Making Sense of the Phoenix Suns.

I’m going to give you three NBA teams who aren’t so high in the standings: the Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Throw Phoenix into the mix and you have four struggling teams.

Remember the old Sesame Street bit where they sang, “One of these things is not like the other?” This is similar, in the sense of how the teams built their current rosters.

Sacramento has gone the rout of putting as many young, high potential guys who like to shoot the ball (not much else) together.

Houston has a young group of interesting roster decisions. The point there is that they are young. Agree or disagree with how Darryl Morey got the players, the Rockets have exciting youth.

Cleveland rounds out the list with multiple lottery picks littering the roster.

The underlying theme in this is that the teams are young, and however frustrating it is to watch the team on the court (Sacramento), they have potential.

Phoenix however is different. There is no mention of a young building block with the potential or aptitude for stardom (i.e. Kyrie Irving, James Harden or DaMarcus Cousins). Continue reading

Game of Dominoes: NBA Free Agency

Let’s cut the flabber and get right to it. Steve Nash is heading to the Lakers in one of the more shocking moves of the offseason. The 38-year-old was shipped to LA in a sign-and-trade for two future first rounders and two future second rounders. The initial reaction isn’t a huge one. With Nash joining a proven playoff team, the picks figure to be at the end of their respective rounds. The thing is, though, that this was probably the best thing Phoenix was going to get. It surely beats letting him walk for nothing, and trumps out whatever sign-and-trade options Toronto, Dallas or New York would have offered.

It’s also somewhat genius for LA. Financial fodder aside, the Lakers got a top-tier player for relatively nothing. Los Angeles has a tendency to move their late first rounders for useful players in years past, so moving them for Nash isn’t surprising. Not to mention Steve Nash is much more than a useful player. No, the Lake Show didn’t get to unload Metta World Peace’s contract in the move, or any contract for that matter, but the Suns probably wouldn’t take it, or want it.

On the flip side of this, Phoenix seems to be throwing their new-found cap space at young, offensively-talented players. They have supposedly signed former Sun and Nash understudy, Goran Dragic, to a four-year deal and have also agreed to terms with former number two overall pick Michael Beasley on a multi-year pact. The third potential attacking prong is that of Eric Gordon. The Suns have signed him to a large offer sheet, and New Orleans could be hesitant to match given the fact that they are rebuilding and don’t want to tie down too much of their future money to one player, even one of Gordon’s talent. The Suns seem to be in less disarray than people would think after losing their face-of-the-franchise. A core of Dragic, Beasley, Kendall Marshall, Markieff Morris and potentially Gordon is pretty desirable, especially for a team that wants to score in drones like Phoenix does.

With Nash now out of the picture, Dallas has lost on one of their point guard options, scratch that, one of their options period. Lamar Odom is gone and the return is simply a trade exception. That we knew was probably coming, but what’s more is that the Mavs find themselves having gone down swinging on Nash, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Derron Williams. Yikes. What Mark Cuban and friends do next is beyond me.

Speaking of Williams, he’s staying a Net. One reason for that is the acquisition of one Joe Johnson. Johnson will join Williams along with recently signed Gerald Wallace in Brooklyn at the expense of Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, DeShawn Stevenson (likely a sign-and-trade) as well as forwards Jordan Williams, Johan Petro and a draft pick. This move looks terrible for Atlanta when news trickles in that Jordan Farmar is likely being bought out. That likely leaves the Hawks with some three pointers by Morrow and some defensive stops from Stevenson. Not exactly what you envision when you trade a six-time All Star. But here is why it’s so wonderfully brilliant. All the contracts the Hawks received in return only run through next season. That’s right, all expiring contracts. Even more surprising is the fact that Danny Ferry also shed Marvin Williams oddly long contract by way of Utah, dealing another former number two overall pick to the Jazz for Devin Harris. Who, in sticking to theme, also has an expiring contract after this season.  So add that all up and the Hawks have thrown themselves into the much finagled running for Dwight Howard and All-Star Point Guard X, who might or might not end up being Chris Paul.

In other New York news, Jeremy Lin might be done playing for the Knicks. It’s reported that Jason Kidd has verbally, or whatever the official term is, reached an agreement with the Knicks. Because of the new CBA among other things, the Knicks do technically have the ability to match any offer that is made to Lin, but it could be costly as reports suggest that Houston is discussing an offer sheet in the neighborhood of 30 million dollars. Talk about “overnight” success.

