Tuesday, October 31, 2006

'06-07 Season Preview--Atlantic Division

Gets my vote as the worst division in the NBA, just below the Northwest. Really have only one team that has a legit shot to advance out of the 1st round of the playoffs. After the Nets, the other 4 teams could just have a tough haul getting into the playoffs, and could easily see a repeat of last year where only one Atlantic team makes the playoffs. The Nets are clearly the class of the division and can be considered a contender for the East crown. In my mind, the final 4 squads can be shuffled in any order. But right now I'm leaning toward Boston as having the best chance at 2nd place & a good shot at the 7 or 8 seed. Isiah hopes to inject positive vibes into his charges after a year ruined by Larry Brown's meglomania. The Raptors are trying to bring the Valley of the Sun to the Great White North. And the Sixers basically made no personnel changes to a flawed team with both of their star players a year older.

BOSTON CELTICS--(33-49; 3rd in Atl; 11th in East)
Key additions: Bassy Telfair; Rajon Rondo;
Key losses: Raef LaFrentz; Dan Dickau

Starting to gain steam as a sleeper pick to go along with Orlando. Their young guys have looked sharp in preseason, especially rookie Rajon Rondo, so there is more optimism for this season than during the summer. Do have a decent shot at one of the last East playoff spots but will have to fight with Orlando, Wash., MIlwaukee, & Philly.

This team is deep at the wings with Paul Pierce & Wally their main options, and their PG situation is looking better by the day. To me, it will be the play of their frontline that will make the difference either for this team to make the playoffs or prepare for the Greg Oden sweepstakes. They need Al Jefferson & Kendrick Perkins to step up to the plate big time. Right now I do not have a clue how these guys will fare this year. I have better vibes about Jefferson improving, but I am skeptical of Perkins. And Theo Ratliff is not getting younger, so the center position is certainly shaky.

Rondo has been looking like a stud in the preseason and could easily supplant Telfair of the starting PG duties by mid-season. Even with his subpar outside shot, he has been putting up nice all-around numbers so far. Maybe a pure point guard can help cut down on turnovers--the Celts were the 2nd worst in the NBA.

Boston's defense was not great last year and does need to be tighten to make a run at the playoffs a possiblity. I have to admit, the Celts have looked intriguing in the preseason and I am starting to warm to the fact they are a serious playoff contender, after being lukewarm on their chances during the summer. But it will not be easy, because they will have to jump teams like the Magic & the Wizards to make it to the postseason.

NJ NETS--(49-33; 1st in Atl; 3rd in East)
Key additions: Marcus Williams; Josh Boone; Eddie House; Hassan Adams
Key losses: Jacque Vaughan; Zoran Planinic; Lamond Murray

Have a chance to win the East, but a few people don't even see them winning the Atlantic (Not sure what Hollinger's thinking), which I find very hard to fathom. NJ should win this division easy, barring an injury to their big 3.

People forget how tough they played the Heat in the 2nd round. It might have been only 5 games, but the last 3 games of the series were close encounters and the Nets had great chances to win each game. In Game 3 & 4, the Nets primarily lost those games by making a handful of bad decisions (TOs & bad shots) at the wrong time in the 4th quarter and D Wade needed to drill a buzzer-beater in Game 5 to avoid sending the series back to Jersey. It's not like the Heat's talent was overwhelmingly superior, if the Nets took better care of the ball, they had great chances to win the last 3 games.

They had a great draft, they filled two huge needs--back-up PG & role-playing 4. Not surprisingly, PG Marcus Williams looks like a seasoned vet already and should hold the fort down quite well when Kidd is resting. Josh Boone starts the year with a bum shoulder, but he does fill the glaring hole for a true PF, especially one that rebounds, defends & runs the floor well.

No doubt the bench is the biggest question mark with this team. Antoine Wright has looked promising in the pre-season and Nachbar has the ability to contribute some productive minutes, but both are still unproven. The frontcourt depth is a little unsettled. Uncle Spliffy is back, but he was drafted in the 80s, so how much can he have left in the tank. The aforementioned Marcus Williams surely helps the bench corps and when Boone gets healthy he should provide some much needed athleticism in the post.

Vince Carter needs to attack the bucket more consistently and not settle for off-balance jumpers so much. Especially with the new rules, he can be as unstoppable as Wade, Bron, & Kobe.

NJ needs to up the pace and get back some of their fast-breaking mojo that worked so well a few years ago. This team has the talent to score more than the 93.8 ppg of last year. Underrated defensive team that should stay that way with Coach Frank at the helm.

Sort of tied into the bench issues, is the need for 3pt. shooters--Nets were near the bottom of the league in 3pt %. The Nets semi-addressed the problem by signing Ed House (although he could be injured awhile), but still could probably use some more outside help. They will hope A. Wright & Nachbar can add some long-range marksmanship.

I think this team will cruise to an Atlantic title, if their starting core stays healthy, and is assured of at least the #4 seed in the East. Hollinger is way too negative on these guys--I think he's taking the point differ. from last year too far. This team is capable of scoring high 90s if they put their mind to it. This team does not get mentioned enough with the contenders for the East, but I have them squarely in the thick of things with the Heat, Bulls, Pacers, Pistons, & Cavs.

NY KNICKS--(23-59; 5th in Atl; 15th in East)
Key Additions: Jared Jeffries; Renaldo Balkman
Key losses: Mo Taylor; Jalen Rose; Jackie Butler

I expect better things from them this year. I really think this team is going to respond well to Isiah this year, and even has an outside chance at playoff spot. I really do. There is plenty of talent here, it's just getting it to mesh together and to play a shred of defense.

