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TGS HOOPS SPECIAL REPORT...TIP OFF! NBA 2013-14 ""FUTURES" TO WATCH!
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor and P.Carl Giordano, Managing Editor


It’s hoops time! Along with the commencement of the NBA regular season this week, TGS Basketball begins its online publishing as well; for online subscription information, check out our website at www.goldsheet.com or give us a call at 1-800-798-GOLD (4653) to take advantage of special full-season pricing offers. As always, we begin our hoops coverage with our featured season “over/under” win recommendations; season win totals are listed next to each team. A full version of this story will be available online and in the first issue of TGS Basketball.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTIC DIVISION: It’s been a while, but we can recall a few past doormat Boston Celtics (27 ½) sides. Such as the post-Bill Russell edition with Hank Finkel at C, and the pre-Larry Bird Celts of the late ‘70s featuring the likes of Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe and coached by Satch Sanders in parts of two seasons. Well, they’re not going to be hanging any banners for the 2013-14 version, either. After losing its top scorers and rebounders, and watching HC Doc Rivers bolt town, too, Boston bears little resemblance to the sides we have been used to seeing lately. And while we thought HC Brad Stevens would only leave Butler for a storied job, we expected it to be Duke or Indiana, not the Celts. With G Rajon Rondo still out until perhaps New Year’s with knee problems, Stevens is minus the one component he could have badly used at the outset in a transition year. Look “under” in Beantown.

Win totals could be inflated for many Atlantic, Southeast, and Central Division entries simply because the bottom-feeders of the Eastern Conference are going to be so bad. And none of those figures to be any worse than the Philadelphia 76ers (17 ½) , who are going to more resemble a college team trying to compete in the NBA. The season-ending knee injury to rookie Kentucky C Nerlens Noel was the final straw and will help prompt season-long comparisons to the 9-73 Sixers of 1972-73. Ex-Spurs asst. Brett Brown might end up wondering why he took the HC job. “Under” at Wells Fargo Center.

Perhaps this is how a maverick Russian billionaire (in this case, Mihkail Prokhorov) decides to run an NBA franchise, in his case the Brooklyn Nets (52 ½) . Go out and add a collection of established and decorated NBA talent; in the Nets’ case, that meant offseason additions Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry (most of last year’s Celtic lineup, really), and Andrei Kirilenko. But not many owners would pick a star player who just finished a Hall-of-Fame career career (in this case Jason Kidd) to be the new head coach with absolutely no experience whatsoever in his new role. Perhaps Prokhorov will prove smarter than the rest, and be rewarded handsomely as Kidd (a consummate “coach on the floor” during his playing career) connects with the vets. By us, however, this seems a bit much of a risk, especially for a team with such a short window to capitalize. Keeping the aging ex-Celtics healthy will be another matter. Maybe Brooklyn is formidable at playoff time, but the adjustment phase, and likely resting those older components to get them ready for the postseason, could suppress the season win total, so it’s an “under” for us at Barclays Center.

At least the New York Knicks (49 ½) aren’t going to have to spend three weeks on the road early in the season, as did their Madison Square Garden co-tenant New York Rangers, as refurbishments are now complete at their home arena. The Knicks intrigue at least as much as the Rangers, however, as some offseason additions like Metta World Peace (back in his college stomping grounds and who could help the defensive profile greatly), explosive but oft-injured F Andrea Bargnani, Michigan rookie Tim Hardaway Jr., and vet backup PG Beno Udrih give HC Mike Woodson more options and better depth off the bench. We still don’t think Amar’e Stoudemire is a proper fit, however, especially since Woodson demands his players work as hard on defense as they do on the attack end, and upgrades elsewhere in the top tier of the East will make it difficult to repeat last year’s 54 wins. But a healthy Carmelo Anthony can still score, score, score, compensating for some of the lack of foot speed on the roster, and with the win “total” less than 50, we think the Knicks can clear it...barely. (Are you happy, Spike Lee?) “Over” at MSG.

We saw some signs of life late last season from the Toronto Raptors (35 ½) after Rudy Gay arrived in a midseason trade from Memphis. Gay often thrilled and excited with his offensive explosiveness, but as Grizzlies followers are quick to remind, Gay does not exactly contribute much besides his ability to fill the bucket. Which makes him something of a clone of Toronto’s other ball of fire, off-guard Demar DeRozan. So, there will probably be nights those two make Toronto look like a playoff contender. But we have questions about roster depth and negligible offseason upgrades, and we need more convincing about frontliners Amir Johnson & Jonas Valanciunas. Plus, PG Kyle Lowry is hurting (finger injury) to start the season. The Raptors could benefit from the presence of so many punching bags (like the Sixers) in the East, and that could push them into the brink of postseason contention, but there are plenty of ways for Toronto to veer off course, too. We’re simply going to pass at Air Canada Centre.


