Wednesday, November 5, 2008

2008-09 NBA Season Preview: Pacific

1. Los Angeles Lakers: This division is not the powerhouse that it's been in years past. The Lakers will win the division easily. They have a ton of talent, a good coach, and a very deep roster. They play an efficient offense game, and are underrated defensively. While Kobe is this team's best player, their MVP will be Andrew Bynum. He will be the difference maker with respect to whether the Lakers win the NBA championship or not. How will he handle all of the pressure? They have basically the same roster as last year, switch out Turiaf for Bynum, so they will have high expectations. If Kobe does not lead this team to the promised land, it will be just another blemish on his resume. Gasol, Bynum and Odom gives the Lakers a talented 3-headed PF/C platoon. It will be interesting to see how Odom reacts to playing off of the bench. He's known to be a bit of a space cadet. This finally might be the year that Farmar wins the starting spot from Fisher; or at least, plays more minutes than him. Vujacic and Radmanovic provide some outside shooting for this team. Ariza and Walton will provide sporadic value for this team off of the bench; Ariza with better defense and Walton with better offense. I give this team a slight edge over the Celtics due to their younger age and their superior inside play. It's title or bust for this Los Angeles team.

2. Phoenix Suns: It'll be fun to follow this team throughout the season, as they try to change their team philosophy, after the addition of Shaq. They are a much deeper team than last year, and I think Barnes and the rookies: Lopez and Dragic will provide solid production for this team. Hill off of the bench is great, and should help their second unit. He provides them some leadership, another ball-handler, and a guy who can create his own shots when needed. Limiting Hill's minutes will hopefully keep him healthy all year long. Amare and Shaq will beast in the middle. If Shaq can stay out of foul trouble, stay healthy, they will be tough to beat. Nash will continue to be a stud; I don't foresee any slowdown, despite his increased age. Raja Bell and Barnes form an interesting dynamic duo; they stretch the offense with their shooting and are tough, rugged defenders on the opposite side. Barbosa and Diaw may be the X-Factors. They need solid production from both reserves players in order for them to be competitive. This team needs to prove that they can get defensive stops in the clutch and win games with a slower pace; this favors Nash in the long-run, who could use the extra rest.

3. Los Angeles Clippers: I'd be surprised to see any of the below teams make the playoffs. They have too many questions marks and just not enough talent. This Clippers team in particular will be hit or miss; most likely miss. They have a ton of new faces compared to the last year, and are relying on two injury-prone players: Camby and Baron Davis to lead their team. Theoretically, they form a potent duo. But let's see how many games they end up playing together. That will be a barometer for this team's success. Kaman needs to prove that last year was not a fluke. Also it's not clear how he will jive with Camby in the middle. It seems like they will hurt each other's production. Thornton needs to build off of his promising rookie season. SG will be a rotating mess. Who do you start? Mobley, Rickey Davis or Eric Gordon? All are talented, but flawed players. It's too bad Jason Williams had to retire. It would have been fun to watch him and Baron Davis play together at times. Tim Thomas will provide some erratic play off of the bench. The departure of Elton Brand, and to a lesser extent Maggette, is a big step back for this team.

4. Golden State Warriors: The Warriors will struggle to match their win total from the previous year. Losing Baron is a big hit; he was the face of their franchise. Maggette can match Baron's scoring, but doesn't provide the same intangibles and leadership. Stephen Jackson will have to step up and earn his contract extension. The lose of Baron Davis and the injury to Monta Ellis leaves a huge hole on this team at the PG spot. Until they can find some stability at this position, they are going to struggle to win games. Marus Williams, DeMarcus Nelson, CJ Watson... that might be the worst trio of PG in the league. I hope that Nelson stays true to his word to play their young players. They have nothing to lose at this point, and I'm sure that fans want to see what Bellinelli, Randolph, Wright are capable of doing. Azubuike off of the bench should be solid and will be one of the few bright spots of the team. This team will desperately miss the versatility and hustle of bench players: Pietrus and Barnes, who have moved on to greener pastures. They were key to Nelson's crazy player rotations. Biedrins should hopefully get a boost in minutes and a chance to justify this huge contract. He should be a double-double machine. Harrington needs to be traded so that Randolph and Wright can get more playing time. Turiaf will be a solid reserve, though his minutes will be sporadic.

