J.Gamble and Phifey’s NBA Season Preview Rankings
The best season previews always come a week late!
by J.Gamble and Phifey
The grueling race that is the NBA season is in swing. Players moved like checkers and chess pieces around the NBA this off-season. It was as busy as Grand Central station. LeBron got Shaq. Vince Carter is going to be launching threes in Orlando. Artest came Mobb Deep to L.A. Rasheed Wallace is looking to play inspired ball in Boston. The Matrix traded in his Canadian winters for a return to a warm climate and a 10-gallon hat in Dallas. Richard Jefferson brings life to a bland Spurs team and puts them back in the title mix…does that even sound right? A.I. gets another shot to prove he is not selfish. He will put butts in the seats. Can he lead and help mesh a young Grizzlies team?
The questions are endless. The possibilities are numerous. The chip is up for grabs this year. For real, for real. We will get a clearer view of what fringe teams will either take that next step, or falter, as the year progresses. The juggernauts should not change.
Here is our season-starting 15 –Team Pole Position for each Conference.
PHIFEY’S WESTERN CONFERNCE
1. L.A. Lakers
Western champs barring injury, and better than last year, as long as Bynum steps up along with Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic. Artest brings intensity, attitude, a great mid-range shot and last but not least — ”HARD CORE DEFENSE” — straight outta QB, from now till infinity, you ask can he do it constantly, mentally? Definetely!! QUEENS IS IN THE BUILDING! STAPLES, to be exact.
2. San Antonio Spurs
It’s easy to say the Spurs are getting older. Nevertheless, like the New England Patriots in football, both franchises have no-nonsense coaches who preach discipline and remain passionate about detail during games, in practice and while watching film.
Ginobili is back along with Tim Duncan and “THE DESPERATE HOUSE WIFEY’S” favorite –Frenchman (Tony Parker). Toss in Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess, and the Spurs should be meeting L.A .in the Western Conference Finals.
3. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets made big moves by acquiring Chauncey Billups last season while Detroit made a huge mistake. This gave Chauncey a chance to play in his home city of Denver (2nd tenure by the way), making him the only baller born and raised in the “Rocky Mountains”.
Billups (as usual) led his team to the Western Conference Finals, before losing to the eventual champion Lakers. What Denver had last season wasn’t enough. What has Coach Karl done to make his team better? They are a good, tough squad with one of the game’s best in Carmelo Anthony, but depth may be what separates the Nuggets and Blazers. Better shot selection by J.R. Smith can help as well.
4. Portland Trailblazers
I’m declaring right now that if Greg Oden stays healthy, this is the team to beat in the West behind L.A., San Antonio and Denver. Blazers Coach McMillan and GM Kevin Pritchard are doing a fine job building a title contender for years to come. Andre Miller has to be the best acquisition of the off-season, outside of Artest going to Hollywood, Leon Powe to the Cavs and Rasheed to Boston. With a young roster of studs and the additions of Miller and Juwan Howard to provide veteran leadership, look for Portland to get it in this season.
5. Utah Jazz
R.I.P. goes to long time owner Larry Miller who I’m sure is smiling down on Coach Sloan and his recent induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Miller’s loyalty is second- to- none when it comes to Coach Sloan and Salt Lake City. If Boozer and Deron Williams can stay healthy, then the Jazz will be a force in the west again.
This is Sloan’s 22nd year of cracking the whip in Utah as head coach (the longest tenure of any coach in the League now), but some things never change. Good Team. Finals? Maybe in a year or two, if the team is kept together.
6. Dallas Mavericks
You have to love the Matrix coming to big “D.” He’ll make life so much easier for Dirk Nowitzki and JKidd. He brings a toughness that Dallas has not seen since Derek Harper ran the point at good ole’ Reunion Arena. Did I mention Marion is a mismatch monster? His versatility troubles any opponent.
7. New Orleans Hornets
David West’s decline, spells curtains for Byron Scott. Mr. West has to return to the building for the Hornets and Scott to excel this season. The jury is out on whether Emeka Okafor will be the answer in the middle. Chris Paul is second-guessing the extension he signed.
8. Memphis Grizzlies
At first I wondered: “What in the John Thompson first, second and the third, is Iverson thinking”? This is worse than Johnny Unitas ending his career in a Charger jersey. Worse than Emmitt in Arizona, Dorsett in Denver, Rice in Seattle. Even, AWWW DAMMIT… Jordan in D.C. [Don’t remind me].
Then I looked at the Memphis Roster and I see O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Hasheem Thabeet, and I said, “OK…young nucleus, and A.I. gets to be an elder statesman. Not bad.” They’ll be exciting because everybody scores with the exception of Thabeet, who in my eyes is truly overrated. However, as long as they keep him in a Mutumbo-type defensive role, they should be straight.