SOUTHEAST DIVISION: For the first time in a few years, the Charlotte Bobcats (26 ½) might look more like an NBA team than an ACC entry. The frontline certainly received a nice overhaul in the offseason when ex-Jazz FA Al Jefferson and Indiana rookie Cody Zeller, perhaps the most-refined offensive talent among the incoming bigs, were added to the mix. Suddenly, the Bobcats have some real scoring presence in the post, and Zeller adds to an exciting young core of talent that already featured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker from the previous two drafts. While NBA insiders still roll their eyes at the thought of Michael Jordan interjecting himself too much into personnel matters, they are also high on new HC Steve Clifford, recently on Laker staffs. We haven’t looked “over” in a while at Time Warner Cable Arena (the “Cable Box”), but we are this season.

After the Nats missed the playoffs, and the Redskins and Caps broke slowly from the gate this fall, not to mention Congress not winning any popularity contests, D.C. fans need something to get excited about. Filling the gap could be the Washington Wizards (39 ½) , who sent a signal that they mean business by recently dealing for Suns C Marcin Gortat, who along with a healthy Nene now gives “Da Bullet” a legit NBA frontline. With former top draftee John Wall being healthy from the outset this season and being joined by another former SEC star, ex-Florida G Bradley Beal, to form a dynamite perimeter scoring punch, and Georgetown first-round pick Otto Porter, Jr. potentially adding more firepower, the Wizards for once intrigue. True, the likes of Wall, Nene, and defensive stopper Trevor Ariza have all had injury issues in the past, but a healthy Washington side can make a run at one of the lower East playoff slots. Really. Look “over” at Verizon Center.

After the Dwight Howard watch in L.A. last season, no free-agent-to-be generated as much discussion as did F Josh Smith with the Atlanta Hawks (39 ½) . Which prompted a lot of speculation what the Hawks might want to do with Smith at the trade deadline. But the fact there was not an overwhelming amount of interest last February in Josh (perhaps in part due to his pending free-agency) suggests that maybe Atlanta will not be so bad off now that Smith has left the fold and signed with Detroit. Besides, more than a few NBA observers believe the Hawks might have upgraded with replacement Paul Millsap, the relentless ex-Jazz PF who will be nothing if not more consistent in production than was Smith. Meanwhile, vet Elton Brand adds more quality depth to the frontline, which already featured C Al Horford. And while the rest of the roster doesn’t terribly excite, Jeff Teague remains a serviceable NBA point guard, and Kyle Korver is the sort of spot-shooter that many teams covet. We’ll see if Atlanta embraces the defensive mindset of new HC Mike Budenholzer, who wants to mold Atlanta into a likeness of his former employer Spurs. If Atlanta falls from last year’s 44 wins, it won’t be far, so clearing that 39½ looks doable, as does another lower-rung East playoff slot. “Over” at Philips Arena.

There seems to be some excitement brewing with the Orlando Magic (23 ½) , who have quickly assembled a promising core of young talent that was augmented in the draft with the first-round selection of Indiana’s dynamic Victor Oladipo (second overall pick), who figures to help HC Jacque Vaughn on both ends of the court. Along with versatile C Nikola Vucevic and SF Tobias Harris, one can see the building blocks being put in place by GM Rob Hennigan. And there is patience in the front office, reflected in the support of Vaughn after last year’s difficult 20-62 slog. Our concerns are mostly health-oriented with the Magic, at least at the outset of the season, with Harris (ankle) and PF Big Baby Davis (foot; remember how Orlando collapsed after Davis was injured last season?) both sidelined indefinitely, and Vucevic bothered by nagging elbow problems throughout the preseason. With a long-term perspective, Hennigan is also not likely to make too many in-season moves for any quick fix, especially since no one in the Disney area is expecting much this season. We can envision a full-strength Orlando making some improvements, but given those early-season injury concerns, would rather pass at Amway Center.

