Writers' Roundtable (cont.)
3. What preseason prediction would you like to take back?
Jack McCallum: Incredibly, I don't hate any of my predictions, including the one about the Hornets. My surprise team was the 76ers, but I only had them challenging for first-round home-court advantage, not going to the conference finals or anything.
Chris Mannix: I'm not going to rescind my prediction that the Nuggets would be the biggest flop or that George Karl would be sitting on the hottest seat, because if not for the Billups trade, I still think both would hold true. But I wouldn't mind amending my pick for Rookie of the Year. Michael Beasley will still be a pretty good player, but right now Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo and even Lopez are head and shoulders better than Beasley. I also said Beasley would face "stiff competition" from Greg Oden; yeah, not so much there either. Oden has the tools to be a great center, but he needs some serious work on his conditioning before he gets there.
Steve Aschburner: If I had my Web cam turned on, you would see me in my 67th consecutive day of cringe. Because I'm the guy who, in response to the question "Which team will be the biggest surprise?'' actually typed C-l-i-p-p-e-r-s. And this: "The sportswriting boneyard is full of people who have, at one time or another, predicted breakthroughs for this franchise. Projecting team success on any roster that includes Ricky Davis always is risky. But ...'' Why, oh why couldn't I have stopped while I was ahead? Just had to throw the "but'' in there, didn't I? I put too much faith in Baron Davis' leadership skills and didn't learn enough from his durability issues. The Clippers' many other injuries undermined what modest hopes they might have had. Then there's the not-inconsiderable truth that they are, in fact, the Clippers.
4. What storyline interests you the most in the second half of the season?
Ian Thomsen: I'm hoping to see rivalries develop at the top of each conference. Will the Spurs challenge the Lakers? How will the Cleveland-Boston-Orlando triangle play itself out? Since the NBA has so little use for upsets, the success of its playoffs depends on rivalries and extended seven-game series of the best teams.
Jack McCallum: This is actually my second-most-interesting storyline, after the East race already addressed in question No. 1. I'm going to be watching the struggle of the veteran teams to maintain their relevance in the postseason race. Specifically, are the Spurs, still boasting the same nucleus that brought them championships in 2005 and 2007, good enough to not only take on the Lakers but also fend off the Hornets, Nuggets, Rockets, Trail Blazers, et al.? Can Jerry Sloan, who just received another one-year deal, lift his Jazz back into the hunt? Can a Steve Nash-Shaquille O'Neal team go anywhere in Phoenix? Ditto for the Dirk Nowitzki-Jason Kidd combo in Dallas. And in the East, can rookie coach Michael Curry get the Chauncey Billups-less Pistons within striking range of the leaders?
Chris Mannix: The Larry O'Brien trophy is up for grabs this season and the team that makes the shrewdest deadline deal/pre-March signing will probably wind up hoisting it. Can Boston get a backup big man and a much-needed shooter? Will Cleveland be able to flip Wally Szczerbiak's expiring contract for a productive player who doesn't hurt the team's chemistry? Will Orlando find a physical big man to play bodyguard for Dwight Howard? Will the Lakers pick up some insurance in the backcourt for the injured Jordan Farmar? The moves don't have to be big; in fact, some could require only cash and draft picks. But in a seven-game series, it's the subtle upgrades that could matter the most.
Steve Aschburner: My curiosity is piqued by the Suns, if only because of that loud ticking sound that accompanies them these days. It's kind of like watching a hoops version of 24, wondering if Jack Bauer, er, Steve Kerr can unlock the code, find the bomb and salvage the season. The trading deadline looms large for these guys, I believe, and then the Suns need to get some serious traction for a playoff run. I'd hate to think that the All-Star Game will be the last exciting thing we'll see in Phoenix over the second half.
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