Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas trade places

Written by :
Published on : August 23, 2017

 

Breaking news out of the NBA is that the Cleveland Cavaliers have traded Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizec and an unprotected 2018 1st round draft pick (from the Brooklyn Nets). This is huge. We all knew something was brewing after Irving shocked everyone by asking to be traded. Since that announcement, it was only a matter of time before Kyrie found a new home but no one could have guessed the deal would be this juicy. This is everything you need to know about the big move.

 

The Cleveland fanbase has to love this trade. Kyrie Irving wants to leave but you want to get some value for him. The Cavaliers get the offensive spark in Thomas, a solid defender and scorer in Crowder and big men depth with Zizec. But the reason this deal looks so good from the Cleveland side is because of that draft pick. It could be the number one overall depending on where the Nets finish. This is the critical part. That pick is the future of the franchise. Maybe that future rookie plus the existing core will be enough to keep King James in town after next year. The Cavs might not be done adding pieces. Rumors continue to swirl. The most recent gossip is that D Wade could be joining his BFF LeBron for another title run. Maybe they get Melo too.

 

 

The folks in Boston are doing backflips right now. They traded in their 29-year-old guard with a hip injury for a 25-year-old superstar with a championship ring. The Celtics are getting younger. Their new roster will feature Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Marcus Morris and rookie Jayson Tatum. That’s a ton of talent. Plus Boston has a stock pile of upcoming lottery picks so losing the 2018 1st rounder isn’t a backbreaker. You can see the plan here. Build the core that will eventually take over the eastern conference after LeBron James leaves or goes on the decline. It feels like the Celtics gave away a lot but they are really focusing on the long term. But don’t be fooled, this crew will be in the playoff mix from the jump.

 

The craziest aspect is that two teams who are direct rivals in the east agreed to a deal with each other. It’s one thing to ship pieces across conferences but to make a deal with your own road block? Seems perverse. Only time will tell who won this trade. It was a blockbuster to be sure. Cavs open their season at home versus the Celtics on October 17th. Should be a good game.

 

Changes.

 

 


Can Kreider, Zibanejad Lead Retooled Rangers In 2016-17?

Written by :
Published on : October 24, 2016

 

 

The 2015-2016 season was one to forget for Rangers players and fans alike. After a hot 14-2-2 start, the Blueshirts finished at a 91-point pace. A pace that, over a full season, would’ve missed the playoffs. Considering how the team limped into the first round just to get embarrassed by the eventual Cup champs, that might’ve been a good thing. That’s the past though. This off-season was an interesting one for Slats successor Jeff Gorton. With limited resources, he had to figure out a way to “rebuild” with the potential for immediate improvement. All things considered I think he did an excellent job. The potential to bounce back as an Eastern Conference powerhouse is there. Cup Ready? – thats TBD.

 

 New Sheriff, Jeff Gorton.

 

OUT

Brassard (29 – Ottawa), Stalberg (30 – Carolina), Moore (36 – Boston), E. Staal (32 – Minnesota), Glass (33 – AHL), Yandle (30 – Florida), Boyle (40 – retired)

 

IN

Zibanejad (23), Vesey (23), Buchnevich (21), Grabner (29), Jooris (26), Pirri (25), Holden (29),  Clendening (23)

 

There’s absolutely no denying the Rangers are significantly better up front simply by subtraction. Eric Staal & Glass are relatively useless. I love Dom Moore but the game looked to pass him by last season. I wouldn’t have minded seeing Stalberg return but he’s not exactly a linchpin guy. Brass was a fan-favorite, but moving him for a better two-way center that scores at a similar clip & has yet to hit his prime is the right decision. Gorton has retooled these forwards in a big way and its already starting to translate into success.

 

It’s only 6 games – two of which they lost – but this New York Rangers team looks infinitely more equipped to succeed playing the up-tempo game that’s sweeping the league. The speed & aggressiveness is obvious compared to last year’s passive squad & that’s in large part to Jeff Gorton’s off-season tinkering. Under-the-radar newcomers like Grabner, Pirri & Clendening have given the Blueshirts exactly what was expected so far. Nick Holden has soaked up 21 minutes a game & been solid. Jimmy Vesey has had his opportunities to score but appears a bit snakebitten. Buchnevich has shown a better two-way game than I expected & has been an asset despite a couple “rookie” plays. And anyone skeptical about the Brassard/Zibanejad swap has to have changed their mind.

