Author: Rob Mahoney

Boston Celtics v Denver Nuggets

NBA Season Preview: Boston Celtics


Last season: 56-26 and a tough out by the hand of LeBron James.

Head Coach: The perennially fantastic Doc Rivers. He may not have the mystique of Gregg Popovich or the cult appeal of Stan Van Gundy, but Rivers consistently does a great job of balancing the personalities on Boston’s roster while drawing up highly effective plays. Swell guy, to boot.

Key Departures: Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal, Nenad Krstic

Key Additions: Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling, Chris Wilcox

Best case scenario: Rajon Rondo puts together a complete campaign to power Boston to the East’s second seed, but a tough Conference Semifinal with the third-seeded Bulls looms. Even the Big Four’s collective brilliance in that highly competitive series isn’t good enough, as Boston’s run — and this era of Celtics basketball — is fittingly brought to a close due to the team’s lack of depth. The more things change, the more you have to uncomfortably rely on Jeff Green to provide productive minutes.

For that to happen: First, the obvious: Rondo needs to find a way to dispose of all that weighs on his mind, and make an impact rivaling that of the league’s other top point guards. When focused, Rondo is Boston’s best player, and a true terror on both ends of the court. When moody and distracted, he’s a legitimate tax on his squad, and a thorn in the side of Boston’s core vets. Sadly, there’s no Rondsetta stone (I’m so, so sorry) for the Celtics to harness, no cipher that reveals the path to accessing his complete potential. It’s all between Rondo’s ears, and if he can find some sense of peace (Or consistent rage? Rondo seems to play rather well when he’s angry), Boston will roll through almost any competition.

It’s also essential that Boston’s bigs stay healthy and productive for the entire season. This Celtics aren’t at all in a position to deal with a significant frontcourt injury; Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal, Brandon Bass, and Chris Wilcox make up a pretty solid rotation of bigs, but Green would have to play some serious minutes at the 4 in case of disaster. Considering the injury histories of Garnett and O’Neal — and Green’s career to date — that should make Celtics Nation a bit nervous.

More likely, the Celtics will: Follow a different course of action to a similar fate. Rondo’s performance may have a ridiculous amount of variability, but the same can hardly be said of the Celtics’ likely result. Boston — even if hobbled — isn’t likely at all to be dropped in the first round by inferior competition, and yet the Celtics lack serious potential to compete with either the Bulls or the Heat. There’s a chance they could still overwhelm the new-and-improved Knicks, but even that much is far from certain.

It’s been a great run for the Celtics, but the road ends in this year’s playoffs. Maybe the’ll go out in style as they claw their way into a Game 7, or maybe they’ll go quietly in the night. But it seems inescapable that the Celtics will go before they’re good and ready. This just isn’t a championship team — there are just too many pitfalls, and so little potential for offensive improvement. The league’s 18th best offense isn’t going to cut it for a title team, no matter how oppressive its defense.

Prediction: 44-22, good for the East’s third seed.

NBA Season Preview: Philadelphia 76ers

Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Jrue Holiday

Last season: 41-41, resulting in a competitively uncompetitive first-round loss to the Miami Heat.

Head Coach: Doug Collins, who still wants to be your friend. Need a ride to the airport, Thaddeus? He’s your guy. Need someone to help you move, Elton? Please, you don’t even have to ask. Dog-sitting? His pleasure! Creating a stable defensive front that allows the team to succeed in spite of its offensive flaws? Don’t even mention it.

Key Departures: None

Key Additions: None (Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes were re-signed)

Best case scenario: Philly parlays another strong defensive season into a low playoff seed, but runs into a bit of a wall. Jrue Holiday takes a legitimate step toward stardom, but the Sixers find themselves in oddly familiar territory: an initial struggle before finally caving under the weight of one of the East’s more effective squads.

For that to happen: As I mentioned, Holiday will need to continue on course with his development, particularly as an offensive player. This team doesn’t have a ton of reliable shot creation, and if Holiday can make scoring a bit easier for the Sixers in a general sense, they’ll have a nice two-way product. Evan Turner could theoretically chip in, too, as the second-year guard will have further opportunities to settle into the pro style. If Holiday, Turner, and the point-forward-esque Andre Iguodala can create a trio of reliable shot creation from the perimeter, Philly would be much better off.

