Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dwight Howard Ready To Take the Magic To the Top


1. ORLANDO MAGIC: Vince Carter was thrilled to get traded to Orlando. He lives there in the off season, but more importantly, playing behind D12 and Jameer Nelson means that VC finally gets his wish that he won’t be relied on to do all of the heavy lifting on offense. If this doesn’t make him happy, nothing ever will. Even though Gortat wanted out, retaining him was a huge coup for the Magic.

2. L.A. LAKERS: I’d still prefer to have Ariza over Artest simply because Ariza is won’t blow up at any point and also he thrived in his role as a sleeper on the Lakers offense. As long as Kobe stays healthy, the Lakers will likely finish atop the West, but should the Black Mamba go down for any reason and L.A. becomes vulnerable.

3. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: Make no mistake, while Shaq will still be effective, this team goes as far as LeBron takes them. The Cavs might as well try to grab S-Jax from the Warriors because for all his troubles, he’d be a solid addition to this team for this season, and after all, this season is all everything is about in Cleveland.

4. BOSTON CELTICS: The debate on whether or not Rajon Rondo is as good as advertised was answered in game seven against the Magic last season. Rafer Alston ignored Rondo on offense, instead gambling on double-teaming Pierce, daring Rondo to knock down jumpers. He struggled and the Magic destroyed the C’s. Rondo has a lot to prove this season.

5. DENVER NUGGETS: The surprise of last season, Denver faces the dreaded “expectations” this season. Anything less than a top four berth in the West will be disappointment. ‘Melo needs to show that he truly belongs in the conversation with LeBron and Dwyane.

6. SAN ANTONIO SPURS: The additions of Richard Jefferson and DeJuan Blair give the Spurs the injection of freshness they needed. With a rested Duncan and Ginobili, the Spurs will always be tough to beat and Popovich never allows for excuses. Expect another 50 wins, but a championship? Never discount San Antonio completely.

7. PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS: Brandon Roy’s first taste of post season action wasn’t a pleasant one. Somehow he still seems underrated. If Greg Oden comes good and if Andre Miller provides the steady hand needed at the point, the Blazers threaten to become the Lakers biggest challenge. Too many ifs? We’ll see.

8. MIAMI HEAT: Yes, Dwyane Wade is this good. As long as he stays healthy, Wade can carry this team to as high as fourth in the East, even though he won’t be able to rely on the wonky knees of Jermaine O’Neal to provide much help. Michael Beasley is an unknown quantity, but Mario Chalmers is good, very good.

9. DALLAS MAVERICKS: Had the Mavs been able to snag Gortat – and they very nearly did - it would have given them a boost. Instead they had to settle for Shawn Marion who will be hoping the Mavs play a run-and-gun style of play that he is perfectly suited to. Expect the Mavs to try to deal Josh Howard at some point.

10. ATLANTA HAWKS: A very impressive victory over the Heat in the playoffs was followed up by a thumping loss to the Cavs in the semis. Jamal Crawford was a solid addition but you have to figure that either Mike Woodson or Josh Smith won’t still be there at season’s end.

11. CHICAGO BULLS: It’s only his second season, but already the Bulls are Derrick Rose’s team. Tyrus Thomas finally showed signs of maturity last season and John Salmons provided a needed offensive spark. The Bulls need help defensively, but in Rose they have a stud.

12. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS: Okafor is an upgrade over Chandler from a health perspective, but the Hornets will miss Rasual Butler. Peja Stojakovic will always be a deadly shooter, but his continual health problems negate his effectiveness. Chris Paul is disgustingly good, but the Hornets need another scorer to compliment Paul and David West.

13. PHOENIX SUNS: Amare and Nash will run defenses ragged again, but it’s hard to see Phoenix doing much more than making up the numbers in the Western conference playoffs, something that was beyond reach last season. Will Amare still even being in Phoenix at the All-Star break?

14. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: The loss of Andre Miller was a surprise, but they get Elton Brand back. Eddie Jordan was the right choice to coach this team and expect big things from Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young who should continue their development. They’re not ready to win it all just yet, but there should be big strides made in Philly this season.

15. UTAH JAZZ: Whatever happens with Carlos Boozer – and it seems likely that he’ll be moved – Jerry Sloan will prevent complete chaos descending onto Salt Lake. They’ll make the playoffs again, like they always do, but can you really see them winning the title? Me neither.

