NBA Season Preview Eastern Conference
Say what you want about the NBA but for the most part they have done a pretty good job of staying out of the limelight lately in their off-season. None of their owners got arrested for DUI after sending out dozens of drunken Tweets, no players blew any of their limbs off with fireworks, and most importantly the league didn’t spend $10 million dollars to see if their basketballs were inflated properly. One of the repercussions of that quiet down time is that the regular season sneaks up on you, as it has done once again. Much like the annual rite of scantily clad nuns, scantily clad nurses, and scantily clad ninja turtles, Halloween weekend meant the NBA season is back in full swing and here’s what to expect from your favorite teams this year.
Eastern Conference (in order of last season’s finish worst to first)
New York Knicks – Even though Knicks president Phil Jackson is supposedly of the ‘old guard’ he showed that he has some Moneyball tendencies in the 2015 offseason by bringing in quality, yet not flashy NBA players to team-friendly deals. Even though the fans weren’t thrilled, the drafting of 7’1” Kristaps Porzingis, a 19-year old from Latvia, is being heralded as the steal of the draft and combined with a healthy Carmelo Anthony the Knicks could actually be watchable this season.
Philadelphia 76ers – At this point Philadelphia fans don’t know whether to trust the plan or if GM Sam Hinkle is simply drinking on the job. The Sixers represent that guy in a fantasy football keeper league who trades for rookies and future draft picks after week three every year and by the time his team is good everybody is married or in prison and there is no league anymore. Philadelphia won’t be good again this year and is likely already scouting Skal Labissiere, the 6-11” Center out of Kentucky for next year’s draft.
Orlando Magic – The Magic are hoping new coach Scott Skiles can be ‘the rookie whisperer’ as he instills a defensive oriented, ball control mindset to youngsters Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Shabazz Napier, and Mario Hezonja. There will be ups and downs along with some rubbing of noses in the carpet.
Detroit Pistons – A good nickname for the Pistons this year would be “The Program.” Not because they have talent from within and just rebuild and reload each year, it’s because you’ll need a program to know most of the players not named Andre Drummond on the court. The other one you will know is one you’ll soon want to forget but PG Reggie Jackson isn’t going anywhere after a 5-year $80 million contract agreement. He’ll earn the name “Mr. October” because that’s when Detroit will regret that signing.
Charlotte Hornets – The Hornets haven’t made the playoffs since Jamal Mashburn and Stacey Augmon were in the lineup (granted they didn’t exist from ’02 until last year) but this season is when that changes. Charlotte got bigger and whiter up front (Frank Kaminsky, Spencer Hawes, Tyler Hansbrough) added Jeremy Lin and traded for Frenchman Nicolas Batum, proving that diversity is not just an old wooden ship used in the Civil War.
Miami Heat – Even though the Heat are already predicted to be pretty good they could still be the surprise of the East in 2015/16. It starts with the addition of versatile rookie Justise Winslow and the return of Chris Bosh from health issues. From there Miami added low cost veteran bench scoring in Gerald Green and Amare Stoudamire and will benefit from the continued development of Hassan Whiteside. Factor in the happiness of Dwyane Wade after a ‘services rendered’ $20 million extension and Miami should be only three years away from forgetting about the Lebron James years.
Indiana Pacers – These aren’t your cousin’s pacers from about 3-years ago and that’s both good and bad in Indiana. The team is facing somewhat of an identity crisis with the losses of Roy Hibbert, David West, and the likely move of Paul George to the 4 (?) but the Pacers did sign Monta Ellis, have an exciting rookie in 6’11” Myles Turner and most importantly – play in the East which makes anything possible.
Brooklyn Nets – Whenever a team would rather pay you to leave than pay you to stay it says they’re likely better off without you. That’s just what the Nets did this summer paying Deron Williams $25 million to take his diminishing talents elsewhere. Coach Lionel Hollins should have more control over the team and time to draw up plays when not worrying about his point guard trying to fight him at halftime.
