Friday, October 29, 2004


Pistons over Spurs


1. Spurs
2. T-Wolves
3. Rockets
4. Kings (3rd seed)
5. Jazz
6. Nuggets
7. Grizzlies
8. Mavericks
9. Suns
10. Lakers
11. Blazers
12. Hornets
13. Sonics
14. Warriors
15. Clippers

Play-off predictions
Spurs over Mavericks
T-Wolves over Grizzlies
Nuggets over Kings
Jazz over Rockets

Spurs over Jazz
T-Wolves over Nuggets

Spurs over T-Wolves


SAN ANTONIO: (1st in Southwest, 1st in West, 2nd in NBA)

If either Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili figures out how to maximize their talents this year, the Spurs could be scary good.

Parker’s still only 22 and I think he’ll be an elite point guard sooner rather than later. The danger for this season lies in an inconsistent Parker forcing Brent Barry to play the point too much, leaving the Spurs one shooter short. I don’t think either Mike Wilks or Beno Udrih will the answer backing up Parker in big games.

If Ginobili channels his aggressiveness into effective defensive play, it will allow Gregg Popovich to play him alongside Barry for long stretches of time. Ideally, Popovich could pick his spots with Bruce Bowen and Devin Brown. I’d really like to see Romain Sato make this team and eventually take over Brown’s minutes. I think Sato’s still developing as a basketball player and could have Mario Elie’s career.

The Spurs released Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje yesterday and will go with two power forwards to back up the very competent Rasho Nesterovic. It appears that the best player in the world, Tim Duncan, will push the envelope in maintaining the fiction that he’s not a true center; the only seven-foot-tall, dominant post player to accomplishment that feat.

HOUSTON: (2nd in Southwest, 3rd in West, 5th in NBA)

Projecting the Rockets as the third best team in the West is admittedly optimistic. I base the prediction almost entirely on the potential of the immense talents of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming to work in tandem. The remaining optimism rests on Bobby Sura getting significant minutes at the point once he returns from back surgery. If Sura’s unable to be a factor for the Rockets, the two-headed Point Guard of Near Mediocrity (Charlie Ward and Tyronn Lue) will be the team’s downfall.

Juwan Howard and Maurice Taylor should provide decent production from the power forward position. One of Clarence Weatherspoon, Scott Padgett, Ryan Bowen or Bostjan Nachbar will need to provide minutes at the three to spell Jim Jackson and McGrady until Sura is healthy.

MEMPHIS: (3rd in Southwest, 7th in West, 10th in NBA)

If David Stern could manipulate the schedule so that the Grizzlies played the Jazz about fifteen times a year on national television, recalcitrant basketball fans such as my father would no longer be able to voice their ignorant complaints about the quality of NBA basketball.

The Grizzlies are legitimately eleven-deep and their twelfth man, Jake Tsakalidis, is sort of fun in his own, awkward way. This collection of young talent, blessed with the guiding hands of Jerry West and Hubie Brown, the best GM-Head coach partnership outside of Detroit, proved adaptable to all game situations last season.

Except for the play-offs. The breadth and depth of talent (I’ll admit I was completely wrong about Earl Watson and Brian Cardinal if you’ll allow me to brag about James Posey) on the roster disguises that fact that, as of right now, Pau Gasol isn’t good enough to be the best player on a championship team. Another 50-win season and a better play-off performance are both well within their capabilities.

DALLAS: (4th in Southwest, 8th in West, 11th in NBA)

This is a good division. The second- through fourth-best teams in the Southwest could finish in any combination and cause problems in the play-offs. I consider Dallas the least likely of the three to be dangerous because of the question mark at point guard and the lack of frontcourt depth.

Devin Harris will eventually be a good NBA point guard but, Kirk Hinrich notwithstanding, it’s a difficult job to succeed in as a rookie. Jason Terry will man the point by default and Dan Dickau might get some minutes as his backup. Neither will help solve the team’s defensive problems.

The Michael Finley, Josh Howard, Marquis Daniels rotation through the two and three spots should again prove delightful.

Alan Henderson is currently listed as Nowitzki’s backup. I presume the Mavericks are in possession of a Plan B. If Nowitzki is forced to play 40 minutes a game, he could suffer from the damaging late-season fade that a fatigued Steve Nash suffered last year.

