by Greg Gargs Allard
1. Boston Celtics 53-29 – Brad Stevens will win Coach of the Year honors as he leads the team with by far the most depth in the Eastern Conference to a deep playoff run. If you think this prediction is off base, please consider that the Celtics had the second-best record in the East last year after the all star break. The maturation of their young players, along with their smart free agent (Amir Johnson), trade (David Lee) and draft additions (Terry Rozier, RJ Hunter and Jordan Mickey), will make Danny Ainge look more and more like a genius every day. And he’s still got Brooklyn’s first round picks for the next three years but we’ll get to those later.
2. Toronto Raptors 42-40 – Although they started great last year, the second half of their season was nothing to write to the United States about. Losing Amir Johnson and Lou Williams this year is going to hurt them. Their additions of players led by Demarre Carroll only softens the sting a little. In addition, there will be more parity in the Eastern Conference this year, which will equal more loses for the Raptors.
3. New York Knicks 31-51 – Not as bad as last year but it will not be enough improvement to make Carmelo Anthony satisfied. He may demand a trade after season’s end, making Phil Jackson decide it’s time to go into full-time Zen meditation. Basketball is not so easy without all-time greats like Jordan, Pippen, O’Neal and Bryant playing for you.
4. Philadelphia 24-58 – They will be better with the drafting of Jahlil Okafur at #3 and the natural improvement of his twin tower teammate Nerlens Noel, but they are still at least two more seasons away from playoff contention in the East.
5. Brooklyn 21-61 – Head Coach Lionel Hollins will prove conclusively that he doesn’t have much of a clue as his Nets decrease their wins by 15 this year and enter the draft lottery sweepstakes. Problem is, their first round draft picks for the next three years will be going to the up-and-coming Celtics due to a trade that will go down as one of the most lopsided in NBA history. The Nets bad fortune will especially be underscored if oft-injured Brook Lopez goes down again. Thaddeus Young is a solid player but they have too little fire-power to make the grinding working-class city of Brooklyn even have bragging rights on the other side of the Williamsburg Bridge. Joe Johnson can no longer create his own shot and Deron Williams has moved to Dallas.
1. Cleveland 55-27 – The Cavs will probably make their way through the regular season as the # 1 seed in the East with the young, whipper-snapper Boston Celtics close on their heels. LeBron will clearly be seen to have lost a half-a-step from his prime, but he’s still the best player in the NBA. At least until someone like Stephen Curry or Anthony Davis prove otherwise. His will to win, coupled by a talented Cleveland team (even without Kyrie Irving for half-a-season) will be too much for their competition. Look for Kevin Love to be more involved in the offense this year and Mo Williams to help carry the load in Irving’s absence. The return of Anderson Varejao from injury, in conjunction with starting center Timofey Mosgov, the aforementioned Love and the disgruntled offensive-rebounding machine Tristan Thompson will be too much front court for most teams to handle.
2. Milwaukee 51-31 – Teams in the East better fear the deer this year if they know what’s good for them. Jason Kidd’s exit of the Nets for the Bucks will be looking better all the time with the return of Jabari Parker from season-ending injury last year and the addition of Detroit big-man Greg Monroe, who incompetent general manager and coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t want to resign because of the presence of Drummond in the Detroit lineup. Gianni Antetokounmpo will continue to causing matchup nightmares for opposing coaches, both at the power forward and small forward positions, night in and night out.
3. Chicago 42-40 Rookie Head Coach Fred Hoiberg will have his proverbial work cut out for him trying to maintain the kind of defensive temperament characterized by Bull’s teams of the past few years under Tom Tibodeau, whose maverick attitude started rubbing the front office the wrong way from the get-go. If the conflict between Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler continues then Hoiberg will be wishing he was curling up to the fire with his wife after another Iowa State win. Unless, of course, Rose goes down again with another season-ending injury, making the point moot but the season prospects even worse. Second-year pro and sharpshooter Doug McDermott should figure more in the Bulls’ plans this year. Whatever the case, the Bulls should be fun to watch, as long as Joakim Noah continues to yell “Gimme that!” every time he is about to haul in another board.
