Boston Celtics - You have a solid PG, give up the #7 pick for Telfair and draft Rondo in the 20s? This feels like one of those teams that has decent players at every position, but only Pierce (29 and 19!! in the opener) stands out. Could the combination of West, Telfair or Rondo, Perkins or Jefferson and Wally or Green get AI in Beantown?
New Jersey Nets - Note to self: TiVo anytime the Nets play the Suns... Vinsanity and Jefferson will be swinging from the rafters, but without a solid inside presence they have simply no chance in the playoffs. Regular season their top-shelf, in the playoffs their boxed wine.
New York Knicks - The Yankee thing hasn't worked in Madison Square Garden, but give him this Isaiah has depth. How bad is a lineup with Francis and Marbury penetrating and kicking to Q (31 & 9 in the opener) and Frye with T-eddy Bear Curry in the paint? In the Atlantic they might compete. With names like Jeffries, Crawford and Lee coming off the bench, I think Isaiah keeps his job this year. If he doesn't the Bulls get their pick again so they might have to boost their 07-08 payroll... oh wait.
Philadelphia 76ers - Recipe for doom: add two fragile aging superstars following career years where they played 70+ games, make no moves, hope to improve on 35 wins. I think AI ends up in Boston when the 76ers have 15 wins at the AS break.
Toronto Raptors - I like the initiative. You're in a crappy division, make a move. But not THAT move! Big for small is usually not good, young, promising big for injury-risk small sounds worse. I'll give the Raps a do-over... trade down in the draft, get Marcus Williams and keep Charlie Villanueva and get a little something in return.
Chicago Bulls - Ben Wallace gets to prove if he's a difference maker and while the 42-point drubbing of the former champs is positive, getting clobbered by Dwight Howard is less positive. The Bulls are right there, but are they even the fourth best team in this division? In the end Sefolosha will get more rookie of the year interest than Tyrus Thomas.
Cleveland Cavaliers - King James will improve (gulp), Larry Hughes is healthy and Donyell Marshall got the memo... he's a PF. With Bron-Bron's ability to win games in the fourth quarter the other guys just have to keep it close and this gang most certainly can. Eastern confernce finalists? Yeah, by default.
Detroit Pistons - Time for the Pistons to start their decent. The focus is on losing Big Ben, but the big problem will be the NBA crackdown on screaming at the refs. Call it losing 1 and a half Wallaces. Sure he could change, but we all know Rasheed won't bend for "the man". How far does a team that flirted with 70 wins fall in one year? To 3rd or 4th in the Central.
Indiana Pacers - Gave these guys the finals last year so I'm a bit gun shy. But this team got better for a couple reasons: Granger hasn't made his move, Saras will be much better, Harrington will rebound where Peja wouldn't and Marquis Daniels will play 30 minutes a night. O'Neal plays more 60-70 games and is healthy for the playoffs and the Pacers are the surprise in the East.
Milwaukee Bucks - Villanueva makes this team better and takes some of the load off Michael Redd. Patterson can lock down most wings. There's just something fishy about this team. All of their starters seem second tier, even Redd meaning their bench is a tier below that. One of the Central teams has to make room for the Magic and well, this team seems most likely.
Atlanta Hawks - Shelden Williams? Really? Looks and smells like Corliss Williamson to me. Couldn't trade down to say 10 or so just to add a draft pick to the argument of "we could have had so and so"? This team is in legal handcuffs off the court and plays like its in fuzzy porn handcuffs on it. Speedy Claxton is a nice pickup for a team that drafted Chris Paul or Deron Williams last year...oh, wait.
Charlotte Bobcats - Emeka's back... is still hurting. Don't get me wrong the ambition level is still not so high in Charlotte, but with the two PG set, Gerald Wallace flying all over the place (the Kings should have NEVER let this guy into the expansion draft) and big bodies up front they have something to work with. Jordan's phone must ring off the hook for teams interested in Brevin Knight, why not hand Felton the keys and get a young asset? Adam Morrisson? I don't know, I just don't. Has anyone compared him to Reggie Miller yet? He's certainly no Bird. If the Cats run him around like Reggie Miller we might have a Rip Hamilton type in a year or two.
Miami Heat - Last year they shook things up, this year they played bridge and bingo in the offseason. The only reason this team is back in the playoffs is Dewayne Wade. Shaq won't be interested until mid-March and GP and Zo may have lost their edge, so D-Wade will probably put up LeBron-ish numbers this year... 30-6-6.
