Roundtable: The Crossover Chronicles 2011-12 NBA Season Preview

The NBA season is upon us tomorrow, so we turned to the Crossover Chronicles crew and asked them 10 questions about the upcoming season.  Here’s our take on how the league looks going into the new season, and how you can expect it to play out:

clippers_logo1:  Which teams helped themselves most in free agency?

Phil Rossman-Reich:  Can we say the Clippers? Technically it was not a free agency move that defined their offseason and the Clippers are still a decent amount away from contending for a championship, but the addition of Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler to a core that includes Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan (plus Mo Williams hanging around somewhere) makes the Clippers a much more exciting team to watch and a team that could compete for a Playoff spot. The starting lineup in Los Angeles is about as good as it can get, and it is a rare time that the Clippers can steal buzz from the Lakers. It is definitely a win for the Clippers based on that alone.

Kyle Boenitz:  Sometimes the most obvious answer is the right one. The Los Angeles Clippers trade for Chris Paul is the most talked about move of the offseason, and for good reason. Chris Paul moves the Clippers from lottery team, to a contender for one of the top seeds in the West. The city of L.A. is so excited to watch this team play, and for good reason.

Jeff Garcia: Obviously the Clippers. Adding free agents Caron Butler, and Chauncey Billups to a young team will pay dividends. Add the fact they will be paired with Chris Paul (acquired via trade with New Orleans), Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and this team is a rising power in the West.

Brendan Bowers: I hate to be trendy, because as my clothing choices would indicate I am anything but that, however I can’t answer this question without saying the Clippers.  I know the question is free agency – so maybe Chris Paul doesn’t count – but Caron Butler is a sleeping giant type of move I think and you couple that with picking up Chauncey Billups and resigning DeAndre Jordan and that’s a pretty solid effort.  Besides Paul, the Clipps picked up three starters in free agency in adding the aforementioned Butler and Billups along with re-upping Jordan, so I give them my vote.

John Karalis:  I’ll hop on the Clippers bandwagon despite how weird that is.  But the Clippers have turned themselves into at least a playoff team, and a dangerous one at that.  I’ll also toss the Indiana Pacers into this, who added David West as a veteran leader on a young squad.  That will help them.  It should also be mentioned that the Miami Heat got a really solid player in Shane Battier.  That’s an important piece for Miami.

Tyson Chandler (AP via What is the most overrated move this offseason?

Kyle:  When the Dallas Mavericks lost Tyson Chandler, they needed to fill in the middle with some size, so they went out and got Lamar Odom and Vince Carter. It was good that they got the aging veterans for cheap, but anyone who expects them to fill the void left by Chandler is in for a big surprise. I think Odom really flourished in Phil Jackson’s system and he won’t fit in well in Dallas. Vince Carter is way over the hump and I don’t see him contributing much to the team at all. This Mavericks team can’t defend the title that last year’s team won.

Jeff:  Lamar Odom to Mavs. Not to take away anything from Odom but losing a defender like Tyson Chandler and replacing him with Odom will be costly for Dallas’ title defense. Odom is a decent defender but not anywhere near the level of Tyson. He will prove helpful for the Mavs but it has been an overrated move. Not to mention he can’t go 3-10 from the field as he did in preseason action versus the Thunder.

Brendan: David West to the Pacers is the most overrated move in the sense that the Pacers will still not be relevant with him. If West had gone to Boston, that might’ve been the best move in free agency, but with respect to where he landed I’d go with David West. It’s sort of pointless he’s even there, wasted talent like the kid said in Bronx Tale.

John:  Tyson Chandler to the Knicks.  It’s a nice move, but it’s being wildly overrated.  They really overpaid him, which left them no room to get a point guard of any kind, much less remain a viable option for Chris Paul next season (which may have contributed to him picking up his option).  Now the Knicks are so poor defensively on the perimeter, Chandler will get pulled out of position which will either lead to foul trouble or easy baskets down low.  And if Chandler is out, the Knicks have no size backing him up.  He’s also limited offensively.  He’ll certainly help the Knicks D improve, but it doesn’t swing the balance of power in any meaningful way like some might have you believe.

Phil: I am not completely sold on the Knicks’ acquisition of Tyson Chandler. Chandler has had an extremely up and down career so far. He has put together some great seasons with Chris Paul in New Orleans and as the defensive stopper in Dallas on the team’s way to a championship. It just feels to me the Knicks threw money at a key cog from a championship team in hopes that everything he did will carry over. I am not so sure it will. Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and the rest of the Knicks are not anywhere near as good defensively. And Chandler has not been able to put two good years in a row together.

