The projected records are based on projected minutes and production from projected starters for each team. Those numbers are then calculated into points and a record. Some of these will be wildly wrong. Some I don’t even agree with, but I’m putting them out there and we’ll see what happens. In general this system tends to overrate the veteran teams and underrate the younger teams. For that reason if your team falls into one of those categories, take this all with a grain of salt.After the records, I’ll write a little blurb defending or apologizing for the projected record and looking at different angles on each team. The West looks like it will remain fairly static for at least another year, though I feel the top 3 teams will all slide back toward the pack a little bit. Unlike the East, which has several talented, young teams in need of either a final piece or some direction and a weak elite group of teams, the top of the West is still pretty well defined and there don’t appear to be more than one or two teams capable of crashing that group. Continue reading NBA Preview 2007-08: Western Conference…
To recap what I’ve been saying for a couple of seasons now: The MVP generally goes to the best player on a team with the best record in their conference. Exceptions would be great teams with a balanced attack, players on a team that improves dramatically from one year to the next, and a player who was just too good to ignore, records be damned. After looking at how the league seems ready to play out this season, I see 3 players whose MVP chances seem to be better than the rest: Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Yao Ming. This has more to do with their team situation than anything else, but that’s usually what decides who ultimately wins the award.
1. Kevin Garnett, Boston: His numbers were actually down a little last year and could be down again, because he’s with more talented teammates. But Garnett has to be considered the MVP favorite going in. He’s the top newcomer on a team that’s poised to improve their win total by 30+ games and has a good chance at the best record in their conference. He’s also a veteran, which is something voters have shown a strong preference for in recent years. If Boston wins the 55 games I expect them to, Kevin Garnett would be almost a prohibitive favorite to win the MVP.
2. Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers, Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix or maybe even New York: Kobe is one of the 3 best players in basketball, along with LeBron and Wade. He’s on the block and a trade to Chicago, Dallas or Phoenix will push him to the top of the list as he would transform any one of those teams into a 60+ win team. Even if he stays with the Lakers and leads them to 50+ wins while scoring 35 PPG, he’ll get some votes. There are a lot of variables here though. If Chicago gets off to a fast start, they may stand pat, as a plucky, young homegrown team is always more fun to win with than an imported, selfish superstar. Nowitzki isn’t on the block now, but could be if the Mavs happen to start falling behind the likes of the Suns, Rockets and Spurs. The Suns are the last team the Lakers want to send Kobe to, but they might become a last resort. Then there’s the remote possibility that things start well for the Lakers and the braintrust and Kobe decide the can live with each other. Until games start being played, won and lost, nobody is certain how this drama will play out. Kobe will become the MVP favorite if he lands in Chicago, Dallas or Phoenix.
3. Yao Ming, Houston: Yao’s game was at an elite level when he played last year. If he can sustain that improvement and stay healthy all season, he has a good shot at the award, because Houston is loaded and good enough to move in with the West’s elite. I wouldn’t discount the idea that Yao could suddenly become an ironman either. Zy Ilgauskas followed a series of injury-prone seasons with several seasons of all-star caliber center play. Yao is certainly capable of doing the same.
4. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas: The reigning MVP is definitely a threat to win his 2nd straight, as the Mavs are as strong as any team in the league. What will hurt Dirk’s chances is the Mavs seem likely to decline from their 67 wins of last season and the voters have historically been cool to players on teams whose records declined. Dirk is also right in the middle of the Kobe drama, as either the Maverick who will be demoted to sidekick status when Kobe arrives or the player who was traded for Kobe. Either situation would be a fatal blow to Dirk’s chances of a repeat.
5. Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix: The Suns are also in the mix for the best record and it’s possible the voters will look to someone other than Nash. Stoudemire seems like the player most likely to move into the MVP talk, no matter how much such a scenario would irritate Shawn Marion. Considering he’s already an elite center playing in a fast-paced offense and doesn’t turn 25 until November, Stoudemire has a chance to step up his numbers to monster level. Such a step up, along with the top seed for Phoenix would make him one of the favorites for the award.
