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Tag:Carmelo Anthony
Posted on: February 18, 2012 2:17 pm
 

New York Knicks Midseason Report

I know many Knicks fans out there (including myself) have had a whirlwind season thus far including highs, lows, and ofcourse....LINSANITY! The Knicks have turned around a season that looked doomed a couple weeks back and things are starting to look bright again. Along with the emergence of Jeremy Lin, the Knicks have many things to look forward to. The team will have a healthy Carmelo Anthony back soon. Baron Davis should also make a return and help give Lin more rest during games while also providing a reliable veteran with good skills on the floor. The Knicks have also just signed J.R Smith who can provide help on the perimeter which they desperately need. The Knicks' defense has been great of late with Chandler, Shumpert and Jeffries all creating havoc with their efforts. Most importantly they are gaining confidence which they lacked early in the year and are starting to create a culture of winning. Here is my take on how these factors could help the Knicks make a nice run in the second half of this season.

Jeremy Lin, aka LINsanity, LINcredible, LINning etc etc etc, has been a fantastic story this season. We all root for underdog stories and this is truly a magical one thus far. Along with the fact he has soared to popularity and solidified his place in the NBA, he has also brought the Knicks exactly what they needed: a point guard who can make plays. There is no doubt that many of the Knicks' early struggles could be attributed to the fact that they were struggling at the point guard position. D'Antoni's system relies on having a capable point guard and the Knicks did not have one. Lin has come in and played great and has helped improve the chemistry of this team and more importantly has helped them LIN, I mean win (sorry I had to do it at least once). The Knicks were 8-15 just a short time ago and seemed to be sinking in the standings. The team was forced to play without their superstars for a stretch and it seemed as if they would fall out of contention in a hurry. However, Lin stepped in and most of the entire world knows what happened next. They went on to win 7 straight games before a disappointing home loss to the Hornets last night and are now in good control of the 8th playoff spot with a few teams ahead within striking distance in the standings. The good thing about all of this is Lin is continuing to work hard and stay focused amidst all of the media attention he is getting. Lin has a bright future ahead and I hope he can help take the Knicks to new heights.

Now, let me address the notion that Carmelo's return may hurt the Knicks' current chemistry. I have been very critical of Carmelo's game this season, especially all of the isolation plays he was commanding early on. I thought he was taking the team out of any type of flow and was trying to do way too much. With that being said, I do not think he really had a choice, the Knicks were lacking talent, chemistry, a point guard, and overall depth and they were actually relying on Anthony to do everything. I do not think it was possible for him to be successful given those circumstances and on top of that maybe we should start to believe the fact that his multiple injuries were having an effect on him. I think the rest he has been able to get along with the play of Lin and the team overall will be the best thing for him. I think he now sees that he will not be required do to everything and can focus on what he does best, which is to score and put pressure on opposing defenses. I think he is excited to get back and play with Lin as they can work together to make each others' jobs easier which will hopefully help them dominate and be a force down the stretch. Another thing to mention, is the fact that it was Carmelo who actually suggested to Mike D'Antoni to give Lin an opportunity so let's forget all the talk of him being selfish. I think he is excited by the fact that Lin has emerged and many are creating these obstacles. Overall, I am not concerned with Carmelo not fitting in with Lin, in fact I believe that with less pressure on him, Carmelo is going to come back strong and improve in all areas.

Baron Davis, in a way may have saved the Knicks season without even playing. I say this because had he returned by now, the Knicks would have probably cut Lin. Thankfully, the Knicks gave Lin a chance and the rest is history. With that being the case, where does Baron Davis stand in all of this? He has essentially lost the starting point guard job which was destined to be his.  So what will his role be and how can he help? That answer is easy. Lin emerging may be the best thing for him as well as he will now be able to transition himself back onto the court without being relied on to play heavy minutes right away and without having so much pressure on him to be the "savior" for the team. This will allow him to be more relaxed and also give him adequate time to get healthy. Once he returns, he will be a solid contributor off the bench and he will help the Knicks contain Lin's minutes while also being a mentor to him. There is no doubt in my mind that Davis will still serve a valuable role on the team down the stretch without disturbing the success of Lin.

J.R Smith could prove to be a valuable addition to the Knicks. I have never been a fan of him because of all the negative aspects of his presence. His poor discipline on the court, attitude, and antics on the court have always made him a player that I never was a fan of. However, the Knicks have forced my hand once again and as a devoted fan of the team, I will embrace his addition. With that being said, Smith's weaknesses are more recognized than his strengths. He is an outstanding three point shooter and an overall great scorer. Those attributes will both help the Knicks drastically as they have struggled from three point range this year and have also struggled with their scoring off the bench. Smith could immediately address both of those needs and being that he has been playing in China, he should be in game shape and ready to contribute right off the bat. If he can get his game under control and play within the system, he may even earn himself an extended job with the Knicks that goes beyond this season because there is no doubt that his skills cater to the system. He also brings some athleticism to the team which they have also been lacking this season. I will be curious to see how D'Antoni divides the minutes between Lin, Davis, Shumpert, Fields, and Smith once they are all in the lineup but I think it will be easy to get them all involved as many of them could play multiple positions. The important thing with Smith will be to prove he has matured and show more discipline on the court with his shot selection and I think he will be successful and really help the Knicks.

The Knicks' defense has been extremely underrated thus far this season and has looked great as of late. This is definitely the best defensive team that D'Antoni has ever showcased in his coaching career. To me, Tyson Chandler, has been outstanding and may even be the team's MVP. He plays hard every night, defends well, is scoring at a pretty high level relative to his career stats, and most of all he has been a great leader. He has done exactly what he was brought in to do and that is to anchor this defense. To me, Chandler has exceeded expectations and might even be the Knicks' most consistent player. Iman Shumpert and Jared Jeffries have also played valuable roles in the team's improvement on defense. Shumpert is amongst the league leaders in steals and his on the ball defense has been great in the backcourt. Jeffries is having a record season in regards to how many charges he is drawing and he is doing all the little things to help the team win. I was never a big fan of Jeffries because of his offensive limitations but the guy truly hustles and makes winning plays on a consistent basis. These factors have helped the team allow nearly 10 less points a game and become a decent defensive team. This will really help the Knicks come playoff time.

Another side note to mention for the Knicks will be the return of rookie Josh Harrelson, who was having a great rookie season prior to getting injured. His toughness, defense, and outside shooting will also help the team going forward. He will probably battle Steve Novak for minutes as Novak has also emerged as a good contributor for the Knicks.

All of these factors are helping the Knicks build a "winning culture" and gain confidence, which is so important in sports. The Knicks are now playing to win instead of playing not to lose. Most sports fans know that there is a huge distinction between the two. Hopefully, all of the chips will fall into place for the Knicks and they can continue to play spirited basketball and build a strong winning culture. I think the next step for the team is to become a more dominant team at home. It bothers me that the Knicks cannot protect their home court on regular basis playing in the "Mecca" so that will be something for them to work on going forward. But overall, I think the Knicks will be an exciting team in the second half of the season and I think they will continue to rise in the standings and who knows what the end result will be. With the way they are playing and all of the additions to their lineup with the signing of Smith and the return of key injured players they are capable of beating anyone. I am very excited and delighted (forgive me for rhyming I've been listening to Clyde too much) to see their season turned around and I hope they can build upon this and contend for a championship.
Posted on: January 18, 2012 11:31 pm
 

Mike D'Antoni.......Your time is up in NY

Another loss, another loss to a bad team at home, another pathetic offensive performance, and more excuses. This has been the storyline for the Knicks early on this season. A season in which they had championship aspirations coming in. I have been very patient with the Knicks thus far this year and I am never one to call for a coach to get fired. However, enough is enough already! Mike D'Antoni is just not getting the job done right now. The worst part of it is that the Knicks are failing at what is supposed to be Mike D'Antoni's strength, OFFENSE! For years the Knicks have been one of the worst defensive teams in the league, yet, this year they have improved drastically on the defensive end and now they are struggling on offense? If someone would have told me that the Knicks would allow nearly 10 less points per game to their opponents, I would think they would have won the majority of their games and are being considered title contenders. This has obviously not been the case as the team has now dropped to an unimpressive 6-8 record. The main reason for this is clearly the offense. The Knicks offense right now is just terrible (and that is an understatement). I have seen better offense run at local gyms in pickup games. There is no flow, no movement, and way too much isolation. Carmelo Anthony (as talented as he is as a scorer) does not play well within the flow of an offense. He is a total ball stopper and he needs to be held accountable by coaches because that style and lack of discipline on the court will not get the team very far. Carmelo takes every single one of his teammates out of the flow on offense. This is becoming a huge problem that needs to be addressed.