 

 Zibanejad and Kreider all day.

 

A big part of Kreider’s early success (seven points in five games) can be attributed to Zibanejad doing a great job of opening up some space and moving the puck into soft areas so that the big American winger can play to his strengths. Zibanejad just seems to have eyes in the back of his head, one pass that displays all of his gifts came in the first game of the season against the Fishsticks when the centerman peels out of the corner and finds Brady Skjei at the point.

 

One of the best parts of Zibanejad’s game is his ability to move the puck to his linemates after drawing defenders to him. This is an important aspect of any center’s game, but Zibanejad does it with incredible grace and it’s allowed his linemates to play with more space in front of them.

 

Not only has Zib shown great chemistry with his linemates & as much offensive capabilities as Brass, but he’s dominating the dot & working his ass off in the defensive zone. This kid is going to be a star. Gorton should do everything he can to lock him up long-term before even risking him as an RFA before next season. #93 doesn’t turn 24 until the playoffs start & has apparently helped turn Chris Krieder into the monster we’ve been waiting for. Kreids was stellar all preseason & has followed that up with consecutive 1 G/1 A/7 SOG efforts in the games that count. He’s teased us before but this is a newfound confidence he’s skating with. This time, it feels so real.

 

The road ahead is not an easy one, but if the past few games are any indication of how the season will go, we’re in for a real treat. Big picture, the window is still wide open for the New York Rangers.

 

 


2016-17 NBA Eastern Conference Preview

Written by :
Published on : October 20, 2016

 

 

Another NBA Season is upon us! While there was some notable events last year (Warriors breaking the single season record, retirements of Kobe, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett), there was a lull in action before the All Star break. There wasn’t a lot of great basketball being played and it was boring at times. I think this season will be much different with a surge in talent across the league.

 

With that in mind, let’s delve into my preseason rankings for the NBA Eastern Conference.

 

15. Brooklyn Nets

The “star” acquisition this summer was point guard Jeremy Lin. Yes, that Jeremy Lin! Aside from the creative hair styles, he offers nothing in regards to actually leading a basketball team. Center Brook Lopez has continued to struggle to stay healthy. Coach Lionel Hollins is gone. Insert coach Kenny Atkinson who I had to Google to find out who he is. There is not one player that could vie for All-Star recognition. This team is an instant dumpster fire. Tanking isn’t even an option as the team may have surrender it’s first round draft pick to the Celtics.

 

 

14. Philadelphia 76ers

Another year of “The Process.” The team has an overload of young big men and no point guards. They are still paying Elton Brand to play basketball at his advanced age. There is some excitement around the arrival of power forward Ben Simmons. However, it will be a few months before he will be on the court due to injury. The team must decide which big man (Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, or Jahlil Okafor) they can package in a trade to get some backcourt help. It should be a slight jump in wins for this team but anything above 25 wins would be remarkable. Another top 3 lottery pick awaits.

 

13. Milwaukee Bucks

This is the team of intrigue. Head coach Jason Kidd has brought in guys so tall that if they stood on top of one another they could possibly touch the ceiling of the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Long wingspans and crazy height across the board on this roster. The projected starting point guard is 6’11” Giannis Antetokounmpo. The question is how do all these players mesh together? The team drafted relative unknown Thon Maker in the first round of the draft. They still have to find a role for former first round pick Jabari Parker. There are trade rumors around center Greg Monroe. This team may have a lot of intriguing talent but no clear direction.

 

12. Orlando Magic

My gut is telling me that this team should be lower in my rankings. The only reason I have them this high is because of Head coach Frank Vogel. I truly believe he’ll maximize the talent that’s currently on the team. Power forward Serge Ibaka should be a great veteran addition on a young team. Point guard Elfrid Payton has to make a quantum leap in production for this team to be successful.

