The mecca of the sports world revolves around New York City. It houses many Champions, and of course the world’s most famous arena. Just like a song of many years ago, “Move over Babe, Here comes Henry”, times, they are a changin, or at least in the moment they are. It has been quite the year for Boston sports. The Patriots have dominated the NFL for the past half-decade, and all the buzz is, can they run the table, and join the Dolphins in the history books as the only teams to go unblemished in the NFL. The Red Sox have now hung two World Championship banners over Fenway, in the past few years, after a drought of epic proportions, at least this side of Wrigley Field. The Boston College hockey team made it all the way to the finals, before dropping the Championship game to Michigan St. The Eagle football team got the cities attention, and the nation, going undefeated in their first 8 games. Then there are the Celtics, who as of this writing, have gone a perfect 8-0 to start the season. The talk is already centered around a 70 win season, and another banner for the Garden. Even the Bruins are sitting 9 up, 6 down, and have playoff potential. The Holiday’s bring a festive atmosphere to the hubs around the country, and the parades are always part of remembering, or celebrating. it looks like Boston is having to schedule several extra parades this year, because the Red Sox have already had one, the Patriots appear destined for another, and the Celtics will have a good chance at following. Don’t worry NY’ers, you’ll have yours as well, Thanksgiving is around the corner, but the only regret is, their will be no Championship banners on display, just Santa Claus and his sack of free agents ready to be signed, to make sure next year, the parades are back in NY.
Those that thought that glory days of horse racing are as distant a memory as Seattle Slew’s trot to the triple crown have greatly underestimated the modern era of the sport of kings.
I mean it’s not like you go to the mall and see packs of teenagers sporting Pletcher and Baffert t-shirts with their baggy jeans, but horse racing is far from irrelevant. Sure, live gate and TV ratings are down at the track but the bottom line is strong.
After last month’s Breeder’s Cup turned in an astounding $142,700,099 on bets made both at the track and at off-track betting houses horse racing is alive and well and kicking some of its more traditional counterpart’s asses.
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Let me start out by saying, I have been a Yankee fan my entire life. Let me also add that I think Joe Torre did a tremendous job in the clubhouse for the Yankees, and is a very likeable person. He dealt with the New York media with class, and served as a first-rate citizen as the Yankee leader. He brought intangibles to the table that will be hard to duplicate, let alone replace.
His departure leaves a lot of questions among fans, and his classy act and enviable charm will often be referenced in the aftermath.
Then there is the “apparent” legacy he leaves behind as he packs his bags for LA. In twelve seasons Torre accumulated six World Series, four championships and never missed the playoffs. It is here that I begin to make separation from the wealth of compliments bestowed on what many feel is an already Hall of Fame coaching career. He built so much dignity, loyalty, and trust along the path he carved the past 12 years, but in an instant, forgot where it all came from.
Wunderdog NCAA Basketball Top 20 Predictions
20. KANSAS STATE
Bobby Huggins wasn’t here long, but his impact will be felt for a few years. He left behind a recruiting class that ranks among the top in the country, if not the top. Huggins completed a 23-win season, best in nearly 20 years at K-State, and lots of talent is coming in. David Hoskins (14.5, 5.9) returns, but may be pressed for time with the wealth of talent on the way in. Michael Beasley is the nation’s top recruit. He is a 6-10 280 lb. world of talent. If he has the same impact here as did Kevin Durant at Texas, K-State will immediately be heard from. Young teams sometimes struggle, but if they make the adjustment, this team could be dangerous late.
Any time you have a team with two guards, both capable of Player of the Year honors in their Conference, then you have a team that is going to excel. Butler starts with a team that won 29 games last year, and lost only 11 ppg scorer Brandon Crone. The offense should get a boost from Pete Campbell, who is a good 3-point threat who averaged 9 ppg but will be on the floor much more this season. This is a methodical team that led the nation with the fewest turnovers per game. With the same duo, and key figures handling the ball, expect no difference. This is a team that will cause fits for anyone they match-up with in the tourney, and has Elite Eight potential.
The good news for Arizona is Chase Budinger is back. The bad news is, until this team makes a commitment to defense, they are just another good team. They did lose three double-digit scorers, but Arizona is a team that doesn’t rebuild, they reload. There’s always enough talent around to do some damage. They added Jerryd Bayless, who by many accounts should compete at the level that Mike Bibby did here. Coach Olsen believes that Jordan Hill will become a double-double player. The question is, will it happen this year? If Jawann McClellon can leave his injuries behind him, he could also emerge as a potent scorer. Here’s a team with lots of talent, lots of question marks, so we took the middle ground. They could be great, they could disappoint, but will likely be good.
