Ladies and Gentlemen, your far-too-early-to-mean-anything NBA power rankings.
..."/> Ladies and Gentlemen, your far-too-early-to-mean-anything NBA power rankings.

NBA Power Rankings: Preseason


Ladies and Gentlemen, your far-too-early-to-mean-anything NBA power rankings.

#30. Minnesota Timberwolves
SJ – Anyone from Minnesota might think I have something against them due to me ranking the Vikings and now the T’Wolves as dead last in preseason power rankings. So untrue, I love Minnesota. The cold is a little iffy but the people are nice and the accents are adorable. It is just too bad I can’t find too many compliments about their basketball squad. Following the unnecessary firing of Dwane Casey, the Timberwolves fell apart and loss 50 games with Kevin Garnett. The big problem; Kevin Garnett is nowhere to be found this year. This is a young team that will be looking for an identity all year. Don’t get me wrong they will work hard and have the potential to be an entertaining team with their youth and athleticism…they just won’t be putting up too many W’s. They have a lot of youth so down the line it could pay dividends, but as many say the Future is the Future for a reason and none of it is guaranteed. Al Jefferson will be looked upon to shoulder the load as Gerald Green, Ricky Davis and co. fight to see who has the lowest basketball IQ. Poor Corey Brewer. I predict Kevin McHale lobbies NBA TV to play old Celtics games all the time so people will talk about sweet is up and unders were instead of how unsweet he is as a GM.

Coup- You know what, I was surprised when I saw Minny so low on both this ranking and over at ESPN, but then I realized that almost everyone else got better. It’s just bad timing on Minny’s part to be rebuilding, but then again, they’ll have a choice of a pretty decent crop of lottery talent in ’08. Al Jeff, as I pointed out a couple weeks ago, will be the anchor, but I’m not sold on him being 20-10 yet. Gerald Green, however, is not going to be a good player. He’ll get garbage stats, but the kid just doesn’t strike me as a winner. Draft Ricky Davis on fantasy teams.

#29. Los Angeles Clippers
Everyone is patting Blazer fans on the back right now about Greg Oden, but it’s the second team in the City of Angles that really needs it. Elton Brand is a question mark and so is Shaun Livingston, and we don’t even know how good the latter was ever going to be. This squad will get destroyed in the paint on most nights – unless, and this is a long shot, Paul Davis turns into a Chris Mihm-type guy. Who’s going to score, Cassel, Maggette, Thornton? Not nearly enough. Thornton better learn how to post up smaller guards for this team to have a chance. For all the positive energy floating around this franchise two seasons ago when they made the playoffs, they are now back in the league gutter, at least for one season.

SJ – Problem #1 was Elton Brand going down. They had a chance to contend for a playoff spot but that killed it dead. Problem #2 is they have no interior defense and very little interior offense. What is there low-post scoring option? Tim Thomas? Please. Problem #3 is they have absolutely no perimeter threats. Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas maybe but that’s about it. Problem #4 is they are getting old real soon. Coup talks about their lack of interior defense..well how many teams really just pound it inside all the time. I’ll take my chances on Kaman being able to guard the centers in the L. To be positive…Maggette will be playing for another contract and they have Ruben Patterson and Quinton Ross to shut down the opposing perimeter players. Why Dallas didn’t go after Ruben is still beyond me. Oh well. Back to the Clippers, their rebirth feels so long ago. And to think how different things might be had Dunleavy not thrown Daniel Ewing in that game against Phoenix. *Sigh*

#28. Indiana Pacers
I debated back and forth on whether to put the Pacers here but at the end of the day I had to. There is an argument that the Pacers do in fact have a decent team with a great power forward and a coach who will preach team unity and defense. But I’ll believe it when I see it. There is a reason we’re still waiting on Mike Dunleavy’s breakout year. Troy Murphy has struggled ever since getting paid and Kareem Rush wasn’t even in the L last year. Now he’s the backup two-guard. Maybe the emergence of Ike Diogu could give these guys some hope but it isn’t looking good. This is the same team that finished 35-47 with a better coach and they didn’t make any substansial changes. Plus their franchise player wants out in the worst way and Jamaal Tinsley is their PG. Need I say more?

Coup- Really, the only positive thing about this team right now is the slight possibility of Diogu breaking out. There’s nothing else to like about this team. Seems like just yesterday they were burning up the east, Artest was averaging 25 ppg, and then the brawl. Has a single fight ever ruined a franchise so quickly? Unless Diogu breaks out, the only time I’ll watch this team is when the Blazers are on the opposite sidelines.

#27. Sacramento Kings
Probably the toughest team to watch last season because of their complete lack of flow on offense, boring old veteran players and lack of young talent. Guess what? They are exactly the same. They drafted Spencer Hawes, who could be a decent player, but he’s not going to add another dimension to the offense. Bibby isn’t as bad as he showed in ’07, but it would be tough to make you care if you were passing to Kenny Thomas and Abdur Rahim. Kevin Martin scores, but I don’t think he is a legit go-to guy on a good team. He’s sort of what Shareef was with the Grizzlies when they were still in Vancouver. The biggest difference between football and basketball is, even shitty teams can be ok on tv because it’s fun to watch an offense explode and a defense dominate. Those things are much harder to appreciate in basketball, and there just not much to appreciate here.

