The MLB World Series is over and there seems that no end is in sight for the NHL strike. If your favorite NFL team is struggling, you can now turn your attention to the start of the 2012-13 NBA season. Here is how I rank the teams as play begins this week….
1. MIAMI HEAT- The pressure is now off of Lebron James to win an NBA title, and the defending champions have added veteran sharpshooter Ray Allen to the team. Ray will be a happier, more productive player away from Boston and his reputed nemesis, Rajon Rondo. The Heat have earned the right to the top spot to begin the season.
2. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER- Now that James Harden’s contract is no longer a distraction, the Thunder can begin their quest to reclaim the Western Conference title. Newcomer Kevin Martin is a more than capable SG. The Thunder are a young, tenacious team that will certainly challenge for the championship again.
3. LOS ANGELES LAKERS- They unloaded the moody, oft-injured Andrew Bynum and added Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison, and Jodie Meeks. They greatly improved their roster and will give the Thunder all they can handle in the West.
4. INDIANA PACERS- The Pacers often get overshadowed by their big market rivals in Boston, Miami, and L.A., but they are a young, talented team that is very well-coached . Paul George is on the cusp of becoming a superstar and the team added depth by acquiring D.J. Augustin, Gerald Green, and Ian Mahinmi. The Pacers also shelled out the cash to bring back All-Star center Roy Hibbert and hometown favorite, George Hill.
5. BOSTON CELTICS- Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce still have gas in the tank and the Celtics will have a healthy Jeff Green to start the season. Darko Milicic, Jason Terry, and Ohio State standout Jared Sullinger, will also all contribute.
6. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS- The Clippers certainly have the talent to make a run. However, Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups both begin the season injured. Also, Lamar Odom showed up to training camp overweight and out of shape. If they can get everybody focused and on the court together at the same time, look out !
7. SAN ANTONIO SPURS- The Spurs return virtually the same team as last year. The veteran team is led by the league’s most respected coach and are always a threat.
8. DENVER NUGGETS- The Nuggets may sneak up on some people. They have one of the league’s best point guards in Ty Lawson. They also added Andre Iguodala to an already potent offense.
9. BROOKLYN NETS- Even though the Nets couldn’t land big fish Dwight Howard, they are still a very much improved club. Joe Johnson, Andray Blatche, and Gerald Wallace all help make them a formidable opponent. Deron Williams is an elite PG and a true superstar.
10. PHILADELPHIA 76ers- Everything hinges on Andrew Bynum. It’s still a question just when he will make his 76ers debut, and we all know of his injuries and tantrums while with the Lakers. Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner will handle the backcourt nicely, but they will miss Iguodala and his scoring ability.
11. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES- The Grizzlies also have a scoring gap to fill with the departure of O.J. Mayo. If they can keep everybody healthy for once, they’ll be pretty tough. Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol are all supreme talents.
12. NEW YORK KNICKS- The Knicks will play well most nights, but I still don’t think Amare and Carmelo have much chemistry and they have added a bunch of aging players to the squad. Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby, and Kurt Thomas are all over 38 years old.
13. CHICAGO BULLS- Can they stay in the playoff hunt until Derrick Rose returns at mid-season ? I believe they will, due to good coaching and a fierce defense. Nate Robinson, Kirk Hinrich, and rookie Marcus Teague, will try to hold down the fort until Rose gets back.
14. UTAH JAZZ- The Jazz welcome Mo Williams and Randy Foye to a team with an already talented group of players, led by big men Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
15. ATLANTA HAWKS- The loss of Joe Johnson will hurt initially, but I don’t expect them to fall off much. The Hawks are planning for the future by managing their salary cap concerns now. I’m a Lou Williams fan and I expect him to put up good numbers this year.
16. DETROIT PISTONS- Rookie Andre Drummond will help shore up a frontcourt that already boasts Greg Monroe, Jason Maxiell, and Tayshaun Prince. Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight are a capable guard tandem.
17. MILWAUKEE BUCKS- The Bucks have a high octane backcourt with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. As for up front, I like Ersan Ilyasova, but Samuel Dalembert doesn’t scare anybody. Team defense will be a concern.
18. DALLAS MAVERICKS- I’m not enthused by the offseason moves made by Mark Cuban. Elton Brand and O.J. Mayo have both seen their best days pass them by and Chris Kaman gets hurt every year. Darren Collison is an adequate PG, but was regularly outplayed by George Hill while with the Pacers. The crushing blow to the Mavs was losing Dirk Nowitzki for the first six weeks of the year. They’ll make the playoffs, but not do much else.
19. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS- Defense will be a problem for the Warriors. If Mark Jackson can impose his work ethic on this team and keep Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut healthy (no small task), this team could surprise.
20. PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS- LaMarcus Aldridge is a stud, but the Blazers need more depth inside. Rookie Damian Lillard will supply some spark in the backcourt.
21. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS- I like where this team is headed. Eric Gordon is an awesome talent. Ryan Anderson joins the squad, along with promising rookies, Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers. They’ll improve, but are still a year or two away from contention.
22. PHOENIX SUNS- I like this team’s starting five, but I’m not impressed with their bench. PG Goran Dragic should have a good year and they’ve added the so-far underachieving, Michael Beasley. Marcin Gortat is a big presence in the post and will be backed up by the aging, Jermaine O’Neal.
23. SACRAMENTO KINGS- Isaiah Thomas is an emerging talent. DeMarcus Cousins is a beast if they can keep his emotions under control. Tyreke Evans and Jimmer Fredette need to take it up a notch.
24. TORONTO RAPTORS- Newcomer Kyle Lowry is one of the league’s most under-rated players. DeMar DeRozan and rookie C Jonas Valanciunas should help this team out, too.
25. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS- Kyrie Irving is one of the NBA’s up and coming stars. Anderson Varejao returns from injury, but there is not much else to be excited about here. The selection of Dion Waiters with the fourth overall pick was a head-scratcher.
26. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES- They are behind the eight ball from the start with both Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio out for the first couple of months. Brandon Roy tries to return to form, and if he can, would be a huge addition.
27. WASHINGTON WIZARDS- John Wall will miss the first month, and Nene is having problems with plantar fasciitis, which can be a nagging injury. Should be a long year for the Wizards.
28. HOUSTON ROCKETS- Jeremy Lin tries to justify his $25 million contract, after shooting an abysmal 25 % in the preseason. James Harden joins an otherwise unimpressive roster.
29. ORLANDO MAGIC- This team’s best players are Aaron Afflalo, Glen” Big Baby “ Davis, and Hedo Turkoglu. Not much to get excited about.
30. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has promise. While Byron Mullens has been very impressive in the preseason, the Bobcats should be the doormat of the NBA once again.