Even if last season was a fluke, Erick Dampier will still be better than Shawn Bradley and Calvin Booth. Should Dampier struggle and Henderson prove ineffective or unavailable due to injury, the Mavericks are more likely to fight the Suns for the last play-off spot than to challenge the Rockets and Grizzlies for second place in the division.

NEW ORLEANS: (5th in Southwest, 12th in West, 18th in NBA)

Anyone other than George Shinn owning this team and one might feel some sympathy for the Hornets, re-aligned into irrelevance.

Even with Jamal Mashburn they would have had little hope of contending for a play-off spot in the West. To prevent this from becoming a wasted year, Byron Scott must find minutes for David West, Chris Andersen, and JR Smith. The next Hornets team to experience a play-off game is more likely to feature that trio than David Wesley, George Lynch, and PJ Brown.


SACRAMENTO: (1st in Pacific, 4th in West, 6th in NBA)

The thing I’ve noticed doing these previews: a lot of teams expected to maintain their past level of accomplishment could be bad this year. Sacramento, for example, has shaved their margin of error to the point of extinction. Chris Webber has played 54, 67, and 23 games the last three years. Bobby Jackson has missed 55 games over the past two years. The Bench Mob has long since departed making it a steep drop after the first six in Rick Adelman’s rotation.

Darius Songaila and Greg Ostertag are decent backups. Kevin Martin, Matt Barnes, and Maurice Evans might yet prove to be the same but none are capable of stepping in to key roles for extended periods of time. David Bluthenthal was an interesting acquisition but has struggled mightily in the pre-season.

With the Rockets adding Tracy McGrady to partner the still-developing Yao Ming and the Jazz and Nuggets stockpiling young talent, the Kings descent toward mediocrity could begin this year; their only consolation being that it will occur more gradually than for the rival Lakers.

PHOENIX: (2nd in Pacific, 9th in West, 13th in NBA)

Should they desire, they could play fast. Quentin Richardson, Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, Zarko Cabarkapa and Amare Stoudemire were made to play alongside Steve Nash. They’ll run and he’ll find them. Leandro Barbosa will earn enough minutes to save Nash’s legs for the post-season push.

A dangerous team that would contend in the East, but will likely be stuck playing spoiler in the West, the Suns, should they sneak into the playoffs, could give the Spurs fits in the first round.

LAKERS: (3rd in Pacific, 10th in West, 14th in NBA)

Kobe got his wish. It’s his team, down to the coach who doesn’t like calling too many plays (a trait I admire in Rudy T). I’m hoping for a disaster.

Kobe’s the most talented player in the league. Unfortunately, he doesn’t care about winning. Not like Magic and Bird and Jordan cared or like his contemporaries Duncan and Garnett care. I know Kobe says he wants to win more than anything, but his actions prove that he just wants to the show he’s the best player. It’s a waste and sad to watch.

The best possible five here is Bryant, Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, and Brian Grant. Should they play that unit as much as is reasonably possible, they could flirt with five hundred. Chucky Atkins, Kareem Rush, Devean George and Vlade might have their useful moments, but all three risk having their limitations exposed in extended minutes. One to twelve this is not much a defensive team. The less Southern California sees of Chris Mihm, Slava Medvedenko, and Brian Cook the better.

GOLDEN STATE: (4th in Pacific, 14th in West, 23rd in NBA)

Mike Montgomery seems like a good guy and Stanford’s a tough job. He was doing it so well he started losing guys early to the NBA, an unfortunate side effect to the team’s success. The money will be nice in Oakland and getting in on the ground floor of this Chris Mullin (Front Office) Era should be worth some executive patience, but it’s tough to see how Coach Montgomery’s going to succeed in this particular challenge.

Building around Jason Richardson and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. is not a recipe for success. The poor man’s Detlef Schrempf will never be more than a role player on a quality team. Richardson came into the league raw and has arguably regressed. His assist-to-turnover ratio has been worse in both his second and third seasons than it was his rookie year, he still has no consistent jump shot, and struggles to make 70 percent of his free throws. Richardson’s about to get expensive and his production could presumably be replaced quite easily and cheaply by Mikael Pietrus.

Everybody liked Troy Murphy coming off his double-double season in 02-03. Injuries kept him out most of last season, but he seems to be healthy in the pre-season and should help. He’s not someone to build around, but could provide some stability through the necessary roster changes.

