2011-12 NBA Season Preview

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Kevin Garnett

BOSTON CELTICS – The C’s are once again heavily favored to win the weak Atlantic division for the fifth year in a row going all the way to their championship in 2008. Boston still (for the mean time) has their main core in place; the Big Four consisting of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garentt and Rajon Rondo. The big question mark for this team is how much longer they can strive to win another championship considering how old the major blocks of the Big Four are; Pierce (34 years); Allen (36) and KG (35). Another interesting puzzle is what kind of zany tricks GM Danny Aige has up his sleeve, he sent veteran center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City at the trade deadline which didn’t turn out so well in the short-term and saw an eventual defeat by the hands of LeBron James in the Eastern semifinals and blew up the central piece of the starting lineup. With Shaq retiring and Doc Rivers back to coach another season, Boston’s aged roster could very well be running on fumes thanks to a shorten season.

Carmelo Anthony

NEW YORK KNICKS – This season will be the perfect time that Carmelo Anthony shows himself worthy of becoming a Knick in the first place. The “Melodrama” with Denver is long gone and he has time to further see where he fits in alongside Amar’e Stoudemire, both of whom need to find themselves on where they are on offense. New York was embarrassed being swept in the first round by rival Boston and it’s up to Anthony and Stoudemire to make some noise and carry this team that otherwise is pretty dry. Injuries also played a cruel part in that late season collapse, taking out Stoudemire with back problems as well as to ex-point guard Chauncey Billups, should they stay healthy it’s a good chance the Knicks will return to back-to-back playoff appearances. The addition of free agent Tyson Chandler at center will create a favorable front court when you look at Chandler that actually does a great job at defense while Stoudemire at power forward is a pretty good deal.

Andre Iguodala

PHILADELPHIA 76ers – Remember when the Philadelphia Sixers started the year going 3-13 and thoughts of another lottery pick came into mind? Me neither. After they managed to squeak into the playoffs as the eighth seed and had a successful season after the disastrous start, they were rocked by Miami and managed to secure one lone victory and not forced to see the broom. The Sixers can keep their starting lineup of Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young and the emergence of Spencer Hawes as their premiere big man. Coach Doug Collins did a terrific job bringing his team up from such an awful start to putting Philadelphia into the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Should the magic still continue, and the Sixers will very well be making back-to-back appearances.

Deron Williams

NEW JERSEY NETS - East Rutherford will have to get a good look at their Nets as this will be the last time they will be in New Jersey since all the way in 1977. A new stadium in Brooklyn awaits this once proud franchise thanks to some part by part-owner Jay-Z and Russian president Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets have some solid building blocks in their franchise man Deron Williams and will look to add more free agents. Questions will arise later on whether or not Williams will stay once the team moves to Brooklyn but they will continue to lobby hard for Dwight Howard to come play in New York even if Orlando says he’s off the market. The Nets still have a promising and uprising Brook Lopez who is a beast in the paint and could very well be the block to lure other teams to snatch him.

Demar Derozan

 TORONTO RAPTORS – In the mist of a rebuilding phase, the Raptors have a team that seems to be going nowhere and just doesn’t click. They will hope that their Draft pick Jonas Valanciunas can further improve himself while overseas and come to the NBA as quickly as possible, while their biggest loss during the lockout was Sonny Weems who left for Europe and doesn’t appear to be coming back.  Other than big man Andrea Bargnani and the athletic shooter in Demar Derozan, Toronto will have to spend another cold, raw winter with a lame basketball team that appears to be going nowhere. Oh and I would like to mention that Toronto is the first North American city to put on 3D ads on their court, video of that will come soon and it’s pretty wild to see. That’s how important basketball is in Toronto, talking about ads…

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

LeBron James

MIAMI HEAT - It’s no surprise that the Big Three superstars in South Beach are automatic favorites to win the Finals and give LeBron James his first ring. Right from the get-go, all the hype that surrounded this team and managed to land not only James but Chris Bosh to join Dwayne Wade was nonstop, every little wrinkle into their season was blown up so much it was getting ridiculous and should continue. And as they come off a disappointing season of not going 82-0 and not winning rings, they will obviously try to do so again. Aside of James, Wade and Bosh, most of their roster consists of aging players who wanted to play for cheap in order to win big and added shooter Shane Battier. Miami’s problem will be filling out the point guard position, neither Mario Chalmers nor Mike Bibby did any real damage and might want to see who they can sweep to fill at center in case Udonis Haslem can’t stay healthy (added Eddy Curry). Another shot of gelling James, Wade and Bosh, the Heat will have a pretty sweet chance of coming away champions in June.

