NBA Season Preview: Part 1

 

Happy new NBA Season everyone!  Opening night worked out pretty well from a timing standpoint this year, with the World Series wrapping up last weekend, and no hockey for the foreseeable future, we transition right into the start of the basketball season to give everyone something to go along with the heart of the football schedule.

So, to celebrate the start of the new season, I (Bulls fan that I am) have dragged my good friend (and tortured Knicks fan) Justin T out of retirement to help write a small novel on our thoughts of every team in the league.  Right here we’ve got Part One, which will cover all of the teams in the Eastern Conference.  Keep an eye out for Part Two which will cover the Western Conference, should be up soon.

I don’t want to spend too much time on an intro because frankly we just wrote too much on the rest, so let’s get to it!

 

Atlantic

 

New York KnicksNew York Knicks
(2011-12 Record: 36-30, 7th in conference, 2nd in Atlantic)

Key Additions: Ray Felton (PG), Jason Kidd (PG), Ronnie Brewer (SG)
Key Losses: Jeremy Lin (PG)

 

 

Justin: I have to be honest, I do not like the Knicks as assembled at all. Amar’e should be at best a sixth man at this point, but his ego, and the wounded pride of his contract figure for the Knicks franchise,  prevent this from ever happening. Melo simply needs to start at the 4 spot. Opposing PFs simply cannot defend him, and as pointed out by John Hollinger, he becomes much more efficient and dominating than he is at the 3, with a ridiculous 29.5 PER, as opposed to 17.3 playing at his “normal” position. This is not even talking about his defense, which would move him closer to the rim, where he could avoid his notoriously lazy perimeter defense. His rebounding is more than good enough to also support this. But, as this simply won’t be happening barring injuries, it’s best not to harp on it.
At PG we have downgraded, which is fairly impressive when you look at the past decade of Knicks running the point. Felton will be starting (again, ego reasons), with Kidd coming off the bench, and likely more playing time for 35 year old Argentinian rookie Pablo Prigioni than you’re expecting. Prigioni you’ve likely seen before, starting alongside Manu Ginobli at the Olympics. He’s a pass first guard, that rebounds well for his size, and is a solid leader. But he can run a team, and he wanted to try the NBA out before retiring. Felton says he’s coming in with “a chip on his shoulder” as he feels he had a solid season last year (he didn’t, don’t let the numbers lie to you, that all came very late in the season), and is offended that everyone focused on him coming into the season overweight last year.

Tyson Chandler ought to be just as good this year as he was last and wants the Knicks to be a top 5 defensive team this year but with Melo lounging on the perimeter, Amar’e seeming to have an ingrained mentality of not wasting energy on defense, Kidd being too old to play much defense at all, and among the worst defensive players in the NBA in JR Smith… it will be no small task. But the Knicks did sign some very (old) solid (old) defensive big (old) men to protect the rim with Marcus Camby returning to NY from the last era they had resembling glory years, Kurt Thomas coming in again, and the ghost of Rasheed Wallace coming out of retirement. Sheed looked pretty terrible when he last played, but I probably pay more attention to basketball than the Knicks’ front office, who are busy trying to build a 2006 fantasy roster, so this pick up isn’t surprising. The rest of the Knicks actually should actually fare well for Chandler’s goal. Shumpert is outstanding defensively (presumably to make up for his abysmal shot selection) and Ronnie Brewer is a defensive specialist made for such a goal; and is the Yin to JR Smith’s Yang.

Overall, I think this year will be similar to just about every recent Knicks year. A few hot periods, dreadful, mind-numbing talk about Amar’e and Carmelo “meshing,” a finish just above .500, and a first round playoff exit if they land in the bottom 4. Nice new jersey trim lines though.

Mike: All that talk and not one mention of Jeremy Lin.  You are a true Dolan disciple.  And I didn’t believe you about Pablo Prigioni being 35 but I looked it up and…yep.  I’m not sure what’s funnier, that he’s a 35-year old rookie, or that he’s the fifth-oldest guy on the team.  I’m all for Melo playing at the 4 and Amare coming off the bench.  But Stoudemire is a $20 million a year player, and I think his contract is going the be the reason he starts, for better or worse.  It’s the Knicks, and this kind of dysfunction should be expected.

I saw Hollinger project that Felton and Jason Kidd would start in the backcourt with Shumpert coming off the bench.  Do you buy that as a possibility?  I just figured we’d definitely see a lineup of Felton-Shumpert-Anthony-Stoudemire-Chandler come opening night.  That’s actually not a bad starting five, I’m just not sure how much I like what comes after that.  JR Smith, Steve Novak, Ronnie Brewer, these guys all fit niche roles on the team, but none of them are strong all around players, and the rest you have Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, and of course, SHEED!~  I will say that I appreciate Kurt Thomas’ willingness to stay in the NBA long enough for TCU to get another player in the league, I know I’d hate to see an NBA without one.  I look forward to seeing some defensive rotations with Shumpert, Brewer and Chandler, even if that leads to some really ugly offense on the other side.

What’s the ceiling on this team?  4 or 5 seed, second round playoff exit by the Heat?  I feel like there’s a lot of talent there, just not sure it will all work together.

Justin: Most of my friends that follow the Knicks are all over the board, I fall into the middle, thinking they’ll be the 4 or 5, dead in the middle of the pack and into the second round. The Heat would certainly bounce them, but I think any other team should probably be scared to death, and could see a replay of the year Melo carried the Nuggets to the WCF. Or, you know, injuries, bickering, an 8 seed, and a sweep. Anything’s possible really. The big problem is nobody can consistently score except Melo.

 

Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors
(2011-12 Record: 23-43, 11th in conference, 4th in Atlantic)

Key Additions: Landry Fields (SF), Jonas Valanciunas (C), Kyle Lowry (PG)
Key Losses: Jerryd Bayless (PG)

 

 

Justin:  Sleeper team alert. Really like the roster they have going into this season. We can start with the backcourt, which has DeMar DeRozan still trying to live up to his talent, but I’m a fan and think he can do it. Then you add the best rebounding point guard in the game, who loves defense and thus will love his new coach. Lowry fits impeccably here and should be able to duplicate the breakout performance he had last year with ease. They back up the point with the capable John Lucas III and Jose Calderon (who’d be good enough to start on many teams in the league). Then to back up DeRozan, they add one of the best 3pt shooters from the college game in Terrence Ross.

At the forward spots they massively overpaid Landry Fields in an attempt to get Steve Nash (monetarily blocking the Knicks, if you aren’t already up to speed there), but Fields is, if barely, starter quality who fell off in year two after a superb rookie season, and will have to re-prove himself a bit. He excels in a ball movement offense, and thus bottomed out when the Knicks brought in Carmelo and Landry proceeded to stand around half the game. In an entirely unrelated situation, he was back to form during the no-Melo Linsanity days. At PF they have Bargnani, who has gotten better defensively under Dwane Casey, but is still a liability on that end, and absolutely hates rebounding. Offensively there are few that can claim to be his equal though. At center they add Jonas Valanciunas, who should be an excellent rebounder and scorer from the word ‘go’ and is only 20 years old. He’ll likely get pushed around by the Andrew Bynum’s of the world when they post up on him, but he could be a top 5 center in very short time. They have 2 big back up forwards that every fantasy basketballer loves in Ed Davis and Amir Johnson, both of whom should likely average 10/10s, and rebound-loving, molasses-resembling Aaron Gray behind Valanciunas.

