Friday, June 24, 2005

 

NBA: A Look Forward to 2006

The 2005 NBA season is now over, with the San Antonio Spurs coming out on top. Obviously, it's way too early to make any sort of concrete predictions for next season; the offseason has yet to start. However, here are some speculations as to what might happen in 2006.

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Miami Heat. This team nearly won the Eastern Conference this season, and should be the favorite to do so in 2006. As long as Shaquille O'Neal's body doesn't finally suffer a total breakdown, Miami should contend for the championship, thanks to up-and-coming superstar Dwyane Wade. With one year of playoff experience under its belt, this squad should be even better next year.
Phoenix Suns. As of right now, Phoenix would probably be my pick to win the 2006 title. The Suns have already addressed their main concern (lack of toughness inside) by trading gunner Quentin Richardson to the Knicks for Kurt Thomas and a first-round pick. That trade will do a lot of things for Phoenix, most of them good: Shawn Marion can shift to small forward, Joe Johnson can be resigned, and another young, athletic player can be added through the draft. If Thomas is able to provide low-post defense to complement Amare Stoudemire, this team could run-and-gun all the way to an NBA championship.
San Antonio Spurs. What, you thought I was going to leave the defending champs off this list? No way. San Antonio should be back hungry for more in 2006. They may be able to satisfy that hunger if Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili become the potent inside-outside duo that they are capable of being. Duncan has already proven himself; on the other hand, Ginobili disappeared at times in the finals. A return to his freestyling ways will put the Spurs on the fast track for the 2006 title.
TEAMS ON THE RISE
Cleveland Cavaliers. With a new coach (Mike Brown) and a potential big free-agent signing (Ray Allen or Michael Redd?), this team should be able to put 2005's collapse in the past and become a bona fide playoff team. LeBron James has already become, in my opinion, the league's best player. If a player like Ray Allen or Michael Redd comes to Cleveland, look out for the Cavs in '06!
Golden State Warriors. Although it didn't make the playoffs, this group played well late in the season after the acquisition of Baron Davis. With Davis on board for the entire 2006 season, improvement on a 34-48 record is almost guaranteed, and a playoff berth is possible. The big question mark regarding this team is the fact that almost all the Warriors have no experience winning; all they know how to do is lose. They better learn how to win, and fast; they'll be doing a decent amount of it next season.
Indiana Pacers. Despite the loss of Reggie Miller (who had been reduced to a role of spot-up jump shooter anyway), Indiana should be better in 2006. One big reason why is the return of Ron Artest from his year-long suspension. From what I have heard, Artest has learned a lot during his time off; perhaps that will translate to more success on the court as well. With Artest back, this will be essentially the same team that won 61 games in '04, sans Miller. I'm not saying they will duplicate that feat, but a division title is certainly possible, if not likely.
Los Angeles Lakers. This might be a stretch; after all, I bashed this team just a week ago, claiming they were not in a position to get better anytime soon. However, despite my feelings regarding Phil Jackson, his teams have always succeeded. Also, any squad including Kobe Bryant has a chance to make some noise. The Lakers are talented, but whether they can make the playoffs in a tough Western Conference remains to be seen.
New Jersey Nets. New Jersey went on an incredible run late in the season to sneak into the playoffs, and I believe the Nets will pick up right where they left off in 2006. With the talented trio of Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson, New Jersey should be favored in what will once again be a weak Atlantic Division. I also have high hopes for Nenad Krstic, the Nets' promising young center.
TEAMS ON THE DECLINE
Boston Celtics. This team's plethora of strong personalities began to clash with each other as the season wore on, and more treacherous waters appear imminent. Where will this team go after the most lopsided Game 7 loss in history? Down, if you ask me.
Memphis Grizzlies. When addressing this team's problems, there is one question that needs to be asked: Where to begin? The end of the 2005 season was not pretty for Memphis; a playoff sweep at the hands of Phoenix doesn't even begin to tell the story. The Grizzlies practically revolted against their coach, siding with suspended malcontent Bonzi Wells at the season's most critical point. The debacle is probably best summed up by an incident in which a frustrated Jason Williams walked off with a reporter's pen, saying "You ain't gonna write nothin'." My prediction: Memphis's '06 roster will barely even resemble its '05 one, with maybe three players surviving the offseason. And that's a generous estimate.
Sacramento Kings. Sacramento's sad story appears to have come to an end. The Kings, who could have won two or three championships already this century, have instead won none, and the window of opportunity was emphatically slammed shut when they bowed out in the first round to Seattle. If questioned, Shaq would probably say it best: next years' batch of Kings will more closely resemble Queens, at least as far as basketball goes.
Seattle Supersonics. It's a shame that Seattle will have to return to the lottery after just one year of short-lived success, but that's what will likely happen. Coach Nate McMillan, as well as a slew of free agents, will be gone in 2006, and so will all title aspirations of the Sonics and their fans. Seattle, we hardly knew ye.
PROJECTED PLAYOFF TEAMS
(in alphabetical order)
Eastern Conference: Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, New Jersey Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Wizards
Western Conference: Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs
And finally, my extremely early playoff predictions:
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Heat over Pacers
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Suns over Spurs
NBA FINALS
Suns over Heat

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