3: What is the most underrated move this offseason?

Jeff:  Spurs adding T.J. Ford. With George Hill shipped off to Indiana for rookie Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs had a gaping hole at backup point guard. With Ford, he will bring a steady hand, and a reliable option for the Spurs’ second unit. Especially seeing how Parker played quite a bit during the offseason/lockout and could run out of gas when the Spurs need him most.

Brendan: Caron Butler. If he’s healthy, he could be a huge piece for the Clippers and it’s gone essentially overlooked out there with CP3 and Lob City stealing all the headlines.

John:  Brandon Bass to Boston. In the first half of the season, Glen Davis was a 6th man of the year candidate and the Celtics were cruising.  In the second half and the playoffs, Davis was terrible as he took poor shots and gained too much weight to be effective.  With Bass, the Celtics gain a more efficient scorer and a taller body that can finish in the lane with dunks instead of layups that can get blocked.  For a team very reliant on its bench, an upgrade at that position that can give Kevin Garnett some added rest, is a pretty important addition.

Phil: David West to Indiana. West took a smaller deal — two years I believe — and left the rebuilding Hornets. Now he is paired up with Darren Collison again, has Roy Hibbert to help carry the load in the post and Danny Granger on the perimeter. If it were not for West tearing his ACL last year, he would have been the most coveted free agent in this year’s class. Now West is on a moderate contract playing for a team with bigger playoff aspirations after cracking the top eight in the East last year.

Kyle:  Richard Hamilton going to the Chicago Bulls hasn’t been covered that much, but it gives the Bulls a team that can compete with the Miami Heat. They’ve added a huge piece to their 4-man core of Rose, Noah, Deng and Boozer. Hamilton won’t be relied on as much as he was in Detroit and will play well out of the spotlight.

4: Which team will be the biggest surprise?

Brendan:  The Lakers will be the biggest surprise in the sense that they got much worse this offseason.  Losing Lamar Odom was one thing, but they needed to do more than bring in Josh McRoberts.  They lost Shannon Brown and didn’t replace him, and they needed to upgrade the PG position and do better than an aging Derek Fisher and Steve Blake and that didn’t happen either. Pau’s going to be a question mark after the CP3 debacle, and the idea of starting Jason Kapono on Christmas Day regardless of the situation is embarrassing to a team as storied as the Lakers.  I think they finish out of the top four in the West as a result.

John:  The New Orleans Hornets.  To be a huge surprise, you’ve got to start from nowhere, and thats where the Hornets are. They lost Chris Paul, they had half a team in camp until about a week ago.  It’s been a mess.  BUT, they got some good players back from the Clippers.  Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman are good players.  And I’ve heard some talk that Gustavo Ayon, a 6’10” forward/center out of Mexico, is a steal.  I’m certainly not saying the Hornets are a playoff team.  But I AM saying they won’t be a dormat like most people expect.

Phil:  Minnesota. I don’t think the Timberwolves will make the Playoffs. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But this is a team that is built to surprise people in a shortened season. Consider this, the Timberwolves have Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams to provide some rookie spark. A suddenly fit and stronger Kevin Love tearing down the glass and then a lot of role players that seemingly fill the needs around them. This is not a playoff team, but it is a team that will no longer be a door mat or laughing stock in the league.

Kyle: The Memphis Grizzlies are out to prove that their upset over the Spurs in the first round wasn’t a fluke. They actually are a good team, not just one who got hot at the right time and this year they’re going to show it. Look for them to make another run in the West.

Jeff:  Portland Trail Blazers. Say what you will about losing Brandon Roy and Greg Oden (again) for the season, this team will shrug off the offseason distractions and prove to be a pest in the West for the top-tier teams. Also, adding Jamal Crawford was a great move to counter the loss of Roy and Marcus Camby will be back in action to man the paint. Nicolas Batum is only getting better as is LaMarcus Aldridge.

5: Which team will be the biggest disappointment?

lakers_logoJohn:  The Los Angeles Lakers.  The failed pursuit of Chris Paul, the Odom trade, the Kobe Bryant injury, the lack of any significant additions… it’s all adding up to a big disappointment in La La land.  I know that it’s the kind of challenge Kobe thrives on, but he’s only got so much left.  He can’t thrive on both ends of the floor every night in a condensed season.  If Pau Gasol is distracted because he feels like he could be traded at any time, then the Lakers will be in deep trouble.  

