Josh: Ladies and gents, the NBA is a mere 14 days away! On Tuesday, October 27th basketball tips off in Chicago, IL as the runner-up Cavs take on the Bulls. Will it be an Eastern Conference Finals Preview? What about the Atlanta Hawks, who won 60 games last year to lead the East? Can the Wizards, Raptors, or Celtics make the leap to the top of the conference? Can the Heat come together? Will Philadelphia finally get the #1 overall pick?
The questions abound, and now is the time to answer some of them. For the next 2 weeks, Wesley and I will unlock the secrets of the NBA to you, previewing both conferences and then sharing our playoff, award, and prop bet picks. Wonder where your favorite team will end up? Want to hate on the Knicks? Then hop on board as we kick off preview season with the dregs of the Eastern Conference**
**Teams were divided arbitrarily into 3 tiers by general contender status for the upcoming season; the ordering within each tier means nothing. Similar to the Brooklyn Nets’ season.
We start off with the most popular tank since Cuban’s show, where Sam Hinkie hopes one more flatline sets his team up for future dominance.
Catch You Up: They purposefully jettisoned veteran talent, shuffled their young talent, and look uninterested in being competitive following last year’s 18-64 record. They did draft Jahlil Okafor to give them 4 young centers, although Joel Embiid will miss the season again with another surgery.
Breakout Player: I think Nerlens Noel is ready to become a Serge-Ibaka type player, running the court and emphatically rejecting all visitors to the rim. Is he develops some range, he could feasibly pair with Okafor or Embiid.
Hotseat: Sam Hinkie has the full green light here, so he’s bizarrely safe; likewise I think Brett Brown is not going to be punished for having to endure this teardown. With the way Hinkie has shot players out of Philly using a T-shirt cannon, with Michael Carter-Williams being last year’s victim, I could see Okafor being sent packing if he doesn’t display the sort of skills Hinkie wants. Just a hunch, but I think it’s in play.
Believe it or Not: Philly won a playoff series just 3 1/2 years ago. Seriously. They haven’t been bad your entire life, it just feels that way. Also, the 76ers owner is also the owner of Chuck E. Cheese, which is going to add beer and win to their menu to lure parents to take their kids more frequently.
Best case scenario: They are in most of their games, with Noel, Okafor, and some of the other young talent showing promise, but lose the vast majority of them and finally get the #1 overall pick. The Lakers finish with the 4th pick (goes to Philly), the Heat wobble to a 9th place finish in the East and the 11th pick in the draft (goes to Philly), and the Thunder make the playoffs (pick goes to Philly). Embiid recovers fully, Saric comes over, and this team faces next year with some actual optimism.
Worst case scenario: They win just enough games to slip to 4 or 5 in the lottery, Noel and Okafor can’t play together, and Embiid has to retire.
Prediction: I think Hinkie wants one more year of not winning, especially with a weak draft coming next year. The last year of tanking will deflate their win total, which I think could be higher with some real talent on this team. Watch out in case Kendall Marshall or Pierre Jackson show some skills. 19-63, 5th in the Atlantic
Wes: So, “conceed for Embiid” hasn’t really panned out, and he is maybe one more injury away from being the second coming of Oden (Yeah, they’re about the same now), further proving that this rebuild is becoming a joke. You can call this whatever you want, just don’t forget to call it simply a crying shame. This team has so much potential, but drafting 7 centers, pushes you further from your goal than you might understand. If Noel becomes “the Brow”, then we’ll talk. Until then, give me death or give me the Sixers! I’ll take death, please. 22-60, last in the Atlantic.
Catch You Up: 33-49, 11th in the East. Not much to be said here. Losing Kemba during the back half of the season, really did take its toll on the team. Oh, Al Jefferson needs some new knees too.
Breakout Player: I really hope it’s Frank Kaminsky. Frank has all the skills to be the #4 they’ve needed. He can pass well, draw the double with some ease and still get to the lane really easily. I think he game will translate very well to the NBA level, and he will be in the running for the Rookie of the Year title come the end of the season.
Hotseat: Michael Jordan? Maybe this is a stretch, but if they don’t look competitive this year, I think you could be looking at some real changes coming down the pipeline for this team.
Believe it or Not: The revenue from a Frank Kaminsky commercial will give the Hornets enough money to buy out the Latvian national team 4 times over. Your move, Latvia.
Best Case Scenario: Kaminsky hits a game winner every night, sending the city into a frenzy and having the intercom play, “Everything is awesome” after every win.
Worst Case Scenario: “Tiny Dancer” is played after every loss, bringing Adam Morrison out of the depths of Gonzaga.
Prediction: Kemba and Frank are going to be killer on NBA Jam, but until then….brace yourselves. 32-50. Last in the Southeast. First in Fashion.–
Josh: This team has Kemba, who wins games at the end (don’t tell me he doesn’t!! I defy the numbers here), Big All making things happen on the block, and Frank the Tank doing…something? But will the injection of random “shooters” save this team’s spacing? Color me skeptical. If MKG was healthy they could easily be the 8th seed, but with him out I think they just as easily follow Wes’ prediction and drop below the Magic. 29-53, 5th in the Southeast
Catch You Up: Last year this team imploded, with Anthony not returning from the All Star Break due to injury and an ugly 17-65 record could only net them the 4th pick, where they took Kristaps Porzingis out of Latvia. Striking out with the big free agents, they cracked open their “fragile, overrated veterans” binder and started writing checks, adding Robin Lopez, Aaron Afflalo, and Derrick Williams while re-upping their toothless bench unit.