This should add up to a solid year for the Raps, and I fully expect them in the 6-8 spot of the playoffs barring injuries. If not, they’ll be close, and should have enough experience to make some noise in 2013-14 either way.

Mike:  Hold up now, the Raptors a playoff team a year removed from going 23-43?  Kyle Lowry is a great pickup for the team, and Valanciunas has a bright future with the team, but I’m not sure I look at this team and see postseason.  Fields leaves a lot to be desired as the starting small forward, especially in a conference full of guys that can do it a lot better.  I like Bargnani, and playing him at the 4 where he can play the perimeter like an Okur or Nowitzki while Valanciunas stays in the paint to post up and rebound is really the perfect situation for him, but like you said, he’s definitely a liability on defense.

Calling John Lucas III “capable” is probably being kind.  I loved him for the Bulls last year because he did what they needed him to do, come in and just shoot the ball with reckless abandon.  When Derrick Rose, clearly your primary scoring option goes down, you need a guy like that.  But he doesn’t really fit into the Raptors’ system like that.  I wouldn’t really expect him to play too much or have a huge impact in most games.  Calderon should clearly be the guy getting the backup minutes here, and could even be an interesting trade piece as a $10M expiring contract.

I like the team going forward, after this year the worst contract they’ll have is Amir Johnson’s two years and $13.5M left.  But I’m not on board with a team that posted a 34.8% winning percentage last year all off a sudden making the playoffs when their biggest additions are a very good point guard and a talented but totally unproven European 20-year old center.  Let’s talk in a couple years.

Justin: That’s all fine and good but have you seen the teams fighting for that 8 spot? We know the Magic are out and Nets are taking their spot, but otherwise the playoff teams will most likely be the same. Remember this conversation when Rose sat out the whole year and Boozer, Deng, and Rip miss a total of like two combined full seasons leading to Chicago and Toronto battling for the 8 spot in the final weeks.

 

Brooklyn Nets

Brooklyn Nets
(2011-12 Record: 22-44, 12th in conference, 5th in Atlantic)

Key Additions: Joe Johnson (SG)
Key Losses: Gerald Green (SG)

 

 

Justin: Sneaky good? Sneaky bad? Who knows what to expect. Are we really going to put a ton of faith into the addition of Joe Johnson and the return of Brook Lopez? Really? I don’t see why I should put a ton  of stock into this.

Why? Defense. This team should be truly awful defensively. Their best defensive players will be Maloney’s Favorite Player, Keith Bogans, and Tyshawn Taylor out of Kansas. Both of which will be deep down into their depth chart. The good news is Joe Johnson will be solid if nothing else. As for Deron Williams, there’s just no legitimate reason he should be as bad as he is defensively And he’s bad. If you use PER as any judge, opposing point guards basically become All Star level just by having him guard them. He showed he can at least play D early in his career, but as with most reasons, or excuses, with Williams, you can’t blame this on Jersey as he’d already quit playing defense before he’d run Jerry Sloan out of Salt Lake City. Feel free to check 82games.com and confirm this for yourself. I’ll wait. On the topic of Williams, I expect his shot count to drop and his assist rate to rise. He has a roster around him again that should make him return to his peak form, which is among the elite guards of the NBA, at one time argued as the best PG in the league. While I don’t see that particular distinction being thrown his way again, top 5 should be almost a given. Particularly if he stops playing defense like a turnstile.

The Nets will be fun to watch. They should be absolutely incredible rebounding the ball, should be running the floor at a high pace, and should have a great offense. Gerald Wallace was basically the only good thing to happen to basketball in the Carolinas for years, and is one of the most fun players in the game to watch. These are all good things. CJ Watson and MarShon Brooks should be solid off the bench. Teletovic is a 3 pt bomber and the reigning Euroleague scoring champion- he will almost certainly have a long career stateside. He won’t be Drazen Petrovic by any stretch of the imagination, the most used comparison is Ryan Anderson with a name Americans can’t pronounce, but he should be very worthy of a lot of minutes off the bench. Unfortunately, after that, they have no bench. Maybe Reggie Evans qualifies for his rebounding and energy, but on the other hand, he’s terrible offensively and if I had the chance to play HORSE with him, I’d lay money on myself.

So, while Brooklyn should be very happy with the team coming in, they should also temper expectations. This could be the worst defensive front court in the NBA. But the shoot-outs should make for some worthy time on the League Pass.

Mike: Not gonna lie, I’m a litte excited for the Nets this year.  As you said, I’m not totally sure how good they’re actually going to be, and I think it’s unfortunate that Deron Williams’ career has reached a point where I can’t be more excited to see him play on this team than I am right now.  I’d like to think that with the addition of Joe Johnson, Williams will be a little more motivated to play.  I can’t believe Joe Johnson actually got traded, and on top of that, I can’t believe I think it was a good trade for both teams.  What’s the biggest problem with Joe Johnson (Aside from his often dysmal playoff numbers)?  His absolutely ridiculous contract.  Well, which team has an owner that really doesn’t care about spending money and is really looking for any kind of a name to draw people to its new arena?  The Brooklyn Nets!  Sure, Johnson is overpaid, but on the Nets no one really cares.  The Nets are right now committed to $325 million over the next four years.  They really don’t care.  Fine with me.

We’ll see if Brook Lopez ever remembers how to rebounds, but at least he has Kris Humphries there to pick up some of the many boards he may end up missing.  As for the bench, I’m convinced you never watched a single Bulls game last season.  If CJ Watson was solid off the bench you probably wouldn’t even know who John Lucas III was.  He’s an infuriating player to watch, showing flashes of offensive brilliance at times, but doesn’t pass the ball enough as a point guard and is way too inconsistent.  Deron had better hope he’s in for a great year, because the depth behind him is pretty weak.  I’ll take your word on Teletovic.  At least he’s European so we most likely won’t have to worry about him ruining the mojo of the team by playing defense.

I’m with you though, I expect lots of offense and not much in the way of defense.  But I think the pieces are in place for a low playoff seed, and either way they’re certainly finishing better than the Raptors.

Justin: The team with 2 all-stars will finish better than the well-built (how the hell did that happen) team made out of fitting pieces with no stars. Say hello to Nostradamus.

 

Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics
(2011-12 Record: 39-27, 4th in conference, 1st in Atlantic)

Key Additions: Jason Terry (SG), Courtney Lee (SG)
Key Losses: Ray Allen (SG)

 

 

Justin: I, admittedly, love this line up, and am wavering on picking them to upset the Heat and win the East.

