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Oct
04

The 2008 – 2009 NBA season saw a lot of drama unfold: Dwight Howard lost his Slam Dunk Championship, LeBron won his first NBA Season MVP but lost in the East Finals to Orlando Magic, Kobe Bryant brought home his 4th Ring and winning the Finals MVP while almost winning Season MVP Honors, Chauncey Billups lights up Denver, and Dwyane Wade throws down huge point totals in their last few games ending up winning the Scoring Title.

A lot happened last year, and more drama continues to unfold during the offseason. Orlando adding Vince Carter to its already studded team, La Lakers keeping Lamar Odom and gaining Ron Artest, Shaq Moves to Cleveland, Ricky Rubio drama about staying in Spain, etc. However, this season proves to have even more drama and action in store (if LeBron doesn’t win his first championship this season with Cleveland, he may very well be headed to another city next season. Other free agents will be Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade) In line with next season, here are our predictions:

First up: Top 5 Teams for both East and West…

* All-Star Count: # of players that have ever been selected as an All-Star during their career

* Honorable Mention: significant role players, but have not been selected as All-Stars… yet.

* New Spots: new players acquired during the preseason.

Eastern Conference

cle_2 1. Cleveland Cavaliers – They finished at the top of the league last year, and with adding a big machine such as Shaq on board, I don’t see them stepping down the ladder just yet. The primary reason Cleveland acquired Shaquille O’Neal was for basically shutting down and stopping Dwight Howard (and all the talented big men around the league as well). Last year, too, saw Cleveland sweep through the regular season with LeBron James winning the MVP honors. If his spectacular play continues to rise next year, with Mo Williams gaining back his confidence and play like he did in last year’s regular season (he did earn All-Star status) and with the addition of Big Daddy Diesel, Shaq, I don’t see them anywhere else more fitting than on the top of the East (a chance maybe even top of the League, again).

All-Star Count: 4 – LeBron James, Shaquille O’neal, Mo Williams, Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Honorable Mention: Anderson Varejao, Delonte West

New Spots: (C) Shaquille O’Neal


orl2 2. Orlando Magic – After a year that saw Dwight Howard leading his Orland Magic to the NBA Finals via domination over LeBron and the league leading Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orland Magic look to take a return trip to the NBA Finals. After seeing Cleveland take action in the preseason by signing a big deal that brought Shaq back to the East, Orlando did not stay passive as they too signed a big deal in Vince Carter. However with the letting go of Hedo Turkoglu, a significant piece of last year’s winning team, I think that they now have a better passing all-around game (Vince Carter has proven that he has gotten better in moving the ball around and an overall game). However, despite all the good shooting from Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter and hopefully a healthy all-star guard in Jameer Nelson, Dwight Howard still has to improve his post-up game. But, we will most probably see a tight three-way race for the top spot in the east between Cleveland, Orlando, and Boston, however I believe that LeBron’s all-around game gives Cleveland the edge.

All-Star Count: 4 – Dwight Howard, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson

Honorable Mention: Matt Barnes, Marcin Gorta, Mickael Pietrus

New Spots: (G) Jason Williams, (G) Vince Carter, (F) Matt Barnes


bos 3. Boston Celtics – An injury-plagued season for the Cs last year, but they still managed to finish second in the East and only 4 games behind league leaders, the Cleveland Cavaliers. With a revamped lineup that brings a big man with excellent passing skills, a terrific post game and on-the-dot outside shooting  in Rasheed Wallace to town, and with a healthy Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce back in the lineup, it’s hard to imagine anyone stopping the Celtics from taking it all, again.  As I sad earlier, it’s pretty tough selecting between the top three (3) teams of the East, however I think the regular season will see these teams ranked as such (maybe even as close 1/2 game behind one another).

