By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
NBA 2004/05 SEASON PREVIEW
Part two of a two part series; Western Conference; predicted order of finish.
1. SAN ANTONIO SPURS: As steady and cool a customer as there is in the basketball biz. The Big Fundamental, Tim Duncan will again lead his team into the land of plenty. The only question is health and can they overcome the storming Minnesota Timberwolves? Otherwise like it or no, the Spurs are the class of the west.
KEY ADDITIONS: Brent Barry, Tony Massenburg KEY LOSES: Hedo Turkoglu KEY THOUGHT: Will Brent Barry stunt the growth of the ever improving Emanuel Ginobili PROJECTED RECORD: 60-22
2. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: And no, I did not bump my head! The Memphis Grizzlies are truly for real. Head coach Hubie Brown has installed his famed two unit squadron to perfection. Not to be outdone, he managed to reel in the erratic point guard Jason Williams to where he was much more productive compared to past seasons.
KEY ADDITIONS: Brian Cardinal KEY LOSES: Theron Smith KEY THOUGHT: Now that the Grizz are no longer a surprise will they stand the test of time?
PROJECTED RECORD: 56-26
3. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS: The Hornets will have to buzz their hives in the loaded Western Conference thanks to realignment. Too bad for them, because with their roster and if all were healthy they could have very well challenged the Pistons in the East. With them being out West theyï¿½ll be lucky to even make the playoffs. All-star guard, Baron Davis must be thrilled.
KEY ADDITIONS: Chris Andersen, Rodney Rogers KEY LOSES: Stacey Augmon, Steve Smith, Robert Traylor.
KEY THOUGHT: Will Jamal Mashburn be able to save his career by resting his troublesome knee.
PROJECTED RECORD: 47-35
4. DALLAS MAVERICKS: Yes, the Mavs are picked fourth, although they do have talent. The Mavs have virtually a new team but, they still have to learn to play defense. The addition of center Erick Dampier (whom the Knicks lusted) with rich contract in hand will man the middle. The starting point guard will be rookie phenom Devin Harris. Not unless the stars are aligned right, the Mav appear to be Lottery bound.
KEY ADDITIONS: Dampier, Harris, Jerry Stackhouse, Jason Terry, Calvin Booth.
KEY LOSES: Steve Nash, Tony Delk, Danny Forston, Antawn Jamison, Antoine Walker.
KEY THOUGHT: How long will it take for head coach Don Nelson and meddlesome owner are at each others throats?
PROJECTED RECORD: 47-35
5. HOUSTON ROCKETS: Somebody had to go in this slot. It may as well be the Houston Rockets who every day is looking like the New York Knicks – West. Sure they scored big by landing All-Everything Tracy McGrady, but if All-Star center Yao Ming goes down for any long stretch during the season or if heï¿½s saddled with foul trouble in big games, look for the Rockets to lose big. Not to mention the Rockets are point-less at the point.
KEY ADDITIONS: McGrady, Charlie Ward, Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue, Bob Sura.
KEY LOSES: Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, Kelvin Cato.
KEY THOUGHT: How long before McGrady goes behind head coach Jeff Van Gundyï¿½s back to complain about the offense.
PROJECTED RECORD: 45-37
1. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: Look out below; swingman Latrell Sprewell and point guard Sam Cassell are unhappy with their current contract situations. Cassell staged a one day hold out from camp and Sprewell boycotted the teamsï¿½ mandatory welcome home luncheon. Sprewell is demanding to be traded if a new contract isnï¿½t offered before opening night tip-off. All-Star and last seasonï¿½s MVP Kevin Garnett must be scratching his head wondering, ï¿½Whyï¿½?
KEY ADDITIONS: Blake Stepp KEY LOSES: Oliver Miller, Gary Trent KEY THOUGHT: If Spree were traded, one has to wonder if he would cuss out the T-Wolves owner upon return visit to the Target Center.
PROJECTED RECORD: 62-20
2. DENVER NUGGETS: Talk about the rich getting richer. The Nuggets enjoyed a break out season last year after years in murky Lottery-ville with the addition of future All-Star, Carmelo Anthony. Not to be outdone, GM Kiki Vandeweghe goes out and essentially steals All-Star power forward, Kenyon Martin from the New Jersey Nets for three future first round draft picks.
KEY ADDITIONS: Martin, KEY LOSES: Jon Barry. Michael Doleac, Chris Andersen KEY THOUGHT: Will the Nuggets make it out of the first round of the playoffs this season.
PROJECTED RECORD: 58-24
3. UTAH JAZZ: Head coach Jerry Sloan can flat out coach. He proved this last season when he lost two first ballot Hall-of-famers in Karl Malone and John Stockton and still just missed the playoffs by one game; in the loaded West no doubt. This year with the addition of power forward, Carlos Boozer and the return of Matt Harpring the Jazz will be a tough out for all concerned. They playoffs are still a longshot.
