We continue on with our NBA Preview by breaking down a young, but promising Northwest Division.
Projected Starting Lineup:
Coach: Jerry Sloan
The good: Another season of Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer should man this team up after a great showing in the playoffs.
The Utah Jazz were a team that showed that rebuilding works with patience and some money to spend. After the signing of Carlos Boozer was initially panned, things paid off last season when Boozer put up 20 and 10. Mehmet Okur made the All-Star team and Deron Williams gave the Atlanta Hawks another reason to regret passing up a point guard in the 2005 NBA Draft. Jerry Sloan in his 19th season as Jazz head coach is as good as he has ever been, instilling the famed pick and roll offense that made legends out of Karl Malone and John Stockton.
This is about as solid of a team as one can have with a very good balance of scoring, rebounding and shooting. The best thing for them is that they play in a talented, but overall weak Northwest Division. At this rate, they have a good three years to dominate the division until the rebuilding teams come around. The scary part is, this is a very young team in its own right (Deron Williams is entering his third year).
The bad: Due to circumstances beyond their control, they lost some veteran leadership in Derek Fisher. Looking to Andrei Kirilenko might not be the best place to fill the void.
As great as the Jazz played this past season, they looked overmatched against the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. Due to Derek Fishers childs rare cancer and his desire to be near her, the Jazz graciously allowed Fisher to exit the remaining three years of his contract to go sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. While the circumstances were understandable, it left the Jazz with a void at shooting guard which they hope can be filled by second year player Ronnie Brewer and Gordan Giricek. While they have options, Fishers shoes will be hard to fill.
The biggest distraction will most likely be the happiness (or lack thereof) of star forward Andrei Kirilenko who had his worst season as a pro. During the postseason, he suffered a mental breakdown and was shown visibly crying and this summer, he demanded to be traded after conflicts with Coach Jerry Sloan. If AK-47 cannot keep his emotions in check, look for him to potentially be moved (rumors have floated about deals for Phoenixs Shawn Marion and the L.A. Lakers Lamar Odom).
The outlook: 4th in the West, 1st in the Northwest, a loss in the semi-finals.
Projected Starting Lineup:
Coach: George Karl
The good: A full season of Melo and A.I. can give opponents headaches.
The Denver Nuggets will have All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony and guard Allen Iverson play alongside each other for a full season. That spells doom for most teams as they will probably be able to score 55 PPG between the two of them alone. Marcus Camby is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and will look to hopefully play every game this season. The Nuggets have the firepower to compete with any team in the NBA. Allen Iverson has grown back into his role as a facilitator, deferring to Carmelo Anthony after initial speculation that he would not. With Anthony as the teams leader, if he can keep his head on straight, they will be a stable team on the court.
A player to watch out for is Kenyon Martin, who is looking to be the first person in sports history to successfully recover from microfracture surgery on both knees. If he is anywhere near the playing condition he was with the New Jersey Nets, then the starting lineup for the Nuggets might be the most potent in the West.
The bad: A questionable Kenyon Martin, a questionable bench, questionable health, and questionable defense from Melo leads to more questions.
The Nuggets were a rollercoaster on the court. On some nights they looked unstoppable and on others, they looked like they could not stop anyone. Carmelo Anthony is the captain of this team. Hitting someone and running a la Camron like he did in December against the New York Knicks doesnt exactly scream leadership. A big issue is their bench, or lack thereof. If theyre relying on Yakhouba Diawara and Chucky Atkins to help out A.I. and Melo, then theyre better off not even using them this season.
A reason why they are thin at the bench is because they are well over the luxury tax with Camby, Martin, Nene, Melo, and A.I. all earning over $10 mil per season. Ive spoken about Carmelo possibly being a loose cannon, but J.R. Smith has already been suspended for the first 3 games of the season for conduct detrimental to the team. He has a lot of growing up to do. George Karl needs to keep the locker room intact if he still wants to be the Nuggets coach in the future. Add to the fact that Carmelo Anthony is perhaps the worst defender in the NBA, and you have a team that can be as potentially bad as they could be great.
The outlook: 6th in the West, 2nd in the Northwest, at least another sucker punch from a Nugget, and yes, another first round exit.
Projected Starting Lineup:
Coach: Nate McMillan
The good: Greg who? Oh, LaMarcus Aldridge. Even without Oden, the Trail Blazers are moving up in this league.
For most of this summer, everything was going the Trail Blazers way. They won the #1 pick with 5% odds and selected star center Greg Oden out of Ohio State. It didnt stop there. They had a field day during draft night, trading talented but cancerous forward Zach Randolph to the Knicks for a buyout of Steve Francis and Channing Frye. If it wasnt for Odens microfracture surgery and the fact that they still have Darius Miles on their payroll, this team would be in perfect condition.
Although they are rebuilding, they are doing it the right way: via drafts and trades. Brandon Roy is poised to break out this season and join the glut of guards infiltrating the Western Conference. Sergio Rodriguez aka White Chocolate can become a 6th Man of the Year candidate. Coach Nate McMillan will give this young team every opportunity to succeed. The pressure Oden was going to face will now fall on 2nd year forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge possesses a nice inside /out game that will
The bad: Theyll miss what Greg Oden could have brought them. Now is the time for some young guys to make or break their careers.
