Miami Heat, the Team To Beat: A Ranking of Eastern Conference Teams
Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics still feel the lingering bitterness of last years NBA Finals loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. They are the reigning Eastern Conference Champions, yet most media polls do not see them getting past the Miami Heat.
Teams like the Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks have the necessary mix to keep it interesting.
The resulting pressure has made it necessary for these teams to make the regular season count. It would be unwise for them or any other team to try and duplicate what the Boston Celtics did last year. The Celtics really did have the "luck of the Irish" on their side in the 2009-10 season.
The question is, which one of these teams will represent the East in the the 2010-11 NBA Finals?
Cleveland Cadavers: A Cavalier Experience, Witnesses No More
How the mighty have fallen from grace. For seven years, the Cleveland Cavaliers suffered unprecedented success.
The constant media hordes who flocked to the "mistake by the lake" gave its fans hope that the curse was lifted. After all, they had their basketball "Moses," who told all to bear witness when he asked them "how his...$$ tasted" as he hightailed it out of town.
Gone is Mike Brown and Danny Ferry, two voices of reason who begged the owner to say no just once to Lebron James. He never did, and the result was a seismic shift in the NBA landscape.
Cavalier players, as well as the Cleveland faithful, were left at the altar wandering what happened to their happily ever after.
With James gone, the Cavaliers are touting J.J. Hickson as their next star. The young man may have star potential but will never gain super star status.
Now that Lebron is no longer there to aid and abet him, Andersen Varajao becomes an albatross around Cleveland's neck. He depended on James to get him the ball as much if not more than any player on the roster. He used to clammer that he had a better offensive game than he has shown, let us hope he can back up his words.
Antwan Jamison has never been a go-to guy, and Mo Willaims will have to be the man on the team. That being said, they are a team that is just holding on till next years draft.
15th place, Byron Scott will get them to play defense, but it will take a few years to reshape the roster into a true team.
Toronto Raptors: BARGNANI OH OH OH OH!!!
The defection of Chris Bosh has left this former No. 1 pick the backbone of this franchise. Unfortunately, like Bosh, his fragile 7'0" frame cannot handle it. His reluctance to mix it up in the paint, even with Kevin Garnett, has left the Raptors depending on rookie Ed Davis Jr. for help.
Leandro Barbosa gives them instant offense and second year player Demar Rozen has shown flashes of consistency.
Linas Klieza adds toughness at the small forward position.
Toronto gifted Amir Johnson a $35 million dollar contract for fear of some other team taking him. Johnson has shown very little in terms of play, and the Raptors are counting on him for interior help.
This We are the World roster has little semblance to a cohesive unit and they along with Cleveland will be vying for next year's No. 1 draft pick.
14th or tied for last, the Raptors will remain extinct as NBA contenders.
New Jersey NYETS and The Little General
Mark Cuban has finally met his match in Mikhail Prokhorov, a self-made billionaire who needed to find a new toy to play with. Prokhorov was smart to keep Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter in the loop to increase his popularity with the fans.
He also hired an experienced head coach in Avery Johnson and added championship experience to his roster in the form of Jordan Farmar.
Now if he would only backdown from his five-year plan of winning a championship, he would get a better assessment of his team's 10-year window.
Devin Harris is a serviceable point guard, but he cannot run a team. He can score with the best of them, but he doesn't know how to improve the players around him.
Brook Lopez lost out on critical international experience when he bowed out with a case of mononucleosis. He should be ready to make a name for himself as the second-best young center in the league behind Dwight Howard.
Terrence Williams' game seems eerily similar to Ricky "Buckets" Davis. A guy who looks to shoot first, last and always. The Nets can ill afford for their two guard to dominate the ball. Let us hope Avery Johnson convinces him that less shots for him means more wins for the team.
Derek Favors will take his lumps as a rookie power forward.
The swamp hasn't been a particular haven for Nets fans and they have stayed away in droves. The move to the Prudential Center was made to give fans better access to public transportation. If they win they will come no matter where they play, the problem is the Nets just don't win.
13th and hope they get a decent draft pick.
Washington Wizards:The Writing Is On The Wall
Gilbert Arenas' days are numbered in a Wizards uniform and the John Wall era has begun in full effect. This 6'4" point man has the quickness, agility and passing skills to become a top tier guard. He even does something Derrick Rose does not do well: play defense.
The Wizards have launched a full out campaign to promote Wall and remove the stench of last year's debacle from the team. They brought in Kirk Hinrich to tutor him on the intricacies of running a team and are looking for a way to rid themselves of Gilbert.
Washington is loaded with big men.
Javon McGee and Andre Blatche give them the defensive and offensive punch they need down low.
Josh Howard, after tearing his ACL last year, should be ready to contribute sparingly after the trading deadline.
Yi JianLian has yet to show any signs of moving passed Yao Ming as the best Chinese NBA player.
Now if only they could get a shooting guard that will make shots under pressure, they might have a chance.
12th not enough to offset the flash and dash of John Wall.
Philadelphia Sixers: A Rocky Road
The Sixers must depend on the other A.I. Andre Iguodala and watch his once proud namesake peddle his services overseas.
The Sixers, like the Knicks, have a bunch of nice parts, but you never quite feel that they will get it. Iguodala knows only two speeds: fast and faster. He has no concept of team play and is often miscast as a two guard in the offensive sets. Let's hope his FIBA experience has helped him reinvent his game.
Marreese Speights is Kevin McHale-lite, a player who was known to never meet a shot he didn't like.
Elton Brand has reshaped his body and hopefully his mind. They traded Samuel Dalemberte, a move that makes no sense, since big men are hard to find.
Jrue Holiday has supplanted Louis Williams at point and the addition of rookie Evan Turner gives them a chance to compete.
The drawback is that Turner plays matador defense and has very little lateral quickness when compared to his peers. He doesn't look like a good fit and it makes you wander if the Sixers might not be willing to trade him by the trading deadline.
They have a new head coach in Doug Collins and hope to rekindle the winning atmosphere that seems to elude them.
Fighting for the 11th spot, the chemistry is not there.
Detroit Pistons: Grinding to A Halt
The Detroit Pistons have seen better days. They have had massive turnover in staff, players and possibly owners in the past few years. Rip Hamilton, the Ben Wallace Redux Experiment, and Tayshaun Prince are the lone holdovers from the 2004 title.
Hamilton needs to become a sixth man type player and Prince needs to leave Detroit in order to resurrect his career.
Greg Monroe, the 10th pick in the draft, is the only significant addition.
Ben Gordon has yet to recapture the bullish offense he exhibited as a Chicago Bull and has shown a tendency toward injury.
Charlie Villaneuva has a nice shooting stroke, but that is about it.
Tracy McGrady is the wily veteran pickup, who, like his predecessor A.I., wants to prove he is a team player.
Injuries seem to be the theme for the Pistons as promising small forward Jonas Jerebko tore his Achilles.
Tayshaun Prince was slow to get up in that same preseason game but came back to play.
Detroit is a tough blue-collar team, and, like the city, has seen better days. The brand of basketball they were known for can no longer be executed with the current roster.
Monroe is at least three years from being a reliable low post presence and Stuckey just doesn't seem to look smooth at the point guard position.
Dumars fell into the 2004 roster and has done little to improve the team since he traded Chauncey Billups. He had hoped that Stuckey would fill that role however, it is highly doubtful he can do it well on a nightly basis.
10th spot, not enough athleticism on the roster keeps them mired in mediocrity.
Indiana Pacers: Granging The Distance
Danny Granger seems like he just can't stay healthy; all accounts point to his return on opening night.
However, this not a good way for the franchise player to start the season. That is why the Pacers are now redirecting the offense through Roy Hibbert. Hibbert has worked hard on his body and game during the offseason and it shows in his preseason play.
Darren Collison gives them a reason to make T.J. Ford obsolete and a point guard who understands how to run a team.
James Posey gives them the veteran experience that they need and rookies Paul George, Magnum Rolle and Lance Stephenson gives them hope for the future.
Fighting for the ninth spot, need a power forward.
Milwaukee Bucks: Fear The Dear
Milwaukee Buck fans can now have something to be proud of besides Laverne and Shirley. Brandon Jennings has brought out the brashness that has been missing on this team for a long time.
John Salmons gave them a chance every night to win, and Andrew Bogut had a breakout season before he injured his hand on a freak fall.
The Michael Redd era failed to launch and now an excitement has carried over from last year's game seven loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
Corey Magette gives them added offensive punch of the bench, and Ersan Illyosova will look to improve on last year's play.
Scott Skiles has molded a group that embodies his toughness and tenacity to leave it all on the floor.
Eighth, they put quite a scare in the Atlanta Hawks and the players are willing to listen to Skiles for now.
New York Knicks: Its Not Always What It Seems
Now that Dwyane Wade and Lebron James have joined forces in South Beach, the rumor mill has started with whispers of Carmelo Anthony joining Amare and Stoudemire in New York. The Knicks are willing to give up Danilo Gallinari to get him.
