2010-11 NBA Crystal Ball (cont.)
THOMSEN: Nuggets. Denver will go from a conference finalist two years ago to a lottery contender as its most impressive talents are either shown the door or leave by choice.
JENKINS: Bucks. Expectations are awfully high, considering Andrew Bogut is still experiencing pain in his surgically repaired right hand and their most impactful offseason additions were Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden.
LOWE: Nuggets. Too much uncertainty surrounding Carmelo, and too many health issues in the frontcourt. If you think the Rockets will jump back in the playoffs (and I do), one of last year's top eight has to go back into the lottery. Denver is a prime candidate.
ROBSON: Bucks. But it's worth pondering: If neither Boston nor Oklahoma City makes it to the conference finals, are they flops? And, despite their obvious talent, don't you expect the Clippers to flop? So among the supposed playoff teams, I have to go with Milwaukee. With Phoenix following close behind.
MANNIX: Suns. Nash will prop up the Suns for as long as he can, but the loss of Amar'e Stoudemire is just too much to offset.
FORRESTER: Nuggets. From Anthony's impending departure to George Karl's health issues to a new front office, the Nuggets could spiral out of control quickly. There are too many agendas and outside concerns for this team to keep pace as a realistic contender in a tightly packed West.
JENKINS: Timberwolves. They were only three games better than the Nets last season and that was when they had Al Jefferson.
LOWE: Timberwolves. The Wolves' 6-2 preseason makes me nervous about this pick, as does the fact that this will be a deeper and more talented team than last year's pathetic outfit. But the league's other bottom-feeders have gotten better, and perimeter scoring will remain an issue in Minny.
MANNIX: Cleveland. The Cavs will compete, but they will be outgunned on most nights. Further gutting of the team by midseason could be in the offing.
FORRESTER: Pistons. Detroit has tried to avoid the wrecking ball for years but continues to sink further. With last year's 27-win disappointment fresh in Joe Dumars' mind, there will be nothing left to stop him from dealing Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, even if only for cap space and draft considerations. Those will be smart moves for the future, but not for the months ahead.
THOMSEN: Stephen Curry. The Warriors will show all-around improvement under new coach Keith Smart, helping to showcase the leadership skills of Curry as an All-Star contender at point guard.
JENKINS: Aaron Brooks. The next elite point guard, Brooks already scores nearly 20 points per game, shoots nearly 40 percent from three-point range and cannot be slowed in the open court. He just needs to raise his assist totals, which will be easier with Yao back.
LOWE: Roy Hibbert. As always, there are many players primed to have breakout seasons, and you can add Jerryd Bayless to that list after Saturday's trade sent him to New Orleans, where he'll play a bigger role than he ever could in Portland. But in terms of both quality of play and public recognition, few have a chance to break out in as big a way as Indiana's 7-2 center.
FORRESTER: Al Jefferson. He's finally healthy after a knee injury last season and, more important, freed of the Timberwolves' misdirection. Jefferson will emerge as a cog in the Western Conference playoff race with Deron Williams feeding him in the post and Jerry Sloan teaching him how to trust his teammates when facing double teams down low.
THOMSEN: Erik Spoelstra. This is why coaching is such a miserable business: The Heat's Spoelstra has earned an opportunity most of his peers will never know, but it comes with expectations that three controversial, young stars bond as champions instantaneously. Good luck to him.
JENKINS: Flip Saunders. After everything went embarrassingly wrong last season, the Wizards caught a break with Wall. Saunders does not have the luxury of bringing him along slowly.
LOWE: Jay Triano. If you're in a Which Coach Will Get Fired First? pool, put some money down on Triano. There aren't any expectations for the first season of post-Bosh life in Toronto, but that doesn't mean there isn't any pressure on Triano. He lost control of this team last year and doesn't appear to have a firm grip on it as we enter the new season. If the Raptors start slowly again and defend as poorly as last season, Triano might not make 2011.
ROBSON: John Kuester. Dumars has been notoriously impatient with his coaches in the past, and he remains in denial about the dismal prospects for success in Detroit. Lionel Hollins also needs a good start in Memphis.
MANNIX: Mike D'Antoni. The pressure is on D'Antoni to turn the Knicks into a playoff team. The additions of Stoudemire and Raymond Felton have ratcheted up expectations.
FORRESTER: Spoelstra. The Heat roster has a lot of holes (size, depth), but with all of the attention the new trio has asked for, anything less than regular-season dominance is going to be a disappointment. And with the rest of the league sick and tired of hearing about the Heat, Miami will be everyone's measuring stick this season. That could make it hard for Spoelstra to ease his stars' minutes for the playoffs and for the Heat to bring it every night over the next five and a half months. Spoelstra will survive, but it may not be pretty.
THOMSEN: Carmelo Anthony. The Nuggets won't want to move Carmelo for pennies on the dollar, but they'll do so when a deal saves them money in the short term along with face-saving young talent or picks on which to build.
JENKINS: Nuggets. Assuming Anthony goes before the deadline, Chauncey Billups could very well follow, and Denver will look like Cleveland West.
LOWE: Anthony. Carmelo is the easy answer to the question and, as of now, the best one. So-so players on expiring contracts won't have the same value as they've had in previous years, since the market is saturated with such players, plus a couple of major trade exceptions. And if Denver believes Anthony will leave as a free agent, it'll deal him.
ROBSON: Anthony. He's the no-brainer choice. However, if things get ugly in New Orleans and Paul is moved, that'll be the bigger storyline.
MANNIX: Anthony. It's too hard to imagine Denver's allowing Anthony to walk away in free agency next summer. Negotiations could drag on until February, but Anthony will eventually find his way out of town.
FORRESTER: Anthony. The $65 million contract extension he hasn't signed is starting to yellow at this point. Since Cleveland and Toronto have become danger zones, the Nuggets won't wait and become the next cautionary tale. Carmelo will be gone before the trade deadline.
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