Monday, October 29, 2007

2007 Eastern Conference Preview

Not one of the major sports in this country causes such a radical difference in opinion like the NBA. There are many people in this country that absolutely love the game of basketball, but loathe the NBA. You don’t see that in any other sport. People don’t love football, but hate the NFL. Same with baseball. It just doesn’t happen. Yet for one reason or another, this is the case with basketball. I was one of these people for many years. Until now.

I know, I know. I couldn’t have picked a stranger time to reinvest myself into the world of professional basketball. Not only are there great teams all over the college landscape this year (UNC, Memphis, and even the hype surrounding the Tubby Era here at the U), but the local squad just lost its heart, soul, and franchise player in Kevin Garnett. Add to that the recent betting scandal and it makes even less sense. So why pick this year to become an NBA fan once again? Honestly, I have no idea. It’s just something I really wanted to do. So here is a big time, in-depth preview of the 2007 NBA season. We’ll start today with the Eastern Conference. Here are my rankings in reverse order:

#15—Philadelphia 76’ers. Wow this team looks really bad on paper. They weren’t great with Iverson, but at least they had some star power and a guy that would fill the seats. Now they’re rid of his attitude and the constant rumors about his departure, but they have very little talent and no draw for the fans. Don’t get me wrong here, I like Andre Iguodala a lot. He’s an athletic freak and a highlight show waiting to happen, but I just don’t think he’s the guy who’s going to be the cornerstone of your franchise. He’s going to see double and triple teams all year long, because who else would you worry about guarding on this team? Willie Green? Reggie Evans? I don’t think so. I wish Mo Cheeks the best with this squad. At least they shouldn’t be in jail as often as his Portland teams were.

#14—Atlanta Hawks. Every year I hear about how Atlanta could surprise some teams because they’re young and athletic. That they’re the sleeper team in the East because this will be the year that (insert underachieving athletic wing) finally breaks out and dominates. I’m not buying it. Look, they made a pretty big mistake with the Marvin Williams pick. I’ve never understood why NBA teams put the future of their franchise in the hands of a kid who couldn’t even crack the starting 5 on his college team. You don’t see NFL teams handing over the reigns to D1-AA quarterbacks who couldn’t even make first team all-conference. Er, wait. Scratch that. Anyways, I know Josh Smith can fly and Joe Johnson is supposed to be the truth, but this team is going to be terrible…again. I’ll still pay attention to them because I absolutely love Acie Law and I’m anxious to see what kind of pro he can be. Plus Al Horford is a beast inside.

You know, come to think of it, the Hawks could sneak…nope, not going there.

#13—Indiana Pacers. I’m going to say it: I think Danny Granger is going to dominate this year. It’s my big call of the year.

I was really hoping that the Wolves would have drafted him a couple years ago. He’s long and athletic (copyright Jay Bilas) and just seems to have that “it” factor that’s going to make him a very dangerous player in this league. Unfortunately, he’s the only player on this team. Jermaine O’Neal might be the most overrated player I’ve ever seen. He’s soft, afraid of the big shot, disappears for long stretches, and did I mention that he’s soft? Plus, odds are he’ll be gone before the season’s over anyways. That leaves the Pacers with guys like Troy Murphy and Jamaal Tinsley to help my boy Danny out. I can’t say that instills a lot of confidence in a guy.

#12—Charlotte Bobcats. This ranking could go up or down depending on the play of Raymond Felton. He’s one of my all time favorite college players, and if he can continue to improve, this team could be a sleeper. I like the addition of Jason Richardson to the backcourt and Gerald Wallace is slowly changing my mind that he’s nothing more than a guy who can jump really high. Plus Emeka Okafor showed signs of becoming a very good player last year and they could have a player in rookie Jared Dudley. The only thing that scares me is that this team is coached by Sam Vincent, who has never been an NBA head coach. It worries me when you combine a rookie head coach with a young team like Charlotte. Seems like there is a high potential for turmoil. (Random fact: it was Vincent’s 1990-91 NBA Hoops card that became extremely famous for featuring a shot of Michael Jordan wearing a #12 jersey that he had to don because of an alleged theft of his usual #23. Why do I know this? Because my head is FILLED with useless info such as this.)

