The 2011 NBA Lockout is over, and the preseason games have been played. Hooray! Now, it’s about that time for me to give completely random guesses towards who will win and who will lose this year. Just kidding, it won’t be completely random.
After all, this is the NBA, and certain teams will always have an advantage over others. This means that certain teams are guaranteed wins this year no matter what happens short of a major injury to one of their stars. Let’s start at the top.
Teams to Beat:
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Miami Heat has one of the best rosters in the game today, if not in depth, certainly in star power. This is the issue they addressed over the offseason adding as much as they could with their minimum wage additions. Despite their laughable addition of Eddy Curry, the Heat did manage to improve their roster with one of the best defenders in the Association, and one of my personal favorite players, Shane Battier. While there was some criticism over the Battier signing since it didn’t address the point guard and center vacancies, it’s still a solid signing because it adds flexibility for the lineup. Rookie Norris Cole showed some talent in the preseason this year, and adds some depth to their point position, which was sorely needed (see Mike Bibby 2011 playoffs). Even scarier, Curry is in shape for once, so is this the year he resurrects his career?
As for the core-three, Wade is a year older, and a little more battle-worn, but he’s still the go-to guy for Miami. Lebron will be Lebron, and Bosh is lighter and more willing to play center. They’re all still in their primes, and will continue to be the team to beat in the East until proven otherwise. Eric Spoelstra isn’t going anywhere with his shiny new contract, so expect more of the same from the Heat this year; lots of winning and lots of hating.
Lastly, word on the street is they have a brand spanking new offense…
Oklahoma City Thunder:
With a younger core and a less maligned fan base, the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t do much this offseason, not that they needed to. Kevin Durant was very visible this offseason playing games in Harlem and ballin’ for charity during the lockout. Like Lebron, KD will be KD, shooting the roof off the stadium. They have a talented and deep roster in Kendrick Perkins, who was also slimmed down this offseason. James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and last but definitely not least, Russell Westbrook round out a formidable starting five.
They have their core in KD and Westbrook, their sixth man and third option James Harden, and their defensive anchor in Kendrick Perkins. If Scott Brooks can help Westbrook be more of a Point Guard and less of an “I in Team,” then there’s no reason why the Thunder can’t win the conference.
D-Rose, D-Rose, D-Rose. Derrick Rose recently signed a 5 year $94 million contract. He’s not going anywhere, and he loves his mama. Don’t expect him to win the MVP again this year though, as Sam Smith at bulls.com says, expect D-Rose’s points per game to “drop as he has more reliable scoring options on his team this year.” Things are nothing but upside for this team and the signing of Rip Hamilton only makes them better. Rip Hamilton, though 33 years old, is reputed for having a very good conditioning program for himself. If the preseason game on Tuesday was any example, he’s going to fit right in. Can he put the Bulls over the top and help Rose win the first Bulls championship since Jordan?
Rookie Jimmy Butler also showed that he could shoot in his games, although good luck getting any playing time under Tom Thibideau’s reputed distaste for playing rookies early in the season. However, if Rip takes Butler under his wing, I foresee good things in the kid’s future. Combine that with a healthy season from Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng, and the Bulls may be the best threat to the Heat’s run at history.
The Old Guard:
The teams in this section were all contenders in the recent past. However, are they contenders this year? They’re all aging teams, and some teams are going to need to be luckier than others.
The loss of Caron Butler only runs skin deep for the defending champs since he was out during the playoffs last season. The truth is, the Mavericks will be a playoff team as long as Dirk Nowitski is still a 7-foot tall unstoppable monster. The loss of J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler hurt the team, and only time will tell if the additions of Vince Carter and Lamar Odom offset that. The combination of Jason Kidd and Vince Carter should bring back memories of the days when they played together with the Nets.
The Mavs will still have great chemistry, but I don’t actually believe that they’re going to be able to win a second championship on their old legs. Jason Kidd will be 39, Vince Carter is close behind him even at 35, and Dirk is on the back-nine as well. They will be able to put up a respectable defense of their title this year, but won’t be able to repeat against the improved younger teams on the rise. Playoffs, yes. Two in a row? No.
Los Angeles Lakers:
This is Kobe’s team, and the success will hinge on how good Kobe can be. His two and three are still there with Pau and Metta World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest. Kobe sustained a torn ligament in the preseason, and time will tell how that affects his play. But the early signs are good because he will be playing on opening day against the Bulls.
A long story short, the Lakers will be contenders. However, their days are numbered as the team continues to grow older. The departure of Lamar Odom hurts them as he was their sixth man off the bench. A couple minor free agent signings, and a new coach, ultimately the team remains all about Kobe Bryant and how far his shoulders can carry them.
The previous Beast in the East has seen time take his toll. The Big Three in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen will contribute. The lockout will even help them keep their bodies in condition for the rest of the season. They will do well. But there’s no one on that roster that can reliably keep the team afloat once they head to the bench.
The question for this team is how long can their old bodies hold up, and how much can the new guys contribute? Will it be enough to bring them back to the playoffs and beat the younger and faster Miami Heat or Chicago Bulls? Times are looking tough for Boston.
