Monday, October 29, 2007
2007-08 NBA Preview: Western Conference
Overview: They just handed out the last ring at the Spurs' bling ceremony. Will they be having another one this time next year? I say no. They win every other year. I see Phoenix toppling them in May. And then I see Amare and KG clashing for the chip in June.
1. Dallas Mavericks. Are the Lakers demanding Dirk for Kobe? Or only Devin Harris and Josh Howard? I don't know. Either the way, they're better off. But if all LA wants is the latter platter? Kobe is a better defender than Josh Howard when he doesn't have to do all of the scoring (Remember the title years with Shaq? He was as good as anybody on that end, and on a night-to-night basis, too.) As much as I like Devin Harris, he's still played the majority of his games as a reserve, and they'd still have Jason Terry. Kobe would answer all of their heart/toughness/crunchtime questions, and take the pressure of being Batman away from Dirk (who's probably better off as Robin). Terry, Kobe, Devean George, Dirk, Diop, Dampier and Stack off the bench? Put them down for 65 wins and the fantastic scenario of seeing David J. Stern pretend to smile as he hands Cubes the Larry O.
Mitch Kupchak traded Shaq to Miami in a deal that didn't include Flash; so it stands to reason that he'd trade Kobe to Dallas for a package sans Dirk. The dealbreaker? Not even Mitch is smart enough to trade Kobe in-conference. At least I don't think he is. I wouldn't put anything past him.
More than likely, Dallas will go to bat with what they have, which might get them 60-plus wins again but still no title.
2. San Antonio Spurs. Not much neeeds to be said here. They're the same as always. Best run organization in basketball.
3. Houston Rockets. Why is it that everyone thinks Steve Francis is washed up? Why? I mean, sure, he had a couple down years. And yeah, maybe he's not the same cat that started alongside Kobe on two All-Star teams? But...was it that long ago that he was the cat that started along Kobe on two All-Star teams? Was that four years ago or fourteen years ago? Is he 30 or 40? Just three years ago, he averaged 21.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 7.0 assists for Orlando in 78 games. Then he struggled adjusting to a reduced role as God's Man Child's continued to improve and grab a bigger hold of the rein's, got traded to New York where everybody is f----d up, had a poor run there (what did you expect, they already had Steph, that was never gonna work), got dealt to Portland in the Zach Randolph deal, then got bought out becuase they're trying to go with a total youth movement and already have Jarrett Jack, then signed with re-signed with Houston, where he would've been the perfect third option behind Mac and Yao.
Instead, he's not even gonna crack Rick Adelman's rotation because Skip, Mike James, and Luther Head have "played a lot better" (Adelman's words). F--k that. Preseason don't mean s--t. Just give him the job for Christ sakes. He shouldn't have to earn the job in preseason. We already know what Steve Francis can do.
(Then again, If he's played poorly enough that three guys have jumped ahead of him in the rotation, maybe he is washed up. I just find it hard to believe, considering he hasn't had any major injuries or anything like that. It would be extemely odd if he really were tarnished goods already.)
4. New Orleans Hornets. I like this team. They were only three games out of the final playoff spot last year, and that was with significant time missed by their three best player: CP3 (-18 games), David West (-30 games), and Peja (a whopping -69 games). I could see Chrissy going for a 20-10 this year; he's that good. And you gotta love Tyson on the boards. But I see G-State getting better, also, and as long as Kobe still plays for the Lakers (which he still does as of this very moment) and Phil Jackson is still their head coach, they will make the playoffs. They will. That makes N'awlins no. 9.
5. Memphis Grizzlies. Nah.
1. Phoenix Suns. This may be their last chance. They'll make the most of it.
2. Golden State Warriors. They've had a full season under Nellie. They've got great chemistry. They've got the best home-court advantage in the league. Baron took it to another level in the playoffs last year (25 points, 6 dimes, 3 swipes a night on 51 percent shooting), and under the continued tutelage of Nellie (the man behind Tim Hardaway and Steve Nash) could be poised for an MVP-type season (if he stays healthy, of course). They moved J-Rich, who really didn't fit in with them anymore despite a strong playoff showing, and replaced him with rookie sharpshooter Marco Belinelli. Stephen Jax is a really good NBA player; he brings them toughness and gutsm kind of like NVE did for Nellie in Dallas. Big Al is back, as are Monta (thank God), Pietrus, Matty Barnes from UCLA, and Biedrins, who brings some semblance of defense/rebounding.
This is the coolest basketball team since the 2002 Clips, SLAM favorites, a bunch of black guys (Brand, Odom, Q, D-Miles back when he still wasn't old enough to drink and everyone thought he was the next KG, Maggette, and McInnis) and one Token White Guy (Pike, who was that team's Biedrins) that played glorified pickup ball. Like that Clips team, they play the kind of basketball any young black man can relate to. They're like Rucker Park meets the NBA. I got them down for Fiddy wins this year.
3. Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant is their best player and Phil Jackson is their head coach. Until that changes, they are a playoff team. There's no way a team with that combination could ever not crack the Top 8. It's an impossibility. I'm not a psychic and I don't know if Kobe's gonna be traded or not, or when he'll be traded if he is. I'm basing this off of their current status.
4. Los Angeles Clippers. No EB, no Shaun Livingston, and Sam Cassell is in his early-70s. It ain't happenin'.
5. Sacramento Kings. Phil Jackson's response to new Queen head coach Reggie Theus imposing a team curfew. "Wow. Good luck, Reggie. Way to start out on the right foot."
1. Denver Nuggets. It looks like George Karl is gonna be starting J.R. Smith at the two this year. I've liked Smith since the first time I saw him, three years ago as a rook with New Orleans, when he showed off a sweet stroke in a home game against the Lakers. Paired with A.I. and 'Melo, he'll be part of the league's highest scoring trio this year. Camby, the league's reigning DPOY, mans the boards and redirects orange flying objects; but can he stay healthy for the second year in a row? This is the question. Nene brings some low-post scoring off the pine. But the key is K-Mart. When he's healthy, he brings toughness, athleticism, a verifiable scoring threat and big game playoff experience. He's been to the Finals twice and knows what it's like to perform well under and win in intense, pressure situations. A.I. made people respect them; K-Mart could be their Rasheed Wallace, the guy who pushes them from good to great. If he can return to the level he had risen to at the end of his Jersey years, they'll compete with the best in the West. If not, this is a 50-win team that won't make it past Mother's Day.
2. Utah Jazz. They need to move Kirilenko, not just because he's a crybaby and Sloan's not gonna be able to be nice to him for long, but because he's out of position at the three and would be more valuable to another team, where he can go back to the big forward spot and start wreaking havoc again (and stop crying). Whether he stays or goes, the Jazz will be at least as good as they were last year and maybe better, depending on how well second-year man Ronnie Brewer plays. The Jazz are here to stay.
3. Portland Trailblazers. Man, that Oden injury really sucks. We should be watching him going up against Timmy right now.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves. If this were the NCAA, they'd stomp through March Madness.
This, however, is not the NCAA.
5. Seattle Supersonics. Prediction: Kevin Durant's scoring average will exceed the team's win total.
Projected conference finish and record in parentheses:
1. Phoenix 61-21
2. Dallas 60-22
3. San Antonio 57-25
4. Denver 54-28
5. Houston 54-28
6. Utah 50-32
7. Golden State 50-32
8. L.A. Lakers 43-39
9. New Orleans 42-40
10. L.A. Clippers 32-50
11. Memphis 31-51
12. Portland 28-54
13. Sacramento 27-55
14. Minnesoata 22-60
15. Seattle 20-62
Eastern Conference Semifinals:
Boston over Cleveland; Detroit over Chicago (not yet, Chi-Town)
(I know this doesn't really reflect my East preview, but I'm allowed to change my mind. I have that right. Anyways, the end result...
Western Conference Semifinals:
Phoenix over Dallas; San Antonio over Dallas
Eastern Conference Finals:
...stays the same.)
Boston over Detroit
Western Conference Finals:
Phoenix over San Antonio
Phoenix over Boston (Sorry, Kev, Phoenix just has too many horses)
G Steve Nash
G Kobe Bryant
F LeBron James
F Kevin Garnett
C Amare Stoudemire
G Baron Davis
G Paul Pierce
F Dirk Nowitzki
F Tim Duncan
C Yao Ming
MVP - Kevin Garnett
ROY - Kevin Durant
DPOY - Tim Duncan
SMOY - Leandro Barbosa
MIP - Andrew Bogut
COY - Don Nelson
EOY - Danny Ainge