Orlando Magic - Is there anything you are good enough at that if you only did it once in a while you'd still be one of the best? Grant Hill is that guy. When he's on the court he is still tremendous. I heard a lot about the Darko resurgence only to see him come off the bench and play half of Tony Battie's minutes in the opener against the Bulls. This team doesn't need Darko, this team needs a healthy Grant Hill and a steady helping of Hedo, Jameer and the super freak. Dwight Howard vs. Amare pre-knee injury... I'd take Dwight Howard. This team is a playoff team and if the Heat have it on cruise control, they could win this division.
Washington Wizards - Gil's got high altitude air in his house, that's going to have half the impact of the USA embarrassment this offseason...he's gonna go Gilarenas on the NBA. Wait, he did that last year didn't he... there is a limit to Gil's revenge. The rest of the team is no better than last year. A minimum signing of Stevenson (only 1/5 the price and 2/5 of the length of John Salmons' deal) otherwise this is exactly the same crew as last year. Expect the same result, 1 week of playoff exposure and out.
Dallas Mavericks - Andrea Bargnani owes Dirk half his paycheck (for that matter so does Darko and Skitta (it's ok Skita, Dirk takes Euroleague checks too)). Dirk and Nash should have shared the MVP (and perhaps a bowlo and a hacky-sack circle). But they should've won the championship, you know, while they were there and all. They now sit in the unenviable position of having to get back to the finals when it's not even likely they get out of the second round in the West. Tough opener against the Spurs is just a sign of things to come.
Houston Rockets - This team is simple... they are so reliant on Yao and McGrady that they could win or lose 60 games. Everyone's praised the Battier-Gay swap (teehee) but it'd be a bit better if they weren't planning to play him at the four! Bonzi will do his thing once he's healthy and regardless of his rep is one of the league's most flexible players... boards, points, defense... he's a poor man's Charles Barkley really. So, what happens... how about they get 45 wins and wreak havoc in the playoffs because a healthy McGrady can defend Duncan, Dirk or Marion... and carry 30-6-6... while Yao is getting very close to cracking the league's elite. West version of the Pacers.
Memphis Grizzlies - There's something about Pao... he looks ridiculous and runs like a girl, but man, he was the best player in the World Championships and carried a mediocre team to the 7th seed last year. Is Pao one of those guys you just roll out and automatically make the playoffs with? Without him there's way too much burden on Mike Miller, Rudy Gay and Hakim Warrick but if those guys can get some confidence and hold the fort at about .400 until Pao is back they will be fighting to the end. Unlike Amare, once Pao's on the floor he's good to go, he's already slow, has no hops, etc, so there will be less of a recovery period. I still think they miss the playoffs because other teams got better.
OKC / New Orleans Hornets - Speaking of better. Peja 3:16 (my old favorite player) will be filling it up in the Bayou (or OKC) on feeds from Chris Paul. This team is going to scap for the final playoff spot in the West because they have guys like Chandler, West, Mason and Bobby Jackson who aren't afraid to play hard and can defer to the young superstar Paul has become. If they do make the playoffs look for Peja to revert to his part-time schedule.
San Antonio Spurs - Unlike the Pistons, this team's not nearly done. While Duncan is fully capable of carrying the load, Parker and Manu are willing and able to shoulder their fair share. Even so, Tim Duncan and his four oldest relatives could probably still win 20 games in the league. It'd be even more boring, if that's possible. Should be interesting to see what lineups they go with because aside from T.D. and Big Shot Rob, they're horribly thin up front. If they get anything from Nazr's replacements, they'll be holding the trophy in June... sorry David Stern.
Denver Nuggets - They needed a gunner to help out Carmelo... JR Smith is nothing if he's not a gunner. They got Nene back, meaning that they can breathe a bit easier about trotting Camby and Martin out each night. If Melo takes the steps to be a leader for this team and pushes himself on the defensive end, the Nuggets will make the playoffs for more than just winning their division.
Minnesota Timberwolves - Coming back to my comment about Pao Gasol... why doesn't KG's team make the playoffs each year? There are any number of superstars throughout the years that have carried bad teams to the playoffs - Barkley, Nique, Jordan, David Robinson - why not KG? With that said, the T'wolves still suck and drafted a PG only to sign another PG to go with Marko Jaric, who's been horrible. This team can start booking late April in the Bahamas.
Portland Trail Blazers - Zebo and Roy, how much worse are they than Webber and AI, Yao and McGrady or Duncan and Parker? Oh, that much? Well, at least they'll be the kings of the Pacific Northwest...