Phil: Dallas. The defending champions will still be good. But nobody is expecting them to repeat and I would not be surprised to see the Mavericks return to the type of team they were before the surprising championship run. J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler put the team over the top in that championship run. Lamar Odom and Vince Carter are not adequate replacements.

Kyle:  The Los Angeles Lakers are spiraling downhill fast. They’ve traded away one of the biggest parts of their team in Lamar Odom, and when they failed to land Chris Paul they left themselves with a huge hole at point guard. They also have an aging, and now hurt, Kobe Bryant  who can’t carry the team like he used to. If they can’t land Dwight Howard at some point, this team is headed for the Western Conference cellar.

Jeff:  The LA Lakers. The team lost out on trading for CP3, dealing with a new coach, dropping the Triangle Offense, lost Odom, trade rumors swirling around Pau Gasol for Dwight Howard, and Kobe dealing not only with knee issues but also a divorce and this is the making of the perfect storm for the Lakers.

Brendan: The Miami Heat, because they won’t win the NBA Title again this season. They will be right there though, so on a more bottom type end I’d say the Bobcats because I see them as the worst team in the League.

6: Which playoff team (East & West) will miss the playoffs this year?

Phil:   West:  Denver — The Nuggets caught lightning in a bottle in showing the resolve to make the Playoffs and improve their positioning. But that magic wore off against the Thunder. And it won’t last in the 66-game schedule either. The Nuggets are back in rebuild mode.

East: Philadelphia — Andre Iguodala seems constantly on the trading block and now everyone knows what to expect from Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams. Elton Brand is a complete mystery, so who knows how his knees hold up on this grind?

Kyle:  West: The New Orleans Hornets — They lost Chris Paul, but they got what they could for him before he walked away for free next year. They have some solid pieces but they aren’t going to be good this year. Right now, they look too disorganized to be a solid team, but they could get it together down the road.

East: I honestly don’t see a lot of change in the Eastern Conference. When teams that finish under .500 can sneak into the seven or eight spot, it’s possible that we could see some shuffle at the bottom, but that never really makes a difference come playoff time.

Jeff: West: Hornets –Losing Paul will hurt and with a short season, developing chemistry between the new and old players will take time.

East: East may not have much of a shake up. One can say possibly the Magic IF Howard is traded during the season. Without Howard, and depending what players they receive in a trade, it might not be enough to get into the playoffs. Not to mention this team’s recent history has shown them slipping further and further away from the NBA Finals. Losing Howard will be devastating and the team might be shell-shocked over losing yet another All-Star center.

Brendan:  West: Denver  East: Philadelphia

John:  West:  New Orleans — That’s the easy choice.  Despite picking them as the biggest surprise, they’re not going to be THAT surprising. 

East:  Philadelphia — I actually honestly think there will be no change in the playoff participants from the East, just a re-positioning of seeds.  But if I had to pick a team with the most volatility and potential to take a step back, it would be Philly.  Like Phil mentioned, a lot of variables there could go the wrong way.

7:  Which lottery team (East & West) will make the playoffs this year?

Kyle:  West: Clippers — Obviously the Clippers are now a playoff team. We could even see them as high as 3 or 4. They’re going to be the fun team to watch in the NBA, but that doesn’t always win the most games. They will definitely be in the playoffs this year though.

East:  Again, I don’t see much change in the East. A lot of people want to think the Cleveland Cavaliers can be good because they had two top-4 draft picks, but it’s not their time yet. The Milwaukee Bucks might slip in there to the eighth seed if they stay healthy.

Jeff:  West: Clippers — Gaining CP3, Billups, and Butler to mesh with DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Mo Williams and company will be enough for the Clips to make it into the playoffs. This young team might be the team no upper-tier team will want to face in the first round.

East: Bucks — Again IF Howard is no longer wearing a Magic jersey, the Bucks should scoot in the East playoffs. The team has a nice squad including Brandon Jennings, and Andrew Bogut, Stephen Jackson. Not to mention this team was only two games out of the playoff picture last season.

Brendan:  West: The Clippers, technically they would have had the first pick overall but they traded it go the Cavaliers. They will be in the playoffs this season, just as Mo Williams guaranteed they would.

East: Milwaukee Bucks.

John:  West: Clippers — hello Captain Obvious, right?  I put them at maybe a 6th seed. 

