Projected Finish - Atlantic Division
1. New Jersey Nets
2. New York Knicks
3. Philadelphia 76ers
4. Boston Celtics
5. Toronto Raptors
New Jersey Nets
a disappointing year for the Nets, 2005-2006 is shaping up to be much better.
Even though they nixed a trade that would have brought Shareef Abdul Rahim to
the Nets, the team still has enough talent to top the Atlantic Division. Jason
Kidd may not be the player he was, but he shot the three-ball at his best since
1996 (36 percent) and rebounded better than any time in his career at 7.4 rebounds
per game (rpg). Vince Carter has resurrected his career in New Jersey, giving
the Nets a dynamic scorer who commands attention down the court. Add in Richard
Jefferson, who was lost for most of the year with a wrist injury, and you have
a potent trio primed to get the Nets back to the top of the NBA East.
New York Knicks
Let's face it: the Knicks have not been very good in recent seasons. That could
all change this year. While the Knicks upgraded their talent level significantly
by signing Quentin Richardson and Eddy Curry, the greatest upgrade has to be bringing
in Coach Larry Brown. Larry Brown has turned around every franchise he has coached.
He even took the Los Angeles Clippers to the playoffs. The question is: how long
will it take to get his players to buy into his system? Will Stephon Marbury become
the pass first point guard Larry Brown loves? Can Brown get Jamal Crawford and
Richardson to share the ball and stop taking 20 shots a game? Will Eddy Curry
finally live up to his potential? I predict that Larry gets a "yes" answer to
these questions and gets his Knicks into the playoffs.
Finally the 76ers have the coach they want in Maurice Cheeks. After going through
three coaches over the last two seasons, General Manager Billy King believes that
Cheeks will handle Allen Iverson and Chris Webber better than Jim O'Brien did
last year. Iverson is coming off of the best statistical season of his career,
when he averaged 30.7 points per game (ppg), 7.9 assists per game (apg) and 2.4
steals per game (spg); but he is also 30 years old now and his body can only take
so much more. With Webber's knees probably only able to hold out another season
or two, the 76ers need to make a run now. Even with all their young talent (Samuel
Dalembert, Kyle Korver and Andre Iguodala), the 76ers do not have enough drive
right now to challenge for a championship. If Iverson and Webber play together
like the All Stars they are, the team could get the Atlantic Division crown. If
they don't, making the playoffs will be a challenge.
Last year the Celtics made a spirited run at the playoffs and won the Atlantic
Division. This year, it won't be that easy. Although they still have Paul Pierce,
who can take over a game at any time, they lost some key players, like Gary Payton
and Antoine Walker, in an effort to open up salary cap space and get younger.
While this may pay off down the road, 2005-2006 may be a tough season for the
young Celtics. They have a nice young core with Al Jefferson, Delonte West and
Gerald Green, but unless they mature a great deal this year, a .500 record may
be the best the Celtics can hope for. Watch out for Brian Scalabrine this year,
though. He received a nice contract from the Celtics, who expect him to play very
Sorry to say this Toronto fans, but don't expect much from the Raptors this season.
Chris Bosh is the only All Star caliber player on the roster. The only other proven
players, Morris Peterson and Jalen Rose, are role-players at this point. Charlie
Villanueva is going to be a player eventually, and Rafael Araujo should contribute
from the center spot this season. Besides watching the young players develop,
fans of the Raptors will have to live through a bunch of losses this year. After
more drafting and acquiring free agents in the years to come, the Raptors may
be a respectable team, but until then don't expect much from this squad.
Projected Finish - Central Division
1. Detroit Pistons
2. Indiana Pacers
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
4. Chicago Bulls
5. Milwaukee Bucks
two-time defending Eastern Conference Champions start this year a little differently
than they started the past two seasons: without Larry Brown as their coach. This
year, Flip Saunders will take over the reigns as coach of the tough Pistons, but
don't expect much to change. The Pistons are one of the deepest teams, if not
the deepest, in the Eastern Conference, and they know how to play team basketball.
Coaching unselfish players like Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups is going
to be a breather for Saunders, who is used to the Sam Cassells and Latrell Sprewells
of the world. Every player contributes on this team. Expect Saunders to try to
get Darko Milicic some playing time to see what he can do. With an amazing front
line that includes Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess, the Pistons
should win over 50 games and contend for the conference championship. This team
simply knows how to win, with or without Larry Brown.
The Pacers are another example of a team that just knows how to win. This year
they will take to the court without Reggie Miller for the first time in almost
two decades, but don't expect any drop-off from this team. They still made the
playoffs last year despite losing Jermaine O'Neal, Stephen Jackson and Ron Artest
for significant periods of time. With all these players returning, expect the
Pacers not only to make a strong run at the division title, but to push the Miami
Heat and the Pistons for the conference title. The Pacers have bangers off the
bench in Scot Pollard, Austin Croshere and Jeff Foster, and they have a smart
team leader in Jamaal Tinsley. Expect Miller's replacement, Sarunas Jasikevicius,
to play well and help ease the loss of one the best players over the last 20 years.
If he does play well, the Pacers will push the Pistons very hard for the division
crown, in a race that may come down to the final games of the year.
LeBron James is an amazing player. This year, he will finally make the playoffs.
After acquiring talented players like Damon Jones, Larry Hughes and Donyell Marshall,
the Caveliers' front office has finally put enough talent around James. Hughes
will give the team a reliable second scorer, someone who can finish and will be
able to play off of James' play making skills. Jones is an excellent 3-point shooter
who should get plenty of open shots. Marshall will come off the bench for Drew
Gooden, giving the Cavs good depth at the forward position. The biggest move of
the off-season was probably re-signing Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a powerful center in
the center-weak East (minus Shaq, of course). As long as James stays healthy and
gets along with his new sidekick, Hughes, expect the Cavs to get close to 50 wins
and make the playoffs around the 4th or 5th seed. Then, sit back and watch LeBron
James take center stage in the playoffs, where he belongs.
