After the roller coaster ride that was the 2007-08 NBA season, we're back to square one. Thirty teams with a fresh slate that all have their eyes on one prize: an NBA title.
Last season, we saw that a team can transform from a bottom feeder to a contender in just one offseason, (the Celtics) or in less time if the right moves are made before the trade deadline (the Lakers).
We saw a historic rivalry regain form. Out West, we witnessed one of the most competitive conferences in the history of the game. We saw Superman soar past his competition in the dunk contest and Chris Paul make the transition from great to unstoppable.
We saw Kobe Bryant finally, and I mean finally, take home the Most Valuable Player award after demanding a trade earlier in the season. We saw Kevin Garnett reject a trade to Boston, weeks later approve the deal, and then end up winning his first ever ring.
What stories will unfold during this upcoming NBA season? What team will surprise everyone and win a considerable amount of games?
Without further ado, here are the Preseason Power Rankings for the 2008-09 NBA season.
1. Boston Celtics—You can't look past the world champions. While the Lakers have the potential to steal this spot pretty quickly with the return of Andrew Bynum, I have to go with the sure thing for now, and that is Boston.
2. Los Angeles Lakers—Kobe, Pau, Lamar, and Andrew. The Lakers went to the Finals and did fairly well without all of their weapons in place. This should be a great team and if you're a general manager out West, how can you not be scared of that foursome?
3. New Orleans Hornets—Chris Paul had an MVP caliber season last year and proved he's the best point guard in the league. With one more year under his belt and pieces like David West, Peja Stojakovic, Tyson Chandler, and newly acquired James Posey, this team has all of the tools to come out of the West.
4. Houston Rockets—On paper, this team is amazing. If they can get the team chemistry down and avoid injuries, the Rockets may just get out of the first round this year. Just kidding. The team looks like a contender if all goes as planned.
5. San Antonio Spurs—Manu Ginobili may be hurt but you can't count out Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Gregg Popovich. They have a habit of getting through the regular season relatively laid back and easy, and then turning their game up about 10 notches when it counts in May.
6. Detroit Pistons—They’ve been an annual powerhouse for awhile now and with the emergence of guard Rodney Stuckey, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Any team that can advance to the Conference Finals, despite being without their veteran floor general, deserves a high spot in these rankings.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers—LeBron James will somehow continue to find ways to improve his game. Mo Williams may be the sidekick that Cleveland has been looking for, and the pieces acquired by the Cavs midway through last season have now had time to gel with their new teammates.
8. Orlando Magic—Last season, Stan Van Gundy showed why he was one of the best coaches in the league by revamping Orlando’s offense and using weapons such as Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, and Rashard Lewis effectively. This group returns with an improvement at shooting guard in Mickael Pietrus and a chance to build off of last year’s success.
9. Phoenix Suns—While the Shaquille O’Neal experiment seemed to have failed against San Antonio in the playoffs, let’s see what a whole year of the Big Cactus in Phoenix can do for the Suns. Aside from O’Neal, the Suns still have Steve Nash and a rejuvenated Amare Stoudemire making them a scary team, regardless.
10. Utah Jazz—Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer are home from the Olympics and ready to compete for a title. With another year of experience under Williams’ belt and Boozer playing for a new contract, the Jazz look poised for success and should compete in the tough West.
11. Philadelphia 76ers—The team that stole two games from the Pistons in the playoffs returns with forward Elton Brand holding down the paint. Allen Iverson who? This team has much more upside than any led by No. 3 because they are exactly that, a team. With veterans Andre Miller and Brand and young studs Andre Igoudala and Thaddeus Young, this team has a very high ceiling.
12. Toronto Raptors—With the acquisition of Jermaine O’Neal, the Raptors now have one of the best frontcourts in the league. If he can stay healthy and play like pre-brawl O’Neal, Toronto will be a tough team to beat and could make a run come playoff time.
13. Dallas Mavericks—A new coach in Rick Carlisle, a controversial offseason for star Josh Howard, and a team that failed to meet high expectations last season. Despite all of that, this team is loaded with talent and I think Jason Kidd will be more effective now that Avery Johnson is out of the equation, which will really help Dallas.
14. Portland Trail Blazers—What happens when you take a .500 team with studs like Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge and add a beast like Greg Oden down low? To be honest, nobody is sure and that is why Portland isn’t higher in these rankings. While they look destined to break out on paper, they are just a young team with a lot of potential at this point. With that said, they could shoot up very quickly if things click in Portland.
