I figured 'd be a chessy hack and, like every other corporate "inspirational" cite some lines from Sun Tzu. I've got a meeting with The Bobs, so don't forget to put a coversheet on your TPS reports.
"It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle."
Then I came across this one --
"To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy." That sounds familiar.
Then there's the Shaq Tzu version of the old general's wisdom:
"Know your enemy, know yourself, know your girlfriend's ex-con husband's abusive temperament, know his work schedule, and most importantly know the fastest way to get the hell out of there if he decides to come home early."
Know Your Enemy, Be Your Enemy
Training camp is approaching and we keep looking to the start of the season. Is baseball over yet? Is there some sort of mercy rule for the pennant race?
After the Shaq trade last year, Bluntman told me that the Suns would finish sixth. I did not agree because I figured they’d still have a good enough for the fourth of fifth seed -- after the integration of the Big Role Player. Although last year, two games out of first was only good enough to get the sixth seed, I don’t think it will be as ultra-competitive as it was last year. Bluntman has re-predicted a sixth seed and is looking forward to a season of low expectations. More on the Suns later, this is about how they stack up.
With all due respect to rabid fans in Minnesota, the abused fans in Memphis, the thieves in Oklahoma, the delusionally loyal fans of Clippers Nation and the Maloufs, I am only going to address the squads that have a shot. I do, however (like Stan), feel for Clippers Nation – the Clippers are the only professional sports team to have a record of futility even longer than the Arizona Cardinals. That organization (and the tripel-double man) is the comic relief of the NBA.
In my book, there are (once again) ten teams in playoff contention: New Orleans, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Utah, Denver, Portland, LA Lakers, Phoenix and GoldenState. I’ll start with the teams that are going to miss the playoffs and then work top-down as to the finish in the West.
GoldenState is just barely in playoff contention. Without Baron Davis and with the loss of Monta Ellis for the beginning of the season (I still can't wait to hear the rest of the story), it is going to be tough for the Warriors. Some reports have Ellis missing the first third of the season, and the West will still be very competitive. Even healthy, how much can Ellis contribute without the support of Davis?
Denver or Dallas? I have a great burning desire for Dallas to miss the playoffs. Jason Kidd saddled us with Starbury, and Dirk Nowitkzi idolized David Hasselhoff. This David Hasselhoff!! ratuitous link to The Dirty here. They are also in a tough division. They’ve got 12 games against the Sp*rs, New Orleans and Houston. Not to mention all the other games against the tough Western Conference.
Denver, on the other hand, re-signed J.R. Smith. The Nuggets have cornered the market on explosive offensive players without defensive abilities or common sense. In the meantime, they traded away the only player on the team that even tries to play defense (although his offense is weak); I suppose he’s gone because and management simply decided that his commitment to defense was an obstacle to 300-point games.
My heart says Dalls misses the playoffs, but my head says Denver. It's even harder because I've been a huge A.I. fan ever since he single-handedly took on the Lakers in the Finals. I'm going with my head, not my heart. I see Portland replacing Denver this year.
Now that I think I know who is not getting into the playoffs, I’ll start at the top.
The Lakers and the Hornets will go 1 and 2, with the Suns and the Sp*rs (respectively) close behind. In the most boring division race, Utah will come out on top of the Northwest Division. A little more detail:
The Lakers still have Kobe. On this roster, he is the team’s greatest strength and its biggest propensity to cause it to bust. Last year, my MVP vote would’ve gone to Chris Paul. Looking back, however, I think my Laker and Kobe hatred tainted by views. It’s still a close call, but I was wrong. The only way for him to get better, however, is how his team responds. If he is allowed to rest on defense and everyone not named Pau can hit open jumpers, then the Lakers are nearly impossible to beat. Gasol can hit those jumpers, so his consistently is not at issue. He was exposed, a bit, for who he is during the WCF and the Finals. However, he simply “is who he is.” The Lakers know what they’re going to get and he might be the best second fiddle in the league. I’d be surprised if he makes substantial improvement and I’d be even more shocked if he takes a step back. The problem is the consistently with players #3-#12. Odom usually brings it, but he can go dormant for a while. Derek Fisher is waning but he'll still contribute and his former glory will make a few guest appearances. All those guys with funny last names are either extremely hot or extremely cold. Andrew Bynum is pretty good, but he’s far from the linchpin for success. Kobe’s reaction to his teammates inconsistency is the key. Is he going to make it worse or pull those nine guys up?. At the same time, he has legitimate concerns and, at times, probably should not trust any of those guys (save Fisher). The Suns might catch the Lakers for the division, but I’d probably be willing to lay 2-1 odds on L.A.
I might only be willing to put even money on the Hornets to take the Southwest Division, simply because they have to get past the Sp*rs. Tyson Chandler got a lot of dunks last year. West is a true power forward, and Chris Paul is a stronger, more intense version of the Great Kevin Johnson (I said it first, Reggie) – and he plays defense. He’s already one of the top three for 2008-2009 MVP voting. Byron Scott knows what he’s doing. This dominating team comes to town for the Suns’ home-opener. CP3 and Scott are locked-up in the Big Easy. This is scary for years to come. They don’t have quite the bench yet, but they did sign Sean Marksso they've got that going for them.
For those of you living under a rock, Manu Ginobili needed ankle surgery during the WCF. A healthy Manu is a different series. Maybe not a win, but a different series. The supporting cast is aging, and that’s why I’ve got them at #3. It’s Same team, albeit a little bit older, with the same Big 3. They have at least three more good years in them, as currently composed.
The “Jazz” is simply inappropriate for Utah. It doesn’t fit the state or the team. Can anyone disagree that they should be the “Sloans”? The Utah Sloans. 50+ wins and the division (again). A good point guard, a good power forward, a bunch of guys that can play defense, tough rebounding and a disciplined offense. It’s been that way for over 20 years, hasn’t it? This year, though, it will not be good enough to get the Sloans out of the West. That’s my preview of Utah.
The Suns are in the second-tier teams, along with Utah and Houston. Ron Artest is a huge addition to the Rockets, but who is going to be the leader with Yao and/or McGrady are down? Remember when McGrady was too afraid to go to New Orleans for the All-Star game? Do you think he’s going to feel safe in his own locker room? Has Yao smoothed things over with Crazy Pills? To steal a line from Howard Cosell, Shane Battier is widely regarded as the most under-rated player in the league. He’s now gotten to the point of being over-rated. Let’s see if he has a Raja Bell-like let-down.
Mainly to be a contrarian, I’m putting the Suns at 5th (not 6th) and the Rockets at 6th.
The Blazers have more young talent than they know what to do with. Their fans should be thrilled. They have so much promising talent that going through the roster would take pages of analysis. This year, however, in this conference, they are still at the bottom of the playoff contenders. In the East, they’re probably a 3 seed. Collectively, they need more time together. Individually, each player need more time in the league. Brandon Roy is very mature and will be the glue keeping them together. They will be a tough beat and a ton of fun to watch.
I guess, by default, Dallas will sneak into the playoffs. Denver could beat them out, but I’m sticking with my head.