17. NC STATE
NC State started 1-5 in ACC play last season and reached the Conference Final. Costner, McCauley and Grant – all 15 point scorers – return, as well as another double digit scorer in Courtney Fells. The big question mark for this team will be replacing Engin Atsur at the point. The Pack and Coach Lowe are bringing in six new players. Two of those are Farnold Degand (Iowa State transfer) and Marques Johnson ( Tennessee transfer). They may have an advantage in that they practiced with the team all of last season. There is also the possibility that freshman Javi Gonzalez gets a shot. But in the end, if one of this trio does not emerge, NC State may be a notch below. If one emerges in a big way, they may be a notch above.
Davidson won a school record 29 games last season. That bodes well for the Wildcats this season as all 5 starters return. They are led by last year’s freshman sensation Stephen Curry. Curry scored 21.5 ppg last season, and broke the freshman record for three-pointers with 122. He is a bona fide star, as he poured in 30 vs. Maryland in their NCAA appearance. They have a competent PG in Jason Richards who finished second in the NCAA last year at 7.3 apg. They also have power inside with Boris Meno (11 ppg 8.2 rpg). The Wildcats have 10 players returning that played key minutes, and NCAA experience, and could reach the 30-win mark for the first time ever and be the type of team that no one wants in a first round NCAA game.
The Ducks made a deep run in the tournament last year, and road the back of Aaron Brooks. He is gone, and will certainly be missed. The Ducks do return their other 4 starters, all of whom are capeable scorers, as they all averaged double-digits last year. The foundation is set for another tournament bid, but just how much quacking these Ducks do, is going to be based on one of the 4 returning starters, stepping into a leadership role, and if Tajuan porter can run the offense. Bryce Taylor has the potential to become the go-to guy. If those two things happen, the Ducks will again be going deep into the tournament, if not, could be one and done.
14. S. ILLINOIS
The Missouri Valley has become a player amongst the elite in College Basketball and among the best in the conference has been S. Illinois. This team is going to be tough to defend inside with Falker and Shaw. They must overcome the losses of Tatum and Young, a guard duo that put up 25 per game and provided a lot of experience. Josh Bone is expected to help do just that. Bone is regarded as having the potential to be the Saluki’s next great guard. He will be joined by Wesley Clemmons who must step up his scoring. Carlton Fay adds depth to the front court, as he is a highly regarded freshman. The Saluki’s appear to be the class of the MVC, which means a mid-level national ranking is likely.
The ACC has gone back-to-back years without a Final Four participant for the first time in 27 years. Coach K had something to say about this and was cited as saying, “The ACC has sold its soul in becoming a football conference.” Duke will look to rebound from a 22-win season, a .500 finish in the ACC and a knockout punch from VCU in the tourney. The back court is loaded and will be called upon for the bulk of the scoring. They have Nelson, Paulus and Scheyer, all of whom can score. They will really need Kyle Singler, a 6-8 freshman to provide points in the paint. They will miss McRoberts scoring and rebounding inside. Teams historically weak in the paint for points often exit the NCAA tourney with one noight of poor shooting. If Singler isn’t the answer inside, the Dukies may again face the prospects of an early exit. If he is, they may be better than advertised as Coach K finally has some depth, which usually isn’t the case.
This might not be a banner year for the Big-10, but it may turn out to be one for Indiana. The Hoosiers returned to the dance last year. When D.J. White nixed the draft and Eric Gordon committed to Indiana, stocks (and expectations) are up in Bloomington. Eric Gordon, if you believe the scouts, is already an NBA lottery pick candidate. If he plays as a freshman up to this billing, then the Hoosiers will be a team that has Final Four potential. They have lots of pieces returning and six newcomers as well. So how these roles and minutes work themselves out, will go a long way in determining their fate. The key may be senior guard A.J. Ratliff. Ratliff has never lived up to his potential because of nagging injuries, but will this be his year to shine? If he does, and Gordon is as good as billed and the newcomers blend with the vets, pencil this team into Final Four consideration.
This team certainly has upgraded its schedule but remains heads and heels above almost all the pretenders in the West Coast Conference. That means a lot of mid-to-late season wins and a corresponding rise in the polls. Josh Heytvelt will return after off the court problems last season. Heytvelt is an NBA type player, but off-court issues may again be a factor. He is a double-double type player and for Gonzaga to be worthy of a ranking this high, he needs to put all that behind him, and live up to his potential. They have a solid playmaker in Jeremy Pargo that has also become an improved shooter. Micah Downs is a shooting talent and Matt Bouldin is another point guard playing the 2, considered the team’s top passer. They also bring in Ira Brown, a JC transfer, that is an athlete. He spent five seasons in minor league baseball. Raivio will be missed, but the Zags keep themselves stocked with talent beyond any of their league foes, and will again be NCAA bound.
