CLICK HERE for Part 1
The Planned Increases:
Los Angeles Lakers - Let me state this clearly and firmly: the Lakers are now in the weakest division in the league. That means that they will amass wins, and probably finish the season atop the highly-competitive West.
This does not mean that they are the best team in the West.
Yes, they need to figure out how Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will co-exist. Yes, they need to get Lamar Odom either in attack mode (which benching him may do) or they need to trade him…like, immediately. (Did I mention Lamar Odom and Luke Walton for Richard Jefferson and Charlie Bell works in the ESPN NBA Trade Machine?) And, most importantly, they need to let Kobe relax and take his foot off the throttle. The Lakers have grown up, and they need to figure out their chemistry together, with Kobe as one piece, not THE piece. They have gotten stronger, but so have the Hornets and Jazz.
TSC Projection: 63-19 (+6 from last season), 1st in the West
Portland Trailblazers - This is the beginning of their success, and Portland fans are right to be excited. But this team is still young, and need to figure out their rhythm before they make a deep playoff push. There are point guard issues if Brandon Roy slides over to shooting guard, and from what I’ve seen, Greg Oden gets most his points off of boards, and not off his own shots. Like a young Olajuwon, he needs to develop his offensive skill set. Jump shots, fakes, hooks, and the like. Just ask Dwight Howard and a young Shaq how well overpowering your opponent works in the playoffs.
That being said, I’m excited to see what Rudy Fernandez can do on a day-to-day basis, the young guns in Jarred Bayless/Travis Outlaw/Martell Webster on the fast break, and whether this team can avoid the injury bug. But Coach Nate McMillan needs to really, really focus on defense. If so, they have a good shot at being a power in the West for several years to come.
TSC Projection: 47-35 (+6 from last year), 7th in the West
Utah Jazz - The success of this year depends on Deron Williams. If he slacks, gets hurt, gets in a funk, or keeps his turnovers over 3.5 a game, Utah will not improve one bit.
The problem is, that won’t happen.
D-Will is about to have a career year. He is the perfect guard in the perfect system, with the absolutely ideal players around him. Jerry Sloan will give him the keys to the hotrod, now that Sloan’s system is set up. Expect 20 and 10 for the next five years out of him. That being said, the Jazz have the discipline and confidence to take on anyone in the West. They have inside presence with Carlos Boozer, outside shooting in Korver, they have lock-down D both inside and out, and one of the best coaches ever. What don’t you like?
TSC Projection: 58-24 (+4 from last year), 2nd in the West
Cleveland Caveliers - Its always hard to project with the Cavs. Any year, they could make The Leap. They have the blueprints: MVP-caliber small forward, classic reliable center, outside shooters, defensive workhorses. Now, they’ve added a point guard with scoring capacity in Mo Williams. Is that what it takes? Can they win now?
I have always been suspect of Mike Brown, and the Cavs’ tendency to get lackadaisical in the regular season. The play calling is usually “get the ball to Lebron”, which works, but that’s not his only option. They need to get rid of Sasha Pavlovic ASAP, possibly play Mo at shooting guard and Dalante West at point. And they need to play that way the whole season, or there will be little cohesion.
They can challenge for the East representative in the Finals. But I think they need a better, stricter coach.
TSC Projection: 51-31 (+6 from last year), 3rd in the East
New Orleans Hornets - There’s everything to like about the Hornets. Chris Paul is absolutely at the top of his game, and he’s 23. David West is the most mild-mannered #2 in the game, Tyson Chandler is one of the hardest working centers, Peja Stojakovic is one of the purest shooters ever, and everyone else can either score or play D. None of them are cocky, or brash, or go out of the flow of the offense. So, Byron Scott? Yeah, he’s an incredible coach.
They had a nice dip in the playoffs last year, but if they don’t get out of the second round this year, it’s a failure. They need to focus on keeping healthy, and let CP3 create the shots for them. Who knows, it might even lead to an MVP for the little guard.
TSC Projection: 57-25 (+1 from last year), 3rd in the West
Philadelphia 76ers - They look great on paper. They have solid, All-Star pieces. They are confident, look to run, and are well-coached. Their young guys have showed incredible promise last year. There’s nothing but success in the future for the 76ers.
But they have to figure out how to play with each other first. Is Andre Igoudala is still the first option, or is Elton Brand? Which youngster works best in the SF spot, Thaddeus Young or Willie Green? And they aren’t as deep as you think. An injury could really disturb the flow of this team. I have a feeling that they will start out slow, find their groove around February, and be upset in the first round of the playoffs by Atlanta. If this is their peak, is that something to be jumping up and down about?
TSC Projection: 47-35 (+7 from last season), 4th in the East
Absolute Crap-Shoot: (or, the Texas Roundup)
San Antonio Spurs - Every great team has a down-fall, but does it last five years (like Detroit) or overnight (like the ‘04 Lakers)? Last year, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker carried this team through the regular season. Tim Duncan has regressed to a 15-8 forward, and if Manu is out until December, is it too late for the Spurs to pick up the pace? Or could they get into one of their late-season grooves, pick up a decent playoff spot, and make a nice post-season push?
The slow start is a sure thing. But I’m not so dumb as to count the Spurs out of the running. I’d buy anywhere between 43 and 55 wins from this team, but they need the Big Three. Otherwise, they are no better than the Wizards this season.
TSC Guess: 50-32 (-6 from last season), 6th in the West
Houston Rockets - Sigh. Ron Artest. Will you team up with Shane Battier to be one of the best defensive duos in NBA history? Or will you be the screen door to the Rockets’ metaphorical submarine? Everyone is intrigued by this Houston team. It’s got three amazing players on it. But one has a chronic back problem (McGrady), one hasn’t played more than 57 games in the last 3 years (Yao) and one, well, kinda…went into the stands…and…well…yeah.
Yes, the Rockets could gel. They have Rick Adelman, possibly the best regular season coach ever. Look at what they accomplished sans-Yao last season, winning 22 in a row. But they are still in “prove it to me” status until I see either Yao dunk on someone and talk some street-ball talk, McGrady and Artest win in Detroit after their respective histories there, or Skip-to-my-Lou Rafer Alston shoot better than 44% on the season.
TSC Guess: 54-38, (-1 from last season), 4th in the West
Dallas Mavericks: What is the expectation for this team? Really? Are we to expect the NBA Finals-caliber team of only three years ago? Or an aged, unmotivated bunch with little direction? A 50-win team, or a 35-win team? I have no clue. I do think Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki can form a potent duo. Josh Howard can still score, no matter his opinions on weed and the National Anthem. Dasagna Diop needs to prove his worth at center (because Erick Dampier is very much so Erick Dampier…he couldn‘t even spell his own first name right), but I think the Mavs are capable of playing very well.
But will they? Its anyone’s guess. Their roster looks like the 2001 All-Stars, or the Summer League Old-Timers team. Paging Mark Cuban? It’s time to turn your franchise around.
TSC Guess: 46-36 (-5 from last season), 8th in the West
Too Far Away To Notice: so I will breeze through these.
Minnesota Timberwolves - They will do better than last year, purely because of the addition of Mike Miller (a TSC favorite) and the return of Randy Foye, who played exceptionally well before his injury. But Al Jefferson better put up at least 20 shots a game, and I don’t think that’s in the plans.
TSC Projection: 26-56 (+4 from last year), 13th in the West
Milwaukee Bucks - They look much better after they traded Yi Jianlian to the Nets. Richard Jefferson is a player, no matter what you say. I was impressed with Andrew Bogut last year and throughout the Olympics, but Michael Redd is going the way of Glen Rice and Mitch Richmond, namely, when you lose your ability to take the ball to the bucket, defenders don’t let you get your jump shot nearly as easily.
TSC Projection: 30-52 (+4 from last season), 12th in the East
Memphis Grizzlies - I contend that Kwame Brown and Darko Milicic were the worst frontcourt of all time. Now that Kwame is gone to Detroit, we have Hakim Warrick and Darko, which is not much better. Marc Gasol will get some run, but will foul out more than twelve Mark Madsons. Rudy Gay is the shining future of this franchise, and I’d get him as many touches as possible, while clearing up the Mike Conley/OJ Mayo/Kyle Lowry mess at point.
