I previewed the Eastern Conference yesterday. Today I will preview the better, more competitive Western Conference. Will the San Antonio continue its dominance in the West? Will the Clippers and Thunder get over the hump? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, shall we go?
- San Antonio Spurs
- Houston Rockets
- Memphis Grizzlies
- New Orleans Pelicans
- Dallas Mavericks
Analysis: The Spurs are a model of consistency. They are the defending champs – in historical curb-stomping fashion I might – and I do not see those guys slowing down. I mean sure Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker are older stars, but as long as Gregg Popovich is still coaching those guys these Spurs will not go the way of the dodo. The Rockets and Grizzlies are next in line to assume the division throne, but still have to get over that proverbial hump. Though both are immensely talented and well-coached, Houston can’t defend worth a damn, and the Grizz can’t even score on their own wives. The Pelicans are much-improved from last season and should be knocking on the door of a playoff spot thanks to Anthony Davis leading the way from the paint. Dallas may be a last-place team in this division, but that doesn’t mean they suck. The Mavs are coached by one of the best in the business in Rick Carlisle. Dirk Nowitzki is still a star in this league. However, the team old and is playing in the toughest division in the NBA. If Dallas played in the Atlantic Division, it could easily win it.
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Portland Trailblazers
- Denver Nuggets
- Utah Jazz
- Minnesota Timberwolves
Analysis: I think the Thunder should run away with this division, even though they will be without the services of Kevin Durant due to injury for the first portion of the season. PG Russell Westbrook is more than capable of carrying the mantle for OKC. As a matter of fact, the rest of the division is frankly not good enough to challenge OKC – even when it is less than 100%. Portland is still green – good, but green. Denver, while scrappy and tough, is not nearly as talented as OKC. Meanwhile, Utah and Minnesota flat out suck. While both teams have good young players, I will pray for the head coaches for both teams (especially the Wolves’ Flip Saunders).
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Golden State Warriors
- Phoenix Suns
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Sacramento Kings
Analysis: This should be an entertaining division to watch, particularly between the Clippers and Warriors. Both teams hate each other, and their playoff series last season was beyond epic. I think the Clippers have a shot to unseat the Spurs if Blake Griffin develops a jump shot. I also believe the Warriors need to be a bit tougher down in the post to become more of a threat in the West. Like Portland, the Suns are good – but green. The sad part was that even though the Suns won 48 games, it did not make the playoffs. Phoenix would have been at least a third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs last season. The Lakers are a shell of their former selves, and that does not sit well with Kobe Bryant. As for the Kings, nothing much to say here. They are still young, still employ DeMarcus Cousins, and still suck.
Lots of storylines are abound this season. Will LeBron James’ return to Cleveland be a successful homecoming? Will Derrick Rose stay healthy this season? Ditto for Dwyane Wade? Will the Oklahoma City Thunder remain in the thick of things while Kevin Durant rehabs his injured foot? Will Kobe Bryant be the Black Mamba of old (no pun intended)?
All in all, this should be one memorable season in the National Basketball Association (and it’s good to have the Hornets back in Charlotte).
Today I will preview the Eastern Conference, tomorrow the much more competitive Western Conference. So without further ado…
- Toronto Raptors
- New York Knicks
- Brooklyn Nets
- Boston Celtics
- Philadelphia 76ers
Analysis: Toronto is by far the class of this division. Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, and Amir Johnson and Co. are back after leading their Raptors to a 48-win season. After having a taste of the postseason in last year’s playoffs, I expect the Raptors to be improved – and hungrier. My Knicks will be much-improved under the tuteledge of first-time coach Derek Fisher, a protege of Head of Basketball Ops Phil Jackson. The Triangle Offense worked for Michael Jordan and later Kobe Bryant. I expect it to do wonders for Carmelo Anthony. The rest of the division are trending down a bit. Brooklyn is a mess, from the top down. Shaky front office + overrated, overpriced roster = bad news. Boston and Philly are still young, and both these once-proud franchises will be getting their ass kicked again.
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Chicago Bulls
- Indiana Pacers
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Detroit Pistons
Analysis: This should be one fun division race to watch. A lot of people think that the Cavs and Bulls will rule this division, but I think that the Pacers will have a say on how this division will be settled – with or without Paul George. Indiana is a well-coached team that was unfortunately doomed by poor chemistry. I think Lance Stephenson got a bad rap, as he and David West by far were the heart and soul of the team. The Pacers need better point guard play, and George Hill is not a damn point guard. As for the Cavs and Bulls, we are looking at the two best teams in the East. The new “Big Three” in James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving makes the Cavs the team to beat in the Central and the East. However, if Rose could stay healthy the majority of the season, Chicago will have a lot to say about that. As for the Bucks and Pistons, why bother showing up? Both sucked last year, and both will stink up the joint again this season.
