If you were secretly wishing for a 4,000 word Eastern Conference preview you are about to learn to be careful what you wish for.
Team: Boston Celtics
Player with the Most to Prove: Paul Pierce – Pierce has been running his mouth all offseason about how he is the best player in the game. He played great on both ends of the floor in the playoffs, but although he is clearly an All-Star level talent, he has to do it for a full season before anyone will buy into his claims. He seems to be motivated though as he reportedly dropped about 20 pounds in the offseason.
Worst Rotation Player (at least 10 minutes a game): Brian Scalabrine – The championship has dulled some of the memory of how Danny Ainge decided to give Scalabrine $3 million a season.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: Kevin Garnett blows out an O-ring before the first game of the season and is unable to muster any enthusiasm for anything other than new episodes of “Kath & Kim.”
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: The Celtics took the NBA by storm last season and were without a doubt the best team in the league. Well, except for a couple of weeks in April where they struggled to put the Atlanta Hawks away in the first round of the playoffs. The Celtics are under pressure to win again in a city that is not used to experiencing one hit wonders and they should be up to the task.
Projected Finish: 62-20, 1st in the Atlantic Division, 1st in the Eastern Conference
Team Blog You Should Be Reading: Celtics Blog
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
Player with the Most to Prove: Mo Williams – The latest sidekick for Lebron looks to be the best fit yet, but he will still have to hit the open shots and try to give the offense some flow if the Cavs are going to take the next step.
Worst Rotation Player (at least 10 minutes a game): Ben Wallace – A one time defensive stopper who is now more like a defensive annoyance at this point in his career and (still) cannot score to save his life (come on Ben, no offseason work on your jumper?) is not the type of player you want to have playing 26 minutes a game.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: LeBron regresses, averages only 20 points a game and fails to make the All-Star team. He then becomes worse and worse every season and is out of the league by 2012. He winds up in the Philippine league where after averaging 12 points, four rebounds and three assists a game in 2015 is named comeback player of the year before being kidnapped. He is never seen again after no one agrees to pay a ransom reported to be a six pack of grape G2. Rumors abound for years that LeBron was never actually kidnapped and wanted to simply go out on his terms at the top of his game.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: LeBron is ready to take his performance to an ever higher level this season and I expect the Cavs to finally enter the regular season elite in the east. Where it takes them after that is anyone’s guess, but I am betting the final destination is another game seven on the road in Boston.
Projected Finish: 55-27, 1st in Central Division, 2nd in the Eastern Conference
Team Blog You Should be Reading: Fear the Sword
Team: Detroit Pistons
Player with the Most to Prove: Rodney Stuckey – Stuckey played a key roll in the Pistons annual playoff push to the Eastern Conference Finals. If he can improve even more he will give Joe Dumars the chance to trade either Chauncey Billups or Rip Hamilton and improve the team without giving up a piece he cannot readily replace. (Honorable Mention goes to Rasheed Wallace the 34 year-old in a contract year.)
Worst Rotation Player (at least 10 minutes a game): Kwame Brown – It is not easy to find a player on this team who does not offer at least something positive. Up until this point the only number one pick destroyed by his GM before he even played a regular season game has failed everywhere he has gone and I am not sure things will be any different in Motown.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: Tayshaun Prince, tired of being the fourth wheel on offense, decides he is going to try to lead the league in scoring resulting in upping his scoring average to 18 points a game on 32% shooting and leading to the destruction of the Piston offensive system.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: Detroit is going to be one of the top regular season teams in the NBA, but come the post season will it matter? I think their run of Eastern Conference Finals appearances stops this year and Joe D. wields the wrecking ball next summer.
Projected Finish: 55-27, 2nd in the Central Division, 3rd in the Eastern Conference
Team: Orlando Magic
Player with the Most to Prove: Rashard Lewis – The $110 million dollar man, give or take a penny or two, did a fine job in his first season in Orlando, but fine is not what Orlando was paying for. Lewis raised his level of play in the preseason and he wants to make sure everyone believes he was worth that massive contract.
Worst Rotation Player (at least 10 minutes a game): 39% is a good percentage on three pointers. Not so much on two pointers. Brian Cook did make 39% of his threes last season. Unfortunately he posted the same percentage on two point shots as well.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: Billy Donovan decides he wants to be the coach of the Magic after all and wins a suit to be reinstated as the Orlando head coach thanks to a judge sympathetic to his plight (read: a Florida State grad). The Magic crumble as Stan van Gundy is removed and Donovan decides now that he has been appointed coach by the courts it will be impossible for him to be removed and he spends most of his time on the South Florida Canasta Circuit.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: Orlando should benefit from another boost in production from Dwight Howard and look for Rashard Lewis near his career high average of 22.4 points per game from his final season in Seattle. Orlando will be a team to be reckoned with.
