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It brings me great sadness to shift the discussion from BRI and mid-level exceptions to actual basketball, like the new kid on the block in Hollywood.
Move Over Lakers-An afterthought in Los Angeles and the butt of many jokes for years, the Clippers have been the league’s doormat as long as we can remember. Blake Griffin made the Clippers exciting for a change and looks headed for eliteness. Even with Griffin, the Clippers seemed headed for a steady climb up the Western Conference in the next few seasons. Until Los Angeles partnered Griffin with Chris Paul, giving the Clippers what looks to be the best duo in the league. The Lakers, the other Los Angeles team, actually had a deal in place for Paul, but David Stern nixed the deal citing “basketball reasons.”
After years of overshadowing the Clippers, the Lakers and Clippers look to be headed in opposite directions. Kobe Bryant is dealing with a torn ligament in his wrist, let alone degenerating knees. Bryant intends to play through the wrist injury, but time is not on his side and he’s got some mileage, entering his 17th season. The Lakers also had a deal for Chris Paul which was reportedly finalized, only to be nixed by David Stern/New Orleans Hornets owner. Los Angeles is still in the hunt for Dwight Howard, but Orlando may be trying everything in their power to retain their star. Then there’s the Lamar Odom deal which only Isiah Thomas would be proud of, as Odom was dealt to the Dallas Mavericks for a draft pick. Not only did they trade their most versatile player, a guy close to seven feet who can defend, rebound, and score all over the court, but they traded him to the defending champs, who also swept them out of the playoffs last May. All of this while the Clippers put together a formidable duo for the rest of the decade, and the Clippers look like they will be stepping out of the Lakers shadow. Where these two finish it remains to be seen. The Lakers get the nod based on experience and chemistry which the Clippers don’t have as a newly-formed roster. But it won’t be long until Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are pushing Tim Tebow for the lead on Sports Center.
Mavericks Defend Title-They won’t open the season as champions typically do, the lockout had something to do with that, but the Mavericks will unveil their first-ever championship banner with the Miami Heat in town. Several players are gone – Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson and J.J. Barea in free agency, Tyson Chandler in a trade, Peja Stojakovic to retirement – but the Mavericks will be locked and loaded to defend their championship. Unlike the Miami Heat, Dallas’ roster is arguably 9, 10 men deep. Vince Carter was signed to fill the role of “aging veteran in search of a title”, also known as the guy on his last legs who can be counted on for15-20 minutes a night. Dallas made out like bandits, poaching Odom from the Lakers. What his role will be with the Mavericks is to be determined, but teams will have fits handling both Odom and Dirk Nowitzki when they are on the court together. Rodrique Beaubois will take on a bigger role with the three guards gone.
Miami Heat, Year 2-Last season’s biggest draw, the nation was overcome with joy when the Dallas Mavericks took down the Miami Heat experiment in 6 games. Afterwards, LeBron James made it clear that all the haters who took joy in his demise will have no choice but to go back to their ordinary lives. It was the end of a PR nightmare for James and the Heat, who never shook the target off his back after ”The Decision.” Whether it was due to the lockout or James smartening up, there hasn’t been any headscratching moments for James. James has done several interviews, claiming that he played angry and it took over his game, changing the way he played. While it seems logical, James will only silence the critics, Cavs fans aside – they get a free pass - with a championship. Not just a championship, but one where James rises to the occasion, raising his level of play during crunch time. It makes sense, as James was only giving back 3 quarters on the dollar, a rate noone would be happy with. The Heat come into the season as one of the favorites to win the title, but my stance hasn’t change from last season, that Miami doesn’t have enough depth to win it all. Shane Battier was a great acquisition, providing Miami with an outside shooter, solid perimeter defense and a veteran leader. But the gaping hole at center leaves the paint area as a giant question mark, on both sides of the court.
Knicks D Up-Rumors swirled, linking the New York Knicks with Chris Paul. Asides from Isiah Thomas’ perspective, this was an irrational conclusion for many reasons. This dissertation for another time, but in short: the Knicks had no assets to offer the Hornets in a trade; it would have to be a 3-team deal, and who would rush to the Knicks aid in their pursuit of Paul? Through free agency, the Knicks have already tied down Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony with max money, leaving little money left to sign Paul and surround the three with bodies, much less quality ones. Before I move on, if you’re wondering, Thomas’ line of thinking I believe calls for Paul, Anthony, and Stoudemire to take the court by themselves and take teams on 3-on-5.
