Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pre-Season Predictions: Eastern Conference

(1)(2) Boston Celtics – Arguably the League’s best all-around squad, the title of East’s best team remains weastith the Celtics until it is taken.  Injury concerns remain the biggest issue surrounding this team, but offseason additions have made them more durable and they sport the East’s deepest bench, both of which should work to lighten the load placed on the Big Three.  Bottom line; if healthy, Boston has a great shot at hanging another banner.

(2)(3) Miami Heat – Stacked for the foreseeable future, this Miami Heat team has the opportunity to be something special.  With the offseason finally over, Miami’s highly-touted trio can finally get down to business.  Injuries have already proven to be an issue, as marksman Mike Miller will miss significant time, and Dwyane Wade continues to heal his hamstring.  Lack of interior intimidation is also an issue, as Miami’s paltry frontcourt may have some difficulty matching up with big-bodied teams like Boston or L.A.  The expectations are there, but all the talk in the world doesn’t win titles, so it is up to Miami’s new trio to live up to the hype and handle their business on the court.

(3)(5) Orlando Magic – One of the League’s most solid all-around squads, the Magic remain largely unchanged from the team that fell short in the Conference Finals last year.  Quentin Richardson will fit in nicely, as he provides another kick-out option for the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard.  Sticking with the same system as recent seasons will generate success, but as other teams improved this offseason, Orlando is still a piece or two away from the team’s first title.

(4)(8) Atlanta Hawks – It seemed evident last postseason that the Hawks had plateaued, but rather than improving in the offseason they instead overpaid Joe Johnson.  Johnson is certainly a stud, but one can’t help but wonder if in a few years Atlanta won’t wish they instead spread that money around this summer.  With the team remaining largely the same, expect the same results as last season.

(5)(10) Chicago Bulls – The Bulls missed out on landing one of the bigger name free agents, but the addition of Boozer, and being able to keep Joakim Noah might prove to be just as impactful.  The development of Derrick Rose will continue this season, as he is budding into a bona fide star.  His abilities, combined with the addition of Ronnie Brewer and the presence of a potent frontcourt, have the Bulls on the fast track to be mentioned among the East’s elite.

(6)(12) Milwaukee Bucks – The Bucks were one of the pleasant surprises of the League last season, as the emergence of Andrew Bogut and the explosion of Brandon Jennings caught many off guard.  That won’t be the case this season.  Although Jennings and Bogut will still be relied on to produce a large percentage of the offense, the addition of Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden should help alleviate their load.  Overall the Bucks are a solid squad whose continuing development this season should show that last season’s success was just the start.   

(7)( 16) Detroit Pistons – An Eastern Conference power not too long ago, the Pistons slipped out of the playoffs last year, leading to a lot of doubt in D-Town.  Expect this team, which is surprisingly deep, to bounce back this season.  The team is especially stacked at shooting guard where Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon, and newly acquired Tracy McGrady provide them with an array of scoring options.  These options, along with the improvement of Rodney Stuckey should put the Pistons back in the playoffs.

(8)(18) Philadelphia 76ers – Despite sporting some new parts, this season’s incarnation of the Sixers, is largely similar to that seen in recent seasons. The offense will be spearheaded by second year stud, Jrue Holiday, whose continuing development provides promise for the future of the franchise, but does not guarantee success this season. Thus, the offense will rely heavily on Andre Igoudala and highly-touted rookie Evan Turner, a potentially dominant duo. Turner’s development, however, will take time, and Iguodala has already demonstrated that he cannot carry the offensive load alone, leading to a lack of a legitimate go-to guy. Their lack of a legitimate post presence is cause for further concern, unless Elton Brand can come back from the dead and post stats similar to those posted during his all-star seasons with the Clippers. Overall, the team has enough talent to compete on any given night, but not enough to truly contend.

(9)(21) New York Knicks – Although they didn’t land The King this summer, the Knicks did find the new face of their franchise in Amare Stoudemire, whose ferociousness on the offensive end should be well-received by Knicks faithful.  The parts around him, however, are pedestrian, evidenced by Danilio Gallinari serving as the team’s second scoring option.  It will take some more pieces, and a team-wide commitment to defense, to get the Knicks back to where they want to be. 

(10)(23) Charlotte Bobcats – Charlotte played well down the stretch last season and earned a spot in the playoffs, where they were embarrassed and easily eliminated by Orlando.  The team did not do much to improve, and the onus will again be on Steven Jackson and Gerald Wallace to guide an otherwise underwhelming Bobcats squad.

(11)(24) Washington Wizards –  This season is all about John Wall.  If he is as good as advertised, the Wizards will be sitting well for seasons to come.  Expect some growing pains in his first season though.  Javale McGee appears poised for a breakout year, and his improvement could have an enormous impact on the outcome of the Wizards’ season.  All of this plus the re-addition of Gilbert Arenas spells an exciting season for Washington; even though that excitement might not translate to wins.

(12)(25) Indiana Pacers – A lack of offensive options should limit the Pacers, who will again depend on Danny Granger for a great deal of the team’s productivity.  The offseason acquisition of Darren Collison was nice, but won’t be enough to keep the Pacers competitive

(13)(26) New Jersey Nets – A new owner means new aspirations for the New Jersey Nets, who fell short in their bid to land a big name in the offseason.  They did however draft promising prospect, Derrick Favors, who should greatly held the franchise in the future if not immediately.  Other offseason additions include Jordan Farmar and Anthony Marrow, who both add depth to the backcourt.  While the Nets are moving in the right direction, they’re not there yet.

(14)(27)  Cleveland Cavaliers – Talk about night and day.  The expectations surrounding this year’s Cavaliers squad are almost the exact opposite of those of a year ago, when there was hope that the Cavs would put an end to Cleveland’s championship draught.  There are no such expectations this year, as the Cavs are still trying to get over the loss of the biggest sports superstar the city has ever known.  LeBron’s departure leaves a gigantic hole in the heart of the Cavaliers organization that will take several seasons to heal. 

(15)(30) Toronto Raptors – Without Bosh the Raptors lack a box-office draw and a legitimate go-to guy, and the first season in the post-Bosh era will prove to be a struggle.  DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani will be largely responsible for picking up the slack and an otherwise underwhelming cast should keep the Raptors rooted at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pre- Season Predictions: Western Conference

The season is set to tip tomorrow, so in anticipation, let’s run down the ranks and see how the squads stack up. The first set of parenthesis represents projected Conference Rank, while the second suggests League-wide projectiwestons.

Western Conference:

(1)(1): Los Angeles Lakers – Offseason acquisitions only further solidified the League’s most solid squad.  Despite the massive amount of miles on Kobe’s NBA odometer, the Lakers are still the team to beat come Title time.

(2)(4): Dallas Mavericks – Age aside, the Mavericks retain a strong core, and have enough talent to beat any team on a given night, which should shoot them to the top of a seemingly shallow West.  Plus, you can’t put it past Mark Cuban, who may see his window to win a championship with super-stud Nowitzki slowly closing, to pull the trigger on a deadline deal if things aren’t going as planned.

(3)(6) Oklahoma City Thunder – The League’s youngest squad made a splash last year, securing a playoff spot and a scoring title for the dynamic Kevin Durant.  While lack of experience and depth may hamper the team’s hopes of hanging a banner this season, the pairing of Durant with other young talents like Green, Harden, and the ultra-athletic Russell Westbrook should keep the Thunder atop the Conference standings for seasons to come. 

(4)(7) San Antonio Spurs – As usual, the success of this squad depends on the h ealth of their title-tested trio (Duncan, Manu, and Tony Parker).  If those three can stay off the IR, the pieces are in place for the Spurts to contend for another title.  Look for Coach Popovich to rely on increased production from second year stud Dejuan Blair, and action from rookie Tiago Splitter to help propel the team to the postseason, where their leadership and championship experience should help them contend for the franchise’s fifth.

(5)(9) Portland Trail Blazers – The peripheral parts continue to rotate around centerpiece Brandon Roy.  While the addition of Wesley Matthews and the prospect of a healthy Oden provide reason for excitement, the rest of the supporting cast  isn’t particularly strong.  There are no sings suggesting that this year’s version should be able to surpass the success of recent Blazer squads

(6)(11) Utah Jazz – An offseason shakeup leaves perennial all-star Deron Williams with a considerably different cast than the one that contended last year.  His talent, combined with the direction of Coach Jerry Sloan will continue to keep the Jazz competitive, but Williams needs stronger support if he hopes to vie for a title in Utah.

(7)(13) Denver Nuggets – After being a bona fide championship contender over the past several seasons, the Nuggets find themselves in an interesting situation.  Carmelo Anthony’s seemingly inevitable departure looms large over the team, and has caused most to write the Nuggets off this season.  While the issue is of major concern to the future of the franchise, until a deal goes down Melo will still be playing in powder blue and gold, providing possibility for the franchise.  If Melo does get moved mid-season, assuming the Nuggets don’t move him for pennies on the dollar, the parts they get in return should be enough to keep the team in contention for a playoff spot. 

(8)(14) Memphis Grizzlies – This year’s version of the Thunder, the Grizz have the talent to surprise many and scoop up a playoff spot in the always competitive West.  Lack of experience and a solid locker room presence will limit this team, but with a young core comprised of O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, and an ever-improving Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies are prepared to be a staple in the top-half of the Western Conference standings for years to come.

(9)(15) Phoenix Suns – Even seemingly ageless Steve Nash won’t be able to salvage the setting Suns this season.  A massive makeover leaves the two-time MVP with an aging roster, riddled with some some unfamiliar running mates.  Nash’s ability will keep the team afloat, but the lack of surrounding talent will leave the Suns short of securing a playoff spot after advancing to the Conference Finals last season. 

(10)(17) New Orleans Hornets – With all the trade talk swirling around him, it is difficult to tell if Chris Paul’s heart is with the Hornets.  Despite the addition of the athletic Trevor Ariza, the supporting cast is still skeptical.  It will take some breakout performances, mainly from Ariza and young gun Marcus Thorton, along with a dedicated Paul, to push this team into the playoffs.

