This is the first part of the Massive NBA Preview in Pictures: two divisions per week, ten teams every Friday until the season starts at the end of this month. What teams will be good, what teams will do badly, and what hotties you should keep an eye out for: this preview answers all your questions. The divisions are chosen mostly by which teams I have enough pictures for by Friday. This week: the Central division, featuring the Pistons, Bulls, and Cavaliers, and the Pacific division, featuring the Suns, Lakers and Warriors.
2007-2008 record: 59-23
The Pistons threaten to succeed every season. With the Best Starting Five In The League, they’re a lock for the Eastern Conference Finals every year – or they were. With the advent of the new Celtics, and as the balance of talent between the conferences shifts back towards even, the Pistons’ hegemony has waned. However, that starting five of Sheed, Tayshaun, Chauncey, Rip, and Maxiell have been steadily augmented by what’s now one of the best young benches in the league, and the Pistons don’t look to fade over time.
2007-2008 record: 45-37
Last I checked, LeBron James was good to go for this season. Therefore, you can pencil the Cavaliers in for at least 41 wins. The question after that depends on what moves the Cavs have made to back up LeBron – and, unfortunately, that’s not much. On the good side, though, they did get him Mo Williams, who averaged seventeen points for the epic-faily Bucks last season, and Ben Wallace and Wally Szcerbiak have yet to play a full season for the team. Plus: Boobie. As long as they don’t push him out of position, as happened sometimes last season, he should be very valuable to the team. And cute. Did I mention cute? Anyway, however, the Cavs still have a very weak offense, and it’s an open-ended question as to whether that will improve.
2007-2008 record: 33-49
The Bulls will be better this season for one reason: they can’t be worse. Well, they can, of course – witness the Knicks, Heat, or Bucks – but I just don’t think they will. For one thing, there’s the young gentleman above. Derrick Rose is young, and the learning curve for point guards in the NBA is steep. But the Bulls are a young team, and with his skill, combined with the increased experience of young players like Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah and young veterans like Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, and Kirk Hinrich, they’ll be better. …Right?
Well, the Bulls still don’t have a good center. And Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah, conventional wisdom speaking, can’t score, and neither can any of their other bigs. Luol Deng does his best, but Ben Gordon’s still a prima donna and Kirk Hinrich still has limited skills, and Nocioni is still hot and cold. Can Derrick Rose and a summer to heal a season of humiliation get the team to a higher place? Well, damn, here’s hoping.
2007-2008 record: 36-46
The Pacers were…not good last year. Not horrible, really, sitting in ninth place at the end of the season, just not good. They didn’t have any trouble scoring last year – 104 per game – and they won’t this year, not after adding TJ Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, and a raft of rookies and second year players. Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert owned the NCAA, and Jarrett Jack will be a marked improvement over Flip Murray – expect the Pacers to seriously contend for a playoff berth this season.
2007-2008 record: 26-56
The Bucks are bad. The Bucks are going to stay bad. True, Yi Jianlian was doing nothing for them, and they did get rid of him – but, it was in return for the Nets’ Richard Jefferson. They traded some dead weight for what may be slightly more productive dead weight. They drafted Joe Alexander and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, both of whom have great potential but limited proven ability; they traded away Mo Williams, one of their best scorers; got Scott Skiles, who is made out of douchebaggery, for a coach; and, again, got Richard Jefferson. All of their slightly good moves were offset by slightly bad ones. They may not be in the absolute cellar by the end of the season, but they’ll definitely be chilling at least halfway down the stairs.
Los Angeles Lakers
2007-2008 record: 57-25
The Lakers. They’re good. They’re going to stay good. They’d have to do something pretty dramatic at this point to be bad. So, lets just move on to the pictures, shall we? Here’s what happened this summer:
2007-2007 record: 55-27
The Suns are a tragedy every year. I don’t think this season will be any different. They got rid of the excellent, but whiny, Shawn Marion, trading him for the good, but fat and slow, Shaquille O’Neal. They ran off run-and-gun coach Mike D’Antoni, exchanging him for defense-minded Terry Porter. Granted, that was exactly what the Suns desperately needed – defense – but the Suns have irrevocably changed, and they’re no longer the top-five-team lock that they once were. Add to that the impending creakiness of Steve Nash’s bones and the lack of a proven back-up point guard, and I don’t dare to hope. But enough of that gloominess; the Suns are still contenders, and will be as long as they’ve got Steve Nash lacing up for them. They’ve still got a lot on their side.
Los Angeles Clippers
2007-2008 record: 23-59
The good news is, the Clippers got Baron Davis. The bad news is, they lost Elton Brand. With only one potential All-Star in Davis, Marcus Camby, and a passable crop of supporting players, can they fight their way out of the cellar? The answer, unfortunately, is probably not. The Pacific division, and the West in general, is very top-heavy. The Clips could see a fifteen-game improvement in the win-loss column and still miss the playoffs. But, hey. At least Baron will be back in his hometown of LA, right?
2007-2008 record: 38-44
Ah, the Kings. With point guard Mike Bibby gone, and having spent the last two seasons at the bottom of the West, their fate this season is uncertain. They’ve still got speedy mini-K-Mart, Kevin Martin, who I have a major crush on. And they’ve got great depth at center, with Shawes, Brad Miller, and new kid Jason Thompson. They’ve got Beno Udrih at point, where he did well last year, and Bobby Jackson, who’s always quietly good. Now, does all this name-dropping mean the Kings will be good? Er, no. They won’t be at the bottom any more, though, I think. Sactown was never a place for stars anyway.
Golden State Warriors
2007-2007 record: 48-34
If the Suns consistently underachieve, the Warriors brought our hopes up briefly only to disappoint. That brief, golden window of We Believe is shut now with Baron Davis gone, and it’s never coming back. The W’s didn’t particularly replace him, and their other star guard, Monta Ellis, is out for months with a moped-induced injury. The Warriors have always been strange, but with both of Stephen Jackson’s co-captains (Davis and Matt Barnes) gone, it’s questionable whether they can stay sane enough to play basketball. They’ve got a good young core of Ellis and Andris Biedrins, both of whom have been signed to long deals – but they can’t win on their own, and even with Stephen Jackson and rising young player Kelenna Azubuike, they probably won’t. However, they’ll still probably be fun to watch.
That’s it for this week, readers. Next week, we’ll have the Southwest division (Chris Paul! The Texas teams!) and the Atlantic division (the Celtics, the Sixers, the Raptors!) Have a good weekend!