With the NBA season just a week old, I thought I'd go back and review some of the story lines heading into the new season, as well as my takes on several teams and the moves they made in the off-season to try to reach the NBA Finals.
LEAST IMPROVED TEAM: Cleveland Cavaliers
In my opinion, the biggest story of the off-season was when the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired Shaquille O'Neal from the Phoenix Suns. Now, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the Big Cactus didn't exactly fit in with Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and the rest of the fast-paced Suns. But I'm not so sure that Shaq teaming up with LeBron James is the best fit either.
LeBron does most of his damage in the paint with posterizing dunks and incredible athleticism that is almost not human. To me, I only see Shaq getting in King James' way, and that is why I think the Cavaliers failed to improve. Outside of LeBron and an aging Shaquille O'Neal, the Cleveland Cavaliers are very mediocre at best, though probably still a #3 or #4 seed in the East.
MOST IMPROVED TEAM: Washington Wizards
The Wizards started their off-season by hiring former Pistons and Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders. Flip is a great player's coach, who's done a good job getting the most out of his guard play for each team he has coached for, and that's exactly what the Wizards have... a lot of talented guards.
DUMBEST MOVE OF THE OFF-SEASON: Memphis signing Allen Iverson and Zach Randolph
There's no question that the Memphis Grizzlies are in serious rebuilding mode, and the rebuilding process can take multiple seasons in the NBA. However, one has to wonder what Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace (who, now that Kevin McHale is no longer around, is the worst GM in the league) was thinking when he signed veteran guard Allen Iverson, as well as veteran power forward Zach Randolph?
First of all, for the record, I've always been a huge fan of Allen Iverson's game. Pound for pound, he's probably the toughest guy in the league, and you cannot deny his passion for the game. However, I don't see how he's a good fit on this young team, which already has a future backcourt of Mike Conley Jr. and O.J. Mayo. I have no doubts that AI can be a good teammate, but he complained about coming off the bench last year on a pretty good Pistons squad. But how can one justify starting Iverson over Conley, or taking the risk of having him come off the bench and being a distraction?
Even worse, is when you already have players such as Mayo, Iverson and Rudy Gay, who either like to or need to have the ball in their hands A LOT, how do you go out and get a guy like Zach Randolph, who is as close to a black hole on offense as one can get?? I know this has been said before, and I'll repeat it... the Memphis Grizzlies will eventually set an NBA record for fewest assists in a regulation game. Seriously, with Iverson, Mayo, Gay and Randolph, I don't see anyone passing the ball anytime soon.
As if Chris Wallace needed any more proof that he's the worst GM in the NBA after he practically gave Pau Gasol to the Lakers.
TEAM TO KEEP ON YOUR RADAR: Oklahoma City Thunder
Any basketball fan can appreciate what Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti has done with this roster over the past 3 years. He's acquired and stockpiled numerous draft choices and made smart, cost saving trades, which are all starting to come together for this franchise.
Another player on this team that I absolutely love is sophmore PG Russell Westbrook, who I thought was taken way too high in the draft at the time (#4 overall). But Westbrook and the Thunder quickly showed me and everyone else why he was drafted so high; he's one hell of a basketball player! And while he still needs work on his jumper, he is probably one of the better on-ball defenders in the league, and he also has great rebounding skills for a young point guard.
Now throw in Jeff Green, and rookies James Harden and B.J. Mullens, and you have yourself a nice young nucleus that can grow and develop together. The scary part is, they are already a much improved team, and might be better sooner than most teams and experts expected.
NBA Finals Matchup: Boston Celtics over Denver Nuggets
- I think this is the last chance for the Big 3 in Boston to get another ring before KG's knees give out. Also, I think Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony lead the Nuggets to the Finals over Lakers, in a must-see Western Conference Finals showdown.
MVP: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
- I know I said the Cavaliers were nothing more than a mediocre team outside of LeBron and Shaq, but LeBron IS the best player in the game today, and he will do everything in his power to carry the Cavs (in what might be his last season in Cleveland before he hits free agency) into the playoffs.
ROY: Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
- I think the consensus favorite for Rookie of the Year is Clippers young stud Blake Griffin. But since he has some injury issues right now that will likely keep him out for 6-8 weeks, I like Jennings' chances. He's going to start at PG in Milwaukee, and there's no one behind on the depth chart to keep him from getting playing time.
Most Improved Player: Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves
- Many Timberwolves fans were ready to label Brewer, a former top 10 pick 2 years ago, as a bust. But after being out for most of last season after having surgery on his ACL, I think Brewer is going to come back fresh and establish himself as one of the up and coming premier perimeter defenders in the league.
Coach of the Year: George Karl, Denver Nuggets
- Karl has always been one of my favorite coaches in the league, ever since his days with Seattle back in the 90's with guys like Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. He's been a winner everywhere he's gone, and if he can get the Nuggets to the NBA Finals, there should be no reason not to give him this award.