In the immortal words of Jim Mora, Sr.: PLAYOFFS??? NOT!!!!! The West is just too tough, but the Grizz should be able to compete on most nights.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder
I can easily hate on this team being that the owner lied the whole time the team still belonged to Seattle. But when you have a young nucleus that consists of Durant, Westbrook & Jeff Green, you have to take note. Now you add former Arizona State standout James Harden (most complete player in the draft, let Phife tell it) to the mix, and it would be silly to break this team up. Now if only they could add a big man to the fold, then OK City would be a force. Damn, if only my step son or lil’ brother was 7 ft.
10. Houston Rockets
Correct me if I’m wrong, but does Coach Adelman seem to have Phil Jackson-ITUS???
He’s never beaten the “ZEN MASTER” when it counted (then again who has other than Doc Rivers in 08′ & Larry Brown in 04′?). As Coach of the Blazers he lost to Phil’s Jordan led Bulls in the 92 finals. As coach of the Kings, he lost to Phil’s Kobe/Shaq Lakers in the 02′ West Finals. And last season, as Rockets coach, Adelman took a second-round L to Phil’s Lakers in seven.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Adelman’s best defender (Artest) Rocketed to the Lakers to help them try to win their 16th title. And wait…it gets worse…Yao Ming might be done for good.
Well at least they have Aaron Brooks and Tracy “hope he’s healthy” McGrady. Unfortunately, back problems are nearly impossible to rebound from. Ask Larry Johnson, Charles Barkley and Larry Bird. If McGrady is to survive, he has to change his game. Hopefully he can provide a strong outside shooting threat and a post option.
11. Minnesota TWolves
What in the name of Kevin McHale was David Kahn thinking by drafting every point guard available? He has to be dumber than rocks, hence the reason the point man he coveted so much decided to stay overseas and play. Why would Ricky Rubio play in the states and compete for a job, when he can stay in Spain, be a star and make tax-free gwop.
In steps Jonny Flynn, who I think is the best point guard in this years draft (Bucks’ Brandon Jennings frowns on that statement, LOL), just ask the Big East conference or a UConn squad whom Syracuse beat in 6 O.T.’s. WOW!!!!
This team will be fine in due time, but bring McHale back to the front office, because Kahn is worse than Scott Layden and Isaiah Thomas in NY.
12. Phoenix Suns
Speaking of front office mishaps, Steve Kerr has to go!!!!!
Not now, but RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!!
How do you make a team better as a player, and then as a GM make them worse than before you took over? Amar’e will want out soon.
13. Golden State Warriors
Ladies and Gentlemen, I now pay taxes out here in the Bay area, and this is just horrible.
Here you have a decent team on paper, but a circus behind the scenes.
My team in NY is bad. The ATL Hawks are OK. But the Warriors have me ready to get season tickets at Arco Arena about 60 miles away. Or at Cal-Berkeley to see the Golden Bears.
It was all good two seasons ago, but then Baron went home to L.A., Ellis missed half a season, Mullin was fired, and Stephen Jackson wants out. Enter Stephen Curry who can shoot lights out similar to his dad Dell. But can he and Ellis co exist in the backcourt? They can’t stop anybody on D, and are being coached by Don Nelson, who has not emphasized defense since his days as coach of the mid to late 80s Milwaukee Bucks, led by Sid Moncrief and Paul Pressey.
For God sake, he tried to make Patrick Ewing a power forward while with the Knicks!
HUH????? The Warriors go nowhere this season. Tell their scout to draft some one from De La Salle high or the Warriors of McClymonds High. Maybe they will play defense.
14. L.A. Clippers
As usual, the Clippers are full of questions.
Why is Dunleavy coach and GM?
What has he ever won as a coach or player?
Why is Sterling still calling shots?
Steinbrenner even knew when to step down, and he was a winner.
When will the Clips move out of L.A.? Are they not tired of being the JV of L.A.?
I love Baron Davis, Gordon, Thornton and Griffin. I hope they can change the culture of losing soon, because I’m tired of seeing Clipper blunders in the draft lottery. Either win or go back to San Diego. Better yet, go to Seattle and become the new Sonics. Better yet, let’s draft Bob McAdoo and start over as the Buffalo Braves with Dr. Jack Ramsay as coach.
15. Sacramento Kings
There are a few backcourts that I’m looking forward to seeing play. This is one of them.
Rookie combo guard, 6-6 Tyreke Evans at the point and 6-7 sharp shooter Kevin Martin remind me of Jordan and Ron Harper during Chicago ‘s second 3-peat. Gary Payton and Hersey Hawkins had a tough time with their size in 96’.
