Greetings, gentlemen and ladyboys. Today I come to you not from the glitz and glamour of South Beach, the sunshine and G-strings of the Gold Coast or even from amongst the skanky delights of my home city’s own Kings Cross.
Instead, I come to you from my family’s apartment, right under the Sydney Airport flight path and with a screaming mother and little sister outside my room because my sister apparently admitted she’s interested in boys now, drowning them out with some old Midnight Oil and coming up with my NBA Season Preview.
To say that bringing this preview to you was a task would be an understatement. I’ve been working on it for the best part of three weeks, and it’s taken about seventeen different incarnations since then.
In the end, I decided with the season starting in just a few days to take the lazy fucker’s option and do a short preview based around three areas – Sleepers, Creepers and Grenades. Sleeper speaks for itself, but what are Creepers and Grenades?
Well, I admit I nicked the ideas from my man Bill Simmons’ NFL preview, but as a mad Jersey Shore fan myself (there’s something incredibly self-gratifying about watching a pack of complete nimrods acting like said nimrods on TV. Makes me feel much smarter usual) I was familiar with both terms. Basically, a playoff creeper is a playoff team last year which moves up this year to get home advantage in the first round, and a grenade is a playoff team last year that drops out this time around.
So, appreciate the impact this has had on my limited social life and be sure to tell me how great a writer I am in the comments. If you would like to tell me that I am sexy or have a massive cock, I would as well appreciate it. I would also be a little bit disturbed and start locking the bathroom door when I shower, but never mind. Compliments are compliments.
It’s not exactly going out on a limb to tag the South Beach Scum as a creeper team in the East. So I decided that I had to look for another one also.
I considered Milwaukee for a while. With a healthy Andrew Bogut and you’d have to say a significant improvement on paper at least over the off-season, if Brandon Jennings doesn’t suffer a case of the second year dropsies I’d be willing to gamble on them scoring close to 50 wins. But will that be enough for a top-4 seed in the East? I’m not sure.
That leaves Chicago. 42-40 and the 8th seed last year. Since then, they’ve added a 20-10 guy (Boozer), a consistent 3pt shooter (Kutcher) and a perimeter jack of all trades type guy (Ronnie Brewer) as well as CJ Watson, who can get hot any given night (see his 40 point game against Sacramento last year) and can back up Rose. Plus, while I feel Vinny Del Negro was pretty underrated as a coach (he got the young Bulls really playing hard last year, and that’s half of an NBA head coach’s job) Tom Thibodeau has to be seen as a net improvement. And let’s not forget the Chemical X that is Derrick Rose. I predict that this season will be his big coming out party where he joins LeBron, Wade, Kobe, Durant and Dwight Howard in the NBA Superstar Club and possibly even finish third (behind Durant and LeBron) in the MVP race. Add all these factors together and I predict a 55 win season and the third seed in the East, as well as the title of 2010 Eastern Conference Creeper.
Rose and Noah have reason to smile this season
What about grenades? You ask. Surely Cleveland has to be one? Indeed, and once again it’s not exactly going out on a limb to say so and I don’t really want to hurt the city of Cleveland any more. There has to be at least one other grenade out there. I narrowed it down to two teams – Atlanta and Charlotte.
The Hawks would seem an easy target after their playoffs (annihilated by Orlando in the second round, proving once and for all that Joe Johnson can not be the best player on a championship team), and their off-season, where they paid said Franchise Player Who Can’t Get You Out Of The Second Round a six year, $121 million contract while failing to address their lack of size or problems at the point guard position. However, that said, only a few teams in the East have significantly improved while some have gone backwards. Atlanta have pretty much stayed the same – while this won’t get them any closer to a title, it does mean they’re probably good for a sixth to eighth seed at least for a couple more years. A squib, maybe, but not a grenade.
That heaves the Bobcats. Last season’s seventh seeds got there mostly on the back of terrific defense and great individual seasons by Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson. However they had no draft picks this year, their starting point guard is DJ Augustin – DJ Freaking Augustin! – and their main off-season move was signing Tyrus Thomas to a five year, $40 million contract. This despite the fact that Thomas seems like the kind of guy who’s production will head south as soon as he gets paid. Combine this with Stephen Jackson almost certainly preparing to pull a similar sulk in Charlotte that he did in his last year in Golden State and the inevitable rumours that Larry Brown wants out, and you have a recipe for dysfunction. A 30 win season coming up in the Queen City.
Now comes my sleeper pick for the East. There were plenty of teams in contention here – New York, Indiana, Washington and New Jersey all merited consideration.
New York missed out because, while I still think they will make the playoffs, I don’t think they can be counted as a sleeper because every second hack is predicting them to make it. A sleeper pick has to be one you can’t see coming – everyone will be watching NY this season.
The Nyets were intriguing, especially after their horror run last season and the fact that they added my favourite player in the entire NBA, Anthony Morrow, in the off-season to their roster (just for the record, Anthony Morrow left the Warriors because the nets at Oracle Arena sued him for abuse. And he picked the Nyets because Mikhail Prokhorov promised him his own yacht filled with supermodels, after he went through every woman on Prokhorov’s own yacht. And when you address Anthony Morrow, you must do so by referring to him by both his first and last name, although he also accepts Black Boi Pachino as a form of address. Did I mention that I love Anthony Morrow?). But while it kills me to go against Black Boi Pachino, even he can’t win games single-handedly by shooting 30 3s a game and making all 30 when no one else on the roster can score or play defense, and only Forrest Gump (sorry, Troy Murphy) can rebound. Scratch them.
As for Indiana, while the Darren Collison addition gives their first decent point guard in ever, I don’t think it puts them over the top. This is a team that really needs another top-class player to partner Danny Granger before they can hope for more than another mediocre season. 40 wins would have to be a success, however I think the best thing this team can do is bottom out completely and hope to get a superstar in the draft.
That leaves the Wizards. 25 wins last year along with the whole Gilbert Arenas controversy, then scoring John Wall in the draft. GM Ernie Grunwald decided to finally break up the team that couldn’t get past the second round of the playoffs and go for a youth policy – with guys like Wall, JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche, they definitely have the personnel to be a real threat this year.
The question mark, obviously, hangs over Gilbert Arenas. Can he sublimate his ego and stay out of trouble and the injury list enough to even get close to justifying his massive contract and playing second fiddle to John Wall? Stories like the one of him faking an injury in the preseason and bragging about it later aren’t exactly inspiring, however I suspect that Gil realizes that he’s got to redeem himself to the Washington fans, who once loved him but are now pretty much scorning him for JWall. Can he do it? I suspect he can.
Throw in the fact that Wall is already a freakish athlete and player, Blatche coming along after the All-Star break and McGee’s shot-blocking and athletic ability (he’s what I wish Anthony Randolph could have been but never was on the Warriors, which is ironic cause he was drafted four slots after him), and I’m willing to give this team 45 wins and a late playoff seed.
So, in summary:
Creepers: South Beach Scum, Chicago Bulls
Sleepers: Washington Wizards
Grenades: Cleveland Cavaliers, Charlotte Bobcats
And now we move westward.
Picking the West proved harder than the East, simply because of the depth of the conference. I’ll say it now – other than Minnesota, I really don’t think there’s a team in the West who couldn’t be a playoff contender if they have enough luck with injuries, referee calls and player cohesion.
That said, I’m gonna start with the Grenades in the West because I felt they would be easier.
I know my first pick is going to cause some controversy, but I have to say it – Phoenix are a massive grenade this year. I can hear Chucko screaming at me already – sorry mate, but it had to be said. The biggest reason the Suns got to the playoffs and ended up making the WCF last year was because Amare was in career-best form – hell, I even saw him rebounding and attempting to play defense (which is as much as you can ask from Amare most of the time). He’s gone now, and who do the Suns get to replace him? Hedo Fucking Turkoglu.
Not only is Hedo’s game as far removed from Amare’s as possible, but I suspect he’s going to struggle in Phoenix. To be effective, Hedo needs the ball in his hands to create shots for himself and others – part of the reason he struggled in Toronto was that they tried to make him a spot-up shooter. However, the Suns already have the best shot creator in the business in Steve Nash. Why would you trade for a guy who not only clearly doesn’t fit on your team, but has also shown he’s prone to having a whinge if he doesn’t get his way? I already covered this deal in my Trade Chronicles, but it still makes no sense to me.
