Monday , Oct , 30 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Thoughts and predictions for the 2006-07 NBA season

(Sports Network) – Who is going to win the 2006-07 NBA Championship? Which
team will surprise in the new season? Who will be the first coach to lose his
job? Who will capture NBA hardware when the awards are given out after the
regular season?

Those are just some of the questions that will be answered in the new
campaign. Here are some thoughts and predictions as to what may happen in the
NBA circles during the 2006-07 season.

1. THE SUNS WILL RISE TO THE TOP IN 2006-07 – This is the year that the
Phoenix Suns win the NBA Championship. They won their second straight Pacific
Division crown in 2005-06 and advanced to the Western Conference finals
for the second straight year. Phoenix failed to get to the NBA Finals, as it
fell in six games to the Dallas Mavericks. In the 2005 conference finals, the
San Antonio Spurs dismissed the Suns in five contests.

This year is going to be different. Amare Stoudemire, who played just three
games last season because of a serious left knee injury, is expected to return
to the form that made him an All-Star during the 2004-05 campaign. With
reigning MVP Steve Nash, All-Star forward Shawn Marion, a healthy Stoudemire,
versatile Boris Diaw, Marcus Banks, Leandro Barbosa, Raja Bell and Kurt
Thomas, the Suns have a very deep and talented team. Everything is in place
for Phoenix to capture its first-ever NBA title.

2. DWYANE WADE BECOMES THE FIRST OF THE 2003 DRAFT CLASS TO WIN MVP – The 24-
year-old Wade has already won a championship ring with Miami and was the 2006
NBA Finals MVP. Cleveland’s LeBron James, who was the first overall pick in
the 2003 draft, and Denver’s Carmelo Anthony, who was selected at No. 3, have
both blossomed into superstars, but its Wade who will be recognized as the
NBA’s best player in 2006-07.

Originally selected out of Marquette by the Heat in the first round (fifth
overall) of the 2003 draft, Wade teams with center Shaquille O’Neal to
makeup one of the most dangerous one-two punches in the league. During Miami’s
magical run in last year’s postseason, Wade led the squad in scoring (25.7
ppg) and assists (5.7 apg). He made 49.7 percent of his shots from the field,
including 37.8 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. A two-time All-
Star, Wade, who led the Heat in scoring (27.2 ppg) and assists (6.7 apg)
during the 2005-06 regular season, is ready to add NBA MVP to his already
impressive resume.

3. RANDY FOYE MAKES A BIG SPLASH DURING HIS ROOKIE YEAR – He wasn’t one of the
top five picks in the 2006 NBA Draft, but Foye will turn in this year’s
best performance of the rookie crop. The Villanova product had an interesting
draft night as he was drafted by the Boston Celtics with the seventh overall
pick, but ended up with Minnesota after being dealt by the Celtics to
Portland. The Trail Blazers sent Foye to the Timberwolves for Washington
guard Brandon Roy, who was selected with the sixth overall pick by Minnesota.

Foye will fit in very well with new teammates Kevin Garnett and Mike James.
The 6-4 Foye can play both guard spots, is a decent outside shooter, drives to
the hoop effectively, sees the court very well and is a good defender. He has
an all-around game and will get to showcase his talents plenty during his
first year in the league. Foye will have an immediate impact and will be this
year’s top rookie.

4. THE HORNETS AND MAGIC RETURN TO THE POSTSEASON – Reigning Rookie of the
Year Chris Paul and sharp-shooting forward Peja Stojakovic will shoot the
Hornets back into the postseason after a two-year absence, while rising star
Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson will lead Orlando into playoff action for the
first time since 2003.

The Hornets had a productive offseason, as they acquired Stojakovic and
center/forward Tyson Chandler in separate trades, signed free agent guards
Bobby Jackson and Jannero Pargo to contracts and added size in the first round
of the draft by selecting Connecticut’s Hilton Armstrong with the 12th overall
pick and Cedric Simmons of North Carolina State at No. 15. The Hornets, who
improved 20 wins during the 2005-06 season, finished 38-44 compared to their
dismal 18-64 record during the 2004-05 campaign. More wins are on the horizon
and a trip to the Western Conference playoffs awaits the Hornets in 2006-07.

Orlando is one of the up-and-coming teams in the NBA. The 20-year-old Howard
is on the verge of becoming an All-Star and being mentioned with the elite
power forwards in the game. The 6-11 Howard led the Magic in scoring (15.8
ppg) and rebounding (12.5 rpg) and shot an impressive 53.1 percent from the
floor in 2005-06, while Nelson, who is entering his third year in the league,
averaged 14.6 points and a team-best 4.9 assists. A berth in the 2007 NBA
A berth in the Eastern Conference playoffs is the start of good things for the
Orlando franchise.

5. ISIAH THOMAS GETS AN EARLY PINK SLIP – Win or find somewhere else to work
is what the New York head coach and team president is faced with in 2006-07.
Thomas, who joined the Knicks as president and general manager on December 22,
2003, has tough job.

