Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks will have their hands full this Saturday night when they host the Stanford Cardinal.
X-Portland Trailblazers 53-29 (3)
In his second year as the head coach of the Portland Trailblazers, Terry Stotts led a revival in “Rip City” as the Blazers made the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2000. The Blazers have the ability to once again be a dangerous team in the Western Conference as they have balance on their roster along with having a dependable big man that can score along with a quick and elusive point guard. Trailblazers power forward LaMarcus Aldrige would be more of a household name if he played in a bigger market, but he is one of the best at his position in the NBA. Aldridge is coming off of his best NBA season as he averaged 23.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. Aldridge is entering the final year of his contract with the Blazers and he should have a tremendous impact this season before he hits the free agent market.
Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is set to embark on his third NBA season and he is quickly emerging as one of the better point guards in the NBA. Lillard has a tremendous combination of passing, speed, and scoring. Like Aldridge, Trailblazers shooting guard Wes Matthews is coming off of his best NBA season as he averaged 16.4 points per game last season. The combination of Aldridge, Lillard, and Matthews gives Stotts and the Trailblazers a great inside-out threat that will allow them to contend for the Western Conference Championship.
Aside from Aldridge, Lillard, and Matthews, the Trailblazers have a good blend of role players and reserves. On Twitter, Blazers starting center Robin Lopez refers to himself as the “Screech Powers” of the NBA and he plays with reckless abandon on the floor. Lopez averaged a double-double last season in points and rebounds as the successful teams in the NBA need scrappy players such as him on the roster. Blazers reserve center Chris Kaman has been a journeyman in the NBA, but like Lopez, he is willing to bring his lunch pale on a nightly basis and do all of the dirty work. At 6’8″ Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum has one of the longer wing spans at his position while reserve point guard Steve Blake continues to get it done as he is set to enter his 12th NBA season.
Fans in Portland should be treated to an exciting brand of basketball this season from their Trailblazers.
Y-Oklahoma City Thunder 51-31 (5)
The last four seasons have seen the Oklahoma City Thunder make deeps runs in the NBA Playoffs, but they don’t have any titles to show for it and they are hopeful that things will change in the upcoming season. Thunder head coach Scott Brooks has never had a losing season while walking the sidelines in Oklahoma City and that should once again be the case as he’ll have one of the top scoring threats in the NBA in the form of small forward Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook.
For his seven-year NBA career, Durant has averaged 27.4 points per game as he has one of the quickest releases on his jump shot in basketball. But for Durant and the Thunder to be able to take that next step and win an NBA Championship, he is going to need to play in the post more. This season will already be different for the Thunder being that Durant will begin it on the sidelines while he is recovering from a broken foot. As for Westbrook he deserves a ton of credit being that he has played out of position from his first day in the NBA. Westbrook is a shooting guard at heart, but he has been asked to play point guard. In spite of this and a severe knee injury in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Westbrook returned to form last season by averaging 21.8 and 6.9 assists last season. Westbrook also turned into a triple-double machine in the 2014 NBA Playoffs and the Thunder are hopeful that it will carry over to this season. But until Durant returns from his injury, this will be Westbrook’s team and his scoring numbers should increase.
The Thunder have been unable to replace the scoring ability of current Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden who was vital for them coming off of the bench when they won the Western Conference Championship in 2012, but center Serge Ibaka continues to improve. Last season Ibaka averaged a career-high in points (15.1) and rebounds (8.8) along with being an enforcer on the interior as he averaged 2.7 blocks per game. Ibaka continues to dabble with a mid-range jump shot that will take some much needed pressure off of Durant and Westbrook to carry the load in Oklahoma City.
The production of Thunder center Kendrick Perkins is not nearly what it was when he helped the Boston Celtics claim the NBA Championship in 2008 and Oklahoma City is hopeful that second-year center Steven Adams is prepared to step into a bigger role this season.
Once again the Thunder will only go as far as Durant and Westbrook will take them. You can pencil the Thunder in for another 50-win season, but for them it all comes down to what they are able do in the months of May and June.
Denver Nuggets 41-41
Last season saw the Denver Nuggets suffer their first losing campaign in 11 years. Brian Shaw was in his first season as Nuggets head coach and he had to deal with a rash of injuries that limited the Nuggets chances in the Western Conference. Nuggets small forward Danilo Galinari missed the entire 2013-2014 NBA season as he recovered from an ACL injury. What the Nuggets lost in Galinari was a player that has averaged 14.5 points in six NBA seasons and he gives them a presence as a perimeter player. This season Galinari will split time at the small forward position in Denver with another former New York Knicks small forward in Wilson Chandler.
This past summer the Nuggets were able to re-acquire shooting guard Arron Afflalo. Afflalo previously played with the Nuggets for three seasons before spending the last two seasons with the Orlando Magic. In seven NBA seasons, Afflalo has increased in each season as he averaged 18.2 points per game last season for the Magic.
Like Afflalo, the offensive numbers of Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson have increased in each NBA season. Lawson averaged 8.8 assists last season and he has plenty of talent around him to get the basketball to this season which means that those numbers could increase this year. Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried is becoming the new “Junkyard Dog” of the NBA for his ability to crash the boards along with being able to fill up every column in the stat sheet and he will also be coveted in fantasy basketball.
The Nuggets will be an improved team this season under Shaw, but the overall strength of the Western Conference could see them once again watching the playoffs from home.
Minnesota Timberwolves 37-45
The Minnesota Timberwolves have not finished an NBA season with a winning record since 2005 and being that they are once again “rebuilding” they have a long shot of changing that this time around. After six years of an on-again, off-again relationship with the Timberwolves front office, power forward Kevin Love was traded over the summer to the Cleveland Cavaliers. In exchange for Love, the Timberwolves received shooting guard Andrew Wiggins and power forward Anthony Bennett from the Cavs while also acquiring power forward Thaddeus Young from the Philadelphia 76ers. Young is coming off of his best NBA season as he averaged 17.9 points and 6 rebounds per game last season with the Sixers. Bennett was the first overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft by the Cavaliers, but he was unable to make an impact last season as he only appeared in 52 games without making a start. In his one season of playing college basketball at the University of Kansas, Wiggins showed tremendous scoring ability and he should be off to the races with his running mate in the Timberwolves back court this season in point guard Ricky Rubio. Rubio averaged a career high in assists last season at 8.6 per game and those numbers could increase this season with the Young and Wiggins now being in Minnesota.
The departure of Love will lead to a bigger impact this season for Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic. Last season Pekovic averaged 17.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game and at 6’11″, 285 pounds, he is a tough presence on the interior. Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders can also rely on a bunch of underrated veterans in shooting guard Kevin Martin, center Ronny Turiaf, small forward Corey Brewer, and point guard Mo Williams to make some noise this season on the court in Minneapolis.