Boston Celtics – The Celtics 2015 offseason was much like a Tinder date – there was a lot of excitement and anticipation going in but ultimately it only ended in disappointment. Boy wonder Brad Stevens is still a Match.com at coach and will swipe right and improve a tad this season but Boston seems a year away and some offseason luck from any major contention.
Milwaukee Bucks – The Bucks could sport arguably the two best additions heading into the meat of 2015/16, the signing of Greg Monroe who is set to become a household name and the return of Jabari Parker. Along with the growth of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams, and Khris Middleton the exciting Bucks are making people in Wisconsin wear Packers shirts only 6 days out of the week now.
Washington Wizards – The Wizards lost their spiritual, veteran leader when Pierce returned home to Los Angeles to play for the Clippers. They still have two backcourt stars in John Wall and Bradley Beal but the frontcourt is largely banged up. Washington fans will have to watch every game with baited breath that these injuries stay at bay much like they did at Redskins games back when Robert Griffin III had knees.
Toronto Raptors – The Raptors finished fourth in the East last year yet still find themselves out of the mix when it comes to the Conference’s top teams. That goes with their ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mantra of playing in Canada; Toronto quietly got better on defense (Demarre Carroll, Cory Joseph) while unloading disgruntled pieces (Amir Johnson, Grevis Vasquez) in the offseason. They’ll be good again.
Chicago Bulls – Perhaps the Bulls biggest acquisition is getting a coach that doesn’t run Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol, and Joakim Noah 44 minutes a night in a 16-point January win over Orlando. New coach Fred Hoiberg will open up the offense and run – but the Chicago stars should finally be fresh for the playoffs instead of broken down like they were under Tom Thibodeau.
Cleveland Cavaliers – You know a team had a good offseason when you can’t remember if the NBA has a salary cap or not. This offseason owner Dan Gilbert opened up the pocketbook to the tune of $300+ million to resign LeBron James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Matthew Delladova but it could be the $4.3 million for PG Mo Williams that could be the smartest with Kyrie Irving out well into the new year.
Atlanta Hawks – Atlanta had a somewhat surprising 60-win season last year, good enough for 2nd in the NBA regular season before getting swept 4-0 in the East Finals. They’ll be good again this year even with losing defensive stud DeMarre Carroll. Experts think it’s a Cavs/Bulls race for the East but don’t sleep on the Hawks, even if their style of play and lack of superstar talent makes you want to do so.
Minnesota Timberwolves – They can’t be bad forever right? With the drafting of Karl-Anthony Towns at #1 and Tyus Jones at #24 to go with budding superstar Andrew Wiggins and highlight reel players Zach Lavine and Ricky Rubio the Timberwolves should at least be fun to watch this season. Add in the veteran presence of Kevin Garnett and the motivation of having coach Flip Saunders pass away days before opening tip and Minnesota might be ready to contend for that 8th playoff spot.
Los Angeles Lakers – This season will be marked by three things – 1) the Kobe Bryant swan song 2) the emergence of Deangelo Russell as the new face of the franchise and 3) likely a lot more losing. The Lakers do have some pieces in place (added Roy Hibbert and Lou Williams) especially if Bryant can stay healthy and Russell is as advertised but LA lacks role players – unless that role is shooting inefficient contested shots after 2 passes within the offense (Nick Young, Bryant, Williams).
Sacramento Kings – The Kings are going to be horrible yet again but at least they’ll be fun to watch – off the court. Take a 20 and 10 Center in his prime and sprinkle in offseason trade rumors and a disgruntled relationship with a veteran coach with a Type-A personality (George Karl) and you’ve got a recipe for excitement in Sacramento. Add a dash of the volatile Rajon Rondo who might be relegated to the bench behind Darren Collison and beat writer for the Kings might just be the best job in the league.
Denver Nuggets – In order to build a beautiful structure you need to have a sound foundation which is the best way to describe the 2015/16 Nuggets. They have a new coach (Mike Malone), a potential superstar in rookie Emmanuel Mudiay, and young pieces and draft picks to be good – someday, just probably not this year.
