Sunday, October 23, 2005

30 Teams-30 Questions

Ah, the familiar sound of sneakers sliding across the hardwood must mean, it's time for the 2005-2006 NBA Season. I wanted to "wet your whistle" just a bit with my little primer on the 30 teams in the league.

Let's work our way through the teams alphabetically.
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TEAM QUESTION: Is Joe Johnson really worth $70 million?

THE SKINNY: They may surprise you on some nights but this team is still a long, long way from making any noise in the Eastern Conference.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Al Harrington. Led the team in scoring, rebounds, and steals last year. With seven years under his belt, he's one of the "veterans" on a team full of young talent. Remember, he came over in a sign and trade last year for Stephen Jackson, so all indications are GM Billy Knight wanted him. Remains to be seen if he will keep him through the season.

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TEAM QUESTION: Will the Truth aka Paul Pierce be dealt by the trade deadline?

THE SKINNY: This team will score alot of points but will give up just as many. Not usually a recipe for great success.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Paul Pierce. The unquestioned leader of the team must act like it. No more Toine or Glove to rely on in crunch situations, it's all going to fall on his shoulders. His point production has dropped the last three seasons in a row and with this group around him, he will need to carry more of the scoring load.

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TEAM QUESTION: Will the summer workouts with The Dream help Okafor expand his game?

THE SKINNY: The building blocks are there for this young team; won't be a pushover this year.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Brevin Knight. 9 apg last year is nothing to sneeze at but he has to be looking over his shoulder for rookie, Raymond Felton, to make a push for his job. By January, if Felton is getting more than 20 minutes per game, look for Knight to be moved.

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TEAM QUESTION: Who will score down low for this team?

THE SKINNY: Scott Skiles will get the most from this undersized group but trading Curry will hurt.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Tyson Chandler. He is the main guy in the paint now and will have to improve on his 8 ppg from last season. That will not get it done if the Bulls have any chance to make a similar splash as last season.

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TEAM QUESTION: Is LeBron more MJ or Magic?

THE SKINNY: Good supporting cast to help King James; it should be enough to take them deep into the playoffs.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Drew Gooden. He will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season and will probably play like it to boost his chances of getting paid.

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TEAM QUESTION: Do they have the toughness to battle out West?

THE SKINNY: Avery Johnson will emphasis defense from the start but it won't translate into winning a championship.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Josh Howard. He will be asked to play tough defense on some of the best small forwards in the West (KG, Marion, T-Mac, Carmelo), but his scoring could be the key; the team was 19-5 last year when he scored 15 or more points.

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TEAM QUESTION: Will Carmelo re-establish himself and finally get past his Olympic experience?

THE SKINNY: They should continue to build on last year's 32-8 regular season record under George Karl. Teams will dread going into the Pepsi Center.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Marcus Camby. If only he could stay healthy, this guy is a walking double-double every night for this team. Because of his size and versatility, he causes match up problems for opponents, however, he often gets lost in the offense.

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TEAM QUESTION: How will this veteran group respond to new coach Flip Saunders?

THE SKINNY: It's hard for any team to make the Finals three years in a row but this team is not ordinary.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Chauncey Billups. By his own admission, Larry Brown was responsible for helping him take his game to the next level. Now that he is considered one of the elite point guards in the league, he will lead this team back deep into the playoffs.

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TEAM QUESTION: Do they make their first playoff appearance since 1994?

THE SKINNY: This team could be one of the most exciting teams in the league to watch. Baron and J-Rich could form one of the best backcourts in the league this year.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Baron Davis. He wanted out of New Orleans and is back in his home state of California, now he has to demonstrate that he can lead a team and stay healthy at the same time.

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TEAM QUESTION: Can Yao play more than 30 minutes per game?

THE SKINNY: Anytime you have T-Mac, you have an excellent chance to win games. Look for Van Gundy to re-live his defensive minded Knick days, which means alot of 84-78 games.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Stromile Swift. Everyone knows he has the talent and now he will be given more than the 20 minutes per game he got in Memphis to show off the skills that made him the number 2 overall pick in 2000.

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TEAM QUESTION: Can Artest really change his ways?

