If the Philadelphia 76ers are not going to utilize Jahlil Okafor, he has value on the trade market.
X-Toronto Raptors 54-28 (3)
The past three years have seen the Toronto Raptors become the class of the Atlantic Division. The Raptors have focused on basketball fundamentals which has led to more wins and a growing fan base in Canada. The Raptors will begin the upcoming NBA season as the three-time defending Atlantic Division Championships, and after Toronto reached the Eastern Conference Finals last June for the first time in franchise history, the expectations around this team have increased.
Dwane Casey is set to begin his sixth season with the Raptors and in each of his campaign’s in Toronto, the team’s win total has increased. And after the Raptors won a franchise best 56 games last season, they are poised to once again be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
The backbone of the Raptors has been their All-Star backcourt of point guard Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan averaged a career-high in points last season at 23.5 points per game as he continues to improve as a perimeter shooter. Lowry’s numbers have continued throughout his NBA career as he is emerging as one of the better point guards in the league. Last year Lowry averaged 21.2 points and 6.4 assists per contest and as he intends to test free agency next summer.
Around Lowry and DeRozan, the Raptors have developing players such as center Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas has spent his entire four-year NBA career with the Raptors and his numbers continue to improve as he averaged 12.8 points and 9.1 rebounds last season. Valanciunas is a prime candidate to average a double-double this season which could make the Raptors that more difficult to deal with. The Raptors signed center Jared Sullinger who could be a solid role player in Toronto after he spent the last four years with the Boston Celtics. And the Raptors first-round pick in center/power forward Jakob Poltl could give them another dynamic as a big man that can stretch the floor with his ability to hit he mid-range jump shot.
Size has been the one thing that has held the Raptors back in recent years, but as this team continues to get better in the front court, their chances of being a title contender are that much better.
Y-Boston Celtics 48-34 (4)
The past two years have seen the Boston Celtics become “The Little Engine That Could” of the NBA. The Celtics are not the most talented team in the league, but they scrap and claw on a nightly basis as they are a team that opponents are not excited to face. Brad Stevens is the Celtics head coach, and it is a post that he has maintained for the last three years. And in each year that Stevens has been in Boston, the Celtics win total has increased. The last two seasons have seen the Celtics make the playoffs, but they’ve been unable to advance past the first round. However will things change for the Celtics next spring?
Last year saw point guard Isaiah Thomas turn into a star for the Celtics. Thomas led the Celtics in points per game (22.2) and assists (6.2) as he earned his first All-Star Game nod. Thomas has solid ability as a point guard being that is able to penetrate, but for the Celtics to take that next step they are going to need a consistent low-post presence.
For the last nine years, center Al Horford has been one of the cornerstones of the Atlanta Hawks. With the Hawks, Horford was a four-time NBA All-Star as he averaged 14.3 points and 8.9 rebounds during his time there. But when Horford became a free agent this past summer, the Hawks signed center Dwight Howard which made him expendable. And when the Celtics offered Horford $113 million on a four-year deal, he jumped on it.
Horford gives the Celtics a dependable scorer in the post, and he has already been named as one of the team’s captains which gives you an idea of the respect that he commands.
The combination of guards Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley continue to pester opponents with their frenetic play at both ends of the floor. Both Smart and Bradley are two of the better defenders at the point guard position along with each player providing a change of pace on offense which gives Stevens more options as he preaches versatility with his team.
Veteran small forward Jae Crowder should be able to feed off of Horford’s presence in the front court as he no longer has to be the Celtics primary scoring option in the post. The Celtics have high hopes for their first-round pick in small forward Jaylen Brown. But a sleeper on this roster could be rookie forward Ben Bentil who averaged 21.1 points and 7.7 rebounds last year in the college for the Providence Friars. Aside from leading the Friars in scoring and rebounds, Bentil also led the team with 52 made three-point field goals, and his scoring ability will be huge off of the bench for the Celtics.
Five of the Celtics first six games this season will be at home, and a fast start could be just what they need to push the Toronto Raptors for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
New York Knicks 41-41
When Phil Jackson became the president of the New York Knicks in March 2014, he brought excitement and expectations to the franchise. But in two seasons under Jackson’s regime, the Knicks have only managed to win 49 games, while the man that he was grooming to be the next “great head coach” in Derek Fisher was fired last season after the team got off to a 23-31 start. Kurt Rambis would be named as the Knicks interim head coach for the remainder of the season as New York went 9-19 under him. But what was even more surprising than the firing of Fisher was that Jeff Hornacek was hired to be the new head coach of the Knickerbockers.
The Knicks will be Hornacek’s second NBA coaching gig after he compiled a record of 101-112 in nearly three seasons as the head coach of the Phoenix Suns. Hornacek was never able to lead the Suns to the postseason, and the highlight of his time in Phoenix was when the team won 48 games during the 2013-2014 NBA season. However it is really going to be very interesting to see how the marriage between Hornacek and Jackson will work since Jackson is notorious for hiring coaches that will solely run his triangle offense which isn’t a specialty of the Knicks new head coach who prefers a more uptempo style of offense.
