Can Danny: Eastern Conference Predictions
Call it hate. Call me a homer. But what I'm calling right now is that the Miami Heat do not make it to the NBA Finals. Now don't get me wrong, they should probably blast through the regular season like it's nobody's business but I think that they may just have their hands full with the Orlando Magic and the current conference champs, the Boston Celtics.
So how do I have the Eastern Conference shaking out? (DISCLAIMER: I wrote this while at work so forgive me if it seems rushed or doesn't always make sense.)
Boston Celtics: The one thing that makes me nervous about the Celtics is the cast of characters they have in that locker room. This team was created for a reality television show. Shaq, Nasty Nate, Delonte, Big Baby, etc. are a bunch of huge personalities. And then there's Ray Allen who prefers quiet as he prepares for the game. Good luck with that. Also, I wonder how Rondo's going to feel during the season when he's trying to prove that he's the best point guard in the league while the rest of the team is just trying to pace themselves so their old bodies aren't worn down come playoff time. Still, I think Rondo at the point and the Celtics bigs are going to give them the advantage come playoffs time. I'd like them to land a defensive minded SF but maybe they can make that happen at the trade deadline (and I wouldn't be stunned if Big Baby was the person they dealt to make it happen since he's already living up to his name and whining.)
Miami Heat: Bottom line, the Heat have a pretty sick lineup with LeBron running the point forward, Wade and Miller Miller handling the guard spots, and Chris Bosh getting the looks in the post. And Juwan Howard and Zydrunas Ilgauskas aren't the worst center tandem in the league. They should run over most of the league and could be even more dangerous if Mario Chalmers returns to his rookie form and makes everyone forget his disappointing sophomore season. The biggest weakness, besides the center spot, is Dwyane Wade's health. He's been pretty good the last couple years but he's had some injury issues in the past and this team only goes so far as Wade goes. He's got the killer instinct that I think LeBron and Bosh lack. If anything happens to him, the Heat are just another good but not great team.
Orlando Magic: I almost ranked Orlando over the Heat but then I remembered about Vince Carter. I thought last year was his change to rewrite history and prove that he wasn't a soft waste of talent and instead of fighting tooth and nail to get his first ring, he disappeared completely in the playoffs. The best thing about Vince is that he has a team option on his contract for next year so he's essentially an expiring contract. If the Magic can move Half Man for someone who's All Amazing, then they could find themselves in the Finals. Until then, they'll be stuck with the bronze in the East. (And yeah, that pic is of Vince from his Nets days but, again, I'm at work and also I'm not going to put more effort into finding a pic of Vince than Vince puts into playing the game of basketball.)
One Piece Away
Chicago Bulls: The Chicago Bulls refusal to deal Joakim Noah for Carmelo Anthony could go down as an even worse move than refusing to trade Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich for Pau Gasol. 'Melo would give them the third star that they need to compete with the Celtics, Magic, and Heat. Jo Noah's a nice player but I'm not sold on him as a guy that's going to take them to the next level. Right now, they're basically Utah East with Boozer teaming with the ever-improving Derrick Rose instead of Deron Williams. This is a team that might be able to sneak by Orlando in the playoffs but I doubt they'll be able to be much of a match against the Celtics or Heat.
Atlanta Hawks: Atlanta had a tough call this offseason - do you keep the status quo even though you know it's good enough to make the playoffs but won't be enough to be a legit threat or do you rebuild? They voted for the status quo, overpaid Joe Johnson, didn't trade Josh Smith, and, well, here's they are. They aren't a team going nowhere because they'll make the playoffs but they aren't going anywhere new. It should be interesting to see if the historically fickle Atlanta fans give a damn this season when they know that they're ceiling isn't that high.
Milwaukee Bucks: I don't love the Corey Maggette signing and don't think that Scott Skiles will love him either but, in theory, it makes sense because this is a team that needs offense. However, this is still a two man gang of Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut and they need to package some of their other guys along with Michael Redd's huge expiring deal to bring in a top notch shooting guard or power forward to get to the elite level. If Jennings improves and Bogut is healthy, this team might just be good enough to grab the #4 seed but right now I think it's more likely that they land in the six spot.
MISH MASH MAYBES
Philadelphia 76ers: If only Elton Brand wasn't washed up and extremely overpaid, this team might have a real shot at something. I'm a fan of Andre Iguodala and Thad Young and think Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams is a top notch PG tandem. The frontcourt actually got worse since I think that Sam Dalembert actually brings more to the table than Spencer Hawes. Granted, you never know WHEN Sam is going to bring something to the table but he's a better player IMO. The team could go small with Thad Young at the stretch 4 and Evan Turner at the other swing spot but I don't love that. The key to this season is Marreese Speights. He has shown some promise but, as many feared, he doesn't seem to have the drive to reach his potential. If Evan Turner can live up to the hype and Speights can reach his potential, this team could be a tough out in the playoffs. They'll still go out before the Conference Finals but they should be able to put up a fight that would make the Philly Phaithful happy.