All-Star Count: 4 – Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rasheed Wallace

Honorable Mention: Glen Davis, Eddie House, Rajon Rondo

New Spots: (F/C) Rasheed Wallace, (G) Marquis Daniels, (C) Shelden Williams


det_3 4. Detroit Pistons – After his Detroit Piston barely making the Playoffs lat season (finishing 8th in the East and losing in the first round to LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers), Joe Dumars had to make some drastic changes to shift Detroit Basketball back to its winning ways. The preseason saw a very active Dumars, letting go of future hall of famer, Allen Iverson (headed to Memphis) and the loss of Rasheed Wallace (headed to Boston), signing big time scorers in Charlie Villanueva (from Milwaukee) and former sixth-man of the year Ben Gordon (from Chicago), and bringing back Ben Wallace (from Cleveland) to the place where he was known best. Not to mention Rip Hamilton’s steady play, Tayshaun Prince’s stifling defense and improving offense and Rodney Stuckey’s progressing game. All the skill, athleticism, offense and defense that now crowds the locker room of Detroit all amount to a potential return to the Conference Finals. However, what I see lacking in this very talented team is the very important role of a floor leader; after losing Chauncey Billups, Detroit never really got to move on in the Point guard position and have someone really lead the team and run the offense as Chauncey did back in their championship days.

All Star Count: 3 – Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton

Honorable Mentions: Rudney Stuckey, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Jason Maxiell

New Spots: (G) Ben Gordon, (F) Charlie Villanueva, (F) Austin Daye


chi 5. Chicago Bulls

It was pretty tough selecting from the rest of the teams left in the east, from scoring champ Dyane Wade and his Miami Heat, to Andre Iguodala and his 76ers, from the very balanced Chicago Bulls to Joe Johnson and his soaring Hawks. However, despite a tight 4-way race, which I predict, between these four teams I believe Chicago will emerge at the top. I thought their team last season had too much shoot-first minded players and left them hurting instead of winning. However, after clearing some space in the preaseason, I believe they now have a complete team to make a run for it (though I don’t know how they will match up to Cleveland, Orland, Boston or Detroit any time soon). With Captain Kirk Hinrich running the team, Derrick Rose blazing up and down the court, John Salmons providing the needed offense and a great all around game in center Brad Miller, plus do-it-all man Luol Deng and on-the-boards men Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas. The number #7 team that gave #3 seeded Boston a fight of a lifetime in last year’s Playoffs only got better!

All-Star Count: 1 – Brad Miller

Honorable Mention: Kirk Hinrich, Derrick Rose, John Salmons, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng

New Spots: Derrick Bryars, Curtis Stinson, Taj Gibson


Western Conference

lal 1. LA Lakers – Defending Champs, Finished Second Overall, One of the deepest teams in the league (FOR YEARS TO COME). The Los Angeles Lakers seeks to win another Championship next season, with one major preseason move that saw Ron Artest from Houston (a terific one-on-one defensive stopper but has a good offense game of his own) and Trevor Ariza from Los Angeles (a terific help-side defender) switch places. Having that said, I don’t see the Lakers giving up their top spot not just in the next season, but for years to come. With All-star Pau Gasol manning the paint together with rising star Andrew Bynum, former league MVP Kobe Bryant doing what he always does night in and night out, steady point man in Derek Fisher with talented Jordan Farmar as back up, not to mention the very deep small forward position the Lakers has, showcasing a talented group consisting of Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and Luke Walton.

All-Star Count: 3 – Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest

Honorable Mention: Derek Fisher, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar

New Spots: (F) Ron Artest


den2 2. Denver Nuggets – The trade between Detroit and Denver, that saw Chauncey Billups take the place of Allen Iverson in the Nuggets lineup proved to be advantageous for Denver. Finally getting an all-star caliber point guard that is very much capable of leading a team in Chauncey Billups, George Karl can relax a little bit more in the sidelines. The trade immediately saw a big positive impact, as Billups, together with Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Nene and the rest of the Nuggets crew cruised to the West’s second spot in last season’s playoffs. After pushing the Lakers to six (6) games, they are as hungry as ever to go back to the Western Finals, hoping to get over that hump and onto the Finals. With Carmelo’s all around offensive skill, Nene’s post presence, Kenyon Martin’s explosive game and Chauncey’s steady performance all amount to reaching the second spot again, just like last year (more chemistry among each other won’t do anythings but good things to your team).