Not better off enough to cause a first-round upset, but better off nonetheless.

More likely, the Sixers will: Be yet again a solid club, but trade incremental improvements for Holiday, Turner, and Young for regressed production from Elton Brand and Andres Nocioni. The Sixers are hardly encapsulated by yin and yang, but there does seem to be a strange universal balance to their team by nature of its awkward timeline. Every day that Holiday creeps toward his prime, Brand spends by falling further from his. There’s definitely talent on Philly’s roster, but most of the team’s key contributors are at very different places in their careers — a fact that makes it quite difficult to really build on a season-to-season basis.

Prediction: 34-32, good for the lower, unremarkable playoff seed of your choosing.

NBA Season Preview: New York Knicks

Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony

Last season: 42-40 — good enough for a middling playoff seed and a first round sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics.

Head Coach: Mike D’Antoni, who has an intriguing roster but will have to step out of his comfort zone. As a playmaker, Toney Douglas isn’t Steve Nash…or Raymond Felton…or Chauncey Billups. As such, D’Antoni’s typically PG-heavy offense will have to evolve in order to better feature Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, all while keeping everything from devolving into an intolerably lengthy series of isolation plays.

Key Departures: Chauncey Billups, Ronny Turiaf

Key Additions: Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, Mike Bibby, Baron Davis

Best case scenario: Chandler becomes the centerpiece of a competent (but obviously sub-elite) defense, and the Knicks’ offense soars behind the sheer power of the team’s two highly productive scorers. That pushes New York toward a favorable playoff seed, a first round victory, and an improbable second-round toppling of a deflated Boston Celtics squad. The Heat still swoop in to quickly usher the Knicks out of the postseason, but what really matters is the journey, not the destination, right?

For that to happen: Toney Douglas will have to Do What Toney Douglas Do each and every damn night. Mike Bibby, Baron Davis and Iman Shumpert each have their strengths, but Douglas is the team’s best option at the point, and he’ll have to make the most of a pretty incredible opportunity. (Davis will give you flashes of brilliance but more consistently bad decisions, like pull up threes 5 seconds into the shot clock, taking shots away from ‘Melo, Stoudemire. And his defense will put more of a strain on Chandler. Douglas is the better option.)

That goes beyond shooting well from the perimeter (which Douglas often do) and pestering every defender in sight; Douglas will need to be a more functional creator this season than he has been in years past, and help Stoudemire, Anthony, and Chandler fit into a coherent offensive system. That’s a lot of responsibility to put on a player who’s only played limited minutes to date, but the situation calls for Douglas, and New York hopes he’ll call back. Or at least text or something?

Beyond that, the non-Chandler Knicks will have to make their newly acquired center’s life as easy as possible. That means no more pointing for you, Melo. And no more biting on pump fakes for you, Amar’e. Keep your man in front of you, shuffle those feet, and let Chandler serve as a safeguard rather than a one-man team defense. He’s clearly capable of providing a dominant defensive influence, but the degree of difficulty in New York is far higher than it ever was in Dallas.

More likely, the Knicks will: Boast one of the league’s best offenses, but nonetheless allow their defense to get them into some serious trouble. Chandler will be killing himself to thwart pick-and-rolls and challenge drives to the hoop, but the various defensive sieves on the roster (Anthony and Bibby being the prime offenders) could create more turmoil than he could ever hope to counter.

New York’s robust scoring is enough to nab a solid playoff seed and a first round victory, but this team just isn’t yet equipped to grapple with the truly elite clubs. A second-round out by the hand of the Bulls or Heat seems imminent.

Prediction: 40-26, good for the East’s fourth seed.

NBA Season Preview: New Jersey Nets


Last season: 24-58, a better-than-last-year mark that reminds us all just how terrible bad teams can be.