The Knicks have too many attitudes and not enough players who think team
before their own statistics. Thomas has to figure out how to motivate and get
guards Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury to play together, while Jamal
Crawford, Eddy Curry, Channing Frye, Nate Robinson and Jalen Rose will need to
contribute in a big way as well. Not gonna happen! Thomas could be out of
the Big Apple before 2007.

6. BEN WALLACE FITS PERFECTLY IN CHICAGO – A four-time Defensive Player of
the Year, Wallace left Detroit in the offseason through free agency to sign a
lucrative, multi-year contract with Chicago. Wallace, who is a four-time All-
Star, spent the previous six seasons with the Pistons. He averaged 7.3 points,
11.3 rebounds, 1.78 steals and 2.21 blocks per game while playing all 82
regular-season games for the Pistons during the 2005-06 campaign.

Signing the 33-year-old Wallace makes the Bulls a tougher and more physical
team down low. Like in Detroit, Wallace will be the catalyst for the Chicago
defense and his intimidating style of play will benefit Ben Gordon, Kirk
Hinrich, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni. Even though Wallace was not brought to
the Windy City for his offensive ability, his mere presence will open up the
court and help his teammates to be more successful. Executive Vice President
of Basketball Operations John Paxson hopes Wallace was the missing piece to
the puzzle and that he will help Chicago return to the glory days.

7. BULLS/PISTONS RIVALRY BECOMES HOT ONCE AGAIN – In the late 1980s and into
the early 1990s, Detroit versus Chicago was arguably the hottest rivalry in
the NBA. The Pistons knocked off the Bulls in the 1988, 1989 and 1990
playoffs, while Chicago got over the postseason hump and swept Detroit in the
1991 Eastern Conference finals and went on to capture its first of six
championships. Every game played between these squads, including regular-
season contests, had a Game 7 type of atmosphere.

The big names in the rivalry during the late 80s and early 90s were Chicago’s
Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant , while Detroit was led by Joe
Dumars, who is the Pistons’ President of Basketball operations, Bill Laimbeer,
Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas. Now its Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton
Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace for the Pistons, and Gordon, Deng,
Hinrich, Nocioni and Ben Wallace for the Bulls. The names have changed, but
with Ben Wallace wearing a Chicago uniform the nasty feelings will return and
so will the heated rivalry.

8. ALLEN IVERSON FINALLY ASKS TO BE TRADED – The hot rumor during the
offseason was that Philadelphia was going to trade All-Star guard Allen
Iverson. Didn’t happen and Iverson is back for his 11th season in a Sixers’
uniform. In 2005-06, Iverson led the Sixers, who finished a disappointing
38-44 under first-year head coach Maurice Cheeks, in scoring (33.0 ppg) and
assists (7.4 apg).

Philadelphia had a very quiet offseason and did not make any significant
changes that will help it get back to the postseason. The 31-year-old Iverson
has repeatedly said he would like to stay with the 76ers. Those days are
coming to an end and he will finally ask to be dealt to a contender. As great
as the Georgetown product is, he has to know that he is not going to win a
championship with the Sixers. Iverson is not getting any younger and if the
multi-talented guard wants to help a team win a ring, he is going to have to
do it soon.

9. MINNESOTA FINDS A NEW HOME FOR KEVIN GARNETT – Like Iverson, Garnett wants
to win a championship. And, it’s not going to happen with the Timberwolves,
who finished the 2005-06 season with a dismal 33-49 record and did not qualify
for the playoffs for the second straight season.

Garnett is still the cornerstone of the franchise and Timberwolves’ management
would like to win with him leading the way. The 30-year-old Garnett led
Minnesota in scoring (21.8 ppg) and rebounding (12.7 rpg) last season. He
seems to have lost some of his passion and is visibly frustrated with the
state of his squad. Even though they want to win with him, the Timberwolves
will part ways with Garnett and start the rebuilding process. Look for a
blockbuster deal at the trade deadline.

10. RAPTORS ARE TRYING TO BECOME THE SUNS OF THE EAST – Toronto team president
and general manager Bryan Colangelo seems to have a vision to make the Raptors
the Phoenix Suns of the Eastern Conference. Colangelo, who was hired by the
Raptors on February 28th, was general manager of Phoenix for 11 years, and
team president for seven before taking over in Toronto. He helped build the
Suns into a contender and one of the most exciting teams in the league with
smart trades and free agent signings.

During the offseason, Colangelo added highly-touted Italian forward Andrea
Bargnani, who was the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, and lightning
quick point guard T.J. Ford, who was acquired from Milwaukee in a trade for
versatile forward Charlie Villanueva. Colangelo also made All-Star forward
Chris Bosh the cornerstone of the franchise by signing the Georgia Tech
product to a lucrative, multi-year contract extension.

Colangelo is looking for the Raptors to play an up-tempo style and hopes the
lightning-quick Ford can be the catalyst. Bosh is a star, while Bargnani will
have to prove himself on the court. Look for Colangelo to add some outside
shooters and for the Raptors to improve on their 27 wins of a year ago.