So how do the Knicks address this problem? Well, I could take the high road and preach patience especially when Baron Davis is on the verge of joining the lineup which should certainly help. The only problem with doing that is the fact that this season is only 66 games. Time is of the essence for the team. The pressure is on Mike D'Antoni to get this team playing up to their ability. Sure the team lacks depth and the personnel is not characteristic of a D'Antoni led team. But there is enough talent on the Knicks to play better than they are playing right now. They are wasting good defensive efforts every game because of their inability to score. Any team with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire should not struggle to score. That is just unacceptable. It seems like their inefficiencies on the court are not even addressed which makes me wonder what they are focusing on when they watch film and practice. They are not moving the ball enough, not getting any dribble penetration from their guards to help create high percentage shots, and are allowing Carmelo Anthony to isolate whenever he wants. The coach needs to stress more discipline and make Carmelo buy into the system instead of trying to change it. Easier said than done as the team has far more invested in Carmelo than they do Mike D'Antoni, which brings up the question: Is D'Antoni the right coach to lead this team?

As an avid Knicks fan and one who watches all of their games without missing a play. I think that answer is no. Again, I hate to call for a coach to get fired and I also do not believe it is ever a good move to do that mid-season but it is the right move for the Knicks right now. His system clearly does not cater to the personnel that he currently has and he doesn't seem to have the answer right now. The team definitely has talent and needs a coach that preaches discipline and can implement an offense that focuses more on halfcourt sets. Who might that be? Jerry Sloan sure fits that bill, bring Jeff Van Gundy back, convince Phil Jackson to come out of retirement, or maybe allow Mike Woodson to take over and give him the rest of the season to audition and allow the Knicks to make a long term decision on a coach after this season. I don't see Mike D'Antoni turning this season around for the Knicks and I cannot be the only person who feels that way. I know many of you may think that I am just a typical Knicks fan who turns on them when things are not going well but the proof is in the pudding. A coach can only be given so much slack. The team is clearly not playing well and I have yet to see the coach make a positive adjustment from one game to the next. They continue to approach each game with the same plan and are continuing to make the same mistakes over and over again. Something needs to be done to give this team a spark. Maybe getting rid of the coach will light a fire under all of the players. It could possibly inspire them to play better. The bottom line is that if the Knicks do not see Mike D'Antoni as the right coach for this team, then they have little to lose by letting him go now as he is in the last season of his contract. The Knicks need to make a statement, and that statement is that this type of play is unacceptable and everyone should be held accountable. In this case Mike D'Antoni is going to have to be the one who is held accountable.
Posted on: January 12, 2012 3:09 pm
 

Should the Miami Heat break up their "Big 3"?

Just a few weeks into the season, there is no doubt that the Miami Heat appear to be the team to beat. They have bounced back well after losing in the finals last year to the Dallas Mavericks and have made adjustments that have made them the favorites early on this year. While things are going well for Miami in this early season, I still ask myself the big question: Will the "Big 3" all play out their contracts with Miami or will the team be broken up?

Some might think this is a dumb question to ask at this point for many reasons. The Heat did make it to the finals last year and even though they lost they were very close. Some might believe that a few slight adjustments and better complementary players like Shane Battier and Norris Cole might get them over the hump this year. This all may be true and the with the way Miami has started the season, it is hard to argue against that. So why consider breaking them up? One big reason for me is the availability of Dwight Howard.