#11—New Jersey Nets. 2007 has to be the year when the Nets finally get really old and fall off the map, right? I mean, it has to happen at some time soon, so I’m going with this year. Jason Kidd will drop off, Richard Jefferson will get hurt again, Vince Carter will ask for a trade, and Lawrence Frank will get fired at midseason. That will leave fans in New Jersey with Marcus “Laptop” Williams, Sean “Smokey” Williams, and something called Nenad Kristic to cheer for. Yeah, have fun with that. Of course I could be wrong and J Kidd will play like he did in the Tournament of Americas, Jefferson and Carter will go off, and Nenad will prove that last year wasn’t a fluke as they race to the playoffs. Yeah, that could happen. But it won’t. Just don’t tell Jay-Z I was talking trash about his team.

#10—Toronto Raptors. Maybe it’s the years away from following the NBA as closely as I once did, but I don’t get the love for this Raptors team. I keep reading excerpts from scouts and analysts that has Toronto as their pick to make the leap into a contending, playoff team. Seriously? I know Chris Bosh is the man. Clearly he is one of the best young superstars in the game.

But everyone does realize that his supporting cast consists of TJ Ford (he of the broken neck two years ago), Anthony Parker (not the one married to Eva Longoria), Jason Kapono (who’s usually distracted by his male modeling side career), and a boy named Andrea. I mean, am I the only one who doesn’t get this? Oh, I guess they do have Jose Calderon (didn’t he pitch for the Expos in the 70’s/80’s?) and Rasho Nesterovic off the bench. I stand corrected.

#9—Orlando Magic. You know who’s big? Dwight Howard. Oh, and incase you didn’t know it, apparently he can jump REALLY high too…

Yes, he’s kissing the rim on a regulation 10 foot hoop, and yes, it’s freaking ridiculous. Now that he’s coming into his own and ready to be the next dominant center in the league, the team finally did something right and gave him a pretty good wing counterpart in Rashard Lewis (even if they did over pay for him big time). If they can get even minimal production out of either Jameer Nelson or Carlos Arroyo, they’ve got a chance to make the playoffs. Of course, that probably won’t happen because JJ Redick is on this team and he sucks at life so he’ll find a way to make sure his team chokes at the end of the year—much like he did at Duke (that’s right Fuzz).

#8—Milwaukee Bucks. I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but I feel like this team is one player away from being really good. Mo Williams is one of the best players in the league that most people still don’t know about. Mike Redd is one of the most accurate and deadly shooters in the game. Desmond Mason can fly all around the court. I guess the biggest question marks come from the frontcourt players. I’ve never really thought Charlie “Cromagnan” Villanueva was any good, plus he’s always hurt. Andrew Bogut reminds me of every other white NBA center over the last 20 years (aka not good). Rookie Yi Jinlian has absolutely no experience against any real talent (a trait that doomed Darko Milicic a few years back). If they had one legit threat on the inside, they’d be very good. If they had someone in the mold of Bosh or Howard, they’d be dominant. But they don’t, so it’s one and done at best for Bucks.

#7—New York Knicks. Ok, so I’ll drink the Kool-Aid and back the belief that this will be a much improved Knickerbocker squad. When he tries, Zach Randolph can be a dominant low post scorer, especially in the smaller, softer Eastern conference. As soon as Isiah realizes that David Lee and Nate Robinson need to get more playing time than guys like Jamal Crawford and Quentin Richardson, these guys could do some damage. The potential combo of Randolph and Eddie Curry could be tough to defend if both guys show a little effort and the ability to pass the ball out of the post once in a while. Stephon Marbury will be the key to their season. If he can somehow channel the old “Starbury”, they can contend every night. If he gets selfish, or worse, checks out, then this team falls back into the lottery.

#6—Cleveland Cavaliers. I know I’m not the first one to make this comparison, and I probably won’t be the last, but the similarities between last year’s Cavs team and the 2001 76’ers is eerie.

AI dragged that team to the Finals on his back that year, only to get beat by a far superior Lakers team. The same can be said about LeBron James carrying his Cleveland team last year that had no business being in the championship and predictably got out-classed by a much better San Antonio team. You know what happened to that Sixers team the next year? Bounced in the opening round of the playoffs by a mediocre (at best) Celtics team. Would anyone be shocked if that was the fate of the ’07 Cavs? King James can only do so much by himself. Larry Hughes is overrated, Drew Gooden disappears for games at a time, Zydrunas Ilgauskas can barely get up and down the court anymore, and Daniel Gibson is the closest thing they have to a point guard. Obviously Bron-Bron is enough to get them into the postseason, but I don’t seem them doing much beyond that.

