1. Phoenix Suns
2. Sacramento Kings
3. Los Angeles Lakers
4. Golden State Warriors
5. Los Angeles Clippers
Last year’s near-Cinderella team underwent a surprising makeover this off-season, as Jerry Colangelo exchanged offense for defense in an attempt to push the Suns into the NBA Finals. And who can blame him after watching his team lose to the Spurs. To call Quentin Richardson a shrinking violet in that series is just a tad understated, more like a loose scrotum in an ice bath. So out with Q-Rich and Joe Johnson, and in with Raja Bell, Brian Grant, and Kurt “all my passes are look-away passes” Thomas. Next off-season, I hope the pendulum swings back and stops in such a way that Jerry is not interested in either offence or defense, and the Raptors can finally trade Jalen Rose.
So far, with Amare out and a bunch of new faces in the lineup, the Suns are playing so-so with a few flashes of last year's brilliant offensive play lead by, who else—Steve Nash. Seriously, is there another player in the league that makes his teammates look as good as Nash? I’m going to start calling him Beer Goggles. Don’t believe me? Boris Diaw is now a triple-double threat. I think 70 cents of every dollar Joe Johnson earns from the Hawks this season should be deposited straight into Captain Canada’s PC Financial account.
A prediction? It all depends on Amare. If he’s healthy by January, the Suns win another game in the Western Finals. If he doesn’t fully recover, he’s on his way to Sean Kempsville and the franchise can start digging itself out of a 7-year hole.
After contending for the Championship for five straight years with their trademark slick-passing-free-flowing offence, the Sacramento Kings—like Chris Webber, and for that matter Corey Haim—are but a shadow of their former selves. The departure of Webber, Bobby Jackson, and particularly Vlade Divac has left this team with an almost intramural feel. And to think it was only three short years ago that the Kings boasted the starting backcourt from The Blue Baller’s All Kind-of-White Team.
But I do expect the Kings to remain competitive this year, with the infusion of some new talent. The Kings drafted a nice player in long-bomber Francisco Garcia. Plus they made a few other curious additions, at least from a chemistry standpoint. First, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, NBA gentleman and finalist for the league’s Fanny Mae Community Service Award. Second, Bonzi Wells: asshole.
And speaking of Reef, is anyone else curious about New Jersey Nets physicals? I have an image of Rod Thorn standing over an MRI machine with infrared goggles and a rubber glove. “Yes, as a matter of fact I do have my whole fist in there Tractor!”
Sorry Sacramento, no more cowbell.
One-year after insulting the intelligence of Mitch Kupchak for trading Shaq, calling Kobe “a callous gun for hire” in a tell-all autobiography, and practically being run out of town by his future father-in-law, Phil Jackson is somehow back to coaching the Lakers. I still can’t fathom the deciding conversation between the Zen Master and his spiritual advisor during his year-off traveling the world…
Phil: I’m thinking about going back to LA to coach Kobe and the Lakers
LA-Llama: Once burned, a bridge can not be crossed
Phil: But the team is actually not that bad, plus my girlfriend Jeannie is there
LA-Llama: Physical cravings can cloud the judgment of even the most pious man
Phil: They’re offering me over ten millions dollars a season
LA-Llama: That’s a lot of cheddar
That’s right, Big Chief Triangle is officially a sell-out, and I actually don’t think this team is going to be better for it. They do have a pair of good front-court prospects in Andrew Bynum and Kwame Brown (who is who is 60 days or one more DUI charge away from officially moving from ‘prospect’ to ‘bust’) and a clean Lamar Odom, but I still don’t like this team. Any structure and coordination that Jackson will attempt to instill into the offense will quickly deteriorate into Kobe and a bunch of role players. Granted, calling someone a role-player on a team with Kobe Bryant seems a tad redundant.
Also count on more Phil and Kobe drama. Only this time the Shaq-less Lakers are not on the grand NBA stage, they’re straight to video.
Golden State Warriors
With the late last season addition of Baron Davis, the Warriors have remade themselves into a more confident and explosive offensive team that should easily make the playoffs. I’m actually expecting a season similar to the Sonics last year, with a great record, a short stint in the playoffs, and head coach Chuck Woolery walking out the door.
Again like the Sonics, the problem for the Warriors is inside. In fact, I don’t know whose interior defense would be easier to penetrate in San Francisco: Mike Montgomery’s, or a Castro District street walker’s. Any game against a team with a frontline anchored by Adonal Foyle is a stat-stuffer for an opponent over 6-7, and there are a few pretty good ones in the Western Conference.
As an aside, now that Beyond the Glory has become so popular, the producers are really starting to drop their standards. This is great news for The Blue Baller, because now I am able watch episodes like the latest installment: a full hour of Manute Bol. Turns out that while Manute was with the Warriors, he and a newly sober Chris Mullin bonded tremendously in Oakland. So much so that the 7-7 Dinka tribesman called his son Chris. Chris Bol. Fucking television gold.
Los Angeles Clippers
Bold prediction: the Clippers are going to take this season by storm and jump out to lead the Pacific Conference under the surprising leadership of new point guard Sam Cassell! Ahh, the benefits of writing a preview 15 games into the season.
While I am surprised, I’ll be downright shocked if the season goes another 15 games without E.T. getting cranky about his contract and bringing down the entire team’s playoff aspirations with him. I actually hope this doesn’t happen, because the Clippers finally have some good pieces in place. Brand, Magette, and Mobley are all solid, but this team has never had that point guard in place to really make the offence gel. Hopes are high that Livingston is the guy, but until he proves he can recover from broken wind, this team is floating without an oar. But let’s face it, what do you expect when you let Rick Brunson walk out your door?