Marquette brings back everyone from an NCAA team that won 24 games last season. The biggest obstacle for Marquette may be timing. They are in the Big East, a conference that features two heavyweights in Louisville and Georgetown that could keep them out of the top ten. But they shouldn’t fall far. Dominic James flirted with the NBA draft, but he was hearing he may not go as soon as he would of liked and withdrew. That may catapult James into a very focused big season. He forms one of the top backcourts in the country with running mate Jerel McNeal. McNeal is considered one of the stingiest defenders in the country, but he scores and rebounds as well. Wesley Matthews hasn’t reached his full potential yet, and if he adds to his 12.6 ppg this season, Marquette becomes better. Marquette needs more inside presence. Ousmane Barro at 6-10 helped last year (8.1 ppg and 6.9 rpg), but he needs help. It hopefully comes from newcomer Trevor Mbakwe. Mbakwe was rated the top prep player in Minnesota, and if he brings help down low, Marquette could rise to an NCAA Final Four caliber team.
9. WASHINGTON STATE
Maybe the best news for Washington State is that Tony Bennett returns as coach. Many thought he may seize the opportunity to take over a more formidable program, but with most of the pieces intact from a school record 26 wins, he is poised to make some noise again. This team has a potent senior back court, and that is a key come tourney time. Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low combined for 25 points per game last season, and should see those numbers increase this season. Weaver is considered one of the most versatile players in the country while Low will be counted on for scoring. The wildcard may be C Aron Baynes. Baynes was injured a good part of the season, but as his health improved, so did his production as he became a double-digit scorer frequently down the stretch. Daven Hermiling at 6-7 becomes a match-up problem for most teams, as he connected from 43% beyond the arc. This is a very experienced team that now has tourney experience and should once again be a force in the Pac-10, as well as the national scene.
8. MICHIGAN STATE
The Spartans won 23 games last season and return all five starters and should be poised to break into the top 10 this season. Drew Neitzel scored 20+ in 17 games last season and is certainly going to be amongst the top players in the country this season. Raymar Morgan played his best basketball down the stretch, and his improvement should continue into his sophomore year. Coach Izzo is also bringing in a cast of talented freshman in Durrell Summers, Kallin Lucas and Chris Allen. Coach Izzo has said that with the added depth and quickness, he wants to get back to a pressure defense and run a lot more. If one or more of these freshman emerge as a heavy contributor, the Spartins will have to be dealt with in April.
It may take the Hoyas a little time to overcome the departure of last season’s Big East Player of the Year, Jeff Green. But don’t feel too sorry for the Hoyas. They return a wealth of talent and a couple of heralded frosh that will have them back in the picture once again. It starts with Roy Hibbard who flirted with the NBA draft, but returns. He has become a presence inside on both ends of the court. DaJuan Summers could emerge now into the next Hoya star. Jonathon Wallace gives the Hoyas the deep threat, as he connected on 49% of his three-pointers last year. The Hoyas bring in Austin Freeman who is another excellent shooter and with him and Wallace on the perimeter and Hibbard inside, they will be tough to defend. Another newcomer Chris Wright is a candidate to play right away as well, and the Hoyas appear likely to duplicate a 30-win team from a year ago and be in the hunt for the Championship.
Rick Pitino has assembled another talented team that lacked experience a year ago, and lost in the second round to a talented and experienced A&M team. This year Louisville will be one of the teams with both talent and experience. Last year’s cast of talent included Jerry Smith, Earl Clark, Edgar Sosa and Derrick Caracter. Those four freshman contributed 36 ppg last season and all should make great strides this season. When you add in Palacios, Padgett and Williams to that group, they will have seven players that could all score double-digits on any given night. If you add freshman George Goode to the mix, the Cards will have plenty of depth, talent and experience to tackle a very strong schedule. This team, if they stay healthy, will challenge for a spot in the Final Four.
The Vols have lost just one player that made it to the Sweet 16 a year ago and look like the darlings of the SEC this season. Bruce Pearl has quickly gotten Tennessee basketball back in the upper tier of the SEC and perhaps beyond. The Vols are led by Chris Lofton, who on any given night can be the difference in a game. He’s not afraid to put the team on his back and make a big shot. JaJuan Smith had a breakout season, scoring over 15 per game and adding 4.5 rpg as a guard. The Vols will add J.P. Prince, a gifted Arizona transfer, that will become eligible in December. This should be an explosive, quick team that will score in the 80s. The Vols could be vulnerable to a bigger team, but what they lack in that type of a game, they provide a problem for as well, as this team is going to run, run, run. The Vols have a chance for a special season, and will be a factor come tourney time.
