Hoops season is back! As the 2012-13 season came and went, we saw King James and the Heat virtually dominate the Eastern Conference and go on to win their second straight NBA championship. But 2012-13 was missing one key roadblock in the Heat’s way: Derrick Rose. The 2013-14 NBA season will take on a whole new story this year as several teams will get their stars back. Several teams have newly budding talent that look to take the next step from all-star to superstar. Lastly, several teams have shaken up their benches and made moves in hopes of becoming instant contenders.
What can we expect from the East this season?
Main Point: LeBron is the best player in the NBA and was virtually unstoppable last season. As long as he is on the floor for the Heat, they are instant contenders.
Key Additions: Greg Oden and Michael Beasley. Oden, a guy who has not seen the floor in two years could be a low risk, high reward return for Miami. Beasley has always possessed the talent to be a big time threat, but has suffered off the court. Both guys at low points in their career and if this gamble pays off, the Heat will be tough to beat.
Key Losses: As long as the Big 3 are still around, I don’t see any losses occurring in Miami. Guys like Mike Miller are very replaceable as mediocre role players.
X-Factor: Health is the only thing that is stopping this Heat team from moving forward. D-Wade looks to be seeing signs of age that could hurt his “Robin” status. Guys like Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem are all another year older. All key role players in the Heat’s last two championships.
How They Finish: 63-19
Main Point: This is the lineup that the Bulls have been waiting to put on the floor for three years now. Derrick Rose is back and “More explosive than ever”, Lu Deng is playing in a contract year, and the emergence of Jimmy Butler is what the Bulls have been searching for to fill an empty void in their lineup.
Key Additions: Derrick Rose and Mike Dunleavy Jr. I consider the comeback of the league’s best point guard an addition to the Bulls. With him on the floor, the Bulls climb back to contender status. The pickup of Dunleavy Jr. should add another scoring threat off of the bench for Thibs this season.
Key Losses: Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli. Chicago came to love these guys in the playoffs last season. Solid bench players throughout the season, Nate and Marco lead the depleted Bulls team into the second round of the playoffs. They will be missed from the bench mob in ’13-’14.
X-Factor: There are two X-Factors for the Bulls right now; the first being Jimmy Butler. Jimmy came on during the end of the season and into the playoffs, serving as the heart and soul of the Bulls. He showed flashes of tremendous potential and that he could fill the void at 2-guard this year. If he can be a 12, 6 and 5 guy while playing blanketing defense, the Bulls will have the talent to beat Miami.
The second x-factor is Taj Gibson. Taj is hands down one of my favorite Bulls because of his heart and loyalty to the team. He has made some big time steps in the last couple of years to become a dominant power forward in the league and deservedly got paid for it. Last year, he took a step back. He was not the same, reliable player that he was in the past and it hurt the bench mob. If the Bulls want to get back to the top, they need Taj to step up and play a starter’s role off of the bench.
How they finish: 59-23
Main Point: Deserve to be called a contender after the last two seasons. The emergence of Paul George to go along with the return of Danny Granger makes this starting five a scary bunch.
Key Additions: Danny Granger, Luis Scola, and C.J. Watson. Like the return of Rose, Granger coming back makes Frank Vogel and the city of Indianapolis smile. With Granger out, Paul George became one of the best young talents in the NBA and a budding superstar. Granger’s absence allowed George to develop, but this new tandem could be one of the best 1-2 punches in the NBA.
Luis Scola and C.J. Watson are both capable of being starters in this league… and they will both be starring on the second unit for Indiana this season. Beefing up their bench like this reminds me a lot of the bench mob that Chicago had two years ago. There is no doubt that both of these guys will give the Pacers a great advantage this year.
Key Losses: The Pacers really did not lose anybody. Larry Bird and co. did a tremendous job this offseason to put their squad in position to win right now.
X-Factor: Can Paul George continue to get better and will he be able to coexist with Danny Granger as a co-superstar? George’s stat line went from 9 ppg, 6 rpg and 2 apg to 19 ppg, 7 rpg and 5 apg without Danny Granger. The two playing side-by-side will either mean great things for Indiana or it will cause ego problems and be devastating. I can see it going either way. I think we see Granger take on a Robin role to George’s Batman status.
How They Finish: 60-22
Main Point: The team with the biggest boom/bust potential in the entire Eastern Conference. The Nets made big time moves bringing in proven winners will help new coach Jason Kidd speed up the transition.
Key Additions: KG, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd. I like to look at these additions as a whole. Although each of these players are close to hanging it up, I think that they will make the most impact in the locker room. KG and Pierce have seemed to be ageless by playing at such high levels last season. Their production this season, though, will be loosely based on their performance. Their leadership to a very ego-centered locker room will be the difference. Any team that Garnett is on will have a tough, team-focused mindset and that is just what the Nets need.