Projected Finish: 53-29, 1st in the Southeast Division, 4th in the Eastern Conference
Team Blog You Should be Reading: Third Quarter Collapse
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
Player with the Most to Prove: Elton Brand – Brand did make the playoffs as a Clipper, but now as a Sixer, much more is expected. If he does not live up to the fan’s expectations, he will have to get the number to Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins’ psychiatrist.
Worst Rotation Player (at least 10 minutes a game): Willie Green – Hopefully with the emergence of Louis Williams Sixer fans will not have to put up with 26 minutes a game from Willie again this season.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: After shooting 18% from the floor after his first three games as a Sixer Elton Brand gets fed up with the negative coverage from the media, which is more intense than ever after the Phillies end up losing to the Rays in seven games, and retires to Idaho to watch old episodes of the Magic Hour and Chevy Chase Show with Jake Plummer through some website hosted in Myanmar to avoid prosecution even though no officials would attempt to exert any intellectual property rights for either of those shows as no intellectual property was present.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: Elton Brand helped reduce some of the excitement about his arrival with a mediocre preseason. A slow start may keep the Sixers from hitting 50 wins, but the team that gave the Pistons fits in the first round last season will be another tough out.
Projected Finish: 49-33, 2nd in the Atlantic Division, 5th in the Eastern Conference
Team: Toronto Raptors
Player with the Most to Prove: Jermaine O’Neal – O’Neal is coming off another injury plagued season as the Pacers franchise player. If he can approach the player he was in Indy, the Raptors can finish much higher than sixth.
Worst Rotation Player (at least 10 minutes a game): Jason Kapono – Toronto is another team who does not run many scrubs out on the floor. Kapono is the best long range bomber in the league, but without contributing much anywhere else can be a liability from time to time.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal end up killing each other in a Hamilton vs Burr like duel over who has to play in the post instead of on the perimeter. It is later learned that there was a gunman on the grassy knoll who is believed to have been Andrea Bargnani, but not enough evidence is discovered for any charges to be filed.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: The Jermaine O’Neal trade has shown that the Raptors believe their time has come. Jose Calderon is earning some favorable comparisons to Steve Nash as a shooter and distributor and Chris Bosh has established himself as one of the top power forwards in the game.
Projected Finish: 46-36 3rd in the Atlantic Division, 6th in the Eastern Conference
Team Blog You Should be Reading: Raptors Republic
Team: Washington Wizards
Player with the Most to Prove: Gilbert Arenas – After signing a six year, $111 million contract Agent Hibachi must establish that he can actually play again in order to avoid an Allen Houston like disaster in D.C.
Worst Rotation Player (at least 10 minutes a game): Juan Dixon – Juan is Eddie House, without the range or point guard skills. At least he is a local boy.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: The Wizards make the playoffs, only to find out that LeBron James and the Cavaliers are waiting for them once again. The Wiz vs Cavs playoff matchup has the potential to become as one sided as the Roadrunner vs Wile E. Coyote.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: The Wizards, as well as my fantasy basketball team, start the season counting the days until Gilbert Arenas can return. They do have a nice medium three with Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Arenas. If they could just have them all healthy at the same time things could get interesting in our Nation’s Capitol.
Projected Finish: 40-42, 2nd in the Southeast Division, 7th in the Eastern Conference
Team Blog You Should be Reading: Bullets Forever
Team: Miami Heat
Player with the Most to Prove: Shawn Marion – Everyone saw Dwyane Wade is as close to 100% as could anyone could hope for him to be with his great performance at the Olympics. Marion is seen as a nice player, but not a good enough second banana to push this team into the playoffs. Oh yea, he is in a contract year too. He thinks he is worth another big buck deal, but it will be an uphill climb to convince at least one GM with some cash in his pocket that he deserves anther fat contract.
