NBA PREVIEW: IN-DEPTH LOOK PART 2

nba_cutsPart Two of our NBA season countdown goes from Kings to Cavaliers.

#24 SACRAMENTO KINGS

TEAM ROSTER: 

DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, John Salmons, Jason Thompson, Jimmer Fredette, Ben McLemore, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes, Ray McCallum, Carl Landry, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Greivis Vasquez, Travis Outlaw.

PRE-SEASON SUMMARY/PREDICTIONS

Are the Sacramento Kings placing too many eggs into the DeMarcus Cousins basket?

Despite boasting of an amazing talent, Cousins’ brief career as a pro has been carelessly stained by continuous reports pointing out his immaturity. Going into his fourth year, it is going to be imperative for him take slow, steady steps toward a new and clean identity.

Kings’ executives have already played their part in reshaping his image by showing affection and support (they even let Shaq become a part owner so that he could pass on some wisdom to Cousins). It is now up to him to embrace his responsibilities as cornerstone of this respected franchise.

If he doesn’t turn it around now, I can’t see him becoming anything close to what his potential foreshadows at any point in his career.

Enough about Boogie (still unsolved after a whole paragraph), let’s now talk starting five. The only apparent certainty is of course Cousins, with the other four spots up for grabs. Judging from their roster, this would be my starting line-up: Thomas/Vasquez (too close to call), Thornton, Outlaw, Landry, and Cousins.

While Sacramento is a team difficult to figure out, their relevance in the league this season won’t alter much.

OFF-SEASON GRADE: C

Head coach Mike Malone, Greivis Vasquez, Carl Landry, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ben McLemore (draft), Ray McCallum (draft).

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

Greivis Vasquez was a good acquisition and should bring much-needed leadership at the PG spot. Last season, in a borderline breakout year, he finished in the top three in assists per game, amassing various ovations around the league in doing so. Assuming he picks up where he left off, the Venezuelan guard should play a key role for the Kings.

DeMarcus Cousins, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, and Patrick Patterson are all worthy starters in this league. Having them all on the same squad is something Sacramento should brag about.

Ben McLemore has been introduced to us as Ray Allen 2.0. If he magically turns out to be an exact reproduction of the Miami Heat Hall Of Famer, past memories of a sold-out Sleep Train Arena won’t be the Kings’ hot-topic anymore.

WHAT NOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

Will the Cousins extension come back to haunt them?

 

#23 LOS ANGELES LAKERS

TEAM ROSTER:

Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Chris Kaman, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, Nick Young, Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Hill, Xavier Henry, Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelly, Elias Harris, Marcus Landry, Shawne Williams.

PRE-SEASON SUMMARY/PREDICTIONS

So it looks like Kobe will be in a Lakers suit much sooner than anticipated, which is good. That being said, I wouldn’t be shocked if either of their big three (Bryant, Nash, Gasol) failed to take part in more than 50 games respectively.  I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be biting my fingers after every collision.

The Dwight Howard fiasco could potentially have a say on this LA drought for longer than expected. Unfortunately for them, the road back to relevancy will be extremely lengthy, so unless they manage to lure a big-name player to Staples Centre in the foreseeable future, Kobe’s sixth ring ambitions will fade.

Chris Kaman is a nice consolation price. He is an excellent third/fourth option on offense capable of scoring 15+ on any given night.

Nick Young and Jordan Farmar return to the City of Angeles after stints in Philly (Young) and Turkey (Farmar), so there’s and extra incentive for them to give Laker fans something to be excited about.

OFF-SEASON GRADE: D

Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry, Ryan Kelly, Elias Harris, Shawne Williams, Marcus Landry.

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

The only things that come to mind are highly improbable injury-free seasons, or months, from Kobe, Gasol, and Nash, a.k.a The Old Legs. Either way, their services won’t make much difference when competing in the Wild Wild West.

This has been rumored for a while, but experts are foreseeing a BIG summer for the Lakers. Some say LeBron might consider if the Heat fail to three-peat, others say Carmelo is a more likely option because he lives in L.A. While nobody knows what will happen, everybody is expecting a huge market move.

