Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Alright, FINE: you win. Eastern Conference Preview

Eastern Conference Preview: Smorgasboard of Thought

As you all know, we did a fairly lengthy Western Conference preview, and an even lengthier Blazers preview. Well, we’ve gotten some email from Eastern Conference fans – yes, we are aware there is an Eastern Conference – wondering if we could A. insert something in our own something else, and B. perhaps provide a few thoughts on the conference.

What do we say to this? A surprisingly affable “fair enough”. So without further ado, I present you with:

BlazersBlog Eastern Confernce Preview: Smorgasboard of thought.

We here at BlazersBlog care about the Eastern Conference. I promise we do. We even occasionally watch an Eastern Conference game that doesn’t include any teams from the West. Really! And we don’t even fall asleep. That said, following is a smorgasboard of thought – all about the East. Enjoy.
  • Am I the only person who is wholly convinced that the Heat aren’t winning another title? Let’s not forget this is a team that has Jason Williams and Gary Payton as their point guards. Wayne Simien and Jason freaking Kapono are expected to play major roles for this team, for crying out loud. And with the resume’s on some of these guys in Miami, how exactly are they supposed to stay motivated? I’m happy for what they accomplished last year, but we might be talking about a rebuilding team in 12 months.
  • I might have underestimated the Nets this year; I didn’t realize this was a contract season for Vince Carter. Even IF Jason Kidd loses a step this year, and even IF their starting power forward is Jason Collins, this could be a very good team. I don’t like their bench (essentially Uncle Cliffy, Eddie House, and two rookies from UConn), but in the East you don’t need a great bench because nobody has a great bench.
  • If the Cavaliers could get a decent point guard (they’re currently being run by Eric Snow and Damon Jones), then I’ll believe they can contend. I’m fine with Drew Gooden, fine with Big Z, and I am looking forward to seeing what they’ll do with a full season of Larry Hughes. But they really need to upgrade that point spot. With Hughes and Gooden both not knowing what the word “pass” means, I just think it’s asking too much of LeBron to be both the team’s #1 scorer and distributor. If they could swing a mid-season deal for someone like an Andre Miller or a Mike Bibby – or heck, even a Speedy Claxton-type – they could be a top-3 contender in the East.
  • So, how long until we start to hear serious complaints about Rasheed Wallace’s perimeter addiction? We started to hear a little bit of it last year, and I imagine that will only grow louder this season. Larry Brown, for all his faults, was great for Rasheed: he got him to rotate his game between the post and the perimeter, which is exactly what you want with ‘Sheed. Under Flip Saunders, though, Sheed is spending more and more time shooting threes. (Interesting parallel to the Dunleavy/Mo Cheeks effect in Portland).
  • Why is everyone so in love with Chicago’s team? Hirich is great, Wallace will help in the middle, but do we really think that PJ Brown and Andres Nocioni should be legit starters for a top-10 NBA team? To me, this team’s success will hinge on how much they can get out of Deng (is he ready to make The Leap?) and Duhon.
  • I’m just going to come right out and say it: I love the Pacers’ roster. They’re the only other team in the East alongside Miami that I could see competing in the West every night. Granted, they’ve got a bit of the “Cavalier Complex” in that they could use an upgrade at PG (Jamaal Tinsley last year: 5apg, 40% fg, 22% 3pg) – but this team is LOADED. Jermaine O’Neal, Al Harrington, Stephen “craziest man alive” Jackson, Marquis Daniels, Danny Granger … that right there is the best set of five in the Eastern Conference. They can bang, they can run, they can shoot, they can play defense…should be a fun team to watch, and I expect them to surprise a lot of people and get a top-4 seed.
  • Going in to my Eastern Conference preview, I had decided preliminarily to put the Orlando Magic as one of the official “upset specials”. But looking at their roster, I’ve changed my mind and I’m not ready to do it yet. Couple of reasons: 1. I don’t have any confidence in two of their starters, Tony Battie and Grant Hill. 2. With guys like Grant Hill, Hedo Turkoglu, and Keyon Dooling expected to play major roles, you have to have a decent bench with injury-prone guys like that. And their bench is terrible. 3. I’m not sure Jameer Nelson can handle a full season of starting at the point, both from a physical and a mental perspective. I will say this for the team – I hope they give Darko a chance to play a ton of minutes, because he looked better with every game last year.
  • Another team that could surprise people this year is the Milwaukee Bucks. With one of the better front-lines in the league (Bogut, Villanueva and Simmons) combined with one of the better shooters in the league (Redd), if they can get any kind of production from their bench they’ve got a playoff spot waiting for them. Another team I’m cautiously high on.
  • You have to admire the people who run the Charlotte Bobcats. They said all along that their plan was to conserve cap room, build through the draft, and be patient—and they’ve stuck to that plan despite two vomit-inducing years. They’ve made solid draft picks (Okafor, Felton, Morrison), found a diamond in the rough (Gerald Wallace), and certainly conserved cap (lowest payroll in the league). They won’t be any good this year, and probably won’t be any good next year either, but they’re setting themselves up to make a nice run in about 3 seasons.
  • Alright, I’ll say it: I don’t think the Knicks have a terrible roster. Granted, waiting Jalen Rose when they would have had a nice beautiful expiring contract to bring in a valuable asset in return was foolish, but when you look at their personnel … Marbury, Francis, Frye, Curry, Crawford, Richardson … there is no denying the talent. Now, the way that roster is assembled is a complete disaster; but there has to be some way they can put all that wing talent together to win some games. Those guys aren’t bad players, they’re just selfish ones. But on talent alone this team should probably be fighting for a 7th or 8th spot in the East.
  • Is there a more depressing team right now that the Philadelphia 76ers? They have no chance to win, and they’ve hamstrung themselves with huge contracts given out to AI, Dalembert, and Webber, and will have to give out yet another one to Igoudala next season. This is NOT a good time to be a Sixer fan right now. Think about this for a minute: who’s roster would you rather have, Atlanta’s or Philly’s?
  • The second-most depressing team: Boston. Pierce is great, but everyone else on that team is overrated. Telfair … Szerbiak … Green. The only way I see this franchise turning the corner is if Rajon Rondo and Al Jefferson both turn in to all-stars. I hate to say it because I know some very loyal Boston fans, but I don’t see it getting a whole lot better for this team for a couple of years. Someone in that front office needs to suck it up and just start the rebuild.
  • I look at a team like the Hawks, and I think: why aren’t they better? It’s one of those teams that makes you think there just might be something to a franchise getting stuck with a “culture of losing”. Speedy Claxton, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Shelden Williams, Salim Stoudamire … put a decent center on that team and they could make the playoffs. That franchise needs to just move to a new city … or something.

Well folks that’s about it. 13 bullets, 1400 words, and 100% of it on the Eastern Conference. Not too shabby, right?

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