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Nov. 7, 2004

2004-05 NBA Preview

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
The upcoming NBA season will introduce the NBA's foray into the six division system that the NHL and MLB have realigned into over the last decade, as well as the opening year of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, who bring basketball back to the Queen City just two years after the Carolinas ran owner George Shinn and the relatively good Hornets out of town.

But, honestly, this season will be exciting just for all of the player movement that we saw over the last summer. Arguably the most dominant player in the league, Shaquille O'Neal, demanded his way out of Kobe's face and Los Angeles, and now finds himself on a Miami Heat team that is a shoo-in for a division title, and in the hunt to make the NBA Finals.

It was a nice off-season for big men, as NBA GMs shelled out a pretty penny for height inside. The Jazz shelled out $67 million and $50 mil to Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur, respectively. Brian Cardinal of all people got a 6 year/$39 million deal from the Memphis Grizzlies. Etan Thomas got $6 million a year from the Wizards, as well.

After all the movement over the last four months, we are on the verge of a brand new NBA season. The only thing certain this year is that nothing is certain. There are about a dozen teams with a real shot at winning the whole thing. So who will win? I don't know, but I'll try to figure it out.

NBA PREDICTIONS (Top eight in each conference make playoffs)

Eastern Conference

  • Detroit Pistons

  • Miami Heat

  • New York Knicks

  • Indiana Pacers

  • Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Philadelphia 76ers

  • New Jersey Nets

  • Washington Wizards

  • Orlando Magic

  • Milwaukee Bucks

  • Toronto Raptors

  • Atlanta Hawks

  • Boston Celtics

  • Chicago Bulls

  • Charlotte Bobcats

Western Conference

  • Minnesota Timberwolves

  • Houston Rockets

  • Sacramento Kings

  • San Antonio Spurs

  • Denver Nuggets

  • Los Angeles Lakers

  • Memphis Grizzlies

  • Phoenix Suns

  • Utah Jazz

  • Dallas Mavericks

  • Portland Trail Blazers

  • Seattle Supersonics

  • New Orleans Hornets

  • Los Angeles Clippers

  • Golden State Warriors

Eastern Conference Finals: Detroit over Indiana

Western Conference Finals: Minnesota over Houston




Southeast Division

MIAMI HEAT- 2nd in East, Southeast Division Winner

Few will argue that Shaquille O'Neal was the biggest off-season acquisition of the off-season. I am not sold that he is the savior that can make the Heat a title contender, but because they are now in the worst division in professional sports, the Southeast Division, they have no reason to not come in first. Plus, Miami had a good core before Shaq arrived. Guards Eddie Jones and Dwyane Wade will compliment Miami very nicely as they cruise into the playoffs.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS- 8th in East, 2nd in Southeast

It was hard to just put one team from a division into the playoffs, so I'll slide the improved Wizards into the 8th and final playoff slot in the Eastern conference. The starting lineup and nucleus of the Wiz is very solid, and if they stay healthy, they can make the playoffs. Much of that rests on Gilbert Arenas cutting down on all the stupid shots he takes, and if Kwame Brown can finally rise up to his potential. The offense is good, but guys like Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas, etc., just don't play defense well. Re-signing scrappy center Etan Thomas was great, but he will be hurt to start the season. Jamison was the sixth man of the year last year, but he's a major part of the offense this year, and they'll need him for 82 games to make the playoffs. Brendan Haywood can battle inside, and Arenas can make shots from anywhere on the court. This team can make the playoffs, they just need the players who have to perform to…well, perform.

ORLANDO MAGIC- 9th in East, 3rd in Southeast

Orlando is a real wild card; they can win 45 games, or they can win 25. The team with the NBA's worst record in markedly improved, just because of the returns of Grant Hill and Pat Garrity, who both missed all of last year. Steve Francis, acquired from Houston in the Tracy McGrady deal, will bring a tremendous spark to the Magic. The real question is inside, where Kelvin Cato is the center, despite never having started regularly in the NBA before. The power forward is teenager Dwight Howard, who will be great someday, just not now. He's forced into the starting lineup as well. If Hill is healthy, they can make the playoffs. If.

ATLANTA HAWKS- 12th in East, 4th in Southeast

The team does have talent now, adding Al Harrington and Antoine Walker over the off-season, but last year, they ended the team with no quality NBA talent outside of Jason Terry, who went to Dallas in the trade for Walker. Outside of those two, there is nothing that the Hawks bring to the table. Jason Collier strikes fear in the heart of nobody, and their bench is thinner than a Hilton sister. Kenny Anderson, who must be about 97 now, will start at point guard. Walker and Harrington give the Hawks some hope in the ATL, but not nearly enough to think about the playoffs.

