2009 NBA Preview: Atlantic Division

This year, we’re doing a division-by-division preview with quick-hitting analysis for every team in the league. If a franchise is a legitimate championship contender, I’ll focus on what stars have to line up for a title run. If a team is a playoff “also-ran,” I’ll identify the weaknesses that have to be shored up via trade, free agency or draft over the next couple of seasons to make it a contender. If a team is likely to miss the playoffs, I’ll take a look at the salary cap, and provide a blueprint for how the team should proceed in the near future to get back in the postseason. At the end of each divisional preview, I’ll provide some (random) thoughts for the fantasy hoopsters out there.

For each division, I’ll pick the order of finish. You’ll also see the team’s league-wide preseason rank in parenthesis.

Boston Celtics (5)
Normally, the return of a healthy Kevin Garnett would be enough to thrust the Celtics back to contender status, but with the way the rich got richer this summer in terms of talent, GM Danny Ainge knew he had to improve his team, so he went out and signed Rasheed Wallace to give the C’s another big body up front. If everyone is healthy, minutes are going to be a problem, as Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins deserve to play, but one might get squeezed out by Garnett and Wallace. In the backcourt, the big question seems to be the overall attitude of Rajon Rondo, who is running out of time to sign an extension. It is unlikely that he and the Celtics will come to terms by the end of the month as the two sides are reportedly far apart in perceived value. Marquis Daniels was brought in to shore up the backcourt, so the Celtics will once again head into the season with a deep and talented roster. But can everyone stay healthy? If Garnett, Rondo, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are all feeling good come playoff time, the Celtics will be a serious threat to make the Finals.

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2009 NBA Preview: Central Division

This year, we’re doing a division-by-division preview with quick-hitting analysis for every team in the league. If a franchise is a legitimate championship contender, I’ll focus on what stars have to line up for a title run. If a team is a playoff “also-ran,” I’ll identify the weaknesses that have to be shored up via trade, free agency or draft over the next couple of seasons to make it a contender. If a team is likely to miss the playoffs, I’ll take a look at the salary cap, and provide a blueprint for how the team should proceed in the near future to get back in the postseason. At the end of each divisional preview, I’ll provide some (random) thoughts for the fantasy hoopsters out there.

For each division, I’ll pick the order of finish. You’ll also see the team’s league-wide preseason rank in parenthesis. Be sure to check back on Saturday for the preview of the Atlantic Division.

Cleveland Cavaliers (2)
By now, everyone knows that LeBron James is set to become a free agent next summer. Feeling the proverbial heat, the Cavs swung a trade for Shaquille O’Neal hoping that he’ll be able to put the team over the top. It would be tough for LeBron to justify bolting Cleveland if the franchise is coming off of a championship, so the Cavs are “all in.” In addition to acquiring Shaq, they signed Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon and re-upped with Anderson Varejao. It might take some time for this roster to gel, but there’s no doubt that the Cavs have enough talent to go the distance. While making the transition from a declining Zydrunas Ilgauskas to a declining Shaq has its advantages, it’s going to be tough for LeBron to find driving lanes with Shaq and Varejao clogging the lane. Neither can shoot the ball effectively outside of 10 feet, so their defenders will be better able to get to the paint to help on LeBron. Look for the Cavs to run a lot of pick-and-rolls with LeBron and Shaq, which will force Shaq’s defender away from the basket. This should help, but there still is the matter of Varejao’s man defending the basket. It’s crucial that the Cavs get good shooting from Parker, Mo Williams, Delonte West and Daniel Gibson. Those players have to make the defense pay when it sags to help on LeBron. From a salary cap perspective, the Cavs realized that it wouldn’t do any good to have cap space if the payroll number keeps falling, and the Varejao signing ate up whatever space they would have otherwise had. In the unlikely event that Shaq turns out to be a complete disaster, they could always move him before the trade deadline in a last-ditch attempt to retool before the playoffs. For obvious reasons, of all the teams in the league, the Cavs may have the most riding on the 2009-10 season.

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NBA News & Rumors: Tyrus, Al’s Achilles, LaMarcus’s extension and Stephen Jackson keeping it cool

Tyrus Thomas not happy about coming off the bench. “I don’t think it should even be questionable from what I contributed to this team last season and what I did throughout camp, but like I said, he [Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro] is the guy that makes the decisions.” Del Negro gave the start to rookie Taj Gibson, who has started much of the preseason and has played pretty well, averaging 12.3 points and 5.9 rebounds. Del Negro said not to read too much into it, so keep Thomas on your list of breakout candidates.

Al Jefferson is out indefinitely with Achilles tendinitis. Coupled with Kevin Love’s hand surgery and the T-Wolves’ front line is not off to a very good start. Jefferson has been going in the second round of fantasy drafts, but expect him to fall into the fourth or fifth depending on what kind of news comes out of Minnesota. It’s starting to look like Big Al is injury-prone.

LaMarcus Aldridge pledges to get an extension signed by Oct. 31.
Aldridge’s camp seems to think he’s a max contract player, but the Blazers don’t agree and aren’t willing to do a deal just to get him signed. It’s going to be interesting to see what he eventually signs for. I pegged his value at $13-$14 million per season, but with the projected drop in next year’s salary cap, I wouldn’t be surprised if he signed a deal that averaged a bit less.

Stephen Jackson plans to keep his cool tonight against Kobe.
“I’m going to be me, but I guarantee I won’t feed into the nonsense. If it came down to a real fight, I know what would happen. I’m just going to leave that alone, go out and play basketball and try to help my team win.”

2009 NBA Preview: Southeast Division

This year, we’re doing a division-by-division preview with quick-hitting analysis for every team in the league. If a franchise is a legitimate championship contender, I’ll focus on what stars have to line up for a title run. If a team is a playoff “also-ran,” I’ll identify the weaknesses that have to be shored up via trade, free agency or draft over the next couple of seasons to make it a contender. If a team is likely to miss the playoffs, I’ll take a look at the salary cap, and provide a blueprint for how the team should proceed in the near future to get back in the postseason. At the end of each divisional preview, I’ll provide some (random) thoughts for the fantasy hoopsters out there.

For each division, I’ll pick the order of finish. You’ll also see the team’s league-wide preseason rank in parenthesis. Be sure to check back on Thursday for a preview of the Central Division and on Saturday for the Atlantic Division.

Orlando Magic (4)
The Magic were busy this summer, but did they get better? Only time will tell. Vince Carter, Brandon Bass and Jason Williams are in, and Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston are out. Orlando fended off a strong run from the Mavs for the services of Marcin Gortat, and actually played Mark Cuban and Co. pretty well by stealing the up-and-coming Bass away in the process. It appears that Bass may start at power forward, which would move Rashard Lewis to small forward. Since the mismatches Lewis created at power forward were one of the Magic’s strengths last season, this may not be written in stone. Orlando also has the option of starting Mickael Pietrus at small forward and moving Lewis back to PF. But the biggest change to the lineup is the loss of Turkoglu and the acquisition of the 32 year-old Vince Carter, who will likely take over Turkoglu’s initiation of the offense. But keep in mind that the Magic made their playoff run without the services of All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson, and his return will be a significant boost to an already strong roster. The Magic didn’t just tinker with their Finals roster from last year, they made a pretty major overhaul, so it will be interesting to see how this group gels. Stan Van Gundy is one of the best coaches in the NBA, and the regular season should provide plenty of time for the Magic to work the kinks out. A deep playoff run is likely.

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Love to miss 6-8 weeks with broken hand

Per the Star-Tribune

Kevin Love rose for an insignificant rebound in an insignificant preseason game Friday night at United Center and came down with a fractured left hand that’s expected to sideline him until December.

X-rays taken at the arena showed he broke the fourth metacarpal bone in that hand and the initial estimate is he will miss the next six to eight weeks. Love will see a hand specialist Monday to find out if the injury will require surgery.

Obviously, this isn’t the kind of injury that is going to change the entire landscape of the NBA, but it is a big blow to Love and the T-Wolves, who are hoping to take a step forward this season. From a fantasy perspective, Love may not be drafted in leagues that don’t have an IR slot, but if your league does, it may not be a bad idea to grab him in the final rounds and stash him on your bench until he returns.

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