NBA Preview: Part 1 - Eastern Conference
by Mike Maloney(NBA)
Posted on October 30, 2006, 10:36 PM
I enjoy basketball. Especially when my team is playing well. And this year, my team is playing well. So hereís a brief preview of the NBA for the 2006-2007 season. This is part 1 and features the Eastern Conference. The Western Conference will be discussed in, you guessed it, part 2.
NEW JERSEY NETS (46-36) Last year the Nets managed to go 49-33 in the weakest division in basketball. Their big draft pick was Marcus Williams, a guard who will offer Jason Kidd a chance to rest more, and is perhaps looked at as a replacement for Kidd down the line, depending on much is left in the tank. However, outside of that, the Nets didnít go out of their way to improve the team much. Along with Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter are both returning. After that, the team doesnít have much to rely on. Nenad Krstic will provide some support, but the Nets look to be headed to yet another mediocre season in an incredibly weak division, and a probable first round playoff exit.
TORONTO RAPTORS (37-45) The Raptors are trying to rise up into a decent team, but they probably arenít there yet. Chris Bosh should continue to lead this team in scoring, and may even improve upon his 22.5 ppg. They will need continued production from Mo Peterson, as the loss of Charlie Villanueva will hurt the scoring presence in the frontcourt in the short-term until Andrea Bargnani adjusts more to the NBA style of play. T.J. Ford needs to develop more, and if the Raptors continue on their path they should contend for the Atlantic title in a couple years; for now, though, theyíll be just on the outside of the playoff bubble looking in.
BOSTON CELTICS (36-46) Something about the Celtics just doesnít sit right. They were poor on defense last year, giving up nearly 100 points a game. Paul Pierce has shown himself to be a leader, scoring almost 27 ppg. Along with Sebastian Telfair, the two should make a formidable duo in the backcourt, with Rajon Rondo, their 2006 first round draft pick, coming off the bench. However, their front court is fairly weak. Theo Ratliff is not much of a presence in the middle, and Al Jefferson is still young. Wally Szczerbiak has been a fairly solid role player, but really doesnít have the talent to be the #3 player on a team. Boston is definitely still in a rebuilding phase, and that doesnít look to be changing any time soon.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (33-49) The Sixers are very much a one man team. Yes, Chris Webber is there and contributes, but this is Allen Iversonís team, just like it always has been. Philly had the option to try and get rid of Iverson, and admit it was time to rebuild a new team. Instead, they held on to AI, and an aging Iverson along with an aging Webber is not going to be able to carry this team. Until this team admits its time for a change, they will continue to spiral downward in the Atlantic division.
NEW YORK KNICKS (24-58) Well, there isnít much to say about the Knicks that hasnít already been said. Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis are both players that prefer to shoot the ball, and donít do much in the way of team basketball. Eddy Curry still hasnít lived up to the hype, and Quentin Richardson was the definition of disappointing, posting his lowest ppg average since his rookie year in 2000-2001. On top of that, the Knicks have no room in their salary cap to sign new talent, and will have to depend on their draft picks, Renaldo Balkman and Mardy Collins, to improve as a team. Have I mentioned that Isiah Thomas is now coaching the team as well? At least the Bulls will enjoy Greg Oden on their team next year.
DETROIT PISTONS (53-29) The loss of Ben Wallace in the middle is bound to hurt the Pistons defensively, but may also hurt the team from a chemistry standpoint as well. That being said, the team is still very solid with Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace. Their lack of depth will probably hurt them more without Wallace, although Nazr Mohammed, Antonio McDyess, and Dale Davis should be able to fill-in. While the team should have little problem succeeding in the regular season, come playoff time possibly the Pistonís biggest vulnerability will be revealed, Coach Flip Saunders. Flip Saunders has constantly shown his ability to succeed in the regular season, and then his inability to get his teams to experience that same kind of success in the playoffs. I expect similar issues for the Pistons this year.
CHICAGO BULLS (48-34) Be forewarned, any discussion of the Bulls in this column could very well contain biased pro-Bull comments. The Bulls had the most talked about pickup in the offseason, signing Ben Wallace in an attempt to strengthen their weak center position. In an effort to offset the additional cap space Wallace took up, the Bulls also dealt underachiever Tyson Chandler to New Orleans for veteran and locker room favorite PJ Brown. Finally, thanks to the New York Knicks, the Bulls further strengthened their frontcourt by drafting Tyrus Thomas. While Chicago still lacks offensive firepower, they make up for it with one of the best defenses in the league, and a never quit attitude. Look for their offseason additions to lead to a second-place finish in the division.
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (47-35) Cleveland is still looking for a team to complement Lebron James. Zydrunas Ilgauskas has turned into one of the better centers in the league, but there isnít enough talent all around right now to get this team to the NBA Finals. The Cavs are hoping that draft pick Shannon Brown will help out in the backcourt and assist Eric Snow, who scored a dismal 4.8 ppg. Cleveland has a solid team right now, and is certainly in the top half of the Eastern Conference, but they are probably a year or two from being serious contenders.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS (39-43) While Milwaukee probably got the better end of the T.J. Ford/Charlie Villanueva trade, the fact remains that they will be inexperienced at the point guard position, which could hurt the team for the first part of the season. Add to that the fact that Chicago and Cleveland have probably improved more talent-wise than the Bucks, and despite the pickup of Villanueva, Milwaukee is setting themselves up for a disappointing season after finishing 40-42 last year.