It seems as though there is no chance Dwight Howard remains with Orlando past this season and I highly doubt Orlando will allow themselves to just let him walk via free agency. We have heard a ton of trade rumors already surrounding Howard and I think those will only heat up more as the season continues. I state this to point out the essence of time surrounding where Howard ends up. From the Miami Heat's perspective it seems as if there would be no reason for them to jump into the Dwight Howard sweepstakes at this point. However, they have to understand that if they are able to put together a deal (and they have the pieces) and they pass it up, they may never get an opportunity to acquire a player like Howard again. Now if the team goes on to win championships with the team they have, then I'm sure they will never give it a second thought. However, if their current "Big 3" do not end up winning some championships, then I think they would look back and regret not trying to acquire Howard. With that being said let's take a look at a potential deal in which the Heat could acquire Dwight Howard and evaluate how it helps the team.

Miami would send Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, Joel Antony, a future draft pick and cash to Orlando.

Orlando would send Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Duhon to Miami.

First let me explain how this helps Orlando. The Magic would receive another star player in Chris Bosh while also adding nice complementary pieces in Chalmers, Miller and Anthony. They also get to rid themselves of their two least desirable contracts in Turkoglu and Duhon which helps them financially. A future draft pick could help them build even though Miami's pick will not be a high draft choice. But overall, from the Magic's perspective this deal should work for them as they will probably not get this kind of talent back in any other deal. The fact of the matter for Orlando is that they are probably not going to be able to retain Howard so they must get as much talent in return as possible. They will be put in a position, similar to the position the Denver Nuggets were in last year with Carmelo Anthony, where they are forced to take the best deal possible even if that means sending Howard to a team that they may not prefer to send him to.

For the Miami Heat, one might consider this a "stretch" and not worth doing. Allow me to explain. Dwight Howard is the most lethal post presence in the NBA on both ends of the floor. He finishes around the rim better than any other center in the league and has the athleticism to keep up with Wade and Lebron. They would also have a player that they could dump the ball in the post to and allow him to work. This would also create double teams that could free up Wade and Lebron even more (something Chris Bosh is unable to do as he is mostly a perimeter player). The Heat could then move Haslem back to the power forward spot where he could flourish next to Howard. He can hit those mid-range jumpers consistently and with Howard getting most of the attention from opposing defenses, he would see a ton of open looks. Miami could also ease the pain of losing Chalmers and Miller (who hasn't really adjusted well in Miami anyway) with rookie Norris Cole, who Miami has been very impressed with this year, Duhon, Battier, Turkoglu and James Jones. The Heat's starting lineup would be Cole, Wade, LeBron, Haslem, and Howard. The they could bring Turkoglu and Battier off the bench and both can play multiple positions. I think this definitely improves the Heat on offense, however, defensively it would make them maybe the best team ever. Howard is a perennial defensive player of the year candidate and has won the award three straight years. He would also give the Heat a boost in rebounding and shot blocking in the post (which are both deficiencies for the Heat) and if you team him up with James, Wade, and Battier; they would instantly become one of the best defensive teams that the NBA has ever showcased. I know it sounds cliche but we all know defense wins championships.

It would be tough for Miami to abandon the plan they have for their current "Big 3" because it is still just their second year together and they are playing well. However, with this move they would have a "Bigger 3" and one that I think would yield them those multiple championships that they promised the city of Miami.

There are also many hurdles to the deal as I'm sure the Magic would prefer not to make a deal with their cross state rival, especially knowing how dangerous the team they would be assisting them in establishing could be. However, they may not have a choice because if that deal was on the table and they had no better offers, how could they say no? Especially in this case where they would be receiving good talent in return.

This is obviously an idea that may never come to fruition, however, as I continue to think about it and evaluate the effects for both teams, it just seems like it makes more and more sense for both teams.

Posted on: January 6, 2012 4:07 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2012 4:16 pm
 

NBA Headlines 2 Weeks Into The Season

Nearly 2 weeks into this 66 game NBA season so much has already happened. With just a short part of the season underway, what headlines have been the most notable? Well here are a few things that have grabbed my attention thus far:

1) Being a New York Knicks fan, their slow start (2-4 record) has been very noticeable for me. I know this team probably needed a full training more than any other team. They acquired Carmelo Anthony at the trade deadline last year and Tyson Chandler this offseason and have not had any preparation time to build any chemistry or flow on either end of the floor. With that being said, they have also had to deal with injuries early on this season (Amare Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert, Jared Jeffries, Mike Bibby and ofcourse Baron Davis) which has also contributed to their slow start. They were supposed to be better on defense this year with the addition of Chandler but have only showed it in spurts thus far. I think there is still a ton of room for improvement on the Knicks and the 2 most important things that will lead to improvement are (1) Consistent effort on defense by the whole team but especially Carmelo and Amare, as the leaders of this team, they need to lead by example (2) the health and production of Baron Davis, I believe Baron still has a lot of game in him and he addresses a lot of the problems that the team is currently suffering through. Another thing to pay attention to with the Knicks is the job status of Mike D'Antoni. I think D'Antoni will not last through the season if the Knicks do not improve drastically and even if he does he is in the last year of his deal and the guy who hired him, Donnie Walsh, is no longer in charge. Questions about "retired coach" Phil Jackson will surely arise. Doesn't it seem like going back to the Knicks (was a player for the Knicks and on their last championship team in 1972) and having success there, is the only thing missing from the Zenmaster's illustrious career. I think the Knicks will turn it around and make a nice run...........or at least I hope so.

2) The Minnesota Timberwolves have become one of the most exciting teams to watch this season. Ricky Rubio has been great thus far for the team and the city. Kevin Love is looking like an all-star again. JJ Barea has produced nicely and the team is just filled with so much young talent. This team has the same vibe that the OKC Thunder had a couple years back. I don't expect them to make the playoffs this year but they are on the cusp of being a very good team for years to come. One thing to keep an eye on for the T'Wolves is Michael Beasley. I think Beasley is very talented but from what I have seen this year, he just doesn't seem to fit in. He still seems to be a bit selfish on the floor and I just think he becomes expendable if Derrick Williams continues to play well. I am curious to see if they try and trade him for another veteran player to help this team grow. Regardless, I think the future is looking bright in Minnesota.

3)  "The Injury Bug" has hit several teams this year already. Stephen Curry injuring his ankle 3 times in 5 games has to be concerning for Warriors fans out there. I had to make a note of that. It seems like he rolls his ankle every time he plays. You would hate to see a player that young have chronic ankle problems. Hopefully that is not the case and he takes some time to allow himself to heal before getting back on the court too fast. Zach Randolph, who was one of the main reasons for the Grizzlies success last year, is out 6-8 weeks with a knee injury. That could seriously damper the hopes of Memphis buliding on last year's success especially in a shortened season. Manu Ginobili is out at least 6 weeks with a broken hand, this is devastating to the Spurs as he is the primary scorer and playmaker on this aging roster. It will be interesting to see how they fare while he is out. Kobe Bryant seems to be doing fine with his wrist injury thus far hopefully he can make it through the season because without him the Lakers will sink.

4) The World Champion Dallas Mavericks have had a rough start to their season (3-5 record) and have taken a beating in some of those losses. I think many of us expected them to decline a bit after losing Caron Butler, Tyson Chandler, DeShawn Stevenson and JJ Barea this offseason but I don't think anyone expected it to be this bad. Sure, they will improve once Lamar Odom and Vince Carter become more comfortable with the team, but I have to say they look old and don't look like a team that will be a real threat this year. The good news is they have a great coach in Rick Carlisle and he will do his best to right the ship.

5)  The Miami Heat so far have looked dominant and unbeatable this year. They are playing at an extremely high level to start the season and have addressed may of the problems that they faced last year. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade have silenced the critics with their lack of three point attempts this year and are doing all of their damage closer to the basket. I think many other teams are wishing the critics would have kept their mouths shut and let them stay on the perimeter because those two may be the best finishers in the league right now and are starting to work really well together. I think they are more relaxed and are playing so good on both ends of the floor. Right now they are definitely the team to beat. One area they could improve on is working on beating those zone defense schemes. (That was hard for me to say considering I am a Heat hater, but I have to say the truth)

6) Sacramento Kings fired head coach Paul Westphal after only 7 games and after his clashing with DeMarcus Cousins. This was a little surprising and it seems like the Kings' owners chose to back their players over their coach on this one. My thought on that is Cousins and Tyreke Evans better be as good as the Kings expect them to be because they just got their coach booted.