The rest of the bench is a collection of useful role players. Speedy Claxton should beat out Derek Fisher for the point guard job at some point this year while Adonal Foyle, Clifford Robinson, Eduardo Najera, Dale Davis, and Calbert Cheaney will chip in as needed.

CLIPPERS: (5th in Pacific, 15th in West, 28th in NBA)

Oh, dear. I pity Mike Dunleavy, Sr. No one (not even George Karl) should have to suffer the helpless empty feeling Dunleavy will experience on November 3rd when he looks at his team and recognizes that Rick Brunson is the best point guard available to him. Marko Jaric will likely get another season to prove he is not an NBA point guard and Shaun Livingston will begin his arduous attempt to develop as a point guard after skipping a level of competition. The difficulty of this task is evident in his near 1:2 assist-to-turnover ratio this pre-season.

At the other four positions, Kerry Kittles is out until Thanksgiving, creating a puddle of drool at Corey Maggette’s feet. Mmmm, shots. Elton Brand will again be the best player on a bad team, provide the only significant road block to Maggette chucking the ball towards the basket 25 times a night, and continue to block the progress of the franchise’s most promising young player, Chris Wilcox. Bobby Simmons, continuing his evolution from collegiate disappointment to anonymous, yet securely employed, professional will likely get the bulk of the minutes at the wing until Kittles returns. In the post, Chris Kaman looks like he’ll develop into the solid professional Chris Mihm once hoped to be while Zeljko Rebraca adequately covers for him those nights that bring foul trouble.

Thursday, October 28, 2004


MINNESOTA: (1st in Northwest, 2nd in West, 3rd in NBA)

Minnesota could challenge the Spurs for the Western Conference title despite the simmering internal turmoil. Cassell and Sprewell want contract extensions (as well they should) but the T-Wolves are (sensibly) reluctant to provide them to thirty-four-year-old guards. Wally Szczerbiak has publicly stated his desire to start ahead of Trenton Hassell.

Considering that the rest of the roster consists of the second-best player in the world, a cadre of guards who thrive in their roles (Hassell, Troy Hudson, and Fred Hoiberg) and a quartet of big men who have no choice but to accept theirs (Michael Olowokandi, Ervin Johnson, Mark Madsen, and John Thomas), and taking into account the competitive natures of those complaining, Flip Saunders should be able to guide the team to the top of new Northwestern Division and the Western Conference Finals irregardless of personal grievances.

UTAH: (2nd in Northwest, 5th in West, 7th in NBA)

I like this team a lot. They are sure to be better than last year and look to continue to get better going forward. Only the Pistons exceed the amount and variety of young talent the Jazz possess: two point guards, two shooters, the extraordinarily diverse talents of Andrei Kirilenko, two solid big men, Raja Bell and Jarron Collins to play defense as needed, and the potentially very good Kirk Snyder and Kris Humphries. I don't know that the rookies will get much of a run this year, but they will contribute in the future.

Jerry Sloan is an excellent coach and I'm old enough to remember when the Jazz were an intereseting (I was always a big Thurl Bailey fan), before the ravages of age turned Stockton and Malone's competitiveness into cynicism. This collection will continue to be fun to watch.

DENVER: (3rd in Northwest, 6th in West, 9th in NBA)

A truly delightful first seven is augmented by limited yet serviceable skills of Francisco Elson and Greg Buckner, one I was right about (to date), Nikoloz Tskitishvili, and one I was very wrong about (to date), Rodney White.

They will miss Jon Barry and Chris Andersen from the second unit, but the addition of Kenyon Martin and the development of Carmelo Anthony and Nene should more than off-set that. I've got them as the fifth best team in the West, but there's not much separating teams three through eight. Injuries will most likely determine the exact order of finish. Yes, the above is an obvious cop-out.

PORTLAND: (4th in Northwest, 11th in West, 17th in NBA)

I just don't know.

I would have taken Zach Randolph with the first pick in the 2001 Draft (actually, I probably would have traded the first pick to the Bulls for Elton Brand and then continued to trade down Jimmy Johnson style until I ended up with eight draft picks, spending one of them on Randolph). Turns out I might have bee right about the talent (at least relative to the rest of that draft class) but wrong about the man. Seems he's a bit moody.

