Yes, I know a few games have already been played in the season, but a season prediction is necessary. Here's how I (Moose) think the season will roll.
1. Boston Celtics: The defending champs get back their core of all-stars in Allen, Pierce and Garnett, and they retain most of their stellar bench. The only great losses were James Posey and P.J. Brown; the Celtics left at the top and are looking to stay there. Number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
2. Philadelphia 76ers: After having a great offseason, picking up star forward Elton Brand, Philly is looking to take their young guns (Louis Williams, Thaddeus Young), their key returning leaders (Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller), and (a mixture of young and experienced) bench players to surprise in the East. Number 3 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
3. Toronto Raptors: After picking up PF-C Jermaine O'Neal in this offseason to fortify the inside, O'Neal must stay healthy and consistent in order for Toronto to be taken seriously, and PG Jose Calderon must deliver. But they have a good core in Bosh, O'Neal and Calderon. Number 6 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
4. New Jersey Nets: With a budding young point guard in Devin Harris, New Jersey doesn't have one current all-star on their team, but they do have a past all-star in swingman Vince Carter. With young big guys like Yi Jianlian, Sean Williams and Brook Lopez, young little guys like Harris and Chris Douglas-Roberts and just a young team in general, NJ isn't looking incredibly bad for the future. But don't expect them to make much noise this year.
5. New York Knicks: After controversially (well, among their fans it was contreversial) selecting 19 year old Italian Danilo Gallinari in the draft, the Knicks were booed for the pick. They've been booed a lot in the past few years; and don't look for the fans to be any happier this season either. Their best players are at the guard position, with Chris Duhon, Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson and Stephon Marbury, while they have two decent big men in David Lee and Z-Bo. The Knicks aren't looking as terrible as the other years, but they still aren't going anywhere.
1. Orlando Magic: Orlando has their core intact; Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, and the struggling Southeast division shouldn't be too difficult for the Magic to take. Somewhat deep on the bench, Orlando's center, swingman and power forward are top-notch in the NBA, and they have decent guards with Jameer Nelson and Mickael Pietrus. Number 5 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
2. Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks surprised everybody last year at how close they came to taking down the eventual champs in the first round of the playoffs, pushing them to seven games. And with most of the younger guys back (Josh Smith, Al Horford, Marvin Williams) and the veterans back (Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby) the Hawks are in a good position to take the second place spot in this division from the oft-injured Wizards. Number 7 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
3. Washington Wizards: Health is a great problem that Washington hasn't even been able to overcome before the season starts, with Agent Zero out until December and center Brendan Haywood out 4-6 months and possibly the whole season. If their core of Butler, Arenas and Jamison is together, they can be deadly, but that seldom happens. Number 8 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
4. Charlotte Bobcats: The Betcats still aren't in a good position to win games, but with a solid swingman (Gerald Wallace), a solid F-C (Emeka Okafor) and a solid two guard (Jason Richardson), Charlotte looks like it has a decent starting five. But the starters can't do everything, a very weak, young bench isn't giving anybody any belief that MJ's team will win games. They have a good rookie point guard in D.J. Augustin, but coach Larry Brown isn't very fond of rookies, so the chances of him playing much are very slim.