This could really be the last hurrah for this generation of the Miami Heat (61 ½) , looking to become the first three-peater since Phil Jackson’s Shaq/Kobe Lakers early in the last decade. Remember, LeBron can opt out at the conclusion of this season (there continues to be more than idle chatter about a possible hero’s return to Cleveland), and we doubt Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra are going to be able to squeeze more than one more big season out of key cogs Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen. But with the exception of key reserve Mike Miller (who helped in the playoffs), Riley was able to keep last year’s title winners mostly intact, so one more title run could be in the cards. We suspect, however, that getting ready for another playoff charge will become a dominant theme as the season progresses, and for Spoelstra to borrow some of Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio regular-season strategy and give his vets proper rest before the postseason. Any hint of physical issues with the Big Three (especially Wade) will likely cause them to rest in the regular season, and keeping Wade, in particular, in working order has become more of a chore in recent seasons. We respect the Heat’s talent too much to suggest an “under,” but given the three-peat dynamics, we’d rather just pass on Miami in the regular season, and wait for the playoff drama to unfold next spring.

CENTRAL DIVISION: Go ahead and turn back the calendar to April of 2012, when we last saw Derrick Rose playing for the Chicago Bulls (56 ½) . He’s finally back from knee problems and looked like his old self in preseason. Without Rose, the Bulls still gutted their way into the East semis last spring before bowing honorably to Miami. While Rose was out, Jimmy Butler developed into a useful complementary weapon, and big things could be expected from Luol Deng, now in a contract year. If the Bulls stay healthy (maybe a big if, as Rose, Deng, and Joakim Noah have all been sidelined extensively in recent times), they might be the biggest threat to a Miami three-peat. Look “over” at United Center.

The heat is on GM Joe Dumars, who is in win-now mode for his Detroit Pistons (40 ½) . Offseason moves suggested as much, enlisting Mo Cheeks as the new head coach and adding some intriguing pieces to the personnel mix such as ex-Hawks F Josh Smith, ex-Bucks PG Brandon Jennings, and Georgia rookie G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The pressure will be on Cheeks to make the combos work; Jennings has been hurting in preseason, and how shots will be divvied up between him, Smith, and holdover frontliners Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond upon his return might require Henry Kissinger-type diplomacy. We also wonder if the hot-and-cold Smith can handle full-time duties at the “3,” as Cheeks envisions. Nonetheless, we like how Detroit has altered its culture; for the first time in a while, the organization looks hungry. That’s enough to make us look “over” at the Palace.

The Cleveland Cavaliers (40 ½) don’t look much like the team HC Mike Brown left behind when he was dismissed after the 2009-10 season. That was also just before LeBron James’ much-ballyhooed “decision” to leave for Miami. Proving that he holds no grudges, owner Dan Gilbert has brought back Brown to oversee a different-looking group of Cavs, of which Brown might only recognize frontliner Anderson Varejao from his last stint in town. Varejao’s availablility, however, is important for Cleveland after recent injury woes, and is part of a much-improved bench that Brown predecessor Byron Scott did not have the luxury of experiencing the past two seasons. Included in that mix are top draft pick F Anthony Bennett from UNLV and useful vet handyman Jarrett Jack, who proved a real plus to Golden State’s fortunes a year ago. It’s also interesting to note that Brown was not scared off enough by his experience with Andrew Bynum in L.A. to bring the big man to Cleveland to revive his career. But there is now depth to absorb the injury woes of Bynum (still not activated for the season), and the young backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters oozes upside. With the bottom few playoff spots in the East likely a free-for-all, the Cavs can get into the mix; it’s an “over” for us at “The Q,” as the will-LeBron-return chatter heats up as the season progresses.

There is likely to be a collection of a few have-nots that will provide cannon fodder for the contenders of the Eastern Conference this season; unfortunately for Milwaukee Bucks (28 ½) fans, their team is included in the former. The personnel mix might not be what new HC Larry Drew envisioned when he signed up after spending the past two years in Atlanta; with both Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis having departed town, the engine room of the recent Bucks offense has departed with them. Drew has lots of choices from the collection of possible new combinations; perhaps too many, as the roster has gone through a significant overhaul, including a brand-new backcourt where Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo are likely the new guard combo. With four of the top five scorers gone from last season, the adjustment phase for Drew and the new roster likely extends to the All-Star break and beyond. The Bucks will probably prop up the rest of the Central; it’s an “under” for us in Brewtown.

