“If you aint first, you’re last”… That quote was from the 2006 movie, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, starring Will Ferrell. I think NBA owners have now taken on this motto. Never in the history of the league has there been more “Big Time” off-season moves. Chris Paul, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard, to name a few, have all found new homes. This will be one of the most exciting NBA seasons in recent memory. To quote Hall of Fame coach Chuck Daly, “It is not about individuals, it is about the team… Remember, team work, makes the dream work.”
Below is The Sports Whisperer’s…
Eastern Conference Preview and Prediction:
#1) Boston Celtics (Projected finish, 62-20):
The Boston Celtics acquired All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving from the Cleveland Cavaliers for point guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s 2018 unprotected first-round pick. The Celtics should have the best record in the East but the Cavaliers got the better end of this deal. Boston added two significant starters to their roster. Marcus Morris who averaged 14 points and 4.8 rebounds last year will probably start at power forward. Gordan Hayward 21 points and 5.9 rebounds in Utah last year and should be a legitimate #2 scoring option behind Irving. I don’t know where the points will come from on the Boston bench but look for Duke Rookie Jayson Tatum to get a ton of playing time early in the season. Brad Stevens is a young coach on the rise. He does a tremendous job of preparing his team night in and night out.
#2) Cleveland Cavaliers (Projected finish, 58-24).
The Cavs had one of the busiest off-season in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland added Jeff Green, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. All of these players would start on 75% of NBA teams.
Going into the opening game, the Cavs starting five is as follows.
PG Rose (starting for injured Thomas)
SF LeBron James
PF Kevin Love
C Tristan Thompson.
I don’t like Rose and Wade staring with this unit. J.R. Smith or Kyle Korver should start and put Wade on the bench. The Miami Heat legend would be much more productive on the 2nd unit with shooters like, Channing Frye and Korver. Three of the Cavs starters don’t shoot the three ball well at all. Wade shoots 28% from three and Rose shoots 29% from behind the arc. This is a Cavs team that will get better as the season goes on and as Thomas gets healthy. If I am head coach Tyronn Lue, I don’t play LeBron, Love, Wade, Rose or Thomas more than 65 games. All that matters… being healthy during the playoffs.
#3) Washington Wizards (Projected finish, 55-27)
The Wizards have a solid starting five and their strength is in their backcourt. John Wall has matured under head coach Scotty Brooks and has become a leader on and off the court. Wall averaged 23.1 points per game last season but also got other teammates involved averaging 10.7 assists per contest. Bradley Beal has emerged as one of the most complete shooting guards in the NBA. Two years ago he averaged 17 points per game and last season that scoring average went up to 23 points per contest. Otto Porto continues to improve and has become a “lights out” shooter from three-point range. Kelly Oubre must take a giant leap in his 2nd year in the league if the Wizards want to be a legitimate threat in the east. The problem with this team is that they haven’t added significant depth to a good starting lineup.
#4) Toronto Raptors (Projected finish, 49-33).
Every time I see my beautiful friend Melissa I give her a kiss hello and say, “Kissing you is nice but it doesn’t mean anything.” I say that because Melissa is married to her life partner Lisa. The same can be said about the Raptors over the past few years. They are a nice story but it doesn’t mean anything. The Raptors will battle through the entire season, win close to 50 games, but they are simply no threat to ever win a title with this roster. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan (How many people have 4 capital letters in their names? DeMar… DeRozan) will average 50 points per game combined… but who else is a threat on this team?
#5) Milwaukee Bucks (Projected finish, 47-35).
If I had to pick one player and one team in the NBA to own for the next five years, it would be “The Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. Last season, at just 22 years old, Antetokounmpo averaged 22.9 points. 8.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. The Bucks also have rookie of the year running the point guard position in Malcolm Brodgon. If Khris Middleton (26 years old) and Jabari Parker (22 years old) can stay healthy this team can compete for the Eastern Conference Championship within 3 years. Head coach Jason Kidd has a young talented team. It is up to him to take them to the next level. Anything less than a trip to the second round of the playoffs would be a failure.
#6 Miami Heat (Project Finish 46-36)
There was a lot of talk last year that Heat coach, Erik Spoelstra winning coach of the year. I thought that was ridiculous. Miami was 41-41 and didn’t make the playoffs. You can’t give coach of the year to a coach who didn’t qualify for the post-season. For all of Spoelstra’s accolades, remember one stat. He has never been passed the 2nd round without LeBron James on his roster. Since “The King” took his talents back to Cleveland the Heat have missed the playoffs 2 out of 3 years. Pat Riley’s team has a formidable starting five.
Goran Dragic… 20.3 points and 5.8 assists per game
Dion Waiters… 15.8 points per game
Justise Winslow… 10.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists. If this team wants to make some noise, Winslow needs to scored 15 points, grab 7 rebounds and dish out 5 assists per game. Tall order for a 21-year-old.
Kelly Olynyk… 9 points per game with Boston. Olynyk gives Spoelstra a 7-footer capable of playing beyond the 3-point line and that should open the paint for Hassan Whiteside.
Hassan Whiteside… 17 points 14 rebounds per game. Whiteside should lead the NBA in double/doubles.
#7) Detroit Pistons (Projected finish, 43-39).
Head coach Stan Van Gundy has underachieved during his time running this franchise. The good news is the Eastern Conference is pretty weak so they should make the playoffs. The addition of Avery Bradley will help this team offensively and defensively. Tobias Harris is a very good stat stuffer that no one outside of Detroit knows about. He averaged 16.1 points and 5 assists last season.
#8) Philadelphia 76ers (Projected finish 42-40).
Is this the year Philadelphia finally becomes healthy and plays to their potential? The 76ers have a rookie PG starting, Ben Simmons coming off an injury, Joel Embid, J.J. Reddick and a power forward who is highly skilled in Dario Saric, 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Reserve Robert Covington is a very good two-way player. The question is what do they do with Jahlil Okafur. The former Duke stand out has shown signs of being a very good scorer but what else can the big man do consistently? I wouldn’t be surprised if the 76ers look to move him before Christmas.
#9) Charlotte Bobcats (Projected finish, 41-41).
As good as Michael Jordan was as a player, he is equally as bad at running an NBA Franchise. Am I supposed to think that Dwight Howard is going to make an impact in Charlotte? No thanks. As long as Jordan is running this team, they will never be a legitimate contender.
#10) New York Knicks (Projected finish, 38-42).
The Knicks have a core three of Kristaps Porzingis, (22 years old), Tim Hardaway, (25 years old) and point guard Frank Ntilikina is only 19. This team is young and built for the future, so I will trust the process. The problem is, how can I trust the process when Knicks owner, James Dolan, has won 1 playoff series since 2000.
Rebuilding mode and simply not enough talent:
Pacers, Bulls, Nets, Orlando and Atlanta.
Eastern Conference Finals:
Think about this. The Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving (25.2 points, 5.8 assists per game last season) for Isaiah Thomas (29.1 points, 5.9 assists per game last season. Jae Crowder (13.9 points, 5.9 rebounds per game last season) and the Nets 2018 unprotected draft pick. The Cavs can go to the finals and get a quality first round draft pick.
This Cavaliers team is deeper and better than they were last year.
The Cavs beat the Celtics in 5 games and LeBron James goes to an 8th Straight NBA Finals.
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