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Monday, October 27, 2008
Updated: October 28, 2:22 PM ET
NBA 2008-2009:
IN THEIR VOICES


By Various NBA Observers
ESPN The Magazine

This is what it's all about in team sports. So the question is: are we cropping this photo wide to include a fifth banner this summer?


ESPN covers sports quite well, but sometimes, you need to turn to other voices in order to look ahead. We've done it three times: our NHL Preview; our College Hoops preview a few weeks ago; and this NFL Preview. Time to turn our attention to the NBA.

DISSECT THIS STATEMENT:
THE NBA FINALS WILL AGAIN BE LAKERS VS. CELTICS

"Ah, I can hear the sweet sounds of NBA marketing executives mating as we speak. It's spring and love is in the air! It was cute the first time, like rewatching Transformers episodes you liked as a kid. But eventually, it's just a cartoon. It's nearly impossible for a sequel to last year to have the same kind of impact. Either the Celtics' age will create a significant slide and the Lakers will roll, or the Celtics will maintain their edge and the lack of even a facsimile of toughness for the Lakers will result in more green destruction. This is the matchup that is the smart money and you're going to hear that sentence said about a million times for at least the early part of the season."

-- MATT MOORE, RIDICULOUS UPSIDE

"Book it. Out east, Mo Williams will make Cleveland better and Elton Brand makes Philadelphia a contender, but neither one of those guys is good enough to make their respective teams better than Boston this season. In the west, it's simple: The Lakers were the best team in the conference last season, and the frontcourt duo of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum played a total of 0 games together. Barring injuries, get ready to see more of the same in the NBA Finals this year."

-- JAKE WHITACRE, BULLETS FOREVER


"I'm sorry, are you asking a Sonic fan to weigh in on NBA-related developments? Isn't that a bit like asking Hillary to analyze Obama's campaign? How about if I say that I don't care who wins, so long as David Stern drops the O'Brien Trophy on his foot during the presentation ceremonies?"

-- PETER NUSSBAUM FROM SUPERSONICSOUL

"I don't trust Kobe and Pau AND Bynum to stay healthy for the whole year, so the Western Conference is completely up for grabs. It's kind of ridiculous how stacked the conference is, with everyone from Phoenix to Houston to San Antonio having a legit shot at the title. Not to mention I think the Lakers' supporting cast—Walton, Vujacic, Radmanovic—completely overachieved last year and really can't be trusted to duplicate that effort. Phil Jackson still has a Red Auerbach-sized chip on his shoulder though, and wants that 10th ring. So it could happen. The Celtics, on the other hand, I don't see making back to the finals. They seem to me like the epitome of "satisfied." Plus, the Pistons look extra-hungry with that youth movement."

-- DR. LAWYER INDIAN CHIEF, FREE DARKO (Hey, they also have a book coming out!)


EVALUATE THIS: THE ROCKETS' TIME HAS ARRIVED.

"This is the saddest joke imaginable. My heart weeps for Tracy McGrady, a basketballer in full for the ages--think not just about his jump shot—whose time never was. And never will be. I am resigned to this sadness. It can rest alongside my enduring frustration that Scottie Pippen was never able to win a title without Michael and earn the enduring dap he deserves, despite the serial self-defeating behavior. Flawed heroes have truly found a home in Houston this year: not only TMac, but also Yao, too brittle (and soft) to deliver on his promise, and Ron Ron, too crazy to really ever get out of QB. Houston's time is never. Regrettably."

-- STRAIGHT BANGIN'


"Look. I love the Rockets. I do. But I also love Bigfoot. And frankly, I'm tired of getting my hopes up every time I hear a Bigfoot has been found and then it turns out the "Bigfoot" was just a Halloween costume stuffed in somebody's freezer. You know?"

-- MATT MCHALE, BASKETBAWFUL



"Umm, speaking from experience, one can only consider the Rockets time being nigh if you include clearly stated caveats. First, Ron Artest can bring a team's season, no matter how promising, to a screeching halt in a day or two. Those don't have to be game days either. Secondly, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming have to be healthy enough to play games. When they don't play, the Rockets won't be as good. Seems pretty simple, really. If the Rockets avoid falling victim to those two issues they will be battling for the LOB trophy."

-- INDY CORNROWS

"Did you read our feature on Daryl Morey? The T-Mac/Yao combo might be reaching a tipping point, but Houston is a well-managed operation with looming salary cap flexibility. Fact is, this is one of the top five teams in the league (at worst). So "Neigh" doesn't apply this season. Next year? Who knows. But they'll have the flexibility to roll older, big-dollar players (T-Mac) out and replace them with better fits. And, bottom line, if Ron Artest doesn't take a chainsaw to anyone's head, it's the rest of the West that could be in trouble."

