The Western Conference

 

Alpha Dogs-San Antonio Spurs:
 
Yeah,Yeah,Yeah I know the Spurs are old,Tim Duncan is seventy five years old and Manu Ginobilli needs training wheels.  But, overlook them at your own peril.  Remember, this is the same team that swept the Memphis Grizzlies in the conference finals and lost to the champion Heat in seven games.
So before the write off campaign begins we should consider
 
Management:
Starting with head coach Greg Popovich the Spurs front office is the envy of the league and with apologies to the St Louis Cardinals,  possibly all of sports.  Few teams have managed to surround their star player with a steady stream of players that blend perfectly into the organizations culture.  The Spurs, who have made selecting second round draft picks into high art have managed to surround their core players( Tim Duncan,Tony Parker and Manu Ginobilli) with young, talented and hungry players with the most notable being small forward Kawhi Leonard.  As we speak I hear one of the Spurs parking lot attendants has a head coaching interview.  This franchise starting with the owner is relevant and will remain so long after Tim Duncan has retired.
 
Players:
On teams like this the veterans school the new players with what it takes to be a winner.  Make no mistake the core is aging as Tim Duncan is 37, Manu Ginobilli 36 and Tony Parker 31.  However, the Spurs have ample support from budding star Kawhi Leonard, guard Danny Green and center Tiago Splitter.  Look for steady improvement from all three.  As a testament to his greatness Tim Duncan now thinks the game through conserving energy and utilizing angles and leverage to his advantage. After the way last season’s finals ended, look for another stellar season from Tim.
 
Prospects:
Losing game six of the finals after being up five points with 28 seconds to go could crush most teams but I suspect it will motivate the Spurs to no end.  There are a handful of teams (actually three) with the kind of chemistry the Spurs possess.  Among those looking to make amends for last years finals are Manu Ginobilli and “gasp,coach Popovich  who will serve to galvanize this team for one last big charge up the hill.

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The Contenders – LA Clippers

 

The Contenders – LA Clippers


Does Donald Sterling still own this team ? Yes, believe it, hell hath frozen over.  The Clips are championship contenders. After years of being the understudy in Los Angeles the Clippers have surpassed the Lakers as LA’s best team.  With all star guard Chris Paul locked in along with burgeoning forward Blake Griffin the Cllippers now have a nucleus to build around and build they did.
 
Management:
 The hiring of championship coach Glenn ( Doc ) Rivers was a master stroke. Rivers hails with the status of being one of the two top coaches in the league.  His biggest attribute is his standing as a leader of men.  Coach Rivers is a master motivator and operates best when he has world class athletes to work with.  One of Rivers immediate projects is helping Clippers center De Andre Jordan  reach his considerable potential as a rebounder and shot blocker.  Factor in the likes of JJ Redick, Darren Collison and Jared Dudley for the needed support in outside shooting and point guard play.  The Clippers appear to be on the right track for at least the next three to four years ( Or the amount of time the championship contention window remains open ). Former coach Vinnie Del Negro deserves credit for player acquisition and for turning the franchise around but in Doc Rivers the Clippers now have a coach who knows exactly what it takes to win a title. 
 
 
Players:
Blake Griffin declared recently that Lob City as an identity for the team was over.  He seemed to suggest that the Clippers would now display more substance versus the high flying crowd pleasing attack that has tipified the team’s style for the past season.  Now of course Mr. Griffin must realize that for his team to become more substantive then his game must also become more substantive and that means more rebounds and trips to the free throw line.  More than any other player Blake Griffin’s growth probably plays as big a part in the Clippers hopes than anything else. All NBA guard Chris Paul now has young and savvy shooters to augment his forays to the hoop. Jared Dudley and JJ Redick are deadeye shooters that understand the sacrifice needed to win and to maintain a positive team culture ( most notably in the locker room).  Guard Darren Collision is a solid back up in search of just the right team and back up center/forward Byron Mullens is a credible outside shooter at just under 40 percent.
 
 
Prospects:
With a transformation to a more powerful power forward by Blake Griffin and improved defensive play from De Andre Jordan the Clips would be vastly improved because defense is a critical need.  But wait, there’s more, with Doc planning to upgrade the offense into one that is more movement oriented look for a departure from that predictable mix of Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford taking turns creating off of screen roll.  So far everybody is saying all of the right things and team chemistry seems good but, if Chris Paul buys what Doc is selling then the Clippers will indeed become a perennial title contender.
 

The Best of the Rest

 

The Best of The Rest

 
 
The Brooklyn Nets:
Hats off to Nets ownership for addressing exactly what their team needed, toughness and leadership. With the addition of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Andrei Kirilenko the Nets have created an instant contender and if I were the Heat this is one team I would not want to face in the first round of the playoffs.  The Nets are now big experienced and tough.  The single biggest factor will be Garnett’s influence on last seasons all star Brook Lopez.
 
The Nets will go as far as their health will take them.  Another potential burr in the saddle will be Pretty Tony..er..Deron Williams willingness to accept Jason Kidd’s coaching and Kevin Garnett’s leadership.
 
If all goes well this talented and deep team will be one of the leagues brightest stories.
 
 
Back from Purgatory
 
 
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons:
The Cavs are back !  Well, not quite but they are making all of the right moves from developing budding star guard Kyrie Irving, bringing back quality coach Mike Brown and with the taking of a chance on free agent center Andrew Bynum. Number one draft pick Anthony Bennett is solid at the four and guard Jarrett Jack will complete Luke’s…er…Kyrie Irving’s training.  All the pieces are seemingly in place for next season’s return of the King.
 
