What is worse than a 4,000 word Eastern Conference preview? How about a 6,500 word Western Conference preview. Hey, if I can write it you can read it. I have split it up into two sections, the lottery teams and the playoffs teams. You are currently reading part one focusing on the lottery team section. Also, as an extra special treat I enlisted some help from the best team bloggers to give us some extra special insight.
Team: Dallas Mavericks
Player With the Most to Prove: Jason Kidd – He has been written off by many, including me.
Worst Rotation Player: DeSanga Diop – Diop seemed like decent player after he left Cleveland, but that was only because he was such a bust it was shocking to see him with a pulse.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: After Phoenix’s season falls apart Mark Cuban agrees to trade Jason Kidd’s expiring deal for Steve Nash. It is a chance to redeem himself for his greatest managerial blunder. Nash pulls a hammy in his first practice as a Mav and never fully recovers. Cuban then buys the Cubs and eventually goes insane. After he is shipped off to the funny farm he lives his life in quiet solitude with only one possession. A tattered picture of Devin Harris.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: I believe we will see one of the traditional western powers fall into the lottery this season. The Mavs seem to be the most likely culprit. Kidd is a mess. He may average more turnovers than points. Dirk and Josh Howard will continue to be consistent, and Brandon Bass is turning into a nice player, but this team does not have enough to get the job done night in and night out.
Projected Finish: 45-37 4th in the Southwest Division, 9th in the Western Conference
Question for Another Blogger: (This may seem weird as I predict them to miss the playoffs, but most everyone else is predicting that they will finish safely in the top eight in the west, this the topic of this question.)
Answer from Wes of Mavs Moneyball: The Mavs fan in me wishes this wasn't a reasonable question, but based on the last two years it unfortunately is. I think answer is definitely yes -- this Mavs team is more than capable of getting out of the first round. The coaching change to Rick Carlisle should help to create a whole new attitude where three successive painful playoff exits are a distant memory instead of a shadow. Best case scenario for the Mavs this season, as it has been for the last few years, is still an NBA Championship, but Dallas will now have to do it as an underdog.
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
Player With the Most to Prove: Marcus Camby – But I bet he still keeps chucking that perimeter jumper, not playing good one on one defense or ever leaving the paint to guard his man. (OK, so that was a cheap shot, but you know what I think about Camby.)
Worst Rotation Player: Jason Hart – I always thought Hart was good enough to play in the NBA when he was at Syracuse. I am not sure I expected him to be in the league for eight seasons though.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: You know what, just being the Clippers is as bad of a scenario as anyone should be subjected to.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: The Clippers have garnered some significant buzz with the acquisitions of Baron Davis and Marcus Camby. Well, Camby did not play in the preseason and may miss more games in the first week and a half of the season than he did all last year with the Nuggets. Not a good start. I do think the Clippers have a decent team, but not own good enough to be a playoff team in the west.
Projected Finish: 36-46 3rd in the Pacific Division, 10th in the Western Conference
Question for Another Blogger: The Los Angeles Clippers brought in Baron Davis who is entering his tenth season and Marcus Camby who will be 35 before the season ends. On the other end, they have young guns Al Thornton and Eric Gordon. It feels like this is their last chance to win big, but it is the first year the team has been together. Are the Clippers coming or going?
Answer from Clipper Steve of Clips Nation: It's a great question. As an optimist (you kind of have to be in order to be a Clippers fan), I think they are on the rise.
After three consecutive drafts (2004-2006) from which they have only Paul Davis left (Shaun Livingston is trying to resurrect his career in Miami while Yaroslav Korolev is long gone), the Clippers appear to have hit big with Thornton, the 14th pick in 2007 who was first team all rookie and will be the opening day starter at small forward. And their 2008 draft haul includes not only Gordon (who scored 21 fourth quarter points in a pre-season game), but also second round picks DeAndre Jordan and Mike Taylor, both of whom are not only going to make the team, but appear to have the ability to contribute as rookies.
I think the team can be good this season - good enough to make the playoffs if the chemistry works - but I don't think they're good enough to make it out of the first round of the playoffs give how tough the West continues to be. But the trade for Camby works on two levels - hopefully he can contribute to some wins in the short term if his age and injury history don't catch up to him. Be his contract only runs for two more seasons, and in the summer of 2010, Camby, Cat Mobley and Tim Thomas all come off the books, just in time to make a run at one of the many mega-superstars who figure to be free agents that summer. I'm not saying the Clippers have a great shot at LeBron James or Dwyane Wade (although it is LA, so that helps), but Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire would be a great consolation prize.
All this is predicated on the assumption that the oft-injured 29 year old Baron Davis has several good seasons left in him. A team with Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Al Thornton, Eric Gordon and several nice young contributors in the second biggest market in the US should in theory be a good free agent destination. Then again, we're talking about the Clippers.