I have no idea why a team needs Randolph and Shareef Abdur-Rahim or Damon Stoudamire and Nick Van Exel (perhaps they hope to stagger their suspensions) or D. Miles and Ruben Patterson or Vladimir Stepania and Joel Przybilla. I can't imagine they'll keep all these redundant pairs for the entire year, but I have no idea who they'll trade to whom or for what. Sorry.

SEATTLE: (5th in Northwest, 13th in West, 22nd in NBA)

Even if Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis stay healthy, it will be a long year in Seattle. In the interest of player development, they'll often field their third best point guard, second best power forward, and a teenaged center. It's the right thing to do with the options on hand and with the gulf between themselves and a play-off spot in the West, they should probably go ahead and deal Allen and Lewis while they're at it.

As for the young players, it will be difficult for Luke Ridnour's offensive to game to mature fast enough to off-set his defensive liabilities. Nick Collison will struggle for most of his postponed rookie year. It took him until the second NCAA Tournament game of his Junior year at Kansas before he realized how good he was. The period of adjustment should be telescoped this time around, but it will take time. Eventually, he'll be the 21st Century Buck Williams. Robert Swift is an 18-year-old center. Sonics fans just have to hope their club figures out how good he is before free agency arrives.


1. Pistons
2. Pacers
3. Heat (2nd seed)
4. Cavs
5. Celtics (3rd seed)
6. Sixers
7. Magic
8. Knicks
9. Wizards
10. Raptors
11. Bulls
12. Nets
13. Bucks
14. Hawks
15. Bobcats

Play-off predictions

Pistons over Knicks
Pacers over Cavs
Heat over Magic
Celtics over Sixers

Pistons over Pacers
Heat over Celtics

Pistons over Heat


DETROIT: (1st in Central, 1st in East, 1st in NBA)

The best team in basketball got better because they’re part of the best organization in the game. Barring injury, they’ll be judged in June as to whether or not they improved more than the Spurs did.

Carlos Delfino solidifies their perimeter rotation and whatever combination of Antonio McDyess, Elden Campbell, Derrick Coleman, and Darko Milicic proves both healthy and useful will create the deepest frontcourt in the league. Suffice to say, the best basketball coach in the world will figure it out, and if no solution presents itself, the best GM in the game (non-logo division) will provide him with new options.

INDIANA: (2nd in Central, 2nd in East, 4th in NBA)

Despite their talent making them the clear second-best team in the East, I think there’s almost no chance the Pacers, despite winning the Central by seven games last year, can better the Pistons over 82 games this year. A seven-game series could be a different matter, especially considering the potential roster changes. The better Stephen Jackson and Jonathan Bender play (and, to a lesser extent, Austin Croshere and Fred Jones) the easier it will be to trade Ron Artest. It’s easy to imagine circumstances that would prompt the Pacers to deal him and difficult to imagine those which would prevent suitors from taking a chance on him. I put the odds of Artest appearing on Indiana's post-season at 60-40 for.

Pre-season injuries to Anthony Johnson and Jeff Foster will strain the team’s depth. A healthy Scot Pollard will fill in adequately, but may force Jermaine O’Neal into significant, fatiguing minutes at center. Johnson’s injury should let Fred Jones on the court more but as much as I like his game, he may not be suited for extended minutes at the point and Jamaal Tinsley’s erratic play can force Rick Carlisle into using his backup point guard in key moments.

CLEVELAND: (3rd in Central, 4th in East, 12th in NBA)

The only real sleeper team in the East, the Cavs have the potential to surpass the Heat as the conference’s third-best team.

LeBron James has given the organization that opportunity and they are moving quickly to allow him to fulfill his promise. Because James is uniquely talented for such a young player, Jim Paxson has had to accelerate the rebuilding process. Losing Carlos Boozer and Eric Williams could have been damaging. But Paxson replaced them with viable alternatives (Drew Gooden and Eric Snow) for little cost, allowing him to assemble veteran depth (Lucious Harris, Tractor Traylor, and Scott Williams) and youthful potential (Luke Jackson, Anderson Varejao, and Aleksandar Pavlovic) as insurance should one or both fail to be a solution.

Gooden has had a great pre-season and should be a good NBA player. But he has struggled to be an average NBA player (save the ’03 play-off series against the Pistons) thus far. If Paul Silas can consistently get Gooden to rebound hard, he’ll be a serviceable replacement for Boozer. If the rest of his talents flourish, he’ll be better than Boozer.

