The Celtics Plan Without Rajon Rondo

This isn’t the kind of injury that you can replace with a game-manager or fill in/expiring contract to replace a starter. This is Rajon Rondo we are talking about. Rondo probably means more to his team than a lot of other stars mean to theirs. Knowing this, it’s going to take someone special to replace Rondo in the short term, and even then the replacement probably won’t be up to Rondo’s par.

Not many players even have the potential to be on Rondo’s level. This trade I’m going to throw out there might fix the Celtics’ problems short term and long term. Let me explain.

(It’s a four-team trade, so you’re excused if it’s confusing. It’s making my head hurt,and I haven’t even written it yet.)

 

Boston acquires Tyreke Evans from Sacramento and Steve Blake from the Lakers.

Sacramento acquires Courtney Lee and Fab Melo from Boston. Devin Ebanks and Jodie Meeks from LA and Omri Casspi from Cleveland.

Los Angeles acquires Leandro Barbosa and Chris Wilcox from Boston and Tyler Honeycutt from Sacramento.

Cleveland acquires Francisco Garcia from Sacramento and a future second-round pick from Boston and LA.

 

Now we get to the explaining part.

First off is Boston. The Celtics get two point guards to at least do a half-decent job of filling in for Rondo. Obviously no one is going to replace Rondo, but Evans has the potential to be very good. Blake is one of the more consistent backup point guards in the league.

Boston also gets help long term. Not only would Boston have the option to re-sign Evans before anyone else does in free agency (that’s a huge stretch, but the Celtics would have the option,) but if they feel Evans doesn’t work, then they can let him walk and save the money that they owe long term to Lee. Blake gives them value this year, but also next year as a more-than-appealing expiring contract in a trade.

Sacramento. I have a little trouble with this if I’m the Kings Sonics. And the only problem I have is with Lee, more specifically, Lee’s contract. That is a lot of money long term for a starter-on-a-bad-team-bench-guy-on-a-good-team player. Sacramento Seattle gets another look at Casspi, plus Melo, a high upside big. Meeks’ contract is very team friendly in terms of what he can do. Ebanks is another guy on an expiring deal who could pan out given the chance. Sacramento gets rid of Garcia’s and Honeycutt’s contracts going forward.

The Lakers would love this trade if they made it. The one upside of Blake’s recent injury is the emergence of Duhon as more than just a trade throw in. That and the ever looming Darius Morris make Blake expendable. He’s even more expendable due to the fact that LA wants to save money. Dealing Blake would do that. LA also gets a Barbosa-Nash-D’Antoni reunion. (Side note, how many Phoenix fans envisioned that within five years of each leaving the Suns? The answer is one. That one guy who wants to rebuild and trade away anyone who isn’t 22 with big potential. We’ve all met them.) LA also gets more big-man insurance with Wilcox. Plus the fact that (and I’m no salary cap aficionado) Honeycutt’s contract might be non-guaranteed. Thus the team waves him, or buys him out, keeps a roster spot and saves enough money to buy the whole team lunch for a month or two.

Cleveland gets picks going forward, but also gets an interesting piece in Garcia. Yes, he costs them an extra four million, but has the potential to, like Blake, be a very appealing option as an expiring contract next year in terms of trade value.

I think the smartest thing for Boston to do is to go get Evans. You obviously aren’t going to finish with the best record in the conference, but maybe Evans finally figures it out under the tutelage of Doc Rivers, KG, Paul Pierce and a hobbling Rondo. Maybe Evans stays long term and plays well alongside Rondo in the future. Those “maybes” might turn into something better than a regular season conference title.

Trade Rajon Rondo?

Rajon Rondo has evolved from a spare part to key cog in Boston. Rajon Rondo might also be the key to any success the Celtics wish to have in the future.

The question now shifts to, “Do you trade Rondo or keep Rondo and Build around him?”

This branches off into multiple questions. One being, “If they do trade Rondo, what would they get back?”

And another being, “Should we trade the Big 3 for younger pieces to build around Rondo?”

