Last year, I said that Danny Ainge is an idiot, mainly because of his trade for Raef La Frentz. That’s enough to retain idiot-status for several seasons. The Celtics traded to get Antoine Walker back midway through last season, helping them get on a “run” to win the Atlantic Division. They posted the fewest wins ever for a division winner and may have been the biggest first-round underdog as a third-seed in league history. As expected, they got wrecked by the Pacers in the first round, and headed back to square one, as Walker and Gary Payton left.
They’re back to relying on a sullen, second-rate superstar in Paul Pierce and a hypertalented idiot in Ricky Davis. I give them credit for not flaking out too much during last season, but when your key off-season acquisitions are Dan Dickau and Brian Scalabrine, you’re not exactly taking strides into the future.
I loved Scalabrine with the Nets, but he symbolizes a horrible truth about the NBA: good role-players shouldn’t get long-term deals. Scalabrine signed a 5-year/$15-million deal with Boston, and I’m glad that he’s getting paid, but he’s a nice hustle player who looks too much like Beaker to be taken seriously. In recent years, there’s been a run of journeymen getting long-term contracts (Kevin Ollie, Brian Cardinal, Earl Boykins, Greg Bruckner, et al.), and it became apparent pretty soon that these guys never got long-term deals before because they’re just not that good. They’re great stop-gap players, and sometimes they can put on a nice run for a few weeks, but they’re going to end up outliving their usefulness and getting lumped into trades as salary-cap ballast within a year or two. So, I hope the Scalabrine era goes well in Boston, but I’d advise him to rent, not buy.
The Celts will probably be okay this season, unless there’s an early losing streak. At that point, Pierce will get sullen, point fingers, and end up with “nagging injuries” that “limit his effectiveness” till he gets traded for pennies on the dollar.
Fortunately, it’s Boston, so the starting lineup is 60% white.
Projected Record: 36-46
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New Jersey Nets
Rod Thorn’s a heck of a GM. After the team’s new owner went into fire-sale mode the previous offseason, Thorn was able to convince him that fans are not likely to support a team that announces it’s in “cost-cutting mode”, then swindled Toronto out of Vince Carter, who is the Dominique Wilkins of this era. Also, last season’s Euro-import, Nenad Krstic, turned out to be a pretty good offensive player and a decent rebounder. He looks like a skinny Kevin McHale in the post; given that I had had my share of up-and-under post moves back when I weighed 155, I really feel for Krstic. If only he wore goggles and had goofier hair.
Going into this season, the Nets look like they’re trying to repeat the Phoenix Suns’ formula from last year, with a ton of running, athletic players who can rebound and run the break, complemented by spot-up shooters (Lamond Murray and Scott Padgett). I don’t think it’ll work too well, since none of the Big Three players are as deadly from long-range as most of the Suns were, so the break’ll probably be predicated more on speed than on the secondary shooters that Phoenix relied on.
It may’ve worked better if Thorn had completed his trade for Shareef Abdur-Rahim, which would’ve given the Nets a post-up black-hole to dump the ball into when the break stalled, but I’m always wary of guys who pile up huge numbers on losing teams.
The Nets will be fun to watch, with Carter and Richard Jefferson climbing all over the rim, and Marckque Jackson tossing players around like rag dolls. I think they’re positioned to win the Atlantic, provided the Big Three stay healthy and backup PG Jeff McInnis doesn’t get beaten to death by Charles Oakley.
Projected Record: 51-31
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New York Knicks
Isiah Thomas has become the last chick in the bar at closing time. Twice this offseason, he held out till the bitter end, and turned into the only option for some lonely men: Larry Brown and Eddy Curry. Thanks to his strategy of hanging out by the jukebox and drinking wine coolers, he has a new coach and a new starting center. It doesn’t matter that the former uses a catheter and the latter may drop dead of a heart attack at any time.