The hiring of Hornacek smells of Knicks owner James Dolan once again putting his nose into the day-to-day operations of the team which makes you wonder if Jackson’s days at 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue are numbered? And even though that the Knicks can be described as the best circus in town, this group must find a way to co-exist in order to make a roster that has individual talent work as a team.
The centerpiece of any potential Knicks success is small forward Carmelo Anthony. Anthony has been with the Knicks since 2011 and he has given New York a face of the franchise while helping them reach the postseason on three occasions. Anthony also led the NBA in scoring during the 2012-2013 NBA season, but since then his offensive numbers have dipped. Anthony is 32-years of age with a bad knee. And although that Anthony can still fill up the bucket, the clock is ticking on he and the Knicks to win a championship together.
The Knicks are hopeful that power forward Kristaps Porzingis will be able to build off of his solid rookie campaign. Last season Porzingis averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks. Porzingis came into the NBA being compared to Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki, and he could be a player that could average 17 points and 10 rebounds this season under Hornacek.
This off-season has seen the Knicks bring in an array of veteran players. The Knicks signed former Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah to a four-year deal that is worth $72 million, while also signing guards Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee. The Knicks would also acquire point guard Derrick Rose from the Bulls to complete their roster overhaul. But unfortunately for the Knicks, these are moves that should have been made five years ago.
In 2011, Rose was the NBA’s MVP as he was one of the league’s brightest stars. However since then knee injuries have derailed Rose’s once promising career. Noah was Rose’s teammate in Chicago where they helped the Bulls to be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference when they were healthy. Noah was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 as his toughness and grit defined that era of Bulls basketball. But like Rose, Noah has been dealing with injuries as foot and shoulder issues have limited his effectiveness over his final two seasons in Chicago. The Knicks will be the fourth different team that Jennings has suited up for and he is seeking to find the explosiveness that he had earlier in his career. Like Jennings, Lee has bounced around the NBA as the Knicks will be his seventh different team. Throughout Lee’s career, he has been an underrated defender that should be able to provide a spark off of the Knicks bench for Hornacek.
The Knicks will look to push the pace of play more this season under Hornacek, but the most important thing for New York is to have everyone on the same page as it will be very interesting to see how this motley crew comes together as the season progresses.
Philadelphia 76ers 29-53
It’s no secret that the Philadelphia 76ers have become the worst franchise in the NBA. The 2011-2012 NBA season was the last time that the Sixers finished with a winning record and it was their only winning campaign over the last seven years. The last three seasons have seen the 76ers combine to win 47 games, and to give you an idea of how bad that it has been in Philadelphia, ten NBA teams won more games than the Sixers last year alone than they were able to accomplish over the last three campaigns. Last season was just about as bad as it could get for the Sixers as they managed to go just 10-72 which led to some wholesale changes.
Sam Hinkie was relieved of his duties as the 76ers general manager after he oversaw the worst stretch in franchise history. Former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo was brought in by the Sixers as an advisor and his first order of business was to name his son Bryan as the team’s new president and general manager. The younger Colangelo has a proven track record of putting a team together from his time as the general manager of both the Suns and Toronto Raptors as he was named as the NBA’s Executive of the Year in 2007. Now Colangelo is tasked with making the Sixers respectable once again and they could be a team on the rise.
Brett Brown is set to begin his third season as the Sixers head coach and although that the man who hired him in Hinkie is no longer running the show in Philly, he will still be calling the shots on the sideline.
The Sixers will begin the upcoming NBA season on the wrong foot as they will be without the services of small forward Ben Simmons. Simmons was the first overall pick of the NBA Draft this past summer after he averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in one year for the LSU Tigers. But a foot injury will keep Simmons out of action for at least three months which will postpone his NBA debut.
The inability for the 76ers to win games in recent years has led to selecting early in the NBA Draft, but Hinkie rolled the dice on players that weren’t healthy. In 2013, the Sixers obtained the draft rights to center Nerlens Noel from the New Orleans Pelicans, but he missed the entire 2013-2014 NBA season after he recovered from a torn ACL that he suffered in college. In 2014, the Sixers used the third overall pick of the draft on center Joel Embiid, but injuries have prevented him from participating in an NBA game. Last year the Sixers first-round pick was center Jahlil Okafor. Unlike Noel and Embiid, Okafor was able to suit up as a rookie for the Sixers as he averaged 17.5 points and 7 rebounds in 53 games before a knee injury cut his rookie campaign short. However all three players are healthy and it should give the 76ers a huge advantage in the front court.
The good things for the folks in Philadelphia is that it can’t get any worse than it has already been. Colangelo is working to bring a competitive team to the City of Brotherly Love and the 76ers should be an improved team this season.