5. Sacramento Kings: I'll be watching this team closely. They are another rebuiding team with some interesting pieces. Kevin Martin looks to take the next step to all-star, while Salmons/Garcia will try to fill the void by Artest. Both have an excellent chance to flourish on this team. I'm not sold on Udrih being a rock at the PG position, but he should be adequate in the short-term. With Brad Miller suspended for drug use, Hawes and Thompson should get some extra burn. These two young players are the future of this team. I would trade Brad Miller to get them more playing time. Also Mikki Moore is a bum. They need to bench him or trade him. He might be the worst starting PF in the league. Shelden Williams should be the first big man off of the bench. This team is lottery-bound, so they should start looking towards the future and playing their young guys as much as possible. Playing Bobby Jackson heavy minutes, for example, is doing no one any favor's. I'm not sure where Donte Greene fits into this picture but he can score points in a hurry. Also either Quincy Douby or Bobby Brown (LOL) needs to solidify themselves as the backup PG.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

2008-09 NBA Season Preview: Northwest

[Note From Kay: These Season Preview articles were written before the news of the Billups for Iverson trade. So the comments may be a little outdated. However, I don't see the trade having a significant change to either team's rankings within their division. So I haven't bothered to update the text.]

1. Utah Jazz: An overlooked team, that should be able to win their division yet again. They have a solid core, but I'm worried that Boozer has one foot outside of the door already and that could affect team chemistry and his overall play. Deron Williams is one of the best PG in the league, but gets overlooked because of Chris Paul. Okur is a sweet shooting big man who compliments Boozer well. Kirlenko has great versatility but needs to be willing to accept a bench role for the betterment of the team. On the bench, I like Korver for his outside shooting and also Millsap. If Boozer is injured or leaves the team, he could step and fill admirably. He won't score as much, but has potential to match the rebounds and will play even better defense. Miles, Price and Brewer need to step up to give this team some much needed athleticism and scoring off of the bench. They were dominate at home last year, but woeful off the bench. Will they be able to turn around their fortune and move into elite status?

2. Portland Trailblazers: While the injury to Greg Oden was equal parts predictable and unfortunate, I still think they have enough firepower to make the playoffs this year. Brandon Roy and Aldridge are future stars in the making. Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez off of the bench are explosive and give this team crazy depth. They go 2-deep at every position. This should limit injuries to their star players and keep everyone fresh come playoff time. The key will be everyone buying into the team concept and being willing to sacrifice their stats and minutes. Nate McMillan has his hands full with that task. Bayless looked like a beast in the preseason and summer camp, but he'll rarely get off of the bench. Same goes for Sergio Rodriguez. Webster's injury should give Rudy and Outlaw a chance to solidify themselves in the rotation. I'm not sure where Webster will fit in when he returns, however. Przybilla is a beast on the glass and is a great shot-blocker. Despite his offensive woes, he should fill in admirably for Oden while he misses games. Which could be frequent this season. They are still a young team, so expect some ups and downs this season.

