The NBA Eastern Conference Season Preview

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Atlanta
05-06 Finish: 26-56The Dire Wolfson: They have only one veteran who is any good (Joe Johnson). They traded the other for cap relief, which they need to go for a big free agent next year when the gettin’s good. However, it cost them any dim hope of a respectable season. They look like a brigade of salty Australian recruits at Gallipolli ordered on by incompetent bureaucracy, just having buried their grizzled sergeant (no point guard!) and their rocket launcher guy (no center!). Josh Smith is the only guy who will break out this year. This team is cannon fodder for the Ottoman horde: Last in the East.

Mohlman: They have potential, but people used to say that about Ben Affleck. The Hawks biggest strengths are their youth and athleticism, but they lost their second best player in a sign and trade. They have a plethora of wingmen, but lack a point guard and a center, which is like trying to make a pizza without the basics — sauce and cheese. In short, they are a recipe for disaster. What can you say about them, except, at least they aren’t the Blazers. Prediction: Hawks finish last in the East.

Boston
05-06 Finish: 33-49

The Dire Wolfson: The Celtics are really up in the air this year and it looks like a key injury ends their season faster than you can say Michael Olowokandi. It takes a fair bit of maturity for a superstar to take the reigns of a mediocre team which Paul Pierce finally did, and Wally Szczerbiak played about as well as one can hope for from a pure shooter lacking fundamentals and athleticism.
It’s all up to the young guys, and I don’t like the favoritism management has shown players who remain “prospects” after several seasons (Perkins, Jefferson, Telfair) over guys who actually showed promise (West, Gomes). I still have no idea if the former guys are any good. I will tentatively call them improved but miss the playoffs in 9th.

Mohlman: Call them the grab bag of the East. Trying to predict the Celtics season is like trying to predict which awkward person you will run into at a Mac party. All of their players are huge question marks with the exception of the stellar Paul Pierce. He’s an absolute baller. Trade-crazy Danny Ainge has tried to pair his young front court of the future guys with some veterans. The problem is Ainge has been touting his front court of the future for years. The question is when will it become the front court of now. Two good things going for the Celtics: they are in a horrible division which they could end up winning by improving 6 or 7 games, and Wally Szczerbiak could make the cover of GQ. Prediction: They barely miss the playoffs and Wally makes the cover of Men’s Health.

Charlotte
05-06 Finish: 26-56

The Dire Wolfson: In their second year of existence, the Bobcats were clearly overmatched in every game of the season and each of those 26 wins (an eight win improvement) was about as unlikely as lil’ Susan Walker getting a new house from Kris Kringle. That said, head coach/gm Bernie Bickerstaff is doing an excellent job of putting together this team, his best quality being that divine intangible: knowing how not to do dumb shit. Also useful is the fact that the players will be tripping over themselves to please Michael Jordan, now an executive with the team. Even if Emeka Okafor suffers a season-ending earlobe tweak (he missed 56 games last year with a sprained ankle), Gerald Wallace will be insane, and Raymond Felton is going to leap ahead of the pack at point guard, creating open shots for rookie riflemen Adam Morrison and Walter Herrman.
Barring a contagious outbreak of chronic turf-toe, the Bobcats will be drama worthy of the mighty TNT network: 8th in the East. Playoff bound.

Mohlman: The Bobcats (wait, are there really Bobcats in Charlotte?) improved in their second year of existence despite injuries to two of their big men: Okafor and May. Each missed over 50 games. The Bobcats are a feisty team and have a core group of young and athletic players (They led the league in steals last year). Wallace, Felton, Okafor, May and Brezec are all budding stars. Throw into the mix the drafting of constipated looking Adam “Dirty Sanchez” Morrison, this team has an outside shot at making the playoffs. The two looming questions for this team are the same questions young college men face daily: can they stay healthy and score consistently? I think they have a success rate similar to the male student — they are a year away. Prediction: This team should be fun to watch mature, but they finish 11th in the East.