Brooklyn Nets 22-60
Last year was a sign of things to come for the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets lost 61 games last season which was the third worst record in the NBA and the icing on the cake was that they didn’t have a first-round pick to show for their futility. The Nets are still suffering from the moves that were made by former general manager Billy King as most of their recent and future picks are now property of the Boston Celtics after the team’s failed attempt to become an instant title contender in 2013 when they acquired aging players such as power forward Kevin Garnett and small forward Paul Pierce. The Nets run at a title was short lived as they are coming off of their worst campaign since 2010 when they were still the New Jersey Nets.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has finally realized that winning an NBA Championship is not an easy process and instead of the quick process, he has finally decided on the slow, methodical process. Prokhorov has hired Sean Marks as the Nets new general manager and he’ll be tasked with making Brooklyn respectable.
Marks played for 11 seasons in the NBA and he won a championship as a member of the San Antonio Spurs in 2003. Marks has spent the last four years working in the Spurs front office and he is looking to bring some of that winning formula with him to Brooklyn.
Marks’ first order of business was to hire a new coach in Kenny Atkinson. The Nets will mark Atkinson’s first head coaching gig in the NBA, but he has had stints as an assistant coach in the league with the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks. And now that Atkinson is running the show in Brooklyn, you can expect him to preach ball movement for the Nets.
One of the few bright spots that the Nets have on their roster is center Brook Lopez. Lopez is coming off of one of his best NBA seasons as he averaged 20.6 points and 7.8 rebounds in 73 games for the Nets. Lopez gives the Nets a solid presence in the post, but trading him to a contending team could return draft picks to Brooklyn that will be needed in order for them to turn things around.
Aside from Lopez, the Nets are a team that is mainly comprised of youngsters that are thankful to be on an NBA roster and veterans that are attempting to hold on. This past summer the Nets signed point guard Jeremy Lin to a three-year, $36 million deal as they are hopeful than he can give them a dose of “Linsanity” as he did when he suited up for the Knicks in 2012. Rookie shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead is a native of Coney Island and he won’t be fazed by playing in front of the hometown fans as he could have a positive impact on this team.
The Nets will be fighting an uphill battle all season long as they have finally come to grips of the reality that is their rebuilding process.
For quite some time now it was a formality that forward Ben Simmons would be the first overall pick of the 2016 NBA Draft; it was just merely a matter of what team would get the opportunity to obtain his services. After only managing to win 10 games this past season, it wasn’t a guarantee that the Philadelphia 76ers would get win the NBA’s Draft Lottery. But the ping-pong balls bounced in the favor of the Sixers and unless you were stuck in a cave, you knew which direction that they were intended to go in with their selection.
Days prior to the NBA Draft, the 76ers made their intentions public when they formally announced that they would use the first overall pick on Simmons. Simmons who is a native of Australia, became a prep-school sensation as he began to be compared to Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James due to his passing skills, rebounding, and floor vision. Simmons was the top prospect coming out of high school and he ultimately decided on playing collegiately for the LSU Tigers.
Simmons was a one-man show at LSU as he averaged 19.2, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists en route to becoming the Southeastern Conference’s Freshman of the Year. At LSU, Simmons gave LSU star power which included him having 21 double-doubles. And at 6’10”, those rebounding and passing skills were what had NBA scouts drooling about Simmons, while the 76ers are hopeful that they have found their savior.
To call the last three years for the Sixers pathetic would be a compliment. In that span Philadelphia has managed to win just 47 games, while 10 NBA teams managed to win more contests than that this past season alone. Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie would always tell the fans and media alike in Philadelphia to “trust the process” as he was notorious for spending high picks on injured players, and trading players for more draft picks. This philosophy didn’t make Hinkie a very popular man on Broad Street, and when he resigned this past April, the Bronx cheer went up in the City of Brotherly Love.
Former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo was brought in to be an advisor for the 76ers and you knew that he would be restoring law and order due to his past track record of building franchises. Colangelo would bring in his son Bryan in to be the Sixers new president of basketball operations after he has spent time as the general manager of both the Suns and Toronto Raptors. And once the Colangelos were awarded the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, they were off to the races.
Now the Sixers have the chance to have one of the biggest front courts in the NBA with each player having a different skills. Center Jahlil Okafor provides the 76ers with a scoring presence from the low-post as he averaged 17.5 points and 7 rebounds this past season as a rookie. Power forward Nerlens Noel is a shot blocker that can run the floor while also grabbing rebounds. And once you put that with the skills of Simmons, Philadelphia is big up front, and they have the potential to defeat you in different ways.
The 76ers did shop both Okafor and Noel leading up to the NBA Draft to see if there were teams interested in their services. But with teams balking at the Sixers asking price, Noel and Okafor will remain in Philadelphia to form a nucleus with Simmons. And once you factor in center Joel Embiid who was the third overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft by the 76ers, but yet to play due to injuries, there is size galore in Philadelphia if everyone can remain healthy.
