Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

NBA Preview: Western Conference

The NBA is my least favorite major sport. With only five men on the court at once, the game can quickly degenerate into a one-on-one mess, with the other eight players standing around watching. The whole concept of team basketball has been relegated to the WNBA, and any notion of a mid-range jumper has dissipated with the arrival of windmill dunks. It takes about a month or so (essentially, whenever I quit caring about the Seahawks) for me to focus on what the Sonics are doing and with the way the Hawks are going it could be a while before I really care what is going on in Key Arena (or anywhere for that matter). Still, at least I get to preview the Western Conference, where there are about 11 of the 15 teams that could get the #4 seed in the Eastern Conference. With the type of parity in every team outside of San Antonio it is difficult to prognosticate placement, although I'll give it a whirl.

Here, once again, is Gavin's philosophy regarding the creation of a championship NBA roster, based on Chicago and the Laker (and to a lesser extent the Spurs). You need two superstars who can dominate a game (Jordan and Pippen, Kobe and Shaq, Duncan and Ginobili) and a third star in reserve for the few games the above two can't find their shots or are in foul trouble (Toni Kukoc, Rick Fox/Derek Fisher, Tony Parker). Beyond that the players have to be interchangeable. These first three players will be getting the majority of the shots and the majority of the minutes. Everyone else has to be focused on rebounding, defense, and hitting the three to five open looks they get each game. Players who can do this well (Robert Horry) are simply invaluable. So while you need talent in creating a roster from spots 4-12, the actual player should just be at replacement level or above. Too many stars always (2003 Lakers, few different Sacramento Kings teams, 2004 T-wolves) create problems that just aren't worth it. Too many egos are then involved. My rankings below will attempt to keep the above philosophy in mind. If you disagree, then feel free to comment, but since no one ever comments regardless of any of the stupid stuff I write then never mind.

Note: My rankings here are done in the playoff order, so the top three teams are the division winners. Houston is better than Sacramento, I agree, but I think Sacramento is going to win their division and so they'll be higher in the playoff order.
1) San Antonio - also champion of Southwest division
You expected Golden State? The Spurs are the NBA's version of the New England Patriots. A very well run organization dominated by superstars who know their place (Tim Duncan especially sets an example that many players could learn from) and who are simply clutch (even the anti-Christ, Manu Ginobili). I'm a little confused as to the reason they tinkered with the roster so much during the offseason and actually believe them to be a little weaker. The additions of Michael Finley and Nick van Exel take away minutes from promising youngsters like Beno Udrih and Fabricio Oberto, and to a lesser extent from Bruce Bowen and Robert Horry. The Spurs had some problems scoring at times last year, but I don't know if two aging shooters with terrible percentages are the answer. I still look for them to be the class, if only because no other team took enough of a leap to seriously challenge, but I'm interested to see how this plays out.

2) Seattle SuperSonics - also champion of Northwest Division
Laugh all you want, but this is how the playoff system works. Check out the below and the problems I feel Phoenix will have. That leaves the Champion of the Northwest Division to claim the #2 seed, and Seattle is the class of the Northwest Division. For more reasons, check out our preview to happen here in the next couple of days. Two superstars: Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Third star: Luke Ridnour/Vlad Radmanovic.

3) Sacramento Kings - also champion of Pacific Division
Look, this is as much an indictment on the Phoenix Suns without Amare Stoudamire as it is a praise of Sacramento. The Pacific Division is definitely up for grabs. The Kings could easily be overrun by even Golden State (per my joke above). Still they at least have some semblance of experience with Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic. They made one good move in picking up Shareef Abdur-Rahim and one bad move in picking up Bonzi Wells. Not sure how many minutes they're expecting Wells to play, but please do not make him a focal point of anything. I love Sacramento's depth, with quality role players everywhere, Kenny Thomas, Brian Skinner, Francisco Garcia should be good, and when they play Seattle we get to see the Brad Miller Sad Face. Quality acquisition as well of Luke Schenscher, I always liked him at Georgia Tech. Two superstars: Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic. Third star: Shareef Abdur-Rahim/Brad Miller

