View Full Version : Steve Kerr Ranks the Conferences

09-29-2004, 05:30 PM
The Eastern Conference has changed dramatically in the past four months. First the Pistons upset the Lakers to win the NBA championship. Then the Heat traded for the most dominant player in the league, Shaquille O'Neal. No longer are people ridiculing the East.

And while it doesn't have the depth the West does, the East does have three legitimate title contenders. Like the West, the remaining playoff spots could be filled by any one of a number of clubs.

Here's how I rank the Eastern Conference on paper:

1. :pistons:

The defending champs are loaded with confidence, and they will be a better team than they were a year ago. Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace anchor an intensely quick defense, and this season they'll have a rejuvenated Antonio McDyess to back them up.

The question remains whether Detroit can score. Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton will again lead this team in scoring. An injury to either one would be a killer to the Pistons.

2. :pacers:

Many people have forgotten that the Pacers had the best record in the NBA a season ago, and they have made improvements this offseason. Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest form a terrific forward tandem, and the Pacers added backcourt scoring and athleticism with the acquisition of Stephen Jackson.

Indiana will be a year better under coach Rick Carlisle, who enters his second season at the helm. The key for Carlisle is the play of Jamaal Tinsley, who has improved each season and will be relied on to run the team.

3. :heat:

Any team with Shaq on the roster is a championship contender. He is still the one player in the league who completely alters the opposition's defensive game plan every night. It was a coup for the Heat that they didn't have to give up Dwyane Wade, who should form a lethal inside-outside tandem with Shaq.

Miami still needs more help on the front line and with its perimeter shooting. Eddie Jones will be the key, and his marksmanship will improve as the opposition turns its attention to Shaq down low.

4. :cavaliers:

If Carlos Boozer hadn't bamboozled the Cavaliers and bolted to the Jazz, Cleveland would be a fantastic young team. As it is, Cleveland still will be good. Eric Snow adds defense and leadership, and LeBron James will undoubtedly improve after an amazing rookie season. It's hard to believe that he's just 19 years old.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas is a very good low-post threat, and the Cavs will try to replace Boozer's productivity with Drew Gooden. Rookie Luke Jackson will help immediately and provide offense when teams double James. The Cavs should be in the playoffs for the first time since 1998.

5. :knicks:

How many balls will this team need to keep everyone happy? Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford will be shooting jumpers from all over New York City, and coach Lenny Wilkens also has to find enough shots for Allan Houston, Tim Thomas, Vin Baker and Kurt Thomas.

If Wilkens can figure it out, the Knicks could win the weak Atlantic Division, but this roster looks to be overloaded with guys who need the ball. It will be very interesting to watch this club.

6. :raptors:

Sam Mitchell gets his first coaching job in the league and his star player is already asking for a trade. Welcome to the NBA, Sam. If Mitchell can convince Vince Carter to commit himself to the team, the Raptors could be good.

Rookie Rafael Araujo from BYU is ready to play, and his 6-foot-11-inch frame will help solve some of Toronto's interior woes from a year ago. Chris Bosh is a wonderful looking player who enters his second year, and Rafer Alston returns to man the point. With veterans Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall providing scoring, the Raptors should make a run at a playoff spot.

7. :sixers:

Coach Jim O'Brien will try to help this team return to its defensive ways after a disastrous season a year ago. Eric Snow is in Cleveland, leaving the point guard duties to Willie Green and Kevin Ollie. Rookie Andre Iguodala will have a chance to distribute the ball as a point forward as well.

How long can Allen Iverson continue to send his frail body flying into the defense night after night and hold up? As he gets older, he will have to rely more and more on his jump shot, which has always been streaky. Young center Samuel Dalembert showed signs of dominating games defensively last season, and he'll get some help from Brian Skinner.

The Sixers will miss Snow, but will compete under O'Brien and have a chance to make the playoffs.

8. :nets:

The best team in the East for most of the past three seasons is in free fall.

Kenyon Martin and Kerry Kittles are gone, and Jason Kidd's knee is a question mark. Richard Jefferson will take on a bigger role, and he appears primed for an all-star season. But the depth, speed and quickness the Nets have grown accustomed to appear to be waning, as will fan interest if this team doesn't play well. With the Nets on their way to Brooklyn in a few years, New Jersey fans will quickly lose interest if things go south.

