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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The NBA: Where Kicking Ass Happens

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.
-Repeat? The Celtics 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.

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I would never make assumptions about Ron Artest, and you just assuming that he's smart is not going to fly. His insanity, combined with Yao's inherent foot injury, and playoff choke artist T-Mac will make for another early playoff elimination.

The Lakers will be in the Finals again, go ahead and put that in pencil, and yes, that is a homer pick, but so is your Celtics pick. There can't be a repeat if they don't make it to the finals, and the Cav's will knock them out in the ECF. Lakers take the championship in 6. Mamba goes wild.
Homer pick? I was rooting for them last year, but it's hardly a homer pick.

And I totally agree with your Rockets' assessment, as well. It could easily go either way.
I forgot about your former Bulls obsession, but I remembered how you admired the Celtics in their days with Walker, Mercer, Delk and Pitino...what a team! Pitino's downfall was drafting those guys!!!
On the Lakers: If Bynam is 100% and motivated like he was last year, pre-injury, watch out. This allows Pau to play more of his game, slashing the lane, shooting open J's, and just being a traditional Euro. While Bynam can be a true 5, bang the boards, block shots, get garbage points and alley-oops, and play against stronger players. Gasol was forced to play bigger than he's capable of against the Celts, which ultimately shut him down and allowed the Celts to focus on Kobe.
allow me to chime in on my knicks: they will be a little better this year. d'antoni will get them to pull out a few games when they are hot and duhon will actually pass. still have plenty of guys that don't belong though. they win 32 games.

also, isiah thomas even messes up suicide. (too soon?)

pete via the palm centro
Uh, Pitino only drafted Mercer--the other person he drafted that you're thinking of was Chauncy Billups. And while Mercer obviously became a headcase and a huge bust, at the time he was considered a lock to be a 20ppg guy. He tore apart the NCAA his sophomore season, he was tall, could shoot really well, and leap like a mother. When you consider that with the fact that you won a championship and lost in a championship game with the kid and you recruited him, I can't really blame Pitino on that one.

And my Bulls "obsession" is hardly "former." In fact, I just bought a shirt a couple weeks ago that I used to have when I was a kid that has Ho Grant, MJ, and Scottie Pippen on it. It's badass.
Oh, and I am almost completely certain Tony Delk never played for the Celtics while Pitino was the coach; not to mention Delk was a solid guard in the NBA for a lot of years--the guy scored 53 points in a game!
Holy Lord...I can't tell if the Blazers can't shoot or the Lakers are playing this good of defense.

Either way, the Blazers look like crap. And the Lakers look damned good.
I am so glad the NBA has returned. I have just a few things too add really.

First: East - I, like everyone else, think the Celts are in for another run at the title. I watched them on Tuesday and though they had a lackluster first half. They came out in the second, clamped down on defense (as per usual), got LeBron in foul trouble, and looked to role player (Powe and Terry Allen) for some clutch scoring. That is the recipe for repeat. I agree that the Bulls and Heat are in for a turnaround, but I think it will be interesting to see where Atlanta lands this year. Can they capitalize on a strong playoff round and become a legit team, or will they fall into normal Atlanta Hawk behavior and limp into the playoff because of a weak conference? Time will tell.

West - First off I am not buying into the apparent first ballot hall of famer Andrew Bynum. I think that he has been labeled the next great "Big Man", even though his numbers are pretty average. I mean he averages, 7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and about 1 block per game. Not that phenomenal. All I hear is, "he has great potential". Yeah, well Kwame Brown had great potential and I could beat him. But enough about him. I think the Suns will have an interesting year, Dallas will fall off, Denver will play even less defense (Camby was there only defense) and disappear and my pick for the west is...New Orleans with Houston (if the stay healthy) as my sleeper.

Can't wait to watch the NBA unfold this year. Should be great.
Bynum is far from being the next great big man, but he's already leaps and bounds ahead of anything Kwame Brown has ever done. He's in a nice situation right now, he doesn't have to be great, they just need him to have a presence...he's not even one of their three best players, but he could easily bump Odom to be a part of their "Big 3." His career averages don't mean squat right now, he's shown dramatic improvement in each of his first 3 years, that's much more important. If he can come close to a double-double a night, that's all he needs to do right now. Trevor Ariza is the new spark plug off the bench, should be a fun year in La-La land.
Plus, Bynum is only 21.
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Certainly the Celtics should be in great shape for a repeat and there are interesting information about NBA.

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