Dwight Howard

ORLANDO MAGIC –  The biggest problem the Magic are forced to face with is convincing superstar Dwight Howard to stay and be happy or see him walk as a free agent next summer for next to nothing. He wants to win, and Orlando has it to win games, but when faced against Miami and Los Angeles, it doesn’t seem too likely they can get back to the Finals like their 2009 stunt. With a roster of Jason Richardson, JJ Reddick and Jameer Nelson, they did the right thing in sending a disappointing Vince Carter away to Phoenix but paying way too much money in signing Gilbert Arenas and bringing back Hudo Turkolgu. The Magic managed to stay with the elite teams of the East during last season but were surprisingly cut short during the first round from a relentless Atlanta team. Stocked with threats beyond the three-point line and a decent front-court, Orlando will need to get somebody useful should Howard and his monster-sized arms stray away. If Orlando doesn’t act fast, they very well could see “Superman” fly away for good.

Joe Johnson

 ATLANTA HAWKS - The Hawks are right in the middle of the pack of not being awesome, but at the same time not being a real contender. They saw one of their best shooters and players Jamal Crawford walk away to Portland, but I can’t see them landing any big names during free agency, aside from adding Tracy McGrady, who is looking to finish his career. Atlanta really isn’t that exciting to look at, besides power forward Josh Smith and Joe Johnson, it’s a solid C team, if you haven’t catched my drift yet. Johnson didn’t have a very eventful year as his shooting average dropped from 21.3 to 18.2 but Al Horford had the opposite, becoming part of the All-Star team with career highs in points (15.3), steals, assists (3.5) and a .557 field goal percentage. If Atlanta continues to have lackluster play in a heated conference, they will surely end right where they belong, in the middle. Not too hot, not too cold.

John Wall

WASHINGTON WIZARDS – Aside from the snazzy new uniforms, the Wizards are actually starting to take the same of a decent team, however not a force. Washington will continue to improve the stellar play of point guard John Wall who started his rookie season averaging 16.4 points per game and 8.3 assists. Solid numbers coming from the number one pick in the 2010 Draft, and will get some scoring help in the additions of Jan Vesely. The 6’11” small/power forward from the Czech Republichas won quite a handful of European awards and is pretty popular in his native country. It’s also worth mentioning he has been compared by some scouts to have the play of both Dirk Nowitzki and Andrei Kirilenko. Players like Nick Young, Andray Blatche and dunking barbarian in JaVale McGee will help the Wizards find where they fit with each other and continue to grow. They will improve from a 23-win season a year ago, and with a shorten schedule, they could possibly find themselves in the lower half of the playoff race, based on if they get a fast start.

Kemba Walker

CHARLOTTE BOBCATS  – A pretty mediocre team with mediocre ambition to get anywhere near good. The Bobcats gladly gave away their star in Gerald Wallace for Draft picks, an aging Joel Pryzbilla and a future in Dante Cunningham. They acquired UConn star Kemba Walker from the Draft that could get some serious playing time behind D.J. Augustin and adding scorer Corey Maggette will help them score some points where they badly need some. Charlotte also saw some development in guard Gerald Henderson who, according to Sports Illustrated had a breakout year with 14.4 points per game and could improve this year. Other than those names, the Bobcats really have no way to climb anywhere in the Eastern conference and compete. If Walker shows he can perform in the big leagues and Maggette could become their star player, I’d say it would be a successful season in Charlotte.