For 76ers head coach Brett Brown, the arrival of the Colangelos and Simmons has to be a sigh of relief. Brown has been the Sixers head coach for the last three years, but he has been given a reprieve due to the fact of how Hinkie was running the team. And for the first time as an NBA head coach, Brown now has talent to work with.
Simmons represents the Sixers first, top pick in the draft since Allen Iverson in 1996 and that turned out pretty well for Philadelphia. Iverson led the Sixers to the NBA Finals in 2001 which was also his MVP year, while he led the league in scoring on four occasions during his time in Philadelphia. Simmons might not publicly display the swagger of Iverson, but make no mistake about it that he is a star in the making, while he should also clean up on endorsement deals in the Philadelphia area.
Simmons doesn’t come to the NBA completely polished as he must work on his perimeter shooting as he only attempted 3 shots from behind the three-point arc at LSU, but it is a part of his game that he will work on.
As Simmons is set to embark on his professional career, the most important thing that he must do is to not pay attention to the white noise in Philadelphia. The fan base in Philadelphia is desperate to see the Sixers turn things around as they haven’t made the playoffs in four years, while they haven’t won the NBA Championship since 1983. And this fan base will expect an overnight miracle which isn’t fair to Simmons. But one thing for sure is that the arrival of Simmons will end the 76ers run of picking in the top-five of the NBA Draft as this team has already improved from the end of last season without one practice together.
Luckily for the folks that are fans of the Philadelphia 76ers, there finally appears to be some hope. After three years of putting on a clinic of how not to run an NBA franchise, Sam Hinkie resigned as the Sixers general manager last week which was met by a chorus of cheers on Broad Street. Under Hinkie, the 76ers posted a record of 47-135 as it was the worst stretch of basketball in NBA history for any team. In each year under Hinkie, the 76ers actually found a way to get worse in every season as the highlight of his regime was winning 19 games during the 2013-2014 NBA season. The Sixers have managed to get worse as it took them until their 78th game of this NBA season to win their 10th game. Regardless of the abysmal results by Hinkie, he’ll always be remembered in Philadelphia for simply telling people to “trust the process”. But Hinkie’s process of gutting the Sixers roster upon his arrival to Philadelphia in favor of draft picks never caught on. Hinkie has used early picks in the NBA Draft on players such as center Joel Embiid who has never played in the NBA due to injuries while also trading away proven young players such as point guards Jrue Holiday and Michael Carter-Williams. And if you look at the current Sixers roster, it isn’t littered with that much NBA talent as Hinkie was more concerned with analytics than players who can actually contribute at a high level.
But you knew that Hinkie’s time was running out in Philadelphia when Jerry Colangelo was named as the chairman of basketball operations for the 76ers along with being a special advisor in early December. Colangelo is a Basketball Hall of Famer who has a rich and storied history of turning franchises around as he is the former owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks, along with being the architect of the current format for USA Basketball. At the time of Colangelo’s arrival to Philadelphia, the Sixers record was 1-20 and any hope of making the postseason this spring appeared to be a long shot at best. Colangelo wouldn’t be the only person from his family that would come to the City of Brotherly Love as his son, Bryan who is the former general manager of the Suns and Toronto Raptors was named the 76ers new president of basketball operations. Like his father, the younger Colangelo knows a thing or two about turning around NBA franchises as he is two-time league Executive of the Year. And with the Colangelos now running the show in Philadelphia, Hinkie became as useful as a cheese steak to a person that is on a strict diet as for the first time in a long time, the 76ers now appear to have hope.
The first order of business for the Colangelos is to decide on a head coach. Brett Brown has been the head coach of the 76ers for the past three seasons. Brown is well respected around the NBA as having a quality basketball mind, but being that Hinkie never gave him a quality team to work with, will the Colangelos give him serious consideration as far as returning to Philadelphia for next season?
On top of deciding on the 76ers head coaching situation, the Colangelos will definitely be evaluating Philadelphia’s current roster. Last June, Hinkie did use the third overall pick of the NBA Draft on center Jahlil Okafor who is leading the team in scoring this year with 17.5 points per game. Okafor is a promising young player who could become a franchise player for the 76ers, however he has had several off-the-court incidents which will raise a few eyebrows with the Colangelos who have been known to trade star players who are unable to walk a straight line. After missing the entire 2013-2014 NBA season with a knee injury, power forward Nerlens Noel is turning into a solid rebounder and interior defender. This season Noel is averaging 8.1 rebounds per game which leads the Sixers while he has also displayed tremendous athleticism. The status of Embiid is still up in the air, but the 76ers could have a fierce front court trio on their hands if all three men are healthy and focused on basketball for next season. With the worst record in the NBA once again, the 76ers at worst should be picking in the top three of June’s NBA Draft which appears to be deep as Philadelphia and the Colangelos should be able to come away with a quality player.