In the back court, the Celtics will be near the top of the league. At point guard they have the triple double machine, Rajon Rondo. Say what you want about his skills as a shooter, and you’ll probably be right. But Rondo excels in every other area. He plays great defense, he rebounds, he hits the lane hard, and his court vision is out of this world, as his his physical ability to exploit what he finds. He will likely be backed up by Jason Terry, who is one of those guys who will be efficient forever because of his shooting ability. He will likely turn the ball over too much, but on the same hand, is perfectly capable, which is good, because the Celtics simply don’t have another true PG after Rondo. SG will be one of my favorite young players, Avery Bradley, who is just a nightmare for whoever he guards, and one of the few players that even casual fans can notice having a defensive impact. It’s rare that defense on the wings is this fun to watch. He should continually get better offensively as he is only 21, and should be a top SG for the foreseeable future. He will be backed up by one of the slyest acquisitions of the offseason, Courtney Lee. Lee isn’t as well known as some, but he plays defense (a Boston theme, always) and from three he is incredibly deadly. If he can develop any sort of drive and kick relationship with Rondo, he should have this fourth season in a row averaging 40% plus from beyond the arc. Ray Allen was a huge contributor to Boston’s success, but at this stage of his career, losing him and picking up Terry and Lee, they of the androgynous man/woman names, can only be considered a fairly nice upgrade.

The forward and center spots will be more shaky. KG, Pierce, and Bass will all be obviously capable, certainly the former two. Garnett and Pierce need their minutes monitored though, and thus comes the problems. Jeff Green should be a fine back up. Beyond that it becomes a bit dire. Chris Wilcox, of all people, probably leads the way as he can finish close to the basket and pull down some rebounds. After that, it gets dire. They have Jared Sullinger, who could be a steal where they drafted him, or could show why so many people passed him over. He will need back surgery sooner than later, and there’s simply no predicting the outcome from there, but I’d lean towards the negative side. They drafted some of my beloved Syracuse players, Kris Joseph and, to a lesser degree though probably a better pro, Fab Melo. Neither guy will likely do much of anything this year, nor will Doc Rivers be asking them without some major injury issues. It actually does manage to get worse from there, with Darko and Jason Collins bottoming out the roster. Collins can do what he did for Atlanta and just be there to rough people up and get fouls, but he isn’t capable of much else. Darko, well, we’ve learned he’s unmotivated to the point of maybe even being downright lazy, he’s clumsy like you think his shoes were tied together before he ran out from the scorer’s table, and if he never takes a shot again, it will be too soon. But he likes blocking shots sometimes. Every couple months or so, when the wind is blowing northwest on a Tuesday during a leap year.

I may have just talked myself out of the already-a-reach Finals prediction.

Mike: I’ll give it to the Celtics, I really like what they went and did in the offseason.  Courtney Lee was always on my most wanted list as a Bulls fan, and I think that’s a great pick up for the Celtics.  Jason Terry is such a great guy to be coming off the bench for that team, providing what I expect will be a much needed spark off the bench as the team’s sixth man.  He’ll be a great change of pace coming on for either Bradley or Rondo, as neither one is known to light it up much on offense.

Which, is as always the concern with this team.  Where are the points going to come from?  Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe talked about this the other day on the B.S. Report podcast, Rondo is clearly the best player on the team, and yet he’s also one of their least reliable players in crunch time.  How can you truly be a great team when that is the case?  Nothing I have to say about Rondo is new; he’s an amazing passer, has a great feel for where to go to grab rebounds, and can be surprisingly effective defensively.  And yet at the same time he’s one of the worst free-throw shooting guards in the league, and can completely check out of games offensively in the fourth quarter.  But at some point in time you can’t just keep depending on Pierce to bail you out with a huge shot or a trip to the free throw line, or Garnett to hit from 20 feet.  I dunno, I still think Rondo either needs to figure out his own offensive game, or he needs someone else on the team that can step up and isn’t 35 years gold.  Terry helps, but I don’t think he’s enough.

As for the rest of the team, Gerald Green is fine, although I think he’s seriously overpaid.  Are we allowed to call Jared Sullinger Carlos Boozer 2.0 yet?  Honestly, that’s all I can think of every time I watch the guy play, and I know that’s not necessarily fair to him since he hasn’t even played a game in the NBA yet, but he just looks like he’s going to be that guy who can score and will get his boards, but man is he going to drive you nuts if he’s on your team.  Bass is fine for the role he’s in, Chris Wilcox is pretty underwhelming and I’ll be curious to see how many minutes he’ll get with KG unable to play a ton in the regular season, and Fab Melo, whatever.  I don’t see any reason why this isn’t the second best team in the East, although with their veteran superstars they could do a little bit of mailing it in like they did last year and let a younger team potentially jump them in the standings.  Still, I think they’re definitely a step down from the Heat.

 

Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers
(2011-12 Record: 35-31, 8th in conference, 3rd in Atlantic)

Key Additions: Andrew Bynum (C)
Key Losses: Lou Williams (SG), Elton Brand (PF), Andre Iguodala (SF)

 

 

Justin: It’s funny how a team’s image can change with one big trade. Andre Igoudala for my money is the best defensive player in basketball. He slowly developed into this, after being the guy expected to be “the guy” in a bit of a Danny Granger-esque situation. Igoudala couldn’t live up to it, adapted his game to his strengths under Doug Collins, and is now thriving. Well, in Denver. In his place comes Andrew Bynum. Bynum defines petulant, has a seemingly horrible attitude, and still hasn’t played a full 82 game season. He’s definitely the second or third best center in the league, but until he can stay healthy an entire year, the value of that is diminished. His history of childish antics and a distorted view of how good he is also gives one serious doubts as to how he’ll serve as a team’s centerpiece, let alone as a leader. Which is the important part. The team is going to follow Bynum’s lead? In practice? In games? In crunch time? God forbid, when losing a critical game? That alone is making me drop some wins off this team.

The addition of Bynum also changes Philly’s entire offense. Last season the 6ers set 2 records.They had both the lowest turnover rate in history and also the lowest free throw attempt rate in history. This came from a team of a whole lot of guys that would rather play the pick and pop than the pick and roll, and a lack of anyone outside of anyone wanting to drive to the rim outside of the transition game. With Bynum on his way in, the entire offense will be based on feeding the ball to him as close to the basket as possible. This should also help the 3 point game, headed up by new signings Nick Young (a significant downgrade from Lou Williams), Dorrell Wright (who is a pretty good player that the Warriors somehow gave up for nothing other than they’re the Warriors and this sort of thing goes hand in hand with them), and Jason Richardson (whom I’ve always had a soft spot for and still has something left in the tank). They also got Kwame Brown, since their awful contract on Lavoy Allen forced them to amnesty Elton Brand, only have Royal Ivey to back up Jrue Holiday, and since it bears mentioning again- they signed Kwame Brown for 3 million a year to sit on the end of bench. Provided the money doesn’t force them to play him and take away minutes from the immensly more talented Spencer Hawes.