 

 

11. New York Knicks

Phil Jackson should be to blame for this team’s failures, but I will start by shifting the blame to the former regime for poor salary cap management. When they inked Amar’e Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony to lucrative contracts they also ensured that the team could not obtain good free agents or bring on young talent to mold. Now with a new coach in Jeff Hornacek, should we expect the triangle offense or the three guard sets he ran in Phoenix? If he does run three guard sets, how effective will it be with ball dominant point guard Derrick Rose in tow?

 

10. Charlotte Hornets

Simply put, this is point guard Kemba Walker’s team. They will go as he goes. Beyond that, they don’t really have an identity. Can Roy Hibbert return to All-Star form? What is the role of former number two overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? Will head coach Steve Clifford survive the entire season? This is definitely a sleeper pick for the playoffs but also a team that could tank its way to a top pick in next year’s draft. Low floor and low ceiling here.

 

9. Atlanta Hawks

Head coach Mike Budenholzer has done a great job with this team in two seasons on the job. Led the conference in wins in year one and playoff berth in year two. Even with the loss of center Al Horford, this team will be in contention for a playoff appearance. The team also let point guard Jeff Teague go, handing the keys to the franchise to Dennis Schroder. This team could be a non-playoff team or a division leader.

 

 

8. Miami Heat

Team President, Pat Riley, seems hell bent on rebuilding this team. First, there was the departure of Dwayne Wade to the Chicago Bulls. Now, he is not allowing Chris Bosh to play for the team because of concerns with blood clots. There are even rumors of a trade involving Goran Dragic. Riley clearly wants to go younger and build through the draft. Shooting guard Josh Richardson shows promise, Small Forward Justice Winslow is still developing, and Center Hassan Whiteside is emerging as one of the league’s best big men.

 

7. Chicago Bulls

This is a team that has a great mix of young and veteran talent. The issue is that head coach Fred Hoiberg does not look equipped to handle the job. Sure, you have future Hall of Famer Dwayne Wade, perennial All-Star Jimmy Butler, and facilitator Rajon Rondo on your roster. The problem for Hoiberg is how do you generate enough offense with such poor three point shooters in your starting lineup?

 

6. Detroit Pistons

It’s been a while since the Pistons were regarded as a top-tier team but the time has come. If the talent surrounding All-Star center Andre Drummond can fulfill their responsibilities then this team could be dangerous. Team president and head coach Stan Van Gundy’s style fits Drummond’s strengths. The team is loaded with catch and shoot players that will allow Van Gundy to deploy the same system he used when he coached a young Dwight Howard to the NBA Finals.

 

andre

 

5. Toronto Raptors

The league’s best overachieving team. Last year, they pushed their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Two wins against a stacked Cleveland Cavaliers team might make you believe that they could possibly be destined for the Finals this year. However, despite having All-Stars and Gold Medal Olympians Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan, they did little to upgrade their roster in free agency. It will be hard to for the team to duplicate the success they had last year with playoff breakout star Bismack Biyombo defecting to the Orlando Magic. Unless there is a great trade in the works during the course of the season, the team is a second round playoff team at best.

 

4. Washington Wizards

The team will fare well with a coaching change from Randy Wittman to Scott Brooks. Brooks does not get the credit deserved for handling the egos in Oklahoma City for so long. John Wall and Bradley Beal seem to genuinely like one another and play well off of each other. There’s a lot of hype around the emergence of small forward Kelly Oubre Jr. This team is set at the backcourt and just need solid frontcourt play to be contenders for the Eastern Conference Finals.

 

3. Indiana Pacers

With all respect to Kawhi Leonard, I believe small forward Paul George is the third best 3 behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The fact that he moonlighted as a power forward makes George an even better player. The knock on this team has been the fact that they have never had a traditional point guard during George’s tenure. The team acquired former All-Star point guard Jeff Teague. Teague has tons of playoff experience to help this roster. Furthermore, center Myles Turner is becoming one of the best versatile big men. Add in proven vets Al Jefferson and Monta Ellis, and this team has enough scoring at all positions to push the number 1 team out of the playoffs.

