Writers' predictions for 2008-09 (cont.)
6. What team will be the biggest flop?
Thomsen: Nuggets. The giveaway of Camby will be disastrous to a team that had already had trouble defending. An overhaul awaits.
Burns: Nuggets. They have plenty of scorers in the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson and J.R. Smith. But their defense has been bad, and it is likely to get worse without Camby. Meanwhile, Iverson didn't get the contract extension he sought, and the Camby trade signaled that the organization is in cost-cutting mode. George Karl could have a hard time keeping it all together.
McCallum: Rockets. "Flop" is relative here, of course, since the addition of Ron Artest to a team that won 55 games last season certainly makes the Rockets more Rock than Rockette. But this is a franchise with championship aspirations, and taking into account Yao Ming's questionable sturdiness and the potential for chemical imbalance between Artest and Tracy McGrady, I don't see them getting to the conference finals.
Mannix: Nuggets. The already defenseless Nuggets lost their two best defensive players when they traded Camby and allowed Eduardo Najera to leave as a free agent. With Iverson in the last year of his contract and a roster loaded with high-priced but mismatched talent, the Nuggets could be in for a rebuilding project.
Aschburner: 76ers. Loved the Brand signing, but the enthusiasm and confidence of Sixers fans seems to have swelled beyond this club's capabilities. Brand has to be the elite player we saw two or three years ago, over 100 games or so, for this to work, and that's iffy. The two Andres (Iguodala and Miller) have enough holes in their games that I see Philadelphia scrapping near the bottom of the East bracket, a letdown from preseason hopes.
Forrester: Nuggets. They traded away their best defender, Camby, for little more than a bag of peanuts, leaving the frontcourt in the hands of two players -- Nenę and Kenyon Martin -- who have struggled to stay healthy. Add in Iverson's playing for a new contract and a coach with a habit of tiring of his teams, and the season has all the makings of the first step in starting a rebuilding program.
7. Which team will finish with the worst record?
Thomsen: Grizzlies. Too young to frighten anyone. A demoralized franchise.
Burns: Grizzlies. They have some promising young talent in Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and hotshot rookie Mayo, among others. But young teams seldom win in the NBA, and the frontcourt is woefully thin with Darko Milicic as the most proven big man in the rotation. With an inexperienced coach as well in Marc Iavaroni, Memphis is looking at another long rebuilding season.
Mannix: Grizzlies. New Jersey will give them a run for their money, but the young Grizzlies will take their lumps early and often in the West. Still, another high draft pick wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for Memphis, which has committed to winning with youth.
McCallum: Thunder. Change in venue doesn't mean change in fortunes. Defenses will still be ganging up on Durant, and the Thunder will be running players in and out all season trying to find the right mix. Last season's worst-record "champion," the 15-win Heat, have to be better as long as Wade stays healthy.
Aschburner: Thunder. No one in Oklahoma City will really care, because the NBA circus is now in town!
Forrester: Kings. Kevin Martin is going to face the type of defensive attention reserved for superstars. Also, the Kings were one of the worst defensive teams by any measure last season, and that was with Artest on the floor. How easy do you think it will be to score on the Kings this season with Artest in Houston?
8. Which player will break out and become a star?
Thomsen: Derrick Rose, Bulls. He may start slowly, and Beasley will outpoint him for Rookie of the Year voting. But by season's end, his speed and presence will make it obvious that the Bulls are in the right hands.
Burns: Al Thornton, Clippers. The wiry forward came on strong late last season, but by then the Clippers were already off the radar. With Brand and Maggette having left via free agency, Thornton now gets a chance to step in and get some of those extra minutes (and shots). Detroit's Rodney Stuckey is primed for a breakout year, too, but he will have to play behind Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups.
Mannix: Devin Harris, Nets. The Lakers' Bynum will be the trendy pick, but he was well on his way to breaking out before a knee injury derailed his 2007-2008 season. The Nets have revamped the offense to take advantage of the speed and penetrating abilities of Harris, who will emerge as an All-Star in part because he won't have too much help on the roster.