- Charlotte Hornets
- Miami Heat
- Washington Wizards
- Atlanta Hawks
- Orlando Magic
Analysis: In what may be a surprising – and frankly, head-scratching – pick, I think the Hornets are going to win the Southeast division. Hear me out on this. I liked the acquisition of Stephenson – A LOT. As I mentioned earlier, I thought he was one of two players who showed the most heart for the Pacers last season. His feistiness on both ends of the floor will be infectious on an up-and-coming team in Charlotte. The Hornets already have studs in Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, and have a good coach in Steve Clifford. And one more thing about the Hornets, it feels good for me to see the nickname back in Charlotte. The vibe and energy has picked up around the Queen City, something I have not seen since growing up in the state. One could make the case for the Heat and Wizards for winning this division. If both teams are relatively healthy, they could win over 50 games. However, Wizards sharpshooter Bradley Beal will not play the first few games of the season. And I do not trust Wade’s health. The Hawks are a playoff contender with a healthy Al Horford. They already have studs in Jeff Teague (go Demon Deacons!) and Paul Milsap. As the case with Miami and Washington, it’s just a matter of Atlanta staying healthy. As for Orlando, not only does that team sucks – it SWALLOWS. Nothing more needs to be said…
By now y’all know what soon-to-be Atlanta Hawks majority owner Bruce Levenson said in an ill-fated email concerning the financial state of his team.
When I first heard about this, I had a wide range of emotions. At first blush I was angry, upset that another rich white dude insulted black folks yet again a la former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Then I heard some commentary from some black members of the sports media, including Bomani Jones and Stephen A. Smith. I also read commentary from the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
So I quickly re-read – and re-read again – Levenson’s email. I have come to the following conclusion: while what Levenson said was ignorant and frankly stupid, I do not think he was being racist. In fact, I would go a step further and say it was more about increasing the bottom line for the Hawks.
In other words, it was more about business.
Let’s take a closer look at the email itself. I will point out where Levenson was trying to look at the business side of things while tripping over himself with ignorant and ill-founded comments. Then y’all will realize that he did not have the same racist garbage as Sterling.
So without further ado…
“Regarding game ops, i need to start with some background. for the first couple of years we owned the team, i didn’t much focus on game ops. then one day a light bulb went off. when digging into why our season ticket base is so small, i was told it is because we can’t get 35-55 white males and corporations to buy season tixs and they are the primary demo for season tickets around the league. when i pushed further, folks generally shrugged their shoulders. then i start looking around our arena during games and notice the following:
– it’s 70 pct black
– the cheerleaders are black
– the music is hip hop
– at the bars it’s 90 pct black
– there are few fathers and sons at the games
– we are doing after game concerts to attract more fans and the concerts are either hip hop or gospel.
Then i start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different. Even DC with its affluent black community never has more than 15 pct black audience.”
Now if Levenson would have left it there and perhaps tried to offer an intelligent dialog as to how to attract more of that particular demographic, which is factual by the way, then it would have been seen as a legit way to improve business. A bit uncomfortable mind you, but we all know that business is cold and cutthroat. You do what you gotta do to increase that bottom line.
Unfortunately, Levenson decided to go further…
“My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant season ticket base. Please dont get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arean back then. i never felt uncomfortable, but i think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority.”
So basically Levenson believes that all southern white are scared to death of black folks. I’m not going to speak for all southern whites, but many of the white dudes I grew up with in Winston-Salem, NC would vehemently disagree with that.
At any rate, here’s more…
“I have been open with our executive team about these concerns. I have told them I want some white cheerleaders and while i don’t care what the color of the artist is, i want the music to be music familiar to a 40 year old white guy if that’s our season tixs demo.”
That would have been okay (I guess), however it was followed by…
“i have also balked when every fan picked out of crowd to shoot shots in some time out contest is black. I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black.”
The kiss cam is “too black”? Really???
“And many of our black fans don’t have the spendable income which explains why our f&b and merchandise sales are so low. At all white thrasher games sales were nearly triple what they are at hawks games (the extra intermission explains some of that but not all).”