-- JORDAN BRENNER, ASSOCIATE NBA EDITOR OF ESPN THE MAGAZINE


IS THIS THE LAST YEAR OF THE SPURS AND PISTONS AS WE KNEW THEM, OR WAS THAT LAST YEAR?

"The Spurs and Pistons will continue to be 50+ win teams with a legitimate shot at hoisting another championship banner. I don't think either will, but as long as the core of both squads is composed of veteran all-stars who've done it before, you better believe they can do it again.

The Spurs only made minor roster adjustments, so depth remains an issue, but Tim Duncan is still a 20/10 player, Manu Ginobili is coming off of the best season of his career and Tony Parker still has his best basketball in front of him. The Spurs will be in the hunt.

As far as the Pistons are concerned, Their core may have actually slipped a bit further than the Spurs have, but their backups are considerably more reliable. Amir Johnson. Jason Maxiell. Rodney Stuckey. If the Pistons surprise people and make another deep playoff run, it will be because of some inspired play on the part of the Detroit bench."

-- GRAYDON GORIAN, 48 MINUTES OF HELL

"The best analogy I can think of when describing the Pistons' journey as a franchise is to think about the last five years in terms of descending down a steep mountain road. In the 2003-04 season, Detroit was basking in the summit of the NBA sun as they celebrated their first championship since 1990. Chauncey Billups was anointed Finals MVP and Detroit basketball was back. The following season, the Pistons started their slow descent back down from NBA Champion to NBA Finals runner-up as they were not able to keep Tim Duncan from winning both his third NBA Championship and Finals MVP Award. Since that disappointing ending to the 2004-05 season, the Pistons have not been able to return to the NBA Finals and has been showing signs of accelerating further and further from the NBA's biggest stage as their once championship nucleus continues to age."

-- NICK, NUGG DOCTOR


"It was last year. The Spurs haven't won fewer than 56 games in eight years, but with Manu on the shelf for half the year, a third- or fourth-place finish in the Southwest is not out of the question. While the Pistons should remain near the top of the suddenly competitive East, their core may be shocked to discover that a Conference Finals appearance is no longer a birthright."

-- MATT FROM DETROIT BAD BOYS


WHO YOU GOT FOR MVP AND ROY?

"ROY: Oden. Shades of a young Shaq with his ability to plow through guys for easy buckets. Should be a defensive presence right away. Probably looking at 17 ppg, 10 rpg, & 2-3 bpg. Also, helped by the fact the Blazers could (we said "could") win 50 games. MVP: It's relatively easy for us to predict LeBron will be the best player. It's much harder to try to read the minds of MVP voters, whose rationales are elusive and ever-changing. They're very MSM that way."

-- THE PAINTED AREA

"LeBron. It'll come down to him and Paul, but while we've seen the best CP3 can be, there's no telling how many more leaps LeBron might yet make in his career. And while the Hornets couldn't be any better in the regular season, James could very well end up the leader of a Cavs team that wins more games and no longer makes people want to shoot their pets. ROY is Oden. Beasley and Rose might spend a lot of the season platooning, whether or not the team ever admits it, and plus, the public needs at least one more good "microfracture comeback" story before that procedure sheds its terrifying associations."

-- SHOALS FROM FREE DARKO




"LBJ and his Uncle Greg."

-- NUSSBAUM FROM SUPERSONICSOUL





"If voters are going to continue to ignore defense (see Garnett, Kevin) then I like Chris Paul for MVP. Rookie of the Year has to go to Oden or the world will implode."

-- JEFF FROM CELTICS BLOG




"I'll go with OJ Mayo for ROY, especially if voters don't pay attention to team records."

-- JORGE SIERRA, EDITOR OF HOOPSHYPE


CAN MIKE D'ANTONI TURN WATER INTO WINE, OR DOES THAT ONLY WORK WITH FAST-MOVING WATER?


"The Knicks will be lucky to win 30 games this year. New York still does not have players who are "good" at "playing defense," and Mike D'Antoni has yet to prove that he can, you know, "coach" defense. But the Brickers will be more fun to watch, each day will no longer bring a new embarrassment, and they will perhaps get caught up in life a little more."

-- STRAIGHT BANGIN'



"No. It's going to take years to clean up the mess that Isiah left there."

-- FORMER ESPN THE MAGAZINE INTERN BEN FAWKES




"This year, it will suffice simply to purify the contaminated, radioactive water into something consumable. We think people are underestimating how far things like a professional culture, a positive atmosphere, and an enjoyable style of play will go to lighten the mood and re-energize the Garden after last year's disaster."

-- THE PAINTED AREA



"It only works when Steve Nash is in the drink."