One thing for sure is that John Calipari can recruit and coach. He took a UMass program from the dumpster and put it on the map. He is beginning to put that same signature on a once powerful Memphis program that went down with scandal. Enter the latest Calipari prize in 6-4 freshman G Derrick Rose, and a team loaded with talent is instantly better. Rose is a big-time scorer and could play the point or the 2, but brings a lot to the table. The Tigers have the inside presence of Joey Dorsey who can score, rebound and block shots. Chris Douglass-Roberts is an emerging star. The Tigers biggest problem may be the weak C-USA where they don’t get tested night in and night out. This should be a 30-win team and a viable Final Four team.
The Jayhawks were an impressive 33-5 last season, and that was without a senior. Julian Wright is the only loss so they will return 13 of 14 of their top players. Brandon Rush underwent ACL surgery in the late spring, so he withdrew from the NBA draft. He is targeting December 1st as a return date, but as long as he gets back for March, this Kansas team has plenty of talent to make a run, even if he has a sub-par season. They will bring back 85%+ of their scoring and 80%+ of their rebounding from a year ago. Ateam that was full of inexperience last year will ride the wave of experience this season to be even better. Cole Aldridge made the top 5 list in all the big man ratings, and could toughen up the middle where the Jayhawks could use some strength and depth. If Aldridge adds to what is already here and Rush is playing well in March, this team has win-it-all potential.
2. NORTH CAROLINA
Last year’s team was young but still managed to come within one shot of the Final Four. The biggest news came when Tyler Hansbrough shunned the NBA draft, and chose to return. The Heels will have the top center and the top PG in the ACC as Ty Lawson, last year’s top assist man in the ACC, also returns. The Heels are a deep team and don’t have to worry about fitting in new pieces, as Coach Williams did not sign a single player this season. The departure of Brandon Wright opens the door for Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson, two players in waiting that have the talent to have breakout seasons. Wayne Ellington was streaky as a freshman, but the biggest leap by players usually comes in their sophomore season. We expect him to become a big-time scorer. All the pieces are in place to challenge for a Championship.
It looks as though the Bruins are beginning to relive their glory days under Coach Wooden. They are loaded with talent with a nice blend of youth and experience. The Bruins return seven of their top eight scorers and add Kevin Love who is getting A+ early returns. That means Mata Real will spend a lot of time playing power forward, giving the Bruins a great inside tandem. Darren Collison quickly answered the PG question mark last season by being named outstanding player in the Maui Invitational. Most said if he left for the NBA draft, he could have been a first round pick. Josh Shipp will get a lot of the balls that went to Affalo last year, and he may prove to be more consistent. The Pac-10 is much improved, so the Bruins will stay sharp with lots of tests through the season, and we pick them to cut down the nets in April.
The NBA coaching carousel continues to churn. Much like the NFL, most coaches don’t have a long shelf life in the NBA. Here are the changes for the 2007-08 season:
SEATTLE: P.J. Carlesimo
MINNESOTA: Randy Wittman
MEMPHIS: Marc Iavaroni
INDIANA: Jim O’Brien
SACRAMENTO: Reggie Theus
MILWAUKEE: Larry Krystkowiak
CHARLOTTE: Sam Vincent
HOUSTON: Rick Adelman
ORLANDO: Stan Van Gundy
The Celtics made the biggest NBA off-season splash when they traded for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Teaming with Paul Pierce, the Celtics have the best trio of players in the entire league. It didn’t come without a price though. The Celtics parted with lots of good young talent. But Danny Ainge was under severe pressure to win now, so they have rolled the dice. What the Celtics did was make themselves a legitimate contender, but they are missing the two most important positions on the court: center and point guard. Rajon Rondo will be the likely PG and his numbers from last year were 6.4 ppg and just 3.8 apg. Kendrick Perkins will be the starting center. The biggest concern the Celtics may have is if one of the trio goes down for any length of time, they are in serious trouble and it is likely at least one will with the history of Allen and Pierce and the fact that Garnett is in his 13th year. The Celtics really don’t have anything else but the trio, and it will take more than that to put another banner in the Garden.