It all depends on how hard Boston plays for homecourt during the regular season, if Brooklyn can mesh, and what in the world the Knicks and Hawks will do. This whole middle of the pack area can go a lot of different ways. I’m going to take Philly on the mid to low end, and that’s with Bynum playing half or more of the season.

Mike: You know what sums up Evan Turner quite nicely?  The fact that you didn’t talk about him once, and the fact that I forgot he was even on the 76ers until I was just now browsing through their team roster.  Oh well, I’m sure he’ll do just fine making us forget about Andre Igoudala.  I’m a big Iggy fan, I guess I always felt for him maybe never getting enough credit for everything he does, as I often watch Luol Deng go through something similar for the Bulls.  While getting Bynum in his place is clearly a big upgrade for Philly, you can’t just pretend like his defensive presence is just going to go unnoticed on the team.

I was going to say something snarky about Spencer Hawes new contract, but then I realized he’ll probably be filling in for Bynum a fair amount when he gets injured, so maybe the contract makes sense after all.  Should be interesting to see how Bynum works with a new head coach in Doug Collins, and how he works out with his teammates.  And hey, at least when Bynum gets hurt Thaddeus Young is there to step in and provide some offense in the frontcourt.  I’m a really big Thad Young fan and will love watching him and Bynum playing together.  You know what would be even better?  If they had kept Lou Williams and were able to put all three of those guys out on the court.  So terrible that they couldn’t keep him, and instead ended up with Nick Young.

This team is really a big mystery to me.  There have been some serious structural changes to player personnel, and I’m not really sure how things are going to play out, how long it’s going to take the team to gel, how Doug Collins is going to get all the pieces to work, how many games Bynum will miss due to injury, etc.  I expect them to make the playoffs, although I’m not quite as optimistic that they have a chance at a top four seed.  I think it would take a pretty special season for Bynum, and I don’t think we’re going to get there.

 

Central Division
Chicago BullsChicago Bulls
(2011-2012 Record: 50-16, 1st in Conference, 1st in Central)

Key Additions: Kirk Hinrich (PG)
Key Losses: Omer Asik (C), Ronnie Brewer (SG)

 

 

Mike: Interesting offseason for the Bulls.  They keep their top six players, and yet their team looks radically different.  It was bound to happen, the former team was more or less put together for a two year run, with CJ Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, and Omer Asik all with two year deals (Some had a third year team option that wasn’t picked up).  Unfortunately for Chicago, despite having the best record in the league the past two years, the team was never able to quite get it together.  The 2010-2011 season saw the signing of Carlos Boozer, who promptly broke his hand in the preseason and missed 20 games.  Right after he came back Joakim Noah got hurt and missed 30 games.  The two finally got some playing time in before the playoffs, but never really found their chemistry and were eliminated by the Heat in the Conference Finals.  Then last year, Boozer played in every game of the season for the first time ever, and Noah played in 64 of 66 regular season games.  So what happened?  Well, naturally newcomer Rip Hamilton missed over half the season, and Derrick Rose missed 27 games.  The two rarely played together, and at no time did you ever feel like you had a good idea of what the Bulls could actually do.  Then the playoffs rolled around, and Rose tore his ACL in the first round against Pacers, not only ruining the Bulls season that year, but this year as well, as he’s going to miss at least half the season, and probably won’t be 100% all year.  Happy times, Bulls fans.

Justin: Though you may not have meant to, you’re hitting on my most important topic with the Bulls- health. We all know about Rose’s, and the fact that he should sit out the entire year if his long term health is at all important. But guys like Rip, Boozer, Noah, Deng… the bench just can’t keep up with any injuries at all. It’s almost like the Knicks where people still like to talk about Melo and Amare’s playing time together, even now, and with fairly justifiable reason. If the best players on your team simply can’t all be healthy at once, you have no shot. I think this year, personally, is a throw away for them. Without Rose, what’s really the point? I’m not sure of the ethical implications, but taking a page out of the Spurs’ tank-job to get Tim Duncan all those years ago… well, it really wouldn’t be the worst idea for the Bulls. I mean, the year is just for pride at this point anyways, I can’t imagine how bad the Vegas odds are against them here, so why not end up with Shabazz Muhammad?

Mike: But like I said, the core is intact.  Most importantly, the Bulls locked up head coach Tom Thibodeau with a nice four year extension.  While he may have his flaws as a coach, no one can question his work ethic or the results his defensive prowess has produced so far.  The great Zach Lowe wrote about an interesting stat, that in the last 10 seasons, only one team has finished in the top five in points allowed per possession and missed the playoffs, and 91 of the 100 teams who finished in the top 10 made the playoffs.  The cog of that Thibodeau defense, Luol Deng, is back.  And lucky for the Bulls, he has indefinitely postponed any kind of surgery on his wrist, which is good news to anyone who remembers how long it took him to fully recover the last time he had surgery on his wrist.  Joakim Noah and Boozer will continue to round out the frontcourt, and they seem to be better able to co-exist now that they’ve had a good chunk of time to play together.  Rip Hamilton will get a do-over on last season, an audition to show the Bulls he can still be productive and earn the $5 million team option the Bulls have reserved for him for next season.  And of course there’s Taj Gibson, possibly the best defender coming off the bench in the league and a high energy guy capable of guarding three positions, and who will most likely cost Carlos Boozer his job in the next year or two, as he’s a restricted free agent next season and the Bulls can’t keep both guys.  Jimmy Butler will attempt to fill the Ronnie Brewer role in his second season as the guy who plays defense well but has a somewhat limited offensive game, although his free throw rate is much better.

The rest?  All new.  Omer Asik was too good at his job, so he’s off to Houston, and Nazr Mohammed will replace him (Although I’d expect Taj to get a portion of Asik’s minutes).  Long-time Bull (And my personal favorite) Kirk Hinrich is back to play the point while Rose recovers and then serve as a backup for the 1 or the 2 once he returns.  Hinrich is older and doesn’t offer what Rose brings to the table, but he’s a smart player, makes better decisions than CJ Watson did last year, and is a solid defender who can handle either guard spot and some small forwards.  He’ll be a good player for Thibs.  There’s also Nate Robinson who should provide a spark off the bench and that instant offense guy that the Bulls have sorely lacked.  Actually, he reminds me a lot of Ben Gordon, only without the self-entitlement and expectation that he’s worth $55 million. Vlad Radmanovic, rookie Marcus Teague and Marco Belinelli round out the team.

Justin: Nate Robinson hasn’t been Nate Robinson for a while now. He’s fun, and the fans of any team he’s on immediately love him, but really, expecting anything more than “fun” is pretty much asking for trouble, or worse, an unintended statement of where the team is. The defense will be great, and I can’t wait to see more Taj Gibson, he of the almighty defense and crowd igniting dunks. But I’m just going to sit here and repeat two words from above. Shabazz Muhammad. You know you want them to tank, Mikey.