3. Denver Nuggets: It's a crapshoot after Portland and Utah. None of these other teams really stand a chance at making the playoffs. Denver traded Camby away for nothing, which leaves their frontcourt with huge question marks. They can't rely on K-Mart and Nene to play heavy minutes; or to even be healthy for the entire season. Carmelo and Iverson will carry the offensive load for this team. JR Smith and Kleiza are streaky scorers. Anthony Carter might be the worst starting PG in the league. And their bench is full of no-names. They barely made the playoffs last year, and I think they took a step back this year. They don't play a lick of defense, and they will struggle against other Western teams. I don't know why they gave Nene a huge contract last year, coming off of an injury. They put themselves in a huge hole financially that the team may not recover from. That was the main reason why they traded Camby in a salary dump. Team morale has got to be at an all-time low on this team.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves: They should be fun to watch, but I don't think they'll make any waves in terms of the playoffs this year. Al Jefferson and Kevin Love have the potential to be a dynamic scoring duo on offense. Neither of them can defend centers, but their team is not very good defensively anyway. Backing them up they have a slew of stiffs: Booth, Collins, Madsen, and the decent Craig Smith. They have a lot of depth at the SG and SF positions. Miller is a sharp shooter, while Brewer has excellent defensive abilities. Gomes is solid; nothing extraordinary but will compliment this team well. I'm not sure where McCants will fit in; but he can score a lot of points in a hurry and has a nice outside shot. At point guard, they'll rotate between Telfair and Foye. Foye has break-out season written all over him assuming that he can stay healthy. A big If. This'll be a year for the young guns to get some experience under their belt and be ready for next year. I wouldn't be surprised to see Mike Miller traded to a playoff team at midseason.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder will be awful this year. I just don't like their roster at all. Durant and Green are nice players to build around. But Green is still a year or two away from being a consistent threat. Westbrook is a good defender, but needs to prove that he can score and lead a team consistently. Until than, he is stuck in a timesplit with Watson. I'm not sure where that leads either Desmond Mason or Damien Wilkins. They'll get spotty minutes all year, and really aren't a part of their youth movement at all. They have a ton of big men, but none of them are really any good. Petro, Swift and Sene all combined together are not a good player. They can, at best, block some shots, use up some fouls, and get the occasional rebound. That's about it. Wilcox will look to score points, but give up the same number or more on the opposite end. Collison is quality big men; but is better served on a winning team. He is a nice compliment, but not really a dominating big man. This team looks pretty hopeless.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Answer for Detroit?

After all the rumors, it has been finalized. Allen Iverson will head back to the Eastern Conference this time as a member of the Detroit Pistons, while Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess, and Cheick Samb will head to the Western conference and the Denver Nuggets. This is the second trade for Iverson in the last 2 years. Could this trade possibly be what Pistons GM Joe Dumars was referring to when he stated he would be "shaking things up"? Billups returns to his home state of Colorado, and McDyess returns to the team he began his career with from 1995-1997 where he had his best years as a pro.

Kay: Wow. I did not see this one coming. Based solely on talent, Iverson is probably an upgrade over Billups. He's a legit 30 point scorer, that can create his own shot and take over games in the clutch. And he seems to have aged better than Billups who seems a step slower since his Finals MVP award. I have concern about how well Iverson will jive with the rest of the team and whether he will sell into the whole team concept. But Iverson is hungry to win a title, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt. This could be the blockbuster trade that elevates the Pistons to the Finals, similar to Rasheed Wallace a few years back.

It does bring up some interesting questions however. Neither Iverson or Stuckey is true PG. Will the lose of Billups negatively hurt their ball movement and offensive execution? If they elect to start an Iverson and Stuckey backcourt (which is undersized), who goes to the bench: Hamilton or Prince? One of those players is not going to be happy. If Iverson starts and continues to play like 35-40 minutes that will greatly hamper Stuckey's development. Neither Iverson or Billups are defensive stoppers; I'd say their defense is roughly the same, right?

It's also worth noting that Iverson is in the last year of his contract. So he becomes a free agent at the end of this year. This gives the Pistons some salary flexibility. They could elect to either resign Iverson at a discount or go after some other free agents. Meanwhile, Billups had 3 more years on his contract after this one (at a cheaper price than Iverson, though). It is rumored that McDyess will be bought out and will return back to the Pistons, so his inclusion in the trade is moot.

Why would the Nuggets do this? Billups is a true PG and will bring some much needed stability and leadership to this young team. Previous to this they were starting Anthony Carter, probably the worst starting point guard in the league. Now they can slide JR Smith to the starting position and go with an explosive offensive team. Denver had elected to not extend Iverson's contract, so it's clear that he was not in their team's future. So the Nuggets needed to trade him away and get something in return, rather than see him walk away. Could they have gotten something better? Maybe. But Billups is not bad.

2008-09 NBA Season Preview: Southwest

1. Houston Rockets: With all due respect to Artest, this Rockets team will only go as far as T-Mac and Yao lead them. They are in toughest division in the league, but I think Houston will prevail this year. They have crazy depth, play superb defense and have their own version of the Big 3. Artest gives the Rockets toughness and a lock-down defender. But more importantly, he will allow the Rockets to rest McGrady and Yao more, which should keep them healthy come playoff time. The key will be maintaining team chemistry. This is the year that Houston finally makes it out of the first round. In fact, I like their chances in a 7-game series against ANY team. Scola and Landry give this team a potent duo at the PF position. Once Battier returns from injury, he gives the Houston a great glue player off of the bench. Brooks looks legit and may finally overtake Alston at the PG position. Barry and Head are good for a few clutch shots each. I have some concerns about their lack of a backup C, if Yao gets injured. Also will their bench players be content with erratic playing time?