If the Celtics do in fact choose to trade Rondo, then the return has to be substantial, if not an offer that blows them out of the water. The Celtics need a torch bearer, a star or center piece to lead them into the next phase of Celtics basketball. Rondo could be that player, and currently is that player at the present time. If he is traded, then the return has to be a player almost exactly like him. Not so much in a playing sense, but one who can be the center of a team, but also one who is young.

Because if the Celtics do trade Rondo for lesser pieces, so to speak, then they will be left with those supporting players in three to five years and will be nowhere near the level they were a couple years ago.

It’s a long road back to a championship level. The Pistons are on that long road, the Lakers where making that trek before some guy named Gasol showed up.

But probably the one constant is that it’s hard to blow everything up and compete at the same level the next season. If the Celtics are going to move Rondo it needs to be a player on the same level as Rondo coming back. The problem with that is that players of the stature in the league are entrenched in playoff runs. These would be guys like Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin. There isn’t a chance any of those teams makes those moves with the exception of maybe Orlando with Howard, but then the reoccurring question comes up for Orlando, can you build around Rondo? (This is assuming Rondo goes to Orlando in a Howard deal.)

The answer is … to be determined. If the Celtics jettison their vets for youth and keep Rondo, then we will see if you can build around him.

If the Celtics chose to build around their young point guard they need to, as stated, move their vets.

I’ve run through some potential situations and it makes the most sense to move KG and Ray Allen. Paul Pierce’s contract is probably one that the Celtics wouldn’t mind paying at a reduced rate, but Pierce retiring wearing another team’s jersey? Come on. Allen, Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal lead a horde of expiring contracts that dot the roster. The C’s will have a lot of cap room in the offseason. What they might choose to do with it is their decision. On the flipside, the expiring deals could be a draw for contenders and cellar dwellers alike to clear money. O’Neal’s contract is particularly interesting seeing as it is upwards of six million. Meaning the Celtics could move it for a sizable return and not be limited by the restrictions of a high-ish dollar value returning. Names like Michael Beasley, Tyrus Thomas and JJ Hickson are all potential targets for Boston. All three are young and have upside, and wouldn’t be a bad paring with Rondo.

Another thing that the Celtics should consider is Jeff Green, who they retain the rights to seeing as he is missing the year due to injury. Green paired with Rondo down the road suddenly doesn’t seem as bad as just Rondo. Still it’s nowhere near an elite nucleus the Celtics would like. Now if they get Thomas and pair him with Green, Rondo and maybe Avery Bradley, then maybe you get somewhere, but to be clear, Boston needs to make something happen.

One last name to consider is Josh Smith of the Hawks. His salary certainly isn’t obnoxious given his play, but it isn’t necessarily a bargain either. I’m not completely sure that Atlanta would move him to Boston for Ray Allen just to clear cap space.

Kevin Garnett could help a lot of squads. Squads who feel they are on the cusp of being legitimate contenders. Squads who feel they are that one veteran guy away from doing big things. If team X is out there, then they better have some monetary assets to move because KG makes north of 21 million this year. It’s not going to be a straight up swap to get him, and it might allow Boston to do something like this-

Boston offers KG to Dallas for Shawn Marion and Lamar Odom. Then makes Dallas throw in Dominique Jones and Rodrique Beabois, because the Celtics are taking Marion’s contract off of Boston’s hands, hence allowing Dallas to pursue the inevitable Deron Williams and Dwight Howard paring in free agency.

All of a sudden you have a team of Rondo, Pierce, Marion, Green, Beabois, Bradley, Brandon Bass, JaJuan Johnson, E’twaun Moore, potentially Odom and free agent signings X and Y. That’s not too terrible, seeing as X and Y are probably big guys because that team would be a bit back court/wing heavy.

That scenario isn’t too bad. It actually seems a bit desirable. I would certainly take it over their current roster.

Here is another involving former Sonics great Ray Allen.