For all of Hinkie’s faults as the Sixers general manager, he didn’t saddle the organization with lengthy, bloated contracts. Heading into next season, the 76ers only have $33 million committed to player salaries which along with draft picks will give the Colangelos all of the wiggle room necessary to turn this team around. And whereas the folks of Philadelphia are rightfully ashamed of their 76ers, that won’t be the case for long as whether by hook or crook, the Colangelos will get things turned around.
To call the Philadelphia 76ers pathetic would be giving them a compliment. With a current record 1-22, the 76ers are well on their way to a fourth consecutive losing season, but it is the fashion in which they are doing it. The Sixers win total has decreased in each of the last five years and it could actually get worse this NBA season as there is a strong possibility that they could be the first team in league history since the 1972-1973 76ers to go a full 82-game regular season without winning at least 10 games.
Sam Hinkie has been the man that has led the Sixers into their current abyss. Hinkie was hired in 2013 as the president of basketball operations and general manager of the 76ers as his efforts have been futile at best. Hinkie is a firm believer in analytics when it comes to evaluating a player as opposed to the good olde-fashion eye test. And what the Sixers have gotten on Hinkie’s watch is nothing but bewilderment.
As soon as Hinkie took over in Philadelphia, he traded All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans. Right after Hinkie traded Holiday, he would draft his replacement at point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. Williams would be named as the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2014, only to be traded by the 76ers to the Milwaukee Bucks last year. Hinkie has also used early picks in the NBA Draft on players who were unable to immediately contribute. When Holiday was traded to the Pelicans, the Sixers obtained the draft rights to center Nerlens Noel who missed the entire 2013-2014 NBA season as he was recovering from a torn ACL. In 2014, the 76ers used the third overall pick of the NBA Draft on center Joel Embiid who has still yet to suit up for them in a game due to injuries. This past summer, the Sixers used the third overall picks of the NBA Draft on center Jahlil Okafor. Okafor is leading the 76ers in points scored this season with 16.9 per contest, but several off-the-court issues resulted in him being suspended by the team for two games. Hinkie continues to live by his philosophy of “trusting the process” which is his constant message to the fans and media alike in Philadelphia. But Hinkie appears to have reached the point of no return.
The putrid results of the 76ers led to several NBA team owners approaching NBA commissioner Adam Silver as far as doing something about the club. This led Silver to approach Jerry Colangelo. Colangelo has stellar resume as far as operating sports franchises as he is the former owner/general manager of the Phoenix Suns, while also previously owning the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, Arizona Diamondbacks of Major League Baseball, and the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League. Colangelo is also a four-time NBA Executive of the Year while also overseeing the resurgence of the United States Men’s Basketball team which led to gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics. Colangelo knows how the reshape organizations and this week he was appointed as the new president of basketball operations for the 76ers.
Colangelo’s presence with the Sixers will undoubtedly infringe on Hinkie’s handling of the team which is a good thing as this team needs to be revitalized as there is a huge need for a culture change in Philadelphia.
Of the 15 players that are currently on the 76ers roster, only power forward Carl Landry is above the age of 25. And for many of the young Sixers, they don’t know what it takes to win in the NBA as there aren’t enough veterans on this team to show them the way to succeed in the league. But with Colangelo on board, everyone within the Sixers organization (including the parking attendants), should be on pins and needles as there will be a reshaping down through the franchise that it bigger than any cheese steak.
Colangelo’s arrival all but symbolizes the end of the line for Hinkie in Philadelphia as he is no longer the guy that is in charge there. Hinkie’s departure would also more than likely symbolize the end of Brett Brown era as the 76ers head coach. In two-plus seasons with the Sixers, Brown’s record is just 38-148 as it is enough to make the Washington Generals cringe. The Sixers must find a way to become more competitive in games as they were embarrassed this past Monday night at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs 119-68. The 76ers are last in points scored (90.8) and 24th in points allowed (103.0) as the end result is a team that is 1-22. The Sixers have gotten to the point that NBA teams can mark them off as an easy win on the calendar as they are lining up to face them.
Colangelo won’t turn around the 76ers right away, but he’ll do it in phases. You can now expect the 76ers to be more competitive while he begins to assess the roster. And whereas Hinkie has mainly missed on his draft selections, you can rest assured that Colangelo won’t. Drafting and doing it properly needs to be main focus of the Sixers right now as they are nowhere near being appealing to potential NBA free agents to come to Philadelphia. But Colango’s arrival in Philadelphia will give the people in Philadelphia some hope as someone is finally running the team that knows what he is doing.
Y-Toronto Raptors 46-36 (7)
The Toronto Raptors are coming off of their best regular season in franchise history, but will they be able to take the next step in the NBA Playoffs? The Raptors have won the Atlantic Division is each of the last two NBA seasons, but it hasn’t resulted in success in the postseason as Toronto has been bounced in the first round each year. Under general manager Masai Ujiri, the Raptors have been a guard oriented team with their big men mainly focusing on rebounding. This philosophy is good enough for the Raptors to win Atlantic Division in the regular season, but the postseason is a different animal.
