This second part got delayed, so some of the initial thoughts I wrote below have already changed, so in brackets I have my revised thoughts also for The Trailblazers & The Wizards. If you missed the first part, check here.
Milwaukee – Everyone’s talked about how awful this team will be after they gave away Richard Jefferson, Charlie Villanueva & Ramon Sessions, but we all forgot one thing. Scott Skiles is a damn good defensive coach. Yes, eventually his players grow tired of him, but before that happens he’s great at making his guys give it all on every single defensive possession. Plus, Brandon Jennings seems more ready than anyone expected. The question is whether Skiles will let the inconsistent rookie play through his mistakes, or will Skiles do what he did last year where he preferred the more reliable but unexciting Luke Ridnour?
Minnesota – Kevin Love’s broken hand is a bummer, but they can survive that. Al Jefferson’s Achilles’ issues are another problem ‘cuz if they linger, he’ll get thrown into that “Injury Prone” category that makes it tough to build a team around him. Flynn’s been looking good, and it’s possible Sessions could see less than 20 minutes/night since Rambis won’t play the two together. Could that end up being an issue? Hope it won’t, ‘cuz there are so many other problems with this team now.
New Jersey – Courtney Lee, Terrence Williams & Chris Douglas-Roberts-Johnson-Miller-MacCartle-Kraken-Silverstein look excited to be allowed to roam free. Brook Lopez of course will be solid (which considering how weak the center spot is in the league, means he’ll be really, really good). However, Devin Harris looks like he spent the off-season getting health tips from Corey Maggette, Gerald Wallace & Marcus Camby. He’s gonna miss a lot, lot, lot, lot o’ games. And good golly will the Nets suck hard in those. They’ll still be bad even when he is there, but when he’s out, expect the game to be over by halftime.
New Orleans – These guys are my new candidate to join Portland and Golden State as Team Most Likely To Self-Implode. Word is teammates are annoyed that Okafor didn’t return to practice until a while after team doctors had cleared him. Chris Paul was bummed enough as it is with the team having traded away friend Chandler and then giving away the solid Rasual Butler. Throw in the fact that things got icy between him and Byron Scott last year, mix in that CP3 took like 3 games off in the pre-season for the flu, and things may go boom. To get a better idea of how things may explode, take a look at Scott’s last year with the Nets when his team got sick of him then too.
New York – If this team only played against the Nets and Jews, they’d be surefire contenders. Gallinari has yet to live up to D’Antoni’s initial claim of “the best shooter ever, even if God were to come down and take the form of the combined bodies of Reggie Miller & Larry Bird.”
Oklahoma City – This is the year Durant explodes onto the next level. More and more though it’s looking like the Thunder won’t be joining him.
Orlando – I was concerned their O would take a while to gel since so much of it ran thru Hedo, but I hadn’t realized that it doesn’t matter ‘cuz their D will be ferocious from the get-go. And their O’s looked pretty darn good with great newfound bench production from Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson, Matt Barnes & a better-than-ever Marcin Gortat. I was also worried about Rashard Lewis missing the first 10 games, but their schedule’s pretty easy during that time. These guys are not satisfied with just having made it to the finals last year and have a hunger that I hadn’t expected. I think they’ll be the top dog in the east (just a few weeks ago I had thought they’d be #3 and would come out of the gate slower than the Hawks — If it’s not too late I totally wanna take those back).
Philadelphia – Brand supposedly looks slow and out of sync. Eddie Jordan had initially raved about Sam Dalembert, but Dal then proceeded to do nuthin’ during the pre-season except maybe try to help Mareese Speights win the center spot from him. However Jordan’s damn good (that sentence must’ve been written, what, a kajillion times? Sure, diff Jordan, but a name is a name is a name). Jordan’s Princeton offense, which doesn’t rely on a traditional PG, will do wonders for a team that no longer has a top traditional PG, allowing Lou Williams, Iguodala & Thaddeus Young to be beasts.
Phoenix – The offense isn’t quite back to the way it was in the good ol’ days. Channing Frye’s been the starting center and averaging about 3 rebounds. And somehow this team got constantly outrebounded. Jason Richardson still hasn’t broken out like everyone assumed he would in this offense. He’s had half a year, plus a whole training camp this time around — if it don’t happen soon, it ain’t gonna happen.
Portland – Andre Miller’s started saying the right things now about how he’s fine with coming off the bench, but I’m worried that Pandora’s box has been opened and it’s too late to shut it. Playing time issues will also occur with Martell Webster healthy and fighting with Travis Outlaw & Nick Batum. Rudy Fernandez also probably wants an increase in minutes, but he’s stuck behind Roy. Last year he sometimes got some minutes in place of a PG or SF, but with both those spots more stacked this year, there’s no extra minutes to spare. Add in that fans are clamoring for Oden to start (not realizing that while Pryzbilla can’t give the highlight reel plays, he’s an amazing team defender who’s always in the right place to anchor the D). [UPDATE: With news of Batum’s torn labrum, I hate to say it, but I think it might be best for the team & should help the team start off the season with everyone happy. Also, Oden was announced as starter which should help with morale too, so I might climb down from soapbox & stop saying this team could self-destruct.]
Sacramento – Tyreke Evans is poised to have one of those seasons where a player looks great ‘cuz they’re on an awful team. He’ll score and get assists, but his fg% looks to be awful and he may easily lead the league in turnovers. Sean May seems to be the starting center, and while Hawes will likely reclaim that spot, it’ll be nice to finally get a chance to see if May has what it takes to play with the big boys.
San Antonio – DeJuan Blair & George Hill have been great, but they still have little to do with the Spurs’ success at this point. Pop’s been playing Duncan & Ginobili with kid gloves (as he should), so this team, as usual, will come out of the gate slow. I’m actually more concerned about Ginobili than Duncan ‘cuz big men can still be effective even once they slow down.
Toronto – Everyone’s felt that this is the year Calderon, now healthy, would make the next step. He had only one decent game the whole pre-season, and with Hedo sitting out most of it, Jose was the one initiating the O the whole time. Of course with Hedo not playing, it’s hard to get a read on these guys. They sucked, but Bosh also missed a couple of games. They won’t be this bad, but people who’re expecting Hedo to be Toronto’s Bball Messiah are in for a loooong season.
Utah – Despite possible Boozer distractions, the team played well in the pre-season. With Korver and Brewer injured, the wing positions look more vulnerable than ever. Also, while these guys can score with the best of ‘em, the questions are can they defend with the mediocrest of ‘em, and can they win regularly outside of Salt Lake?
Washington – Arenas was rounding into form, but Jamison’s injury could cause this whole fragile deck of cards to fall apart. Butler will step it up while Antawn’s out, but for them to survive this early part of the schedule, they’re gonna need Arenas to instantly be Agent Zero again, and I don’t think he’s ready for that yet. [UPDATE: After seeing highlights of last night’s game, clearly Arenas already has what it takes to hold his team together until Antawn’s back. Caron didn’t even have a particularly great game, yet still the Wiz beat a solid team, the Mavs, in Dallas after the Wiz only won 3 away games all of last year.]