The NBA is ready to launch another Donaghy-free season and we couldn’t be happier. TSS is kicking things off with the Western Conference and we’ll swing out East in the ensuing preview. All eyes are on Kobe and QB’s finest small forward in Ron Artest to repeat for LA. Don’t get us started on Lamar and Sasquatch Kardashian. On the other end of the spectrum Blake Griffin is due for some posters and looks to be a shoe in for Rookie of the Year. Greg Oden has another year to prove he’s not a modern day Sam Bowie and AI is looking to breathe new life in his career in Memphis of all places. Peep our ruminations on the wild west as we anticipate your disapproval in the comments.
Northwest Division – MZ
1. Denver Nuggets (60-22)
Chauncey Billups is back for a full season and his impact on this team has been immeasurable. Carmelo continues to improve his overall game and has finally become the player people expected him to be coming out of Syracuse. With J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, & Nene rounding out the starting squad, they look to be ready to build on last year. But as proven as they are in their starting five, the bench is thin and full on inexperience (Ty Lawson, Aaron Affalo outside of Birdman & Anthony Carter. Dahntay Jones & Linas Kleiza will be missed, but Jones in particular if Smith can’t handle starting duties. As talented as this team is, they’re one injury away from faltering.
2. Portland Trailblazers (58-24)
Most people have forgotten that the Trailblazers actually tied the Nuggets for the division last year, but lost due to a tiebreaker. Brandon Roy continues to shine under the radar, LaMarcus Aldridge gives them a great inside threat & they have a lot of depth on the wings with Rudy Fernandez, Martell Webster & Jerryd Bayless. The addition of Andre Miller will give this this young team someone to draw experience from, but it’s up to them to listen to him because he won’t be the leader based on his play. They really need Greg Oden to give them great interior defense and become the star they thought he’d be. They’ll be a good team regardless, but it’s up to Oden to determine how good they’ll be.
3. Utah Jazz (46-36)
A few years ago Deron Williams & Carlos Boozer seemed poised to be the 2K version of Stockton & Malone. Now they’re back together after Utah’s unsuccessful attempt to move him over the summer. Paul Milsap, who began to blossom during Boozer’s absence last year, will be wanting the ball a little more this season and Williams will have to juggle egos and defensive schemes. The Jazz will still be in the hunt for a playoff spot, but they’re a few years past being on the verge of being an elite team in the West.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (27-55)
The Kevin Durant show is back for another season as he looks to translate his scoring prowess into more wins. The only problem is that he’s not getting much help from the front office. Jeff Green is his most reliable teammate & his career highlight to date is being traded for Ray Allen. It’s not going to be a pretty season for this young team and teams waiting for Durant to become a free agent are patiently waiting.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves (26-56)
Pencil in Al Jefferson for another 20/10 season and call him Garnett Jr. Kevin Love will be out 6-8 weeks with a broken hand and rookie Jonny Flynn will more than likely be given the keys to the car. With a roster full of cast-offs and projects (Sasha Pavlovic, Ryan Gomes, Brian Cardinal, Wayne Ellington & Corey Brewer) it’s gonna be a long cold season up north.
Team To Watch – Portland Trailblazers
Northwest MVP Candidate – Brandon Roy
Pacific Division – Jason H.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (67-15)
I smell repeat. The Lakers begin their defense of the crown with the core of the team intact. Although Trevor Ariza has left for greener pastures in Houston, the addition of Ron Artest solidifies their stance as the team to be feared this season. With role players like Andrew Bynum and the grind out Spaniard Pau Gasol in the paint, they can easily run away with the ‘chip without argument. Questions like the return of an aging Lamar Odom and his less than stellar decision making (Khloe Kardashian) may affect the team. The same can be said about Artest and his rap career but hopefully for the Lakers they stay a cohesive unit. Because when they’re all on the same page forget about beating them.