 

 

2. Boston Celtics

There are a few teams that can leapfrog the Celtics but with head coach Brad Stevens, this team has been on the rise. The addition of center Al Horford will solidify an already great lineup. Moreover, the team brought in Gerald Green for more scoring and added versatile player Jaylen Brown through the draft. I believe that this team is LeBron’s kryptonite. This is the only team I feel can ELIMINATE the Cavaliers in a playoff series.

 

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron + Six straight NBA Final Appearances + A Healthy Kevin Love + The “Ankletaker” (Kyrie Irving) = Another Championship?

 

 

There you have it for the SBS preview of the Eastern Conference of the NBA. Stay tuned for the Western Conference preview coming soon.

 

 


A Letter to the Cavs from a Grateful Fan

Written by :
Published on : May 28, 2016

 

 

Dear Cleveland Cavaliers,

 

Thank you for accepting the challenge, for fighting through matchup after matchup, for weathering the injuries, for your patience in times of mental and physical turmoil, for balling like some ballers, and for winning the Eastern Conference Finals.

 

Needless to say,  it’s been a long road. Yes, at this time last year we were advancing to the finals, but without Kyrie who went down in overtime, never to return in the 2014-15 NBA post season. Not to mention Kevin Love who endured a debilitating shoulder injury against Boston in round one. But the limited bench showed up and put on a performance that inspired the hungry Cleveland crowd, and even won two games in the finals. By the way, those finals wins were a first in Cavs history. Pushing, scraping, and Dellying our way to a game six, our luck and our energy finally ran out when Golden State took home the trophy.

 

It was a slow start to the 2015-16 season. Kyrie was still recovering. The wins were there, but not as fruitful as your typical cornucopia. It took a while before Stella Got Her Groove Back. But everything comes in cycles. As we lost Anderson Varejao to a torn achilles right before Christmas last year, we were gifted with a healthy yet rusty Kyrie as the holidays approached. With the New Year came new beginnings – and I’m talking big changes, as head Coach David Blatt was let go and Tyronn Lue went from highest paid associate to top diggity dog (but not the highest paid head coach of course). Could he live up to the challenge we asked? Or would LeBron be doing most of the coaching?

 

Some say Tyronn has stood his ground. And it’s undeniable that LeBron has had a significant impact on how the team has arrived to where they are today. I’m sure it was a little of this, a little of that. A lot of healthy eating, a lot of hard work, and a little partying in between – hence LeBron’s Prince Halloween costume. RIP Prince.

 

LeBronAsPrince

 

But after witnessing the heartwarming energy of the fans last year and hearing those echoes of hope continue to ring throughout The Land and across the country this year, I am sure that our faith has not faded. Our trust in our team is strong. We believe we can win because we’ve seen it, and we’ve seen it done well. We’ve also witnessed how a fan base can truly uplift or deflate their hometown heroes or sworn enemies depending on who’s turf we’re meeting on. And when we say ALL IN, it’s not because basketball is all we have, it’s because we’re giving one hundred percent just like our guys.

 

It’s an energy, connection, and love that breaks borders, boundaries, and bloodlines. But what we have in common is where we’re from and who we are playing for. We have pride in our team and our team embodies the spirit of our city. A city that we love and a city that deserves a championship. After all, we are all fans. Even LeBron is a fan. And he knows the power of the fandom, united. He even acknowledged the power of the Toronto fan base – which included Drake giving high fives at the end of the game. Not sure Lowry cared about Drake…But don’t feel sorry for Toronto. They played well. They still have hockey, sort of.

 

Drake raptors

 

It was great to see Mr. Cavalier, aka Austin Carr, stand with the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers to hoist that Eastern Conference Championship trophy above their heads. He’s been there since the beginning. He’s almost seen many a championship. But something tells me that this year is history in the making and I’m so happy he’s a part of it.

 

Whether it’s OKC or Golden State, I believe we are ready to take on either team. My dad, aka @SirFranksnBacon, aka the Dean of Cleveland Sports, Greg Brinda, recently quoted sworn Starfleet enemy, Khan, on his post game show, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” But if we play OKC we’ll have home court advantage, which means our fans will have a say in these first two games. Don’t worry. We won’t underestimate either opponent. We’ll have to make adjustments accordingly, but there’s a sense of calm and confidence that eases my fears. I’m not used to that feeling, and I’m not even sure of what to think about that right now, but I’ll take it.