I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again – once the Suns made it known they wouldn’t give Amare the guaranteed money he wanted (a mistake, IMO – it’s worth remembering that he gave Phoenix the chance to match the offer he got from New York and they refused to) the Suns should have thanked Steve Nash for his service, traded him to a contender (Nash to Orlando; Vince Carter’s expiring contract, Daniel Orton and two future first round picks to Phoenix? Who says no to that deal?) and started rebuilding around Dragic and Robin Lopez. They didn’t, and not only will it cost them long-term, it’s gonna hurt them now as I predict they have a 42 win season, which isn’t enough for the playoffs in the West.
My second grenade is one that may seem like a risk. A wise man (OK, Fish) once told me that “betting against San Antonio coming through in the clutch is like fucking a goth girl. It may seem fun and dangerous and those labia piercings are fucking magic, but it always ends badly when your earrings get hooked together and you need to make a trip to the E.R.” Sometimes I think I need new friends. Ones that don’t create sexual scenarios straight out of Fat Pizza, for starters. Although when I interrogated him on it, Fish swears he did once hook up with a girl with a pierced labia – and gave me enough details that I’m sure he was telling the truth. Let’s just say that they weren’t appropriate for any blog other than PornoMate: Probably Australia’s Best Porn Blog. Hey, that’s an idea! I’m gonna create that.
Anyway, as wildly irrelevant as that anecdote may be, I honestly can’t see the Spurs making it this year. They were trundled out of the playoffs last season by their old nemeses the Phoenix Suns, and along the way Tim Duncan showed that Father Time is finally catching up to him. I can’t see how Duncan really improves again now – not that he’s not still one of the (if not the) greatest power forwards ever – but once your legs as an NBA player go, they go. Duncan’s seem to be half gone. When you factor in that Tony Parker wants a new contract and (probably) wants a decent payday (Especially since I’m sure his wife would prefer to be in New York or LA) and George Hill pushing for an expanded role, while I can’t see the Spurs falling out of it by any means I give them a 45 win season, just putting them out of the Western playoffs.
Finally, I gave a third grenade slot to Denver. The logic was simple – as long as Carmelo is with the team, the whole soap opera around him is going to affect the team’s play. It did with the Cavs and Raptors last year – we saw it in the playoffs with Cleveland, and part of the reason the Raps didn’t make the playoffs was, yes, Chris Bosh clearly had checked out by then.
Unfortunately, if management do trade him, they’re pretty much left with a roster halfway to title contention, saddled with bad contracts, only no superstar to bring them together. Not really a playoff recipe. Combine this with the fact that they have no real defensive enforcer until Kenyon Martin gets back, their roster is full of me-first shot jackers and they went ahead and threw the full MLE at another one (Al Fucking Harrington) in the off-season and the always-prevalent possibility that JR Smith might go a step further than Gilbert Arenas and actually bring a gun on court and start shooting the refs if he doesn’t get a foul call, and I’m sure I’m not the only one sensing trainwreck in the Mile High. (And yes, I would pay to see J.R. shoot someone).
So we’ve covered grenades. What about creepers?
Again, it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to predict Oklahoma City are gonna make a leap this year and possibly drive my dad into full blown alcoholism. However, I suspect they’re gonna make an even bigger leap than many of us suspect.
I’m going to look up the odds for the Thunder finishing with the No.1 seed in the West and put money on it – I really think they’re that good. You’ve got a guy who may just be the best player in the league (LeBron included) in Kevin Durant, a perfect No.2 in Russ Westbrook, selfless role players like Thabo Sefolosha, James Harden and Jeff Green (although – watch this space – Green’s inability to get an extension could cause some chemistry rumblings. I say could, not would), a good coach in Scott Brooks and probably the best GM in the league in Sam Presti, and I’m willing to write them in from anywhere from 60 to 65 wins.
Not that I think they’re winning the title – they’re probably still a year away and still don’t have the bigs to neutralize the Lakers – but with the Lakers banged up and Kobe possibly finally slowing down a bit, the West No.1 seed could be there for the taking.