Worst Rotation Player (at least 10 minutes a game): Mark Blount – There have been some teams where it is tough to pick the worst rotation player because they just do not have any truly terrible links in their chain. It is tough to pick a player for the Heat because they have so many awful cogs in their wheel. How about a center who plays over 20 minutes a game, shoots 46% from the field and corrals less than four boards a game. Mark Blount, that is ugly.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: Of course the easy answer is seeing Dwyane Wade being helped off the floor after injuring his knee/shoulder/rib cage or whatever else again. Well, do not ever let it be said I won’t take the easy way out. In a late January game at Memphis Wade drives to the rim hoping for the hoop and the harm to get within three only to be fouled so hard by Darko Milicic that he breaks through the floor and falls down a bottomless pit Indiana Jones style never to be seen again. Because his body cannot be found for his injuries to be examined by a league doctor his disappearance is not determined to be career ending and the Heat have to keep his contract on their cap until it expires after the 2009-2010 season.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: The Heat are viewed as a team of the future with Michael Beasley in the fold, a couple of young point guards in Mario Chalmers and Shawn Livingston and the use of Marion’s expiring deal or the cap space it would clear up if they hang onto it. Wade is a winner and he does not play for next year. I think these guys sneak into the playoffs.
Projected Finish: 40-42, 3rd in the Southeast Division, 8th in the Eastern Conference
Team Blogs You Should be Reading: Peninsula is Mightier
Team: Atlanta Hawks
Player with the Most to Prove: Marvin Williams – After being lapped by Andrew Bogut and lapped several times by Chris Paul and Deron Williams, Marvin must step up to the plate and make up for the loss of jack of all trades Josh Childress.
Worst Rotation Player (at least 10 minutes a game): Acie Law, IV – Law was a disaster his rookie season and he should improve in his second year. Until he does the cold blooded killer from college has been forgotten and replaced by an imposter who could not hit a fly with a fly swatter last season.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: Ownership declares Mike Woodson Coach for Life only to have Josh Smith go jump down the hole Wade disappeared through.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: After putting a scare into Celtics fans one expected the Hawks management to bring the team back in order to see how they would respond to a regular season with that additional big game experience. Well, the Hawks showed why they are the Hawks as they lost Josh Childress to Greek superpower Olympiacos. They are going to miss Childress who could fill any role ranging from point guard to shooting guard to small forward. A team who barely snuck into the playoffs will get a better season from Al Horford, but it will not be enough to get them back into the postseason.
Projected Finish: 38-44, 4th in the Southeast Division, 9th in the Eastern Conference
Team Blog You Should be Reading: Peachtree Hoops
Team: Chicago Bulls
Player with the Most to Prove: Ben Gordon – Gordon has turned down a couple of nice contract offers made by the Bulls for a pretty one dimensional undersized shooting guard. I hope Gordon is not married as he will hear from his wife everyday for the rest of his life for turning down a contract that would pay him eight figures a season for one that will pay him about half as much.
Worst Rotation Player (at least 10 minutes a game): Kirk Hinrich – Can I pick a guy like Hinrich for this dishonor? He is not that bad is he? Last season he was. He posted career lows in several categories and was a huge part of why a team with high expectations ended up in position to win the lottery.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: Determined to prove he can do more than score Ben Gordon starts playing like Chris Paul dribbling the ball for 20 seconds at a time before throwing the ball up towards the rim expecting to have former Bull Tyson Chandler fly in from nowhere to ram it through the hoop. Derrick Rose is so frustrated by the experience his development is stunted and he turns into the second coming of Antonio Daniels.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: The Bulls might have a good thing going with Derrick Rose and Tyrus Thomas who has shown some growth in the preseason. If they can get some production from players like Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng they could sneak in the playoffs.
Projected Finish: 37-45, 3rd in the Central Division, 10th in the Eastern Conference
Team Blog You Should be Reading: Blog a Bull
Team: Indiana Pacers
Player with the Most to Prove: T.J. Ford – Ford has proven he can start the season off with some great play. What he has not proven is that he can stay healthy and play well for the entire season. Ford has a chance to put up some amazing numbers in Jim O’Brien’s fast paced chuck and duck offense, if he can stay on the floor.
Worst Rotation Player (at least 10 minutes a game): Travis Diener – If you are small, slow and white, you better shoot better than 37% from the floor and 32% from downtown. Diener’s 90% from the free throw line was nice, but he only got to the line a little more than once a game.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: Devastated by the fall from grace by Indiana University basketball Hoosier fans across the state break the glass on their framed Damon Bailey picture frames and slit their wrists. The Pacers are then moved to Seattle where excessive fan indifference greets them. They are moved again to Las Vegas only to have the city fold after no one can afford to vacation anymore due to high taxes. Finally the Pacers are purchased by a team from Bahrain and everyone is forced into servanthood except for Roy Hibbert who is carried around like C-3PO was by the Ewoks.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: The Pacers have some nice young pieces, but are caught in limbo this season. They will not be horrible, but they will not be good either. It is an awful place to be for fans, but they will have some cap flexibility to go along with their young prospects in the next couple of seasons.
