Archived: NBA 2018 Previews
October 16, 2018
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February 25, 2022
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October 16, 2018
ATLANTIC DIVISION …It has not been an easy few years for the New York Knicks (29½), whose latest incarnation is making no bones about the fact it is in the midst of clearing salary space to make a run at any number of highprofile free agents due to hit the market next summer. The recent release of Joakim Noah (using the stretch provision of the final year of his contract) sure fits that narrative, reducing his cap hit about $13 million next summer, giving the Knicks enough space to go after one “max” player (Kevin Durant? Kawhi Leonard?).
If it sounds strange to be talking about all of these what-ifs-for-2019 in New York, well, get used to it, because the Daily News and the Post will be doing the same things all winter. We feel a bit sorry for new HC David Fizdale, though he’s not going to be blamed for any of the expected failures of this term. As for 2018-19, getting to 30 wins would be a neat trick, especially with Kristaps Porzingis still on the mend from last year’s ACL tear, with a return near Christmas as a best-case scenario. Eventually, Porzingis and Kentucky rookie F Kevin Knox might be an entertaining frontline combo, while another promising rookie, 7-1 Mitchell Robinson (2nd-round pick), cuts his teeth. Make no mistake, however, the Knicks are just biding their time until next summer…check back then for more interesting reading. In the meantime, look “under” at MSG…
Maybe this season we’ll finally get a chance to see the Boston Celtics (58½) at full strength. We didn’t a year ago, when key FA addition Gordon Hayward went down early in the opener with a gruesome season-ending broken fibula and dislocated ankle. Hayward and Boston’s other high-profile addition, Kyrie Irving, played together for a total of 5 minutes and 15 seconds last season. And by the time the playoffs rolled around, Irving was sidelined as well. The thought persists in some NBA circles that a fully-healthy Celtics lineup would have been more than a match for the LeBron Cavs, but now that King James has moved to the Western Conference, the Cleveland roadblock in the playoffs no longer exists. The absences of Hayward and, eventually, Irving a season ago allowed others to step to the fore like rookie SF Jayson Tatum, plus SG Jaylon Brown, and PG Terry Rozier. Toss those three together with a healthy Hayward (who might play limited minutes at the outset) and Irving, with a large dose of master tactician Brad Stevens on the bench, plus no LeBron in the East, and the route is laid out for a Beantown return to the Finals for the first time in nine years. “Over” at TD Garden.
CENTRAL DIVISION .. . Were the Indiana Pacers (47½) just a one-hit wonder last term, a convergence of factors not likely to replicate? Perhaps, and we doubt the Pacers sneak up on anybody as they might have a year ago when qualifying as the No. 5 seed in the East and scaring the daylights out of LeBron’s Cavs in the first round, pushing Cleveland all of the way to the last minute of Game Seven.
Like every other Eastern entry, there’s no more worry about LeBron this season, but GM Kevin Pritchard didn’t sit on his hands in the offseason, adding some firepower in free agency with Tyreke Evans and Doug McDermott, and some size in ex-Knick Kyle O’Quinn, who effectively takes the place of Al Jefferson, who moved to China. But the breakout stars of last
season, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, both added in the Paul George trade, helped create an unmistakable vibe and chemistry that was channeled expertly by Nate McMillan, who proved an inspired HC hire. Does all of that and a notable (and NBA rarity) esprit de corps all disappear just because we’re six months on from the end of last season? “Over” at Bankers Life Fieldhouse…Fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers (30½) don’t need to be reminded what happened the last time LeBron James left town. And we don’t expect the Cavs to sink to quite those depths of 2010-11. Still, even with LeBron pushing himself beyond his limits and playing in every game a season ago, the Cavs could only get to 50 wins and the No. 4 seed in the East. What remains on the roster is a patchwork quilt of aging vet leftovers from the recent Finals runs and some precocious youth. Plus a coach (Ty Lue) that might not have even been coaching that much when LeBron was effectively running the team. This new frontier in Cleveland now will feature F Kevin Love, rewarded with a 4-year contract extension in the summer, but durability has not always been one of Love’s strong points. Alabama rookie PG Collin Sexton might be fun to watch, but without LeBron, the non-Love portion of this roster resembles so many spare parts. They’ll be doing well to get to 30 wins. Look “under” at The “Q.”
SOUTHEAST DIVISION …In recent seasons we have often thought the Orlando Magic (31) were on the verge of a breakthrough. But once again they’re re-making themselves, with another new coach (Steve Clifford, recently at Charlotte, and now Orlando’s fifth HC since 2012) just a year after major frontoffice turnover. But a jump of seven wins seems to be asking a bit much for a team that quite strangely might not benefit as much as some with no LeBron in Cleveland, having given the Cavs all they could handle while splitting four a year ago. Much of the hope for upside centers around 7-1 Texas rookie C Mo Bamba, already a likely deluxe rim-protector but raw with the rest of his game. Key PF Aaron Gordon has also ended speculation about a move after signing a 4-year extension in the summer. But a charge up the standings likely will rely more upon a collection of vet additions (Timofey Mozgov, Jerian Grant, Jarell Martin) and perhaps an eventual upgrade at the point, where D.J. Augustin appears a place-holder until further notice. We don’t see this team improving 7 wins; “under” at Amway Center…
We’re always looking for teams flying under the radar. Thus, intriguing us a bit are the Charlotte Hornets (35½), on nobody’s watch list after the latest playoff miss last spring that triggered another coaching change (Steve Clifford out, James Borrego in). But Borrego’s preference for a free-flowing style might be a perfect fit for go-go PG Kemba Walker, who often seemed handcuffed in the Clifford offense, while ex-Spur Tony Parker will make it easier to give Walker a blow every once in awhile. A deep collection of bigs gives Borrego added flexibility, and there’s hope that Michigan State rookie Miles Bridges emerges as a Draymond Green clone; after all, they were both tutored by Tom Izzo in East Lansing. We’re looking over at the “Hornet’s Nest” (Spectrum Center).
WESTERN CONFERENCE SOUTHWEST DIVISION… Is the addition of Carmelo Anthony such a negative that the Houston Rockets (55½) are going to drop ten wins from a season ago? While we wonder about ‘Melo’s dwindling impact, the thought persists that shrewd HC Mike D’Antoni, not to mention Chris Paul and James Harden, will figure out some way to maximize Carmelo’s impact. Perhaps the expected drop in the Houston win total stems more from the departures of defensive stalwarts Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, roles not to be filled by Carmelo. But versatile big Clint Capella has re-signed, and the Harden-Paul pairing proved to be dynamite a season ago when Houston won 65. Our main concern is the health of Paul, who has been oft-injured, and whose absence proved costly at the end of the West Finals vs. the Warriors. Otherwise, it’s full speed ahead in Houston. “Over” at Toyota Center…Are the Memphis Grizzlies (33½) really ready to increase their win total by an effective 50%? Sure, it will help to have PG Mike Conley healthy again, but much of the upside seems tied to Michigan State rookie C Jaren Jackson, who was not dominant enough on the boards.