Houston meanwhile is putting a lot of their eggs in that “Lin” basket. The team moved Kyle Lowry to Toronto for a first-round pick that takes a lawyer to decipher when Houston could actually get the pick. That and Goran Dragic’s aforementioned presumable departure leaves the point wide open for Kevin McHale’s club. It would be a bit funny if Lin stays in New York and the Rockets go after and sign Aaron Brooks. Brooks was traded to Phoenix for Dragic, and should he sign with Houston… well you get the point.

With no transition at all here, no really, none at all, the Clippers are getting better. In terms of success, the newer Los Angeles team strengthened a solid backcourt to the point of using the word ridiculous. Randy Foye and Nick Young are likely out the door, but in their place return the now-healthy Mr. Big Shot as well as Jamal Crawford. They join Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe in a backcourt that now has four starting caliber guards. This move also merits the acquisition of Lamar Odom at the cost of Mo Williams. If you’re playing along at home, that’s a starting five of Chris Paul, Billups or Crawford at the two, Odom at the three (if not off the bench), Blake Griffin at power forward and DeAndre Jordan down low. Yikes.

In a slight towards the Oklahoma Raiders, what a crap deal to trade away Eric Bledsoe’s draft rights for a future first round pick, they could have definitely used him in the playoffs. Actually, good for Bledsoe: the Raiders don’t get a good player and Bledsoe doesn’t have to play for a terrible owner. Win-win.

In guards-who-can-score-at-all-times news, Jason Terry is going to Boston. Or he has “supposedly” agreed to a contract with the Celtics. Terry will get the full mid-level exception for three years and upwards of 15 million dollars. Jason Kidd supposedly signed with the Knicks because they had better pieces, and you can see why. Dirk’s supporting cast has shrunk to Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. Yikes.

And throughout all this, the name “Dwight Howard” seems to be flying under the radar. FOR ONCE. The constant-topical center has supposedly (if I only had a million dollars for every time I said that, I’d be a multi-millionaire! Grins cheesily and gives Borat-esque thumbs up) asked to be moved to New Jersey Brooklyn. Good luck Dwight. After Joe Johnson and his contract (which, by the way, is so big that he had to check it on the flight up to Brooklyn) were acquired, and along with the long-term buildup of Gerald Wallace’s shiny new deal, there isn’t a whole lot of cap room left for you. The Nets do have Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries and MarShon Brooks, who all together almost add up to Howard’s salary. However, I’m not so sure that the Magic should make that move.

 Let the financial finagling continue.

What Ricky Rubio’s Injury Means for the Timberwolves

Ricky Rubio has torn his ACL and is lost for the campaign, thus ending a highlight filled season for the rookie. Rubio will certainly be missed this season in the Twin Cities for the year. (I make it sound like he got traded to some pro-am team in Winnipeg, but he didn’t. He’s just injured).

Anyways, the T-Wolves as the kids like to say, aren’t in a terrible position because of this. Yes, they lost their starting point guard, but the annual trade deadline is fast approaching, which means the Timberwolves will have time to make a move if they choose to do so.

The Timberwolves also aren’t without viable assets. Michael Beasley is somewhat of a prime trade piece. He’s been “discussed” (which means that there are more rumors than you can shake a stick at about Beasley) in deals to Boston, LA and Orlando. While dealing Beasley might derail Minnesota’s chances at a possible Pau Gasol acquisition  (he might not actually be available), it could also net them a solid replacement point guard, if they need it.

Minnesota currently has Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea on payroll. Those are two very solid options at the one spot. The immediate need might not be there, and the Timberwolves might wait to add a bought out point guard later in the season if the need persists.

Ridnour has not necessarily been used as a shooting guard, but in more of a two point guard set with Rubio. Moving him back to the point could shift Minny’s focus to a shooting guard a la Jamal Crawford or Ray Allen.

The real question that I have been skirting around with trade fodder is what Rubio’s injury really means for the Timberwolves. It means that Minnesota’s playoff chances take a hit. Whether we’re talking big hits a la casualties of the Saints bounty system (You had to think I’d mention it at some point) or whatever hilarity ensuing comment you can think of about a light hit. It’s a hit none the less. Minnesota currently trails Houston in the race for the NBA’s eight seed and would probably welcome a boost.

The injury might derail Minnesota’s season in the sense that they get into a funk afterwards and can’t recover. Or they could rally around the injury and run the gauntlet. All in all the injury will make or break the team this season.