At any rate, I'm excited about the possibilities of this season - veterans Camby and Ricky Davis, and of course Baron, can all make significant contributions. But I also think the Clippers' cap management has been outstanding this off-season, and they've got some good young talent as well. Call me an optimist, but I like where this is headed.
Team: Golden State Warriors
Player With the Most to Prove: Monta Ellis – Ellis had a very nice breakout season in 2007-2008, but he definitely is off to a bad start this year. I am sure everyone reading this knows he has been suspended for the first 30 games for crashing his moped (how emasculating). Those 30 games coincide with the first 30 games of his shiny new contract so when he comes back, he better be a player capable of leading the Warriors.
Worst Rotation Player: Marcus Williams – Williams was brought in to be a contributor at the point, but has found himself behind the superstar tandem of C.J. Watson and Demarcus Nelson on the depth chart.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: Monta Ellis cannot extricate himself from his true passion, moped riding. He continually crashes at speeds of 18 to 26 miles an hour wreaking massive damage to his body. Warrior fans begin sending him drugs, hookers and porn in an attempt to get him hooked on something more befitting an NBA player and more importantly much less dangerous. All attempts fail as he ultimately dies in a tragic accident where after losing control on the Bay Bridge he tumbles over the side and drowns after valiantly trying to save his precious moped from sinking.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: Golden State is going to miss trying to play Nellie Ball without Baron Davis.
Projected Finish: 34-48 4th in the Pacific Division, 11th in the Western Conference
Question for Another Blogger: With players like Steven Jackson and Monta Ellis coming off of career years and Corey Maggette being a player who can score as well as anyone but does not necessarily succeed in the mystical arena of making his teammates better what has to happen for the Warriors to exceed expectations and make the playoffs?
Answer from Fantasy Junkie of Golden State of Mind: The biggest glaring hole is obviously point guard with Baron going home to LA and Monta going home and getting injured for 3 months riding a moped. So now we're stuck with a bunch of 3rd string point guards trying to run a high powered offense. For the Warriors to exceed expectations they'll have to acquire a solid point guard via trade who can run the team, first without Monta and then with him. They'll also need career years from Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, and Andris Biedrins as well as solid contributions from the other big men on the team, Ronny Turiaf and Brandan Wright. Now, for the Warriors to make the playoffs, they'll need some divine intervention. I pray everyday.
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
Player With the Most to Prove: Randy Foye – Timberwolf fans will always remember that they traded Brandon Roy for Randy Foye. Foye has shown some flashes of brilliance, but at this point is no where near the player Roy is. Foye can be a very good NBA player, but for Minnesota to get back to making noise in the playoffs, he is going to have to be great.
Worst Rotation Player: Corey Brewer – Sebastian Telfiar is thanking his wild stars that he is on the same team as Brewer. Brewer has shown a vastly improved stroke from downtown in the preseason, but that does not mean a thing until he proves it in the regular season.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: Kevin Love and Al Jefferson become the most dominant scoring duo in the league each averaging 30 points a game. Unfortunately the TWolves go winless as the duo gives up a combined 78 points per game on the season to the men they are guarding.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: The Wolves are much improved and a core of Foye, Love, Jefferson and Mike Miller should be pretty fun to watch. The future of this team rests on Kevin McHale’s ability to draft wisely and make good decisions in the free agent market. If that does not rain on a parade I do not know what does.
Projected Finish: 34-48 4th in the Northwest Division, 12th in the Western Conference
Question for Another Blogger: Is Al Jefferson good enough to be the best player on a championship team?
Answer from Wyn of Canis Hoopus: IS Al Jefferson this caliber of player yet? No. While he is one of the best post players in the league at 23 years old (dominant from within 5 feet of the basket and has continually improved his jumper) Al still has well-documented deficiencies in his game: defense and passing out of double teams. Regardless, the more important thing is that Al has consistently stated that he knows what he needs to work on and he's going to put in the work to gain those skills. When Al signed his 5 year, $65 million extension he said "I didn't even think I was worth max this year anyway, I would've been a fool to go up there and ask for max, having not really proved myself for that."
So, WILL Al Jefferson be good enough to be the best player on a championship team, i.e. does he have the skill, talent, potential and motivation needed? Yes.
Team: Sacramento Kings
Player With the Most to Prove: Spencer Hawes – He has the talent to be a starting center in the NBA, but if he does not start proving it this season, he may be in trouble.
Worst Rotation Player: Quincy Douby – The scoring sensation from Rutgers has yet to carve a niche in the league like his bricks have carved a niche in Arco Arena’s rims.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: Another team where reality is worse than fiction. I like Francisco Garcia, but when you spend a combined $63 million on he and Beno Udrih over the next five years you have just killed your team.
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: The Kings have some nice young talent and are well coached by Reggie Theus. The problem is if the players on their roster do not improve significantly over the next few seasons they will be mediocre for years to come. Players like Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson certainly have the potential to become good players, but the margin for error is mighty slim.
Projected Finish: 32-50 5th in the Pacific Division, 13th in the Western Conference
Question for Another Blogger: With Kevin Martin, Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson do the Kings have the makings of their own future "Big 3?"
