I hate prediction articles for several reasons. First, if I could accurately predict the result of a basketball season then I'd be working in Vegas making millions rather than writing this blog. Okay, I'd still be writing the blog, but I'd also be making millions in Vegas. Second, I follow the Bulls to a depth that questions my sanity, but I follow the rest of the basketball world with a heck of a lot more casualness. Excuses aside, here's how I see it.
[edit I realize I got this in a day late, so excuse me for not updating it for last night's results which clearly prove my idiocy]
1 Seed: Cleveland Cavaliers
I know I'm not in the consensus here, and I do question how well Shaq fits with LeBron, but I think the nation is overthinking this one.
1) LeBron is the best player in the league.
2) Shaq is a lot better than what they gave up to get him.
3) His acquisition gives them a considerable weapon against the team that knocked them out last year.
I see no reason to expect someone to win more games than the Cavs in the regular season, and the team with the best player is almost always the most dangerous in the playoffs.
2 Seed: Orlando Magic
Sure I hate Vince Carter, if you've read me long enough to hear my views on the NBA not expressed in this blog, you'd know that anytime someone suggests the Bulls trading for Carter I say I wouldn't take him for free because his contract is so huge, and he'll give up on you easily.
Hoewver, Vince Carter won't need to be the mental rock on this team, and his contract won't effect results. For the Magic, I see little downside to Vinsanity. He's a better player than Turkoglu who has become the most overrated player in the NBA.
The Magic have improved this year, and if Jameer Nelson stays healthy they can definitely challenge the Cavs for the regular season crown and the playoff crown.
3 Seed: Boston Celtics
Everyone seems to pick Boston as the team to come out of the East. Why? Okay, I get it, Kevin Garnett is healthy again. They signed Rasheed Wallace. Did anyone notice Rasheed put up a sub 15 PER last season?
I like Wallace, and I think he's better equipped mentally to play a supporting role than most former stars, but he's simply not that great an edition relative to Shaq or Vince Carter, and everyone else on the Celtics is a year older and slower except Rondo who last I checked was disgruntled over his contract and on the trading block (boy will this be embarrassing when someone mails in and says the Celtics extended him everyone is in love again, but I warned you at the top I only tangentially follow the rest of the league in the summer).
Clearly, there's a big drop off talentwise after this point. The above teams are at least all a threat to win 60 games though I question whether any of them will do it. The below teams could all win under 50 games and probably will. I'd put all of them under 52 wins, and I'd also say the variability with what they could do is tremendous.
4 Seed: Miami Heat
It's tempting to put the Bulls here and become the ultimate homer, but I'll save the unbridled optimism for my editorials.
The Heat have the best player in the league outside of LeBron James (yeah, I said he's better than Kobe at this point). Michael Beasley's reputation for trouble is worse than the actuality. The dude went to rehab for pot which 65% of the league is smoking anyway. He had an underrated rookie season, and if the Heat manage to integrate him into the team better this year, and he improves, they can be a real threat.
Obviously their whole season hinges on Wade's healthy, but a healthy Wade guarantees 45+ wins for this squad which, sadly, might be enough for 4th and if it's not, it's awfully close. Any upside to that total almost certainly locks them in 4th.
5 Seed: Chicago Bulls
Not the completely homeristic view, but certainly optimistic. I'm not going to say too much about them here, just go read this.
6 Seed: Atlanta Hawks
When in doubt, go with the best team from last year. The Hawks definitely have upside to climb up as high as the four spot as well. Joe Johnson's great. They retained Bibby. Al Horford should improve. They've got a very good core group of players spread out among all positions.
In fact, the more I think about Atlanta, the more I think they should be five, and I should stop being such a homer.
7 Seed: Washington Wizards
I think Gilbert Arenas is the worst contract in the NBA. Even if he stays healthy, he was dodgy as a superstar due to the style of game he played; long-distance shooting, scoring oriented PG. They have potential to put it together and outperform this spot by a significant margin. Lost in Arenas's comeback is the fact that they added a pretty solid guy in Mike Miller to the squad, and if they can stay healthy the team has depth.
Still, you're counting on Butler and Arenas to stay healthy when neither has been up to the task recently, and Jamison is getting awfully old and is due for a drop off. I say that every year it seems and eventually, I'll be right. (seriously nice job over the past few seasons Antawn, you've proven me wrong a couple times).
8 Seed: Toronto Raptors
The Raps made perhaps the two worse contract mistakes in the league this off-season. Andrea Bargnani, chucker big man with no defensive ability or game outside of launching 3s and Hedo Turkoglu, the most overrated player in the NBA each got 50 million dollars.
When Chris Bosh leaves next summer after the team still stinks and has no more flexibility left then they'll be in real trouble. Okay, that's obviously a very doom and gloom prediction. The Raptors have talent to be higher if everyone puts it together, but I don't see it happening.
As I said up above after three, you're looking at a lot of teams that could fight for the four through eight spots, and I could see anyone in that grouping missing the playoffs. So that being said ..
On the cusp:
Indiana: They've got a lot of talented players, but they also seem to
be hit by injuries. When I look at their roster I feel like they
should be higher up, but when I look at everyone else I don't see who I
can put them ahead of.
Detroit: Obviously, I like Ben Gordon, but their front court got a whole lot worse even if they got younger, and there's no PG here. They have enough talent to make the playoffs, but it's not spread out through enough positions, so chemistry will likely stink.
Milwaukee: I'm a believer in Skiles, so I think this team has some potential if Redd and Bogut can have healthy seasons, but still, it's a matter of who do you put them ahead of?
Looking forward to the lottery:
Philadelphia: Can Elton Brand have a healthy season? Can they
integrate him into the offense if he does? Will people stop talking
about how great Andre Iguodala is relative to guys the Bulls drafted?
The loss of Andre Miller is big, no one will replace that, and the team missed the dance last year. They have some upside with a healthy Brand except that a healthy Brand looked like he only slowed them down anyway.
New Jersey Nets: Devin Harris is good, but you gave up Vince Carter for nothing, and you've got basically nothing else except for Brook Lopez who's still not really a star type.
New York Knicks: They aren't really trying to win anyway. They're trying to just get enough cap room to sign guys except that no one is going to go here anyway. Sorry Knicks fans, just hope your ownership doesn't pull a Krause and sign the 2010 leftovers to massive deals screwing you for five more years.
Charlotte Bobcats: Okafor for Chandler? Really? Michael Jordan may be the greatest player in the history of sports, but if he gets a chance to GM long enough he might challenge McHale as the worst GM in sports.