2. Phoenix Suns (58-24)
This is not the Suns of old. Steve Nash and company’s clock is running out – they’re not getting any younger. Last year’s departure of coach Mike D’Antoni proved his system was a key element in their success. Now they’re just staying afloat with Nash running point. With Shaq gone and Amare Stoudemire looking for a better opportunity elsewhere, this team can go south real fast. In the meantime they’re still in the running for the Pacific
3. Golden State Warriors (36-46)
Oakland can’t get a break. The Athletics are yet in another rebuilding year. The Raiders are -nevermind, too easy. Anyway, they did make a smart move in drafting Stephen Curry. This adds another marksmen to the squad but it’s unlikely he’ll get any playing time in Don Nelson’s infamous “bench rookie” policy. With Stephen Jackson relinquishing his role as captain, we’ll see how the Warriors will do with Monta Ellis in for a full season.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (33-49)
The Clippers on paper actually have a decent lineup. It just sucks that their win-loss ratio isn’t on the same page. Baron Davis will most likely see the DL again and without his leadership, the Clips just look lost. You’ll get solid numbers from Blake Griffin and Marcus Camby but they just cancel each other out in the rebound department. They’re definitely the sleeper in this division but don’t wait too long to see it happen.
5. Sacramento Kings (31-51)
Kevin Martin heads a sub-par Sacramento Kings squad that hopes to return to its former glory. Their first mistake last year was hiring Reggie Theus ‘cause you know hiring the coach from Hang Time was a no-no. Instead former Phoneix Suns coach Paul Westphal takes the job of a team of young talent include their top draft pick Tyreke Evans. This is a work in progress with a couple upsets up their sleeves – but that’s it.
Team To Watch – Los Angeles Clippers
Pacific MVP Candidate – Kobe Bryant
Southwest Division – Patrick M.
1. Dallas Mavericks (58-24)
It may be a last hurrah for Dirk, Jason Kidd and co., but expect Shawn Marion to take a liking to the more open style and familiarity of the West to help Dallas maintain the momentum of last year’s playoff run. One possible derailment is the health of Josh Howard, coming off ankle surgery and a question mark to start the season. But help should be on the way in the form of Mark Cuban’s checkbook: as teams look to unload salaries for the great free agent class of 2010, Cuban will be willing to take on other’s talent (and contracts.) He knows it could be the last chance to get Dirk, and himself, a title for some time.
2. New Orleans Hornets (53-29)
Chris Paul is a top 3 player in the league and good for 50 wins by himself (and should be your number one pick in your fantasy draft.) But it’s the trade of Tyson Chandler for Emeka Okafor that should have the NO battling for a high seed in the West, as Okafor, while a limited player, should be a more consistent down low presence than Chandler. The one caveat is the team’s uneasy relationship with coach Byron Scott. If that continues, look for a change midseason.
3. San Antonio Spurs (50-32)
The Spurs have been preseason critics’ darlings around the league for their savvy pickups of Richard Jefferson and second-round pick DeJuan Blair, as well as lingering ball-gobbling for their championship runs years prior. These scribes are missing the most important fact: Tim Duncan broke down last year. As did Ginobili. Both are getting old and have logged too many miles of regular and postseason basketball. Without a fully functional Hall-of-Fame caliber Duncan, the Spurs can’t win. Plus they always tank the regular season anyways.
4. Memphis Grizzlies (41-41)
An underachieving team in a city with limited support for the squad and a cheapskate owner adds Crazy and Crazier in the form of Allen Iverson and Zach Randolph? Sounds like a recipe for disaster. But possibly not, after all both Randolph and AI can still play a little and one of the Grizz’ major problems last year was they didn’t have enough below-average NBA players to fill out a rotation. This could be the most fun good bad team to root for since the glory days of the Darius Miles Clippers, with young talent like Marc Gasol, OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay around to mesh with the veteran additions. In any other division, they’d be a playoff contender, and may still sneak into the 8 seed. Whether or not the additions are good for the long term remains to be seen: the odds of Z-Bo punching out Hasheem Thabeet after he awkwardly elbows him in practice are off the board.
5. Houston Rockets (36-46)
Someone’s got to finish last, and it’s an easy pick to single out the team that’s going to missing their franchise player for the entire season. The Rockets have had success without Yao in the past, but don’t look for T-Mac to lead any 22 game win streaks this time around. The Rockets still have plenty of good players, from mini-dynamo Aaron Brooks to defensive stalwart Shane Battier, but in this toughest of divisions, that’s just not going to cut it.
Team To Watch – Memphis Grizzlies
Southwest MVP Candidate – Dirk Nowitzki