Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Which team will do better than most expect next season?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I think Cleveland has done more in a fairly short amount of time than I expected. Sure, I’m projecting a happy outcome in the Andrew Bynum gamble, but at least the terms of that deal are sensible and maybe he’s ready – physically and mentally – to kick his career into top gear. Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark rate as second- or third-tier acquisitions that could have a surgical benefit on the Cavs’ promise to push into the playoffs this season. Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson all will be better. So I’m watching Anthony Bennett for how well he fits in and works on his game, rather than taking his No. 1 status in a grab-bag draft too seriously.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m taking a flyer on the Pistons, who already had two solid front-line up-and-comers in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond and landed veteran Josh Smith in free agency. Smith should be the consistent scorer that the Pistons need to make scoring easier. The acquisition of Brandon Jennings should give the offense a further boost, especially if he can heed the wise counsel of returning favorite Chauncey Billups as a mentor. If rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can show what he can do early, new coach Maurice Cheeks could have his team sniffing at the playoff race.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: It’s interesting because I think in the West many believe that most of the bottom seven teams improved themselves with the exception of probably Utah, which has taken on a youth movement. I don’t know what the perception of the sad-sack Sacramento Kings is, but I’m suggesting this team will be better, maybe much better, than it has been in a long, long time. Everything is fresh, from ownership to management to the coaching staff to the point guard (emerging Greivis Vasquez) to — wait for it — DeMarcus Cousins‘ attitude? With Mike Malone in charge on the bench, there should be a vitality to this bunch that has been lacking, and more than that there’s actual talent and some toughness, too, so Sleep Train Arena should wake up to a new brand of exciting basketball.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Washington. I’m not sure what “most expect,” maybe good enough to make the playoffs, but the Wizards have a chance for more than sneaking in. A healthy John Wall, Bradley Beal off the rookie learning curve and heading toward a long career, Nene and Emeka Okafor up front, Otto Porter as the perfect complementary piece – that has real potential. Just over the horizon and coming quick: Orlando.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Golden State could be top three in the West if Andrew Bogut plays close to a full season. With a healthy Bogut and Andre Iguodala, they have the potential to improve several spots defensively (where they ranked 13th last season), and we know they’ll be potent offensively with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee. Denver has obviously taken a step backward and it’s hard to believe in the Clippers until they show us that they can defend consistently, so there’s a real chance for the Warriors to have home-court advantage in a first round series next spring.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Call me crazy, but the Detroit Pistons could be on to a little something with their risky free agent summer. Smith, Billups and now Jennings, who the Asch Man points out gets his cash and a fresh start in the Motor City. For a franchise that has been searching for a way back to the playoff mix the past few years, the Pistons seem like they are on the right path with their mix of edgy veterans, potentially All-Star-laden homegrown talent (young bigs Monroe and Drummond) and an intriguing mix of worker bees (Kyle Singler, Jonas Jerebko, Will Bynum) and specialists (Italian shooter Gigi Datome). Most people had the Pistons picked as a borderline candidate to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. I think they are not only going to make it but they could challenge for the sixth seed behind Miami, Indiana, Chicago, Brooklyn and New York, if things play out the way Pistons’ general manager Joe Dumars has them planned.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: How about the Lakers? Last season was such a mess for them, from injuries to coaching changes to the never-ending Dwight Howard saga. But this year, with Dwight gone, they’re firmly under the radar, even in their own city. (Even in their own building.) If Steve Nash can stay healthy, and Kobe returns and is able to give anything, we’ve seen what head coach Mike D’Antoni can do with a team that nobody expects much from.