2010-11 NBA Preview
LeBron James taking his talents to Miami was the highlight of what’s been an insanely busy NBA offseason.
By MARK JAMES
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Thanks to countless moves with gargantuan implications, this has been the most exciting offseason in NBA history. The big names of the game have owned their destiny like never before.
We’re barely into August and already we’ve seen powerhouse teams come together, perennial contenders deciding to stay together, and habitual losers stepping up into the ranks of hopefuls with key acquisitions.
The Los Angeles Lakers have ruled the roost in the West for the past three seasons, and teams like the Boston Celtics and the Orlando Magic have the East on lockdown (a hold that’s been solidified now with the demise of the Cleveland Cavaliers). But the power structure has changed over the course of the last two months.
Is it anybody’s championship to win or has the offseason been all hype, with the top two spots still belonging to the Lakeshow and Boston?
After LeBron James jumped ship to play with Dwyane Wade in Miami, the Cavs are seriously crippled. They finished first the East last year with the association’s best record at 61-21. But now, bereft of their superstar, Cleveland instantly becomes a bottom rung team.
The only bright spot is the Cavs may still be able to re-sign Shaquille O’Neal, although there’s talk that Diesel is actually considering playing in Europe. J.J. Hickson will be a good PF, Mo Williams is a solid point guard, Antawn Jamison is a scoring threat anywhere on the floor, and Leon Powe is a great spark plug-like energy player they can lean on. But over the course of 82 games next season, the Cavs will fall down with the Pistons and Sixers.
Orlando finished second in the East with a record of 59-23. However, the Magic was crushed by Boston in the playoffs because of the team’s set up, and that’s something that need addressing before Orlando can push for a title. Coach Stan Van Gundy got a contract extension, and the core Magic players are in place.
Dwight Howard will undoubtedly work on his repertoire before season’s start. And Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson and Brandon Bass are locked up. The team needs to re-sign J.J. Redick if they’re hoping to run that same style of outside-in offense. But overall, the Magic hasn’t really skipped a beat and if these Chris Paul to Disneyworld rumours ever pan out, look out.
After re-signing Joe Johnson, the Haws are looking to do big things this season. They still have Mike Bibby (who will be pressed by Jeff Teague for the starting PG job), Al Horford, Josh Smith, Jamal Crawford, Marvin Williams and the rest of the squad that made them contenders. New head coach Larry Drew takes over a team going in the right direction and even if they won’t surpass the three seed next year, they’re still a dangerous playoff contender.
Once they finally got more or less healthy, the C’s surprised everyone last season. They’re a powerhouse team that has the potential to win an NBA championship with their core talent. Kevin Garnett, Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Rajon Rondo are still in place, and after re-signing Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, Boston heads into this season with all its key talent back on board.
Boston’s “big” offseason signing was C/F Jermaine O’Neal. He’ll complement Rasheed Wallace (assuming Sheed doesn’t retire) and Kendrick Perkins (who will miss the first couple months of the season after knee surgery) well, and Boston should be back in the hunt next year, probably finishing third overall in the conference. And if the Celtics can land Rudy Fernandez as has been rumoured, it will provide a huge boost to their overall team depth and perimeter scoring capabilities.
Everyone already knows the story here. With LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh, the Heat is undoubtedly the team to beat. So far, many players are rumored to be heading to Miami to play for peanuts in hopes of winning a title. Steve Francis, Tracy McGrady and other former stars are trying to ride the gravy train.
However, Miami is only looking for toned-down role players (like the recently signed Eddie House) and not another big personality. They have a big three and not much else. But even with that, they should win the East next season. It’s a model that has certainly worked for Boston, and Miami’s trio of stars is vastly more talented, so expect big things – maybe even that championship ring that King James failed to bag in Cleveland.
The Bucks haven’t really made any league-breaking news (although adding Drew Gooden, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Corey Maggette was sweet), but they have a strong squad of players that earned them the five seed in last year’s playoffs. Coach Scott Skiles has these young men playing to their full potential.
Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings, Carlos Delfino and the supporting cast have great chemistry that will again earn them a playoff berth next season. And for Fantasy nuts, look for Gooden to get comfortable in his skin with the Bucks and have a strong year. Remember how good he was late in the season for the Clippers? Expect more of the same as Gooden stabilizes what had been an inconsistent PF position in Beer City.
This is Michael Jordan’s team; this is Larry Brown’s team; and it’s a scary team for every Eastern opponent – if, that is, the Bobcats can settle down and play smart ball in the playoffs. With Erick Dampier aboard, and Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Boris Diaw, Tyrus Thomas and Larry Hughes returning, Charlotte is a solid team that could improve quite a bit this season.
Unfortunately, however, they haven’t done much in the offseason to really give them a better chance. Raymond Felton is gone, leaving the PG duties to sleeper supreme D.J. Augustin and newcomer Shaun Livingston. The Bobcats may not have taken a step back, but there are no real improvements either.
At 41-41, the Bulls were the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed in last season’s playoffs. Don’t look for the Bulls to repeat that mediocrity — they’re no longer babies. With Luol Deng, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, the Bulls are a playoff lock without help. But now that they’ve picked up Carlos Boozer, you have a team capable of competing for one of the top four spots.
This is a potential 50-win team with the addition of Boozer, who not only gives the Bulls the low-post presence they have long needed, but also should again be huge for his Fantasy owners, assuming he can avoid major injury.
The Remaining Seven
The Eastern teams out of the playoffs last year were: the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Wizards and New Jersey Nets.
Out of these seven teams, only three have improved enough to compete for the playoffs. The Pacers are going backwards, along with the Bosh-less Raptors. Philadelphia is just abysmal in terms of competitiveness, and the Pistons can’t seem to get a handle on their persona in the post Chauncey Billups/Rasheed Wallace era.
They failed to land LeBron, but the Knicks have still taken the biggest step forward in acquiring Amare Stoudemire from the Suns. This gives the Knicks a legitimate big-man presence in the paint and also someone who can play fast break basketball. New York has a chance to jump up into a playoff seed this season, especially if Cleveland fades as much as expected.
Flip Saunders has his hands full with the Wizards, but they do have some talent now. After picking up John Wall with the first pick in the draft and Kirk Hinrich from the Bulls, the Wizards are contenders for that eighth and final playoff spot.
The Nets have money to spend and a good coach in Avery Johnson. But they need some talent to go along with Brooks Lopez and Devin Harris. The additions of Travis Outlaw, Anthony Morrow and Jordan Farmar will improve this squad, but maybe not enough to matter.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are staying together and of course will again be favourites to win the West this season. And it’s for a very good reason: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and Derek Fisher are still in place (and Matt Barnes has been added) and the team is riding high off back-to-back championships and three consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals.
Seriously. Enough said about the Lakers. We all know where they stand.
Dallas finished as the No. 2 seed in last season’s playoffs and, helping its case for a repeat performance this season, it didn’t lose Dirk Nowitzki. Thankfully for the Mavs, Nowitzki re-signed with the team, and Tyson Chandler has been added to give the team another big body in the paint.
The Mavs are coming into the season with Jason Terry, Caron Butler, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, the re-signed Brendan Haywood and the abovementioned talent. They’re contenders for the top spot, and Disco Dirk is bound to make Fantasy owners happy, as always.
Phoenix fans are hoping for a miracle after Stoudemire left, but they’re not going to get it. That aside, the Suns are still coming back with Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Channing Frye and Grant Hill plus newcomers Josh Childress and Hedo Turkoglu. So all hope is not lost. Look for the Suns to finish up in a strong fifth or sixth in the West.
The Nuggets are perhaps the strongest offensive team in the West in terms of raw talent and the ability to score points, and they’ve added even more firepower with the acquisition of Al Harrington. But their defense is lacking at crunch time. Kenyon Martin, Billups, Carmelo Anthony, Nene and Ty Lawson are hoping to get it done this season. With supporting characters like Chris Andersen, J.R. Smith and Aaron Afflalo, Denver will probably finish up where it left off last season – good in the regular season but losers in the playoffs.
