team with Raefer Alston at point guard winning a championship.
3. San Antonio Spurs (5) - The models for consistency are getting up there in age and with Manu Ginobili's health being in question coming into the season you have to wonder what, exactly, this team is going to do this upcoming season. Tim Duncan may have a couple more seasons like last year stored up but it's not guaranteed. You know what you're going to get out of Tony Parker but the rest of the team is open to interpretation. Roger Mason's a nice pickup, though, and this team is still a legitimate title contender with Tim Duncan on the roster.
4. Dallas Mavericks (7) - I stated last year that no team with Dirk Nowitzki as its best player would win a championship. The Mavericks tried to adress this by giving up Devin Harris for Jason Kidd and again (as properly predicted) it blew up in their face. Josh Howard has become a public relations nightmare and you have to wonder if this team as presently constructed can ever recover from that series with the Warriors two seasons ago.
5. Memphis Grizzlies - O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley Jr. and Rudy Gay are going to make this team exciting and if Marc Gasol lives up to expectations and Hakim Warrick plays as he did at the end of last season this team has the makeup and talent to be every bit as pesky and annoying as last year's Sacramento Kings team was. Their lack of a bench will keep us from taking them serious (unless you want to mention Antoine Walker and Darko Milicic, then again why would you?) but this is a team with a very good direction who could be good again in a couple years.
1. Utah Jazz (4) *by virtue of winning division - No offense to the rest of the teams in the northwest division but this is the weakest division in the West by far and aside from the southeast may be the weakest in the league. The Jazz are extremely talented and still lack enough inside power and a legitimate swing man to be taken serious as championship contenders but Deron Williams is the most underrated player in the league and this team will again win this division and be on its way to the postseason.
2. Portland Trail Blazers - Getting Greg Oden back is huge and Bradon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge are already legitimate. This team, though, still seems to be lacking somethign to take that last step. They're going to push for a postseason spot but last year this team thrived on everyone writing them off. They can't get caught up in the hype surrounding them or else they'll fail to live up to those expectations.
3. Denver Nuggets - Having a frontcourt of Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen isn't the sturdiest nor most dependable assembly of big guys in NBA history and that alone is the reason why the Nuggets will miss the playoffs for the first time in five years. Allen Iverson was denied a contract extension and will probably finish the year on someon else's team. J.R. Smith is a good player but you have to scratch your head at the contract he was given. Who knows how focused Carmelo Anthony is and if his head will ever match his skill out on the court.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder - Kevin Durant is the real deal. Everyone who said he had a bland year last season didn't really watch him play. He and Jeff Green are good cornerstones for this team and players like Desmond Mason, Joe Smith, and Nick Collison will make this team more competitive than last season's Supersonics. I'm surprised Carlesimo was retained but you can't blame him for last season's debacle of a team. Sam Presti has this team in the right direction and in a few years they're going to be great. Kudos to those great fans as well.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves - New logo, new power forward, same Kevin McHale, same Timberwolves. Trading O.J. Mayo for Kevin Love is confusing regardless of the influx of guards on the Timberwolves roster. Mike Miller is a fine player and Al Jefferson is the real deal, but why Randy Wittman is a head coach in this league I'll never know. It's tough for me to see this team being anything better than what was on the court last season.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (1) - There's no doubt as to who is going to win this division. The Lakers are the most talented team in the league and getting Andrew Bynum back is more of a boost to this team than Greg Oden is to Portland. Bynum should move in and it will be awkward at first before this team catches its groove around December/January. Bynum's injury status is something to keep an eye on as he hasn't yet played a full season. Kobe Bryant is the best player in the league and this is the Lakers' best shot at bringing home a championship.
2. Los Angeles Clippers (6) - Yes I put them above Phoenix. Even though chemistry may be a problem they put a talented team together and it's a team full of players who look like they will fit together. Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby are going to be deadly inside presences (if Kaman is focused for 82 games) and Baron Davis and Eric Gordon should light it up on the offensive end. They're not going to win championships but this team is very talented and if Mike Dunleavy can't get them to be legitimate this season then he's just not the coach we thought he was.
3. Phoenix Suns (8) - Signs of Steve Nash's decline are in place and even though Terry Porter is going to be good for this team you have to wonder if it's too late for the Suns to contend for their title. Shaquille O'Neal is light years past his prime but is still a legitimate center and a fantastic role player at this stage in his career: when he's motivated. That's the problem. Amare Stoudemire is a top ten player in this league and if he ever learns how to pass or play defense then he's going to be something special for years to come. But he's developed a fantastic mid range game to offset what he's lost with those knee surgeries. Problem is, though, this team is not built around Stoudemire. In due time, though.
4. Golden State Warriors - The Warriors, last year, were the toast of the town. Losing Baron Davis and trying to replace his scoring with Corey Maggette will show up in the box score but not in the leadership or win-loss column. After being burned by Elton Brand and Baron Davis and also losing Monta Ellis for the beginning of the regular season Warriors fans have to be wondering what's going to become of that promise that was there at the end of the 2006 season. Brandon Wright and Anthony Randolph are very good players to grow with but Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington are just like Corey Maggette and nobody knows who's going to run this team.
5. Sacramento Kings - After last season's surprising season this team will not sneak up on anybody this year. Kevin Martin looks like this generation's Reggie Miller; in other words he can score and try on defense but not much else. That's not a knock on him as I think he's better in that role than Michael Redd is and he's somebody good to build around. I just don't know if they'll win a championship with him as the guy on the team. Giving Beno Udrih that long term contract is quite the gamble but if he plays like he did last season it will pay off. If not he's going to just be on the roster for three years until they release him. This team is still talented and I still love Reggie Theus but the perception is they're not a playoff team, yet. And I agree.
