SOSB'S 2012 NBA TEAM PREVIEW BONANZA: ALL 30 TEAMS IN ONE BIG ASS POST!

Here it is in all it’s majesty or whatever. As an alternative, here are quick links to all 30 team previews, organized by division:

CENTRAL 

SOUTHWEST

NORTHWEST

ATLANTIC

PACIFIC

SOUTHEAST

SOSB’S 2012 NBA TEAM PREVIEW BONANZA: CENTRAL DIVISION

Chicago has this one in the bank, period. Anyone arguing otherwise is either foolish or simply bored.

Still, there should be some fun to be had in these parts. Indiana is showing some signs of life, Milwaukee has a chance to bounce back after taking a major step back last year, Detroit looks like one of the suprise teams of the east (at to me) and Cleveland is, um, shitty.

Like, really shitty.

CHICAGO BULLS



Would you look at that calendar?

Wasn’t that long ago that the Bulls where stuck in a “good year-bad year” cycle, hamstrung by limited talent, some poor personnel decisions (they traded LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas, for example) and an owner who was afraid to spend money.

Then they hit the lottery. Literally.

That’s the NBA for you. Add Derek Rose to this team and three years later they have championship aspirations and a (once again) rabid fan base. Last year, they came up just short of the NBA Finals. This year, they’ll want more.

The Best Case: Championship. That’s the feeling with this team after watching them put up a spirited battle against Miami in last year’s playoffs. The hope is that with another year of maturity and continuity the Bulls can go the rest of the way. Yeah, the majority of the weight falls on Carlos Boozer, but just a few clutch plays and a little more scoring from anyone beside Rose might have been enough to get it done.

With that in mind, the Bulls snatched Rip Hamilton approximately 13 minutes after the Pistons cut him loose. If Hamilton can give them timely scoring and do just enough to keep defenses from smothering Rose, Chicago might have found the winning formula.

The Worst Case: Any kind of step backward, really. The entire windy city is buzzing with talks of multiple championships, from owner Jerry Reinsdorf to Rose to your average Michigan Avenue maintenance worker. For some teams, like the 2008 Lakers or Jordan’s old Bulls, falling just short of the prize is merely a prelude to glory. For plenty of other teams, it ends up being the peak. Just ask Chris Webber, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley and a million others.

That said, there are very few reasons to think this team wont be among the elite squads once again. Barring injury that is, but that’s a reality every team faces. Having a star the caliber of Rose just maker life easier, period.

The Bottom Line: Second verse, same as the first. Chicago doesn’t appear to have done alot to address why they fell shy last year, and there is no reason to expect Miami to be less formidable this time around. Rip Hamilton is an upgrade offensively but probably not enough to get them over the hump.

For this team, as important as winning today is, the effort to keep Rose in the fold for years to come should be the real objective. In their case, solving the first problem would probably take care of the second, and taking aggressive steps to upgrade the roster sooner than later is probably the wisest move they can make.

INDIANA PACERS





called this last year, more or less. Slowly but surely, Larry Bird and friends has re-shaped this roster, and Frank Vogel did a helluva job guiding this team to the playoffs after replacing Jim O’ Brien late in the season. If you’ve been paying attention to these guys at all, they’ve made a shrewd move after shrewd move in recent years. Now, they are starting to payoff in the form of a deep, promising young team that likes to play at a crowd-plaesing, up-and-down tempo.

The Best Case: 40 + wins and a top 4 play-off seed. Seriously. Signing David West was a master stroke, and they didn’t have to break the bank to do it. Now, they’ve got plenty of offensive-weapons to go with the athletes, and they can go 9 or 10 deep with quality NBA players.A starting five of Collison-Jones-Granger-West-Hibbert, with Hansbrough-Hill-George-Amundson-Stephenson off the bench?

Love it.

Oh, and did I mention they still have plenty of salary cap room?

The Worst Case: As crazy as it seems, alot of these young teams that surprise everyone and make the payoffs like Indiana did last year end up regressing, either through over-confidence or the fact that they simply weren’t that good to begin with. Shit, it happened to Milwaukee just last year. If you have a tough coach and a team full of guys wise enough to keep it all in perspective, you should continue to progress.

If not, you could easily struggle mightily.

The fate of at least this season probably rests on which way they go here.

The Bottom Line: Whole lot to love here. Young, talented team, hungry coach, smart guys in the front office. Indiana has three very important bases covered.

So yeah, they are in a good spot right now. Not just to win games, but the combination of cap space and young assets makes them a prime candidate to put together a big trade or two. After years of frustration, the Pacers are coming back around.

THE DETROIT PISTONS



For what it’s worth, I’ve got this crazy notion that the Pistons are gonna be a surprise team this year. First of al, I love Lawrence Frank as a coach for a team like this. Second, they’ve actually got some players here, even if they are all 6’7 or under. I think these guys are one smart trade away from being a playoff team.

That said, this team was a complete fucking mess last year, so much so that players actually attempted a mutiny in hopes of getting coach John Kuester fired. Anytime you can only scratch out 30 wins with a team that’s over the salary cap, it’s time to make some changes.

The Best Case: Frank establishes a concrete rotation and better-defined roles for this team and they thrive under his guidance. This team actually has some talent, even if it’s all on the perimeter. Getting rid of an unhappy of Rip Hamilton should work in an addition by subtraction sort of way, since that one less guy they need to keep happy.

Worst Case: A repeat of last year. If Frank jerks guys in and out of the lineup as Kuester did things will fall apart quickly and high paid guys mart check of mentally. Even worse, if they suffer any injuries on the frontline they’ll be in dire straits.

Bottom Line: I think the Pistons sneak in as the 8 seed. Call me crazy. I think there’s going to be just enough talent and cohesion to hover around .500, and if they manage to pull off a trade for frontcourt help they’ll be that much better off. Still, that’s probably the absolute ceiling for this team unless they make wholesale changes.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS



In last years’ Bucks preview I had them as a team on the rise. Keep in mind this is a team whose two significant off-seaon moves heading into last season were signing Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette.

I must have been tired the day I wrote that or something.

Yeah, the Bucks had a little bit of everything working against them last year, most notably being ravaged by the injury bug and the me-first tendencies of most of their key players.

Still, I wouldn’t write this team off just yet, especially after picking up Stephen Jackson for a song. As mercurial as he is, jackson is one of those players that seems to make every team he’s on better, even if he has a shelf life at each stop.

Either way, it’s never boring when Jackson is around.

The Best Case: Healthy Bogut, improved Jennings, happy Jackson. Gimme all three and the Bucks will make noise. Gimme two out of three and they’ll probably still contend for the last playoff spot. This roster is built to play defense and score a little, and Jackson will give them a huge boost there.

Not sure if there is much potential behind being a playoff team, but things can always be worse, especially in Milwaukee where it’s a yearly struggle just to remain relevant.

The Worst Case: I mean, this is a roster with Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden on it. Pretty much speaks for itself.

This isn’t a team that can coast on talent. These guys will win more often than not with effort and cohesion. Without it, it’ll get ugly and a hurry and coach Scott Skiles will be looking for employment elsewhere.