9. :bucks:

What a job Bucks coach Terry Porter did last season, taking a team expected to finish in the bottom of the conference and leading it to the playoffs. Michael Redd is as good a shooting guard as there is in the East, and T.J. Ford returns from his scary neck injury to run the offense.

The frontcourt is thin, with Keith Van Horn and Joe Smith joining Desmond Mason and Toni Kukoc. Talented but small, the Bucks will be hard pressed to repeat their performance from a year ago.

10. :bulls:

A year ago the Bulls were being hailed as a possible playoff team, but their youth and inexperience led to another disappointing season. Sooner or later the Bulls are going to figure it out. Kirk Hinrich is a keeper at point guard, and rookie Ben Gordon has the look of a star.

The key for Chicago will be the development of Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry. This is their fourth year together and it's time for the two young studs to become real players. If they do, the Bulls could make a playoff push. But that's a big IF.

11. :magic:

Orlando has a chance to be the most improved team in the East. Of course, coming off a 21-win season, it's hard not to get better.

Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Hedo Turkoglu provide athleticism and versatility to the backcourt, and they might be joined by Grant Hill if his latest comeback attempt is successful.

Kelvin Cato will be asked to defend and rebound, and young Dwight Howard is tall, talented and mature beyond his years. In a weak conference, the Magic could make a push for the playoffs.

12. :celtics:

The rebuilding project continues for Danny Ainge and the Celtics. Doc Rivers takes over a team that is still dominated by Paul Pierce. Rookie Al Jefferson has the look of a future stud, but he'll be a work in process. Raef LaFrentz returns after missing most of last season with a knee injury, and the Celtics signed Tom Gugliotta for help up front as well.

In the meantime, Rivers hopes Gary Payton can return to form as a dominant point guard, assuming he shows up to training camp. Rivers must work his magic, as he did in Orlando, to turn this team around.

13. :wizards:

The Wizards made a good move in dealing for Antawn Jamison, who will balance out a roster that was too guard-heavy last season. Jamison should score 20 points each night, and with guards Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes, Washington has a talented threesome of scorers.

Still, Washington has a long way to go. There isn't much in the way of frontcourt presence, where Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood are still developing. Looks like another year in the lottery for coach Eddie Jordan's club.

14. :hawks:

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Hawks' roster turnover continues, with Antoine Walker and Al Harrington taking over the forward spots and Jon Barry and Kenny Anderson joining the backcourt.

Coach Mike Woodson has a tough job, as the fans in Atlanta haven't come out to support the Hawks since the Mookie Blaylock/Steve Smith days. This team is spinning its wheels.

15. :bobcats:

As bad as the Southeast Division will be, the expansion Bobcats still don't stand a chance. The Bobcats hope to build their future around the defense of Emeka Okafor, and he'll get plenty opportunities to block shots. But with a roster full of aging veterans and hopeful rookies, it will be a long season for Okafor and the Bobcats.

Link (http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news;_ylc=X3oDMTBqam1ocWIyBF9TAzk1ODYxOTQ4BHNlYwNl Y2w-?slug=sk-powereast0928&prov=yhoo&type=lgns)

Minnesota and San Antonio are the teams to beat in the Western Conference, and there's considerable dropoff from there. As many as nine teams have a realistic chance at the third-best record in the conference, which means several very good teams won't even make the playoffs.

The good news for the conference? No more Shaq to deal with!

Here's how the Western Conference lines up on paper:

1. :spurs:

The Spurs would have beaten the Lakers in the playoffs last year if they had made a few more jump shots, but they went cold at the wrong time and faded. That's why Brent Barry may have been the best free agent signing of the offseason. Barry is one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA, and he can play either guard spot, giving San Antonio great depth and versatility in the backcourt.

This team is terrific defensively, and will again rely on Tim Duncan to dominate games. Manu Ginobili is ready to become an all-star, and Tony Parker will get better and better. The Spurs are the team to beat.