Atlanta is a city with one of the most affluent black populations in the country. And the reason why I think Atlanta Thrasher merchandise, who are ironically now the Winnipeg Jets, may have done better than the Hawks is because Atlanta is a transient city. There are more fans of the Knicks, Lakers, Heat, and now Cavaliers in Atlanta than Hawks fans. And again, the Thrashers are now chilling (pun intended) in Winnipeg.
And the money shot…
“We manufacture a lot of noise but because of the late arriving crowd and the fact that a lot of blacks dont seem to go as crazy cheering (another one of my theories) as whites, it is not great.”
I love how he has his “theories” on how racial groups behave and interact. Hell I know a lot of white folks who are late to EVERYTHING.
Like I said earlier, Levenson’s words were very ignorant and stupid, but they were not racist at all.
Let us remember what the term “racist” means. Webster defines it as “a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another”. Levenson was not going the racist route in this email. Case in point…
“On fan sites i would read comments about how dangerous it is around philips yet in our 9 years, i don’t know of a mugging or even a pick pocket incident. This was just racist garbage. When I hear some people saying the arena is in the wrong place I think it is code for there are too many blacks at the games.”
Doesn’t sound racist to me. In fact, he was attempting to call out such hateful statements on those infamous message boards/chat rooms.
I will say this – if Sterling didn’t show his ass earlier this year, there wouldn’t have been a huge stink over this. If anything, there would have been a press conference called where Levenson would have apologized as he did today, and life would have gone on.
Not now, not in this climate. After Sterling’s comments the NBA is in “ultimate sensitive” mode right now, and Levenson has paid the price.
The ironic thing is Levenson was one of the strongest critics among owners of Sterling. Go figure right?
Hell I might as well say so now since Kevin Love is now officially a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers by way of a 3-team trade that saw the top overall pick Andrew Wiggins dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves and a few scrubs sent to the Philadelphia 76ers.
To me, there is nothing NOT to love about the trade – at least from the Cavs’ point of view. Cleveland receives one of the most talented young big men in the game that produces 20+ points, 10+ rebounds night in and night out. In Love, LeBron James finally gets a productive big man who could bang down low and score on the perimeter. This also gives Cleveland a new and improved “Big Three” that includes James, Love and point guard Kyrie Irving.
Now the Cavs’ projected starting lineup includes Irving, Dion Waiters, James, Love and Anderson Varejao. That group should win AT LEAST 57 games this season.
I mean, look at the rest of the East.
The Miami Heat, led by Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, want to try and prove James wrong for leaving them, but I do not trust Wade’s knees. The Charlotte Hornets and Washington Bullets – ERRRR I mean “Wizards” – are good up-and-coming teams, but are too green to make some noise in the playoffs. The Indiana Pacers will be without Paul George for most of next season thanks that horrific injury during a Team USA scrimmage. And my New York Knicks are a one-man band with Carmelo Anthony leading the way.
The Chicago Bulls figure to be the Cavs main rivals to win the East, but Derrick Rose’s knees may betray him once again.
In other words, the Eastern Conference is the Cavs’ to lose.
Now I know what some of you all may be thinking: what about Wiggins? Look, I know Wiggins is going to be a stud in this league. He is tenacious on the defensive end. His upside is off the charts. He may be the next superstar in the NBA.
However, Wiggins is not the best ball-handler at this point of his career. His jump shot is not consistent, and he frankly needs a bit more meat on his bones. In short, Wiggins may take a while – by that I mean at least 2-3 seasons – to develop into a bonafide star in this league. Something tells me that James does not want to wait a while for Wiggins to help him win a third NBA title.
Enter the need to acquire Love.
The Eastern Conference is going to be hella fun to watch this season. It’s as wide open as it’s been in years. In getting Love, the Cavs are going to take advantage of that wide-open landscape.
I’d be beyond shocked if Cleveland does not represent the East in the 2015 NBA Finals.
Buss and the Lakers’ brass made a good coaching move for a change and hired Byron Scott – a former Lakers great – to coach the team. This was a lot better than the last coaching hires he made: Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni.
More importantly, Buss hired a man that Kobe Bryant WANTED. Remember when the Lakers brought in Brown? That was because Buss (and to be fair, his late father Jerry) clashed with former coach Phil Jackson and forced Jackson’s resignation after getting swept by the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks out of the second round of the 2011 Western Conference playoffs.
And how did Brown work out? He got fired five games (FIVE!) into the 2012-2013 season because he basically could not coach offense.