Bottom Line: I’m thinking playoffs, but I wouldnt bet much on it. These guys don’t have much margin for error really, and honestly I’m not sure why I was so optimistic about them last year. I dont see them being anything other than an above-average team at best, and I’m not sure how much upward mobility they have given the age and health of these guys. Even more, what big ticket free-agent are they likely to attract next year.

Like I said, it could always be worse.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS


And speaking of worse…

To be fair, the Cavs did luck into the #1 pick in the draft despite having only tiny odds to get it. Of course, it’ just their luck that they get the #1 choice in one of the weakest drafts in recent memory. And So it goes for a team still reeling from the betrayal of it’s prodigal son, LeBron James. Now, they must tread onward and attempt to put that memory, however painful it was, out of their minds.

Nice idea in theory, but it’s gonna take awhile.

The Best Case:


Oh, I don’t know. When expectations are this low, almost anything qualifies. As long as Kyrie Irving doesnt lose a limb or join the Marines, I’d say they are ahead of where they were last year.

Matter of fact, I’m gonna call an audible and ditch the format here.

This team is shitty. Really, truly, behind any expectations of glory. Sometimes, you’re just plain old bad. That’s the Cavaliers.

For today, they’ll be content to take almost-nightly whippings and pray that Irving and Tristan Thompson are capable of becoming high-level NBA players. For now, they’ll be looking toward next year, when they’ll have a ton of cap space and they can start building an actual team for the future.

And that’s it for 2012.

They’ll get ’em next year, and all that jazz.

-John Hathwell

THE DALLAS MAVERICKS

It all finally came together for Cuban’s boys last year. The heavy fan-favorites taught Miami a thing or two about team basketball and finishing things decisively to cap off one of the more memorable NBA seasons in quite some time. Interestingly, rather than do everything they could to keep all the pieces in place for another run, the Mavs have gone in a slightly different direction and shaken things up a little. Core pieces are gone, and fresh faces have arrived. It’s both good and bad, depending on your frame of mind.

The Best Case: Obviously, a second consecutive championship would be nice. With additions like a freshly motivated Lamar Odom, the still-hungry Vince Carter, and Delonte West, Dallas will be able to throw some perplexing looks at opposing teams. Look… I know Vince isn’t what he used to be and all that, but playing alongside Kidd and in that Carlisle-zone might truly be his personal best-case scenario. Anyway, the Mavs will also have a healthy Rodrigue Beaubois, who I watched basically not miss everything he shot in Portland last March. Combine all of this with the Matrix, Jet, that German guy, and a core that now knows what it takes, and you could see another solid press towards a ring.
The Worst Case: Keep this in mind: not only is Brendan Haywood your starting center, he’s your only center. The loss of Tyson Chandler hurts for that reason alone, but it’s probably more of a factor because he brought a toughness and a leadership that Dirk basically credited as one of the main reasons the Mavs were able to do what they did. Also, J.J Barea brought some kind of something last year, and he’s gone, too. Both guys were key contributors and a major part of the squad’s chemistry, so any time you mess with that, you’re asking for it (for what it’s worth, I don’t give a damn about the loss of Caron Butler). If you also consider that there might be a natural letdown, you could see a season where the Mavs coast into the playoffs on the backs of their talent, only to find themselves overwhelmed by matchup issues and teams with more complimentary units in the postseason. The group has their fair share of age, for sure, so the back-to-back-to-backs might have guys spending serious time with their loony ice treatments or whatever the hell.
The Bottom Line: I actually like what Dallas is doing… but not for the upcoming season. If a team is going to pay Barea what Minnesota did, then yes, let him go. Furthermore, it all appears to be part of a master plan to free up space for a run at a huge free agent or two next summer. This year, however, might see them take a step back. They’re too good to fall too far, but they could fall short. I’m intrigued by the prospect of Nowitzki-Odom offenses, and they’ve still got a lot of savvy out there. Still, I can’t get over that Haywood thing.
THE SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Forget it. It seems like I’ve been spitting the same old line about the Spurs finally getting old for years. Fact is, they have gotten old. Fortunately for them, it doesn’t seem to matter that much. I’m tired of predicting the end of an era and talking about Tiago Splitter like I did last year. The Spurs are, for all intents and purposes, back again and ready to compete.

The Best Case: Well, considering that this group is basically the definition of consistency over the past 80 years or whatever, it’s not unfathomable to think that they could be right in the thick of it come playoff time. All the pieces are back, and Tony Parker is now divorced (so it’s not “fucking around on your wife” anymore, Tony!), so the focus should be strong. If you pair the upper-level play of the San Antonio version of the “Big 3” with the Splitters, Gary Neals, and Kawhi Leonards (a cool draft pick) of the world, then you’ll get something good. It’s nothing new. Last I checked, Popovich was still the coach. In fact, the solidarity of the system could definitely work to their advantage in the face of the abbreviated season. On the other hand…
The Worst Case: … everyone could break down. You can’t tell me that Tim Duncan is looking forward to 7 games in 9 days, can you? The Spurs are smart enough to recognize that they’ll have to rest guys strategically, but they could also find out that their supporting cast isn’t as good as they might have hoped. Threat of injury/fatigue is definitely the main thing to be concerned about.
The Bottom Line: A sure-fire playoff team. San Antonio can beat anybody on any given night. Depending on the matchups, they might be able to advance in the playoffs, but I ultimately believe that the rising teams in the West will prove to be too much for them (see: Memphis). I never put anything past the Spurs, though, so if they end up the Western Conference Finals, I won’t be surprised.
THE HOUSTON ROCKETS

Here’s the team that got the shaft from David Stern.

Nevermind whether or not you thought they were benefitting from gaining Pau Gasol while losing a host of players (how, exactly, would that trade have been bad again?). The bottom line is that they had a move made to land a pretty major player – a trade they wanted and had worked to make – and it got ripped away. Along with the Lakers losing Odom for nothing, this team was damaged by what went down last week. You can’t tell me otherwise, UNLESS…
The Best Case: … Kevin McHale works some magic. Perhaps McHale can convince the nearly-traded to look past it and play with enthusiasm (for the record, I rarely buy the “I understand that it’s a business” line from the players, knowing full well that the vast majority of them are ego-maniacs and take it personal when involved in trade scenarios). Luis Scola will probably be fine. The others? Who knows. Regardless, the Rockets are, yet again, a team loaded with a lot of interesting parts. There’s definitely some depth there, and a lot of youth (exactly one player over 30 [Scola, 31]). They even have two “might-as-well-try” projects in the form of the Motiejunas selection and the Thabeet project! Houston can throw a lot of athleticism at teams, and have some scoring. Maybe enough to get into the playoffs.
The Worst Case: Mediocrity. Not good enough to compete, but not bad enough to hit the lottery. Houston, on paper, basically looks like a really awesome college team. The problem in that is that there’s no clear direction or emphasis. Additionally, if McHale doesn’t work there for some reason, it could be hell because the team isn’t full of leaders of anything like that. In this conference, that won’t cut it.
The Bottom Line: I am convinced that this team could have been really fucking nice. They nearly had Gasol. In turn, they apparently had a really good shot at Nene. That’s a pretty arousing frontcourt combo, if you ask me. If you would have had those two, with guys like Lowry and a host of young roleplayers that can get out and run with anybody, then you would have been talking. Instead, you’re looking at a team similar to last year’s, which is okay but not really going anywhere.
The good news is that Houston doesn’t sit still for too long. That means that they’re probably working on making a move as we speak. They need to rebuild in some way, which might mean shedding some weight and sucking for a year to get a good pick in the draft. They need to go one way or the other, and they already tried to go big. Unfortunately, they found out what happens when a conflict of interest like the league owning a team is allowed to take place. “Oh, but the Clippers and Hornets are good now.” Like Houston fucking cares. If it’s any consolation, Rockets fans, I know how it feels when the old man sticks it to you, so feel free to tweet me if you just want to talk about it.
THE MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