Jackson, Varejao, and Pavlovic could form an exciting second unit as early as next season. They’ll have to earn time from the veterans this campaign and Jackson and Pavlovic may have to be patient if Paxson and Silas attempt to showcase Dajuan Wagner off the bench in an attempt to boost his trade value. If Wagner misses much time at the start of the year due to his sprained ankle, the other young guards, given a chance, may relegate him to the bench.

CHICAGO: (4th in Central, 11thin East, 25th in NBA)

If Eddy Curry learns to rebound and Tyson Chandler stays relatively healthy, the Bulls young perimeter talent and decent veteran role players could sneak enough wins against disinterested opposition to contend for a playoff spot. Not much of a best case scenario even before contemplating that it hinges on contributions from Curry and Chandler.

Jerry Krause took a gamble three years ago, foreswearing a frontcourt of Artest, Elton Brand, and Brad Miller for Jalen Rose, Chandler, and Curry. It seemed like an odd gamble at the time and it hasn’t worked out very well thus far. Entering the home stretch of their rookie deals, Curry and Chandler should realize the precariousness of their situation. Continued lackluster efforts will consign them to Joe Smith, Samaki Walker, or Lorenzen Wright’s career. Should they improve this year, they could both sign big deals and form an interesting young team alongside the fruits of their struggles (Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, and Andres Nocioni).

Hinrich will be an All-Star within a couple of years. Deng will become, at the very least, a solid starter with an upside near Richard Jefferson and Shawn Marion. Ben Gordon might take longer to develop and Nocioni could be a suitable replacement for Artest, more crazy intense than crazy crazy.

MILWAUKEE: (5th in Central, 13th in East, 27th in NBA)

TJ Ford was never going to be difference maker in the NBA, but he seemed destined to have Avery Johnson’s career with a longer peak. If you accept his limitations, he’s a useful player and fun to watch. I hope we get to watch him again soon.

The Bucks have acquired two decent backup point guards to replace Ford. If Mike James and Mo Williams could platoon defensive and offensive responsibilities they might surpass Ford’s production. But basketball doesn’t work that way. Nor does it allow for a very good way to play Michael Redd, Desmond Mason, and Keith Van Horn at the same time which is unfortunate because they are the Bucks three best players.

I presume the Bucks will go small with Van Horn and Kukoc getting a lot of time at power forward with Joe Smith sliding to center when appropriate. They need Van Horn or Kukoc on the floor at all times to spread the floor for Redd and Mason. They have no other shooters. I don’t envision many transition buckets for this team as it’s tough to see how they’ll stop the opposition from scoring. The organization is high on Zaza Pachulia (you would be too if Dan Gadzuric and Daniel Sanitago were your alternatives) but that is due entirely to his offensive game.

Unfortunately Bucks fans can't even cling to Chicago’s faint hopes. I can’t envision a scenario leading to a successful season in Milwaukee.


MIAMI: (1st in Southeast, 3rd in East, 8th in NBA)

This roster reminds me a lot of the end times of the most recent Laker dynasty: the big man, a great guard, the once-good, and the could-be role players. The competition in the East makes things simpler and presumably Shaq is hungrier (to compete, he’s noticeably slimmer). Dwyane Wade isn’t quite the talent Kobe Bryant is, but he’s a better teammate. I still think Wade would benefit from significant minutes at the 2, but he’ll undoubtedly be on the court with Eddie Jones and Wesley Person at crunch time.

O’Neal is so much better than every center in the East not named Ben Wallace, that the revolving door of mediocrity at power forward (Chrissy Laettner, Udonis Haslem, and Malik Allen) shouldn’t matter too much. Michael Doleac has found a job suitable for his talents and Dorrell Wright will allow Gerald Wallace a look into his past whenever the Bobcats are in town.

ORLANDO: (2nd in Southeast, 7th in East, 19th in NBA)

The Magic are very similar to the Knicks, but with a slightly more sensible distribution of talent, especially if Grant Hill can contribute significantly. It would be nice to see him play again though unlikely he’d be more than a shadow of his former self.

The small lineup possibilities could be entertaining, if Johnny Davis chooses to go that way. With Dwight Howard a ways away and Tony Battie and Kelvin Cato qualified to pass for centers in the East, I expect to see Pat Garrity and Hedo Turkoglu spend a lot of time at the 4.