Charlotte Bobcats: I didn't think much of the Bobcats last year and I still don't think much of them. Gerald Wallace is a monster and Ty Thomas actually looked like a basketball player at times last year but the backcourt is a bigger mess than ever. DJ Augustin struggled last year and is now going to have to take the reins as the starting PG. Gerald Henderson didn't get much run last year but it's either him or Matt Carroll backing up Stephen Jackson and as SJax gets older, he's going to need someone to spell him more and more. The frontcourt is exciting and athletic but until they fix up the point guard position, I can't see them really being anything more than first round fodder. And if Jackson implodes or has a bad year, they might not even make it to the first round of the playoffs.
Indiana Pacers: I'm a big believer in Darren Collison and think Danny Granger is one of the more overlooked superstars in the league but after that... well... yeah. Luckily for the Pacers, Jim O'Brien is running the show over there and he's great at doing more with less. Unfortunately for Obie, the Pacers' less is less than most other teams' less. Roy Hibbert is a legit starting big man but I'm not sold on Tyler Hansbrough and Mike Dunleavy Jr. usually isn't even healthy long enough to be disappointing. The team has a bunch of expiring contracts and should definitely look to move it to add some talent to the frontcourt or the 2 guard spot. Why they drafted SF Paul George is beyond me but they should deal him while they can. If Lance Stephenson can stay out of trouble, he might be an interesting prospect but not good enough to really make a difference this year. Honestly, 9th place might be the best case scenario for the Pacers. I think the odds of someone leapfrogging them is better than someone ahead of them crashing and burning. In other words, I have them ranked ninth but I would feel very safe betting against them making the playoffs.
New York Knicks: The Knicks can't blame Isiah Thomas anymore. This is Mike D'Antoni's team. He and Donnie Walsh gave Amar'e the big payday. They're youngsters are the future of the team. And even Eddy Curry is a tradeable asset because he's an expiring deal. And, honestly, the team isn't THAT bad. I like Danilo "The Rooster" Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. They lost David Lee but got three players that the fans will love in Kelenna Auibuike, Rony Turiaf, and Anthony Randolph. (Randolph is still skating by on potential but he'll probably get a one season honeymoon period with the NY fans.) Raymond Felton and Toney Douglas are serviceable enough at the point. If D'Antoni is as good as he thinks he is, he should be able to get this team to the playoffs. I'm not sure he's that good so I'm going to rank them here at #10.
Washington Wizards: This team is a perfect fit for D.C.. They're flashy and dumb, will make a lot of noise but not really accomplish all that much.I expect a bounce back season for Agent Zero but I don't think Arenas's knees are going to allow him to be the player he once was. Not that he'll have to be since rookie John Wall will probably hit the ground running and lead this team. The frontcourt of Aundray Blatche, Javale McGee, Al Thornton, Yi Jianlian, and Josh Howard is good enough to give any opposing team fits but odds are that they'll give their coach just as many headaches. This team could potentially make the playoffs but everything would have to go right for them and I don't know when the last time everything went right in Washington.
Detroit Pistons: The Pistons deserve their own special level because they are in the worst position of any team in the NBA. Their veterans aren't that good but are signed to contracts that make them hard to trade. The young talent isnt' living up to expectations and many of them never had high expectations to begin with. When signing the corpse of Tracy McGrady is scene as a move that might energize your fans, you know you're fucked. Their #1 pick Greg Monroe is used to not living up to his billing so he should feel right at home. Joe Dumars might have done a masterful job putting together the Pistons title team a few years ago but after this year, I wouldn't be stunned if he was looking for a new job.
New Jersey Nets: I expected some fight out of the Nets last year and well, I was wrong. They were terrible. They didn't have a ton of talent but they played worse than they should have. This year, I still think they could be decent enough with Brook Lopez, Troy Murphy, Travis Outlaw, Terrence Williams, and Devin Harris but I'm not going to fool myself into thinking that most every team in the league could beat them at only 3/4's of a maximum effort. There's talent on the roster but it's still not much of a team.
Cleveland Cavaliers: JJ Hickson might be the best player on this team. That's really all that needs to be said. Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison should be out of here by the trade deadline; that is, if someone will take on their contracts. When people watch this team sans LeBron, they'll remember why he left. (HOW he left was a complete debacle but he definitely made the right choice to get the hell out of Cleveland.)
Toronto Raptors: Detroit North. The players aren't as good but don't cost as much so they've got that going for them. Honestly, I'm not sure there's a single player on this team that I would consider a keeper. There's definitely nobody worth building around. I hope Harrison Barnes likes socialized health care because this team looks like they'll be getting the most ping pong balls for the 2011 NBA draft.