CHARLOTTE BOBCATS- last in East, last in Southeast, dead last in NBA

Charlotte area residents, you ran the Hornets out of town for this? After Emeka Okafor, the Bobcats starting lineup consists of players who would get cut by half the teams in this league. Jason Hart has started just five times in three years, now he's at the point. Something named Primoz Brezec will start at center, and get bulldozed by Shaq four times a year. And Brendan Haywood. Don't forget Jeff Foster. Heck, even Bill Russell could steamroll Brezec, and he's like 70. Tamar Slay played about two minutes of non-garbage time last year with the Nets, now he's starting. Okafor will contribute a lot right away (he has to), Steve Smith is a good shooter, and Jason Kapono has talent, but after that is a group of nine guys who would have trouble with the University of Kansas team. At least, being in North Carolina, there's definitely good low country soul food nearby to comfort the players after a 25-point loss to the Clippers.

Atlantic Division

NEW YORK KNICKS- 3rd in East, 1st in Atlantic

This is a very balanced team that had no reason not to win this division. Jamal Crawford compliments Stephon Marbury in the backcourt, and he should be a New York darling given his immense talent and his desire to win. Marbury carried a battered team to the playoffs last year, and now he's actually got other talent to work with. Penny Hardaway is still in the NBA, believe it or not, and will be a good perimeter shooter off the bench. Tim and Kurt Thomas inside complement Nazr Mohammed, who had a solid 9 PPG and 8 RPG after arriving in New York. Don't forget Allan Houston, who will be hurt to open the year, but he's an All-Star and a huge weapon. Their biggest issue is defense, but Dallas was able to make it into the playoffs that way, and New York will in a far worse division and conference. Will they win it all? Heck no, but they'll still be playing come the postseason.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS- 6th in East, 2nd in Atlantic

Jim O'Brien was brought in to coach this team, and along with assistant Dick Harter, they can and will help rescue the Sixers from the depths of the East. Allen Iverson still needs to stay healthy for this team to make the playoffs, but the squad has talent. Glenn Robinson is a solid forward still, and rookie Andre Iguodala has immense talent and a huge upside. Kenny Thomas is a great rebounder and a good scorer (he had more double-doubles last year than Dirk Nowitzki or Yao Ming), and Samuel Dalembert is a great shot blocker. Basically, everyone on this team does something, and that is enough to put them into the playoffs.

NEW JERSEY NETS- 7th in East, 3rd in Atlantic

Owner Bruce Ratner and GM Rod Thorn dismantled this team in the off-season, and with Kenyon Martin's departure went any hope of the Nets winning the Eastern Conference this year. Jason Kidd, who will be out to open the year due to a knee injury, as well as Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins, will be asked to collective carry the Nets into the playoffs. Aaron Williams is also very good off the bench inside, and Travis Best can be serviceable as a fill-in for Kidd. The Nets gutted the payroll in order to save money for the eventual move to Brooklyn, but for now, mediocrity is what fans can expect each night in East Rutherford.

TORONTO RAPTORS- 11th in East, 4th in Atlantic

Vince Carter is the key to this team, who can contend for a playoff spot, or fall of the face of the basketball planet. Since 2000-01, Carter hasn't played 60 games in a season. He needs to get well over that number for the Raps to avoid being awful. They are full of role-playing talent, though. Chris Bosh was very nice in his rookie season out of Georgia Tech, with 11 points and seven rebounds per game, and Rafer Alston can be relied upon to run the point without turning the ball over. Morris Peterson can play inside and out, and is a double-double threat. After the giant question mark that is Vince Carter, the Raptors are incredible weak at center, with rarely used reserve Loren Woods being shoved into the starting slot. Even if Carter plays 82 games, the playoffs are a reach. Not impossible, but a reach.

BOSTON CELTICS- 13th in East, 5th in Atlantic

You think the Nets were gutted? Heh, look at the Celtics. The worst GM in the NBA, Danny Ainge, has quickly dismantled a team that was just two games from the NBA Finals in 2002. After Paul Pierce, this team is incredibly weak. Ricky Davis can score 35 points, or he can go insane and attack a vendor in the front row. He is a selfish head case, and him taking his usual 10 horrible shots a game will cost Boston more than a couple games. Mark Blount had a career year in 2003-04, which nobody in his or her right mind would expect him to match. Raef LaFrentz could be good, but he will likely blow his knee out again. If he's healthy, he can be a great power forward who has the ability to force inside men outside, opening up lanes for Pierce and Gary Payton. If. And that's an if the size of the crowd for the Red Sox championship victory parade. Another team that could make a run at the last playoff spot, or finish dead last in the division. Bet on the latter.