I believe guys like Aldridge and Roy will flourish, but it is time for guys like former first round pick Martell Webster to show and prove. The high school product is entering his third year and is still slow in progressing. With former forward Ime Udoka now in San Antonio, Webster needs to show he can hold down the position. If not, Travis Outlaw can continue his improvement and be on his way towards clinching the SF job. Another person who is in deep competition is guard Jarrett Jack. He hasnt been great, but he has been solid. But, he needs to elevate his game considering they now have Rodriguez, Taurean Green and Petteri Koponen ready to one day get a shot at the PG position. They will miss Greg Oden just as much as they will miss Zach Randolphs consistent 20 points and 10 rebounds per contest. LaMarcus Aldridge can make up a bit for it, but I doubt Joel Przybilla can pick up the pieces.
The outlook: 11th in the West, 3rd in the Northwest, out of the playoffs, but (gasp) another shot at a top pick? Well see.
Projected Starting Lineup:
PF Chris Wilcoz
SG Kevin Durant
PG Luke Ridnour
Coach: P.J. Carlesimo
The good: Kevin Durant is going to be a phenom for seasons to come.
The Seattle Supersonics must have had the easiest decision for any team to make this season when they had the #2 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. They were in a no-lose situation, something the Sonics have not been used to in a while. After selecting Kevin Durant out of Texas, the Sonics then parted with franchise player Ray Allen to the Celtics for Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, and the 5th overall pick which turned out to be Georgetown forward Jeff Green. Durant will be a force as soon as he grows into his body. A jack-of-all-trades kind of player, Durant will be what Kevin Garnett was to the Twolves for his entire career.
If the Sonics want any chance of staying in Seattle, Kevin Durants play will lure people to pack the arena. With all of the centers the Sonics have, one of them has to pan out right? Well yeah. Look for Center Robert Swift to make immediate dividends. The former first round pick out Bakersfield, CA struggled with an ACL tear last season but he is back with a new attitude and a plethora of new tattoos. The Sonics may not have a set plan yet, but at least they know Durant will be involved.
The bad: With any rebuilding team, growing pains will be an issue. But the bigger issue is that this may be the final season for the Sonics in Seattle. Weird.
New ownership is really pushing for a new arena, one the Sonics are unable to provide. Currently, the ownership is looking to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City, which did a great job housing the New Orleans Hornets. Its going to be hard to expect fan support when you know you might be playing and pledging allegiance of another city in possibly a year. All politics aside, the Sonics have three point guards, which is like the NFL equivalent of having 2 QBs. In that case, you really dont have much.
Luke Ridnour needs to lock down that PG spot before Delonte West and Earl Watson cut into his minutes and overall club development. Jeff Green is a talented forward, but he will struggle this season, even though youd think hed be very good flying under the radar. This season, they will have to see whether this lets overstock at center experiment will work. Robert Swift, Mohammed Saer Sene, Johan Petro, and Nick Collison have all showed some promise, but its about time they see who will be legit and who will be trade bait. While they decide all these things, a lot of losing will be going on in the series finale of the Seattle Supersonics.
The outlook: 13th in the West, 4th in the Northwest, a packed house for the final home game in Seattle Sonics history.
Projected Starting Lineup:
PF Al Jefferson
Coach: Randy Wittman
The good: OJ Mayo and Derrick Rose are both healthy and ready to go at USC and dominate in all seriousness, be happy Al Jefferson can flat out play and actually wants to stay in Minnesota.
Where do I begin with this team? Well, I guess you can say they did get some talent back in the deal that sent the franchise Kevin Garnett to Boston. Al Jefferson blossomed albeit on a bad Celtics team. This team is not short on potential with most of their stars being under the age of 25. All-Rookie first teamer Randy Foye will now get to start at the PG spot after deals that sent Mike James and Troy Hudson packing. Theo Ratliff is healthy for the first time in a long time and can help the Twolves in their new low post offense philosophy. They have a lot of guards and forwards which leads to more players able to showcase their talents.
First round pick Corey Brewer out of Florida has a reputation for being a winner and a stat filler, which is much needed for this young team. Craig Smith is a beast. The former Boston College product may not be tall, but he can overpower players down low. He was a pleasant surprise as a second round pick as well as Ryan Gomes becoming a glue guy for the Celtics last season. With a recent trade that sent Ricky Davis and Mark Blount to Miami in exchange for Antoine Walker, the Wolves have done a solid job eliminating all of the malcontents. The youth will be a nice surprise for the Wolves, but mostly for the future.
The bad: Everything else.
First and foremost, the Wolves have the worst front office management in basketball. Theres no reason to be optimistic if Kevin McHale and owner Glen Taylor can mess up the rebuilding process for this team. One cant help but feel sorry for the team. Secondly, Al Jefferson for as a good as he can be, will never fill KGs shoes and will face unfair criticism by everyone as he was the main piece in the trade. Gerald Green is a very talented player, but he doesnt get it. His basketball IQ will be his biggest detriment as he will be struggling to find minutes on a team that could very well lose 65 games or more this season. For some of these guys, this is their last hope, like Sebastian Telfair. If he cannot show that he can be a competent backup on a bad team, then I hope he speaks Croatian, because hell be in Europe for the rest of his career.
Winning is the last thing on their minds as they will be so bad, you cant accuse them of tanking. Its going to take a very long time for this team to ever become relevant again unless they win the lottery. God forbid Al Jefferson leaves the team as a restricted free agent (he has not been signed to an extension as of press time) because that could be the death blow to the Twolves.
The outlook: Last in the West, Last in the Northwest, no playoffs, hopefully a top lottery pick. This is going to be the worst team in the league this season, so expect 100% effort, but empty seats. The over /under in Vegas is 20.5 wins. If you take the under, I deserve 5% of it because you will be a rich person.