This is a bit premature, but I'm bored at work right now. Here are my predictions for the 08/09 NBA regular season:
1. Boston Celtics
I fully expect Boston to repeat as the best team in the East. Their only significant loss (James Posey) has since been mitigated by the addition of Darius Miles. Miles has been fairly productive in the past as a role player. Basically the less shots he takes, the better.
2. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons are also returning pretty much the same team. The biggest potential difference is the question mark at PF - I hear there is an open competition between incumbent starter Antonio McDyess, Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson. Johnson has posted stellar numbers in limited minutes, so if he gets significant playing time the Piston's fortunes could see an improvement over last year (possibly overtaking Boston if Miles plays poorly).
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Come on baby! With the confirmed re-signing of Delonte West I fully expect this to be the best Cavs team of the LeBron era, provided that Mike Brown makes intelligent playing time decisions (a big 'if'). If West, new addition Mo Williams and Wally split guard minutes, and Z, Varejao and Wallace split forward/C minutes, this team should be a lock for 50 wins and the third spot in the East. Should.
4. Orlando Magic
This isn't much of a stretch as the Magic were third last year. As long as Monster Man-Child Dwight Howard remains healthy they should have no problem staying on top of the Southeast Division.
This pick probably won't surprise anyone, as the addition of a hopefully healthy Elton Brand should enhance an already .500 team. In the East that's pretty much all you need to snag the 5th playoff spot. If they can somehow finagle a real shooting guard this team will easily finish second to Boston in the Atlantic.
That's right, last year's worst team in the league is going to see a dramatic turn of fortune courtesy of a stellar draft. Michael Beasley will almost certainly go down as the best player of the 2008 draft, while Mario Chalmers will prove that he should have been a lottery pick (just take a look at his consistently strong numbers all three years of college). Add them to a starting five that includes the severely underrated Shawn Marion, an expectedly healthy Dwayne Wade and the solid Udonis Haslem (maybe, I guess the center position is in question) and you have a team that will surprise most pundits.
This may be a stretch, but Indiana did have one of the best off seasons of any team in the league. First of all, they shipped off the way overrated Jermaine O'Neal and received a productive TJ Ford in return. Just replacing O'Neal with solid draftee Roy Hibbert should provide a significant boost, but I suspect this may be mitigated somewhat by the play of Mike Dunleavy, who had his (by far) best season as a pro last year. If he can maintain that level of productivity I fully expect Indiana to make the playoffs, if not, they just might finish 9th.
This is a tough one. A lot rests on Jermaine O'Neal - will he play better on a new team? Or will he be expected to score (at his usual poor FG%)? One benefit of the trade is that it puts the drastically underrated Jose Calderon in line to receive massive minutes, but will that be enough to offset O'Neal's production (or lack thereof)? Overall I see this team dropping a bit.
Another tough one, especially since they finished 5th last season. Basically I'm betting that Antonio Daniels +1 year of age will not be able to hold up as well as he has in the past. I'm also betting that Caron Butler will not be able to match his career-best numbers from last year. Losing Gilbert Arenas for a month doesn't really factor in to my analysis, but his play upon his return sure does. He'll get his minutes back, but will he be his old self? Keep in mind - while Arenas is a very good player, he is nowhere near the level of his superstar status production-wise.
It's pretty much a crapshoot down here in the bottom half. The Bulls are a strange one - no team deviated from expectations more than them last year. They should have competed for the top spot in the Central Division; instead they couldn't keep their head above .500, leading to some drastic deals (including the fantastic - for me - deal with the Cavs). Now they've gone and drafted an overrated PG who will, at the very best, go through some growing pains in his first NBA season. They got rid of their best post player in Ben Wallace, but did draft the solid Joaquin Noah last year (who should see significant minutes this year). I also expect Luol Deng to rebound from a disappointing and injury-plagued season (enough so that I'm going to roll the dice with him on my fantasy team again this year).
11. New York
No, this will not be D'Antoni's doing. A healthy Quentin Richardson and the addition of the underrated (how many times have I used that word?) Chris Duhon should be enough to give the Knicks a few more wins as well as the coveted 11th spot in the East. Congratulations.
You know, I really think Atlanta won't be this bad... but the loss of Josh Childress is just crushing. He got 30+ minutes per game off the bench, and now his stellar production is just plain gone. I do expect the Should-Have-Been-Rookie of the Year Al Horford to join the '2nd-Tier Elite' group of big men this year, so that increase in production will help. But the loss of Childress is just terrible, because who are they going to give those minutes to? Acie Law? Flip Murray? Ouch and ouch.
Sean May should be back, but so will Adam Morrison. Net effect = frown face.
14. New Jersey
This team could actually go anywhere. They drafted pretty well, but will Chris Douglas-Roberts actually get minutes as a rookie? Will the newly-added Jianlian Yi improve upon his lackluster rookie campaign? Will the replacement for Richard Jefferson actually play better than him (he was terrible last year)? If all these answers are 'yes' then I will almost certainly be wrong. But if they're all 'no' I might have nailed it.
This team is just bad. Their 'star' can only score (Michael Redd), their big man is just a shade better than mediocre (Andrew Bogut), and their big addition (Richard Jefferson) has been injury-plagued recently and has given no indication that he will ever be his old productive self again. Keep in mind, if Jefferson can return to form this team will not be the worst in the East. I wouldn't bet on it though.
I'll do a Western Conference preview tomorrow, or some other day.