THE SKINNY: Somebody must fill the void left by Reggie Miller. Regardless, this team could be on a mission to erase all the demons from last year; rest of the league......LOOKOUT.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jermaine O'Neal. Nobody is tougher to defend around the basket. He's tired of hearing all the talk about why every other team has a better chance of winning the title. In limited action last year, he posted 24.3 ppg (career high) and 8.8 rpg; look for similar productivity.

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TEAM QUESTION: Cat, Sam I Am, Brand and Maggette, now which LA team is the best again?

THE SKINNY: This team is as talented as any in the Pacific Division. Coach Dunleavy has won 28 and 37 games respectively his first two seasons with the Clips, look for that upward trend to continue.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Elton Brand. Seventh in the league last year in double-doubles with 41; tenacious on the boards and a soft touch around the basket; a nice combo to have. He should continue to elevate his game with the new supporting cast.

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TEAM QUESTION: Can Kobe and the Zen Master get along?

THE SKINNY: In 14 seasons of coaching, Phil Jackson has never missed the playoffs, that's gotta count for something. Kobe will have to do his best Jordan imitation and Lamar will have to imitate.........well, just be Lamar.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Kwame Brown, who else? If he thought MJ was hard on him in practices, wait until he crosses Kobe the wrong way. He won't have long in La La Land to make it or break it, the fans expect to win and after hearing "he's the missing piece" stories from the team all summer, they will expect just that.

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TEAM QUESTION: Will this squad enter the upper echelon of teams in the league?

THE SKINNY: One word for this team. LOADED! No surprise, Jerry West made great moves this off-season and it should pay off nicely for the Griz.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Damon Stoudamire. No doubt he can shoot with the best of them but he hasn't been asked to distribute the ball in quite some time; let's hope he hasn't forgotten how.

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TEAM QUESTION: Can the General aka Shaq keep everyone in check?

THE SKINNY: Last year, Wade proved he belongs in the top 5 best player in the league arguments, now he must lead this team to its destiny.......the Finals.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Shaquille O'Neal. The Diesel is now 33 and beginning to show signs of wear and tear but he's still the most dominant player in the league when healthy. Although his ppg the last two seasons has been un-Shaqlike, he can still turn it on when he needs to and with this supporting cast, he won't need to most nights.

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TEAM QUESTION: In three years, will this team regret not drafting Marvin Williams?

THE SKINNY: Redd better prove he is worth every bit of $90 million but it won't matter if he does, this team ain't going anywhere.

PLAYER TO WATCH: T.J. Ford. Hopefully he's over the cervical spinal surgery. Coming into the league, many questioned his durability and shooting ability; the same still applies this season.

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TEAM QUESTION: How long before the franchise leader KG decides enough is enough?

THE SKINNY: Even the leagues best all around player (KG) can't shoulder this load. Sczerbiak, Jaric, Olowokandi, come on, give me a break. Look for alot of blank stares on the bench from first year coach, Dwane Casey.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Rashad McCants. For a team that's in deseperate need of athleticism, he's about as good as it gets. If he can remain patient and learn to play better defense, he could get big minutes by All-Star break.

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TEAM QUESTION: Is Kidd finally happy with his team?

THE SKINNY: Vinsanity and RJ will score big time most nights and Kidd will rack up plenty of assists because of it; should be more than enough to get them into the playoffs.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Richard Jefferson. He's not the number one option. Probably not even number two in crunch time but he is one heckuva third option. If nothing else, he will give Jersey 19 ppg and 7 rpg each night.

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TEAM QUESTION: Can they win 20 games?

THE SKINNY: One of the youngest teams in the league will play like it most of the time but J.R. Smith and Chris Paul could one day be the best backcourt in the league.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Chris Paul. He will get control of this offense right away. In college, he was the best point guard in the country and it won't be long before he shows fans why the Hornets drafted him fourth overall this year.

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TEAM QUESTION: Will Larry Brown be the difference?

THE SKINNY: Getting Curry was a smart move, not to mention Q. Finally, Isiah seems to be getting it right in the Big Apple.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Stephon Marbury. Most regard last season as his best (22 ppg, 8 apg) but those numbers might slack just a bit under Brown, who will require more patience running the offense and better defense from his star guard.

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TEAM QUESTION: How long before Stevie Franchise blows a gasket?

