Posted: Tuesday November 1, 2005 11:53AM; Updated: Wednesday November 9, 2005 4:19PM
After being dislocated by Hurricane Katrina, the Hornets hope rookie Chris Paul can offer fans a reason for hope this season.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images
Thomsen: Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets -- He'll make his first All-Star game while leading the Nuggets to the divisional title.
Weinstein: Howard -- The top pick in last year's draft is on his way after averaging 12 points and 10 points and shooting 52 percent from the field as a teenaged rookie in '04-05. Howard, who turns 20 in December, should see last season's 8.2 shots-per-game average rise as new Magic coach Brian Hill will give the power forward every opportunity to establish low-post consistency.
5. Who will be the league's best rookie?
Ballard: Chris Paul, Hornets -- He's NBA-ready, a good shooter and will get as many minutes as he can handle.
Beech: Sean May, Hornets ... or the Pacers' Danny Granger if he can get some playing time.
Burns: Paul -- The little point guard from Wake Forest is jet quick with a smooth outside stroke. He'll get a chance to play a lot of minutes for the lowly Hornets, and he'll be a regular on the ESPN highlights feeding J.R. Smith and Desmond Mason for dunks.
Dwyer: Paul -- His refined shooting stroke will separate him from the rest of the rookie crop. Players such as Danny Granger (Pacers), Luther Head (Rockets), and Francisco Garcia (Kings) will have strong years for more important teams, but this little crotch-puncher will take home the hardware.
Mannix: Paul -- Destined for a long season in Hornet-land (wherever that is), but Paul will put up huge numbers as one of the Hornets only legitimate scoring options
McCallum: Paul -- He'll get the chance to play big minutes and he has one of those exciting games that get people talking.
Packham: Paul. Paul is in a perfect situation: a struggling franchise in need of an energetic leader. Paul's quick first step and fancy passes should separate him from Andrew Bogut and Martell Webster for ROY honors.
Thomsen: Indiana's Granger will contribute to a contender, but Paul will run away with rookie of the year.
Weinstein: Granger. The 17th selection in the June draft won't approach being the "best" as measured by Rookie of the Year-type statistics, but he'll be a solid rotation player for championship-contending Indiana. The Pacers already are raving about the 6-foot-9 forward's defense and all-around game.
6. Who is on the hottest seat this season?
Ballard: Kevin McHale, T'wolves GM. Or at least he should be, considering the T'wolves' devolution.
Beech: John Nash, Blazers GM -- He's going with a youth movement and Portland fans are used to playoffs
Burns: Rob Babcock, Raptors GM -- After drafting Rafael Araujo and trading Carter, the second-year executive doesn't have a lot of support right now from Toronto fans. If his hand-picked coach Sam Mitchell struggles, and Charlie Villanueva doesn't pan out, he could take the fall.
Dwyer: Kiki Vandeweghe, Nuggets GM -- With as many mitigating failures (Nikoloz Tskitishvili, letting ex-coach Jeff Bzdelik stew) as successes (hiring George Karl, removing all elements of the Dan Issel Era), Kiki's '05-06 contract year will define his Nuggets legacy. If he can secure a sweet-shooting wing player with Nenê and Andre Miller as bait, he may earn a contract extension. But with Karl's dominating presence, will Kiki want to stick around?
Mannix: Jeff Van Gundy, Rockets coach -- Management has given him the weapons, now Van Gundy must show he can win outside of New York.
McCallum: Everybody automatically says it's Miami coach Stan Van Gundy. But I think it's Miami president Pat Riley. He's the one who made all the trades to put this team together, and, if he makes a coaching change, he is the one who will be calling the bench shots. If Van Gundy's seat is hot, Riley's is electric.
Packham: RonArtest. His job is safe, but the media scrutiny will be ridiculous. Every mention of 'album sales' will be hyped (excuse the pun), every technical will lead SportsCenter, and every loss will be analyzed to see what role Artest played in it.
Thomsen: Stan Van Gundy, Heat coach -- He must get everybody on the same page, and nothing less than a championship will do.
Weinstein: Artest. Riley tried to take this seat but Artest, uh, bumped him aside. If the mercurial forward behaves, Indiana has all the pieces in place for a title run.
7. What will be this year's biggest controversy?
Ballard: SI Reporter Chris Mannix alerts officials that clutch Ray Allen playoff 3-pointer actually worth only two. Fans dump beer on Mannix.
Beech: The lukewarm reception NBA teams give the NBDL.
Burns: Riley and Stan Van Gundy -- The Heat president denies he has any plans to return to the bench, but the story isn't likely to go away. If the revamped Heat don't get off to a good start, coach Stan Van Gundy will be looking over his shoulder.
Dwyer: Riley's distasteful domination of Stan Van Gundy's dreams -- Riles may categorize his "increased participation" in the Heat's day-to-day makeup as some sort of perverse inspirational tool, but history tells us that it will all just blow up in his face in the end. And don't expect Jeff Van Gundy, in his own wry and inimitable fashion, to stay quiet on the subject for long.