First off, Ray Allen would be an obvious fit in a lot of places, some of those being Oklahoma City and the Clippers. There is no way the Thunder can finagle Allen from the Celtics. Yes Allen is a great, if not perfect acquisition for Clay Bennett’s Raiders. But the return for Boston would probably be some mix up of Cole Aldrich, Nazr Mohammed, Thabo Sefalosha, Royal Ivey and Daequan Cook. There is no shot the Celtics take that. It also deprives the Thunder of most of their bench.

Back to trades- Minnesota has been linked to players like Jamal Crawford. Allen certainly isn’t the same player, but would give the Timberwolves a nice shooting touch at the two. The Celtics would get forwards Michael Beasley and Anthony Tolliver in return. Allen is probably a little difficult to replace for Boston, but the potential that Beasley provides for the future probably out-weighs the Celtics need of Allen this season. Tolliver provides the Celtics with another body up front seeing as their current bigs are KG, Bass, O’Neal and Wilcox, not exactly an elite front line. Not a bad one either, but still not elite. There is more upside to this than just Beasley. If he doesn’t work out then the Celtics can let him walk in free agency after the season. No skin off their teeth, same with Tolliver. Point is that they maintain their free agency flexibility.

Now back to trading Rondo. They aren’t going to get a full return on him. If the previous situations play out, the Celtics might look like an athletic, wing-dominated team a la the 76ers. You could have that or you could trade Rondo to say Utah for Paul Millsap (makes a lot of sense now that I think about it, at least from a Utah standpoint) and let’s also say that KG and Allen walk via free agency. So would you lose the Big 3 not named Pierce as well as Rondo, have Millsap to show for it and a ton of cap space? So there’s Pierce, Millsap (or frankly anyone like that that the Celtics would get in return) and cap space and even more cap space. Or the sure thing in a potentially dangerous team for an extended amount of time. Just something to ponder.

 

 

Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and the Lakers all Wrapped Up Into One (and the defending champs, ho hum, note the sarcasm)

Disclaimer: This is all just a proposition. Just a made-up idea, it probably won’t happen. Don’t get too worked up Suns and Magic fans.

The proposed deal- (emphasize proposed)

Orlando Magic Acquire- PF/C Pau Gasol, C Andrew Bynum and G Darius Morris

Phoenix Suns Acquire- G Rodrigue Beaubois, PF/C Daniel Orton and SG Dominique Jones

Dallas Mavericks Acquire PG Steve Nash

Los Angeles Lakers Acquire C Dwight Howard, F Hedo Turkoglu and PG Jason Kidd

(Phoenix and Orlando also get everyone’s favorite trade fodder: draft picks)

Why it makes some sense- We’ll start at the top for this one (or by the list shown above).  Orlando gets two quality big guys (probably better than quality, more like All-Star, but we’re moving on) to replace another All-Star, Dwight Howard, who is leaving anyways at the end of the season. Just to be clear, this isn’t an even swap. Gasol and Bynum are good, but it takes a lot to replace Howard with one or even two players. Morris has been losing minutes in LA and the Magic could use some youth. Orlando also gets the aforementioned, terribly exciting to write about, draft picks! (Note the heavy, heavy, heavy sarcasm.)

Phoenix is the next team listed, so naturally we will talk about them. That’s not a ridiculous idea right? Back to Phoenix. The Suns return isn’t going to jump out at you. This is Beaubois, Jones and Daniel Orton. The latter being a young big with upside, a guy who Orlando sat on the bench for all of last season. Maybe they were looking for an Aaron Rodgers effect with Orton and Howard. Who knows? But Orton’s contract option was declined (if I’m not up to date in contract-speak, then insert correct term here). He’s going to be a free agent after the season. Phoenix could find some upside in him. After all Steve Nash did turn Marcin Gortat into a legitimate center. (That’s completely contradicting since I have Nash leaving Arizona, but it sounds good.)  Beaubois and Jones give the Suns some infusion of youth in a backcourt that includes Sebastian Telfair, Ronnie Price and Michael Redd. By the way, I toiled away at this on ESPN’s trade machine and Phoenix saves somewhere in the neighborhood of 9 or 10 million. And don’t-forget-about-the-picks.

