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2014-2015 NBA Season Preview: Eastern Conference

254px-NBA_Logo.svg_The 2014-2015 NBA season is almost here!

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…

Atlantic Division

  1. Toronto Raptors
  2. New York Knicks
  3. Brooklyn Nets
  4. Boston Celtics
  5. 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.

Central Division

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Chicago Bulls
  3. Indiana Pacers
  4. Milwaukee Bucks
  5. 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.

Southeast Division

  1. Charlotte Hornets
  2. Miami Heat
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Atlanta Hawks
  5. 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…

Not Feeling the Granger Trade from the Pacers

220px-Indiana_Pacers.svgWhen I first heard the news that the Indiana Pacers traded Danny Granger to the tanking Philadelphia 76ers for Evan Turner and some other scrub, I liked the trade for the Pacers.  After all, they were getting a young up-and-comer in Turner and had rid themselves of Granger’s $13 million contract.  No sixth man should be paid $13 mil.

Now when I think about it, I’m not so sure.

I know that Granger was a sixth man playing behind a soon to be superstar in Paul George.  I also know that Granger is still working his way back from an assortment of injuries, namely patellar tendinosis that caused him to miss all but five games last season.

But I do know that you should never ruin a good thing – especially if that good thing had championship potential.  The Pacers had the best record in the horrific (the Miami Heat notwithstanding) Eastern Conference heading into the All-Star break.  Granger had already settled in as a sixth man and did not do anything to upset the Pacers’ chemistry.

Plus, George really loved Granger.  He took to twitter and Instagram to convey his sadness over Granger leaving the Pacers.

Indiana gets a player in Turner, who while has a big upside, has not done a lot to justify being the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft.  To me, the trade was too damn risky to fuck up what might have been a championship season.  For the sake of Pacers fans, let’s hope that Turner catches on quickly and not be a big drop off from Granger.

Speaking of Granger, don’t feel to bad for him.  Even though the wretched Sixers traded for him, Granger may buy his way out of Philadelphia and land on a title contender – say, the Heat?

Sucks for the Pacers…

D’Antoni Hire Means Lakers Brass Anti-Phil Jackson (and Perhaps Kobe)

Color me stunned as hell.

That seems to be the prevailing thought on the hire of Mike D’Antoni as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Many – including yours truly – thought that the job was former coach Phil Jackson’s to turn down. But when I heard the news while listening to “Mike and Mike in the Morning” on ESPN Radio, I was – once again – stunned as hell.

Let me tell you all what this means.

First of all, the Lakers brass – namely vice president Jim Buss – still hates Jackson. If what was said about Jackson’s demands were true (namely having final say over basketball matters over GM Mitch Kupchak AND Buss), then the Lakers must have figured “the hell with Jackson, let’s just move in another direction”.

Plus, the notion that the Triangle Offense would have been hard for the current roster to pick up is garbage. You can’t tell me that Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Ron Artest’s (sorry, I refuse to call that fool Metta World Peace) crazy ass would not have taught Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to principles of the Triangle Offense? Really?

Speaking of Kobe, I think this is the beginning of the end of Bryant in LA. There is no secret that Buss and Bryant do not see eye-to-eye. Look at the hiring of Mike Brown last season. Bryant was not consulted at all by Buss on that hire – nor the D’Antoni hire. What does that mean when the team’s brass do not give two damns what the star player thinks?

I also think D’Antoni is not the “perfect fit” as the Lakers head coach.

Sure D’Antoni is an offensive mind. Sure Bryant grew up a HUGE fan of D’Antoni’s during the early part of his childhood in Italy.

However, not only is D’Antoni allergic to defense, his pick-and-roll style offense does not fit the Lakers’ personnel. It may do wonders for Howard and Nash, for both are pick-and-roll players. Where does that leave Bryant? That will be the intriguing storyline for the rest of the 2012-2013 NBA season.

I think that Jackson would have been the better hire. His offensive system is more conducive to the Lakers’ personnel. He also believes in defense. And finally, the players loved – and more importantly, BELIEVED – in Jackson.

I know that Bryant is thinking the end of his time as a Laker is near. It now may be much sooner rather than later.

I also know this: the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are smiling their asses off right now…

The Lakers Are a Hot Mess

Before I tap dance on the Los Angeles Lakers, I have to issue a few disclaimers.

First of all, as a lifelong New York Knicks fan, it is my birthright to not only despise the Lakers (and the Celtics), but to HATE the Lakers (and the Celtics).  The times the Lakers have lost in the NBA Finals in the 80s and the last decade were moments of pleasure for me.  The fact they are 1-4 now makes me downright giddy.