Central Division

DETROIT PISTONS- 1st in East, 1st in Central

The 2004 NBA Champions are a good as last year, and maybe even better. All the pieces from last year are back, except Mehmet Okur, but he was benched in the NBA Finals and did nothing for the Pistons in the playoffs. But even if Okur's departure hurts the Pistons, it's more than made up for with the signings of Antonio McDyess, Spanish star Carlos Delfino and Derrick Coleman. The starting lineup of the two Wallaces, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups is easily the best from 1 to 5 in the NBA. Needless to say: this team is stacked ten deep. Anything less than an Eastern Conference title would be a shock, but that won't happen. The Pistons are headed back to the finals.

INDIANA PACERS- 4th in East, 2nd in Central

The Pacers would win either one of the other two divisions in the Eastern Conference, and they will be a very, very good second place team in the Central. They were the best team in NBA regular season last year and should be close to that again. Jermaine O'Neal is the best player in the East, and was the only player in the conference to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game last season. O'Neal is no slouch on defense, a D aided by the reigning defensive player of the year, Ron Artest. Off-season acquisition Stephen Jackson ran the point for the 2003 champion Spurs. O'Neal has the supporting cast to make another run deep into the playoffs.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS- 5th in East, 3rd in Central

LeBron James earned all the hype with a Rookie of the Year performance last season. Losing Carlos Boozer will really hurt, but with Eric Snow and Jeff McInnis running the offense, they'll get by just fine. Assuming his feet stay healthy, Zydrunas Ilgauskas should crank out 55 double-doubles, and Drew Gooden is a very solid power forward. Remember, they have LeBron James. He carried them to within a game of the playoffs this year, and this year the Cavs, and great coach Paul Silas, will get over the hump and into the postseason.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS- 10th in East, 4th in Central

Head coach Terry Porter worked magic last year, getting Milwaukee into the playoffs. A repeat performance seems unlikely. This is a team that has 30-point threat Michael Redd and not much yet. The team is killed with the loss of T.J. Ford, who could be out all year with a back injury. Keith Van Horn will be asked to replace Ford's numbers, a really tall order for the tall man. Joe Smith is mediocre, and he'll be remembered as a disappointment when his career is done. Remember, he was the Number 1 pick in 1995. After Ford, their biggest problem is a lack of a decent big man. Dan Gadzuric was bad at center last year, and there's no reason to think he'll be any better. Desmond Mason can light up a highlight reel, but nobody on this team plays any defense.

CHICAGO BULLS- 14th in East, 5th in Central

Since Michael Jordan hit the game-winning shot in Game Six of the 1998 NBA Finals in Salt Lake City, it's been all downhill for the Chicago Bulls organization. First, Tim Floyd was a flop as coach. Then, in 2001, the Bulls found themselves with the second and third picks in the NBA Draft. They took two high schoolers, Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. Curry has been a good player, Chandler has flopped, so much to the point that nobody expects a breakout anymore. They might be good soon, though. Kirk Hinrich led rookies in double doubles, and Curry is on his way to being a 15-10 threat. Ben Gordon and Luol Deng are rookies, who, from the preseason, look pretty solid. But for this season, they're too young for anything more than 25 wins this year.


Southwest Division

HOUSTON ROCKETS- 2nd in West, 1st in Southwest

Steve Francis was great, but you can't tell me that Tracy McGrady wasn't a tremendous upgrade for this team. T-Mac joins Yao Ming to create, perhaps, another Kobe-Shaq, only one of them is Chinese and they don't hate each other. Either way, this is clearly the best one-two punch in the NBA. McGrady was the NBA's leading scorer, and Yao's the Western Conference's best center. McGrady is clearly happy, telling ESPN last month that "it's finally good to play on a real team.” Yao is extremely durable, having played every game since he became a Rocket two years ago. Juwan Howard, Jim Jackson and Maurice Taylor are also very good, and have stayed healthy most of their careers. A question mark is Charlie Ward at point guard, but he's not going to cost the Rockets any games, and he can hit a three if they need him to. It's on Yao to dominate, and T-Mac to control the ball inside and out. If that happens, which is very likely, Houston could be on its way to the NBA Finals.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS- 4th in West, 2nd in Southwest

