It’s August… It’s pretty quiet on the western front let alone any front in the NBA at this time of the year. The RR podcasts and articles are starved for content so its likely time to launch the way to early pre season rankings. The order in which the teams appear are my predicted order of finish. As always the slings and arrows of commentary are welcomed.
Top Tier and the Team(s) to beat.
The Lebrons. They are still the big dog in the east. As long as LBJ’s name gets put into the starting 5 the road to the ECF runs through Cleveland. Curious they haven’t signed JR Smith and he is gorilla glue on the wing for them. Maybe he buys a shirt with that playoff money and signs in August… still they should post up 58 to 61 wins.
Next Tier and the Teams that could challenge
Your Toronto Raptors. Losing Biz will hurt but it’s not call the family to the hospital hurt. More like get out the mercurochrome and grit your teeth a bit. Improvement from Joseph, Powell and JV along with PPat and Sullinger in contract years and a theoretically healthy Carroll will keep the Raps one rung below the Lebrons. 52 to 56 wins.
The Herd ….and it’s a big Herd.
The Pacers… Larry Legend dumped his 1st round pick to the Nets for Thad Young and in a three way swap moved out the very solid but slow defensive PG George Hill for the whippet quick Jeff Teague. Larry wants to push the pace and seems to be very willing to live with semi shitty defense of Teague in order to speed up his offense. Paul George is really really good and Young is pant loads better than Solo Hill. Myles Davis Tuner gets a mentor in Big Al Jefferson and the Pacers move from 7 seed to 3th. 46 to 48 wins.
The Celts… Last I checked you didn’t win anything for having a good farm system or lots n lots of what media guys think are good piece parts. Since Ainge hasn’t been able to trade any of them for anything of significance the GMs of the league don’t share the Medias perspective. Yet the amount of ink and terabytes spent on the theoretically asset laden but yet to win jackshit Celtics might lead you to believe there was some type of trophy for being potentially good. There isn’t. The Celts won 48 games last year. They lost their starting SG and PF but added a replacement all star in 30 year old Al Horford. They sport a very good Isaiah Thomas at PG but they still have a lot of really young unproven guys up and down the roster. Colour me skeptical on this years version of last years Heat. Celts win between 46 and 47 games.
The Pistons. The men from Motown have a rebounding and putback machine in Andre Drummond at the 5. He still can’t shoot foul shots and will likely wind up sitting at the end of games again but when he is in he is a pantload to handle. They have a soon to be ready for primetime SG in Caldwell-Pope and they get a years worth of Tobias Harris at SF. Reggie Bullock can use a little Ritalin from time to time but he is a PG that is above the median in the east. Stanley Johnson who doesn’t get the ink that Winslow does will likely pass Winslow in production this year for 2nd year guys. The Pistons are getting better. Move up from 8th to 6th and win between 45 and 47 games this year.
The Hawks… Coach Bud is probably going to change the way the Hawks play as he now has an under the basket centre in Dwight instead of a stretch 5 with Horford. Millsap is in a contract year and is the consummate plug n play pro. Schroeder gets the keys to the offense and will be backed up by.. gasp … Jarret Jack. That’s got to be a bit of a worry. On the wing the Hawks have Kent Bazemore and Kyle Korver but after that they are pretty thin with an assortment of rooks and 2nd year guys. Tim Hardaway Jr. , Taureen Prince and DeAndre Bembrey . Hawks win between 44 and 45 this year.
The Hornets…. For an offensively challenged team the Buzz remain that way again this year. With the departures of Big Al and Jeremy Lin the Hornets are going to need a lot from Kemba Walker on a nightly basis. Nic Batum will be a steady performer and the Hornets are confident that after a dozen years Marvin Williams finally has hit his stride and will repeat last years performance. They will get a full season of Kidd- Gilchrist which they can really use. Still.. its going to be tough for the Hornets to win more than 43- 44 games this year.
The Tallest Midgets… fighting for the 8th sport and the right to get killed in the 1st round.
The Wizards. It’s the best backcourt in the East. Just ask them. Yes sir we are great, the best.. is anybody still listening to us ? Beal will look to finish a year without getting hurt and Wall will have to hold it together if he doesn’t and odds are he doesn’t. Gortat is a very solid 5 and they get a full year of Markieff Jailbird Morris. Oubre will come along some in his second year and still not sure what Otto Porter is going to be. They barely edge out the Bucks for the 8th spot with 41 or 42 wins.