The Timberwolves may not be a playoff team this season, but they will be a thorn in the side of the contenders in the Western Conference.
Utah Jazz 25-57
From 1988-2011, Jerry Sloan was the only head coach that the Utah Jazz had. But since Sloan resigned in 2011, the Jazz are set to welcome their second head coach. Quin Snyder is the new head coach of the Jazz and he has a young team that must grow up in a hurry.
Jazz point guard Trey Burke was the 9th overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft and a thumb injury forced him to miss some time at the beginning of last season as he was forced to learn on the fly. As a rookie, Burke averaged 12.8 points per game along with 5.7 assists and those numbers must increase if the Jazz are going to compete in the tough Western Conference. Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward has become the go-to-guy in Utah as led the team in scoring last season at 16.2 per contest. Jazz power forward Derrick Favors has seen his points and rebound averages increase in each of his four NBA seasons and Utah is hopeful that this trend continues in the upcoming season.
This season will be a long haul for the Jazz as they will not remind the people of Salt Lake City of the teams there that were contending for NBA Titles in the late 1990′s.
Y-Clinched Playoff Berth
X-Miami Heat 49-33 (3)
The last four NBA seasons have seen the Miami Heat franchise soar to new heights. In the past four years the Heat claimed a pair of NBA Championships in four trips to the league’s final series. But things will be drastically different this time around as forward LeBron James left the Heat to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers. The departure of James leaves a big hole for the Heat as he led the team last season in points (27.1), rebounds (6.9), and assists (6.4). With the James departure, Heat team president Pat Riley had to get creative in fielding a team for the upcoming season.
Riley signed small forward Luol Deng to somewhat cushion the blow of losing James. For his 10-year NBA career, Deng has averaged 16 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Deng’s numbers are nowhere near to what the Heat lost with James which means that power forward Chris Bosh will be the focal point of the Heat’s offense this season. When the “Big Three” of James, Bosh, and Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade joined up in 2010 it was Bosh that was the forgotten player. Prior to joining the Heat, Bosh has averaged 20.2 points and 9.4 rebounds in the first seven years of his NBA career with the Toronto Raptors and you can expect him to go back to being more of a scoring threat this season. In originally joining the Heat, Bosh sacrificed some of his overall game for the greater good of the team and he was rewarded with a pair of NBA Titles. Now you can expect to see more of Bosh back in the post.
For Wade, he is 32-years of age and there are questions in regards to his knees. There has been a drop off in the overall production of Wade in the past few seasons. For Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, he must monitor Wade’s minutes in order to keep him fresh.
With James’ superior ball handling in Miami for the last four seasons, the Heat were able to skate by without having a dominant point guard. But that will not be the case this season. Heat veteran point guards Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers combined to average 7.9 assists last season, but is either player ready to step up? If not, Riley and Spoelstra are high on rookie point guard Shabazz Napier who showed an uncanny knack of being a floor general in college at UConn and the Heat are hopeful that his transition to the NBA will be a quick one.
The Heat are no longer runaway favorites in the Eastern Conference, but for the players that remained they are out to show the world that it wasn’t just James that propelled them to four straight appearances in the NBA Finals.
Y-Washington Wizards 47-35 (5)
Last season saw the Washington Wizards qualify for the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2008. Under head coach Randy Wittman, the Wizards have a good blend of youth and veterans that should allow them to contend for the franchise’s first NBA Finals appearance since 1979.
The Wizards have a very explosive starting back court in point guard John Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal. But the only knock on the duo is that they have been unable to remain healthy. Last season Wall played in all 82 games and is ready to go for this season while Beal is currently out as he is recovering from a wrist injury. What Beal and Wall give Wittman and the Wizards when they’re healthy is over 36 points of production. Beal and Wall also have tremendous ability to attack the basket while they’re good perimeter defenders.
Behind Wall, the Wizards have veteran point guard Andre Miller who has seen it all during his time in the NBA. Miller is entering his 16th NBA season and the Wizards are his sixth team in the league, but he commands a ton or respect from his teammates when he is on the floor.
The Wizards front court situation will be interesting this season. Last season center Marcin Gortat and power forward Nene Hilario combined to averaged 15 rebounds per game while each player can also score in the post. Behind Hilario and Gortat, the Wizards have a pair of veterans in power forwards Kris Humphries and Drew Gooden that have made careers for themselves in the NBA on their ability to crash the boards and you can expect more of the same this season. The Wizards lost starting small forward Trevor Ariza in free agency as he signed with the Houston Rockets, but they were able to lure veteran small forward Paul Pierce to Washington. Pierce is set to embark on his 17th NBA season and he brings a championship pedigree with him to the Wizards that includes winning the NBA Championship in 2008 as a member of the Boston Celtics. Pierce brings a toughness with him along with his ability to deliver in clutch situations. But mainly the Wizards will need to see improvement from small forward Otto Porter Jr. Porter Jr. was the third overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft but he only averaged 2.1 points per game as a rookie while only appearing 37 contests without making a start and it is time for him to step up.
The Wizards may not dominate in the regular season, but what they are is a team that will be scary in the NBA Playoffs.
Y-Atlanta Hawks 43-39 (7)
After a very interesting off-season the Atlanta Hawks are happy to get back to playing basketball. Racist remarks by the Hawks majority owner Bruce Levinson forced him to sell his shares in the team and it also resulted in general manager Danny Ferry taking an indefinite leave of absence which has shaken the team to its core. Now it will be up to Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer to keep the ship righted in Atlanta.
Two out of the last three seasons have seen Hawks center Al Horford succumb early in the campaign to a season-ending injury. Horford is returning to the Hawks after tearing a pectoral muscle as he looks to regain his form in the post that has seen him average 14 points and 9.5 rebounds in his seven-year NBA career. In Horford’s absence last season, Hawks power forward Paul Milsap picked up the slack. Milsap averaged 17.9 points along with 8.5 boards and it is scary to think what these two can combine to be this year. Hawks point guard Jeff Teague is very underrated as his numbers continue to improve while shooting guard Kyle Korver still has one of the best strokes from beyond the three-point arc.
Sports can be therapeutic and in light of the controversy, the Hawks should come together and gel as the season progresses.
Charlotte Hornets 41-41
The buzz is literally back in Charlotte as the Bobcats have switched their team name to the Hornets. The original Charlotte Hornets left town in 2002 when they moved to New Orleans. In 2013, the New Orleans Hornets would change their team name to the Pelicans which paved the way for the name of the Hornets to be returned to Charlotte. The Hornets also have something to build off of as they made the playoffs last season under first year head coach Steve Clifford. The Hornets also return their top three scorers from last year which gives them optimism for the upcoming season.