2. :timberwolves:

The Wolves made a great playoff run a year ago, and they appear primed to take the next step and get to the finals. MVP Kevin Garnett finally received the help he needed from Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell, but both are a bit long in the tooth. Their health and scoring could be the key for this team, because everything else is in place.

The Wolves have a terrific bench, great chemistry, good shooters and an excellent defense. Kevin McHale deserves credit for patiently allowing this team to develop; the Wolves are mentally tough as a result. Along with San Antonio, Minnesota is a favorite to win the conference.

3. :nuggets:

How about the job general manager Kiki Vandeweghe has done? The Pepsi Center was empty two years ago, but the place was rocking by the end of last season and it will be even louder this year with the addition of Kenyon Martin.

Jeff Bzdelik's squad should be improved, as Carmelo Anthony has a year under his belt and Andre Miller feels more comfortable in his second year running the club. The Nuggets snuck up on the league and really overachieved a year ago, and they'll have to deal with higher expectations this season. Their great depth should help them to improve and again make the playoffs.

4. :jazz:

A year ago I looked at the Jazz roster and predicted 25 wins. I should have realized that with Jerry Sloan at the helm, that just wasn't going to happen. Sloan has established a foundation so strong in Salt Lake City that even the departures of John Stockton and Karl Malone didn't faze him.

This season, with the free agent signings of Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur and the drafting of Kirk Snyder, the Jazz have some talent to help Andrei Kirilenko. And with emerging point guard Carlos Arroyo gaining confidence with his terrific Olympics showing, Utah should be back in the playoffs.

5. :rockets:

With Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, the Rockets have maybe the best one-two combination in the NBA. But who will run the ship?

Charlie Ward will be reunited with Jeff Van Gundy, but his best days are behind him. Ward will probably share minutes with Tyronn Lue at the point, and Bobby Sura will help too. Lost in the McGrady trade was the addition of Juwan Howard, who is ideally suited to be the third scorer Houston will need behind its Big Two.

Van Gundy will slow the pace down so as not to wear out Yao in defensive transition, and as athletic as McGrady is, he has always preferred a half-court pace anyway. Van Gundy will feel much more comfortable with this club than last year's Rockets and they'll be a tough out in the playoffs.

6. :grizzlies:

A year ago, Hubie Brown's squad beat teams with its depth and defense. Brian Cardinal adds shooting and effort to an already potent bench, but the key to this team reaching another level will be the continued development of Pau Gasol.

For Memphis to become a great team, Gasol has to become what Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett are for their respective teams: dominant, dynamic and tough. Gasol is young and still developing, and appears ready to take that next step. He was fantastic for his native Spain in the Olympics, and this could be a breakout season for him.

7. :lakers:

Well, Kobe has always wanted the Lakers to be his team, and now that Shaq is gone they are. But as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

The Hollywood crowd will barely recognize this club as Rudy Tomjanovich brings in a new cast of characters and a new offense to L.A. Gone is Phil Jackson's 'share the wealth' triangle. Rudy T will give the ball to Kobe 50 times a night and he'll win the scoring title.

The question is, can the Lakers defend well enough to win at a high level? Lamar Odom will complement Kobe well as a distributor, and Vlade Divac returns to L.A. and will man the high post as the best passing center in the league. The Lakers will be fun to watch and have a chance to be good, but it may take some time.

8. :suns:

The Suns look a lot like Dallas and Sacramento from the past few seasons: explosive perimeter talent, a coach who likes to play small ball and not a lot of beef inside. It remains to be seen whether Phoenix can shoot as well as the Kings and Mavs, which is what made those two teams so tough to defend.

Steve Nash will lead the attack, and he'll be a great addition to a team in need of leadership. Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson and Shawn Marion are quick, athletic and versatile. Look for coach Mike D'Antoni to employ them together in a switching, attacking defense.

But the key to this club over the next two years is Amare Stoudemire. The third-year pro is as explosive as any big man in the NBA, but he's very raw and has a long way to go to develop into a dominant big man. If he does, Phoenix could challenge for the Pacific Division title.