Mike: What can you expect from this team?  They were able to once again come up with the best record in the league last year despite only having their starting lineup in place for a handful of games and the reigning MVP missing almost half the season.  They’ll be in a similar position this year, but with Deng, Noah, Gibson, Hinrich, Hamilton, and Butler they have a strong defensive foundation in place once again which should win them a lot of games against weaker competition.  I’d say there is virtually no chance of them earning the league’s best record this year, but I don’t think it’s crazy to think that they could win the division over Indiana.  We’ll never know how good this team can be with Rose recovering from his ACL, but they should be a mid-seed in the playoffs and probably give either the Celtics or Heat a tough out in the postseason.

Justin: Make up your mind, are they middle of the pack? Or getting bounced by Boston or Miami who will probably not be? I’m sticking with my 7-9 range for Chicago. The defense will just be too good.

 

Indiana Pacers

Indiana Pacers
(2011-2012 Record: 42-24, 3rd in Conference, 2nd in Central)

Key Additions: Gerald Green (SG)
Key Losses: None

 

Mike: What do you do with a guy like Roy Hibbert?  Very tall big man, huge length, very effective on defense in the paint.  But at the same time, he gets into foul trouble, hasn’t played over 30 minutes a game in a season, and as a result is averaging single digits in rebounds.  He also is a good but not great scorer on offense, averaging 12.8 points per game, but at a sub-.500 shooting percentage, which you’d probably expect a little better from Hibbert given his limited shooting range.  But still, the size.  So if you can sign him to a 4-year $58 million deal, you have to, right?  Guys like that just don’t grow on trees.

And yet…now what?  Isn’t this pretty much exactly the same team as last year?  They’re still missing that superstar to actually turn them into a dangerous team.  I know they had a pipe dream of offering Eric Gordon a max contract and having him be that guy, but c’mon, that was never happening.  I would expect Paul George to continue to improve and really cement himself as the best player on the team, but I’m not sold on the idea that he can be “the guy” yet.  Other than that, everything just kind of looks the same.  Solid role players all around, but not enough great individual talent to make it out of the second round.  Maybe they can focus on Hibbert and George going forward and see what else you can do to try and add another big piece, otherwise, I guess they should win the division this year and get a top four seed and lose to the Celtics or Heat in the second round.  Sounds like fun.

Justin: Well, the sour grapes from the divisional rival weren’t bleeding through that at all. Paul George will continue to grow, Mike, and take Danny Granger’s spot at some point. Other than that, yes, this is the same team as last year, with a downgrade at back-up point guard, and a hell of a battle with Miami in the playoffs last year for seasoning.

Hibbert, George, Granger, and co. should continue to blossom. You also have David West, though just turning 32 and on the down slope, in a contract year. Add to that, the pre-season favorite for comeback player of the year, Gerald Green. They are firmly embedded at the #3 spot, and proved last year that they can give Miami a great challenge. None of this is anything to take lightly. Miami could have a few badly timed injuries, as Chris Bosh came incredibly close to showing last year, and the Celtics are old and have zero front court depth. Indiana in the Finals would be surprising… but it wouldn’t be shocking.

Mike: I’d be shocked.  No one on this team is even close to the talent of someone like Lebron James.  I mean, no one is even as good as Dwyane Wade.  This is a team that has shown us the last two years that it needs more than what it has to truly be a title thread, and they still don’t have it.  I’m not being a homer about it, I actually like the Pacers (Now that that bastard Reggie Miller is gone), but I just don’t see it.
Milwaukee BucksMilwaukee Bucks
(2011-2012 Record: 31-35, 9th in Conference, 3rd in Central)

Key Additions: Samuel Dalembert (C)
Key Losses:  Carlos Delfino (SG)

 

 

Mike: This is the year the team turns on Scott Skiles and he gets fired, right?  I thought that was last year, but they somehow managed to almost make the playoffs and he’s still around.  He made it three seasons with the Suns, four with the Bulls, and he’s entering his fifth with the Bucks, so I can feel it coming.  Don’t get me wrong, I like Skiles and thought he was a good coach for the Bulls, but I think he wears down his players over time and eventually they just stop responding to him.  And looking at this team, I’m not sure they’re going to be listening to him anyways.

Justin: He shares that problem with Doug Collins, there’s no denying it. Skiles is definitely one of my favorite coaches just for his sheer intensity, but there’s no denying his effect on teams. Perhaps like Collins, the roster will change enough for him to last longer. The way I see this coming is dumping Jennings at some point this year. Both he and Monta Ellis are in contract years, and Jennings has repeatedly talked about his wanting to play in a big market. I beg this doesn’t lead him to the Knicks. Regardless, I think he can be dropped off somewhere. Perhaps he could end up on the Hawks for Devin Harris and other assets. I just see something happening here.

Mike: The Bucks traded Andrew Bogut last season, ending his long tenure in Milwaukee, and giving me an excuse to post one of my favorite videos featuring Bogut high-fiving himself after hitting a free throw.  In return they got back Monta Ellis, which is great, because if you’re coaching a team with an undersized point guard who is all offense and no defense, what you really need on your team is an undersized shooting guard who is all offense and no defense.  It’s fine if you want your team’s identity to be all about running with the ball and scoring points, but when Scott Skiles is your coach, how can that ever be your identity? Sure, Mbah A Moute is a very good defensive player that can help alleviate some of the problems the backcourt causes, but he certainly can’t do everything.  And the rest of the roster is just, I don’t even know what to do with it.

Mike Dunleavy-SF, Drew Gooden-PF, Ekpe Udoh-PF, Larry Sanders-C, John Henson-PF, Joel Przybilla-C, Tobias Harris-SF

Who is getting minutes here?  Are any of these guys even remotely interesting?  Is there anyone in the league who can score 30 points and still be completely irrelevant in a game better than Drew Gooden? (And on a quick side note, how has he not been traded yet after playing on 7 teams in 7 years when he came to Milwaukee?  Oh wait, it’s because he has three years and $20 million left on his contract)   At least when Captain Jack was around the team had a little spice to it.  I’m hoping the team will just embrace the offense it can provide and just goes 100% in that direction, although again, that just seems odd for a Skiles team.

Justin:  It’s a similar situation to Utah in terms of the forwards, and there are certainly worse problems a team can have. To at least try to project some sort of answer to your question, Dunleavy did well last year and will be getting some play. Gooden and Udoh will have minimal roles, Tobias Harris will get tons of chances to show continuing improvement from a solid year, Larry Sanders is actually really good defensively so he will get to play a Taj Gibson-esque role, John Henson will get chances in spurts, and Pryzbilla is around to be the 12th man in all likeliehood. You also managed to forget one of the best defensive of the entire group, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, a personal favorite of mine, who is also likely on the trade block. To your point of offense, though it’s a smaller sample size, the Bucks have been a top 5 offensive team from day one when they brought in Monta Ellis. Should they continue along this path, and somehow iron out the defense, which with Dalembert and everyone else we’ve already mentioned they obviously have the ability to be- they’ll be a scrappy team all year.