WHAT NOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

Is a renewal looming?? I wouldn’t be surprised if they decided to press the reset button and take a similar route as the Celtics. if that were to happen, countless teams would start bombarding Mitch Kupchak’s phone with enticing trade proposals for their big three.

We know what we are getting from them this season, so there’s almost no point in stating the obvious. Unless Kobe somehow comes back better than ever, LA is looking at its worst season in years.

#22 TORONTO RAPTORS

TEAM ROSTER:

Rudy Gay, DeMar Derozan, Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, Tyler Hansbrough, Dwight Buyks, Quincy Acy, Landry Fields, Aaron Gray, Steve Novak, DJ Augustine, Austin Daye, Julyan Stone.

PRE-SEASON SUMMARY/PREDICTIONS

Masai Ujiri’s reputation as a GM is enough for me to think that Toronto will be a different team this season. Last season’s Executive of the Year was so intrigued by the Toronto job that he decided to part ways with a legitimate playoff team in the Denver Nuggets, and embark on a challenging adventure with the struggling Toronto Raptors.
If anyone can turn around Toronto’s current situation, that someone is Masai Ujiri.

With Rudy Gay as their best player, the Raptors will continue to get the same ending result year after year; because of his inefficiency on both ends of the floor, Gay wears the cap of league’s most overpaid player, a title that some people would gladly hand to his teammate, DeMar Derozan. I don’t think either of them is as bad as some people portray, and I think Rudy Gay can make a couple of All-Star appearances. That being said, they both need to start listening to critics and adjust accordingly.

While the Raptors can still become a playoff team with these two guys at the core, competing for a championship will continue to be an afterthought if good changes take place.

OFF-SEASON GRADE: C

Hired Masai Ujiri as GM, Tyler Hansbrough, DJ Augustine, Julyan Stone, Dwight Buyks, Steve Novak, Austin Daye.

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

No need to worry Raptor fans, Masai Ujiri The Great is already scheming for a move that will catapult Toronto into playoff territory.

The Drake incentive. Tickets sales should go up this season with the Canadian rapper becoming part of the Toronto Raptors. His role isn’t clear, but if I had to put my money on it, I’d say he becomes a minority owner pretty soon.

Jonas Valanciunas was Summer league MVP and also led his country to the silver medal at Eurobasket. Can he add on to the already-impressive resume by having a breakout year? I think yes.

WHAT NOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

Rudy Gay and DeMar Derozan need to alter their games in order for Toronto to get anything done this year. I’m not sure how they’ll look once they’ll buy into the team’s needs, but I have a feeling it won’t be pretty.

 

#21 MILWAUKEE BUCKS

TEAM ROSTER:

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Carol Butler, OJ Mayo, Brandon Knight, Joshn Henson, Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova, Nate Wolters, Gary Neal, Luke Ridnour, Zaza Pachulia, Kris Middleton, Carlos Delfino, Ekpe Udoh, Miroslav, Raduljica.

PRE-SEASON SUMMARY/PREDICTIONS

Following an inevitable post-season exit to eventual champs Miami, Milwaukee’s front office decided to turn the page on the Jennings/Ellis experiment in search for a new identity.
Acquiring OJ Mayo, Brandon Jennings, and Gary Neal, pretty much puts them in the same position they were in last season with Ellis, Jennings, and Redick, so their playoffs chances aren’t  as slim as you would think.

With Larry Sanders, John Henson, and Ersan Ilyasova, the Bucks possess an exciting collection of young bigs that form a solid foundation for this team going forward.

Much of this team’s growth will also be depended on Greek rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has shows lots of pintriguing flashes during pre-season play.

OFF-SEASON GRADE: C

Hired Larry Drew as head coach, OJ Mayo, Brandon Knight, Caron Butler, Gary Neal, Zaza Pachulia, Luke Ridnour, Kris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo (draft) , Nate Wolters (draft), Miroslav Raduljica.

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

Thanks to his distinct blocking abilities, Larry Sanders is has rightfully earned respect as an elite defensive player. Assuming he has further improved during the summer, the upcoming season could see him in contention for a handful of awards.