The Raptors two leading scorers recently have been shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and point guard Kyle Lowry. DeRozan is an athletic wing player while Lowry is a grizzled point guard. Lowry has shed a few pounds during the off-season in the hope of being able to endure the grind that is the NBA season. Together, DeRozan and Lowry have the ability to put the Raptors on their back which could lead to another division title.
The Raptors do have some size in their frontcourt in center Jonas Valanciunas and power forward Patrick Patterson and they’ll need to improve on the boards as they were just 26th in the NBA in rebounding last season while the acquisition of power forward Luis Scola and small forward DeMarre Carroll should provide Toronto with some extra depth and scoring options up front.
For Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, “small ball” will once again be in effect for his team which should lead to another division title, but they will more than likely be hung out to dry next spring in the NBA Playoffs.
X-Boston Celtics 43-39 (8)
It wasn’t pretty at times, but the Boston Celtics found a way to make the NBA Playoffs last spring. The Celtics went 40-42 to grab a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as the rebuilding process under head coach Brad Stevens is paying off. Stevens is set to begin his third season as the head coach of the Celtics and his squad in Boston is reminiscent of his teams when he was the head basketball coach at Butler University. The Celtics might not have the overall talent of other teams in the NBA, but they scrap, claw, and play as a cohesive unit on a nightly basis which is something that you’ll see from them once again in the upcoming NBA season.
Like some other teams in the NBA, the Celtics have become a guard oriented team. The Celtics acquired point guard Isaiah Thomas last season from the Phoenix Suns. And in 21 games with the Celtics, Thomas averaged 19.0 points per contest. This season it would not surprise me to see Stevens employ a three guard lineup at times with Thomas, along with fellow point guards Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley as they all possess speed along with the ability to score and facilitate.
In the Celtics front court, they are hopeful that this will be the season in which power forward Jared Sullinger will be able to remain healthy. Sullinger in entering his fourth season with the Celtics, but he has only appeared in 177 games. At 6’9″, 280 lbs., Sullinger gives the Celtics an imposing presence in the post, but he cannot help the team if he is not playing. This off-season the Celtics acquired power forward David Lee from the Golden State Warriors. And if Lee is healthy, what he’ll be able to provide the Celtics with is a player that is always active who doesn’t need many offensive plays called for him in order to contribute which will fit into Stevens’ system.
Swingman Evan Turner is a solid wing player while small forward Jae Crowder, power forward Amir Johnson, center Tyler Zeller, and center Kelly Olnyk give the Celtics depth and size in their front court; especially coming off of the bench.
The Celtics won’t be able to sneak up on teams this season, but a favorable schedule to begin the NBA campaign along with solid determination will have them once again contending for a postseason berth.
Brooklyn Nets 41-41
In their first year under head coach Lionel Hollins, the Brooklyn Nets posted a losing record, but they still were able to navigate their way to the postseason. And in the upcoming NBA season, the Nets are out to prove people wrong who are ready to write them off as far as being able to be a contender.
It was addition by subtraction for the Nets when they parted ways with point guard Deron Williams over the summer. Williams had developed a reputation in New York City of being a “high-priced diva”. And when your production doesn’t equate to your paycheck in the Big Apple, the fans and media alike there don’t have a problem in letting you know that. The Nets would simply buy out the remainder of Williams’ contract as they decided that it was time for them to move on from their former franchise player.
The Nets are the seventh NBA team that point guard Jarrett Jack has played for. Last season with the Nets, Jack averaged 12.0 and 4.7 assists per game as he was splitting time with Williams. But with Williams now with the Dallas Mavericks, Hollins is giving Jack the opportunity to be a starter which is something that he hasn’t consistently done in the NBA. What Jack gives the Nets at the point guard position is a player who is a veteran floor general that can get his teammates involved while staying within the realm of what Hollins wants to have executed on the floor.
After flirting with trading center Brook Lopez last season, the Nets have decided to keep their big man around as he has begun to display the aggression that Hollins consistently needs from him in the post. Lopez has always been a solid scorer, but not a superstar. And if the Nets are cool with Lopez hitting his career averages of 17 points and 7 rebounds per contest, then they’ll have a solid contributor on their hands. Whereas the Nets traded center Mason Plumlee to the Portland Trailblazers over the summer, they are raving about the potential that power forward Thaddeus Young possesses. Nets general manager Billy King drafted Young into the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers back in 2007. And even at the age of 27, we still don’t know how good that Young can truly be as a player due to the fact that he’s never had a solid opportunity to be a focal point of a team which we should see more of this year.
The Nets still have veteran sharpshooter Joe Johnson who is in the final year of his contract. Johnson is set to earn $24.9 million this season and if he or Brooklyn gets off to a slow start this season, I could see him getting shipped out of town. But Johnson is still a solid three-point shooter that could benefit from pick and roll action with Jack along with playing off of Young and Lopez in the post as he looks to join the 20,000-point club this season.