Chicago
05-06 Finish: 41-41 7th

The Dire Wolfson: They overpaid for an aging Ben Wallace in the highest profile free-agent signing this summer (a move as hasty as David Caruso quitting NYPD Blue). The boost the Bulls get out of this will last only slightly longer then the Donner party’s supply of Triscuit crackers, as they are a young, improving team and have just prematurely created a window of opportunity. Aiming for a championship, they have an impressive regular season (3rd in the conference) assuming their rotation at guard doesn’t leave anyone out and they keep it together in the clubhouse. The Bulls are one of the best defensive teams in the league, but lack any offensive threat in the post, relying on dribble penetration and outside shooting. They fall short of the Conference finals when Dwayne Weezy elevates his game to Olympian heights and they can’t keep up.

Mohlman: I am not sure I like the Ben Wallace signing. Why waste $50 million dollars for a defensive stalwart who can’t score, when your defense was already tops in the league and your team has trouble scoring. Nonetheless, I am not one to question John Paxson, who has not made a bad move since taking over as GM. This team will play defense, and they have several young, developing perimeter players. But, as we all know, being on the perimeter doesn’t translate into scoring. The Bulls lack a low post threat and a penetrator. PREDICTION: They will push 50 wins and earn the 3rd seed because of their defense, but the question becomes, can they score in the playoffs when everyone plays tough defense?

Cleveland
05-06 Finish: 50-32 4th

The Dire Wolfson: They had a great year last year and I don’t have any way to explain it other than LBJ did much better in Cleveland than he did in ‘Nam. Also, if he were a white guy named James Lebron he’d be MVP. This is a one man army, neither Ilgauskus nor Gooden is a consistent scoring threat and both are treated like butt-a by quicker, stronger big men. For them to undeservedly claim legitimacy three things need to happen:
1. Lebron should play point guard so they can get another scorer on the floor
2. Larry Huge needs to come up Big
3. Lebron needs to take over the fourth quarter in every close game
Something will go wrong for this team, they don’t win 50. 6th in the conference. Anything can still happen in the playoffs, the Bron factor means they have a chance to win against any team.

Mohlman: This just in, Bron Bron is good! How do you become the 4th player in NBA history to average more than 30 points per game, 7 rebounds a game and 6 assists the game and not win the MVP? Oh yeah, and his team improved by 8 wins. Just call him Cheapo Records, cuz he was robbed. The Cavs are not one dimensional as they sport a solid front line with 7 foot 3 Big Z drawing double teams and high energy power forwards Drew Gooden and Varejao. Also, I feel like the Cavs can improve a lot. Chew on this: all their free agent signings failed horrendously last year. What if Larry Hughes plays 70 games or Damon Jones remembers how to shoot 3’s ? In other words, they played through a lot of disappointment last year and were within one win of the conference finals. Just think if one of those failures turns into moderate success or even mediocrity. PREDICTION: Cavs approach 60 wins, placing first in the east and reach the Conference Finals, assuming James remains healthy.

Detroit Pistons
05-06 Finish: 64-18 1st

The Dire Wolfson: The Pisto
ns were absolutamente en fuego from the 2003 playoffs to the first half of last season amid a barrage of doubt and criticism. They fed off this underdog reputation attached to lacking a marquee player, being offensively meek, and finally losing their adventurer coach. However, talk of a record-breaking regular season once they emphatically shat on the expectations of the nay-sayers took the hustle and intensity down the tubes and the Pistons stepped into the role of Mossieur LeBron’s boeuf entrecote. Following the gluttonous orgy, they have been written off again for losing Big Bad Ben Wallace, and slippage is expected. I don’t see this happening; they have picked up an adequate replacement on the cheap (Nazr Mohammed), and finally have a decent bench who will actually see playing time, as well as more experienced young uns. I like ‘em with their backs to the windows n’ wallz. They don’t reach 60 wins but win the East and make it to the conference finals, losing to Miami.

Mohlman: The loss of big Ben Wallace hurts, a lot. No one can replace a four time Defensive Player of the Year. Nazr Mohammed will be an adequate filler, but consider the fact that he has never averaged more than 9 rebounds or 30 minutes per game. The other real problem is that Joe Dumars, the Pistons general manager, made every single transaction with the intention to retain Ben Wallace. As a result, they have absolutely no young talent or depth. Injury ridden Antonio McDyess and “I couldn’t hit sand if I fell off a camel” Lindsey Hunter are the two reserves they depend on. The one hope is that the Pistons still have 4 perennial all stars return, but one serious injury and say sayonara. The Pistons have veteran leadership and will always play that pesky D, sticking to your body like a wet fruit roll up, but the loss of Ben Wallace coupled with the lack of roster depth makes a 50 win season a success story. PREDICTION: Veteran leadership and core star power leads them to a 4th seed and a 2nd round playoff exit.