6. Steve Nash, Phoenix: No discussion of the MVP candidates would be complete without the 2-time winner and voter favorite. The Suns are still an elite team and Nash is still the leader, so he’ll be in the MVP mix. I just get the feeling that the voters’ crazy infatuation with his game cooled some last year and some were a little uneasy about how history would feel about them making such a player a 3-time MVP. I expect that feeling to carry over to this season, no matter what happens on the court and in the standings. There’s also the fact that he’s 34. I don’t expect much, if any decline in his game, but he is 34 and that’s an age when many players start to fade.
7. LeBron James, Cleveland: A player this good is always a threat to win the award. He still has things working against him though. The biggest is the fact that the Cavs appear to be headed for a season where they take a step back in order to take two or three steps forward in the future. There’s also the feeling I have that the voters just don’t find him all that likeable. Many writers seem cool towards him, giving him due praise, but hardly gushing despite the fact that his accomplishments have him on a pace to smash records, win championships and become a worldwide icon in the next decade. I’m just a guy who watches the game from a distance and mainly concentrates on the statistical end of things, but I think he could stand to get some better advice on promoting himself. When Dwayne Wade is causing my eyes to tear up by buying playground equipment for a youth team and tossing the keys of a Navigator to their coach, the LeBrons commercial seems stupid and self-serving in comparison. And donning that Yankees cap at the Indians game was just plain stupid, if harmless. Small stuff to be sure, but it all adds up when voters are picking the MVP. As good as LeBron is, his image could definitely use a boost.
8. Dwayne Wade, Miami: Miami appears to be in for a tough season. Nothing is certain though and Wade is capable of leading a team with a revitalized Shaq to the best record in the East. When healthy Wade is every bit as valuable the player LeBron, Kobe and Dirk are. Getting Miami to the top spot in what looks like a down year would no doubt get him the MVP. Working against him is the fact he’ll start the season on the injured list and the flimsy supporting cast he’ll join when he returns.
9. Tim Duncan, San Antonio: A perennial candidate because he’s the best player on one of the best teams. As great as Duncan is, I just don’t see it happening for the Spurs this season. I feel they’re too old and the 2007 championship felt like a last hurrah. I feel they’ll fall behind Dallas and Houston in the Southwest this year. But that’s just my opinion. A poll of most experts would probably have the Spurs as the favorite to win another championship, so that has to be considered. If they’re right and I’m wrong and the Spurs do finish with the best record in the West, Duncan is the most likely player to win the MVP.
10. Ben Gordon, Chicago: Every year I like to toss a sleeper into the MVP mix and Gordon seems like a good choice this year. He’s never been a 3000+ minutes player, but that could change this season as it’s the first one where he’s the starter going in. If he does log big minutes, Gordon will be one of the league’s leading scorers. That and the likelihood Chicago will end up with the best record in the East make him a decent MVP candidate. Being the most likely Bull to be included in a Kobe deal would hurt his chances, but that drama has yet to play itself out entirely.
The projected records are based on projected minutes and production from projected starters for each team. Those numbers are then calculated into points and a record. Some of these will be wildly wrong. Some I don’t even agree with, but I’m putting them out there and we’ll see what happens. After the records, I’ll write a little blurb defending or apologizing for the projected record and taking a different angle on how each teams’ season might transpire. The East is very tough to predict this season. I think most would agree that there are six teams that should make the playoffs: Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Miami and Orlando. Those teams are a notch above the rest, though one or two could have a rough season. Of the other 9 teams, any one of them has the potential to surprise and crash the playoffs. Any 9 of them are capable of crashing the top 6 as a high end. This should make for an interesting, possibly topsy-turvy season in the East, but also a difficult one to predict. These projections are just what my number-crunching says will happen and often that has little resemblance to what happens on the court. I’ll go in reverse order to heighten the drama and throw in some final thoughts and playoff predictions at the end.
Last season Golden State ended a 13-year postseason drought in spectacular fashion. The Warriors broke an even longer streak by getting to the second round for the first time since 1990-91 when RUN TMC shocked David Robinson’s Spurs. I thought it would be fun to go through and see the current longest postseason droughts. Here’s a list of each franchise and the last time they made the playoffs AND actually won a round:
-Atlanta Hawks: Last in the playoffs in 1998-99, which is also the last time they won a round. They have an outside shot of making it this year.
