The long-awaited 2011-2012 NBA season tips off today… Merry Christmas! Five games are on the schedule but before you plop yourself in front of the TV, check out my Eastern Conference predictions.
1. Chicago Bulls
Don’t forget that the Bulls finished with the best record in the NBA last season even though they were without Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah for extended periods of time. The Rip Hamilton acquisition will be a nice addition for a team that struggled scoring from the wing last season. Oh, and they also have the reigning MVP of the league in Derrick Rose who I feel like nobody is talking about this pre-season.
2. Miami Heat
Injuries are already affecting the depth of this team as Mike Miller is going to miss a significant amount of time while newly signed Shane Battier has been banged up in the pre-season. It frightens me that Eddy Curry might actually play a significant role for the Heat this season but as long as they have LeBron, Wade, and Bosh (well actually just LeBron and Wade), they will finish in the top three in the East and be a threat to win the title.
3. New York Knicks
It will be interesting to see this team will handle the heightened expectations this season. The addition of Tyson Chandler gives the Knicks one of the best frontcourts in the NBA but there are questions in the backcourt where New York will need Baron Davis to play a significant role once he gets healthy. (It can’t be a positive thing when Baron Davis is the x-factor on your team, right?) Their bench is also a huge question mark with the likes of Mike Bibby, rookie Iman Shumpert, and Jared Jefferies expected to be key contributors.
4. Indiana Pacers
Here’s a good formula on how to build an up-and-coming team: Surround your star player (Danny Granger) with smart draft picks or young guys you’ve acquired at a cheap price (Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough, Paul George, Darren Collison, George Hill), add a key free agent who you didn’t overpay for (David West at two-years, $20 million), and keep cap flexibility for future (about $20 million under the cap next summer.) Just like that, the Pacers are definitely a team to watch out for in the future and can certainly make some noise this season.
5. Atlanta Hawks
Since they lost Jamal Crawford and ultimately replaced him with Tracy McGrady, the Hawks shouldn’t be much better than the 44 wins they posted in 2011-2012 since their depth is worse this year. The point guard duo of Kirk Hinrich and Jeff Teague is cause for concern as well. I think Josh Smith could be a trade candidate during the season as the Hawks try to add a point guard or big man so Al Horford can move to the power forward position.
6. Orlando Magic
Assuming Dwight Howard is around all season and his situation doesn’t cause a major distraction, the Magic should at least hover around the 40-win mark and finish no lower than sixth in the East. Their roster isn’t a whole lot different from what they had at the end of last season; Jason Richardson was re-signed, Glen Davis replaces Brandon Bass, and Gilbert Arenas was amnestied. If Howard gets dealt though, this prediction likely takes a major dip depending on what Orlando receives in return.
7. Boston Celtics
After their big four of Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, the C’s will be relying on guys like Jermaine O’Neal, Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley, Sasha Pavlovic, JaJuan Johnson, Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling, Mikael Pietrus, and Chris Wilcox to play key roles. Outside of Bass, none of those players should really be rotation guys on a championship caliber team. A shortened regular season will help them but how will this veteran team handle stretches where they have to play five games in a week?
8. Phildealphia 76ers
The Sixers pretty much return their entire roster from last season except for the addition of first round pick Nikola Vucevic. They were the 7 seed in the East last season with a .500 record and unless Evan Turner really makes a jump in his second season, you can expect a similar outcome for Philly.
9. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are coming off an injury-riddled 2010-2011 season in which they missed out on the post-season. If Milwuakee stays healthy and new acquisition Stephen Jackson is happy and motivated, the Bucks should compete for a playoff spot. They also added a couple of nice veterans like Mike Dunleavy, Shaun Livingston, and Beno Udrih who will help improve the depth of their team. Health though will be the key.
10. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons finished 30-52 last season and didn’t really do anything to improve their roster for this season. With this current core, I feel like Detroit will be lucky to be a mediocre franchise for the next couple years which is why I was not a huge fan of them spending $70 million dollars to keep Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince, and Jonas Jerebko. At least, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva aren’t making almost forty million dollars the next two seasons. (Shoot.)
11. Washington Wizards
It still baffles me that the Wizards are okay paying Rashard Lewis $46 million the next two years and that he wasn’t amnestied. John Wall seems like a breakout season candidate and there are some nice young pieces around him (JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, Jordan Crawford, Nick Young, and rookies Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton.) I wouldn’t be shocked if this team opens some eyes but a lot of things will have to come together as their re-building process reaches its second year.
12. New Jersey Nets
I will give the Nets credit for learning from their mistakes last season when they blew their cap space on mediocre talent. New Jersey failed to make a splash this off-season but at least made wise decisions in free agency to maintain their cap flexibility and keep the possibility of pairing Deron Williams with a big time talent (aka Dwight Howard.) Until then, New Jersey will struggle this season especially with Brook Lopez expected to miss the first six-eight weeks of the season.
13. Toronto Raptors
This roster is just a bunch of blah on top of blah. Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan are their best two players. Aaron Gray might end up being the starting center. I’d rather watch Jurassic Park 3 than a Raptors game.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers
Who would have known that acquiring Baron Davis would have been the best thing to happen to this franchise since they won a championship with LeBron. (What? They never did that… Oops.) The Cavs got the first overall pick in the Davis deal and on top of that got to amnesty Davis this off-season. Who says Cleveland is cursed? For now though the Cavs are sort of caught in between re-building mode and still waiting to shed a couple of terrible contracts (I’m looking at you Antawn Jamison.) I am excited to see Kyrie Irving play more than 11 games in a season though.
15. Charlotte Bobcats
Boris Diaw is their starting center. Corey Maggette is their top scorer. The defense rests, your honor. The only thing semi-intriguing about this team is seeing how Kemba Walker performs in his rookie campaign.
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities. David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu. He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft on the web.