4) Houston Rockets
Houston may very well be the second best team in the division. They made two key offseason acquisitions, in fact I would say they had the best offseason in the league for hitting their needs with role players, not superstars. Houston has their two, and don't need more. They really missed Juwan Howard in the postseason and replaced him (although Howard is still around he is aging and his production will continue to drop) with Stromile Swift, a man used to playing third fiddle. The other solid acquisition was G Derek Anderson, one of my favorite players on the TrailBlazers the last few years. Anderson can replace an aging Jon Barry, who is good for fist pumps and not much else. I also like any rotation that includes Bob Sura and David Wesley, but the inclusion of Rafer Alston was not a good move. I really should plug Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady a bit. McGrady took the leap last year from single superstar to team player. He could still dominate games with 50 point performances but it seemed that he developed actual court vision to help his teammates find their own grooves. Yao still needs to bulk up but we will see how he performs without a full summer of Chinese league play. Will actual rest help him with his consistency? This is a huge year for him. Two superstars: Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming (who just by themselves can win 40 games). Third star: Stromile Swift

5) Dallas Mavericks
Here's where it really starts to get tough. Anyone from 5-12 could legitimately make the playoffs. Forecasting this is tough, and I don't expect to get it right. Still, this is my damn preview, so get over yourselves. Dallas was a bit of a surprise team last year, managing to remian competitive while having loads of injuries take their toll. Just about everyone except Dirk Nowitzki missed significant time. The upside of this is that they return a very seasoned and deep roster, one that doesn't necessarily have to depend on Dirk for success. Whether or not they can get the same bounce-back seasons from Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse will make the difference between being #5 and #8. You notice that Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio are all in the same division. That's a lot of tough games and hard losses. Why do I like this team? Devin Harris is back and the second and third years are where point guards make the leap in the NBA. Marquis Daniels and Josh Howard are back, two of the more exciting young role players around. They still don't have a center (Erick Dampier doesn't count), but that isn't a prerequisite for success now. They will score, play better defense than in past years, and don't have Michael Finley sucking down useless minutes. All in all, my #5 team in the league. Two superstars: Dirk Nowitzki, no real second. Third star: Jason Terry/Jerry Stackhouse

6) Phoenix Suns
Let's make this abundantly clear. If Phoenix has an healthy Amare Stoudamire, they are #2 in the Western Conference again. Stoudamire plus Steve Nash was an absolutely lethal combination and with a year under their belts they could only improve. Phoenix without Amare Stoudamire coupled with the loss of Joe Johnson is huge. I'm just not sure who can carry the scoring load during the first half of the year while Amare's out. Shawn Marion can help, but (as was seen before drafting Amare) he cannot be a focal point of the offense. Jim Jackson is aging and should be nothing but a role shooter. I'm also confused about the offseason acquisitions of Brian Grant, Kurt Thomas, and Raja Bell. Yes, they can play some defense, but none of those players can run the court anywhere near the level the Suns need for success. They don't have the personnel to run a half-court set consistently, instead relying on fastbreak pull-ups and lay-ins. Stoudamire and Nash will never be confused as defensive stalwarts, in fact watching Amare try to defend Tim Duncan was high comedy, but this team needs to grab an identity and use personnel that fit that identity. I think they would be the second best team in the league, but with some question marks. Two superstars: Amare Stoudamire and Steve Nash. Third star: Shawn Marion

7) Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets appear to be the NBA's version of the Arizona Cardinals, at least in the eyes of preseason prognosticators. I'm not a believer, although I do think they will make the playoffs. No way this team is significantly better than Seattle. They had one major problem to correct this offseason that everyone agreed on... they needed to find an outside shooter. So they drafted Julius Hodge, who can't shoot, and signed Earl Watson, who can't shoot. This is going to force teams to unclog the middle because...? Kenyon Martin is another year older. Marcus Camby had an absolutely career year in which he stayed mostly healthy, expecting him to duplicate it would be foolish. Carmelo Anthony hasn't developed the type of shooting and playmaking ability like LeBron James. Andre Miller is another year older and clearly has lost a step defensively. I think all this combined should be cause for serious concern. Denver can clearly be outscored on a regular basis, and unless Nene can take it to the next level, they are far too dependant on two aging big men, rarely a combination for success. George Karl motivated them well to win quickly when he took over last year. Just look at Hubie Brown and the Memphis Grizzlies from one year ago as well to see how much credit a coach can get from his team for one year of motivation (of course, this is another reason why the loss of Nate McMillan is being overhyped). Two superstars: None, possibly Carmelo Anthony. Third star: Marcus Camby/Kenyon Martin.