The Grizz were one of the young, Western Conference teams that made everyone pause for a second and take some notice during last year’s playoffs. With a KO of the Spurs and a valiant effort against OKC, Memphis gave everyone a taste of what is possibly to come in the future. This year, they’re on everybody’s radar, and it’s no longer a matter of if they can make noise, but how loud it will be. Memphis had a down and dirty feel to it last year, and the only thing different this year is Rudy Gay should be healthy and Shane Battier is gone. That’s right – the cleaniest, smiley, all-class dude was allowed to walk with little to no resistance. It’s fitting, really. Now, the Grizzlies can focus on tough, physical play, scoring, sneering, selling weed, and beating the shit out of people with pool sticks.

The Best Case: You likely saw how imposing this group can be last year, and if everybody keeps there heads on straight, they could be a force. Zach Randolph established himself as scoring machine, hitting big shots and carving out a niche as that dude that you probably wouldn’t ever want to guard. Ya know… kind of a load, all sweaty, body-banging, ugly, and close to unstoppable. Memphis resigned Marc Gasol, as well, so there’s your nasty post combo. All of the guards are back and, as mentioned, they get the return of arguably the best player on the team. If everybody continues to excel, they could make life hell for virtually anyone and go on a very deep playoff run.
The Worst Case: Perhaps unfairly, I can’t look past the past, so to speak. Between Z-Bo and Tony Allen, you’ve got some mental shit just waiting to happen. Also, depth is somewhat of a concern, in my opinion. The point guard position is particularly concerning, as the atheltic but incomplete Mike Conley is backed up by the one and only Greivis Vasquez (and then Jeremy Pargo of Gonzaga fame). Finally, it’s probably just me, but there was a little bit of a “lightning in a bottle” feel to last year’s playoff run. Maybe this year, Memphis gets really inconsistent, sloppy, or derailed by external circumstances. It’s not that hard to imagine.
The Bottom Line: Fortunately, I think Memphis is here to stay. Their degree of success is tough for me to predict, though. They have a frontcourt that will beat you up and a bunch of runners. However, I also think they have holes that can be exploited be craftier, more skilled teams. Gay is an x-factor to me. If he can step in without affecting chemistry while bringing his high-level of play, then Memphis will be in serious business. If not, they’ll have to find some sort of balance that appeases. Ultimately, I think the Grizzlies are good enough to legitimately contend in the West, but not good enough to do it all.
THE NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

The Hornets made a few offseason moves. Not a big deal.

The Best Case: First and foremost, somebody needs to buy this team so they can do what they do without restriction. Even if the moves are terrible, I’d rather have an indepedent owner than a team where the league’s fingerprints are all over things. Basketball-wise, it’s safe to say that the group needs to establish a new identity and determine just exactly where they’re going. Maybe they simply start with establishing a good core (led by Eric Gordon), and learning what they should keep long-term and what to let go.
The Worst Case: Well, I can’t imagine anybody actually being excited about moving from Los Angeles to New Orleans, where the team can barely even be considered legitimate and probably won’t even be there in a few years. And, yeah, they got younger and added more players, but the roster is pretty sketchy. Losing those few players will probably kinda hurt, I’m guessing.
The Bottom Line: Probably the worst team in the conference, and definitely the worst team in the division. To be fair, I really like Demps and his GM work, and I love Monty Williams as a coach. It’s not like I look at this team with the same type of disgust that I’ve shown Charlotte or Toronto or something, but this year could be a little rough.
THE FINAL WORD:
This is a tough pick because I really don’t know how the truncated season is going to affect these squads. It should be a fight at the top between Dallas, San Antonio, and Memphis… all of which are playoff teams and have a good chance of meeting one another in the postseason. However, as for the division title, I’ll just say that we’ll see the Mavs and the Spurs focus on getting to May as a healthy as they possibly can be, allowing the young Grizz to claim the division title. All they do is win.
– Wes Lilliman

SOSB’s 2011-12 NBA PREVIEW BONANZA! (HOW THE NORTHWEST WILL BE WON!) 

(a preview of the Western Conference’s Northwest Division)


(Above: the way things should be)


As you may know, I am from (and continue to reside in) the Northwest.


Of course, my team is gone. I won’t get over that. I wish that there would have been a league mandate involving selling the Sonics only to a local owner, but when you have the type of borderline, homoerotic relationship that old man Stern and Clay Bennett have, I guess it doesn’t matter, right? That’s not an insult, by the way (in spite of my apparent tone) – it’s just the truth and the only thing you need to know to get why that all happened.


Regardless, basketball still exists, and the Northwest Division is full of intrigue. If a division can have a “style” then, for my money, this one might have the most have the interesting of them all. The composition and approach of a few of the teams actually gets me physically excited…


… take that however you wish.


THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER


The fact that I will always wish failure upon this organization (you should have seen me as they choked against Dallas last year, laughing uproariously like the most sadistic, bitter human-being on the planet) is mostly a superficial sort of thing. I hate the owner, the team colors, the attribution of the accolades of former Sonics to OKC history, and my general disdain for any team name that doesn’t end with the letter “s.” In reality, the team itself is full of stud players and is a legitimate contender, perhaps more than ever.


The Best Case: The Thunder take the next step that everyone thought they might take last year and/or think they will inevitably take. It’s essentially the same team as last year’s squad, with the only notable move possibly being the addition of rookie SG, Reggie Jackson, out of Boston College (considered a sleeper by some). Other than that, what you have is a group that is said to be pretty tight and familiar with all of the contributing parts. Deep, young, and in possession of next-level players, including a top-5 guy – you might as well win it all.


The Worst Case: Russell Westbrook’s head destroys the whole thing. The talented Westbrook showed his main weakness in a big way last year, as he routinely allowed himself to get worked up and taken out of his own game. His overreactions, combined with at least some obvious friction with Kevin Durant over who should be doing what when it matters, were the type of thing that could continue to shake a team enough and provide enough of a distraction to stop them from achieving elite status.


