'06-07 NBA Preview--Northwest Division
The Northwest Division is in a dogfight with the Atlantic Division for the weakest division in the NBA. The Northwest is a definite step down from either the Southwest or Pacific; you could call the Northwest the red-headed stepson of the West Conf. if you like. Well, somebody has to win this division, and once again it should be the Nuggets. I don't expect much out of Portland once again this year, and they will be fighting for one of the top spots in the lottery again. I really do not see too much separation between Minny, Seattle or Utah. I mean they all have a chance of sneaking into the bottom of the West Conf. playoffs, but I can't see any of them getting out of the 1st round as presently constituted. Right now, I like the Jazz's chances the best for finishing second, but their collective health is a concern in Utah. Minny needs frontcourt help and Seattle must totally overhaul their defense, so both teams have major sticking points.
*-The teams are listed in alphabetical order with last year's record in parenthesis.
DENVER NUGGETS: (44-38, 1st in NW Division, 3rd in West, Lost 4-1 to LA Clips in 1st round)
Key additions: Joe Smith; JR Smith
Key losses: Francisco Elson; Ruben Patterson
For the last 3-4 summers the Nugs have needed to address their outside shooting and they continue to do a piss-poor job of filling the void. Getting JR Smith is a step in the right direction, but they still need more shooters to take pressure off Melo, especially come playoff time. The SG position is still a major question mark in Denver for what seems like the 20th straight season. JR Smith is going to have to mature quickly & most importantly drill his outside shots for the Nugs to advance in the playoffs.
A very crowded frontcourt, where I could definitely see locker-room tension to arise. Right now they have 4 PFs who combine for roughly $30 mil. They're paying Nene starter-type money, so something has to eventually to give; they are saying all the right things now (same thing every year in any training camp), but K. Martin has to go. K-Mart's contract is tricky to move, but if they can move him, make sure you receive a SG in return.
I really sense they loaded up on PFs with the intention of making a trade or trades before the trading deadline, or I hope that was their intention. Why they signed Reg Evans when they just added Joe Smith, makes no sense. How are the minutes going to be dispersed in the frontcourt? Why not go after K. Van Horn instead, he provides something the Nugs desparately need...SHOOTING. And supposedly Van Horn is living in Colorado right now.
But with all that said, this team is still the best team in the mediocre Northwest Division and should secure a top 4 seed in the West. Conf. I am sure they will continue to get out in transition (especially at home), and this should work again in the reg. season. Denver will go as far in the playoffs as their outside shooting will allow. If its as expected, Melo is going to see a steady diet of double & triple teams once again and the Nugs will get bounced in the 1st round again.
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES:(33-49; 4th in NW; 14th in West)
Key additions: Mike James; Randy Foye
Key losses: Marcus Banks
This team is lopsided in the opposite way that Denver is--they have too many guards, not enough bigs. This team is filled with combo guards who seem to overlap--T. Hudson, M. Jaric, R. Foye, M. James. None of them is a true point, to go along with Ricky Davis & an undersized 2 R. McCants. While this team is severely in need of frontcourt help, especially a starting caliber post option opposite KG (Mark Blount should not be starting). So something has to give where the T-Wolves move one of their surplus backcourt players (if not 2) for a big--they really should make a trade sometime this season to relieve the logjam in the backcourt & help their frontcourt.
Can this team find consistent scoring next to KG? Adding Mike James was a step in the right direction. He provides some much-needed long-range shooting that the T-Wolves are jonesing for since losing Wally & Hoiberg--only the Nugs were a worst 3pt. shooting team. Although, they could still use even some more, maybe a guy like Keith Van Horn could do the trick. Rookie Randy Foye looks like he's ready to make an impact right away with his great shot-creating ability. But make no mistake, he's not a point guard--he much more adept at creating shots for himself, not for others. He also could help Minny get to the foul line more, something they have been historically lacking since their inception.
Minny also needs to address their rebounding woes--they are near the bottom of the league in rebounding; having Blount as your starting center kind of leads to this problem. The aforementioned lack of frontcourt depth does not help this situation either.
I think the Wolves could be in the running for one of the last playoff spots, but they are in a very precarious position with KG's patience wearing thin (he just recently had a run-in with Trent Hassell). If this team does not get out to a good start, you could hear those KG trade rumors heat up again. To me, this is a team with little room for error, and if things get off to a bad start, I think this team could go in the tank and possibly finish below the Blazers.
PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS:(21-61; 5th in NW; 15th in West)
Key additions: Jamaal Magloire; Raef LaFrentz; Brandon Roy; Sergio Rodriguez; LaMarcus Aldridge; Dan Dickau
Key losses: Theo Ratliff; Bassy Telfair; Steve Blake; Brian Skinner
Well, probably the only West Conf. team you can assurdly count out of the playoff race before the season starts. Not much too really add here besides stating that obviously this will be a "rebuilding year" at the Rose Garden.
But, I will not be stunned if this team keeps games closer than one would expect. I think this team could be a very solid defensive unit. They have a demanding coach who worships defense, and they have some good defensive personnel for Nate to work with. J. Magloire & J. Przybilla give you a formidable one-two punch in the interior which should deter alot shots in the painted area. Also, the young backcourt of Jarrett Jack & Brandon Roy has the potential to be one of the best defensive backcourts in the league in the near future. I expect Roy to be fighting Adam Morrison for Rookie of the Year honors at the end of the season. Roy is going to be given the minutes & opportunities to put up good numbers and probably is the second scoring option behind Zach Randolph.
The deal for Magloire does not make sense from a personnel point of view long-term, but was a great move from a transactional angle since he should be a huge bargaining chip come February--they definitely hosed Milwaukee in this deal.
Maybe this team could be a bit better than expected and maybe somewhat like the Hornets last year. I guess I would not be stunned if this team finished in 3rd place, considering the Sonics & the Wolves could be ripe for disastrous seasons. But Blazer fans should probably just hope for last place because this is the year to tank with Greg Oden on the horizon.
SEATTLE SONICS:(35-47; 3rd in NW; 11th in West)
Key additions: Mickeal Gelabale; Saer Sene
Key losses: None
I just can't see things turning out well in Seattle this year. The whole relocation/ownership issues are going to be a major hindrance. Sorry, Seattle fans. But I guess you still have minor league hockey to look forward to--Go T-Birds!!!
I just do not think Bob Hill will make much of difference with the Sonics' major flaw--team defense. Last year's team was one of the worst defensive teams of all-time. And I don't see Hill making much of a dent in the reputation--and he barely improved them after he took over in the middle of last season. I feel Hill be one of the first coaches on the hot seat.
It does not help that he does not have much to work with individually on defense--L. Ridnour, Ray Allen, R. Lewis will never be in contention for all-defensive honors. And Chris Wilcox does not help either. Coach Dunleavy was never shy about pointing out that Wilcox could not get consistent minutes because his defense was severely lacking. It just happens the best pure defenders on the roster are all back-ups--Earl Watson, Damien Wilkins, & newcomer Frenchmen Mickeal Gelabale--an excellent active defender.
It is interesting to see Watson & Ridnour in a heated comp for the starting PG spot--which could be a good idea considering how the Sonics need to concentrate on defense. This team will probably once again be the Suns-lite on offense, where they try to jack up 3pts. as much as possible. Outside shooting is definitely Seattle's strong point.
The center position is still a question mark, but both Rob Swift & Johan Petro have shown minor glimpses of potential, just don't expect much this year. The other off-court issue to deal with is Rashard's contract which he can opt-out of this summer.
I just have a real hard time imagining that the Sonics can find a way into the playoffs. There are too many side issues to deal with and this team is also going to need a miraculous transformation on the defensive end which I can't fathom one bit.
UTAH JAZZ:(41-41; 2nd in NW; 9th in West)
Key additions: Ronnie Brewer; Derek Fisher
Key losses: Keith McLeod; Devin Brown
I feel this team has a great chance at a 2nd place NW finish and a strong chance at a 7 or 8 seed in the West. To think that this team was .500 & only 3 games behind Denver with the myriad of injuries last year bodes well for this year. But for a chance at the playoffs, the Jazz must have better luck with injuries than they did last year. Key players like C. Boozer, G. Giricek, Kirilenko, & M. Harpring missed significant time last year.
I thought they made a great draft day pick-up with Ronnie Brewer, who can step right in and help out their weakest spot, 2-guard. PG Deron Williams should continue to prosper--he shot the ball surprisingly well last year, something that was considered a weakness coming out of Illinois; we'll see if it was a fluke this year. They need his outside shooting because Utah was near the bottom of 3pt. attempts & percentage in the NBA-- although that was helped by Giricek being absent for 45 games. Having Giricek healthy & new acquistion Derek Fisher in the fold, outside shooting should not be that much of an issue.
Another minor issue for the Jazz to address is--turnovers--something you would not expect with a Sloan team. There is also a need for more athleticism on the frontline--why they re-signed J. Collins when they already had plodders like Araujo, Okur, & Boozer, I am not really sure.
If they can keep vets healthy, especially Boozer, & Brewer can step in to provide some athleticism on the perimeter, this team has an excellent shot at one of the last playoffs spots out West.