Go to SPORTZ' HOOPS LAND for my full review of each team. I have lineups, coaching takes, best player, biggest additions, biggest subtractions and all the garbage an NBA fan needs for the upcoming season.
PACIFIC DIVISION: 1-PHOENIX SUNS
OVERVIEW: The team that finished the 2004-2005 season with the best record in the NBA went under numerous personnel changes....and not many are liking it. Gone are Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson. Enter Bell, Diaw and Thomas. It is obvious that while Phoenix’s offense was electric, the team wanted to save money and get some defense into the Valley of the Sun. And that might not be a bad thing. Sure, the Suns may not win the Pacific Division...but they may be a much tougher out in the playoffs.
OUTLOOK: The Suns have the talent to repeat their Pac title. Or they could falter a bit. The issue here is that the Suns won’t be the team they were last year...even if they wanted to. But that team was slammed by the Spurs in the Western Finals. This team may have a shot to get past them. I feel they will squeak by with the Pacific title...but lose in the Western semifinals.
WESTERN RANK: 3
Taking the Suns place as the offensive juggernaut could be the Kings. This is a team built on some offensive skill, but lacks the defensive heart to win titles. Like with the 2005 Suns, these Kings could look really good at times....and really bad at others. Defense will be a big issue. They have none. They dealt Doug Christie and Greg Ostertag away....both of which were the only defense they’ve had in the last 5 years [aside from Vlade’s flops].
OUTLOOK: Let’s see if you’ve heard this one before. Sacto will jump out to a big start; get the Pacific lead; then cough it up sometime in March or April.
WESTERN RANK: 4
3-GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
OVERVIEW: Golden State has, once again, become a trendy team tohit the postseason ranks. The reason was the addition of Davis late last year and the team going 18-10 to close out the year. But can they do it again? They have a very poor rebounding team and not much size overall. Foyle is primarily a defensive figure and Murphy is a shooter. With that kind of interior game...running will be a key component.
OUTLOOK: This team should be a running team, with Davis, Dunleavy and Richardon. However, this team lacks any kind of frontcourt that can get into a halfcourt scrum. So, it is a case of imposing their will on opponents...which means they have to create turnovers. They don’t have that type of team right now. But, I think they will be on the fringes of the playoff race most of the season possible getting in.
WESTERN RANK: 8
4-LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The team lacks an identity. No one really knows who will be starting [well, Kobe and Odom do] and no one knows where. No one knows what kind of style they will play. They could be a pressuring defensive team. They could be the run-and-gun team. They could be a triangle team. Or, and what most people think, they will be a Kobe wins the scoring title team, but the team wins just 35 games.
OUTLOOK: They maybe a playoff team...but there are a ton of issues to overcome. Can Odom be molded into Scottie Pippen [who is a Laker coach now]?? Can Kobe coexist with Phil? Can they bring the ball up the court without Kobe having to constantly do it? If anything, this season will test everyone involved with the Lakers. It will test Phil’s dedication despite losing. It will test Kobe’s direction. It will test the fans’ patience.
WESTERN RANK: 9
5-LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The Clippers actually finished better than the Lakers last year. Barely. And that was one of the worst Laker seasons of all time. So not much has changed for the Clippers. Brand still is the leader, though Maggette is turning into a star. But, the biggest key to the season is if Dunleavy sticks with the young Livingston at point or goes to the veteran Cassell. Livingston is the future here, but if the team has a shot to contend for theplayoffs now...Cassell may get more time there. The problem there is that a Cassell-Mobley backcourt could mean the Clips offensive balance will be skewed and the real stars get shut out.
OUTLOOK: The Clippers will end up as the worst team in the division. Cassell will moan about Dunleavy to the point that he may start if the coach is in jeopardy of losing his job. Um, in Clipper Land, that is pretty much a certainty. Another 30-35 win season and a lottery shot. WESTERN RANK: 13
SOUTHWEST DIVISION: 1-SAN ANTONIO SPURS
OVERVIEW: How can a team that won the NBA title add pieces like Finley, Van Exel and Oberto?? Unreal. The Spurs will continue to play great defense and put offensive pressure on everyone they play. Now with a pretty darn good bench, the Spurs will be even more deadly and the favorites for the title.