The Bottom Line: Thunder win (see how bad that sounds?). I am going to assume that the type of hiccups we saw in the form of Westbrook’s explosions will become less and less prevalent and were partially due to inexperience and youth. Speaking of which, the team now has two years of valuable playoff experiences behind them, and their roster is perfectly suited to tackle the abbreviated season without much fear of fatigue. Considering that they had the eventual champs rocked last year, I don’t see how one couldn’t rank them as the favorite to win the division, if not more…


THE PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS



Knees. Fuck ‘em. It’s hard to believe in the Tebowian theories when you not only look at the delicate nature of one of the most utilized parts of the human body, but also when one considers how they completely abandoned a player, forcing to him to retire in his prime. Brandon Roy was everything I liked about a basketball player, and his career is over. Greg Oden’s career probably won’t even really start. That’s the reality of the situation, though, and ironically, the minus might actually be a plus.


The Best Case: With Roy no longer a concern (his ability to still play at a high level was inconsistent), the Blazers can now focus on an uptempo, fluid rotation. Coach Nate McMillan has already stated that this team is going to play fast, and they have the parts to do it. It’s Ray Felton instead of Andre Miller. It’s Jamal Crawford instead of Brandon Roy. Gerald Wallace isn’t joining the team midseason (although he could be gone by the time the next midseason rolls around), and LaMarcus Aldridge is officially the team’s leader (and one of the best, finesse big men in the game). Additionally, Kurt Thomas brings nothing but value with his experience and toughness, and younger guys will have a chance to play. The mix is just right that, if everything gels, the team is an easy playoff squad and the type of team that no one would be eager to face.


The Worst Case: Well, somebody else could blow a knee. Actually, it’s basically a given that at least 3 Portland players will hobble off the court during the season – it’s just a matter of who and when. Also, I will always have a little hesitation when it comes to Felton, because I’m not sure about his leadership/attitude, and that gut scares me (not that it matters if he can play, but you’d rather not look at a guy and assume that he’ll weigh well over what he should at some point). Finally, there’s a bit of a balancing act that has to be figured out with Wallace and Nic Batum. Batum wants to start and sees himself as an offensive player, possessing the ability to spread the floor (and, with the loss of Rudy Fernandez, the team will need more in the way of shooting threats). The organization, however, sees him as a defensive guy. Wallace is a workhorse and an all-around guy, but his contract makes him a trade piece. Something needs to be figured out there.


The Bottom Line: I think it works… in a 6 or 7-seed sort of way. Portland is past their days of idiocy, and an overall successful product is what comes with the territory now. As alluded to, the Blazers had a smoother, more congruent rotation when Roy wasn’t available last year. Now, he’s not even an option, and the team might actually benefit from that (as wrong as that sounds). I expect Aldridge to continue with his all-star level play this year (and maybe he’ll actually get named to the squad that he deserved to be named to last year), and Crawford should be enthusiastic now that he’s playing as close to home as possible. Who can’t picture the Rose Garden exploding as Crawford drops one of those ridiculous threes from about 25 feet at the buzzer? They’re not title contenders and they have holes (lack of depth at 1 and 5, consistent shooters), but they’re one of those teams that I’ll try to watch as much as possible. They’re also the type of group that could cause headaches for any team. Speaking of which…


THE DENVER NUGGETS


Last year, I fell in love with the Nuggets and their style of play. Melo-less, two deep at every position, energetic and, quite frankly, overachievers. No, they didn’t have a superstar, but I didn’t have more fun watching any other team. This year, the structure is similar, but the pieces are a little different. Nene is back, and Aaron Afflalo is likely to follow. Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer were added to the mix for pretty much nothing and, in what seems like the perfect fit, the Nuggets drafted a “no off-switch” guy in Kenneth Faried. However, Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, and JR Smith are all trapped in China, which most definitely hurts. Can George Karl pull it all together again?


The Best Case: Honestly, the best result would look similar to last year. Take a bunch of guys, some of whom are pretty good, and develop a rotation that is relentless and effective. In terms of sheer numbers, the team might actually be deeper than last year, which could equal a bunch of wins over tired teams in the upcoming shortened season. Furthermore, the team could benefit from the emergence of someone like Timofey Mozgov or Kosta Koufus in the post as a reliable compliment to the likes of Nene and Chris Andersen. Get Danilo Gallinari to develop his game, and who knows… maybe these guys make some noise.


The Worst Case: The pieces don’t fit. Chandler was emerging as somewhat of a big-time player last year, and he’s gone. Martin’s solid post presence (on both sides of the ball) is gone. How realistic is it to expect Mozgov to step in and establish himself as a reliable starter? Exactly what do Fernandez and Brewer bring, at this point? Both have their talents, but they’re also pretty limited in terms of significant impact. Another thing to consider is that this team may take a serious hit in the attitude department. Last year’s team played with a bit of a point to prove, and Karl reigned it all in to produce a successful product. With the losses of some key guys and being even further removed from the bitter taste of the Melo situation, an effort letdown doesn’t seem unreasonable. It’s not hard to envision a scenario where you have a ship full of solid crew members with no one at the helm and the boat not going anywhere.


The Bottom Line: I think Denver will sneak into the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference, and I think the reason for that is George Karl. Karl has his x’s and o’s covered, but more importantly, he can motivate and connect with his players based on his temperament and perspective. The guy got a fucking cohesive product out of a crew of inked-up maniacs that was collectively disenchanted and didn’t know shit about chemistry last year. I do believe this year will be a little more difficult, as it will be a challenge to match the spirit of the previous season. Plus, Karl is once again faced with actually establishing a rotation that works and keeps a lot of suspect egos satisfied with mostly supportive roles. As mentioned, Denver does stand to benefit from its depth in a big way, and I think it all will be enough to get them to the postseason. In reality, it might actually be better for things to fall apart so that they could land a lottery pick and a premier young talent, but he’d probably just leave in three years anyway… so to hell with it.


THE UTAH JAZZ


I used to just choose the easy route and start off with some bit about Jerry Sloan, but I obviously can’t do that. It seems like my perception of the Jazz and their collective identity doesn’t even exist right now. It’s all still so new. What I do know is that there’s a shitload of talent, proven or otherwise, on the roster. Can they contend at all? Well…


The Best Case: Utah supposedly wants to emphasize motion, and they have the squad to do it. Furthermore, the bigs are intriguing. Between Al Jefferson, Mehmet Okur, Paul Milsap, and possibly Enes Kanter (depending on what exactly he turns out to be), you could have a frontcourt that is tough to handle. I also like what their backcourt can do on both sides of the ball. A Devin Harris-led group can play efficient but energetic ball, with the likes of Gordon Hayward and CJ Miles playing their roles. Imagine the thought of rookie Alec Burks living up to the buzz, or the Josh Howard gamble paying off. Imagine…


The Worst Case: Kanter and Burks could both comes out and be obviously lost. It’s not like they should be expected to come out and immediately tear it up, but you get the feeling that the organization wants a lot, particularly from Kanter. Also, who do you go to for leadership and in high-pressure situations? I know guys like Harris and Jefferson want it, but I’m not convinced. Also, if a guy like Favors came out looking like he hadn’t progressed, or if situations forced the team to rely too much on Miles or Earl Watson, then there could be issues. And, if Jamaal Tinsley ever ends up starting, then you know something went horribly wrong.


