Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
The Dallas Mavericks proved last season that they’re awfully good when everybody is counting them out. Dallas was picked by most to get upset by Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, then to lose to the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round, then to lose to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals and then to lose to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Dallas flew under the radar up until one of their many frantic comebacks against the Thunder and finally gained the nation’s support as they went up against American’s villain LeBron James.
While Dallas’ run last season was incredible and fun to watch, it’s hard to imagine them conjuring up anything similar this year. Dirk Nowitzki is still in Dallas and until he leaves they’ll continue to be a to six team in the West, but the Mavs lost the most important piece of their championship puzzle to free agency (Tyson Chandler) as well as two of their key reserve players to free agency (J.J. Barea) and retirement (Peja Stojakovic). Their two Jason’s (Terry and Kidd) are still in town but you’d have to think they won’t be able to replicate their ridiculous success from beyond the arc.
Dallas did acquire Lamar Odom for nothing and he’ll give the Mavs some depth that they lost but they didn’t get a replacement for Chandler at center and will be relying on Brendan Haywood to take his spot. Dallas also added a pair of shooting guards in Vince Carter and Delonte West. West’s addition isn’t so bad since DeShawn Stevenson is now in New Jersey, leaving a roster spot open for a crazy person. Carter, though, is an awful basketball player at this stage of his career and Dallas would be much better off giving those guard minutes to Roddy Beaubois.
The Mavs clearly took a step back this off-season but I have a feeling that Mark Cuban isn’t too upset about it. By acquiring a bunch of players on one year deals the Mavericks have set themselves up to make a serious run at a top free agent next summer. Their capsheet only has slightly over $40 million on it for next season and there’s a pretty strong feeling that if Dwight Howard doesn’t go to the Nets, Deron Williams will be making his way to Dallas. Dallas may look to make moves during the season to make that $40 million figure even lower because $16 million of it belongs to Shawn Marion and Haywood (who are signed until 2014 and 2016 respectively).
Dallas will be good this season but it appears as if Cuban’s plan isn’t for back-to-back title but perhaps building the foundation of a dynasty. Anything more than one playoff series win will be gravy.
Prediction: 38-28, 1st in the Southwest Division, 6th in the Western Conference
Hit the jump for the rest of Mark’s Western Conference previews…
The Denver Nuggets are just like the Bulls only they don’t have the same star power in their rotation. That said, every single player on their depth chart is a capable NBA player (or body). A rotation comprising Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, Arron Afflalo, Rudy Fernandez, Corey Brewer, Danilo Gallinari, Jordan Hamilton, Al Harrington, Kosta Koufos, Kenneth Faried, Nene Hilario, Chris Andersen and Timofey Mozgov makes Denver one of the three deepest teams in the NBA and you can make the argument that, with this group, Nene is just as good as Carmelo was. Denver was far and away the best offensive team in basketball last year and that figures to happen again this year, especially in a short season in which 33 different times teams will have to come to the Pepsi Center and play a mile high against 12 rotation players.
Denver will probably get even better once Wilson Chandler returns from China sometime in February. The Nuggets may not be a favorite to advance in the playoffs but as far as the regular season goes, this is going to be one of the best teams in the west and George Karl is going to challenge for the coach of the year award.
Prediction: 43-23, 2nd in the Northwest Divison, 3rd in the Western Conference
Golden State can make 100 coaching changes as they would like and it won’t make a difference in changing the personality of the team. Mark Jackson may not be a bad coach and even though he’s supposed to say that he’s putting a focus on defense, it’s just not possible with this group. If the Warriors are going to remain committed to a franchise built around Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis and David Lee’s contract then it will never happen.
That’s not to say the Warriors will never be a good team with their current cure but they’ll never be better than good. Great teams have to be able to score and defend and while Golden State can certainly make the playoffs in the future by scoring and scoring and scoring, they can’t be more than that because the great teams will be returning the favor while also slowing down their offense.
The Warriors will be fun to watch this year but we have to hope that Stephen Curry’s ankle issues stop coming back. He’s already questionable for the opener and his ankle has caused continuous problems for years now.
Prediction: 31-35, 3rd in the Pacific Division, 10th in the Western Conference
Houston has a right to be upset. The failed Chris Paul deal screwed up Daryl Morey’s pretty good plan of putting together a Pau Gasol/Nene frontcourt and building around that. Instead, they have a roster suited for Rick Adelman’s offense with Kevin McHale, who undoubtedly wants to run things through the post, as their new head coach. Houston will still boast one of the league’s most efficient offenses but with Yao now officially gone and Chuck Hayes in Sacramento, the Rockets will have to settle for a Luis Scola (still good but not as good as Gasol) and Jordan Hill starting frontcourt. I think they’ll compete and barely miss on the playoffs, but even if they made it, Morey’s long-term plan would have brought much more success than that.