NEW YORK KNICKS
The Knicks may be a bit better, but so is the rest of the Atlantic that is above them. So, a move up may be difficult. The Knicks added a double-double man in Zach Randolph (23.6 ppg, 10.1 rpg) that gives them instant needed help around the rim. Stephon Marbury appeared to make a transition under Isiah Thomas, and the once selfish PG may be ready to become what everyone knew he could: a big time assist man. If he completes the transition, the Knicks could elevate in the standings. The Knicks also added Wilson Chandler and Demetris Nichols in the draft, and they may have some impact. The Knicks seem to have a lot of parts but now we have to see if they fit. The biggest questions are FT shooting and defense. If they decide to bring it on both ends of the court most nights, they could surprise.
NEW JERSEY NETS
It looked as if Vince Carter had played his last game in New Jersey last year. And, rumors flew that the Nets may also be dealing Jason Kidd. But they are all returning, the rumors are dead, and the trio may once and for all be able to lead the Nets into the Championship round. The Nets suffered from some injuries last season that kept them from reaching the heights this team is capable, and if they can avoid them this year, this team is built to go a long way. Jamaal Migliore was added to the roster along with BC head case, Sean Williams. Williams is an eraser inside, and if his time spent with John Lucas in Houston takes, he could give the Nets something special inside. Marcus Williams is a very capable back-up, but he is suffering from an ankle injury and won’t be heard from until mid November. The Nets missed Richard Jefferson last year for 27 games, and it hurt as they played 11-16 in them. That means they were 36-19 with him. Nenad Krystic was having an All-Star season, but went down early with a torn ACL. If he can come back at that same level, the talent is here to go the distance.
This could be a very long year for the Sixers. All four Atlantic teams have improved, while Philly held the line, adding from the draft only. With Dalembert and Jason Smith at the 4 and 5, the Sixers are going to be giving it up on most nights and in the end, it will cost them many games. Kyle Korver is a great 3-point shooter, but is very inconsistent. When he is on, he will hit five in a row. When he is off, he disappears. Andre Miller is solid at the point, but certainly can’t replace Allen Iverson. We think the Sixers are going to struggle.
Toronto has developed some young talent, made some good moves, and won the Atlantic last season. It may be difficult for them to repeat. They have T.J. Ford for the open court game and Jose Calderon for the half-court game at the point. Anthony Parker, acquired from Israel, opened some eyes at 12.3 ppg, and did even better in the playoffs. Bargnani is another player that produced in his first year at 11.6 ppg, despite missing a chunk of the season with an appendectomy. Chris Bosh needs no introduction as his game has reached Superstar status. The soft spot is at the center position where Rasho Nesterovic will get the bulk of the minutes. He needs to get more aggressive on the boards for the Raptors to improve, as his 4.5 a game just isn’t good enough for a center that only averages 6 ppg. The Raptors added Jason Kapono and Carlos Delfino and Kapono is capable of providing offense and a deep threat. This is a young team that now has a year under their belt, and they are certainly a contender.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. NEW JERSEY
4. NY KNICKS
The Central looks to be a highly competitive division with Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit slugging it out. There may not be too many games separating these teams come seasons’ end. The Bulls are an up and coming young team loaded with talent. They have been a donut team, as the hole seems to be right in the middle. They addressed this issue by drafting Joakim Noah and also added Joe Smith. If Noah and Smith can fill the void, and Tyrus Thomas can continue to develop, the Bulls could emerge out of the Central. They may even make a run at the Eastern Conference title. Hinrich, Gordon and Dang give the Bulls three big offensive threats, and if the middle works itself out, we expect big things from the Bulls this season.
It’s tough when a team gets to The Finals the previous year, because expectations now increase 10-fold on the team. It may be difficult for the Cavs to weave their way through a very tough division, but anytime you have a player the caliber of LeBron James, it certainly is not out of the question. The Cavs biggest issue is at the point, where by the end of the season Larry Hughes was running the team because Gibson, Snow and Damon Jones just were not the answer. They are strong up front with Ilguaskas in the middle, and Varejao and Gooden at the 4. This team’s fate will be decided by the emergence (or lack thereof) of someone at the point.
The Pistons won it all in 2004 and it looked like a team built to win again in the not-too -distant future, but it hasn’t happened. Teams around them have gotten better while the Pistons seem to be stuck in a stagnant mode. They are good, but are they good enough to get through the rigors of the season and playoffs? They have a reliable core of veterans, but just how far they go this year may be decided on younger players. If they can get Afflalo, Maxiel, Johnson and Stuckey to perform at high levels, this team should once again become a force. The youth will be needed to spare the legs of some of the vets that seem to slip down the stretch from long minutes. They need a big-time player to emerge from the four names mentioned above and the Pistons could once again become a force in the East.