One of the least heralded but most important free-agent pickups of the summer was three-point threat Brent Barry. Barry, acquired from Seattle, gives the Spurs a long-range threat they missed last year. Combine that with Tim Duncan, maybe the most complete player in the NBA, and you have a team more than ready to win a division title. With Barry in town, his three-point prowess and his unparalleled ability to hit every open shot he takes, it makes it much harder for defenses to double team Duncan. Add in Emmanuel Ginobili, the Olympic hero, and Tony Parker, the scrappy point guard with the great passing ability (to get it to an open Barry), and you have a team ready to win. Rasho Nesterovic is a stiff at center, but he can rebound, and with the previously mentioned four on the floor with Rasho, the Spurs will be all right. Robert Horry and Bruce Bowen can hit three, and Bowen is also one of the best defenders in the Association. The Spurs very well could win this division.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES- 7th in West, 3rd in Southwest

Memphis is a great illustration of just how stacked the West is. If this team were in the East , they would probably get to the Eastern finals. But in the West, they'll be lucky if they even get in the playoffs. Memphis is a very talented team, anchored by the Spanish sensation Pau Gasol. Gasol bulked up, and that's key in a division with Jamaal Magloire, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan in it. This bulk showed in the Olympics, when Gasol carried the Spaniards to the medal elimination round, scoring against Team USA seemingly every time down the floor. I think the Grizz overpaid Brian Cardinal, but he adds defense and a three-point touch. Bonzi Wells and Stromile Swift are undervalued, and its guys like them who could help put the Grizzlies back in the playoffs. Mike Miller was Rookie of the Year, James Posey was the team's best player after the All-Star Break, and Jason Williams is a highlight machine. And don't be surprised if super-GM Jerry West makes a brilliant trade in February if Memphis needs it to get into the playoffs.

DALLAS MAVERICKS- 10th in West, 4th in Southwest

Dallas has undergone their annual overhaul, but they still can't play any D, a problem in the toughest division in the NBA. The team is still very good, and still very able to light up the scoreboard, but losing Steve Nash will really come back to hurt in ways they didn't imagine. Jason Terry is a very good player, but he's never won anything anywhere, and he needs to ditch the selfish ways that may have served him well in Atlanta where there was nobody to pass to, but would kill the Mavs this year. The lack of a solid PG like Nash will cost them games this year. Dirk Nowitzki can still light up the stat sheet, but his ankles are iffy. If he misses 20 games this year, there's no way I can see Dallas making the playoffs. The team needs Michael Finley resurgence, as well. He was silent last year near the end of the year. Marquis Daniels came out of nowhere to be a huge cog in the Dallas offense, but none of these guys I mentioned can play defense. The only real defender is Erick Dampier, but he hasn't really crashed the boards since he was a high schooler in Jackson, MS. If Dampier shows up, and Nowitzki stays healthy, Dallas can get into the playoffs comfortably. They'll be on the bubble come the last week or two of the season.

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS- 13th in West, 5th in West

This was a mediocre at best team last season, but a tumultuous off-season signaled the end of the Hornets in the playoffs for at least a couple years. First off, the Hornets have moved to the Western Conference, where their 41-41 record, which was good for fifth in the East would have been tied for 10th in the West. They're in the hardest division in the league, as well. That combined with the loss of All-Star Jamal Mashburn will sink the Hornets this year. Baron Davis, who is unhappy in the Bayou and asked for a trade this past summer, anchors the franchise. A happy Baron is a happy team, but he hasn't been happy since the team moved from Charlotte. A bad season and he could be remembered as just another guy who was in a couple Ja Rule videos. More likely is that he'll hurt his back again, and Darrell Armstrong is just not good enough to run the offense. In as the new coach is former Nets coach/ESPN yakking head Byron Scott brings a breath of fresh air, and if he can milk 35 wins out of these guys, he could prove once and for all that it was him and not Jason Kidd who was the main reason why the Nets righted the ship three years ago. Jamaal Magloire is solid, but the team just isn't nearly good enough to win in the West.

Northwest Division

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES- 1st in West, 1st in Northwest, NBA Champs

Last spring's playoffs were a coming of age for the MVP, Kevin Garnett. Finally blessed with a supporting cast, he led Minnesota to the Western Conference Finals. Had they not been decimated by injuries to Troy Hudson and Sam Cassell, they very well could have knocked off the Lakers. Now, with everyone fully healed, it's KG's time to dominate the Western Conference. After KG is arguably the deepest team in the West. Cassell and Latrell Sprewell are former All-Stars who can play both sides of the ball well. Cassell's play helped Garnett to his first MVP last year. Cassell is a seasoned floor general who is more than ready to do whatever he can to win the West. Michael Olowokandi can rebound, and their bench has some of everything. Trenton Hassell brings defense, Mark Madsen brings height and heart, and Hudson and Fred Hoiberg can hit three after three in crunch time. KG doesn't have to carry the Timberwolves to the Finals, but he will anyway. This is the year that all the pieces are in place for a Twin Cities title.