9. :mavericks:

Dirk Nowitzki remains the star for Dallas, but the roster turnover the past couple of seasons has been alarming. Erik Dampier is the latest newcomer after the failed experiments with Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison a year ago.

Don Nelson will be glad to have Dampier's defense and rebounding, but he'll have to figure out a way to fit him into the up-tempo offensive style Nellie enjoys.

The Mavs sustained a huge loss when Steve Nash decided to sign with Phoenix, but Mark Cuban's club quickly replaced him by trading for Jason Terry and drafting Devin Harris from Wisconsin.

10. :kings:

The Kings could be in for a big fall this season. They lost Divac and have some chemistry issues. Predrag Stojakovic took offense to Chris Webber's comments regarding his playoff shooting woes after the Kings lost to Minnesota. Divac the leader of this team the past few years won't be there to soothe the wounds.

As for Webber, he can no longer elevate off of his injured knee, and his game has suffered as a result. Mike Bibby is a great shooter and terrific player, and Bobby Jackson provides instant offense off the bench. Brad Miller had a great season in his first year as a King, and young Darius Songaila will emerge as Miller's backup.

The Kings will still be explosive and fun to watch, but they appear to be losing their mojo. And bad defense and no mojo is not a good combination.

11. :blazers:

The Blazers will be under the radar this year, but they still have some talent and could be a factor in the West.

Zach Randolph is now the centerpiece of this team, and while his numbers are very good, he needs to take the next step and be a better defender and leader. It's very difficult to dominate games as a small power forward, but the Blazers are counting on Randolph to do it.

The trade of Dale Davis for Nick Van Exel gives Portland more firepower but exposes them in the middle defensively. Theo Ratliff will need to have a big year for this team to compete for a playoff spot.

12. :clippers:

Can the Clips ever get it right? As usual, L.A. has some talent. Elton Brand and Corey Maggette are two dynamic forwards who compliment each other pretty well. But high school phenom Shaun Livingston surely isn't ready to step in and lead this team to the playoffs. It looks like another season of looking toward L.A.'s future but will it ever arrive?

13. :hornets:

The Hornets aren't really happy about moving into the Western Conference, and they'll have to make the best of it without their 20-point scorer Jamal Mashburn, who will miss the entire season with a knee injury that threatens to end his career.

Jamaal Magloire and P.J. Brown anchor a solid defense, but New Orleans desperately needs scoring and athleticism to aid Baron Davis. He's asked to carry too much of the load offensively, and without Mashburn, this team will struggle to make the playoffs in such a strong conference.

14. :warriors:

Mike Montgomery moves across the Bay to take on a more daunting rebuilding task than the one he inherited at Stanford. College coaches do not have a great recent track record in the NBA, and Montgomery's is not likely to improve upon it given the team he has inherited.

There are no real stars around whom to build, so he'll try to get this team to defend and play hard. Jason Richardson is still blossoming, and rookie Andris Biedrins is well-liked by a lot of scouts. The signing of Derek Fisher will help in terms of leadership, and he's certainly made a ton of big shots in his career. But how many big shots will be available for a team unlikely to win more than 30 games?

15. :sonics:

It's tough to envision this club doing much of anything this season. Ray Allen is probably the best shooter in the NBA, and Rashard Lewis is one of the better offensive small forwards in the game. But the Sonics have no post presence, and are underwhelming on defense.

Nick Collison returns after missing his entire rookie season, but it's unrealistic to think he will make a huge difference in his first year of action The Sonics are on the bottom looking up at the rest of the Western Conference.

Link (http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news;_ylc=X3oDMTBqam1ocWIyBF9TAzk1ODYxOTQ4BHNlYwNl Y2w-?slug=sk-powerwest0929&prov=yhoo&type=lgns)

Lord Helmet
09-29-2004, 08:06 PM
Kerr thank you for clearing up the confusion over the top 3 teams in the East #1 DET #2 IND #3 MIA At least he didn't forget our win total and experience in the playoffs last year.

09-29-2004, 08:28 PM
Wow the east is bad.

Jose Slaughter
09-29-2004, 10:13 PM
Your right.

Especially if the Raptors are #6.

I doubt the Raptors finish in the top 10.