Indiana
05-06 Finish: 41-41 6th

The Dire Wolfson: Injuries and Ron Artest ruined the Pacers’ last two seasons. Over the summer they added two new swingmen, which is disappointing as it looked like promising youngbuck Danny Granger would see more minutes. They have the talent to make the playoffs, and will do better than the hokum gangbang of yesteryear, which isn’t saying much given that they were about as disappointing as Nicholson in The Pledge. They shouldn’t have unloaded Anthony Johnson who got the nod in the playoffs over Jamaal Tinsley. Tinsley’s career has been mired in injuries smacking of divine intervention, and will now be the only true point guard on the roster. Unimpressive, but good enough for 5th in the Anemic East.

Mohlman: Oy Gevault! The situation after the Artest blowup is a bigger mess than a 4 hour Monopoly game. But, give Larry Legend some credit for being able to “retool.” I think the Peja Stojakovic departure is a blessing in disguise as it allowed the Pacers the cap space to sign Al Harrington, opened up a spot for promising Danny Granger and now the team will avoid Peja missing 25 games due to a hang nail. But, while the Pacers are very athletic with Granger, Daniels, and play stingy Jewish defense, there is a problem when Al Harrington is your 2nd best player. In fact, if you recall, Harrington was the 2nd best player in Atlanta and we all know how that turned out. The Pacers season will once again hinge on the health of O’Neal and Tinsley. Prediction: O’Neal, athleticism and the defense carry the Pacers to a .500 record and a 7th seed playoff berth.

Miami
05-06 Finish: 52-30 2nd

The Dire Wolfson: Watch as D-Wade carries the team on his back for 82 games and makes the playoffs! View in awe as Shaq mails in another season, much like his performance in Steel! Witness the unveiling of Alonzo Mourning’s new balsa wood kidney! Gary Payton? Washed up? Well…Yeah!! Your Eastern Conference Champion and Ultimate NBA Finals Loser (introducing brand new competent officials, salvatore not included) Miami Heat! 2nd place in the conference and playoffs.

Mohlman: And Dwayne Wade immediately gets a call and goes to the foul line. OK, so I (Dallas native) am still bitter about the Heat’s championship; I am sure they sent Bennett Salvatore a huge thank you check. But, really, the only player the Heat lost this off-season is Derek Anderson. Yeah, I am sure they are not too bummed in South Beach. Losing Anderson is like misplacing a penny. Eh? So the Heat return everyone. The only downside to this is that they are one year older. I can’t think of any other reason not to like them. PREDICTION: If wily Riles manages the vets minutes so they don’t get fatigued in the playoffs, they’ll finish 2nd in the East return to the NBA Finals.

Milwaukee
05-06 Finish: 40-42 8th

The Dire Wolfson: Nice try, but no. I can’t find fault with their off-season moves or bench rotation. One might speak of the latter as being tight like a snare drum fashioned from the anus of a Laplandish reindeer pup. But like all species of animal other than the dog, they lack an alpha dog. Redd is gouda, and will win them some close games as he did last year, but they are relying on second year forward Villanueva as their second option on O. They also won’t be able to keep up on defense with more explosive teams. Factor in the grim reality that Bobby Simmons and Andrew Bogut will be wearing designer suits throughout the month of November, thereby getting them off to a slow start, they are headed for a relaxing summer of Kool-Aid and playoff basketball on plasma screen HDTV. 10th in the East.

Mohlman: I feel the same way about the Bucks as I do about Woody Allen — I wanna like em but I just can’t. On paper, they look great, but I think I have just been playing too much fantasy basketball and NBA Live. The Bucks are loaded with young, offensive potential, but they play no defense. Give them credit for pulling a Jesse James on Toronto in the deal for Villanueva, but on the flip side, they got marginal return for Magloire. Redd is a bona fide star, but unless one of their young guns (Bogut, Villanueva or Williams) really improves into a dependable star or they start playing defense, they’ll struggle to get into the playoffs. PREDICTION: 8th in the East.