SJ – I guess this is karma for firing Adelman after he took them to the playoffs over and over again. You just don’t do that people. The Kings are a team that are in a bad way and it looks like it is not going to get any better soon. They have way too many question marks surrounding them. For the Kings to succeed they need almost everything to go their way. Can Reggie Theus make the leap and coach in the NBA? Will Mike Bibby return to his old form? Can Kevin Martin repeat last year’s breakout year? Or was it just a fluke? Can Brad Miller provide anything? How will Mikki Moore respond to not only being paid, but not having Jason Kidd to harness him in? Will John Salmons finally step up or is he lost forever? How many times will Shareef and Kenny Thomas make Bibby vomit before games? The Kings will live and die by Artest, Bibby and Martin. With no frontcourt they won’t be living very long.

#26. Philadelphia 76ers
As much as I love Mo Cheeks and Iggy, this is a team in desperate need of a superstar to make the next step back into the playoffs. This is a team that is going to play really hard and will have good defense and rebounding but they lack a guy who can carry them in games. When they really need to get a score, who are they going to give the ball to? I’m not sure Iggy is ready for that kind of responsibility yet but I have been wrong before. If you look at the rest of their roster they are like a cousin of the Cavs minus LeBron to make everything work. Kyle Korver can shoot lights out. Andre Miller can make plays. Reggie Evans can rebound and Dalembert can block shots. They just need that scorer and some type of semblance of a bench
to jump back into contention. I feel bad it’s going to happen after my man Mo is fired though.

Coup- Unlike the last two squads, this is a team that I would watch, even though they’ll be bad. I would have had them higher than this had they spent their three first rounders a little better. Thad Young is another Iggy, sure, but if he’s good, that’l be one hell of a 2-3 tandem. They’re just a big man, a couple years younger Andre, and a couple years maturation for Iggy and Young away from being a playoff team — but that’s alot to ask for.

#25. New York Knicks
Going to be good this year, you tell me. Going to score plenty in the post? Bullsnap. This is a bad team on paper, but you put them on the court together and bad things are going to happen. I said it earlier, someone is going to get into a fight on the court. Maybe Curry just walks up and tries to wrestle the ball away from Zach. Who knows. The ‘Zeke situation certainly isn’t getting their season off to the right start. David Lee needs to find a way off this team and off to somewhere where his effort can be appreciated. Having Francis gone will clear up the backcourt a bit, but Starbury is already looking forward to being fed grapes by beautiful women in Europe.
SJ – Last year was as good as it got for this version of the New York Knicks. They were cruising, surprising everyone, fighting for Isiah as he was proving us wrong. Then he got his extension and the Knicks reverted to being the Knicks and cost themselves any chance at the postseason. Here is a newsflash though…the East got better and the Knicks stayed the same. What was their biggest problem last year? Not enough shots to go around. Marbury, Crawford, Richardson, Curry and now Zach Randolph all are the type of players who need shots to get going. Not only that but both Curry and Randolph both need shots and touches to even approach happiness on the court. Add to the fact that they both operate in the low-post and how on earth is this going to work? David Lee is looking like the odd man out right now and that is unfortunate because he is a monster. I was praying we could have found a way to get him in that trade instead of Channing. Plus both Curry and Randolph reported to training camp out of shape. Another problem with this Knick team…who is going to be the guy to make other people better? Marbury? There is a reason he averaged a career low 5.4 assists a game last year. Bottom line is this Knick team still has the same problems it had last year, just they added a good player who probably won’t turn things around. I can’t wait until Zach wags that left hand at MSG and shoots an airball to boos or Curry and Zach go to blows because they both post up on the same block.

#24. Seattle SuperSonics
Sorry but I can’t let anymore spots go by without this team getting on the list. Seattle has done a tremendous job of rebuilding. They are very well set up for the future, I mean they cleaned house and got a lot of things done in one offseason that other teams have failed to get done in years. However if you know anything about me, you know I’m not the type who likes to buy into hype too much. That’s why I’m going to place the Sonics low. Nobody knows how Kevin Durant is going to perform. He could average 15 or 26 as of today. I’m going to let him play and then form my NBA opinion of him. A lot of people are giving him the benefit of the doubt and saying he’s an immediate superstar. If so Seattle will be great. I’m not going to put that on him quite yet. This is a team that lost Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen. And yes they added Kevin Durant, but who is going to help him offensively. Wally can certainly put the ball in the bucket but after that it is the proverbial poo-poo platter. Plus after Nick Collision and Chris Wilcox their big men are atrocious. I don’t want to hear about Sene, Petro and Swift there is a reason the Sonics are in this position and they are some of the main culprits. I personnally think it is going to be a tougher year on Durant than the pundits think. Will he be a superstar? Absolutely. Will it be immediate? Not so sure. What’s he going to against the Bruce Bowens and Raja Bells? Only time will tell. And yes I’ve already prepared my ‘God I was so wrong about KD’ post.

Coup- Agreed on most accounts about KD, except I still think he’ll end up averaging 18-20 ppg just because someone on the team has to take shots. That being said, his field goal percentage will probably hover around 40% all year and he won’t rebound nearly as well as the numbers said he did in college. The Sonics could beat a few good teams when the 3’s are falling, but they will get murdered against any decent team that slows the game down. Jeff Green will be the deciding factor in what end of the lottery they finish in.