The Indiana Pacers (54 ½) have served notice the past two seasons that they are ready to capitalize upon any slippage by the Heat or other top contenders. What most impressed many NBA insiders last season was how the Pacers seamlessly adapted to the near season-long absence of high-scoring F Danny Granger (who, by the way, is on the shelf again with calf problems). Emerging as the unquestioned star in Granger’s absence was the explosive Paul George, who has also signed a contract extension since the conclusion of last season. The pieces all remain in place, including C Roy Hibbert, who could threaten superstardom, and no-nonsense frontline mate David West, who provided the rugged presence Indiana lacked before his arrival. Offseason pickups like F Luis Scola and G C.J. Watson add to Frank Vogel’s options off the bench. And if Granger can return healthy, he adds a lot more firepower to the mix. So take your pick of Chicago or Indiana as the teams with the best chance of knocking off Miami in the East. It’s a definite “over” for us at the wonderful Bankers Life Fieldhouse, a sort of Oz among newer hoops palaces.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

SOUTHWEST DIVISION: Lots of hullabaloo in the offseason involving the Houston Rockets (54 ½) , who would have made even Tony Robbins envious with the sales pitch they made to land Dwight Howard. The question remains if big Dwight is going to be worth another ten wins to a side that won 45 last year. We’re not sure, especially with questions remaining at PG and PF, and James Harden dinging his knee (although it didn’t seem serious) late in preseason. We expect the Rockets to improve, but maybe not enough to get above that aggressive win total. “Under” at Toyota Center.

Get used to the newly-named New Orleans Pelicans (39 ½) , as the former Hornets name prepares to be returned to Charlotte next season. That 39½ is an awfully big jump from last season’s 27 wins, but consider the positive dynamics in the Big Easy, which included stealing an All-Star G (Jrue Holiday) from the Sixers on draft night and adding the explosive Tyreke Evans, who needed a change of scenery after a few seasons in Sacramento. This new-look perimeter, along with holdover Eric Gordon, really intrigues, although for the Pelicans to clear that win hurdle and contend for a playoff berth, they’re going to need second-year ex-Kentucky C Anthony Davis to stay healthy, which he couldn’t do a year ago. With Dwight Howard now in the division, Davis’ presence is going to be even more important. But New Orleans will play defense for HC Monty Williams, and a healthy Davis puts the Pelicans in the playoff mix. Look “over,” but not by much, in “Nawlins.”

It seems a lot longer than 2½ years ago that the Dallas Mavericks (43 ½) won the NBA title. Other than Dirk Nowitzki, the roster bears little resemblance to the title year. Mark Cuban’s goal in the offseason was to lure either Dwight Howard or Chris Paul to Big D, but that didn’t work, so the Mavs had to settle for a new-look and slightly odd backcourt combo of PG Jose Calderon and gunner-deluxe Monta Ellis, a pairing that will not impede many attack-minded foes on the stop end. If Nowitzki were in his prime we might be inclined to give the Mavs a look, but last season hinted of real signs that Dirk is now struggling with age and injury, and those dynamics rarely improve with time. Shawn Marion and Vince Carter are not as frisky as they once were, either. This roster will be quite a chore for HC Rick Carlisle to make competitive, so we look “under” at AmericanAirlines Center.

We have to wonder about the direction of the Memphis Grizzlies (50 ½) , who have gone all in with the new “metrics” movement championed by their new ownership group and GM John Hollinger, a former ESPN stats guru who was enlisted last December. Hollinger’s in-depth stats background and advanced application of “metrics” (mostly lineup combinations) put him at odds with former "old school" HC Lionel Hollins, who was dismissed in favor of Hollinger preference Dave Joerger, elevated from his assistant coach role. Hollins’ methods, however, seemed to work just fine, emphasizing defense and a share-the-ball philosophy that brought the Griz to the Western finals last season. But we suspect Joerger will not be changing the formula too much, still banging the ball in the paint to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph while playing what was the NBA’s best defense (league-low 89.3 ppg allowed last year). Where Joerger might initiate change is with tempo, as Memphis is likely to push the pace more than it did with Hollins. We’ll see if that works. The biggest plus we envision in Memphis is an improved bench, with some of the young Grizzlies like Quincy Pondexter and Ed Davis becoming regular contributors, and ex-Miami sharpshooter Mike Miller does fill a role that Memphis has eventually missed in the postseason the past few years. Conclusion? Matching last year’s 56 wins might be a tall order, but clearing 50½ looks within reason, so we’re going “over” at FedEx Forum.

