We are about two weeks away from NBA opening night which means it is time to start churning out my NBA preview series. We will take a look at every team by division (wrapping up with the Suns and the Pacific Division) and then I will give my predictions. The big question is can I resist picking the Los Angeles Clippers as the 8th seed for a third straight year? To get us started let’s head to the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference.
Regular Season 50-32…Lost in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers
Last season the Celtics took their cues from off-season addition Rasheed Wallace; they coasted through the regular season and turned it on in the playoffs. Boston ran out of gas in the NBA Finals just like Sheed did because he didn’t take proper care of his body. Wallace decided to retire this summer and instead of finding young, spry bodies to inject life into a fading roster – Boston GM Danny Ainge went the opposite route. The two big free agent additions for the Celtics were Jermaine “I have no legs” O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal.
My biggest concern with this Celtics team is the amount of pressure Rajon Rondo will have on him during the regular season. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce can no longer bring it every night like they did in their primes and Rondo will be relied upon heavily to lock up the Atlantic Division title. He is coming off a year where he logged a ton of minutes, 36 MPG during the regular season and 40 MPG during the post season. This could lead to the superstar PG being exhausted by the time the playoffs roll around.
One addition Ainge made flying under the radar is signing Delonte West. If he is mentally functioning and not driving around a guitar case filled with guns or hooking up with teammate’s moms he can be one of the top bench players in the league. This would help quell my concern about Rondo getting overused. If there is one thing we learned from the Celtics postseason run it was Doc Rivers would probably rather jump off a skyscraper than trust Nate Robinson to run the offense. They also drafted Avery Bradley out of the University of Texas with their first round pick. He left after his freshman year and I doubt he is ready to make consistent contribution this season.
Regular Season 40-42
The Toronto Raptors just missed out of the playoffs last season finishing one game behind the Chicago Bulls with the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. In the 2010-11 season Raptors fans won’t have to worry about the postseason. They will be more concerned with prospects for their top three lottery pick.
Instead of moving Chris Bosh at the trading deadline Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo thought it was a better idea to keep him around to fight it out for the eighth seed. Because of this genius plan it brings us to where the Raptors are today.
Toronto has a roster filled with roll players and no one to build around. Their first round draft pick Ed Davis, out of North Carolina is a long term project and it is possible Leandro Barbosa will be their leading scorer this season (scary proposition as Suns fans saw how awful he was last year).
I do have two positives for Raptors fans and that is the development of second year wing Demar Derozan and 24 year old Sonny Weems. Derozan, who was Colangelo’s first round pick in the 2009 draft, looks like he is going to turn into an excellent NBA player. I expect his scoring average to jump from 8.6 PPG to around 12-14 PPG. Sonny Weems showed flashes last year when given the opportunity to play. In the final month of the season he averaged 14 PPG and played 33 MPG. In summer league he unveiled an improved jump shot and expectations are high for Weems as he could become one of the better stories in the NBA this year.
Can’t do a Raptors season preview without mentioning Bryan Colangelo spent $35 million over five years on Amir Johnson. I hope Mr. Colangelo enjoys his last year in Toronto as he will be looking for a new job once the season concludes.
New York Knicks
Regular Season 29-53
While everyone concentrated on the New York Knicks not getting LeBron James they quietly became one of the most improved teams in the NBA. Former Phoenix Suns PF Amar’e Stoudemire was the big free agent pick up and he immediately became the franchise’s best player since Patrick Ewing.
The move that really turned the roster was trading David Lee to the Golden State Warriors for Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike, and Ronny Turiaf, instead of overpaying for him. Three players with reasonable contracts who give the Knicks depth they haven’t had since Mike D’Antoni became the coach.
The key to the Knicks season will be the play of third year forward Danillo Gallinari and the above mentioned Anthony Randolph. Both have upside, but neither has proved they can play at a high level for 82 games. The development of Randolph and Gallo is two-fold; first, they can help the Knicks make the playoffs this season. Second, if they live up to expectations one of them can become the centerpiece in a trade for Carmelo Anthony.
Regular Season 27-55
When we look back at the 2010 NBA Draft in five years we will all criticize the 76ers front office for not taking Kentucky Center DeMarcus Cousins over Ohio State wing Evan Turner. Philly desperately needs big man to build around and has an abundance of guards/forwards in Louis Williams, Andre Igoudala, Thaddeus Young, Andres Nocioni, and Jodie Meeks. The only two Centers currently on the roster are Spencer Hawes and Tony Battie.
In addition to botching the number two in pick in the draft the 76ers hired Doug Collins to be their head coach. Collins is 59 years old and is going to want to win right now. Philadelphia has a young roster that needs to be groomed and developed. Just like last season I expect to see more minutes going to the likes of Elton Brand and Jason Kapono when Marreesse Speights and Louis Williams need to be seeing the court.
The 76ers have no chance at being successful this year. The upcoming season should be about finding out what they have in their young core (Jrue Holliday, Evan Turner, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, and Jodie Meeks) so they know if these are players they can build around or if they have to completely tear up the roster and start over.
New Jersey Nets
Regular Season 12-70
When there is more excitement about your franchise’s owners than the actual team that usually isn’t a good sign. The Nets had a historically bad NBA season and they look to bounce back this year.
New Jersey’s failures were centered on second year Center Brook Lopez and PG Devin Harris not living up to the hype. Lopez put up nice numbers, but I never felt like he had a great impact on the game. Devin Harris flat out had a terrible season. For the Nets to take a step in the right direction these two need to perform at a much higher level.
While the Phoenix Suns 2010 lottery pick Earl Clark out of Louisville hasn’t shown much growth, the Nets struck gold. Terrence Williams is an excellent all around basketball player. He passes, rebounds, has a sold outside shot, and can take the ball to the hoop. T-Will will take pressure off Harris and by assuming some of the play making responsibilities allowing Harris to do what he does best which is attack the basket.
With the third pick in the draft the Nets snagged Derrick Favors out of Georgia Tech. I won’t kill the Nets like I did the 76ers for passing on Cousins because they already have Lopez at the Center position. Favors is the perfect fit next to Lopez, but is still two-three years away from being ready.
Nets fans if those three paragraphs didn’t get you excited about your team I have no doubt this will. The Nets spent over $40 million this off-season on Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro, Jordan Farmar, and Anthony Morrow. Woooooooohooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!