Dallas gets an upgrade at the point, plain and simple. If Nash doesn’t work out, they can let him walk like they might let Kidd walk. Dallas might lose some picks in this situation, but to get Nash, I think they’ll take that risk.

Here is the one problem with this. If Dallas is intent on pursing Howard in free agency, or even in another trade this doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if the Magic and Lakers agree on a deal, Dallas could still gain from it. And to be honest, the Lakers probably have better trade pieces (cough, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, cough) than the Mavericks do (cough,  Sean Williams and whatever Shawn Marion used to dye his hair, cough).

The Lake Show finally gets Dwight Howard. They also absorb Turkoglu’s contract as well as picking up Kidd to run the offense. This isn’t Howard and some throw ins. Turkoglu will help the Lakers’ instability on the wing next to Kobe. They also get a potential HOF point guard to distribute the ball. A good trade all around for the Lakers even though they didn’t get to unload Luke Walton or the player-formerly-known-as-Ron-Artest’s-contracts.

More trades for teams who aren’t making the playoffs.

Charlotte Bobcats- The Bobcats are bad. The team needs some kind of size. Byron Mullens has been nice, but they need more size, whether they’re contending or not (read not). The rest of their frontline consists of Tyrus Thomas, Mullens, DJ White, Boris Diaw and the rookie-name-sensation Bismack Biyombo. Mullens is 7 feet tall, Thomas is 6-10. But outside of that the rest of the guys are 6-9 and shorter. We also should mention that Michael Jordan’s team has DeSanga Diop. Problem is that the Bobcats don’t have a ton of assets. Someone might want Corey Maggette’s contract. Boris Diaw could be a nice rental. I’m assuming they would like to get out of Matt Carroll, Diop and Maggette’s contracts. DJ White could be another cheapish rental. Unless they want to unload DJ Augustin because they’re fully committed to Kemba (it’s plausible) there aren’t a whole lot of assets here.

Potential Deals-

F Boris Diaw to Miami for Whoever. Miami could certainly use another big, whether that be a more finesse option like Diaw remains to be seen. Miami could have troubling dealing for anyone, let alone the former Sun, because the only non-Big-3 players who didn’t sign this offseason (making them trade-able only after two months or March 1st) are Norris Cole, Dexter Pittman, Joel Anthony, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem. Haslem and Anthony aren’t being dealt for other bigs. Neither is Cole or Miller. Pittman’s salary isn’t going to match up.

F Corey Maggettee and PF DJ White to Boston for C Jermaine O’Neal, PF Chris Wilcox and G Keyon Dooling. Maggette gives Boston a big boost on the wing. A boost that is sorely needed in Boston. Sasha Pavlovic and Mickael Pietrus are nice back up options, but the Celtics need some bench scoring. Maggette immediately becomes the best scoring option on the second unit. He also becomes the fifth best player on the team. Yes, this is no screw up. Boston dealing one of their better big men (yikes) in O’Neal. White is younger and cheaper. White can play the four with KG at the five. White can play five with Brandon Bass at the four. Greg Stiemsma has been serviceable. This isn’t a complete loss. Granted this doesn’t help Boston at all for the future seeing as they have to pay Maggette next year, but it certainly would help this year.

The Detroit Pistons have some nice pieces. (Read: Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe). They also have some overpaid ones. (Read: Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon.) It should be noted that Charlie V and Ben Gordon aren’t bad options, they just cost a lot.

How about this-

G Ben Gordon, F Charlie Villanueva and F Austin Daye to…….(fake, corny drum roll please…..) Atlanta for G Joe Johnson. Yes, this is terrible for the Hawks and the trade machine spits it out as their projected wins going down by five, but what if they trade their contractual albatross (Johnson) to Detroit for two contractual crows, so to speak. They also get a young guy with some upside (Austin Daye) who is a tweener in every since of the word.