I am also not a big fan of Kobe Bryant.  Besides the fact that he is obviously beyond arrogant, I did not like the way he ran Shaquille O’Neal out of town.  Plus, I do not anyone would want to emulate Michael Jordan.  Bryant takes that shit to another level.

So pardon me for having a hard time containing myself while composing this Laker rant.

Here’s the deal, the Lakers are not a good team right now.  The 1-4 record speaks for itself.

The parts they have brought in – Dwight Howard and Steve Nash – have not meshed well thus far.  There is usually a period where it takes new pieces – especially high-profile new pieces – to mesh with their new teammates.

However, the point of the preseason is to alleviate such concerns.  The Lakers were winless in the preseason.  While the preseason is not generally a big deal, the Lakers’ body language during that time spoke of pressure – as in feeling the pressure to live up to lofty expectations.  Remember how uncomfortable the Lakers players were in addressing the fact that they finished the preseason winless?

Well I’ll give the Lakers this: Mike Brown was not the right coach for the team.  Dude appeared in over his head at times last season.  Even though the Lakers did win their division last season, it was apparent that it was Bryant – not Brown – who was the REAL coach of the team.

As for last season’s playoffs, the Lakers was only the third best team in the Western Conference.  They struggled against the Denver Nuggets in the first round, going the full seven games.  And then we all remember what happened against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round – losing 4 games to 1.

People were questioning the Lakers under Brown’s direction then, and the 1-4 start didn’t help Brown’s cause.

Bottom line: the Lakers are a friggin’ mess.  They are too old, do not have enough depth, and do not have the right personnel to run their offensive system.  Nash, Bryant, and Howard in the Princeton offense?  Really?

No matter who they bring in as coach – and let’s stop with the Phil Jackson rumors, dude is done – LA needs to hit the reset button.  Thankfully it’s early (remember it’s an 82-game season), but it’s not looking good for the home team right now…

2012-2013 NBA Predictions

The 2012-2013 NBA season will kick off tomorrow night (WHOO-HOO!!!).  This is a season of change in the NBA.  There was some player movement for a lot of teams, from free agency to trades – namely a certain trade that I didn’t like.  There will also be another team in New York City tipping off this season with the Nets moving to Brooklyn – my original home.

I have already given you all my conference-by-conference previews.  Now it’s time for everything else from individual award winners to the next NBA champions…

Playoff Teams

Eastern Conference

  1. Miami Heat
  2. Boston Celtics
  3. Indiana Pacers
  4. New York Knicks (GO KNICKS!!!)
  5. Brooklyn Nets
  6. Chicago Bulls
  7. Philadelphia 76ers
  8. Atlanta Hawks

Western Conference

  1. Los Angeles Lakers
  2. Oklahoma City Thunder ( I REALLY hate that James Harden trade for OKC)
  3. San Antonio Spurs
  4. Los Angeles Clippers
  5. Memphis Grizzlies
  6. Denver Nuggets
  7. New Orleans Hornets
  8. Dallas Mavericks

NBA Champion: Heat over Lakers

MVP: LeBron James (gee, that was hard)

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard

Coach of the Year: Monty Williams, Hornets

Sixth Man of the Year: J.R. Smith, Knicks

2012 NBA Preview: Western Conference

Southwest Division

  1. San Antonio Spurs*
  2. Memphis Grizzlies*
  3. New Orleans Hornets*
  4. Dallas Mavericks*
  5. Houston Rockets

Analysis:  The Spurs are still the class of the division, though the Grizzlies are closing in quickly.  Memphis is really a younger, more athletic version of San Antonio.  That said, both are deep and tough.  I also expect both to advance deep into the playoffs.

The team to keep an eye on is New Orleans.  The Hornets drafted well the past two seasons, including this years’ draft that netted Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers.  They are now well-coached by Monty Williams and have a good GM in Will Demps.  It’s funny how things improve once George Shinn skipped town eh?

Poor Dallas and Houston.  They are two teams who would compete in a lesser division like, say the Southeast Division?  But as the saying goes, it is what it is.  Mavs owner Mark Cuban is not going to be making too much noise anytime soon.  Then again…

Northwest Division

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder*
  2. Denver Nuggets*
  3. Minnesota Timberwolves
  4. Utah Jazz
  5. Portland Trailblazers

Analysis:  This is OKC’s division, and the rest of the crew are looking for scraps.  Denver is talented and good enough to earn a playoff spot, but let’s be real about something: the Nuggets are NO WHERE CLOSE to the Thunder’s level.

If Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are 100% healthy, the Wolves will contend for a playoff spot.  Otherwise, brand new year, same old shit.