Seattle SuperSonics - ... because this team is hopeless. Can someone please send Ray Allen a lifeline? Rashard Lewis is clearly gone and the trading deadline, all the hope surrounding Robert Swift went up in ACL smoke and Chris Wilcox seems a little less angry after getting $25 mill. Ray Ray is too good a player to be stuck on this sinker, or to have to be the OKC poster boy next year.
Utah Jazz - AK47, Carlos Boozer (24 & 19 in the opener!), Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams should be on a playoff team, Derek Fisher, Matt Harpring, Jason Collins and Rafael Araujo should not. They'll upset a few teams and stick around until April, but one injury to the front four sends this team into the Greg Oden sweepstakes.
Golden State Warriors - Nellie's always been a mad scientist... unless Nellie has the cure for Baron Davis' back problems and Mike Dunleavey's Danny-Ferry-itis this team may be drafting another project center next year... but this time with NBA talent.
Los Angeles Clippers - Added two volatile pieces and lost Maggette for most of the year and poof... playoffs? Sam I Am may be the ugliest player in the league singe Gheorge Muresan and Terry Tyler, but the guy can flat out ball and make his teams better. What he's never been able to do is mentor young guys and Shaun Livingston could use some of that mojo. When can we take Elton Brand off the list of "good players on bad team" and add him to "league elite"? I say make it back to the second round this year and we'll talk.
Los Angeles Lakers - The Lakeshow... a King fan's favorite nemisis. 2-0 without Kobe? Now's the time to cut the ties! Not happening. Kobe will come back, average in the mid-30s and everyone else will stand by and watch one of the game's best players drag them into a battle for 7th or 8th place again.
Phoenix Suns - Three years ago people praised Mark Cuban for finally sitting on his wallet while the Suns overpaid an aging Steve Nash...cheap bastard! Can Amare come back? They won nearly 60 games without him last year and may get worse with him struggling to get it back. Chris Webber Washington/Sacramento never went back to being Chris Webber Michigan but changed his game to be a great player on weak knees. Can Amare do the same?
Sacramento Kings - The worst off season in Sacramento since the Kings picked up J.Will, Vlade and C.Webb in the same summer. John Salmons ends up getting paid more than Bonzi, who actually wanted to stay put. Then they draft a Bobby Jackson/Tony Delk type in Douby and pick up Loren Woods and Maurice Taylor. As much as this pains me to say it, the competition in the West is simply too good for this Kings team this year. The worst part about it is that once this team falls back to mid-90s win totals, they won't get free agents and the wheels will fall off. At that moment the Maloofs will move them to Palms Arena... the future home of the Las Vegas Blings.
MVP - Nothing bold here as last year's crew will all be there again - LeBron, Nash, Brand, Wade and Dirk. The only new names will be the duo in Houston. I think if the Cavs win more games than last year LeBron will get his due for making his team better (even if it's simply a matter of his teammates playing better than last year). Dark horses... how about Grant Hill if he manages 70 games of 20-8-5 and the Magic get a 5 seed in the east. Ron Artest if the Kings get better than a 6 seed and Jermaine O'Neal if he plays 70 and the Pacers challenge for the Central Division.
Rookie of the Year - Roy by default, no one else will be given the keys like he will.
Comeback player - Grant Hill. Or how about Wally World?
Most improved - Sarunas Jasikovicious, Pacers. Saras has multiple European championships, can fill it up and can lead a team from the point. Another option is Hakim Warrick.
Best chance at Greg Oden - Charlotte, Warriors, Seattle and Portland. Watch out if Seattle gets it and decides to make a point NOT to draft another young center. The odd thing is that aside from the Cats, these other teams drafter centers this year... not good planning. If the Cats get Oden they can trot out Felton, Morrison, Wallace, Okafor and Oden just in time for the Pistons Nets, and Heat to implode.
East: Cavs, Pacers, Heat, Nets, Bulls, Pistons, Magic, Wizards in that order
West: Spurs, Mavs, Suns, Nuggets, Clippers, Rockets, Lakers/Hornets/Kings (Geoff Petrie owes us one this year)
Finals - LeBron-Wade 1 ends with LeBron's supporting cast outhustling a sluggish Heat supporting cast. Spurs hold off the Mavs to return to the finals.
NBA finals - As much as it pains me to say this, one more ring for Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu and Bron Bron will have to wait his turn.