It's that time of year, kids: Opening Tip of the 2008-09 NBA Season!
I could not be more excited about this. So many good story lines this year, and so many damn good teams...and more Charles Barkley. In fact, I may be as excited about "Inside The NBA" being back on TV as I am about the actual games being played.
ANYWAY, lots of good story lines to follow:
--Rookies. Because Greg Oden is technically a rookie this year, the 2008-09 rookie class is stacked. And not only is it stacked, it is stacked on teams that could make some serious moves this year. Guys like Oden, Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, OJ Mayo, Marc Gasol all have the opportunity to really transform their prospective teams. Speaking of which...
--Teams on the rise.
There could be a lot of movement on the NBA front this season. While you're going to see the same teams do very well (Celtics, Lakers
, Spurs, Jazz, Pistons), you could see some teams that take a good leap this year--and even a couple that could take a New Orleans Hornets-type leap. My team to watch (and also mine and Pete's Western Conference team for the season) are the Portland Trailblazers.
This is a team that had that ridiculous run at the beginning of last season...and that was without Greg Oden
. Include their 1st-rounder draft pick from this season in Rudy Fernandez
--who has shown could be a very strong 1st guy off the bench energy guy in the mode of Ginobli
during the preseason--and you could be looking at a team that could be very good in this league for a very long time. They seem to be taking the same approach as the Spurs: draft a bunch of good guys that are team guys and work their asses off and build around a dominant big man. (Readers Note: the Blazers play the late game on TNT against the Lakers
tonight at 9:30 central.)
Speaking of the Blazers opponent tonight, you wouldn't think a team that made it out of the Western Conference to the NBA Finals could qualify for this conversation, but the Lakers should be a much better team with a healthy Andrew Bynum all season. In fact, that could make them downright scary.
Another team that could take a serious leap is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Mo Williams coming on board could make a serious difference in how this team plays. While he may not be a true-and-through point guard, he's enough of one to allow LeBron James to move into that hybrid "3-4" position that he played in the Olympics. And in doing so, James--the ultimate matchup nightmare in the NBA--just became an even bigger matchup nightmare. In fact, LeBron could well have his breakout season this season. That's hard to even imagine.
Other teams that should show some serious improvement this season: 76ers, Bulls, Heat, Bucks, Rockets. In other words, the Eastern Conference--for the first time in seemingly forever--looks to take a big step forward this season.
should be in great shape for a repeat. With younger players like my man Rajon
Rondo having another year of experience under their belt, they might even be a bit improved--even with James Posey
leaving for the Hornets this season. And apparently the title didn't bring down Kevin Garnett's own special brand of crazy: Somehow, Celtics captain Paul Pierce claims, Garnett is even intense than last year. "I didn't think he could go up to another level," Pierce said.
The Cavs should give them a hell of a run for the money, but I think the Celtics are my picks to make it to the Finals again.
-What About The West? Now the West is tough. You'll have the Lakers there all season, especially with Bynum back in the mix. New Orleans--my second-favorite West team this year--should be there, too (particularly after adding Posey). And of course, if you pay attention to the Spurs, this year falls in line with their every-other-year Championship schedule.
However, my sleeper pick to make it to the Finals is the Houston Rockets. Now, I realize how incredibly risky this pick is: anytime Ron Artest is the big reason for stating a team is going to be markedly improved, you probably should have your head examined. That said...what if it goes well? What if he assimilates himself with the team? The guy is absolutely bat-shit crazy, but he is smart enough to know that he's running out of time for a shot at a title. The Rockets were a very good team last year. Adding a talent like Artest could just put them over the edge--particularly if he has a Dennis Rodman-like attitude adjustment where he just defers to the leaders of the team, Tracy McGrady and Chuck Hayes (er, Yao Ming).
So despite a lot of teams that will be significantly improved, we're picking the Celtics to repeat. I think they'll be just too strong for the Rockets to overcome in the Finals.
Enjoy the season, and if anyone wants to watch some games tonight, let me know.
Labels: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose, Greg Oden, Houston Rockets, Marc Gasol, Michael Beasley, NBA, New Orleans Hornets, OJ Mayo, Portland Trailblazers, Rajon Rondo, Ron Artest, Rudy Fernandez