TSC Projection: 18-64 (-4 from last season), 15th in the West
OK City Thunder - It will take a long, long time to get used to these jerseys. Word has it that Russell Westbrook has been impressing in workouts and training, which would be useful, since there’s only one player on OK City that can create his own shot. So he has plenty of room to develop next to Kevin Durant, who needs much development of his own. No true center, no true shooting guard? Don’t expect much this season.
TSC Projection: 21-61 (+1 from last season), 14th in the West
New Jersey Nets - Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that Vince Carter stays healthy and doesn’t quit on the season. Let’s assume Yi Jianlian picks up his share to be a 15-and-6 forward, and Devin Harris doesn’t get balled up by any Europeans in cardigans to blossom to a 18-and-7 point guard, that would result in a pretty good season. What I just described will get them about 30 wins…and I don’t think that will happen. And now, it seems like the Brooklyn arena won’t be completed for a potential Lebron courting session in 2010, so clearing all this cap space may be for naught.
TSC Projection: 26-56 (-7 from last season), 14th in the East
Final Standings More Or Less:
Celtics: 63-19 (-3 from last season), 1st in the East
Pistons: 53-29 (-6 from last season), 2nd in the East
Cavs: 51-31 (+6 from last year), 3rd in the East
76ers: 47-35 (+7 from last season), 4th in the East
Hawks: 46-36 (+9 from last season), 5th in East
Magic: 45-37 (-8 from last season), 6th in the East
Pacers: 41-41 (+5 games from last season), 7th in East
Bobcats: 40-42 (+8 from last season), 8th in the East
Wizards: 38-44 (-5 from last season), 9th in the East
Knicks: 36-47 (+12 games from last season), 10th in East
Raptors: 33-49 (-8 from last season), 11th in the East
Bucks: 30-52 (+4 from last season), 12th in the East
Bulls: 29-53 (-4 from last season), 13th in the East
Nets: 26-56 (-7 from last season), 14th in the East
Heat: 20-62 (+5 from last season), 15th in the East
Lakers: 63-19 (+6 from last season), 1st in the West
Jazz: 58-24 (+4 from last year), 2nd in the West
Hornets: 57-25 (+1 from last year), 3rd in the West
Rockets: 54-38, (-1 from last season), 4th in the West
Nuggets: 51-31 (+1 from last season), 5th in the West
Spurs: 50-32 (-6 from last season), 6th in the West
Blazers: 47-35 (+6 from last year), 7th in the West
Mavericks: 46-36 (-5 from last season), 8th in the West
Suns: 43-39 (-12 from last season), 9th in the West
Kings: 33-49 (-5 from last season), 10th in the West
Warriors: 33-49 (-15 from last year), 11th in the West
Clippers: 32-50 (+9 from last season), 12th in the West
Timberwolves: 26-56 (+4 from last year), 13th in the West
Thunder: 21-61 (+1 from last season), 14th in the West
Grizzlies: 18-64 (-4 from last season), 15th in the West
Trends of Possibility:
Hornets possibly up
Nuggets slightly down
Suns slightly up
Mavericks out of playoffs?
Clippers up, possibly to 9th spot
The TSC Awards Projection (including arbitrary categories):
The Level-Up, East: Cleveland Caveliers
The Level-Up, West: Utah Jazz
One Year Away, East: None (but New York is closest)
One Year Away, West: Portland Trailblazers
Biggest Overachievers: Charlotte Bobcats
Biggest Underachievers: Phoenix Suns
Most Unfortunate Second-Year Drop Off: Orlando Magic
West Champs: Los Angeles Lakers
East Champs: Cleveland Cavaliers
MVP: Lebron James
DPOY: Chris Paul
ROY: Greg Oden
Most Improved: Rajon Rondo
Coach of the Year: Mike D’Antoni
6th Man: Shane Battier
Executive of the Year: Kevin Pritchard, Portland
Blog of the Year: TSCblogs.com