Last year's big successes: picked the Cavs-Spurs final and the Spurs champions
Last year's failures: missed the Jazz and Raptor trains entirely. I missed big on the Warriors and Pacers too, but had I known about the midseason trade of Done-leavy to Indiana I might have predicted failure there as well.
Now on to 07-08...
Boston Celtics - KG, the Truth and RayRay in Boston sounds like better days for Beantown. Aside from SG, SF, PF they are thin as ice but, kind of like the Sox, if they get to the playoffs healthy that 3-man rotation is about as good as it gets in this division. And while none have recent playoff experience, each has put on an incredible playoff show or two in their careers, so expect them to step up when it matters again.
New Jersey Nets - Speaking of big 3, this version just hasn't been able to get healthy and play together and their joyride nearly reached an end last season at the trade deadline. With the return of Kristic, a healthy RJ and a warmer body in the middle in Magloire, this team could be in the top half of the East and give teams fits come playoff time.
New York Knicks - Not one, but two big bears down low this time around. I expect that ZBo and Curry will actually be able to work together this year and with Lee changing the pace off the bench they should be tough because they're strong exactly where the Nets, Celts and Bulls are weak. They may have problems with the pace of Western teams, but in the East they can creep to 40 wins with that front line... you also have to like the addition by subtraction of Stevie Franchise, if only someone would rid them of Marbury.
Philadelphia 76ers - Let's face it, the only time you will hear about this team is on SportsCenter... AI2 and Thaddeus Young will be all over the airwaves. I suspect someone will be in need of a PG and offer them a deal they can't refuse for Andre Miller's services and they'll prolong the rebuilding another year or two.
Toronto Raptors - Surprise! A very solid season North of the Border may lead to high expectations in a division where every NBA team (ie, not the Sixers) got much better. They were young last year though and should be able to battle back to the playoffs, but the burden of expectations can be tough.
Chicago Bulls - Basically the same team as last year will trot out for the Bulls this year (PJ Brown = J.Smith + Noah). So why does everyone expect a championship this time out? Sure Deng has developed, but there are some stronger SFs in the East (Bron, Pierce, Jefferson) that will outshine him come playoff time. If the Kobe for Deng, Gordon, Noah and Thomas trade actually happens, I can't imagine how a Heinrich, Kobe, Nocioni, J.Smith, Wallace starting five is so much better than the team they already have, plus they destroy their depth.
Cleveland Cavaliers - Ok, so we've established that they've got no momentum this year. But they still have a solid 4 with Z, Gooden, Bron and Hughes. And should we be getting all that worked up about a guy who reminds me of Scot Pollard? Could the Cavs be interested in Howard or Webber? If LeBron plays anything like he did with team USA this summer and if the Pistons mental block is finally gone, Cleveland will be right there again in June.
Detroit Pistons - No news is good news for Detroit, but I think they underestimate how much Webber in the post helped their offense and I suspect they'll eventually ask him to be their Roger Clemens. Book their rooms for the second round of the playoffs again and pencil them in as losers in the Eastern finals for the third year in a row.
Indiana Pacers - Watch for falling squads. Their reaction to an absolute collapse last spring... Kareem Rush. Are you kidding me? Jermaine O'Neal will be this year's X-factor, like KG or Pau would have been last year. Larry should learn from his old pals in Minnesota and Boston, you have to pick a direction at some point.
Milwaukee Bucks - The Bucks have spent a fortune on keeping a fringe playoff team together for the foreseeable future... not the direction I'd go as a GM, but hey. They are still pretty young and add Yi and Bobby Simmons making them among the deepest teams in the East. They should challenge for a second round playoff spot once the Nets and Heat prove to be too old, ie not this year.
Atlanta Hawks - It's finally time. If the Hawks stay healthy and can ride the J.Smoothe-J.Johnson tandem for 82 games, the birds might see some airtime in May... June, not so much, but May's not out of the question. Horford and Acie will help, but it's the development of the Williamses that will get this team over the hump.
Charlotte Bobcats - Just when I thought this team could scrap into the playoffs they lose all of their depth. I expected Morrison would become a decent player this year without the overrated rookie bullseye... maybe next year he'll have completely left the radar and blow up. I really liked the J.Rich deal because he's still young and unlike A.M., you are certain he can score in the NBA. Without May and A.M. I don't think they're deep enough to get to the playoffs, but they're certainly not an embarrassment.