Prediction: 33-33, 4th in the Southwest Division, 9th in the Western Conference
Well, this is going to be a lot of fun.
Prediction: 45-21, 1st in the Pacific Division, 2nd in the Western Conference
Devin Ebanks is their starting small forward this season. And Darius Morris should start at point guard.
I’ll have more on the two Los Angeles teams soon.
Prediction: 41-25, 2nd in the Pacific Division, 4th in the Western Conference
Memphis was a triple overtime victory away from changing the entire landscape of the NBA. OK, perhaps that’s a bit much, but if they had beaten the Thunder in that 3OT game they probably would’ve won the series and as good as Dallas was, are we sure that they would have been able to deal with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol? Had Mark Cuban not won an NBA title and Memphis had beaten Miami, perhaps the small market owners would have felt better about themselves and the lockout wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did. Alright, enough with that.
Memphis is going to continue building on the momentum they created last season with their impressive first round victory over the number one seeded San Antonio Spurs. They re-signed Marc Gasol to a hefty extension, keeping their biggest advantage intact, and they will be getting a healthy Rudy Gay back, which is like signing a near all-star. Memphis would have been my favorite to win the West had Darrell Arthur not torn his ACL during training camp. Arthur emerged as a very good player during the post-season and will miss the entire season.
The Grizzlies made a pretty good move of signing Dante Cunningham to a cheap three-year offer sheet. Cunningham is similar to Arthur was before he made the leap he did last season and possesses some of the similar qualities (mid-range jumpshot, versatile defender). Memphis doesn’t appear to be done trying to fix their back-up center spot as Hamed Haddadi’s contract expired at the end of the season and he may not be returning to the US because of a work visa issue. Memphis traded back-up point guard Grevis Vasquez, who was a fan favorite and a post-season hero for Memphis at times last year, to the New Orleans Hornets for Quincy Pondexter. Pondexter is more of a small forward but it seems like that move was made to create extra space on the wing for Memphis to trade someone like Sam Young for another big man.
Vasquez played an impactful role during the playoffs last season so it was odd to see him moved regardless of Memphis’ future plans. The trade likely means that the Grizzlies are very high on rookie point guard Jeremy Pargo. Pargo is 25-years old and is a few years removed from his time at Gonzaga. He played overseas after his time in college and after a big year with Maccabi Tel Aviv, Memphis believes he’s ready to be their back-up point guard.
The Grizzlies will need Pargo to be good right away in a shortened season that puts an emphasis on back-ups. Same goes for Cunningham and whoever else Memphis gets to fill their rotation. The Grizzlies getting Gay back, retaining Gasol and having O.J. Mayo officially committed to the role of sixth man will make them one of the best teams in the West but their depth will be key for them to becoming more than that. One thing to watch this year: After taking a unique approach to defense and living on turnovers, does Memphis keep it up or does it even out and are they forced to back to the fundamentals?
Prediction: 39-27, 1st in the Southwest Division, 5th in the Western Conference
Minnesota is going to be very exciting this season and that’s not just because Ricky Rubio is finally suiting up for an NBA team. Minnesota also added the best player in the 2011 NBA Draft in Derrick Williams, is getting a slimmed down Kevin Love in a contract year and hired Rick Adelman as their coach, which is thing that I think helps them out of the bottom of the West the most. You can have as many exciting players as you want but if Kurt Rambis was the coach Minnesota would probably be one of the five worst teams in the NBA this season. Instead, they went out and hired one of the best offensive coaches in the league that will get the best out of their guards.
Signing an unnecessary point guard has become an annual tradition in Minnesota, so they did ink J.J. Barea to a four-year deal but this still a talented team. Their starting line-up should be Ricky Rubio/Wesley Johnson/Michael Beasley/Kevin Love/Darko Milicic and their second unit should be Barea/Wayne Ellington/Derrick Williams/Anthony Randolph/Anthony Tolliver. There’s a ton of versatility there as well as speed, athleticism and the best rebounder in the league.
Minnesota isn’t quite a playoff team. They don’t have a wing player that can create his own shot and teams are going to be daring Rubio to shoot all season long, so their offense won’t work as well as it could. Most of time you can expect a jump from your second year starting shooting guard who was drafted with the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft but Johnson was the Brandon Weeden of the draft class and he’s a 24-year old NBA sophomore, which means he may already be near his ceiling.
The Timberwolves have a bevy of point guards and small forwards so there’s a chance they can make a move for a shooting guard or center, their two positions of need, but for now it appears as if this team will be a very fun team to watch, but also a flawed one that is not ready for the post-season just yet. That said, there’s no incentive to tank because their first round draft pick is New Orleans’ now so don’t be surprised if this team is just a few games under .500 by season’s end. Poor New Orleans, they keep getting screwed.