#23. Portland Trail Blazers
You know what I just randomly realized today, we are the only team in the league with a two-word team name. With the Timberwolves around I guess it just never occurred to me. Anyways, Steve should agree with me that we really can’t put them any higher than this, but honestly, that’s perfectly fine. The only expectation for these guys this year is that at least three fourths of the roster shows significant improvement. Roy and Aldridge will continue to mature and the PG situation will work itself out (I have a feeling Jack will remain the starter, but just for this year) but the two guys I am anxious to see are Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster. Outlaw looks like he is finally coming around intelligence wise — now if he can go to the hole a little more and stop with the “one dribble right and pull up” thing. The same goes for Webster, who needs a good start to build his confidence, which will translate to him hitting more 3’s and opening things up for him to go to the hole. Nate McMillan knows this season is all gravy, and he will manage it as such.

SJ – Bleep no we cannot be any higher than this. I feel like I’ve talked about this team so much over the summer that I’m a broken record but here goes. This will be an invaluable season of learning for Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. They are going to take their lumps but I’d rather they get it out now while the expectations are low because the experience will pay dividends down the line. This will be a good year to answer some lingering questions. Which one of our point guards will be the anchor? Who will emerge at small forward? Will Przbyilla give us anything? It is rare that the Blazers have young talent that are actually going to get the chance to play. Webster and Outlaw will be relied on and will have to erase the negative qualities attached to them. For Webster it is an improved shot selection and confidence. Is this the year he stops needing to make his first two shots to be effective? For Outlaw it is a little confidence and brain. He is an underrated player if the coaches would just let him be him. Blazer fans know what the deal is. We have the character, we have the youth and the wins are right around the corner.

#22. Atlanta Hawks
I don’t know why they are getting so much super-hype. You are only as good as the PG that leads you…and they don’t have a PG at all. Speedy Claxton, Anthony Johnson, Tyronn Lue, a rookie Acie Law and Salim Stoudemire. Which one of these guys screams playoff leader? Exactly. And look at their big men. Besides Horford and Josh Smith…Zaza Pachulia and Lorenzen Wright? Come on now. I’ll believe this hype when I see it because they are still the Hawks to me. They have too many people that are the same. Marvin Williams, Josh Childress are all the same to me. Joe Johnson can carry the team but I just don’t see these guys making the leap courtesy of two rookies.

Coup- I think the hype is slightly big right now for this squad mostly because they finally seem to be heading in a positive di
rection and nobody can remember the last time they did that. If they are going to capitalize on that then it is as simple as Steve says, they need to figure out their PG situation. Frankly, I think they should just start Law with Johnson, Smith, Horford and whoever wants to play C that day and see what happens. It’s not like Claxton, Anthony or Lue have any upside whatsoever. If this team is going to make the playoffs in 2-3 years, Horford will have to be the catalyst.

#21. Miami Heat
I’m not sure where Steve is going to land on this, but since we both agree that Antoine Walker is the worst basketball player in the history of mankind, and the fact that this team actually gives him minutes is a bad sign. The Spurs have aged well so far, the Heat have not. Nobody can realistically expect Shaq to play 75 games anymore, and Wade can’t even stay very healthy either, especially when he is forced to carry such a large load. It’s never a good sign when a team loses Jason Kapono to free agency and everyone thinks, ‘Damn, they might be screwed.’ Riley will probably jump off the sidelines after this season, if not sooner, and they’ll begin the process of making D-Wade miserable by trying one of those quasi-rebuilding projects like the Celtics tried around Pierce until Ainge received two timely gifts from the basketball gods.

SJ – I think this is an appropriate spot for the Heat to be honest. I think you’re underrating them a little bit right now though. At the end of the day they will have Shaq and D-Wade for a solid amount of the season and that will be enough to get them to the playoffs. Remember now, a depleted Heat team stuck with a superior Bulls team in the playoffs. A healthy D-Wade would have taken over instead of getting ripped by Luol Deng and fouling him for an and-one. Last year they lacked motivation, this year they have it. I’m not buying the ‘Shaq is going to do it this year’ thing right now, but the man just got a divorce he’s looking for anything to distract him. That being said they have taken steps back. They needed to add players this summer and couldn’t add anything except for Smush Parker and a couple bigs. Their frontcourt is good but their wings are just full of question marks. No shooters and question marks make it hard to believe in the Heat in the preseason. But again, a team with D-Wade and the Shaq in the East will get to the post-season. PS – don’t ever doubt a team with a hungry D-Wade and a semi-motivated Shaq. Even if they have Antoine Walker…*shudder*.

#20. Charlotte Bobcats
I’m high on the Bobcats but I refuse to overrate them. First of all they have a first-year coach in Sam Vincent. Until he proves himself I have to wonder if he is the right man to lead this crew. Also they completely lack any sort of big man. Sure they have Emeka but is he the type of guy you can throw it into and count on him to score? Not sure yet. Sean May is too injury prone and then it is the proverbial poo-poo platter. They have all of the tools there to make the run. A good PG in Felton who could make the leap this year. Shooters and athleticism, we will just see if they can put it all together this year or not. I think having a guy like Jason Richardson making plays is a major upgrade over having to have Derek Anderson make those same plays. I’d take Charlotte’s team over LeBron’s supporting cast any day of the week. I think they can do it but I can’t put too much faith in them as of right now.

Coup- The Bobcats probably have one of the most likeable teams in the league right now, and that isn’t a mistake made by management. I was down on the Brandon Wright trade when it happened, but now I think J-Rich just could enough to put them in as an eight-seed if the young guys get better. Richardson is not ideal, but his jump-shooting game should compliment Gerald Wallace’s slashing style enough to put up decent points every night. Frontcourt health is the big issue, but these guys are sort of like poor-man’s Blazers-east right now. Enjoy an easy going season fellas.