DENVER NUGGETS- 5th in West, 2nd in Southwest

Denver was a clearly improved team last year. Kenyon Martin could bring them to the next level. Denver won the off-season by adding the heart and muscle of the back-to-back Eastern Conference Champion Nets by getting Martin in a sign-and-trade in July. Martin is a force on all sides of the ball; he can hit a jumper, dunk, block shots, steal, dive, everything. And I haven't even mentioned Carmelo Anthony, who can do all the same stuff. This team will be exciting to say the very, very least, and they'll likely be very, very good. Few in terms of athleticism match this team, and their backcourt is not too shabby either. Voshon Lenard gives Denver a bona fide downtown threat, and Andre Miller is a brilliant passer, a key on a team with this many offensive weapons. Nene Hilario and 5'5” firecracker Earl Boykins give the Nuggets a combo of size and speed off the bench. Look for Rodney White to finally live up to his potential in Jeff Bzdelik's offense. If Denver is hot, they can beat all 29 other teams on a given night. This team is good, and worth the $150 for NBA League Pass all by themselves.

UTAH JAZZ- 9th in West, 3rd in Northwest

Yeah, they're improved, but so is everyone else. They were a great story last year, coming out of nowhere with a graying coach and no-name players. Had Matt Harpring been healthy, they would have made the playoffs. But even with Harpring, and the signings of Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur, it will be a fight for Utah to make the playoffs. Their best asset is still coach Jerry Sloan, who, even with all his years of playoff success in the past, may have done his best job last year with a group of nobodies like Carlos Arroyo and Raja Bell. Nobody played as hard as the Jazz last year, and that's all thanks to Sloan. Carlos Boozer gives the team a desperately needed inside presence, but I'm not sold on Mehmet Okur as the solution at center. He is a stiff and underperformed in the playoffs for Detroit last year. Gordan Giricek has range, and Andrei Kirilenko and Harpring will come to play hard and well every night. This team will hustle every game, but in the West, they could finish anywhere. It won't shock me if this team finishes in 4th or 11th.

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS- 11th in West, 4th in Northwest

Portland is just like Utah, and not because they both play in beautiful mountain cities. The Blazers have the talent to win, the question is if that talent will show up. Portland could be playoff bound, or they could blaze a trail into the Draft Lottery. The team is still anchored by the improved Zach Randolph, who can battle inside on offense and defense, yet still knows how to hit a jumper. After Randolph is where it gets dicey. Theo Ratliff is an amazing defender, but he's old and his health is a concern. Another question is which Nick Van Exel will show up. The Van Exel who hit huge shot after huge shot two years ago in Dallas, or the old, slow, angry Van Exel from Golden State last year. Shareef Abdur-Rahim has averaged 20 points per game in his career, but he wants out of Portland, and he could be part of a roster purge if playoff hope is lost in February. The team doesn't have a serviceable backup center, and a wild card is how the team will handle Qyntel Woods' troubles involving a dog fighting ring and all his drug problems. They're one trade from home court in the playoffs, or they could finish 13th.

SEATTLE SUPERSONICS- 12th in West, 5th in Northwest

Unlike Utah and Portland, Seattle will have a much harder road into the playoffs. Ray Allen was not the spark that the Sonics hoped he would be, as they haven't made the postseason since owner Howard Schultz (the Starbucks guy) brought him to Puget Sound in 2002. The team can shoot, but they can't rebound at all. Their center is Vitaly Potapenko, who does nothing for Seattle other than wear a green jersey and be really tall. On the bench are Nick Collison, who likely will start at some point this year, and Robert Swift, a rookie teenager who won't do much but ride the pine this year. Danny Fortson can crash the boards, but he's the only one. Rashard Lewis is a forward, but all he does is stand outside and chuck up threes all day. He can score 50, but he doesn't rebound, doesn't play defense, and unless he's dropping 50 nightly, he doesn't do that much for Seattle. Vladimir Radmanovic can shoot the three, but as a big man, he doesn't go inside. Former University of Oregon star Luke Ridnour will pass the ball, but it's unknown if he can really run the point in the NBA. Their lack of a rebounder will cost them games and put them in the Northwest Division cellar.