Best Fits for Pau Gasol

This could be complete junk by the time you read this. Pau Gasol could be on a team that is not the mighty purple and gold Lakers (note the heavy sarcasm). He might be first fiddle. He might be second fiddle. Who really knows? But if Gasol is traded, certain situations and teams are probably better fits for the seven-footer. What we have heard from various media outlets and insiders in various cities and counties is that Houston and Minnesota are two teams who are interested in Gasol.

Houston’s interest in Gasol is natural seeing as they would have acquired him in the much-ballyhooed trade that was vetoed by the point-man behind the Hornets… David Stern. Houston would have surrendered Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a first round pick to the Hornets while receiving Gasol. And Houston is probably still interested in Gasol. The kicker is that Chris Paul is off the board, so there won’t be any three-team swap with the assets going to the Hornets. In any deal for Gasol, the Lakers would probably like a point guard in return, because of the whole Chris Paul thing. Houston, incidentally has a very good one named Kyle Lowry. Now, whether the Rockets want to include Lowry in any deal remains to be seen. If they wanted to include him, he’d probably be a Laker and Gasol would be a Rocket. Here is the thing with Houston, Gasol would be a good fit, but at what cost?

Houston would probably have to surrender not only Lowry, but also Scola. If this is a two-for-one, LA comes away with a seven-win improvement and Houston takes a four-game hit. All per ESPN’s trade machine. This serves up the first point, does this make Houston better? Does it? Do we, or Houston for that matter, want a reincarnation of Memphis with Pau Gasol as the centerpiece of the team? Gasol is easily one of the better 20 or 30 players in the league, but I can’t see him being a team-centerpiece at this point. Houston also sacrifices their starting point guard and power forward. I know Houston is deep with youth almost everywhere, but is sacrificing Lowry worth it? As it stands Houston would be in the playoffs if they started today. So maybe they don’t need to do anything. I just think this whole thing is a bad idea. Houston is set as it is, and they don’t need a whole lot to make noise in the playoffs. They have maybe the most valuable thing in the NBA that isn’t LeBron James: a deep bench with young, fresh legs. That might be all that Houston needs.

Minnesota has also reportedly expressed interest. This one actually makes a lot of sense. A Gasol-Love post paring seems pretty formidable. Who plays the five would be up in the air, but that’s a very good duo to dump the ball into. Both can also stretch the floor with jumpers and hurt you on the low block. If you can’t tell, I’m already jumping on the imaginary bandwagon. The other pairing that would be formidable would be Gasol with his countryman Ricky Rubio, those two along with Love and Nikola Pekovic is a very good nucleus. Throw in JJ Barea and you have, as stated, a very good team. The other key with Minnesota is that the assets LA would want from Minnesota would be some combo of Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams, a pick(s) and some other smaller pieces. Beasley will probably be traded in one way or another, so why not ship him to LA in a Gasol deal? Williams also goes to the Lakers with the Timberwolves not losing as much as other teams would be for dealing the number two overall pick from the previous year.

Minnesota doesn’t lose a whole lot, but would have to send salaries like Brad Miller’s and Anthony Randolph’s to Los Angeles to even it out.  The picks going to LA will be … well I’m not sure. These things tend to work themselves out. Maybe a future first rounder? Honestly I have no idea.

Teams who loaded up on assets to go after Dwight Howard might find Gasol a viable alternative, though I can’t see any one of the teams possibly interested in Howard (New Jersey, Golden State, etc.) making a run at Gasol.

So if I’m Minnesota, I make the call to LA and get the Gasol thing done if the Lakers are willing to do it.

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.

 

 

NBA Season Predictions Western Conference

Northwest-

In the somewhat accurately named Northwest division, you have everyone’s chic pick, Oklahoma City (not mine). A rugged team that has gone through a ton of adversity, Portland. The deep team that seems built for a lockout shortened season, the Nuggets. A squad that has a lot of youth, but also a lot of veteran presence, the Utah Jazz, and a team who is looking to take their lumps in a rebuilding year, Minnesota.

Predicted Finish-

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder 40-26
  2. Portland Trailblazers 38-38
  3. Denver Nuggets 35-31
  4. Utah Jazz 34-32
  5. Minnesota Timberwolves 23-43

The Thinking:

Oklahoma City is going to be good, how good, I’m not sure. Kevin Durant will get his 20-30 something points per game, outside of that the starting five could have some problems. The Thunder has made the decision of going with defensive stopper Thabo Sefalosha over the more offensively gifted James Harden. This works when guarding the elite perimeter players, but offensively Thabo isn’t going to give you a lot. Throw in two defensive-minded bigs in Serge Ibalka and Kendrick Perkins, as well as Russell Westbrook’s streakiness and there’s some potential to have a terrible game on the offensive end if KD has a bad outing.

