It has been a relatively inactive off-season in the NBA since we saw David Stern hand yet another championship trophy to Phil Jackson. Most team’s primary objection this off-season appeared to be shedding payroll. Whether it was due to the financial losses many teams suffered with the economic challenges in the U.S. or due to trying to get under the NBA salary cap for the mythical free agency class of 2010. It will be interesting to see how much financial decisions play into the transactions made during this season. With another season about to begin The Father Life will try to shed some light on what to expect.
Heading into the season there appear to be only three legitimate contenders to represent the East in the NBA finals in June 2010 (wow does that sound far off). The Cleveland Cavaliers had the best regular season last year and seem determined to do anything to convince Lebron James that Cleveland is where he should stay. It does not seem possible for him to improve much more, but it should be interesting to see if Shaquille O’Neal is able to teach him some wily veteran tricks. Next in line is probably the Boston Celtics who may have a deeper and overall more talented roster. However, age and injury is once again a major concern as last year’s team could not overcome Kevin Garnett’s knee injury. The Celtics did not add youth this off-season but rather another veteran in Rasheed Wallace. Finally, last year’s surprise team, the Orlando Magic, lost Hedo Turkoglu but scrambled nicely to replace him with Vince Carter. Last year Stan Van Gundy pushed almost every button correctly, if they repeat the magic or if Dwight Howard takes another step forward they too could play into June.
In the West there appears to be only one serious contender to disrupt the LA Lakers place at the top of the standings. While most teams sold assets at clearance prices, the San Antonio Spurs were willing to add contracts to make a run at another title with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Adding Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess and Dejaun Blair appears to have improved the talent base while also hopefully allowing them to overcome any of the injuries they dealt with last year. I am sure coach Gregg Popovich is also hoping to minimize the number of regular season minutes he must play his stars this year. The Lakers return essentially the same team. If the Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest trade works out and if Andrew Bynum can make it through a season healthy they have the talent and depth to again be champions.
It’s hard to see anyone breaking through the top three in the East, but there is enough talent to make some interesting series and challenges. Last year Dwayne Wade had an incredible year and carried the Miami Heat to the playoffs. His supporting cast does not seem improved but you have to think Pat Riley will try to make a bold move to convince Wade to stick around this off-season (since he’ll be a free agent). The Washington Wizards hired a new coach (Flip Saunders) and hopefully will have their big three of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler all healthy for a full season. If they are and if the new depth of Mike Miller and AJ Foye as well as the talent they developed through injury opportunities comes through, this could be an exciting team to watch. The Charlotte Bobcats improved last year under new coach Larry Brown. They return essentially the same team as their ownership has serious cash issues, however year two under Coach Brown could be an improvement. The Chicago Bulls made their playoff series with the Boston Celtics extremely intriguing. They lost Ben Gordon but the sophomore season of the Derrick Rose era should be impressive. North of the border, the Toronto Raptors added Hedo Turkoglu to a decent team and could be dangerous. Finally, the Detroit Pistons added Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva and may prove a compelling team.
Out West the list of contenders is more interesting and probably more talented as we try to find someone other than the Lakers to represent the West in the NBA finals. Mark Cuban busily restocked the Dallas Mavericks. This may be the final run for Jason Kidd. How well Shawn Marion connects with him should determine how long that run lasts. The New Orleans Hornets return Chris Paul, but unfortunately their ownership situation makes too many decisions with the bottom line in mind and not how well the decisions will help the Hornets. The Phoenix Suns are promising to bring back the fast paced style that brought them success in recent years. How well Steve Nash holds up could determine if they are playoff bound or not. The Utah Jazz return Deron Williams and the rest of his supporting cast (surprisingly Carlos Boozer also) and Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan should keep them in contention. The addition of Chauncey Billups last season propelled the Denver Nuggets to a long playoff run. I do not see everything breaking right again this year, but you never know. Finally, the LA Clippers actually have a talented roster with top draft pick Blake Griffin joining an already decent talent base. If Baron Davis is actually motivated, perhaps they can overcome Mike Dunleavy’s coaching. Finally the Portland Trail Blazers are thought to have the deepest talent base but need some of the young talent to assertively step up in order for the team to take the next step.
Project Order of finish and key question for each team
- Boston Celtics – Will the older stars (Pierce, Allen and Garnett ) stay healthy?
- Cleveland Cavaliers – Can LeBron James get enough support this year?
- Orlando Magic – Will Vince Carter effectively replace Hedo Turkoglu?
- Atlanta Hawks – Does Mike Bibby have enough left to lead this still young team any higher?
- Washington Wizards – Will this team ever be healthy enough to reach their potential?
- Toronto Raptors – How quickly will European stars Calderon, Barggnani and Turkoglu gel?
- Chicago Bulls – Does 2007 or 2008 Lual Deng show up?
- Miami Heat – After a rough offseason will Michael Beasley take a step forward or a step back?
- Detroit Pistons – Will fans stick around as Joe Dumars tries to rebuild on the fly?
- Charlotte Bobcats – Can the Bobcats reach .500 for the first time in franchise history?
- Philadelphia 76ers – How patient will Philly be as this young team grows?
- New York Knicks – Will Mike D’Antonio find more success in year 2?
- Indiana Pacers – Can the Pacers stay healthy long enough to challenge for a playoff spot?
- New Jersey Nets – Will the Nets ever move to Brooklyn?
- Milwaukee Bucks – How many more years will the Bucks be rebuilding for?
- L.A. Lakers – Can the Lakers stay motivated after winning last year’s title?
- San Antonio Spurs – Will the Spurs keep their defensive identity without Bruce Bowen?
- Utah Jazz – Which Andreii Kirilenko shows up this year?
- Portland Trail Blazers – Was Andre Miller the best fit to take this young team the next step?
- New Orleans Hornets – When will Chris Paul and David West get more help?
- Dallas Mavericks – How deep can Jason Kidd still guide a team as he wraps up his illustrious career?
- Phoenix Suns – Will Amare Stoudemire stay healthy and happy in Phoenix?
- L.A. Clippers – Does Baron Davis dedicate himself to basketball this year?
- Denver Nuggets – Did the Nuggets use up all their good fortune last year?
- Oklahoma City Thunder – How quickly will this young team start to challenge for a playoff spot?
- Memphis Grizzlies – Are there enough shots to go around with Iverson, Gay, Randolph and Mayo?
- Minnesota Wolves – Is there anything they can do to convince Ricky Rubio to join them?
- Houston Rockets – How will the Rockets reinvent themselves without Tracy McGrady or Yao Ming?
- Golden State Warriors – Will there be more drama on the court or off the court?
- Sacramento Kings – Can Kevin Martin get more help this year or will he always be the good player stuck on a bad team?
Image credit: Michael Lorenzo
Ben Loux is father of two and husband of one (it works well that way). He makes his home in the Rochester, NY, area.