The Bottom Line: At least you know that you won’t have to put up with Deron Williams and his shitty attitude, or AK-47blowing easy shots in remarkable ways. A lot of it is dependent on the play of the young post players. This team was close to the playoffs last year, so if they get some production out of the fresh faces and the developing pieces, they’ve got a good shot at sneaking in. I’ll just go ahead and say something doesn’t happen in the ideal way, like Burks getting busted for cocaine or Howard and Raja Bell causing friction by feuding over some American Idol reject (the poor man’s Kidd/Braxton/Jackson situation). I have to make some sort of prediction, so there you go.


THE MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES


I don’t even feel qualified to touch this.


The Best Case: It begins. The accumulation of young talent, outcasts, and journeymen blossoms into a moderately successful team. Kevin Love matches his play from last year. Derrick Williams bursts onto the scene as the most pro-ready rookie and plays out of his mind. Ricky Rubio works. Darko finally works. JJ Barea justifies that massive contract. Michael Beasley acts like an adult and plays up to his potential. Wayne Ellington, Wesley Johnson, and Malcolm Lee all shoot the lights out. Brad Miller wins the 6th Man of the Year award.


The Worst Case: With Minnesota, what could this possibly be? Recent history has been so weird. I can only envision something like Williams not being able to find the ideal pro position and struggling in a big way, Love coming down from his high rate of play, and all of these backcourt players battling each other in mediocre fashion without anyone emerging. Also, if Rubio comes in and completely sucks, then it will be viewed as a completely colossal waste of time by a franchise that hasn’t exactly struck gold with their point guards since the early days of Marbury. All of this is completely possibly, by the way.


The Bottom Line: I’m just going to say that they’ll be improved. To what extent? I’m not sure. I can’t commit to anything with Minnesota because, well, I just can’t. What I will say is that it does feel like there is some sort of direction or vision. Maybe the youth seems more legitimate. Or, maybe it’s just a case of so many years of bizarre making this roster actually look more sensible. What is indisputable is that they paid Barea way too fucking much.


THE FINAL WORD:


OKC is the clear frontrunner, and everyone would be shocked to see anyone else in the number one slot. With that said, I feel like the bulk of the division is talented and will be competing amongst one another for one or two of the final playoff spots. If pressed, I’d rank Portland slightly above Denver and Utah, who I think will be similar, record-wise. The other Western Conference divisions have more stars, but the Northwest is where the youth is. Enjoy it. Or don’t. I don’t care.


– Wes Lilliman



SOSB’s 2011-12 NBA PREVIEW BONANZA!: ATLANTIC DIVISION

The times they are a changin’…

Feels like a new day in the Atlantic, where some of these teams look like they’ll be passing each other by on there way up (or down) the ladder. Three of these teams looks to have some hope for the future, one looks to be in the danger of coming to the end of the road and the last one, well, they look fucked, more or less.

I’ll leave to you to figure which is which…

Now then, let’s do this is predicted order of finish.

BOSTON CELTICS

Gotta love Danny Ainge’s moxy. Dude has more than a little gamble in him. Yeah, the Perkins trade at last year’s deadline kind of blew up in his face, but I admire the guy who is wise enough to know his team isn’t good enough, and bold enough to swing a crazy trade to get them there. And wouldn’t you know it, Ainge tried like hell to do it again, only this time he was willing to unload Rajon Rondo in an effort to make one more run at the Finals before they have to send these old guys to the glue factory.

That takes balls, if nothing else.

And yeah, don’t be surprised if he ends up trying again, sooner than later.

The Best Case: Well, I’m a practical type of guy, so i’ll leave out all the dream scenarios involving the fountain of youth and genies and shit. I mean, the genie already retired, anyhow. Still, this remains a really good, really seasoned team. With a little luck health-wise, you still don’t want to see them in the playoffs. Of course, this roster is a known commodity, meaning don’t expect any surprises from this bunch.

Thing is, I’m still expecting at least one more hail-mary attempt from Ainge. If he connects, these guys might have at least one more crack at hoisting the trophy.

The Worst Case: Injuries.

Hey, the youngest member of the big three is 34 years old. If bodies start dropping, Ainge might decide it’s time to blow it up. Best believe Danny has “sooner than later” mentality when it comes to busting up a team that can’t win it, lest the Celtics have to endure the same 25 year rebuilding nightmare they went through when the Bird-Parish-McHale teams got too old.

Don’t know about you, but but if I squint my eyes just right, I can see ol’ Danny Boy with two hands on one of those old dynamite plungers, just a waitin’.

Something like this, actually.

The Bottom Line: This team is still dangerous. If things go right for them, they can still be a nightmare for the rest of the league, and with a risk-taker driving the ship, they can be back in the thick of things in the blink of an eye.

The C’s are a safe bet to hang around all year, laying in the weeds. Lurking. Waiting.

Count them out at your own peril.

NEW YORK KNICKS



Oh, Jimmy Dolan. If only you werent as terrible running a basketball franchise as you are at singing or playing guitar or pretty much everything else.

I’ll do my best to keep this in perspective. Yeah, the Knicks tanked for two years to get themselves into position to sign LeBron James and came up short. Yeah, signed Amar’e Stoundemire (who turned out to be alot more than a booby prize) for 100 million dollars and actually started to show some promise. Yeah, they traded for Carmelo Anthony at last years’ deadline and gave away every last asset they had to do it.

Yes, they were deluded enough to think they could land Chris Paul, at least until the point where everyone in the world have figured out that they had approximately 0% chance of pulling it off, at which point they gave the rest of their money to Tyson Chandler and called it a day.

I’ll just be polite here and say things could be worse.

The Best Case: Oh, this is still a pretty good team. Think of them as something like the old Suns, only without Steve Nash or any front court depth. Assuming one of Amare’s knees doesnt fall off in the midst of a 7-games in-9-days stretch, they’ll be good enough on offense to win most nights, and just un-terrible enough on defense to steal a game or two they wouldn’t have won last year.

If they are truly blessed, Josh Harrelson will emerge as a blue-collar terror and they’ll get something out of the rest of the bench, which honestly looks like a loose collection of wayward NBA journeyman.

The Worst Case: One of the mainstays gets hurt, instantly transforming this into a .500 team and pissing off all the fans who have waited forever for this team to be good. This is still New York after all, and if this team should struggle out of the gate everyone will be getting an earful about.

Honestly, Mike D’ Antoni’s job might be at stake if they flounder. His system can be beautiful to watch if it leads to wins, but New Yorkers won’t sit still for a team that loses consistently and doesn’t play a lick of defense.

The Bottom Line: This team will be just good enough, as in “just good enough to make the playoffs and lose to a real contender like Chicago or Miami”, or “just good enough to annoy all the fans who wish they hadn’t overpaid for Chandler or given away everything they had in the ‘Melo” trade.

I mean, you’ve got 3 pretty damn good players, but you’re bench is suspect and your starting point guard is Mike Bibby.

Good luck getting out of the first round, in other words.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS



Doug Collins has made a carrer of teaching young, underachieving teams the art of winning basketball, and he’s done it again here.