INDIANA PACERS(38-44) The Pacers are a team still trying to get back to their old identity after the brawl at the Palace in 2004. The loss of Ron Artest, while necessary from a team chemistry standpoint, hurt the teamís ability to play defense, and they really lacked in the power forward position. Peja Stojakovic was useful in his short time with the team, but he has moved on to other things. Indiana was able to recoup some of their losses by signing popular free agent Al Harrington. Harrington is coming off the best year of his career, although some of his stats are probably inflated from playing on a horrible Atlanta Hawks team that doesnít have anyone else to put up numbers. Harrington and Jermaine OíNeal are both solid players, but outside of those two and maybe Stephen Jackson, the Pacers donít have much going for them right now.
MIAMI HEAT (57-25) Well, the champs havenít lost much, although they are a year older. Dwyane Wade continues to impress, Antoine Walker showed up as a solid role player last year, Udonis Haslem and Jason Williams both were valuable contributors, and Shaq was, well, Shaq. There arenít a lot of weaknesses on this team, but there is concern over age regarding several players. Shaq, Alonzo Mourning, and Gary Payton are all in the twilight of their career, and their durability will certainly be tested as they get through the regular season and head to the playoffs. Itís important that this team stay healthy, particularly in the second half of the season. As good as Dwyane Wade is, itís still a team game, and their veterans will need to be healthy if they want to repeat.
ORLANDO MAGIC (42-40) The Orlando Magic are a team on the rise, thanks to Dwight Howard and Darko Milicic, two young centers with a load of potential. The team overall is fairly young, but Grant Hill pretty much makes up for that. Steve Francis was a good addition to the team last year, but he was not an integral part, and the Magic are probably better off without him and his Ďme firstí attitude. The Magic drafted J.J. Reddick, who will probably need some time to develop, but could turn out to be a good draft pick. For now, the Magic will surprise everyone with their youth, and Howard and Milicic will become a dominant force in the middle, and Orlando will surprise everyone with an above .500 record and a playoff birth.
WASHINGTON WIZARDS (41-41) The Wizards are in a similar spot as the Cavs. They have a superstar in Gilbert Arenas, but lack the overall talent to be a true contender. The fact that they didnít really do much in the offseason wonít do anything to help their chances this year. The fact that other teams made an effort to improve while they were inactive for the most part will result in a similar .500 effort again this season, and the Wizards should squeak into the playoffs again, but not as the #5 seed this year.
CHARLOTTE BOBCATS (32-50) The Bobcats have a lot of upside. Emeka Okafor is hoping to rebound from an injury-plagued season and match his output his rookie year. Adam Morrison is expected to make an immediate impact on the team. Raymond Felton will continue to run the offense from the point. Over time, this team should continue to get better. However, they are still a few years from being a playoff team.
ATLANTA HAWKS (23-59) Well, itís hard to find a whole lot of positives when talking about the Atlanta Hawks. One of their only bright spots last year, Al Harrington, is gone. Shelden Williams will probably have high expectations, and Joe Johnson will be a key figure in the offense again. Outside of that, I guess the Hawks are still hoping Dominque Wilkins will come out of retirement and lead the team back to 1993.
EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS
MIAMI over MILWAUKEE Ė The Bucks will stumble into the playoffs as a sub-.500 team, while the Heat will do what they do best, and that is stomp on mediocre teams in the post-season. The #8 over #1 upset is always fun to watch, but itís just not happening here.
DETROIT over WASHINGTON Ė Detroit as a team will be able to defeat Gilbert Arenas. The Wizards just donít have enough talent on the rest of the team to compete with all the All-Stars on the Pistons.
CHICAGO over ORLANDO Ė Iím doing this based on the new seeding agreement, which I believe would make the Bulls the #3 seed. Orlando is young and inexperienced, and theyíll be going up against a young and experienced Bulls team. The Magic will probably just be happy to be in the playoffs.
CLEVELAND over NEW JERSEY Ė The Nets continue to be unimpressive in the playoffs, and Lebron continues to be very impressive. The Nets have no one to stop Lebron, and he will torch them big time.
CLEVELAND over MIAMI Ė Miamiís age catches up with them as Lebron continues to show everyone why he was picked as the Air Apparent, and not even Dwyane Wade can save the Heat from a surprising early exit in the playoffs.
CHICAGO over DETROIT Ė Ah, sweet revenge. Flip Saunderís inability to win the important games comes into play here as the Bulls just out-hustle the Pistons in a tough contest that features big games from Andres Nocioni and Luol Deng.
CHICAGO over CLEVELAND Ė I mentioned the Chicago Bulls bias earlier in the preview, right?
There are my Ďexpertí picks for the Eastern Conference, part 2 covering the Western Conference will be up soon.