#19. Memphis Grizzlies
I don’t want to get too high on them, but this is my sleeper in the West as an eight-seed. Iavaroni should speed their game up, and he has two young PG’s to help him do so. Along with the addition of Juan Carlos Navarro to keep Pao Gasol happy, this just feels like the team everyone thought the Hornets would be last season had they stayed healthy. Mike Miller is one of the most underrated players in the league and they even have two uber-athletes in Rudy Gay and Hakim Warrick, not to mention a dose of veteran leadership from Damon Stoudamire. All the ingredients for a postseason leap are there.

SJ – We’re guaranteed one thing; at least the Grizzlies are going to be entertaining. I’m assuming Ivaroni is going to have these guys running and will be offensive minded. They have the freak athletes, the low-post threat and the three point shooters. They do lack some basketball IQ and experience and again this is a team that won 22 games last year. The Grizzlies have an upgrade at point guard (Conley) and in the post (Darko). Navarro is more than just sopmeone to keep Pau happy, his stroke is ridiculous and he will spread the floor more for the Grizzlies. The ceiling has been raised and everything looks to be good in Memphis. Only time will tell though. 8th-seed? I don’t know…

18. Milwaukee Bucks
These guys are healthy which will make them infinitely better than last years team. That being I’m not sure I could put one of the worst teams in the L any higher than this. Their bench is absolutely atrocious at best. How do you have Jake Voskuhl and Samaki Walker on the same team? How can I put faith in this team when Royal Ivey is their backup point guard? Michael Redd should carry them to some wins and maybe they will snatch up a defensive identity but I don’t see too too much coming from the Bucks. Hopefully they can get something from Villanueva, Bogut and Bobby Simmons to make up for it. I’m not overly impressed with these guys at all.

Coup- It’s sad for Milwuakee fans, but Larry Harris seems to be constructing what will end up being a positively mediocre playoff team — like the Nuggets pre-AI. Bogut is good, but I don’t think he’ll ever be great. Redd is awesome, but doesn’t quite have the offensive repetoire to carry his team in any situation. Mo Williams, the same. Of course, this could all change if Yi somehow ends up being the chinese Dirk, but how many people still believe that’s going to happen. There’s just a limited amount of upside here.

#17. New Orleans Hornets
The last of the truly borderline playoff teams, unless Steve wants to include LA. They were probably the most injury plagued team in the league aside from the Celtics. The bright point was that Tyson Chandler did manage to stay on the court, and in doing so became a fantastic rebounder. Adding Morris Peterson should give Chris Paul a little Peja insurance once Stojakovic inevitably goes does with a back injury. You’ve got to think Paul is a little pissed after all the playoff attention Deron Williams received though, don’t you? And don’t discount the fact that they are back home for good. They won’t end up in the conference championships like the Saints, but playoff bound they could be.

SJ – There is no more emotional boosts to be had courtesy of New Orleans. I still don’t know why they didn’t just keep splitting the games or stay in Oklahoma City. They had one of the top crowds in the L and now its back to the death aka New Orleans Arena. Injuries absolutely demolished this team last year. For them to make any sort of noise out West they will have to stay healthy. A year ago I would have been making Tyson Chandler jokes left and right but last year and this
summer he finally showed that he isn’t a bum. Hopefully he can stay healthy an effective for the second straight year. Chris Paul will be healthy and very hungry after Deron Williams made a few people go ‘Chris Who?’ in the playoffs. I’d expect him to have a monster season. Sadly if Peja plays until January he will have given more than he did last year which means an automatic upgrade. I agree that this is a borderline playoff team simply based on the fact that they need too many things to fall in the right place for them to be successful. I can’t fully endorse a team whose big signing was Morris Peterson. He’s slowly enterting Donyell Marshall territory…yikes.

#16. Orlando Magic
Readers of the Project should know by now that I abhor the Orlando Magic and their decision making. Before you rave about how Rashard Lewis is going to make things easier for Dwight Howard, riddle me this. Did they not just fire a coach who took them to the playoffs? Yes. When in the history of sports has that ever worked out well? Ask the Chargers and the Kings if its working out. Exactly. SVG might be an upgrade but karma is a bitch. That being said I’m not buying into this team at all. How can you put a lot of stock in a team that has Carlos Arroyo as a primary ballhandler? Do you see how mediocre he was with Puerto Rico? For pete’s sake if he plays like that with them, good lord how will he be during the season? Minus Dwight Howard their big men are atrocious at best. When you willingly sign Adonal Foyle you know you’re having some problems. If Dwight gets hurt it is a wrap for the Magic. This is a team with zero identity. Are they defensive minded? No. Are they fast-paced? No. What are they? An average team that doesn’t like to throw the ball to their best player. I could tell a million Rashard Lewis jokes but I’ll save them for the season. Needless to say Rashard Lewis shouldn’t be the #1 perimeter scoring option. I don’t see the moving that far up sorry.

Coup- With the amount of money they have invested in Rashard Lewis, the Magic are probably heading into the same territory of mediocrity as the Bucks. That being said, they will still make the playoffs as a low seed in the east. And you can’t tell me that Lewis, as overpaid and overrated as he is, won’t open things up for a budding Howard — who remains the only real reason to ever watch this team. Their offseason was horrible, but they seemed to want a slight win increase, and Lewis will give them that, and that only. Howard is going to be begging to get out of this joint in 2-3 years. Shitty management can never take away how good a player like Howard can and should be.