16. DETROIT PISTONS: Last season couldn’t end quickly enough for Detroit. Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva are typical Joe Dumars signings – unloved, talented players who just need a home - and they may have found one in Motown. If Ben Wallace gets rejuvenated by his return, he could be the steal of the summer.

17. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: GM Sam Presti knows that Rome wasn’t built in a day and what he is constructing in OKC looks very promising. Durant we know is a stud and Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook have shown enough to suggest that the Thunder are on the right track and Presti is on the right track.

18. TORONTO RAPTORS: After last season’s disaster, GM Bryan Colangelo stressed the need for the Raptors to get better at rebounding to be tougher this season. Then he went out and signed the defensively challenged Hedo Turkoglu to a monster contract. Reggie Evans might add some toughness, but how much can he contribute if he only plays 15 minutes a night. Rookie DeMar DeRozan and Marco Bellinelli give Raptors fans hope, but any more than 42 wins will be a surprise.

19. HOUSTON ROCKETS: The loss of Yao hurts, but Rockets fans should be used to it by now. T-Mac’s best contribution to the team might be whoever Houston can dump his contract on. However, Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola and Trevor Ariza should prevent the Rockets from a complete meltdown and big man David Anderson might surprise a few with his versatility.

20. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: Up until they signed Allen Iverson, things were looking up in Memphis. Now it seems as though it will be another season of emptiness, despite the promise shown by O.J. Mayo and star-in-waiting Rudy Gay. I hope Zach Randolph can do a good Elvis impersonation.

21. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS: Larry Brown almost got the Bobby’s to the playoffs last season but the loss of Okafor hurts. D.J. Augustin will push Raymond Felton for the starting PG spot and on last season’s performance, he could be given the duties at some point. Expect a similar, un-sexy season from the Bobcats as last season, hovering around the eighth playoff spot.

22. INDIANA PACERS: Danny Granger doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Last season Indy took down the Lakers, Cavs and Celtics at home but still missed the playoffs, although only just. T.J. Ford is not the right guy at the point for Indiana, but he’s the best they’ve got since Jarrett Jack bolted for Toronto.

23. NEW JERSEY NETS: Rod Thorn has a knack for getting young legs for old. He did it with Devin Harris for Jason Kidd and he might have done it again with Courtney Lee for Vince Carter. Yi Jianlian hasn’t lived up to expectations yet and the Nets need him to come good this season, but even if he does, the Nets will be in a scrap for the playoffs.

24. MILWAUKEE BUCKS: Michael Redd has missed 88 games over the last three seasons and therefore his standing among the game’s elite has suffered. If the Bucks are to have any hope of making the playoffs, he MUST play in more than 75 games. Rookie Brandon Jennings has been lavished with praise so far in the preseason and should be among the top rookie vote getters at season’s end.

25. NEW YORK KNICKS: Just one question with the Knicks quest for LeBron James next summer. What happens if he stays in Cleveland? It’s a disgrace how shambolic the Knicks franchise has become. D’Antoni’s no defense style of play might be fun to watch, but it doesn’t work in the playoffs, not that New York will need to worry about that this season.

26. WASHINGTON WIZARDS: I’m still laughing that the NBA fined Gilbert Arenas for not talking to the media during the preseason. Note to the NBA: Enjoy the silence. If Agent Zero can return to his All-Star form, then Washington could be in the mix for a playoff berth, but if anything goes wrong, the Wizards are out of it. Caron Butler is a stud.

27. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: Kevin McHale’s time in ‘sota finally came to an end last season. Kurt Rambis gets his chance in the big chair and we could see just how effective he was as Phil Jackson’s assistant for so many years. Just how much did he learn much from the Zen Master, or was Rambis just a guy with great seats to Lakers home games? How the T’Wolves perform should give us our answer.

28. SACRAMENTO KINGS: The Kings do have a nice mix of players with Kevin Martin, Spencer Hawes, and rookie Tyreke Evans. If Sacramento can break into the teens in the power rankings by season’s end, it will have been a good season.

29. L.A. CLIPPERS: You want the Clippers to shake off 25 years of nothing, but somehow, it always goes wrong. On paper, with Baron Davis, Marcus Camby and the exciting Blake Griffin, the Clippers should be able to win 35-40 games, but history tells us that for one reason or another, it just won’t happen.

30. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: Complete chaos has engulfed the NBA’s second most dysfunctional franchise and the real stuff is still over a week away. Why can’t the Warriors be like the team from 2007 all of the time, rather than once every 15 years?

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