2009-10 NBA Season Predictions/Storylines: We're Picking the Orlando Magic
Happy Opening Day, everyone. The League is back, rejoice.
As we try to predict the 2009-10 NBA season, the key word to us is "risk". In our season predictions post last October, our first storyline to watch was: "Dawn of a Dynasty: Just How Good Can The Lakers Be?"
We believed that L.A. was well-positioned for a 2009-11 threepeat, and nothing that happened all the way through the championship run in June changed our mind.
Then, the Lakers went and essentially exchanged Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest. Why add the risk when you are the favorites? Adding Artest made sense in Houston, where the Rockets needed to take a roll of the dice to become championship contenders, as they weren't talented enough without Ron-Ron.
We understand that one could question whether it's Ariza's agent or the Lakers who are responsible for the player's departure, but the reality is that L.A. has added a good deal of risk to its equation, after inserting a huge unknown quantity to what was previously an odds-on favorite to repeat. All we keep asking is why why why? Why add the risk?
Ron Artest has never shown that he has the mental toughness to make it through a successful playoff run. He's already derailed a championship contender in Indiana. You know about the Brawl at Auburn Hills, which sunk the 2004-05 Pacers, who had a chance to be the best team in the league that year. But don't forget that he also crushed the Pacers' chances in 2003-04, with a fourth-quarter flagrant foul which allowed the eventual champion Pistons to prevail in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Now we're supposed to believe that Artest has matured because he didn't try to physically harm Kobe Bryant, merely making contact when he was ejected in Game 2 of the Lakers-Rockets series? Sure, by Ron's standards, that's improvement, but it still falls short of the mental toughness needed to become a champion.
Couple that with a need to dominate the ball at times and a shot selection that can be LOL bad - for a guy who needs to accept a role as a fourth or even fifth option - and we'll believe that Ron Artest helps the Lakers when we see it. We definitely think that the Lakers can repeat, we just think there's too much risk for us to predict they will.
So, who is our choice for champion? We believe, like many others, that there are five true championship contenders in the mix - Lakers, Spurs, Cavs, Celtics, Magic - and we ended up picking the team which has the least amount of risk.
The age (and, by extension, health) of the Spurs and Celtics worries us, and we have concerns about how the new pieces will fit in Cleveland - not to mention our concerns that the Cavs offense could revert to stagnation after assistant coach John Kuester took the head job in Detroit.
The team which has the least risk to us - the team we feel most certain about - is the Orlando Magic, and they are our choice to win the 2009-10 NBA championship.
The Orlando roster is incredibly deep, which allows them to play essentially any style - big or small, offense- or defense-oriented. It starts with the talent of four potential All-Stars in Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis.
If you want to go small, stick in tough defender Mickael Pietrus (who can hit the three) or sharpshooter J.J. Redick (who defended surprisingly well at times in the playoffs). If you want to go big, turn to athletic Brandon Bass, or maybe the best backup center in the game in Marcin Gortat. Or maybe spread the floor with 6-10 shooter Ryan Anderson. Don't forget about scrappy glue guy Matt Barnes to bring some energy and fill in the gaps. And then there's good PG depth with vets Jason Williams and Anthony Johnson.
It's all orchestrated by Stan Van Gundy, whom we thought deserved to be Coach of the Year last season for having the no. 1 team in the league in defensive efficiency, even though the starting forwards were Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis.
Where are the weaknesses on this team? Well, for many, there is the assumption that the Magic have been weakened by essentially exchanging Turkoglu for Carter. Count us in the camp who think that's crazy - Carter is a better player and this is an upgrade. Look, we understand issues that people have with Vince - we've never really forgiven him for quitting on the Raptors, and we can't really disagree with the scout who once told reporter Frank Hughes that, "I bet no player in the history of the league has gone to the locker room and come out again more than Vince Carter. In the history of the league."
In fact, in 2006, when there were rumors that Vince would sign in Orlando in the summer of 2007, we were skeptical and wrote this:
- I simply don't believe that Vince is a max-quality player is terms of being a guy who is a team leader with the mental toughness to carry a team deep into the playoffs. On such a young team, he would have to take on such a role.
We're taking Magic over Lakers.
Storylines we're most interested in:
- Who will be the "first to 5"? / How will the Big 5's moves work out?
During his draft-night interview, Shaq talked about being the "first to 5", a reference to the fact that he, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan have all won four championships. They were the best three players of the 2000s, and now they are members of three of the five championship contenders - it doesn't really get more elemental than that.
In general, it'll be most interesting simply to see how the provocative moves from the arms race of those five teams - Lakers (Artest), Celtics (Rasheed, Marquis Daniels), Spurs (Jefferson, McDyess, Blair), Magic (Carter, Bass, Barnes, Anderson) and Cavs (Shaq, Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker, Powe) - pan out this season.
- Young bigs in the West
We mentioned it as one of our storylines of the 2010s in general, but the development of Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum could be a crucial x-factor in the 2009-10 season as well.
Both players were reported to look markedly better in the preseason. An improved Bynum could be enough to offset any crazy that might arise from Ron-Ron. An improved Oden could accelerate the Blazers' timeline, and turn the Big 5 championship contenders into a Big 6.