New Jersey
05-06 Finish: 49-33 3rd

The Dire Wolfson: Three is more than most can dream of; only a handful of successful trios have been culled together: Charlie’s Angels, The Godfather, Newton’s Laws, Tears for Fears hits, The Axis of Evil. The list is short, yet the Nets possess three bona fide talents which deliver concurrently with some regularity. Let us not forget their 14 win “chott” streak, catapulting them in the standings during the home stretch. True, the bench will be about as debilitating as a yeast infection, but two of my favorite stories in the NBA are emerging from the fungal overgrowth. Cliff Robinson is back for his 18th season after being released by the team following evidence of marijuana smokage, while Jay Williams returns for his 2nd year after fracturing his pelvis and tearing ligaments in his knee following a motorcycle accident three years ago. I say Richard Jefferson gets his scheisse together, Nenad Kristic continues improvement, and the Nets are good enough for 4th place.

Mohlman: The Nets seem to me a lot like Girls Gone Wild. Upon first glimpse, it looks good, but after a minute or two you realize it’s just one big tease. The Nets have the big three with Kidd, Jefferson and Carter. But who else will step up? The only other reliable scoring threat is Kristic. Lawrence Frank will have the group playing defense, but their bench is as thin as Calista Flockhart with the 76 year old Clifford Robinson leading the way followed by Eddie “I shoot as often as Rambo” House. Marcus Williams could prove to be a nice backup for Kidd, but if anything happens to the big three, buenas suerte. Prediction: The big three manages to get a playoff berth as the 5th seed, but like Girls Gone Wild, leaves us hanging.

New
York
05-06 Finish: 23-59

The Dire Wolfson: Madison Square Garden last year resembled Filene’s Basement bargain bin minus the bargain. The Knicks were a complete mess, the mounting drama and never-ending heap of bad decisions causing ceaseless forehead-slapping. Just as Isiah Thomas killed the team’s cap space and future draft options, Larry Brown killed every single player’s confidence. The basketball gods have heard their pleas of uncle and have granted clemency. The basement is stationary and the ceiling is rising; there is nowhere to go but up. The players will listen to Thomas and will be happy to play for him. They still suck though. 14th in the East.

Mohlman: The Knicks have so many ball hogs that you can smell them all the way out here in Minnesota. The Knicks have three shoot-first point guards in Francis, Crawford and Marbury. They also locked up 90 million total dollars (as well as traded two draft picks) on Jerome James and Eddie “Dick Cheney genes” Curry (also fits into a pair of jeans about as well Cheney). The one good thing to happen to the Knicks is the dismissal of Larry Brown. The players basically quit on him midway through the season as he shuffled players in and out like Kevin Kline, refusing to play rookies with potential. So it would seem as if the players might actually try this year for their GM, now coach, who has grossly overpaid them. Watch out for 2nd year players Robinson, Frye and Lee to shine with more playing time under Zeke. Prediction: Out like a fat kid in dodge ball, 2nd to last in the East.

Orlando
05-06 Finish: 36-46

The Dire Wolfson: Do you know the way to No-Way-Jose, they’ve been away from the play-offs so long…Too young; the leaders on this team are third year players and any hope for the postseason depends on Darko Milicic. Seems like a pretty big jump, considering he’s still pulling splinters from the Detroit bench out of his ass. Yo, I think Dwight Heezy is off the..a…heezy? But Grant Hill will be injured at some point during the season; this is in the cards like Jon Lovitz’ eventual firing from Subway. Reddick is also hurt, and their bench goes only two deep. 12th in the East.

Mohlman: This team is intriguing, and I think will make a serious push for a playoff spot. After trading Stevie Franchise-Killer, the team went 17-13 with an influx of yute. Dwight Hizzo is the next KG, a double double machine who can play all facets of the game, and Jameer Nelson proved to be a quality PG who can run the show. Add into this mix, the improving Darko Milicic, Carlos Arroyo, Hedo Turkoglu, and J.J. “backne” Reddick — this team has a bright future. Just think of Grant Hill could play 30 games. By the way, one of the interesting side stories for the Magic that I am looking forward to is whether or not Reddick continues to wear an undershirt in the NBA under his jersey to cover up those back pimples. People wear undershirts in college, but no one does in the NBA, it’s just one of those unwritten rules in life. PREDICTION: Magic are a bit too young and don’t have enough depth, 10th in the East.