#15. Los Angeles Lakers
Speaking of players who management cannot ruin, enter Mamba. I think it’s been about a day since I’ve mentioned that Kobe is the best player on the planet right now (though I bet MJ could still take him 1-on-1 like that Gatorade commercial. MJ would have Charles Oakley standing by too). We will probably have to suffer through plenty of innane comparisons of Kobe to active and retired players by ESPN columnists all season, when all they really need to say is that the man is dominating his era with a crappy team. I don’t know how I would feel about him playing in Chi-town though. Having a decent rookie PG (Javaris Crittendon) will help things the in the triangle a little, but the key is Andrew Bynum learning how to score in the post. He’s got Kareem working with him so let’s see the quasi-sky hook eh young fella? Sometimes I like to imagine Kobe’s face when the Lakers drafted Sun Yue. I always imagined his face just melted off and the basketball robot underneath exploded like in Alien.

SJ – A healthy Laker team has Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and enough pieces to be good. They proved that last year. They don’t have enough depth to handle the injury bug. Kobe is about to play like a man possessed this year and the rest of the Lakers will either step their game up or be carried. This team is making the playoffs courtesy of that man. With everyday I’m slowly starting to agree with Coup that Kobe is the man (although best player on the planet is a little bit of hyperbole). If Bynum or Brown can just give him a consistent low-post threat…Vlad, Walton and Derek Fisher knock down the open shots and Lamar Odom stay healthy the Lakers are better than they look on paper. They have the pieces to the puzzle but nobody is sure if they’ll ever put them back together.

14. Washington Wizards
It was either these guys or the other three-person team in the East and seeing as how the other team has the best PG in the game…here are the Washington Wizards. First of all they have absolutely zero defense. This is a major problem as they cannot buckle down and get a stop. The don’t even have a defensive stopper. Secondly they really don’t have anyone on the roster who is dependable besides Gilbert, Caron and Antawn. They are going as far as those guys take them. As entertaining as they are and as amazing as Gilbert is (on and off the court) they will have their struggles this year. With no big men and no one outside of the big three, they are going as far as Gilbert can blog them. I mean carry them.

Coup- I honestly believe they would have killed the Cavs in the first round — before they got their crazy momentum built up — last year had they been healthy. They’ve certainly got enough firepower, but if football and basketball have one thing in common, its that just like you can’t win in the NFL playoffs without decent D and a running game, you can’t win in the NBA postseason without decent D and a big man. It’s just not going to happen. There are too many teams with all-star caliber power forwards for their wing guys to overcome. An underrated fact about having a low-post scorer: it keeps your guards fresh because they don’t have to work their butts of running off screens and making hard cuts to score.

13. Toronto Raptors
Those rabid canadian fans will probably want to burn me for this, but this team overracheived greatly last season due in no small part to the plague of injuries that struck the eastern conference guards. They’ve still got good young guys to work with, and Chris Bosh has turned into his own kind of a force, but they need to prove to me that they won’t drop off a little like the Clippers did last year. People aren’t going to be sleeping on them anymore.

SJ – You’re so wrong on this one my friend. This team didn’t luck into winning 47 games, they legitimately went out and won 47 games. Remember this is the same team that was in dead last in the Atlantic when Boston was in first. We all know how that turned out. How Toronto is ranked lower than Cleveland is beyond me. The Raps have guys who can flat out shoot the rock, two very good point guards and an emerging force at power forward. Do you not understand how unguardable their pick and roll is? TJ or Bosh..but you can’t help on either or else it’s a kickout to Kapono, Bargnani, Garbajosa, Parker, Dixon…you see where this is going. They play very well together, their defense is quite servicable and they have an excellent home record. They went 30-11 at home with a fanbase that didn’t care about them until halfway through the season. Imagine what they’ll do now. Plus Bosh is hungry as ever. On the flipside, injuries could hurt this team (are Bosh and Garbajosa healthy?) and there is always possibility for a letdown. I just don’t see it.

12. Cleveland Cavaliers
I promise this isn’t a crap on the Eastern Conference but how can anyone on this earth call Cleveland a favorite to win the East again? Not only did they have the luckiest path on earth to the Finals but they did nothing to improve the team. Everyone else managed
to get better. LeBron cannot carry this team for a second straight year against a tougher Eastern Conference, I’m sorry. This team got older, slower and weaker just by not making any moves. And two of their rotation players (Pavlovic and Varejao) haven’t even signed yet. This is a team that desperately needs a second scoring option to help LeBron and they don’t have it. They need some youth, maybe Gibson and Shannon Brown will provide it but as of right now I’m not liking what I’m seeing in Cleveland at all. LeBron may murder someone.

Coup- Yesterday’s Kobe is, well, today’s LeBron. People just don’t seem to understand how to build around a star perimeter player — which isn’t helped by the fact that they complain enough so all the franchise’s money gets spent too fast on unworthy players. We hounded Cleveland enough last season, but if one more person tells me, ‘Well, they made the finals last year,’ I just may knock them out, tie them up, go buy a magnum and come back and shoot them. NBA fans can be pretty stupid sometimes.

#11. New Jersey Nets
A team that many people forget dealt with their fair share of injury problems last season. Nenad Kristic might not be an all-star, but he’s key in letting Kidd do his thing. Richard Jefferson had a down year so he should rebound, but the big question mark is VC, who just got paid and now you have to wonder if he’s going to lay another career egg. If healthy, they should beat out Toronto for the Atlantic Division. If things don’t start well, I have a feeling they will either find a way to finagle Jermaine O’Neal for Jefferson (good deal) or trade J-Kidd (iffy).