Rip City has been the subject of adversity as of late. Brandon Roy was forced to retire due to his knees. Greg Oden’s status is still up in the air. But Portland has rebounded in one of the better ways possible. They replaced Roy with fellow Seattle area native Jamal Crawford, and added frontcourt depth with Craig Smith and Kurt Thomas. The Blazers also swapped Andre Miller for Raymond Felton, which looks genius from a lot of different standpoints. Throw in those additions with guys like LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Mathews and Gerald Wallace. I’m telling you, Portland is going to be good.

Carmelo Anthony is gone. And quite frankly, Denver seems to have moved on just fine. The Nuggets have taken the identity of a team who can play a lot of guys and still score deep on the bench. Denver is very deep in most positions and can beat you in a number of ways. The Nuggets could be a problem come playoff time because of their depth.

Utah is a curious team. Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Devin Harris, Raja Bell and Josh Howard form a nice veteran core for the Jazz. On the flipside they have a talented young nucleus in Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. If the now Jerry-Sloan-less Jazz can find a good mix of intriguing vets and youth, it’s there in Salt Lake City. If they can’t find a good mix, it might be a long year and other teams will come calling for guys like Millsap, Bell and Howard.

Minnesota will be fun to watch. Not on par with Lob City, but a core of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, JJ Barea, Michael Beasley  and Derrick Williams will excite. The future is there in the Twin Cities, but the present might be filled with growing pains and turnovers.

Pacific-

The California/Phoenix division is going to be fun. In LA especially, Chris Paul will lead the league in Alley-Oop passes, Kobe Bryant will lead the league in… something — you pick. Lamar Odom is out of tinsel-town for the first time in a while. His replacement is the one and only Josh McRoberts. Yes that’s right, the reigning sixth man of the year was, and is replaced by McBobs. Golden State meanwhile is ushering in the Marc Jackson era with a new found attempt at being a defensive team. I’m not messing with you. A team with a starting lineup that includes Monta Ellis, David Lee and Stephen Curry is focusing on defense. We go from one run-and-gun (though they don’t want to show it) to another in the Phoenix Suns. The Suns have Steve Nash, and if they ever lose Nash for an extended amount of time, it could be a problem. We’re talking major problems. I guess Sacramento is the same kind of team, same mold, as the last two teams listed. They are going to run, they are going to gun and a good deal of the time, they will brick. This is a team with some good players with young talents like Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins (it would probably serve them to draft strictly John Calipari guys going forward).  Throw in the Jimmer and there’s some potential for some big highlights, but also some big time bricks. The Clips might be Lob City, while the Kings might be Brick City.

Predicted Finish-

  1. Los Angeles Lakers 36-30
  2. Los Angeles Clippers 34-32
  3. Golden State Warriors 31-35
  4. Phoenix Suns 30-36
  5. Sacramento Kings 19-47

The Thinking:

The Lakers could very well finish fumbling down the stretch if Kobe gets banged up. It’s already a three man squad to begin with, with Kobe, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. There isn’t much else to be pumped up about on the bench or in the rest of the starting lineup. You’ve got nice pieces in McBobs and Steve Blake. Outside of that it’s newly dubbed Metta World Peace, Derek Fisher, Gerald Green and Luke Walton. Yikes.

The laughing stock isn’t necessarily the joke it used to be. If you have lived under a rock for the last couple months you’ve missed that A, we have basketball again, but B, the Clippers are relevant again. When I say relevant, I’m not saying a title is a distinct possibility this season, but a ring certainly isn’t out of the question in the next couple of years if a couple things go as planned. One, CP3 resigns. This is the key. Pair him with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan going forward, and there’s going to be some dunks and points scored. Two is that Blake Griffin resigns long term as well. They’ve locked up Jordan. Now they just need the other two to resign and they are golden. Oh yeah, did I mention that they brought in some guy named Chauncey Billups as well? The Playoffs this year are certainly not out of reach for the Clippers.