Pacific Division

SACRAMENTO KINGS- 3rd in West, 1st in Pacific

The Kings are clearly the best team in a division that has one great team, two good ones, and two teams that are just really, really, really bad. The Kings have repeatedly failed in the playoffs, but they're back for one more run at the title. The team is anchored by Peja Stojakovic, who asked for a trade this summer, then said he was happy, but we're not really sure how he feels. Peja needs to stop whining and learn how to finally coexist with Chris Webber, a perennially injured playoff failure. If Webber doesn't finally show up this year, he may never. Brad Miller is a tremendous rebounder, and with Shaq gone, is clearly the best center in the Pacific. Mike Bibby is a proven success at the point, but he's going to have to energize his teammates if they want to win it all. Greg Ostertag is a defensive upgrade over Vlade Divac, but the team is not as deep as it once was. Gone are Hedo Turkoglu and Anthony Peeler, who have been replaced with Courtney Alexander. Bobby Jackson can still ball off the bench, though, and can fill in for Bibby or Doug Christie if need be. Sacramento can win this division, it's just playoff time+- where it gets dicey.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS- 6th in West, 2nd in Pacific

The Lakers? Sixth? Yep, after their embarrassing performance in last June's NBA Finals, it's become a new era in Laker basketball. For Kobe Bryant, two major distractions are finally gone. He never liked Shaquille O'Neal, and never could work that well with Phil Jackson. After two years without a title, it was time for a change. Jackson quit and Shaq's in Miami, so this is Kobe's team. His talent alone will carry Los Angeles into the playoffs, as he is still one of the most competitive and talented players in the league. But Kobe is the only starter who was on the team when they lost the Finals in Detroit, and that inexperience will hurt them. This is a brand new team, top to bottom. Butler is very good, but it's a real unknown whether he can be the second option on a team this much in the spotlight. Lamar Odom was mediocre for years in LA with the Clippers, and there's tremendous pressure on him to repeat his success from last year. But they have no center of any consequence in 59-year-old Vlade Divac, and Chucky Atkins at point guard, a guy who has never run a winning team before. Kobe and Caron can, and should carry them into the playoffs, but this is not the Three Peat Lakers.

PHOENIX SUNS- 8th in West, 3rd in Pacific

Phoenix was a young team filled with promise this time last year. But they unloaded Stephon Marbury, and the team finished 29-53. But the team is back with two big free agent pickups that could carry them to the playoffs, even without a center. Joining Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire are Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson. The Suns management threw $100 million at these two to get a title to the Desert. First, they need to work together. Stoudemire is one of the most exciting players in the league, was the Rookie of the Year, and should be expected to only get better as he gets settled into Mike D'Antoni's offense. Shawn Marion is a proven leader who can drop 30 on any night. The key pickup was point guard Steve Nash, who should make Marion and Stoudemire even better. What made Dallas so good on offense was that Nash could find Michael Finley, Dirk Nowitzki or anyone else who was open at any time. He's one of the best passers in the league, and if he can get the ball to Marion, they can win some games. Richardson is a scorer, but none of these guys play much defense. Their biggest hole is at center, where Jake Voshkul stands, doesn't score or play defense. He is flat out terrible, and their lack of a center could keep Phoenix out of the playoffs.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS- 14th in West, 4th in Pacific

At least the weather's nice. The Clippers will be near the bottom of the West again because they can't pass and they turn the ball over too much. They were seemingly so close to getting Kobe Bryant, but he ultimately decided that making the move to the opposite side of the Staples Center would be just too hard, and stayed with the Lakers. They do have Elton Brand, a complete player who drops 20 and 10 every night, but he's the only one. Corey Maggette is the key for the Clip Joint; he is a terrific scorer, but he just can't hold on to the ball, and he never passes to Brand. Kerry Kittles is a nice scorer as well, but he has chronic knee problems. This team has talent, but there's always a "but” with every one of these guys. Marko Jaric can't run the point effectively, and their bench is rookie Shaun Livingston and a bunch of journeymen like Mikki Moore, Trajan Langdon, and Mamadou N'Diyae; guys I didn't even know were in the league, and likely wouldn't be if they weren't on the Clippers. The Clippers will be bad again.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS- 15th in West, 5th in Pacific

At least the Clippers have some talent. The Warriors brought in great college coach Mike Montgomery, but aside from Larry Brown, college coaches have a rough time in the NBA. This team was close two years ago, but free agency killed them, so they're back to being maybe the most silent team in the NBA. The team has good players, but nobody close to stellar. After bright star and highlight reel-ready Jason Richardson, this team is weak. Adonal Foyle is a great guy in the Bay Area community, but he's averaged 5 PPG in his career. The $41 million that Golden State gave him is one of the oddest contracts I've ever seen. Troy Murphy had a breakout year two years ago, but injuries are a question for him. The bench is very thin, with Mickael Pietrus and Eduardo Najera being the only decent guys there. Mike Dunleavy has struggled, and given no reason think 2004-05 will be different. New coach, same ol' Warriors.