4. Indiana Pacers 41-41 A couple of years ago this team was at the top of the Eastern Conference and then Paul George broke his leg, an injury that it remains to be seen whether he will get back fully from this year. He’s been moved to power forward so that may help him. Inconsistent center Roy Hibbert is now gone and a whole lot of question marks arise when you talk about the state of the Pacers. The insertion of Monta Ellis at shooting guard should help with the scoring but whether or not George returns to form could swing this team 10 wins or losses in either direction.
5. Detroit Pistons 31-51 A lot of people have hope for the Detroit Pistons but not me, not as long as Stan Van Gundy remains as both its head coach and (gulp) general manager. The Pistons have some talent and they seem like a team on the rise but letting Greg Monroe go was a mistake, and letting him go to a team within the division is going to haunt them so much that Van Gundy will be praying he gets fired before the fans lynch him and cast him down into what is now the hell of downtown Detroit.
1. Atlanta Hawks 46-36 Not as good as last year but should be enough to take the Southeast Division Crown. They lost Damage Carroll to Toronto but have retained enough of their guys to be a winner again this year, provided they play the same brand of unselfish basketball, but don’t expect them to win anywhere near 60 games like last season. Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Milsap are bonafide All-Star candidates.
2. Miami Heat 42-40 One of a handful of difficult teams to gauge this year. Could implode if Wade goes down, Bosh cannot return to form and Justise Winslow doesn’t live up to expectations. Still, they have Goran Dragic, Luol Deng, Hassan Whiteside and newly acquired former slam dunk champion and scorer Gerald Green. Whether Amare Stoudamire has anything left in the tank is anybody’s guess. Whether they win 42 or 55 games this year, it should be enough compete in this division marred in mediocre parity.
3. Orlando Magic 40-42 – An up-and-coming team who will grow together for another year and perhaps do just enough to sneak into the playoffs with a first-round playoff bow this season. Adding to their talented youthful core of Elfrid Payton, age 21, Victor Oladipo, age 23, Nikola Vucevic, age 24, Aaron Gordon, age 20, and re-signed power forward talent Tobias Harris, age 23, will be 20 year-old rookie “Super” Mario Hezonja, a 6’8″ point-forward. It should take them this year to gel before they start to really make noise in the Eastern Conference during the 2016-2017 season. Scott Skiles is not the long-term cerebral solution, in my opinion, but his coaching savvy should add some grit to this young roster for someone else more fitting to take it over down the road when they become legitimate contenders.
3. Washington Wizards 40-42 What say I? The Wizards are going to drop that far down after making noise in the playoffs the last two years? Pretty much, yep. Well, for starters, the East have many teams that have improved, while I feel they have regressed. No Trevor Ariza from two years ago and no Paul Pierce bailing them out like last year. Gortat and Nene are both another year older and closer to retirement. John Wall and Bradley Beal are great but that combo alone does not a team make.
5. Charlotte Hornets 36-46 Another team mired in mediocrity with no end in sight, the Charlotte Hornets turned down a trade with Danny Ainge for the 9th pick of the draft that would have knocked anyone else’s socks off, except, of course for Michael Jordan’s, who makes a lot of money from his socks, shoes and underwear etc. A treasure trove of draft choices and a much brighter future could have been his but he chose instead one Frank Kaminsky. Now, don’t get me wrong, Kaminsky is not going to be a Kwame Brown-type disaster, in fact, he could turn out to be a serviceable player – even on the cusp of stardom – but he’ll never confuse anyone with Larry Bird walking through the streets of the Queen City. Al Jefferson should have another decent year, but he’s getting older every season and is well on his way to a career of being perhaps the greatest player who ever lived who failed to make an all-star team.
1. Golden State Warriors 58-24 This team should be a special team for years to come. How many championships they will win is another question. Well, Steve Kerr already has one under his belt but he still has to do battle with some great coaches that will grace the NBA sidelines this year like Doc Rivers, Gregg Popovich, Brad Stevens, Jason Kidd, Kevin McHale and who could forge,t LeBron James. Well James won’t exactly be on the sidelines this year but he will be controlling David Blatt from the floor with the power of his glance.