THE SKINNY: Here is your classic example of doing absolutely nothing in the off-season. Bottom line, this is not a very good team.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Dwight Howard. This kid won't have any sophomore slump, he's the real deal. 32 double-doubles last year and they didn't even run plays for him. This summer, he worked on his mid-range jumper and if he could ever hit it consistently, it could mean bad things for the rest of the league.

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TEAM QUESTION: How many points per game will A.I. need to score to keep this team in contention?

THE SKINNY: Getting Mo Cheeks to come in and run things was great; 2 years and $40 million plus left for C-Webb, not so great.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Samuel Dalembert. There are $64M reasons why he's the player to watch. Philly fans are the hardest on players and it will feel hotter than a summer in Haiti in the Wachovia Center if doesn't deliver.

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TEAM QUESTION: Can Marion and Nash hold down the fort?

THE SKINNY: But for Amare's surgery, losing Joe and Q would not have hurt as much, but in the Valley of the Sun, be prepared for some long nights.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Shawn Marion. With Amare out, he will have to step up and do even more than he did last season, which is asking alot considering he posted 53 double-doubles (second only to KG). The Suns don't normally run plays for him but D'Antoni will have to come up with some for him to keep the pressure off Nash.

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TEAM QUESTION: Can Zach Randolph respond from surgery and lead this young team?

THE SKINNY: I hope new coach Nate McMillan realizes what he got himself into. It's going to be a long season in the Pacific Northwest.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Sebastian Telfair. Last season, he showed flashes of the game all expect from him. This season, he will need to grow up quickly. He worked on the outside shot all summer and he will need it because teams won't let him dribble, drive and dish so easily.

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TEAM QUESTION: Is this the make or break year for coach Rick Adelman?

THE SKINNY: An almost complete overhaul of the roster brings together a potent team. Scoring won't be a problem but coming together as one unit could; Bibby and Peja should keep them on track though.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Shareef Abdur-Rahim. He could be the calming influence this team needs. Bringing his career 19 ppg with him and a silky smooth shot around the perimeter will open up the floor for Bibby and Peja.

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TEAM QUESTION: How many more titles can this team win? Two, three, four?

THE SKINNY: Finley and Van Exel are coming off the bench! Now, that's scary. Here is a team that knows how to put all egos aside and just win championships; it's hard to say it won't happen again this season.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Michael Finley. You just would not have imagined him coming off the bench for any team but this is the Spurs. He took less money to play with the Spurs, let's hope it's worth it come June.

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TEAM QUESTION: Can Ray Allen carry the load?

THE SKINNY: This team is puzzling; Allen, Lewis and Radmanovic are a good trio but losing Nate McMillan may be the biggest blunder of the off-season.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Luke Ridnour. He surprised everyone last season with his play (10 ppg, 6 apg) but he's not a secret anymore. Again, this team will need to rely on the perimeter for offense and he will be the key to distributing the ball to those outstanding shooters.

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TEAM QUESTION: Will Chris Bosh become an All-Star this season?

THE SKINNY: Sam Mitchell did the best he could with what he had last year and it's pretty much the same team this year so look for similar results.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jalen Rose. He just keeps finding ways to score points. 18.5 ppg last season will have to be duplicated for this team to make any progress. But don't expect Jalen to be on this team by the trade deadline.

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TEAM QUESTION: How long will the re-building last?

THE SKINNY: Long gone are the days of "Stockton to Malone", Utah fans get ready for "Deron to.........", well, you get the point. However, a healthy Boozer and Kirilenko should count for 30 wins.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Andrei Kirilenko. The best player on this team is a "Shawn Marion" type without the crazy hops. With his all-around play, he can actually impact a game about as well as any player in the league.

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TEAM QUESTION: How far can this team really go?

THE SKINNY: Losing Larry Hughes won't sting that much, it will just allow more touches for Antawn and even more for Gilbert. A good group of complimentary players around those two makes this team pretty good.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Caron Butler. This is his third team in his four years in the league. One of the few bright spots (15 ppg, 6 rpg) for the Lakers last year, he should find a nice role in this free-wheeling offense. He might not necessarily replace Hughes' defense but he's more than capable of replacing the offense.

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Rest in peace Jason Collier.

Until next time.

blog@talkinsportsonline.com