Breakout Player: I have no issue with their selection of Porzingis, and he could certainly develop into a star. But this year, the breakout candidate is rookie Jerian Grant. After a standout senior season at Notre Dame, Grant could see the keys to Derek Fisher’s engine early, and he could make some things happen.
Hotseat: Carmelo Anthony, believe it or not. This team’s only surefire talent picked money over wins last offseason; however, his presence on the roster means this team has to press to win now, which they aren’t very equipped to do. He and Phil may work out a plan to trade him to a contender and net the Knicks some future assets.
Believe it or Not: The Knicks signed Sasha Vujacic back from the grave – err, playing in Europe. The New York Times somehow decided he would bring “stability.” No really. Google “Sasha Vujacic Offers Knicks Stability.” It’s a real thing!
Best case scenario: Carmelo decides missing the playoffs is not an option and goes Kobe circa 2007 on the East, and the supporting cast manages just enough to sneak them into the playoffs.
Worst case scenario: Melo heads to Chicago in January, which sends back Doug McBuckets, Taj Gibson, and a couple of picks. Wait, that sounds like a great scenario for them. Hold on:
The actual worst-case scenario: Melo gets hurt again, Lopez gets arrested for actually killing a mascot, and Phil quits to take co-ownership of the Lakers as lil Buss steps down.
Prediction: This team has no reason to tank, no real reason to win, and I think their signings were underwhelming and won’t really help. 22-60, 4th in the Atlantic
Wes: My 2nd favorite NBA Jam team! Melo and Porzingis. or Porzingis and Grant. Either way, Spike Lee should get his documentary ready. This is going to be a bloodbath. 27-55, 4th in the Atlantic
Catch You Up: 25-57, last in the Southeast. Hey, they were in some close games though!! A for effort. Vaughan was a bad coach, so who’s to say Skiles will be much worse?
Breakout Player: Dear God I hope it’s Mario Hezjona. But if not, I think Elfrid Payton takes one more step up as a Gary Payton like guard. He’s got the skills and the defensive know how, it’s just time to piece it all together. But come on Mario, we need you to freak out on someone, at least 4 times a game. If you want a good gauge of a temper during a Magic game, look up the T-Mac game when he punts the ball into the Jumbotron.
Hot Seat: Mickey Mouse. Word on the street is that he’s looking at going to LA for nothing. A third party is rumored to be interested in him, but they have not revealed themselves fully, but their pen name is “D. Duck”. More to follow.
Believe It or Not: Shaq jerseys are still being sold on Orlando and in the past 4 years, no jersey has sold more than Shaq’s. HUGE ISSUE.
Best Case Scenario: Hezonja freaks out on Skiles and coaches the team.
Worst Case Scenario: Hezonja wins Rookie of the Year and becomes a team player. Spice it up, Mario!
Prediction: I close me eeeeeeyyyeeess…only for a moment, but the moment’s goooonnneeee…We are undefeated right now; and I don’t wanna lose that. 36-46, 4th in the Southeast.
Josh: That jersey issue is actually a really big deal. Orlando desperately needs a new face of the franchise to step up and fill the Dwight void. Could that be Oladipo? Super Mario? Regardless, this whole team needs to take a step together. Skiles could get them to take one, but I’m not convinced it’s a huge step. I’m somewhat skeptical of Tobias Harris, of their spacing, and of the Wesley jinx (he also roots for Portland…case in point). 32-50, 5th in the Southeast
Catch You Up: Last Year the Nets finished 38-44, sneaking into the playoffs as the 8th seed before losing in 6 to the top-seeded Hawks. With no incentive to tank (their first rounder goes to Boston) the Nets re-signed Brook Lopez and Thad Young and added Andrea Bargnani (superstar!). They cut ties with oft-injured Deron Williams and traded away Mason Plumlee for the rights to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson out of Arizona.
Breakout Player: To be honest? There isn’t one here. The Nets have assembled a collection of mediocre young players and aging vets; I will say that Brook Lopez could have a career year as the clear #1 option on offense. 24-10 is in play for him. You know, with no defense.
Hotseat: Billy King, the Nets’ GM, has managed to trade away all of this team’s young talent and draft picks and attained only the second round for his troubles; another terrible season where they watch the Boston Celtics draft Dragan Bender should see him cleaning out his desk.
Believe it or Not: The Nets, through draft wizardry, will either lose their pick or have to swap to a worse position for 5 straight years. Go Nets!
Best case scenario: Lopez stays healthy and scores in bunches, Hollis-Jefferson can play the gritty 2-way role Pierce filled a few years ago, and they scrap their way to another playoff berth and a .500 record.
Worst case scenario: Lopez and Barngani are hurt, none of the young players develop, and Hollins punches Billy King after King trades away Hollis-Jefferson for Mike Miller and Jameer Nelson. They watch Boston draft in the top-3.
Prediction: I see no reason for optimism here; this team is bad, the coach can only do so much, and they will stagger to an unlucky 13th place finish in the conference. 28-54, 3rd in the Atlantic
Wes: What can be said about the Nets? I think this is just one of those teams, you’ll be forced to watch every now and then, because someone will do something so foul, you’ll wanna gouge your eyes out. 28 feels low, but I’m not going that much higher. 32-50, somewhere over the rainbow.
Hope you find your way home Brooklyn! And for our readers, check back tomorrow as we move to the East’s Middle Class – those teams that won’t feasibly compete for a championship, but will be in the playoff mix. If you have anything to say, feel free to let us know, either on Facebook or in the comments below. Thanks for reading!!