Well it was a hectic summer for the Central Division: the Pistons fired Dirty Whore, the Pacer frontcourt is now on probation, the Bulls have begun to genetically map all new free-agents, the Cavs found King James some overpaid help, and the Bucks won themselves a shiny new honkey. And this is the class of the Eastern Conference?
It was only 3 short months ago that Dirty Whore was sitting in the Mayo Clinic with his leaky testicles in a plastic bag, figuring out how he could become the Knicks Head Coach without giving up his Piston paycheck, when—ZEKE!—out he goes with a drum-tight urinary tract getting paid $11M for his “dream job” and in comes Flip Saunders—a nice new coach best known for being a nice guy.
But will it even matter?
For all of the drama that surrounds this franchise, from sudden coaching changes to flying beer cups, the Pistons keep on winning, the same way. Sure, Flip is under tremendous pressure, but he has been handed the keys to a well oiled winning machine that is bringing back the same starting 5 that has appeared in the last 2 NBA Finals. Plus…Darko!
The only thing that Croatians hate more than a Balcan warlord is Dirty Whore. Now under Coach Saunders, the enigmatic and much-maligned Darko Milicic should make his long-awaited debut. If he produces early, look for Darko to follow McDyess in the rotation, if he does not, look for him playing pick-up soccer along 8-Mile with fellow Dirty-Whore-targets-slash-benchmates Carlos Delfino and Carlos Arroyo.
So while there is still a chance that Flip pulls a Joel Schumacher with this successful Piston franchise—and I will be watching for tell-tale codpieces—I seriously doubt it. Expect a slow start, but look for Flip to open up the floor and have the Pistons scoring more than 57 points per game, all the way back to the NBA Finals.
The popular storyline for the Pacers this season: what didn’t kill them made them stronger. Last year’s first-round elimination will make Jermaine O’Neal more of a leader. The responsibility of filling Reggie’s shoes will make Steven Jackson more of a team player. And the year-long suspension has taught Ron Artest the hard lesson he needed to turn his life, and his team around. The NBA Championship is finally within reach.
I predict the Pacers will get off to a hot start this season, and possibly lead the league in wins. Then come December, some rookie (and my money is on Jason Maxiell) will give Ron Artest a cheap shot and the crazy bastards’ long dormant instincts will take over. It will be like Hannibal Lecter at a nudist colony, but with Ron Artest, it’s raining steak spice.
The other problem that I see with this team is that despite having a great roster back at full-strength, along with the additions of Sarunas Jasikevicius and Danny Granger, no one on the Pacers actually likes each other. They have the absolute worst chemistry in the league. Just watch the body language of during time-outs—Pacer teammates avoid eye-contact like an elevator full of strangers, and someone has just farted.
One last prediction, I can’t help it: by January 1st, Ron Artest is either in Pelican Bay for 3 years, or in Miami for James Posey and a conditional 1st rounder. You read it here first.
I have a great idea for a psychological thriller. It starts in 2005 with a young man landing his dream job as the GM for an NBA franchise with the best young player in the World, and heaps of cap space. Cut to 2007, and our protagonist’s team has over $100M committed to Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and is looking to fill the gap left the free-agent defection of Lebron James. Cut back to 2005, and the young man bursts awake from a horrible nightmare. I call it ‘Being Danny Ferry’.
I’d try to pitch this movie, if it wasn’t so goddamn predictable. In fact, even Gordon Gund could see the ending coming. And it is exactly this reason why the Cavaliers overspent in the free-agent market—to win now and keep King James happy (and in Cleveland). It is also the reason why this is the most intriguing team in the Central Division, if not the NBA.
Contracts aside, while Larry Hughes is not Ray Allen or Michael Redd, he is not Lamond Murray either. He will continue to cause havoc in passing lanes on defense, and get 18 ppg from all over the floor. Free agent Donyell Marshall will supply the much needed outside threat that will make defenders pay for crowding LeBron.
Ilgauskas? Well he looked good all last season, finally. But you know everyone in the Cavs organization is walking on eggshells hoping he doesn’t get injured again, and given Z’s chronic feet injuries, they may want him to do the same.
So this season ultimately comes down to new Head Coach Mike Brown. LeBron is going to be LeBron—only better. Brown now has to implement a system that is going to maximize the talents of his superstar and effectively integrate his new teammates, while finding a way to win. Soon. If not, pass the popcorn.
It used to be if you wanted a DNA sample from an NBA player, all you needed were the keys to the backroom of the Gold Club and a Q-Tip. Nowadays you need a team of lawyers and the promise of a $60M contract. Either way, this contentious issue and Eddy Curry’s heart condition has cost John Paxson the young low-post player the Bulls have invested 4 years in grooming. Now the only person legitimately at risk of a heart attack is Scott Skiles, who comes into training camp with a roster that features Mike Sweet-tooth and Everybody Hates Tim Thomas.
This really is too bad, as the Bulls were a great story last season. Lead by a group of gritty young players with great attitudes, the now not so Horri-Bulls took teams by surprise and managed to double their win total from the previous year, while almost squeaking into the second round of the playoffs. And even without Curry, you still have to like the team’s young nucleus. While undersized, Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich are solid and seem to improve by the game. Luol Deng tantalized Chicago fans during his rookie year before he broke his thumb. And Tyson Chandler? Call me crazy, but I don’t like any player that personally invites comparisons to Marcus Camby.
Even though Chandler was drafted higher than Curry, it was his fellow young forward that absorbed much of the wrath from coaches and the media. With Curry gone and a fat new contract, Chandler is alone in the post and the spotlight is on. Now is the time for this 7-footer to make fans forget about Elton Brand, and win over his coach with small-man’s-disease—Scott Skiles, Napoleon with a comb-over.
Look for the Bulls to take a small step backward this season and just miss the playoffs. But they’ll be back next year, for a long time.
Even though Terry Porter is a dead-ringer for late WWF legend The Junk Yard Dog, he did not deserve to get his chain yanked so quickly or severely this off-season. With T.J. Ford out and Mo Williams running the point, what did Senator Kohl expect last year? Watch out for basketball karma Kohl.
Aside from this shocking coaching change, the Bucks really had a successful off-season. They managed to re-sign Michael Redd, sign underrated swingman Bobby Simmons (can anyone mention Bobby Simmons without using the word ‘underrated’?) as a free agent, as well as score the #1 pick in the draft: Aussie Andrew Bogut.
Does anyone else feel for bad for this guy? He earns NCAA Player-of-the-Year honours after averaging 20 and 12 with 26 double-doubles, and he keeps getting compared to Vlade Divac. Now I respect Divac’s game, but I’m willing to grant this guy a higher ceiling—but not this year. For his rookie season, I think the play most often called for Bogut by Terry Stotts will be ‘The Boomerang’. It starts with Bogut flying in from the bench after a timeout, taking the inbound pass at the foul line, missing the cutting Desmond Mason, then launching a contested 18-footer, only to come right back to the same spot on the bench for the rest of the quarter.
As an aside, did anyone else catch the trash-talk between Bogut and ex-fringe-NBA’er Chris Anstney? Turns out Ansney didn’t take kindly to Bogut dissing fellow countryman Luc Longley, and challenged the precocious rookie to a game of 1 on 1. Calling Don King! I smell Pay-Per-View!
My prediction for this season: if T.J. Ford mounts a successful comeback, Bogut averages a double-double, and Redd retains his All-Star form, then...they still won’t make the playoffs. Sorry Kohl, Basketball Karma.
Next up: The Atlantic Division