Philadelphia
05-06 Finish: 38-44

The Dire Wolfson: I don’t see how they get any better than last year unless Andre Iguodala improves profoundly and Rodney Carney makes an immediate impact. Both Iverson and Webber played better than could be expected, and the team still crapped out of the playoffs. The bench is a mess, having Kyle Korver (a veritable Venus de Milo on defense) and Sam Dalembert (finesse is his ex-wife’s middle name) on the floor at the same time is essentially playing a man short, a waste of space. Rather than trading Iverson, as they disastrously tried to do during the summer, dispatching of the 33 year old C-Webb might be the move they need. Iverson is Tenzing Norgay but I don’t think even he can sherp Webber up the mountain with him. 11th place and either Iverson or GM Billy King is gone after the season. Please let it be King.

Mohlman: So, Billy King decided the Answer was not the answer to the 76ers problems. But, King proved once again he is perhaps 2nd only to Isiah Thomas in terms of bad GMs, when he failed to land a trade for AI and rebuild the 76ers. As a result, the 76ers, did hardly anything this off-season except let Chris Webber’s knee get one year older. Now, AI is undoubtedly one of the best players in the game, and will carry the 76ers, but their best bench player is Kyle Korver. They have no depth and missed the playoffs last year despite a career year by AI and good numbers by Webber. If you think those two can remain healthy, then, that’s just MESHUGENAH. PREDICTION: 13th in the East.

Toronto
05-06 Finish: 27-55

The Dire Wolfson: Trading Charlie Villanueva would be hypothetically akin to killing off Reginald VelJohnson in Die Hard and letting Bruce Willis go it alone. Sure, maybe Karl doesn’t come back from the dead, but then you miss an entire facet to your piece. Right now the roster looks like Chris Bosh and an 11 man bench. It seems like a ruse to convince people that they are a deep team, but upon closer examination it’s hollow inside and the bench looks good because it includes the starting lineup. Lose your second and third best scorers and expect to be the sleeper pick of ’07? Ich don’t think so. Better than the Knicks and Hawks, worth a condolence card if you’re in a pitying mood.

Mohlman: Do me a favor. Name the 2nd best player after Bosh on the Raptors… Morris Peterson? Bargiani? T.J. Ford? The Raptors traded… no gave away their 2nd best player in Charlie Villanueva. I hear the Bucks threw in a box of cracker jacks and an old ticket stub to see Eddy (1995). Despite this one sided trade, I like the direction the Raptors are headed. GM Bryan Colangelo has brought in a number of high ceiling guys who could pan out in the future. The team is kind of like Chris Cooper in the movie Lone Star — a young, developing team on the rise, but two or three years away from hitting their stride (Note: Cooper hit jackpot three years later in American Beauty). In short, the Raptors are a star player away from pushing a playoff spot. PREDICTION: 12th in the East.

Washington
05-06 Finish: 42-40 5th

The Dire Wolfson: A plumber fixes countless sinks but neglects to manage his ever plummeting pantyline. Such is the case with the Wizards for the past two years. They do just enough to get a couple games over .500 and into the playoffs, hoping for the best, while ignoring their lack of key role players. Don’t get me wrong,, the team’s performance is more than can be expected, but I see no reason why they do anything different this year. Anytime they are mentioned, just think Morgan Freeman’s first payroll hearing in Shawshank. They are still a hardworking and determined team and Gilbert Arenas is in a class by himself between the first and second tier superstars. 7th and the playoffs, TKO in the first.

Mohlman: The Wizards resemble the OJ Simpson of the last 10 years — completely under the radar. I like this team a lot. After the departure of Larry Huge and Jarvis Hayes missing 61 games, the Wizards somehow managed 42 wins. This was aided by their GM playing Houdini, fooling the Lakers to give up Caron Butler for Kwame Brown. With Arenas, Twan, and Butler (the league’s top offensive trio), this team can score. The question is can they play defense? The additions of Songalia and Stevenson should bolster their on the ball defense, but, like the French, the Wizards have a thin and immobile front line. PREDICTION: 5th in the East.