CENTRAL DIVISION

Derrick Rose

CHICAGO BULLS – Reigning regular-season MVP Derrick Rose is an animal. The way he cuts inside the paint, his beautiful bullet passes, lobs to Joakim Noah for the slam. The guy is amazing. The Bulls as a team are pretty great themselves, and their defense is fearsome. Chicago isn’t looking to win this weak division, their target is Miami and it’ll be another disappointing season if they fail to reach the Finals and Rose can’t defend his MVP style of play. They have a stockpile of shooters in Luol Deng, Kyle Krover and newly suited up Richard Hamilton. As Carlos Boozer and Noah continue to protect the paint and Rose keeps shredding defensives like butter, the Bulls will have only LeBron James to focus in on.

Danny Granger

INDIANA PACERS – Surprise to see free agent David West sign with the Pacers? Me too, but when you think about it, West comes in alongside with Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and Darren Collison which creates an actual decent starting five. West comes into Indiana averaging 19 points, 7.6 rebounds and is looking to get his body back into shape after getting work done on his knees.  They made the playoffs last season as the eighth seed due to a lame bottom half of the Eastern conference and managed to take one game from the Bulls. This could be a All-Star season for Granger who has emerged as their star player, averaging 20.5 points,  5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and shot. 425 from the field.

Brandon Jennings

MILWAUKEE BUCKS - Bad enough that their jerseys remind me of Christmas well into May, but their offense was listed as the worst in the league. An average of 91.9 points a game? Ouch. The Bucks managed to get into the postseason two seasons ago and were poised to make a return, but like the Blazers, injuries have sidelined the Bucks and they slid back into the depths of their division. All-Star center Andrew Bogut should be live and healthy enough so that point guard Brandon Jennings finds him underneath the basket. The biggest addition to this team is top scorer Stephen Jackson from the Bobcats and will be a huge advantage to give this offense a boost. So far in his career he averages 16.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and a decent .418 shooting average. Alongside Jackson will be new Buck and three-point threat Mike Dunleavy and Milwaukee got lucky and resigned Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Can the Bucks bring back some noise like they did two years ago? Probably not, but it’s a start.

Tayshaun Prince

DETROIT PISTONS – They city of Detroit had something to cheer about when the Lions started their season hot going 4-0 and can make the NFL playoffs for the first time in forever. Can they get excited for the Pistons? Last season wasn’t something to be cheerful about, turmoil in the club and their coach reached a boiling point to where some of the main players sat out in games in protest. New coach Lawrence Frank will need to get on the right foot with veteran guys like Ben Gordon, big man Charlie Villanueva and  guard Tayshaun Prince, while at the same time losing Richard Hamilton. They have the keys in building a core around newbies Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe. The Pistons have the assets to have a great team but until they can gel and create some chemistry, Detroit will probably wish the Lions’ season could go longer.

Kyrie Irving

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS – If any club should be excited to have a fresh restart, the Cavs should deserve it. We will have to bring up the 26-game losing streak, losing LeBron James and becoming the first team in the NBA to win 60+ games one season, and then lose 60+ the next. You could tell the way Cleveland acted, they looked lost and just wanted last season to end so bad. Now is their chance to heal the wounds of a hellish season, and started the way into the brighter side by picking Kyrie Irving as the number one pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. He isn’t the true answer to the hole that LeBron left, but its a start. The Cavs also picked up shooting guard Tristan Thompson and can look to build around Irving and Thompson by getting rid of guys like Baron Davis (done) and weak shooter Antawn Jamison. I hope and don’t expect that Cleveland will win 19 games, maybe they will embrace the shorten schedule and just give themselves a much-needed morale boost.

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

Dirk Nowitzki

DALLAS MAVERICKS – The defending NBA Champions will finally be awarded their rings and raise the championship banner at home on Christmas Day. The Mavs return with three key players gone (Chandler, Butler, Barea) and a few others who each have the possibility of walking away. You can guarantee that owner Mark Cuban did whatever it took to hold onto Chandler (who really blossomed during the playoffs as an authentic center) and will try to surround star Dirk Nowitzki with his starting five that took Dallas to their first franchise championship over the Miami Heat. Can they repeat with a 66-game schedule? It depends, I feel age and a lack of rest would take a toll on the aging roster: Jason Kidd, Nowitzki and Jason Terry are all in their early to mid-30’s and their rough schedule at the beginning of the season has them facing Miami, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the like to really put Dallas to the test. They won’t have too much trouble getting chemistry together to keep the core at peace unless Dallas really dump their free agents. The addition of Vince Carter and Lamar Odom will keep Dallas hot from three-point land and added offense and now have the pleasure of defending their crown. All eyes will be on the gigantic target on Nowitzki’s back.