2. New Orleans Hornets: While the addition of Posey will add some toughness and experiencing to their team, I'm still not completely sold on them. Peja has zero mobility and Chandler is an injury-risk. Peterson has been inconsistent at the SG position, and losing Pargo may hurt this team more than they think. Paul is a MVP candidate and West is an all-star, but I'm not sure if they have enough depth to compete in the West. Mike James is their backup PG, for example. He had trouble getting off of the bench for Houston last year. And who do they have to backup Chandler and West? Ely or Armstrong? Not exactly intimidating names. One injury to Paul and this team could fall out of the playoff race completley. Paul is the motor that runs this team. I think the Hornets overachieved last year. I'm not confident they can repeat their success this year. But maybe they can prove me wrong again. They surprised me last year already.

3. San Antonio Spurs: Its an odd-numbered year, so that means the Spurs have a good shot at winning the title. The injury to Manu could be a blessing in disguise. That means he'll be fully rested come playoff team. And hopefully this will give their role players a chance to shine. They need consistent efforts from Udoka, Finley, Mason, Bonner and Oberto to be competitive. There are too many games where their big 3 combine for like 70-80 points, but the team still loses. This team is prehistorically old so they will only have another couple years to be competitive. Will George Hill get minutes and a chance to overtake Vaughn in the depth chart? Vaughn is a non-factor on offense. Will we see Mahimi get any action on the team this year? He was a stud in the NBADL last year. I just can't see Bonner and Oberto logging heavy minutes again. Also can their big 3 stay healthy all year? That will be the key. Popovich is one of the best coaches in the league. So you should never underestimate this team.

4. Dallas Mavericks: I would not discount them complete, but I think they will be a lower playoff team. They have a former MVP winner in Dirk. And some nice complimentary stars in Kidd, Howard and Terry. But their roster doesn't scare anyone. They will have to improve on last year's effort just to make the playoffs. Diop gives them another big body to defend with. But Dampier/Diop might be one of the worst duos at C in the league. I'm not sure I like the idea of starting Wright.. He's athletic, bigger and a better defender than either Terry or Stackhouse, but he'll be very inconsistent on offense. Will Gerald Green get any burn this year? He could inject some much needed youth into this team. This team looks ancient compared to some of the other playoff teams. I think Brandon Bass could be huge off the bench for this team. Having Kidd for a full season will help, but I just don't see them being a contender anymore like in previous years. They might be forced to break this team up. Or make some major trade.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: A very young team that is going nowhere fast. Rudy Gay is their leader and best player. But they need production from their young players in order to be competitive. OJ Mayo will step into the second banana slot and will be very inconsistent. He has potential to score points in bunches, has a nice outside shot and will get steals. But will also give up the same number of points on the other end. Marc Gasol, Pau's brother, seems like a legit big man. Maybe the Lakers-Grizzlies trade was not so bad after all. Or maybe not. I'm not sure how the point guard situation will play out. Conley, Critteron or Lowry? Who will get the minutes there. And will they eventually trade one of their extra players? Will Arthur, Darko or Warrick start at PF? That position is up for grabs and I don't really like any of them very much. There's plenty of opportunity for players to step up and put up huge numbers. But I just don't seem them being remotely close to challenging for the last playoff spot.

NBA Live 2009 vs NBA 2K9

(Is it strange that Tony has more rings than KG?)

This weekend I had the chance to play both of the NBA games that matter, NBA 2K9 and NBA Live 2009 for the Xbox360. Initially going in, I had a bit of an axe to grind with both games for the mistakes thay had made in the previous years games, but this years versions suprised me. Instead of going on and on about each game individually, I'll draw up comparisons between the two, and note specific advantages one has over the other.

