A Hurricane of an Offseason: NBA Predictions (Part 1 of 2)
The 2008 NBA offseason struck with fury, with franchise players finding new homes via free agency and marquee players being swapped.
This is due to the fact that more teams are in the running for the championship than ever before—and sensing this, teams' front offices are desperate for that potential deal or signing that could take them over the hump.
Since it is safe to say that all the significant moves of the this off-season have been made except one—yes Ben Gordon, I'm referring to your lack of commitment here!), I have decided to analyze all the teams moves, or lack thereof, and who will make the biggest leaps as far as improving upon last season is concerned.
In this NBA season preview, I will look at all teams, seeing which GMs coasted through the summer, and which ones earned their paycheck. At the end of it all, I will reveal updated rankings based on all the teams' summer ventures—or lack thereof.
Firstly, lets look at my team rankings prior to the offseason, which will be the order of my team outlook:
They will be the champs till someone takes that away from them. Unfortunately for Celtics fans, that someone is James Posey.
His defensive presence, timely scoring. and championship swagger gave the Celtics a dimension they will now be severely lacking. Yes, the rest of the roster now knows what it takes, but what will happens when Paul Pierce or Ray Allen exit the game?
Tony Allen has struggled in pressure situations and Eddie House leaves too big of a hole defensively. Darius Miles is a big question mark and isn't even expected to be 100 percent until the new year.
Prediction: Won't have the dominant regular season of last year, but still the class of the East. The big CHAMPION bulls-eye however will be enough to deny the Celtics a repeat.
The return of Andrew Bynum will function the same as a morale-boosting trade. He will give them everything they were lacking in the Finals, rebounding, shot-blocking, and an imposing inside presence. Allowing the French energizer Turiaf to walk was a clear statement that they believe Bynum is back at full strength.
Kobe's decision to forego surgery was surprising, but I guess he realizes just how tight the West will be, and any amount of time off would jeopardize their shot at first place.
One point to note—they have the best animal nicknames in the league. A black mamba and a monkey king are definitely something to be proud of.
Prediction: Best record in the mighty West. Anything but a trip to the Finals should be termed a disappointment for this team.
Chris Paul's experience in Beijing should assist him in elevating his game even higher. He emerged as the go-to point guard as the tournament went on, seeing most of the fourth-quarter minutes in key games.
I also expect bigger things from Tyson Chandler and Julian Wright. Tyson will look to show he can block more than one shot a game, since that—along with his terrible free-throw shooting—is what kept him off this summer's Redeem Team.
Julian Wright quickly developed into a true spark off the bench. and he should make strides based on experience alone. The addition of James Posey will give this team the playoff X-factor and swagger they lacked last year.
Prediction: Will challenge for the top seed, but will have to settle for second. Experience and durability will be their big test in the playoffs.
The Spurs will do the same thing they have done for about the last decade—they will be consistent till about January, then pick up their intensity and take it to another level, entering the playoffs on a high.
It remains to be seen how long Ginobili will be out, but it would be surprising if it was more than two months from now, which would only mean him missing the first couple of weeks of the season.
Roger Mason Jr. replaces Brent Barry, and this should help the Spurs. Mason established himself as a guy that can fill it up off the bench with the Wizards last season, and his ability to shoot the three as well as handle the ball should take pressure of both Tony Parker and Ginobili.
Prediction: I expect the Spurs to be solid as usual and finish as the 5th-best team in the West, but will eventually fall to one of the "new" contenders of the West.
Like with Chris Paul, expect Jason Kidd's tutelage to rub off on Deron Williams this season. D-Will showed that although his playmaking skills aren't quite at the level of CP3's, his jumper is definitely better.
Boozer was truly devoted to the team cause at the Olympics, but will be eager to seize this season as an opportunity to show he was deserving of more minutes. The two All-Stars combined with Okur and Kirilenko gives them possibly the best Fantastic Four in the league, but they need to win on the road!
Brevin Knight will be a solid veteran addition to the locker room, but I expect Ronnie Price to grab the reserve minutes after impressive performances in the postseason.