So you've seen what I think about this upcoming NBA season. And even though it's now painfully obvious that I have no clue about how the teams will fill out in the standings, hopefully you've learned about what to expect and look for this year. It's a long year, and a lot can happen. Who knows: maybe the Bobcats will hoist the Larry O' Brien trophy as NBA Champions next June. Or not.

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  • Isamu Bae on November 8, 2004
    I'd like to point out that Charlotte is nowhere near as bad as you paint them to be. Primoz Brezec has proven himself in the pre-season and the first two games that he is a quality center. If the Bobcats are going to get at least a double-double a game from them (and he is averaging close to that), then I don't feel like they're going to regret picking him up. The Pacers, in fact, actually do wish they kept Brezec instead of feeling smug about their "depth" at center, because now they have noone left.

    Add in Okafor and the Bobcats actually have quite a talented starting front court. It would not be surprising if, at least by All-Star Break, the Bobcats are getting 20 rebounds a game from their starting big men alone.

    Gerald Wallace is also a previous no-name that has, at least through pre-season and the first two games, shown he has game. He's an athletic freak at shooting guard (converted from small forward) who's hitting baskets and getting rebounds. No, the Bobcats do not have a great point guard nor small forward, in fact they don't really have anyone great yet, but they are not going to be as pathetic as you paint them to be. Heck, they already are 1-1, having beaten a pretty decent team (Orlando, whether you like it or not, is actually a talented team now) and almost having beaten another (which you seem to agree with, as you have the Wizards listed in the top 8).
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on November 8, 2004
    Izzy, the Bobcats not only dont have anyone great at point, they dont have anyone. Jason Hart cannot run the point in the NBA. Brezec is the fifth best starting center in the division, not to mention that his name sounds like an antidepressant, so lets not get so high on him.

    These are not real starters who are starting for Charlotte. I say they go 14-68.
  • B on November 8, 2004
    there is no way the Nets make the playoffs
  • SO MANY THINGS WRONG on November 8, 2004
    Stuff that is wrong or has been omitted from this terribly written preview which is more of an attempt to make jokes than inform anybody about the real status of the NBA: 1. Forgot that Adonal Foyle, with his great averages of 3 pts + 4 rebs, is being paid more than Thomas. 2. Barely anything written about the Heat, other than Shaq. 3. Dwight Howard is quite good, now. The next Amare Stoudamire. 4. Brezec is seriously better than that. 5. 2 slashing guards for the Knicks, yeah that'll be real effective. 6. Nets will NOT make the playoffs. 7. No mention of Jalen Rose or Donyell Marshall who will have a bigger impact on the Raptors than MoPete, or 8th overall pick, Rafael Araujo. 8. Stephen Jackson did NOT run the point for the Spurs. 9. Drew Gooden is not that good considering he was drafted 4th. Seriously, he's been traded twice in his first 3 years. 10. Why would Van Horn be called upon to replace Ford's numbers? The most important impact that Ford gave the team is his ability to run the point. So why would Van Horn, a power forward with career 2 apg, be called to replace Ford? Your comment makes absolutely no sense. 11. No mention of Andres Nocioni, who is very good, and starting for the Bulls over Gordon. 12. No mention of TMac being selfish and not playing D. 13. The Spurs had Manu, Parker, and Bowen, how did they not have 3-pt shooters last yr? 14. MALIK ROSE DOES NOT TAKE 3 PTERS!!! 15. No mention of the very talented rookie PG for the Mavs, Devin Harris. 16. In case you werent paying attention, Dampier crashed the boards very well last year. 17. Why do u make Nasho and Kandi, guys that avg 6-7 rebs last yr, sound like great rebounders? Some guards average more than that. 18. No mention of Wally Sczerbiak. 19. OMG R U FREAKING INSANE!!! ABSOLUTELY NO MENTION OF MARCUS CAMBY!!! 20. OMG MORE INSANITY!!! AGAIN ABSOLUTELY NO MENTION OF ANDREI KIRILENKO!!! 21. U actually referred to Woods but not Damon Stoudamire who starts over Van Exel or uber hyped Sebastian Telfair. 22. Kings will self-destruct. Talent alone does not win games. Peja is unhappy. CWebb will get injured. PG controversy not resolved. Christie is declining. They might not even make the playoffs. 23. Odom is the 2nd option on the Lakers and hes not under that much pressure cuz its Kobes team. 24. No mention of Joe Johnson on the Suns who had a very good year last year who will be used very often wit Stoudamire at center so the Voskuhl thing isnt that big of a problem. 25. nvm a/b Foyle, u just didnt mention him wit the others. 26. Overall exclusion of talented rookies or role players, sometimes even starters. 27. I just read ur reply to Izzys comment (He actually knows something a/b sports). Still making corny jokes instead of supplying correct information. This is a very poorly written preview. PS Your article on the RM game made Denis sound like a benchwarmer, saying that he made only one start at RB. He started the entire season at linebacker. Played very well there and at RB, which you neglected to mention.
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on November 9, 2004
    Youre right; Tony Parker ran the point. Feel free to approach me to discuss these things.