If they’d taken Emeka Okafor they could have challenged for the division this year. I’m just saying.

WASHINGTON: (3rd in Southeast, 9th in East, 21st in NBA)

My thinking is that if you know you aren’t going to contend, get young and run. High scoring games will pique the interest of the community, the players get a chance to develop in a fun system (and, if they aren’t developing to your liking their numbers may create an inflated trade value), and your coach seems like a good guy for whom to play. Add a good late-lottery pick, a couple of decent free agent signings, mix in defensive responsibilities, and you can start trying to win. I encourage the Wizards to go this route.

The Wizards have a bunch of interesting, enigmatic players. Even their role players (Anthony Peeler, Michael Ruffin, and Etan Thomas) are personal favorites of mine. The only known quantities on the roster are Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison (and Brendan Haywood, but not in a good way). I don’t know who should play alongside Arenas (Larry Hughes, Steve Blake, Jarvis Hayes, or Juan Dixon) and no one has any real idea how good Kwame Brown and Jared Jeffries are.

If Eddie Jordan lets them run and rewards those who play well, they could contend for the last playoff spot in the East. If he restricts the rotation, shuttling guys between the 8th spot and the end of the bench, it’ll be another wasted season in the capitol.

And, please Wizards, give Billy Thomas the last roster spot, at least until Blake is healed. Thank you.

ATLANTA: (4th in Southeast, 14thin East, 29th in NBA)

This is a bad team, but by design. Depending on who Billy Knight gets for Antoine Walker, they might even be fun to watch late in the year. The problem I see long term (and there’s no point in discussing this bunch in the short term) is that their four best young players play the same two positions. I assume this is designed to create a position of strength from which to make future deals, but they’re gambling that all four can develop simultaneously in competition with each other.

I also assume Kevin Willis was signed so that Herb Brown would have someone with whom he can hang out.

CHARLOTTE: (5th in Southeast, 15th in East, 30th in NBA)

I know things are tough for an expansion team, but this group will be difficult to watch. Okafor is the only real candidate to be on the first good Bobcats team. I guess Melvin Ely and Theron Smith might stick around as role players as the organization adds real NBA content to the roster.

Gerald Wallace and Primoz Brezec could be useful as trade bait over the next couple of years, but I don’t see either ever providing a meaningful contribution to a good team.

If everything goes right, they get to draft some combination of Chris Paul, Nemanja Aleksandrov, Marvin Williams, Martynas Andriuskevicius, Sergio Rodriguez, Rudy Gay, and Greg Oden the next two summers.


BOSTON: (1st in Atlantic, 5th in East, 15th in NBA)

This year’s Celtics team should be interesting. I’m curious to see if Raef LaFrentz is healthy, if Paul Pierce will continue to involve his teammates more, if Gary Payton’s completely done, and if any of their young players are ready contribute in meaningful ways.

The Celtics have the most potential of any team in the Atlantic. This should not be confused with being a good basketball team, merely one likely to make the playoffs in the East.

Pierce should have the ball in his hands a lot less than he did last year. He’s a very fine player but ball handling is not chief among his talents. He showed an increased willingness to trust his teammates last year; that they largely didn’t deserve that trust fuels the lingering doubt that his increased assist numbers had more to do with fatigue and opposing triple-teams than maturity. Pierce should have better options surrounding him this season. Ricky Davis will start a lot of games, but Jiri Welsch will be finishing most of them. Delonte West and Tony Allen should have their nights (though Allen’s not much of a ball handler himself). Walter McCarty should continue to be just useful enough on occasion. I don’t see Marcus Banks contributing much to the team. LaFrentz and Mark Blount form an interesting interior tandem, though I wouldn’t expect to see either of them in the post much on the offensive end of the floor. Pierce is clearly the team’s best player with his back to the basket and Payton’s probably the next best. Blount will be expected to pick up scraps on the offensive glass and guard the opposition’s best big man freeing LaFrentz to provide help-side shot-blocking. Knee willing, LaFrentz will man the high post on offense spreading the defense with both his shooting range and his ability to feed shooters running off baseline screens.