#5—Miami Heat. Talk about your tough teams to gage. The Heat could win the East and I wouldn’t be surprised. They could miss the playoffs and I wouldn’t be surprised. I just don’t know what to think about them. Does Shaq still have enough left in the tank to lead them on a deep playoff run? Would you bet against him? Can Dwayne Wade stay off the injured list for an entire season? Will the Human Cancer Ricky Davis be that much needed third scorer? Can Jason “White Chocolate” Williams be the leader with that ball in his hands that this team desperately needs? Can I waste more type by asking questions instead of actually analyzing this team? Only time will tell.

#4—Washington Wizards. This is my favorite team in the NBA and all because of one guy. The enigmatic Gilbert “Agent Zero” Arenas.

Ok, maybe not all because of him, but at least 90% for sure. Not only is this guy one of the best basketball players on the planet, but he might be one of the funniest as well. Don’t believe me? Just check out his blog over at some time. The guy is nuts, but in an absolutely hilarious way. Plus, he’s a big time clutch performer. Outside of Kobe, I’d pick him over anyone to take the last shot of the game. The rest of the Wiz is basically the same that it’s been for the last couple years, but this year I think they become one of the elite teams. Bold call: DeShawn Stevenson will be on the first team all-defense. He’s been living on potential for his entire career and this is the year he realizes it. Throw Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, and rookie Nick Young, and you have a potentially explosive team that is going to challenge for the Eastern Conference title.

#3—Boston Celtics. Finally we get to “The Team”. The one that everybody is talking about, hyping, expecting to win it all. The much anticipated trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen is evoking memories of the Bird-McHale-Parrish years in Boston. There’s a slight problem with the Championship-or-bust expectations though. Two, actually. First, is the team chemistry. They can say all the right things in interviews and smile and work out together all they want. But until you start playing together and get a feel for the style of your teammates, there will be a period of adjustment where things just won’t go your way. That will take some time, maybe even a full season to get the timing of everything just right. The second issue is everyone else on the team besides the Big Three. Rajon Rando has done little if anything to prove that he can lead an NBA team and he’s in charge of distributing the ball to the most talented threesome in the league. Kendrick Perkins is going to actually have to do something occasionally for this team to be successful. If he’s as big of a slouch as he’s been in the past, a guy like KG is going to see a lot of double teams (something he surely got used to in Minny). Personally, I’ll be cheering for them, if only to see The Big Ticket finally get a ring.

#2—Chicago Bulls. **Note, this ranking is subject to change due to Kobe Bryant trade rumors. If the Bulls deal their entire team for KB, they will drop significantly because they will be no different than the current Lakers team (more on them in tomorrow’s Western Conference preview). As they are currently assembled, this is a very intriguing, very deep, very talented team that should be making noise well into the latter rounds of the playoffs. It all starts with one of the few true point guards in the league, Kirk Hinrich. His energy and decision making set the table perfectly for guys like Luol Deng and the 4th quarter king, Ben Gordon. Those two combined for roughly 40 points per game last year, and will look to repeat that feat, and beyond. If Tyrus Thomas develops into a quality low post scorer and Ben Wallace can return to his 15 rebounds per game self, this team will dominate. If those two falter, this team will struggle in the playoffs.

#1—Detroit Pistons. What’s that? You say this is the boring, predictable selection? So what. How can you possibly go against the most balanced, talented lineup in the conference? Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshun Prince, Rasheed Wallace…not only are these guys ridiculously talented, but they’ve been playing together forever. And playing at a high level too. They’ve been division champs 5 of the last 6 years and have been in the Eastern Conference Finals 5 years in a row. Those are absolutely stupid statistics. Now they’re even starting to infuse some youth into the lineup with guys like Jason Maxiel and Rodney Stuckey. I know the Bulls are in the news with this Kobe rumor, the Celtics are getting every magazine cover created, and the Cavs are the defending East champs. Still, until further notice, the team to beat will be the Pistons. Deeeeetroooiiit Baaaaaskettttbaaaaallll!!!!!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the east preview. Mine would be pretty similar. The only mistake I saw was Boozer on the Cavs.