Unfortunately for Jazz fans with their jazz hands, Utah lost a lot when it allowed Boozer to get away. It’s potentially a bigger blow for Utah than losing Stoudemire was for Phoenix. Believe that. Fortunately, the Jazz already had a capable replacement aboard in Paul Millsap and with draft picks Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans also aboard to help with frontcourt duties, Utah should be okay. Of course, Deron Williams, one of the top point guards in the NBA, is still here, as are Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko. Even better, the addition of centre Al Jefferson is huge, and he should capably replace the scoring and rebounding that left with Boozer. Also, newcomer Raja Bell’s enthusiasm at the two-guard spot add hope and an excellent outside game, but the Jazz could be hard pressed to make the playoffs this season in a very tough Western Conference.
Portland Trail Blazers
If Greg Oden could ever stay healthy and play up to his potential, the Blazers would be champions. But he can’t, and the squad must revolve around the likes of Brandon Roy and Andre Miller. That squad was still good enough to catch fire after the break last year and finish in sixth in the West, but they had no get-up-and-go come playoff time.
There haven’t been any big moves as of yet to put the Blazers over the top. They’re relying on Oden to show up, Roy to keep playing like he’s been playing, LaMarcus Aldridge to keep improving and for Marcus Camby to take a trip in the way-back machine.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs were a bit of a disappointment last year. They still had Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the supporting characters for a championship run, but they fell flat. The Richard Jefferson experiment did not pay off, and now the Spurs have to push the panic button if they’re looking to climb the mountain again before Timmy’s ready to retire.
To date, they haven’t been going after it. Roger Mason, Jr. and Keith Bogans are inconsequential to the overall vision. Jefferson has to come through and youngsters George Hill and DeJuan Blair must continue to improve lest the Spurs may actually miss the playoffs outright. Take that to the bank.
Oklahoma City Thunder
This is probably the best eighth seed the NBA has seen in the past decade. This young and uber-talented team gave the Lakers a run for their money that, minus a fluke shot by Artest, might have sent the champions home with a big “L” painted on their foreheads.
The Thunder’s gonna roll next season. Count on it. Kevin Durant gladly signed a five-year extension with the team, and Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and the rest of the young supporting cast aren’t going anywhere. It would be nice for the Thunder if it can make one or two power moves before the start of next season, but as things stand now, look for this team to leapfrog at least three teams.
The Remaining Seven
The Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Hornets, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves all missed the playoffs last year. In fact, it wasn’t even close. Houston, the closest to the final playoff seed, finished eight games back of the Thunder. Every team here is looking bleak.
With Houston, Yao Ming, Aaron Brooks and Luis Scola aren’t enough to propel the Rockets to greatness. Don’t waste your money betting on the Rockets to make up any ground. On the other hand, Memphis, even though it didn’t pull any big moves like last offseason, should be a bit better just based on the maturation of some its youngsters.
New Orleans probably has the best shot out of these not-so-elite eight. Even though Paul was practically begging to be let go, he’s back in place and the team is scrambling to surround him with some talent. With CP3, David West and Emeka Okafor, the Hornets look impressive on paper. But the rest of the squad needs some brushing up to compete. And Peja Stojakovic seriously needs to retire.
Honestly, there haven’t been any key moves by any of the remaining teams that would give the impression that they’re serious about contending. And let us not forget that the current level of competition in the West makes it perhaps the toughest conference the NBA has ever seen in its history. For the six teams we didn’t cover here, it’s DOA time when the season starts. Sorry.
With the way things are shaping up, the NBA power structure seems to be the same minus the Cavaliers. Now Miami has jumped out in front along with the Lakers, Celtics and Magic for real title contenders. Regardless of how it plays out, it’s going to be a great 2010-11 season.