Thursday, October 30, 2008

ESPN The Magazine's Blogger Preview

ESPN The Magazine kindly invited us to take part in a blogger preview of the 2008-09 NBA season which appeared online.

We were thrilled to participate, along with many of our favorite fellow NBA bloggers. A couple of our answers made it into the published story. Here are our complete responses:

1. Dissect this statement: The NBA Finals will again be Lakers vs. Celtics.
Yes to Lakers in Finals, Celts not so sure.... The uninspiring manner in which L.A. succumbed to Boston in the Finals still seems to be preeminent in people's minds, and somewhat obscuring the fact we may be on the cusp of a new Laker dynasty. The chief storyline of the season, in our minds, is: Just how good will the Lakers be?

L.A. doesn't really have a weakness -- they have great depth, versatility, size, multiple shooters, good passers who fit well in the Triangle, multiple post options (Bynum, Gasol, Odom, Walton) who pass well out of post, and Kobe. Should have no issues being the most efficient offense in the NBA, besides maybe the Jazz. The minor flaws that poked up in the playoffs -- rebounding & some interior defensive
toughness -- should be remedied with Bynum back. We think that, if the key players stay healthy, L.A. has a shot at 70 wins.

The C's are clearly one of the favorites in the East alongside Detroit & Cleveland. But don't forget Boston was extremely close to being knocked off by the Cavs, and were fortunate Ray Allen recovered his mojo just in time, and got key contributions from the likes of PJ Brown. They need Ray to be a consistent third option for another deep run, and we're dubious that can happen. Allen is 33 and has clearly lost some of his elusiveness.

2. Evaluate this: The Rockets' time has arrived.
On paper, if they can stay relatively healthy and get some better perimeter shooting from their role guys, Houston could challenge the Lakers for the Western crown.

It all just seems so fragile: the physical health of T-Mac & Yao, the mental health of Artest. Ultimately, we just don't believe in T-Mac as a championship-quality team leader - we don't believe in his body, his psyche or his shot selection. They may well get into the mid-to-upper 50s in regular-season wins, but we think the Rockets need to be re-made into a team that runs its offense primarily through Yao - and keep the big fella healthy - to be a true championship contender.

3. Is this the last year of the Spurs and Pistons as we knew them, or was that last year?
It was probably last year for both teams, though in a better way for Detroit, who has replenished its roster with young talent to begin to transition to a new era, than San Antonio, who hasn't.

As much as the Spurs have been justifiably praised for being an exceptionally well-run organization, the bottom line is that their dynastic run has still been built on two massive strokes of good luck: winning the Robinson and Duncan lotteries.

Now it seems as though San Antonio's luck has turned a bit: they consummated a trade for J.R. Smith at the 2006 deadline... but five minutes too late. They made a shrewd draft pick of Brazilian center Tiago Splitter at no. 28 in 2007... right before the tide turned and NBA-quality players started getting contracts lucrative enough to keep them in Europe, as Splitter did. Smith and Splitter are EXACTLY the type of young athletic players San Antonio desperately needs - the Spurs have had both players in their grasp, but bad luck, essentially, is why they're not on their 2008-09 roster.

4. Who you got for MVP and ROY?
ROY: Oden. Shades of a young Shaq with his ability to plow through guys for easy buckets. Should be a defensive presence right away. Probably looking at 17 ppg, 10 rpg, & 2-3 bpg. Also, helped by the fact the Blazers could (we said "could") win 50 games.

MVP: It's relatively easy for us to predict LeBron will be the best player. It's much harder to try to read the minds of MVP voters, whose rationales are elusive and ever-changing. They're very MSM that way.

5. Can Mike D'Antoni turn water into wine, or does that only work with fast-moving water?
This year, it will suffice simply to purify the contaminated, radioactive water into something consumable. We think people are underestimating how far things like a professional culture, a positive atmosphere, and an enjoyable style of play will go to lighten the mood and re-energize the Garden after last year's disaster.

The talent is hardly championship-quality, but it's much better than 23-win level, too. If D'Antoni does just an average job (and we think he's better than that), NY should see significant gains on the W side of the ledger.

6. Let's talk about the Blazers for a second. How good can they be?
We thought the Blazer fan base was a bit delusional during most of the offseason, but we've slowly come around to legitimacy of this squad, and now think the talk of 50 wins is possible.

This ballclub seems to get deeper by the day. All of a sudden, there's an impressive collection of wings: Roy, Rudy, Outlaw, Webster, Bayless, & even 19-year-old Nick Batum looks promising.

How legitimately good are they going to be? Part of that answer is dependent on the question: How much will the West decline? Phoenix, Denver, Golden State, San Antonio and Dallas could all be worse than they were last season. There could be an opportunity for Portland to take a big leap in the standings with even a modest improvement.

Now, some Blazers fans are still little too overzealous with whispers of conference finals plans, but Portland does have the goods to make a 1st round series tough for a top 4 seed.

7. Terry Porter is a head coach again. Really? How's that gonna work out?
Porter is the greatest D3 player of all time, so that's good for something. We always loved his game in Portland - TP was a stand-up guy who stepped it up in the clutch. But the Suns are looking instill a more defensive-minded approach, and Porter's teams in Milwaukee ranked 23rd and 28th in defensive efficiency. Even though they still have Nashy working the angles and Amare should have a gigantic year, the Suns aren't going to be the same League Pass must-watch they have been, and that makes us a little sad.

8. Who's your "breakout" player and team for this season?
Team: Don't sleep on the Timberwolves. They essentially added two and a half starters - with the additions of Mike Miller and Kevin Love, plus the return of Randy Foye, who missed 43 games - and Al Jefferson should continue to improve.

Research on 82games.com has shown that teams which have a strong preseason record after a sub-30 win season tend to improve significantly. You can look it up. The T-Wolves went 6-2 in October. Look out.

Player: We like J.R. Smith. He was 7th in the league in per-minute scoring last year - 7th! - at age 22, and there really may not be a player with a better combo of explosive athleticism and distance than the 6'6", 220-lb. Smith.

Plus, we think there's a good chance the Nugs will trade AI and his expiring deal, which will only open up more opportunity for J.R.

9. Based on D-Wade in Beijing, Marion and Beasley, what do you expect from the Heat this season?
As glorious a sight as D-Wade was to behold in Beijing, we're still concerned about his durability. Miami should be the most improved team in the league largely because they have nowhere to go but up, but if they only get 60-65 games from D-Wade, they'll be looking at another all-expenses-paid trip to beautiful Secaucus, N.J. come May.

10. The Numbers Game: For each of the following, please answer with a number, por favor.
a) Wins for the Thunder
1.92. Matching the $1.92 billion co-owner Aubrey McClendon lost in the stock market in October in the most karmic thing ever (can you tell we're based in Seattle?).

c) Where the 76ers finish in the East
5th. EB is nice, but they still can't shoot. And don't sleep on the Raptors.

f) Rasheed Wallace or Kobe Bryant techs
14 for Sheed. Both teams played hard.

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