Thursday, November 04, 2004

2004-2005 Eastern Conference Preview

by Anthony Peretore

Let’s face the facts: the majority of women get their kicks from following every love affair, heartache, drama and tear-jerking happy ending that circulates through cable television. Be careful when your wife or mother had control of the remote last because there are 98% odds that the Lifetime channel was left on airing one of those “Stella: The Breast Augmentation that went Terribly Wrong” movies, just waiting to peak your curiosity. Need drama but aren’t content with completely destroying your masculinity? Well, there is a daily, eight month drama called the NBA that is “okay” for men to watch (and maybe women, too) and won’t leave you wondering if you look fat in your jeans. With the countless story lines guarenteed to arise in the NBA, the game itself frequently gets lost in all the turmoil. For instance, on opening night, instead of enjoying the defending champion Pistons victory over the Rockets, I was left wondering why the hell Antonio McDyess punted the basketball 73 yards after being called for a blatant personal foul. The same purposeful drama that network television shows provide their viewers can be also be seen (but unintentionally) almost every night in the NBA. Whether your cup of tea is watching Ron Artest break $126,000 worth of camera equipment, wondering if Yao really understands what the hell Patrick Ewing is saying to him, contemplating how Stan Van Gundy has so much hair and his brother Jeff has none, or just your love of the game itself, the NBA has it all. There are relatively no guarantees before the start of this or any season, but attempting to predict where each team stands never hurts. Here goes nothing….

From the least to the beast of the Eastern Conference:

15. Charlotte Bobcats
It will be awfully fun watching the worst professional basketball team in the history of the universe playing for the owner of the BET channel, won’t it? Asking your buddies when Chingy gets off the injured-list or how many rebounds Fat Joe had last night will never get old. If this team wins 15 games it will be a shock. The debut of the Bobcats in the playoffs and the human ability to travel in warp speed should come in the same three-year span.

14. Atlanta Hawks
I’ll make this quick and painless like ripping off a Band-Aid (although that always seems to hurt worse). Antoine Walker and Al Harrington should combine for at least fifty shots per game which is good considering Kenny Anderson can’t even hit rim beyond 15 feet. Jason Collier is the next disastrous Caucasian NBA center that hasn’t gotten a Shaq elbow to the face just yet. Rookie Josh Childress “bulked up” to 114 lbs. in training camp and is ready to be a starter. And by the way, I bet that no more than ten people on planet Earth can name the Hawks’ head coach. Translation: at least the Falcons are decent.

13. Chicago Bulls
Has any team faired any worse with so much talent in the last five seasons? The Bulls have not come close to making the playoffs since Jordan retired six years ago, going an abysmal 119-341 during that stretch. Once again, their lineup is chock full of talent, but another 30-win season seems evident. Point guard Kirk Hinrich is that kid on the playground that looks like he sucks but tools you all game long until you hit him with that “inadvertent” elbow to the throat. Ben Gordon will not even finish in the top 5 for Rookie of the Year voting, trust me on this. At small forward, Chicago is attempting to throw in Argentinean Andres Nocioni into the mix, which is only slowing down the progression of Luol Deng (and Krause wonders why his talent has taken so long to pan out). Rounding out the starting lineup are Tyson Chandler (97 lbs. soak and wet) and Eddy Curry (300-lbs. bone dry) who really need to switch diets, and quickly. If all their talent does indeed pan out, the Bulls have a distant shot at the 8 seed. This organization however, just seems trapped in a steady regression and there's no reason to expect otherwise this coming season.

