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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Early Sixers, NBA Thoughts

The NBA tips off its season tonight, giving us a second major sport officially underway in what could be its final full season for a while. Like the NFL, a lockout is looming for the National Basketball Association. Apparently none of the owners in these sports noticed what happened when the NHL missed an entire season.

Ironically, that would be the point – no one else noticed either. The NBA is probably the most foolish of the sports to threaten a work stoppage. Unless the NCAA plans to cancel March Madness, which isn’t happening just yet (though give them time and they may find a way to screw that up), sports fans might not miss NBA basketball at all.

That said, we do have this season to watch. Normally it’s popular to dismiss the 76ers entirely right around now, but I think they just might show a few signs of life. The scary thing is that the biggest reason for that hope is a guy who want play a minute all season – their coach, Doug Collins.

After suffering through Ed Stefanski at the helm of the franchise and his clueless hiring of Eddie Jordan as head coach, we at least know the Sixers have a coach who understands basketball. That alone will make the Sixers a better team.

But how much better?

All the “experts” who salivated over getting Evan Turner are already questioning him based on the preseason. Despite having the NBA channel, I haven’t seen a minute of preseason, and I really don’t think it reveals a whole lot anyway. Watching him and second-year guard Jrue Holiday together in the backcourt could be exciting, but it will likely take time to work. I would have liked to see the Sixers bring in a veteran point guard to stabilize things early on, and, no, I don’t think Louis Williams fits that bill.

This team is only a year removed from playing extremely well in the second half of the ’08-’09 season. Thaddeus Young was absolutely lost under Jordan. If he returns to the promise of he showed pre-Jordan, that may be the key to major improvement for this team.

Marreese Speights is a similar story. He wasn’t showing as much promise as Young, and the signing of Elton Brand right after he was drafted didn’t do him any favors. But I think he’ll show more promise under Collins. The Sixers still have to figure out what to do with Brand, and whether or not these two can play together.

I’m also very intrigued to see recently acquired Spencer Hawes. This guy averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds in 26 minutes per game last year. He’s only in his third year, and there were rumblings that he was traded because of personality conflicts with people in Sacramento. He seems likely to be a serious upgrade from Samuel Dalembert.

Finally, there’s Andre Iguodala. Collins seems to love the guy, having said at least once that I recall that he’s an All-Star caliber player. And, at times, it’s hard to argue with that assessment. Iguodala has the quintessential NBA body, he can make the highlight reel with high-flying dunks, and dominate games . . . every now and then. Unfortunately, teams tend to remember that he’s a career 44.6% shooter, and that number is inflated because (to his credit) he drives to the basket. Stop him from doing that, and everything else about him is just ok.

Watching the Sixers could be a much experience this season than it has been in recent years past. How much better is still anybody’s guess.

NBA Thoughts

These are the odds I’ve seen to win the NBA Finals:

Miami Heat +160
Los Angeles Lakers +250
Boston Celtics +700
Orlando Magic +800
Oklahoma City Thunder +1200

(For the record, the 76ers are +10000. The number is based on a $100 wager. So, a $100 bet on the Sixers would pay out $10,000 if they won the championship.)

In the NBA more than any other sport, every other team outside of the top few favorites are pretty much irrelevant.

If Boston stays healthy, I like them to win the championship. I actually think adding Jermaine O’Neal is a bigger deal than adding an aging Shaquille O’Neal. But I just don’t see the “Big 3” – Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett – making it through not only a long season, but a long post-season, without wearing down.

Of course, Miami has the “Big 3” – LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh – that will (continue to) be shoved down our throats by the media. My opinion hasn’t changed since these three signed together. They’re just not going to get it done. Bosh will be forgotten soon enough, and James has already proven that he can’t carry a team to a title. I love Wade as a player, but I think he and James will struggle to co-exist. They’ll sail to the Eastern Conference Finals, but have to pray Boston is worn down and that some team has upset the Lakers. They certainly don’t have any depth on paper.

Orlando will obviously but good again, but they didn’t really add anybody that improves them. Dwight Howard still needs that “other” guy.

I usually hate the “popular” team that everyone thinks is the next team, but I’m kind of buying the hype on the Oklahoma City Thunder. They took the Lakers to Game 7 last year, but it was in the first round of the playoffs so it’s a little forgotten. It’s awesome that Kevin Durant quietly re-signed, and maybe experience is enough to get them passed the Lakers this year. But it would have been nice to see them add a significant player.

Finally, as boring as it is, I think the Lakers win it all again – if Andrew Bynum is healthy. (No, this is not an official pick.) Unlike James, Kobe Bryant can carry a team, and with Derek Fisher, Paul Gasol, and Lamar Odom, he doesn’t have to.

But it’s October and the Finals are in April. It’s a long season. Hopefully, it’s just not the last one for a while.

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