The Pacers are faced with a true dilemma. Jermaine O’Neal has been shopped all summer but as of now, remains a Pacer. The team’s fate will rest in his hands one way or the other. If he stays, he is going to have to carry the team as he is the only true All-Star caliber player they have. If he goes, they need to get multiple everyday players which will again be the fate of the team. Success this season is not likely. The Pacers are the worst team in a strong division, and with or without O’Neal, this will be a long season for Indiana. Coach O’Brien has already indicated that every position, outside of O’Neal, is up for grabs. With that being said, the Pacers are in trouble, and need to deal O’Neal and start over.
Last season was a nightmare for the Bucks. They have some talented players, but they need to find a way to keep them on the court. The margin for error on this team is slim and not conducive to being without top players as the drop-off is severe. It starts with Michael Redd. If he goes down, the Bucks chances go down with him. Charlie Villenueva has proven to be a 15-10 kind of guy, but his ability to stay strong for 82 games is always a question mark. Bobby Simmons is perhaps their third best player, and then the drop-off becomes noticeable. These three will need complimentary players that can contribute, but also spare long minutes, night after night. The Bucs should improve upon a 34-48 mark from a year ago, but an advance to the post-season will be dependent on two things. Can they keeping the core healthy and get more quality minutes from what’s behind the starters?
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
The Atlanta Hawks are a team that was missing quite a few pieces last season. They addressed their two biggest needs in the draft, as they picked up Al Horford for some size inside, and Acie Law at PG. Law may get a chance to run the point, as the PG by committee of last year was a failure. Horford brings the Hawks someone who perhaps can eat away at the rebounding deficit, which plagued them all of last year. Joe Johnson gives them a player that can make the big shot down the stretch of the game, and addressing these needs may afford him more opportunities to do just that. Marvin Williams, and Josh Smith are beginning to mature into more than complimentary players, and we believe last years door-mat may be on the upswing. But just how much they will improve will be determined by the new players. If they achieve above expectations, the Hawks could find themselves in the middle of the pack in the Southeast instead of the basement.
Charlotte went out and traded for Jason Richardson and he gives them that 20 point per night scorer that the Bobcats were desperately lacking. That makes this team much more athletic, with Gerald Wallace setting up on the other side, and it will open up the floor for Omeka Okafor and Sean May. Can May and Okafor stay healthy for 82 games? That key will determine where the Bobcats end up this season. They were eight games better in ’06 and seven games better in ’07. If they can rise at that same level, this team has a chance for the 7th or 8th seed come playoff time. The health of their big men, both of whom have had trouble staying on the floor, will ultimately determine their fate.
This may be the most difficult team to get a grasp on this season. Jason Kapono is gone as a free agent to Toronto. They have aging players in Shaq, Antoine Walker and Jason Williams. Dwayne Wade is coming back from a serious injury. While other teams in the division have made some bona fide upgrades, the Heat seem to be full of question marks. Their game is limited to half-court with Shaq in the line-up, and that may not be best suited for Wade. The Heat won 59 games in ’05, declined to 52 in ’06, and 44 last year. It is hard to see this team turning that decline around, especially with aging players, and their division getting stronger. This could be a borderline playoff team and not much more.
It starts with Dwight Howard, but doesn’t end there for the Magic. Howard has produced 152 double-doubles since entering the league, and that mark is only exceeded by new Celtic Kevin Garnett. The Magic made a big off-season move signing Rashard Lewis. It gives them a bona fide option at the end of games to put up a big shot. The biggest question mark is still at the point. Jameer Nelson has not emerged as the player they had counted on, and he must make an upgrade for the Magic to reach the upper tier in the East. They lost Darko Milicic up front, and that will leave a void inside. The Magic look like they will start the season with Trevor Ariza, and Jameer Nelson in the back court, and that just doesn’t look to be a guard tandem of a top team.