KEY ADDITIONS: Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Kirk Snyder KEY LOSES: Greg Ostertag, Michael Ruffin.
KEY THOUGHT: Will point guard Carlos Arroyo continue his meteoric rise after a solid season last year and a sensation Olympics?
PROJECTED RECORD: 50-32
4. PORTLAND TRAILBLAZER: The Blazers always seem to put a talented team out on the floor. But, for some reason through character defects or other extenuating circumstances they seem to self destruct before our very eyes. Future All-Star power forward Zach Randolph has been signed to an extension. Shereef Abdur-Rahim will not be happy playing behind him or beside him at small forward.
KEY ADDITIONS: Nick Van Exel, Sebastian Telfair KEY LOSES: Dale Davis KEY THOUGHT: How long before the point guard glut cause friction in the locker-room?
PROJECTED RECORD: 46-36
5. SEATTLE SUPERSONICS: ALL-Star guard Ray Allen isnï¿½t happy with his contract limbo status. Nate McMillan is seemingly on the hot seatï¿½again. The Sonics are talented in certain spots but in the loaded West theyï¿½re still looking on the outside of the playoffs.
KEY ADDITIONS: KEY LOSES: KEY THOUGHT: Will Rashard Lewis finally become an All-Star?
PROJECTED RECORD: 40-42
1. SACRAMENTO KINGS: The once mighty Kings seem to be dethroning themselves with all of the infighting going on with All-Star forwards, Chris Webber and Predrag Stojakovic. The loss of center Vlade Divac, the locker-room sage will have more of an affect than most think. And with newly acquired center Greg Ostertag out for at least a month, the Kingsï¿½ depth will be challenged greatly.
KEY ADDITIONS: Ostertag, KEY LOSES: Divac, Anthony Peeler, Tony Massenburg, Rodney Buford, Jabari Smith.
KEY THOUGHT: Who will be traded first, C-Webb or Predrag?
PROJECTED RECORD: 55-27
2. PHOENIX SUNS: These Suns will rise in the West. Thatï¿½s right, these Suns are picked second. They have thoroughbreds that can get out on the floor and run with the best of them. Their backcourt with the additions of former Mavs All-Star Steve Nash and former Clipper Quentin Richard is as explosive as they come. If they can get decent center play out of Jake Voskuhl and Zarko Cabarkapa the Suns will make fun things happen.
KEY ADDITIONS: Nash, Richardson KEY LOSES: Antonio McDyess, Jahidi White.
KEY THOUGHT: Will there be enough balls to go around with all the shooters?
PROJECTED RECORD: 54-28
3. LOS ANGELES LAKERS: Itï¿½s hard to pick a Kobe led team to finish lower than third in this division. Not to mention, the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers are right behind them respectively. This Shaq-less Lakers team is brand new: new coach and a host of new players. Will Kobe trust them enough not to want to take ALL of the shots in his quest to also win the scoring title?
KEY ADDITIONS: Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, Vlade Divac, Caron Butler, Chucky Atkins, Marcus Banks, Chris Mihm KEY LOSES: Shaquille Oï¿½Neal, Horace Grant, Bryon Russell, Derek Fisher, Gary Payton, Rick Fox.
KEY THOUGHT: At what point in the season will Kobe realize that Shaq isnï¿½t there?
PROJECTED RECORD: 48-34
4. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: These last two slots are toss ups so I decided to go in alphabetical order. Well, on second thought the Warriors could be a tad bit better on paper with the addition of big shot maker, former Lakers guard Derek Fisher and the emergence of shooting guard and ultra athletic Jason Richardson.
KEY ADDITIONS: Fisher, Dale Davis, Andris Biedrins KEY LOSES: Nick Van Exel, Erick Dampier, Brian Cardinal.
KEY THOUGHT: How long before first year NBA head coach, Mike Montgomery wish he were still in college?
PROJECTED RECORD: 30-52
5. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: Same ole, same ole Clippers. They get talent then they blow it in the wind. Way to go Clippers. At this rate in order for the Clippers to even sniff the playoffs they will have to hope David Stern throws them a golden bone and allow them to move to the East.
KEY ADDITIONS: Kerry Kittles, Shaun Livingston KEY LOSES: Quentin Richardson, Melvin Ely, Keyon Dooling, Predrag Drobnjak, Doug Overton, Eddie House KEY THOUGHT: All-Star power forward and all around good guy, Elton Brand must be kicking himself for signing that long term deal with them.
PROJECTED RECORD: 26-56
WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
NBA CHAMPION: DETROIT PISTONS
JERALD LeVON HOOVER