Nice mention of Blount's breakout in Boston too.

09-29-2004, 10:17 PM
The surprising thing to me is that is the West finishes the way Kerr ranks them, Dallas and Sacramento will not make the playoffs.

What's surprising is that, to my recollection, SacTown only lost Vlade (free agent) and Christie (injury-may be back later in the season). They were one of the best in the West but I'm really surprised at this. I would have ranked both teams higher than Phoenix and Denver. Denver #4? Hmmm. Does Kerr have a friendship with Kiki? They should be better but not that much better. KMart will help but they're still the Nuggets?????

09-29-2004, 10:27 PM
I wouldn't be shocked if Denver really is #4 or better. They took last years team, kept it basically in tact, but ADDED Kenyon Martin without giving other players up to get him.

09-30-2004, 12:20 AM
I wouldn't be shocked if Denver really is #4 or better. They took last years team, kept it basically in tact, but ADDED Kenyon Martin without giving other players up to get him.

I don't disagree with your facts but I just don't think that ADDING Kenyon Martin would make them that much higher. They're not particularly well coached, in my opinion, and they have Carmello Anthony who I don't think will have a good year based on the sophomore jinx in most of pro sports. I just don't see it. But I have to admit, I like the Nugs. They don't scare me and if the West is so much bette than the East and they finish fourth, we shouldn't have too much trouble when we are playing vs. the West. It all hinges on if they get Rodney White and Ryan Bowen back. With those two they are championship contenders. Just kidding.

09-30-2004, 12:48 AM
It's really pretty open from 3-10. All of those teams (except Memphis) have had significant roster changes so it'll take some time to see how chemistry is affected. That being said, I can't see Sacto and Dallas finishing out of the playoffs. I don't rate KMart as a great PF so I don't think the Nuggets will manage to get homecourt advantage, if they make the playoffs at all. If I had to pick the Western Playoff teams, I'd go with:

San Antonio, Minnesota, Sacramento, Houston, Utah, Dallas, Memphis and Phoenix.

09-30-2004, 12:49 AM
You know what's funny?

If this actually happened, the Logo would have made the Griz into a better team than the Lakers in only a couple of years.

That's gotta smart.

09-30-2004, 08:49 AM
The East

After the big 3, the Nets are never making the playoffs after losing Kenyon, Lucious Harris, Rodney Rogers, and Kerry Kittles, all four are either starters or back-ups who played substantial minutes. The Cavs are suddenly the 4th best team in the East after losing Boozer and picking up Snow and Gooden ... well, its the East, I guess its possible. I don't think they are 4 but they are in or fighting for the playoffs. Kerr needs to keep up on his NBA news as its well known that Iverson is playing point for the 6ers not Willie Green, and with O'Brien as coach this team makes the playoffs. Washington is better than the Celtics, the Bulls, and the Nets, and they missed half their starters for almost every game last year. Don't forget that they also unloaded the worst player in the league in Stackhouse (thats based on my highly scientific salary/playoff series won /expectation/jaded bias ratings) so put them in or fighting for the playoffs. And if Hill is healthy the Magic will fight for the playoffs as well.

The West:
Kerr must love Nash as he rates the team Nash just left as falling dramatically and the team Nash just joined as catapulting up. No way the Mavs don't make the playoffs. The Kings are suddenly terrible with Divac gone? I haven't seen that Webber can't jump if he's healthy but even when he couldn't while injured he averaged 20 pts in the playoffs and the Kings w/o him looked like the top team in the West, they make the playoffs. The National media is having a hard time accepting that the Lakers aren't making the playoffs as there is no way they are better than the Mavs, Kings, or the Suns, since they have no post pressence. Why has Memphis improved? They fight for 8th again.

[I hate that this place counts my edits]

09-30-2004, 02:06 PM
I think I would rate the Wizards higher IF they remain healthy for a change and could get some momentum during the season.

They aren't really good yet, but they are a very young team with a lot of young developing talent ON PAPER and not mentioning Kwame Brown as a factor is a look-over IMO (I know Brown isnt super, but he seemed to be slowly figuring it out last season when he and Arenas weren't infighting:rolleyes:).