20. Golden State Warriors
New Warriors coach Mark Jackson has spent a lot of time talking about how improved his team will be, and, despite that confidence, I find it hard to believe that we’re looking at a playoff team here. Rumors about Monta Ellis being traded will continue to bog down this team until he is actually traded and Stephen Curry is handed the full reigns. 2/3 of the new frontcourt of David Lee and Dorell Wright were a step in the right direction, but Andris Biedrins must become the player he once appeared to be. The Warriors quietly saw a big improvement in their record last year in finishing with 36 wins and the lockout should benefit this young team, but until they make adjustments to their lilliputian backcourt, they don’t stand a chance. Mark Jackson will just be preaching defense to a team that has no interest.
19. Indiana Pacers
I don’t know how this team got into the playoffs last year, but I fully expect them to rejoin the lottery where they belong next year. Danny Granger just has to carry too much of the offensive load, as he averaged 7 more points than the next two leading scorers, Darren Collison and Roy Hibbert. This team has a collection of nice role players, such as new backup point guard and Indiana native George Hill, UNC star Tyler Hansbrough, and Paul George who proved to be a shutdown defender in the playoffs last year against the Bulls. However, while many think that series is an indication of success to come, I would attribute that more to a Bulls team just not taking the Pacers seriously. Barring some big help in free agency, I don’t think most teams will need to be too worried about the Pacers.
18. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks followed up their “Fear the Deer” playoff campaign two years ago with a dud of a season last year, winning only 35 games. This year, their success or failure will be dependent on the health of Andrew Bogut, the maturity of Jennings, and the ability of the team to integrate newcomer Stephen Jackson into the team. The Bucks traded their top-ten pick from last year in order to improve the team now, so look for a refreshed energy and desire to win this year. Jennings must learn to play with more discipline at the point guard position after averaging as many 3 point attempts per game as he did assists (4.8). With the addition of more offensive players, such as Jackson and Beno Udrih, Jennings will not have to shoulder as much of the scoring load, and we should see an improvement in both team demeanor and wins this year.
Note: When I say wins, I mean win percentage. Obviously with only 66 games this year, they will not have the same chances to win as many. That goes without saying, but I said it anyway.
17. New Orleans Hornets
After looking like a legitimate playoff team last season in the first round against the Lakers, this looks like the year the Hornets will finally start putting it together again and become a consistent threat in the West. That is what I’d be saying if they had more than five players under contract to start training camp on Friday, but they don’t. The Hornets will be impossible to predict this year, simply because there are so many unknowns about them. Obviously the most important factor here is Chris Paul and where he ends up, but don’t expect to hear about anything other than him being traded or where he’ll sign. David West will probably be gone, and depending on free-agency and trades, the only sure players right now appear to be Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, and Jarrett Jack. Stay tuned for more on the Hornets as the Chris Paul rumors continue to trickle in, and it should only be a matter of time until he is traded.
16. Denver Nuggets
Like the Hornets, the Nuggets are clouded by uncertainty, and their roster as currently constructed should in no way resemble what we see on opening day. In this professional’s opinion, we have seen Nene play his last game in powder blue, and with Kenyon Martin, Wilson Chandler, and JR Smith playing in China, this team’s core has been decimated. Andre Miller is back after being traded away years ago and he will play mentor to young point guard Ty Lawson. We should also expect big contributions from Danilo Gallinari, as he continues to pose like an Italian fashion model every time he flops while driving to the basket. Tenacious rookie Kenneth Faried may have to take on a bigger role than expected this year and the Birdman, Chris Andersen, should enter training camp with his body entirely covered with tattoos. While I try to remain optimistic about the Nuggets chances, like the Hornets, there are simply too many questions as to who will even be on the team by the time the season starts to predict anything about the team.
Note: The Nuggets have a Nigerian rookie named Chukwudiebere Maduabum. Here is the way to pronounce that name: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTMTd4LW8J4