East:  Milwaukee — Again, I don’t think Milwaukee will actually sneak in, but of the remaining lottery teams, only the Bucks have enough talent and ability to sneak in and squeeze someone else out

Phil:   West: L.A. Clippers — Don’t know if there is another team to pick here. Chris Paul is a 20-point, 10-assist per night guy and Blake Griffin surely will grow and expand his game from just dunks. Plus with DeAndre Jordan in the post, they have one of the better front lines in the West. There is a lot of talent on this team, you figure you have to be prepared for just about anything when the Clippers come to town.

East:  Milwaukee (or New Jersey) — Would have picked New Jersey, but I am wary with Brook Lopez potentially missing a third of the season. And the uncertainty of that Dwight Howard thing. So I take the Bucks to return. This was a strong defensive team that hit a sophomore slump. So now Andrew Bogut is healthy, Jennings is a year wiser and the team adds Stephen Jackson to make the offense semi-cogent. With the game likely to be slower with the lockout, Milwaukee could stand to benefit.

8:  Who will be the MVP?

Jeff:  Derrick Rose. Rose, fresh off a fat contract extension, will once again steady the Bulls throughout the regular season and playoffs. Without Rose, this Bulls team goes no where.

Kevin Durant (AP via Kevin Durant. It’s been trending that way for a while now, he’ll cash his first one in.

John:  Kevin Durant.  It’s about time he gets his.  I think enough people expect him to get it that it’s already his to lose.

Phil: Kevin Durant, OKC — Everyone wanted to give it to him last year in the preseason. He didn’t disappoint, but Rose was that much better (I guess, Howard was that much better than Rose… statistically). Durant was the Lockout MVP on the streets of everywhere and everyone expects him to bring that offensive mastery to the league this year. There is a lot to like in Durant, this could be his year to flourish.

Kyle: I think this is the year for the Heat, and they’ll be led by LeBron James. I think it’s time for King James to shed the image that he can’t win the big one. He’s going to be the leader of this team, and win the MVP.

9: Who will meet in the NBA Finals

Brendan: OKC vs Miami.

John:  I so badly want to pick another set of teams.  But it’s trendy because it makes sense.  OKC has all their pieces back, they have a perennial MVP candidate and if Russell Westbrook gets a little more selective, they’ve got a power house squad.  Miami is Miami, and even they got a little better with Battier and a full year of Udonis Haslem.

Phil: Oklahoma City-Miami is the trendy pick… and why not? The Thunder seem to be right on the precipice of greatness and have so many young guys to survive these injuries. Then the Heat seem to be the only team in the East peaking — not rising, not falling. The East’s contenders are in a state of flux and the Heat seem the most ready to get back to the Finals.

Kyle:  I think the Heat have made enough offseason moves to make the strong contention for the title. They’re going to be a lot tougher to beat this year because they won’t start with that awkward “gelling phase.” They’ve added more depth and if they can get over their point guard issues, they’re going to be pretty unstoppable.

In the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder have benefited from staying the same while the contenders got worse, so this could be their year. They still have one of the best, most explosive players in the NBA in Kevin Durant, who will also be in the running for MVP, and if Westbrook can play a better role in the playoffs, they’re going to be tough to beat.

Jeff: Thunder and Heat. Miami will once again march to the Finals while the up-start Thunder will finally break out of the West due to other veteran teams frankly just getting older. Add a shortened season which will also benefit the young legs of OKC.

heat_logo10: Who will win it all?

John:  Miami could have won it last year.  With someone like Battier in the fold, you have another guy who’s not afraid of the pressure.  This way, if someone else DOES shrink in the clutch (not that that would EVER happen), they’ve got a guy out there that can step up.  I say Miami wins it.

Phil:  Heat: Sorry, everyone. This team will be able to maintain focus and anger to get to the Finals and win it this time. Sixty-six games is not a lot and there are going to be constant reminders of their failures in front of them (beginning Sunday at Dallas). Will LeBron be the one to step up? I don’t know. He has not shown bouncing back is in his nature. But these guys are more familiar and can beat anybody when they are executing as well as they can.

Kyle: In the end, LeBron vs. Durant will go to the Heat. I think the Thunder are really good, but not good enough to overcome the matchup problems that the Heat will present. It’s time for all that hype to start paying off.

Jeff:  Pains me to say this but Miami. OKC will take their lumps in their first Finals appearance while Miami will capitalize on having been there last season.

Brendan: Thunder win in dramatic fashion.