Prediction: 29-37, 4th in the Northwest Division, 11th in the Western Conference
New Orleans is in a tough position this season but at least they are better off than Cleveland was to begin last season. Eric Gordon isn’t on the same level as Chris Paul and he’s not a superstar but he is someone that can be a key part of a franchise’s core and though his contract expires this season, New Orleans will be able to match any offer made to him this summer. He may not be there now but there’s a good chance Gordon is the best shooting guard in the NBA in three years and he may turn out to be a nice face of the franchise for the Hornets down the line.
The Hornets also got a pretty good pick in the Chris Paul trade, though, as I said above, it may not be as good as a pick as originally thought. That said, New Orleans will have some nice pieces trade for more young talent during the year with Chris Kaman and Carl Landry on one-year deals while players like Al-Farouq Aminu and Greivis Vasquez get some developmental minutes.
It may seem like a lost season for New Orleans and to an extent it is, but Monty Williams is a good coach, Eric Gordon could make a leap this season and the Hornets will be competitive for the first few months as a Jarret Jack/Gordon/Trevor Ariza/Kaman starting line-up and Vasquez/Marco Bellinelli/Aminu/Jason Smith/Landry bench isn’t the worst team in the league.
Prediction: 25-41, 5th in the Southwest Division, 14th in the Western Conference
This is their year. After testing the Lakers two seasons ago and losing to the eventual NBA Champions last season, the stars have aligned for the Thunder to win it all this season. They’re young, they’re cohesive, they’re driven and they’re deep. In a shortened season all of those things make it hard not to pick the Thunder to be the number one seed in the West this year. Sure, they may be playing their first season with lofty expectations but I don’t think that will matter too much to this Thunder team.
Aside from drafting Reggie Jackson to be their third string point guard and trading B.J. Mullens for back-up small forward Lazar Hayward, the Thunder didn’t make any big time acquisitions but that doesn’t mean they won’t get better. Internally, Kendrick Perkins is in the best shape of his life, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant should work better together this season and James Harden is poised to become a near all-star this season. If they can avoid injuries, this is hands down the best team in their conference and can be penned in for a spot in the Western Conference title game.
Prediction: 49-17, 1st in the Northwest Division, 1st in the Western Conference
Pretty much the only thing that will keep the Suns in the national spotlight this season is Steve Nash trade rumors. #FreeSteveNash
Prediction: 27-39, 4th in the Pacific Division, 13th in the Western Conference
Portland was the trendy pick to upset the Mavericks in the first round last season but it seems most are sleeping on them this season. The Trail Blazers are a little thin in the front court behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby because of Greg Oden’s injury (though the signings of Craig Smith and Kurt Thomas were sneaky good) but their five man guard/small forward rotation of Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, Jamal Crawford, Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum is inferior to few.
If Raymond Felton isn’t out-of-shape come playoff time expect this team to to be a difficult out in the post-season. For real this time.
I’m just not sure what the direction is here. Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, and Marcus Thornton seems like a pretty good core but then they drafted Jimmer Freddette to be their starting point guard, traded Omri Casspi for J.J. Hickson, acquired John Salmons from Milwaukee and still have Paul Westphal as their head coach. I like the talent but there’s an uneven distribution of it as far as position goes and with Westphal as the coach, there is a limit to their growth.
The Kings should be fun to watch because of Jimmer-mania and hopefully Tyreke can finally have a healthy season, but unless the Kings overhaul the staff this team is going to shoot a ton of 20-footers this season while playing some terrible defense, which translates to few wins.
Prediction: 23-43, 5th in the Pacific Division, 15th in the Western Conference
I’ve seen a few analysts proclaim that the Spurs are a sleeper team this season. That’s funny because it looked like they were asleep in the post-season against the Grizzlies. Much like the Boston Celtics, I think the Spurs have seen the last of their big three being serious contenders. I feel bad for Tony Parker, though, because if Baron Davis didn’t go to New York he would have been a Knick by season’s end.
Other than that, Antonio McDyess retired, San Antonio chose not to amnesty Richard Jefferson, signed T.J. Ford and drafted Corey Joseph in the first round. They may have acquired Kawhi Leonard on draft night as well, but they traded George Hill, their best reserve, to get him. The Spurs also failed to address the power forward and center position. Having Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair back-up and play alongside Tim Duncan in a shortened season is just about as bad as it gets.
Prediction: 35-31, 3rd in the Southwest Division, 7th in the Western Conference
Utah provides another good reason for Orlando to trade Dwight Howard. Though I think dealing Deron Williams last season wasn’t necessary, they ended up with a core of Devin Harris, Alec Burks, Jeremy Evans, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson and Enes Kanter entering this season and with serviceable role players such as Raja Bell, C.J. Miles and Gordon Hayward. Utah will struggle with some growing pains for their younger players but they should be fun to watch and the fans in Utah have a lot to look forward to going forward.
Prediction: 28-38, 4th in the Northwest Division, 12th in the Western Conference