STATE OF THE UNION
This past Sunday, New Orleans beat Golden State in a preseason game, and the victory marked the beginning of 2008-09 season (more or less). Ah, basketball how I've missed thee. As much as I love watching the Saints and having the requisite conniption in each fourth quarter, basketball is still my true love.
So, in light of the season's commencement, I have put together a little post of predictions and other nonsense. We'll start with a look at some posts from around the internets from people who actually know what they're talking about.
ESPN.com's John Hollinger has a great team by team forecast (here's the Hornets' one). John seems to think that the Hornets' upcoming season will not match last year's effort, mainly citing that the team failed to address their biggest weakness (thinness in the frontcourt... not weight, like depth... it's not a dimensional thing, it's a roster thing... let's just move on). He also thinks an alarming amount of things fell the Hornets' way last season, and he expects that trend to return to normalcy... whatever that means. Basic summary: as good as they are, they ain't there yet... but they could be soon.
Our good friend Rohan from At the Hive has a more positive outlook, suggesting that the team did in fact improve in the offseason.
Of course, if you want to go straight to the horse's mouth (or any other barnyard animal for that reason), look no further than the latest entry in Tyson Chandler's blog. He seems pretty positive on the team, though to be fair he's kind of paid to be (of course, that never seems to stop Kobe).
Finally, ESPN has released the top 190 fantasy rankings. Though the fantasy measure of success in this sport is completely irrelevant to the real sport (since it almost ignore defensive abilities), it's nice to know that the Hornets made a strong showing with 2 players in the top 40, and 4 players in the top 90. That last one hurts, but hey, we still got JuJu and Posey, right? Just kidding... but seriously.
173 Mo Pete
To wrap up our little offseason recap, I'd like to remind everyone that we did revise our look with some swanky new logos, unis, and hardwood. Our friends down at Ball Don't Lie have the real story, complete with photos (one of which is right below this paragraph).
So let's talk predictions. Our good buddy, Marc Stein, has taken the time to not only release this season's first power rankings, but also a very interesting extension of his weekly subjective standings, the 02-08 Power Rankings. The Hornets landed in the 3 slot for the preseason rankings and a surprising 13 slot in the six-season-spanning rankings. At least it seemed surprising until I remembered that we went to the playoffs in 3 of those 6 seasons (winning one round between the 3). I guess the slightly sub .500 winning percentage (.488) and the 18-64 season (now known amongst friends as "The Quest for Chris Paul") put a slight damper on the memory of it all. Still, we landed in the top half, so I ain't complaining to no one.
Additionally, ESPN took the time to poll various people, who are probably important in some way or another, in order to compile its own set of predictions. So, before you read on, you may find these articles quite interesting. At the very least you can yell your semi-informed opinions at the screen in front of you... I mean, that's what I did.
Here are the ESPN predictions:
What do I think of all this silliness? So glad you asked. Let's take a look at my projected outcomes come the end of the post season:
WEST Round 1
(1)Lakers over (8)Mavericks
(2)Hornets over (7)Suns
(3)Jazz over (6)Rockets
(5)Blazers over (4)Spurs
WEST Conference Semis
(1)Lakers over (5)Blazers
(2)Hornets over (3)Jazz
WEST, Conference Finals
(2)Hornets over (1)Lakers
EAST Round 1
(1)Celtics over (8)Heat
(2)Cavs over (7)Bulls
(3)Sixers over (6)Magic
(5)Raptors over (4)Pistons
EAST Conference Semis
(1)Celtics over (5)Raptors
(3)Sixers over (2)Cavs
EAST, Conference Finals
(1)Celtics over (3)Sixers
Hornets over Celtics
Who are you calling "homer"? I can't pick my own team to win it all?
Seriously though, let's put the bias aside for just a moment. This team definitely has the pieces (and the chops) to win it all. Why? We have core of players that are extremely talented and play very well together. We also have a few playmakers who join in the action from the bench. We have the very competent Byron Scott at the helm. And, perhaps most importantly, we now have a fanbase that can fill an arena (we more than doubled season ticket sales from 5 to 11K, with the entire lower bowl completely sold out).
