A Hurricane of an Offseason: NBA Predictions (Part 2 of 2)
Last week, I discussed the top half of the league and how their offseason moves will most likely impact their upcoming seasons.
This week, I've taken a look at the rest of the league, so let's see how they stack up as well. To start off, here's a refresher I had on how I ranked the teams prior to all the offseason transactions:
A lot was made of Arenas taking a pay cut—and rightly so. Not many players would do what he did. But let's be realistic—is about $2 million in cap room per year really going to allow them to be that much more flexible?
Over the last three years, they've proven that they are incapable of beating Cleveland, let alone making a challenge for the ultimate prize. I really thought this was their big chance to move forward instead of sideways. They should have let go of Arenas and Jamison, and built around Caron Butler.
Imagine if they did that and then picked up Elton Brand. Brand would have been an upgrade over Jamison, and they've already shown they can compete without Arenas.
Unfortunately, that is now something that can only be dreamt of now.
The reality is Washington will be the Denver Nuggets of the East. They will continue to entertain, but will never enter the championship contender conversation.
Prediction:Should win around the same number of games as last season, and that will be a hard pill to swallow if they stay away from injuries. Seventh seed followed by a first-round exit.
Made a great trade to address their needs. Bryan Colangelo made it quite clear towards the end of the season that Jose Calderon was the point guard of this team's future, and so it was only a matter of time before TJ Ford was dealt. The fact that they could acquire a former All-Star in Jermaine O'Neal is something that the Raps front office is still giddy about.
The Bosh-O'Neal duo will be great—but if this team's true potential is to be realized, their former No. 1 pick needs to elevate his level of play. This conference is now too good for a team's best players to hover around mediocrity, and Bargnani will have to show that his sophomore season was an aberration.
Carlos Delfino wasn't worth the money he was looking for, but his absence will hurt the Raptors nonetheless. His consistency on defense was an absolute parallel to the streakiness of his shooting. His best games were when he was asked to be a playmaker, forcing him to create for others instead of looking for his own offense.
If the Raptors don't sail into the postseason, it could be the last time we see Sam Mitchell pacing up and down Toronto's bench.
Prediction: O'Neal was a big-time acquisition, probably the biggest in franchise history via trade. This should be enough for Bosh's best season yet. The bench is now a question mark.
Will Bargnani step up? Will we see the Kapono of the regular season or the postseason? And how much can fans really expect from Ukic in his first season? This will leave them slotted in the sixth spot, right beind Philly.
The Maloof brothers really seem confused. They really can't seem to decide between completely going into rebuild mode, or whether try and compete and keep the fans coming. As a result, they are stuck in no-man's land.
Kevin Martin is the best player on this team, but not really someone you build a franchise around. The rest of the roster consists of solid role players, but no one that really stands out. John Salmons and Francisco Garcia both showed flashes of becoming the players the Kings envisioned last season, but those flashes became scarcer once Ron Artest returned to the lineup.
The trade of Artest should enable the Kings to focus more on their on-court issues. Reggie Theus has to be given full credit for dealing with injuries and Artest admirably last year.
Prediction:The bottom line is this is a mediocre roster that will struggle to compete. Don't even look at them as a team that could play the spoiler role! Would not be surprised if there were takers (Dallas) for Brad Miller, who has a year remaining on his deal. That would give them the opportunity to truly start rebuilding, especially since Abdur-Rahim recently gave them a head start.
The future looked so promising after they took the Celtics to seven games.
Joe Johnson showed that he was capable of donning the franchise tag with gusto, Josh Smith was terrific on both ends of the floor, while Al Horford showed great playoff poise and some of the winner's edge he developed in Florida. Their bench was a huge factor in the first-round against Boston, and now they've replaced Childress with Flip Murray and Maurice Evans.
The only unfortunate part of their offseason is that the other teams did a lot more, and got a lot better. A full season with Bibby at the point should benefit them, but it will take a lot more than 37 wins to be a part of the playoff battle this season.