The rest of the division stinks.  Hey Jazz fans: Karl Malone and John Stockton are not walking through that door.  And while you’re at it, GIVE NEW ORLEANS THE JAZZ NAME BACK!!!  There is nothing Jazzy about Salt Lake City.

Pacific Division

  1. Los Angeles Lakers*
  2. Los Angeles Clippers*
  3. Golden State Warriors
  4. Phoenix Suns
  5. Sacramento Kings

Analysis:  The Lakers-Clippers battles are going to be REALLY fun to watch.  As much as I despise the Lakers – especially Kobe Bryant – I have to give them props on upgrading the roster.  Sure they are older with Steve Nash in the fold, but that Dwight Howard acquisition was epic.  While I am still unsure that he will stay in LA long-term, Howard gives the Lakers a defensive presence they lacked with Andrew Bynum last year.

Here’s another thing I never thought I’d see myself type: the Clippers are going to make some major noise this season.  Once you give Chris Paul and Blake Griffin a full offseason together, you gotta look the hell out.  One thing I really admire about the Clippers is that they are not afraid of the Lakers.  This race will come down to the last week of the season.

The rest of the division is D-League level.  Here’s hoping the coaching staffs of the Warriors, Suns and especially the Kings are renting and not buying.  Speaking of the Kings, just go ahead and move to Las Vegas already.

Note: * denotes playoff teams

2012 NBA Preview: Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. Boston Celtics*
  2. New York Knicks*
  3. Brooklyn Nets*
  4. Philadelphia 76ers*
  5. Toronto Raptors

Analysis: This division will easily be the most competitive in the Eastern Conference.  Hell I could easily see four playoff teams coming out of this division.  I think it will be a dogfight between the damn Celtics, my Knicks, and the Nets.

The Celtics still have the best coach in the NBA in Doc Rivers.  They still have the best point guard in the league in Rajon Rondo.  They still have superstars – albeit aging ones – in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.  They have young legs to supplement that core, so look for Boston to repeat as division champs.

As old as Boston is, New York has usurped the Celtics as “Team Geritol”.  Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas?  Are you kidding me?!  The good news is my Knicks had a FULL offseason and preseason with a credible head coach in Mike Woodson.  And I think Amare and ‘Melo are going to be REALLY eager to prove some folks wrong.

I cannot believe I am about to type this: I love what the Nets are doing.  First of all, as a guy who is originally from Brooklyn, I love the Nets coming to the borough.  Hell, I love it more for the borough!  Now if Dwight Howard had landed with the Nets, not only would it have created a lot of hype, it would have struck fear in the hearts of Knicks fans everywhere.  As for now, I think the Nets will fight the Knicks for second place in the division.

I love what the Sixers are doing as well.  I love the trade for Andrew Bynum.  When healthy, Bynum is the best center in the NBA (yeah I said it).  I think the Sixers is one more alpha dog away from contending in the East.  Should be a playoff team.

God bless Toronto.  They are going to stink it up this season.

Central Division

  1. Indiana Pacers*
  2. Chicago Bulls*
  3. Cleveland Cavaliers
  4. Milwaukee Bucks
  5. Detroit Pistons

Analysis: I think this is the Pacers’ time to take the division.  Indiana is too young and too good to not take that next step.  I think the Pacers have gained a lot from their playoff run from last season – particularly in how they played against the eventual Miami Heat in the second round of last year’s playoffs.  The Pacers came away hungrier, and will ride that momentum into a division title.

The Bulls will be there in the end as well.  I just don’t trust Derrick Rose’s knee.  That’s one of the reasons why I have Indiana winning the division.  The Bulls are still well-coached, and they still play hellafied defense.  It’s too bad they are sharing the division with the Pacers.

The rest of the division stinks.  Cleveland is an up-and-comer, but since I hate its owner Dan “Danny Boy” Gilbert, I hope they stink up the joint as they did last year.  As for Detroit and Milwaukee, why bother competing?

Southeast Division

  1. Miami Heat*
  2. Atlanta Hawks*
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Orlando Magic
  5. Charlotte Bobcats

Analysis: This division really, REALLY sucks.  The Heat should win this division by at least 20 games this season.  You think I’m playing?  Check out the rest of the so-called “talent” in this division.

You have the Hawks without Joe Johnson.  Atlanta will be no more than an 8th seed.  You have the Magic without Howard.  There are the improving, but still a season or so away Wizards.  And who could forget those hideous Bobcats.  Damn, I wish I could.

Memo to the Heat: try not to get TOO overconfident in winning the division again.

Note: * denotes playoff teams

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