Last season Hornets power forward Al Jefferson exceeded career highs in points and rebounds as he scored nearly 22 points per contest along with grabbing nearly 11 boards each game. Jefferson gives the Hornets a legitimate low-post threat and he can also score in a variety of ways. Prior to Jefferson’s arrival in Charlotte, Hornets point guard Kemba Walker had to carry the load offensively, but that is not the case anymore as he can freelance more. In the off-season the Hornets signed shooting guard Lance Stephenson and he will bring a much needed rugged attitude to Charlotte. For Hornets head coach Steve Clifford, he is hopeful that small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be able to take the next step in his game this season. Gilchrist was the second overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, but his overall game has yet to catch up with his sheer athleticism.
Under Clifford, the Hornets got a taste of the playoffs last year and they will look to capitalize on that this season.
Orlando Magic 29-53
The Orlando Magic are in the process of building a contender and it is going to take some time. Jacque Vaughn is entering his third season as the head coach of the Magic and he has only been able to compile a record of 43-121. This season it will be tough for him and Orlando to improve on that win-loss mark.
The Magic will field one of the youngest teams in the NBA this season and they will be without their leading scorer from a year ago in shooting guard Arron Afflalo who was traded to the Denver Nuggets in the off-season. Last season as a rookie, Magic point guard Victor Oladipo averaged 13.8 points per game along with 4.1 assists and Vaughn is hopeful that the youngster will continue to make progress while also becoming a better floor general. But Oladipo will begin the season on the sidelines as he is recovering from a facial fracture that he recently suffered in practice. The Magic used the fourth overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft on power forward Aaron Gordon who has tremendous athleticism, but is ready to be an impact player in the NBA? Magic center Nikola Vucevic has ascended into being one of the league’s better rebounders while small forward Tobias Harris has become viable off of the bench as they both are building blocks for Vaughn and Magic general manager Rob Hennigan.
The fans in the Magic Kingdom will have to endure another season of dealing with the growing pains of the young Magic, but hopefully there can be some excitement sprinkled in here and there.
Y-Clinched Playoff Berth
X-San Antonio Spurs 58-24 (1)
The San Antonio Spurs walked off of the floor at the 2013 NBA Finals with an unusual feeling as they didn’t claim the NBA Championship. The Spurs however didn’t take the time to wallow in their pity as they laced up their sneakers and came back with a vengeance last season to claim their fifth NBA Championship since 1999. The Spurs are the most unselfish team in the NBA as they had six players last season that averaged in double figures which is their key to success. The San Antonio offense doesn’t revolve around one player as any player on their roster can give Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich 20 points on a given night and you can expect more of the same in the upcoming NBA season.
Spurs power forward Tim Duncan is the modern day Bill Russell as all he does in win. Duncan is 38-years old and he is set to embark on his 17th season in the NBA (all with the Spurs). On the surface it may appear that Duncan has taken has lesser role with the Spurs, but he is still the leader of this team as he is their anchor. Duncan only averaged 15.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last season, but he knows how to take it to another level in May and June during the NBA Playoffs. Like Duncan, Spurs point guard Tony Parker continues to be written off by his critics only to continuously rise to the occasion. Parker is 32-years of age and he has no sign of slowing down as he is still one of the fastest point guards in the NBA. Like Duncan and Parker, Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili is in that 30 something club in San Antonio where age is only a number. Ginobili is 37-years old and despite recent injuries he is still one of the best sixth men in the league.
Aside from Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili, the Spurs have tremendous depth that includes centers Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw along with shooting guards Danny Green and Marco Belinelli. At 23-years of age, Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard is a star in the making. Leonard is entering his fourth NBA season and he is the reigning NBA Finals MVP. At this point the only person that could slow Leonard’s progression down in Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich who uses the old-school, team first philosophy to the fullest.
The Spurs will begin the defense of the NBA Championship tomorrow night when they take on the Dallas Mavericks and you can expect another deep playoff run next spring from the silver and black.
Y-Dallas Mavericks 51-31 (6)
The Dallas Mavericks might be a veteran club, but there is a ton of optimism this season for them in the Metroplex. Center Tyson Chandler was an important part of the Mavericks championship team in 2011. After that title season for the Mavericks, Chandler became a free agent as he joined the New York Knicks. This off-season the Knicks would trade Chandler along with point guard Raymond Felton to Dallas which is a shot in the arm for Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and head coach Rick Carlisle because they didn’t want to see Chandler leave town in the first place.
On the floor one person who is really happy to have Chandler back in Dallas is Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki will go down as one of the greatest scorers that the NBA has ever seen from the power forward position while at 36-years of age he still has the ability to average 20 points per game. Nowitzki and Chandler will team with small forward Chandler Parsons to give the Mavericks a good front court. Cuban surprised some people this past summer when he signed the free agent Parsons to a three-year, $46 million contract. Parsons spent the past three seasons with the Houston Rockets where he averaged 14.1 points per game, but his numbers have increased in every season and he gives the Mavericks another player that can spread the floor on the offensive end.
The Mavericks will have a veteran starting back court in point guard Jameer Nelson and shooting guard Monta Ellis. In three of the last four NBA seasons, Nelson has averaged more than 7 assists per game as he is a good facilitator which will come in handy for Carlisle and his squad this season. In his first year in Dallas, Ellis shocked some people by being able to blend into Carlisle’s system so fast and he should improve for this campaign with the arrival of Nelson which allows him to be more off an off-guard.
After a few years as an afterthought, Cuban and Carlisle both feel that they have a team that can contend once again for an NBA Championship.
Y-Houston Rockets 50-32 (7)
With a nucleus of shooting guard James Harden and center Dwight Howard, the Houston Rockets are hopeful that they won’t get lost in the shuffle that is the Western Conference. The Rockets went 54-28 last season, but they were knocked out in the first round of the NBA Playoffs for the second consecutive year which is something that head coach Kevin McHale and general manager Daryl Morey are hoping to avoid this season.
The Rockets have their one-two combo in shooting guard James Harden and center Dwight Howard to once again lead them. Harden is one of the better perimeter players in the NBA while Howard is a terrific rebounder and interior defender. Last season in his first go round with the Rockets, Howard was able to compliment Howard as he averaged 18.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per outing. Morey and the Rockets struck it big in free agency over the summer when they were able to sign small forward Trevor Ariza. This will be Ariza’s second go round with the Rockets as he will replace Chandler Parsons who Morey was willing to let walk away in free agency. But what Ariza gives the Rockets is a better on-the-ball defender on the wing than Parsons which Houston will need if they are going to be able to advance in the postseason this time around.
