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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2008 NBA Team-by-Team Preview

Ron Artest is a Rocket, Jermaine O’Neal is a Raptor and Mo Williams is a Cavalier. Richard Jefferson is a Buck and Corey Maggette is a Warrior. Baron Davis signed up to play with Elton Brand in L.A., but Brand bolted for Philly to play with AI2 instead. And Andrew Bynum is back from injury, trying to figure out how to co-exist with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. There, you’re all caught up on most of the big summer news from the NBA.

Want more? We’ve got you covered. Our team-by-team preview breaks down each franchise’s offseason movement and outlook, along with a player (or situation) to keep your eye on. We also ask “The Big Question” that is haunting each team as it enters the season.

For the last two weeks, We’ve been previewing each team from #30 to #1, posting three team previews per business day, starting with the league’s bottom feeders – we’re looking at you, Thunder – and finishing up with the cream of the crop. So who will be #1? The Lakers? The Celtics? Or will there be a surprise at the top of our preseason power rankings?

Click here to see the entire preview.

2008 NBA Preview: #23 Indiana Pacers

Offseason Movement: The team traded Jermaine O’Neal to the Raptors for T.J. Ford (pictured). The team (supposedly) wants to run, and Ford is a lightning quick floor general who can make it happen. I thought the Knicks missed out on an opportunity to acquire Ford, but the Raptors probably weren’t interested in anything the Knicks had to offer. The team also unloaded Shawne Williams, who had taken up residence in Larry Bird’s doghouse after being arrested for possession of marijuana.
Keep Your Eye On: Brandon Rush, GF
The Pacers acquired Rush by sending draft pick Jerryd Bayless to Portland. He is a silky smooth wing who can shoot the ball and take it to the rack. He’s seasoned and is ready to contribute immediately. The Pacers are lacking athleticism, so he gives them some punch off the bench.
The Big Question: Is this a case of addition by subtraction?
On the surface, an O’Neal for Ford deal seems like a win for the Raptors, but the Pacers were able to rid themselves of O’Neal’s salary and at the same time replace Jamaal Tinsley, who has fallen out of favor with GM Larry Bird. The team’s talent level may have taken a hit, but its chemistry should be better.
Outlook: With Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Jeff Foster slated to start, the Pacers might have one of the most unathletic lineups in the league. Dunleavy is all right, but Murphy and Foster? Luckly, Ford and up-and-coming swingman Danny Granger give the starting lineup some punch, while Rush provides some juice off the bench. Drafting Roy Hibbert conflicts with the Pacers stated “run first” mentality. The ship is starting to turn around, but it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better, unless the chemistry is immediate and substantial.

Check out our NBA Preview page for a look at every team. We’ll be posting three previews per business day, which will take us up to the start of the season on Tuesday, October 28th.

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