Mike: The Samuel Dalembert pickup was a nice one, especially getting him in a contract year.  Brandon Jennings is due to be a restricted free agent after this season, so I’d expect even more ridiculous shots from him this year. And Ilyasova is still a key part of the rotation (Which is why I still think it’s odd there are so many power forwards on this team).  But it still doesn’t feel like a complete team, it feels like some personnel needs to be moved around.  I’m not totally sold on the team, but maybe there has been enough turnover that these guys are still in the mood to listen to Skiles, and they can continue to be a quasi-playoff contender.

Justin: Which is probably what will happen. They are cruising around in that bottom-of-the-lottery area that is NBA purgatory. Maybe they can trade out Jennings and Mbah a Moute for a solid piece, manage to resign Ellis, and let him and the incredibly underrated (because nobody ever see the Bucks play) Ersan Ilyasova run the show. The team has shown they can perform at an elite offensive level, if Skiles can live up to his reputation for defense, they should be in good shape for the future.

 

Detroit Pistons

Detroit Pistons
(2011-2012 Record: 25-41, 10th in Conference, 4th in Central)

Key Additions: Andre Drummond (C)
Key Losses:  None

 

 

Justin: Move along, nothing to see here. Brandon Knight is not a point guard, and probably will never be starter quality at either guard spot. But he’s solid and young. Stuckey is finally playing SG and doing… well, he’s doing fine. Nothing exciting. Neither guy plays any defense. Tayshaun Prince is good for defense but otherwise is on the downside offensively and has apparently stopped trying to get to the rim. Jason Maxiell… well, he starts for them. On the bench, they have Jonas Jerebko, who I think has potential to start for a while in the league. How Maxiell starts over him is beyond me. Then there’s Maggette who draws fouls at an incredible rate but not much else. And a bunch of other vets that won’t contribute much. Then there’s a ton of young guys. Andre Drummond leads the way and could go either way but I don’t see him ever developing. He’s only 18 so that’s tremendous, but he also isn’t very good at, let’s be frank, anything. I’d love to be wrong here, I hope he pans out. They have Kim English also, who was not very good at shooting and then suddenly exploded last year. It’s likely the famous Fluke Year rule. Kyle Singler comes in from Spain to shoot the ball, which ought to be interesting for a guy who’s not a great shooter

The one bright spot is Greg Monroe, who many people thought should’ve made the Olympic team as Tyson Chandler’s back up. Around the rim he’s an utter menace on the boards and taking easy shots. I’d say dunks, but Monroe is a bit Zach Randolph-y in that area and won’t be jumping out of the building anytime soon. Speaking of Z Bo and jumping, Monroe does need to work on his shot. His jumper and his defense are about all he’s lacking at this point, in relatively equal degrees. Given his apparent work ethic though, he should be an excellent center for a very long time.

That said, the Pistons are going to be a bad basketball team. Expect them to end up in the mid-high lottery pick range.

Mike: I’m a big believer in the Ewing Theory, so now that Ben Gordon is gone I expect the Ewing Theory to take effect and for the team to play much improved.  No, seriously.  Kudos to Joe Dumars in managing to dump the last two years and $25M of Gordon’s contract, best move he’s made in years.  I’m still not sure I believe that Dumars was also responsible for getting the Pistons a title.

Everything about this team is underwhelming outside of Greg Monroe, who is a stud.  Rodney Stuckey, Corey Maggette, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, Charlie Villanueva, I DON’T CARE ABOUT ANY OF YOU.  Tayshaun Prince is seriosuly signed for another three years and $20M.  This fact, it baffles me.  Andre Drummond is really the only other guy of interest on this team, but he’s so young right now, he’s just a project and not someone I’d expect to do anything meaningfull this year.  I do think it’s to his benefit thaat he gets to come into the league and play under a guy like Lawrence Frank, who I would expect to be a positive influence on his development, which is huge for an 18-year old.

Maybe these guys can be a little more interesting in a couple years when most of these mediocre veterans come off the books, with Monroe and Drummond a couple years older.  For now, I’m honestly impressed they managed to win 25 games last year, and I’d expect another lottery pick in their future next year.
Cleveland CavaliersCleveland Cavaliers
(2011-2012 Record: 21-45, 13th in Conference, 5th in Central)

Key Additions: Dion Waiters (SG)
Key Losses: Antawn Jamison (SF)

 

 

Mike: It’s pretty unfortunate that the Cavs just aren’t any good, because I would love to see more of Kyrie Irving than I was able to see last year.  There isn’t a whole lot on this team to be excited about, but Irving really more than makes up for that.  His rookie season was pretty impressive, putting up 18.5 points per game along with 5.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 46.9% from the field and 39.9% from three.  His assist numbers obviously aren’t where you’d like them to be for your starting point guard, although you can probably blame some of that on the lack of talent surrounding him, and it’ll be interesting to see how Dion Waiters works out with him in the backcourt.  Waiters has some ball handling skills of his own, so maybe between the two of them they can get the assist numbers to something more respectful.

Hopefully they can have some luck keeping Anderson Varejao healthy.  The last two seasons he’s played in a total of 56 of a possible 148 games, and only has three seasons where he’s played at least 76 games.  He was still pretty effective in the games he did play in last year, averaging a double double for the first time in his career with 10.8 points and 11.5 rebounds.  Speaking of long-time Cavs with some issues staying healthy, can you believe Boobie Gibson is still on this team?  I feel like he’s been on this team for about twelve years, and can’t believe someone as unspectacular as Gibson has survived all this time despite all the turnover over the years.  I’d like to say he’ll see some significant playing time this season, but John Hollinger threw out a great number, Gibson shot 29.4% from two last season.  Wow.

I do like some of the rest of the pieces on the team.  Omri Casspi isn’t going to be lighting it up offensively, but he can play a little D and it’s always fun to see players from random NBA countries.  Tyler Zeller, Jon Leuer, and Luke Harangody are going to be an absolutely tremendous trio of white guys coming off the bench, and it’s only a shame that Luke Walton’s inability to be even remotely mobile will probably prevent that group from becoming a quartet.  I actually like Zeller, I don’t expect him to be anything spectacular but he should become a pretty reliable backup center.  Jon Leuer, that guy is just crazy.  He’s pretty terrible as a power forward, but when he was with Milwaukee he would just come up with these games, like against the Bulls he went 9 for 11 with 19 points.  Then he would go multiple games without even scoring.  So great.

The Cavs are young, have some promising talent and a superstar in-the-making in Kyrie Irving.  But that’s about it.  They should be a lottery team again this year, but maybe Irving can get them to overachieve and get to say, 35 wins or so.

Justin: Well, Maloney really summed everything up well enough for me to not have much to add. My expectations for Kyrie are sky high and I’m curious to see what they do with Varejao, using him as a trade chip, or exploiting his friendly contract basically in vein. Most important this year will be to see the development of Dion Waiters. In college he garnered many a Dwyane Wade comparison, a standard he almost certainly will never meet, but if he can show even half that talent, the Cavs are going to be working with one of the league’s best starting back courts for years.