-- MATT FROM DETROIT BAD BOYS





"That particular water is still so toxic I think a mutation is more likely than a pleasantly intoxicating transformation."

-- BRET FROM PEACHTREE HOOPS



"He can make wine out of water, but it's going to be more Sutter Home White Zinfandel than Screaming Eagle cabernet. Great wine starts with great grapes, just like great teams start with great rosters. The Knicks are more Thompson's seedless than old vine cabernet, but D'Antoni can make something entertaining that the masses in Madison Square Garden will enjoy more than what they have been served in recent years. Knicks fans—and more importantly Knicks ownership—need to remember that making great wines takes time and patience."

-- FORUM BLUE AND GOLD


"No. And really, assuming the playoffs matter, did he even turn wine into good wine in Phoenix? He can turn Kool-Aid into moonshine because that franchise has been garbage for five years. Now I'm reading things that say David Lee's numbers were probably inflated because he played for them and that's just more depressing. Wait. I never liked them anyway."

--CHRIS SPROW, ESPN THE MAGAZINE GENERAL EDITOR


LET'S TALK ABOUT THE BLAZERS FOR A SECOND.
HOW GOOD CAN THEY BE?


"Depends on what you mean by legitimate. They'll be good enough to make the playoffs in the West. They won't be experienced enough to advance. Considering where they've been the last few years that's hella legit. But compared to Utah or New Orleans they still have some cred to earn."

-- DAVE FROM BLAZER'S EDGE


"Here's my question: when was the last time a team was universally expected to make a quantum leap based on the contributions of three rookies (Oden, Fernandez and Bayless)? The future is astoundingly sunny in rainy Portland, but I think they need another season or two. You can make a case that they got worse at point guard this summer since Bayless is going to have a tough time transitioning to the role of NBA point while Jarrett Jack is gone, and teams don't get a lot better while their point play drops off."

-- STEVE FROM CLIPS NATION


"Not quite as good as the Spurs were the year Robinson got hurt and then they drafted Duncan…but whatever # of wins that team finished with, knock off five and you'll have Portland's tally. They should flirt with 50."

-- THE BIG LEAD



"Good, potentially very good, and eventually great. I can see the Blazers cracking the West's top 4, in fact, before I see them missing the playoffs. The Oden-Roy-Aldridge trio is perfectly matched. Guys like Rudy Fernandez and Martell Webster (when he's healthy) give them more scoring. The key is the point—Steve Blake just can't keep up at an elite level. So either Jerryd Bayless needs to develop quickly, or Roy will have to slide over and handle the ball more."

-- BRENNER FROM ESPN THE MAGAZINE


TERRY PORTER IS A HEAD COACH AGAIN. REALLY?
HOW'S THAT GOING TO WORK OUT?




"Why are we talking about the NBDL?"

-- THE BIG LEAD



"Porter took a shaky Milwaukee team to the playoffs. There, as in Phoenix, he took over a team in decline. The Suns are starting higher than the Bucks did but I fear Terry, though improving his record, eventually will become the fall guy for decisions made by others."

-- DAVE FROM BLAZER'S EDGE





"Poorly. However, his player profile still comes up NBA.com. Sick!"

-- SPROW FROM ESPN THE MAGAZINE



"He's got quite a challenge on his hands in Phoenix. The Suns don't have a roster conducive to Porter's "defense first" mindset. Asking Steve Nash to play slow-down, half court basketball is like asking Beethoven to play piano with one hand. Nash's best years have been in Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo system and it will be interesting to watch how Nash and Amare Stoudemire perform in a slower style where defense is stressed. Its only a matter of time until Nash, Shaq and Grant Hill break down and there is always the chance Amare Stoudemire gets hurt. Porter has one of the toughest jobs in the NBA this season."

-- BRIAN BERGER FROM SPORTS BUSINESS RADIO


"Porter got a bum rap in Milwaukee. As a rookie head coach he dragged a team with low expectations into the playoffs. He was fired when the Bucks took a step back the following year, but considering they've to get out of the Central Division basement since, he should feel somewhat vindicated. I think he'll do just fine in Phoenix, and not only because Steve Nash can make any coach look smart."

-- MATT FROM DETROIT BAD BOYS



"From :07 Seconds or Less to 24 Seconds or Bust. That's the plan. How could it possibly fail? Yes, I'm being sarcastic."

-- MCHALE FROM BASKETBAWFUL


WHO'S YOUR "BREAKOUT" PLAYER
AND TEAM FOR THIS SEASON?

"How about Al Thornton and the Clippers? You give me 10 general NBA questions, I gotta hype the Clippers somewhere. Seriously though, Thornton averaged 16 points and 6 rebounds per game after the All Star break, including a 39 point explosion and two 33 point games. And he did that playing out of position, facing constant double teams on a team devoid of other options. Maybe he's just a chucker who fades into the background with Baron Davis running the show - or maybe he thrives filling the lane on fast breaks and playing against defenses who can't afford to key on him quite so much. Maggette is gone, leaving the starting small forward to Al in his second season."

-- STEVE FROM CLIPS NATION




"Rodney Stuckey. He has star written all over him."

-- JORGE SIERRA FROM HOOPSHYPE




"Marcus Williams in Golden State. Enjoyed his college game and thought he never got a chance with the Nets."

-- THE BIG LEAD





"Rajon Rondo is a year older and a year more confident. Watch out."

-- JEFF FROM CELTICS BLOG



"As for a team, besides the obvious picks of Philadelphia and Portland, I think Houston will break out. I guess in this context "breaking out" really just means "finally living up to expectations." With the way this team gelled last year during the win streak, adding a healthy Yao Ming and a motivated Ron Artest, this team has the capability to use Rick Aldeman's offense he's finally installing this season to claim a top three playoff seed and finally, finally make it deep in the playoffs."

-- MATT FROM RIDICULOUS UPSIDE




"The Pacers, because thinking of Vern Fleming makes me happy."

-- NUSSBAUM FROM SUPERSONICSOUL





"Memphis. No one's going to mistake them for those lowly T-Wolves in 2008-09."

-- SHOALS FROM FREE DARKO



"I do think the Memphis Grizzlies will be tremendously exciting to watch, but they have little to no playoff potential whatsoever. The only significant shift I see in the NBA power structure will come in the West, where I expect a few perennial playoff presences (Mavs, Suns, Nuggets) to be watching the first round of the playoffs from the comfort of their living rooms."

-- GRAYDON FROM 48 MINUTES OF HELL


BASED ON D-WADE IN BEIJING, MARION AND BEASLEY, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM THE HEAT THIS SEASON?



"Lots of highlights, a few more wins, and a glaring need for competent tall people and a point guard."

-- STRAIGHT BANGIN'



"The Heat should be wildly entertaining and equally inconsistent this year since aside from Wade they are relying on the erratic play of rookies and Shawn Marion to play key roles. If the Heat were smart, they'd bring in Jamaal Tinsley to run the point for 25 minutes a game (no hidden agendas here, I swear…)"

-- INDY CORNROWS


"The question here is who throws the alley oops? The Heat simply cannot be an elite team in this league with Brady Quinn's brother running the show. Mario Chalmers has shown some flashes, but this team will only go as far as their point guard takes them."

-- BROWN RECLUSE ESQUIRE FROM FREE DARKO


"The Heat aren't going to struggle to score (especially if Chalmers figures things out quickly enough to get significant playing time). If they don't figure out how to guard people, they'll be terrifically entertaining."

-- BRET FROM PEACHTREE HOOPS




"None of the other teams competing for those final two spots in the East is significantly better than Miami, so they should be competing for one of them."

-- BRENNER FROM ESPN THE MAGAZINE


THE NUMBERS GAME: FOR EACH OF THE FOLLOWING, PLEASE ANSWER WITH A NUMBER, POR FAVOR.

Ed's note: Because this is a rather large document, we only picked one answer for each of these numbers questions to spotlight. However, to see some of the other funny stuff we received (HILARIOUS!), go here. Consider it "outtakes."



WINS FOR THE THUNDER: "Muttering…"

-- NUSSBAUM FROM SUPERSONICSOUL



DWIGHT HOWARD 20/20 GAMES: "18. Coincidentally, this is the identical number of games Rashard Lewis will be out-rebounded by Jameer Nelson."

-- NUSSBAUM FROM SUPERSONICSOUL (What can we say? Supersonicsoul is on fire!)



THE SPOT THE 76ERS FINISH IN THE EAST: "3rd—Elton Brand's new teammates are more better than LeBron James is better than Brand."

-- BRET FROM PEACHTREE HOOPS



TIMES "CHRIS PAUL" IS REFERENCED IN PRINT OR ON TV WITH THE WORDS "DERON WILLIAMS" WITHIN 15 WORDS ON EITHER SIDE: "At least as many as Sarah Palin and Tina Fey."

-- JORGE SIERRA FROM HOOPSHYPE



TIMES (AFTER DECEMBER) THAT MANU ISOLATES AND DRIVES LEFT, WITH NO DEFENSE ANYWHERE TO BE SEEN "Whatever Eddy Curry's weight is."

-- THE BIG LEAD



TECHS FOR 'SHEED AND KOBE "10 or less for 'Sheed. It's a contract year, man! As for Kobe, what's the limit before a player is suspended for a game? That many."

-- MCHALE FROM BASKETBAWFUL