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The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (4 of 7) 10.26.10 at 11:04 am ET
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NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.

We’ll move to the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division with the fourth of a seven-part  series (Check out the Western Conference in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) …

Chicago Bulls
CHICAGO BULLS
by Doug Thonus, Chicago Bulls Confidential

Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer, from left, pose for a photograph during the NBA basketball team's media day Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, in Deerfield, Ill.

Carlos Boozer's injury has disrupted the Bulls' ability to jell before the season begins. (AP)

ON THE BULLS: The Chicago Bulls are a team with a lot of strengths, but the early injury to Carlos Boozer has hurt their odds of building up continuity this season.

Much like the Celtics, they carry considerable injury risk going forward. Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Boozer, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer all have injury risk on top of that of a normal player, while Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans are also struggling with various minor injuries in preseason.

A healthy Bulls team would have a puncher’s chance at any team in the East if they jelled well and played to their full potential. But a Bulls team that can’t get on the floor together to build continuity is closer to Atlanta and Milwaukee than to Boston, Orlando or Miami.

The big question mark will be how much of an upgrade Tom Thibodeau is from Vinny Del Negro. The Bulls’ schemes have given fans a reason to be hopeful, and if Thibodeau can get more out of the talent than Del Negro the roster might have more upside than a cursory glance would indicate.

Given the injuries and unknowns, a realistic upside for the Bulls is an Eastern Conference Finals loss to Miami, while a realistic downside is a first-round exit to one of the Big 3.

I’d place the Bulls fourth in the conference with my expectations set at a second-round exit at the hands of Miami, Boston or Orlando after a hard-fought, first-round victory against Atlanta or Milwaukee.

ON THE CELTICS: The Boston Celtics strike me as a team that should play well this season and have another excellent postseason.

There is some legitimate fear that the wheels could fall off the bus at any given point, given that the vast majority of key players are at the age where injuries increase and performance can rapidly spiral downward.

However, the team is excellently coached and has tremendous depth, continuity and experience. Their upside, if all goes well, is NBA Champion. They were a Kendrick Perkins ACL away from likely winning the chip last season, and they’re the one team that has a shot to give Miami fits in the Eastern Conference.

Their downside is as a fifth seed that gets bounced early in the playoffs if they struggle to integrate new personalities, can’t find solid rotations once Perkins is back or struggle with age and injuries.

I’d place the Celtics third in the East in the regular season, but I think they’ll top Orlando in the second round. I’d place my expectations at an Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Miami Heat in a tough series.

Cleveland Cavaliers
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
by Andrew Schnitkey, Waiting for Next Year

Cleveland cavaliers coach Byron Scott yells from courtside during the first half of the NBA preseason basketball game on the University of Pittsburgh campus, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010, in Pittsburgh. The Cavaliers won 106-80.

Byron Scott leads the Cavaliers in the wake of LeBron James' departure. (AP)

ON THE CAVALIERS: The Cavaliers are indeed going through a transition phase, but transition may be the name of the game for this team.

Under new head coach Byron Scott, the team wants to get out and run in transition and use a new motion offense to try to implement a team-oriented approach. This is obviously a shock to the system after years of watching LeBron James dominate the ball himself and stand around dribbling.

The Cavaliers have looked good so far in the preseason, relying on the new youth movement with guys like J.J. Hickson, Daniel Gibson and Ramon Sessions showing a lot of improvement.

The team has heard all offseason how they are nothing now that LeBron is gone, but most of these players know nothing but winning. There is still a winning mentality on this team, and they are already playing with a chip on their shoulders as they look to prove doubters wrong.

This is a team that will be better conditioned than most teams and will not be outworked by many teams.

Having said that, there are still some major issues. A lack of true center will be a major problem for this team, as will be the potential defensive setback the team faces from losing a lockdown wing defender like LeBron.

Above all else, though, there’s no true go-to guy here. That will cost this team many games in the fourth quarter’s waning minutes.

This will be a gritty team that will play hard and make things tough, but ultimately there’s no replacing a LeBron James in one season. I predict a record of 31-51.

ON THE CELTICS: Well, obviously, I saw firsthand what Shaquille O’Neal brought to the Cavaliers last season. It wasn’t pretty, and he often complicated things as the team struggled to adapt to his presence.

In fact, the Cavaliers actually seemed to play better without Shaq when Anderson Varejao could slide to the 5 and Hickson could play the 4. So, I’m not optimistic about what Shaq has left to offer the Celtics this season.

Having said that, I still expect the Celtics to be one of the top three contenders in the East this season. The Big 3 plus Rondo is an effective core, and adding Delonte West should prove to be a nice boost to the team’s depth.