These are just a few notable observations early in the season and I look forward to sharing more throughout the year. Overall, it has been an exciting start to the season and I can't wait to see what will happen next............
Posted on: December 4, 2011 3:16 am
Edited on: December 9, 2011 2:40 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA Season Preview

I am excited for the upcoming season as I'm sure most NBA fans are as well. Now, we can finally talk NBA basketball again instead of lockout updates and players playing with teams overseas. We can actually prepare for NBA basketball. With that being said here are some headlines to follow leading up to the start of the season.  What can we expect from the upcoming season? How could it possibly top last year? Which players will change teams? Which coaches are on the hot seat? How will Miami fare in Year 2 of the "Big 3"? Who will be the surprise team(s)? Who will be crowned 2012 NBA Champions?

This season should shape out to be a very entertaining season for more reasons than one. For starters, it will be another season that will include the "surprise element". What I mean by that is there is no clear cut favorite to win the title this year. The Dallas Mavericks surprised most of us last year after their impressive championship run and there is a strong possiblity that we may be surprised again. Parity amongst teams has increased drastically in the NBA over the past few years, it's hard not to believe that every team has a chance. The Western Conference has been very competitive for years now, sometimes only a few games separated the first seed in playoffs from eighth seed. Now, I think the same will start to happen in the Eastern Conference as some of the teams who have been bottom feeders for years now are ready to contend. Its clear now that any team could lose any given night and that makes every game exciting. 

The offseason and free agency is typically one of the most exciting times of the year. Due to the lockout dragging on as long as it did, it will be a very short free agency period. However, that just might make it even more exciting. Free agency is set to begin on Dec. 9 with the regular season set to start on Christmas. That leaves just a couple weeks of time for teams to pursue free agents as well as securing their own current free agents. Also, in addition to that, the amnesty provision could result in even more players being available than expected, perhaps even big names. Expect things to get very competitive in a hurry. Some notable free agents to track include:

Tyson Chandler                   
Marc Gasol
Nene
Jamal Crawford
David West
Samuel Dalembert
Grant Hill
Tayshaun Prince
Jason Richardson
Jeff Green
Caron Butler
JJ Barea
Shannon Brown
Josh Howard
Michael Redd



Some names rumored to be made available via the amnesty clause include:

Mike Miller
Baron Davis
Brandon Roy
Gilbert Arenas
Rashard Lewis
Vince Carter
Elton Brand
Richard Hamilton
Travis Outlaw

In addition to those names, we can't forget about the uncertain futures of superstars such as Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams who are all in the last year of their contracts and all sorts of doubt surrounding them resigning with their current teams. We will hear rumors all year similar to the chatter that went on with Carmelo Anthony last year. I believe that at least 2 out of those 3 will be moved prior to the start of the season or by the trade deadline. With all the free agents, amnesty casualties, and superstars available; player movement this year should be nothing short of spectacular.

This will be a vital season for many new coaches and current coaches to produce results. Some coaches may not have too long of a leash and others may be subject to very high expectations to meet. Here is a list of coaches to keep an eye on:

Mike Brown (Lakers- Large shoes to fill in LA with a team that expects to win......and Kobe Bryant
Erik Spoelstra (Heat)- Pressure to win with Big 3.....will Riley get impatient?
Mike D'Antoni (Knicks) - Last year of contract, Donnie Walsh gone, pressure to win in NY after acquiring Melo/Amare
Mark Jackson (Warriors) - Last coach was only given one season, Jackson has no coaching experience. Will he impress or fall flat?
Stan Van Gundy (Magic) - Has he lost this team? Doesn't seem like any of his players would mind if he was replaced.
Vinny Del Negro (Clippers) - Clippers have talent now, that leads to expectations. Will those expectations be met?

