2007/08 NBA Team Previews

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Philadelphia 76ers 2007-08 Season Preview

2006-07 FINISH: 35-47

ADDITIONS: Calvin Booth (C) - Free Agent; Reggie Evans (F) - Trade with Denver; Herbert Hill (F) - Trade with Utah; Jason Smith (F) - Trade with Miami.

SUBTRACTIONS: Steven Hunter (C) - Traded to Denver; Bobby Jones (F) - Traded to Denver; Joe Smith (F) - Signed with Chicago.

RE-SIGNINGS: NONE

2007 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (12) Thaddeus Young (F, Georgia Tech); 1. (21) Daequan Cook (G, Ohio State) - Traded to Miami; 1. (30) Petteri Kaponen (G, Finland) - Traded to Portland, 2. (38) Kyrylo Fesenko (C/F, Ukraine) - Traded to Utah.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Andre Miller, SG Willie Green, SF Andre Iguodala PF Reggie Evans, C Samuel Dalembert

COACH: Maurice Cheeks

(Sports Network) - Philadelphia head coach Maurice Cheeks has a tough job ahead of him for the 2007-08 campaign. Cheeks returns for this third season as the Sixers' general.

Last season, the Sixers finished 35-47 and did not qualify for the playoffs for the second straight year. Team president Billy King and Cheeks are on the hot seat. Cheeks, who spent four seasons as the head coach in Portland, is 73-96 in his two campaigns on Philadelphia's bench.

The 76ers have a completely new look after dealing All-Star guard Allen Iverson to the Denver Nuggets on December 19, 2006. The Sixers, who acquired point guard Andre Miller, veteran power forward Joe Smith, who signed with Chicago in the offseason, and two first-round picks in the Iverson trade, will get a taste of what its like to start a season without the superstar guard for the first time in over 10 years.

With the departure of Iverson, Andre Iguodala has stepped up to become the Sixers go-to guy. Iguodala averaged 18.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists in 76 games last season, while the 31-year-old Miller made all of his teammates better with his excellent play-making ability. Miller registered 13.4 points and 7.8 assists in 80 games for Philadelphia and Denver.

Sharp-shooting Kyle Korver posted 14.4 points per game and shot 43.0 percent from beyond the arc. Center Samuel Dalembert, who averaged 10.7 points and a team-high 8.9 rebounds, showed a lot of improvement after the Iverson trade. Dalembert did suffer a stress fracture in his left foot and is probable for the start of the new season.

On draft night, King added Thaddeus Young, Jason Smith, Derrick Byars, who was waived, and Herbert Hill. Young, who played one season at Georgia Tech, was selected with the 12th overall pick and has a great upside. However, the 6-8 Young is a project and is not expected to make a big contribution.

The seven-foot Smith was originally selected at 20th overall in this year's draft by the Miami Heat. His rights were traded to Philadelphia in exchange for the rights to Daequan Cook, who was drafted at No. 21 by the Sixers, along with a second-round pick in 2009 and cash considerations. Smith, who spent his college days at Colorado State, will get minutes at center and power forward during his rookie campaign.

King did make move that should help his club. On September 10th, the Sixers acquired forward Reggie Evans and the rights to forward Ricky Sanchez from the Nuggets for forward Bobby Jones and center Steven Hunter. The 28-year-old Evans is not one of those names that gets fans excited. However, he is a hard worker who is not afraid to get physical down low and has a knack for rebounding. Evans collected 7.0 rebounds in 17.1 minutes per game last season, and averaged a career-best 9.3 boards as a member of the Seattle SuperSonics during the 2004-05 campaign.

Iguodala is the new leader of this team. There is a new attitude and it will be interesting to see if Cheeks can get this team to play winning basketball. If the Sixers start slow and are at the bottom of the standings at the All- StarStar break, expect Miller to be the subject of trade rumors.

BACKCOURT

Miller is a pure point guard and does a great job distributing the ball. He can score when needed, but is best when he is creating shots for his teammates. Cheeks, who was the same kind of point guard during his playing days, loves having an unselfish player quarterbacking his offense.

Iguodala can play small forward or shooting guard. However, he is still trying to improve his outside jumper and is most effective when he is going towards the hoop. He will get minutes next to Miller in the backcourt simply because Cheeks wants him on the court as much as possible.

Twenty-six-year-old Willie Green averaged 11.3 points in 74 contests last season for Philadelphia. Green shot 41.1 percent from the field and can put up big numbers if he is hot. The 6-3 Green will get the opportunity earn the starting spot next to Miller. Cheeks will use Green at the point to keep some scorers on the floor.

Veteran point guard Kevin Ollie andthird-year pro Louis Williams, who showed signs last season that he may have a bright future ahead of him, will compete for the remaining minutes.

FRONTCOURT

If Dalembert is not healed from his stress fracture, the Sixers will be in big trouble. The 6-11 Dalembert is an athletic big man, who blocks shots and is very effective running the floor. He flourished in transition with Miller leading the way. There is no doubt that the 76ers need their starting center 100 percent healthy if they hope to enjoy any kind of success this season.

Evans will be a big help on the boards and will collect his points off of offensive rebounds, while the high-flying Iguodala is a slashing small forward and loves to get out on the break and entertain the fans with some thunderous dunks. Cheeks would love to see Iguodala drain his outside shots on a more consistent basis, as that would open up the court for everyone and would create better looks for the big men.

The Sixers have instant offense off the bench in Korver. The downfall with the sharp-shooting Korver is that he is a liability on defense. Smith, Shavlik Randolph and veteran Calvin Booth, who signed with the club as a free agent, will backup Dalembert and Evans.

OUTLOOK

The addition of Evans is solid, but King did not get any immediate help out of the draft. Young will not make an impact for a few years, while Smith is raw and Hill is a question mark. When King traded Iverson, he put the Sixers in the rebuilding mode. Dalembert, Iguodala and Miller needed more help than what King has provided.

Cheeks and King may go down with the ship this season. The Sixers will be looking to deal Miller by the trade deadline. This will be one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. Look for a disappointing 25-28 wins this season, more personnel moves and maybe a new coach with someone else calling the shots in the front office.

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Phoenix Suns 2007-08 Season Preview

2006-07 FINISH: 61-21

ADDITIONS: Grant Hill (F) - Free Agent.

SUBTRACTIONS: James Jones (F) - Traded to Portland; Kurt Thomas (C/F) - Traded to Seattle.

RE-SIGNINGS: Sean Marks (C).

2007 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (24) Rudy Fernandez (G, Spain) - Traded to Portland; 1. (29) Alando Tucker (F, Wisconsin); 2. (59) D.J. Strawberry (G. Maryland).

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Steve Nash, SG Raja Bell, SF Shawn Marion, PF Boris Diaw, C Amare Stoudemire

COACH: Mike D'Antoni

(Sports Network) - Phoenix is one of the favorites to capture the Western Conference. The Suns have a high-powered offense which is run by arguably the best point guard in the NBA.

The 2006-07 season was very entertaining for Phoenix' fans. The Suns won their third straight Pacific Division crown, and were one win shy of tying their season-best win total, which was accomplished in the 1992-93 and 2004-05 campaigns.

After opening the campaign by dropping five of its first six contests, Phoenix won 17 of 18 and 35 of its next 38 games. Head coach Mike D'Antoni, who made his All-Star coaching debut and was the 2004-05 NBA Coach of the Year, once again allowed his club to do what is does best, score. The Suns simply outscored their opponents with their free-wheeling offense.

Phoenix was led by its trio of All-Stars, as Amare Stoudemire, who proved he was once again 100 percent healthy after playing just three games in 2005-06, Shawn Marion and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash all had outstanding campaigns. Stoudemire who underwent minor knee surgery in late September, led the Suns in scoring (20.4 ppg), while Marion, who expressed his desire to be traded during the offseason, was the team's top rebounder (9.8 rpg) and Nash dished out a league-best 11.6 assists per game.

Leandro Barbosa, who was the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, had his best season, as he was third on the team in scoring (18.1 ppg) and gave D'Antoni a spark off the bench if the Suns started out slow. Raja Bell contributed offensively and was the team's top perimeter defender, while Boris Diaw was solid, but his production dropped off with the return of Stoudemire.

In the postseason, the Suns knocked off Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in round one. It was the second year in a row that Phoenix ousted the Lakers in the opening round. The Suns were eliminated by the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, 4-2, in a very physical and emotional Western Conference semifinals series.

During the offseason, veteran forward Grant Hill inked a reported two-year deal with the Suns. A six-time All-Star, Hill averaged 14.4 points, 3.6 boards and 2.1 assists in 65 games for the Orlando Magic in 2006-07. The 35-year-old Hill gives Phoenix another versatile player off the bench who can score.

Phoenix Suns did trade 35-year-old center Kurt Thomas and two future first- round draft picks to the Seattle SuperSonics in exchange for a future second- round pick. Thomas spent two seasons in Phoenix and averaged 6.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest in 120 regular season games during his tenure with the Suns. The deal was done to help give the team some salary cap relief.

BACKCOURT

Nash, who was second on the team in scoring (18.6 ppg), is the catalyst of the Phoenix attack. He will continue to make all of his teammates better because of his remarkable play-making ability. The Santa Clara product is the best at his job.

The 6-5 Bell is a hard-nosed player who is not afraid to get his hands dirty. He is a solid outside shooter, and like the rest of his teammates has benefited from Nash's unbelievable playmaking ability and flashy passes. Bell registered 14.7 points, 3.2 boards and 2.5 helpers in 78 contests last season.

Barbosa would start for most teams in the league. He can play both guard spots, gets the ball up the court as quick as any guard in the league, and is effective scoring or dishing the ball to his teammates. The lightning quick guard fits in perfectly with D'Antoni's offensive system.

The 33-year-old Nash, Barbosa and Bell make up a potent three-guard attack, and will eat up the majority of the minutes available in the backcourt. Marcus Banks, Eric Piatkowski, who can play shooting guard or small forward, and rookie D.J. Strawberry will try to earn playing time off the bench.

FRONTCOURT

D'Antoni knows what he is going to get from Marion and Stoudemire. The 6-7 Marion can shoot from the outside, can drive the lane and throw down a dunk and is a decent ball handler. The 24-year-old Stoudemire is a monster in the low post and is a difference maker when he is 100 percent healthy. Stoudemire is an intimidating presence in the middle.

Diaw did not have the type of season in 2006-07 that was expected of him, but he still managed to record 9.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 73 games. The 6-8 forward is versatile, as he can also play guard if D'Antoni needs him to.

The Suns added another player who should work well in their system when they inked Hill, who has been plagued by various injuries throughout his career. Rookie Alando Tucker, who was selected out of Wisconsin with the 29th overall pick, will most likely see limited action this season, while veteran Brian Skinner, who signed with team as a free agent, will help on the boards and Piatkowski gives D'Antoni another shooter from the perimeter.

OUTLOOK

Is this finally the season for the Suns to win the NBA title? Nash is still playing the best basketball of his career, while Marion and Stoudemire are two of the most dangerous offensive players in the league. This team doesn't win with defense, the Suns are a scoring machine.

This is the year! Nash and company are good for 57-60 wins during the regular season. The Suns will capture their first Western Conference title since the 1992-93 season, as they would go on to lose in the NBA Finals to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games, 4-2. As for winning a world championship, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Phoenix' fans celebrating the franchise's first title with the players at a parade.

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Portland Trail Blazers 2007-08 Season Preview

2006-07 FINISH: 32-50

ADDITIONS: Steve Blake (G) - Free Agent; Rudy Fernandez (G) - Trade with Phoenix; Channing Frye (F) - Trade with New York; James Jones (F) - Trade with Phoenix; Petteri Koponen (F) - Trade with Philadelphia.

SUBTRACTIONS: Dan Dickau (G) - Traded to New York; Ime Udoka (F) - Signed with San Antonio; Fred Jones (G) - Traded to New York; Jamaal Magloire (C) - Signed with New Jersey; Zach Randolph (F) - Traded to New York.

RE-SIGNINGS: Travis Outlaw (F).

2007 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (1) Greg Oden (C, Ohio State); 2. (37) Josh McRoberts (F, Duke); 2. (42) Derrick Byars (F, Vanderbilt) - Traded to Philadelphia; 2. (52) Taurean Green (G, Florida); 2. (53) Demetris Nichols (F, Syracuse) - Traded to New York.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Jarrett Jack, SG Brandon Roy, SF Martell Webster, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C Joel Przybilla

COACH: Nate McMillan

(Sports Network) - Portland has already suffered a major setback, and the season hasn't even started. Rookie center Greg Oden, who was selected with the first overall pick in the draft, will miss the entire 2007-08 season after undergoing right knee surgery.

An exploratory arthroscopic procedure, which was done in September, revealed cartilage damage, and micro-fracture surgery was also performed on Oden's injured knee. The Ohio State product is expected to need between six and 12 months recovery time from the surgery. After the draft, Oden played in just two Las Vegas summer league games, and had a tonsillectomy in July.

The seven-foot Oden is expected to be one of those players who comes along once in a decade. Oden, who is just 19-years-old, is very athletic, plays strong on the defensive end around the basket and runs the floor effectively. He is still developing his low-post game offensively, and when he gets healthy is expected to polish his moves and should become a dominant force in the paint. Unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, they won't see what their franchise player can do until the 2008-09 campaign.

It was a busy offseason for Portland. The Trail Blazers traded forward Zach Randolph and guards Fred Jones and Dan Dickau to the New York Knicks for Steve Francis, who was waived and ended up signing with Houston, and Channing Frye. Randolph led the team in scoring (23.6 ppg) and rebounding (10.3 rpg) during the 2006-07 campaign.

Portland also signed free agent guard Steve Blake, while forward James Jones and rookie guard Rudy Fernandez were acquired in a trade from the Phoenix Suns. Ime Udoka left via free agency and signed with San Antonio, and big man Jamaal Magloire inked a deal with New Jersey.

The Trail Blazers finished with a 32-50 record in the 2006-07 campaign and missed the playoffs for a fourth straight year. Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy and point guard Jarrett Jack make up a solid backcourt, while LaMarcus Aldridge and Travis Outlaw, who re-signed with the club in the offseason, are young and talented frontcourt players.

Roy averaged 16.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 57 games during the 2006-07 campaign, while Jack, who completed his second season in the league, posted 12.0 points and a team-best 5.3 assists per game.

Head coach Nate McMillan will be calling the shots from the Portland bench. He returns for this third season and is 53-111 with the Trail Blazers. McMillan did guide the Seattle SuperSonics to 52 wins and the Northwest Division crown in the 2004-05 campaign. He is 8-8 all-time in the postseason.

BACKCOURT

The 6-6 Roy is a versatile guard and can play both spots in the backcourt. He proved that he can compete with the best in the league on both ends of the court. Roy is a scorer and will have to be McMillan's No. 1 option until Oden returns from his knee injury.

Jack is on his way to becoming a top point guard in the league. He still has to work on his all-around game. The 6-3 Jack, who turns 24 on October 28th, needs to be more consistent from the outside and has to cut down on his turnovers.

Blake will be the first guard McMillan goes to off the bench. The 27-year-old Blake, who can also play both guard positions, posted 6.4 points and 5.2 assists in 82 games for Milwaukee and Denver last season. Blake spent the 2005-06 campaign with the Trail Blazers, as he averaged 8.2 points and 4.5 helpers in 68 games that season.

Martell Webster, who will also get minutes at small forward, will backup Roy at shooting guard, while Rodriguez will compete with Black and Jack for minutes at the point.

FRONTCOURT

Aldridge and veteran Joel Przybilla will have fill in for Oden while he recovers from his injury. Frye, who will be entering his third season in the NBA, will also get some time in the middle.

The loss of Randolph will hurt even more with Oden on the sidelines. Josh McRoberts, who was selected out of Duke with the 37th overall pick in the draft, will get a chance to show that he can play in the NBA.

Jones and Outlaw will share minutes at small forward. Darius Miles did not play last season because of a knee injury, and will try and comeback in 2007-08.

OUTLOOK

Oden is the franchise player. Combine him with Roy, and Portland could have one of the most exciting, young tandems in the league. The vision of that will have to wait.

With Oden, Portland was possibly a playoff team. The impact Oden is expected to have is that great. While Oden gets ready for 2008-09, the Trail Blazers will be busy losing a lot of games. Expect 28-32 wins and another trip to the lottery.

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Sacramento Kings 2007-08 Season Preview

2006-07 FINISH: 33-49

ADDITIONS: Mikki Moore (C) - Free Agent;

SUBTRACTIONS: Ronnie Price (G) - Signed with Utah; Corliss Williamson (F) - Retired.

RE-SIGNINGS: NONE

2007 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (10) Spencer Hawes (C, Washington).

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Mike Bibby, SG Kevin Martin, SF Ron Artest PF Kenny Thomas, C Brad Miller

COACH: Reggie Theus

(Sports Network) - A nee era is set to begin in Sacramento. Reggie Theus, who played 4 1/2 of his 13 seasons in the NBA with the Kings, was introduced as Sacramento's new head coach on June 21st.

Theus, who coached the previous two years at New Mexico State, led the Aggies to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1999 this past season. A former NBA guard, Theus replaced Eric Musselman, who was relieved of his duties on April 20th after just one season as the general of the Kings. Prior to his time at New Mexico State, Theus spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Louisville under Rick Pitino.

In 2006-07, the Kings finished a disappointing 33-49, and didn't qualify for the playoffs for the first time in nine years. Sacramento's poor performance forced management to make Musselman's tenure a short on.

Point guard Mike Bibby, who was the subject of trade rumors during the summer, averaged 17.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists. The Arizona product, who was the only King to play in all 82 regular-season games in 2006-07, still could be moved in a trade because of his contract.

Kevin Martin had a breakout season. The 6-7 guard led the Kings in scoring (20.7 ppg), pulled down 4.3 boards and shot 47.3 percent from the field, including 38.1 percent from beyond the arc. Martin was one of the few bright spots during a very disappointing campaign.

The volatile Ron Artest ended with averages of 18.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 70 outings, while center Brad Miller and forward Shareef Abdur- Rahim had disappointing seasons.

Artest will miss the first seven games of the campaign as he received a suspension from the league for pleading no contest to infliction of injury on a spouse stemming from a domestic dispute in March in Placer County, California. At the time, Artest was suspended indefinitely by the Kings and later fined $600, ordered to get counseling, conduct 100 hours of community service and take part in a 10-day work project.

During the offseason, Sacramento drafted Washington center Spencer Hawes with the 10th overall pick, and signed free agent big man Mikki Moore, who registered career-highs in points (9.8 ppg) and rebounds (5.1 rpg) for New Jersey in 2006-07, to contract.

Veteran forward Corliss Williamson opted to retire, while free agent guard Ronnie Price inked a deal with the Utah Jazz.

BACKCOURT

Bibby and Martin form a strong backcourt for the Kings. Both can shoot from the outside and are solid ball-handlers. If Martin's great performance of a year ago proves to be a fluke, Sacramento has big problems on its hands. Martin received a lucrative, multi-year contract extension from the club, and is expected to be a big part of the future.

Depth is an issue in the backcourt for the Kings. Theus knows what Bibby and Martin are going to give him. But, what about the rest of the guards?

Backup point guard Quincy Douby, who enters his sophomore year and played just 42 games last season, still has to prove that he is an NBA player, while Francisco Garcia needs to produce more than the 6.0 points per game he contributed in 2006-07.

FRONTCOURT

The Kings do have depth at center. Miller, Moore and Hawes will take up the minutes in the middle. The 31-year-old Miller is a two-time All-Star, but seems to have lost a step which may have prompted the team to bring in Moore.

Unfortunately for Sacramento and its prize rookie, Hawes suffered a left knee injury during training camp and required surgery. Hawes is out indefinitely, but will hopefully make it back to the court during the campaign.

The 32-year-old Moore is coming off his best season with the Nets. Theus expects the same kind of physical play on both ends of the court from Sacramento's big offseason acquisition.

Artest is still a difference maker when he is concentrating on basketball. However, his name will most likely pop up in trade talk if management decides to go that way.

John Salmons, Kenny Thomas and Abdur-Rahim, who underwent arthroscopic surgery in the offseason and hurt his right knee during training camp, join Artest to give Theus some decent forwards to plug into his rotation. Thomas is undersized for a power forward but is still an effective rebounder, while Salmons is a versatile forward who can also log minutes in the backcourt when needed.

OUTLOOK

Sacramento is very close to tearing it all apart. Martin is the one untouchable on the roster. Artest, Bibby and Miller could be had in a deal if the price is right.

Theus has a tough job ahead of him. The Kings don't scare anyone in the NBA, as they are no longer a perennial playoff team. Less than 35 wins and an early vacation awaits this team.

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San Antonio Spurs 2007-08 Season Preview

2006-07 FINISH: 58-24

ADDITIONS: Vassilis Spanoulis (G) - Trade with Houston; Ime Udoka (F) - Free Agent.

SUBTRACTIONS: Jackie Butler (C) - Traded to Houston; Melvin Ely (C/F) - Signed with New Orleans; James White (F/G) - Waived.

RE-SIGNINGS: Matt Bonner (F); Fabricio Oberto (C); Jacque Vaughn (G).

2007 DRAFT PICKS: 1.(28) Tiago Splitter (F, Brazil); 2. (33) Marcus Williams (G, Arizona); 2 (58) Giorgios Printezis (F, Greece) - Traded to Toronto.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Tony Parker, SG Michael Finley, SF Bruce Bowen PF Tim Duncan, C Fabricio Oberto

COACH: Gregg Popovich

(Sports Network) - San Antonio enters the 2007-08 campaign as the defending world champions. The Spurs captured their fourth title (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007) in nine years, as they swept LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

They finished 58-24 during the regular season, and knocked out Denver, Phoenix and Utah in the Western Conference playoffs. All-Stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were once again the Spurs top players during the 2006-07 campaign and in the postseason. Duncan led the club in scoring (20.0 ppg) and rebounding (10.6 rpg) during the regular season, while Parker, who won the 2007 NBA Finals MVP, was second on the team in scoring (18.6 ppg) and was the team's top assist man at 5.5 per game.

Manu Ginobili and defensive stopper Bruce Bowen made their contributions, and both earned their third rings. Veteran forward Robert Horry picked up his seventh championship, while Parker also won his third and head coach Gregg Popovich and Duncan took home their fourth.

The defending world champions had a very quiet and uneventful offseason. San Antonio acquired guard Vassilis Spanoulis in a traded with Houston and signed free agent forward Ime Udoka, who spent last season with Portland. Matt Bonner, Fabricio Oberto and Jacque Vaughn re-signed with the team, while free agent big man Melvin Ely decided to ink a deal with New Orleans.

History is not on San Antonio's side this season. Following a championship, the Spurs have never made it past the Western Conference semifinals in the playoffs. In 2000 they fell in the opening round to Phoenix, and lost in the semis to the Lakers in 2004 and Dallas in 2006.

San Antonio enters the season with a veteran roster that is built to win now. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, who posted 16.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists during the 2006-07 regular season, are the stars, and their supporting cast is consists of role players who are happy to do their job and go along for the ride.

BACKCOURT

Parker, Finley and Ginobili give Popovich an excellent three-guard rotation to work with, while veteran Brent Barry is versatile and can play both guard spots. Ben Udrih, who suffered a non-displaced fracture of his left index finger in early October, and Vaughn give the Spurs plenty of depth in the backcourt.

The 25-year-old Parker has developed into one of the top point guards in the NBA. Not only is he one of the top play-making guards in the league, Parker has also become a dangerous scorer. The 6-2 Parker has the ability to take over a game single-handedly

Popovich will use Ginobili off the bench and as a starter when the team needs a different look. The 30-year-old Ginobili makes the Spurs a more dangerous squad when he is coming of the bench, as he is instant offense and usually injects life into the team when it is struggling.

As long as Parker continues his stellar play, the Spurs' backcourt is in good shape. Parker has an excellent all-around game and is a great floor leader. The sky is the limit for the two-time All-Star.

FRONTCOURT

Duncan is still one of the most dominant players in the game and is arguably the greatest power forward to ever lace up a pair of sneakers. He can defend, rebound and has a soft shot from 12-15 feet from the hoop. Entering his 10th season in the league, the 31-year-old Duncan has not lost a step.

Oberto came through during the postseason and will get a chance to start at center for the Spurs, while Francisco Elson will compete for minutes in the middle. Neither player is going to turn heads with bug numbers on the stat sheet, but both are effective in Popovich's game plan.

Bowen, averaged 6.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game last season, and Udoka give the Spurs two solid defenders. The 37-year-old Horry will get minutes at center and power forward, but will save his best for the postseason.

OUTLOOK

San Antonio and Dallas will battle for bragging rights in the Southwest Division during the regular season. Pencil the Spurs in for their usual 50- plus victories and a high seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

Duncan, Ginobili and Parker are going to try and lead the Spurs to back-to- back titles. The Spurs are the hunted this season and will be put to the test every game. Popovich knows what it takes to win, but capturing consecutive championships is something the Spurs have not been able to achieve.

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Seattle SuperSonics 2007-08 Season Preview

2006-07 FINISH: 31-51

ADDITIONS: Jeff Green (F) - Trade with Boston; Wally Szczerbiak (F) - Trade with Boston; Kurt Thomas (C/F) - Trade with Phoenix; Delonte West (G) - Trade with Boston.

SUBTRACTIONS: Ray Allen (G) - Traded to Boston.

RE-SIGNINGS: NONE

2006 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (2) Kevin Durant (F, Texas); 2. (31) Carl Landry (F, Purdue); 2. (35) Glen Davis (F, LSU) - Traded to Boston.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Luke Ridnour, SG Kevin Durant, SF Damien Wilkins, PF Chris Wilcox, C Nick Collison

COACH: P.J. Carlesimo

(Sports Network) - Seattle will have a new look in 2007-08. The SuperSonics, have hired a new coach, traded their two best players and started to rebuild through the draft.

On draft night, the SuperSonics grabbed multi-talented Kevin Durant of Texas with the second overall pick, and dealt seven-time All-Star shooting guard Ray Allen, who averaged a team-best 26.4 points in 55 games last season, to the Boston Celtics for guard Delonte West, forwards Wally Szczerbiak and Georgetown's Jeff Green, who was chosen with the No. 5 overall pick. Boston also received Seattle's second-round pick, LSU forward Glen Davis, while the SuperSonics will receive a future second-round pick.

Durant was the most talented offensive player in the draft, while Green is also expected to make an immediate impact. In one night, Seattle changed the face of its franchise and started the rebuilding process.

July 5th was another big day for Seattle, as it hired P.J. Carlesimo to be its new head coach. Carlesimo had spent the previous five seasons as an assistant under Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. After 19 seasons as a head coach on the collegiate level, Carlesimo, who replaces Bob Hill on the Seattle bench, made the jump to the NBA when he was named the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers in the summer of 1994. Carlesimo guided the Trail Blazers to the playoffs for three straight seasons before he was hired by Golden State. He was fired as Warriors head coach in late December 1999.

The SuperSonics traded forward Rashard Lewis to the Orlando Magic in a sign- and-trade deal on July 11th. They received a future conditional second-round draft pick for Lewis, who averaged a career-high 22.4 points per game during the 2006-07 campaign.

Seattle also added veteran big man Kurt Thomas to its roster. The SuperSonics dealt a a future second-round pick to Phoenix for Thomas and two future first- round draft picks. The 35-year-old Thomas spent the last two seasons in with the Suns and averaged 6.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest in 120 regular season games during his tenure with the club.

Last season, the SuperSonics finished a disappointing 31-51 and missed the playoffs for the second straight year. Forwards Nick Collison, Chris Wilcox and point guard Luke Ridnour had solid campaigns. Collison led the club in rebounding (8.1 rpg), while Wilcox averaged 13.5 points and 7.7 boards and Ridnour collected 11.0 points and 5.2 assists. Earl Watson led the team in assists (5.7 apg).

BACKCOURT

The 6-9 Durant looks like he is going to start out his career playing shooting guard. He is very dangerous on the offensive end of the court, as he can drain threes, is tough to guard off the dribble and knows how to create his own shot. Using Durant at guard will definitely cause match-up problems for Seattle's opponents.

Ridnor, Watson and West will battle for minutes at the point. Having three lead guards who deserve to play will cause problems as long as the situation exists. Expect one of them to be traded sometime during the season. Ridnour was the subject of trade rumors during the offseason and could receive big minutes early to showcase his skills for a possible deal.

Carlesimo will also use Damien Wilkins at shooting guard. The 6-6 Wilkins, who will also log minutes at small forward, is athletic and gives the SuperSonics another shooting guard with good size.

FRONTCOURT

There is depth up front for Seattle, but the question is if there is quality. Collison, Thomas and Wilcox are bangers who will do the dirty work in the low post. All three are solid players, but none of them are offensive threats that can push a team over the hump. On most teams, they would all be role players.

Wilkins played in all 82 regular-season games last season, and averaged 8.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists in over 24 minutes per game. The 27-year- old Wilkins will get a chance to earn more time as well as a starting spot at small forward.

Green, Mickael Gelabale, Szczerbiak, Robert Swift, who missed all of the 2006-07 campaign with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Johan Petro and Mouhamed Sene give Carlesimo a lot of players to rotate. The rookie Green can play both forward spots and will get his chance to show off his skills, while Swift and Petro will do their work in the middle. Szczerbiak, who is a proven scorer with a big contract, could be moved before the trade deadline.

Gelabale and Sene will have to earn their minutes by showing the coaches they are hard workers who deserves playing time.

OUTLOOK

Seattle will miss the playoffs for a third straight year. However, this franchise is headed in the right direction with its roster. The SuperSonics are starting to rebuild, and doing it with rookies Durant and Green is a good way to get the process moving.

Durant and Green are the building blocks. The SuperSonics could be very active by the trade deadline, as it will be surprising if Seattle is in the thick of the playoff race. Ridnour and Szczerbiak will hear their names in rumors throughout the season. Expect 28-32 wins, but there is still a lot to look forward to from this squad in the years to come.

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Toronto Raptors 2007-08 Season Preview

2006-07 FINISH: 47-35

ADDITIONS: Maceo Baston (F) - Free Agent; Carlos Delfino (G) - Trade with Detroit; Jason Kapono (F) - Free agent; Jamario Moon (F) - Free Agent; Giorgios Printezis (F) - Trade with San Antonio.

SUBTRACTIONS: Morris Peterson (F/G) - Signed with New Orleans.

RE-SIGNINGS: Darrick Martin (G).

2007 DRAFT PICKS: NONE

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG T.J. Ford, SG Anthony Parker, SF Jason Kapono, PF Chris Bosh, C Rash Nesterovic

COACH: Sam Mitchell

(Sports Network) - The Toronto Raptors will try and duplicate their excellent 2006-07 campaign. They made it back to the postseason for the first time since 2002 and proved that they are a team on the rise.

Toronto surprised everyone last season, as it ended with a 47-35 record and won its first division title in franchise history, finishing six games ahead of second-place New Jersey in the Atlantic. However, the playoffs were a different story for the Raptors, as the New Jersey Nets knocked out Toronto in six games in the opening round of the postseason.

All-Star forward Chris Bosh led the club in scoring (22.6 ppg) and rebounding (10.7 rpg), while point guard T.J. Ford, who was acquired from Milwaukee during the summer of 2006, finished second on the team in scoring (14.0 ppg) and dished out a club-high 7.9 assists per game.

Bosh has developed into one of the best power forwards in the league and is the cornerstone of the franchise. The lightning-quick Ford is a solid lead guard and is a big asset for the Raptors in transition.

Forward Andrea Bargnani, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, averaged 11.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 65 games during his rookie campaign. Bargnani should continue to get better, while Anthony Parker, Juan Dixon, Jose Calderon, Jorge Garbajosa and Joey Graham are all role players who can contribute.

During the offseason, Toronto signed free agent forwards Maceo Baston and Jason Kapono to contracts, while Carlos Delfino was acquired in a trade from Detroit. Swingman Morris Peterson, who spent the first seven years of his career with the Raptors, opted to leave the club via free agency and ink a deal with New Orleans.

Bryan Colangelo, who was Executive of the Year last year, and 2006-07 Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell have done a great job working together and making the team contender in the Eastern Conference.

BACKCOURT

Ford is the leader on the court for the Raptors. He controls the tempo of the game and excels in a fast-paced tempo. His quickness helps make up for his size on the defensive end of the court.

Calderon will backup Ford, while Parker, Delfino and Dixon will compete for playing time at shooting guard. The Raptors have the depth they need in the backcourt. However, they do lack the big scorer that they need.

Mitchell needs Parker, Delfino and Dixon to give him more scoring. Ford and Calderon are a solid tandem at the point and will give the Raptors consistent play.

FRONTCOURT

The 23-year-old Bosh is going to keep getting better and may actually improve in his impressive statistics from last season. Bosh has a great inside game and can also knock down a 15-foot jumper. Mitchell will run the offense through his All-Star big man.

The 6-foot-8 Kapono averaged 10.9 points while leading the NBA in three-point field goal percentage last season, making 51.4 percent of his attempts last season for Miami. Kapono should fit perfectly next to Bosh, and because of his outside shooting ability will make life easier in the low post for his teammates.

Center Rasho Nesterovic will be expected to rebound, play tough defense and pick up garbage points, while Bosh will also get plenty of playing time in the middle. Colangelo and Mitchell are hoping Barganani will be more consistent this season and put up bigger numbers in rebounding and scoring, while the 6-10 Baston, Garbajosa and Graham will compete for minutes at both forward spots.

Mitchell has a lot of flexibility with his frontcourt, as his big men are versatile and most can play multiple positions up front. The hope is that Bosh will stay healthy and everything else will fall into place.

OUTLOOK

Repeating as Atlantic Division champions is going to be extremely tough with the new-look Boston Celtics ready to make a run at a championship. The Raptors added some depth with the additions of Delfino and Kapono.

Bosh and Ford are good enough to lead the Raptors back to the postseason for a second straight year. However, this year they will be battling for one of the last spots in the East playoffs.

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Utah Jazz 2007-08 Season Preview

2006-07 FINISH: 51-33

ADDITIONS: Kyrylo Fesenko (C/F) - Trade with Philadelphia; Jason Hart (G) - Free Agent; Ronnie Price (G) - Free Agent.

SUBTRACTIONS: Derek Fisher (G) - Signed with LA Lakers

RE-SIGNINGS: NONE

2007 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (25) Morris Almond,(G, Rice); 2. (55) Herbert Hill (F, Providence) - Traded to Philadelphia.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Deron Williams, SG Ronnie Brewer, SF Andrei Kirilenko, PF Carlos Boozer, C Mehmet Okur

COACH: Jerry Sloan

(Sports Network) - Utah has put together a solid roster is the favorite to win the Northwest Division. The Jazz had a great 2006-07 campaign, as they finished with a 51-31 record and captured the division title during the regular season.

The Jazz ended a three-year playoff drought by qualifying for the postseason. They defeated Houston in seven in the quarterfinals, knocked out Golden State in five in the semis and fell to San Antonio in five in the Western Conference finals.

Twenty-eight-year-old center Mehmet Okur and power forward Carlos Boozer played like All-Stars during the campaign, while point guard Deron Williams emerged as one of the best in the league at his position. Boozer led the Jazz in scoring (20.9 ppg) and rebounding (11.7 rpg), while Williams was the team's top assist man at 9.3 per contest.

Andrei Kirilenko had an off year, as his offensive production was way down. Paul Millsap was a pleasant surprise and veterans Matt Harpring and Derek Fisher, who was waived and signed with the Lakers during the offseason, were solid contributors. Ronnie Brewer should get more minutes during his sophomore season in 2007-08.

Head coach Jerry Sloan will once again be the leader on the bench. He has guided the Jazz to the playoffs 16 times during his tenure with the club. Sloan has been the Utah's general since the 1988-89 campaign.

The offseason was very quiet for the Jazz. They did draft shooting guard Morris Almond of Rice with the 25th overall pick in the first round. Almond is a sharp-shooting guard who has good range from the outside and will be given the opportunity to play right away.

Guards Jason Hart and Ronnie Price signed with the team as free agents during the summer. Hart and Price will both try and earn time behind Williams, who is on the cusp of becoming an All-Star.

BACKCOURT

Williams, who averaged 16.2 points per game in 2006-07, needs a partner in the backourt. The 23-year-old Williams can do it all and may be headed for a big- time season in year three of his career.

Almond, Brewer, Gordan Giricek and C.J. Miles will compete for the starting shooting guard spot. All have good size and can shoot the outside jumper. Whoever can produce consistently will most likely earn the starting spot. It would not be a surprise if the Jazz attempt to move one of the guards in a trade.

Drafting Almond showed that the Jazz are not happy with their production at shooting guard. In all likelihood, Almond is going to need time for his game to mature to the style of the NBA. Brewer, Giricek and Miles have to step up for the Jazz to reach their full potential as a team.

FRONTCOURT

Boozer, Kirilenko, who registered 8.3 points, 4.7 boards and 2.9 assists last season, and Okur are one of the top all-around frontcourts in the league. The 6-11 Okur can hit the outside jumper and will try and take Yao away from the basket, while the 25-year-old Boozer will do his best work off the boards and around the hoop.

The 26-year-old Kirilenko, who is one of the best defensive players in the league, is not happy with his current situation in Utah, but has a big contract which makes it difficult to trade him. The Jazz hope that the 6-9 Kirilenko can find his offensive game and help them win their second straight Northwest Division crown.

Jarron Collins, Harpring and Millsap will get the majority of playing time behind Utah's starting frontcourt. The 6-11 Collins will backup Okur, while Millsap is a physical player who can score around the basket and Harpring is a hard-nosed defender and can drain the outside jumper.

OUTLOOK

The Jazz are the best team in the Northwest Division and should edge out the Denver Nuggets for the division crown. Fifty wins and the third or fourth seed in the Western Conference playoffs sounds about right.

Boozer, Okur and Williams are an excellent nucleus. All three are All-Star caliber players and make Utah a tough team to play. If another scorer emerges, the Jazz could be a serious contender in the West.

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Washington Wizards 2007-08 Season Preview

2006-07 FINISH: 41-41

ADDITIONS: NONE

SUBTRACTIONS: Calvin Booth (C) - Signed with Philadelphia; Jarvis Hayes (F) - Signed with Detroit; Juan Carlos Navarro (G) - Traded to Memphis.

RE-SIGNINGS: Roger Mason (G).

2007 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (16) Nick Young (G, USC) 2. (47) Dominic McGuire (F, Fresno State).

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Gilbert Arenas, SG DeShawn Stevenson, SF Caron Butler, PF Antawn Jamison, C Brendan Haywood

COACH: Eddie Jordan

(Sports Network) - Injuries killed the Washington Wizards during the 2006-07 regular season and in the playoffs. They played the Cleveland Cavaliers in the opening round of the postseason without All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. The result, The Cavaliers swept the Wizards, 4-0.

Arenas played in 74 games during the regular season, and led the club in scoring (28.4 ppg) and assists (6.0 apg), while Butler averaged 19.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 63 games. Arenas suffered a knee injury and Butler was sidelined with a hand injury.

Forward Antawn Jamison, Arenas and Butler give Washington a potent threesome. Jamison ended the 2006-07 season with averages of 19.8 points and a club-high 8.0 boards in 70 games. Guards Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, forward Darius Songaila and center Brendan Haywood form a serviceable supporting cast for Washington's trio.

Center Etan Thomas required surgery to repair a leak of the aortic valve. Thomas was not cleared to play after a routine physical revealed an abnormality. The 29-year-old Thomas played in 65 games last season for the Wizards and averaged 6.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest. He could be lost for the entire season.

Washington, which has made the playoffs three straight years, selected versatile guard Nick Young of USC with the 16th overall pick in the draft. The Wizards are hopeful that the athletic Young will be able to make an immediate impact.

Forward Jarvis Hayes and guard Juan Carlos Navarro are no longer with the club. Hayes was a free agent and signed a contract with the Detroit Pistons, while the Wizards dealt the rights to the Navarro to Memphis in exchange for a conditional first-round draft pick. Washington has held the rights to Navarro since selecting him with the 40th pick of the 2002 draft.

Eddie Jordan will be entering his fifth season on Washington's bench. Including a brief stint with the Sacramento Kings, Jordan owns a record of 186-239 as an NBA head coach. He is 6-14 in the postseason.

BACKCOURT

Arenas is the leader and will be expected to once again take over when Wizards need someone to step up. The 25-year-old dynamic guard is explosive and can win a game single handedly with his offensive heroics.

Stevenson and Daniels will compete for minutes as Arenas' backcourt partner, while the rookie Young could be the x-factor and take away playing time from the veterans. The 6-7 Young is also capable of playing small forward if Jordan needs him to log minutes at that spot.

Roger Mason, who re-signed with the team during the offseason, and Donnell Taylor will fill in when needed. When it comes to Washington's backcourt, it's all about Arenas.

FRONTCOURT

The loss of Thomas is going to hurt. He is a physical presence who does the dirty work around the basket. Washington needs the 27-year-old Haywood to step up and produce more on the offensive end of the court. Haywood averaged 6.6 points and 6.2 boards in 77 games last season for the Wizards.

The 31-year-old Jamison can play both forward spots, but will start at power forward with Butler alongside him. Jamison can light it up from the outside, while Butler's all-around game continues to improve. The 6-7 Butler is most effective in transition and when he is driving to the hoop.

After his starters, Jordan has to hope that his reserves will raise the level of their games. Twenty-one-year-old Andray Blatche and Songaila, who played just 37 games in his first season with the Wizards in 2006-07, are Jordan's best options off the bench. Both players play around the basket and should see significant playing time with Thomas out.

OUTLOOK

Washington will battle for one of the final playoff berths in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards should be a .500 team, but this could be the end of their three-year playoff run.

Arenas, Butler and Jamison make them a contender for the postseason. However, the offseason did not get them the help they need. If Young surprises and helps the talented trio in a big way during his rookie campaign, the Wizards could sneak into the playoffs.

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Charlotte Bobcats 2007-08 Season Preview 

2006-07 FINISH: 33-49

ADDITIONS: Jermareo Davidson (F) - Trade with Golden State; Jason Richardson (F/G) - Trade with Golden State.

SUBTRACTIONS: Brevin Knight (G) - Waived; Jake Voskuhl (C) - Signed with Milwaukee.

RE-SIGNINGS: Matt Carroll (G); Jeff McInnis (G); Gerald Wallace (F).

2007 DRAFT PICKS:
1. (8) Brandan Wright (F, North Carolina) - Traded to Golden State; 1. (22) Jared Dudley (F, Boston College).

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Raymon Felton, SG Matt Carroll, SF Jason Richardson, PF Gerald Wallace, C Emeka Okafor

COACH: Sam Vincent

(Sports Network) - The Charlotte Bobcats recorded a franchise-best 33 victories during the 2006-07 campaign. They hired a new head coach and made a big trade on draft night. Is this the season that the Bobcats earn their first playoff berth?

Entering their fourth NBA season, the Bobcats should be ready to make a serious run at earning a spot in the postseason. Sam Vincent, who replaced Bernie Bickerstaff, is the new head coach and there is plenty of young talent on the roster for the first-year general to work with.

Forward Gerald Wallace, who re-signed with the club during the offseason, led the Bobcats in scoring (18.1 ppg) in 2006-07, while Emeka Okafor grabbed a team-best 11.3 rebounds and Raymond Felton dished out a club-high 7.0 assists per game. Okafor, who was second on the team in scoring (14.4 ppg), and Adam Morrison, who averaged 11.8 points during his rookie campaign, give Charlotte two more young forwards with bright futures.

However, Morrison suffered a partial to complete tear of the ACL in his left knee during a preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Morrison could be lost for the season.

Felton netted 14.0 in 78 games in 2006-07 and is on his way to becoming a top point guard in the NBA, while shooting guard Matt Carroll, who also re-signed with the team in the offseason, collected 12.1 points per game and power forward Sean May posted 11.9 points and 6.7 rebounds in just 35 contests.

Unfortunately for the Bobcats, May is expected to miss the entire season with a serious right knee injury, which required microfracture surgery.

Draft night proved to be an interesting evening for the Bobcats. North Carolina's Brandan Wright slipped to No. 8 and the Bobcats selected him with the pick. However, Wright was not in their plans. as they traded the promising forward to Golden State for high-flying Jason Richardson.

The 26-year-old Richardson is a scorer, but the fact is that his production decreased last season for the Warriors. He averaged 16.0 points, down from his 23.2 points per game in 2005-06. Richardson was hampered by a knee injury and missed 31 contests.

Charlotte did waive veteran point guard Brevin Knight, who inked a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. Knight was insurance to Felton and helped the North Carolina product ease into life in the NBA. By waiving Knight, the Bobcats have showed that they have total confidence in Felton, who will be entering his third season in the league.

Managing member of basketball operations Michael Jordan went out and acquired a proven player to fit in with his nucleus of young talent. Richardson, who experienced the playoffs for the first time in his career last season, adds a scorer who has accomplished some things during his career.

Jordan hopes Richardson's athleticism and explosiveness on offense will help open the court for Wallace and Felton. If Richardson is healthy, the Bobcats may have the right combination to get them into the postseason.

BACKCOURT

Felton and Richardson give the Bobcats a solid starting backcourt, while Carroll and veteran Jeff McInnis are decent options off the bench for Vincent. The 23-year-old Felton keeps improving at the point. He has good size, can score and has the ability to create good looks at the hoop for his teammates.

While Charlotte hopes that Felton will continue to grow and develop into one of the best lead guards in the league, Richardson, who will also log minutes at small forward, is the key to the backcourt. He was acquired to score and make life easier on the younger players. Jordan expects the former Warrior to be a leader on and off the court.

Carroll has excellent range from long distance, as he made 41.6 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc last season. Vincent will look for Carroll, who will also play next to Richardson, to give him an offensive spark off the bench, while McInnis will backup Felton.

FRONTCOURT

The Bobcats frontcourt consists of plenty of young talent. Okafor and Wallace have to contribute in a big way this season, while Jared Dudley, who was selected out of Boston College with the 22nd overall pick in the draft, has a big upside and could surprise during his rookie campaign.

Okafor earns his keep on the boards and the defensive end of the court. He has had back problems during his career, but when healthy is very effective and makes the Bobcats a formidable squad. Wallace and Richardson have similar games and will make the Bobcats very dangerous in transition.

Charlotte's frontcourt has potential. If Okafor and company stay healthy and put together productive seasons, the Bobcats will be in the thick of the playoff race.

OUTLOOK

The Bobcats will be playing meaningful basketball in April. The Eastern Conference is improved and the playoff race should be packed with teams fighting for the seventh and eighth spot. The injury to May hurts, but Charlotte can overcome it.

Richardson and Okafor have to stay healthy, and if that happens the Bobcats could reach the 40-win plateau which may earn them the final berth in the East playoffs.

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ASA: Future Forecast
October 23, 2007

Eastern Conference – Chicago Bulls – +500
The Eastern Conference looks like a complete toss up at first glance as eight teams could be considered legitimate conference title contenders. It’s the definition of parity. Quality teams abound across the board, a development that can be traced back to numerous big-name offseason acquisitions. The Bulls were one of the few East teams that didn’t make a huge offseason splash but that only means they have that much more continuity than the rest of the conference.

Chicago returns its top seven scorers from last year’s team and has imported free-agent signee Joe Smith and first-round draft pick Joakim Noah to help down low. Smith and Noah don’t solve the Bulls’ one glaring weakness, low-post scoring, but Chicago’s many strengths far outweigh that one weakness.