 

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 20:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts in the final minutes of their 97 to 89 win over the Atlanta Hawks during Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 20, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

 

Just like the original Goonie, Mikey, preaches to his team from the depths of the Oregon coast, Don’t you realize? The next time you see sky, it’ll be over another town. The next time you take a test, it’ll be in some other school. Our parents, they want the best of stuff for us. But right now, they got to do what’s right for them. Because it’s their time. Their time! Up there! Down here, it’s our time. It’s our time down here. That’s all over the second we ride up Troy’s bucket.”

 

And we’re not riding up Troy’s bucket until we have a championship.

 

 


LeBron James: Coach Killer?

Written by :
Published on : January 29, 2016

 

 

 

I never thought that David Blatt was the right man to lead the Cavaliers and LeBron James. Sure, he had a ton of coaching success in the Euro League and Israeli League, but in the NBA world of superstars, it’s hard to see a team with arguably the world’s best player falling in behind someone with zero NBA experience. It just never made sense to me that Cleveland would go to such great lengths to bring ‘King James’ back to town and not give him a coach that would command the team’s respect.

 

He had won hundreds of games and championships and even an Olympic Medal before he ever set foot inside the Cleveland Cavaliers locker room, but none of that mattered. Once he arrived in the NBA, he was a rookie again, to fans and players alike. Never mind his 22 years as a coach. That was meaningless. The NBA is the premier basketball showcase in the world and all those other coaching jobs may as well have been children’s little league.

 

So when the Cleveland Cavaliers fired Coach Blatt last week, I can’t say I was entirely surprised. Anyone who has watched the Cavs over the last year or so could see that the team didn’t really have a ton of respect for the guy. Often times during breaks in the action, the team would look to LeBron James for strategy or advice, leaving Blatt to hover around the circle of players like the wimpy kid who didn’t get picked for the backyard football game.

 

 

 

Since the time that he announced he was returning home to bless the city of Cleveland with his presence, it’s been clear that this team was LeBron’s team. From top to bottom, his word was law and the ownership was going to back him up 100%. You have to think that was the understanding and one of the main reasons he was even entertaining the idea of going back to Ohio. So when early on in the relationship, I saw the lack of respect that James showed Blatt in regards to coaching the team, I knew the clock was ticking on the poor guy.

 

Despite leading his team to the NBA Finals last season, and sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference with a 30-11 record, David Blatt got the axe and it seems to be LeBron James’ fingerprints on the handle. The firing of Blatt has caused some people to wonder if James is a ‘coach killer’ and I think that is a valid question. Gregg Popovich even made a subtle reference to it in a postgame interview. Most people associate LeBron with the firing of Mike Brown, who had similar success to Blatt in Cleveland but was never seen as the one responsible for that success; that distinction always went to James.

 

 

It’s not really fair to blame the firing of Mike Brown on LeBron because it happened in the same offseason that he took “his talents to South Beach.” That team had just collapsed in the second round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs and technically LeBron wasn’t under contract. So it really doesn’t have anything to do with him, but you can bet your ass that if LeBron said he wanted Brown back and that would make him re-sign that he wouldn’t have been fired.

 

There are also unfounded rumors that during his time in Miami, LeBron wanted head coach Erik Spoelstra fired. There isn’t any way to confirm this, but it doesn’t sound particularly far-fetched. Spoelstra was young, with no head coaching experience and I always found it hard to believe that he would be able to wrangle the best player in the world. But one big difference between Cleveland and Miami was the presence of Pat Riley, and there’s no way that Pat Riley would let a player run his team, I don’t care how big of a star he is.

 

If indeed LeBron James did want to get his head coach in Miami fired, he should be thanking his lucky stars now that Riley knew better than to succumb to the wishes of his biggest star. He has two rings to show for his time with the Heat, and that is due to the efforts of everyone involved, including coach Spoelstra.