Tell me if you notice a theme here. Monta Ellis, strength: offense. Stephen Curry, strength: offense. David Lee, strength: offense. Klay Thompson, strength: offense. Ditto Brandon Rush and Dorrell Wright. Did I mention that new coach Marc Jackson wants to be a defensive team? Confusing, I know. There will be some growing pains in the bay area this year. Don’t be completely shell-shocked if they sneak in as an 8 seed with all the unrest out West.

Welcome to Brick City! Yes, that’s what signs should read all over the capitol of California. Jimmer will make some shots that make people go Google BYU and see how they are flopping in WCC this year. Other than clicks for ESPN’s BYU page, Sacramento won’t accomplish much. And I’m serious about the whole only drafting Calipari players.

Southwest-

The real up and comers out west, the Grizzlies,(that’s right Thunder) are looking to rebound on a solid season last year in which they surprised a lot of people. Not to mention without Rudy Gay, lots to like in Memphis. Then there are the defending champs, the Dallas Mavericks. Excuse Shawn Marion’s blonde hair, I’m not disrespecting Dallas. I still think they are a likely 1-3 seed come playoff time, and I really like the Delonte West signing. A repeat is not completely obnoxious to think about. Following them down the line are the Spurs, who because of the lockout will likely give up some games to rest their Big 3 for the playoffs. Big if here, but if Houston’s clustered roster of former lottery picks plays up to the hype that made them lottery picks, then Houston could be a thorn in some higher seeded team’s side come playoff time. Then there are the Hornets who are just begging to be moved to Seattle (again had to throw a Stern jab in there), and are subsequently owned by the league. But the rebuilding process is under way in NOLA and it’s not too bad of an outlook for the Hornets.

Predicted Finish-

  1.  Dallas Mavericks 43-23
  2. Memphis Grizzlies 40-26
  3. San Antonio Spurs 37-29
  4. Houston Rockets 33-33
  5. New Orleans Hornets 22-44

The Thinking:

The Mavs will be relevant again after their title run last year. They could very well go to the Finals once again because of all the uncertainty in their very own conference. Dallas added some nice pieces (Lamar Odom, West) and lost some pieces that were extremely important to them (Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea). The regular season will likely end in a playoff berth, that much is probably true, because the Mavs are too good not to make it. The key for Dallas will be Brendan Haywood. If he plays more like Tyson Chandler than himself (another big if) then Dallas could repeat, if not, the ring ceremony on opening night might be their highlight of the year.

Memphis is the up and comer. None of the OKC business, the Grizzlies are for real. They have no glaring needs anywhere and are a complete team that can hurt you in a number of ways. Not just one, (cough: Kevin Durant) while the phrase “a lot to like” has been used probably a little more than anyone would like in this column/piece, there is a lot to like for the Grizz.

The Spurs are going to succumb to the shortened season by sitting their Big 3 on some nights for rest. Or entire road trips for that matter. The Spurs will make the playoffs, and if proper rest is used accordingly, this team could be dangerous come playoff time. (Again another overused phrase, but just roll with it.)

Kevin McHale has somewhat of a curious team in Houston. The Rockets are rich with former lottery picks, so the “rebuilding” tag is a hard sell at this point. Houston’s basketball team might be stuck in NBA no-man’s land:  middle of the pack. Like I previously said, if they play up to the potential that made them lottery picks. Watch out. (Yet another overused statement that likely is being burned out of my mental dictionary/word-bank as we speak due to over usage.)

The Seattle Sonics… Oops sorry the New Orleans Hornets, have a difficult season ahead of themselves this year. One, they just lost their starting point-guard and face-of-the-franchise: Chris Paul. And two, they have the second worst owner in the league: (only to every northwesterner’s favorite sports figure, notice the heavy sarcasm, Clay Bennett) David Stern. Plus they don’t really have ownership at all seeing as the league still owns the team (a point I can’t state enough). It might be tough in NOLA. (Yes, I just used NOLA more times than New Orleans.)

If all that becomes somewhat of a reality the playoffs would then look like this in the west:

1 Dallas Mavericks vs 8 Utah Jazz

2 Memphis Grizzlies vs 7 Los Angeles Clippers

3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs 6 San Antonio Spurs

4 Portland Trailblazers vs  5 Los Angeles Lakers

I don’t see a whole lot changing here. With the exception of a Steve Nash miracle (not out of the question) the playoff picture probably looks something like this:

1 Dallas Mavericks vs 8 Phoenix Suns

2 Memphis Grizzlies vs 7 Los Angeles Clippers

3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs 6 San Antonio Spurs

4 Portland Trailblazers vs  5 Los Angeles Lakers