Hello there! For the second consecutive year, I am putting entirely too much effort into previewing the NBA season. Last year, I tried to cram everything into two parts — three, actually, if you include the preview for just the Bulls — but that was impractical and not particularly well organized. This year, we here at Bulls 101 are having a not-very-creatively-named Preview Week. We'll be posting a segment of my ridiculously long preview every morning, starting yesterday with the Bulls-centric portion and then going division by division from there. We'll also continue covering the preseason in between, so don't worry about that.
I'm borrowing a premise that Bill Simmons has used in the past in that I'm attaching each team's preview to a quote that I think conveys something interesting about them. However, to the best of my knowledge, Simmons has never used song lyrics in this format, and he DEFINITELY has never used Gavin DeGraw lyrics. So I guess I'm breaking new ground here. If you don't know who Gavin DeGraw is, he's my favorite musical artist ever, and hopefully you won't hate him at the end of this. His Wikipedia page is here, in case you want more background. Enjoy.
(For reference, all lyric attributions will be of the form "Song title, Album title." Also, teams are ordered by predicted finish in the division.)
Last Year: 47-19, 2nd in Western Conference. Lost to Miami Heat in NBA Finals, 4-1.
You'll be my vacation away from this place. You know what I want. You're holding that cup that's pouring over the side. It makes me want to spread my arms and fly.
Oh, Oklahoma City. How I envy your young, uninjured talent. Not your coach, so much, but your GM and players are extremely good.
I wrote last year about how the Thunder were poised to take the league by storm and could end up owning the West for the next decade or so. Of course, I neglected to take the Los Angeles Lakers into account, namely that they would basically swap Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard AND add Steve Nash. Sure, Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are all getting old, but still. Also, I'm getting ahead of myself. The Lakers will be featured in Thursday's Pacific Division preview, so we'll hold off on talking about them for now.
The Thunder are probably my favorite non-Bulls team in the NBA, so I'll be turning to them to get me through this year. And I'm guessing they'll do a pretty good job of distracting me. Russell Westbrook is probably the closest thing to Derrick Rose that is not actually Derrick Rose, even if his game hinges more on raw power and brute force, rather than Rose's grace and finesse. Kevin Durant is one of the most gifted scorers in the game, and gave LeBron James everything he could handle offensively in the Finals. Serge Ibaka is an exciting young athlete that only stands to get better as he learns how to do things that are not blocking shots. And James Harden is a great playmaker and shooter and possesses the single best beard in the NBA.
Now the question is where do they go from here?
Well, their main four guys, mentioned above, are all under 25. So they'll hopefully continue to improve. Kendrick Perkins will almost certainly be amnestied this summer, as Ibaka's extension kicks in and Harden is in line for a raise — more on that in a minute — but Nick Collison is still around and Perry Jones III has a chance to be really, really good as a stretch four. Eric Maynor is back after tearing his ACL, replacing Derek Fisher's corpse, and he's young too. Honestly, I think the status quo is the best way to go. Well, except for Perkins. Screw Perkins.
I don't know how much OKC values the regular season, so I'm hedging a bit with my prediction. But I think another Western Conference Finals appearance is a safe bet.
When the wine pours, we raise our cups. Young love is sacrifice, young love is tough. Young love is innocent, young love is us.
Here's where things get interesting: the Money.
Kevin Durant got his max extension in 2010. Russell Westbrook got his extension last year. Serge Ibaka just got a slightly-less-than-max extension this past summer. Kendrick Perkins got an extension shortly after he was acquired in 2011. In short, there's a lot of money already allocated to four players — Again, Perkins should be amnestied, but they still have to pay him that money — and James Harden is eligible for an extension this year.
We know, per Marc Stein of ESPN.com, that teams are prepared to offer Harden the max if he reaches restricted free agency. So, unless the Thunder can convince Harden to take less than the max before the October 31st deadline, OKC will have to pay him the max if they want to keep him. Now it's just a question of what the ownership's priority is: wins or money?
Best guess is they keep him around, probably by matching whatever offer he gets in RFA. We'll see, though.
Final Prediction: 57-25, second in West.
Last Year: 38-28, 6th in Western Conference. Lost to Los Angeles Lakers in first round of NBA Playoffs, 4-3.
I hear people go crazy for steady but me, I run every time.
Run Every Time, Sweeter
With Steve Nash in Los Angeles now — ugh — Seven Seconds Or Less is officially dead. But we may have stumbled into the next best thing in Denver.
Per HoopData, the Nuggets tied for second in pace last year, despite starting Nene for half the year and losing another player to injury every week. This year — with, perhaps, the exception of Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos, and Andre Miller, really — speed and athleticism seem to pervade every aspect of Denver's roster. Their projected starting five — Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee — will eat you alive with their athleticism.
Yes, there does seem to be a lack of shooting. But Lawson is a plus shooter, Iguodala shot 39% from three last year, and Gallinari had an off year last year but is still considered a good shooter. Besides, if there's one thing we here in Chicago have learned from the last two years — ahem, Ronnie Brewer — it's that you don't necessarily need shooters to create space.
And once again, this team is going to run so much it might not even matter. I defy you to find me a faster group of players than the ones in Denver. Only the best defensive teams are going to have any luck getting back in time. And that's before you consider that they play IN DENVER.