1. Los Angeles Clippers 58-24 No longer the woefully inept Paper Clips, the Los Angeles Clippers are now the hope of the City of Angels now that the Lakers have gone done the crapper and the Rams and Raiders have long moved away. Doc Rivers has an actual team of stars, not unlike he did had in Boston, but big names like Deandre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and Chris Paul do not automatically mean banners hanging from the rafters. In fact, Rivers only got one banner from his time with Boston but he might have had three or four if he hadn’t run players like Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce into the ground during their run in Beantown. But he doesn’t like to play young players very much, except, of course, when it comes to his own son Austin, who actually has turned into a decent NBA backup. Their collapse against Houston in the playoffs last year is a real head-scratcher and the questions still remain: Can Paul and Jordan coexist enough so the team can reach their rather lofty potential? And does Paul Pierce have enough engine left to be the go-to guy when the game is on the line?
3. Sacramento Kings 44-38 With the relationship between George Karl and Demarcus Cousins reportedly on the mend, can the old-coach maestro Karl have enough tricks left up his sleeve to teach Gay, Rondo, Cousins and company how to set a faster pace that will translate into the playoffs or will the clash of the egos destroy all the good reasons the owners kept the team in Sacramento. Seth Curry’s addition should also be interesting.
4. Phoenix Suns 30-52 The Suns will rather quietly go from playoff contender over the last few years to a relatively easy win this year. They traded away two of their three good point guards and when then got relatively little in return for them. Their power forward, Markieff Morris, almost flew the coop after the front office got rid of his twin brother. Eric Bledsoe, Channing Frye or not, this team is a mess.
5. Los Angeles Lakers 28-54 A lot of people are curious to see how Kobe Bryant and company will do this year. Well, I’ve got bad news for fans – they won’t be good for a long time. They have some players, although still their best player, Bryant, won’t be with them after this year – he’ll either retire due to upcoming injury or be run out of town. It remains to be seen how 2nd year power forward Julius Randle will fare after breaking his leg toward the beginning of last year. It is questionable which Roy Hibbert the Lakers will end up with – the double-double player from early in the 2014 season or the 0-0 player from the 2014 playoffs. In the cringe-worthy department, Meta World Peace was even signed to a preseason contract to try to make the team. These Lakers are desperate and even a good first year from overall 2nd pick in the draft, D’Angelo Russell, can’t save them as long as Kobe Bryant is heaving the ball up at a low percentage and an advanced age.
1. San Antonio Spurs 60-22 – With the additions of perenial all-star LaMarcus Aldridge, along with David West and Jimmy Fredette to an already championship-calibre team, Head Coach Gregg Popovic has a blend of young and experienced players that any coach would envy. This team is deep at every position, passes the ball better than any team in basketball and can defend, with defensive player of the year Kawhi Leonard leading the way, Tim Duncan can still ball, as can Tony Parker. What the father of mankind, Manu Ginolbi, has left in his legs is questionable but they have so many players, Danny Green etc, they don’t really need him even if he is finished. It will be interesting to see how they utilize Kyle Anderson after he won player of the tournament honors during the Las Vegas Summer League. One of the few teams besides the Cavs and Warriors with a legitimate shot at the 2016 NBA title.
2. Houston Rockets 56-26 – With the addition of Ty Lawson at point guard to an already potent Rockets team, which feature MVP candidate James Harden and star center Dwight Howard, the Houston Rockets are a dark horse to make the NBA Finals this season. It will certainly be a hard task as they will have to go through the likes of Golden State, San Antonio, OK City and the LA Clippers to get there. Harden ran out of steam against Golden State in the playoffs last year after bringing his team back from a 3-1 deficit against the Clippers in the round prior. If the team stays healthy and Ty Lawson stays off the sauce (or at least doesn’t drive while under the influence), he should greatly help Harden pace himself in the upcoming season, perhaps enough to get them past the aforementioned powers of the Western Conference.
3. New Orleans Pelicans 49-33 Perhaps not shooting up the board as fast as they like to, the 2015-2016 season should still see a steady rise to a team that boasts who many say to be the future best player in the league, Anthony Davis, who rumor has it has been seen working on his three to add to his already spectacular arsenal. Although not having the best supporting cast around him is not helping him, in a year or two it won’t matter as Davis will be the prime Pelican in the NBA pond.