Marvin Williams might be useful trade bait to help them get into the playoff discussion, though, since its clear he won't reach his potential with the heap of forwards on this roster.
Prediction: A decent team finally headed in the right direction, but a sub .500 season won't be enough this year. They are simply atrocious on the road, and as a result will likely be back to hoping the ping-pong balls bounce their way.
Their roster would have made up a pretty good team a decade ago. They would have been able to run with the best of them with TJ Ford at the point and Granger and Dunleavy on the wings.
This year, though, with the league's competitiveness at its highest level ever, the Pacers will struggle to compete.
I expect TJ Ford to thrive in this situation. He plays with the swagger of being the best player on his team, and he is finally on a team where it is true. Granger and Dunleavy are great complements to his game, since they can both run, finish, and create for themselves when Ford runs out of his own options.
The Pacers are presumably still looking for takers for Jamaal Tinsley, and my guess is they will have to wait for Isiah Thomas to return to a GM posting for that to happen. Tinsley is the last "bad boy" Pacer remaining—and the sooner they can cut ties with him the better.
Prediction: Another wasted season, but trading away Jermaine O'Neal was the first step towards eventually regaining a spot amongst the elite. The question is how long will it take them to get there.
After this summer belonged to the Redeem Team, could this season be the year of the "Redeemabulls"?
Common sense suggests that's unlikely. This is the same team as last season, except for the fact that Chris Duhon is out, and Derrick Rose is in.
Watching Rose with Memphis, its quite clear that he is destined to become an All-Star in this league. He will have to be an All-Star this year if the Bulls are to return to the playoffs, or what most of this roster would probably rather call the Sweet 16.
Jim Paxson has tried to fill his roster with a variety of college players that come from winning programs, but this was done with the hope that one of them would become that elite-level superstar. It was supposed to be Luol Deng last season, but injuries held him back big time. Kirk Hinrich had a woeful time shooting the ball—and the less said about Joachim Noah's off-court antics the better.
Tyrus Thomas is a bundle of potential, but you can't help but wonder how much better this team would be if they stuck with LaMarcus Aldridge. With a rookie coach, this team seems destined to remain the Horribulls for at least one more year.
Prediction: The lack of a post presence will be hurt them hard again, and so will every tape they see of Gasol in a Lakers uniform. Will miss the playoffs by a mile and I expect more off-court issues as the losing wears them down once again. At least Bulls fans will have a Rookie of the Year campaign to keep tabs on.
The Nets are the feel-bad story of the year. They have now bid adieu to two of their longest servants in Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson, and are stuck with a Vince Carter that is slowly but steadily declining physically. This is evident in the fact that people refer to him more when discussing exciting players of the past, rather than in this day and age.
At the beginning of his time in New Jersey, he was rejuvenated and looked to attack the rim, but no one can deny that this dedicated approach had a lot to do with Jason Kidd policing him. With Devin Harris now given the keys to the Nets offense, it will be interesting to see which Vince Nets fans witness.
Devin Harris should take a huge step forward in his development, as he is now the secondary option to Vince. There will be no limitations to what he can or cannot do, since Lawrence Frank knows Devin is at his best when given freedom. The acquisition of Yi does set them up nicely for a great roster in the future—specifically 2010, which is all they truly have to look forward to.
Prediction: Will dwell in the cellar of the East. Teams looking to make a move towards the postseason might look see Vince as a viable option, and the Nets should listen. This season however, will be dedicated to the development of their new young core of Harris, Yi, and Sean Williams.
This is a team that plays hard, scraps, and does all the little things that fans love to see. All they need now is a couple of people that can do the big things—i.e. play at an All-Star level and be consistent game-changers—and they'll be well on their way to becoming a very tough team in the East.
Emeka Okafor, Jason Richardson, and Gerald Wallace are capable of being those guys, and Larry Brown could be the right coach to bring out those attributes in them. I expect D.J. Augustin to become a very solid player in the league, and should bring some much-needed shooting to the Bobcats roster this season.
Raymond Felton was up and down last year, so it will be interesting to see how Larry Brown decides to use him. Don't forget that North Carolina's favorite mustache is back with Adam Morrison, and his outside stroke should be an added bonus.
Prediction: They are getting closer to being able to detach their expansion tag. Larry Brown will make sure they work their butts off which wil probably give them a few more wins than most might expect, and might even be enough for their first surge towards the postseason.
They'll fall short to better teams, though, and will simply have to wait another year.
This is my sleeper team of the East. After another disappointing season last year, John Hammond showed why he was so coveted during his time as assistant GM with Detroit. Yi was never going to be happy in Milwaukee, and so finding a fit for him as well as picking up a marquee player in Richard Jefferson must have made both parties extremely happy.
Charlie Villanueva played very well as a starter, and that role becoming permanent should do wonders for his confidence. The loss of Mo Williams would have hurt a lot more had it not been for the emergence of Ramon Sessions last season.
Even though it was while they were simply playing out a meaningless March and April, some of the numbers Sessions put up were absolutely off the charts. His 24-assist game on a wild night against the Bulls immediately comes to mind.
As much as they have improved, it will be worth nothing if the changes are just on paper. Their schedule is quite difficult for the first month. But if they can survive that initial phase, they should be on course to a return to the postseason.
Prediction: Their lack of a bench will force their starters to play big-time minutes. Their defense has struggled in recent years, but that should change with Scott Skiles now patrolling the sidelines.
I see them clinching the eighth seed in what should be a wild chase for the final playoff spot. All that means, though, is a brief learning experience against the Celtics in the first round.
Clippers fans are probably still reminiscing about how exciting it would have been to see Baron Davis and Elton Brand work in tandem. Now, they are stuck with a big man that will have to rely on Baron Davis' creativity for scoring opportunities.
Al Thornton and Chris Kaman should continue to play significant roles this year, although more will be expected out of Thornton after the departure of Corey Maggette.
The scariest thing now for Clippers fans has to be the thought of Ricky Davis and Jason Williams receiving playing time together. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be at least a few wild moments with that duo on the court.
Mike Dunleavy Sr. is one of the best coaches in the league right now, and so expect them to put up a fight every night. I expect them to be a solid home team, but it's definitely a benefit that they play the least number of road games in the league, along with the Lakers.
Prediction: No team with Baron Davis at the point will have a problem putting up points on the board.It's the other end of the floor that severely hampers their chances of winning games. Should be improved from last year, but let's not hope this is the beginning of another ping-pong era for the Clips.
The acquisition of Mike Miller gives the team a really nice piece to complement Al Jefferson. Miller thrived with Pau Gasol in Memphis, because his overall game is well-suited to be a secondary option to a dominant inside presence, which Al Jefferson has now become.
The key to the Kevin Garnett trade emerged last season as a true franchise player, one that shoulder the load of a team on his back, as well as compete on a game-to-game basis.
Kevin Love was a solid lottery pick that provides them with a true center to take some of the physical demands of playing with the biggest boys away from Big Al. They really needed to go big with the stockpile of guards and forwards already on the roster.
The Wolves aren't light-years away from becoming a contender, but they certainly won't be giving teams major headaches either. They ended last season on a "high" by winning 10 of their final 24 games—but with the value of a win at its highest in the league, elite teams will be looking to lock up the games they should take.
Prediction: Should win about 30 games this season, but they aren't concerned with wins just yet. Development is the key, and they should be thrilled if they can get numbers from Love similar to those of Al Horford's first season.
For wins though, Randy Foye and Rashad McCants will have to live up to the expectations of when they were first drafted.
It's almost shocking to see a roster this bad in the West. After Rudy Gay and O. J. Mayo, there is not a single name that even catches the eye. Hakim Warrick has shown flashes of how athleticism can impact a player's game, but his overall game is more suited towards that of role player rather than All-Star.