Projected Finish: 36-56 4th in the Central Division, 11th in the Eastern Conference
Team Blog You Should be Reading: Indy Cornrows
Team: Charlotte Bobcats
Player with the Most to Prove: Adam Morrison – How bad is it when you go from being a top three pick in the draft to a player that no one even missed after blowing out your knee before your second season? Are Bobcat fans looking forward to his return? Are there any Bobcat fans?
Worst Rotation Player (at least 10 minutes a game): Matt Carroll – Carroll somehow convinced the Bobcats he was an effective player after a career year in 2006-2007 and landed a new contract. Last season he did shoot threes very well, but ultimately he made Jason Kapono look like LeBron James when it came to filling up the box score.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: With fan indifference rivaling that in Seattle, Bob Johnson demands Michael Jordan build him a winner. Jordan stops playing golf and filming commercials and really hunkers down and gets down to business. Bobcat fans come to the realization that as bad as he was in a part time capacity, he was even worse when he started working his butt off because after spending twice as much time in his office he made twice as many bad decisions.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: If anyone thought Larry Brown mailed in the Knicks job when he was working in the largest media market in the NBA, how much worse will he do in Charlotte when no one is paying attention? Despite drafting in the top five their first three years in the league and the top ten the two years after that somehow the Bobcats still do not have a franchise player.
Projected Finish: 34-58, 5th in the Southeast Division, 12th in the Eastern Conference
Team Blog You Should be Reading: Queen City Hoops
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
Player with the Most to Prove: Luke Ridnour – After losing the starting job to Earl Watson in Seattle last season Ridnour has been handed the keys to the medium powered Milwaukee offense. If he cannot hold off Ramon Sessions for the starting point guard job here, he will turn into a journeyman.
Worst Rotation Player (at least 10 minutes a game): Dan Gadzuric – Here we have a center who shoots under 42% from the floor. How is that possible?
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: Andrew Bogut decides he has had enough of the partying ways of the NBA and disappears on a walkabout that takes him through Gary, IN. Charlie Villanueva becomes the first power forward to end up with more three point attempts than rebounds and, well, things just get worse from there.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: Milwaukee has some nice talent and if they will elevate Ramon Sessions to the starting point guard I believe they can try to play some exciting offensive basketball. However, Scott Skiles was brought in to make these guys defend so look for some slow paced, boring, losing basketball in Wisconsin.
Projected Finish: 32-50, 5th in the Central Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference
Team Blog You Should be Reading: Brew Hoop
Team: New Jersey Nets
Player with the Most to Prove: Vince Carter – Carter has proven he can score and put up All-Star caliber numbers. What he has not proven is that he can be a selfless leader of a team, make his teammates better and drag a team with a questionable roster into the playoffs.
Worst Rotation Player (at least 10 minutes a game): Trenton Hassell – Once known as a defensive stopper Hassell has the honor of playing in the NBA for seven seasons without ever posting a PER over ten. Last season his PER was 4.26!
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: Vince Carter is knocked down on a drive early in the first game of the season and takes the remaining 81 games to stagger to his feet. OK, so maybe that really isn’t much of a stretch.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: The Nets have been working to get into position to make a Godfather offer to LeBron James in the summer of 2010. Well, it looks like Brooklyn may not come as part of that deal due to some financial issues on Wall Street. Things could get pretty ugly over the next couple of seasons in the swamps of New Jersey.
Projected Finish: 29-53, 4th in the Atlantic Division, 14th in the Eastern Conference
Team Blog You Should be Reading: Nets Daily
Team: New York Knickerbockers
Player with the Most to Prove: Zach Randolph – Z-Bo has proven he can score and rebound. He has not proven he can play team basketball and do anything other than put up nice numbers on bad teams. Mike D’Antoni’s system will give him the chance to run the floor, pass a little and the block will be all his with Eddy Curry chained to the courtside folding chairs.
Worst Rotation Player (at least 10 minutes a game): Jared Jeffries – 40% from the field including 16% from three point land. Oh and do not forget the 53% from the free throw line. At least he is hurt this season.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: The Knicks try to play Mike D’Antoni’s system with a roster completely ill suited for running it. Wait, what was that…they are? Oh, well this should be fun Knicks fans.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: Mike D’Antoni should have waited a few more days before agreeing to coach the Knicks. With a little bit of patience he could have been coaching the Bulls and Derrick Rose. Well that is all water under the bridge and D’Antoni is now stuck with a roster full of poor shooters and lard butts. This is not just a round peg, square hole scenario. This is a round elephant square thimble scenario.
Projected Finish: 25-57, 5th in the Atlantic Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference