Page 2 columnist
After previewing the best of the West on Thursday and the dregs on Wednesday, here's one man's horrified look at the East, from worst to best. Please note: In this case, we're using the word "best" very, very loosely. Anyway ...15. Atlanta Hawks
After winning 35 games last season, here were the Hawks' big moves this summer: They swapped their second-leading scorer (Glenn Robinson) for a guy who can't play anymore (Terrell Brandon). They hired a new coach named "Terry Stotts" (which might or might not be a stage name). They signed playoff hero Stephen Jackson for $2.2 million ... weeks after he screwed up by turning down $9 million from the Spurs (I'm sure he'll be a barrel of laughs). And they drafted a guy from France named "Boris." But hey, all isn't lost. Here what Sports Illustrated said about them: "The Hawks will take advantage of the nights when opponents are unprepared and won't have their legs because they have been out to strip clubs the night before. That's probably going to be Atlanta's best defense: the strip club trap." So, um ... they have that going for them. 14. Milwaukee Bucks
Here's a Bucks-related email from my old college roommate Chipper, a lifelong Milwaukee resident:
"Right now, local newspapers are running full-page ads with either Toni Kukoc photos or Terry Porter photos, along with the slogan, 'New Team. New Coach. New Season.' The Bucks seem to think that by hiring Porter -- a hard-working Milwaukee native -- local citizens will actually come out to watch this crappy team. Has anybody ever gone to see a team because of the coach? Our new coach is actually from Milwaukee -- Go Bucks! The emails are already starting around the office, stuff like 'I have two tickets to the Golden State preseason game tonight I can't use -- free to the first response. Seriously -- Anyone? ... Bueller???' "Well, that sounds fun. I love that new slogan, though. "NEW TEAM. NEW COACH. NEW SEASON." Talk about hedging your bets -- that's right up there with the time the 1989 Phillies used "Enjoy The Game!" Plan B for the Bucks PR department should have been this one: "24 ARMS. 24 LEGS. 12 HEADS." I'm mildly fascinated with these guys -- they might be my favorite bad team this year. For instance, in your wildest dreams, did you ever imagine that Terry Porter would end up as a head coach? Was Herb Kohl watching Porter's old Blazers teams choking on ESPN Classic this summer, then realized to himself, "Wait, some day this could be us -- I have to get Porter, he was their leader!" Just dumbfounding. And does anyone else realize that they traded Ray Allen and Sam Cassell for Desmond Mason, Joe Smith, and a two-month rental of Gary Payton? Apparently, when they were bringing in locals to run the team, Jeffrey Dahmer was named the new GM.
13. New York Knicks
Critics are calling them "The most unwatchable Knicks team yet!" Lemme tell you something ... when you throw Dikembe Mutombo, Michael Sweetney, Clarence Witherspoon, Kurt Thomas, Othella Harrington, Keith Van Horn and a washed-up Antonio McDyess in the same frontcourt, and you have the worst group of point guards in the league, and the fastest guy on your team is Allan Houston ... I mean, this is a team for the ages.
|NFL PICKS, WEEK 9|
(Home team in caps)
NY Giants (-2.5) over NY JETS
Last Week: 9-5
12. Miami Heat
Sixty million over six years for Lamar Odom.
11. Chicago Bulls
I have a variety of crazy talents, some of which have been mentioned in this space: I can spot bad toupees and dentures with the best of them. I can enter my name in a "Golden Tee" machine in less than two seconds. I can analyze "Road House" for hours, the same way David Denby and Pauline Kael would analyze "Nashville." I could snap out of a five-year coma and hit a tennis forehand right down the line. I can type with two fingers faster than any mortal can type with 10. I can freeze on live TV better than just about anyone. And I can instinctively avoid the green Sour Patch Kid without looking down into the bag.Well, here's another talent: Before any NFL and NBA season, I can always spot the "Team That Won't Be As Good As Everyone Thinks" Team. This year, it's the Bulls -- they finished last season strong, brought Scottie Pippen back home, and suddenly everyone's handing them a 2004 playoff berth. Well, I don't think they're ready yet. Just a gut feeling. (As for Scottie, he's getting his own column this winter. I promise. We really need to explore the studio space on this subject. I'll bring the cowbell.) 10. Toronto Raptors
But by all means, let's put Vince Carter on next summer's Dream Team. He certainly deserves it. And just for the record, we could wipe out the Hawks, Raptors and Heat franchises right now and only about 3,500 people would care. Seriously. When I'm commissioner of the league, my first act of business -- right after A.) forcing every team to have cheerleaders; B.) instituting the "mega-assist" stat for passes that lead directly to dunks or layups; C.) making the coaches wear uniforms on the bench; and D.) buying David Stern's 1984 mustache off eBay and sticking it on my upper lip -- will be merging Miami, Atlanta, Toronto, New Jersey and the Clippers, then relocating them to Vegas. (Think about it: Every problem in the NBA would be solved: overexpansion, talent dilution, dwindling fan bases, ghastly uniforms and, most importantly, the lack of a team in Vegas. If the NBA was smart, it would build its own casino in Vegas, have the new team play there, then make a rule that NBA players could only gamble at that casino. Within three months, they would make enough money back from the players to pay for the casino, wouldn't they? See, I'm a genius. Where was I?)
|FANTASY NBA PICKS|
MAKING THE LEAP
BETTER THAN YOU THINK
MUCH BETTER THAN YOU THINK
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9. Philadelphia 76ers
I just can't reward any team that signs Greg Buckner for six years and $18 million, then follows that beauty one year later by giving Kenny Thomas $50 million over seven years. Fifty million dollars for Kenny Thomas???? Are you KIDDING me? When Philly made that offer to Thomas's agent, do you think he started glancing around the room looking for Ashton Kutcher and the "Punk'd" cameras?
T-Mac leads the league in scoring. Grant Hill tries to come back, but his ankle can't handle it. The Magic barely squeeze into the playoffs. They get bounced in Round 1. I think we've been here before. 7. Cleveland Cavaliers
How can anyone root against LeBron? I don't care how much he's making ... if you love basketball even a little bit, you should be praying every night that this guy succeeds. Forget about his remarkable performance on Opening Night -- I loved when he passed up the open-court dunk so Ricky Davis could have it. What a moment. He wasn't trying to be unselfish ... he honestly wanted Davis to have it. It made him happy. And other than Jason Kidd, there hasn't been a player like that in years. Everyone keeps comparing him to MJ when he's really the Evolutionary Magic. Watch a tape of Magic at Michigan State some time, or the way he played with the Lakers those first three years: It's eerie. Maybe LeBron jumps a little higher, but everything else -- his court vision, those electric coast-to-coast drives, his remarkable body control in traffic, that goofy-looking jumper, and best of all, the sweeping unselfishness -- comes right from Magic's portfolio. I'm not kidding. You forget this now, but Magic dunked on people all the time in his younger days. So will LeBron.
And the question remains: Since he possesses that Bird-Magic pedigree, can he affect his new teammates the same way they did? If LeBron can get Davis -- who sounds like a horrendous guy, by all accounts -- to play unselfishly, then anything's possible. So we'll see. He also gets to play with a geniune center (the Big Z) and some decent teammates, which is more than Jordan could say as a rookie. And if Opening Night was any indication, the hype isn't going to affect LeBron at all. He's almost super-human in that respect. When I was 18, bussing tables without dropping a single glass was a major accomplishment. I can't even fathom how he's doing this.More importantly, I love watching LeBron play. In all seriousness, he could make $1 billion over the next 15 years and I wouldn't care. Think about it. There's a decent chance that this kid could evolve into the next Magic, only with MJ's athletic ability. And we'll be along for the ride. What's better than that? 6. Detroit Pistons
From the producers of Kenny Thomas' $50 million contract and Lamar Odom's $60 million contract ... it's Rip Hamilton's $62 million contract!!! I give up. Maybe he's a reliable scorer, but would you pay that much money for someone who doesn't give you anything else? Could he have gotten even half that much from another team? Put it this way: If Jason Terry's best offer was $22 million for three years from the Jazz, then Rip Hamilton wasn't getting $40 million from anyone, much less $62 million. This stuff drives me crazy. Here's a team that made the Eastern Finals last spring, then found itself with major cap space and the No. 2 pick this summer ... so they fired their coach, overpaid Hamilton, gave a washed-up Elden Campbell two years for $8 million, imported Bobby Sura from Golden State (huh?), then passed up Carmelo for Darko. Maybe they're still a contender in the East, but Joe Dumars could have locked this conference up for the next six to eight years. Now their long-term future hinges on Darko, the lefty teenager who will rack up DNPs and listen to everyone gripe about Carmelo for the foreseeable future. Not the best situation for a fledgling big man in a new country. With that said, I still enjoy watching these guys play together. Especially Big Ben. I just wish they had raised the bar -- who wants to spend the rest of this decade watching a crappy Finals every year? I certainly don't.
5. New Orleans Hornets
Every time I write one of these previews, one team ends up confounding me, and I can't think of anything interesting to say about them. I write something, erase it, write something else, erase it ... this goes on for about 45 minutes. When I lived in Boston, I took breaks and walked to my local Store 24, bought some gum, talked to Joe the Alcoholic Counter Guy, and returned to the Sports Guy Mansion, invigorated ... until the same write/erase process repeated itself for another 45 minutes. And that's when I started breaking things.
4. Washington Wizards
Here's your 2004 Eastern sleeper. And not just because they stole Gilbert Arenas from the Warriors, or because MJ had much more of a debilitating effect on these guys than anyone imagined. (Then again, since his entire comeback never happened, and we've all agreed never to discuss it again, pretend you don't know what I'm talking about.) I've always had a soft spot for teams with size at the skill positions (like Larry Hughes, Gilbert Arenas, Jerry Stackhouse, and even rookie Jarvis Hayes). Plus, their big guys can rebound and run the floor. And I like everything I've read about their coach, Eddie Jordan. I just have a good feeling about these guys.
3. Boston Celtics
And you think I'm kidding. Let's recap the two crucial elements that need to be in place for my world-renowned Ewing Theory, which worked so splendidly just last season (with the Pistons):
|NBA PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS|
First Round: Indiana (1), New Jersey (2), Boston (3) and New Orleans (5) advance in the East; Dallas (1), Los Angeles (2), Phoenix (6) and San Antonio (4) advance in the West.
Second Round: Indiana over NO; NJ over Boston; Dallas over SA; LA over Phoenix.
Conference Finals: LA over Dallas in 6; Indiana over NJ in 7.
NBA Finals: LA over Indiana in 6.
Boy, it's tough to get excited about these guys going deep into another playoffs, isn't it? The thought of spending another playoffs with T.J. Kidd and Joumana makes me want to impale my temple on a pen. Enough already. Throw in Kenyon Martin's contract issues, Alonzo Mourning's never-ending kidney problems and the deteriorating Byron Scott-Jason Kidd relationship, and that's why I feel much more comfortable going with ... 1. Indiana Pacers
Put it this way: The Pacers had the most talent in the East last year. Now they have a real NBA coach, as well as the Basketball Jesus calling the shots. Sounds good to me. Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, as well as one of the writers for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on ABC. He's extremely tired of writing about the NBA.