The NBA season opens tonight with three games, followed by a full helping of games the rest of the week. ‘Last minute’ seems like as good of a time as any to preview the upcoming season. Let’s start with the obvious.
League MVP: There are, of course, any number of players who may be in this conversation if a few things go their way and their teams do well. With any number of ways to go on a pick like this, I’m gonna go ahead and take the man who continues to hold the title of best player alive. So, with all due respect to King James, my pick here is Kobe Bryant.
Rookie of the year: Greg Oden. If he has a healthy rookie season he’ll compete for an all star spot and cruise to ROY honors.
6th man: Manu Ginobli. Arguably the greatest 6th man ever. As long as he comes off the bench, he’s as good as there is at it.
Coach of the Year: Rick Adelman. He’ll spend this season dealing with the personalities of Ron Artest and TMac. He’ll survive an inevitable rash of injuries. Somehow, he’ll get the Rockets to the playoffs with a high seed. That will be plenty enough to win coach of the year honors… and then another first round exit.
Champions: Lakers over Celtics. The Lakers come back healthy this season and win the West behind another MVP season from Kobe and the emerging force that is Andrew Bynum. They make it to the Finals for a rematch of last year’s battle with the Celtics. Only this time the Celtics are older and road weary, while the Lakers are younger and hungrier. Kobe exacts revenge and at last gets his ring without Shaq.
The following are my (short) thoughts on each division in the league.
Key additions: Elton Brand, Jermaine O’Neal, Mike D’Antoni.
The Celtics are still good enough to get back to the mountaintop, but not good enough to win it. The big three get one more title run together, but come up a hair short. Each of the big three declines this season as their run together as contenders closes.
Devin Harris is an exciting young point guard in New Jersey, but the arena and eventual move to Brooklyn end up making much more news this year than his team.
For the Knicks, year one under Mike D’Antoni brings more excitement, but even more losing and roster instability.
This division is a mixed bag that will likely have three playoff teams and two rebuilders.
Key additions: Derrick Rose, Mo Williams, TJ Ford.
The Pistons promised change after last season, but their roster looks the same. The Cavs think they’ve added a point guard that can lead their team. The two teams should battle all year, with the Cavs eventually winning the division and giving the Celtics all they can handle in the East.
The Bucks have a decent core in Richard Jefferson, Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, but aren’t ready to contend just yet. Meanwhile, the Pacers should lead the league in one dimensional overpaid players that play the same position.
Key additions: Michael Beasley, Larry Brown.
This is a division that is open and there to be had. Atlanta and Orlando have legitimate shots, but I’m betting on the return of agent zero to lead the Wizards to the division title and to make some noise in the playoffs.
I look for Atlanta to return to the pack after last year’s playoff surprise and more of the same in Charlotte, where Larry Brown won’t be enough to change the fortunes of a perennial loser.
Key additions: Greg Oden
The Jazz should take this division easily, but the real story in this division will be the Portland Trailblazers.
The Blazers sport arguably the youngest, deepest squad in the league. Adding to their core this year is Greg Oden, the top pick from a year ago. He joins a core of Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldrige to form a trio that will have a chance to impact this league for the next decade. They will likely contend for a playoff spot this year, but the future for this team is so bright they’re gonna need shades.
The Nuggets look to take a major step backward this season, while the Timberwolves and Thunder figure to tread water this year while developing their young talent.
Key additions: Ron Artest, James Posey
No doubt, this is the toughest division in the NBA. The Mavs, Spurs, Rockets, and Hornets can all legitimately claim they are title contenders. I look for the Rockets to take this division, but with the Hornets and Spurs having more postseason success.
In the loaded west, one of these four teams will likely miss the playoffs. I look for a key injury or midseason trade to make the difference. This year, the Mavs start to regret the Jason Kidd trade… and it will only get worse each year as Devin Harris blossoms into a star in New Jersey.
Key additions: Baron Davis, Corey Maggette
Home of the will-be champion Lakers, who sport the same roster as last season, but with a healthy Andrew Bynum. The Lakers will take not only this division, not only the Western Conference, but the NBA title. Kobe, Phil, and the supporting cast have all the tools they need to get it done… and they will.
Elsewhere in the division, the Suns will try to get every last bit out of Shaq, with little success, which will have them scrambling to make the playoffs.
The Warriors and Clippers made offsetting moves over the summer that will likely leave them both outside the playoff picture. The Kings will not make the playoffs, but their future looks promising with a group of young players and emerging superstar Kevin Martin. A 500 season would be a success this year, but the future looks bright in Sacramento.