Stay tuned for more on the "Melo" files, this is about the current Knicks roster.
Like everyone else who cleaned house in hopes of landing James, the Knicks lost out but got Stoudemire as a consolation prize. He is off two major knee surgeries and a now uninsured $100 million dollar contract owner James L. Dolan is on the hook for. A risk they were willing to take for what reason?
Their next big signing, Raymond Felton, stabilizes the point guard position. Felton is a rugged defender and can hold his own amongst the elite guards, but he is not top ten material.
Eddie Curry continues to prove how New York has no idea how to put a roster together and hire a coach.
Danilo Gallinari is at best a 6th man and not a starter, lets hope that much talked about trade with the Nuggets happens.
Rony Turiaf and Anthony Randolph are the other notable players and do little to boost the collective talent on the roster.
Mike D'Antoni knows offense, but defense remains a foreign notion to him. He is attempting to build a brand of basketball that is destined to fail. Defense is what is needed with the likes of the Miami Heat trio waiting to claim their preseason title aspirations.
Seventh and maybe win one playoff game.
Charlotte Bobcats: An Hier Less View
The Charlotte Bobcats made the playoffs for the first time in the 2010 season and were swept in the second round by the Atlanta Hawks. It was invaluable experience for the young 'Cats and their first-time All-Star Gerald Wallace. After averaging 18 PPG in the regular season, his numbers dipped to 17 PPG in the playoffs.
Wallace and Stephen Jackson make a good tandem, but with Raymond Felton defecting to New York, they will have to depend on D.J. Augustine. A player who was in and out of Larry Brown's doghouse, this is his season for redemption.
For all his versatility, Boris Diaw has exhibited the intensity of the Warner Bros character Droopy. At 6' 10" tall, he has a face-up game, can pass, handle the ball and has a long range jump shot, yet he does not impact the game.
Charlotte resigned midseason acquisition Tyrus Thomas; he must increase his basketball IQ and harness his athletic ability to fit the NBA game.
Last year's rookie Gerald Henderson must somehow crack the rotation and bolster the bench with a reliable scorer.
Michael Jordan has accomplished his dream of owning an NBA team, he has the luxury of having a Hall-of-Fame coach in Larry Brown who loves teaching the game "the right way." He took in his own refuse, Kwame Brown, but he still hasn't proven that he can build a talented roster.
They will finish at the sixth spot, history will repeat itself and they will lose to the Atlanta Hawks.
Atlanta Hawks: Flightless In Atlanta
The summer of Lebron brought a lot of riches to many undeserving players like Joe Johnson and Amar 'e Stoudemire headlining the group.
Hawks management fired Mike Woodson and elevated assistant coach Larry Drew to head coach.
Let's let the season play out before we pass judgment.
Mike Bibby is back a year older and a defensive step slower. Rookie Jordan Crawford is there for emergency purposes, in case the Hawks want to trade his counterpart Jamal Crawford because of his contractual demands.
They have made no attempts to move Al Horford to his natural position at power forward and will suffer for it in the playoffs.
Atlanta has a lot to prove after the young Milwaukee Bucks pushed them to a Game 7. If Andrew Bogut had not been hurt, I doubt they would have won that series. And Joe Johnson would not have gotten such a ridiculous contract.
Josh Smith must continue to play an inside game to help the undersized Horford in the post.
Marvin Williams is a match up nightmare for opposing small and power forwards. In spite of all this talent, they seem to fade under the pressures of the playoffs unless they play the Celtics.
If it was possible they would play the Celtics in every round, but this is reality, the Hawks need a major roster shakeup in order to increase the teams IQ.
FIfth, and barely make it out of the second round again.
Chicago Bulls: A Rose Blooms In Chicago
Derrick Rose is the undisputed leader of the Chicago Bulls and after a summer of FIBA play, he should be ready to take his team to the next level.
Rajon Rondo lost his Team USA spot to this bullish guard and he is primed to help his team command respect in the Eastern Conference.
New head coach Tom Thibodeau brings championship experience, albeit from an assistant coach's point of view. His defensive schemes, however, were the root of the Celtics 2008 championship run. He is a workaholic and hopes to bring a defensive mindset to his young charges.
Free-agent Carlos Boozer has sustained injury again and will be missing a great opportunity to mesh with his new point guard.
Joakim Noah has proven that he will play a significant role in making the Bulls a legitimate contender and second year player Taj Gibson has shown growth.