Mannix: Eddy Curry, Knicks. A black cloud is hanging over Madison Square Garden; should something happen to Curry, the NBA is in for a nightmare exponentially worse than the brawl in Detroit
McCallum: The referees claim that -- hold on to your hats -- calling more traveling is going to become a point of emphasis. In particular, they're looking to take the hop followed by the two steps out of the game. If they really enforce that, you're going to hear some whining from a lot of players, New Jersey's Vince Carter in particular.
Packham: There will be a brawl - not to the scale of last season's melee - and it will be blown out of proportion ... of course.
Thomsen: The continuing debate over cardiac testing for players.
Weinstein: The dress-code flap aside, the NBA's planned crackdown on palming the ball and flopping (Reggie Miller and Vlade Divac got out just in time) will generate some buzz.
8. Who will be the biggest name to be traded?
Ballard: Zach Randolph, Trail Blazers. The Zach-Nate McMillan marriage looks short-lived.
Beech: Paul Pierce, Celtics.
Burns: Pierce -- GM Danny Ainge says he has no intention of dealing his franchise player, but Pierce has clashed with coach Doc Rivers and the Celtics are in a youth movement. If Boston's young roster struggles, Ainge will feel the pressure to get on with the rebuilding.
Dwyer: Regardless of which side is leaking the trade rumors, expect Paul Pierce to be out of Boston by February -- if not sooner. His dominating preseason will only grease the wheels. Plus, some of us are out of jobs if the biggest names to change uniforms are only Jamaal Magliore and Al Harrington.
Mannix: Pierce -- With one of the youngest teams in the league, management will realize they can lose just as many games without him. Pierce and Rivers have never been on the same page
McCallum: Jalen Rose, Raptors. Why? I have no idea. But Toronto has to do something to get noticed way up there.
Packham: Keith Van Horn. He's played for five teams in his nine-year career. Why not make it six?
Thomsen: Pierce -- He'll be gone to a contender by February.
Weinstein: Kevin Garnett, Timberwolves -- In the offseason, after the Timberwolves fail to make the playoffs for the second straight season. As for a midseason blockbuster, speculation will center on four-time Celtics All-Star swingman Pierce.
9. Who will be the NBA's Final Four (and champion) in the playoffs?
Ballard: San Antonio, Indiana, Houston and Cleveland. In a big surprise, I'll go with the Spurs to repeat.
Beech: San Antonio, Dallas, Indiana, New Jersey. I'll go against the grain a little and take the Pacers to win it all.
Burns: San Antonio, Houston, Miami and Detroit, with the Spurs winning the championship.
Dwyer: Detroit and Miami in the East, with San Antonio and Phoenix out West. Due to the NBA's unfortunate seeding structure, the second (Indiana, Houston) and third-best (Cleveland, Dallas) teams will be out before the Conference finals roll around. In the Finals, San Antonio will takecare of Detroit.
Mannix: Miami, Indiana, San Antonio and Phoenix. The Spurs will defend the crown.
McCallum: In the East: Detroit and Indianapolis; in the West: San Antonio and Dallas. I'll be real original and predict the Spurs to win the whole thing again.
Packham: Spurs and Nuggets in the West. Heat and Pistons in the East. Spurs beat the Heat in six to repeat as champions.
Thomsen: San Antonio over Phoenix; Miami over Indiana. And Miami for the championship.
Weinstein: East -- Pacers and Heat. This shapes up as a three-team race so naturally we'll choose the two with major chemistry issues to sort out during the season. The Pacers' deep roster will test coach Rick Carlisle's ego-management skills, which isn't too bad as far as problems go. His Miami counterpart, Stan Van Gundy, has several high-profile newcomers in front of him and Riley over his shoulder. Meanwhile, the Pistons acquired a chip on their shoulder in the offseason, believing former coach Larry Brown's newsmaking overshadowed their success. With the starting five back again and a potentially stronger bench, Detroit easily could play for its third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.
In the West, the Spurs and the Nuggets. The second slot behind San Antonio is wide open. Despite concerns about how Kenyon Martin will rebound from knee surgery and whether injury-prone Marcus Camby will hold up, Denver is the pick here based on its frontcourt depth and last season's 32-8 surge under coach George Karl.
And in the Finals, the Spurs will beat the Pacers for their third title in four seasons.
10. Will Ron Artest make it through the entire season without being suspended again?
Ballard: Yes. He will also be an All-Star.
Burns: No. It won't be anything nearly as bad as last year's Malice in the Palace, but Artest will be called into David Stern's office for a meeting at least once this season.
Dwyer: No, but that's hardly a surprise, and it certainly doesn't mean he'll be rushing into the stands anytime soon. Ron-Ron can't help but receive a few suspensions over the course of the season. Just as his mid-range game and all-around interests seem mercurial and out of place in today's NBA, his propensity for body-slamming a backup point guard and/or assistant coach will have him parked on the bench for a game or 12 before all is said and done.
Mannix: Not a chance.
McCallum: No. I hope he does, but, with the eyes of the league office and the media upon him, something is bound to happen.
Packham: Yes. Somehow Artest will get it together and make it through the season - after all, he's got albums to sell. He'll certainly pile up the technicals, but he'll amazingly avoid any suspensions.
Weinstein: No. A few flagrant fouls here or missed shootaround there, and Artest will have a little free time to promote his record label and conduct a follow-up interview with Penthouse magazine.