Manu Ginobili

SAN ANTONIO SPURS  – Another aging franchise that have to wonder when the end of their championship lineup will come to a close. The terrific career of Tim Duncan is going down the slopes and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are seeing the end of the line but you still just can’t count the Spurs out. They will reach the near top of the Western conference as long as Coach Pop is at the head. It was a shame to watch them last season go 61-21 and the number one seed of the conference, only to let age and their hunger for another championship go dry to a younger Memphis team in the first round. Their core still remains the same if you don’t count Richard Jefferson who had a truly disappointing season and let him go. The Spurs had the easy way of constantly winning the Southwest division, but not anymore when Dallas and Memphis are growing stronger. The window is seriously closing on the Big Three.

Zach Randolph

MEMPHIS GRIZZLES - Darlings of the West, Memphis stacked themselves with a roster of misfits that wound up to click together and give the Grizz their first playoff win ever in franchise history. First. Ever. This group with rebounding monsters of Marc Gasol and a happy and All-Star caliber Zach Randolph, reborn from years of mediocrity and disgruntlement from his earlier years in Portland and the Clippers. He averaged 20 points, 12 rebounds along with Gasol’s 11.7/7 a game. Without their top player in Rudy Gay, who was lost due to shoulder surgery, Memphis took on the first seed of the aging yet highly experienced Spurs and with quick feet and faster play, the younger Grizz waltzed into the second round even brought the Thunder to the brink of the Western Finals. A lot will be expected of Memphis this year and bringing Gasol back will help, along with finally having Gay healthy and back to doing what he does best, shooting the ball. The eighth seed will be a disappointment this year, Memphis is aiming their sights higher, and on division rival Dallas.

Kevin Martin

HOUSTON ROCKETS – Sad thing to see Yao Ming retire at such a young age but the Rockets will have to move on without him. Once feared as a legitimate contender team, the Rockets have lost most of their core that brought them regularly to the postseason and have made them bound for the lottery. Their biggest signing this offseason was Samuel Dalembert who will be a welcomed presence in the paint along with Kyle Lowery and Luis Scola. Marcus Morris and Tasheem Thabeet will also add more muscle off the bench and Houston is stocked with good shooters Courtney Lee, Terrance Williams, and virtuoso scorer Kevin Martin, who averaged 23.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and .383 from three-point land. If left alone behind the line or driving down the paint, Martin will score at will. With Memphis knocking on the door to take the Southwest, it’ll be difficult for Houston to soar back into the playoffs and will be missing Yao Ming for a long time.

Emeka Okafor

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS - How awkward was training camp in New Orleans? You just traded away your star point guard in Chris Paul in an exhausting and PR disaster involving both Los Angeles teams, twice, finally to trade him away to the Clippers. Not only that, David West signs with the Pacers and it seems that everyone on the roster is heading for the hills and ditching the Hornets. Second year coach Monty Williams will have his hands full and will likely see his team evaporate before his eyes and have to reconstruct an entirely new squad based around Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and the like. Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza might also be seen as trade bait to other teams looking to solidify their roster space, so don’t be surprised to see a complete rebuilding stage for the Hornets. Just like what happened with LeBron James and Cleveland, Paul might have the same effect in the Big Easy and we might be looking at an entirely new team looking to find their place.