Now, we find out if this is actually a good team, or if Doug has already maxed them out. Truth is, it could go either way. Yeah, Elton Brand’s obese contract is an anchor weighing them down and Andre Iguodala’s deal is only slightly better, but they have some talented young pieces and a proven identity as an athletic, defensive-orieneted team that likes to get out in transition.

Think of them as a welfare recipient’s version of the Heat.

The Best Case: These guys could take another step forward if they continue listening to Collins. Yeah, he’s the kind of coach that usually burns his guys out in three or fours years, but that means they’ve still got some time. Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks and Thaddeus Young can all play, and after a disastrous first half of the year, Evan Turner started to show why he’s was drafted with the second pick the year prior.

If they can find a way to flip Iguodala for some useful players (forget about finding any takers fro Brand. Ain’t gonna happen) they might really have something cookin’ here.

The Worst Case: Collins burns ’em out with the yelling ahead of schedule, they can’t dump their bad contracts and all the young talent starts bitching about shots and minutes. We’ve seen it happen with too many young teams to count. Doug’s job here is to teach and to define roles, and if he can’t build on last year than it likely means they’ll take a step backwards.

The Bottom Line: I expect to see the Sixers in the playoffs, probably somewhere between the 5th and the 7th seed. As long as they hustle and continue to get after it on D, they should have enough talent to get it done. Still, if I was in charge I’d be keeping one eye on the future, not only in regards to the roster but the coaching staff as well. Guys like Collins always have an expiration date, and if you leave them in there too long, they will spoil everything, literally and figuratively.

NEW JERSEY NETS



Harder than it looks, eh?

One year in for Mikhail Prokhorov, and so far it has been more misses than hits. I mean, his legacy to this point has been his tendency to get involved on all the big moves, only to fall just short of the prize. Sure, he landed Deron Williams in a trade, but he’s also been the bridesmaid on everyone from LeBron to Dwayne Wade to Dwight Howard.

Of course, he’s got time on his side and money to burn, so I’m not counting him out just yet.

The Best Case: Well, today I’d say there best case is finding a way to win the Howard sweepstakes. Otherwise, there isn’t much to like about this roster. You’ve got Williams, Brook Lopez and, well, nothing else to speak of. Of course, they have money to spend but nobody who seems to want it just yet.

The most you can expect out of these guys is something close to .550 basketball, and that’s if Avery gets them to defend passionately and play together.

The Worst Case: Prokhorov continues to come up short on the big fish and Deron Williams decides he doesn’t want to move to Brooklyn. Really, that would be a devastating turn of events and would set the rebuilding project back even further.

The Nets strategy these days feels rushed and desperate, alot like a boxer who is well behind on points and is just looking to land that one big bomb in hopes of turning everything around.

A low-percentage play, to be honest.

The Bottom Line: Everyone involved here seems to hoping the future and the move to Brooklyn will bring about positive change, which also means they seem to be resigned to sucking in the interim. Like I said, I’m not gonna count Mikhail out so soon, especially when he can sell future free-agents on living in the Big Apple.

As for the here and now, I’d say 25 to 30 wins is all you can hope for here.

TORONTO RAPTORS



No, the mascot doesn’t have a jump shot, and no, I don’t blame you for asking.

That’s what it’s come to in Toronto these days, a team that epitomizes the hazards of being a small-market NBA team. Yeah, they’ve got one of the best crowds in the league, but that’s really just about all they have. Talent-wise the cupboard is rather bare, management has made a string of bizarre decisions in recent years and the next time they sign a significant free-agent will be the first time.

This may not be the worst team in the league, but they aren’t far off.

The Best Case: Play fast enough to make your fans forget how shitty you are.

No really, that’s the best-case scenario here.


Listen, I like some of the parts here but as a team I just don’t see it. Last year I thought they could surprise people and they did, just not in the way I intended. Bad NBA Basketbal teams can often look like pick-up teams, and that’s what they resembled most of the year. Just a collection of guys running, jumping, shooting, You know, going through the motions.

If they come out this year playing as a unit, maybe they show us a little something. Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis? I mean, we’ve seen worse, right?

The Worst Case: Last year repeating itself, basically. 22 wins won’t get it done anyhwere, even if expectations here are rock-bottom. Losing is one thing, but rolling over on a nightly basis shouldn’t be tolerated from such a moderately talented bunch as this one.

Die with your boots on if you’re gonna die!

The Bottom Line: Well, it ain’t pretty. Like I said, they have a some decent young pieces, but this team isn’t going anyhwere unless you stick a superstar, game-chainging type payer in there and they simply don’t have one.

To that end, it might have been a better idea for them to draft for more immediate help insteas of spending the 5th pick of the draft on a guy who might not play in the US for a few years?

Such is life when you’re a shitty NBA Franchise. Stands to reason that tf they made better decisions they wouldn’t be stuck in this predicament.

THE FINAL WORD


This still feels like the Celtics’ division, with a mild challenge from New York. I expect the top three to make the post-season here, with the Sixers maybe even having a chance to shock somebody.

Also, most of the teams here feel like they could potentially make big moves personnel-wise beofre the end of the year. Either way, I’d expect the Atlantic to be above-average at worst.

-John Hathwell

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SOSB’S 2012 NBA TEAM PREVIEW BONANZA: LOS ANGELES TEAM PREVIEWS

This is pretty much the L.A. division, at least for now, as the Lakers and Clippers seemed destined to battle it out for supremacy while the rest of these teams lick their wounds.

Weird, right?
With this in mind, I’m just gonna preview the L.A. teams and ignore the rest of the division for now.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS



Call it a reputation ranking.
I mean, if if I could actually pick the Clippers to win this division without feeling like the victim of some kind of cosmic joke I probably would, but for now I’m going to attempt to stay here on earth. Still, it’s tempting. Nobody but those most severe Laker nuthuggers could possibly feel good about the off-season moves they’ve made, from saying adios to Phil Jackson to Trading Lamar Odom for nothing to well, refusing to do anything smart whatsoever.
Still, the Lakers are the king of this mountain until such time as someone knocks them off.
The Best Case: The sky is still the limit, even if it looks less likely these days. They still have cards to play and all the ammunition to land another superstar, should they decide it’s time to. Why their farting around while everyone else lining up for Dwight Howard is anyone’s guess, but I’m still holding out hope.
In there and now, this is still a great team, at least on paper. Yeah, they still need a point guard (any point guard!), but the trio of Kobe, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum could still be worth 50 wins by accident. The rest of the team features role-players that will need to play better than last year, particularly World Peace, the new savior and guardian of the second unit. Bless Mike Brown for thinking Ron fucking Artest can replace Lamar Odom in this spot. Me, I have doubts.
Still, I have a hard time believing the Lakers are done making movie. Well, I sure hope not.
The Worst Case: Oh god, I shudder to think.
If you thought last years’ playoff pratfall was bad, imagine what happens if Bynum goes down, the team stumbles out of the gate, and Kobe decides the new leadership doesn’t have a fucking clue what they are doing. Can you even fathom what they do then???
You know what? I don’t even want to talk about this anymore.
The Bottom Line: Aw man, who even knows? This team, as it’s constructed today, is simply not good enough to win a title. Period.
On the other hand, are they done dealing? Who knows?
Are they going to use the trade exception they got for Lamar to get a good (or at least decent) point guard? Beats me.
Are they going to finally take a deep breath and ship Pau and Bynum to Orlando for Dwight Howard? I have no idea.
Seriously, I’m done trying to even pretend as if I have any clue whats happening here. From here on out, my plan is to sit back and watch, and hold my breath.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS






On to less depressing subjects…

It never hurts to keep things in perspective, but man it’s getting pretty hard to do it with this bunch. Everything I imagined for this team a week ago cam to fruition in the opening pre-season game against the Lakers, when Chris Paul was dominating on both ends and D’ Andre Jordan was catching lobs and Chauncey Billups was burying wide-open jumpers.