 

Southeast

 

Miami Heat

Miami Heat
(2011-2012 Record: 46-20, 2nd in Conference, 1st in Southeast)

Key Additions: Ray Allen (SG)
Key Losses: None

 

 

Justin: Front runners for a reason, but, great as Ray Allen is, nobody can shoot 3s better than Miller and Battier did in last year’s finals. Therefore, you can’t technically say he “improves” their chances. Unless of course you expect the former two to fall off big time from that Finals performance. Which most people probably logically should.

Can you believe Miami plays in this division? Will they have a single divisional loss the entire season? The Hawks have to beat them at some point right?

There’s really just not much to say here. I’m happy LeBron finally got his title, now I’d be happier if he never got one again. But that probably won’t happen. The Lakers have a chance if the team meshes. People say they have zero depth, but, neither do the Heat. Their bigger problem is long term competition as once Gasol and Kobe and Nash age, Howard won’t be getting it done alone. San Antonio isn’t done yet, and Kawhi Leonard has breakout star potential to help out the aging big three. Oklahoma City would have to play out of their minds, and we don’t even know how this team will look a year from today. What all this leads us to is the simple point that we’re heading toward at least a five year period where the Heat win or contend for every title. This is going to suck.

Mike: As an admitted recovering Lebron hater, I realize that he still has detractors out there, but I’ve always been a believer in the theory that winning trumps all.  The biggest reason I actively hated on Lebron was due to the differences between the pure skill and ability he has as a basketball and the lack of quantifiable success from a championship standpoint that had materialized for him.  I get that it’s a team game and you need a good team around you to win titles.  I don’t fault him for not winning when he was in Cleveland, as the teams that he had to lead there were pretty terrible.  But I did fault him for those moments when he would seemingly shirk from the spotlight, when he wouldn’t embrace his natural role of being the most dominant scorer in the league.  It’s funny, I think that playoff game against Detroit when he scored 24 straight points was probably a tough moment in his career, because it sort of set the bar for what we wanted to see from him all the time.  Reminds me of when Kerry Wood struck out 20 in one of the first starts of his career, then had to spend the rest of his career not living up to the ridiculous expectations that game created.

So Lebron in Miami was an easy target, because here you have the best player in the league going to someone else’s team to go play and try to win a title.  And every time he came up short it was just a reminder that he wasn’t doing what he should be doing, what we saw him do against Detroit.  Who’s the best player to never win a title?  Charles Barkley?  Steve Nash?  C’mon, Lebron is much better than either of those guys.  You just can’t be that good and never win a championship.  And now he has that title.  Despite all the criticism, the scrutiny, he managed to win the NBA championship, and he was the best player on the team when he did it.  There’s really nothing else you can say about it.  And you know what?  Once he was able to prove his championship pedigree by winning a title, I found him to be a much easier player to get behind and support.  As a Bulls fan I will actively root against him once the season starts and I hope for nothing but failure for him any time it comes down to Miami and Chicago.  However, at the Olympics this summer, I was all in on Lebron.  It was great watching him do amazing things on the court.  And it felt nice to have winner Lebron on your team to root for, instead of loser-comes-up-small-at-the-end Lebron.  And I would imagine he enjoyed it too.  MVP, NBA title, Olympic Gold Medal.  Not a bad year.

How does this set up for this season?  Miami is and should be the clear favorite in the East, basically.  Lebron, Wade, and Bosh are all back, and without the mountain of expectation to win a title on their shoulders.  Boston, Chicago, New York could all give them some trouble in a seven game series, but the way the team is put together now I don’t think anyone is a serious threat to them making it back to the NBA Finals.  The Lakers and the Thunder, on the other hand, that’s another story.

 

Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic
(2011-2012 Record: 37-29, 6th in Conference, 3rd in Southeast)

Key Additions: Arron Afflalo (SG), Gustavo Ayon (PF)
Key Losses: Dwight Howard (C), Ryan Anderson (PF)

 

 

Justin: Rebuild mode, but may, not even be bad enough to get a top 3 pick. Bad time to cheer for Orlando. Not like their fans ever really do. But there’s always ten years from now.

Mike: You have to feel bad for Magic fans.  This is now the second once-in-a-generation center to up and leave the team to go play for the Lakers.  And given what’s left on this roster, I mean, is there any way this team can be remotely competitive?  In case anyone underestimated how great it is to have someone like Dwight Howard around to cover for your team’s defensive flaws, watching this year’s Magic team should be a good reminder to you.

Justin: Seriously, who is going to lead this team? Arron Afflalo I guess, but knowing this organization it’ll be Jameer Nelson or Glen Davis instead. Just look at this roster. There’s pieces here and there, sure, I’m a big proponent on Ayon, Reddick, Harkless’ future.. but if chemistry and team building has ever meant anything, they’re doomed. This is one of the most haphazard rosters you’ll find anywhere and while I’m way too lazy to look it up, I’d guess it’s one of the most of the modern era.

Mike: I was listening to a podcast not too long ago with the Van Gundy brothers on it and I was surprised at how, calm and not pissed off Stan sounded.  But you think about it a little more, and you spend some time looking at the way the Magic are structured now, and it seems a little easier to understand.  I mean, even if he didn’t get fired after last year, there’s no way he doesn’t get fired at some point this year, so whatever, I guess he can just enjoy getting out when he did and not have to worry about coaching this team.

But hey, they finally don’t have one of the biggest payrolls in the league!  Baby steps.  I shudder to think what it’s going to be like watching Gustavo Ayon and Glen Davis trying to put up points in the frontcourt when they’re playing together.  At least Al Harrington is there so they aren’t a complete mess offensively.  But who’s playing small forward aside from Hedo Turkoglu? Quentin Richardson?  Throw JJ Reddick out there for a bit?  And how is Jameer Nelson possibly still the best option for that team at point guard?  Remember the discussion about how Jose Calderon could start for other teams in the league?  This would be one of those teams.  At least they came to their senses and dropped Chris Duhon from back up duty?

Is there a legitimate offensive threat on this entire team that anyone would be afraid of?  I’ll be very curious to see how many games these guys can actually win this year.  Should be pretty ugly.

 

Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks
(2011-2012 Record: 40-26, 5th in Conference, 2nd in Southeast)

Key Additions: Lou Williams (SG)
Key Losses: Joe Johnson (SG)

 

 

Justin: The Hawks should, even without Joe Johnson, perform and lose in the playoffs the same way they have for seemingly ever. If you check out their roster, they should actually be a solid team. They drafted who I considered the best shooter out of college, John Jenkins. They made solid moves everywhere, with Danny Ferry immediately impressing. Most importantly, they kept Ivan Johnson and his grill. They can rebound, play the post, play defense, and shoot the lights out. Until they show they can not get beat by 40 twice a year in the playoffs though, it’s the same old Hawks. My hope for them is that they give Josh Smith the trade he’s wanted for years, and get fair value for him. Here’s one such possible deal, just to screw with Maloney. Works out well for both parties. Smith is a headcase and has some abysmal shot selection, but there is probably not a team in the league that wouldn’t entertain the thought of having him on their roster.