Darrell Arthur seemed to be a good pickup for them—untll he put himself in a completely unnecessary mess with his involvement in the marijuana incident at the NBA Rookie Camp. Lets get back to the positives, though.
Gay might have a sub-par season, since teams will be able to gang up on him on the defensive end. He averaged five three-point attempts per game last year, which is way too many for someone that not only has the ability to create for himself, but shoots just 35 percdent from long distance.
As much work as he might have put in to improve his jumper this summer, he will find it a difficult adjustment to not have a devastating shooter like Mike Miller alongside him on the wings. This is going to be a very long season for Memphis!
Prediction:The fact is they will be one of the few teams playing out the string right from Game One. It would be shocking to see them win more games than last year, but there is no doubting the excitement of watching the Gay-Mayo era take its first steps.
When Mike D'Antoni was brought in, I really believed that the Knicks roster would be dismantled, allowing D'Antoni to bring in players that would help play his flashy style of ball. Now it appears, with Chris Duhon being their only significant acquisition, their focus is to wait for the offseason of 2010.
They have too many players that are undesirable due to their contract, rather than their skill level. Jerome James, Quentin Richardson, and Stephon Marbury will all be off the books, and it should be safe to say that Zach Randolph will have a new home as well.
For this season, D'Antoni will continue his "run till you hit a wall" offense, but the sad part for Knicks fans is that their defense might be even worse than last year.
Danilo Galinari should be an instant hit, as his game is perfectly suited towards D'Antoni's style of play. If he gets a decent amount of time in the point-forward role, the Knicks offense will benefit greatly. He can dribble with both hands, and with his guard-like stutter step, the rest of the league's forwards will have a nightmarish time guarding him at the top of the key.
The Knicks aren't good enough for the playoffs just yet, but at least D'Antoni can get a couple of years to impose his style on the players he believes to be a part of the core before their big offseason arrives.
Prediction: The Knicks should be exciting, but nothing more. Another high lottery pick should help them setup a true core for whichever free agent they swoop for in the 2010 offseason. There are still too many character issues on the roster, and until they get rid of those players, they will be just like Portland a few years ago.
With the move to Oklahoma complete, all the off-court distractions are put to rest. Sam Presti decided that Russell Westbrook would be his floor general for the many years to come. Scouts liken him to Rajon Rondo defensively, and Monta Ellis offensively. Just the thought of that is scary.
Obviously, for the foreseeable future this is just potential, how far these comparisons go is always up to the individual. This team has a lot of young players and should be quite exciting to watch. Wins will be hard to come by, but numbers are not what will define the success of their season.
With the young core of Westbrook, Jeff Green, and their franchise player Durant, it is up to the other young guns on this roster to help Presti decide whether they will be a part of the Thunder's future—or be a part of a trade that can enhance this team's reputation.
Prediction: The team will play much better at home than on the road, which is the case with most young teams. Durant really seemed to grasp the nuances of the NBA game towards the end of last season, and should take a major step towards becoming an All-Star this year.
A top three pick in the lottery should see Presti listening to offers, and probably taking this team to the conference's elite via a major trade.
Yes folks, Dwyane Wade is back! The scary part is that he looked better than ever with Team USA. That instantly makes the Heat a much better team than last year. Add to that the drafting of Michael Beasley as a big man that will provide a solid scoring threat. and the Heat will be in contention for a playoff spot late into the year.
Shawn Marion and Udonis Haslem represent the rest of the front court, one that is undersized but not to be taken lightly. Haslem provides toughness and hard work on a nightly basis, and Marion will continue to make his best Swiss-army knife impression.
On the downside for Miami, though, they have a rookie head coach and no true point guard. As of today, their point guards are Chris Quinn and Marcus Banks. Both are quite capable in a backup role, but would likely be overwhelmed with a starting role.
Prediction:The fans will be back in full force for the Heat this season. I wouldn't be surprised if they did return to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus, but the lack of a true center and point guard should be enough to deter them from going further.
So there it is—all the teams, all the moves, and now their new rankings:
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