 

The only other coach to be fired while LeBron James was on the team was Paul Silas when James was just 20 years old and in his second NBA season. That team missed the playoffs and was in the midst of an ownership change, so even if James did have an impact on the decision, it was probably coming either way. So is it fair to label LeBron a coach killer? Probably not, but he does wield that kind of power, especially since it seems as though Cleveland is willing to do whatever it takes to have him in town. Including axe his own head coach.

 

 


2015 NBA EASTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW

Written by :
Published on : October 13, 2015

 

Fall is by far my favorite time of the year. We get football, the October Classic in baseball, and now NBA Basketball. What’s more is that we’re only about 2 weeks from Opening Tip Off! Last season was great in terms of team play and the evolving spread-the-floor/”3 and D” tactics. Although there was no major shifting of power between the two conferences, the Eastern conference hierarchy changed with the relocation of LeBron James from South Beach to Cleveland. The conference was also hit hard with injuries to their stars in comparison to the West. Assuming everyone is coming back at full health, here are my preseason Power Ranking for the Eastern Conference.

 

*Note: This is not an indication of playoff seeding

 

15. Philadelphia 76ers

Coach Brett Brown has his work cut out for him but will be given time to make it work.

 

“Trust The Process” is the slogan in the City of Brotherly Love. The team began that process roughly three seasons ago, trading away All-Star PG Jrue Holiday. Since then the team has drafted big men in three consecutive drafts, while acquiring draft picks to build their team cheap, while staying away from free agency. With Joel Embiid on the mend, the team drafted Jahlil Okafor 3rd overall in the 2015 Draft. Paired with Center Nerlens Noel, Okafor stands to see significant time at the power forward position. With a “replacements” cast around him and Noel, they will be a sub-20 win team for yet another season. Coach Brett Brown has a long leash that many coaches don’t get due to the rebuilding process. Hopefully, the process ends sooner than later for all parties involved.

 

14. Orlando Magic

A lot of young talent on this team with no coaching to spearhead their development. Shooting guard Victor Oladipo came out of college with Dwayne Wade comparisons. He is a good player but has to take his game to the next level for the team to crack the top 8. Elfrid Peyton meanwhile has the make up of a young Rajon Rondo, sans the attitude. This team will be competitive in many games and may even win 30. However, coach Scott Skiles must take advantage on his 3rd opportunity to lead a team. With no veteran presence I think this is a bad fit.

 

13. Brooklyn Nets

Will the Nets continue to squander Joe Johnson’s talent?

 

The fire sale is just getting started. With PG Deron Williams gone, the team must decide what to do with SG Joe Johnson. He has thrived in great offensive systems in Atlanta and Phoenix but has struggled in Brooklyn. He is not a clutch player and is too mild mannered to lead a team. Center Brook Lopez has struggled to stay healthy and most of his work comes underneath the basket. Coach Lionel Hollins of Isley Brothers fame (ok, I couldn’t resist! He does look like he will do a spin and sing ‘For the loveee of you!’) is a good coach but he needs his own players. When in doubt pass the ball to Andrea Bargnani, said no one ever.

 

12. Charlotte Hornets

When an injury to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist during the preseason is breaking news it says a lot about the lack of talent on your roster. Think about this; the Hornets acquired Jeremy Lin this summer. I could end my analysis there but I digress. Center Al Jefferson has been a solid player in the league since coming out of high school. He is an offensive force and I would argue that if he had not gotten hurt last season, the Hornets would have made the playoffs. I do like the addition of Nicholas Batum and the draft pick of Frank Kaminsky. It does not help to have Kemba Walker as your starting point guard and I think that will keep them out the postseason.

 

11. New York Knicks

With Carmelo at the helm, this ship will continue to sink.

 

I’ll make this one brief. Unless Phil Jackson can turn water into wine, make that roster into the 12 Disciples, and make Carmelo Anthony into a person slightly interested in defense, this team will be taking trade inquiries for Anthony by Christmas. There’s no way this team, as currently constructed, will make the playoffs with Anthony as the primary player.

