It’s been a busy offseason in the NBA, and I’m not just talking about Dwight Howard. Here are some thoughts, and predictions, on four teams (two from the East and two from the West) that will enter the 2013-14 NBA season with different personnel.
The Rockets landed the biggest fish in free agency. After playing one (rather forgettable) season as a Los Angeles Laker, Howard fled the bright lights of LA for a lower-pressure situation in Houston. His main running mate will be James Harden, arguably a top-five player in the NBA, who is nowhere near his ceiling. For the most part, Jeremy Lin (Linsanity!) is a promising young point guard who should improve in the coming years, the top priority being his shooting. Chandler Parsons doesn’t kill you with his athleticism but he’s a smart, heady player who shoots great percentages from the field (47% for his career) and from deep (37% for his career). And Omer Asik is a starting-calibre centre who will be a great backup to Howard. The potential knock is that Asik is almost TOO good to be a backup but that’s a nice problem to have. If they can find a way to play these two together, opposing teams will be scared into a lot of jump shots. By the way, I’m giving Howard a pass for last year. He was coming off two serious injuries and his fit with the Lakers just always seemed off. With improved health, a new city, a new situation, less pressure, a desire to quiet the naysayers, and no Kobe Bryant to satisfy, I’m expecting a monster year from the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Prediction: Third seed in the Western Conference after finishing eighth last year
Los Angeles Clippers
It’s accepted as fact that Vinny Del Negro was not the best coach in the world. And that’s the most polite thing you can say about him. You can argue all you want about the relative importance of coaching in the NBA but hiring one of the best (if not the best) NBA coach in Doc Rivers is sure to help the Clips. Hiring Rivers proved to be the final impetus for NBA superstar Chris Paul to sign a five-year deal worth more than $100 million. You can crow all you want about how Paul has never done much in the postseason but you can’t ignore the fact that the six-time All-Star has been on some poor teams. You just can’t count this guy out, especially in the fourth quarter when he’s needed the most. I expect Blake Griffin to come back with a large chip on his shoulder after all the chatter about him being a soft player. Jamal Crawford is instant offense off the bench and DeAndre Jordan, while disappointing, still has time to improve. Adding J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley are under-the-radar moves that should have a huge impact. Both are smart players who understand the game and can spread the floor with their solid three-point shooting. If you’re a team in need of role players, you can’t do much better than Redick and Dudley. The Clips’ season might come down to rim protection so Griffin and Jordan will need to step up on the defensive end of the floor for the Clips to challenge the top of the standings.
Prediction: Second seed in the Western Conference after finishing fourth last year
In the most win-now move of win-now moves, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov proved that he’s not messing around. He was in the middle of the fairway on a par-five and he reached for his 3-wood. And I like it! In a league where half the teams are tanking for Andrew Wiggins, it’s refreshing to see a team do everything it can to win this year. Why the hell not? Sure, Kevin Garnett (37) and Paul Pierce (35) are entering the twilight of their careers. But I remain confident that these guys can still ball. Look at what Tim Duncan (37) did last year. Garnett and Pierce will bring a championship mentality to a team weak on championship experience, not to mention some serious toughness and swag. The Nets are the NBA’s latest superteam as Garnett and Pierce join Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez in the starting lineup. Wow. And their bench isn’t too shabby either. Andrei Kirilenko, Shaun Livingston, Jason Terry and board-machine Reggie Evans? Not bad at all. If Garnett and Pierce stay healthy and effective (admittedly a mighty big “if”), this team could beat Miami, Chicago or whoever else in the playoffs. It would not surprise me.
Prediction: Second seed in the Eastern Conference after finishing fourth last season
New York Knicks
Sometimes, I wonder what this team is doing. Maybe they see something in Andrea Bargnani that others don’t. Maybe they think a change of scenery will do him good. But my gut feeling is that the added pressure of playing in Madison Square Garden (in front of those pesky Knicks fans) won’t do him any favours. His mental fortitude has never appeared very strong and this is coming from a Toronto Raptors fan (aka someone who knows). I could be wrong here but I see him shrinking in the moment. I just don’t see how the Knicks trade a first-rounder and two second-rounders for him. Other than that, there’s a lot of players on this roster who I simply don’t trust. I don’t trust Tyson Chandler’s health and Raymond Felton’s game as a starter. And I sure don’t trust Amar’e Stoudemire to have any sort of a comeback year. Re-upping J.R. Smith and signing Metta World Peace leave me scratching my head a little bit as well. Now surprises do happen but I just don’t see this team earning home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Prediction: Sixth seed in the Eastern Conference after finishing second last season