8) Golden State Warriors
I'm already down to #8? This is why the Western Conference is difficult to predict. My favorite sleeper team can't even crack the top five. I know the Warriors aren't really much of a sleeper... there are many "experts" who are pretty high on them. Getting to the playoffs is basically dependant on health, because this isn't a really deep squad. Jason Richardson, Troy Murphy, and especially Baron Davis absolutely must play 70+ games each to be competitive. The difference was easy to see last year after Davis joined. He added the necessary third element to their offensive attack and combined with Richardson might be the best guard tandem in the league (even above San Antonio). They also drafted my favorite player for the Sonics, Ike Diogu, who gives them some nastiness inside that the team has been lacking. Diogu can even hit free throws, which is going to earn him more playing time. While I do bemoan their lack of depth, two young players could provide some level of interest. Chris Taft (while an attitude problem) has loads of talent and used to be considered a top 5 pick. Mickael Pietrus is an athlete, and will only get better with experience. This team will be a rollercoaster, with youth and depth either winning or losing many games. Still, I do think that by the end of the year they will find themselves in the middle of the playoff hunt. Two superstars: Jason Richardson and Baron Davis. Third star: Troy Murphy.

9) Minnesota Timberwolves
Last year's most disappointing team tore down a lot of the dead wood, getting rid of Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell. I will be cheering a little for Minnesota if only because I love Duane Casey, and wish he was our coach. Still, all that rework has left Minnesota with Kevin Garnett, Wally Szczerbiak and a ton of question marks. Can Troy Hudson be more than just a hot/cold shooter? Can Michael Olowokandi actually produce? Is Rashad McCants a troubled youngster, or will he play up to his incredible potential? Marko Jaric was an excellent pickup, but this team simply doesn't have the type of depth to be competitive in this division. This actually reminds me of most of the years that Kevin Garnett has been in Minnesota. Good enough to compete for the 6-8 seed, not good enough to get past the first round. It's kinda sad, since Garnett is such a fierce competitor, and I do hope he gets a ring one of these days. This will not be that year. Two superstars: Kevin Garnett and ? Third star: Wally S.

10) LA Clippers
The LA Clippers can rarely enjoy any kind of success. They have a nice season where they are actually the best ticket in town and then fail to keep Bobby Simmons (although the contract he signed was absurd) and Rick Brunson (who actually was pretty darn important to them). Still, there is plenty to be excited about. Elton Brand is still one of the most underrated players in the league (and since that's the first time I've used the word underrated you can know I mean it) and Corey Maggette has started to make the leap from role player to star. The biggest question mark is the progress of Shaun Livingston, who looked like a tremendous youth until his injury. If he can come back and play at a high level this team will always be competitive. Another question mark is C Chris Kaman, who plays with the inconsistency of all big men who are not named Tim Duncan or Shaq. He is needed as a scoring and rebounding threat and needs to avoid the silly fouls that tend to plague him. I'm a little confused as to how Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley are going to coexist. How many shooters do you need that play the same position? I'm not sure Cassell is the type of teammate an impressionable youngster like Livingston needs either. Depth, as I've said before above, is not always a good thing. Two superstars: Elton Brand and ? Third star: Corey Maggette/Shaun Livingston/Cuttino Mobley

11) LA Lakers
The moment Phil Jackson took the coaching job the overhype machine went into overdrive. Then the Lakers spent an entire offseason without acquiring a single player of any measurable talent. Kwame Brown and Andrew Bynum do not count. Let's get this straight... you lose Caron Butler, who has good talent and produces when given a chance, and you gain an underperforming mental case and another overweight teenager. Yippee. Tons of confidence now exude from the heavens. Who exactly is going to run point in the difficult-to-grasp triangle offense? Who is going to be the down low threat in the difficult-to-grasp triangle offense? Still, any team that has Kobe Bryant will be competitive, Lamar Odom is a consistent second scorer, and those two will at least keep them within sight of a playoff berth. At the end of the day, this is a weak roster without a lot of talent or upside. The Lakers could finish 11, they could finish 8, and yes, they could finish 14. Two superstars: Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom. Third star: None.

12) Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis had a pretty bad offseason, losing Stromile Swift and Earl Watson (who cares about Jason Williams?). Still, I shouldn't be too hard on them and #12 seems pretty low for a team of their talent level. They learned that they had too much depth (like my dissertation above) and that they needed to start leaning on an actual rotation. Swift and Watson should have been kept and others should have left is my argument. At this point you have Pau Gasol, who is also generally the proud wearer of the Tim Duncan Sad Face and the White European Sad Face. Gasol can score fairly consistently but lacks the frame to take the type of abuse necessary down low. Steal from the Sonics Laurence Roberts might be able to help the rebounding issues. Shane Battier is an excellent role player and Mike Miller is still a terrific outside shooter. Who does the ball go to in crunch time? Who does the team's identity revolve around? I'm not sure. Two aging injury-prone guards in Damon Stoudamire and Bobby Jackson aren't the answer. This is a team that is still a couple of years away from getting a real personality. They don't have the talent to consistently be in games. One day they could beat San Antonio and the next lose to the Lakers. That consistency will determine whether or not they outperform my prediction. Quick props to Hakim Warrick. Give the man two years and he'll go a long way towards helping Memphis go deep in the playoffs. Two superstars: Pau Gasol and ? Third star: Mike Miller? Stoudamire?

13) Portland TrailBlazers
Quick, sound the trumpets! Nate McMillan is in town! Kneel at his glorious feet and listen to his nuggets of glorious wisdom! If you haven't caught the sarcasm by now, I'm a little tired of the type of hype poured over Nate since leaving town to Portland. Yes, he did a good job last year. He also was the same coach who did an awful job the few years prior. He also doesn't have near the level of talent to work with that he had last year. He also hates working with youth. These do not add up to success. Portland is swimming in young talent. Martell Webster, Jarrett Jack, Travis Outlaw and Sebastian Telfair will all be good NBA players. Just not this year. When Zach Randolph is your leader, you have serious issues. The Trailblazers lost their two best offensive players of a year ago, Damon Stoudamire and Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Replacing those with teenagers is not going to rocket them up the proverbial food chain. Again, this team will have some games where all that potential flashes and they beat Seattle or Houston. That will not be a reason to reach to absurd conclusions. Darius Miles isn't that great of a player. Juan Dixon is not that great of a player. This is not a great team. Two superstars: none. Third star: All the youngsters and Randolph.

14) Utah Jazz
Here's something I don't understand. You are one of the worst teams in the league. You can't do anything right. Your offseason then consists of... the draft? Yes, Deron Williams will be a good player, but you think you could possibly add some role players or something to have actual offensive talent. This team is not that good. Matt Harpring is still a leader. They are way too dependant on Andrei Kirilenko, and if he is injured again (which with his slender frame is always a real possibility) watch out. Carlos Boozer (except against Seattle) played without any fire, and even the motivating powers of Jerry Sloan weren't enough to pull this team out of a tailspin. Now they still do not have an experienced point guard and don't even have that much young talent to be excited about. These should be automatic wins for the Sonics, even in Utah. Two superstars: Andrei Kirilenko and ? Third star: Harpring? Boozer?

15) New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets
Do I care? This team sucks. Can't we just agree to that? We'll see how good Chris Paul is, I suppose that'll be cool. Besides that there is nothing here for anyone to be interested in. We'll see if they win 20 games.

That's it campers! Congrats for reading this entire spiel. More than likely the above is completely off, and that'll be lots of fun for anyone to laugh at me about. The NBA is back... it's faaaan-tastic.

posted by Gavin @ 4:53 PM  0 comments

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