1. New Jersey Nets
2. Philadelphia 76ers
3. New York Knicks
4. Boston Celtics
5. Your Toronto Raptors
The worst division in basketball last season has made some moves to get better and it might actually approach mediocre this season. Still, every team in the Central will finish ahead of the 76ers in the conference standings. That's right only one team from this division will make the play-offs. Unfortunately, it's the team with Vince Carter on it.
This is by far the easiest prediction to make so let's take a quick look at what could possibly go wrong and de-rail the only half-decent team in this division from "earning" the 3rd seed in the East:
- Jason Kidd gets hit by lightning
- Lamond Murray and Jeff MacInnis compete in Locker Room Cancer competition
- Vince Carter decides to go for his Master's degree
- Cliff Robinson turns into dust
- Shareef Abdur-Rahim hires Jeff Gillooly to "show those fuckers in Jersey what a bum knee is."
- Billy King slips something into Gregg Popovich's wine and convinces him to take Steven Hunter in exchange for Tim Duncan
- Ticket sales go up, team chokes under pressure of stardom in New Jersey
- Richard Jefferson keeps forgetting that home games aren't in Brooklyn yet
- Brian Scalabrine and his giant MJ-like brain really was the key to their success
- Magical fairies turn Stephon Marbury into a pass-first point guard
Allen Iverson is an all-world talent and plays his heart out in every game. Chris Webber is still a stud even on one leg and is one of the best passing big-men in the league. Samuel Dalembert is an energetic 7-footer who can run the floor and blocks shots. Andre Iguodala is already a lock-down defender and is the one of the most athletic players in the game. Kyle Korver makes you pay for leaving him open in 3-point range and married Demi Moore over the summer.
Gee, looking at this starting five the 76ers might be pretty good this year. Let's see how their second unit looks.
Steven Hunter is 7 feet tall and has both of his legs. Kevin Ollie can dribble the ball with either hand. Lee Nailon escaped New Orleans before Katrina hit. John Salmons is toilet-trained. Michael Bradley went to school in Philadelphia too.
This is what happens when you have two players making the maximum amount of money (Iverson, Webber) coupled with a couple other big-time contracts based on "upside" and not actual results (Dalembert, Korver). Furthermore, Webber and Iverson aren't exactly the most durable players anymore and it looks like they will be required to play 42 minutes a game this season while hoisting up 80% of the team's shots (down from Iverson's usual 82%). Yes, Kevin Ollie is about 6 weeks away from being a starter for an extended period of time.
Added to this delicate situation is that the team is now on its 5th coach in 3 years. This time they hired Mo Cheeks who seemed to be hired just because he is an old-school 76er hero and AI likes him. Was there anything outstanding about his coaching gig in Portland that made other teams clamour for his services? Did they interview anybody else? Who is making these decisions?
Oh yeah the same guy who gave a guaranteed contract to the undrafted Shavlik Randolph, the only white player in history not beloved by Duke fans.
New York Knicks
Jamal Crawford is a player that will never be a serious winner in this league. The guy is a flat-out chucker. He doesn't drive. He doesn't pass. He certainly doesn't play defense. Was it any wonder that Chicago let the guy go cheap and then proceeded to have their best season since MJ? Dirty Whore Coach already has urinary problems but after a few weeks of trying to coach this guy I think he might end up crapping his pants too.
But don't worry Knicks fans Crawford spent the off-season working on his defense. Let that sink in. After 5 years in the NBA Crawford finally got around to working on his defense. Now that's one proactive motherfucker. Considering Eddy Curry is one of Crawford's best friends Dirty Whore can rest assured that Curry will start working on his defense two seasons from now. By that time Dirty Whore will be coaching his next dream job, the Las Vegas Hornets.
The Dirty Whore/Marbury combination is already a proven disaster as last summer's Olympic debacle will attest. And all you Knick fans excited by Nate Robinson and Channing Frye's summer league results should remember that Dirty Whore nailed Lebron and Dwayne's asses to the bench during those same Olympic games. Let us not forget where Darko has been for the past two years and Tayshaun Prince only got court time because Dirty Whore was forced into it. Rookies don't play for Dirty Whore. They must survive a 2-year hazing process first.