The Nets reserve players will consist of point guard Shane Larkin, swingman Bojan Bogdanovic, and veteran small forward Andrea Bargnani who all have something to prove this season after up and down campaigns last season to say the least.
The Nets will embark on a difficult schedule to begin the NBA season which includes games against the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls, but Hollins is a good motivator and he knows how to adjust as the season goes along which should allow Brooklyn to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot.
New York Knicks 30-52
For some folks it may appear that there is a dark cloud hanging over Madison Square Garden and the New York Knicks. The Knicks have not won the Eastern Conference since 1999 and they have not won the NBA Championship since 1973. But in recent years, the Knicks have become a laughing stock in professional sports. The Knicks are coming off of their worst season in franchise history as they went 17-65, and to make matters worse, the ping pong balls didn’t bounce their way at the NBA’s Draft Lottery as they received the fourth overall pick of the draft. The Knicks would select forward Kristaps Porzingis which was welcomed by a chorus of boos in New York City. Porzingis is a 20-year old native of Latvia who Knicks team president Phil Jackson is classifying as a “project” and only time will tell will tell how good that he can be. But the problem is that the folks in New York City don’t want to hear about a player being a project as they are looking for a winner right now which is something that they shouldn’t hold their breath on with this current Knicks team.
When Jackson came on board as the Knicks president, he wanted to do things his way which meant him bringing his famed triangle offense to town. Jackson hired Derek Fisher to be the Knicks head coach last year due to his familiarity with Jackson’s system during his playing days with the Los Angeles Lakers. But Fisher is the one who is coaching the Knicks and not Jackson and the message of the triangle is not getting across to the players in New York.
In Fisher’s first season with the Knicks, he appeared to be lost for the most part as their has been a steep learning curve for him as he made the quick jump from NBA player to being a head coach without any period of transition as an assistant coach. Fisher also hasn’t helped himself or the Knicks being that he is now embroiled in a saga involving himself and the ex-wife of current Memphis Grizzlies small forward Matt Barnes. And although the Ringling Brothers Circus no longer comes to Madison Square Garden, there is still plenty of circus action around 33rd and Broadway due to the calamity of errors that the Knicks have become.
Small forward Carmelo Anthony is the Knicks best player, but at 31-years of age, and coming off of knee surgery, can he be the same player that he once was? For his 12-year NBA career, Anthony has averaged 25.2 points per game. Anthony is a phenomenal scorer that doesn’t make the players around him better and with the triangle offense predicated on ball movement, it seems to be a marriage of oil and water between he and Jackson’s system.
With a team president that is out to lunch, a head coach that is searching for answers and a superstar player in Anthony that has a scorer’s mentality, fans of the Knicks don’t have a lot to look forward to in the upcoming NBA season.
Philadelphia 76ers 20-62
There’s bad and then there’s how bad that Philadelphia 76ers have been recently. During the 2012-2013 NBA season, the 76ers won 34 games. But over the last two NBA seasons, the Sixers have won a combined 37 games. And by the look of things, you can expect more of the same in Philadelphia from them during the upcoming NBA season. Sam Hinkie is entering his third season as the 76ers team president/general manager and even though he wants people to trust the process, it is time that he produces some positive results for this team.
The Sixers owned the third overall pick of the 2015 NBA draft which they used on center Jahlil Okafor whom they are hopeful will be a building block for them, but at the same time will they stick with him long enough to develop? Under Hinkie, the 76ers have a history of giving up on some of their young players quickly while they’ve also made turned the NBA Draft into a joke due to the fact that they select players that are injured as they’ll once again be without the services of center Joel Embiid for the entire season.
Under head coach Brett Brown, the Sixers have a young team, but they must find a way to become more competitive as they lost 23 games last season by at least 15 points. Right now the Sixers are not a respected organization around the NBA which means they are going to have to earn respect, but by the looks of things, they don’t have the personnel to be that competitive.
A year ago the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers were being accused of “tanking” by many people in order to improve their chances of getting a higher pick at last spring’s NBA Draft. The Bucks would go on to record a 15-67 record while the Sixers were right behind them as they finished with a record of 19-63. But since then both the Bucks and Sixers have gone in opposite directions. The Bucks are arguably the most improved team in the NBA this season while some basketball pundits are pondering as to whether or not that the Sixers would be able to defeat the current University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball team.
After last season wholesale changes were made within the Bucks organization. Longtime Bucks owner Herb Kohl sold the franchise to Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry for $550 million. The Bucks had the second overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft which the team would use on small forward Jabari Parker. And less than a week after selecting Parker, the Bucks acquired head coach Jason Kidd from the Brooklyn Nets. In his rookie season, Parker is second on the Bucks in scoring at 12.4 per game while Milwaukee is 11-11 this season and they could be on the verge of eclipsing their win total for all of last season by the end of this month.
The Sixers on the other hand have found a way to actually become worse this season than their 2013-2014 campaign. The 76ers lost their first 17 games this season before they were able to secure a victory last Wednesday over the Minnesota TImberwolves. The 76ers record is currently 2-18 and they could flirt with becoming the first NBA team since the 1972-1973 Sixers to fail to win 10 games in a full 82-game regular season.
Right now the difference between the Bucks and Sixers is night and day as one team has a plan of improvement while the other doesn’t and it is very clear as far as which team is on the track for success.
Generally when a new ownership group takes over a losing sports franchise they look to change the culture which is exactly what Lasry and Edens are doing with the Bucks. Kidd won an NBA Championship in 2011 as a player with the Dallas Mavericks and in his one season as the head coach of the Nets, he led the club to the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2007 which was also the last full season that he played for the team. From his first day on the job with the Bucks, Kidd has been executing his game plan which is to make his team competitive and for them to also expect to win on a nightly basis. The Bucks have been beating up on the also-rans in the NBA so far this season with only one victory over a team that currently has a winning record when they defeated the Memphis Grizzlies back in early November. But the Bucks appear to have the centerpiece of their franchise in Parker who has the potential to become a very versatile small forward with his ability to handle the basketball and rebound as it will just be a matter of time before he is able to put it altogether.
The Sixers on the other hand have seen their plans for success blow up right in their faces. The 76ers made the NBA Playoffs in 2012, and they appeared to be building something. But after the season the 76ers traded longtime swingman Andre Iguodala as part of a four-team trade and in return they received center Andrew Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers. Unfortunately a knee injury never allowed Bynum to suit up for the Sixers and he is currently not even in the NBA. In 2013, Sam Hinkie was named as the general manager of the 76ers as he became the third man to hold that position in Philly since Josh Harris purchased the team in 2011. And under Hinkie, 76ers have made a ton of questionable personnel moves.
In 2013, Hinkie traded point guard Jrue Holiday who was coming off of an All-Star season to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for the draft rights to center Nerlens Noel. Noel would miss all of the 2013-2014 NBA season after he suffered a torn ACL in his one year of playing college ball at Kentucky. This season Noel has participated in 17 games and he has averaged 8.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest. The 76ers had the third overall pick in last spring’s NBA Draft which they used on Kansas center Joel Embiid who is expected to miss the entire season as he is recovering from back and foot injuries. Hinkie hired former San Antonip Spurs assistant coach Brett Brown to be the head coach of the 76ers and under him Philadelphia is 21-81.
Hinkie has bet on a pair of big men in Noel and Embiid that cannot stay healthy which is not good for business as you can’t afford to consistently miss on lottery picks in the NBA Draft. However Hinkie did get it right in selecting point guard Michael Carter-Williams in the 2013 NBA Draft. Carter-Williams is the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year as he averaged 16.7 points, 6.3 assists, and 6.2 rebounds last season. Carter-Williams has improved off of those numbers as he is currently averaging 16.3 points, 7.4 assists, and 7.1 rebounds this season which was highlighted by a triple-double on November 29 against the Mavs. Carter-Williams’ numbers could actually be better if he had a better team around him as he cannot do it all by himself.
The Sixers currently only have two players on their team that are more than 25-years of age in shooting guard Jason Richardson and power forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute who are both non-factors on this club as this team needs veteran leadership on the floor. The Bucks on the other hand have balance of up and down their lineup as they are being led by point guard Brandon Knight who is averaging 17.6 points and a career-high 5.8 assists. Second-year shooting guard Giannis Antetokounmpo has improved off of his rookie campaign as he’s averaging 12 points per game along with connecting on nearly half of his field-goal attempts. Kidd will look to make Knight his protege at the point guard position and he is someone that can grow alongside Parker and Antetokounmpo.
Unlike the 76ers, the Bucks play in one of the smaller media markets in the NBA which makes it extremely necessary for them to effectively hit on their draft picks paramount. The Bucks also are in the process of attempting to secure a new basketball arena in Milwaukee as the Bradley Center is outdated and a new facility could mean more potential revenue for them. The Sixers play in a big media market, but under Hinkie they have operated like a small-market team that is pinning their hopes on questionable lottery picks. Hinkie came to the 76ers with a background in basketball analytics, but the sports fans in Philadelphia are only interested in wins and losses along with basketball players that will put the ball in the hoop while preventing their opponent from doing so. The Sixers are the worst scoring team in the NBA as they are only scoring 92 points per game while they are minus-12 in points differential which is also the worst in the league.
The 76ers appear to be a few years away from becoming relevant while the Bucks are in the mix for a postseason spot right now in the weak Eastern Conference. At this point last season both the Bucks and 76ers were laughing stocks. But now it is the Bucks that are doing the laughing while the 76ers are still scratching their heads.
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