By now we know it is Steve Nash, not coach Mike D'Antoni, who owns the patent on Phoenix's run-and-gun style. D'Antoni's Knicks ranked only ninth in pace and 15th in offensive efficiency last season, but if New York is going to make the playoffs with the likes of Amar'e Stoudemire, Anthony Randolph, Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari, those rankings will have to rise. Initially, at least, D'Antoni is hedging his bets by playing either Ronny Turiaf or Russian rookie Timofey Mozgov at center with Stoudemire at power forward and Randolph off the bench.
Do the Wizards want to keep Gilbert Arenas around as a distracter/disruptor or do they want to flush the $80 million they owe him over the next four years down the drain? Lying to his coach about a fake injury shows Arenas remains in a rut of dysfunction. Arenas' celebrated backcourt mate, John Wall, is a blue-chip prospect who can be mentored by Kirk Hinrich (as Hinrich did with Derrick Rose the past two seasons). The starting center-power forward combination of JaVale McGee and Andre Blatche is loaded with potential and unpredictability.
Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson are good enough to be worthy secondary players on a championship contender, but the Bobcats lack a top dog. A supposedly cash-strapped team throwing $40 million (for five years) at athletic underachiever Tyrus Thomas makes no sense, nor does expecting to return to the playoffs with Nazr Mohammed and D.J. Augustin counted on for starter's minutes at center and point guard, respectively. Perhaps former point guard sensation Shaun Livingston can overcome his latest knee injury and push Augustin into a platoon situation.
Count me among the believers in center DeMarcus Cousins' being a future All-Star. Hopefully that process is expedited instead of marred by Dalembert's groin injury, which makes Cousins an immediate starter. Tyreke Evans may never have the court vision of a pure point guard, but he needs to foster more ball movement. With Carl Landry, Omri Casspi and Jason Thompson added to Cousins and Evans, the Kings are rapidly developing a physical identity. Sooner or later, but probably later, they are going to be very good.
It would be a heartwarming story if the Cavs could overachieve and compete for a playoff spot after being rejected by LeBron and pitied and dismissed by most observers. Even if they can't sustain their 5-2 preseason record once the games count, 22-year-old forward J.J. Hickson is proving to be a steal with the 19th pick in the 2008 draft and 24-year-old point guard Ramon Sessions is stuffing the stat sheet the way he did two seasons ago in Milwaukee. Those storylines involving youngsters ultimately matter more than how proven players either in their prime (Anderson Varejao, Mo Williams) or past it (Antawn Jamison) fare this season.
Shooting guard Ben Gordon would be a prime candidate for Comeback Player of the Year if the league still had such an award. But Detroit has a surfeit of shooting guards and forwards and desperately needs a genuine playmaker at point guard and a viable inside defender who is younger and has more size than the 6-9, 36-year-old Ben Wallace. Such a poorly balanced roster would cause a general manager less esteemed than Joe Dumars to worry about his job.
The Nets won't lose 70 games again, but the prospects of another implosion are higher than you might think. New coach Avery Johnson and new owner Mikhail Prokhorov are impatient, and yet patience will be required with New Jersey's top draft picks the past two years, Derrick Favors (2010) and Terrence Williams (2009), and with blending together mostly pedestrian rotation players from Indiana (Troy Murphy), Portland (Travis Outlaw), Golden State (Anthony Morrow) and the Lakers (Jordan Farmar) into Johnson's system alongside holdovers Brook Lopez and Devin Harris. Meanwhile, Prokhorov, who has talked of making the playoffs this season and winning a title within five years, is probably willing to blow it all up for a star, with visions of Carmelo dancing in his head.
Addition by subtraction defines the departure of coach Don Nelson, who went from charismatic iconoclast to grumpy, incoherent tactician over the past few years. It will take time, but the Warriors could thrive and move up this list once new coach Keith Smart implements a logical system tailored to his players' strengths. For example, with Andris Biedrins healthy, David Lee and Louis Amundson (out six weeks after finger surgery) on board and Nelson not around to play the 6-6, 210-pound Reggie Williams at power forward, the Warriors won't be outrebounded by nearly 10 per game like they were last season. Stephen Curry and Lee could be a top pick-and-roll combo, and Curry and Monta Ellis both score in bunches. A prospective 50-loss team rarely offers such enjoyable components.
The Wolves have added athletic wing scorers (Michael Beasley, top pick Wes Johnson, former Blazer Martell Webster), a passing center (Darko Milicic, who played only 24 games with them last year as a midseason acquisition) and heady point guard (Luke Ridnour) to operate coach Kurt Rambis' triangle offense. But their biggest improvement will come from letting Kevin Love lead the team in minutes. Outside of wanting to improve their lottery chances, it made no sense last season that Love ranked fifth in minutes on a 15-win team while averaging 14 points, 11 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 28.6 minutes.
Is there a quality defender on the roster? Maybe undersized Reggie Evans or foul-prone Amir Johnson, who both happen to play power forward and, for all their grit, will be overwhelmed down low because Andrea Bargnani, a 7-footer who abhors contact in the paint, is the center. With his four-year, $20 million deal, forward Linas Kleiza -- a solid rotation player in Denver before spending last season in Europe -- will provide better value than Bargnani and point guard Jose Calderon, terrible defenders for whom the Raps paid premium prices. A long, cold season looms in Toronto.
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