I've had other options, too. But all I want is you. Girl, your body fits me like a glove and you showered me with words of love…while you were just friends.
Just Friends, Chariot
I've tried to do my best not to mess with these lyrics as much as possible. But there's really only one way to get my point across here.
Bonus Lyric (Fixed):
I've had other options, too. But all I want is you. Philly, your team fit me like a glove. And you showered me with words of love…while we were just friends.
Just Friends, Chariot
Two weeks ago, Andre Iguodala gave an interview to CBS Sports' Matt Moore. He touched on his time in Philadelphia and dealing with constant trade rumors and how he's adjusting to being in Denver now. Pretty innocuous stuff.
Then the Philadelphia media got ahold of the story.
In short, Iguodala was ripped for supposedly ripping the Philadelphia 76ers organization and the fans, even though he really didn't at all. SB Nation's Michael Levin does a good job here in explaining exactly how stupid the whole thing was. And it was silly.
Anyway, if I was Iguodala, I would be extremely happy to be out of Philly.
Final Prediction: 52-30, fourth in West.
Last Year: 26-40, 12th in Western Conference.
I don't wanna be anything other than what I've been trying to be lately. All I have to do is think of me and have peace of mind. I'm tired of looking around, wondering what I gotta do and who I'm supposed to be. I don't wanna be anything other than me.
I Don't Wanna Be, Chariot
Really, this could apply to just about any of the various formerly crappy teams that want to be taken seriously now. But since I'm the most fond of the Timberwolves, I'm applying it to them.
I christened the Wolves the NBA League Pass darlings of last year, and they were…until Ricky Rubio blew out his knee and a dark pall came over the earth. Uh, I mean, the Timberwolves dropped like a stone in the standings. But there's just as much cause for optimism this year as there was last year.
Darko Milicic is gone. Michael Beasley is gone. Wes Johnson is gone. They get a full year from Nikola Pekovic and have replaced Beasley, Johnson and Darko with Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger and Dante Cunningham. They are the whitest team in the NBA since at least the 70s. Possibly since before then.
A lot of their success is going to depend on health. They got ravaged by injuries last year, with Rubio, Pekovic, Kevin Love, JJ Barea and others missing significant time. They're still without Rubio to start the season, and now Love, having broken his hand doing knuckle pushups, is out for six weeks. It's also not clear how much Brandon Roy has left in the tank after he took last year off due to his health. In short, this could either be a team that goes Cinderella on us and captures hearts along the way, or they could crash and burn and be the butt of many, many jokes. No way to tell right now. So I'll hedge my bets.
Final Prediction: 47-35, eighth in West.
Last Year: 36-30, 8th in Western Conference. Lost to San Antonio Spurs in first round of NBA Playoffs, 4-0.
I wake up in the middle of the night from a dream that's been troubling me. The affair has been a mission of two and if it doesn't hurt me, it'll have to hurt you. So I sweat and I toss and turn. I can't relax. Is this a heart attack?
Never The Same, Free
Despite making the playoffs last year — and getting stomped by the Spurs, but still — the Jazz seem to be a team without an identity. They went from Jerry Sloan, John Stockton and Karl Malone to Jerry Sloan and a bunch of crap to Jerry Sloan, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer to Tyrone Corbin, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. And while they were a decent team last year, that Millsap/Jefferson front line is suspect, the wings are not great, although Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks give hope for the future, and the point guard spot has been pretty meh.
I don't really like the slightly altered team this year. They essentially swapped CJ Miles for Marvin Williams and Devin Harris for Mo Williams. And while both of those trades are upgrades, in theory, they don't exactly fill me with hope and joy.
Things should be better once Jefferson leaves as a free agent and Derrick Favors and Millsap can play together full time. A Favors/Millsap/Hayward/Burks foursome is pretty solid, assuming you have a decent point guard. And if Enes Kanter develops, that's nice too. But for now, I'm not feeling it.
Final Prediction: 42-40, tenth in West.
Last Year: 28-38, 11th in Western Conference.
Well, everybody hurts. That's where we're all the same. We drive 'em through the worst and push 'em through the pain.
Where You Are, Sweeter
It doesn't really seem fair that the Blazers should always end up with the short end of the stick when it comes to injuries. Time and time again they've seen their best players hit the deck. And, with Derrick Rose on the shelf, I now understand that pain to some degree.
This past year was a tough one, even for Portland. They said goodbye to Brandon Roy, only to see him come back to a team in their own division less than a year later. They said goodbye to one-time first overall selection Greg Oden, who just couldn't get healthy and may never play in the NBA again. And they watched their team go from possible championship contender to a team having a fire sale and now rebuilding.
This season is going to be rough, Blazers fans. I don't really know what else to tell you. But take heart, for there is light at the end of the tunnel.
LaMarcus Aldridge is still here. Nicolas Batum is still here. Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford are gone. Damian Lillard appears to be at least decent. Meyers Leonard is large and at least somewhat skilled — I watched him when he was at Illinois, and I think he'll be solid, if given time — and JJ Hickson is…well, never mind. But Lillard, Batum, Aldridge and Leonard could be pretty solid together in a few years. Just because this season sucks doesn't mean all the rest have to.
Final Prediction: 29-53, 13th in West.
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