Okay, time for my basketball predictions. I don't read too many sports sites, aside from espn.com occasionally (Paul Shirley's blog rocks!), but I'm going to make a few predictions based on what I've seen from the season so far*. Thank you, NBA League Pass! We'll start with the Eastern Conference (in order or worst to best):
15. Atlanta Hawks: Okay, so Joe Johnson is taking up over 40 percent of your salary cap. JOE JOHNSON. He had a good season because Steve Nash was passing him the ball last year, so he gets a max contract?? Oh, Atlanta. When will you learn? At least this squad is stacked at the SF position - Marvin Williams, Al Harrington, Josh Smith, etc. If this team got a couple veterans, they might be a force. But it's Atlanta, so they'll continue to suck.
14. Orlando Magic: You know your season has officially started when Grant Hill is hurt. Again. And if Steve Francis is your go-to guy, you're in trouble. At least Dwight Howard makes this team almost bearable. This team looks much better on paper than it actually is. Expect Francis to cry and be traded by midseason (PLEASE not to the Timberpups!)
13. Toronto Raptors: Okay, Chris Bosh is awesome. But he can't carry this team by himself. They're starting LOREN FREAKING WOODS at center, and any team that has Jalen Rose is doomed to fail. And if you're starting a rook (Joey Graham) and expecting him to play extended minutes...sorry, guys, see you in the lottery!
12. Charlotte Bobcats: See Toronto Raptors, but substitute Emeka Okafor for Chris Bosh. A bunch of unproven young players, and they took 2 North Carolina Tar Heels in the first round of the draft to increase ticket sales...if it weren't for Okafor, they'd be dead last.
11. Washington Wizards: Hey, I love Gilbert Arenas, and Antawn Jamison is probably underrated at this point in his career. Adding Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels was a good move, but it's not going to be enough to put them back in the playoffs. Also, good move not re-signing Kwame. I'd actually rank these guys higher, but I'm too lazy to edit this blog post.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: I'm a big-time Webber-hater, but watching him on opening night was nice - he ran the court well, hit some shots, and didn't just settle for his half-assed 20-foot jumper all night. Dalembert rocks (when healthy), as does AI, and I honestly hope these guys make the playoffs, but I don't see it happening. I have a feeling AI is going to continue to take a pounding and miss some games, or I'd have them higher.
9. Boston Celtics: Paul Pierce is good, not great. Al Jefferson could become great. But being surrounded by inexperienced players, this team will either miss the playoffs or get bounced in the first round for a couple years, then kick it into high gear once everyone grows up.
8. Chicago Bulls: Okay, you lost Eddy Curry, leaving your roster with, um, ZERO centers. However, you are also DEEP at the guard and SF positions, and if the Sweetney / Chandler combo works out in your frontcourt, you might stand a chance. Of making the playoffs and getting beaten to a pulp.
7. New York Knicks: Maybe this is a little high for the Knicks, but they only make the playoffs due to Larry Brown. They do have plenty of exciting individual players on this team, and hopefully Larry can make them gel. Eddy Curry, Quentin Richardson, and Jamal Crawford need to get the ball out of Marbury's hands. If they play good team defense, they're a number 7 seed, but if they start losing a few games and bickering amongst themselves, then it's back to the lottery!
6. New Jersey Nets: Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson, and Jason Kidd are a three-headed monster not to be trifled with. AND I think this might be their first FULL year together. Kidd always makes a team fun to watch, and is the most versatile PG in the league, but his shooting percentage is atrocious! With no decent big men, this team will be the first one ejected from round one of the playoffs. Oh, Scalabrine, where have you gone?
5. Milwaukee Bucks: No, they're not this high only because of Bogut. This team is going to make the second round of the playoffs this year. TJ Ford is the fastest player in the league, they've got 2 great swingmen in Redd and Simmons, and with Bogut, Magloire, Gadzuric, and Joe Smith, their front court is solid. Just please keep Kukoc off the court, okay?
4. Cleveland Cavaliers: Finally, a supporting cast for Lebron! Great offseason for the Cavs, who got Larry Hughes (good defender who can score), Damon Jones (can shoot 3's, and not do much else), Donyell Marshall (big player who can shoot). And they still have Gooden, Z, and Eric Snow. I like this team, and a Milwaukee-Cleveland playoff series would be great!
3. Miami Heat: So you take a team that went to the Eastern Conference finals last year, and get rid of most of them, and expect to be back? Okay, you've got Jason Williams and Antoine Walker, who are players more known for SHOOTING 3's than making them. JWill is required by law to take ridiculous jumpers with 20 seconds left on the shot clock, and 'toine still thinks he can take over games. The only good addition was that of James Posey, who's a good defender. GP will get more minutes than Williams once the playoffs start. If Shaq or Wade goes down during the season, you're screwed.
2. Detroit Pistons: Obviously a top-3 defensive team - good thing they signed Tayshaun Prince to that contract, as he is their star defender. If Rip Hamilton could get some 3-pt range on that curl-around-the-screen jumper, he'd be Reggie. The Wallaces play great interior D, and this team didn't lose any players in the offseason.
1. Indiana Pacers: The best team in the league, even without my favorite player of all time, Reggie Miller. I'm a little concerned about who's going to take the big shots at the end of games, honestly. But this team has a deep a bench as any, and beat Miami last night without Jeff Foster. As long as they continue to play solid team defense, these guys and Detroit are the only ones capable of stopping San Antonio. I'm also really impressed with getting that foreign point guard, Jaskeivsjvoijdsfsous (or whatever his name is), along with drafting Danny Granger (they guy I REALLY wanted the Wolves to get).