1) Play By Play Commentary:

Live= Steve Kerr and Marv Albert vs 2K9 = Clark Kellogg (WHAT???!?!) and Kevin Harlan.
This isn't even close, Live has this category won hands down. Clark Kellogg doesn't even do NBA broadcasts, in real life he handles college games for CBS. What happened to Kenny " The Jet" Smith? I'm gonna assume he asked for a bit too much money than 2K sports was willing to part with.

EDGE: NBA Live 2009

2) Music:

2K recruited a who's who list of young hip hop acts (The Cool Kids, etc) and also got some old school tunes to balance out the game (The Pharcyde!!!!!!). A big plus for 2K is that they got a few exclusive new tracks that hadn't been heard prior to the release of this game, something that should become a regularity on future versions of 2K. Live has decent music, but half the time I found myself plugging my Mp3 player into the Xbox 360 and using my own music in place of it.


3) Gameplay:

This is what seperates the contenders from pretenders. Kay had asked me to look out for the infamous "glide" glitch in NBA Live, and I'm glad to report that it has been fixed. But one thing that hasn't is the mechanics of the centers in the game. Seriously, why would I want to learn the post up moves, set up specific plays for my center etc, when 80% of the time all he's going to do is toss up a backwards odd looking two hand lay-up. I kid you not about this. Andrew Bynum by no means has the most polished center skill set, but he has some type of footwork, he's being taught by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for god's sake!! So imagine my chagrin when not once, twice, but FIVE times down he did the exact same move!!!! I'm assuming it never occurred to EA that seven footers like to dunk just like everyone else.

Now, this isn't to say that 2K9 is without it's own share of miscues. The infamous misses of point-blank lay-ups is still around, it just rears it's ugly head a bit less than usual. However, when it does happen, it's at the most inoppurtune times, like when it's 30 seconds left in the game and I'm driving to the hole in a tie game and I've CLEARLY beaten my man to the hole. Yeah, not fun, not fun at all.

For all the fancy talk about the updated mechanics, it just seems like 2k opted to play the safe route this year and only make cosmetic changes to the game instead of going in and making a daring move to improve on some of the miscues from last years version of this game. The free throws on both games have long been a point of frustration with gamers, and this year brings a bit of a change, but not a total abandonment of the past free throw shooting method. Both companies need to change this feature in next years version.

Even though i've pointed out flaws in each, both games actually play very well. 2K continues to be more of a realistic simulator, while Live manages to fall somewhere inbetween striving to attain that title, but still having some arcade-esque gameplay (WAAAAAY too many dunks and fast breaks). The crowd features in 2K9 must be seen to be believed. If you were maybe passing through a room and 2K9 was playing, you could mistake it for a real NBA contest. We'll maybe not, but it's that good graphically.

NBA Live 2009 also excels in gameplay and presentation, but in some, not all of the game. The game looks smooth, and is at it's best when you are running and gunning with your team of choice. The controls are a bit easier to manage compared to 2K's and that should work in Live's favor, as it manages to keep your focus on the game, and not on little menu's and grids that litter the screen on 2K9.


4) Player DNA vs Living Rosters:

This was the new feature that both companies were bringing to the table this year. As far as the DNA (Live) and the Living Rosters (2K9) feature go, these both are pretty much the same thing, and I could see how this could really piss people off in the long run as people online will choose to only play with teams who's players have the hot hand offensively. Fortunately you can turn this feature on or off in both versions, and choose to play head up with out any additional help, which in my opinion is how it should be.

Edge: Meh.....

In closing, I wished both games would've taken more chances, but I'm sure they didn't want to scare people away. But by playing both games, I'm able to say that while Live has made some much needed upgrades, 2K Sports still has the basketball video game crown firmly affixed to it's head. Looking at the potential both of these games have really has me looking forward to next years batch of titles.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