12. New Jersey Nets
I remember growing up and refusing to go to a Nets game even if they were playing the Bulls; they were that bad. Apparently New Jersey’s front office has no recollection of this and has no problem with selling out only a quarter of their arena every night. With Kenyon Martin in Denver, Kerry Kittles with the Clips, and Jason Kidd just plain pissed, this has the makings of a very long year in the armpit of America. Just for kicks, “The Top 5 Things Bothering Coach Lawrence Frank this Preseason:” 1. Waking up in a cold sweat realizing that Travis Best’s last start had him paired in a backcourt with “Jesus Shuttlesworth.” 2. Deciding whether or not he can really trust someone on a basketball court that looks like Brian Scalabrine 3. Constantly trying to determine if Aaron Williams is white 4. Having to see Richard Jefferson’s “RJ” tattoo that looks like a 5 year-old drew it. 5. Having no choice but to include Rodney Buford in his 8-man rotation. This season should be a lot of fun, especially after they trade Kidd for Shariff Abdur-Rahim and Sebastian Telfair. That should work out well.

11. Toronto Raptors
Okay, where to begin? Pardon me for not believing in a team with “Skip to my Lou” as their starting point guard. Although, I bet he can convince Coach Sam Mitchell that throwing the ball through a defender’s legs off the glass for a tip-dunk is the team’s best out-of-bounds play. Next, Vince Carter finally realized that Canada is not a cool place to live or play basketball. Upon his trade request (nice way of saying demand) the team declined and told him to make Toronto a winner. That should work out just fine. On a brighter note, Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall absolutely dominate the NBA…for exactly one month of each NBA season. Why these two can’t put it together for the whole year is beyond anyone’s common knowledge. Seriously though, no really, Chris Bosh is a stud and should thrive now that he is returning to his natural power forward position. No one should worry about their center position either. The team brought in Loren Woods (BUST) and drafted Eduardo Najera’s brother Rafael Araujo with the 10th overall pick; not the most promising duo. This team could honestly win 45 games, but they probably just don’t feel like it.

10. Milwaukee Bucks
I may be underestimating this team a great deal, but losing T.J. Ford, and Damon Jones for that matter, will severely effect this team. This team thrived mainly due to their solid point guard play last season and with Mike James and Mo Williams manning the position this season, the Bucks are in a lot of trouble. Sure Michael Redd broke out last season and should compliment the inside-outside game of Keith Van Horn rather well. But, their inside game is reliant upon former 1st overall pick Joe Smith, Daniel Santiago, Dan Gadzuric, and Zaza Puchulia. Sorry for not being able to imagine anyone saying “And that’s Zaza’s 18th double-double this season.” Desmond Mason, who I’m convinced if he didn’t win that slam-dunk contest would probably never be mentioned at all, provides some spark off the bench. Overall, this team could and possibly should sneak into the playoffs, but without Ford for an extended period of time, they will struggle.

9. Washington Wizards
First of all, no one could come up with a better name for this team than the Wizards? Honestly, a man with a cape and a pointy hat with moons and stars on it really strikes fear in opponents? Since the name change, the Washington franchise has yet to reach the playoffs. Injuries, bad trades, first-round busts and Michael Jordan have all added to this team’s demise. This year however, the Wiz should be on the playoff bubble. Gilbert Arenas has shown signs of becoming an All-Star for years to come, but missed 27 games last year due to injury. Antawn (the Favre of the NBA) Jamison was brought in from Dallas and should become the focal point of the team’s inside game. Kwame Brown, Larry Hughes and Brendan Haywood finish off a nice starting five. If they can stay healthy and play some D, look for this team to challenge a handful of others for that final playoff spot.

8. New York Knicks
Hiring Isiah Thomas as Director of Basketball Operations is like hiring Stevie Wonder to land planes for Delta. From the time Thomas got to New York to the end of the season, one starter remained in Kurt Thomas. Stephon Marbury is one of the more talented players in the league, but has never advanced in a playoff series in his career. Is that due to the teams he was on or his ability to step up as a leader? Jamal Crawford is an exciting young talent, but its easy to imagine him getting frustrated with all the shots Starbury will be taking. Michael Sweetney has lost weight and has looked extremely quick on his feet this preseason. Look for him to crack the starting lineup before mid-season for he is a star in the making. I am currently taking bets that Nazr Mohammed will be the first player traded by Isiah this season. The over/under is set at the end of the first half of opening night. One thing is for sure, if things break down expect Thomas to try and fix them. And if things are running smoothly, expect Thomas to try and break them.

7. Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James is a great basketball player but not the best mathematician in the world. He thought that stardom+millions of dollars=get married at the age of 19. Isn’t that silly? Oh well, his marriage should make him a more disciplined player and allow him to peak his head into superstardom this season. King James leads a group of veterans and youth in Cleveland’s most anticipated season since Brad Daugherty and Craig Ehlo laced them up. (Speaking of Ehlo, it must suck to explain to everyone that you were the guy Jordan’s career gave birth on.) Eric Snow, Jeff McInnis and Zydrunas Ilgauskas form a solid veteran core with playoff experience. 4th-year forward and labeled under-achiever Drew Gooden was brought in to replace Carlos Boozer. Gooden, who will wear #90 this season, has had a fabulous preseason averaging a double-double in less than 30 minutes. So far he looks like he’s abandoned his lack of dedication and is primed to make the Cavs forget all about Boozer’s chest hair. This team has the potential to climb as high as a 5 seed or drop completely out of the playoffs. Gooden could be the determining factor.

6. Orlando Magic
Initially, most people believed that Orlando got the shady end of the stick in the Tracy McGrady deal. However, after the preseason Stevie Franchise and Cuttino Mobley had, the Magic are confident they can challenge the Heat in the Southeast Division. Orlando is another team whose success hinges on a few players. Grant Hill, who apparently operated on his own ankle the past few seasons, supposedly has his injury corrected and is primed for a big year. With his solid all-around game and veteran leadership, Hill will only make his teammates better and should step up as the captain of this team. The other determining factor is Dwight Howard, the #1 pick overall in this year’s draft. While he won’t average 18 boards and 8 blocks a game this season as he did last year at Southwest Christian High, he should improve steadily as the season progresses. At 6’11”, Howard put up solid rebounding numbers in the preseason but still needs to bulk up and improve his inside game. As soon as Howard realizes that kids with retainers are no longer guarding him, look for him to break out.

5. Boston Celtics
After an altercation with LeBron James in a preseason game last week, 5-time All Star Paul Pierce proceeded to spit at the Cleveland Cavaliers bench. Playing with a sore foot, he apparently became so enraged that he felt it necessary to hawk a loog at Ira Newble, of all people. If anything, this should be the beginning of a nasty mean streak in “The Truth” that could be highly beneficial or detrimental to the team’s success. Aside from Pierce, this Celts team has shaped up rather nicely after a surprisingly efficient off-season from Danny Ainge. After re-signing center Mark Blount, the Celts brought in disgruntled point guard Gary Payton from the Lakers. Initially, GP was angered by the trade to Boston saying he wanted to play close to his family in California, requesting Minnesota or Houston as possibly destinations. Apparently Gary has never seen a map of the United States. In the end, Payton agreed to come to Beantown and (storybook ending?) couldn’t be happier. The Celts hope he can serve as a mentor for younger players as well as provide veteran leadership during their playoff run. Expect Pierce to thrive off Payton’s presence and Blount to be even more effective down low with Raef Lafrentz returning to the lineup. However, if GP loses interest, look for the Celtics to fade fast.