-Boston Celtics: Last time in the playoffs in 2004-05 and last won a round in 2002-03. Expect both those droughts to end this year
-Charlotte Bobcats: Playoffless since their inception in 2004-05. Expect the drought to continue.
-Cleveland Cavaliers: Went to the Finals last year.
-Dallas Mavericks: Made the playoffs last year but lost in untimely fashion. Made the NBA Finals in 2005-06.
-Denver Nuggets: Made the playoffs last year but haven’t won a round since 1993-94. They have a 40% chance to get to the second round this year.
-Detroit Pistons: Lost in the Conference Finals last year.
-Golden State Warriors: As mentioned, 2006-07 broke a bunch of streaks.
-Houston Rockets: Made the playoffs last year but they haven’t won a round since way back in 1996-97 with Hakeem, Drexler, and Barkley. This streak should finally end.
-Indiana Pacers: The Pacers ended a long streak by missing the playoffs last year for the first time in a while. They last made the second round 2004-05. The playoff drought will continue this year.
-Los Angeles Clippers: Last made the playoffs and the second round in 2005-06. The 2005-06 run broke a playoffless streak that went back to 1996-97 and a second round streak that dated all the way back to the Buffalo Braves in 1975-76.
-Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers squeaked into the playoffs last year but they haven’t won a round since Shaq was last around in 2003-04.
-Memphis Grizzlies: They last made the playoffs in 2005-06. They haven’t won a round in their franchise history (which dates back to 1995-96).
-Miami Heat: The Heat made the playoffs last year and last won a series in 2005-06 when they won it all.
-Milwaukee Bucks: They made the playoffs last in 2005-06 and won rounds last in 2000-01 when the Cassell/Allen/Robinson team went to the conference finals.
-Minnesota Timberwolves: Haven’t won a round or made the playoffs since 2003-04. It’s been dark days ever since.
-New Jersey Nets: Made the second round last year.
-New Orleans Hornets: Last made the playoffs in 2003-04. They haven’t won a round since 2001-02, the last season in Charlotte.
-New York Knicks: Last made the playoffs in Isiah’s inaugural season of 2003-04. They haven’t won a playoff game since 2000-01 and they haven’t won a series since 1999-00, when Jeff Van Gundy had those three strands of hear on the top of his head.
-Orlando Magic: They made the playoffs last year but they haven’t won a series since 1995-96 when Shaq and Penny led the team to the conference finals.
-Philadelphia 76ers: Last made the playoffs in 2004-05 but haven’t won a series since 2002-03, Larry Brown’s last year in town.
-Phoenix Suns: Obviously, they are a contender and they just barely lost to the Spurs last year.
-Portland Trailblazers: Old reliable playoff team hasn’t been in the fold since 2002-03, when they lost a whacky first rounder to the Mavs. The last time they advanced past the first round was in 1999-00 and the infamous loss to the Shaq-Kobe Lakers where they blew an 18-point lead in Game 7.
-Sacramento Kings: They once mighty Kings made the playoffs last in 2005-06 and haven’t won a round since 2003-04.
-Seattle SuperSonics: We go back to 2004-05 when the team surprisingly won their division and knocked off the Kings in the first round.
-Toronto Raptors: They made the playoffs last year but their only playoff series win was in 2000-01 when they beat the Knicks.
-Utah Jazz: They ended a small drought last year and made the conference finals.
-Washington Wizards: The Wiz had a very long playoff drought before Gilbert Arenas came to town. They made the playoffs last year and went to the second round in 2004-05. Before 2004-05, however, they hadn’t won a series since 1981-82.
Only a few teams have really long droughts now. The Hawks have the longest full absence but the Magic, Grizz, and Rockets (surprisingly) haven’t been deep into the playoffs for even longer (in the Grizz’s case ever). I think Houston should finally win a round this year and Orlando has a small shot of finally going through to round two.
1. Kobe Stuff: The big this week has been Kobe Bryant-Laker situation. Rumors were abound that Kobe was refusing to play because he sat out three practices for no apparent reason (he claimed injury). More to the point, owner Jerry Buss, without much prompting, basically stated that the market was open for Kobe: “It’s just part of the game, to listen to somebody who has a dissatisfied player that you think is going to fit. You can’t keep too many loyalties. You’ve got to look at it as a business. He looks at it the same way.”
