Sunday, October 26, 2008

Questioning the 08-09 Season - Part VI of VI

The Western Conference: Southwest Division

The Hornets picked up James Posey in the offseason, in a signing that most people would agree was too expensive. New Orleans is still a young team in terms of age, but with that signing, they made it clear they want to win NOW. Is CP3 at his prime? I’m not saying that in a negative way, in fact, I’m saying it in a very positive way. The Horents must think so, since they’re building a contender. Chris Paul looks like a seasoned vet out there. Last year, he ended the season being #1 in Yahoo Fantasy, which is extremely difficult for a guard. He had just less than 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 steals per game, with great shooting percentages and low turnovers. Now with Tyson Chandler playing great, David West becoming a monster, and Mr. James Posey who just got two rings of his own, this team is a serious contender for the championship. While CP3 is getting all the hype, we know the real brain behind the operation is Byron Scott, last year’s NBA Coach of the Year. Twice went to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Nets, and now doing something special in New Orleans. Is Byron Scott building a Hall-of-Fame Career? He’s definitely one of the best coaches in the game, and I hope to see him on the sidelines for many years.

I don’t expect to the Grizzlies to rack up many wins, but I do expect them to put on a show. They’ll be at the bottom of the division when the season ends, and I think that might work in their rebuilding effort because the expectations will be so low. Marc Iavaroni had a bumpy ride his first year as coach, so this year will make or break him. Will Iavaroni click with these young players? O.J. Mayo is my pick for Rookie of the Year, and I’m very confident in that pick, barring injury. Most people have it going to Michael Beasley of Miami, or Greg Oden of Portland, but O.J. Mayo has the green light to shoot in Memphis, and I expect him to score a lot of points, albeit on very low FG% (see: Durant, Kevin). When you’re not watching O.J. Mayo, you’ll be paying close attention to Rudy Gay. Rudy Gay has superstar potential, without a doubt. He’s long, can shoot, can defend, can fly, and can score whenever he wants. Will Rudy Gay play to his potential? Last year, the numbers were getting close, but the attitude wasn’t. It’s too bad he’s been on such a bottom-feeding team his entire career. I’d like to see him on a playoff contending team. I’d bet his career will be a mirror image of T-Mac’s when it’s all said and done (hopefully without T-Mac’s back problems).

I’m a big Mark Cuban fan, but this time his big mouth screwed up the team. In a panic move to get better, to compete with the Lakers, Spurs and contenders in the West, they traded a young, intelligent point guard for a old, fading Hall of Famer. When the Mavericks sent Devin Harris to the Nets for Jason Kidd, they inherently declared they want to win in the near future. But now, with the West being so competitive, Will they even make the playoffs? Josh Howard dug himself a whole in Dallas when he went on the radio talking about how he likes to get high, and even worse, said it was common in the NBA. Way to throw everyone under the bus, man. Speak for yourself, not the league. Then, he did another dumb move, by saying in a camera phone that he doesn’t respect the American Flag because he’s black. Uhm, what? Will he play well enough to make everyone forget these stupid mistakes? With Jason Kidd running the point, it should be a good year for Josh Howard, but with a new coach and a tough western conference, I think they’ll falter early and give up on the season. Jason Kidd’s finishing a contract, and will be looking towards which contender he’ll join, at a bargain, next year.

The big move in the West this offseason sent Ron Artest to the Rockets, giving Houston a third ‘star’ to compete with the likes of the other contenders. It’s never really been about talent in Houston, just about staying healthy. They’ve had high-quality head coaches and amazing talent, but can’t seem to be able to keep T-Mac and Yao healthy long enough to make a run in the playoffs. Is this, finally, the year T-Mac and Yao make it out of the first round? I know, I know, that same question gets asked every year, but it is definitely interesting to see if the drought continues, or if they stay healthy enough to win a series. Ron Artest is an amazing player, and is one of the only guys in the league that can literally play all 5 positions, but Are we sure he isn’t going to flip out? He acts cool in front of the cameras, but he definitely has a short fuse and I’m pretty sure he can go nuts at anytime. Also, I’m sure there is some lingering frustration at the fact that he thought he’d get a contract extension from the Rockets when he came over. This season could end with the Rockets getting a ring, but it just seems like there are too many high-risk variables.

San Antonio really has created some kind of dynasty over the past decade. I’m sure it killed Coach Pop to see Manu go down during the Olympics. That’s every coach’s nightmare during the offseason. Will Manu be the same explosive player that he was in the past? I have Tony Parker having an even better year than last year, and will carry the Spurs through thick and thin until Manu gets back. A lot of people are thinking Tim Duncan is going to finally lose a step, but I don’t see it happening this year. The place I see the Spurs faltering this year is the bench. Michael Finley, while he starts, always played backup minutes. This year he’ll be asked to do more than his legs can handle while Manu sits. Will their age and lack of depth prevent them from contending? I don’t see this Spurs team winning another championship, so they will have to start asking themselves if its time to get some value back for their aging veterans.

That’s the end of my 6-part season preview. There are a lot of exciting questions this season, and it’ll be awesome seeing how it all plays out.

Reminder: Tuesday on TNT, opening day! Eastern Conference Finals rematch (Cavs/C’s) and then Greg Oden’s debut against Kobe and the Lakers, with Bynum/Pau playing together for the first time. Enjoy.