Posted on: October 21, 2010 4:24 am

kmvennes comprehensive Northwest Division Preview

Hey, who wants to read 3,900+ words about the Northwest Division? You? Too bad! This is only 3,895! HAHAHA RUSE'D!

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2010-2011 K.M. Venne Northwest Division Preview

The Northwest is stacked. Between Oklahoma City, Portland, and Utah, that is 3 teams that should crack 48 wins most the time. Denver is a team in turmoil, Minnesota is a team rebuilding (we think, who the hell knows with David Kahn). But there is no better battle for a division winner, there is no more important division for sorting out the West seeding, and between Utah and Portland not being afraid to make a trade to be a buyer (Utah having left some luxury tax flexibility this offseason by not going out and spending), and Denver likely to become a seller at some point, the Northwest could provide the pieces that shake up some other divisions as well.

But above all else, OKC, Portland, and Utah offers a race that is really tough to
handicap. Let’s face it, the NBA isn’t the MLB or the NFL, where surprise division winners happen all the time. Last year, it would have been foolish not to pick Boston, Chicago, Orlando, the Lakers , and Dallas as 5 of your division winners. But the Northwest? It could have went any of 3 ways to start the year, and almost went a 4th way when Oklahoma City rose up. This is a division without a lot of large fan bases, but with a lot of quality basketball and a race that may see the final week of the season, this is a basketball fan’s division. Let’s jump in and see who will take the crown and who will make the playoffs, and then let’s laugh at Minnesota for being so damn bad.

1.) Portland Trail Blazers

Youtube Song for their 2010-2011 season:

Hangar 18 - Megadeth

Offseason moves:

NBA Draft: Elliot Williams , Luke Babbitt
Free Agents - in: G Wesley Matthews
Free Agents - out: C/F Juwan Howard , F Ryan Gomes (waived)
Trades - out: F Martell Webster

Training Camp Roster:

F LaMarcus Aldridge , F Nicolas Batum , G Jerryd Bayless , F Marcus Camby , F Dante Cunningham , G Rudy Fernandez , G Andre Miller , C Greg Oden , F/C Jeff Pendergraph , G/F Brandon Roy , C Joel Przybilla , G Wesley Matthews, G Elliot Wililams, F Luke Babbitt, C Steven Hill , G Armon Johnson , G Patrick Mills , F Raymond Sykes


Selective amnesia’s the story, believed foretold but who’d suspect…

Here they are. The baby Blazers. The Houston Texans of basketball. The team that everyone loved to pick for breakout team for the last 3 years, but never fulfilled their destiny. And now, finally, the Oklahoma City Thunder have risen up and claimed the mantle of “Next team to make ‘the leap’”, and Portland finally does not have to deal with the pressure that comes with being the trendy underdog pick. The Blazers limped home to a 50 win season last year, failed to protect their home court up to the standards you would have expected from Rip City, suffered injuries to top players all year long, and still answered the bell by making the playoffs with tons of games to spare.

Still, this is a roster capable of doing so much more. Andre Miller is a pretty damn solid NBA point guard, believe it or not. Brandon Roy is like a mini Kobe, or a super Stephen Curry , depending on how you want to look at it. He’s a do everything guard that can lead a team’s offense from the SG spot. LaMarcus Aldridge is a star in the making, Marcus Camby does nothing but play solid basketball, Greg Oden one day will play some NBA ball, and when Greg Oden plays basketball, he’s WAY better then you think he is (PER of 23.1 last year!), Wesley Matthews was paid a ton of cash and Blazers fans are falling in love with him, Nicolas Batum is a player that plays such great defense and can do things on the offensive end that Minnesota tried to trade the #4 overall pick in the last draft for him, an offer Portland turned down, overall, this a quality roster.

But even beyond the talent that we’ve always known that Portland possesses, this season represents a sea change for the team, no longer looked at as an up and coming squad, instead nearly an afterthought behind Utah and Oklahoma City in the Northwest. Nobody is thinking this is Portland’s year, when next to nothing has changed for the team from the times that people thought every year was going to be Portland’s year. Did teams get that much better? Or did picking Portland just fall out of favor? One thing is for sure, Portland no longer carries the weight of expectations that they have never accomplished as a unit on their shoulders, and free from the burden of being asked too much too soon, this group can finally actually sneak up on some teams, win some games they probably shouldn’t, and achieve up to what this roster looks like it could.

I could go on about Portland, but I’ve really said all there is to say. This roster is WAY better then you probably remember it being, I mean Miller/Batum/Camby serve as role players that most teams would love to have, and nobody questions that Roy/Aldridge is a legit 1-2 punch, and throw in anything from Matthews or Oden, and you got a roster with all the tools to go far in the playoffs and win regular season games. And best of all, finally this team can enjoy selective amnesia, forgetting about how the major media touted this team as a team on the rise, and just go ahead and actually BE a team on the rise. Let Utah and Okalhoma City deal with the exceptions. This is actually the year the Blazers do what they should have been doing. This is the year the Blazers rise up into the Western elite. Believed, foretold for the last few seasons, but who’d suspect that 2010-2011 is the year it happens? Me. And if you read this, maybe you, too.

Prediction: 1st in the Pacific, 3rd in the West, 54-28 record

2) Utah Jazz

Youtube Song for their 2010-2011 season:

The Trooper – Iron Maiden

Offseason moves:

NBA Draft: Gordon Hayward
Free Agents - in: G Raja Bell , C-F Francisco Elson , G Earl Watson
Trades - in: C/F Al Jefferson
Free Agents - out: F Carlos Boozer , F/G Kyle Korver , G Wesley Matthews
Trades -out: C Kosta Koufos

Training Camp Roster:

G Sundiata Gaines ,, F Andrei Kirilenko , F C.J. Miles , F/C Paul Millsap , C Mehmet Okur , G Ronnie Price , G Deron Williams , G Raja Bell, C/F Francisco Elson, G Earl Watson, C/F Al Jefferson, F Jeremy Evans , C Kyrylo Fesenko , G Gordon Hayward, G/F Othyus Jeffers , F Demetris Nichols, G Ryan Thompson


We get so near yet so far away, we won’t live to fight another day…

Oh, the Jazz. It’s gotta stink to be a Jazz fan. Every year your team is good. Most years, your team is really good. But nobody ever considers you a legit contender. Nobody wants to play you in the playoffs, but nobody will pick you to win the West. It’s a tortured existence, kinda like Dallas, but somehow with even less upside. If Portland is the Houston Texans of the NBA, the Jazz are the Dan Marino Dolphins, good enough to scare you, never good enough to win anything.

The Jazz are far from free spenders, but they spend well. Knowing they didn’t want to lock into Boozer, the Jazz picked up Al Jefferson, who, with the play of a elite point guard, could break out this season and nearly match what Boozer offered. And if not, Paul Millsap is around to help overcome the production loss that comes from losing Boozer. Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews went off to go get paid, but that’s ok, those are far from death blows to any franchise. The Jazz are well coached, still talented, and should be able to be about as good as they were last year.
It’s at this point I inform you how good the Jazz were last year, and that is way better then you think. By some metrics like Pythagorean W-L record, the Jazz were actually the 3rd best team last year. Not in the West, I’m taking the NBA. They were top ten in offense and defense, they have a great home court, an elite NBA superstar in the horribly nicknamed D-Will, plenty of size, and cause any team problems. It’s not like the Jazz can’t absorb a learning curve to start the year and a slight hit to their overall talent level. This team has talent to spare, quite frankly.

The major question is, what is going to get the Jazz to the next level? As the defending Pacific champions, they were able to take care of the Nuggets , who were falling apart at the end of the year, only to get owned in the face by the Lakers, showing again that the Jazz are not a serious threat to go super deep. Gordon Hayward is the only real answer the Jazz have, if he blows up out of nowhere and becomes a fringe rookie of the year candidate, perhaps this Jazz team can actually make noise this season. Anything less, and the Jazz should regress a bit. But the Jazz are regressing off of a 53 win season that easily could have been a 55 win season, so they got a few games to lose. I’ll take 4 wins away, but that still gives the Jazz home court in the first round and a very respectable regular season. It’s never the regular season that’s in doubt for the Jazz. It’s the second round of the playoffs, when they get so close, yet so far away, and time and time again, don’t live to fight another day. And that’s a story I expect will continue, barring someone on this team making the leap.

: 2nd in the Northwest, 4th in the West, 51-31 record.

3) Oklahoma City Thunder

Youtube Song for their 2010-2011 season:

You’ve Got Another Thing Coming – Judas Priest

Offseason Moves:

NBA Draft: Craig Brackins , Quincy Pondexter
Free Agents - in: G Royal Ivey
Trades - in: G Daequan Cook , G Morris Peterson , Cole Aldrich
Free Agents - out: F/C Etan Thomas , G Mustafa Shakur
Trades - out: Craig Brackins, Quincy Pondexter

Training Camp Roster:

F/C Nick Collison , G Daequan Cook, F Kevin Durant , F Jeff Green , G James Harden, C Serge Ibaka , C Nenad Krstic , G Eric Maynor , C Byron Mullens , G Thabo Sefolosha , G Kyle Weaver , G Russell Westbrook , F D.J. White , C Cole Aldrich, G Royal Ivey, G Morris Peterson


That’s right, here’s where the talking ends, well listen this night there’ll be some action spent…

It’s the most popular opinion in the NBA right now, the Thunder are Brock Lesner in NBA form, the Next Big Thing. Kevin Durant is the heir apparent to the throne LeBron vacated, Russell Westbrook is only going to keep getting better, Cole Aldrich is the missing piece for this team at center, James Harden is going to become a serious weapon this season, Jeff Green does not suck, and the Thunder are going to challenge for the #1 seed in the West.

You’ve got another thing coming.

First off, I fail to see how the hell Kevin Durant is going to make another leap. He’s already a 30 ppg on 20 shots a game scorer, deadly from the line, pretty solid from the arc, a solid rebounder, a poor as hell passer, and adequate on the defensive end (at best). What is going to get better? Is he going to score 34 on 20 shots now? Is he magically going to get to 5 assists? Is he going to start to get 2 steals and 2 blocks a game? Will he never miss a free throw? Listen, I like Durant, a lot in fact. I think he was the 3rd best player in the NBA last year. But why is he going to magically become #1? And why would that really matter if he did? He’s going to be exceptional, but after a while, when you are on Durant’s level and you just dominate everyone, how much more can you really do? It’s not like anyone slowed him down last year, so how does he help the win total? I don’t see what more people want from Durant.

Complimenting Durant is the underrated Westbrook, the overrated Green, and role players like defensive specialist (and he is special on D) Thabo Sefolosha, bench scorer James Harden, and now center acquisition Cole Aldrich, and all these players seem to be expected to make some sort of progression instead of regression. Well, I hate to break it to everyone, but none of these players is going to make a serious leap, Westbrook might make a minor one, but the rest are due for a return to the mean. Green and Thabo both played 82 games last year, as did Westbrook and Durant. Health like that just doesn’t repeat itself.

And worst of all, outside of Durant and Westbrook, nobody on the Thunder last year could crack a PER over 14, which is a decent amount BELOW average, outside Serge Ibaka, who is getting his minutes cut. People want to take Durant and compare him to LeBron as the anti-LeBron, and in turn want to put the Thunder into the Cavaliers mold of the last few seasons. Sadly, this team to me more resembles the Heat of the last few years. Stud, decent compliment, and role players at best surrounding them, which is not a winning formula.

It’s near hearsay to not predict the Thunder for your top 3, but this team is not that good, it lacks depth, it lacks assits, it lacks quality shooting, as evident by the team eFG%. I defy this team to have the health and the favorable situation as a come out of nowhere team from 2009-2010 repeat itself. This team is not going to win 50 games again, of that I feel strongly. With Durant in the West, you cannot miss the playoffs. But with this supporting cast, you can’t really make much noise in the regular season, either.

Find me the quality that this team has that I’m not seeing but you do. Defend these role players. Predict near perfect health again. Tell me this team is going to have the same starting lineup for 76 games this year, and keep it’s best 4 players playing all 82. Show me who is going to step up and take this team to the next level. Hell, tell me who’s gonna stop this team from regressing in wins. And then I’ll tell you how wrong you are, and if you really think the Thunder will be better then a low seed and a first round exit this season, you’ve got another thing coming.

Prediction: 3rd in the Northwest, 7th in the West, 46-36

4) Denver Nuggets

Youtube Song for their 2010-2011 season:

Stricken - Distrubed

Offseason Moves:

Free Agents: F Al Harrington , F/C Shelden Williams , G Anthony Carter
Free Agents: C Johan Petro , F/G Joey Graham , F Malik Allen

Training Camp Roster:

G Arron Afflalo , F/C Chris Andersen , F Carmelo Anthony , F Renaldo Balkman, G Chauncey Billups , G Ty Lawson , C Nene, G J.R. Smith , F Kenyon Martin, G Anthony Carter, F Al Harrington, F/C Shelden Williams, G Anthony Carter, F/C Melvin Ely , F Gary Forbes


There’s no hope and we know, that I am crippled by that you’ve done, into the abyss will I run…

One of the craziest teams to predict, the Denver Nuggets are stricken with the demands of Carmelo Anthony to leave the abyss that is Denver and reach basketball nirvana by joining the New York Knicks and play his home games at the Mecca of basketball, the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden located in the heart of the greatest city on earth.

What? Don’t be such a Knicks homer? Go to hell, I do what I want.

Anyway, this team has problems. Melo is problem #1. Also, he’s problem #2 and problem #3. But sadly, the list goes on. Chauncey Billups appeared to finally lose it at the end of last season, his three point shooting went down nearly 10% after the All Star break, and his assists fell way down, because he’s so concerned with getting his 20 a night, he started taking more shots despite missing more. That is not the kind of leadership you need from your point guard, that goes without saying. Further complicating things for the Nuggets, Kenyon Martin is making noise about a contract extension, perhaps forgetting Denver overpaid him by about 40 million last time around, looking to go back to the well and get another overpriced deal, which is a distraction at minimum. J.R. Smith is still crazy as hell and knows he’s on the trade block, as Denver would love to move him and his salary If they have to part with Melo, and that is not a situation conducive to the volatile Smith being Good Smith.

Other then that, things are just fine for Denver. Then again, that’s like saying other then the fact you just lost your girlfriend, job, and house, you are doing well. Nene continues to be an underrated center in this league, and will have to produce his usual highly efficient scoring even more as the situation around him becomes more and more chaotic. Al Harrington was a nice pick up, adding a new dimension to the Nuggets and offering a player who can help carry the scoring load once Melo bolts the city. And Ty Lawson continues to be one of the best young players in the league, if Billups is indeed traded after Melo goes, Ty Lawson has the talent to step right in and be a quality PG starting PG, that is one less problem the Nuggets have to solve.

But replacing Melo is a problem for them. And with ownership unwilling to take on salary in a Melo trade, the Nuggets are going to get nothing but IOU’s and Magic beans for the All-Star, perhaps they will turn into something in the future, but in the near term, they won’t amount to squat. I mean, lets face it, there’s a good chance the Nuggets are terrible by the start of 2011. Someone has to lose way more games then most people think they will, after all, the West isn’t going to average 47 wins this season, so I predict that the Nuggets eat it on the chin. With a star looking to the East, a washed up PG who still thinks he’s a star, a shot chucking PF who only makes sense once the Nuggets deal the house, and a disgruntled Kenyon Martin, who is always a good bet to punch someone, this team is not going to win many games. At all. You’d be a damn fool to predict them to squeak into the playoffs, what’s the last team that had a superstar who didn’t want to be there and a secondary offensive player who is officially fallen off the cliff that made the playoffs? There’s no hope in Denver, they are stricken by what Carmelo has done, and into the abyss of the NBA lottery will they run.

4th in the Southwest, no playoffs, 36-46 record

5) Minnesota Timberwolves

Youtube Song for their 2010-2011 season:

Round and Round - RATT

Offseason Moves:

NBA Draft: Wesley Johnson , Lazar Hayward
Free Agents - in: F Nikola Pekovic , G Luke Ridnour , C Darko Milicic , F Anthony Tolliver
Trades - in: F Michael Beasley , F Martell Webster, C Kosta Koufos, G Sebastian Telfair
Trades - out: F Ryan Gomes, C/F Al Jefferson, G Ramon Sessions , C Ryan Hollins

Training Camp Roster:

G/F Corey Brewer , G Wayne Ellington , G Jonny Flynn , F/C Kevin Love , C Darko Milicic, F Wesley Johnson, F Lazar Hayward, F Nikola Pekovic, G Luke Ridnour, F Anthony Tolliver, G Maurice Ager , G Jason Hart , C Kousta Koufus, F Michael Beasley, F Martell Webster, G Sebastian Telfair, C John Thomas


I knew right from the beginning, that you would end up winnin’

Timberwolves suck.

Really, I gotta tell you more? Jesus…

Let me try to sum up what is up with the Timberwolves. They dealt their second best player, Al Jefferson, who to nobody’s surprise was one of their only two good players, to make room for Michael Beasley, best known for going to rehab for weed and being a total bust. He is shooting under 40% from the field this preseason, bottom 10 for qualified players in this preseason. So far, Beasley has an EFF of 8 in preseason action, dead last for those scoring over 12 a game. For those who are not NBA savvy, that’s a really bad combo. They gave Darko Milicic, who had a PER of 12.9 in Minnesota last year, but Minnesota fans are so beat up they actually thought that was good basketball (and compared to some players like Jonny Flynn, it probably does look like good basketball), a 4 year deal. For those who are not NBA savvy, Darko sucks. They gave Nikola Pekovic 3 years and 13 million, who was All-Euroleague first team in 2009, making him by far the most accomplished Timberwolves player. That’s not a very encouraging sign.

Kevin Love can ball. He’s a great rebounder, good passer, he can score pretty well, and he’s not awful on D. If he’s your second best player, you are probably a pretty decent team. However, he’s the Timberwolves only good player, and his win shares/48 of .138 is nearly double the second best Wolves player that played in Minnesota last year and is still on the roster. If Kevin Love is twice as good as your second best player, you are probably a pretty awful team.

The Wolves are switching from the ill conceived triangle offense, that was set up in sole part to ensure they received .30 cents on the dollar when they traded Al Jefferson this offseason (NOTE: This is fact), to an up tempo style that should result in your fantasy players going totally bonkers every time they play the Wolves, who lack the defensive talents to defend in the full court and will likely let up crazy points.

The Timberwolves lack the point guard to play an up-tempo style, a problem they hope that Ricky Rubio will one day solve for them, but in the short term, is only going to show off their biggest weakness, a complete lack of guards who are worthy of the label NBA player. Running when your best players are big men is not exactly a recipe for success in the league. The Wolves probably don’t care, as I’m sure they are much more interested in locking up the #1 pick in the draft, I mean heck, Enes Kanter should be available then, and lord knows the Wolves could use another center. But this season, when you see a Wolves game on your TV, which won’t be too often I’d imagine, you’ll know right from the beginning, that the other team will end up winning. At least about 80% of the time…

5th in the Southwest, no playoffs, 17-65 record

* food blogging doesn't actually happen. Story is true, however.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com