Aside from the star power of Harden and Howard, the Rockets have questions at the point guard position in Patrick Beverley. In his two seasons in the NBA, Beverley has only averaged 2.8 assists per game. But Beverley appears to be the Rockets full-time starting point guard for now, and if Houston wants to be legitimate contenders in the Western Conference this season, I see McHale and Morey needing to upgrade that position at some point this season.
As the Rockets look to keep pace in the Western Conference, they must take advantage of their schedule to start the season as their first four opponents this season had losing records last year.
Y-Memphis Grizzlies 45-37 (8)
In the past few NBA seasons the Memphis Grizzlies have become a matchup nightmare for opponents. The Grizzlies have a pair of legitimate post presences in center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies are also not afraid to get dirty on the defensive end either as they are one of the top teams on defense in the NBA. For Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger, he has a club that can contend with the top teams in the Western Conference.
Last season Gasol and Randolph combined to account for nearly a third of the Grizzlies offense. Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley is coming off of his best season in the NBA as he was second on the team in scoring while also becoming a dependable floor general that Joerger can count on. Along with Gasol, Randolph, and Conley, the Grizzlies have role players that include forwards Vince Carter, Tayshaun Prince, and Quincy Pondexter along with shooting guard Courtney Lee who will have a say in any success that Memphis will be able to have this season.
The Grizzlies will open with a soft schedule which will get them ready for a road trip at the end of November that will see them face the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trailblazers, Sacramento Kings, and Houston Rockets. But come the spring and the NBA Playoffs, the Grizzlies will once again be a tough out.
New Orleans Pelicans 44-38
The New Orleans Pelicans have increased their win total in each of the last three seasons, but it hasn’t resulted in them making the postseason. But will that trend change for the Pelicans this season? Under head coach Monty Williams, the Pelicans have a young team that could be a playoff team this season if they are able to remain healthy.
Last season Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis led the team in scoring (20.8) and rebounds (10.0) per game. Davis is only 21-years of age and he is already a very exciting player in the NBA as he can run the floor. Davis can block shots in the mode of Bill Russell which ignites the fast break and he also knows how to clean up on the boards. It is just a matter of Davis remaining healthy as in his two seasons in the NBA he has yet to participate in all 82 regular season games. Like Davis, Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday is another exciting player, but his 2013-2014 NBA season was cut short due to a stress fracture in his right tibia which limited him to just 34 games. But if Holiday is a go this season, New Orleans will be a tough team to defeat in the Western Conference.
Aside from Davis and Holiday, the Pelicans have a potent starting lineup consisting of center Omer Asik, small forward Tyreke Evans, and shooting guard Eric Gordon. Asik is one of the better rebounders in the NBA while Evans and Gordon could have a positive impact if they both remain healthy. With veterans in power forward Ryan Anderson and small forward John Salmons coming off of the bench for Williams, this should be a good NBA season on the Bayou.
Within the first five games of the upcoming season, the Pelicans will have road games against the Grizzlies and Spurs who have been two of the top teams within the Southwest Division and it will also serve as a litmus test to see how the season will go in New Orleans.
Y-Clinched Playoff Berth
X-Cleveland Cavaliers 52-30 (1)
After four years of manipulating the NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers are back in business as a legitimate title contender. After spending the first seven years of his NBA career with the Cavaliers, small forward LeBron James took his talents to South Beach in 2010 to join the Miami Heat. In the seven seasons that James spent in Cleveland, the Cavs made the postseason five times including their only trip to the NBA Finals in 2007. But since James left, the Cavaliers never made the postseason and over that stretch they “won” the NBA Draft Lottery three times. This past summer James decided to leave the Heat as a free agent in order to return to the Cavs and all of those fans who famously burned his jerseys four years ago and called him “gutless” are now back on the LeBron bandwagon.
The Cavaliers “tremendous success” at the NBA Draft Lottery has given them the ability to put a team around James which wasn’t the case during his first stint in Cleveland. The Cavs were able to trade power forward Anthony Bennett and shooting guard Andrew Wiggins who were the last two first overall picks in the NBA Draft to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the package that sent All-Star power forward Kevin Love to Cleveland. Love and James will team with point guard Kyrie Irving to be the Cavaliers version of the “Big Three”. Four years ago small forward LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and he is still the best best player in the NBA. With James back in the saddle the Cavs should once again contend for an NBA Championship, but what about their team chemistry?
David Blatt is the new head coach of the Cavaliers and he has never coached in the NBA as he spent the last four seasons coaching Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel. Blatt is a four-time Israeli league Coach of the Year, but it is just a matter of him getting his message across in the NBA.
In his brief NBA career, Irving has shown that he is a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. Irving has not always been a facilitator which must change this season for the Cavaliers to be successful. This season’s Cavaliers team will resemble the team that Love played on during his one season of college basketball at UCLA as they are deep and talented. Love is a proven scorer and rebounder in the NBA and his talents will compliment those of James.
Just like he did with the Heat, James has been able to lure veterans to Cleveland with seasoned small forwards Mike Miller and Shawn Marion looking to add another NBA Championship to their respective resumes. The Cavaliers also have youngsters in power forward Tristan Thompson and shooting guard Dion Waiters who will look to be on board as members of the new “James Gang” in Cleveland.
It will take some time for this Cavs team to gel, but by the spring they should be a well-oiled machine that will be ready to contend for an NBA Championship.
Y-Chicago Bulls 52-30 (2)
In the past four seasons head coach Tom Thibodeau has proven his worth with the Chicago Bulls. Thibodeau was the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 2011 as he led the Bulls to 62 regular season victories. But what Thibodeau has done in the past two seasons has been remarkable. Thibodeau has kept the Bulls as an upper echelon team in the Eastern Conference in spite of the fact that point guard Derrick Rose that he has only played in 10 games due to knee injuries. Rose is expected to return to the Bulls lineup this season and he has a ton of depth around him.
In Rose’s absence, center Joakim Noah has become the leader of the Bulls. Noah in the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year and he has a variety of ways in which he can effect the outcome of a game as he is a scorer, defender, rebounder, and facilitator. The Bulls finally have a proven low-post scorer in power forward Pau Gasol. For his 13-year NBA career, Gasol has averaged 18.3 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game and he was also a two-time NBA Champion with the Los Angeles Lakers. Now Gasol will bring that championship pedigree to the Windy City as he could be the missing piece for the Bulls as far as them winning an NBA Championship.
For each of his three seasons in the NBA, Bulls shooting guard Jimmy Butler has improved. Aside from averaging 13.1 points per game last season, Butler is a tremendous on-the-ball defender who’s overall game should benefit from the Rose returning to the Bulls lineup.
The Bulls also have depth behind Rose at the point guard position in veterans Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks who will bring a blend of fire and ice to the court in Chicago. Rookie small forward Doug McDermott will be key as far as coming off of the bench for the Bulls. McDermott comes to the Bulls as one of the top scorers in college basketball history and he was a three-time All-American at Creighton along with being the Consensus Player of the Year last season in college basketball. McDermott will also push veteran small forward Mike Dunleavy for minutes on the wing.