Head Coach: Avery Johnson, who still has a lot to prove. We know he can yell at teams filled with veterans until they win 60+ games, but how effectively can he groom young talent? How does his system operate with an elite point guard at the helm? Can he really push Brook Lopez to new heights, or is his abrasive style more taxing than it is helpful? Every month of Avery only leaves me with more questions, and hopefully this season we’ll finally get a few answers.

Key Departures: Kris Humphries?, Travis Outlaw, Brandan Wright

Key Additions: Shawne Williams, Marshon Brooks, Shelden Williams

Best case scenario: You know the drill: the Nets somehow pull off the trade of the century, and pair Deron Williams with the second best player in the NBA. Dwight Howard coming to the Nets would change everything for New Jersey/Brooklyn/the known universe, and would without a doubt represent this team’s best possible outcome.

For that to happen: New Jersey would probably need to stockpile more trade assets. A package that would gift Brook Lopez, oodles of draft picks, and financial relief to the Magic reportedly wasn’t enough to even keep Orlando at the table, meaning that the Nets will have to find some creative ways to improve their offer. Is there another third team out there — aside from the Blazers, who attempted to facilitate the Nets’ initial trade configuration —  who could make the offers for Dwight more interesting?

More likely, the Sixers will: Cling desperately to Deron, make every run possible at Dwight, and then still have to wait out Howard’s free agent decision next summer like everyone else. The Nets should have a pretty mediocre season in the meantime, as even a year’s worth of Deron Williams can’t make up for the dearth of capable wing players on the roster. The Nets may not be done dealing in free agency, but if their most current roster is the one they go into the season with, Stephen Graham masquerading as a big-minute wing player is going to get very old very fast.

Prediction: 31-35, which is just good enough to miss the playoffs and secure a mid first-round pick that will inevitably be included in any proposed trades for Howard. Congrats, Nets fans: Williams’ first full season in New Jersey will be completely obscured by the shadow of Dwight Howard’s trade demands, and the season itself — which will feature a scantily upgraded roster in the name of financial flexibility — will again be forgettable. But hey, the team’s better than last year, right?

NBA Season Preview: Toronto Raptors

dwane Casey
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Last season: 22-60. It was even uglier than it sounds.

Head Coach: Dwane Casey, who will finally get another crack at a head coaching gig. Casey seemed to be unfairly typecast as an assistant over the last few seasons, but the Raptors have brought him in on the strength of a championship-worthy defensive system. Casey’s man-zone hybrid defenses were a big reason why there was a parade in Dallas this past summer, and the Raps are hoping to instill the same kind of innovative defensive structure.

Key Departures: Sonny Weems, Reggie Evans, Julian Wright

Key Additions: Rasual Butler, Jamaal Magloire. Oddly enough, this is not a bad thing.

Best case scenario: The Raps take full inventory of all of the various pieces in their collection, decide on a true core for the team, and find a few bites on the trade line. There’s no rush of any kind in Toronto; Bryan Colangelo can explore every single possibility out there, while Casey slowly gets the young guys (Andrea Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan, et al) up to speed on their defensive fundamentals.

For that to happen: The Raps need to continue doing exactly what they’ve been doing. It’s almost strange to say it at this point, but credit Toronto for not seeing this season as some critical launch point, and credit Colangelo for electing to fill out his roster with low-salary, low-risk players. Many basketball fans have an instinctive, adverse reaction to any team signing Jamaal Magloire, but at this particular juncture, he legitimately makes sense for the Raptors. Toronto is taking aim for next season — when prized draft pick Jonas Valanciunas will make his way to the NBA — giving little reason to invest or trade for alternative center options. Magloire isn’t good, but he’s cheap…and Canadian, which certainly doesn’t hurt. He’s not the answer, but he also won’t be any kind of problem.

This isn’t a team trying to scrap toward 35 wins with the books as forfeit, but a team being mindful of its future as it attempts a slow rebuild. It can be an arduous process, but barring a Draft night home run, it’s what must be done.

More likely, the Raptors will: See above. There’s only one direction for Toronto to go right now, painful as that might be for Raptors fans.

Prediction: 18-48, but hopefully with a brighter future.