The Bulls have a lot of young talent, but with a much improved Eastern Conference,
that talent will have to mature fast. It remains to be seen how Ben Gordon will
perform as a starter this year. He took over in the fourth quarter of many games
last year, and his performance is the key to the Bulls success. Mike Sweetney
should fill in for Eddy Curry just fine, and Tyson Chandler (as long as he stays
healthy) is a rebounding machine whose offense is slowly coming around. Kirk Hinrich
is an All Star-in-waiting and Chris Duhon gives the Bulls a smart backup. Another
key to the season will be the continued development of Andres Nocioni. With his
scoring, the Bulls should have enough to make it back into the playoffs. Although,
without a consistent threat from the small forward spot, they could find it tough
to get out of the first round in the East this year.
One player will decide the Bucks season this year: Andrew Bogut. The Bucks will
put all of their trust into the rookie center, hoping that he gives them enough
to propel this team into the playoffs. While that may occur down the line, even
with the help of All Star Michael Redd and the return of a healthy T.J. Ford,
it will be hard to see results this year. The Bucks play in a division with four
playoff caliber teams, and without a really strong bench it will be hard. While
Bobby Simmons played very well for the Clippers last year, he isn't proven by
any means. He will need to show that his new contract was worth it for the Bucks.
The only real threat off of the bench for the Bucks is Desmond Mason, a small,
athletic forward who played very well in a starting role last year. If Bogut comes
in and dominates, the Bucks may have a chance to capture the eighth spot in the
East, but without a spirited performance from him all year, this team is still
not quite a playoff team yet.
Projected Finish - Southeast Division
1. Miami Heat
2. Washington Wizards
3. Orlando Magic
4. Charlotte Bobcats
5. Atlanta Hawks
2005-2006 Miami Heat are, on paper, the best team in the Eastern Conference. Shaquille
O'Neal is still the most dominant force in the NBA when he is healthy, and Dwayne
Wade has quickly become one of the best players in the league. Not satisfied with
the team as it was, the front office brought in talent galore this off-season.
Jason Williams gives them a dynamic point guard, and Gary Payton gives them a
veteran backup who knows how to win. The big question this season is how Antoine
Walker will fit into the mix. He had to play a reserved role with Dallas, and
he should work out fine as long as he agrees with getting less touches and shots.
O'Neal and Wade are such a big presence, Walker should realize that this will
not be his team-it's either play a role or don't play at all. The first few weeks
may be somewhat shaky, but once the team starts to gel, expect them to steamroll
to the conference finals and possibly the NBA Championship. This season, 60 wins
is not out of the question.
The Wizards played very well last year and finally made the playoffs. Gilbert
Arenas has quickly become one of the most dynamic players in the NBA and Antawn
Jamison is a strong scorer who rebounds well. The problem for the Wizards will
come in replacing Larry Hughes, who was the Wizards' third 20-point-per-game scorer
last year. Caron Butler is a nice addition, but is not the dynamic player that
Hughes has become. Antonio Daniels is a very good back up, and he may get some
starts if Butler is less than impressive. Jarvis Hayes and Chuck Atkins give the
Wizards a strong bench to make it back to playoffs as a lower seed. If Jared Jeffries
develops into the player he could be, the Wizards may even have enough to challenge
for the 5th or 6th seed in the conference. If not, they will severely lack scoring.
Still, expect another decent season from this well-coached group.
The Magic played well for a large part of last season, but fell apart during the
end of year and missed the playoffs. This year's team will need Steve Francis
to have another stellar season, while also getting the ball to Dwight Howard so
this super-talented youngster can continue his development. The big question is
whether or not Grant Hill can remain healthy for the whole season. If he stays
healthy, which is unlikely, the Magic have enough talent to push for a playoff
spot. If he can't, they will miss his veteran presence and lose a great scorer
and passer who has excellent court vision. The bench is pretty thin, but Jameer
Nelson played very well in his first season and Hedo Turkoglu is a reliable scorer
and three-point shooter off of the bench. The Magic have enough talent on hand
to make the playoffs, but another injury to Hill will severely hurt their chances.
Let's hope for his sake that he stays healthy. He deserves another shot at the
The Bobcats are a perfect example of a franchise doing it right. They resisted
the urge to spend on free agents to quickly build a winner, and decided to go
the way of the draft. After drafting Emeka Okafor last year, who became a daily
double double-threat, the Bobcats added two former North Carolina Tar Heels in
Raymond Felton and Sean May, who should play well this year. Primoz Brezec was
a pleasant surprise last year and, if he keeps getting better, the Bobcats' record
should improve. Brevin Knight was an assist machine last year, and Gerald Wallace
and Keith Bogan are athletic players who compete hard every night. Will the Bobcats
win more than they lose this year? Probably not; but they will compete more every
game, and could see 30 wins if they click.
Joe Johnson better turn himself into Michael Jordan this year or the Hawks are
in trouble. The odds of that happening are slim, so expect the Hawks to struggle
yet again. While the Hawks do have some talent in Johnson, Al Harrington and Josh
Smith, those players wouldn't start on some teams in the NBA. The Hawks are in
trouble again this year, and things are going to get worse before the get better.
The only good thing that will come from not competing will be the chance to play
young guys like No.1 pick Marvin Williams, who has all the tools to become a star
in the NBA. Getting playing time for other players like Josh Childress, Salim
Stoudamire and Smith will only help in the future and allow for the Hawks to build
themselves into a contender. That won't happen this year, and probably won't happen
next year either. These baby Hawks are going to need time. Be patient, Atlanta.