Under Thibodeau, the Bulls have been one of the better defensive teams in the NBA and if Rose is indeed healthy this season, they will be able to ascend back to being one of the better overall teams in the league.
Y-Detroit Pistons 42-40 (8)
The past five seasons have seen the Detroit Pistons become an afterthought in the Eastern Conference. This Pistons have failed to qualify for the postseason since 2009 and they have not had a winning season since 2008. But a front office shake up has the fans in the Motor City optimistic that the Pistons can return to respectability this season.
Stan Van Gundy is the Pistons new head coach and he will also serve as the team’s president of basketball operations. Van Gundy previously coached the Miami Heat whom he led to the playoffs twice and the Orlando Magic where he guided the team to the Eastern Conference Championship in 2009. Now Van Gundy’s task is to turn the underachieving Pistons into playoff contenders.
Last season forward Josh Smith led the Pistons scoring at 16.4 points per game, but he did not have the impact that the team expected when they signed him to a four-year, $54 million deal. Throughout his 10-year NBA career, Smith has never been an assertive guy which will makes things interesting this season as Van Gundy is a no-nonsense type of coach.
Aside from Smith, the Pistons do have a pair of Van Gundy type players in their front court in power forward Greg Monroe and center Andre Drummond. For his four-year NBA career, Monroe has averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds per contest. This past summer Monroe signed a one-year qualifying offer and he will be looking for a max contract next off-season which means that the Pistons could have a big season from him. Drummond was the Pistons first round pick in 2012. Drummond is only 21-years of age and the future is looking bright for the youngster. Last season Drummond became one of the top rebounders in the NBA and he is just beginning to scratch the surface at the offensive end of the floor.
In his first season with the Pistons, point guard Brandon Jennings surprised some people by averaging 7.6 assists per game. Van Gundy will rely on Jennings to continue to be a facilitator in this offense for the Pistons who have a huge front court that he needs to get the basketball to. Behind Jennings, Van Gundy and the Pistons have a very reliable backup point guard in D.J. Augustin who is more than capable of picking up the slack when he checks into the game. Coming off of the bench the Pistons also have a reliable veteran small forward in Caron Butler along with sharp-shooting Jodie Meeks at shooting guard as Detroit is poised to be an improved team this season.
Van Gundy is all about changing the culture with the Pistons and bringing some much needed toughness back to Detroit. It will either be Van Gundy’s way or the highway and we shall see who is tough enough to hang with him this season.
Indiana Pacers 39-43
Unless you’ve been trapped in a cave for the past few months you know that Indiana Pacers chances for the upcoming NBA season took a huge blow in the off-season. Over the summer, Pacers small forward Paul George was a member of Team USA when he suffered a broken leg. George’s leg injury will more than likely keep him on the shelf for the entire 2014-2015 NBA season. With the injury to George, who will Pacers head coach Frank Vogel be able to rely on as far as picking up the slack in Indiana?
Veteran power forward David West is entering his fourth season with the Pacers and without George he can expect to be called upon more on the offensive end. Behind West, the Pacers have another veteran power forward in Luis Scola who is also a proven scorer in the NBA. The Pacers are hopeful that center Roy Hibbert can become more assertive in the low post as he has averaged 11.2 points and 6.7 boards for his NBA career. At 7’2″, Hibbert must aggressively crash the boards while also establishing better position for himself down low to become more of an offensive threat.
With the injury to George, the departure of shooting guard Lance Stephenson who signed with the Charlotte Hornets, and their lack of production from the point guard position, this will be a tough season for the Pacers and their fans to endure.
Milwaukee Bucks 28-54
After a 15-win campaign last season there is only one way to go for the Milwaukee Bucks which is up. The Bucks have a new ownership group, a new head coach, and an exciting rookie who are all looking to turn around the franchise. Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry are the new owners of the Bucks who are looking to increase the interest for their team in Milwaukee. Jason Kidd spent one season as the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. But after not being on the same page with the Nets front office, Kidd left to become the new head coach of the Bucks. The Bucks had the worst record in the NBA last season, but they were unable to attain the first overall pick in the draft. The Bucks however did have the second overall pick in the NBA Draft which they used on small forward Jabari Parker.
In one season of college ball at Duke, Parker averaged 19.1 points per game and he has the ability to eventually become a franchise player for the Bucks. Aside from Parker, the Bucks have center Larry Sanders and power forward Ersan Ilyasova who will both need to be healthy this season as they combined to miss 86 games last season. Sanders is a tremendous rebounder and interior defender while Ilyasova can stretch opposing defenses with his mid-range game. Last season as a rookie, Bucks shooting guard Giannis Antetokounmpo was only able to average 6.8 points per game, but at 6’11″, he can be a matchup nightmare on the wing and Kidd is hopeful that he improves in his sophomore season. For Bucks point guard Brandon Knight, his numbers have improved in each of his three seasons in the NBA and they should continue to rise with the arrival of Parker.
The main thing for Kidd and his young Bucks to do is to win some games early in order to gain some confidence and as the season progresses you should see this team grow.
Y-Clinched Playoff Berth
The onus will be on Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler if they are going to knock off the New England Patriots tomorrow.
The Super Bowl era in the National Football League has spanned for 48 years and in that time only eight teams have been able to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. It is tough for teams in all sports to repeat as champions from the previous season, but you really don’t see it that much in the NFL as the league has not had a repeat champion since the New England Patriots in 2004. As opposed to the other major professional sports leagues in the United States, the NFL only has a 16-game schedule that features a ton of intensity and importance for each game. The Seattle Seahawks were the most balanced team in the NFL last year and they capped it off with a 43-8 beat down of the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks suffered departures in the off-season via free agency, but the majority of their core players have remained as they were expected to contend for another Super Bowl Championship. But the bubble of invincibility that the Seahawks began this season on has burst and they have been served a harsh dose of reality.
Through six games this season the Seahawks are 3-3 and they are in third place in the NFC West and they do not appear to be the team that they were last season as teams are taking away their strengths which begins with their running game. In Week 2, the Seahawks were on the road to meet the San Diego Chargers. The Seahawks would lose the contest 30-21 as the Chargers possessed the football that afternoon for more than 42 minutes. In that game Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch was limited to just 36 rushing yards on 6 carries. Week 3 saw the Seahawks blow a 17-3 fourth quarter lead to the Broncos before winning the game in overtime. In Week 5, the Dallas Cowboys went to CenturyLink Field in Seattle and beat the Seahawks at their own game which is physicality. This past Sunday, the Seahawks lost to the St. Louis Rams 28-26 and in the contest they were always fighting an uphill battle for the majority of the game as they were trying to fight back after falling behind 21-3 in the second quarter. The Seahawks are currently on a two-game losing streak and they have to survive the current onslaught that they are facing due to the fact that every team in the NFL wants to say that they were able to knock off the defending champs.