Of course this should piss off Isiah who managed to duplicate his Raptor drafts this past spring by picking a super-charged midget and a tall, gangly wuss. Isiah's other moves include acquiring yet another swingman with nagging injuries, a man-child whose every game may be his last and the latest in a long line of soft-skulled big men who parlayed 2 weeks of hard work into a $30 million contract. Was it any surprise that Jerome James showed up at camp 30 pounds overweight?
The bad news for Isiah is that if this team fails nobody is going to place the blame on Dirty Whore. He's the game's greatest coach! Surely it was the crappy-ass team assembled for him that is at fault. But surely, there must be some good news and there is: Writers of NBA satire sites are going to feast on the Knicks this year. Thanks Isiah! Thanks Dirty Whore!
This will be the tale of two seasons - the "Let's Showcase Paul Pierce" season followed by the "Young Core Gaining Experience For Next Season" season. This would only make sense as Pierce hasn't looked happy in a couple of seasons and this team got younger, less experienced and therefore less likely to be in playoff contention in the off-season. Pierce has got to be traded just to keep him from destroying the attitude of the team (and to package with that disastrous contract they gave Mark Blount last year). Of course the danger in trading Paul Pierce is that the player who becomes the respected veteran in the locker room is Ricky Davis.
Celtic fans did cartwheels when high-schooler Gerald Green dropped down to them in the draft but he's a guy who refused to play one-on-one during any pre-draft workouts and is missing part of one of his fingers. Sure he threw down a couple of outstanding dunks in the summer league but please remind yourselves this is the same league where Lonny Baxter is a god. By all accounts Green had no idea what he was doing out there. There are good odds he'll start to understand the game right around the time he's eligible for free agency.
The good news for the Celtics is that they do have a great core of youngsters to look forward to in the coming years. Al Jefferson is truly a gem. Tony Allen will be a solid contributor as soon as he stops ordering friends to shoot people. Delonte West knows how to play the game and Kendrick Perkins is starting to emerge as a solid rotation guy. Unfortunately for Pierce, this team won't be ready now and until then it relies on Pierce, Davis, Raef LaFrentz and Dan Dickau -- all of whom fail to compare favourably with Bird, McHale, Parish & DJ. At least they still have Danny Ainge.
For some reason people are down on this Raptors team. If you take a look at the players that have been shuffled in and out of the roster the only player Raptor fans will really end up missing is Donyell Marshall. Alston may have been entertaining but it's never been determined if he ever really knew how games were won (by say, uh, playing defense or maybe shooting less). Marshall brought rebounding and 3-point shooting to the table. I should hope that Villanueva can replace the rebounding and he definitely has a more varied offensive game. Unfortunately some noted surgeon hasn't found a way to sew Matt Bonner and Joey Graham together so we'd have a dynamite small forward at both ends of the court.
Mike James has the trust of Coach Mitchell and since it's quite possible that Mitchell knows more about basketball than the rest of us I'll trust this decision. Not only that but the team saves about $16 million and the teachers of Ontario deserve to be happy.
That's not to say this team is playoff bound. But I find it hard to believe that many are picking them to be the worst team in the NBA. While they haven't improved, on paper, they haven't gotten any worse. Does anybody see Charlotte winning more games than Toronto? Or Portland? Or Oklahoma City?
Heh, heh, well, comparing the Raptors to the shittiest teams in the league surely isn't the most flattering thing of the franchise but at least Rob Babcock can claim he made the team younger and more cap friendly without a huge difference in talent. Big picture people, remember that every with loss this year.
Everyone knows this team will not make the playoffs and for some reason Babcock gets ripped for being honest. What the Raptors should do for all their fans who stick by them this year is somehow reward them for their loyalty. Here it is Mr. Labumbard, your killer marketing gimmick - at the end of the season randomly select one season ticket holder to represent the Raptors at the NBA Draft Lottery. Vacation in suburban New Jersey! Enter the exciting world of Elgin Baylor! Bump chests with Darius Miles! Meet George Shinn! You can't tell me that won't sell tickets.