2008-09 NBA Season Preview: Central

1. Detriot Pistons: It'll be closer this year, but I think Detriot will still edge out Cleveland for the division crown. They have one of the best starting lineups in the league, though they have struggled to find a consistent #5 starter. McDyess is starting to show signs of age, so I think they will start either Jason Maxiell or Amir Johnson. Both have interesting defensive potential. None of those players or Kwame will get enough minutes to be productive, however. This squad has excellent depth and they can go 2-deep at every position. I like how they are starting to rely on their young player more, but that could be trouble in terms of fantasy basketball. Outside of their 4 main players, its hard to recommend picking up anyone else on this team since they won't get enough playing time. Stuckey is being pimped as the 6th starter, though I'm not sure he'll get consistent minutes behind Billups and Hamilton. Herrmann is usually overlooked on the bench, but he's a big man who can shoot the lights out. I'd like to see him get more minutes this year. I expect great defense and teamwork from this team. They are second tier title contenders.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers: Any team with Lebron James can be considered a contender. He's a one-man wreaking crew and has a good shot at winning MVP this year. The addition of Mo Williams will definitely help this team out. Mainly I like his ability to create his own shots and score. He has a nice outside shot and should be a good complement to Lebron. The SG spot is up for grabs; I think Delonte West, Wally World, Sasha Pavlovic and Boobie Gibson will take turns having big nights. All of them can shoot the ball wall and stretch out the defense. But I don't think any of them will get consistent minutes. PF is a big question mark for me. Ben Wallace is clearly over the hill and is a step slower than in previous years. They are better off playing Varejao and Hickson more minutes. But none of those guys will provide any semblance of an offensive game. Ilgauskas is steady and solid at the C spot. This roster doesn't look particularly intimidating, but they will be competitive in the East. This team plays good defense, and has enough shooters to compete on any given night. But chances are they will be stuck in the #4 playoff spot again.

3. Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose looks better than advertised. While I don't like their logjam at the SG position, this Chicago team should improve on last year's record. Hinrich gives them a veteran combo guard who can take over the PG role when Rose is on the bench. Gordon is instant offense off of the bench. I'm not really sure where Sefolosha or Hughes fit into all of this. I prefer Sefolosha because of his defense, and his overall play. He's not a chunker and ballhog like Hughes. Deng is rock solid at the SF position. Let's see if he will be able to take the next step to all-star level. Tyrus Thomas is primed for a breakout season. He'll put up huge rebound and block numbers. But needs to hit that jumpshot consistently and stay focused throughout the game. That leaves Nocioni and Noah buried on the bench, however. As it looks like Chicago will start Gooden at the C position. They need to do some trades to get rid of some of their talent. Less is more. They need a legit inside presence to compete.

4. Indiana Pacers: Their roster got a major overhaul during the summer. It'll take some time for everyone to get acquainted to one another, but I think they can be a borderline playoff team. Ford and Jack at the PG spot is a definite upgrade from an injured Tinsley and Diener from last year. Hopefully Ford can stay healthy. Dunleavy and Granger are solid at the SG and SF spots, though Dunleavy is currently injured. I wonder if Brandon Rush will be able to get consistent minutes on this team. Murphy should return to double-double form if he gets enough minutes at PF. He won't have to play out of position at C anymore. He'll also shoot a decent number of 3's throughout the season. The C spot is a big mess. The Pacers have Foster, Nesterovic and Hibbert; none of whom are quality centers. Their roster may not look particular impressive on paper, but they play hard, and find ways to win. Don't sleep on this young Indiana team, they could sneak into the playoffs. Granger is a star in the making.

5. Milwaukee Bucks: On paper, this team has some nice talent, but I'm not sure how everything is going to mesh together. Michael Redd is their main star, and he should score in bunches once again. He finally has a consistent second banana in Richard Jefferson, who adds some toughness to this team. Villanueva at PF is as inconsistent as they come. He can alternate between 20 and 5 point games all year long. But does not play a lick of defense. Those 3 players will throw up a ton of shots, so I'm not sure where that will leave Bogut. He needs the ball in his hands to be successful. And it looks like he won't get many touches or shots this year. Can he compensate for them by crashing the boards and improving on his block numbers from last year? The PG spot is a question mark. I like Sessions's potential, but it looks like he'll have trouble getting off of the bench with Ridnour as the starter. Both are more than capable of running this offense, and can put up huge assist numbers. But a time split would hurt both of their value. Will Joe Alexander get any playing time? None of their bench players really stands out at all.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