Eastern Confrence First Round
1. Boston Celtics vs. 8. Indiana Pacers - The Pacers surprise run to the postseason may end quickly or the Celtics could start off slowly as they did last postseason. Either way, Kevin Garnett dominates and the Celtics advance.
2. Orlando Magic vs. 7. Washington Wizards - The Wizards string of seasons backing into the playoffs and losing in the first round will be continued this season as Dwight Howard destroys Brendan Haywood and the Magic advance.
3. Philadelphia 76ers vs. 6. Toronto Raptors - The matchup of Chris Bosh vs. Elton Brand will be hyped uncontrollably and this series should be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, though, the addition of Jermaine O'Neal gives no new result for the Raptors as they bow out in the first round again.
4. Detroit Pistons vs. 5. Cleveland Cavaliers - Rasheed Wallace and company help the Pistons overcome LeBron James despite a valiant effort from the Cavaliers. Will be the best matchup of the first round.
Eastern Confrence Semifinals
1. Boston Celtics vs. 4. Detroit Pistons - Last year's big matchup will now be held in the semifinals instead of the confrence finals. The Pistons, though, will suffer the same fate as the Celtics make relatively quick work of the Pistons in five or six games.
2. Orlando Magic vs. 3. Philadelphia 76ers - This will be a great matchup of last year's two surprising teams. Stan Van Gundy will try to bombard the Sixers with three pointers while the Sixers will struggle to make some. Elton Brand and company will give a valiant effort but the Sixers will lose in the semifinals.
Eastern Confrence Finals
1. Boston Celtics vs. 2. Orlando Magic - Dwight Howard will show up in the main stage but the Magic's continued improvement will again halt. Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu will dissapear in the key stretches and Paul Pierce will carry the Celtics back to the finals. They lose in the first round in 2007, the 2nd round in 2008, and now the confrence finals in 2009.
Western Confrence First Round
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 8. Phoenix Suns - This ridicuously hyped matchup will bring ratings but not much competition. Andrew Bynum vs. Shaquille O'Neal will be the high profile matchup and Amare Stoudemire will own Pau Gasol but Kobe Bryant will shine again and Lamar Odom will own Grant Hill on both ends of the court. Lakers advance.
2. New Orleans Hornets vs. 7. Dallas Mavericks - A rematch of last year's first round matchup proves the same result. Brandon Bass and Dirk Nowitzki will go nuts but Chris Paul will run circles around Jason Kidd and Peja Stojakovic and James Posey will shoot the Hornets past the Mavericks in six games.
3. Houston Rockets vs. 6. Los Angeles Clippers - This will, again, be a very interesting matchup. The Clippers will steal a game in Houston and everyone will panic and remind themselves Tracy McGrady has never gotten past the first round. But then when the series shifts to Los Angeles McGrady will take over and Rafer Alston will knock down big shots to help the Rockets win this series in six games.
4. Utah Jazz vs. 5. San Antonio Spurs - A fantastic matchup in the first round will take place but this series will only be for the old school fans. A lot of tough, inside, rough and tough, physical games will take place but that benefits the Spurs. Tim Duncan and Carlos Boozer will be a good matchup as will Tony Parker's speed vs. Deron William's strength but Manu Ginobili will out shoot Kyle Korver to help the Spurs advance.
Western Confrence Semifinals
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 5. San Antonio Spurs - The Spurs will come into this series destined to avenge last year's embarassment in the Western Confrence Finals. The result will be the same, though, as Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, again, prove to be the difference in this series and allow the Lakers to edge the Spurs in six games.
2. New Orleans Hornets vs. 3. Houston Rockets - This will (until the Western Confrence Finals) be the best matchup of the playoffs as the Rockets size and strength will matchup against the Hornets finesse style of play. Yao Ming will dominate as the Hornets leave Tyson Chandler one on one against the 7'6" superstar. Peja Stojakovic will be smothered by Ron Artest and Luis Scola will do his best to stay in front of David West. The Hornets will panic but James Posey and Julian Wright will slow down Tracy McGrady and eventually Chris Paul and David West will run the pick and roll to perfection to advance in seven games.
Western Confrence F inals
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs.2. New Orleans Hornets - The matchup of what would have been the more entertaining Western Confrence Finals last year will take place this season as these two talented teams will fight to see who advances to face the Celtics in the NBA finals. Kobe Bryant and company will split with the Hornets in Los Angeles before taking game 3. But the Hornets will come together in game 4 and gell just in time to take the series in seven games due to Peja Stojakovic's surprising play in a series that actually matters.
Boston Celtics (home court) vs. New Orleans Hornets - The hungry Hornets will come into town to matchup with the defending champions and the prospects of having James Posey try to take the championship away from the team that he left in the offseason will make for fun storylines. Chris Paul will be slowed down by Rajon Rondo but David West will step up big time and prove to be a key factor in his matchup with Kevin Garnett. Tyson Chandler will slow down Garnett on the offensive side of the court and although Paul Pierce will light up the Hornets, Peja Stojakovic will out shoot Ray Allen in the matchup of players who do virtually nothing other than rebound. The Hornets will win exactly one game in Boston but that will be enough to take the series in six games and allow (homer pick) for your 2009 NBA Champions, for the first time in franchise history, to be the New Orleans Hornets.