SJ – This is an forever will be a three-person team. I just like the odds that their Big 3 will be better than last year. Richard Jefferson was either injured or inconsistent, so if he can stay healthy that will already be a plus. Jason Kidd is the best point guard in the game…did you see him on Team USA? Did you see what he did with Mikki bleepin’ Moore last year? Exactly. And VC is VC, you figure he won’t snooze through too much of the season now that he is paid and his future is with the Nets. Do not underestimate the value of the return of Nenad Krstic. He gives them a fourth scoring option. He’s solid and can drop in 17 and 6 with ease. That’s all that’s really worth mentioning from these guys the rest is just flat out bad news all around. In Kidd We Trust though.

#10. Denver Nuggets
I would say this is a good spot to put the Nugs at. I don’t think they are really good enough to beat any of the West’s superpowers but they will have a good to great regular season simply based on their two superstars and their coach. A full season of Carmelo and AI will be a treat to Nuggets fans, especially after the summer Carmelo has had. That man is in complete assassin mode and will be taking over ASAP. If Camby and Nene can stay healthy, there isn’t a better defensive frontline in the L. What I think they are missing is a three point shooter and some semblance of a bench. Supposedly Chucky Atkins and JR Smith are to fill the role of the shooters, but forgive me if I’m skeptical on the two. If they had one guy who could just knock down shots this team and spread the floor this team would be a major problem. Ya know until the playoffs because George Karl’s brain explodes around that time.

Coup- There is a small, very small, chance for these guys to become elite. I say this because they have the potential to have all the pieces. If Nene earns his keep and, like Steve said, JR Smith can knock ish down, they could end up on par with a team like the Mavs. Granted, those are a lot of iffs, but wierder things have happened. They even have a hustle guy coming off the bench in Najera. Sadly, George Karl seems to be more than holding them back, he is in full blown sabotage mode. Imagine what Phil Jackson could do with this team, or even Nate McMillan. Of course, the Nuggets franchise is probably fine with their status quo of early playoff exits.

#9. Golden State Warriors
Steve’s darlings from last year, the Warriors probably won’t be able to swing that momentum from the Dallas series for a whole season. Baron Davis is still a big health risk, and losing J-Rich is going to put more of a load on him. Sure they have Monta Ellis, who will be solid, but he’s a third option. Then there’s Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington, probably two of the most inconsistent players around. They will win about 45-50 games just on their offense alone, but eventually not having the bigs is going to wear on them. Brandon Wright is not going to contribute enough to make a huge impact this year.

SJ – How can you not love this Warrior team? That being said before I fawn over them I have to be realistic. They are an extremely erratic team that can easily lose their way. BD has not looked this good in years but the man has not played a full season since 01-02. To put that in perspective that’s when the Hornets were still in Charlotte. This a team that can lose games because they lose their minds. Rewatch the Dallas series and the Utah series and you can see exactly when things turned around. Also they’ve lost J-Rich who was a big contributor last year. Remember it wasn’t just BD’s return from injury that sparked the 16-5 finish it was also J-Rich as well. But seriously, Don Nelson will have 82 games with the players he believes fits his system. He won’t have to fiddle with Dunleavy, Murphy and the rest that got traded halfway through the season. He knows what he has and he knows exactly what to do to get wins. Plus the big addition was Marco Belinelli. I don’t care what Hollinger or the critics after what I saw this guy do in the summer league I’m convinced he’ll be able to do damage just by shooting the damn ball. He could put the ball in the bucket and that’s really all you need to be able to do in Golden State. I think they can keep it up for a whole year.

#8. Utah Jazz
I only have a few problems with the Jazz. Yes they have the man who broke in to the PG elite in Deron Williams. And yes they have one of the best big men in the L in Carlos Boozer. And yes they have Jerry Sloan and his system which does nothing but win with the right players in place. But to me they have a lot of issues that people are not talking about at present time. How about the team chemistry? Not only the constant AK vs. Sloan but AK vs. the rest of the team. Remember when Boozer and Williams mysteriously called people out after being eliminated but refused to name names. Hint; it was a European. Let us also not forget that Mehmet Okur is coming off an atrocious summer. The Jazz have no shooters and really no one at the 2 or 3 spot that can score. Their backup point guard is either going to be Jason Hart or Ronnie Price and I’m not sure any team who has one of those two playing significant minutes is going to do too much damage. However they still have an incredibly dangerous pick and roll with the PYP (Pick Your Poison) of Williams to the cup, a dish to Boozer or a cross court pass to Okur. The Jazz are also a great home team. Winning in Salt Lake (I can’t believe it’s not the Delta Center anymore) is far from an easy task and that should carry them to the playoffs. They won’t be as slept on as they were last year though.

Coup- Here’s a team that, even though the probably would have been cleaned out by the Suns earned their way in the Western Conference Finals. There’s two tiers of elite teams in the west right now, Spurs and Suns, and then Jazz and Mavs. It should put things in perspective that I am once again going to say they have many injury concerns. For the love of the basketball gods why
do teams keep on getting decimated. The got outplayed by the Spurs, but a large part of that was guys like Okur were worn out by GS and couldn’t do anything. I still don’t know if they could beat the Spurs in a series, and I know they wouldn’t be able to mess with the Suns, but unlike those two teams, the Jazz are going to be around with this similar group of guys for awhile while the top two dogs get old. There’s going to be some retro Blazer-Jazz battles coming up in 2-3 years.