Point is, this is gonna be a scary bunch.

Today, this is a loaded team featuring two superstars, a proven veteran with ice water in his veins and two solid role players in the starting five. Oh, and did I mention the solid, professional bench?

This team is proof positive that anything can happen in this world if you wait around long enough.

I mean, the Clippers are contenders.

The Best Case: Dare we dream?

I’m all for not getting ahead of myself, but this is a scary team right now. Not tomorrow, not next year, but right this moment. Given a little more time to establish some continuity, who knows how good they can be? Sure, they’ll need to ratchet up the defense if they really want to hit the big time, but I’d say having Jordan in the middle and Paul on the perimeter is a good start.

What we do know for certain is that this team can expect a minimum of forty wins and a top 4 spot in the Western conference as long as they stay reasonable healthy.

And yo know what’s really scary? The L.A, Clippers record for victories in a season is 47, and this team has a decent shot at breaking that in a 66 game season.

Can you believe it?

The Worst Case: At the risk of sounding like a broken record: Injuries.

Other than that, I’m not sure what would stop them from being a really good team. So long as Paul doesn’t re-injure his knee or Blake Griffin doesnt kill himself on an alley-oop attempt, this team should be good to go.

The Bottom Line: It’s a new day in Clipperland. Just how good they’ll be from day one is up for debate, but this team is headed for unprecedented success, both on the court and in the wallet. Either way, they’ll be among the most exciting teams to watch on a nightly basis, and the daily “which LA team is better” debate will rage on for the entire season, if not longer.

Yeah, they’ll have to worry about getting Griffin and Paul to sign-on for the long haul, but that’s a problem for another day. For now, it’s should be a most unforgettable Clipper season.

Sounds like fun.

-John Hathwell

SOSB’s 2011-12 NBA PREVIEW BONANZA!: SOUTHEAST DIVISION

I must confess: I hate this division.

League-wide, I can typically find a team that I can get behind wherever I go. The Southeast is the exception. For one reason or another, I’ve just never able been able to get there with any of these organizations. There might have been a time, approximately two decades ago, where I might have felt a little something for a Hawks or a Bullets squad, but those days are long gone. Instead, here I stand… looking at a collection that has more than its fair share of superstars and shine, and not feeling like maybe I should. The heart isn’t there, I swear.

Irrational personal thoughts aside, what is there is the biggest (literally!) pseudo-free agent on the market and a team that has as good of a chance to win it all as anybody. Also, Charlotte. TO THE PREVIEW…

THE MIAMI HEAT

After one of the more captivating, highly-scrutinized seasons in a team’s history, the Heat ultimately fell short of their lofty goal of winning a championship with a “team” that largely went as two players did. Coming off of what seemed like the quietest of offseasons (in comparison to last year’s whirlwind of buzz, hype, and decisions), Miami really isn’t that much different than they were before. In fact, it’s nearly identical on the surface, with the only real difference being the addition of Shane Battier and the loss of Mike Bibby (not a direct transaction, but the definition of an “improvement” if there ever was one).

What remains to be seen is if this group will be any closer to a team that has defined roles and cohesiveness, or if it’s still leaning towards the “lets pick the two most talented motherfuckers on the playground and hope they can take it” approach. Unless you revel in the Heat’s misery, you’re hoping for the former. I don’t like Miami, and even I want them to figure it out because once you get past the sizzle and the flash of the main players, you quickly realize that they can be amongst the most boring teams in the league. I’m serious. If I have to watch them on a nearly nightly basis, I’d at least like to see some dynamic play, an actual offensive strategy (other than “OUT-ATHLETE THOSE GUYS!”), and a supporting cast that doesn’t look like they’re just treading water. I think they might be closer to success this time around. Maybe.

The Best Case: These dudes actually figure out who the hell is supposed to do what and when, so to speak. Can you imagine if this group actually came out of the gate both focused and improved? What if Lebron has worked on his weaknesses and plays the game with the light-hearted nature that I believe suits him best? What if Wade’s body is as healed as can be and he assumes the unquestioned role as the team’s crunch-time guy? What if they just let Bosh be Bosh, got serviceable contributions from the bigs and from the point guard position, and played within the loose but valuable guidelines of Spoelstra’s ideas? And what if they just cut out all the bullshit and truly went after winning and winning alone?

In a perfect world, you’d never see anything like the mocking of Dirk Nowitzki’s cold, the full-of-shit press conferences, the “woe-is-me, everyone hates the Heat” pouting, and so forth. If this team and their two major players, in particular, had the Jordan/Kobe, “fuck everything other than winning” mentality, stopped reading their own press and worrying about what soccer jersey and/or thick-framed black glasses to wear, and just lived to dominate anyone or any team they faced, then they would kill everyone and it probably wouldn’t be close. Of course, that’s a lot to ask, considering the personalities involved.

The Worst Case: They still haven’t figured it out, and their less-than-stellar supporting cast continues to barely function as a somewhat-talented yet dysfunctional group of spare parts. It’s really hard to envision an outright-fail scenario, considering they struggled with roles and had all the pressure in the world on them last year, and they STILL almost won the whole damn thing. I’m not even convinced that injury to James or Wade would derail them, because both have carried completely lackluster squads by themselves in the past. I suppose the realistic, worst case would be the absence of any maturation and/or the failure to learn from the correctable mistakes of the previous year’s experience. That, or they could both get simultaneously injured/arrested/kidnapped. That would probably damn them.

The Bottom Line: There isn’t another team in the division that can compete with Miami on a consistent basis. Virtually unchanged, the Heat stand to roll into the postseason as, at the worst, the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference. The structure of the season is such that it favors this team, as their immense, top-heavy firepower will overwhelm most other squads early on. As mentioned, the only real change (as of this writing) is the addition of Battier, which is exactly the type of player they need (a stable player on both sides of the ball and, more importantly, the type of guy who will do nothing but help the team’s interpersonal dynamic, on and off the court). Make no mistake about it: provided you’re not Marc Anthony, a bandwagon rider, or one of their loyal fans (who may or may not know what time the game actually starts), you’re probably still rooting against the Heat. Good luck with that.