McCallum: Rajon Rondo, Celtics. He was supposed to be the weak link, the guy who would quake under the pressure of servicing the Big Three. Well, as he showed in the Finals last season, there is no quake in the Celtics' wisp of a point guard. He may never be a deadly accurate shooter, but he plays great defense, gets into the paint, makes decisions at full speed and is nobody's weak link.
Aschburner: Rudy Gay, Grizzlies. This is a tough category. Is Portland's Roy already a star? He's been an All-Star, even if a lot of casual fans don't notice him. He'd be my first choice (see how we try to fudge these things), but Gay didn't get much acclaim, beyond votes for the Most Improved Player award, for his strong 2007-08 season. His biggest hurdle? Getting anyone to notice what goes on in Memphis.
Forrester: Harris. With few offensive options beyond Vince Carter, who may well be traded anyway this season, the Nets will rely heavily on Harris. The point guard will stick a dagger in the hearts of Mavericks fans every time he takes the floor and generates some gaudy numbers.
9. Which coach enters the season on the hottest seat?
Thomsen: Marc Iavaroni, Grizzlies. No coach could win with this team.
Burns: Mike Brown, Cavs. Fair or not, the fourth-year coach has come under fire for his team's lack of offensive creativity. He must find a way to take some pressure off LeBron, either by finding a second reliable scorer or by loosening the reins on the fast break. With LeBron set to become a free agent in 2010, the pressure is on Brown to keep it moving in the right direction
Mannix: George Karl, Nuggets. Three straight first-round playoff exits, a rocky relationship with Carmelo and a front office that is one long losing streak away from pulling the pin on the whole thing makes Karl's seat the hottest of them all. If the Nuggets struggle early, Karl could be gone by Christmas.
McCallum: Mike Dunleavy, Clippers. No, he won't be fired. In fact, he's just gathered more power as he takes over Elgin Baylor's duties as general manager. But that's exactly the point: This is Dunleavy's team. And I don't see the Baron Davis acquisition compensating for the departure of Brand in the tough West.
Aschburner: Karl. There is a real fragility to the Nuggets, from their front office down to the locker room, with Karl as the emotional straw that stirs the drink. Pull one of the threads and the rest of this sweater could unravel. Unless everyone has adjusted to the penny-pinching embrace of not winning, there will be tensions here.
Forrester: Sam Mitchell, Raptors. The marriage between Mitchell and GM Bryan Colangelo has never been dreamy. After raising expectations by acquiring Jermaine O'Neal, Colangelo isn't likely to have a lot of patience if the Raptors struggle early.
10. Who will be the biggest name traded during the season?
Thomsen: Vince Carter, Nets. The rebuilding Nets need to trade him sooner than later. He can go to any number of markets that need help selling tickets.
Burns: Mike Bibby, Hawks. In the final year of his contract, Bibby could be in big demand for teams seeking a veteran QB to boost their playoff chances at the trade deadline. The Hawks already have Acie Law waiting in the wings, and new GM Rick Sund won't want to risk seeing Bibby walk away at the end of the season with nothing in return.
McCallum: Stephon Marbury, Knicks. Though Marbury's rep has suffered (that's putting it mildly) in past years, he is still a big name. And when the Knicks finally find a taker -- Golden State? I have no solid evidence, just a hunch that Don Nelson sees Marbury as someone who could play for him -- it will be big news ... and a big sigh of relief in the Big Apple.
Mannix: Marbury. Somebody will want the mercurial Marbury, if only for his expiring $21.9 million contract. Marbury's skills have eroded over the last two seasons, but he is still an experienced scorer who can help a team in the short term -- and give it financial flexibility down the road.
Aschburner: Rasheed Wallace, Pistons. Iverson would be a good choice, too, but his salary number ($20.9 million), expiring or not, is so darn big. Since president Joe Dumars didn't make good on his promised summer makeover of this squad, any shortcomings by the Pistons once the season is underway could get lumped onto Wallace's eminently scapegoat-able back.
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