    Plus, I only have about 6 sentences on each team. Cut me some slack there.

    Van Horn has to replace the numbers; someone on Milwaukee does. Rose does take threes off the bench. Sure he does. Barry is a much better three-man than the others, with the exception of Bowen who is great from long range.

    I cant mention everyone in 6 lines.
  • so many things wrong contd on November 10, 2004
    at least mention the important stuff.

    rose's career totals from 3pt range: 8 of 46 in 8 years, what research are u doing?
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on November 10, 2004
    Rose was the wrong guy. That was an error.
  • Isamu Bae on November 11, 2004
    "Izzy, the Bobcats not only dont have anyone great at point, they dont have anyone. Jason Hart cannot run the point in the NBA. Brezec is the fifth best starting center in the division, not to mention that his name sounds like an antidepressant, so lets not get so high on him.

    These are not real starters who are starting for Charlotte. I say they go 14-68."

    So, I want to make something clear, then.

    In the first three games, and yes, I know they were only the first three games but there are some things that can be learned from the first three games...

    Jason Hart has gotten 6, 11 and 12 assists, respectively. The only two point guards comparable to those numbers are Phoenix' Steve Nash and Indiana's Jamaal Tinsley. Not bad for someone who supposedly cannot run the paint.

    Likewise, Primoz Brezec has done a wonderful job as center. The Pacers have already declared public regret for letting him go. What did they let go? Well, Brezec is averaging 8.3 rpg, 18.3 ppg and a good 59% FG accuracy. Fifth best center? I would say he's the second best center. Only behind Shaq. Top 5 center in the freakin conference, top 10 in the league! Teams are already trying to accomodate Brezec as an offensive threat because the Bobcats have, right next to him...

    Emeka Okafor. He's not having as big of an impact as expected yet compared to Dwight Howard, but the man is averaging 12.3 rpg and 13 ppg. That means that, from their front court, they are averaging 20 rebounds per game. They are very, very few teams that can say their teams can manage that. Will the Bobcats keep it up for the entire year? I don't know, I doubt it, but I don't think they're going to drop off the end of the earth.

    Anyways, continuing the players on the Bobcats is the underrated Gerald Wallace, formerly of the Kings. 13.7 ppg, 7 rpg, 3 apg and 1.7 spg. Not bad for a shooting guard noone thought would do anything, don't you think? The Bobcats' biggest problem this year will probably be that they cannot score many points on a constant basis, but if the three games played so far are of any indication, they are very capable of plugging away with 100+ points. Their rebounding is superb and if Hart can keep it up, their offense is rotating the ball around. Now they just need Okafor to become a solid defensive presence and keep up his solid Ben Wallace-like rebounding numbers and they can very well get 30+ wins in this league. Remember, they ARE in the East.
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on November 11, 2004
    Isamu, you are a seer. I caught some of the Charlotte gasme last night against Milwaukee and though they lost, theyve impressed me. These guys, at bare minimum, have a lot of heart, and Hart. He's a great passer so far, and Brezec has impressed. I may have to make a mea culpa ont he Bobcats if they play this well all year.;
  • Nowledgeable on November 15, 2004
    The Cleveland Browns will easily sweep the NBA this year. No one can compare to their size or speed.
  • Lia (View Email) on December 7, 2004
    Can't wait to see the Celtic suck this year.
    I am enjoying every single second.

    Danny Ainge needs to go away and far, far away.
    Long live the Hawks
    Go Antoine
    Go anyone but the Celtics!
  • smith (View Email) on May 10, 2006 at 2:20 PM
    Lol @ the suns finishing 3rd in their division
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