The Bucks… The Bucks could catch the Whiz but the Bucks still sport the worst backcourt in the east that’s not Philly. They are pretty good everywhere else. Khris Middleton can light it up from the wing and Antetokounmpo will provide matchup problems where ever he lines up with his combination of size and motor skills. Will this be the year Jabari Parker shows why he was the 2nd overall pick ? Will Greg Monroe find a way to fit in better than last year or be on the block in February. Lots of questions and if some get answered in the affirmative the Bucks could nudge out the Wizards. Bucks get to 500 with 41 wins.
The Knicks… Carmello is watching the clock tick down on a career in which he really doesn’t have much to show for save for a vault full of money. He is paired with a Derrick Rose who needs the ball as much as he does and is clearly on the downside of a once brilliant career. They are joined by Joakim Noah who wants to show the Chicago front office up so bad he can taste it. Trouble is they are on repaired knees. Ok for beer league not so much for an 82 game NBA season. The Zinger will continue to amaze but there is no core of players who are growing with him. There is no bench. Sasha Vujacic still plays for the Knicks. Uggh. They are going to start well but the odds are very good one of Rose / Melo / Noah gets hurt for an extended period of time and the Knicks miss the playoffs which they are gunning for yet again. 40 or 41 wins.
The Bulls… Its retro year in both Chi-town and the Big Apple. Teams built for a decade ago. Wade and Rondo are more myth than reality now and neither can shoot. Who gets the ball when they are both on the court? Dragic never saw it when Wade was in Miami so why will Rondo in Chicago and Rondo isn’t the player that Dragic is. Its just a tough fit all around. Gasol is gone and so is Noah. Gibby and the wrong Lopez are the lone dependable bigs up front. Mirotic and Butler and McBuckets will play the wing. Portis will continue to learn on the job. Going to be a tough year in the Windy City. Bulls win maybe 38 games.
The Heat… It all depends on Chris Bosh and whose lawyers accept the most risk. If Bosh is cleared to play and can indeed play all year and pairs up with Dragic and Whiteside the Heat move from this tier to the herd .. if he doesn’t play then the Heat finish with maybe 34 to 36 wins and get a lottery pick to go along with more cap space than Fort Knox for Pat Reilly to reload in 2017-18.
The Orlando Magic. Exactly WtF are the Magic doing ? They have traded away solid young talent in Tobias Harris and Victor Olidipo and the rights to Domantas Sabonis in the last 8 months and have Serge Ibaka for a year to show for it. Ibaka is good but can they keep him ? They look really deep at the 5 with Vukevic and Biz and have a development project in Stephen Zimmerman but that’s a lot of money they have tied up in a position that doesn’t have the weight it once held with the advent of small ball. They are young or inexperienced (you pick) at SF with Hezonga and Gordon. Fournier is a very decent SG and they have a jury still out PG in Payton. The eclectic Magicians remain that way again. Lots of pieces that will take some time to grow into something. Thinking 34 to 36 wins.
Rio de Janeiro Water grouping… Lots of Raw Sewage and Garbage.
The Sixers…. They have a potentially really good front court with Embiid / Noel / Saric / Okafor and this years saviour Ben Simmons. Simmons will be good but he is a raw rook and summer league aside rooks don’t usually don’t put a team on their backs and make material improvements . Especially in Philly when they have no backcourt. They start TJ McConnell as their starting PG fer Christ sake. Who is going to get the ball to the guys up front ? BC is going to have to fix that sooner than not. This could be a make or break year for Nik Stauskas at SG. Still this version of the now Hinke-less Sixers should be able to beat their 10 wins from last year well before new years eve…. but I don’t think they crack the 30 win mark for the year. Philly wins between 24 and 28 games.
The Nyets… Fans of the New Jersey Brooklyn Nets must wish Billy King gets buried beside Jimmy Hoffa in the New Jersey Meadowlands swamp. Sean Marks has his work cut out for him. He has the right Lopez but not much else. Luis Scola joins Jeremy Lin and Grevis Vasquez as FA signings to go along with the rookie out of Michigan with the twice surgically repaired feet Caris Levert and second year man Rondae Holllis Jefferson. The Nets look to be the guys sweeping up behind the elephants once the parade is over. 20 to 24 wins. Vaya Con Dios boys.