Their backup big men are an intriguing lot. The remains of Tom Gugliotta will likely be forced to play too many minutes as Kendrick Perkins and Al Jefferson develop. By all accounts Perkins used his year on the bench to develop his game and Jefferson has tons of potential. The short term expectations for both should be, however, quite modest.

PHILADELPHIA: (2nd in Atlantic, 6th in East, 16th in NBA)

Jim O’Brien is a good coach who got a lot out of limited talent in Boston. If Allen Iverson stays healthy all year, the Sixers could easily win the Atlantic. Should he suffer a significant injury, this would very quickly become a bad basketball team.

O’Brien may start the year cycling through Willie Green, Aaron McKie, Kevin Ollie, Kyle Korver, and Andre Iguodala according to match-ups but when his options become more limited during Glenn Robinson’s first extended break of the year, someone will have to lay claim to partnering Iverson in the backcourt.

There are options for O’Brien in the frontcourt as well. Kenny Thomas, Samuel Dalembert, Corliss Williamson, Brian Skinner, and Marc Jackson all have their uses but will be rendered largely useless in a first round match-up against the Pacers or Heat. None of the teams in this division have a prayer of winning a play-off series unless they win the division and avoid the conference's two good teams and the one led by its best player.

NEW YORK: (3rd in Atlantic, 8th in East, 20th in NBA)

Isiah Thomas is perhaps the worst recent NBA head coach (the specter of George Karl necessitating the qualifier), but I’m not sure he’s much worse than mediocre as a GM. (I’m positive he’s not better than mediocre). He got the best player in the Jamal Crawford trade, but that says more about the other players involved than it does Crawford who will struggle to find a role amidst Stephon Marbury, Allan Houston, Tim Thomas, and Penny Hardaway. Isiah may have drafted a very good player in Trevor Ariza, but he also willingly re-signed Vin Baker. To play basketball. He also once tried to build an NBA franchise around Damon Stoudamire. Sigh.

The talent on hand is undeniable, but the amalgamation of volume scorers and undersized power forwards seems destined for dysfunction. Isiah’s put in a lot of effort to upgrade the talent level, but to no real purpose. A difficult first half may cost Lenny Wilkens his job, and, should Isiah become a hyphenate, the Knicks (like every other team in this division) will get bad quickly.

TORONTO: (4th in Atlantic, 10th in East, 24th in NBA)

Besides the massive potential of Chris Bosh (and his very real current contributions), the Raptors are a mess. Three of their key guys should be better than they are: Vince Carter, Jalen Rose, and Mo Pete. The rest of the guys as good as they're going to get. Which is fine if you're Donyell Marshall or Skip to My Lou; sad if you're Loren Woods or Rafael Araujo.

It takes a lot (or, depending on your perspective, very, very little) to field a center tandem looked down upon by the other teams in this division, but the Raptors will conspire to make Mark Blount and Nazr Mohammed look good this winter.

Their best case scenario involves a hot start by Vince Carter that provides very few wins, so that they can trade him with minimal p.r. repercussions and truly start over.

NEW JERSEY: (5th in Atlantic, 12th in East, 26th in NBA)

By the time Jason Kidd gets healthy, all could well be lost. And it’s not like the 2005 draft class offers a great prize for a season lost via a star’s injury. There will be bad times in New Jersey. This is not the team for which Alonzo Mourning should risk his life.

Only Richard Jefferson is a legitimately good NBA player. Williamses, Eric and Aaron, would make any good team better, but they’ll struggle to make a bad team mediocre. They might not even start. Brian Scalabrine might get the nod ahead of one of them, or Ron Mercer, who may be the least fun player to watch in the league, could reasonably be adjudged to do less damage playing with the first team. Rodney Buford might get the opportunity fulfill his promise as a great garbage time player.

Until Kidd returns to full strength, Zoran Planinic will play heavy minutes at point guard. His development will be the only item of interest for the remaining few Nets fans.

2004-2005 NBA Preview

There's no better way to start things off here at Hoopinion than with a slate of predictions likely to embarrass me come Spring.

By November 2nd, I'll have all 30 teams previewed and by November 3rd, thanks to League Pass, I'll present my first thoughts on the new season.

The Royals lost a hundred games, the Chiefs are 2-4 with a schedule that makes the necessary 8-2 finish unlikely, and Leeds United are 17th in the League Championship (the old First Division, itself in the old Second Division). I'm ready for basketball season.