Undeterred after their near-miss in the NBA Finals last June, the San Antonio Spurs (55 ½) are back for one more kick at the can, and perhaps a last chance to win a fifth title in the Tim Duncan era. The roster has a similar look to recent seasons, with the familiar Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker triumverate at the core, and Gregg Popovich pulling the strings svengali-like from the bench. There have been some minor adjustments in the supporting cast, though we suspect ex-Bull G Marco Belinelli will prove more reliable off the bench than the departed, hot-and-cold Gary Neal. More recent additions to the lineup mix such as Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green emerged as valuable components last season. The Spurs won 58 a year ago, as Popovich routinely rested some of his vets during the regular season in hopes of having them fresh for the postseason. If anything, that strategy might become even more pronounced with Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker all a year older. Which makes projecting above that 55½ a bit risky. We expect the Spurs to make one more major run at the ring next spring, but are less sure they will be as focused on the regular season, which makes it a pass for us at AT&T Center.

NORTHWEST DIVISION: Turn back the clock to March of 2012, when the Minnesota Timberwolves (40 ½) were in the thick of the West playoff chase. That was before fancy PG Ricky Rubio went down with a knee injury and the campaign unraveled. And while Rubio was slow to regain his old form upon his return last season, PF Kevin Love suffered a string of fluke injuries that sidelined him for all but 18 games of 2012-13. Now both seem healthy again, while the T-wolves have added a potentially useful element in 2-G Kevin Martin, just the sort of spot shooter who can greatly aid both Rubio & Love. In fact, Minnesota now has viable scorers at every position, including C Nikola Pekovic, who emerged when Love was sidelined, while shrewd HC Rick Adelman remains. Bets are off if Love and Rubio go down again, but until then we’re looking “over” at Target Center.

Lots of changes with the Denver Nuggets (45 ½) , including on the bench where Brian Shaw gets his long-awaited chance at an NBA head coaching gig. But after George Karl squeezed so much out of the roster in recent years, it is fair to wonder whether Shaw can do the same. Especially since the Nuggets let catalyst Andre Iguodola walk in the offseason (as well as Corey Brewer, along with “Iggy” one of the two best defenders on last year’s team). And will Shaw be able to connect with PG Ty Lawson and unpredictable C JaVale McGee as did Karl? Considering the many different elements in the mix, and nagging injuries throughout the preseason, a slow start would be no surprise. We’re looking “under” at Pepsi Center.

We’re not sure any team (outside of Philadelphia) is due for the drop-off they can expect in Salt Lake City, where the Utah Jazz (25 ½) are going to try to stay afloat after losing key frontline components Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to free agency. Which has Jazz backers justifiably upset, as some believe that one or both should have been moved at the trade deadline last February, netting something in return. Instead, the Jazz will line up with Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors on the blocks with little in the form of reinforcement in reserve, while hoping that versatile swingman Gordon Hayward and 2-G Alec Burks blossom into a bona fide stars. We still might have been inclined to give Utah some “over” consideration had top draft pick Michigan G Trey Burke been in the mix from the outset, but he suffered a finger injury late in the preseason that might keep him on the shelf into January. By letting many veterans walk, the Jazz have put themselves in a low-risk, high-reward situation, because even if the season goes pear-shaped, a shot in the lottery for what could be a bountiful draft next June will prove a nice consolation prize. We look “under” at EnergySolutions Arena.

The class of the Northwest remain the Oklahoma City Thunder (52 ½) , although they’re going to have to proceed for a while without star G Russell Westbrook, out for perhaps two months with a knee injury. Ok City was clearly not the same team after Westbrook went down in last year’s playoffs, but (barring another injury setback) he is still likely to be involved in about two-thirds of the regular season, and backup Reggie Jackson is serviceable enough to handle the point without too much distress in the interim. Let us not forget that the wondrous Kevin Durant (28.1 ppg last season) is still capable of taking over any game, and the rest of the lineup (including PF Serge Ibaka) is capable of bearing more of the offensive burden. While Ok City might not get to last year’s 60 wins, we think the mid 50s is still a reasonable target, especially with Westbrook eventually to return to active duty. So, we’ll look “over” at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

We haven’t been getting much consensus from our sources regarding the prospects of the Portland Trailblazers (38 ½) , who are alternately praised and cursed by different insiders. The Blazers feel they have upgraded where they needed to from a year ago, mainly with a deeper bench and more good shooters, as draftee Allen Crabbe could come in handy. (One rookie who won’t be helping is exciting Lehigh first-round pick G C.J. McCollum, out for the season with injury.) Vet additions such as C Robin Lopez and G Mo Williams could also take some pressure off the trio of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and Damian Lillard, who carried too much of the burden from last season. We suspect there could be improvement, but jumping six wins from last year’s 33 might be a bit of a reach. Still, we’re just going to play wait-and-see with the Blazers, so it’s a pass for us at the Rose Garden.