Prediction: Will settle into the fourth seed by virtue of winning the Northwest division. Winning on the road has been their Achilles heel, though—and they will have to put that demon to rest if they are to emerge at the top of the heap.
The Cavs finally have a season to look forward to where their hopes don't solely depend on how much LeBron has improved. The acquisitions of Mo Williams and Lorenzen Wright address the ballclub's main weaknesses from last year.
Williams is a legit starting point guard that can create both for himself and others, which will considerably lower the load on LeBron's shoulders. Wright gives the Cavs a veteran big that can play both the PF and C positions, as well as make plays inside.
LeBron no doubt will be looking to add an NBA championship ring to the gold medal—and with his best supporting cast ever, I expect him to have his biggest season yet.
Prediction: Finally win the Central Division and clinch the second seed in the East. With LeBron they are easily the scariest team in the playoffs, and now he can even use Kobe's locker room quote, "I ain't playin with butter knives no more!"
The Pistons were starting to look a bit more entertaining with the flair Flip Saunders added to the offence. Now, with defensive guru Michael Curry taking over the reigns, they will go back to the Larry Brown era—and that should suit them just fine.
I expect more effort out of them in the regular season since Curry, being more of a players' coach than Saunders, will be able to get more out of his players than Flip. They also will have learnt that they can't just turn on the intensity when the playoffs begin, since even one more half of sloppiness against the Sixers last year might have seen them take an early exit.
Prediction: This is truly the end for the Pistons. They will have another solid regular season and finish as the third seed, but it will be absolutely meaningless since they will have to let go of their one silver lining of the past as well—the Central division title. An abrupt end to their postseason should result in Joe Dumars making wholesale changes.
Easily the team to watch this season. Yao will be allowed to ease into the season due to his involvement in the Beijing games, allowing him to get stronger as the season progresses, and into the postseason.
The acquisition of Artest not only gives the team a lockdown defender, but greatly eases the pressure on McGrady and Yao offensively. This should be a breath of fresh air for T-Mac, and I expect him to thrive with less responsibility.
Three stars appears to be the key to becoming a true contender, and GM Daryl Morey definitely deserves a pat on the back for addressing that issue. The loss of Yao last year gave their role players a chance to contribute, and their new confidence could be the biggest factor of all.
Prediction: Expect them to challenge for the best record in the West. Will finish as the third seed, only because I cannot see them going 82 games without any Ron Artest controversy. In the postseason, your guess is as good as mine, ranging from another first round exit to a trip to the Finals.
The Suns' universe has clearly switched from revolving around Kid Canada to the Big Cactus. They will go as far as Shaq's fitness takes them. It was his lack of conditioning last year that made him a step slower, resulting in more fouls and less playing time. This is significant since the Suns do not really have a decent backup that can make contributions for more 15 minutes, so Shaq needs to find a way to stay on the floor.
Terry Porter is a very good coach, but perhaps not the best fit for Phoenix. The added emphasis on defense for a team with no natural defenders outside of Raja Bell will expose its deficiencies even more. Porter will still have them run 'n' gun, but certainly not as effectively as D'Antoni. Shaq could probably go from being the Big Cactus to just the Big Thorn.
Prediction: Will have a solid, but not great regular season and finish as the sixth seed. This is their one final chance. With the window almost closed, Terry Porter's plan will have to work to perfection if "the Sun is to rise in Phoenix."
When the trade happened last year, people wondered why Dallas was willing to give up so much for Jason Kidd. It was because Mark Cuban became sick of the same tape being replayed over and over.
With the exception of the Finals against Miami, the Mavs have been nothing but postseason pretenders. Mark Cuban knew it was make or break time, and hopes his team can either get over the hump with Kidd, or reassemble once his contract expires. Cuban has always been about the big picture, and the fact is, the pre-trade team was not going to win it all.
This team will continue to pride itself on the regular season, and then reload once Kidd's huge contract comes off the books.