Detroit gets a star player and All-Star to pair with Monroe, Knight and Jonas Jerebko. They also get a ticket-draw, so to speak, in Johnson. One that they desperately need. Think about that nucleus for Detroit, Johnson, Monroe, Knight and Jerebko, plus a likely lottery pick in a deep draft (probably another big man). Sounds pretty good right? Atlanta meanwhile moves to more of a Portland like blue-print. One lead scoring option who’s a good player ,not a superstar yet, (Josh Smith) and a flurry of secondary options that can contribute 10-20 points on a given night (Jeff Teague, Tracey McGrady, Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Charlie V and Marvin Williams). That’s not too bad, right? Probably still good enough to make the playoffs in the East. Did I mention Atlanta saves like a bajillion dollars?

Next up is the Hornets. Did anyone think that they would be this bad without Chris Paul? They aren’t short of good players. Eric Gordon is a very good two. Chris Kaman is solid. So are Jarret Jack and Emeka Okafor. Point is New Orleans has pieces that some teams might be interested in.

Proposed trade numero uno-

C Chris Kaman to Indiana for …. picks. Indiana has the cap room and is supposedly looking for another center to play behind Roy Hibbert. Kaman provides a more than quality option for Indiana. If it is picks, then  they are TBD. I’m not sure what the asking price for a potential All-Star Center is in the NBA these days.

Or….

C Chris Kaman to Houston for PG Johnny Flynn, C Hasheem Thabeet and G/F Terrence Williams. All three lottery picks who could use a change of scenery. All are also buried on the depth chart by well, depth. New Orleans gets three young pieces with a lot of potential for a guy who is a rental for them at best.

SF Trevor Ariza to Boston for F/C Chris Wilcox, G Keyon Dooling , G E’twaun Moore and a second round pick. Ariza doesn’t have a bad contract by any stretch, but I’m sure the New Orleans management (read David Stern) will want to shed some cash. The Hornets get two guys on expiring contracts who are potential buy-out guys as well as some youth infusion of Moore and another pick. I still can’t stress Boston’s need for perimeter help. Ariza is a bit like James Posey, so maybe that will help the Celtics.

The Washington Wizards. What can be said about the Wizards. They play in Washington, they’re called the Wizards. No, but seriously, the Wizards aren’t very good. They have some cap room, which is a plus, but something probably has to be done about Rashard Lewis and his 21 million dollar salary. That is way too much for a player that isn’t a part of Washington’s future, let alone worth that much. John Wall is a great building block. JaVale McGee can dunk it home. Jordan Crawford and Nick Young can both score. There’s upside, they just need more players with that kind of upside. Plus they could use my favorite thing to write about… Picks.

Deals that might work (just a heads up, I’m running out of synonyms for that phrase)-

PF/C Andray Blatche and a 2012 first-round pick to Sacramento for PF/C DaMarcus Cousins. It’s somewhat of a swap of headaches. Yes,the Wizards give up a likely lottery pick and a potential number one pick. But think of the potential of John Wall and Cousins playing together again. Those two with the rest of their young nucleus, not to mention Jan Vesley. Yikes. Blatche still has some potential. Even though he’s injured now, it still could be there for Blatche.

Jimmer mania has moved to Sacramento. Sacramento is also on their second coach of the season. The Kings have a good nucleus with guys like Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Jimmer, guys like that. The Kings have a lot of cap space, so money isn’t an issue. Here’s what I would do if I ran the Kings-

Trade SG Francisco Garcia and C Jason Thompson to Boston for C Jermaine O’Neal, PF/C Chris Wilcox and G Keyon Dooling. As you can tell I think the C’s could make some moves to help their bench and these guy’s expiring contracts are currently the best assets that Boston can move. Thompson helps them a lot in the frontcourt, and if he doesn’t work out, his contract expires after the season too. Garcia gives Boston their overstated boost on the wing. Sacramento gets out of Garcia’s contract and saves even more money.

So, don’t lose it thinking these deals are going to happen. Some of them might and some of them have absolutely no chance.

Should You Break up the Big 3?