 

10. Detroit Pistons

Coach Stan Van Gundy is making this Pistons team in the image of the Orlando Magic team that he led to the NBA Finals with a young Dwight Howard at center. Andre Drummond has unlimited potential as a defensive force in this league. Whereas Howard had limitations offensively that were masked by putback dunks, Drummond will have time to develop as Van Gundy places offensive weapons around him. Van Gundy still has to acquire more 3-point players to create the spacing needed to have the team where he would like it. PF Marcus Morris is capable of shooting mid range shots but Van Gundy must get a true stretch 4 in the mold of a Ryan Anderson. This team is on the cusp of being in the playoffs this season with some more roster movement.

 

9. Indiana Pacers

Can Paul George coexist with Monta Ellis?

 

There’s a lot to like about this team. Small forward Paul George will come back a more efficient player after that devastating leg injury. Although there’s speculation that he will play more 4 this year, he is best suited to defend the 3 position, as well as facilitate the offense from the perimeter. The team drafted Myles Turner but it will take time for him to develop into a solid center. I have never liked George Hill as the primary ball handler and point guard. He is not remotely close to a competent point guard and the team has failed to address that position. The addition of SG Monta Ellis will give the team another scoring option but how will that mesh with George’s touches? This team can be supplanted by The Pistons or Hornets if it fails to address the point guard and power forward positions.

 

8. Toronto Raptors

Despite having one of the best fan bases in the league this team will take a fall in the hierarchy of the East, but I still feel it’s a good team. The problem is that all their star players have reached their ceiling. PG Kyle Lowry is what he is now, a pitbull defender and an emotional leader. There is no improvement on the offensive end of the floor and I think the ball is glued to his hands at times. SG Demar Derozan is another player that has reached his peak far too early in his career. He is a solid 20 point per game player but does not offer much more than that. Outside of a 51 point game last season, SF Terrence Ross is merely a slasher. Collectively, this team has had chances the past two seasons with injuries on opposing teams to make a charge for the Finals and failed to do so. Coach Dwane Casey has to be exasperated with the lack of talent he has to work with. Anytime you trade one number 1 bust pick (Bargnani) with another (PF Anthony Bennett) you are in a world of hurt.

 

7. Milwaukee Bucks

Jason Kidd has a very young and talented team. Now he just has to lead them.

 

Coach Jason Kidd has to be the luckiest son of a gun ever. He walked in to an abundance of riches in talent and potential. His starting lineup last season had an average height of 6’6″, best in the league. The average age of his team is 25. This is without having arguably his best player in SF Jabari Parker. With his team intact, I think they can land from 3 to 8 in playoff seeding. They’re scary good. In a league where offense is the focus, his team was near the top in several defensive rankings. The length of his team starting with PG Michael Carter-Williams, SG Giannis Antetokounmpo (6’11”), and the addition of C Greg Monroe will make this team a tough matchup. Monroe is an underrated low post passer who will create more opportunities for the offense. Overall, if not for inexperience I’d have them in my top 4. They’ll be that good this year.

 

6. Boston Celtics

This team’s ranking is because of one man, Brad Stevens. Making the playoffs last year, albeit with a losing record, says a lot about the coaching of this young team. Whereas the Bucks have a talented roster and sufficient coaching, the Celtics have great coaching and decent talent. Acquiring PG Isaiah Thomas was a good pick up and the ongoing development of PG Marcus Smart will make for an interesting pairing in the back court. I am curious how Stevens will foster a good front court between PF Jared Sullinger and C Kelly Olynyk. SG R.J. Hunter is an intriguing draft choice and he fits Stevens profile for a scorer. If this team makes the playoffs it will be a credit to the coaching staff as there is no Alpha Dog on the team speak of. Maybe Evan Turner can truly blossom this year and live up to his 2010 2nd overall draft pick status.

 

5. Chicago Bulls

Jimmy Butler is making the Bulls his team.

 

I prefaced this article by stating my rankings depended on players remaining healthy. At time of publishing, former league MVP PG Derrick Rose will be on the mend from an orbital fracture injury. SG Jimmy Butler benefited most from former head coach Tom Thibodeau’s tutelage and he’s a hard nosed two way player. There’s reports that Butler is not enthralled with Rose’s work ethic. Butler is primed to become the unquestioned leader of new head coach Fred Hoiberg’s team. Center Joakim Noah is the same kind of grit and grind player and will eventually become his counterpart over Rose. Hoiberg will allow young players to do what they do best. SF Doug McDermott and PF Bobby Portis will get enhanced roles on the team and will likely lead to the departure of fan favorite PF Taj Gibson. This team will go as far as Butler will take it. Hopefully, Rose will follow.