PACIFIC DIVISION: No team made as many solid organizational moves in the offseason as the Sacramento Kings (31 ½) , who will see immediate benefit from the new Ranadive ownership group after years of indifferent leadership from the clueless Maloof clan. Adding Shaq as part of the management team also figures to keep the flame lit under C DeMarcus Cousins (who recently signed a contract extension), and preseason was encouraging under new HC Mike Malone. On-court additions such as G Greivis Vasquez and Kansas rookie swingman Ben McLemore should also be a plus, although we would be extra bullish if F Carl Landry weren’t going to be out until January with injury. No matter, it’s a definite “over” in Sacto.

Hard as it might be for the Hollywood crowd to accept with the Los Angeles Lakers (36 ½) , an overload of players either on one-year deals or at the end of existing long-term contracts is confirmation that this season is more about clearing cap space for 2014-15. Although some of the offseason additions (such as Nick Young and Jordan Farmar) could prove useful, the key vet components all have recent injury issues, and even the contributions of Kobe Bryant are hard to gauge whenever he returns from last spring’s Achilles tendon tear. We’re looking “under” for the Lake Show.


This was unthinkable until recently, but L.A. is now the Los Angeles Clippers’ (56 ½) town. And if one believes that coaches make any difference in the NBA, then the Clips’ recruitment of the highly-respected Doc Rivers to take the place of Vinny Del Negro would seem to be worth at least a few more wins beyond last season’s 56. While Rivers figures to be a plus, so too are some offseason additions which provide more versatility off the bench and, importantly, a capable backup for do-everything Chris Paul in Darren Collison, who will allow Paul a bit more rest during the games and top-notch cover should Paul go down. Spot-shooter deluxe J.J. Redick will also fill an important reserve role as the designated gunner, and frontline additions Jared Dudley, Antawn Jamison, and Byron Mullens give Rivers more depth than Del Negro had to work with last season. We still worry about the durability of high-intensity Blake Griffin, who has had injury problems before, and DeAndre Jordan has his limitations in the post. But there are a lot more positives than negatives with the Clips, so we’re looking “over” with at least one of the Staples Center tenants.

The most comparable team to Philadelphia from the Western Conference might be the Phoenix Suns (20 ½) , who might have signaled their intentions for this season by dealing away C Marcin Gortat to Washington in the preseason. The culture of this once-proud organization has been turned inside-out by unpredictable owner Robert Sarver, who is well on his way to being mentioned alongside the likes of Bob Irsay and Ted Stepien on any worst-owners lists. The Suns have been in steep decline on Sarver’s watch, and we see nothing to stop the descent this season, as new HC Jeff Hornacek has been given little to work with on a talent-depleted roster. Lots of mid-level sorts have been shuffled on and off the roster since last season, and we are hardly convinced that rookies like C Alex Len or F Alex Oriakhi are ready to make any real impact, or vet additions like Caron Butler and Eric Bledsoe are about to help forge a turnaround. At least Hornacek is promising a fast pace, so the Suns might be fun to watch on some nights. We just think they’re going to lose...a lot. “Under” at US Airways Center.

On their best nights, the Golden State Warriors (52 ½) are a sight to behold. Especially when Steph Curry’s long-range radar (45.3% triples last season) is working, and supporting cast members like Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes (also both better than 40% beyond the arc last season) are bombing away as well. And adding the slashing Andre Iguodala to the mix appears to be a perfect complement to the many spot shooters on the attack end in Mark Jackson’s offense. So, there are going to be nights when Golden State looks unbeatable. But we have a couple of nagging questions about the Warriors, especially fragile post presence Andrew Bogut, whose value on defense and the boards makes it almost imperative for him to stay healthy and in the lineup. Keeping fellow frontliner David Lee healthy was also a chore last season. And the contributions of valued vets Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry off the bench a year ago were crucial in the Warriors’ playoff surge; they were both on one-year deals in 2012-13 and took their acts elsewhere in the offseason. Golden State has plenty of upside beyond last year’s 47 wins, but we’re not sure they clear 52½, so it’s a pass for us in Oakland
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