Well, I got more than a couple of responses about my blog last night, and they had a common theme: it seems a five month layover and a complete ignorance of last year's finals has made me a bit...rusty. For that, I'm sorry, but as one of of the greatest drivers of our lifetimes (pictured above) can attest, being rusty isn't always such a bad thing. Either way, I'll try to tighten the screws a little (and maybe check my grammar a little more fastidiously). Thanks for tolerating me. (And if that little pun still isn't hitting home, the driver above is the great Rusty Wallace. Sweet sunglasses, Rusty!)
I discussed the Pacific conference yesterday and as I intend to move West to East, today it's The Southwest.
New Orleans Hornets
Turn on that sleeper alert. This is going to be a much-improved team this year, as long as they can keep all of their guns loaded. Point guard is the most important position in basketball (aside from Center in certain cases) and starting point guard Chris Paul will be the best point guard in the league when the Nash/Kidd generation loses its fastball. Which may be this year. (Deron Williams, for all of his merits, doesn't quite stack up to Paul. [If you ask me, at least.])
Shooting guard will be an issue for the Hornets, as it will be split between Mo Pete, Rasual Butler, and maybe Jannero Pargo. This is kind of pathetic considering the glut of good shooting guards in the NBA, but it is not a very big problem because New Orleans' Small Forward, Peja Stojakovic, is essentially the best shooting-guard-styled 3 man in the league and will demand the ball. Hopefully he can be more effective this year than he was last year. Considering his prowess as a shooter, that should be possible. I think the probability is high because the Hornets' frontcourt, comprised of David West and Tyson Chandler, is among the best in the league. They are not the most talented, but they represent a perfect combination of big men - one can create offense on the block and the other is the best garbage man in the league. Both guys can run the floor, have significant size and/or athletic advantages over most of their opponents, and Tyson Chandler is one of the only players in the league who might be able to give Tim Duncan a hard time if he can stay out of foul trouble. I think this will win them a lot of games, and it presents a stark contrast to the Knicks' philosophy of building frontcourt. That's always a good thing.
Julian Wright was New Orleans' pick in the draft this year, and I think it would be cool if he could find away to steal some time at 2-guard. He might be a little bit too big and rangy but with him and Peja on the floor, they could almost reverse positions on offense. (Defense: no comment.)
In a loaded West, it's hard to predict a team like this making the playoffs, but I'm going to do it anyway. The red flag for this team is defense, because every team has a shooting guard or a small forward that can penetrate or shoot against Peja and Mo Pete/Butler. The thing is, with Tyson Chandler giving weak side help, this may not be as much of a problem as it would be for most teams, so I'm letting it go.
I enjoyed watching the Mavs lose last year, like most people. Avery Johnson is just so hateable, and though I personally like Mark Cuban, I can see many people feeling differently.
Josh Howard hurt himself last night, and he's going to have an MRI today. I'm going to assume that he will be okay and back to normal at some point for the purposes of this discussion.
The Mavericks are essentially Spurs-B. They have great players, they're well-coached, and no one enjoys watching them play. Old favorite Eddie Jones will not help that, though I did a little research on new backup point guard Jose/JJ/Jose Juan Barrea (not sure which one is proper [I like JJ]), and found this video that seems to suggest that he is dope. He isn't playing much in preseason though, and since he probably can't play defense or yell loudly about the bible, I doubt Avery Johnson will do much to get him on the floor.
There really haven't been many other changes to this roster (for the first time in a while). The addition of Brandon Bass (from NO) gives them maybe the most powerful two-handed dunker in the league, but unfortunately Brandon Bass's skill set pretty much consists of the two-handed dunk and the blocked shot.
This year's team will be sent out on the premise that what happened last year (or the year before, and so on...) won't happen again. And as stupid as that sounds, you know what? I think it makes sense. Dallas is too good and too New York Yankee-like for my blood, which means it's inevitable they will win. I think this year is the year, if only because of the law of averages seems to dictate it. Devin Harris and Josh Howard are two of the best players in the league and that Nowitzki guy will probably put them over the top. Throw in a solid bench and a young, hungry squad and the only thing holding them down is Dampier. Guys like him didn't stop the Spurs from winning, and they won't stop the Mavs, either. I hate to say it, but for my money, the chip goes to Dallas this year.
(By the way, if you're interested in seeing new Mav Eddie Jones in his absolute prime, check this out. Give it time. Trust me. Let's just say dunking-wise, Kobe ain't got shit on Eddie, well maybe just a little bit.)
The Houston Rockets were my [very poorly thought-out] pick to win it all last year, and then they fired Jeff Van Gundy. Teams that do things like that are teams I tend to dislike, and as much as I'd like to write this team off, it's hard because they have great personnel. Steve Francis will have a resurgent year at point guard playing with Tracy McGrady (remember how well he did with Cuttino), Shane Battier is the best role-player in the league, and Yao Ming is probably, at this point, the best center in the league (shudders).
The new starting PF is going to be Luis Scola, which in my opinion is stupid considering the rebounding acuity of "Fuckin" Chuck Hayes. As near as I can tell, Scola is a soft, silly South American guy who is a Euroleague dunking machine. If I'm trying to find a good power forward, "Euroleague dunking machine" is not what I'd look for. (And, for the record and for any Milwaukee Bucks fans out there, I would also avoid any "Chinese dunking machine".) If Scola can shoot, maybe it will work, but I'm just perplexed why the Rockets would want to change their character from a strong defensive team to a half defense/half offense squad. Wherever they go, it won't be good, and improving offensive personnel is pointless because Francis, McGrady, and Yao will occupy the ball more often than not. (And that's a good thing.) Despite all that, I'm putting them at 7th in the West strictly by virtue of personnel. Stevie!
San Antonio Spurs
Roster changes: Picked up Ime Udoka.
Odds of winning: About 7 to 5.
Likeable players: 0 with the possible exception of Ime Udoka.
I hate watching this team. I've seen enough of Tim Duncan's excellent footwork to last me a lifetime. I know they Spurs are good, I know Tony Parker is quick (and I hear he's married to some Hollywood actress), I know Popovic is a good coach, blah, blah, blah. What else can you say? I'm just waiting for this era to end. Oh for the days of MJ.
Uh, are you serious? They have a logjam of point guards that I don't know what to make of (Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley Jr., Damon Stoudamire), the best white shooting guard in the league (Mike Miller) in front of a very good Tarance Kinsey, the chronically overrated Rudy Gay (backed up by the chronically overrated Casey Jacobsen), Pau Gasol being backed up by Stro Show/Hakim Warrick (same player), and Darko.
Unless Mike Conley can get in and start running things to a serious degre, this is BY FAR the worst team in the league. I mean, they just have no hope. Thank god they posthumously awarded Hubie Brown coach of the year for even making the playoffs with a team that involved some of these terrible players. (Yes, I know that was more than a couple of years ago. The point is still worth making.) You couldn't get that far with this year's team if you hired the pope to coach it. The best way to make this work would be to hire Jeff Van Gundy and try to slow everything down up and down the court and play 71-69 style basketball, but as that is not en vogue, I don't see it happening. David Stern would probably change the rules on them for it anyway.
See you tomorrow.
As always, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org