#7. Detroit Pistons
I don’t think this is going to work much longer. Not with Flip Saunders running the show. Both Rodney Stuckey and Aaron Afflalo are going to even out the load for the older guys, but unless their youthful energy infects the rest of the guys, this are going to get ugly somewhere down the road. I like Sheed, I like him alot, but there’s not way his little fight with Flip a week or so ago is just going to go away. At some point they are going to lose five in a row and skeletons are going to come toppling out of the closet. Billups didn’t quite have the monster year I expected from him last season, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what he does now that he’s paid. Probably just keep on doing what he’s always done. I have heard that this D-league MVP kid Amir Johnson has impact potential. If the wild cards come out, they vault back into the elite, in spite of what Flip is going to end up doing, and that is ripping himself away.

SJ – I definitely think you underrated the Pistons here. No way I would put the Bulls ahead of them. I mean this team has made it to the Eastern Conference Finals five years in a row! I do agree they definitely are not winning a title with Flip Saunders running the show. The Pistons are in the Elite no doubt about it just look at the starting five. Billups, Rip, Prince, Sheed and I’m guessing McDyess. Add to that the fact that they now have youth and athleticism coming off the bench in Maxiell, Amir Johnson, Stuckey and Afflalo. That’s nine players they can play in addition to Lindsey Hunter who somehow never seems to age. Since when have the Pistons had a 10-man rotation? They can handle injuries and can give their starters a bit of rest. Sheed has lost weight and hopefully Rip has regained his hairline. That being said, their coach is their biggest problem. He isn’t good enough to bring them all together and motivate them towards a common goal. He can give them an offense and a defense and they’ll win 50+ games but when the going gets tough he isn’t good enough to keep them together. That’s why they blew the lead to Miami two years ago. That’s why they forgot how to play basketball in both the Chicago and Cleveland series. And that’s why this year they will fall short of the ultimate goal. But make no mistake about it this team is still dangerous. If they can muster up their own motivation watch out.

#6. Chicago Bulls
I would say these guys are overrated by a spot. Last year their defense and will to win powered them past the Heat. It kept them hanging with the Pistons in spots and has vaulted them from underdog to favorite status. How will this team handle that adjustment? Who knows. Defensively they are top notch. Offensively they are good, but they have the same problems as last year. They have no low-post option. I don’t care what you say, Joe Smith is just a younger PJ Brown except he rebounds less. Without any sort of low-post scoring option, against the better teams you are going to lose games. End of story. The Bulls like to slice you up with all sorts of different cuts but they also can settle and become a jumpshooting team. Thanks to their lack of a low-post these are usually contested jumpers. Chicago is young and really good and I think I would be higher on them had a) Coup not rated them higher than the Pistons and b) they had addressed their biggest whole.

#5. Houston Rockets
To be honest I kind of forgot about them, mostly because of the wierd hype surrounding them in the last week. So they added Steve Francis, so what? You mean to tell me he is immediatly going back to all-star form next to T-Mac and Yao? I sincerely doubt it. Yet a-freaking-gain, can the stars stay healthy or will Shane Battier be the only guy who stays in the starting rotation all year. Aaron Brooks was the man in summer league, but I question how effective he will be with the big boys. Spot scorer at best this season. They’ve got plenty of white guys like Novak and Bobby Sura who can usually shoot the rock, and they’ve got Bonzi Wells who, supposedly, isn’t crazy anymore. Having Rick Adelman as your new coach is a double edged sword. He’s going to help them score alot more, but might not be able to keep the team together, especially in the playoffs. I’m beginning to think basketball teams should have full fledged offensive and defensive coordinators just so we never have to suffer through another Jeff Van Gundy slow down team again. Of course Steve will point out that would never work because the same players play O and D in basketball, but still, maybe there are some assistants that need a little more power, or at least recognition.

SJ – Do not sleep on the Houston Rockets. Say what you want about Adelman but his teams score and his teams get to the playoffs. Houston’s biggest problem last year is they couldn’t score when they needed to. Outside of T-Mac and Yao (who disappears in big games) they couldn’t find ways to get buckets. All of that will change. The reason for the hype is that it looks as if their biggest weakness from last year will be changed. This was a good defensive team and while that will take a dip, the increase in offense will make up for it. T-Mac is coming off his best all-around season as a pro and is as motivated as ever to finally get out of the damn first round. Remember this year he won’t have to shoulder the entire load. He won’t have to worry about getting Yao the ball or penetrating so Shane Battier or Luther Head could hit an open three. He can go back to scoring and give the ball up when he gets tired. That is the key, the other players surrounding him can make plays and create their own offense. Bonzi Wells, Steve Francis (and his 20 seconds of dribbling) and Mike James all are very good players who are going to make his life easier. Plus…they still have Yao Ming. Adelman’s system with these weapons at his disposal…watch out now. I won’t declare them champions of anything until they get out of the first round but they certainly look great on paper.