They have fleeced the Utah Jazz roster with the additions of Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson. All understand how to play defense and should shore up the porous Chicago bench.
Fourth, just because of the presence of Thibodeau.
Orlando Magic: Do You Believe In Magic
It's hard to believe in a team with a mascot like this; however, the people of Central Florida swear by Dwight Howard and the rest of his merry men. Led by the diminutive Jameer Nelson and head coach Stan Van Gundy, the Magic will keep their name in the conversation.
They made no real offseason moves and spent most of the offseason shooting verbal volleys at their neighbors in South Beach, the Miami Heat.
Last season's second round loss to the Celtics showed them that Rashard Lewis belongs at the small forward position. While it is true his long range shooting took power forwards away from the hoop, it hurt the Magic at the defensive ends, where teams like Boston would punish him in the post. That made for a tired player who was unable to help his team when they needed him, too.
Vince Carter has seen better days, and his penchant for failing his team in moments of need followed him into the postseason. He and Nick Andersen are the only two players in Orlando history to choke so miserably at the free throw line in a playoff game.
They took in Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson two players who can add toughness to a soft roster.
Daniel Horton, their rookie pickup, has the luxury of learning behind Marcin Gortat and Howard, who worked with Rockets great Hakeem Alajuwon and has shown improvement offensively.
Third and lose once again to the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics.
Miami Heat: In The Heat Of The Moment
Pat Riley is the envy of the league on paper; his roster is choked with arguably three of the best players at their position.
Dwyane Wade, Lebron James and Chris Bosh all got $100 million dollar contracts to take their talents to South Beach. In Wade's case, to stay there.
Privately, owners are fuming at the possibility of such collusion happening over and over again in the league. Small team markets are watching closely to see how this season plays out with Eric Spoelstra at the helm of the Super friends.
Aside from Mike Miller, the "three amigos" have very little help, which may cause them to break down during the season. Already Wade has played only three minutes of the preseason and Lebron has missed a few games with a hamstring injury. Ironically only Bosh has escaped the injury bug and has carried the offensive load when James and Wade could not play.
Udonis Haslem fills the role of the loyal foot soldier, and Eddie House hopes to tag on to another instant champion by employing his three-point arsenal.
The Heat's other big men Joel Anthony and Zydrunas Ilgauskas will lose the battle of the bigs when confronted with the likes of Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard, Shaquille O'Neal and the other big men of the Eastern Conference.
Second spot, simply because of the talents of the "Miami Thrice." If they do not win the East, Pat Riley has his hair pomade all ready to assume the spotlight once again.
Boston Celtics: Its Not Easy Being Green
Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce decided to team up once again to get Banner 18. Doc is giving himself one year, and Danny Ainge gave Pierce 4 more years.
The Celtics to a man believe that had not Kendrick Perkins gotten hurt, they would be looking to be repeat champions this year. The Lakers pounded them on the boards and they had no one willing to do the dirty work like Perkins. Rasheed Wallace simply ran out of gas, a fact that was evident well before the season ended. Glen Davis could not get much lift from his rotundness.
This year the Celtics made a heavy investment in their bench. They have a well-rounded roster that will serve them well. They have the inside game with Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal. Pierce has a decent inside game to keep opponents honest.
Shaq has shown a willingness to blend into the Celtics culture and not make waves so far.
Rookie Luke Harangody has opened enough eyes where he will get spot duty during the regular season. He has a nose for the boards and can stretch the defense with the three-point shot. He might make Glen Davis expendable in the near future.
Boston's other rookie Avery Bradley has been slow to heal from ankle surgery and the Celtics are taking precautionary measures.
Delonte West gives them insurance when Rondo's fragile jump shot and free throw shooting fails him. West will keep the defense honest, can pass and has decent ball-handling skills.
Nate Robinson has learned how to do things the Celtic way and Marquis Daniels is looking to make a positive impact.
Glen Davis has improved his mid-range shot and looks to be a more willing passer.
Ray Allen's minutes will have to be monitored, because he seems to have lost a step defensively.
Pierce looks rejuvenated and likes the look of the team and KG has a spring in his step that hasn't been seen since 2008.
The man of the hour, Rajon Rondo, must continue his upward learning curve, improve his jumper and free-throw percentage and lead the team the team to repeat as Eastern Conference Champions and possibly Banner 18.
First, 2011 Eastern conference Champs. Boston has a very balanced and experienced team from one through nine, something the Miami Heat or any would-be challenger cannot match. This allows the Celtics core players to get much more rest during the regular season. And when the game slows down in the playoffs they will emerge Champions of the Eastern conference.