The Wizards just can’t seem to break out of the low to mid 40s in wins. Last year it looked like they may, but injuries to key players destroyed their season. The Wizards have the highest scoring average in the Eastern Conference over the last four years. The problem is they also have the highest points allowed over the same period. It makes this team fun to watch, but ultimately, those aren’t the types of teams that go a long way in the playoffs. This team is basically unchanged from a year ago, and what you see is what you get. If they stay healthy, they win the Southeast division. But that is only by default. It’s true teams have gotten better, but the division overall lacks that big team possessed by the others. It will likely be another 40s win type season for the Wizards, and that may be good enough to finish on top.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
Here is a team that won 67 games last year and went down in a heap vs. Golden State. If it were any other match up, the talk about this team right now would likely be very different. The Warriors just had Dallas’ number but at the end of the day we are still left with a a team that won 67 games. You certainly don’t need to change anything and for the most part, the Mavs are still the same team. The only question with this team is not being able to finish. They led the Heat 2-0 in the NBA Finals in ’06 and let it get away. And now after bowing out to a #8 seed, the only true question this team has is the attitude. Do they possess the chip on their shoulder to come back and claim what was rightfully theirs, or do they compile another 60+ win season, and wilt under the bright lights? It seems to be about the only drama on the docket this season, as the Mavs will be there again. The question is, do they rise above their mediocre playoff performance from a year ago?
The biggest change in Houston may be the addition of Luis Scola. Scola has been credited as a player with a high basketball IQ. But he also brings size and turns a weakness into a strength for Houston. The duo of Ming and McGrady presents an inside outside threat. It all comes down to the point and bench for Houston. James and Alston are a tandem, and each bring something different, but are they collectively good enough to lead the Rockets into an improvement? They brought Steve Francis back, which could at times offer a third player to breakdown an opponent off the dribble. Will Francis be energized back in Houston or is he just not the same player anymore? How the PG issue resolves itself, and what they get from Francis will determine if this is status-quo for the Rockets, or a move up.
After three years in the playoffs, the Grizzles fell off the charts last season with a disastrous season. A 49 win team became a 22 win team. The anchor of the team, Paul Gasol, was out for a long period with injury and the Grizzles just never recovered. Gasol certainly needs to be healthy for the Grizzles to make any strides this season. They addressed a big issue at the point by drafting Mike Conley. It may take him some time to adjust to the league, but he is a heady player that should figure it out. The two wildcards for the Grizzlies are Darko Milicic, the once #2 pick in the draft by the Pistons, and Rudy Gay from UCONN. Milicic should help stabilize the team up front, but what the Grizzlies really need is for Rudy Gay to somehow harness the talent he has and become a dominant player. Lots of questions remain but the only way for this team is up. They should be able to squeeze out a few extra wins, but not a playoff spot.
This team’s fate was met early last season when Peja Stojakovic went down early with an injury. He was limited to 13 games. His ret run is paramount to what kind of team this is in ’08. They have a bona fide PG in Chris Paul who gets better with each passing game. Tyson Chandler and David West both have made strides, but the drop off begins after that. The best way for this team to improve is by staying healthy. They lost 133 starts to injuries last season and reducing that to a manageable number could make this team striding to the .500 mark.
What can be said about the Spurs that hasn’t been said. They went out and won it all again and about the only thing they haven’t done in the Duncan era is win it back-to-back. The top trio returns in Duncan, Ginobli and Parker and if they stay healthy, there is reason to think they won’t be around for the NBA Finals, with a chance to cut down the nets one again. The team is built for the playoffs, as they have a commitment to defense, three go-to players, an enforcer in the middle, and a bench of complimentary players that stabilize the game when resting the starters. Duncan isn’t getting any younger, and we’re sure his regular season minutes will be down. But come playoff time, he leaves it all on the court. Dallas may win the regular season battle, but the Spurs win the war.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
2. SAN ANTONIO
4. NEW ORLEANS
Ask the Nuggets how they fared in the NBA draft this year. We don’t recall if this has ever happened before, but the Nuggets did not make a selection in the draft. So what you see is what you get, aside from free agent signee Chucky Atkins from Memphis. This is a team that has been consistently floating in the 40s in wins, and without any significant changes why would anyone expect more or less? It is a team built around offense, but that is the problem. When Denver scored 99 or less last year they were 3-23. When they reached the century mark they were 42-14. That tells you everything you need to know about this team. The other issue for this team was exploited vs. San Antonio in the playoffs. Their bench was out-scored 153-43 in the series. They will win some games simply by out-scoring teams, but when they meet a team willing to play half-court, they are in trouble. Another season with a win total in the 40s, and one and done in the playoffs.
It’s the end of an era in Minnesota. After going nowhere with Kevin Garnett, the Wolves plucked a lot of young talent from the Celtics and the rebuilding is underway. They lost 50 games with Garnett, so how much worse can it get? Most of the roster will be Celtics that didn’t win any games either, and with Foye and Brewer, this will be a very inexperienced team. Al jefferson has become a 20-10 guy, and will certainly get an opportunity to replace offensively what Garnett was posting, but we see this team a few years away from being a playoff contender.
