2004-05 NBA Season Preview

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2004 NBA PREVIEW
by Leigh Douglas

If there was one single theme to this off-season for the NBA it was ‘change’ not only was there quite a bit of significant player movement, but the league itself underwent a makeover of sorts, finally expanding to a 30th franchise, and realigning to six divisions of five teams each.
Of course the biggest headlines this off-season surrounded the ongoing saga that has become the Los Angeles Lakers. Basically the Lakers surrendered to Kobe, and he got all that he asked for – namely the exit of Shaq, and Phil Jackson.
Shadowed by the Shaq move to Miami was what could end up being an even bigger deal with Tracy Mcgrady going from Orlando to Houston for Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley. Many speculate that the tandem of Mcgrady and Yao Ming will be the new Shaq-Kobe, but what is being overlooked is the potential for Steve Francis to re-establish himself as “the franchise”. Other moves of note this off-season, was Phoenix getting a whole new back court of Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson, Dallas having wholesale changes after losing out on Nash in the open market, they proceeded to unload Antawn Jamison and Antione Walker, and replaced Nash with Jason Terry (and rookie Devin Harris) and replaced 6th man Jamison with Jerry Stackhouse. One very interesting move that went relatively unheralded was the trade of Al Harrington from Indiana to Atlanta for Stephen Jackson. Both players and teams should benefit greatly from this trade, especially Indiana, as it now allows Reggie Miller to come of the bench. Then of course there are the defending world champion Detroit Pistons who by all indications should be even stronger this year, having Rasheed Wallace for a whole season, as well as adding Antonio McDyess and Derrick Coleman to their bench (both of whom would probably start for some teams) plus if they get anything at all out of last years lottery pick Darko Milicic it would be a bonus.
When all is said and done this season all of the shuffling will have gotten a lot of teams closer, and it might have closed some gaps, but come next summer the final four should be very similar to what it has been recently, Detroit is still the team to beat in the East, and Indiana is the only team with a chance to do so. In the West San Antonio will once again be a force, and Minnesota should continue its recent success behind perennial MVP candidate Kevin Garnett.

2004 Forecast:
Atlantic Division
1KnicksMarbury is a sleeper for MVP, will not miss Allan Houston at all
2CelticsPayton will be on a mission to regain some status, Pierce another MVP candidate
3NetsLosses of Martin & Kittles too big to overcome
4RaptorsHow high a ceiling can Bosh have on such a small frame?
576ersIverson will be demanding a trade by January

Central Division
1PistonsBiggest question is if they can sustain the ‘drive to win’
2PacersShould be even closer this year
3CavaliersIn either other eastern division would contend for 1st
4BullsSlowly getting better, very slowly (and really did they have anywhere else to go
5BucksWill be tough to follow up on last years success

Southeast Division
1HeatShaq alone makes them contenders – look for Eddie Jones to re-emerge as all star
2MagicFrancis looks to return to Stevie Franchise days
3HawksHave some potential young talent, Harrington one of favorites for most improved
4WizardsThey are just treading water, and should be very afraid of Bobcats passing them quickly
5BobcatsThey have to start somewhere, couldn’t have asked for a better division

Southwest Division
1SpursAdding Barry for depth gives them just another weapon
2RocketsWill be interesting to watch how it unfolds
3MavericksNew look Mav’s probably not any better, still won’t stop anyone defensively
4GrizzliesHave made great strides, but will be harder to take next step
5HornetsBiggest victims of the realignment

Northwest Division
1T-wolvesThis could be their year (may have to be)
2NuggetsQuietly have put together one of best starting 5 in league
3TrailblazersHow long before they shake up the roster even more?
4SonicsHave to decide what kind of team they want to be, and then commit to it
5JazzKirilenko is easily the most unheralded player in the league

Pacific Division
1KingsStill have one run left in them
2SunsAre well on their way to being ‘the next team’
3LakersNew look Lakers are in for some surprises
4ClippersClippers will battle Warriors and Wizards to stay ahead of Bobcats
5WarriorsSee Clippers

Eastern Conference Finals:
Pacers over Pistons
Western Conference Finals:
Timberwolves over Spurs
Finals:
Pacers over Timberwolves

MVP:
Favorite:Kevin Garnett, Twolves
Sleeper: Stephon Marbury, Knicks
Defensive Player of the Year:
Favorite:Ben Wallace, Pistons
Sleeper:Andrei Kirilinko, Jazz
Most Improved Player:
Favorite:Al Harrington, Hawks
Sleeper:Drew Gooden, Cavaliers
Sixth Man:
Favorite:Bobby Jackson, Kings
Sleeper:Joe Johnson, Suns
Scoring Champion:
Favorite:Kobe Bryant, Lakers
Sleeper:Shaquille O’Neal, Heat
Rookie of the Year:
Favorite:Dwight Howard, Magic
Sleeper: J.R. Smith, Hornets
Coach of the Year:
Favorite:Stan Van Gundy, Heat
Sleeper:Lenny WilkensComputer Technology Articles, Knicks

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