At times, we need to be reminded that basketball is a game where the whole can be more than the sum of its parts. Sometimes we get caught up with personal play thinking that it’s the only direction towards the road to success. Basketball is a game where a player can do more harm to a team by only looking good in the box score. This makes watching the game very intriguing. It also means that any team in the NBA can surprise you in any given season. The NBA has a lot of talented players that can perform some amazing individual tasks, but it’s teamwork that wins championships.
As NBA teams begin to fine tune their rosters and prepare for the 2010-2011 NBA season, let’s look at the Eastern Conference and see who are the contenders and who’s the pretenders. I’ll separate the teams that want it from the ones that aren’t quite there yet.
Without further ado, let’s begin.
ATLANTIC DIVISION (Division Winner Boston Celtics)
- Boston Celtics – The defending Eastern Conference champs got some much-needed depth in the paint by adding Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal. The “C’s” will rely on the two O’Neal’s to be a force this season while Kendrick Perkins mends from off-season knee surgery. Acquiring Delonte West, a solid all around player, will offer an excellent balance inside/outside attack coming off the bench. At the end of the day, Boston’s “Big Three” in Paul Peirce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will have to shoulder the weight in order for this team to be successful. The question is…Can they stay healthy enough to survive a rigorous 82 game season? One thing we can’t question is their hearts.
- New Jersey Nets – At 12-70, New Jersey hands down owned the league’s worst record. Something tells me that will not be the case this season. In fact, I’m predicting that the Nets improve by at least 20 games. New head coach Avery Johnson will have his players focused and competitive this season. New Jersey retained the services of only four players from last season. Rookie Derrick Favors was a solid pick for the Nets and is a great start in the rebuilding process. Other key acquisitions include, Eddie Gill, Troy Murphy, Travis Outlaw, Quinton Ross, Joe Smith and Jordan Farmar, who has championship experience. Although the Nets will improve this season, they are a work in progress.
- New York Knicks – The New York Knicks lost the LeBron James sweepstakes but got stronger in the post by reuniting Amare Stoudemire with head coach Mike D’Antoni. With Stoudemire, the Knicks added Rony Turiaf. Both are strong post players and solid shot blockers. Stoudemire and Turiaf will immediately help the Knicks defensively. New York perimeter presence improved by adding Kelenna Azubuike, Raymond Felton, and Roger Mason to the mix. Look for the Knicks to contend for a playoff spot this season!
- Philadelphia 76ers – Philly really didn’t make a lot of noise this off-season outside of Doug Collins taking on head coaching duties. Adding veterans Tony Battie, Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, Chris Quinn and Darius Songalia provides some depth but outside of drafting Ohio State product Evan Turner, there’s no “Wow Factor” in these additions. Andre Iguodala will definitely do his thing this season but what about his supporting cast? Can the 76ers rely on the health of Elton Brand? Coach Collins challenged the 11 year veteran to drop some weight by training camp. This team has the making of a playoff team without the star power as Collins will stress teamwork this season.
- Toronto Raptors – The season will be a challenging one for the Toronto Raptors. Losing a player of Chris Bosh’s caliber, now a member of the Miami Heat, is devastating to a franchise especially when your star player remains in the same conference. Bosh was the face of the Raptors and his presence will be missed tremendously. To add insult to injury, the Raptors lost the services of Hedo Turkoglu to the Phoenix Suns. All is not lost for Toronto fans as they have a solid point guard in Jose Calderon. Jarrett Jack as a second string point guard is no slouch. He will keep defenses honest with his dribble penetration. Toronto will look for shooting guard DeMar DeRozan to improve this season. Newly acquired shooting guard Leandro Barbosa and small forward Linas Kleiza are welcomed additions as they give the Raptors instant fire power off the bench. The Raptors missed the playoffs by just one game last season and haven’t made the playoffs since the 2007-2008 season. Without Bosh on the team look for the Raptors to remain in a drought.
CENTRAL DIVISION (Division Winner Chicago Bulls)
- Chicago Bulls – There will be a lot of optimism for Chicago Bulls fans this year. After 13 years, there’s reason to celebrate in the Windy City. Chicago added some beef to its line-up with Carlos Boozer at power forward, three-point specialist Kyle Korver, shooting guard Ronnie Brewer, power forward/center Kurt Thomas, point guard CJ Watson and shooting guard Keith Bogans. Talk about depth! With these additions to compliment team captain Derrick Rose, small forward Luol Deng and center Joakim Noah, the Bulls are a scary team again. The Bulls however, suffered a set-back as Carlos Boozer will miss eight weeks of action, thanks to an at-home accident. This should give backup power forward Taj Gibson some major minutes in Boozer’s absence. With the players at hand, Chicago is the clear-cut favorites in a watered-down Central division.
- Cleveland Cavaliers – Hey Cleveland! So much for being the team to beat. The Cleveland Cavalier organization is the “Biggest Losers” of the NBA offseason. There’s really nothing to report nor predict. Cavalier fans will “Witness” their team having the worst record this season. You think they’re going to boo “Bron Bron” when makes his return to the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland????? Inquiring minds want to know.