Everyone's favorite team to hate or love last year was clearly the Miami Heat. After a rocky start the team ended up 2 games shy of winning it all. That would be considered a successful season to many teams, however, it was clearly a disappointment in regards to this team. So what lies ahead? Do we see a similar result? Will they take the next step and win it all? Will they take a step back? To answer those questions adequately, we must see what additions/subtractions the Heat will make to their roster. They do not have any cap room so they will have to be creative in acquiring real talent. One of those ways could be to use the amnesty clause on Mike Miller and create cap room to sign a big man or a point guard, Because of how much Wade and Lebron dominate the ball, the money would be much better spent on a big man who could provide a defensive presence and rebound. The big names out there are out of their budget so they may be looking at the likes of somebody like Dalembert or take a chance on somebody like Eddy Curry. They could also use some more reliable shooters. Redd would be an ideal fit for them from an ability standpoint and a financial standpoint. One question that has to be asked is will the Big 3 all play out their full contracts with the Heat, or is it possible that management will deal one of them for a player who fits the team better? With names like Paul and Howard out there, it would have to be at least a possibility that the Heat throw in the towel on their current Big 3 and choose to include one of them in a deal. The Miami Heat will definitely contend next year, I don't expect them to be crowned champions just yet, but they are still a great team and definitely have a chance. It will be interesting to see how their roster looks coming into the season and what adjustments they make to get to the next level. 

As the teams stand right now (after free agency this picture will be very different), which teams/players will be surprising? Many teams will surprise us with their success and others might surprise us with their lack of success. One team to keep a close eye on will be the Boston Celtics. The window is closing on this team as father time is catching up to their Big 3. Trade rumors have already began to swirl surrounding Rondo which could create a problem. A compact schedule which will include games on three straight nights on several occasions certainly is not a formula for success for this team. They are obviously still a playoff team but I do not expect them to win their division or have home court advantage in the playoffs. The Celtics era with the current Big 3 has seen its best days. On a similar note, the Los Angeles Lakers, may be facing the same problem. They are just a year removed from back-to-back titles and three straight finals appearances, yet they seem to be headed in the wrong direction. A shortened offseason after bringing in a new coach will certainly hinder the team. The point guard position needs to be addressed as Derek Fisher is clearly past his prime and cannot hang with the likes of starting guards in the Western Conference such as Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, and Barea/Kidd. The Lakers simply lack the necessary youth, toughness and athleticism to compete in the Western Conerence. The fact that they have who I still consider to be the best player in the league, Kobe Bryant, still gives them a chance but they definitely need to improve in many areas. The Portland Trailblazers will be an interesting team to watch. They have an abundance of talent on the roster and some players with health concerns that decisions will need to be made on. The team has great young talent in Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and the newly acquired Raymond Felton. They also have Gerald Wallace, who was acquired at the trade deadline last year, along with Marcus Camby, Brandon Roy (who they may choose to cut via amnesty clause) and also free agent Greg Oden, who they intend on bringing back. This is a loaded roster with no real weaknesses. If they can stay healthy, and thats a big if in Portland, this team is good enough to beat anybody and has a great home crowd to support them. I see them as a top 4 seed in the Western Conference. The Memphis Grizzlies, who were last year's surprise team, should also be able to build off their success last season. Lionel Hollins proved to be a very good coach and helped this team gain the confidence they needed to believe that they could compete. With Rudy Gay returning from a season ending injury the team improves on paper, but hopefully he buys into the team's concept when he was out as it proved to be more successful. If he messes up the chemistry the team had late last season, the team may be better off tradind him for a player who fits the team better. Retaining Marc Gasol is their most important task for the time being. If they lose him with nothing in return, the team will suffer dramatically. I see Gasol as the intangible on that team and maybe the most important next to Zach Randolph. Lastly, the New York Knicks will be a team to watch. This is another team that made some big moves last year and seem to be heading in the right direction. The questions surrounding the Knicks will be, who they add in free agency, if they somehow acquire Chris Paul this year, and if D'Antoni is truly the right coach for the team. The Knicks obviously need to be better on defense if they expect to contend for a title. They added Mike Woodson to the coaching staff to address that but it will also take a commitment from their players (especially Melo and Amare) to truly improve in that area. The team also needs to use their cap space wisely to surround their superstars with the right role players. The Knicks lack overall depth, size, and true shooters and if these areas are addressed they could be a legitimate contender. Without knowing what happens in free agency it is hard to pick a favorite to be crowned 2012 NBA Champions, but if I had to pick a few candidates I would say Heat, Bulls, or Knicks from the Eastern Conference and Thunder, Trailblazers, Mavs, or Lakers in the Western Conference. My predictions will be bolder as the season goes on.

These headlines as well as many others will make this season very exciting to follow. Hope you are all as excited as I am!!!

By: Derrick Karim
 
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com