Rejoice basketball fans, the NBA season is just 5 days and roughly eight hours away. The NFL and college football have been holding us over until tip off, but the first regular season games feels like it’s right around the corner.
By now, most teams’ rosters are filled and we have a decent picture of what they’ll look like, but it’s never to early for some bold predictions, right? That’s what preseason is for – hopeless NBA dreaming to get us through the final weeks of the offseason.
I put on my thinking cap and came up with five scenarios that could happen in the 2014-2015 season that not many other people see happening. With that, here are my 5 bold predictions for the 2014-2015 NBA season, and these ones are focusing on teams. My bold predictions for individual players will come out later this week.
5. The Detroit Pistons Will Make The Playoffs
The Pistons weren’t good last year. Those were the facts, but there was a lot of change in Motown this summer, including a change at head coach. Out with Maurice Cheeks and in with Stan Van Gundy, who despite his sometimes questionable tactics with the media, is a proven winner.
Van Gundy likes to play with one big man in the paint and spread the floor with shooters. While Detroit’s roster, as currently set, isn’t perfectly set for that playing style, there is enough talent to make it work. Andre Drummond is emerging into one of the most dominant centers in the league, and he’s just 21-years-old. Greg Monroe is back with the team, and he’s one of the better passing big men in the NBA, a key trait to fitting into SVG’s offensive system. Josh Smith has vowed to play in the paint more often this season and if he can commit to taking better shots, could be a really effective offensive player for the Pistons. Adding the shooting touch of Jodie Meeks to the perimeter alongside Brandon Jennings and there aren’t many teams with five more talented players (speaking purely talent here) than Detroit.
The Pistons won’t compete with the Cavaliers and the other Eastern Conference giants for the top seed, but this team has enough talent to compete for one of the final two or three playoff spots. The Pacers don’t look nearly as good as they’ve been in the past two years, the Nets still have a lot of question marks surrounding them, and who knows if the Hornets offseason acquisitions will actually translate to wins.
That’s a lot of ifs. What is certain is that the Pistons are loaded with talent, and in this case, talent will win out.
4. The New York Knicks Will Miss the Playoffs
Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher are supposed to be the saviors of the Knicks franchise, but the reality is that the duo just didn’t have enough cap flexibility to make any significant moves this offseason. Minus Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, the Knicks head into the 2014-2015 season with virtually the same core of the players that managed to only win 37 games a year ago.
The trade involving Chandler set the Knicks up for the future better, but it didn’t really help them out for this year. Samuel Dalembert isn’t better than Chandler is, and while Jose Calderon is an upgrade over Felton, it’s not much.
With the triangle offensive system in place now, look for Carmelo Anthony to explode and put up some huge numbers. He’s built perfectly to play at the high post in that triangle look, but as Shaquille O’Neal told NBCNewYork’s Mitch Lawrence, the triangle needs two stars to work, and the Knicks just don’t have a second star right now.
The Knicks as a team are better than they were last year, but so is the rest of the Eastern Conference. Phil Jackson will make his mark on the Big Apple, but it’ll have to wait until 2015-2016.
3. The Houston Rockets Will Miss the Playoffs
The Rockets were good last year. Really good. Houston finished fourth in the ultra competitive Western Conference with a 54-28 record before losing to the Blazers in the first round of the playoffs.
The Rockets offseason was not a very good one, and the team missed out on not one, but both of their top free agent targets. Chris Bosh decided to re-sign in Miami and the Rockets pursuit of him allowed Chandler Parsons to sign with the Mavericks.
To replace Parsons, the Rockets signed Trevor Ariza to a $32-million dollar contract, and that’s about to blow up in their face. Ariza is coming off a really solid season, but that seems like an outlier when looking at the rest of his career. To be honest, Ariza has had two good seasons in his 10-year career, and coincidentally, both have come in contract seasons. In those two years, Ariza has averaged 14.7 points per game and has shot 37% from beyond the arc. In his other eight seasons, Ariza hasn’t been nearly as effective, averaging just 9.2 points per game and his shooting efficiency is significantly lower. If he’s supposed to fill Parsons’ offensive shoes, the Rockets are in trouble.
Parsons isn’t the only key contributor from last year’s squad though. Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, two major pieces of Houston’s bench are now on different Western Conference squads.
If the Rockets were in the East, they’d be a surefire playoff team. The duo of James Harden and Dwight Howard alone would be enough to compete, but unfortunately for them, they’re in the West. While the Rockets got worse this offseason, a number of teams on the playoff bubble got better, including the Suns, Pelicans, and Nuggets. One team that made the playoffs last year seemingly has to fall off, and my money is on the Rockets.
2. The Dallas Mavericks Win the West
The Mavericks gave the Spurs their toughest test in last year’s playoffs, and this team has only gotten better since then. While most of the free agency chaos went on in the East, the Mavericks improved more than any other team in the West.
Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler were both huge acquisitions for this team to go alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, and the low key signing of Jameer Nelson will add another level of veteran leadership to that locker room.
Dallas didn’t have much trouble scoring last year. They finished eighth in the NBA in points per game (104.8), and Parsons is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Adding his 19.3 points per game average from last year to that mix and there just aren’t going to be many teams in the league that can stop the Mavericks.
But offense doesn’t win championships, defense does. And that’s why bringing back Tyson Chandler is the most important move they made all year. Look back at the 2011 NBA Finals run the Mavericks had and the key to their success was their defense. Who was the anchor and leader of that unit? Tyson Chandler. He may not move as well as he did three years ago, but he’s still one of the better rim protectors in the league.
The Mavericks are fast, long and well coached, and this is the year they reclaim the state of Texas from the San Antonio Spurs.
1. The Cleveland Cavaliers Won’t Win The East
The Cavaliers have the most talented roster in the NBA. There’s no doubting that. The “Big 3” of LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving is unmatched by any, and not many teams can bring the likes of Dion Waiters, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller, Tristian Thompson and potentially Ray Allen off the bench.
But talent can only take a team so far. Chemistry, coaching, and defense is what will win the Eastern Conference this year, and those are three traits the Cavaliers don’t have just yet.
David Blatt is a first year NBA coach. He has 33 years of European experience under his belt, but coaching in the NBA is a completely different monster. It’ll take him a little bit to get accustomed to the NBA lifestyle and game, and that could cost Cleveland a game or two. As far as chemistry goes, that’s going to be a work in progress. Look at the Miami Heat in the first year of their “Big 3” era. It took a while before James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh gelled together. That should be the case here as well, as Cleveland has a ton of new pieces that need to get acclimated to playing with each other.
The biggest downfall with this Cavs team might be their defensive, or lack thereof. LeBron is a lock down defender, and so Marion, but nobody else on this roster could be considered anywhere better than mediocre. The Cavaliers are going to be able to score, but they’ll need to be able to stop teams on night’s their jumpers aren’t falling.
With that being said, there is one team in the East who has the talent, the coaching, the chemistry, and the defensive prowess to win the East, and that team is the Chicago Bulls. Assuming Derrick Rose stays healthy, which is a huge assumption, Chicago, not Cleveland, will have home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
What are you bold predictions for the upcoming NBA season? Leave yours below.