NORTHWEST DIVISION

Kevin Durant

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER – The obvious choice to win the Northwest for a second straight season, the Thunder are one of the luckier teams that still have their main lineup in tact and ready to go to work. For the Thunder, I feel like it’s NBA Finals or bust this year as inexperience turned out to be the thorn in their sides during the Western Finals  last year after having a pretty successful season. With a balanced young roster consisting of scoring demon Kevin Durant, Russel Westbrook, shot-blocker Serge Ibaka, James Harden and big man Kendrick Perkins, they have serious reasons to believe they can go all the way. The only thing Oklahoma City needs to work on is the balance of scoring between Durant and high-flying Westbrook. Too many times during their postseason run where Westbrook would want to take control of the scoring load, only to eventually turn the ball over or take way too many bad shot selections while your two-time defending scoring champion Durant is available in the corner. Learning how to be a better ball distributing point guard and giving the ball more to Durant will surely be a great improvement to an already legit team.

LaMarcus Aldridge

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS – The Blazers are in the unfortunate awkward middle stage, good enough team but not a really great team. Mediocre? No I wouldn’t say that, but there are definite problems that plague not only the roster, but the offices behind the scenes. Problem one, Brandon Roy retires. Problem two, I think many forgot that we have no set GM right now. That needs to happen fast and the firing of Rich Cho still seems puzzling. Problem three, how well is Greg Oden to the point he can come back on the court? Not this year, and once again some “setback” has kept Oden away from returning. Strange to think that the last time Oden walked on the Portland court was all the way back in December 2009. Some good news in all of this uncertainty is the emergence of future All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge who should continue to lead his team alongside sharp shooters Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum, monster Gerald Wallace and new point guard Raymond Felton.  Who should Portland try to sign during free agency? The Blazers  reinforced their front court by adding big man Kurt Thomas and shooter Jamal Crawford for two years contract with a player opt-out in the second year.

Nene

DENVER NUGGETS – In a matter of a few months the Nuggets saw their roster blow up into a completely new and interesting set of players. Gone is star Carmelo Anthony, veteran hometown hero Chauncey Billups but they got Nene to sign on for four years which is a win in their books. Gone are also major pieces in their starting lineup and valuable bench players in J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin who all signed contracts with Chinese teams that feature no opt-out clauses, meaning they are stuck in China till about March. Coach George Karl still managed to keep his new roster to making the fifth seed in the Western Conference but were stopped by Oklahoma City in the first round. Denver will have a hard time trying to convince free agents to sign up when Danilo Gallinari, Chris Anderson and Andre Miller are your main selling points but should be very happy to also sign Aaron Afflalo to a great deal worth five-years.

Andrei Kirilenko

UTAH JAZZ – Another team who unfortunately saw their roster and coaching staff blown up halfway through the season. Reported tension between star point Deron Williams and famed coach Jerry Sloan were sent packing their bags; Williams was sent to New Jersey in exchange for Devin Harris and Sloan into retirement. Intern coach Tyrone Corbin had difficulty restoring order and the Jazz ended a miserable season with a losing record (second time since the early ’80s) and it could continue. Utah will likely want to start rebuilding with their new rookies and sophomores in Derrick Favors and their number three Draft pick Enes Kanter, while their main players in Paul Millsap, Mehment Okur could be valuable trade offers and Kyrylo Fesenko, Andrei Kirilenko and Ronnie Price are free agents. Seems to me that Utah is going to be in another world of hurt this season unless their Draft picks can be the new faces of the Jazz.

Kevin Love

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES – They’re stockpiled with young talent and are shaping themselves to be a much better team than last year’s horrendous 17-65 record. From all the stink came the powerhouse who is Oregon native Kevin Love, most notable for becoming an All-Star at the age of 23 and the first Wolves player since Kevin Garnett. Love also accomplished quite an amazing statistic, he now holds the longest consecutive double figures in points and rebounds and is one of the top rebounders in the entire league (once held by Moses Malone back in 1982). His final stats are worth looking at: increased his points per game by 44 percent and his rebounds per game by 38 percent over his previous season. Established career highs in rebounding, scoring (20.2), assists (2.5), double-doubles (64), field goal percentage (.470), free throw shooting (.850), 3-point shooting (.417) and minutes played (35.8) Alongside Love is newly awaken shooting guard Michael Beasley who had a career year in points per game. Add in two rookie sensations point guard Ricky Rubio from Spain and second pick Derrick Williams from Arizona and new head coach in Rick Adelman and somehow the Timberwolves seem more appealing than their record would indicate. Don’t expect them to make any serious noise up in the tundra.