The second creeper spot goes to their Northwest Division rivals, the Portland Trailblazers. Everyone seems to forget that, before Durant and the Thunder’s leap last year, the Blazers were the “Young, Fun Team That Could Be A Dynasty In The Making” before injuries crueled their last season and OKC stole their mantle. Yet even though they were more banged up than my old Corolla, they still managed to pull out 50 wins and make the playoffs. This is an advertisement both to their team’s depth, which has only been strengthened this off-season (Drafting Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson, over-paying for Wesley Matthews).
Plus, I’m gonna call it now – once he gets back, this will finally be the year where Greg Oden plays 60-65 games and shows just why he was selected with the No.1 overall pick. While I and everyone else believes that Portland screwed this one up, Oden has game – he commands a double team in the low block when he’s fit, he can block shots and rebound, and he’s a natural intimidator on both ends which you want from your big man (and Dwight Howard has never quite managed to learn, despite his insane size, athletic and shot blocking ability). Once he comes on and gels with Brandon Roy, this team could be – no, will be very good. I’m giving them 55 wins and the fourth seed.
Now comes the sleeper pick. As I mentioned earlier, this one was really hard because there are six teams who I think could make it.
Houston are excluded from sleeper contention because practically everyone is writing them in for a playoff spot, including myself – this team is too deep and too good to miss out again, especially if Yao comes back. They’ll be a fifth or sixth seed for sure, just not a sleeper.
Although I do truly believe that Golden State can and will make the playoffs, if I nominate them I’ll never be able to shout down the claims of bias, questions about my mental state and escape from Rob’s cattle prod. So they’re out.
The Kings definitely have an intriguing lineup, especially with their stock of big men to go with Tyreke Evans – however this is a team with no three point shooting (something you need when you have a big man like Cousins, who commands a double team in the low post even as a rookie) or the kind of veteran leadership you need on a young team. Gotta scratch them – they need another year/piece or two.
The Grizzlies have a great lineup on paper, however their starting 5 looks far more like a great fantasy side than an NBA team. Now that he’s got his big contract, I suspect Rudy Gay’s inclination to moderate his shot selection or play defense (which he did in the back end of 2010) won’t be so evident. Both Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are playing for new contracts – I suspect this causes certain changes for the worse in Z-Bo’s game in particular. And the only reason Mike Conley isn’t the worst starting point guard in the NBA is because DJ Augustin is starting in Charlotte. Combine this with a fairly weak bench beyond Tony Allen and Xavier Henry and I’m writing them off.
That leaves the Clippers and the Hornets. Out of all the teams in the West, the Clippers are definitely one of the most exciting, with Blake Griffin (who’s even better than I realized – he’s got to be Rookie of the Year favourite even over John Wall), Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu.
The question mark on this team, and it’s a big one, is Baron Davis. Since he came to the Clippers he seems intent on breaking Vince Carter’s record for most mailed-in games in a regular season, and his attitude seems to rub off on his teammates. However, like every Warriors fan I remember Baron during the We Believe run to the playoffs and the Dallas and Utah series themselves, where (I would argue) he was the best point guard in the world for that short stretch. When he’s motivated, Boom Dizzle is a freak.
Can he get motivated enough to carry this Clippers team to the playoffs? I wouldn’t be willing to bet on it. Not this year, anyway. Maybe next year if Griffin can continue to dominate and stay fit. 42 wins, and just missing out.
So we’re left with the Hornets. Missed the playoffs last season partly because of Chris Paul’s injury. Spent the first half of the off-season fighting off CP3 trade stories, and proceeded to go out and try to improve their team. While some of their moves may be a tad questionable (the Marco Bellinelli trade – this guy can’t defend a fence post and you’re talking about him as a starting 2 guard?), it’s hard to fault the Trevor Ariza trade or yesterday’s announcement that they’d gotten Jerryd Bayless from Portland for a protected first round pick. Not only can Bayless back up Chris Paul, but he can also play some shooting guard and he’s a terrific slasher.
Finally came the kicker – even with Chris Paul, no one seems to be really taking the Hornets’ playoff chances that seriously. I guess I’m an optimist, because I believe that Chris Paul can drum 47-50 wins and a late playoff seed out of this team.
Now let’s review the Western Conference.
Creepers: Oklahoma City Cornfield Sonics, Portland Trail Blazers.
Sleepers: New Orleans Hornets.
Grenades: Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs.
Peace out. Don’t forget to tell me how great I am in the comments.