After a few days of some weightier issues, I thought something a little lighter might be in order. Last night marked the tip-off of the new NBA regular season. I’m a big basketball fan, and as such, I’m going to put down some of thoughts about the upcoming season. Just for the record, I did the same thing last season on a blog on Foxsports.com, where I picked the Houston Rockets to beat the Detroit Pistons for the NBA title. Hey, I can’t always be right.
1. Boston Celtics– Barring injury, the addition of Rasheed Wallace makes the Celtics hands-down the best team in the East, and a serious contender to take the title back from L.A. Barring injury.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers- Lebron James is the best player in the league (sorry, Kobe) and is just getting better. Shaquille O’Neal, on the other hand… I understand picking up Shaq to match up with Dwight Howard and Orlando, but their real problem, in my mind was length on the perimeter and shooting. Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker will help, but it’ll be interesting to see if Shaq is a solid contributor or a giant obstacle.
3. Atlanta Hawks- This is more of a decline for Orlando that an uprising for Atlanta. The Hawks have talent, and are more than capable of winning over 50 games. If Jamal Crawford can fit in, they’ll be even more dangerous and explosive offensively. That’s a big if, though.
4. Orlando Magic– Orlando’s greatest strength was their versatility and constant match-up nightmares. Well, Hedu Turkoglu took those with him to Toronto and Vince Carter brings his over-rated bag of worn-out tricks to town, making this team more traditional. That means don’t expect an approach of 60 wins again, or a serious threat to win more than a 1st round playoff series.
5. Chicago Bulls– This is where the conference falls off a cliff. Most of the teams in the East are at least decent, but after the top 4, no one else is really much more than a .500 club. The Bulls have the best chance of climbing the standings, even with the loss of Ben Gordon’s sometimes instant offense. Without Gordon’s ball-hogging shot selection, though, Chicago has a chance to run a more fluid offense, especially if Derrick Rose continues his growth.
6. Miami Heat- Provided Dwayne Wade stays healthy and strong, Miami is set for another mid-40 win, 1st round exit season before he leaves town for greener pastures as a free agent. The only way that’s not going to happen is if the Heat somehow manage to pull off a blockbuster trade in-season or Pat Riley persuades Wade that he’s actually going to bring in some talent after this season like he failed to do last year. For all the talk of Lebron leaving Cleveland, for my money, Wade is far more likely to go.
7. Toronto Raptors- Here’s another team desperately trying to hold on to a talented star in Chris Bosh. Somehow, I think Bosh may stay put, especially if the Raptors show some progress toward becoming at least a factor in the East. With Turkoglu’s point forward skills and clutch shooting, he’ll free up Bosh from having to be the go-to guy, and that will be nothing but a good thing. I think they’ll surprise, and can climb as high as fifth in the conference. Wouldn’t we all like to see these guys play Orlando in the first round?
8. Washington Wizards- I know, Antwan Jamison is out for the first quarter of the season, but if Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler are truly healthy, the Wizards have enough talent to approach .500 or so, and land the final playoff spot in the East. That earns them the distinction of being a 1st round whipping boy for Boston or, god forbid if you’re a Wizards fan, Cleveland. Congrats.
Detroit Pistons- They fell apart last season, added useless, overpaid, defenseless pieces like Ben Gordon and Charlie Villaneueva, and this year, watch as Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince both hit the road. This franchise is done for the foreseeable future.
Philadelphia 76ers- Without the steady hand of Andre Miller, and with Elton Brand being healthy enough to destroy any and all rhythm, this team’s two-year flirtation with being decent is done.
New York Knicks- Get ready for some points. Everybody on this team is looking to pad their stats for upcoming free-agency. It’ll make for some exciting games, but not a lot of wins. And the biggest loss of all, Lebron staying in Cleveland.
Charlotte Bobcats- How long will Larry Brown linger if the Bobcats don’t get into the playoffs? This is a curiosity of a team. It’s entirely possible that they pull off a trade that can make them just good enough to get into the playoffs. And they’ll have to because, as currently constituted, they’re just good enough to be on the outside looking in.
New Jersey Nets- Poor Courtney Lee, to go from the NBA Finals to this nightmare. Actually, there are some good pieces here, with Lee, Devin Harris and Brook Lopez. And plenty of cap room. It says here that, if there is a winner coming out of next season’s free agency, it’s going to be New Jersey. This year, though, they could surprise. Just watch.
Indiana Pacers- Danny Granger is pretty good. That’s about it.
Milwaukee Bucks- Michael Redd is pretty good. And he’ll look especially good in whatever uniform he ends up in after the absolutely lousy Bucks trade him, too.
Coming up later, the Western Conference.