Now it’s not crazy to say that any player is available for the right price but to harp on Bryant’s satisfaction seems counterproductive. If Buss was holding out hope to placate Bryant this ain’t going to do it. Bryant had seemed pretty content since his June tirades. Taking all these facts at face value (which is probably a little unfair), what does Buss have to gain by opening the market up for Kobe?
Frankly, not too much. Unless there’s something we don’t know, the most leverage that the Lakers have is if they can at least pretend that Kobe has a chance of being happy in L.A.. A fire sale is more likely to create more leverage for the bidders. It is possible that a fire sale could force teams to proffer their best offers but there are only a finite number of teams with cap room and Kobe’s blessing so a seller’s market is not likely.
There is another component to this that seems more psychological in nature. Buss definitely seems like the type to speak his mind to either lay the groundwork for his decision or, perhaps because he can’t keep his decision making process bottled in. In 2004, he made it pretty clear he didn’t want to pay Shaq and that he didn’t want Phil Jackson back. In any event, it sounds like Kobe will not be a Laker by the end of the year. This may have happened regardless but these are not optimum conditions to make a deal.
2. Ten Years Ago: Can you believe that it’s been ten years since Michael Jordan’s final(ish) season and the crazy game winner over Bryon Russell and the Jazz. Just for fun, I thought I’d run over the 1997-98 rosters to see whose left in the NBA as of the end of 2006-07:
-Atlanta: Dikembe Mutombo, Alan Henderson, Randy Livingston
-Boston: Antoine Walker, Bruce Bowen
-Charlotte: David Wesley
-Cleveland: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Brevin Knight, Derek Anderson, Vitaly Potapenko
-Dallas: Michael Finley, Kurt Thomas
-Denver: Bobby Jackson, Tony Battie, Eric Willams
-Detroit: Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse, Scot Pollard
-Golden State: Donyell Marshall, Erick Dampier, Adonal Foyle
-Indiana: Jalen Rose, Dale Davis, Austin Croshere
-L.A. Clippers: Maurice Taylor, Eric Piatkowski, Lorenzen Wright, Darrick Martin
-L.A. Lakers: Shaquille O’Neal, Eddie Jones, Kobe Bryant, Robert Horry, Derek Fisher
-Miami: Alonzo Mourning, Brent Barry, P.J. Brown
-Milwaukee: Ray Allen
-Minnesota: Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury
-New Jersey: Sam Cassell
-New York: None
-Orlando Magic: Darrell Armstrong, Bo Outlaw
-Philadelphia: Allen Iverson, Tim Thomas, Theo Ratliff, Joe Smith, Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, Anthony Parker
-Phoenix: Antonio McDyess, Clifford Robinson, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash
-Portland: Rasheed Wallace, Kelvin Cato, Damon Stoudamire, Jermaine O’Neal
-Sacramento: Corliss Williamson
-San Antonio: Tim Duncan, Malik Rose
-Seattle: Gary Payton, Aaron Williams
-Toronto: Doug Christie, Marcus Camby, Tracy McGrady, Chauncey Billups, Alvin Williams
-Utah: Jacque Vaughn, Troy Hudson
-Vancouver: Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Antonio Daniels
-Washington: Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Ben Wallace
Of this group, only eight were still on the same team on 2006-07. Going even further, Ilgauskas, Kobe, Garnett, and Duncan were the only players to stay with the sane franchise the entire (the other four were re-acquire down the line). There appears to be little to no correlation between the number of players who lasted ten years and how good the 1997-98 teams were but it was interesting to look at.
3. More Euro Stuff: Last week, we noted the rise in NBA/FIBA games the last few years. When we last looked, the NBA teams were 2-1 against FIBA teams in Europe. Since then the series has completed with the NBA teams going 8-1 the rest of the way against FIBA (and the Chinese National Team). The second loss was in a close game where Real Madrid beat Toronto by a point in Madrid in a game where Chris Bosh did not play. Real Madrid was led Louis Bullock, the former Michigan standout. In the U.S., the games weren’t very close. Of the eight games, only one NBA victory (the Raptors’ 6-point win over Zalgiris Kaunas), was by less than 19 points. It’s hard to say that these results me too much but the homecourt does make some advantage.