 

4. Atlanta Hawks

Owners of the conference’s best record last year, the Hawks will take a step back to familiar territory this season. The Hawks have been a perennial playoff team but not contenders. Coach Mike Budenholzer impact has San Antonio Spurs written all over it. The team spreads the floor and plays unselfish ball. They were the first team to lead the conference in wins without a 20 PPG scorer. Absolutely amazing results last year. This year they’ve added some role players to a team of role players. PG Jeff Teague and C Al Horford will lead this team to playoffs again but there’s no player that can match wits with the top three teams of the conference. Coach Bud caught a lot of teams by surprise last year sadly by just playing team ball. This year with several roster changes and players coming back from injury the Hawks will go back to what they know best, a team that’s good but not good enough to win it all.

 

3. Washington Wizards

John Wall and the Wizards will pick up where they left off last season.

 

The back court of this team can rival any in the league. PG John Wall and SG Bradley Beal are growing together and I think will come to fruition this season. Beal was hurt for an extended time last year which led to some losses that otherwise would have propelled them to a better seeding in the playoffs. SF Otto Porter is turning the corner from being a potential bust to a solid contributor on this team. Having former teammate Paul Pierce for a year seems to have stoked his competitive fire and may lead him to a better role on this year’s team. Coach Randy Wittman has to demand more front court depth. The East isn’t deep with prominent front court players but having the depth may put the Wizards over the hump. Definitely keep an eye out for SF Kelly Oubre Jr as he gets minutes behind Beal and Porter.

 

2. Miami Heat

The Heat are by far the deepest team in the Eastern Conference. They’ve kept most of their team intact from their championship run. This year PF Chris Bosh will be healthy after a life-threatening blood clot ailment. PF Josh McRoberts is coming off a season ending injury. C Hassan Whiteside has gained nearly 15 pounds of muscle over the summer. PG Goran Dragic signed a new contract over the summer and the team still has SF Luol Deng, C Chris Anderson, and PG Mario Chalmers. Add the addition of draft pick SF Justice Winslow and you have a very deep roster. The success hinges on the health of SG Dwayne Wade. He showed flashes of “Flash” last year while playing a good number of games. If he can remain healthy and if there is any slippage of the #1 team in my ranking, the Heat will advance to the NBA Finals. They have one of the most underrated coaches in the league in Erik Spoelstra. He has done a phenomenal job of working with the talent he has regardless of the circumstances. If he has a healthy team come June then he has the tools to shock the world.

 

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

It’ll be Lebron’s conference to lose once again.

 

The Cavaliers returning to the Finals has everything to do with one thing, chemistry. The same core players are set to return. The competition shouldn’t differ much from last year. The underlying issue at hand is the chemistry and cohesiveness of it’s Big Three. LeBron James, PG Kyrie Irving, and PF Kevin Love have been great when on the floor together. Although Love has griped about his role in the offense, he can contribute in other ways than he’s accustomed to. Love is an excellent spot up shooter. When LeBron played with Bosh, Bosh was better when he expanded his game outside the paint. It provided LeBron more opportunities near the basket and allowed Bosh to pick and pop for easy 18 footers. It would behoove Love to follow that model. Irving simply has to remain healthy. Many people are quick to write him off as injury prone. Those detractors said the same about PG Stephen Curry when he battled ankle ailments early in his career. Irving must also facilitate the offense and not hog the ball. LeBron is better as a primary decision maker but Irving is a better ball handler. Add in PF Tristan Thompson, SG J.R. Smith, and PG Mo Williams and you have a championship quality team. They have a championship caliber coach in David Blatt (albeit with only international experience) and would be wise to trust in his in-game strategy. If James and Blatt can marry their philosophies they will win the championship this season.

The Eastern Conference will go through Cleveland, Ohio again. Maybe some Heat and Wizard-ry can derail a James 7th Finals appearance.

 

 


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