San Antonio Spurs:
Tim Duncan has maybe one or two more seasons left in him. Arguably he has been the force bringing the team into the playoffs, and when he faltered last playoffs, they were knocked out in the first round by the Memphis Grizzlies. Waiting in the wings however is Tiago Splitter, touted by many as being one of the best young big men in the league.
The Spurs are getting older, and their chances of winning number five hinges on the health of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.
Teams On The Rise
The T’Wolves have long been the punching bag of the league, however they are poised to take strides towards winning again this season. New coach Rick Adelmen has been known to work wonders with his rosters, and is stocked with talented putty in Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams, and J.J. Barea.
The key for this team is learning how to win. At the very least, they will be entertaining.
The Nuggets were a vastly superior team after the ‘Melo trade last season, leading the league in offense. So, can they continue their success? Well, bringing back Nene is a good start. Danilo Gallinari is ready to break out , and the two big guys Mozgov and Koufos, showed skill while Nene was off in free agency.
The key for this team is to figure out who is going to be The Man. It may be Gallinari, it may be Ty Lawson, or Aaron Afflalo. But whoever it is, they better figure it out if they want to beat the beasts.
Los Angeles Clippers:
The freshly labeled Lob City has a shiny new addition in Chris Paul, plus the return of the athletic Deandre Jordan means that this is gonna be a fun season for all the new Clippers fans. Although they lost Eric Gordon, Chris Paul more than makes up for it. Look for this team to challenge the rest of the league. Health is always a concern, as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have missed significant time due to injuries. Coach Vinny Del Negro is known for helping Derrick Rose along, but is he a coach worthy enough to bring a championship to the new-look Clippers?
The key for this team comes down to chemistry. Create it; challenge for Western supremacy. Fail to, well, who watches the Clippers anyway? Here’s hoping for the Showtime Clippers!
This team shocked a lot of people when they took out the first seed Spurs in the playoffs last year. The biggest shocker was that they did it without their biggest star, Rudy Gay. Talk about team chemistry! This year, they’ll be without one of their big backups in Darrell Arthur, but they traded for Quincy Pondexter and Rudy Gay is back, so I don’t anticipate an issue for the Grizzlies.
The key for this team is if they can integrate Rudy Gay into the system without screwing everything up. If they succeed, they’ll be the favorites to win it all.
Like the Timberwolves, this is another team that has been a long time punching bag for the league. However the addition of fan favorite Jimmer Fredette has brightened the future for this team. But they have a lot of issues, as maturity has been a question of top prospect Demarcus Cousins. The health of Tyreke Evans is another serious question.
Can they bring it all together? The key for this team is to grow up, and do it now if they want to stay in Sacramento.
The Jazz have a lot to sort out. They’re a overloaded at the four and five positions, which is a blessing for most, but not them. They have talented youngsters like Gordon Hayward on the court but they also have to play behind aging and expensive vets in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsapp. It’s unlikely they the two groups can coexist and form a winning team.
The key for this team is to figure out where the roster is headed.
New York Knicks:
They finally got their man in Carmelo Anthony and their ironclad defender in Tyson Chandler. It’s now or never for the Knicks to put it all together and bring the NBA Championship back to the Big Apple. But they need to prove they can work together and not just play isolation ball and expect things to fall in place. They have the star power to help the Knicks win this season, but it’ll be about the team chemistry that determines if they can make it into the finals.
They key for this team is to play defense, which has been the sole question mark of the Mike D’Antoni’s system.
Stuck in Purgatory:
The teams on this list are stuck running in place for one reason or another. The Magic are being held hostage by Dwight Howard until he finds a way out. The Hawks and 76ers are stuck with their big contracts and don’t have anywhere to go. The Blazers the Bucks are the hardluck cases of the league with injuries decimating their rosters; sad to see you go Brandon Roy. The Rockets got screwed on the deal with Chris Paul by the NBA and likewise no longer have a team that runs together. The Suns refuse to let go of Steve Nash, and while I admire their loyalty, the smart thing to do would be to trade him and start rebuilding. While none of these teams are bad enough to bottom-out, except the Magic if they lose Howard and The Suns if they lose Nash, they aren’t good enough to beat the teams on the top of the ladder.
Ahh, the Lottery. Here we have the teams that don’t have any expectations for the next few years. All of these teams have their star players, with the exception of the Raptors who have nobody. The only team with a glimmer of hope is the New Jersey Nets who want to spend money this offseason to hopefully keep Deron Williams around however unlikely that may be. If Dwight Howard decides to join them then perhaps then they will be contenders, but I just don’t see the stars aligning for that scenario. Golden State may also surprise people under new coach Mark Jackson but the lack of a big free agency signing dulls that glimmer of hope.
It should be an entertaining season overall, especially with the Clippers on the rise. How will the Knicks adapt to their surroundings? Can the Bulls get over the hump? In the past the powerhouse teams have been in the West, but I think this season will bring the East back into the limelight. While a few teams will be competing for the conference championship in the East, the clear favorite to win the West is the Thunder.