4. Memphis Grizzlies 47-35 After going down in the second half of last season, the Memphis Grizzlies will come far from challenging for the division crown this year and will be lucky to just get into the playoffs. Their slow, rather trudging brand of basketball will not work as well with players like Zack Randolph and Tony Allen surrendering a little more to Father Time with each passing season. Players with star potential like Jeff Green will have to take the gauntlet and step it up if the Grizzlies are to return to form as a legitimate contender for the Western Conference Crown. Jeff Conley and Marc Gasol, still their prime, should keep the Griz from falling too far.
5. Dallas Mavericks 29-52 Oh, how the mighty have fallen – or have been screwed. Depending on which way you look at it. With no Deandre Jordan this year, a mad-as-hell Mark Cuban will not be able to do anything as he watches aging former superstars, Dirk and D-Will stink up a city almost as bad as Tony Romo’s turnover-itis has over the last decade. Do I see a multi-billionaire hoping for a chance at the lottery? I’m afraid so but at first he’ll be wishing his team had a Rondo or an Ellis or a Crowder after this season gets underway. The West is just too strong so wins will be rare this year in the hometown of the Ewings.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder 59-23 This may be the last year or partial last year of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant playing together. Durant is in the last year of his contract, so he might be traded, or one of them could be injured if the last few years are any indication. If one is still standing, this team is good enough to make the playoffs. If they both are healthy and are allowed to play together all season, then the sky will be the limit again. We’ll see how Billy Donovan and his crewcut translates in the NBA.
2. Utah Jazz 37-45 The Jazz should be a little better this year. Will it be just enough be over .500 and/or make the playoffs? – only a season’s worth of games will tell. If not, then the only question will be whether Gordon Hayward makes the all-star team or not.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves 37-45 Perhaps this team has enough talent to go all the way and win an NBA Championship, just that it won’t be this year, of course. They might be bad-ass in anywhere from two to five years, though. Andrew Wiggins should be a superstar by then, as could Karl Anthony-Towns. Zach LaVine can already jump to Fargo and back with only two bounds. Right now they’re green behind the ears, but if oft-injured Ricky Rubio can hone his game and stay healthy, then even the NBA sky won’t be the limit.
4. Denver Nuggets 26-56 People say they are going somewhere but I’ve got news for such people – unless you call nowhere somewhere, they’re not going anywhere. On second thought, if they are really planning to start Jameer Nelson at point guard for a season, it’s a long way down from the Mile-High City to the bottom of the septic tank.
5. Portland Trail Blazers 17-61 Oh my god, since Lamarcus Aldridge left the nest, even floundering teams from the East are going to look forward to playing teams in the Northwest Division, with portland being at the top of the list. It’s a cool city and cool cities are always funner when your team is winning.
Eastern Conference Finals
Cleveland Cavaliers 4 games to 2 over the Boston Celtics
Western Conference Finals
San Antonio Spurs 4 games to 3 over the Golden State Warriors
San Antonio 4 games to 1 over the Cleveland Cavaliers
MVP: James Harden
Rookie of the Year: Jahlil Okafor
Defensive Player of the Year: Marcus Smart
Most Improved Player: Amir Johnson
Coach of the Year- Brad Stevens
Finals MVP – Kawhi Leonard
Sixth Man of the Year – Isaiah Thomas
All NBA 1st Team
G – Seth Curry
G- James Harden
SF – LeBron James
PF – Anthony Davis
C – Demarcus Cousins
All NBA 2nd Team
G- Russell Westbrook
G- Chris Paul
SF- Kevin Durant
PF – Kevin Love
C- Dwight Howard
All NBA 3rd Team
G- Klay Thompson
G- Isaiah Thomas
SF- Kawhi Leonard
PF – Paul George
C – Jahlil Okafor
All NBA Rookie 1st Team
G- D’Angelo Russell
G- Devin Booker
SF – Justise Winslow
PF – Karl Anthony-Townes
C- Jahlil Okafor
All NBA Rookie 2nd Team
G- Jerian Grant
G- RJ Hunter
SF- Mario Hezonja
PF – Jordan Mickey
C- Willie Cauley-Stein
All NBA 1st Defensive Team
G- Chris Paul
G- Marcus Smart
SF – Kawhi Leonard
PF- Amir Johnson
C- Marc Gasol
All NBA 2nd Defensive Team
G- Avery Bradley
G- Tony Allen
SF – LeBron James
PF – Draymond Green
C/PF- Tim Duncan