Posted: Tuesday November 1, 2005 11:53AM; Updated: Wednesday November 9, 2005 4:19PM
With a healthy Vince Carter, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson, the Nets have their eyes set on a return to the Finals.
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images
Mannix: New Jersey Nets -- Considered a cut below the Big 3 of the East, the Nets will get an MVP-caliber season from Vince Carter and battle for the conference crown again
McCallum: The Golden State Warriors -- I can't see them going far in the postseason, but Baron Davis gives them the elite player they need to help develop Jason Richardson, Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy.
Packham: Clippers. The Clips getting the nod for an award other than Most Futile Franchise? Hey, it's possible, especially with the additions of Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley. If Shaun Livingston can get healthy, the Clippers could make the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
Thomsen: Phoenix Suns -- They'll win their division without Amaré Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson.
Weinstein: Clippers -- A surprise in the sense that their offense won't devolve into a wrestling match for the ball between Sam Cassell, Cuttino Mobley, Corey Maggette and Elton Brand. Actually, if Cassell shows his good side in a contract year and the core players remain upright (Maggette already is having hamstring trouble and backup point guard Shaun Livingston is nursing a back injury), the Clippers could produce a winning record for the first time since 1992.
3. What team will be the biggest disappointment this season?
Ballard: The Knicks -- At least versus the unrealistic expectations.
Beech: Minnesota Timberwolves -- But they disappointed last year ... maybe Seattle since they were so good in '04-05
Burns: Golden State Warriors -- After closing out the season on a 14-4 run, Bay Area fans believe they can end their NBA-high 11-year playoff drought. But late-season surges often prove illusory, and Davis is injury-prone.
Dwyer: Miami Heat -- While Shaq, Antoine Walker and Gary Payton fish for pats on the back after taking pay cuts and/or seats on the bench, the Heat will struggle to spread the floor on offense and deal with the lingering and looming presence of Pat Riley. They'll get their act together long enough to make next May interesting, but don't bet on Miami taking down Detroit or Indiana.
Mannix: Houston Rockets -- Much is expected in Year 2 of McGrady/Yao, but new point guard Rafer Alston and coach Jeff Van Gundy are like oil and water.
McCallum: Seattle SuperSonics -- It's easy to forget how good they were last season with a 52-30 record. They lost one of the great NBA coaches in Nate McMillan, and though Bob Weiss is a well-respected lifer, it's going to be difficult to replicate last year's success.
Packham: Rockets. Everyone is expecting the Rockets to contend in the West, which they probably will do. But with Tracy McGrady already nursing small injuries and a hothead at point guard (Rafer Alston), the Rockets are on thin ice.
Thomsen: Los Angeles Clippers -- In spite of their big payroll, they lack the chemistry to contend.
Weinstein: SuperSonics -- Seattle maxed out last season in finishing 52-30, winning the Northwest Division and pushing San Antonio to six games in the Western Conference semifinals. All-Star shooting guard Ray Allen, 3-point bomber Vladimir Radmanovic and rebounding ace Reggie Evans all re-signed (the latter two with one-year deals), but losing McMillan and glue guy Antonio Daniels will hurt the Sonics' ability to recreate last season's chemistry. Weiss will struggle to get Seattle into the playoffs.
4. What player will breakout and become a star this season?
Ballard: Dwight Howard, Magic -- Ridiculously athletic, he'll actually touch the ball in the post this season. Expect 20 and 12.
Burns: Raja Bell, Suns -- Known for his defense, Bell shot 40.3 percent from 3-point range last season with the Jazz. Now with the Suns, he'll get a chance to log heavy minutes and hoist a lot of shots -- especially with Nash to get him the ball.
Dwyer: Stromile Swift, Rockets -- The league (and, it's safe to say, Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy) will be shocked to see just how Swift performs when he doesn't have to think -- and just plays.
Mannix: Gilbert Arenas, Wizards -- Right on the cusp, a tireless work ethic and less point guard responsibilities this season will move Arenas into the top 10 players in the NBA.
McCallum: Ben Gordon of Chicago. He's playing with another terrific young guard, Kurt Hinrich, but I see the multi-talented Gordon as the one with the most upside.
Packham: Bell. With Stoudemire out, Bell will be one of the Suns' primary weapons, and certainly improve on his 12.3 scoring average from last season in Utah. Bell should prove worthy of his five-year, $24-million contract.