The Boston Celtics won a ring with the “Big 3” that consisted of and still somewhat consists of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.

Now the team is a little different. Ok, maybe a lot different. Now the team is in the hands of 26 year-old point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo was on their championship team, but was looked at as more of a fourth option.

Gone are role players like Tony Allen, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Eddie House and Leon Powe. Arrived are their current place holders such as Chris Wilcox, Sasha Pavlovic, Keyon Dooling and Mickael Pietrus. Gone also is defensive stalwart Kendrick Perkins, only to be replaced with somewhat offensive center (at this point of his career) Jermaine O’Neal.

This team is going to look like the Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green Show in a couple years, with a hint of Avery Bradley, if the Celtics don’t do anything.

This isn’t a bad young core, but let’s face it, the NBA landscape will probably change in a couple of years and will continue to change with time.

Underlying theme spoiler alert: the Celtics need to make changes.

Not necessarily at this juncture, but depending on their play towards the trade deadline, a couple trades should be made.

If the Celtics are sitting at 10th or 11th in the East towards the trade deadline, they should make a move or two. If they’re somewhere in the 5th to 7th range, then maybe they pick up a bought out contract guy (i.e. Antawn Jamison) to boost the team. If the latter happens, then they should aim for turning over the roster to some extent in the offseason.

To get back to the title, yes you should break up the Big 3. Paul Pierce is probably the last to go, but then again is the most marketable to some extent. Kevin Garnett is probably a keeper for now due to Boston’s problems in the post. Ray Allen could be the most useful to other teams due to the fact that his shooting ability would help anyone.

Obviously at this stage in their careers the C’s aren’t exactly going to get what they gave up for players like Allen and Garnett.

(Ray Allen is the exception, because the Celtics really did trade Jeff Green ,at that time the pick, to the Sonics for Allen.)

Nor are the Celtics going to have Al Jefferson fall into their laps in exchange for KG.

Obviously the Celtics would like a return like the previously listed two, to move them into the next couple of years at a competitive rate.

If you look at veteran players who were still productive on the down spin of their careers and were traded, the return isn’t huge, but it isn’t too bad either.

The Wizards got a first round pick, the chance to buy out Zydrunas Ilgauskas’s contract (which they did) and a low risk, high reward Al Thornton for Antawn Jamison.

In a three-team deal the Rockets got Kevin Martin, Jordan Hill, the chance to buy out Jared Jeffries’s contract (they did) and Hilton Armstrong for Tracey McGrady, Carl Landry and Joey Dorsey. This wasn’t a straight up swap, but it was a good acquisition for Houston.

New Jersey got Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston and Tony Battie out of Vince Carter via the Orlando Magic. Lee isn’t with the team, but the Nets got Troy Murphy’s expiring contract for him to help them toward Darren Williams and potentially Dwight Howard.

Miami got Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks for a declining Shaq. The two were later flipped for Jermaine O’Neal and Jamario Moon. These contracts expired right before the offseason in which they brought in LeBron and Chris Bosh.

Denver got Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson. You look at that trade, there is no youth involved whatsoever, but Billups played well in Denver and was certainly a better fit than AI. He was then moved to the Big Apple with Melo for a plethora of young pieces and picks that included Danillo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and a first-round pick of the Warriors (potential gold mine!) in 2014.

These are probably easier targets to achieve for Boston. Maybe the trade doesn’t work out at first, but down the road they will gain something out of the pieces or cap space picked up in the trade.

Another underlying theme spoiler alert: Celtics need to build for the future soon.

NBA Season Predictions Eastern Conference-

Atlantic-

You’ve got Boston and New York: the old team trying not to fall apart too disgracefully and the up and comers with the shiny new toy. After that there’s the wing dominated, somewhat freakishly athletic Philadelphia 76ers. Following them is the New Jersey Nets, who have the cloud of Dwight Howard staring ominously down at them, with the Darren Williams situation hanging in the process. Finally there’s the Toronto Raptors who are still struggling after the Chris Bosh departure.