I really liked the signing of Jared Jeffries, who provides a role-playing, defensive SF. This team needed to add role players to offset all the ball-dominant chuckers and Jeffries provides the little things, especially much needed defense. I think this is what Thomas was trying to accomplish with the pick of Balkman, so I did not totally rip Isiah for this pick because I thought the Knicks biggest need was a role-playing SF.

Still not sure how Marbury & Francis can co-exist in the starting backcourt. I just can't see this as a long-term solution. Also, can this team build some sort of chemistry? Interested to see how Isiah divvies out minutes in the backcourt with guys like Crawford, Nate Robinson, & Q Richardson looking for serious burn behind Francis & Marbury. Lots of areas for dissention in the locker room.

Plain & simple, the Knicks have to ratchet things up quite a bit on defense. Will Isiah be able to do it? No clue. The Knicks were dead last in the league in TOs, and I can't see that changing for the better with the biggest culprits returning, combined with Isiah's insistence on a helter-skleter pace.

They will more than likely be shut out of the playoffs once again, but I would not be stunned if this team did steal a #8 seed. I just have these good vibes that Isiah will light a fire under this roster and expect the players to respond well-- just a gut feeling. But then again, there is a solid chance we are headed for another season with clashing egos & petty melodramas that end up with Isiah out on the street. As always with New York, stay tuned.

PHILADELPHIA SIXERS--(38-44; 2nd in Atl; 9th in East)
Key additons: Rodney Carney; Bobby Jones
Key losses: John Salmons

Have to say, I don't like where this team is headed. The Sixers needed to make some changes this off-season, and they failed miserably. Did not answer either of their biggest holes--PG and back-up PF. For a guy whose job is on slippery ground, Billy King did not pick a good time to have an inactive summer. Although, he's probably not too worried because I bet he has a GM gig waiting for him in Memphis, you know with Dukies running the show.

Basically, can this team ante up on the defensive end, is the main question They are saying the right things currently, but everything is rosy during training camp & I'm not buying it. The problem rests with Mo Cheeks--he is too nice. Sorry, but 9 times out of 10, Nice guy coach = bad team defense. It's just one of my tried & true basketball theorems. I just don't have good vibes about this team. Made very few changes in the off-season for a team that needed to make some changes.

Also, this team has point guard issues. I thought they made a mistake by passing on all the points available and instead taking Rod Carney. Don't get me wrong, I think Carney has wonderful potential, I just did not think he was as big a need with Iggy already on board, and this team did not have a quality true point. Right now, they decided to move AI back to the 2, and start Kevin Ollie, while they could be starting Marcus Williams or Rondo right now.

The depth on the frontline is a big issue as well. Steve Hunter was a mild disappointment and they have basically nothing behind Webber, who's health is always precarious. Sorry, but Shavlik is barely NBDL-worthy.

For a team that did not make many moves during the off-season, I see a good chance of moves being made in-season, except the head coach & GM could be the ones to move on. If AI & C-Webb can stay relatively healthy & this team performs better on defense (dubious), they have the ability for a 7 or 8 seed. I mean Iverson is still involved, so the Sixers can never be completely discarded from playoff considersation.

TORONTO RAPTORS--(27-55; 4th in Atl; 12th in East)
Key adds: A. Bargnani; A. Parker; J. Garbajosa; F. Jones; TJ Ford; R. Nesterovic
Key losses: Mike James; Charllie Villanueva; Rafeal Araujo; Matt Bonner

The Raps look to be turning their fortunes around this year. New GM Bryan Colangelo has really made a splash in his few first months on the job by changing the identity of the Raps, in an attempt to copy the success of the Suns. He definitely wants an up-tempo system (see TJ Ford) with a heavy Euro influence (see Bargnani, Rasho, Garbajosa). But it will take some time before the Raps come close to duplicating the Suns' success.

What goes overlooked about this team was how they scored the ball fairly well in '05-06. It starts with emerging star Chris Bosh, who is extremely well-rounded & very efficient. Losing Mike James hurts to a degree, but they brought in more of a true point in Ford, who looks to push the pace.

Colangelo did a great job grabbing a collection of experienced vets from around the globe to expediate the rebuliding effort. Besides Ford, Euroleague star Anthony Parker can step right in to provide some offense immediately at the wing. Love the signing of Fred Jones--an explosive wing who has rounded out his game over the last couple years & has looked good in the preseason. Don't expect a whole lot out of #1 pick A. Bargnani this year with him more than likely backing up Bosh.

Huge fan of Euro vet Jorge Garbajosa who was huge to Spain's Gold medal run this summer. As I like to call him--the Euro Rob Horry. The ultimate role player. He brings outside shooting, rebounding, sneaky drives, drawn fouls, and great overall defense (one of the best help defenders I've seen). Huge in Gold Medal game. I think he can draw some 4s away from the basket with his shooting & can pick up some fouls with his deceptive drives, but he could have trouble as an individual defender. Although, I am confident he can figure out ways to contribute.

Although, the offense was nice last year, the defense was awful. I think this will ultimately hold the team back this year, because I can't see a drastic improvement with Sam Mitchell in charge. To go along with the bad defense, the Raps were near the bottom in rebounding as well. Rasho might help a little, but I they will need Garbajosa & Bargnani to help on the glass; Bargnani's main flaw is his rebounding, so the rebs. could be tough to come by once again.

I don't think the fans should have huge expectations this year and have to give Colangelo & Co. time to perfect their business plan. But I would not totally eliminate them from playoff consideration at this point, but their chances are very slim.

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