Miami Heat - Can someone explain to me what this franchise is doing? They have arguably the league's best player, the remains of its former best player, two packs of cigarettes and a cherry coke. Accepting the charity of the TWolves gives them a legit scorer and a useful center for all the games Shaq and Zo will miss, but it doesn't (AT ALL) make this team competitive against Cleveland, Boston, Chicago or Detroit. Could it be that the Heat want to combine Ricky Bucket's expiring contract with J.Will's to make a big splash? With a focused Shaq and Wade they'll win a series in the playoffs as a 6-7 seed, but then they'll be exposed.
Orlando Magic - I love Dwight Howard, all 12.5 feet of hops and extension and I think that Rashard Lewis will get some consideration for the All-Star game with all the buckets he's going to score, but I don't think this team is ready to join the best in the East just yet and could be leapfrogged by the Bucks and Hawks.
Washington Wizards - Kind of the forgotten team this year in the East. Compare Gil-Caron-Jamison to Kidd-Carter-Jefferson and tell me who comes out ahead... almost a stalemate in my book. However, Gil's not entirely healthy and is expected to leave DC next summer and Jamison is this season's best expiring contract. A sluggish start could start a sale on Hibachis in DC in February, however a hot start could have them salvaging the future to make sure Arenas knows they mean business.
Dallas Mavericks - Can't forget the Mavs this year. Sure, they have their kryptonite in Oakland, but by my count this team was 67-9 against everyone else after the 0-4 start. If they can avoid Nellie this team could be #1 seed in the West again. However, in the West, it's all about the playoffs and are you better than Phoenix, SA, Houston, Utah and/or Denver. I just don't think the Mavs are better than each of those teams in a 7-game series, so I suspect a second-round loss.
Houston Rockets - For all of their offseason efforts, this team is still an injury to McGrady or Yao from mediocrity in this conference. With all their cogs, including Bonzi, Scola and the other additions, this team will be a battle every night and especially in a 7-game series. How good were they last year? They should have beaten Utah in the first round and the Jazz only lost to the Spurs. With Rick Adelman (the most underrated coach there is) the sensitive egos will be managed and the team will a nightmare playoff matchup.
Memphis Grizzlies - Last year was a hiccup in the Pau Gasol playoff machine. I think with him healthy and not asking for trades they make it back into the mix this year. Plus, if Darko shows have the aggression he wanted to show those refs' daughters and mothers he's got to improve and take some of the defensive and board burden off of Pau.
New Orleans Hornets - This team rolled the dice on Peja two years ago and I'm afraid will suffer from that risk again this season. They have some nice pieces, but they're far from the 6 elite teams in this conference, meaning that they'll be in a battle with the Lakers and Griz for the final spots again this year.
San Antonio Spurs - Repeat champions? Not so fast, how about third in Southwest division. They have shown a tendency to back off after winning championships and don't have a Michael Finley first timer to play for this time around. I expect them to battle to the end, but to finally lose out to the Suns or Rockets if they run into them in the playoffs.
Denver Nuggets - The jury's still out on how good the AI-Melo duo can be, but this team has a lot of other things going for it if Martin, Nene and Camby can ever stay healthy together. Injuries and general lack of interest for 82 games will probably cost them the Northwest, but matchup nightmares are all over the floor and only the Suns and Spurs can stop them in a 7-game playoff matchup. AI has a player option next year that he should commit to as soon as possible to avoid any distractions.
Minnesota Timberwolves - I don't usually comment on NBDL teams, but I'll make an exception for this team because they actually have some pieces and should continue to make some deals and/or tax writeoffs with Howard (already gone), Jaric and Walker before they poison the young bucks. If they can stroll out a starting 5 of Foye, McCants, Brewer, Jefferson and some center they get early in the next two lotteries, they'll be pretty good in 2010.
Portland Trail Blazers - The ghost of Sam Bowie has raised it's head again in Rip City, but this time around the injured player is 18 years old, having a surgery that seems to be getting better and better, has an actual will to win and sense of responsibility to the franchise. Aldridge will have to be a Bosh-type for them to win 25 games this year, but on the bright side the expectations on the team are gone and they will have two outstanding rookies next season. OJ Mayo anyone?
Seattle SuperSonics - I love what Seattle has done with the place. If only my Kings are so fortunate when they finally throw out the trash. Durant fell into their laps and avoiding the age gap presented by RayRay was a nice move. Green should be a Grant Hill type SF who can do it all. They also have a guy in Thomas who can guard Duncan on an expiring deal that could prove very valuable to teams with Finals aspirations. Figure that they get a late first rounder for that to go with a lottery pick in 08 and they'll have a very solid foundation when they move the rodeo to OK.