The good news for Portland is they got the #1 pick in the NBA. The bad news is that pick, Greg Oden, will be sidelined the entire 07-08 season after having knee surgery. Could Oden turn out to be the new Bill Walton? He’s an immense talent, but he can’t seem to stay on the court. If you remember he missed some time at Ohio State with a hand injury. He also missed time before the surgery this summer with tonsillitis. They gave up Jack Randolph to open the inside for Oden, but they will have to wait a year. There is still a lot of talent around, but youth must serve its internship before everything comes together. The Blazers have logged a 53-111 mark the past two years, making them the most futile franchise in the NBA. On the road they have matched the inept Atlanta Hawks loss-for-loss with a 20-62 mark. We don’t see too much advancement here as the growth will take a while.
Ray Allen will be replaced by Kevin Durant who has the looks of a double-double guy, especially playing for a team that is going to need him taking a lot of shots. Jeff Green is also a tough rebounder inside, and the Sonics have picked up some talented players in the draft. The big problem will be experience. Lewis and Allen were bona fide big time players, and Durant and Green may prove to be their equal but it will take time to gain the experience to be put on the same level. They do bring in Sam Presti and PJ Carlisimo from San Antonio and there is no doubt, they will try to instill the same culture on this young team. They won 31 games last year and it looks like this team may again be in the 30s.
Utah has grown quickly from a 26-win team in ’05 to a 41-win team in ’06 to a 51-win team last year. They have a force inside with Boozer who had 13 double-doubles in 17 playoff games (second only to Duncan) and a prolific 3-point shooter in Okur who connected on a team record 129 last year. They are in a weak and flawed division, so repeating should be easy. It is what happens from there that matters. It would appear that as long as San Antonio is in the way, this team will be falling short. They have lost 19 straight at San Antonio, so every regular season win this year will be important. They need a home-court advantage come playoff time to have a chance to grab the banner.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
The Warriors won five post-season games last season, which is the most they have had since 1976. It will be difficult for them to find themselves in the same place again. They replace Jason Richardson with Brandon Wright, and that is going to be a downgrade. There are going to be some serious match-up problems for this team, as they have one player that is more than 6’8″. This team caught lightning in a bottle last year, was put in a position in the post-season to play a team against whom they matched up with favorably, and everything broke right. It may be difficult to duplicate that this season.
The Clippers took a big blow when Elton Brand, an offensive rebounding machine, ruptured his achilles tendon. Brand will miss at least half the season and perhaps more. That means a key role for Corey Maggette. Maggette will be a free agent after this season, and his role will ensure that his numbers are heightened just at the right time. Tim Thomas has to go every night at power forward vs. the West’s bigger power forwards, and that is difficult. Livingston and Cassell were injured last year, and they need to stay on the court this year for this team to even have a chance to avoid the basement.
The Lakers have now been knocked out in the first round two straight years. Kobe has been rumored to be heading to just about every NBA team but as of now, he is still a Laker. Seems like Kobe has more to say about what direction this team is going than anyone in the front office. As long as that is the case, this team will continue to tread water. They have enough talent to make the playoffs, but not enough to advance. Lamar Odom and Bryant make for what should be a better duo than they actually are but for some reason, they have just not found any chemistry between them. This team just needs guys like Bynum, Walton and Fisher to step it up for anyone to take this team seriously. It looks to us like they will be in the 40s again in wins, and likely be bounced in round one.
Steve Nash came to Phoenix three years ago and this team was transformed overnight. They have won 177 games in the last three regular seasons and Nash is a major part of the equation. Shawn Marion has recorded 150 doube-doubles in this span and Amare Stoudemire is a stud inside. That trio is good enough to post another 60-win season. They have drafted what we think is a perfect fit in Alando Tucker from Wisconsin. The problem last year was the drop off after the starters, and Tucker may help change some of that. Phoenix starters played 450 minutes – more than any other team, and come playoff time this team just can’t clear the hurdles. The past two seasons have seen them post a 57-9 mark when they score 113+ but 74-55 otherwise. That is one big reason those hurdles get high in the post season. Talent says they challenge to win it all, but team concept says they fall short again.
The Kings just don’t seem to care about defense and quit last season near the end all together. They allowed 100+ in 13 of the last 14, finishing 4-10. Overall, the Kings gave up 100+ in 50 games and went 11-39. The problem is they have a roster full of players that no one wants. They tried moving Bibby, but couldn’t get a deal done. They would like to move Artest, but he has very limited suitors. They are left with bad contracts and a bad team, period. It looks to be another long season in Sacramento.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
2. GOLDEN STATE
3. LA LAKERS
4. LA CLIPPERS