OUTLOOK: Again, everything will revolve around Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. But those guys now get some more down time with those new additions...making them fresher for another playoff run. I see another NBA title.
WESTERN RANK: 1
OVERVIEW: Van Gundy will want to start his offense in to Yao...but he does have the luxury of having McGrady bailing him out when the offense isn’t right. Though with all the changes they made, none of them truly helped their offense by adding scorers. But it does help by adding bodies that enable the scorers they have to be a tad more lethal. A key will be how the lead guard plays. Alston [aka Skip To My Lou] is a risk since he’s been trouble elsewhere and Houston really has no other true PG. But they have a ton of combo guards who, on any given night, could come up big. Yao must assert himself every night. Everyone is waiting for him to be dominant. With Swift beside him, maybe that aggressiveness will rub off on him. If so....watch out!
OUTLOOK: Despite all of the newness...it is Yao and T-Mac. Those two guys will be counted on to lead this team. I like the makeup of this team a lot. I don’t think they can topple the Spurs yet, but they could give them one heck of a series in the second round.
WESTERN RANK: 2
OVERVIEW: This isn’t your older brother’s Mavs team. Usually, Mark Cuban loads up on a ton of talent even if they don’t mesh well. This year, the team is set up a bit differently, using a core group to get things done. Dirk will be the lead guy. He had a great scoring season last year and was All NBA. And, right now, he’s their only shooter. Stackhouse, Terry and Howard can pop shots...but not that consistently. And Dampier flows in an out of games where you have no idea what he’s gonna give you.
OUTLOOK: The Mavs need tofind someone to compliment Nowitzki. Defenses will be designed to hold him down. That means one of the others will have to step up his game and become that guy. Maybe it is Stackhouse. Maybe Terry. Either way, they can’t rely of Dirk to be their offense or they won’t last too long...and Cuban will have some more reworking to do.
WESTERN RANK: 6
OVERVIEW: Gone are Bonzi Wells, Jason Williams and Stromile Swift. All had "issues" in Memphis that their losses aren’t so dire [except for Swift]. In their stead is some veteran leadership....all of whom have their own issues. Stoudamire leaves Portland with a rap of being a pot head. Eddie Jones leaves Miami with a rap of disappearing with teams need him the most. Bobby Jackson arrives as a player who was involved in some Sacramento whining issues and can’t stay healthy. And those guys are all in their 30s. On this team, it will be up to those guys, Miller and Gasol to score. They still have talent...but let’s see if the leadership gets there.
OUTLOOK: They aren’t in the division class with the Spurs, Rockets or Mavs. They aren’t as bad as the Hornets. So Grizz fans will be looking at the Lakes, Wolves, Warriors and Sonics in the standings. Whomever gets going out of that group could land a spot as the Spurs or Suns fodder in the playoffs. The Grizzlies have just as good a shot as any of them.
WESTERN RANK: 11
5-NEW ORLEANS/OKLAHOMA CITY HORNETS
OVERVIEW: Well, you got a young athletic team. You are in a new city where you may not be there long. And no one expects much from you. Run. Run. Run. This team is built to run in the backcourt. Paul and Smith [who should have battled last year in the ACC] will lead a very high flying backcourt. They can also keep running with Speedy Claxton and Kirk Snyder. And that’s about it. Magliore and Brown are solid players, but may want to be dealt to another team sometime this season [Brown may ultimately be]. Defense isn’t a strong suit...unless their sheer speed can get them into passing lanes. The problem with all of this is that Byron Scott likes to run a Princeton style offense that focuses on ball movement and cutters...something a team this young won’t be disciplined to do.
OUTLOOK: It is a lot to ask the Hornets to be a playoff team. Unlike the NFL Saints, they will have a primary home that they will have regular fan support and a place that should help them win some games. If anything, the Hornets may mail in this year as a loss-leader to get those young guys all of the playing time they need.