Brown will go nuts and try to get Stephon Marbury traded by the end of November. This will be followed by mean comments to the tabloids about Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson, and Maurice Taylor, all flawed players brought in by the GM. Brown will realize his misstep when he says Curry has no heart.
Doubly unfortunate for the Knicks is that this appears to be the first time in years that the team had a decent draft, netting some young big men and an explosive guard. I say it’s unfortunate because Larry Brown won’t play any rookies. This is probably because of their lack of experience. You figure it out; he’s the genius.
The team’s undersized as ever — if you consider Marbury to be a shooting guard — and the best rebounder is Richardson, will be spending a bunch of time out on the perimeter as the only legit 3-point threat.
Speaking of 3-point threats, it wouldn’t be right to talk about the Knicks without saying a fond farewell to sweet-shooting anti-Semite Allan Houston, who retired after Jewish doctors were unable to repair his arthritic knee, which is all part of God’s plan.
Projected Record: 44-38
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I don’t even know where to start with these guys. Everyone praised Allen Iverson’s performance last year, but it just seemed to me like a continuation of his ball-hogging ways. His stats looked better, but that was just a function of his dominating the ball more than ever: it having a “career-high” in assists (7.9 per game) was great, but it was accompanied by a career-high in turnovers (4.6 per game). At least he got another coach fired, to be replaced by a former teammate in Mo Cheeks, who will probably trumpet AI’s stats for steals, without mentioning that most of them come at the expense of gambling on defense, and forcing the rest of the team to cover up for him.
But I spent LAST year goofing on Iverson. Throughout his career, he proved he can’t play with anyone who actually needs the ball to be effective, so it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion as to how this season will shake out with Chris Webber, who’s old, shot, and could never be relied on in the clutch.
The Sixers have actually put together an intriguing batch of younger players, headlined by Andre Iguodala, Samuel Dalembert, and Kyle Korver, but their development will be stunted by AI the same way Gary Payton crippled the progression of Seattle players for years. On the positive side, AI will probably miss 10-20 games this year because of various injuries, so the other players may have a chance to develop and gain some in-game experience before he returns and dominates the ball again.
Philly also has my favorite one-dimensional player, Lee Nailon, who can do nothing but score.
Projected Record: 42-40
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Holy crap, is this team going to be terrible. Everyone knows you never get equal value when you trade away a superstar player, but what they took back for Vince Carter was ridiculous. Watching Carter go on to break the Nets’ single-season scoring record–despite playing only 57 games for them–must’ve pissed off the Toronto fans, after VC tanked it early in the year so he could get traded. What does the team have left? Chris Bosh (a young, productive big man who will leave the moment he’s a free agent), Jalen Rose (possessed of one of the most bloated contracts–7 years/$92 million–in league history), and Charlie Villanueva (a rookie who might be productive in a couple years, but probably went way too high in the draft). Villanueva may have problems playing for the team this year, since he’ll need both a work visa from Canada and approval from the Men in Black to stay on our planet.
Toronto has two things going for it in training camp: they have four players named Williams (Eric, Aaron, Alvin and Corey), and they brought in Robert Pack, whom they eventually cut.
I only mention Pack because I once pulled up alongside him at a traffic light in Hackensack, NJ. I figured out it was him because of the “PAC JAM” license plate on the expensive black Mercedes. I rolled my window down and motioned for him to do the same. I said, “You Robert Pack?”
“I really loved your game when you were down in DC. Good luck this year.” He thanked me, light turned green, vroom.
Later that season, when he was playing against the Sixers, official VM flake A-Fink was sitting behind the opposing bench and said, “Hey, Pack! You still got those Oregon tags on your car?” This was probably better than the time I got Derrick Coleman to turn around and glare at me during a game.
I wish the Raptors hadn’t cut him, so that he could catch on with his 9th team, and start heading for Jimmy Jackson’s record of 11 teams. Still, the team does have 40% of the league’s active Williams.
Predicted Record: 24-58 (16-48 with the exchange rate)