#4. Dallas Mavericks
I have no idea what to expect from this Dallas team. I know they won’t go 50-5 this year. Think about this….last year they reminded me of the 93-94 Seattle team (that got beat by Denver) becuase they hadn’t faced much aversity, no injuries and hadn’t lost a lot. And when they faced adversity for the second straight year they caved in. This is a team that has an extreme amount of pressure on them. It is championship or bust for the Dallas Mavericks. They have the bitter taste of blowing 4 straight to Dwyane Wa…I mean the Miami Heat, and they decided to wash that down with getting “upset” by the #8 seed Golden State Warriors. This is a team that will tighten up because mentally they haven’t shown that they have gotten over either of those two incidents. It’s like they know the only way to cure it is by winning the title. They have the guys who can score (Dirk, Howard, Terry, Stackhouse) and they have defenders (Devean George, Greg Buckner, Eddie Jones). But those defenders are aging and can’t really score (as shown in the Warriors series). Throw in the fact that Avery has been outcoached two years in a row and now you have to wonder if he can get the job done. We all know that Dallas is good, really good to be exact. But this is the ultimate example of where n
othing a team does n the first 82 games will matter. It’s what happens in that second season that will hold their fate…and I think their championship window has closed.

Coup- The championship window has closed? I think not. It’s not like they have major injuries or any of their guys are getting really old — except for maybe Stackhouse. They will still dominate in the regular season and the only thing stopping them from success is their own damn brains — again. I will say this, I had alot of faith in Avery Johnson a year and a half ago. I don’t have faith in him now. If he doesn’t get it done this season then there might be something to be said about his playoff effectiveness. I think everyone is so down on the Mavs right now that they will use it to come back even better. Or so history has led me to believe at least, but the Mavs haven’t exactly been repeating history thus far, they’ve created new chapters.

#3. Boston Celitcs
Did you really think there was a chance I was putting them at two? In fact, I would have put them at four. They have proven absolutely nothing to me. Can they play team defense? Can they run on offense or is it going to be come down, pass to Pierce, get scored on, come down, pass to Garnett, Garnett gets a block, come down, pass to Ray, get scored on. They are top heavy with no pg and below average role players. I mean, Kelvin Cato might play backup center. Are you for real? Oh, and did I mention Doc Rivers is their coach. I know they are hungry, but so were the Mavs last year. Tony Allen must become a defensive stopper and Garnett must play on the block 90-percent of the time. There aren’t enough jump shots to go around anymore. I’ll give credit where credit is due, they had an incredible offseason and will probably have one of the biggest win increases of all-time.

SJ – False, false, false and false. You and Hollinger need to stop smoking whatever you’re smoking. This is the perfect team for Doc Rivers to coach. He’s forced to play a set rotation cause he only has so many players. His offensive options are multiple and obvious. How can he go wrong? There aren’t enough jump shots to go around anymore? You do realize KG and Ray Allen are absolutely ecstatic about being out of Minnesota and Seattle right? You do realize that all three of these guys have been playing with absolute nobodies for a while. No ego problems here as three superstars are coming together to get a ring at the right time. If KG could play with Latrell and Sam Cassell he can play with anyone. Ditto for Pierce with Antoine Walker and Ray Allen with Glenn Robinson and Vin Baker. How can those three not be favored to win a conference that was just won by LeBron and a bunch of nobodies? What makes Cleveland’s role players any better than Boston’s? What makes New Jersey’s role players any better than Boston’s? Who really has a deep dependable bench in the East (besides Chicago and Detroit)? Exactly. No PG? Rajon Rondo has the easiest freakin job of any basketball player on this earth…all he has to do is dribble past half court and decide “Ray, KG or Paul who do I hit”. And then make some open shots. That’s it. I’d take him over Jarrett Jack. Their role players only have to play their roles, for pete’s sake they have three all-Stars around them.

#2. Phoenix Suns
We all know how Phoenix is what they are capable of doing. The only question surrounding this team is will this be the year they actually do it? They are going to exciting, they are going to be entertaining but can they get past San Antonio and Dallas and get to the Finals. For that championship window to stay open they have to get to the Finals. I myself this is the last year that its open becuase Nash doesn’t have too many left in him and Marion’s ego is about ready to strike at any second. If they don’t make it I blame Marion. The big test is Amare ready for Duncan? That’s what we’re all waiting to see. If they can get 70+ games from Grant Hill they will be in good shape. This is another team that needs a tremendous post-season.

Coup- It’s nice that we’re all done rubbing Steve Nash’s back and telling him he’s the greatest PG ever. It’s also nice that this is the year I finally think the Suns can get over the hump. Amare is now removed enough from microfracture that he can dominate on a daily basis, instead of a tri-weekly basis. I don’t think they are trading Marion and I do think Penny can make an impact. There’s still plenty of question marks about the defense, but after how many times they have been proverbially “screwed” by whomever, this sounds like the season that everything could come together. I mean, if not now, when?

#1. San Antonio Spurs
This is not a case of putting last year’s champion at the top spot out of respect. This is a case of the Spurs simply being the best team until someone firebombs them out of first — which, for all you pundits, will be soon in the regular season because it’s not hard to predict that they aren’t going to have a hot start. The Spurs are the best finishing team of the last decade. That hasn’t always translated into championships, but it has also never translated into disasters of Maverick proportions. They aren’t too old, not yet at least, and that makes them the team to beat — in May, not November.

SJ – These guys are so good its disgusting. As I’ve mentioned before their Achilles’ heel is becoming satisfied and facing a team that is hungry, which looks like it will happen this year against the Suns or Mavs. That being said it really won’t matter because the Spurs are the best team in the league right now. Duncan, Parker, Ginobli, Popovich and the system will stay on top until age destroys them. Any system that could make Jacque Vaughn a major player and not fail has my vote. They are kind of like the Patriots in the fact that they are really good, we know they’re really good and regardless of how they start we know how they will finish.