Hello dear readers! Back from a quick stint in India, I have now returned to finish out my series of predictions and previews on the rapidly approaching NBA season. Seriously. Less than five days ‘til real professional basketball. I’m so goddamn excited. Let’s take our predictions to South Beach.
Miami Heat: What Do You Think?
Alright, by now we know the drill. The Heat will be the top team in the East, their supremacy only threatened by D-Wade’s deteriorating body or, as Steve Kerr posits, fatigue from three long seasons of extended winning. Mike Miller doesn’t seem like a big loss, but despite his breaking-down body, Miller always seemed to be the one hitting the important shots; shots that, shoe or not, swung the momentum or reignited the crowd. Michael Beasley is many things, but he isn’t going to be the one bringing the heart to the Heat bench, and god only knows how many games Greg Oden will play this year.
But as we all have come to understand, none of that matters. For now, the Big Three are the Heat. LeBron will come back, I’m sure, with a brand new, hitherto unknown dimension to his game, diligently continuing his quest to surgically and meticulously remove every basketball flaw he possesses, no matter how small. D-Wade looked good in preseason, especially his 25 point, 7 assist game against the Spurs with LeBron chilling for the night. He looked fluid and unencumbered—essentially the opposite of the Wade that was present for large chunks of last season. It seems likely that over the course of the 82-game season, his body will remember how many times it has been thrown into the stands and other players, but considering the minutes and even game limits that he will probably be under, as well as the fact that Pat Riley is a dark wizard, there’s a chance the Heat could be even more dangerous this season.
Chris Bosh is Chris Bosh. He’ll do Chris Boshy things. Be annoying first and good second. Disgorge his jaw during a post-dunk celebration and eat a ball boy whole. The Heat remain the team to beat in the East.
Atlanta Hawks: Wading Through The Swamps of Limbo
The Hawks had a high-profile free agency, though unfortunately it was mostly for who they lost instead of who they signed. Josh Smith has become an easy target to hate on lately, a sort of Rudy Gay-type who has gotten so much bad hype that it’s easy to forget everywhere he can contribute. It’s a big loss. Alright, now that the past is out of the way, let’s look forward.
Paul Millsap was a steal at two years and $19 million. He’s a solid starter and a good person to have on the bench, although he’d probably be better in a mentor roll on a younger team with high ambitions. Jeff Teague is a good-bordering-on-very-good point guard, but at 25, I can’t help but wonder how much Teague is going to keep adding to the arsenal. If the Hawks want to keep up with the teams that are circling higher in the turbulent Eastern Conference, they need him to be better than he is right now. Neither of their rookies are going to contribute a ton right away—Bebe has brought his beautiful fro back to Spain, though Schroeder has shown that he will be an impact guard of the future.
This season is the season of Horford. The Hawks have turned the keys over to Horford, and they’ll be going as far as he takes them. Of course he’ll be getting help, but this team hasn’t taken any real steps forward offensively, and losing Smith will definitely hurt them defensively. The Hawks may make the playoffs or may not, but considering the lack of impact they managed to have, even while boasting the fourth-longest streak of reaching the playoffs in the league, it seems likely that they will continue to be, for the most part, unnoticed.
Charlotte Bobcats: Just . . . Ugh. Bad.
Boy, poor old Charlotte has had a pretty tough time of it since becoming the Bobcats. This is a team that contains, on its Wikipedia page, a chapter entitled “The Gerald Wallace Era.” It has been an ugly 10 years of existence for the Bobcats, made worse by one of the worst owners in the league (yes, his royal Airness).
So bearing that in mind, the Bobcats actually made two interesting moves this offseason. Cody Zeller was an unexpected pick, and could potentially pair nicely with Big Al Jefferson, who came over from Utah in free agency. Jefferson has never had a problem with being asked to score, so bearing a brunt of the scoring load will be right up his alley. Kemba continues to improve, but he needs to have a BIG leap this season if he’s going to lift the Bobcats out of their holding pattern of playing really, really bad basketball. Kidd-Gilchrist has tools to become a really solid player, but right now he’s not the guy to rely on for major contributions, though he certainly helps on the defensive end.
