2010 NBA Preview: #21 to #25

Mar. 27, 2010 - Chicago, ILLINOIS, United States - epa02095912 New Jersey Nets center Brook Lopez (R) looks to make a pass in front of Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (L), during the third quarter of their NBA basketball game at the United Center in Chicago Illinois, USA, 27 March 2010. The Bulls defeated the Nets 106:83.

This year, I’m going to preview the NBA season by starting with the lowest of the low and working my way up to my Finals picks. 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.

Click here to see #26 to #30.

#25: New Jersey Nets
The Nets only won 12 games last season, but there are reasons to be optimistic about this team. Brook Lopez is developing into an All-Star caliber center and Terrence Williams played well in the last two months of his rookie season. Devin Harris is still a dangerous guard, and he’ll be reunited with his former coach, Avery Johnson. Throw in a good power forward (Troy Murphy) to mentor the #3 overall pick (Derrick Favors) and there are some pieces in place in New Jersey. Of course, Nets fans want to see the franchise swing a deal for Carmelo Anthony, but that plan looks to be on hold (or dead?) for now. He’d be a great fit at small forward, though after missing out on LeBron, the Nets did fork out $35 million at the position by signing Travis Outlaw this summer. That contract could come back to bite them, but for now the team has plenty of financial flexibility and a projected payroll of only $38 million heading into next season. The Nets would rather trade and extend Melo this season because they know the risk inherent anytime a player hits free agency.

#24: Detroit Pistons
I still don’t get Joe Dumars’ reasoning when he traded away Chauncey Billups to create enough cap space to overpay Ben Gordon and Charllie Villanueva. At that point, the Pistons were a good (but not great) team in the East that was destined to compete but not contend. Now they’re an Eastern Conference bottom feeder with a few bad contracts and not enough cap space to sign an impact free agent. To make matters worse, the Pistons’ projected starter at power forward, Jonas Jerebko, tore his Achilles and will miss the next five-plus months. That means Villanueva (or rookie Greg Monroe) will have to play starter’s minutes. The Pistons used to beat teams with chemistry and defense, but the chemistry just isn’t there and neither is the defense. There’s a good chance that this gets worse before it gets better.

#23: Indiana Pacers
I like the direction that Indiana is headed. They pulled off a great trade this summer by stealing Darren Collison from New Orleans, and now the Pacers have their point guard of the future. They’re building around Danny Granger, Collison and Roy Hibbert, who is showing improvement after slimming down and working out with Bill Walton over the summer. Still, I can only be so optimistic about a team that is planning to start Josh McRoberts at power forward. Tyler Hansbrough is waiting in the wings, but he’s still suffering from vertigo. Mike Dunleavy is penciled in at shooting guard, but he’s going to have a tough time defending smaller and quicker player. Payroll-wise, the Pacers are in great shape, as they project to have around $25 million in cap space next summer.

March 16, 2010: Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Tyreke Evans of the Sacramento Kings during the game between the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers at Arco Arena in Sacramento, CA. Ben Munn/CSM.

#22: Sacramento Kings
Sacramento landed perhaps the best talent in the draft with the #5 pick when DeMarcus Cousins fell into its lap. Along with 2010 ROY Tyreke Evans, the Kings have a formidable 1-2 punch to build around for the next several years. They’re not going to be very good this year, but with a group of solid forwards (Omri Casspi, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry) they’ll be competitive. The key for the Kings is to add a top-tier talent before they have to give Evans and Cousins their extensions, which are likely to be of the max variety. The Kings project to have plenty of cap space next summer, but aside from Carmelo Anthony, there won’t be any max free agents on the market. The good news is that the Kings have a few years before they have to commit to Evans and Cousins, so they have plenty of time to acquire a third star.

#21: Philadelphia 76ers
Doug Collins is arguably the biggest addition to the Sixers this season, and he should give the franchise a shot in the arm from a leadership standpoint. With the development of Jrue Holiday and the versatility of Andre Iguodala, the Sixers have a good backcourt, and that doesn’t even take into account the potential of Evan Turner. But the key to Philly’s season will be Elton Brand and whether or not he can play at an All-Star level again. There’s enough talent here for the Sixers to make the postseason, but they’re going to have to stay healthy and get adequate play from a suspect front line. Cap-wise, Philly isn’t going to have any financial flexibility for two more years, so unless they’re willing to part with a good young player, this roster isn’t going to change very much in the short term.

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