Answer from TZ of Sactown Royalty: While Kings fans (and sentient beings as a species) certainly believe in Kevin Martin, we're just not sure about Hawes or Thompson yet. We have desperate hopes the pair can become a new wave Vlade and C-Webb, sure, but we ain't counting any chickens just yet. We know we'll have a great, great two-guard for the next five years. We know we have good prospects at the four and five, and potentially good prospects at the three (Donte Greene) and the one (Bobby Brown). Any of those guys could be a future star, any of them could be solid role players, and any of them could be nothings. We don't know yet, but we hope to have a better idea later this season.
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
Player With the Most to Prove: Jeff Green – Green was supposed to be the Pippen to Kevin Durant’s Jordan. So far he has been more Brad Sellers than Scotty Pippen.
Worst Rotation Player: Johan Petro – We already picked on Jeff Green so let’s go after Petro. Another center who shoots a tad under 50%. 8.1% under 50% to be exact.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: Everyone knows Clay Bennett’s “hometown” is Oklahoma City. Soon NBA fans will learn that he was actually born in Santiago, Chile. Guess where the Thunder end up playing starting with the 2011-2012 season?
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: Kevin Durant took a huge step forward after the All-Star break last season when he stopped chucking threes and began working for better shots. Portland gets the headlines, but Sam Petri is working off the same game plan as Kevin Pritchard. They have a lot of cap room and first round picks staring them in the face in the near future.
Projected Finish: 25-57 5th in the Northwest Division, 14th in the Western Conference
Question for Another Blogger: What does a successful season look like for the Oklahoma City Thunder? Is it a certain number of wins? Is it a measureable statistical improvement in areas like defensive efficiency and/or offensive efficiency? Kevin Durant averaging 30 points a game?
Answer from Royce of The Thunderworld: Some people (like me) would say all the Thunder has to do is walk on the court, stand still for 48 minutes and lose every night and this season is a success. There's professional basketball in Oklahoma and that's the most important thing. We'll worry about winning next year. But in reality, I think a successful season would be winning 15-20 games at home. I think the goal of the team should be to go .500 at home, because that locks them up at matching last years win total. If they were to win at least 20-25 games overall I think that would mean there was a major improvement on the defensive end, which is what needs attention most right now. I think it's possible too because OKC fans gave a bump to the 2005 Hornets that won 36 games and they stunk.
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
Player With the Most to Prove: No One – There is no player on the hot seat in Memphis. Mike Conley should take a step forward in his second season and O.J. Mayo has some high expectations, but there is absolutely no pressure on this team.
Worst Rotation Player: Javaris Crittenton – I think Crittenton can be a good player, but after two years he has yet to show it.
Potential “No (expletive deleted) Way!” Scenario: After fan interest dwindles the Grizzlies decide they need some big names on the team in order to sell any tickets. They trade Mike Conley, Jr. and O.J. Mayo along with all their large to midsize contracts for Vince Carter and Allen Iverson. The duo puts up big numbers and people start to show up. Things are going well until Vince gets a case of jumper’s knee and Iverson’s leg falls off after dribbling off 21 seconds of the shot clock and driving into three defenders. The Grizzlies give up and decide to just field a team of midgets and circus freaks because, well people like midgets and circus freaks don’t they?
No Nonsense Hard Hitting Preview: The Grizzlies hope they have found their backcourt of the future in Conley and Mayo and they may very well have. With Gasol the Younger in the paint and Rudy Gay ready to either rain jumpers or dunks on the defense the Grizzlies might be about ready to go back on the upswing after two straight 22 win seasons. Of course, they are going to take some more lumps this season, but at least they have some players to show for it, unlike Charlotte.
Projected Finish: 22-60 5th in the Southwest Division, 15th in the Western Conference
Question for Another Blogger: Are the Grizzlies the new Clippers or when Gay, Conley, Mayo and Gasol have a little more experience will Michael Heisley reopen the pocketbook and bring in some more seasoned talent?
Answer from Josh of 3 Shades of Blue: That is the million dollar question here in Memphis. Of course, in my unqualified, unmedicated opinion, Heisley will no longer be the owner when these players come up for extensions. However, in the unlikely event that he still is, I think that he will sign them to market value contracts provided they have proven their worth in terms of the bottom line, which is wins/excitement = attendance = positive cash flow. Heisley has shown in the past that he will spend money when it is warranted. I don't know that Heisley is looking to New Orleans as the model to follow (significant free agent signings/trades - Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic, Bobby Jackson, Morris Peterson) as much as Portland, who has really built their team through the draft and draft day trades in setting up a core group of Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden. Of course, getting "lucky" in the draft (Chris Paul and Greg Oden) has been a key component for both of those teams. Time will tell how well that plays out for the Grizzlies.
I would like to wish a big Rocky Mountain sized thank you to all the bloggers who contributed to this preview.
Click here to read part two featuring the playoff participants.