It’s basketball time at the Q.
And thank God. Not that I don’t love the Browns and Indians—but come on, Shaq plays in C-Town now.
The pain is (kinda sorta) alleviated from the Cavs’ game six loss to Orlando; all that is left now is memory and a pretty kickin’ computer-background of LeBron’s game two buzzer-beating over Turkoglu.
General Manager Danny Ferry had two needs—acquire big, defensive, athletic swingman and a dominating presence inside.
Enter Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, and O’Neal, and in a couple of weeks Cleveland has been Magic-proofed (I can’t shake the image of Ferry holding a metaphorical Lysol spray-bottle with Dwight Howard’s glaring, shiny teeth on the side). He virtually didn’t give anything up (besides Wally’s high-fives…they will be greatly missed) for those pieces to the puzzle, vastly improving a 66 win team.
The Cavaliers are better, the Celtics (Rasheed Wallace) are better, the Lakers (Ron Artest for Trevor Ariza) are most likely better, the Spurs (Richard Jefferson) are better and the Magic (Vince Carter in, Hedo Turkoglu out) are possibly better.
There now sits a real top five in the NBA in 2010—the order is disputable, but only those five teams are allowed up the extra-high step-ladder and into the extra-fun tree house.
The East as a whole boasts three of the top five teams, and is—baby step after baby step—beginning to catch up to the West, even with the top seven picks in the draft going to western teams (Minnesota throwing away their fifth pick on Ricky Rubio was a nice touch).
Preseason predictions are so pointless. There’s no credibility with most people, the results don’t come in until 5-6 months after the fact…but it’s too much fun. I’m giddy with excitement.
1. Boston – Rasheed is overrated, he has the mindset and temper-tantrums of a six-year-old, but he’s still a damn nice commodity to a now healthy (even KG) Boston team. And, unfortunately, he fits into the Celtics system (physically and mentally) quite nicely. Even though the big three are all over the age of 32, it’s still not the time for them to slow down. Boston will be on fumes come June, but there’s too much talent here.
2. Cleveland – Positives: Addition of Shaq, Z to the bench means less wear-and-tear on his feet, the progression of Hickson, the addition of Leon Powe sometime in early 2010, the addition of Anthony Parker (still underrated as both a defender and shooter) and Jamario Moon.
Negatives: ? Sorry Sasha, Wally and Ben. It was fun while it lasted.
Cleveland is loaded with as much talent as any team before it, and is now built for postseason series’ with Boston and Orlando.
3. Orlando – Personally, the Magic took a step back, especially in the long run. Vince Carter is undoubtedly a better player then Turkoglu, but he doesn’t fit as well into Orlando’s sharp-shooting system. Then again, Vince has never played on a team with this much talent—so maybe it remains to be seen how he will impact the Magic, who still rely more on their system than overall talent. Matt Barnes is a nice acquisition, but Courtney Lee is a future all-star. Their window is open right now.
4. Washington – Of all the teams who should make positive leaps in 2010, it would bring me the most gladness (quick note—gladness should not be a word, but I guess it is) if it be the Wizards. I love the Cleveland-Washington rivalry—more so than Detroit. It’s not often in basketball and baseball that the every member of both organizations buy into the rivalry, and truly hold revulsion for the other. I love it, I eat it up, I hope Gilbert and LeBron meet in the playoffs once again.
Washington finishing fourth in the east easily has the biggest “if” attached, resting with Arenas’ knee. The combination of Arenas, Butler and Jamison form a formidable punch, and the addition of sharp-shooting Mike Miller spreads the floor even more. Their success relies on health and an inside presence. If someone other than Brendan Haywood was at center, the Wizards might be able to join the conversation with the top three teams.
And DeShawn and Tom Knott—no, I haven’t forgotten about you, but most of the NBA has.
5. Atlanta – The Hawks are a boring pick for the fifth seed, but that’s the only place for them. Horford needs to continue to impress, Josh Smith needs to iron out his problems with Atlanta’s coaching staff, and Joe Johnson needs to be Joe Johnson. If Jamal Crawford doesn’t try to sneak in a few shots from the bench itself, he stands as a nice sixth man behind Bibby and Johnson.
6. Miami – If I’m allowed to use any leftover “ifs” from Washington’s section, I’d like to use them here. Jermaine O’Neal, healthy, makes Miami a very formidable team with Beasley, Chalmers and Haslem continuing to improve and take positive strides. If O’Neal can play 70+ games and be ready for the playoffs, the Heat can at least make it interesting as long as Wade has the ball in his hands (remember, he almost won the MVP basically just for one months work after hitting several game-winners).
7. Chicago—I’ll say it loud and proud—I love Derrick Rose. Da Bulls are easily the wild card in the East with him running Chicago’s mesh-style offense. Even with Ben Gordon gone to the Motor City, John Salmons and Luol Deng (who still serves as an above-average SF, if you forgot about him) provide the Bulls without enough firepower keep up with anyone. Chicago’s downfall is the match-up problems they’ll face with both Thomas and Noah starting, and only Brad Miller off the bench. But, as long as Rose stays healthy, the Bulls make the playoffs.
8. Toronto/Detroit/Philly – I think the Raptors win the battle for the last spot with Calderon, Turkoglu and Bosh (in Bosh’s last season in Canada). The Pistons will finally be fun to watch, even without as many eye-brows as before. The 76ers have a shot if Brand can play in their system, but Lou Williams is not Andre Miller.
11-15. Knicks/Pacers/Bobcats/Nets/Bucks - Either the Knicks or Nets will be a top five team in the east next year with LeBron, but for now it’s a crap-shoot. The Pacers finally have more talent than legal troubles, but Granger can’t do it all himself (Psycho T in the first round—really Indy?). The Bobcats are as built as ever—and Felton is still their best scoring option. And someone needs to save Michael Redd from Milwaukee…he’s a Buckeye, someone have some compassion.
For the record, Boston over San Antonio in seven…but let’s enjoy the ride.