Writers' predictions for 2009-10 (cont.)
6. What team will be the biggest flop?
Thomsen: Grizzlies. No. 2 pick Hasheem Thabeet is a long-term project who can't be expected to contribute this season, and Allen Iverson -- who could have been a good addition to other teams -- will occupy the ball and limit the development of Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo.
Ballard: Magic. This pick is only relative to expectations, which are probably unreasonably high after the team's Finals run last season. Hedo Turkoglu was a better piece for the team than Vince Carter, and Brandon Bass doesn't really fit into their offense. Sure, they'll still win a ton of regular-season games, but for a team with the goal of a championship, I'd be surprised if they made it to the conference finals.
Mannix: Heat. Which Dwyane Wade will we see this season? Will it be the NBA scoring leader who played in 79 games and a career-high 3,048 minutes last season? Or will it be the broken-down version who winced his way through 102 games in the two years before that? With Michael Beasley dealing with personal issues and Jermaine O'Neal a perpetual question mark, the Heat need Wade to be the former. I don't think they will get it.
McCallum: Magic. Third in the East? That's the way I see it. The Cavs and the Celtics are both better, and, by the end of the season, the fans will be wishing they were watching Hedo instead of Vince.
Markazi: Nuggets. While the top teams improved with significant offseason additions, the Nuggets didn't do anything. In fact, they actually took a couple of steps back, losing Dahntay Jones and Linas Kleiza, two key players from a team that fell two wins shy of the Finals. George Karl teams also don't do well after playoff disappointments. His last two teams that lost in the conference finals failed to make the playoffs (2002 Bucks) and lost in the first round (1994 Sonics) the following season.
7. Which team will finish with the worst record?
Thomsen: Kings. After years of trying to rebuild while remaining in contention, they've made the difficult but inevitable decision to rebuild around rookie point guard Tyreke Evans and a young frontcourt of Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson -- with another high lottery pick to follow in June.
Ballard: Grizzlies. Though the Kings will give them a run for it. At least Sacramento appears to be building something. The Grizz have two young, talented scorers in Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo, but instead of building around them they added Zach Randolph and Iverson. Bewildering.
Mannix: Kings. Evans offers some hope for the future, but that future is several years away. The Paul Westphal watch will be in full swing by February.
McCallum: Bucks. They won 34 games last season, and that was with Richard Jefferson, Charlie Villaneuva and Ramon Sessions. With rookie point guard Brandon Jennings having to make a big jump, I see the Bucks "edging out" the Kings in a close battle that no team wants to win.
Markazi: Kings. The team that finished a league-worst 17-65 last season will be hard-pressed to improve with Westphal, who hasn't coached an NBA team since 2000, handing the keys of the offense to a rookie point guard who is more of a shooting guard and is two years removed from high school.
8. Which player will break out and become a star?
Ballard: Rose. You'll be sick of hearing about him by the end of the year, but he's easily one of the handful of NBA guys it's worth going out of your way to see play.
Mannix: Russell Westbrook. One of the best players at the USA Basketball minicamp this summer, Westbrook added an improved jump shot to his powerful penetrating skills and bulldog defense. He'll help Kevin Durant keep Oklahoma City in the playoff race into March.
McCallum: Rodney Stuckey. This is always a tough category because determining who's already a star is sometimes difficult. Is Portland's Brandon Roy a star, for example? (I'm going to say yes.) What you're looking for is a player who made a Danny Granger-like jump, and that often comes from someone on a mediocre or bad team. So I'm going with Detroit's Stuckey, who goes into this season without a Chauncey Billups or an Iverson in front of him.
Markazi: Durant. Entering his third year, Durant will become an All-Star and a bona-fide superstar. He was sixth in the NBA in scoring last year and should make a push for the scoring title this year with the likes of Kobe and LeBron taking fewer shots and facilitating for their talented teammates.
9. Which coach enters the season on the hottest seat?
Thomsen: Mike Brown, Cavs. How unfair is that for a young coach who transformed the Cavs into a defense-first contender while winning seven playoff series in his four years? But nothing less than a championship will be acceptable for Cleveland as LeBron approaches free agency.
Ballard: Byron Scott, Hornets. Have to wonder if he's going to lose the team. In the final year of his contract, too.
Mannix: Mike Woodson, Hawks. The Nets are too cheap to can Lawrence Frank, and Don Nelson no longer cares. That leaves Woodson, who, despite five straight seasons of improvement and a trip to the conference semifinals last May, puzzlingly did not receive a contract extension in the offseason. The Hawks may have to repeat last year's effort for Woodson to get a new deal.
McCallum: Woodson. Let me express my usual uneasiness about this question, since so much of NBA reporting consists of who's-going-to-be-fired-next? speculation. But forced to answer, I'm going to say Woodson, who coaches a talented but not-quite-cohesive team in a conference where he has absolutely no chance of finishing higher than fourth and might fall to fifth or sixth.
Markazi: Mike Dunleavy, Clippers. How unpopular was Dunleavy among Clippers fans last year? Toward the end of the season, "Clipper Darrell," the team's red-and-blue-suited unofficial mascot, began heckling the coach instead of opposing teams, chanting, "Fire Dunleavy!" If Dunleavy can't coach the talented group he assembled to the playoffs, he may be receiving more than the wrath of "Clipper Darrell" and the fans by season's end.
10. Who will be the biggest name traded during the season?
Thomsen: Tracy McGrady. His return from knee surgery will serve as an audition and -- if healthy -- his expiring contract and playmaking game could be moved to a playoff contender in exchange for a package of expiring money, young talent and draft picks as Houston prepares for the 2010-11 return of Yao Ming.
Mannix: McGrady. McGrady and his $22 million expiring contract will require some creative negotiating to deal, but with the injury-ravaged Rockets looking ahead to '10-11, don't expect GM Daryl Morey to wait for next summer's free-agent period to shake things up. Chris Bosh -- a Texas native -- could become an option if the Raptors are floundering in February.
McCallum: Amar'e Stoudemire. The messages out of Phoenix are mixed. They want to trade Stoudemire before he can opt out. No, the Suns want to keep Stoudemire because they can quietly make a decent run. That's mixed enough for me. I'll say Stoudemire.
Markazi: Boozer. If you had listened to Boozer talk over the summer about playing in Miami and Chicago, an offseason trade sounded like a done deal. But now that they're stuck with each other, the Jazz will likely look to trade Boozer and his expiring contract before the trade deadline. Paul Millsap has already been tabbed as the team's future starting power forward, and they're not paying him $32 million over four years to come off the bench.
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