15. Denver Nuggets—Any team with Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony looks good on paper. But for some reason, the duo is never enough to make the Nuggets a contender. Subtract Marcus Camby from this squad and you now have a team with no defensive presence what-so-ever. Not to mention, the fact that Anthony uses the NBA merely as training for the next Olympics. Seriously, what’s up with that? The dude plays barely any defense for Denver and doesn’t take things seriously, and then the second the Olympics roll around, he’s one of the best players in the world? Pretty strange.
16. Miami Heat—Pat Riley is out as head coach and the team only won 15 games last season. With that said, Dwyane Wade looked healthy as ever during the Olympics, Shawn Marion is a beast, and Michael Beasley, immature or not, gives this team another dimension offensively. So, don’t count Miami out in a weak Eastern Conference.
17. Chicago Bulls—After a strange year in Chicago, the Bulls trek back to the playoffs will be tough with a rookie point guard and a brand new coach. But, the good news is that Luol Deng was resigned and Ben Gordon is back for at least one season, so the Bulls still have the play makers to compete if used right.
18. Charlotte Bobcats—While Larry Brown wasn’t particularly successful in his last head coaching stint with the Knicks, he does have the ability to transform a team if they buy into his style of play. With Emeka Okafor, Jason Richardson, Gerald Wallace, and new point guard D.J. Augustin, this team has some talented players and very low expectations; two characteristics of a team that could surprise many people.
19. Milwaukee Bucks—Richard Jefferson, Michael Redd, and rookie Joe Alexander are all very skilled players. Add newly hired coach Scott Skiles, and you have a team that will definitely surpass their win total of 26 games last season.
20. Atlanta Hawks—The Hawks nearly defeated the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last season. This is significant for the two reasons. First, the Hawks made the playoffs! Second, they almost took down the eventual champs. This should provide them with some confidence this season, and I really think Al Horford is going to break out.
21. Los Angeles Clippers—They lost Elton Brand and Corey Maggette but added Baron Davis, Marcus Camby, and Ricky Davis to their already formidable roster that features Al Thornton and Chris Kaman. While this team would be a lot better if Brand didn’t jump ship, veteran leadership from Davis and Camby could have this team competing for a late seed in the West.
22. Washington Wizards—On Tuesday night, Antawn Jamison went down with a knee injury that could keep him out for a good chunk of time. When Jamison will return may be the difference between this team making the playoffs or becoming a lottery team. The Washington Injuries Ruin Us Season After Season have the worst of luck, don’t they?
23. Sacramento Kings—While the Kings are still in a rebuilding mode, Kevin Martin is one bright spot in Sacramento. He has become a great scorer and may be one of the league’s stars when he’s surrounded by some talent in a few years.
24. Indiana Pacers—The Jermaine O’Neal era is over and while Danny Granger is very talented (I’m still disappointed the Magic didn’t draft him over Redick several years ago), this team isn’t going to return to pre-brawl form anytime soon.
25. New York Knicks—Mike D’Antoni is a great coach, whose style may work well for this team. Then again, we are talking about the Knicks so there’s bound to be drama, distractions, and failure to meet expectations in the Big Apple.
26. Memphis Grizzlies—They had a disappointing 07-08 campaign and were bashed for the midseason Pau Gasol trade that sent the disgruntled star to Los Angeles. But with Marc Gasol looking more like a steal each and every day, this team led by Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo may just make some noise this season. At the very least, they’ll be fun to watch thanks to the athleticism of Gay and Mayo.
27. New Jersey Nets—They have an aging Vince Carter and a lot of young talent, but it’s obvious to see that the Nets are waiting patiently for the 2010 offseason, in which they hope to lure LeBron James to Brooklyn. At this point, making the lottery and adding another top prospect may help them more than a late playoff seed.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves—Al Jefferson is developing into one of the best big men in the league, but this team is still a couple years away from competing. They knew they would have a rebuilding period after trading Kevin Garnett and as of now, they’re just trying to gather young talent that could be great down the line.
29. Golden State Warriors—They lost Baron Davis to free agency, Monta Ellis to injury, and pretty much all hope at competing for a playoff spot. They acquired Corey Maggette, but unless the team makes a lot of moves before the deadline, they have way too many holes to match their 48-34 record of last season.
30. Oklahoma City Thunder—When Kevin Durant and the Thunder’s other young pieces hit their primes, this group could make some noise. But as of now, the Thunder will be pretty quiet in Oklahoma City.
So there you have it! Do you agree with your teams spot on the list? Weigh in below!
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