Jason Kidd coming in as the new head coach is an extremely interesting move, but the moves the Nets have made since are genius. How do you fix the problem of having a young, inexperienced head coach? Bring in guys who will buy into his system right away. Excellent moves by Brooklyn this offseason.
Key Losses: Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries. Can anybody say that losing these guys is a bad thing? In terms of production on the court, both made little impact and both were highly overpaid. Nothing more to say here besides that their “Key losses” were key because they got rid of these two.
X-Factor: Deron Williams has never won anything. His numbers last season were above his career averages, which is always a good thing but when is he going to make the next step? Nets fans are waiting for this guy to take them to the promise land and I still don’t see it. The only way that Brooklyn beats the Bulls, Heat or Pacers is if they take on a bully mentality. Deron Williams is at the core of that.
How They Finish: 55-27
New York Knicks
Main Point: It will be another year of Melo versus the world. It also might be the last year that Melo suits up in New York.
Key Additions: Andrea Bargnani, Metta World Peace and Tim Hardaway Jr. Bargnani, the former overall #1 pick has always been an average NBA talent whose suffered numerous injuries. Nonetheless, he has the innate ability to score the ball and I actually like this move by the Knicks. It fills the need for a scoring 4 and as long as Amar’e continues to battle injuries, Bargnani could be a great addition. Adding Metta to your lineup gives you a defensive backbone, but there are always questions regarding his mental state and his growing age. I like the draft pick of Tim Hardaway Jr. I wanted the Bulls to go after him given his ability to score and his NBA heritage. It might take him a year or two to get his feet wet in the league, though.
Key Losses: Jason Kidd. Losing Kidd to retirement (and ultimately to the Nets) is a big loss for Carmelo Anthony. It was well known that Kidd was a big influence in Melo’s game and time in New York. There was concern when he left for the coaching world. He might have had more impact on Melo’s great season last year than was publicly known.
X-Factor: Amar’e Stoudamire. When will Amar’e step up and be the max-contract player that the Knicks signed him for? Can he coexist with Melo? Can he stay healthy long enough to even make the starting lineup? There are a lot of questions surrounding Amar’e going forward. How much will he be able to contribute to the Knicks success this year?
How They Finish: 54-28
Out of the Lottery
Main Point: The Hawks are going to be the same old Hawks. They definitely don’t have the talent to win now, but barring a collapse, they will still make the playoffs.
Key Transactions: The Hawks have a new coach: Mike Budenholzer. Formerly an assistant to Poppovich in San Antonio, Budenholzer looks to take the Hawks from mediocre to just a little bit less mediocre.
In terms of player personnel, the Hawks signed Paul Millsap and Elton Brand while drafting Dennis Schroeder. These guys should complement Jeff Teague and Al Horford well enough to make the playoffs.
X-Factor: Lou Williams. Lou was in the running for Sixth Man of the Year award two years ago and has shown a lot of upside coming off of the bench. My biggest fear with this squad is there ability to score. If Lou can make an impact then they might make a little more noise than expected.
How They Finish: 48-34
Main Point: John Wall can flat out ball. If he stays healthy, Wall and Brad Beal can be as good of a two guard tandem as there is in the league.
Key Transactions: The Wizards picked up their hometown guy Otto Porter in the draft, who looks to fill their void at the 3-guard. They went out and signed Al Harrington, who should contribute right away to their front line and picked up Eric Maynor, a solid backup point guard whose played big minutes for OKC and Portland in recent years.
X-Factor: John Wall’s health is the biggest key for the Wiz this year… and every year. They were close to .500 with Wall last season, while drastically worse without him. If John can stay healthy, Washington made the moves that can get them dougie’ing into the playoffs.
How They Finish: 44-38
Main Point: When I look at Milwaukee, I see a locker room full of talented basketball players that should never all be on the same team. They will be good enough to slip in with the last spot in the East, but be nothing more than average all season long.
Key Transactions: Hired Larry Drew as their new head coach. Once a guy who had some success with the Atlanta Hawks, he looks to take another team full of egos to the playoffs.
In terms of personnel, the Bucks lost Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis and acquired O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight. I don’t see much change here in Milwaukee due to these changes. The loss of Brandon Jennings will hurt unless Knight can step up and be more than he was in Detroit.
X-Factor: Caron Butler. A seasoned veteran who has had success with many teams but never been a superstar will now be asked to increase his role. If Butler can step into the role of being a leader and help show this young team how to win, then I can see them edging out other average teams for this 8th spot.