- Detroit Pistons – Championship aspirations for the Detroit Pistons are a thing of the past as their window of opportunity closed three years ago. Yeah they still have Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace from the championship team of 2004, but these players are all but a shell of what they were back then and they aren’t getting any younger. We know Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Will Bynum and Jason Maxiell are all solid players off the bench but what does Tracey McGrady have left in the tank? Injuries affected the Pistons in a major way last season as Hamilton and Prince missed a total of 69 games. This can’t happen again this season or it’s another 20-win season for them.
- Indiana Pacers – It seems like the Pacers are in for another down season. The organization didn’t really do much to enhance itself during the offseason. Danny Granger is the team’s only threat. The rest are role players, including the starters. The bench is decent with the likes of James Posey, Tyler Hansbrough, Brandon Rush and T J Ford, but these players are bench players for a reason. What Indiana lacks is a one/two punch in their starting line-up.
- Milwaukee Bucks – Can the Milwaukee Bucks improve from last year’s playoff team? I don’t see why not. It’s easy! Do what you do best and for the Bucks, it’s defense. Milwaukee has bought into head coach Scott Skiles’ defensive philosophy and it paid off last season. Center Andrew Bogut continue to maximize his all around game. His defensive presence is highly underrated and is the perfect complement to Skiles’ defense. The Bucks have an established back-court in point guard Brandon Jennings and shooting guard John Salmons. Both players can bring it offensively and defensively. The signing of power forward Drew Gooden and small forward Cory Maggette only adds to its arsenal. Look for the Bucks to compete for the fourth playoff spot this season.
SOUTHEAST DIVISION (Division Winner Miami Heat)
- Atlanta Hawks – The Atlanta Hawks was a 50 win team last year for a reason. This was a team last year, that had two All-Stars in Joe Johnson and Al Horford, the Sixth Man of the Year in Jamal Crawford and the runner-up for the Defensive Player of the Year in Josh Smith. The Hawks have a lot of fire power on offense with sharp shooting guard Joe Johnson as their main threat. Johnson has led the team in scoring for five years. His back-up, Jamal Crawford averages around 18 points a game coming off the bench. Veteran point guard Mike Bibby remains solid and provides a great one-two combination with Johnson. On the defensive side, center Al Horford and power forward Josh Smith are forces in the paint. The Hawks are definitely talented enough to beat any NBA team but the big question is can they stop beating themselves in the playoffs?
- Charlotte Bobcats – Charlotte was a one of the surprise teams that made the playoffs last year. They have a hall of fame coach in Larry Brown, a couple of All-Pro caliber players in Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace, and a lot of young talented players that can step up. Unfortunately, the Bobcats are in a tough division that got even tougher with the additions the Miami and Washington made during the offseason. Look for the Bobcats to be the bottom feeders in the Southeast division this season.
- Miami Heat – It’s rare to find three premier ballers in their prime playing for one team. That’s what’s taking place in the city of Miami. When Lebron James and Chris Bosh decided to team up with Dwayne Wade, the Miami Heat immediately became the team to beat in the East. There’s nothing else that needs to be said about these guys that hasn’t already been said. The new “Big Three” along with the supporting cast that Pat Riley brought on board makes this team the scariest this conference has seen since the Bulls dynasty of the 1990s. With point guard Carlos Arroyo, shooting guard Eddie House, small forward Mike Miller, power forward Udonis Haslem and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas all coming off the bench, opposing teams will have to strategize ways to deal with the bench, as well as the starting line-up. On paper, the Heat are the most talented team in the conference but talent alone won’t win you a championship. So the big question in Miami will be how well will the “Big Three” and role players gel together to become a cohesive group?
- Orlando Magic – Coming into the 2010-2011 season, the Orlando Magic’s focus should be getting back to the NBA Finals. Not worrying about the Miami Heat’s moves but what they will do to get back to the “Big Dance”… Period! Orlando is one among a few teams that has a legitimate chance to win it all. The Magic are a very deep team and that depth puts them ahead of most teams. Orlando’s bench mob is sick with Chris Duhon (Point Guard), J J Redick (Shooting Guard), Jason Williams (Point Guard), Quentin Richardson (Small Forward) and Marcin Gortat (Center). Dwight Howard is the focal point of this team offensively, as well as defensively. A healthy Jameer Nelson is a perfect complement for Howard. In order for the Magic to go far in the playoffs they will need some consistency from Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis as well as streaky shooter Mickeal Pietrus.
- Washington Wizards – What an embarrassing season the Washington Wizards had last year! With that embarrassment came a reward as the Wizards won the NBA draft lottery and selected rookie point guard John Wall. Wall has the potential to change the fortune of this franchise all together. He is as quick as Allen Iverson was in his prime and can penetrate a defense similar to fellow Kentucky Wildcat Rajon Rondo. Wall’s favorite target, center JaVale McGee is a high flyer and an excellent shot blocker. Gilbert Arenas is injury free this season and hopefully he will be problem free as well because Washington will need him to be productive this season. The team has a new owner, some new players and possibly a new mentality. However,I don’t know if that’s going to be enough in this division.
By Keith Madyun