There is one reason for Charlotte fans to be optimistic, though—Ben Gordon’s abomination of a contract expires after this season, along with Sessions’ more reasonable one. Depending on moves made during the season, they will have some wiggle room next off-season.
They’re not there yet, but who knows. There is some talent waiting a mere 10 months away. Hopefully Charlotte spends a little of that time figuring out how to play basketball.
Orlando Magic: Rebuilding, Attempting To Move Forward And Forge A New Dwightless Era
The Magic are undoubtedly going to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season, but the way I see it, the way they’ll be bad is very different from the way, say, the 76ers will be. They’re trying to build a team the old-fashioned way—what is now referred to as “The Thunder Method.” Although hopefully they learn from Oklahoma City’s mistakes and won’t trade away an annual All-Star for a year of Kevin Martin, whatever Steven Adams end up becoming, and the hope that Jeremy Lamb can somehow make up the difference now that Martin has fled for snowier parts.
Right now the Magic have a really interesting make-up. They seem like the perfect fit for Wiggins next season, as they seem to be the perfect supporting cast to a superstar. Oladipo is an insatiable worker and a tenacious defender, a willing scorer and facilitator, the type of all-around player that a mega-star needs to have around him to accentuate all his strengths and help cover his deficiencies. Vucevic is a rebounding machine and a good post scorer, and Tobias Harris could be a destructive small-ball four on the right team. Mo Harkless and Andrew Nicholson, while not top-tier talent, are good young players who will only get better, and this team, this group waiting for its superstar, has plenty of time to learn each other and mesh their games. Jameer Nelson is an old carry-over, and all signs point to him not being around long-term, especially at the price the Magic signed him in 2012. So they need a point guard of the future Jason Maxiell is a good bench guy at a reasonable price, though there are already a bunch of bigs on that team. It seems that the Magic are on major, franchise-altering change away from being relevant again. So take that as it is.
Washington Wizards: Playoff Push—Remember Us?
It’s been five seasons since the Wizards have tasted the playoffs. John Wall was 18 years old, dreaming of becoming an NBA star. Well, now he has the contract that essentially declares him as one, or at least as the team’s confidence that he’ll reach that level. Now it’s time to start winning.
That’s a little harsh. After Wall returned from his knee injury, the Wizards quickly made one of the more dramatic turnarounds of the season, ending with a winning record during his time on the floor. Now, the potentially lethal backcourt of Beal and Wall have a season to become the unstoppable offensive machine they are destined to be—Wall tearing around the court, and Beal hitting every jump shot around.
The recent trade of Emeka Okafor for Marcin Gortat makes sense, as Okafor has a herniated disc in his neck and is going to miss a lot of time, but he was also the foundation for their top-ten defense last season. Gortat is a very skilled big man, but his talents lie on the other end of the floor. This trade marks a shift in mindset from being a defense-first team to a more offensively-minded one, and I think Gortat will fit in nicely. Nene can pass and hit a midrange shot when he needs to, and Gortat is an athletic big man who can run the floor and should benefit greatly from John Wall’s penetration, getting drop-off passes and put-back dunks aplenty. Gortat has kind of faded into the background, frustrated as he was by the situation in Phoenix. Hopefully being on a young, optimistic, and talented team will bring back the fire he had when he was just Dwight Howard’s lowly backup.
Another thing, I worry about Otto Porter—I know Summer League doesn’t mean much, but BOY did he look shaky. Even against inexperienced players whose names were immediately forgotten, he looked hesitant and confused. And skinny. Maybe I’m sleeping on him, but for now I have my doubts.
It seems likely that the Wizards will take advantage of a weakened Boston and Atlanta (and possibly even Milwaukee) and sneak into one of the last available playoff berths. I have a hard time believing they could get past any of the top five teams in the East (those being in some noncommittal order: Miami, Indiana, Bulls, Nets, and Knicks) in a best of seven series, but hopefully, simply getting that playoff adrenaline flowing will spark something in both the players and the management, and they can figure out how to make this team really work.