Paul went to the Clippers and the rest was history. New York set their sights on Tyson Chandler, acquiring him via trade from the Dallas Mavericks. The move gives the Knicks their first legitimate defensive presence in the paint since Patrick Ewing pre-degnerative knees (Yes, I’m leaving out Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries, two of Thomas’ prized acquisitions during his tenure with New York). Chandler teaming up with Stoudemire and Anthony makes one of the best, if not the best, frontline in the NBA. Stoudemire and Anthony are not known for their defense, although I expect them both to step up their efforts on that side of the court, and Chandler will compensate for the slip-ups that last season’s Knick defense was prone to. The backcourt is a little thin, but the Knicks were able to sign Baron Davis for this season at a great rate, $1.4 million. Davis is recovering from a herniated disk and his effort has been questioned in the past. That being said, if Davis can stay on the court, he could thrive in an offense with two super stars and an athletic center. Depth remains a question mark, as it remains to be seen what the Knicks will do to fill out the roster. New York’s talent alone puts them among the East’s top 4, but it will remain to be seen if the Knicks can go far in the playoffs with such little depth.
Will he Stay or Will he Go?-It’s safe to say we’ve become sick of these type of sagas. The one where the star player publicly claims to be weighing all his options while inside sources know the team is aware the player will not resign in the offseason. Howard is the latest example, and let’s hope he was the last. One of the owner’s goals during the lockout was to make it easier for small market teams to keep their star players. The lockout eventually ended, and Chris Paul trade rumors began to swirl soon after. Howard has said time and time again he is looking at all his options. Most sources see Howard being traded before the trade deadline, with the Lakers as the favorite. I’m a sucker for players remaining with one team their entire career, so I’d like to see Howard remain with the Magic. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t bet on that.
Atlantic Division-New York, Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Toronto
The Knicks big three rises to the top while we finally see the Celtics age catch up to them after speculating for several years. Deron Williams shows the Nets potential if they can surround him with talent, but they struggle with little talent around Williams, especially after Brook Lopez fractured his foot and will be out 6-8 weeks.
Central Division-Chicago, Indiana, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland
Chicago runs away with one of the weaker divisions in the league. Indiana came on late last season under Head Coach Frank Vogel. They have a nice core of Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, and newly acquired David West. They should approach 36-38 wins. Milwaukee, Detroit, and Cleveland will compete for .500 records, the Cavs and Pistons have their lumps in a rebuilding year.
Southeast Division-Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Charlotte, Orlando
This is based on Howard being traded early in the season. Miami’s talent supercedes anything going on in this division. The Hawks have seemingly cemented middle-of-the-road status. They have a nice core, but one that seems to have reached its ceiling as a second-round playoff team. John Wall makes strides in his second season and makes the Wizards competitive as they fight for a playoff spot.
Southwest Division-Dallas, Memphis, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans
One of the most competitive divisions in the league, only New Orleans is lottery-bound for sure. Dallas picks up where it left off while Memphis builds off of last season’s suprising rise to the second round. The Spurs are aging, but have a veteran group with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, and Head Coach Gregg Popovich.
Northwest Division-Oklahoma City, Denver, Portland, Minnesota, Utah
Kevin Durant paces the Thunder with Russell Westbrook while the Nuggets do well with the bevy of talent they have. Utah regresses in a rebuilding year while Head Coach Rick Adelman makes use of the talent in Minnesota and takes them out of the cellar.
Pacific Division-Clippers, Golden State, Lakers, Sacramento, Phoenix
The tide will turn in Los Angeles. The Warriors under Head Coach Mark Jackson sprinkle some, key word some, defense with their high-octane offense and climb the standings. Bryant struggles with injuries and durability as the Lakers slip. In anticipation of Steve Nash being traded by the deadline, Phoenix will regress.
Final Four-New York, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Clippers
Derrick Rose continues to grow as his perimeter game becomes yet another facet to his game while getting more contributions from Carlos Boozer. The Knicks trio meshes well and takes down a Heat squad similar in makeup, but not as diverse. The Thunder return to the confernce finals as Durant leads a young, but experienced group while the Clippers duo become this season’s top story as Paul and Griffin being in a new era of Clipper basketball.
Finals Prediction-Oklahoma over Chicago in 6
Two very similar teams square off in a team-oriented series. Durant and Rose square off as both vy for their first title. The two of them will negate each other, but what Durant has in Westbrook, Rose does not have in anyone on his team. Westbrook makes the difference, giving Oklahoma City more firepower.