THE ORLANDO MAGIC

Where to start? This Dwight Howard situation doesn’t look like it’s going to end well. Management seems to be hell-bent on keeping him around, which goes against his apparent wishes. The guy already lacks the type of attitude and mental resolve that you’d hope for, and now you’re going to keep him in a situation he doesn’t want to be in. Tell me he won’t start quitting on plays or loafing around when some on-court friction goes down. In addition to that, they got worse by trading away the tough-minded Brandon Bass for another head case in the form of Glen Davis, resigned Jason Richardson (but had to pay a lot), still have Hedo wasting space, and amnestied Gilbert Arenas. Those are Magic’s major transactions – why the hell would anyone be excited?

The Best Case: Obviously, it would be in the team’s best interest to trade Howard (the earlier, the better) and get some pieces in return. Don’t be stubborn. Letting a guy walk rarely works out well. The only possible way that this scenario might be different is solely based around the fact that these sons of bitches love playing in Florida, and you might be able to lure a free agent to place where he has less of a chance to win but a better opportunity to get some cash and some women (see: J-Rich). Why risk it, though?

From a basketball standpoint, if they go forward with Howard, the only chance they have is to get on his good side and ride his talents to another mid-seed, postseason appearance. They added nothing, so they’d have to hope something clicks in the way it did a few years back.

The Worst Case: The Howard soap-opera becomes the focal point and dominates/destroys the season. Additionally, a tested fanbase grows even more agitated. Van Gundy loses all control. It could happen.

The Bottom Line: It appears that this season is going to be a tough one, relatively-speaking. If Howard stays, it’ll be disjointed and fractured. He can get you to the playoffs, but not much further than the first round, especially when you consider how broken the team sort of was last year. Unless the shooters recapture the collective stroke that seemingly abandoned them all, it’s difficult to imagine things going much better. If Howard does get traded, they’ll find themselves in some sort of a rebuilding mode, and that could make even making the playoffs a challenge in a conference where a few younger teams are threatening to break through.

THE ATLANTA HAWKS

Presented for your consideration: the offseason of the Atlanta Hawks…

– Lost: Jamal Crawford
– Gained: Vladimir Radmanovic, Tracy McGrady, Jerry Stackhouse

The Best Case: Atlanta still has its nucleus of overpaid talent that is good enough to hang with most, but can’t be counted on to do it enough to beat anybody of note. When they looked to threaten Chicago last year, you knew it wouldn’t last because they can’t consistently play at that clip, and because, for every game where Joe Johnson looks A-level or (the departed) Crawford would catch fire, there would be a game where Josh Smith would shoot them out of a winning chance and/or everybody would lose composure and discipline. I suppose there could be a chance that Johnson had some breakthrough and somehow justify that huge contract (most guys, however, don’t start making other-worldly progress at age 30). Also, if Horford continues to improve and the team shipped Smith out for a little more consistency and depth, then they might do something, somehow.

The Worst Case: The team seems sort of stagnant right now, and they have some problems with egos and attitudes. There is no way, under any circumstances, that you could say that was helped by adding guys like T-Mac and Stack. You could easily see Larry Drew losing control of it all and winding up with a bunch of disgruntled players and some big money being wasted in the process.

The Bottom Line: This basically has to be the last year of this team remaining in their current form without really shaking anything up. As such, I think they’ll essentially tread water. Smith is destined to leave, and it might be wise to part ways with him soon. Horford is a great anchor, and they have a nice thing little thing going with Teague and Hinrich at the point, but their depth is suspect and there’s no reason to make anybody think they’re anything different than they’ve been in the past few years. A team in need of a shakeup.

THE WASHINGTON WIZARDS

I’ll tell you this much: Washington made the best pre-labor dispute moves of any team in the league. Slick new/retro uniforms and an intriguing set of draft picks (on paper) leads to me believe that at least a couple of people in the organization know the score. Additionally, while it seemed that a good candidate for the first amnesty move in the league was Rashard Lewis and his insulting deal, the Wizards showed restraint, thought it through, and just left it alone for now. That’s something, right? Anyhow, youth is the word and they’re full of it. Let the rebuilding commence!

The Best Case: While they still stand to be pretty poor, a little goes a long way when it comes to having a season that could be defined as a success. Ideally, John Wall’s actual game will progress towards catching up with his athleticism, and the plethora of young bucks will simply learn to play the game as a team. Being willing to be coached would be huge. If everything went really well, you might see the Wizards equal their win total of 23 games this year (which, in this shortened season, would be very encouraging).

The Worst Case: Blatche. McGee. Young (maybe). Lewis. Crawford. These aren’t exactly a bunch of Grant Hills out there. Skill-wise, there are times when you’re not exactly sure if some of these guys actually know what the overall game of basketball is. Attitude-wise, it’s a wonder than Flip Saunders doesn’t walk out on the team every other day. With this group, it’s never difficult to imagine a complete personnel breakdown, which would send them from “likely a lottery team” to “Sullinger or Barnes?” territory.

The Bottom Line: There will be nights where this team looks like the lost group that fans had gotten used to seeing over the past few years. There will also be nights where their scorers will get hot and they’ll surprise one of the league’s premier teams. As it stands, I have a somewhat tempered enthusiasm when it comes to the Wiz. If you’re gonna rebuild, then you might as well go all the way, which gets you picks like Wall/Vesely/another lottery guy this year. They’re not the worst team in the league, and with the threat of a bunch dunks, 50-point individual scoring nights, and Wall dances, you can actually sit down and watch this team without feeling like it’s going to be a guaranteed waste of time!

THE CHARLOTTE BOBCATS

I reached out to Mr. Hathwell for his thoughts on the Bobcats. Here is his direct quote:

“These guys are horrible and their owner is a tool.”

Realistically, I couldn’t have said it better myself. During the last draft, I desperately hoped that Kemba Walker wouldn’t be available by the time Charlotte picked because I knew Jordan would draft his ass, and I would have rather watched him play literally anywhere else. Of course, it happened, and it was followed up by the Bismack Biyombo selection. That’s all you need to know – fuck off, Charlotte.

The Best Case: The harsh reality referenced above means that the very best that this team can hope for is to suck badly and get themselves a top 5 pick next year. I love Paul Silas, but this is the hand of death. Outside of Kemba, what’s one to be sold on? Diop, Diaw, and Maggette? It ain’t about a win total or whatever – the best that the Bobcats can hope for is to stay healthy and lay the foundation for a winning tradition (to be realized by approximately 2017).

The Worst Case: Could be the worst team in the league. Additionally, if Kemba goes down to injury, you lose the only legitimate draw on your team. Guys are already getting hurt. Biyombo might be stuck overseas, whether it matters or not. Things could get ugly, and quickly.

The Bottom Line: Just two years ago, Charlotte won 44 games. Last year, it was 34 wins. This year, I’ll skip the twenties and just predict 14 victories. As said, that’s not the worst thing in the world if it means they get to pick high in what figures to be a deep draft. Still, 2012 stands to be a year of growing pains and suffering.

THE FINAL WORD:

Heat aside, you might be able to argue that the team that has the most upside in the division is Washington. I felt ridiculous typing that, but I believe it. Sure, Orlando and Atlanta will probably find the postseason, but if one doesn’t advance by knocking the other out, then they’ll both probably exit in the 1st. If the Southeast were a “she,” you’d barely even stalk her Facebook photos, much less strike up a convo. Forget it.

– Wes Lilliman

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