Utah Jazz – The Jazz were struck a blow when young superstar Dante Exum tore his ACL in the offseason but it could actually buy time for coach Quin Snyder to further develop his young team without any pressure. Utah actually had the #1 defense after the All-Star break in 2014 and the 6th best record; they will falter without Exum but should still surprise.
Phoenix Suns – One of the dangers of going after a hot free agent commodity like LaMarcus Aldridge is that if you miss out, you’re kind of screwed which is exactly where the Suns find themselves. They split up the Morris twins by sending Marcus to the Pistons to gain salary room and in doing so may have lost Markieff mentally as well. The Suns are in what we call “Basketball Hell”, not good enough to make the postseason but not bad enough to wind up with a high lottery pick.
OKC Thunder – There’s a lot of negative reaction to Oklahoma City matching the offer sheet for C Enes Kanter but there’s one important thing to remember, “its not your money.” If spending $70 million on a defensively inept, offensive-minded center shows Kevin Durant that you’re dedicated to winning now, as the superstar heads into his free agent season, then that’s the play. The Thunder are about as unpredictable as they come going forth in 2015/16, with anywhere between a #3 and #11 finish in the West possible.
New Orleans Pelicans – The roster stayed put for the most part but the combination of offensive geared coach Alvin Gentry with a year more refined superstar Anthony Davis will make New Orleans a playoff contender.
Dallas Mavericks – For the Mavericks the offseason wasn’t about who you got, it’s about who you missed namely DeAndre Jordan who opted to return to the Clippers after an impromptu 11th hour Scrabble meeting with Doc Rivers, Steve Ballmer, and Blake Griffin. Dallas scrapped salary to prepare for Jordan (Monta Ellis, Tyson Chandler) then added it when they didn’t get him (Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews) and now look like a team in the middle of an identity crisis.
San Antonio Spurs – They did it right again. Not only did San Antonio keep their own happy with extensions for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, they also found room to sign Lamarcus Aldridge. That alone would peg the Spurs for 1st in the West but they went ahead and added David West for veteran bench depth and traded for Ray McCallum as a young ball handler. San Antonio could legitimately vie for a 70-win season if coach Gregg Popovich didn’t value player rest and NBA championships over regular season awards.
Memphis Grizzlies – Memphis mostly stood pat in the offseason, which for a team that finished 5th in the West, is not a bad move. They did get somewhat better in signing Matt Barnes to fit in line with their gritty attitude and adding Brandan Wright as a more offensive-minded backup to Marc Gasol than the departed Kostas Koufos. Expect a carbon copy season for Memphis this year, perhaps with the exact same record as last year (55-27).
Portland Trail Blazers – Portland was a top 4 team in the West last season but if they get anywhere near that this year coach Terry Stotts shouldn’t get coach of the year, he should get best coach ever. The Blazers are in full rebuild after losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Arron Afflalo, and Steve Blake but that could be a blessing in disguise in the long run – although the short run will be ugly.
Los Angeles Clippers – One goal, championship. To be honest anything else is a disappointing season for the Clippers after winning back the heart of DeAndre Jordan like a husband who gives up drinking to save his marriage and adding Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith, and Wesley Matthews – likely all to just join Jamal Crawford on their bench!
Houston Rockets – The bad thing about losing Josh Smith in the offseason is that he made Western Conference foes the Clippers even better. That being sad Houston is still a viable contender as long as James Harden can avoid the ‘Kardashian Kurse’ as he’s reportedly still dating Khloe even after she called off her divorce to Lamar Odom. Check out E!-SPN for more information.
Golden State Warriors – The Warriors had one of the best seasons in NBA history last year winning the 2015 Championship and what’s scary is that they might be even better in 2015/16. Golden State essentially swapped an overpriced and injury-prone David Lee for a hungry, versatile veteran in Jason Thompson (who will form with Klay Thompson to provide countless ‘Thompson Twins’ references). The NBA’s best bench got even deeper with the drafting of Kevon Looney at #30, a 19-year old that notched 15 double-doubles as a freshman at UCLA last year.
It should be a fun year as long as team trainers keep the basketballs at the proper PSI throughout the year.
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