5. Miami Heat: After selecting scoring machine Michael Beasley second overall in the draft, the Heat added another legitimate scoring threat to the starting five. Beasley will complement a healthy Dwyane Wade who showed that he can get the job done again in the Olympics, and swingman Shawn Marion. But even with this good core of scoring starters, Miami is missing players at two very important positions; they barely have a point guard or center, which is the reason why Miami will miss the playoffs and be last in the division.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs have a scary amount of potential this year. Perennial MVP candidate LeBron James gives them a chance to win every time they step onto the court, with almost guaranteed great all-around numbers. And with good shooting around him (Delonte West, Daniel Gibson, Mo Williams, Wally Szczerbiak, sometimes Zydrunas Ilgauskas), good defense around him (himself, Williams, Ilgauskas, Ben Wallace) and great all-around playing, the Cavs will be great this year if everything goes according to plan. Number 2 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
2. Detroit Pistons: The Pistons are usually predicted at number two or number one in the East most years. This year is an exception. With great teams on the rise (Cleveland, Philly, Orlando) and Detroit on the slight decline, they will have to forfeit their number two seed this season. Still a great team with their used-to-be-all-stars core (Sheed, Billups, Tayshaun, Rip), these guys are aging, all of them 30 or older, barring Prince, who is 28. Their hard-working young bench shines (Maxiell, Stuckey, Afflalo), while their older, slower bench (Mcdyess, Walter Hermann) might keep their older starters in there for longer. It's hard to see these older Pistons having more speed or desire than the other younger teams in the East. Number 4 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
3. Chicago Bulls: After selecting Derrick Rose number one overall in the 2008 draft, the Bulls will start him straight away, and expectations are high for this strong young court general. He will start right off the bat; along with Joakim Noah, Drew Gooden, Luol Deng and Larry Hughes. They have a great sixth man in two guard Ben Gordon, a great scorer and shooter. But, the Bulls don't belong among the elite in the East, so don't expect them in the Postseason.
4. Milwaukee Bucks: The key moves that the Bucks made this offseason included trading for scoring swingman Richard Jefferson to complement the other scoring threat on this team, Michael Redd, and drafting SF Joe Alexander. It's a young team (Ramon Sessions, Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva, Joe Alexander, (kind of) Richard Jefferson, (kind of) Michael Redd) but there is a good deal of talent. The Bucks look like they might make a little noise in years to come, but I highly doubt that this is a playoffs year for Milwaukee.
5. Indiana Pacers: They made a few trades on draft day, and after losing their marquee player, Jermaine O'Neal, to free agency, the team leader position has shifted and is now resting on the shoulders of small forward Danny Granger, a good scorer with excellent all-around numbers. They acquired speeding point guard T.J. Ford, who's coming off an injury, and also acquired another solid PG, Jarrett Jack, from the Blazers. The new acquisitions look all right, but the Pacers still won't make much of an impact at all.
1. New Orleans Hornets: The Hornets had a great offseason, acquiring championship machine sixth man James Posey. Posey will be a key player in the Hornets' run at a Finals this year, but the swingman will be a small piece of the puzzle compared to point guard Chris Paul. Coming off of his third year, finishing second in MVP voting, Paul is top-notch in steals, assists, points and defense. The dude is arguably the best point guard in the league (I think THE best, D-Will ain't as good as him. In MY POV, again.). They also have borderline all-stars in David West and Tyson Chandler, and great shooters in Morris Peterson and Peja Stojakovic. And their bench is excellent. What more could you ask for? Number 2 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.
2. Houston Rockets: Health is the key for the gifted Houston Rockets, plagued by injury constantly in many other seasons. Yao Ming and Tracy Mcgrady, two superstars in the league, need to stay off the IR list in order for Houston to live up to expectations. They acquired defensive stalwart Ron Artest, an action that put the Rockets on the board for title consideration, and they are primed to make a great run in the playoffs if they can keep their health and Artest can keep his head. Number 3 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
3. San Antonio Spurs: Yes, they are a bit on the older side (Kurt Thomas, Fabricio Oberto, Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Tim Duncan), all of these players being 32 years old or older, but the Spurs are still top-tier in the NBA. Duncan is arguably the best power forward in the league, while Parker is a stellar point guard, and Ginobili is an annual candidate for the Sixth Man Award. They tried to get younger over the offseason, but ultimately failed, still stuck with a bunch of older starters and bench guys. But age won't stop the Spurs, even in the hellacious Western Conference. Number 4 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.
4. Dallas Mavericks: Dallas still has their core of all-stars and borderline all-stars, with Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. Their bench has a good amount of young talent, barring Stackhouse, but the starters are a bit run down, all of them 30 or above, save 28 year old Josh Howard. Dallas still looks solid, but not exactly top-notch in the league. Number 8 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.
5. Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizz were tied for the third worst record in the league last year with 22 wins, and I don't really see them improving on that this year. There is an insane amount of talent on the young Grizzlies, with O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Hakim Warrick, Marc Gasol (well, not that talented . . . but effective nonetheless), Darrell Arthur and Mike Conley, none of them older than 23 barring Hakim Warrick's 26, and these guys are improving. But truthfully, they really won't do squat this year.
1. Portland Trailblazers: The biggest question this year for the Blazers is massive seven-footer Greg Oden. A "veteran rookie", if you will, Oden is coming off of microfracture surgery on his knee, keeping him from playing in the 2007-08 season. But if he can live up to his hype, then the Blazers are in excellent shape. With a stellar starting five of Oden, Steve Blake, Brandon Roy, Travis Outlaw and Lamarcus Aldridge, the Blazers also boast a great bench (Sergio Rodriguez, Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, Joel Prizbilla, Channing Frye, Ike Diogu, Jerryd Bayless). The team of the future with most everybody under 26 years old, the Blazers even look good enough to keep up with the big guns in the West this year. Number 6 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.
2. Utah Jazz: Utah is a rare team in the NBA for one reason: They have an incredibly talented, young, proven, developed point guard with poise on their squad, and they are one of two teams that boast such a weapon, along with New Orleans. To complement Deron Williams, they also have a solid center in Mehmet Okur, an above average power forward in Carlos Boozer, and a solid bench as well (Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Brevin Knight, Matt Harpring). Number 7 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.
3. Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets still own a pair of probable scoring leaders in Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson, two stellar players. They also have a few average big men with Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen and Nene. But they problem with Enver is that they have no "D". There is a lot of interest on the offensive side of the floor, but when the other team gets the ball, they don't hustle down, and barely play any defense at all. George Karl has been trying to stress it, but it ain't working, and without the D I don't see the Nugs making the playoffs this year.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves: Minny is one of those "teams of the future", stacked with talented and potential-laden young players. The Wolves are in the process of rebuilding, and they're doing a great job. With two great athletic big men, Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, a great shooting, scoring swingman in Mike Miller, two quick guards in Sebastian Telfair and Randy Foye, and a few reliable forwards in Ryan Gomes and Corey Brewer, the T-Wolves look great on paper. But, they just aren't ready for the competition in the West (or the East, for that matter). Again, they're still rebuilding.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder: The Oklahoma City Thunder. New city, new look, new name. But, frankly, probably no new results for the team formerly known as the Sonics. Kevin Durant, a 20 year old forward, is the marquee player, a great scorer whose strength and all-around playing is improving. Last year, the then-Sonics had their worst season ever, winning 20 games while losing a whopping 62. They have great young talent in a few places (Durant, Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, D.J. White), but it isn't gonna do them any good this season. OKC will most likely remain cellar-dwellers this year.
1. Los Angeles Lakers: Listed by many as the pre-season pick to win it all, the Lakers lack many holes in their lineup. All in all, a great deal of the season rests on the young shoulders of Andrew Bynum, a 7'1" 21 year old giant who's coming off of a season-ending injury that ultimately led to arthroscopic surgery on his kneecap. If Bynum can bounce back well and live up to his potential, the Lakers look to be nearly unstoppable. Their starters, if healthy, are among the best in the league, if not the best, with Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Bynum and Pau Gasol. And their bench is also particularly outstanding (Lamar Odom, Trever Ariza, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton). Number 1 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.
2. Phoenix Suns: The Suns are another team among the powerhouse that is the Western Conference that has future, current and former all-stars. A stellar frontcourt with Shaquille O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire, a stellar backcourt in Steve Nash and Raja Bell, and pretty good bench (Leandro Barbosa, Grant Hill, Boris Diaw, Robin Lopez, Alando Tucker) puts the Suns in it's place, close to top in the league. Tattooed swingman Matt Barnes gets the starting nod for the older Suns, something he hasn't gotten yet in his career, so he is a player to watch. STAT is looking to explode this year (yes, even more than he already has), the youngest starter at 25 years old for Phoenix. Age is a problem for the Suns; four starters are 32 years or older. But they are definitely going to compete in the West. Number 5 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.