Predicted Finish-

  1. New York Knicks 40-26
  2. Boston Celtics 35-31
  3. Philadelphia 76ers 31-35
  4. New Jersey Nets 25-41
  5. Toronto Raptors 20- 46

The Thinking:

I think Boston could make it farther in the playoffs than the Knicks if Doc Rivers can manage the aging Celtics minutes. Bench issues could provide problems seeing as the Celtics best bench options are Chris Wilcox, Keyon Dooling and Sasha Pavlovic. This isn’t your “All Washed Up Second Team” this is the Celtics bench. Throw that in with the minute watching, and it might be a tough season at times for Boston.

New York, on the other hand, might be the exact opposite of the Celtics in some regard. Mike D’Antoni’s job could be on the line, and he might be forced to override Amare and Melo in order to win some games. The wildcard here is Baron Davis. If Baron Davis can play like he did in his Warriors days then this might be a steal for the Knicks. Other than Baron, the rest of the Knicks point guard situation isn’t necessarily great. It’s a nice bench setup with Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby, but not too outstanding.

Philadelphia is a bit tricky, a little hard to figure out. Andre Iguodala is a monster and Thaddeus Young is a big time athlete. You also have former number two overall pick Evan Turner, along with scoring option Jodie Meeks, plus veteran wingman Andres Nocioni. If you haven’t been keeping track you have all of those guys in line for two positions. It’s a bit much seeing as their only size up front is Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes and Mareese Speights. That could be a problem for them in the East.

New Jersey is another hard to predict situation. Dwight Howard could be in uniform at the end of the year, or he might not be.  Darren Williams will probably toil another year away in Jersey with an improved roster none the less, but one that is built around the arrival of Howard. Mehmet Okur and Deshawn Stevenson were nice additions, but at most it places New Jersey in the 10-12 range out East if Dwight Howard doesn’t come to town.

Toronto has struggled since Chris Bosh left. They have nice pieces in place with an efficient point guard in Jose Calderon, a potent-outside-scoring big in Andrea Bargnani. Ed Davis has some upside. Demar DeRozan has a ton of potential. The future certainly isn’t terrible in Toronto, but it’s not your Dream Team type either.

Central-

Chicago is going to be one of the best teams in the East. They, or Miami, could have the top seed going into the playoffs out East. Indiana is a really good looking up-and-coming squad led by Danny Granger. Milwaukee could be a sneaky playoff squad, or they could be picking in the lottery. Detroit and Cleveland both have young point guards that they are counting on in Brandon Knight and Kyrie Irving respectively.

Predicted Finish-

  1. Chicago Bulls 48-18
  2. Indiana Pacers 37-29
  3. Detroit Pistons 30-36
  4. Milwaukee Bucks 29-37
  5. Cleveland Cavaliers 17-49

The Thinking:

It’s hard to argue with an MVP (Derrick Rose), a cast of top notch role players (Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson, Ashton Kutcher — also known as Kyle Korver to some), plus a potent post pairing (that’s as far as I could go with the alliterations) of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. The prospect of a top defense isn’t the worst thing in the world to have either.

Frank Vogel’s Pacers team is complete. Complete is the perfect word. The Pacers have almost every need filled. Outside of being complete they also are deep, which could be more key than anything this year as teams will look to sit players on some nights to preserve them for the playoffs.  Throw in a healthy David West. There’s some potential in Indy this year.

Detroit is going to surprise some people, probably not a title contender this year but as a sneaky, troubling team to a high seeded team come playoff time. They are deep. How good the depth can be or is, is yet to be determined. The Pistons have a glut of 3-4 type players, including Tayshaun Prince, Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye and Charlie Villanueva. Add in a solid upside guy now and later in Greg Monroe, as well as a stable of guards in the form of rookie lottery pick Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon and Will Bynum. There’s somewhat of a little quality depth there, and the Pistons might get some wins playing Charlotte, Cleveland, Toronto, New Jersey and a possibly Dwight Howard-less Magic team.