PACIFIC DIVISION

Kobe Bryant

LOS ANGELES LAKERS – Still one of the better teams, the Lakers are in prime position to give Kobe Bryant his sixth ring, but will have a problem settling into new coach Mike Brown’s system with just a few weeks to prepare. Brown will also have the fun of earning Bryant’s trust and getting the guys to learn a whole new offensive system different then the successful triangle offensive they have grown accustomed to. As legendary coach Phil Jackson retired after the Lakers were surprising swept in four games to Dallas in the second round, Kobe and company are still strong enough to restore order back in Los Angeles. It didn’t take long for the peace to go down in flames, as a proposed trade to bring Chris Paul died on the table, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom were main selling points and Odom was the one most hurt. So hurt by hearing the trade, the Lakers eventually sent the reigning sixth man of the year Odom to the Mavericks and lost the Paul lottery to their brother club the Clippers. Not only that, but Kobe Bryant suffered a torn ligament in his wrist days before the opener and going through a tough divorce with his wife of ten years. When can Phil Jackson get off his ranch and restore some peace?

Blake Griffin

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS  – The Clippers are making big news, and it’s finally good! For once, the Clippers are looking better and better everyday and they have every reason to be smiling: Chris Paul will be suiting up. Winners of the lottery, it had to take two tries to get the NBA-owned Hornets to agree, but the Clips got their man and then some. By adding Caron Butler and plucking Chauncey Billups on waivers, it might be time to -gasp!- think of the Clips in the postseason. Sure they traded away their All-Star center Chris Kaman and All-Star-in-training Eric Gordon, they seem to be a very possible destination for other free agents to join Griffin. Blake Griffin. The reigning Rookie of the Year and dunk monster, if you were getting sick of dunk highlights every night on SportsCenter, you will be disgusted how much you’ll see him slam it down from a Chris Paul alley-oop this season.

Monta Ellis

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS – One of the few teams to not do too much dealings, the Warriors are happy with what they have and will stick to their franchise players in Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. One of the most fast paced offenses in the league in terms of speed alone, Golden State played zero defense and with the ball, literally averaged 110 points per game, but I don’t expect anything to change under new coach Mark Jackson, other than him guarantee that the Warriors will make the playoffs since their magical upset run back in 2007 over top seeded Dallas. With the way the Western conference is stacked, Golden State will have a tough time once again, now considering that the Pacific division just got somewhat harder to move up. The best basketball in California still belongs in Los Angeles.

Steve Nash

PHOENIX SUNS – It won’t be long till we see the end of the Steve Nash-era in the desert, as well as probably anyone you’ll see on this roster. The Suns are in the middle of re-assembling a team that brought them to the Western Finals two years ago, back then they had a very active Nash alongside Amar’e Stoudemire and three-point demon Jason Richardson. Now they got rid of drifter Vince Carter, added Shannon Brown from the Lakers and did the right thing in keeping Grant Hill for another year or two, a true warrior for his age and continues to be an active part of this franchise. It’s a matter of time till the Suns’ white hot offense starts to fizzle and they begin to dangle Nash on the trading lure but until then, Phoenix has a decent roster when you have Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, Robin Lopez and Sebastian Telfair lying in wait for a bullet pass from Nash.

Tyreke Evans

SACRAMENTO KINGS – The city of Sacramento managed to keep their beloved Kings franchise from moving to Anaheim, and the roster is full of young potential star players, but inexperience should still be a key factor into how well this 66-game schedule affects them. The main player to keep an eye on? DeMarcus Cousins built an image of himself as being a tough, rugged center who made more news about his locker room emotions than his skills. If he can corporate in a system with scorer Tyreke Evans and Jimmer Fredette, the Kings have a lot of scoring options, not to mention Chuck Hayes roaming the paint and picking up Travis Outlaw will hopefully bring the attendance that Sacramento needs.