After an unusually long off-season, 2010-11 is finally here! And we better enjoy it. While the Miami Heat will dominate everyone’s attention the larger story is that the 2011-12 season is very much in doubt. The labor stoppage seems likely and won’t be pretty. But let’s not worry about the future. This season is one of the more anticipated season in a while. The Heat’s new core is probably the most covered pre-season team since the 1995-96 Bulls that featured Michael Jordan in his first full season after retirement and the addition of Dennis Rodman. Can the Heat get the same result that the Bulls did? IWill we get the dream Finals between Miami and the Lakers? Possibly and POssibly. Here’s our quick look at projected standings:
1. Miami Heat: Sure there could be growing pains getting the stars to jell but they are a good defensive team and they are too talented to struggle for long.
2. Orlando Magic: Miami’s biggest threat in the East. If they can get scoring from the wings, they could be in the Finals.
3. Boston Celtics: Still really dangerous but you can’t fight age forever. Doc Rivers will really have to monitor minutes again to be ready for April.
4. Chicago Bulls: Big drop off in talent here after the top three. There is talent here but shooting is still an issue. The weak division should guarantee a top four seed.
5. Atlanta Hawks: Hated their off-season moves and they could feel a squeeze when Al Horford’s contract comes up but they still can make the second round for now.
6. Milwaukee Bucks: They are due for some regression because of the loss of Luke Ridnour and the fact that John Salmons was playing over his head. Still, a playoff team though.
7. Philadelphia 76ers: Of the bottom feeders, the Sixers should get the biggest improvement because Doug Collins always improves team defense and Philly has a ton of room for improvement in that area. Collins is sure to grate on the roster eventually but his teams usually improve quickly.
8. New York Knicks: Finally, a return to the playoffs. The team will still be weak but 40 wins and quasi-positive feelings are coming. Getting Melo would bump them up slightly.
9. Indiana Pacers: Just good enough to not get a good draft pick.
10. Charlotte Bobcats: The effort was great last year but the offense was not great and will probably get worse.
11. Washington Wizards: They do have a chance at making the playoffs but the larger goals are developing John Wall and Andray Blatche and dumping Gilbert Arenas. Playoffs are secondary.
12. New Jersey Nets: Like the Wiz, they need to develop Derrick Favors and learn how to defend. Side goal is to find a star player to trade/sign.
13. Toronto Raptors: Worst defensive team in the NBA has lost its best player for nothing and replaced him with Linas Kleiza. They have to start over.
14. Detroit Pistons: Not just bad…rudderless. The plan has been flawed for a while here. The new plan should be to get a top pick and somehow trade Rip Hamilton.
15. Cleveland Cavaliers: Just will be a tough year. Salary issues are not bad here but they had no Plan B after LeBron. Can’t blame them for putting all eggs in the LBJ basket but an ugly 2010-11 season is the inevitable result of losing James.
1. Los Angeles Lakers: Still the class of the conference, yet I am not convinced they are coming out of the West. I think it is just as likely that the another team other than the Lakers goes to the Finals. L.A. is not young and winning three in a row is difficult. Still, it’s hard to identify the actual team that will beat them. Someone might emerge but that team is not apparent right now.
2. San Antonio Spurs: They are definitely older but Tim Duncan is still going strong and is relatively young for a great big man. With all the talk of Manu Ginobili’s health issues the real killer last year was Tony Parker, who missed almost 30 games. If they can be a little healthier, they have a shot to make one last run.
3. Utah Jazz: OKC has more talent but the Jazz are still deep and tend to thrive when there is a potential power vacuum.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder will make another jump this year. It won’t be as big as some people think but the second round of the playoffs is very possible.
5. Portland Trail Blazers: Portland still needs one more star but they are deep and effective on offense and defense. Bonus points if Greg Oden comes back healthy.
6. Dallas Mavericks: Dallas could be better than a six seed. Whether you are an optimist or pessimist on the Mavs, however, they do not seem to be a title contender under any realistic scenario. They are actually older then many other teams that are considered too old.
7. Houston Rockets: In theory, they should be better with Yao Ming back but, even so, the conference is deep enough that a few game improvement might not even register on the radar.
8. New Orleans Hornets: While Chris Paul’s free agent status looms over the franchise, they are very talented and I don’t see Paul going anywhere quite yet. The core talent is good enough that they could win 50 games but the flux is enough for me to project them downward.
9. Denver Nuggets: Who really knows? If they stay together, the Nuggets could be anywhere from 2 to 8 in the West. It seems most likely, however, that Carmelo Anthony will be gone and the total chaos will keep them from the playoffs.
10. Phoenix Suns: Without Amare Stoudemire, the party is over for now.
11. Los Angeles Clippers: There is talent here but forces (new coach, Clipper Karma, injury issues) will limit them.
12. Golden State Warriors: The Warriors look like they will keep the run and gun system for now. There is talent but new management will have to turn this into a competent franchise for the first time in 15-20 years.
13. Memphis Grizzlies: If I could bet on one team regressing from last year other than Cleveland this is it. The Grizz weren’t quite as good as they looked last year and relying on Zach Randolph to repeat his great season is not a great idea.
14. Sacramento Kings: Tyreke Evans and Demarcus Cousins will be fun to watch but the team neither scores nor defends particularly well. Paul Westphal should consider the season a success if Evans and Cousins progress.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves: The worst of the West and possibly the NBA. David Kahn’s plan is quite slow developing and not readily apparent.
Heat over Magic
Lakers over Jazz
Heat over Lakers
MVP: LeBron James, Miami
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Coach of the Year: Scotty Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder