NBA training camps opened over weekend, meaning it’s time again for Dime’s team-by-team season previews. Last year we debuted the “Highs and Lows” system — predicting the respective ceilings and basements for each team. Or in other words, what is the realistic best-case and worst-case scenario for the 2009-10 campaign?
Added: Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, James White, Joey Graham, Malik Allen
Lost: Linas Kleiza, Dahntay Jones, Sonny Weems
Ceiling: NBA Finals
Chauncey Billups gave everyone an education last season. Included in the semester’s lesson plan: (1) Don’t overlook CB when talking about the best point guards in the world, and (2) Don’t ever count out a Chauncey-led team in the NBA championship race. Billups helped get Denver over its first-round postseason curse and all the way to the Western Conference Finals, where they put a legit scare into the Lakers. One of these years Chauncey is going to start slowing down, but I’m not sure this is that year. He keeps himself in phenomenal shape, he rarely gets hurt, and his style is one that lends itself to playing at a high level until he’s damn near 40. And then there’s Carmelo Anthony, arguably the best pure scorer in the League, coming off the most complete season of his career and fueled by getting a taste of playoff success. J.R. Smith is poised to blow up in his first year as a full-time starter, rookie Ty Lawson offers a nice change-of-pace backup for Chauncey, and the big men — Nene, Kenyon Martin and Birdman Andersen — are as tough and intimidating a trio as any in the NBA. George Karl could’ve won Coach of the Year in ’09, but for the sake of his job and given the history of the award, maybe it’s best he didn’t.
Basement: Second-round exit
Depth is an issue, especially after losing valuable role players like Kleiza and Jones. Kleiza’s departure also means there’s only one designated shooter on the roster (Smith), and Jones leaves a void on defense — he was instrumental in making Chris Paul‘s life hellish in the Nuggets/Hornets series, and took on the Kobe assignment in the conference finals. Afflalo came into the NBA billed as a defensive stopper, so he could help in that respect, but he hasn’t proven it yet. Will Nene, Birdman and K-Mart each be able to replicate what they did last season? Even if they can play to that level and stay healthy, the group has glaring limitations on offense. Smith will miss the first seven games of the season due to suspension, which can make a big difference in what should be another tight Western Conference race, and in a tough Northwest Division where the Jazz and Blazers will contend and Oklahoma City is improving. But even if the Nuggets are vulnerable and arguably weaker than last year, realize that Mr. Billups hasn’t gone home in the first round of the playoffs since 2002.