WESTERN RANK: 15
NORTHWEST DIVISION: 1-DENVER NUGGETS
OVERVIEW: Continuity. That’s the buzz word for the Nuggs. The past few years have been ones of big changes. Big deals that brought in new players. Not the case this year. The team is pretty much the exact same as it was when the playoffs ended last year. That’s good for a team that took half a season trying to figure out who they were. This season, the hope is that they can pick up their blazing hot success of March and April into the new season.
OUTLOOK: The up-tempo style that Karl brought to Denver should be even more lethal with a full training camp to prepare. The Northwest looks to be Denver’s to lose. Don’t be surprised if that Paul Pierce deal isn’t revisited at some point...since their perimeter shooting is pretty much just Leonard.
WESTERN RANK: 5
OVERVIEW: Last season, Seattle surprisingly took the Northwest title...and gave the Spurs a scare in the playoffs. This year, they won't sneak up on anyone. Ray Allen stayed around to be a Sonic, something the franchise were praying for. Aside from a few guys, the team is still intact. They will play a ball moving offense where drives to the basket and kick-outs to their shooters will be the norm.
OUTLOOK: The team also lost Antonio Daniels, which will hurt...but everyone else is back. The team relies on good perimeter shooting and a lot of big guys to lean on down low. The key will be if their defense perks up...something the Sonics lacked last year. Last year, they snatched the division ring while everyone was wading around. This year, the Nuggs are stacked, the Wolves are bent, and the Blazers and Jazz are hungry...so Seattle has a fight on their hands. I think that Allen will help them get back into the postseason.
WESTERN RANK: 7
OVERVIEW: The Wolves missed the playoff for the first timein almost a decade...quite a step back for a team that was in the Western Finals in 2004. Chemistry issues and injuries really set the team back...and they haven’t really gone away. Latrell Sprewell may be returning to Minnesota with his issues; Olowokandi has been a huge bust thus far and got into some legal matters last season; Wally World has grown tired of constantly being on the trading block; and then there is Griffin who has his own legal rap sheet. Now they brought in McCants who is sort of a lone wolf of his own. And that hasn’t even addressed their on-court deficiencies. Their front line is weak. Their backcourt is smallish, though athletic. And they lack a proven #2 scorer.
OUTLOOK: With the way the West looks right now, the Wolves could again be on the outside of the playoff picture. They have a ton of questions that weren’t answered in the offseason. The key will be Garnett’s leadership and if he can put this team on his back, yet again, and carry it into the playoffs. I don’t think he can. WESTERN RANK: 10
: This was a team of lost expectations. Injuries completely killed this team, who got off to such a hot start. Not to mention that their big free agent signings [Boozer and Okur] didn’t really wow anybody. But the addition of Williams could be a big difference maker. He was a great shooter and playmaker in college, sort of in the mold of a Jason Kidd. He plays solid defense too, which fits well on this team. Back is AK-47, who missed a big chunk of last year. With him gone, the team sunk to the bottom of the NBA.
Well, it can go two ways. One, everyone stays healthy and they reach their potential. Doing that, they put themselves with a shot to get to the playoffs. I just don’t see that happening...this year. Growing pains hopefully replace the physical pains as the Jazz make a valiant run, but come up short.
WESTERN RANK: 12
This team is one of the youngest teams in the NBA. Their backcourt has just one year of NBA experience. I love what Telfair can do, but he’s helming a team as young as him. Webster rose up the draft charts and will get a ton of minutes to help him develop. Miles is a guy who has loads of talent but has yet to find himself in this league. Pryzbilla excelled as a starter...but that leaves Ratliff, one of the NBA’s all time shot blocking greats, on the bench.
OUTLOOK: This will be a learning season for the Blazers. McMillian will most likely get these guys to learn the art of defense...as it will help them develop as players and as a team. It also will keep them in some games that they may not have beenin before. Aside from that, it should be a long season in Portland.
WESTERN RANK: 14