Prediction: This will be a difficult season. It's clearly apparent that this team is not good enough to win the championship. and that will be a hard pill to swallow for their German leader. Will battle at the end of the regular season to clinch the eighth seed, only to be dismantled in the first round.
Dwight Howard was definitely Superman against the Raptors in the playoffs, but found nothing but kryptonite against the Pistons. Can he get to a level where he doesn't get bogged down by hard postseason fouls followed by free-throw misery? He will no doubt look to improve his offensive arsenal, and impose even more of a presence in the post if possible.
Anthony Johnson brings in a much needed veteran presence, and Pietrus will be an upgrade over Maurice Evans. This team will go as far as Howard takes them, and it will be interesting to see if Turkoglu was a one-season wonder or whether he truly has turned the corner.
Prediction: I really feel like they will have a down year. Orlando was a "new" team last year due to the play of Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. Teams will be better prepared for them and so I see them finishing up as the fourth seed in the East. The point-guard situation still leaves them short of being true championship contenders.
Yes, the trade with the Clippers was bad—very bad. A player that is one year removed from Defensive Player of the Year honors should never be traded for a second-round pick. Yet, the Nuggets cap situation demanded it and the team won't suffer as much as people think.
The fact is they never truly were a championship contender. They still have the best scoring duo in the league, and now their frontline reads Nene, Kenyon Martin, Steven, Hunter, and Chris Anderson. Combined with AI and Melo, that's still a very solid, entertaining team.
Prediction: Play great, high-octane offense and be the most entertaining team in the league. Will lock up the seventh seed, but their lack of defense will leave them served with another first-round spanking.
This could be a very difficult year for them. For all the promise they showed over the last couple of seasons, this will most likely be a year of turmoil.
Their entire offseason seems to have backfired with the injury to Monta Ellis. Their best point guard is now Marcus Williams, a severe downgrade from Baron Davis. He was unable to cope as a backup in the East, but did put up solid numbers in the short time he had as a starter (11 P, 6 A) in the absence of Jason Kidd and Devin Harris.
Golden State will be hoping Williams can do that on a consistent basis, since Don Nelson's teams depend so much on the play at the point position. Don't be surprised to see Stephen Jackson take the bulk of the ball-handling responsibilities until Ellis returns.
Prediction: Ellis' return will be too little, too late for the Warriors. They will miss the postseason, but improved health and a solid lottery pick could set this team up very nicely for seasons to come.
Portland has to be recognized as THE up-and-coming team in the West. Their lineup was solid last year, and with their new additions they seem poised to battle for a spot in the postseason.
Jerryd Bayless looks poised to be a star point guard in the league. Greg Oden will be a major bonus inside as he will be a significant upgrade over Pryzbilla, who can go back to his customary backup role.
Last but not least, the player that really excites me. Watching Rudy Fernandez at the Olympics was an absolute thrill. This guy can flat out score! From a lethal quick-release jumper to an array of drives, he has an NBA-effective offensive arsenal already.
Prediction: Portland showed a lot of poise for a young team last year, so if Nate McMillan can integrate his new recruits effectively, they will definitely challenge for one of the lower playoff seeds. Personally, I feel that it will be their inexperience that leaves them short in what should be some pressure games through March and April.
The signing of Elton Brand has transformed this team to an instant contender in the East. Brand will give them the much-needed inside threat they sorely lacked in years past, as well as defensive help for Samuel Dalembert.
The best part of this signing, though, is the fact that it removes the franchise tag that in reality was never meant for Andre Igoudala.
Philly also signed a couple of key role players that address their biggest issues of last season. Kareem Rush and Donyell Marshall will give this team decent outside threats off the bench. That, combined with the team's overall athleticism, will make for a very fluid offense.
Prediction: Will finish as the fifth seed in what is now a very competitive Eastern Conference. There are a bunch of teams in the East now that aren't quite at that elite level, but they are all very solid teams that have the potential to go far, and how well Philly does depends on whether they can emerge from that bunch.
*PART 2 PREVIEWING THE REST OF THE TEAMS WILL BE AVAILABLE WEDNESDAY*
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