And remember that D’Antoni hire? That was because he was chosen over the idea of bringing Jackson back to coach, which by the way was not only an idea that Jackson was open to but was also something Bryant WANTED (again). Even with a healthy Bryant, the Lakers underachieved under D’Antoni.
So if you are keeping score, Buss rebuffed Bryant’s wishes TWICE before wising up in bringing in someone he wanted and respected. Only this time, Buss may have finally listened.
Bryant idolized Scott because of the role he played on those great Laker teams in the ’80s. Bryant also idolized Scott because he was a winner. The fact that Bryant respects and loves Scott should bode well for the Lakers, even if they are not expected to make the playoffs.
Let’s look at Scott’s track record before that disaster in LeBron-less Cleveland. He led the New Jersey Nets to back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals. He led the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) to a memorable playoff run that ended in a Game 7 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2008 Western Conference playoffs.
I think Scott is a good hire for the Lakers. Again, it may not translate into a playoff spot for the Lakers (look at the Lakers’ roster aside from Bryant. Jeremy Lin? An amnestied Carlos Boozer? Swaggy P? Really?), but at least Buss finally have his Lakers headed in the right direction.
And it’s about damn time.
The Indiana Pacers made a big mistake in letting crazy-ass Lance Stephenson go to the Charlotte Hornets.
I know the Pacers had some chemistry problems and Stephenson may have had a lot to do with that. I know that his antics in the playoffs – especially vs. the Miami Heat – were a major distraction. As I wrote before, there is no reason why a grown man should be blowing into another man’s ear.
His teammates were eventually tired of his act. Hell Larry Bird, an ardent Stephenson supporter, called him out for that foolishness.
However Stephenson was the only Pacer (outside of David West) who have the Pacers their heart. He led the NBA in triple-doubles. He can create his own shot, leading to instant offense when needed.
In short, Stephenson’s departure made Indiana’s lack of offense worse, while making the Hornets’ better.
Anyone who watched the Hornets last year noticed the following: 1) they were inexplicably called the Bobcats; 2) while they were one of the better defensive teams, they couldn’t score on their on wives. Stephenson gives Charlotte the scorer it sorely lacked last season. You think Al Jefferson will be glad to have another teammate who could create his own shot?
Stephenson also gives them something that Indiana lacked: heart.
Say what you want about him (crazy as hell and reckless come to mind), but Stephenson was not afraid of ANYONE. Check out what he did during the Miami playoff series. I realize anyone who challenges LeBron James and Dwyane Wade may be nothing short of “stuck on stupid”. But count me as a person who rather have fearless cats as teammates than cowardly lions.
Look, I don’t know if Stephenson will be able to keep it together in Charlotte next season – let alone the next three years on his contract. But this is a good inexpensive gamble by Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Hornets.
I wish I was as shocked over Carmelo Anthony choosing to return to my beloved New York Knicks as much as I was over LeBron James leaving South Beach for Cleveland. However, I had a feeling that Melo would return to the Knicks when it was all said and done.
In fact, Melo had over 120 million reasons to do so.
Thanks to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams that currently employ soon-to-be free agents could offer those players the most money. In this case, the Knicks could offer Melo the max, which was a five-year contract worth $125 million dollars. The most that other teams such as the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers could offer him was four years and $88 million. Let’s face it, there was no way in hell that Melo would leave a year and over $30 million on the table.
And let’s focus on the Lakers for a minute. If Melo felt like a one-man band in New York, how bad would it have been in L.A. with a hobbling, aging Kobe Bryant. And we all know how Kobe likes the get down. He could have a wooden leg with a kickstand and STILL want to be the man. As much as Melo loves Kobe (and as much as Kobe wanted Melo), it would not have been a good fit.
As for Chicago, even though Melo would have taken less to go there I still thought it was the right spot for him. The Bulls simply have better personnel than the Knicks. The Bulls have Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy and a healthy Derrick Rose gives Melo a better chance to win. I just don’t see a Knicks team the employs Amare Stoudamire, J.R. Smith, Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert making any noise next season.
Yeah I know, Rose may not be 100% ever again. But if you watched how Chicago competed the last two seasons (and postseasons) without Rose, you’d know that the Bulls were a dynamic scorer away from advancing in this year’s and last year’s playoffs.
Alas, Melo chose money and comfort over a better chance to win – and I am not mad at him. His wife loves it in NYC, and his son attends school there and probably made some good friends.
As a Knicks fan, I am happy as hell Melo is staying in New York. I just don’t need to hear him say “I just want to win” when it was clearly about him getting paid.