How They Finish: 41-41
Welcome to the NBA Draft Lottery
Why They Don’t Make It: As much as I want to see Brad Steven succeed in his first year as head coach of the Celtics, their talent will not take them there. Rondo is still out with his ACL injury and will probably be traded this season. Jeff Green is an animal and Sullinger showed bright spots before his back injury last season, but I can’t fathom these guys making the playoffs. I believe that because of Brad Stevens, Boston will win 10 more games than they should.
How They Finish: 38-44
Why They Don’t Make It: As much as I want to put these guys in the playoffs, I just don’t see it. Rudy Gay is an exceptional player and Derozen has improved but it drops off from there. I don’t see Kyle Lowry or Amir Johnson making a “Paul-George” type of leap this season.
How They Finish: 36-46
Why They Don’t Make It: The Cavs are in a tough position, but the right position. I like the Bennett pick and Kyrie has entered the discussion of being a top PG in the league. Waiters and Tristen Thompson are both solid, young players who I see making leaps this year. If Varejo can stay healthy and Bynum finds the court, then the Cavs will make a push for the 7 or 8 spot. Unfortunately for them, they’re in the same division as the Bulls, Pacers, Pistons and Bucks. That alone spells misery for Cleveland. Return of LeBron 2014?
How They Finish: 35-47
Why They Don’t Make It: The Pistons went out and spent A LOT of money on players that I do not think have the ability to turn around a franchise. They signed Josh Smith to a lucrative deal and traded for Brandon Jennings and signed him to $12M as well. The addition of these two to go along with young big men, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, will make for an interesting year in Detroit. I like the Maurice Cheeks hiring and think that he can make winners out of these guys, but it’s going to take time. The Pistons are another year away from the playoffs.
How They Finish: 34-48
Why They Don’t Make It: The scumsuckers of the league for the last 5 years, I don’t expect the Bobcats to make any more noise than usual this season. Kemba Walker is exciting and electric, MKG has a good future and Al Jefferson is a solid vet but it will be the same old for MJ’s squad. New coach Steve Clifford has bounced around as an assistant coach and takes on his first head coaching job in Charlotte.
How They Finish: 17-65
Why They Don’t Make It: I am not a big fan of Victor Oladipo this year in the NBA. He is their biggest addition this season one year after claiming the worst record in the league. I don’t see much changing, and I don’t see Oladipo taking a huge leap in 2014. Orlando has a plethora of first round draft picks, though, due to the Dwight Howard trade and are undoubtedly going to have their opportunity to grab some talent in next year’s draft.
How They Finish: 15-67
Andrew Wiggins Lottery
There is not much more to say here than the 76ers are now in the hunt for Andrew Wiggins and last place in the league. Nothing would make them happier after completely dumping their team. They lost Jrue Holiday and acquired Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams. First year head coach, Brett Brown, who served as an assistant under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio for the last 6 years, will try and lead them to last place in ’13-’14.
How They Finish: 13-69
Top 5 Offseason Moves to Pay Attention To
- All of the Brooklyn Nets’ Moves: Addition of KG, Pierce, Terry, Kidd
- Michael Beasley and Greg Oden going to the Heat
- Andrea Bargnani going to the Knicks
- Luis Scola getting traded to the Pacers
- Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to the Pistons
Surprise Player of the Year
Bradley Beal: I have been on the Brad Beal bandwagon ever since I saw him play at the McDonald’s All American game two years ago. He has one of the purest shots in the league and has a tremendous amount of talent waiting to bust loose. Alongside John Wall, Beal will have the luxury of not having to carry the team on his back while having the freedom to produce. As a rookie, he averaged 13 PPG to go along with 2.5 APG and 4 RPG. I look for him to come into his own this season and make a big sophomore jump, helping Washington to the playoffs.
Predictions: Beal- 18.5 PPG, 3 APG, 5 RPG
Surprise Team of the Year
Washington Wizards: To go along with my Brad Beal love, I am going to go ahead and name the Wizards my surprise team of the year in the East. Usually when somebody gets a large contract extension, it goes one of two ways for that player: They feel they need to prove their worth, or they take the money and disappear. I think John Wall feels that it is time to make Washington a playoff team and it is his obligation to do so. The core of Wall, Beal and Al Harrington to go along with Nene, Porter Jr., Ariza and others makes for a dangerous roster. If they can piece together all of their assets, this team will no longer be the laughing stock of the East.
Playoff seeding and predictions
Miami Heat- Runner up
Indiana Pacers- 2nd Round
Chicago Bulls- Champions
Brooklyn Nets- 2nd Round
New York Knicks- 1st Round
Atlanta Hawks- 1st round
Washington Wizards- 1st Round
Milwaukee Bucks-1st Round