(11)(19) Golden State Warriors – Steph Curry and Monta Ellis have proven to be one of the best young backcourts in basketball, averaging better than 43 points and 11 assists a game combined last season.  The team also added a post option with the offseason acquisition of David Lee, a double-double machine who should sure up an otherwise suspect frontcourt.  Unfortunately for Warriors fans, until the team buckles down defensively, all this offensive firepower won’t be able to take them too far.

(12)(20) Los Angeles Clippers --  On paper the team has enough talent to compete, and they could prove to be a surprise story of the season.  The Clips finally get to play with their new toy, the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, Blake Griffin.  Blake has a monster upside and should be in the Rookie of the Year running.  This is however, the Clippers, an organization that has been allergic to the postseason.  The troubles with the team goes much deeper than the on-court talent, so despite a solid roster, expect this time to once again slide down the Western Conference standings.

(13)(22) Houston Rockets – Limited minutes for Yao spells trouble for a strangely soft starting five.  Although it will be a boost to have the big guy back on the blocks, his chopped minutes may prove to be difficult to manage.  Aaron Brooks must continue to develop if this team wants any shot at success, and they also must rely on heavy production from their bench.  In the end, a strong regular season record would not be shocking,, but don’t expect this team to be mentioned in the upper echelon of the League.

(14)(28) Minnesota Timberwolves – A collection of unproven players and displaced talent characterizes this year’s Timberwolves.  Aside from Kevin Love, who continues his development into one of the League’s best young big men, Minnesota is a young team lacking leadership and direction.  Johnny Flynn, Wesley Johnson, and Michael Beasley are all promising young prospects, but the team lacks the overall skill to significantly compete this season. 

(15)(29) Sacramento Kings – The continuing development of young star Tyreke Evans is the only thing Kings fans have to look forward to this season.  A young, inexperienced roster will reduce this once proud playoff power to the bottom of the Western Conference.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Searching for an Answer

Maybe it was all of those little quips with Larry Brown. Or maybe it was the now infamous “Practice? We talking about practice?” rant. Maybe it was even his obvious unwillingness to take a back seat on the rebuilding bus that was the Memphis Grizzlies. Some combination of these past career missteps has to account for the lack of consideration that NBA clubs have granted Allen Iverson this offseason.

The fact that NBA teams are not lining up to elicit the services of the thirty-five year old former superstar does not come as a surprise; he has lost a step, canai1not single-handedly dominate games in the manner in which he used to, and has done nothing to diminish the rumors of his displeasure with anything but a starting spot. So no, one wouldn’t expect the market for the eleven time all-star to be too elevated. The fact that not a single franchise felt that they could fit Allen anywhere on their roster, however, does come as a surprise. In fact, in a league where Kwame Brown can dupe teams into a decade’s worth of employment, Iverson’s inability to find work, despite several statements on his part suggesting he’s ready to play, is slightly more than surprising.

Iverson is only two full seasons removed from being the NBA’s third leading scorer (An insignificant accomplishment compared to the rest of Allen’s storied stat sheet, but it’s useful for keeping things in context). In the 2007-2008 season Iverson started all 82 games for the Nuggets while posting 27 and 7 dimes per, further solidifying his status as one of the League’s premier players. Now it doesn’t seem like Iverson could land a spot on the Nuggets if he volunteered to be the team’s conditioning coach. How can an athlete go from outstanding to outcast in just two years? ai2

Very rarely in professional basketball does a player drop from superstar status to relative obscurity in such a short time without the assistance of injury or scandal. Aside from a few nagging injuries amplified by age and a well-publicized niche for nightlife, Iverson has avoided both, yet here we stand, with the 2001 NBA MVP homeless. Sure the skills have slipped, and Allen’s certainly not the same caliber player he was during his decade of dominance in Philly, but it seems that some of his initial set of skills should be enough to land him a roster spot somewhere in the League.

His play last season, while not spectacular, was solid, and demonstrated that Allen still has the ability to be a serviceable scorer, whether as an off-ball option, or boost off the bench. Thus, his inability to find a spot on any of the League’s 30 squads is mysterious, and speculation that he may take ai3his talents overseas is even more off-putting. Maybe he ruffled too many front office feathers throughout his career, or maybe his failure to find a franchise is representative of the NBA’s eagerness to get past an ill-fated era all too well represented by Iverson. Whatever the case, Iverson toiling away the twilight of his career in a foreign country, jettisoned from the very League which he dominated so recently, does not seem a fitting end for the captivating career of a future first ballot hall-of-famer. Although the nickname will remain forever, it seems for most in the League, that Iverson is no longer the answer.

Monday, October 4, 2010

NBA 2K11, Greatest Sports Game Ever?

I, along with thousands of other NBA/video game heads will be heading out this evening at midnight to get a copy of NBA 2k11, possibly the best sports (not basketball, sports) game of all time. Don't believe me, read this: