2010-11 Northwest Division Preview
The Timberwolves’ GM was kind enough to let us know that his team wouldn’t be winning many games this season. The honesty is appreciated. Every other team could win this thing. Here’s how I see it shaking out.
1. Portland TrailBlazers
Surely they have to be healthier than they were last year, right? Right?! Joel Przybilla and Dr. Manhattan are both still on the shelf from their knee injuries last season, but having LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby as your bigs isn’t such a bad thing. Brandon Roy should be back to his normal self and Andre Miller was solid and sometimes spectacular last year. Point guard depth and Rudy Fernandez’s attitude are question marks, but the Blazers are in a position to be really good sooner than later. If they’re healthy. If. And the size of that "if"is probably even bigger than Greg Oden’s… never mind.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
Every other website and publication you read is probably sticking the Thunder in first place. I can’t really disagree with that. In fact, I’m manufacturing reasons that they won’t win the division. Their youth. The sudden attention they’ve been receiving. Pressure to duplicate last year’s success. Inexperience. Three words make me believe that these things will probably not cause cause too many problems. Defense. Kevin Durant. I jumped on the Durant bandwagon while he played at Texas in college and I think the entire world has now joined me, and rightfully so. Durant is really good and getting better. But the team is so much more than him. Russell Westbrook is an up and coming combo guard, James Harden is showing that he can affect the game on both end of the court, James Green is a mismatch at the four, and their big men by committee are nothing to sneeze at. They added shooting, size and rebounding in the offseason. I’m not gonna say that the Thunder could challenge the Lakers but… well, I’m just not gonna say it.
3. Utah Jazz
Carlos Boozer out, Al Jefferson in. Jefferson is bigger than Boozer and more of a post up threat, but certainly not the same caliber of player. Still, it’s not like they have to replace Boozer with spare parts and guys playing out of position. Paul Millsap is still around to do work and Memo Okur should return healthy to give the Jazz a pretty good big rotation. The straw that stirs the drink will be Deron Williams, who I like to think of as the best point guard in the league. There are options on the perimeter, but without a proven wing scorer it will fall to Williams to facilitate the offense. If he can be that guy, the Jazz will line themselves up to lose to the Lakers in the playoffs. Again.
4. Denver Nuggets
Take a good luck at the picture above. It’s a little dated, as Carmelo Anthony has cut his hair and gotten more ink since it was taken. But it is him in a Denver uniform. That will likely not be the case in the coming months, which is why I have them ranked here. George Karl is back from his illness, but he may not be able to work magic with this squad. Along with Melo’s impending departure, players have expiring contracts and they’re not immune to all of the trade talk signaling the start of a rebuilding process. The chemistry here is a concern, despite the team– as presently constructed, anyway– having the talent to win this division. But they won’t get fair trade value for Melo, so expect things to head south once he heads east.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves started the offseason by overpaying Darko Milicic. Then their GM compared the underachiever to Chris Webber– to Chris Webber’s face. Then he informed their fanbase that the team would pretty much suck this season. So I could use this space to talk about how productive Kevin Love is, or about the promise of Jonny Flynn and Wes Johnson or to discuss how a change of scenery might do Michael Beasley some good, but it would honestly be a waste of time, for both me and you. I’m certainly not going to spend too much time telling you how their season will turn out if the team has conceded that they’ll be awful. They said it, I believe them.