The upcoming NBA season is only a few days away and needless to say it was one of the more interesting off-season the league has seen in years. There were several marquee players who changed teams in hopes of playing for and winning the championship in June. Here are key acquisitions for the top teams in both conferences and predictions of which team will be vying for the championship trophy eight months from now.
Magic — Last time we saw the Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic, they were watching the Lakers celebrate winning the championship on their home court. Needless to say, that left a bad taste in their mouths and they are looking to redeem themselves and make a return trip to the finals. The team parted ways with Hedo Turkoglu, who was a vital part of Orlando’s offense. However, the team acquired Vince Carter, who will provide the team with another capable scorer in addition to the inside game of Dwight Howard. Look for the Magic to make a deep run in the playoff again this season as well. Will they have enough to battle a Celtic team at full strength or a Cavalier team who has made key additions as well remains to be seen.
Cavaliers – I’m not sure how much the Cavaliers can improve after last season. They finished with the league’s best record and featured the Most Valuable Player in LeBron James. Despite all of the accolades, the team fell surprisingly to the Orlando Magic in the Conference Finals in six games. The Cavaliers wasted little time in making a splash in the off-season with the acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal from the Suns along with Anthony Parker from the Toronto Raptors. Obviously O’Neal will bring an added dimension to the inside game that Cleveland lacked a season ago. Anthony Parker along with Mo Williams will have many opportunities to showcase their outside shooting ability with the all around game of LeBron James. I think these additions will definitely make the Cavaliers one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference again.
Celtics – After winning the championship in 2008 and getting off to a record-breaking start last season, the Celtics were hampered with injuries in the second half of the season including a season-ending knee injury to their defensive anchor, Kevin Garnett. With injuries to Garnett and other players the Celtics were able to outlast the upstart Bulls in seven games but wouldn’t have quite off enough in the next round against Orlando and they would fall to the Magic in seven games. Well Garnett should be at full strength and will be joined by former Piston forward, Rasheed Wallace, who will provide an additional inside/outside scoring to take some of the scoring load off the big three of Garnett, Pierce and Allen.
Bulls – The Chicago Bulls finished seventh in the Conference a year ago and gave the defending champion Celtics all they could handle before bowing out in seven games. Even with this loss, the playoffs provided a showcase for what their rookie point guard Derrick Rose was capable of. With the departure of Ben Gordon, Rose will have to take up a notch and be even more aggressive on the offensive end. Both Loul Deng and John Salmons suffered injuries late in the season and both players figure to be 100% by the start of the season. If Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah continue improve their offensive games, the Bulls will have a inside presence, something the team has lacked over the past few years. While this team hasn’t made the big moves of some of their conference counterparts, the Bulls will surprise a lot of teams and I expect them to finish somewhere in the fourth or fifth spot in the East.
Prediction: Look for the Cavaliers and Celtics to advance to the Conference finals in what will be one of the most competitive races in quite some time. While the Celtics are only one season removed from winning it all, The Cavaliers will prove to be too much and will go to the finals, as they should have done a season ago.
Lakers – The Los Angeles Lakers of course won the championship but not before being tested by the Rockets and the Nuggets before beating the Magic 4-1 in the Finals. In order to remain on top, even champions must takes steps to continue to get better. That is exactly what the Lakers did in acquiring Ron Artest from the Rockets. With the return of Bryant, Gasol, Odom, Artest brings not only additional scoring but a physical presence on the defensive end of the floor as well. Barring any major injuries, the Lakers should be the number one seed out of the West this year as well.
Spurs – San Antonio, like Boston suffered key injuries last season. The most notable was to Manu Ginobli, their best player off the bench, who missed the playoffs and as a result, the Spurs fell to the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. This was something that hasn’t happened in a number of years. While San Antonio will be without one of their defensive stalwarts in Bruce Bowen, the acquisitions of Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess should help the Spurs erase the memory of last year’s early playoff exit.
Nuggets – The Denver Nuggets advanced to Conference Finals for the first time since 1985 but unfortunately they didn’t have quite enough firepower to dethrone the eventual champion Lakers. The Nuggets didn’t make a lot of moves in the off-season outside of acquiring Arron Affalo along with their draft pick of Ty Lawson out of North Carolina. While Carmelo Anthony and company took a step forward last season, While the Nuggets will be a formidable team in the Western Conference, I’m not sure if the current roster will be able to take them any further than a season ago.
Hornets – New Orleans was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs and are looking to bounce back and return to one of the more competitive teams in the West. The Hornets traded Tyson Chandler for Emeka Okafor, who averaged a double-double for the Bobcats last year (13.2ppg, 10.1rbg). Okafor will give the Hornets another inside threat around the basket to complement David West. If healthy, both Peja Stojakovic and James Posey should provide consistent outside shooting making it difficult for defenses to focus on Chris Paul. Should be an interesting season in New Orleans.
Prediction: Even though teams like Utah, Portland have young teams on the rise, neither will make a deep run in the playoffs. Look for the Lakers to meet either the Nuggets or Spurs again in the Conference Finals with the Lakers making a return trip to the finals.
Not since the days of the eighties and nineties has each conference featured so many talented teams capable of taking it all. This promises to be one of the competitive the league has seen in a long time with the Lakers and Cavaliers squaring off in the finals for star-studded showdown.