by Jack Maidment
And so it was that months of speculation came to an end. With the simple blow of a whistle this evening the NBA season will begin, banishing, or at least relegating, any thoughts of free agency and draft pondering for, well, a few weeks at least.
Unless your are a Knicks fan I guess.
The over-saturation of the media has effectively made fiends of all basketball fans around the world. With news and hopeless rumours available at our fingertips, a day in which literally nothing happens is greeted with the shakes and level 3 cold turkey. I NEED A FIX. Something more nourishing than Glen Davis’s contract stipulations. Something more nutritious than The Dunk That Didn’t Happen.
Luckily for us the NBA is back and the players are geared up to go. Tip off beckons and and all of the speculation that accompanied the draft and summer league is replaced by actual basketball that means something, where putting the ball in the hoop means more than a new contract and a bigger house.
Ultimately its about wins. For the League’s best it is time to begin the arduous and troublesome ascent toward a Championship. For the basement dwellers the new season represents the opportunity to gain restore some respect to once great franchises and to set course for better days. Faith must be found and trust must be given.
The questions that have existed since June now become more important. With the first game about to be played our answers become something more than mere guesswork and preference. Evidence aids a constant re-evaluation.
With that in mind, now is the final time that wild predictions can be made with a relatively clear conscience: no evidence, just opinion. Whatever happens form here on in is based on results and stats and evaluation. If you want to be a mystic or a psychic or a preacher, now is the time.
East? The fact is that the three top teams in the East are so close to each other that betting on the victor is unbelievably difficult. The Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic will be 1,2,3 in the Eastern but in which order is anybodies guess.
Many people would point to a healthy Celtics team as the favourites and they would probably be right. But, how many times has a team that needs to be healthy to have a chance ever been healthy when the time comes? Once Injury rears its ugly head it is essentially impossible to banish. Without Garnett or Pierce, Boston will not be advancing past the Conference Semi Finals.
Cleveland? Imagine if LeBron goes down for any amount of time. Doesn’t bear thinking about. Even with the King firing on all cylinders the Cavs will have their work cut out beating a collectively more talented Orlando Magic team. Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard. 4 All-Stars. Can LeBron and his new running (!) mate take that down? I say not. Orlando Advances.
That is to say nothing about the teams occupying the middle echelon of the East. Toronto Raptors have enough talent and fire power to be a fantastic dark horse selection. Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani will hold the fort down low and Hedo Turkoglu coupled with DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon have a nice balance of scoring, clutch, decision making and athletic potential.
The same can be said of the Atlanta Hawks who, with the addition of Jamal Crawford, return one of the most potent teams in the League. The question is whether or not the ATL can up there defense against the NBA’s best.
The rest will be a toss up, entirely reliant on ifs and buts. Miami? Need heroics from Wade and sanity from Beasley. Philadelphia? A breakout from Andre Igoudala and return from Elton Brand will help, but with no recognisable point, who is steering the ship?
A new defensive identity could see the Memphis Grizzlies make a return to relevance, but the addition of Allen Iverson is unlikely to mark the dawn of a intensity on D. Charlotte Bobcats, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls? Mediocrity beckons with the Bulls the most likely to plunge or sky rocket.
West? The Los Angeles Lakers should be even better than they were last season with Artest bringing more to the team than Ariza, regardless of age. A healthy Lakers will make it back to the Conference Finals. Who will meet them is a little tricky.
The San Antonio Spurs will be in the mix as long as Mr Duncan is around and their supporting cast is second only to the Lakeshow. Dejuan Blair will prove to be the steal of the Draft and Manu, Parker and Jefferson will join Timmy D as part of one of the best starting line ups League wide.
The Denver Nuggets are no where near as deep as the Spurs or Lakers and will do well to scale the hieghts of last year. Portland still needs experience while the Jazz just look messy in the front court.
The conference is undoubtedly talented but other than the Lakers nobody sits above anybody else.
Too many questions. But there will be answers. Just enjoy the process. NBA 2010.