- Emerging from the cesspool of the West
Last year's Western Conference was weighed down by some terrible teams at the bottom, yet several of these teams should either be on the rise (Oklahoma City, LA Clippers) and/or have some of the most interesting young players to watch (Golden State, Minnesota, even Sacramento). And then there's the Grizz, who will be fascinating to watch as they try to share the rock among eight gunners.
- Rookie point guards to watch
2009 offered what appears to be a weak draft class overall, with the notable exception of the point guards. Even with Ricky Rubio staying in Spain, it's a fascinating collection of players with wildly diverse playing styles, with Jonny Flynn, Ty Lawson, and Brandon Jennings plus Stephen Curry and Tyreke Evans expected to get some run at the point. And don't sleep on young Rodrigue "Roddy Buckets" Beaubois in Dallas, who impressed in summer league with freakish athleticism. While it takes time to develop at the PG at the NBA level, it should be fun to see which players emerge as keepers.
- The LeBron Narrative
We said it last year, and we'll say it again:
- The question is fairly definitive to the course of the NBA in the 2010s: just how great will LeBron be? Just how far up the ladder of all-time greats will he go?
Here are The Painted Area's 2009-10 NBA season predictions, with summaries by Jay Aych:
1. L.A. Lakers
3. San Antonio
7. New Orleans
-First Round: Lakers over Suns, Blazers over Hornets, Spurs over Jazz, Mavs over Nuggets
-Conf. Semis: Lakers over Mavs, Spurs over Blazers
-Conf. Finals: Lakers over Spurs
Summary: The Lakers are on a tier in the West all by themselves and could make a run at 65 wins if they can stay relatively healthy (physically & mentally). We'll take the Blazers to edge out the Spurs for 2nd because of a younger, deeper roster and Pop's propensity to sacrifice some wins in the reg. season to conserve his vets, with S.A. turning the tables in the playoffs.
Dallas and Denver both have the goods to make runs at the respective division titles, and both teams should only finish a few games out of first place. Expect Dallas to be a better defensive club with Carlisle having a 2nd training camp with this team under his belt. No doubt Dallas should crush the glass with above-average rebounders on the perimeter.
The Jazz & Hornets are pretty tight in our minds - where they could change seeds depending on getting players back in the lineup. Utah is dealing with a depleted wing rotation with CJ Miles, Korver and Harpring ailing. N.O. fans must be a little skittish considering Okafor's questionable status. The Hornet wing rotation has a lot to prove as well.
We were leaning toward the Clips to edge the Suns for the 8th spot, but with the last-minute news of Griffin's bum knee, we moved back to PHX. Suns can probably pile up 45 wins in the reg. season playing their run/gun style, though we don't see any improvements on the defensive end, where they were horrid last year. The Suns should get chewed up in the interior and on the boards just like old times.
-First Round: Magic over Heat, Cavs over Bulls, Celtics over Sixers, Hawks over Wizards
-Conf. Semis: Magic over Hawks, Cavs over Celtics
-Conf. Finals: Magic over Cavs
-NBA Finals: Magic over Lakers
-MVP: LeBron James, Cavaliers
-Rookie of the Year: Tyreke Evans, Kings (last-minute change due to injury - sorry, Blake)
Summary: Obviously a big drop-off from the Big 3 to 4th. Each of these three teams should easily win its division. Went with Orlando because they might be the deepest team in the NBA, and have 12 guys who can play meaningful minutes. Placed Boston in the 3rd slot because they have the most question marks of the Big 3, considering four of their top six players are 32 years or older, with KG coming back from the knee injury. Though, the Cavs have some issues to sort out with Delonte West's status. And don't let the playoff performance fool you, this team is still a very capable defensive unit. They might struggle with pick/roll when Shaq on the floor, but overall this team has been rock-solid defensively the last few years.
Things get a little blurry after the top three seeds in the East. Feel pretty comfortable that the Hawks are basically as good as last season, which should be good enough for 4th place. The Wizards' collection of raw offensive talent would be potent in almost any coach's hands. You let Flip Saunders tinker with this talent, and there is a good chance you will have one of the best offensive teams in the league. Now the big question is whether Saunders can make the Wizards into at least a middling defensive unit.
Adding Kapono is a step in the right direction for the Sixers, but this team still does not spread the floor well enough. Having a healthy Brand back is not quite as exciting when you realize Elton will likely have extra defenders in his lap with Iggy, Young and Lou Williams on the perimeter. The cuts and movement built into Ed Jordan's offense will help get a few desperately needed buckets, but I still expect a fair amount of ragged play in the half-court offense for Phillly. They will need to push pace once again to get easy buckets. Do expect the defense and rebounding to be solid, which should let Philly hover around the .500 mark.
The last two spots could be had by either Chicago, Miami, Toronto, Detroit or Indy. Miami is a solid defensive unit that can produce TOs, but offensive firepower falls off mightily after Wade. Beasley needs to be locked in early, especially on the offensive end. If Wade has to sit for even 7-8 games this team's playoffs chances take a huge hit because Miami won't be able to score. Raptors can spread the floor as well as any team in the NBA, sometimes playing with five guys with range out to at least 20 feet. The offense could be fun to watch this year and should not be the problem for the Raps. Where we're reticent about Toronto is on the defensive end--they project to be rather lousy, near the bottom in the East. We'll see if Coach Triano can squeeze a middling defense out this roster. Highly doubt it.
Let's get it on. Tip this baby off!