Not that I'm any great prognosticator or that I know much about anything, but here are my thoughts on the upcoming NBA season as training camps open.
1. No way the Hawks make the playoffs again. You can forget about it. After the improvements of the Raptors, Pacers, Sixers, and Heat and the loss of Josh Childress along with Josh Smith's underwhelming development, I don't see it happening. Don't get me wrong: I love Josh Smith. He is a great talent, but he needs to play to his strengths, which don't include 20 foot jump shots. He really should pull a Dwayne Wade or Tony Parker and just give up the 3 point line altogether. Anyway, the East playoff teams will be: Celtics (no doubt), Pistons (provided the team doesn't implode or explode), Cavaliers, Sixers (I remember thinking last year that if they had an Elton Brand type they'd be one of the best teams in the East), Magic, Wizards, Raptors, and Heat. Not in that order, but those are your teams.
2. No way the Clippers or the Warriors make the playoffs. It's going to take over 45 victories to make the playoffs in the West with at least 5 teams winning over 50 (Lakers, Spurs, Hornets, Jazz, and Rockets). The Clippers, with only Baron Davis, will not be close, and the Warriors without him will also be battling the Kings for last in the Pacific Division. Your West playoff teams: the 5 above plus the Suns, Blazers, and Mavericks.
3. The Blazers will be better than anyone expects, even me. They'll end up north of 45 wins and a solid 6 or 7 seed in the playoffs where they will lose in 5 games. Greg Oden is your ROY. And they will make the playoffs every year until all those young guys' contracts are up.
4. The Suns will disappoint. Shaq will start some 50 games this year, Nash will start 70. They'll win 45+ games, but only by beating up on the dregs of the league. Their style will be foreign while Shaq's playing with them under Porter, and when he's hurt they won't be able to adjust back. Defense is still their biggest issue, and figures to be worse this year than in years past, but they'll give up fewer points since they'll be running less.
5. The Rockets will be just fine. Yao has to be healthy for a postseason sometime, right? With Artest playing the good guy for at least one season, they'll go deep in the playoffs.
6. The Celtics will be the top seed in the East again unless Mo Williams can pull a Jason Kidd. The East is improving, but the talent of Allen, Garnett, and Pierce in Boston and Garnett's intensity will keep them ahead of everyone else. This says less about Boston and more about the overall state of the top contenders in the East. All of them are have huge problems and the only team I can see challenging the Celtics is the Cavaliers.
7. OJ Mayo is overrated and will be frustrated in Memphis to the point of implosion.
8. Derrick Rose is a great talent and deserved to go Number 1, but will have a worse year than Beasley who will look better next to Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion.
9. Kwame Brown still sucks.
10. What position does Kevin Love play? The best answer is a Chris Webber type PF, but Al Jefferson plays PF and neither can play center for a full season. I didn't like Love at UCLA, and he went to the worst place for him to play.
11. The Bucks will challenge for 8th, but will fall short.
12. Boldest prediction of mine: Kevin Martin wins the scoring title.
13. The Lakers need to find something to do with Lamar Odom. He doesn't fit in except as the first man off the bench to run the second unit, which would be great as long as he doesn't disappear as is his wont, but that's not going to happen. More than likely he'll end up being traded in December to a struggling team for a draft pick and an expiring contract.