Just when we all thought he had lost his touch, general manager Joe Dumars is rebuilding his team bit by bit.  The Detroit Pistons will battle the Cavaliers for the sixth position in the eastern conference standings.  Adding Josh Smith to a quickly developing front line of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe was the right move at the right time.  Detroit now boast a front line that is young, big and athletic. Recently acquired point guard Brandon Jennings from Milwaukee will benefit from  changing to a team with a different culture and veteran leadership. (See Chauncey Billips). Look for a break out season from Drummond who averaged 11.1 ppg, 8.2 rebounds and shot 67% from the field. New coach Maurice Cheeks who hales from the Larry Brown coaches stable is technically solid.
 
Both teams are to be watched as they are building the right way and are poised to be forces of the future.

Chomping at the Bit – The Indiana Pacers

Chomping at the Bit- The Indiana Pacers

Management:
Kudos to Pacer management for overhauling a team that suffered through the malice at the Palace. The team’s culture has been re vamped and what we have now is a culture that is both professional and serious. Big credit to Larry Bird and to basketball lifer Donnie Walsh. Solid player selection and incremental development led to the eastern conference power that the Pacers have become. The team, as tough mentally as they are physically have played the Miami Heat almost even in successive seasons. Pacers brass have seemingly discovered that precarious balance between talent and character exemplified in the selection of players like Paul ( on the edge of super stardom ) George and Roy Hibbert.

Personnel:
Adding David West to a nucleus of Hibbert, George and a returning Danny Granger was the right move at the right time. Guards George Hill and Lance Stephenson provide stellar defense and open court play on offense. In one of the best moves of the off season the Pacers acquired Luis Scola to shore up a bench sorely in need of shoring up. The Argentinian is extremely skilled, savvy and an excellent passer to boot. It also looks like C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland have finally found homes. This team is tough, very very tough and a title could be in the offing if only it weren’t for…….

Prospects:
The Pacers are young talented and hungry but the only edge and I mean( razor thin) that the Heat had over them was experience, and some cat named Lebron. The Pacers pride themselves on a brand of basketball they affectionately call smash-mouth. However the Heat and that “Art of War student, Pat Riley have successfully used the Pacers aggression against them. In successive seasons the Pacers have succumbed to well planned and thought out hard fouls by the Heat that have served to keep an inexperienced Pacer team off balance. Technically the Pacers guards have to do a better job in the half court in terms of penetration,decision making and ball distribution. In George Hill and C.J. Watson the Pacers have essentially the same player. Going forward though, with experience, chemistry and the growth of Paul George some of the most deserving fans in all of sports may get what they have been waiting for.

The Contenders-Miami Heat

The Contenders- Miami Heat

Whoa, slow it down big fella. Who would list the Heat as second place finishers the season after winning the title ? Yours truly.

Management:
They don’t always get the recognition they deserve but Miami boast one of the top organizations in sports. At the helm as always is team president Pat Riley and his clone; head coach Eric Spoelstra. Miami has managed mostly through free agency to surround their star players with an almost perfect compliment of supporting players. Bringing in Chris Andersen and Ray Allen were key in winning their second straight title. Management has created an environment that is as polished and professional as a fortune five hundred company. ( Playing near South Beach is a big plus ). Players around the league relish the chance to play in Miami.

Personnel:
It is well chronicled that the Heat are small but they cover their weaknesses with a relentless swarming defense that picks it’s spots as to when to deploy their half court traps. The big three of Lebron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade are still formidable and have bonded well through the years. Hall of Famer Ray Allen knows what he’s doing and still has ammo left in the holster. A little discussed aspect is the veritable stable of three point shooters on this roster, easily the best in the league.

Prospects:
The Heat are poised patient and aggressive. Sight seen; the team was beaten in the closing seconds of game five against San Antonio. The players, all of them were hanging their heads with one exception, Lebron who was picking guys up and reminding them that the series wasn’t over. That, my friend is leadership. It won’t however be enough to carry a team that is still small, aging and susceptible to consistent dribble penetration. In a season to remember this proud team will not go down without a fight but they will eventually go down.

Not your Fathers NBA Preview

Not your fathers NBA preview.

This preview / power ranking will high-lite the top three teams in each conference along with a mention of the up and coming teams in their respective conferences. Factors such as an increase in talent, better team management, the new CBA and shall I say it, strong stewardship from the commissioner have set this season up as one of the best in years.

So with out further ado.

The Eastern Conference:

Alpha Dog- The Chicago Bulls

These are lofty expectations for a team that lost to the eventual champion Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs. One must keep in mind that this Bulls team is one that is battle tested and as cohesive as any team in the league.
Consider: 1. Management-
The Bulls were correct to plan out for this season given the injury
to their best player Derrick Rose. The team proved that they were elite even
without Derrick and for long stretches Loul Deng. The Bulls then drafted a better
shooting version of Jimmy Butler in Tony Snell and validated the selection of
Marcus Teague who’s steady development was borne out in an excellent summer
league. Lastly the hiring of Tom Thibodeau as coach was dam near genius.

2. Personnel-
I can’t believe I’m saying this but the Bulls core players are entering their Prime’s
and are better collectively than they are as individuals. Jimmy Butler as the new
starting two guard is turning into one of most mentally tough players in the
league and is still growing as a player. At some point we all have consider the
awesome possibility that Derrick Rose could actually improve….Nuff said.

3. Prospects-
The addition of Kirk Heinrich and the development of Marquis Teague
will allow Rose the opportunity to rest on the floor and save his strength for
fourth quarters. The window for the Chicago Bulls is now open and the
players more than anyone realize this and are ready to take the next step.