After being surprisingly picked 15th in the draft,  all eyes will be turned to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

WHAT NOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

Considered a project of the highest order, Giannis Antetokounmpo might struggle at first. Due to the unnecessary hype generated following the draft, high expectations might set him for disaster.

 

#20 NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

TEAM ROSTER:

Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Al Farouq Aminu, Ryan Anderson, Austin Rivers, Darius Miller, Jason Smith, Anthony Morrow, Lance Thomas, Jeff Withey, Greg Stiemsma, Brian Roberts, Arinze Onuaku.

PRE-SEASON SUMMARY/PREDICTIONS

This off-season, New Orleans was protagonist of a lot of unexpected moves. Most notably, they took on Tyrke Evans’ contract and traded Nerlens Noel for Jrue Holiday. These two additions should provide immediate help on the offensive end to a team that finished in the bottom ten last year in points per game. (Hoopdata)
While not many people have them playing in April (me included), lost of surprises could be in store for this team.

Barring health issues, Eric Gordon is still considered a potential star player capable of finishing in the top 10 in the scoring race. Sadly, his potential has been hurt by injuries that have kept him from climbing up the ladder. By having a healthy year, Gordon should steadily reclaim his past reputation and sniff All-Star status.

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN: On draft night, New Orleans gave up on a potential tandem of Nerlens Noel and Anthony Davis (both Kentucky guys).

OFF-SEASON GRADE: B

Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Greg Stiemsma, Anthony Morrow, Jeff Withey (draft), Pierre Jackson (draft, playing overseas in France).

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

A backcourt tandem composed of Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon should compete neck-and-neck with the Curry/Thompson combo for title of ‘best backcourt in the league’.

Can Tyreke Evans break out? Even though unlikely, a successful season from the 2010 Rookie of the Year could motivate the Pelicans into a run at the postseason.

Anthony Davis’ first year in the league wasn’t exactly one to treasure.  Despite his shortcomings, he has bulked up over the summer and, as a result, looks better than ever. Will the hard work heave him towards All-Star status?

WHAT NOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

You don’t need to check statistics to know that Austin Rivers was atrocious as a rookie. He was so bad that I’m expecting his ill-advised play to carry on in his sophomore year.

Holiday, Gordon, and Evans need to mesh well in order for New Orleans to have any kind of success. I’m not sure how they’ll look, but it might get very, very ugly before it gets pretty.

 

#19 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

TEAM ROSTER:

Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles, Tristan Thompson, Luke Walton, Tyler Zeller, Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev, Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack, Carrick Felix, Wayne Ellington, Alonzo Gee.

PRE-SEASON SUMMARY/PREDICTIONS

Since losing LeBron, a lot of promises have been made to the city of Cleveland; among those, a championship before their former king would win one. You probably know where I am headed with this, so I won’t spend anymore time bashing owner Dan Gilbert and his failed promises.

Unless LeBron walks through the door, a championship to Cleveland isn’t coming anytime soon. For now, Cleveland will have to work with what they have, and take steps towards building a championship team the traditional way.

Kyrie Irving’s leap in year two of his career was so big that ESPN ranked him eight on their annual player rankings. As he will continue to grow, and hopefully stay healthy, Irving could be used as an enticing asset to lure other big name players to Cleveland.

Jarrett Jack and a healthy Andrew Bynum are legitimate starters on playoff teams, so this fact alone should transform last season’s shortcomings into an exciting and possible playoff run.

 OFF-SEASON GRADE: B

Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, Anthony Bennett (draft), Sergey Karasev (draft), Carrick Felix (draft).

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO: 

If Andrew Bynum clears the injured list at a reasonable time into the season, Cleveland would have a chance to be in the run for the 6th-8th seeds. A frontcourt composed of Bynum, rising big Tristan Thompson, and top rebounder Anderson Varejao is something Cavs fans should be impatient to watch.

WHAT NOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO: 

A Kyrie Irving season cut down by injuries. Like we have seen in the past, Irving’s biggest issues since entering the spotlight have been regarding injuries, which have limited his contribution and influence to his team.

While he did not play a single minute of basketball last year, Bynum’s off-court antics led us to believe that his attention isn’t where it should be. Will he turn it around in Cleveland?

 

 

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