Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets are favored to take their second consecutive Northwest Division crown in the NBA's West Conference.
Denver Nuggets (6/5)
I’m still trying to get that ridiculous image of Chris Andersen’s haircut out of my head. That and the Nuggets' clutch meltdowns will be my lasting memories from last season’s postseason battle against the Lakers.
I’ve made it clear over the years that there is a list of players who have mad skillz’ but will never win a ring because of their selfish play. Allen Iverson comes to mind and Carmelo Anthony is another. Anthony still hasn’t established himself as one of the league’s premier players but that could change if he plays a full season the way he played in the 2009 playoffs, particularly the Dallas series and the first two games of the Lakers series. If Melo becomes an A-list superstar, the Nuggets will soar in the Western Conference standings but that still won’t propel them to among the NBA elite.
Composure or lack thereof killed the Nuggets, especially in the Lakers series. Shaky ball handling and untimely lapses by Anthony and Chauncey Billups, plus inconsistent displays from reserves J.R. Smith and Andersen, prevented Denver from taking the next step against the Lake Show. With the Western Conference being as cutthroat as it is, there's no guarantee the Nugs’ will have as good a chance of getting to the finals in this or future seasons.
Harvey’s Take: As long as Carmelo is in Denver the Nuggets will be a good regular season team but will consistently disappoint come the postseason. And for the record, I’m not a ‘Melo hater, I just don’t like thugs.
Portland Trailblazers (11/4)
There’s a lot to like about this team. Brandon Roy is fast becoming one of the premier guards in the NBA. LaMarcus Aldredge can be a beast some nights but there’s the softer side of the ‘Blazers that will ultimately do them in come playoff time and that’s the lovable but injury prone Greg Oden. Why he was drafted so high will always be a mystery to me. Granted it was a weak draft class but Oden? This pick will haunt Portland for years to come.
On the positive, there’s Roy who was just locked up with a nice five-year deal. Roy posted 23 points and 5 assists per game in leading Portland to the playoffs. Weaknesses at point guard and center hurt the Trailblazers in their first round series against Houston and will continue to be a problem this season. Still they won 54 games and won ten of their last 11 regular season games.
Harvey’s Take: At least the decade long stigma “Trail Gangsta’s or Jail Blazers” has been wiped away. But this team remains two or three guys away from taking that next step up the NBA ladder.
Utah Jazz (3/1).
I love Jerry Sloan. He’s as classy as they come and is one of the NBA’s top all-time coaches. Unfortunately he hasn’t had a ton of talent to work with since Karl Malone and John Stockton retired. Last year’s post-season flameout against the Lakers had more to do with injuries than anything Sloan did or didn’t do. Now with the Jazz are back and presumably healthy, let’s so what Sloan can do.
Back is the NBA’s second best point card Deron Williams. Boardman Paul Milsap has resigned and Mehmet Okur has returned. And then there’s the unhappy Carlos Boozer? The Jazz would like to deal him since the power forward has worn out his welcome in Salt Lake City. But unless or until the Jazz can find good value in exchange for their prized possession, Boozer will stay at Energy Solutions Arena. If only the former Duke star were committed to Sloan’s way of doing things, the Jazz could be a serious contender in the West. Perhaps that can still happen, but without Boozer's complete and undivided loyalty, it's hard to imagine him sticking it out for another season. I still say a deal gets done sooner or later.
Harvey’s Take: Getting a drink in Utah is a difficult proposition so I would imagine any Boozer would be anxious to leave the state. The Jazz will make the playoffs again but there’s no NBA championship in the future for them.
Oklahoma City Thunder. (50/1)
It would be a little unreasonable to expect OKC to be a playoff contender this year or even the next. However the Thunder is slowly but surely putting the pieces in place to at least be respectable and youth is on its side. Kevin Durant is a star at the tender age of 20 and Russell Westbrook who is developing into a fine point guard, is only 20 as well. Jeff Green is 22, First-round draft pick James Harden is 19 and on it goes. Can you imagine this team playing in the NCAA? But in the NBA they’ll struggle to match last year’s win total.
Harvey’s Take: The Thunder is definitely a team on the rise but the “Young Guns” are still a couple players shy of a posse. Get back to me in 2011 when this teams got a real shot at a post-season berth.
Minnesota Timberwolves (100/1)
If you’ve been a Lakers fan for any amount of time, then you’re likely a Kurt Rambis fan as well. After more than a decade as an LA assistant coach, Rambis finally landed a head coaching gig with the forlorn Timberwolves. He will need luck and plenty of it to get thru the season with this team.
Truth be known, the former Lakers standout inherited a crappy situation from team president David Kahn who inexplicably loaded up on point guards in the June draft.
Kahn – a new executive who took over for the fired Kevin McHale – decided to load up on point guards with the fifth and sixth picks in the draft. First he chose Ricky Rubio, who it appears is going to remain in Spain, and followed up that head-scratcher with the selection of Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn. Kahn over-drafted at that position and as a result still doesn’t have a true small forward or power forward. Kevin Love can score and rebound but lacks the defensive toughness needed to be an elite player in the league. Outside of Al Jefferson the T-Wolves lack anyone who would keep opposing teams up at night.
Harvey’s Take: It’s impossible to win with poor management AND a bad team and Rambis is stuck with both in Minnesota. I guess Rambis felt that running THIS show was better than playing second fiddle to Phil Jackson for another year. Let’s see how he feels after about the Timberwolves 60th loss or so.