Due to every other team in their division, they’ll likely get a top 4 playoff spot, which could get them into the second round. If Ferry can live up to his first month on the job, they should be able to give the team an entirely fresh start, which has been desperately needed for a while now.

Mike: Are we allowed to give out the Executive of the Year award before the season starts?  Or is it required that we wait?  I’m not sure how much I necessarily like the Hawks this year, but wow, what Danny Ferry has done with this roster in just a few months is nothing short of amazing.  He did what most thought was impossible and moved the rest of Joe Johnson’s 4-year $90 million contract, and did it without taking on any long-term contracts in return.  Make no mistake, Joe Johnson’s contract had basically saddled the franchise with the reality that they would never be title contenders because Johnson is just not good enough to be “the guy” on a title team and his salary makes it too difficult to acquire enough pieces to do anything.  And just like that it’s gone.  Almost as impressive is that the Hawks will have three guys under contract next season, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, and Lou Williams, and they’ll be making less combined than Joe Johnson next year.  That means they will have a ton of space next year to go after someone, or they could try and re-sign Josh Smith if that interests them although it doesn’t seem likely.  Whatever they do, they have so many options and the three guys that they’ll have under contract are three of the four best players on their team.

And that’s not even talking about the Lou Williams signing.  His entire four year contract is the same amount as Joe Johnson’s salary this year.  Wow.  And is Lou really that much of a downgrade from Joe Johnson?  As stupid as Philly was for letting him walk (and for so cheap too!) Atlanta is that smart for picking him up.

Now that I’m done praising Ferry’s impressive work thus far, there is still the issue of “Okay, but what else is there?”  Assuming we see the typical lineup of Josh Smith at the 4 and Al Horford playing center, I’m not really sure what they’re going to do at the 3.  Right now Kyle Korver is the only small forward on the roster, and they don’t really have much in the way of oversized two guards who can play both positions.  Kyle Korver is a fantastic shooter, and his contributions behind the arc can’t be discounted…but there’s a reason why the guy has only started 15% of his career games.  He is great at one thing, shooting threes.  But he can’t drive to the hoop, he can’t create his own shot with the ball, and he’s an average at best one on one defender.  That’s not exactly a list of accomplishments you want to see for your starting small forward, not to mention the fact it’s not like there’s a perfectly capable back up small forward waiting to come in and limit his minutes.

Hawks fans actually can be a little optimistic about their team’s future, they have some solid pieces to build around, a ton of cap space going forward, and a GM who has already done wonders for the team.  But I’m not totally sure they’re going to find their way into the playoffs.  The Heat, Celtics, Bulls, Pacers, and Knicks are all gimmes for the playoffs.  You would expect the Sixers and probably the Nets to make it as well.  That does leave a spot open, and I’d probably make the Hawks the favorites to get it, but there is always the possibility of the Bucks hanging around or Justin’s new favorite team the Raptors somehow making it in.

I hate your Josh Smith trade, by the way.  But I’m sure you knew that when you made it.

 

Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards
(2011-2012 Record: 20-46, 14th in Conference, 4th in Southeast)

Key Additions: Emeka Okafor (C), Bradley Beal (SG)
Key Losses: Rashard Lewis (PF)

 

 

Justin: Getting some pre-season love and I have no idea why. This is going to be a bad team. Bradley Beal and Nene, the most overrated C in the league, should be able to help them score at a decent rate, but there’s not much else. Jordan Crawford ought to put up too many shots, and Okafor can help on the defensive end. Jan Vesely averaged about a 6 and 5 playing half the game which obviously isn’t good enough, but hopefully is just growing pains that people generally have coming into the NBA from Europe.

But the big story here is Wall. He can be a really good starting PG and get another 16 and 8, and that’s fine. Hell, it’s really not even about the numbers so much. He simply needs to make this team competitive and live up to his draft hype. The East isn’t exactly hyper-competitive. We’ll see what Wall can do in Year 3.

Mike: John Hollinger somehow predicted the Wizards finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference.  I could maybe see that if John Wall learns how to shoot, Bradley Beal ends up being much better than expected his rookie year, Nene stays healthy, Trevor Booker continues to improve and steals Okafor’s minutes, and Jan Vesely starts to figure out how to play in the NBA (By the way, I’m glad that Jan Vesely link went exactly where I was hoping it would).  Basically, it’s not going to happen.

Wall could get his jump shot figured out, Derrick Rose was not a very good jump shooter until he worked his ass off over the summer coming into his third season and now has a solid midrange jumpshot and a decent three pointer (He just never knows when to shoot it).  A lot of what Wall does is reminiscent of Rose, so maybe he can follow in his footsteps and learn to shoot.  I don’t have a ton of thoughts on Beal one way or the other, but I can say that I’m not expecting any miracles out of him his rookie year, he’s so young.  One bright spot I didn’t mention before is Trevor Ariza.  I love his fit on the team, and I think he’ll just sort of be able to pick his spots on offense while serving as a major asset for Washington on defense.  And really you’d expect the Wizards to be strong defensively.  But overall they’re really lacking in talent and unless Wall plays out of his mind I just don’t see any way for them to make the playoffs.

 

Charlotte Bobcats

Charlotte Bobcats
(2011-2012 Record: 7-59, 15th in Conference, 5th in Southeast)

Key Additions: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (SG), Ramon Sessions (PG)
Key Losses: Corey Maggette (SF)
Justin: Watch, if you must, for the youth that one day may be good on other teams. Or may get matured on such an abysmal team and franchise that their careers are already doomed. Which isn’t totally out of play. When Rich Cho gets bored in his office, do you think he just spends all day reading 2013 mock drafts? That’s considering they draft intelligently like they did this year, instead of badly like, well, every other year. Anything has to be better than realizing what Jordan gifted to him. Hate to say it, but they aren’t even particularly worth talking about. Biyombo will be fun to watch. Kemba will probably struggle to be a starting calibre PG. Kidd-Gilchrist will possibly kill himself trying to help them. Ben Gordon will shoot 50x a game. Gerald Henderson will likely continue to be there best player. And they are still the smart money to have the worst record in the league. I don’t see any other team being close to this bad. It’s going to be a long year in Charlotte.

Mike: Do you think we’ll ever find out why it is that Michael Jordan runs his basketball team the way that he does?  I will forever remain baffled at how one of the most driven competitive athletes ever can become the owner of a team, and then watch as that team completely bottoms out and puts together the worst winning percentage in the history of the NBA.  And does it even bother him?  Does he even know?  Does he get score updates on the golf course?  Is this all some long-term bet he made with someone else to see if he could actually run his own basketball team into the ground?  I just don’t get it.

This team should be awful again and will no doubt be headed for a top 5 pick in next year’s draft.

 

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Okay, that’ll do it for Part One.  Thanks for reading, and check out our thoughts on the Lakers and the rest of the Western Conference in Part Two!

 

Mike Maloney
Email: mtmaloney@gmail.com
Twitter: @mtmaloney

Justin T.

Email: SagersBlazers@gmail.com