2008-09 NBA Season Preview: Atlantic

1. Boston Celtics: The defending NBA champions. They should have no problems finishing at the top of their division again. The loss of James Posey won't hurt this team as much as experts predict. They have a cluster of young players waiting in the wing and eager to prove themselves. Tony Allen and Leon Powe should benefit the most from Posey's departure. While Glenn Davis will put up the occasional big night. The success of the team will lay on the shoulders of the Big 3 once again. They are a year older, however, and it will be interesting to see if they can match the intensity and hunger that they brought the previous year. Rondo and Perkins have an extra year under their belt and should be even better this year. If Rondo can develop a consistent jump shot that will help elevate his game to the next level. There are some concerns about depth at PG and C. Eddie House is not a true PG, and they don't have a reliable backup C anymore with PJ Brown retired. Regardless, I like the Celtics chance of reaching the NBA Finals once again and defending their crown.

2. Philadelphia 76ers: The addition of Elton Brand should elevate this team to the top of the conference. While I don't think they are on the same level as Detriot or Boston, they should be able to win home-court advantage through the first round of the playoffs. Adding Kareem Rush and Donyell Marshall (to a lesser extend) are underrated moves and gives the squad some much needed outside shooting. Thaddeus Young looks primed to make a leap in his sophomore year. Lou Williams looks like a stud in the 6th man role. It will be interesting to see how Iguodala can adjust to being a complimentary player. Will he be able to hit those open jump shots consistently? Also will Dalembert be able to adjust to playing with Brand in the post? Will he be able to maintain his torrid rebound and block shot pace? Andre Miller should have a field day with all of this talent at the PG spot. The rookie Speights has interesting potential. They have all of the ingredients necessary to be a successful team; but they are lacking in experience. This young team has a bright future ahead of itself.

3. Toronto Raptors: This team's success is pending on the health of Jermaine O'Neal. When healthy, he forms a lethal duo with Chris Bosh. Don't be surprised to see Bosh's # takes a jump like Amare's did when he got to play alongside Shaq. He should get more single coverage and be able to score at will. Calderon gets the full-time starting job with TJ Ford out of town and should be able to flourish. He is baby Nash in the making. He is extremely efficient with his passing and scoring. The SG and SF spots are a little iffy for this team, however. Anthony Parker is a solid, but not exciting scorer. Moon has huge defensive potential, but can't score well. While Kapono is a great shooter, but can't defend well. If only they could combine those two together. They will miss Delfino who returned back to Europe. Can Bargnani step up and be a reliable player off of the bench? He should get more open shots playing with O'Neal and Bosh and his versatility will be key for this team off of the bench. I'm not ready to call this guy a bust yet. They should be much improved from the last season.

4. New Jersey Nets: They have a ton of new faces, so it'll be interesting to see how everything plays out. Vince Carter is still one of the best SG in the league when he is motivated. Devin Harris is an up-and-coming point guard. Yi could be a great fit for this team at the PF spot. He has a nice jumper, can block a few shots, is very athletic, and can contribute all around. Brook Lopez could surprise some people at the C spot. I think they need to get him as many minutes as possible. I'm not a huge fan of Josh Boone or Sean Williams. The SF spot is a bit iffy, however. I'm not sold on Bobby Simmons as being the answer. Jarvis Hayes or Najera are solid role players, but nothing else. Will they give Douglas-Roberts enough minutes to be successful? I don't expect this team to make the playoffs, but they could be better than predicted as they make a run for the 2010 offseason. Expect to see a lot of ups and downs for this team. It will be fun to watch this team and see how their young talent develops.

5. New York Knicks: This team could possibly outplay this position, but the New York franchise has such a bad reputation for losing. I'm glad to see that D'Antoni is not afraid to to bench Curry and Marbury and give them DNP. That's a start. Duhon and Nate Robinson at at the PG spot is a nice combination. Nate is high energy and a bit careless at times, but has potential to put up better numbers. While Duhon is steady and boring but consistent. Crawford could have a huge year under the D'Antoni system. Chandler and Q-Rich look to get minute at SF and both should be productive. Q-Rich with his outside shooting, and Chandler for his great energy, hustle, and his defense. At PF and C they have Randolph and Lee who can both be double-double machines. Both will score at a nice clip, but can't defend particular well. They seem like ideal players for the D'Antoni system than. Hah. I expect this team to score a lot of points, but also give up a lot of points. And be lots of fun to watch, for a change.