The Seahawks are currently a game behind the San Francisco 49ers in the win column and two games behind the first place Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West and it is time for them to get back to the basics.
Statistically the Seahawks are still one of the top rushing teams in the National Football League, but it is primarily due to the improvisation of their quarterback Russell Wilson who is averaging 8.6 yards per rush. Wilson is running more due to the fact that passing plays are breaking down more and he is trying to make something happen for the offense. But the running game of the Seahawks begins and ends on the powerful legs of Lynch. The past two years have seen the Seahawks make the postseason and in the process Lynch averaged 308 carries over both of those seasons. This year though six games, Lynch only has 97 carries and he needs the football more as he is the last of a dying breed in the role of a “workhorse” running back. Good things always seem to happen for the Seahawks when Lynch gets at least 25 carries in a game.
The Seahawks offensive line is not as strong as it was last season and it begins with offensive tackle Russell Okung. Okung is the anchor of the Seahawks offensive line and he is attempting to play through a torn labrum. The Seahawks didn’t have a superstar caliber wide receiver in 2013, but they had a unit of dependable players at the position. The Seahawks lost Golden Tate in free agency as he signed with the Detroit Lions while Percy Harvin was traded last week to the New York Jets which puts to onus in Seattle’s passing game on wide receiver Doug Baldwin.
The Seahawks secondary features cornerback Richard Sherman, free safety Earl Thomas, and strong safety Kam Chancellor and they have been referred to as the “Legion of Boom”. Sherman is one of the best covers corners in the NFL, but teams have been sending receivers in motion against him which disallows him to remain on his island and be the dominant shut down corner that he is. The Seahawks front seven has yet to recover from losing defensive end Chris Clemons and defensive tackle Red Bryant to free agency as both players signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Clemons and Bryant were two of the leaders in the front seven for the Seahawks and aside from putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, they were also leaders in the locker room.
Luckily for the Seahawks, the season is not over after six games and they have plenty of time to get the ship righted. Beginning this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, the Seahawks must get back to the basics which is running the football. For Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, they must get Lynch involved early in the game plan. The Seahawks have been the bullies in the National Football League recently and they must get back to punching opposing teams in the mouth early and often. Especially when they are at home, the Seahawks must get back to dictating the pace. In their Week 5 loss to the Cowboys, the Seahawks jumped out to the early 10-0 lead which they took for granted as they subsequently lost the game. But when the Seahawks are playing from ahead at home, there is not a nosier stadium in the NFL than CenturyLink Field. Mostly the Seahawks just need to get back to having fun. The Seahawks have a ton of swagger and they only need a big play here or there to get the momentum going back in their direction again. Last season the Seahawks began the year with a 12-7 road win over the Panthers and an ugly win this Sunday in Charlotte could just be what the doctor ordered for the defending Super Bowl Champions.
X-Los Angeles Clippers 56-26 (2)
Last season the Los Angeles Clippers won 57 games in their first season under head coach Doc Rivers. Rivers changed the culture with the Clippers, but they still were unable to get past the second round in the NBA Playoffs. This season however the Clippers will have an ever fresher start with a clearer piece of mind.
During the NBA Playoffs last year it was revealed that former Clippers owner Donald Sterling had made some insensitive remarks towards blacks. Sterling’s remarks almost led to a boycott by the players in the NBA which led NBA commissioner Adam Silver to take control of the team away from him. A nasty court battle ensued over the summer which led to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer purchasing the Clippers this past summer for $2.2 billion. Ballmer is on the same page with Rivers while the players are once again focused solely on basketball which is definitely good for business.
Under Rivers, Clippers power forward Blake Griffin enjoyed his best season as a pro by averaging 24.1 points per contest along with 9.5 rebounds. Griffin’s mid-range jump shot continues to improve which will only help the Clippers chances in the upcoming season. But Griffin isn’t the only player in the Clippers frontcourt that has improved under Rivers. Last season Clippers center DeAndre Jordan led the NBA in rebounds at 13.6 per game. Jordan also averaged a career-high in points at 10.4 per contest and Rivers is trusting the big man out of Texas A&M to be on the floor more in crucial situations.
But the engine of the Clippers offense belongs to their starting point guard Chris Paul. Last season Paul averaged more than 10 assists per game for the first since joining the Clippers and aside from Griffin and Jordan, Paul has a litany of talent to get the basketball to. The Clippers will have tremendous depth this season that includes small forward Matt Barnes, shooting guard Jamal Crawford, center Spencer Hawes, and power forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis.
The Clippers shoud once again enjoy a successful regular season, but they are at the point now where they will be solely judged on what they are able to do in the NBA Playoffs.
Y-Golden State Warriors 51-31 (4)
Success does not always provide job security in the world that is professional sports. Last season Mark Jackson led the Warriors to their highest regular season win total in 22 years, but he could not get along with the front office in Oakland as he was sent packing. Jackson had a great repoire with the players on the Warriors and it will be an interesting task for Steve Kerr as he is the new head coach for Golden State to earn the locker room’s respect. Kerr has never coached in the NBA, but he does have basketball smarts that has seen him enjoy a 15-year playing career in the league that produced four NBA Championships and he also had a four-year run as the general manager of the Phoenix Suns.
The talent that the Warriors have will make Kerr’s transition to the bench that much easier. The Warriors arguably have the best backcourt in the Western Conference in point guard Stephen Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson. Curry and Thompson combined to average 42.5 points per game last season and you can expect more of the same this year once they get accustomed to Kerr’s offensive system which will feature some of the triangle offense in it. But Curry and Thompson each have the ability to get hot for deep stretches on the offensive end to put the Warriors on their backs. This season for Thompson and Curry will come down to how much faith that Kerr is going to put in them.
Warriors center Andrew Bogut is one of the best passing big men in the game of basketball while also having the unique ability to score from both the low post and the perimeter. But Bogut has not played an entire regular season in the NBA since his rookie campaign in 2005-2006. The deck is stacked at that position this season and given Bogut’s track record it will be important for Kerr to monitor the health of his big man this season in order to keep the native Austailian fresh for the playoffs. The Warriors also have starting power forward David Lee who is a member of the 300lbsofsportsknowledge’s all-effort team. In four seasons with the Warriors, Lee has averaged 18.2 points per game along with 7.2 rebounds and he has done most of this without having plays called for him which makes him the perfect compliment to Thompson and Curry.