The perimeter-based foursome of Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni more than make up for the lack of scoring down low. Each player has excellent range as Deng is lethal from mid-range and Hinrich, Gordon and Nocioni can all hit from beyond the three-point line. The frontline of Ben Wallace, Tyrus Thomas, Smith and Noah might struggle to create their own offense but they are very opportunistic scorers and should get plenty of easy baskets.

Make no mistake about it, though, this team will win with defense. The Bulls were already a very good defensive team but the addition of Wallace made them great. They were second in the NBA in defensive field-goal percentage and rebounding and sixth in scoring defense. This year should be no different. For everything the Chicago front line doesn’t do on offense, they more than make up for it on defense.

Boston may have the new Big 3 but it also has no depth. Detroit may have experience but it’s also an aging group. Cleveland is the defending conference champ but it has done nothing to fix the problems that plagued it last year. The rest of the conference is full of holes as well. The Bulls are most complete team in the conference with fewer holes than any other team.

Chicago has gradually made improvements over the years, advancing to the conference semifinals a year ago. This is the season the Bulls make that big leap forward and contends for a championship. Expect Chicago to make its first trip to the NBA Finals since a guy named Jordan was the team captain.

Western Conference – San Antonio Spurs – +225
It’s hard to not go with the Spurs as the favorite to take the Western Conference and advance to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive season. They went 16-4 in the playoffs last year en route to winning their fourth title of the Tim Duncan era. They won 58 games during the regular season. And they return their top 11 players from a year ago, with only the little-used Jackie Butler no longer with the team.

While the San Antonio role players – namely Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley, Brent Barry and Robert Horry – are starting to show their age, the All-Star core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli is still relatively young. The Spurs are also one of the league’s most consistently healthy teams, as their top six scorers missed just 26 combined games last year. Couple that with head coach Gregg Popovich’s ability to keep this team constantly motivated and San Antonio is a threat for the conference crown year-in and year-out.

The one constant with title-winning teams is defense and there hasn’t been a better, more consistent defense in the NBA over the years than San Antonio’s. The Spurs have been in the top three in scoring defense every year since 1997 and there’s no reason to believe it will be any different this year. San Antonio led the NBA with just 90.1 points allowed per game last year and held opponents to just a 44.3 field-goal percentage.

The Western Conference is full of potential championship contenders but San Antonio has fewer questions than any other contending team. Will Dallas be able to rebound from its first-round exit of a year ago? Can Phoenix avoid potential chemistry issues and fatigue come playoff time? Can Tracy McGrady ever get out of the first round of the playoffs? The Spurs have no such questions.

Continuity plays an integral role in the success of an NBA team. And there’s no team in the league with more continuity than San Antonio. It has played the same, extremely successful style for the last decade. It returns almost its entire team from a year ago. And, most importantly, it knows how to win in the postseason.

Only one goal had eluded the Spurs over the years. They have never made back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals. This will be the year that goal is reached.

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Bull market: NBA Central Division betting preview
Covers.com

The Central Division holds many intriguing questions. Has the Detroit Pistons’ time passed them by? Do the Chicago Bulls have a go-to scorer in crunch time? Was Cleveland’s Finals appearance a fluke?

Here’s a betting preview tackling these questions along with my take on how Central Division teams will finish this year:

Chicago Bulls
Last season’s numbers: 49-33 SU, 40-41-1 ATS, 38-43-1 O/U

General manager John Paxson didn’t pull the trigger on a deal to get Pau Gasol and was never in the running for Kevin Garnett. As a result Paxson had to fill the team’s non-existent low-post scoring by signing Joe Smith.

Smith is a serviceable power forward, but the Bulls hope Tyrus Thomas can earn the starting job. Thomas doesn’t have a back-to-the-basket game but there are only a handful of players in the league who can match this kid’s athletic ability.

The center, point and shooting guard positions are team strengths with quality starters (Ben Wallace, Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon) and above average backups (Joakim Noah, Chris Duhon and Thabo Sefolosha).

The difference between Chicago being a good club and a championship contender is Luol Deng. If the small forward continues to improve he could become the superstar playmaker the franchise hasn’t seen since they traded away Elton Brand (smart move Jerry Krause).

Depth is Chicago’s strength and head coach Scott Skiles knows how to get the most out of his bench. Vegas oddsmakers are high on the Bulls – projecting them to win 48 ½ games. I see this squad improving on last year’s 49 wins by four or five, so I’ll take the over.

Detroit Pistons
53-29 SU, 43-37-2 ATS, 36-44-2 O/U

Another year gone; another year older. GM Joe Dumars has long been credited for building a balanced, check-your-ego-at-the-door roster, but he gets off the hook for some questionable decisions. Drafting Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony … how’d that work out? Letting Mehmet Okur leave?

Of course it’s difficult to criticize the man responsible for bringing Detroit back to the top of the East. I’m just saying he shouldn’t get a free pass.

The core of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace remains intact keeping the Pistons in the East’s elite. This veteran-heavy squad isn’t focused on winning regular season games. The only goal for this well-oiled unit is another championship ring.

For this to happen the big four will have to stay healthy, particularly Billups. Backup point guard is a soft area and it became exposed when Billups missed eight games (2-6 against the spread during that stretch).

The books have the season win total for Detroit set 50 ½ which seems like the right number. Since I’m pressed to give an over/under pick I’ll say over by one or two games. Keep in mind, though, winning the Central doesn’t mean nearly as much to the Pistons as it does to the Bulls.

Cleveland Cavaliers
50-32 SU, 43-37-2 ATS, 39-42-1 O/U

Cleveland won the Eastern Conference for the first time in the franchise’s 37-year history, but was completely outplayed by the San Antonio Spurs. Obviously the season was a success but I expect a backward step before a forward one for the Cavs in 2007-08.

This team is a scatter of mismatched fragments – much like a toddler trying to smash puzzle pieces in the wrong spot. LeBron James’ supporting cast doesn’t really fit the King’s immense skills. This should be a running team with big men who can finish and guards who can knock down open shots.

Instead the club possess two guards who can’t shoot (Larry Hughes and Eric Snow), an aging center who’s a defensive liability (Zydrunas Illgaukas) and a power forward who shows up once a week (Drew Gooden).

Daniel Gibson and Anderson Varejao both complement James’ game, but each are best suited coming off the pine.

Oddsmakers see the Cavs compiling 49 ½ wins this season based on last season’s strong finish. I’ll gladly take the under here. I don’t see Cleveland winning more than 45.

Milwaukee Bucks
28-54 SU, 37-43 ATS, 47-34-1 O/U

You can’t talk about the Bucks’ 2006-07 season without mentioning the medical headaches. Four of their five starters missed significant portions of the year. When the Bucks are healthy they’ve got the firepower to outscore any opponent any day of the week.

Michael Redd and Mo Williams form the most underrated backcourts in the league and the frontcourt is serviceable with the potential to improve drastically.

Andrew Bogut isn’t flashy and some wonder how the pivot was taken ahead of budding stars like Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Well, 7-footers who can shoot, pass and rebound don’t grow on trees. Big men generally take longer to develop but it’s fair to say Bogut is already one of the top three centers in the East.

Head coach Larry Krystkowiak has an assortment of forwards who excel in different areas. Charlie Villanueva should play the majority of minutes at the four spot with Bobby Simmons and Desmon Mason manning the small forward position.

Don’t expect much from rookie Yi Jianlian. The fifth overall pick in the June draft is at least a couple seasons away from making an impact.

Milwaukee is not as bad as last year’s record indicates. If I had any guts, I’d put the Bucks ahead of the Cavs in the Central. I can’t do it because (aside from being gutless) I think this team plays without interest on the defensive side of the court far too often. I’d still take the over with a projected win total set at 35 ½.

Attention total bettors: The Bucks can flat-out shoot the rock. Milwaukee tied for the second-best over record last year and the trend should continue if its players can stay out of the trainers’ office.

Indiana Pacers
Last season’s key numbers: 35-47 SU, 38-42-2 ATS, 44-38 O/U

I have a feeling things are going to get worse in Hoosier country before it gets better. The Pacers finished with their worst record since 1988 last season and they return with pretty much the same roster. A failed attempt to move All-Star Jermaine O’Neal left management caught with its pants down.