And Utah’s Stockton and Hornacek with Bryon Russell off the bench fell flat on their faces 2 years in a row (’97 and ’98).
The difference here in Sac town is that there is no Pippen, Kukoc or Rodman to compliment Martin and Evans. Westphal definitely has his work cut out for him. While Thompson and Nocioni should help a bit, Westphal and the faithful fans of Arco Arena will have to work wonders to make sure the Kings are competitive. The Maloofs will have a contender in due time.
J.Gamble’s EASTERN CONFERENCE
1. Boston Celtics
The Celtics didn’t have enough defensively, to defeat the Magic last season. Kevin Garnett’s noticeable absence transformed Hedo Turkoglu into an overnight star. Ya boy Garnett is back and looking dominant on both ends of the floor. Doc Rivers is talking championship already. Adding Rasheed Wallace deepened the Boston bench, added toughness and another outside shooter. Floor general Rajon Rondo is a year older. And Pierce and Ray Allen are accomplished potential Hall of Famers. With a full team and a fair shot this season, Boston should advance to the NBA Finals against the Lakers.
2. Cleveland Cavs
Is it Shaq and out? Or anti-up for three more? Regardless of what Cleveland does this season, the daily question will be, “Where is LeBron playing next season?” Shaq still has gas left in the Bentley. He will, if anything, provide the Cavs with another player on the court who has the Fear Factor. Another playmaker. Does Shaq give LeBron the edge over the Celtics? That remains to be seen. Being that this is probably King James’ last year sitting court in Ohio; the team will play with a sense of urgency all season. Look for Cleveland to get desperate late in the season and try to add another power piece before the playoffs begin. LeBron has to prove he can win big playoff games.
3. Orlando Magic
Garnett’s injury, some major breaks, Turkoglu and the progression of Dwight Howard catapulted the Magic to a surprise Finals appearance. The Magic won’t be sneaking up on anybody this season. Opponents will be expecting big things from Orlando, even with Turkoglu bouncing for the bucks. The addition of Vinsanity should make the Magic even more dynamic and dangerous. Vince can do everything Turk can do and more. He just doesn’t create the height mismatches that gave opposing defenders fits in the playoffs. The Magic have a much more formidable road to the Eastern Conference chip this season.
4. Washington Wizards
Remaining healthy will be the key to the Wizards success. A championship-caliber NBA team has at least one elite player. The return of Gilbert Arenas gives the Wizards a true stud. If Antwan Jamison can come back healthy and Arenas is back to his old form, the Wizards win-loss record will reflect that. They have added bench depth with Foye and Miller and should be able to put up some points with Flip Saunders at the helm. Defense will be the other key to how far the Wizards can go.
5. Atlanta Hawks
This may be Joe Johnson’s last chance as a member of the Hawks, to prove he’s an NBA superstar. He is a free agent in July. Johnson, who has failed to dominate any playoff series in his career, will probably be looking to surround himself with some marquee veterans — something his youth-filled Hawks lack.
The Hawks have as much depth, youth and athleticism as any team in the league. Al Horford and Marvin Williams are improving and exciting players. Mike Bibby is on the decline, but his veteran leadership has value on a team of undisciplined gunners. Joe Crawford will add more offensive-punch. Atlanta will make the playoffs in a top-heavy East, but the bus will stop in the first-round.
6. Miami Heat
Another team riding out a season of uncertainty leading into 2010. Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley will probably bounce at year’s end. In the meantime, the Heat aren’t suffering from a talent shortage. Beasley, Chalmers and Jermaine O’Neal in a contract year, are solid pieces around Wade. But Michael Beasley is a headcase. Wade doesn’t see a chip coming with this team as presently constructed. He’s right. The Playoffs are probable. But Miami doesn’t have the horses to compete for a chip. Wade will give it his all this year as usual. Then, he’ll test the free-agent waters, and probably give up his jet skis for the Yellow taxi cabs of NY.
7. Chicago Bulls
Losing Ben Gordon was a major blow. Luckily acquiring John Salmons and Brad Miller last season softens the blow a little bit. The veteran leadership really helped Chicago in the Playoffs, but so did Gordon’s unstoppable offensive explosions. Kirk Hinrich, Salmons and newcomer Jannero Pargo will have to pick up those 20 points per that Gordon took with him to Detroit. The key to the season will be the development of Derrick Rose. If he is ready to step up and be a consistent prime-time point guard, then the Bulls could surprise some people.
8. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons still have a veteran foundation in Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and the return of Ben Wallace. Adding Ben Gordon to the mix will help any offense woes. Adding Charlie Villanueva helps with toughness and rebounding. Stuckey has to step it up. Don’t get it twisted. This ain’t your dad’s Pistons. Don’t expect any surprise championship runs this season. The Pistons will be competitive and court-savvy, but not special. Their biggest battle will be for a playoff spot.
9. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors had a facelift after last season. The Raptors overhauled the roster and acquiring last year’s playoff superstar Hedo Turkoglu from the Magic, gives them a solid go-to dude. Turk’s versatility, shooting and driving ability gives them a new weapon. The acquisitions of Jarrett Jack, Amir Johnson, Marco Belinelli and Antoine Wright add depth to a team that had none. Coach Jay Triano has the assignment of meshing all of this new talent and overseeing the continued development of DeMar DeRozan, Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani. Defense won’t be the theme song on this team. Scoring and chucking threes will be the focus. An improved version of the Knicks.
10. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are a good team, with a blend of young players and veterans. A combination like this usually spells playoffs for most teams. The jury is still out on Indiana as they are a work in progress. Danny Granger is the anchor of the team, and Dunleavy can give offensive boosts when needed. Losing Marquis Daniels and Jarrett Jack may hurt, although Earl Watson and Dahntay Jones should be adequate replacements. The Pacers will also probably have more contributing white players on the team than most NBA squads with Tyler Hansbrough and Josh McRoberts, which will make them interesting to watch. Roy Hibbert and Brandon Rush need to continue developing for the Pacers to make the playoffs.
11. Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia should benefit from being a decent team in a pitiful division. Losing Andre Miller leaves the point guard spot hurting, but new coach Eddie Jordan is hitching his bus to Andre Igoudala, who is primed for that truly breakout season we’ve all been waiting for. Igoudala won’t have to carry the burden alone. Elton Brand is a double-double waiting to happen and Young is a scoring threat. Depth will be a problem for Philly, but they should have enough to compete in that wasteland of a conference. At least, give the Celts some tough playoff warm-up games.
12. New York Knicks
The count down to King James or Wade and Bosh or whomever can make this team better, is on. The Knicks will try to get through this season while maintaining some competitive dignity, but everyone knows Walsh is gearing up for a 2010-free agent spending spree. Like Fabolous says “Just throw it in the bag”. Until then, NY fans will have to hope that the World Series lasts into January and the Jets and Giants make the football season a memorable one. The atrocity we will be watching this year called Knicks basketball will be hard to deal with. Nate Robinson should have a couple of 45-point, 15-turnover games in the D’Antoni system. And players like David Lee, Al Harrington, Wilson Chandler and Gallinari, are playing for the right to stay and play with LeBron, Wade or Bosh. Nuff said…Please just hurry up and get me to the off-season.
13. Charlotte Bobcats
The Bobcats are learning how to play tough D under Larry Brown. I give him that much. But similar to his dilemma with the Knicks, Brown hasn’t been able to mesh this young talent and produce any significant wins. Raymond Felton and Gerald Wallace have scoring ability. They will have to step up if The Bobcats want to make the playoffs or even step out of the league’s team scoring cellar. Trading Okafor for the 7-foot ballerina Tyson Chandler, was a risky move. They could have had A.I., but decided against it. With Iverson, they may have at least avoided the lottery. Maybe that’s why they didn’t sign him. The best thing about the Bobcats is that my cousin Lauren cheerleads for them!
14. New Jersey Nets
The Nets have some talent floating around on that roster. Similar to the Knicks, New Jersey is trying to tread water in hopes of Jay-Z luring his man Bron Bron to what will be a newly built Brooklyn Nets arena. Devin Harris should continue to play like an all-star. Brook Lopez is a developing big man with a nice touch and some grit. This will be important when the Nets are competitive again. Rookie swingman Terrance Williams is versatile and plays hard on both ends of the floor. He will be a key piece, as the Nets find players to surround any stud they pick up in free agency. Only the Knicks and Bucks can keep New Jersey from finishing as the conference’s worst squad.
15. Milwaukee Bucks
The decline of the Bucks began with them thinking Andrew “stiff” Bogut was a better draft choice than Deron Williams or CP3. Laughable. The Bucks team has been just that – comedy – ever since. They got rid of Joe Alexander and Yi Jianlian, two potential stars. Michael Redd is coming off knee surgery and Brandon Jennings thinks he is much better than he is. And on a bad team, an attitude like that only leads to more disaster. Don’t expect to cash in on The Bucks this season. Scott Skiles just doesn’t do it for me. Look for Assistant coach Kelvin Sampson to move up the Buck’s coaching ladder quickly.