With the Warriors depth, the offensive production of small forward Andre Iguodala dipped drastically in his first season with Golden State, but he was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team for the first time. Iguodala’s skills as an on-the-ball defender along with his long wing span will be vital for the Warriors against the likes of Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant and Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden who are two of the better perimeter players in the Western Conference as they both play for teams that Golden State could meet in the NBA Playoffs.
The Warriors could have the best bench in the NBA this season consisting of point guards Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa, small forward Harrison Barnes, power forwards Draymond Green and Marreese Speights, along with center Festus Ezeli as the group possesses, size, rebounding, defense, speed, and scoring.
In recent years the Warriors and Clippers have been battling it out for supremacy in the Pacific Division. These two clubs meet on November 5 which will give Kerr and idea of how his team will do this season and they should be a factor next spring in the playoffs.
Phoenix Suns 41-41
Last season under first year head coach Jeff Hornacek, the Phoenix Suns were the surprise team of the NBA as the only missed making the playoffs by one game. All season long the Suns overachieved, but will Hornacek’s group be able to do it for a second consecutive season?
There will be plenty of brotherly love in Phoenix as two pairs of brothers will be vital for the Suns this season. Last season the Morris brothers (forwards Markieff and Marcus) combined to score 23.5 points per game while point guard Goran Dragic led the Suns in scoring at 20.3 points per. This off-season, Suns general maanger Ryan McDonough signed the brother of the Suns point guard in shooting guard Zoran Dragic who can provide some more depth off of the bench.
Along with Goran Dragic, the Suns have starting shooting guard Eric Bledsoe as the two will combine to be one of the fastest backcourts in the Western Conference. This past summer the Suns acquired point guard Isaiah Thomas from the Sacramento Kings. Thomas is coming off of the best season of his brief NBA career as he averaged 20.3 points per game last season with the Kings along with 6.3 assists. It would not surprise me in any way if Hornacek attempted to use Dragic, Bledsoe, and Thomas at the same time in order to speed up the pace for the Suns.
For the Suns to hang in the playoff picture in the Western Conference they must find a way to do what they did last season which is to beat up on the bottom feeders which allowed them to fatten up in the win column. If not, then the Suns will get lost in the shuffle
Los Angeles Lakers 37-45
Last season was a forgettable one for the Los Angeles Lakers as they endured their worst campaign since they have called Southern California home. Now the unusual process of returning to respectability begins for the Lakers. Byron Scott is set to begin his first season as the head coach of the Lakers and he knows a things or two about the purple and gold as 11 of his 14 years as an NBA player were in Los Angeles. Scott also helped the Lakers win three NBA Championships as a player. This is the fourth NBA team that Scott will coach and some of his highlights include leading the New Jersey Nets to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 along with being named as the NBA’s coach of the Year in 2008 when he led the New Orleans Hornets to the postseason. Scott’s challenge in Los Angeles will be to turn around a Lakers team that many feel is simply too old.
Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant is 36-years of age and he is coming off of a season where knee and Achilles injuries limited him to just six games. Bryant is arguably one of the more determined athletes that the basketball world has ever seen and he is out to prove the naysayers wrong and show them that he can still get it done. Lakers point guard Steve Nash is a two-time NBA MVP, but he is 40-years old and Scott must monitor his minutes while also relying on backup point guard Jeremy Lin to be more of the floor general this season.
Power forward Carlos Boozer has been heavily scrutinized for his defensive prowess; or lack thereof, but he gives the Lakers a threat in low post which Los Angeles lost when they parted with power forward Pau Gasol. It is just a matter of Boozer being able to blend in with Bryant on the court. The Lakers are high on their first round pick in rookie power forward Julius Randle. Randle is only 19-years of age and there will be a learning curve for him, but he has tremendous athleticism along with a nose for crashing the boards.
Last season small forward Nick Young led the Lakers in scoring at 17.9 points per game and they will miss his production to begin the season as a thumb injury will keep “Swaggy P” sidelined.
Under Scott, the Lakers will be facing an uphill battle this season as their first seven games of the year will be against teams that finished the previous campaign with a winning record. These are not your father’s Lakers and the fans in Tinseltown will have to get used to mediocrity.
Sacramento Kings 35-47
After eight consecutive playoff appearances, the Sacramento Kings have now had eight straight losing seasons. Kings head coach Mike Malone is in his second season with the club and he has a young team that is in need of some leadership. The Kings have a pair of viable scoring threats in small forward Rudy Gay and center DeMarcus Cousins. Gay was acquired by the Kings last season and in 55 games with the club he averaged 20.1 points per game. Cousins is coming off of his fourth NBA season which was his best one as he averaged 22.7 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. Cousins is talented enough to be an NBA All-Star, but it a just matter of him getting enough recognition. The man that will be responsible for getting the basketball frequently to both Gay and Cousins will the Kings new point guard Darren Collison. The Kings will be Collison’s fifth NBA team and Malone is hopeful that he will be able to flash the potential that made him a first round pick back in 2009. The Kings also have a youngster at shooting guard in Ben McLemore that they are hopeful will continue to improve off of the 8.8 points per game that he averaged last season as a rookie.
Malone needs to change the culture in the Kings locker room as they have become accumstomed to losing. Right out of the gate the Kings will meet the Warriors, Portland Trailblazers, and Clippers in their first three games of the season which will definitely test the maturity of this young team.
Y-Clinched Playoff Berth
Bo Wallace and Ole Miss will face a tough challenge this Saturday night when they travel to Death Valley to take on LSU.
X-Toronto Raptors 49-33 (4)
Last season the Toronto Raptors came out of nowhere to win the Atlantic Division. The Raptors did it with a team that had a workman like approach and also had a star in the making. Last season Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan averaged a career-high in points with 22.7 per game and at 25-years of age he is in the process of becoming the new face of the franchise in Toronto. Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri received good news this summer when point guard Kyle Lowry turned down an opportunity to join the Miami Heat and return to Canada. Like DeRozan, Lowry averaged a career-high in points last season (17.9) along with 7.4 assists per game. Heading into this season the starting backcourt of Lowry and DeRozan gives Raptors head coach Dwane Casey one of the best combos at the guard position in the Eastern Conference.
Aside from Lowry and DeRozan, the Raptors will rely on a slew of role players that include center Jonas Valenciunas, power forwards Amir Johnson, and Patrick Patterson along with guard Greivis Vasquez who all know how to go out there and do all of the dirty things for Toronto to be successful.
The schedule at the beginning of the season is not a difficult one for the Raptors and as their expectations have changed, Toronto will need to be up for the challenge in 2014.