3. Los Angeles Clippers: The Clip Show had a great offseason, signing all star point guard Baron Davis, formerly of the Golden State Warriors. They also traded for defensive stalwart Marcus Camby from the now and then D-less Enver, a big man who averaged 3.6 blocks per game last year. They also had a good draft, selecting two guard Eric Gordon from Indiana and forward DeAndre Jordan from Texas A&M. They have a great frontcourt with Camby and Chris Kaman, an improving soph swingman in Al Thornton, a solid veteran shooting guard in Cuttino Mobley, and a pretty good bench (Tim Thomas, Ricky Davis, Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan, Jason Hart). The Clippers don't look as terrible as other years, but they still won't compete that well in the Western Conference.
4. Golden State Warriors: The Warriors lost their marquee player to the above mentioned Clippers, but they acquired an important player from LA as they took one from Golden State, signing G-F Corey Maggette. Maggette averaged over 22 points and 5 rebounds last year, an addition that evens out the scoring that they lost when Baron Davis signed with the Clippers. This offseason they also signed energyman forward Ronny Turiaf, with him leaving the powerhouse that is the Lakers. But the Warriors have a gaping whole at point guard due to the Monta Ellis moped incident, putting those duties on the shoulders of the young Marcus Williams. Is he up to the job?
5. Sacramento Kings: The leader of this team, shooting guard Kevin Martin, is one of the most under-the-radar stars in the NBA because he plays on a subpar team. With three real scoring threats in Martin, Brad Miller and John Salmons, the Kings are primed to struggle this year in the great Western Conference; their weak lineup isn't set to compete very well against the rest of the league. But Martin is a player to watch here, his numbers have increased every year. The Kings won't make much noise at all, but Kevin Martin just might.
First Round: Celitcs over Wizards (5 games), Cavaliers over Hawks (5 games), Sixers over Raptors (7 games), Pistons over Magic (7 games)
Second Round: Celtics over Pistons (6 games), Cavaliers over Sixers (6 games)
Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Celtics (7 games)
First Round: Lakers over Mavericks (4 games), Hornets over Jazz (4 games), Rockets over Trailblazers (5 games), Spurs over Suns (7 games)
Second Round: Lakers over Spurs (6 games), Hornets over Rockets (6 games)
Western Conference Finals: Hornets over Lakers (7 games)
Hornets over Cavaliers in 7 games. Chris Paul and his supporting all-stars will give him the right tools to lead, giving them a victory over the LeBron-powered Cavaliers. Posey will step up, delivering at the right time, like he always does, and Paul will cap off a great season with a Larry O'Brien Trophy.
MVP: LeBron James
This year, Bron will finally get the credit that he deserves with an MVP award. Kobe won it last year, but Bron is improving and only 23 years old, so James will show his incredible talent and ability to it's full this year, leading the Cavs to the Finals.
Rookie of the Year: Michael Beasley
Beasley will have a great opportunity to show his raw talent and scoring ability in Miami because he will start right off the bat, getting a better chance to prove himself than his fellow class of '08 players.
Defensive Player of the Year: Kevin Garnett
KG will keep up his defensive dominance on the best defensive team in the league this year, even though it will be close between him and new Rocket Ron Artest.
Sixth Man Award: Lamar Odom
Usually a starter on a great team, Odom has to settle on being a bench player on an outstanding team, and with his great ability (I hate to say this) Odom is the best man off the bench in the league.
Most Improved Player: Andrew Bynum
If Bynum lives up to his limitless potential, which I predict he will, he will truly deserve this award after his disastrous injury and subpar first year.
Coach of the Year: Nate McMillan
Portland will be increasingly better than other years in 08-09, giving him a chance to mentor the younger players, and if everything goes according to plan, this will be well deserved.
Executive of the Year: Kevin Pritchard
The 41 year old GM of the Blazers kept the young core of the team together while saving a lot of cap space for a potentially big signing next summer. A good showing in the West wouldn't hurt this bid either.
So, there you go. I got some big predictions here, and it should be a great season.
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