O’Neal is a premier low-post scorer who commands double teams in the blocks. The problem is his slight frame leaves him vulnerable to injuries. The six-time All-Star hasn’t played more than 70 games in any of the last four seasons.

Larry Bird, the club’s president of basketball operations, tried to rebuild the club on the fly with a huge midseason trade. He sent Al Harrington and troublemaker Stephen Jackson to the West Coast for Mike Dunleavy Jr., Troy Muphy and Ike Diogu. Things didn’t pan out the way Bird had hoped and the Pacers fizzled out of playoff contention.

New head coach Jim O’Brien was brought in to rededicate the team towards its defensive roots. O’Brien has a reputation as a coach obsessed with maximum effort from his defenders. Indiana may return to a solid under play with O’Brien at the helm. This is no knock on former coach Rick Carlisle. I just think his players started tuning him out.

Unless O’Neal can shed the label of Band-Aid and Danny Granger dramatically improves – Indiana will see its win total plummet. Oddsmakers show much more confidence in the Pacers (season win total set at 37 ½) than this writer. I think the under is a no-brainer.

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Re: 2007/08 NBA Team Previews

Trading spaces: NBA Atlantic Division betting forecast
Covers.com

It’s the middle of October, which means slams and jams will soon be part of our morning highlights. Covers previews the 2007-08 season division-by-division so you’ll be fully prepared for tip off.

We start our breakdown with the Atlantic, a division whose blockbuster acquisitions dominated NBA summer headlines (outside of the Tim Donaghy ref scandal).

Here are the new-look squads in their predicted order of finish:

1) Boston Celtics
Last season’s numbers: 24-58 SU, 42-39-1 ATS, 40-42 O/U

The C’s went from the laughingstock of the NBA to a championship contender, all in one busy summer. With a little bit of elbow grease and a hell of a lot of negotiations, general manager Danny Ainge turned his roster upside down and brought in two All-Star fixtures (Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett).

There’s a chance Boston could go from worst to first in not only the Atlantic, but the Eastern Conference as well. Paul Pierce and his two new best friends will have to stay healthy and get some help from a rag-tag group of fill-ins.

Boston backers must hope for accelerated growth from second-year point guard Rajon Rondo. It’s a given the weak shooter will be the first to be left open whenever Pierce, Allen or Garnett are double-teamed. A 17-footer jumper will have to be part of Rondo’s game or the Celtics will struggle closing teams out.

The other concern for the Celtics is whether Kendrick Perkins can play alongside The Big Ticket. Garnett likes to shoot over power forwards, sometimes canning Js from as far as 20 feet. The perfect big man to play with Garnett is someone who stays in the paint and out of the former MVP’s way.

The bench is thin so head coach Doc Rivers will have to work some magic to get good minutes out of Eddie House, Tony Allen, Brian Scalabrine and the like.

The books have the Celtics’ season-win total set at 45 ½ and I think this is great value. Sure, there are some holes outside of the big three but it’s not like this hasn’t been done before. The Lakers’ 2000 team won a championship on the backs of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Glen Rice little else. That team won 67 games in the tougher conference. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to pencil the Celtics in for 50-55 wins in the East.

2) Toronto Raptors
47-35 SU, 48-33-1 ATS, 34-47-1 O/U

The Dinosaurs took a giant step toward the top of the East with a record number of wins and the first division crown in the franchise’s 12-year history. Team president and general manager Bryan Colangelo couldn’t do wrong in his first full year since leaving the Phoenix Suns. Every player he brought in was golden in those awful purple uniforms.

Colangelo did a little more tinkering with the roster this past offseason. He brought in perimeter players Carlos Delfino and Jason Kapono. Perhaps the best decision was holding onto backup point guard Jose Calderon. The Spaniard was highly sought after but he will remain as T.J. Ford’s running mate.

Canada’s lone NBA club boasts a 10-deep rotation. Defending coach of the year Sam Mitchell will be challenged putting the right players on the floor at the right time. While the Raptors’ bench is certainly the class of the Atlantic, this team will only go as far as Chris Bosh will take it.

Bosh finally drew some recognition as an elite power forward while leading the Raps in points, rebounds and blocks. CB4 should be highly motivated after a poor performance in his first playoff appearance.

Oddsmakers pegged the campaign win total at 43 ½. Even if you’ve never seen this team play, you’ve got to take the over here. The Raptors have a quality superstar in Bosh and his looks get easier and easier as Colangelo continues to complement him with sweet-shooting hoopsters.

3) New Jersey Nets
41-41 SU, 41-39-2 ATS, 42-40 O/U

The Nets’ own version of the big three remain intact (Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson), but the man who could dictate whether this team goes deep into the playoffs is Nenad Krstic. Last year was a wash for the budding big man thanks to a bum ACL. Kidd, Carter and Jefferson are great, but without an inside scoring threat the Nets are offensively inept.

Krstic is ready to deliver on the potential he’s flashed over the last two injury-plagued seasons. Nets general manager Rod Thorn also snatched up Jamal Magloire, whose banging game should be a nice fit with Krstic’s shooting touch.

The bench was thought to be a soft area for this team going into last year but Bostian Nachbar, Antoine Wright and Marcus Williams all played vital roles. If rookie center Sean Williams earns minutes, New Jersey suddenly has the benefit of a nine-deep rotation.

This is no longer a fast-break squad even if you do see plenty of Carter and Kidd clips on Sportscenter. Kidd likes to push the ball but he’s in the paint too often fishing for rebounds rather than looking for outlet pass at half court. Look for this trend to pay off when playing totals.

There’s talk the Nets could reassert themselves as the Atlantic’s beast but there are still issues in the swamp. Kidd can no longer keep up with quicker guards and Carter is the only perimeter player who is accurate from three-point range. Oddsmakers have the win total set at 44 ½. I think under is the right angle here.

4) New York Knicks
33-49 SU, 39-43 ATS, 40-42 O/U 

It wouldn’t be a proper Knicks offseason without head-scratching draft picks, over-hyped additions and upper-management turmoil. New York continues to sink or swim with Isiah Thomas as the general manager and head coach of the franchise. Besides battling a sexual harassment lawsuit, Zeke spent his summer rehashing his starting lineup (when isn’t he?).

He traded for elite power forward Zach Randolph while dumping Steve Francis’ bloated contract. Many so-called hoop experts immediately applauded the move. Personally, I don’t see the logic. Randolph will be paired with Eddie Curry giving the Knicks two black holes in the post. I’m pretty sure the last time Randolph passed out of a double team a Democrat was in the White House.

Quentin Richardson’s long-distance ability won’t be used because Curry and Randolph will be playing keep away from their teammates. This will cause a domino effect with Richardson and two guard Jamal Crawford chucking shots as soon as they’re blessed with a touch.

Energetic forward David Lee won’t see as much action with Randolph ahead of him on the depth chart and the Knicks second-chance points should dip as a result. If you can’t tell yet, I’m not high on this team. Vegas has its win total listed at 35 ½ – which makes the under a steal. There is no way this is a better team than last year.

5) Philadelphia 76ers
35-47 SU, 43-36-3 ATS, 39-41-2 O/U

Management decided to tear down Humpty Dumpty and parted ways with Allen Iverson and Chris Webber at midseason. The higher-ups figured the remaining roster wouldn’t win more than 10 percent of its contests and the franchise would be rewarded with a high pick in a deeply talented draft.

Problem was, the 76ers ended up being a better team without the Answer and C-Webb.

Philadelphia finished on a 17-9 run (16-8-2 ATS) thanks largely to the rapid improvement of Andre Iguodala and the stability of point guard Andre Miller. General manager Billy King added four young kids in the June draft but early indications suggest none will be a big help in Year 1.

This means Sixer fans will have to watch this season’s edition with an eye on the future. Each division competitor made significant moves to improve right away. The City of Brotherly Love essentially stood pat.

The books put out 34 ½ for the season win total on this club, but I don’t see the 76ers winning more than 30.

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