All-Star Count: 3 – Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin

Honorable Mention: Nene, Chris Andersen, JR Smith

New Spots: (F) Ty Lawson


por 3. Portland Trail Blazers – Young, fun, run and gun. That’s Trailblazer basketball last season. With potential big time greats in players such as Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, and Greg Oden, I don’t see this set of players go anywhere but up in the coming seasons, that’s if they stay in tact and healthy of course. With fast-pace players always ready to make the crowd go wild with guys like Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, and Martel Webster and also with steady plays of newly acquired veterans like Andre Miller and Juwan Howard. Heck, this may very well be the deepest team in the league, (and the youngest team I think) in terms of potential – the Lakers are still considered deeper because of the experience and the skill all their players have. But in a few years, if this lineup sticks together, it will be pretty hard to stop them from dominating the NBA.

All-Star Count: 3 – Brandon Roy, Andre Miller, Juwan Howard

Honorable Mention: LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, Travis Outlaw, Steve Blake, Martell Webster

New Spots: (G) Andre Miller, (F) Juwan Howard


sas 4. San Antonio Spurs – If you think experience and chemistry counts for nothing, then the San Antonio Spurs can prove you wrong… their three main ingredients consisting of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, all three having been selected as All-Stars in their NBA career, have all played for only one team since entering the NBA. With veteran players serving as role players in Michael Finley, Antonio McDyess, and Theo Ratliff it is clear that for them, experience is a big part of a winning team. However, relying too much on their proven stars also has its bad effects, as seen last season when the Spurs, despite finishing third in the West, lost to 5th seeded Houston Rockets in the second round of the Playoffs. To remedy that second round exit, the Spurs have made significant changes to revamp their roster by acquiring excellent role players with huge potential at that: Richard Jefferson and Marcus Williams. The Spurs have been up there with the rest for so long now, and they feel that the 2009-2010 season won’t change that.

All-Star Count:  6 – Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Michael Finley, Antonio McDyess, Theo Ratliff,

Honorable Mention: Richard Jefferson, George Hill, Marcus Williams

New Spots: (G/F) Richard Jefferson, (G) Marcus Williams, Nando De Colo


uth_2 5. Utah Jazz – A lot of people might have picked other teams to rank as West’s #5 team, such as the Houston Rockets, New Orleans Hornets, Dallas Mavericks or even Phoenix. I actually had a hard time choosing this, but most of the time, I like to go with the high risk, unexpected teams (because if they ever make it, it’d feel much better than if I had selected the usual picks).With a healthy Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams back in play, plus Paul Milsap getting better by the minute, and the steady play of Andrei Kirilenko on both ends of the floor, Mehmet Okurs inside-outside game, and not to mention, the wisdom and knowledge of coach Jerry Sloan that makes all of this mix pretty well. If they get back to their impressive form a few years back, when they led the league in offensive efficiency and had quite a stifling defense to go with it, then for sure, they’re finish the season as one of the top teams in west. Who knows, maybe even surpassing Portland and San Antonio. Of course they aren’t as deep as other teams, and so injuries will hurt them pretty bad. If everyone stays healthy, I pick them to be number 5 in the West.

Utah, I believe will outplay the Yao-less, Artest-gone, On-and-Off  T-mac Houston Rockets, quite an obvious – though they did go on that 22 win streak some seasons ago without Yao Ming. The rest of the teams, however, looks to be quite a good bunch as well. Chris Paul (arguably the best point guard today), David West and Peja Stojakovic for New Orleans Hornets seems like a pretty good mix, but without their usual alley-play from Chris Paul to Tyson Chandler every night, it seems other teams have found their weakness downlow as their only post presence is David West, an undersized Power Forward. Dallas Mavericks, on the other hand, could very well be the fifthe seeded team… or better. I believe there will be a very very very tight race between Dallas and Utah – Dallas having All-Star players like Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Eric Dampier, Josh Howard, and Shawn Marion. So it boils down to toughness and determination; I think the guys from Salt Lake will gut it out and finished slightly on top (I think that when it comes to winning when they need to the most, I think Utah has what takes to get the W, and Dallas still lacks the toughness to.)

All-Star Count: 3 – Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur

Honorable Mention: Deron Williams, Paul Milsap, Kyle Korver, CJ Miles, Matt Harpring

New Spots: Paul Harris, Eric Maynor, Spencer Nelson

Any comments or suggestions? How about your own Top 10? Or maybe, a suggestion for a new Top 10 list? Feel free to comment or suggest! We’d love to hear from you.