Friday, August 10, 2007

I've Got 5 On It

It took me a couple of weeks to let it all sink in. Try to understand it: I’m a Nets fan. If you have been following the League the last 10 years or so you might know that being a Nets fan is not easy. Okay, beats being a Hawks fan, but still, it was a rollercoaster ride. I mean: Two Finals appearances, winning the Atlantic Division multiple times ain’t bad. But also injuries, sloppy play, a 41-41 season, something’s gotta give when the East is getting stronger, and the Nets stay…. The same, basically. Is that a good thing? Or not? More on that later.

So what needed to sink in? Seeing a great player wearing number 5 on a Celtics jersey, a Knicks team that just might be more competitive in recent years, and the Raptors could be one of the elite in the East. And Philly? Uhm, well, at least they have two good players, which must be worth something. So let’s take a very premature look on the 5 teams that will battle in the ’08 season for the Atlantic crown. Premature obviously because it’s August, and there probably will be even more changes coming up than Eddie House has switched his last name.

Boston Celtics
What will happen: The feel-good story of the year. Three guys racking up 60 points against whoever is playing them, creating some excitement for the die-fans probably as hungry for some wins as this trio. It must feel good to be a fan of the Celtics right now. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett both are playing alongside Paul Pierce? Wow. A winning season is in the works, and the playoffs will be back in Boston.
What won’t happen: A 17th title. Come on now. Can Pierce, Allen and Garnett play 40 minutes every night? Not for 82 games they can. No bench, no decent point guard, no money to sign quality players, no championship.
Why am I writing about this too early?: Because goddamn, Ray Allen is one of the best shooters in the League, Kevin Garnett is still one of the greatest players, and Paul Pierce is just a warrior out there. They can easily make me look like a fool in 2008, winning more than I think they can.

New Jersey Nets
What will happen: Another up-and-down season. Maybe 45-50 wins. Jason Kidd again getting a bunch of triple-doubles, Vince Carter getting some highlights, and a good chance that the ‘Big Four’ (Kidd, Carter, RJ and Krstic) again won’t play for an entire season with each other, because of injuries. The bench is so-so. Bostjan Nachbar proved that he sure can play, and Jason Collins, now on the bench because of newest Net Jamaal Magloire, will provide some defense. Other than that? Young guys who still have something to prove out there. On a more personal note: I’m still angry that they let Hassan Adams go. Mentioning that adds nothing valuable to this analysis, but had to be said.
What won’t happen: go far in the playoffs. Not with this team. I love these guys, but if they couldn’t do it last season, why would it work this season? Because of Jamaal Magloire? He’s okay, but just replaces Mikki Moore in my opinion. Yes, they are two different types of players, but both have something to offer. Calling it like Lauryn Hill: You might win some but you just lost one.
Why am I writing about this too early?: Sometimes teams just have luck on their side. Look at the Eastern finalists of the last two seasons. Miami won the Championship on free throws. A whole lot of them. Cleveland got into the Finals because the Pistons really, really disappointed. They should’ve swept the Cavs, but they choked as a whole. So with just a little luck, which also means a healthy Nets team for the first time in years, they actually could sneak up on some people in the playoffs. Or good ol’ Larry Legend will trade Jermaine O’Neal straight up for Mile Ilic, and the New Jersey will be the best team in the East.

New York Knicks
What will happen: The energy will be back in the Garden. Stephon Marbury is saying all the right (and sometimes funny) things during the off-season, and even Nate Robinson is making name for himself in the Summer League. Quentin Richardson is healthy again, and I don’t see why they can’t make the playoffs. If Isiah Thomas can make this team jell, get players to sacrifice for one another for the sake of winning, anything other than a 50-win season and playoffs should be considered as a huge disappointment. Stating the obvious, but I’m wondering if there are enough balls around for all those guys who are used to scoring 20-25 points every game. Eddy Curry and Randolph (odd to pair these two players together – both aren’t to keen on D) on the inside, Crawford from the outside, I’m not sure.
What won’t happen: A Finals appearance. I know it’s good for the League when big market teams like Boston or New York goes all the way, but I highly doubt New York has what it takes to go all the way. I remember the Blazers of the late nineties playing really, really good but not making it the final round. The Knicks might be better than last year, and probably better than a whole lot of other teams, especially in the East. But they aren’t to be considered as an elite team.
Why am I writing about this too early?: All this talent, don’t forget, they also have David Lee. If I had to pick one player from the Knicks to place on my own team, he would be the man. They got the goods, and they can go really far, and even get to the ECF. This will be an interesting team to watch from the start.

Philadelpia 76’ers
What will happen: What can I say about the Sixers? They’re screwed, basically. Andre Iguodala is a future all-star, Andre Miller is a pure point guard, but those two aren’t enough to make some noise in the Atlantic Division.
What won’t happen: Playoffs.
Why am I writing about this too early?: As you can see I’m not saying much about this team, because there isn’t much to say. They just aren’t very good, and the rest of the Atlantic is better. Way better. And that not only goes for this Division, it goes for the whole League, really. If either Miller or Iggy gets injured, what’s left? I hope this team amazes me, that they will win some games, but they’re rebuilding, starting over. Patience is needed in Philly.

Toronto Raptors
What will happen: It almost hurts me to write this (not literally, because that would be unhealthy), but the Raptors might be the best team in the Atlantic Division. They seem to have it all. Good bench, promising young guys, a star player in Chris Bosh, good management, so let’s throw in a cliché: the sky is the limit. They should win the Atlantic, and go deeper in the playoffs than last season. It would be nice if T.J. Ford could stay healthy somehow, but they also have Calderon as his backup. Who knows, could be the other way around someday. I hate / like this team. “Hate” because the Nets is my team, “like” because it really seems to be a good group of guys.
What won’t happen: They could go all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, but I think they are still very young. If they can keep the core group of this team together for another year, then they might be able to get to the Finals. But not just yet.
Why am I writing about this too early?: Yes, I am positive about the Raptors. But they did not play very well in the playoffs against the Nets. Blame it on youth. Blame it on something. You might even wonder if they’re tough enough. Sam Mitchell is, but can he get this team to be great team, instead of a good team?

When the playoffs begin in 2008, and I read this again, I will be laughing at myself for taking all these wild guesses and actually believing that I know what I talk about. If I do know one thing, it’s this: the Atlantic Division is back, and is the most interesting division in the NBA.