Is it a done deal? No. Am I insane? Possibly. But I do believe that given a healthy squad (all of these predictions are moot if CP, D.West, or Tyson miss a substantial portion of the season) and a few lucky breaks, we could very easily be contending for a title. The big "ifs" remaining are whether or not Mike "Shoes" James is up to the task of letting CP rest for more than 5 minutes a game, and whether or not the youngins' Hilt and JuJu are ready to play to their potential. JuJu's mostly there, but if Hilt improves (and he did look good in the preseason opener), then the question of front court depth becomes much easier. Besides, none of this even takes into account any deals we might pursue before the deadline. I'm just saying: this could happen. The window's open y'all. Let's see if our boys can make the leap.
But what about the other teams you say? I'm not sold on the Lakers this year due to Kobe's thumb. I mean, granted he played all of last season and the post season and the Olympics with it, but he was planning on having surgery at some point... Besides, there are still some major questions of how Andrew Bynum will get folded into the rotation. Make no mistake, the Lakers are an amazing team who will probably do just fine (if not win the West outright), but the ongoing saga of Kobe's thumb, as well as the perennial need to blast his teammates and/or owner, could pose a very real problem.
San Antonio is older and their role players are slowly moving into retirement (not to mention Manu's hurt for the time being). I do expect big things from the Jazz, but Boozer's health (and production) were trending way down at the end of last season, never mind the annual question of "Will AK47 care this year?" The Blazers could threaten, but they're young and have very little experience playing together (keep in mind that D.West, Tyson, and CP3 had played together for almost 3 seasons before making the playoffs for the first time). I'm more worried about the Blazers in the long term than in the now. That leaves Houston as the only other truly viable threat. To be fair, they may even be the scariest of all of the contenders in the West provided that TMac and Yao can stay healthy AND Artest doesn't go absolutely insane. It's a long shot, but it's possible.
Dallas and Phoenix still have at least one more year before either team moves into a rebuilding phase. Though Phoenix is probably the bigger threat presently, they're definitely going to be the ones who start dismantling first. Nash's health and the general lack of any useful bench players is going to kill them sooner than later. Add the fact that their core, outside of Amare and Diaw, is getting really old. Dallas, on the other hand, looks to be in worse shape presently (who spends their ENTIRE midlevel on DeSagana Diop? Seriously?), but Kidd's expiring contract should give them a decent trading chip come February if the team still hasn't gelled the way Cuban had in mind. I'm also curious to see how much longer they'll put up with Josh "Stop Saying Moronic Things in Public" Howard. Bottom line is that both teams are in a weird phase: their windows are slowly closing, their cores are starting to fall apart, AND they both have a new coach. None of that really screams contender to me.
On to the East, where the most ridiculous prediction I've made is that the Conference Finals will feature the boys from the city of Brotherly Love. I think the addition of Brand is going to really push them into the elite tier out East. Toronto's chances are definitely trending upward (although O'Neal can be a threat to team chemistry), while the Pistons are definitely on their way out (though their eventual demise will be slower than either Dallas or Phoenix). I also don't expect Atlanta or Washington to be joining us this post season since the Wizards continue to have major health problems (as well as two completely forgettable exits from the playoffs in a row) and Atlanta managed to completely undo all the good that accidentally synthesized last season. I feel so bad for that fan base. As a Saints fan, I know the hardship that comes from such incompetent ownership. I applaud you for sticking it out... all seven of you. You are to be commended.
As far as the newcomers to the Eastern playoffs, the Bulls are way better than they performed last year, and I'm fairly certain the growing pains will be alleviated soon. Miami, on the other hand, had a whole host of injury and chemistry problems last year, most of which seem to have been addressed in one way or another. I don't think they're championship bound in the least, but they have too much talent not make it to the show out East.
All in all, this season is going to be great. We've got a few young teams that are starting to mesh that will be challenging the older established guns. It could be the year the young make the leap and the old rue the day that they crossed the age of 30.
And guess what? It's fun to be one of the young guns.
Before I wear out my welcome, I'll leave you with a little something extra.
Anyone who wants some clarifications on the subtle intricacies of reffing in the NBA, check out this really cool post by Henry Abbot. I'll still be screaming any time a foul is called against the Bees, but at least I'll know if I'm full of it while doing so.
Also, quick followup on ESPN the Mag's newest blogger, Lil Wayne. In his newest entry you'll note that CP3 called... and he wants Lil Wayne's loyalty back.
Sorry for the Greg Easterbrook-ness of this entry, but thanks for sticking it out. Post some comments if you can stand staring at your screen for another minute.