4. Philadelphia 76ers
Hiring Jim O’Brien as head coach was the best thing Billy King could have done for his Philadelphia franchise. Obie is one of the few guys in the league that can and will get the most out of Allen Iverson. He has apparently intimidated A.I. so much that Iverson actually admitted last week to enjoying practice. “Practice? We talkin bout practice man.” Are there strippers in the locker rooms or Cristal in the coolers? What’s going on here? On the court, the good news is that Eric Snow is gone and the team will be able to run more frequently rather than remain in 1st gear. Iverson will run the point, upon his request, and you can bet he will do a damn good job. AI took it upon himself to be the vocal leader of the U.S. Olympic team and don’t think for one second he’s going to let up on his own team. Rookie Andre Iguodala, and veterans Aaron McKie, Kenny Thomas and Marc Jackson make up the rest of the starting five. Apparently Samuel Dalembert has digressed quite a bit from his break out second half last year. Obie may think it better for Jackson to start, but I have a bad feeling about Sammie getting lazy coming off the bench. Can’t you see him and Glenn Robinson clipping their toenails on the pine, not giving two cents if the team wins or loses? Nevertheless, expect O’Brien to get the very most out of this Philly squad.

3. Miami Heat
Originally, I didn’t have the Heat pencilled in as the third best team in the East, but there’s no way to bet against Shaq. If you think for one second he’s going to let Kobe average 38 PPG while he goes belly up in Miami, you’re sadly mistaken. Shaq is on a mission like no other. Remember in The Patriot when Mel Gibson has to face that guy in the final battle who killed his entire family? Well, picture Shaq without the sword and that weird hat and that’s the state of mind we should all expect from the “Big Aristotle.” In his eyes, he was driven out of L.A. for some selfish punk kid after winning three titles for them. Now he’s teamed with an up-and-coming superstar in Dwayne Wade and a team full of has-beens and have-not-yets. Look for Shaq to make something out of young forward Udonis Haslem. With “The Diesel” manning the middle, Haslem will be cleaning up the excess on the glass and taking advantage of the big man’s double–teams. Coach Stan Van Gundy was put in charge of a train wreck last season and now is in the driver’s seat to a possible Eastern Conference title.

2. Detroit Pistons
Big Shock, huh? How can the defending champs, who added depth this off-season not be favored in the East? Well, a lot of factors came together nicely for the Pistons in the playoffs last year. A young Indiana team and an exhausted Laker team were the final hurdles to the NBA Title. Now they have to deal with Rasheed Wallace and his awkward white patch of hair for an entire season. Chauncey Billups is not worthy of any MVP award, he was just playing against a pissed off and tired Gary Payton. The rest of their starters, Rip Hamilton, Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince are very solid players but Detroit’s weakness will come off their bench. Derrick Coleman and Elden Campbell (combined playing age of 107) will be collecting social security this year. Carlos Delfino has no NBA experience, Lindsey Hunter is just bad, and Antonio McDyess is punting balls with a surgically repaired knee. Also, the heartache in Athens will undoubtedly effect Larry Brown in some way. An abundance of tumultuous possibilities make it very difficult for something not to go wrong in Mo-town. Plus I just think simply, Indiana is better.

1. Indiana Pacers
I had Detroit here until Reggie Miller broke his hand, a blessing in disguise for the Pacers organization. Miller’s replacement will be Stephen Jackson, a proven winner and a legitimate scorer, evidenced the past two seasons by being a key performer for an NBA Champion in San Antonio and then putting up gaudy numbers in Atlanta last season. . Reggie is way past his prime and destined to bring his three-point arsenal off the bench. The entire organization, although they may not admit it, were giving each other high fives while Reggie was getting x-rayed. Miller shouldn’t be disappointed, for this season, once healthy, will be his best shot at a title. Jackson will take a bulk of the scoring load off small forward Ron Artest, something Reggie struggled to do last season. With Artest focused more on his defense rather than his jump shot, he will be far less frustrated and far more valuable. Jermaine O’Neal is an emerging superstar in this league and with Jamaal Tinsley having just signed a contract extension, all the pieces are in place to get this team the two more wins they fell short of last year. The key to it all is the masterful coaching of Rick Carlisle. He turned this young squad into a serious contender last year and made Larry Bird look like the front office genius he truly is. They’ll struggle with San Antonio in the Finals, but Jackson would like nothing more than to strike revenge on his old mates.

Western Conference coming soon.........


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