Y-Brooklyn Nets 46-36 (5)
The Brooklyn Nets have called Downtown Brooklyn home for two seasons and in the process they have made a pair of trips to the postseason. But will the Nets be able to take that next step for the 2014-2015 NBA season? The Nets will begin this season with their fourth head coach since the start of the 2012-2013 NBA season. Lionel Hollins is the new head coach of the Nets. Hollins comes to the Nets after he led the Memphis Grizzlies to the 2013 Western Conference Finals and the main reason why he is in Brooklyn is the fact that he knows how to deal with different personalities.
The Nets are a veteran team that needs shooting guard Joe Johnson, center Brook Lopez, and point guard Deron Williams to all be healthy and on the same page. Last season Lopez only appeared in 17 games as a foot injury kept him on the sidelines. In the past three seasons Lopez has combined to miss 150 games. More than ever the Nets will need a healthy Lopez in the post as he has averaged 18.0 points per game in his NBA career.
It is put up or shut up time for Williams in Brooklyn. Last season Williams had his worst season since his rookie campaign during the 2005-2006 NBA season. Last season Williams only averaged 14.3 points and 6.1 assists per game as he drew the ire of many members of the New York media as they feel that he is not living up to the five-year, $98 million deal that he inked two years ago. Williams has cited bad ankles, but he has developed a reputation of being a coach killer and a prima donna. Williams must push all of that to the side and find a way to focus on being the leader of the Nets. For Johnson he is coming off of one best shooting years as a pro as he was 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc and he should flourish in Hollins’ offensive system.
Hollins and the Nets have a tremendous supporting cast of veterans and youngsters alike to support Lopez, Williams, and Johnson. Nets power forward Kevin Garnett is entering his 20th NBA season and his second in Brooklyn. Garnett is 38-years old and he is coming off of his worst season as a professional as he only averaged 6.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. But Garnett is the consummate pro and he wants to go out on better terms than that. Last season as rookie, Nets center Mason Plumlee averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds and he has the potential for a breakout season if Brooklyn cannot rely on a healthy Lopez. At 6’10″, Plumlee has a knack for running the floor and the basketball always seems to find him. This season the Nets will be the seventh NBA team for point guard Jarrett Jack. For his nine-year NBA career Jack has averaged 10.9 points and 4.3 assists per contest and he is a player that will push Williams for minutes at the point guard position.
Of the Nets first seven games in the upcoming season, only one contest will be against a playoff team from last season which is an opportunity for Hollins and his crew to jump out of the chute fast as they look to win the Atlantic Division.
New York Knicks 40-42
The New York Knicks are set to begin a new era of basketball that has their faithful fans in the Big Apple buzzing. After winning 11 NBA Championships as a head coach, Phil Jackson has returned to the franchise that he helped win a pair of NBA Titles as a player in the 1970′s. But this time around Jackson will not be coaching as he has instead opted to be the Knicks team president. Jackson came aboard late in the 2013-2014 NBA season and he began the process of shaping the franchise in his own image.
Jackson’s first order of business was to find a protege that he could groom as a head coach. Derek Fisher just capped off a 20-year playing career in the NBA. Fisher spent 9 of those 20 seasons playing for Jackson with the Los Angeles Lakers where the two combined to win five NBA Championships. Now Fisher will get his shot to show the world that he can lead an NBA team.
Jackson had his hands full over the summer as he had to convince small forward Carmelo Anthony to remain with the Knicks. Anthony opted out of his deal and there was speculation that he would chase a championship in another NBA city. But the allure of being under the guidance of Jackson along with being in the Big Apple was enough to convince Anthony to remain with the Knicks. But this is not the most talented team in the world that will be around Mr. Anthony.
Knicks power forward Amar’e Stoudemire has a pair of bum knees and his stats have declined in each of his four seasons with the Knicks. Stoudemire is the final year of his contract as he is set to earn nearly $21.7 million and you can expect Jackson to attempt to trade him. The Knicks have a duo at the shooting guard position in Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith that have fallen out of favor with the Knicks front office. Shumpert could simply use a fresh start with a new team while Smith has a low basketball IQ which will make it tough for him to navigate the triangle offense. Veteran point guard Jose Calderon is 33-years of age and he has been a journeyman as he appears to be the Knicks starting point guard of the present, but how effective will he be?
For his 11-year NBA career, Anthony has been one of the best scorers in the league. In the triangle offense Anthony will be asked be more of a team player, but the Knicks simply don’t have that consistent sidekick that he can depend on. Six of the Knicks first eight games this season will be against playoff teams from a year ago and the New York media will have a field day if the Knickerbockers get off to a slow start.
Boston Celtics 32-50
The Boston Celtics are rebuilding and the process could take a little bit longer than they initially expected. The Celtics only won 25 games last season. The ping-pong balls didn’t bounce the way that the Celtics expected last spring as they had to settle for the sixth overall pick which they used on guard Marcus Smart. By trade Smart is a point guard, but he has a scorer’s mentality and it will be interesting to see how he will be used in Celtics head coach Brad Stevens’ system. The Celtics already have point guard Rajon Rondo and you never know how the wind will blow with him. Rondo has seen the best of times and the worst of times with the Celtics as he was the starting point guard when Boston won the NBA Championship in 2008. Rondo can be high maintenance and it would be in the best interest of Celtics general manager Danny Ainge to trade Rondo. But it will be tough to ship Rondo out of town now since he is currently recovering from a broken hand.
Whomever the Celtics starting point guard is for the upcoming season he will team with shooting guard Avery Bradley in the backcourt. But Smart and Rondo must find a way to get the Celtics froncourt involved that includes forwards Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Jared Sullinger, along with center Tyler Zeller. Sullinger has the potential to become an All-Star, but it all comes down to the big man remaining healthy.
Stevens is set to begin his second season as the Celtics head coach and a fast start this fall could go a long way for him and his young team.
Philadelphia 76ers 22-60
Unfortunately for the basketball fans on Broad Street, the term “starting over” and the Philadelphia 76ers seem to go together. The Sixers only managed to win 19 games last season and they have numerous questions marks on their roster heading into this season. The last two years have seen the 76ers use early picks in the NBA Draft on players that have been unable to contribute. Last year the Sixers traded point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for the draft rights to center Nerlens Noel. While at the University of Kentucky, Noel suffered an ACL injury which kept him out of action for the entire 2013-2014 NBA season. Noel is expected to be on the floor for the Sixers this season, but you just don’t know what he is going to be able to give the team. Then there is center Joel Embiid. Embiid was selected by the 76ers third overall in last spring’s NBA Draft, but a broken bone in his foot currently has him sidelined. The Sixers do have the NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year in point guard Michael Carter-Williams who averaged 16.7 points per game to go along with 6.3 assists, but one man cannot do it by himself in the NBA.
For the fans in Philadelphia, they can take solace that their Eagles are in playoff contention in the NFC East which can help to cushion the blow another potentially bad season from the 76ers.
Y-Clinched Playoff Berth