Milwaukee might get into the playoffs on two things: Stephen Jackson’s attitude and Andrew Bogut’s health. If Captain Jack is on, then he’s extremely potent. Also, if Bogut’s trainer/doctor visits are kept to a minimum, then the whole “fear the deer” hoopla may return and Milwaukee could be dangerous. If not, then fans in Wisconsin could be in for a long, long season.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have problems. I didn’t like their draft choices in terms of potential. Irving and Thompson aren’t going to be any LeBron or Keven Durant. Also, if the Cavs tank, Andy Verajao and/or Antawn Jamison could be moved. It’s a long haul for Cleveland.

South East-

The Big Three could win a ring, not one, not two….. They can’t win two in one season. That’s ridiculous, none the less impossible. There’s also the ongoing Dwight Howard situation in Orlando: Will he stay or will he go? Where is he going? What are the Magic getting in return? Now he doesn’t want to be traded? Can I get a sandwich? (Just thought I’d throw that in there). Let’s see, who else? Oh yeah, Atlanta has no cap space and didn’t do anything except lose Jamal Crawford. Charlotte has “Cardiac” Kemba and the Washington Wizards have a guy you might have heard of called John Wall.

Predicted Finish-

  1. Miami Heat 47-19
  2. Atlanta Hawks 35-31
  3. Orlando Magic 34-32
  4. Washington Wizards 28-38
  5. Charlotte Bobcats 26-40

The Thinking:

The Miami Heat made a great move by bringing in Shane Battier. Add that to a squad that went to the NBA finals last year. It’s a bit of a by-default finals pick for some because of the uncertainty out West. If Eddy Curry can play like somewhat of ghost of his former self, then watch out for this team.

Quite honestly Atlanta and the Magic are interchangeable at this point. If Dwight Howard does leave via trade, this number could drop to a terribly low number. The team is a mess with Howard. Without him… Yikes. But I’m going with the Hawks over Orlando because of the sheer fact that they have a more complete team than the Magic. Yes Jamal Crawford is gone, but Joe Johnson could have a ridiculous comeback year. Or just a comeback year, either way I think the Hawks will be fine with one of the two previous options.

Orlando, like I said, is a mess. You have the Dwight Howard situation, plus oodles and oodles of bad contracts (yes that’s right oodles):  Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Duhon, JJ Redick, Quentin Richardson and I guess to a degree Jameer Nelson. It’s just a tough pill to swallow for the Magic either way. If Howard does stay, I don’t see Orlando being anywhere near Dallas, Miami, or Chicago in terms of title potential.

Washington, Washington, Washington, we’re still here waiting for a new team Stern! (Just thought I’d get that in there.) Now we’re talking about the Washington Wizards, a team with an intriguing core of Jon Wall, Jordan Crawford, Nick Young and JaVale McGee. Again not a lot of title aspirations this year, but a year where they will take some lumps, but also gain a lot of much needed experience. Put another big guy into this group and you have the makings for an exciting team.

Michael Jordan knows how to win. He might not have that opportunity. Any time you have Boris Diaw as a starting center, yep take that one in, Boris Diaw, who could play three in a big lineup as their starting center. I know that there aren’t a lot of elite centers out there, but Boris Diaw at the 5 spot? It’s a humongous red flag for a team who is undersized to the fullest and could take more losses than Jordan was used to as a player.

So just as a recap, this is what I would have in the first round of the playoffs:

1 Chicago vs 8 Philadelphia

2 Miami vs 7 Orlando

3 New York vs 6 Atlanta

4 Indiana vs 5 Boston

With Detroit as the team on the outside looking in, though I will say this, if Dwight Howard (hope you’re keeping track at home of how many times I’ve mentioned his name) is traded, Orlando doesn’t make the playoff and Detroit takes their spot with Philly moving up one spot. Here’s a visual:

1 Chicago vs 8 Detroit

2 Miami vs 7 Philadelphia

3 New York vs 6 Atlanta

4 Indiana vs 5 Boston

There’s your East primer/prediction extraordinaire. Stay tuned for the West primer/prediction.