Utah Jazz - Big time miss here last year. However, now I'm smarter and apparently Carlos Boozer is worth all the ink he got when he left the Cavs hanging a few years ago. This team is right there at the top, but somewhat less threatening to the Spurs. If the Jazz can get AK47 on the same page and get him back to the 15-8-4-2-3 monster (he was only 8(!)-5(!)-3-1-2 last year) he used to be they should outpace the Nuggets in the Northwest.
Golden State Warriors - They had a nice run, then they traded away J.Rich, essentially throwing in the towel on this go-around. I think Mullin realizes that this group, while entertaining in a pole-dance kind of way, is not marriage material. Baron can, and probably will, walk this summer and land in LaLa land if he's not already playing there in February. Once he's gone you're left with the Pacers East - Steven Jackson, Harrington and Croshere - and a couple nice pieces in Ellis and Biedrins, but this is the Western Conference ladies and gentlemen. They'd have been better off without last year's ray of hope and a chance to get Kevin Durant into that system...
Los Angeles Clippers - Elton Brand's injury cripples this aging team. Cat and Sam just can't hold the fort while the franchise waits for the recovery of Brand and Livingston. Worse for the Clippers is that Maggette and Brand both have player options next summer and are probably quite willing to jump off this ship.
Los Angeles Lakers - Anyone else tired of Kobe Bryant? Two years ago it was the rape charge all summer, this year it's the trade demands. Kobe saw Snow LeBron take his 11 dwarfs to the finals in the East and realizes he's two pieces from any glory in the West. If the team stays in tact expect Kobe to get them over the threshold, but to get dumped in the first round by superior teams. Rumors abound that the Lakers and Bulls could make a splash in the next couple days getting Gordon, Deng, Noah and Thomas in return. I think the Lakers would still be a fringe playoff team if that happens.
Phoenix Suns - Grant Hill is the original LeBron. A SF with great ball handling and passing skills that can create for himself and everyone else while bringing a positive attitude and leadership. He's not as athletic anymore, but look what Diaw did a couple years ago as the Nash ball handling alternative and you can see that Hill can be the difference maker for the Suns. Where the Suns get over the hump this year is an edge on urgency. Nash and Hill are both hungry, whether or not Marion wishes he was scoring 30 for the T-Wolves.
Sacramento Kings - Um... what do I say? Bibby's out for 6-10 weeks, Hawes is hurt, Artest is suspended for 7 to open the season. Look for 1-6 to start to the year and a fire sale on Bibby and Artest by December. Interesting side note... the Heat love Artest and Ricky Buckets has a comparable expiring contract.
MVP - Let's face it, this is not a one-year award. Think of it as a college football poll. With that in mind, the preseason favorite is LeBron based on his explosion in last year's playoffs. Nash is #2 because he should have won it last year and everyone realized that when Dirk collapsed in Oakland. Duncan is probably #3 for the body-of-work award and a need to reward him for 3 in 5 years. Garnett has to be next because if he posts 18-13-5 in Beantown and they win the Atlantic they'll be building skinny statues of him all over the city. Others... how about Melo if the Nuggets crack the elite in the West, Yao if he carries the Rockets or Kidd for challenging the Celtics in the revived Atlantic.
Rookie of the Year - Durant will see little competition, but the experts will spend the season trying to find alternatives. How about Al Thorton in LA for all the chances he'll get without Brand or the UF threesome?
Comeback player - Kenyon Martin could have some appeal if he gets back to form. Otherwise, Wally World could see more shots in Seattle, Walker will score in bunches if he sticks in Minny and AK47 could get notice if the Jazz make it the Big 4 in the West.
Most improved - Gotta believe that LaMarcus Aldridge is almost a lock for this award. Other alternatives could be Marvin Williams in Atlanta, NateRob in New York and Rashard McCants in Minny.
East: For the first time in a long time good teams will miss the playoffs in the East... Bulls, Celtics, Pistons, Cavs, Nets, Wizards, Heat, Hawks/Bucks in that order... which means that the Magic and the Raptors don't quite get there unless the Wizards choose to blow it up.
West: Mavs, Suns, Spurs, Jazz, Nuggets, Rockets, Grizzlies/Lakers/Hornets
NBA Finals - LeBron can't muscle the Cavs back to the Eastern finals, mostly because Mike Brown just gets outcoached, which leaves the door open for the Celtics to knock off the Pistons for their third straight loss in the Eastern conference finals. The Spurs get knocked off in the second round, leading the way for the Suns and Nuggets to play in the most entertaining Western conference finals of all time.
In the end, the Suns finally get to the finals and are able to exploit the weaknesses of the Celtics the way the Eastern teams couldn't in an NBA finals David Stern can take to the bank...