Much like last season, I expect to see the Celtics more or less coast through much of the regular season and then really turn it on in the postseason.

The Eastern Conference is stronger, but I don’t see anyone in the Atlantic threatening the C’s alpha-dog status there. I project a record of 52-30 and another division title. And I expect the Celtics to be the Heat’s toughest out in the playoffs.

Detroit Pistons
DETROIT PISTONS
by Brian Packey, Detroit Bad Boys

Detroit Pistons' Jonas Jerebko, right, of Sweden, drives past Atlanta Hawks' Jamal Crawford, left, in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 7, 2010, in Auburn Hills, Mich. The Pistons defeated the Hawks 90-88.

Pistons fans can only hope the injury to Jonas Jerebko doesn't signal deja vu. (AP)

ON THE PISTONS: After a year full of sprained ankles and utter disappointment, the Pistons have a clean slate heading into the new season.

While there isn’t a completely clean bill of health after the Jonas Jerebko injury, the Pistons are much healthier and claim to be very determined to prove their doubters wrong in 2010-11.

Unfortunately, while less injuries and DETermination should lead to more wins, it won’t be enough to put the Pistons back into the playoffs. Record: 36-46.

ON THE CELTICS: With everyone talking about the Heat this year, it might be easy to forget about the Celtics again (similar to how the Magic stole their spotlight last year with their 2009 Finals run).

But, similar to how they surprised teams in the 2010 playoffs, the Celtics are as for real as they were in 2008. The additions of both O’Neals should boost their defensive presence inside and even open things up a little on the offensive side for their own Big 3.

If they can stay relatively healthy, I’d say they’re a lock for 55 wins this season. 

Indiana Pacers
INDIANA PACERS
by Jared Wade, Eight Points, Nine Seconds

Indiana Pacers' Danny Granger, left, Darren Collison, middle, and Roy Hibbert pose for a photo during the basketball team's media day in Indianapolis, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010.

The addition of Darren Collison (center) gives the Pacers a Not-So-Big 3. (AP)

ON THE PACERS: To most NBA onlookers, it will not be a remarkably different season in Indiana than the past few. But for Pacers fans, there will be at least one key difference: Hope.

With the acquisition of Darren Collison, the continued — and perhaps vast — improvement of Roy Hibbert and the expected rock-solid production of Danny Granger, the team should for the first time in a half-decade have a true foundation.

This foundation is not earth-shattering. No one will be calling them The Big 3. But it is an actual nucleus, and a lot of people smarter than me think that Paul George, the team’s first-round pick No. 10 overall), should already be included in talks of a more promising future.

Tyler Hansbrough and Josh McRoberts, to a lesser degree, are expected to show some people that they can be valuable rotation players in this league as well.

On top of all that, the team has a bevy of expiring contracts to use as trade assets if they so desire. Some $30 million will be coming off the books next summer, and since so many GMs/owners will likely be looking to clean their salary caps up before the looming CBA negotiations/probable lockout, Larry Bird should have plenty of opportunities to get some quality players back for any of Mike Dunleavy ($10.5 million), T.J. Ford ($8.5 million) or Jeff Foster ($6.7 million).

I expect the front office to flip about half of its expiring contracts (they also have the Jamaal Tinsley buyout, worth around $5.5 million, “expiring” come June) for some mid-tier players they want (think the Kevin Martin deal last year). Then they’ll let the rest expire. Come summer, that will let them fill some more holes through free agency.

No, they won’t be getting an Amar’e Stoudemire, a Chris Bosh or a Carmelo Anthony — but they’ll have a direction by the time this season ends. That will feel like something new to fans.

And if they can somehow play well enough to score a seventh or eighth seed and get into the playoffs this year, well, Pacers fans can truly consider this the beginning of a new era for a franchise that needs nothing more desperately than to begin a new era.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics should make the Eastern Conference Finals in their sleep. Until we see just how good the Heat are, it’s tough to call anything more than that.

And if Miami is as dominant as I think they’ll be, the Celtics might just be too old, but if Eric Spoelstra‘s boys don’t jell completely, there’s no reason that Boston can’t win the whole thing.

The depth on this roster is somewhat absurd. Obviously, a lot of people aren’t expecting much out of the law firm of O’Neal & O’Neal, but they’re two big bodies that will make a difference and take a ton of defensive pressure off of Kevin Garnett and Perkins.

You certainly don’t want to rely on Jermaine O’Neal to score in the post at this point, but he still alters shots, swats weak attempts and takes charges at a high level.

The Delonte West acquisition was huge. Even with Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels, the team lacked some ballhandling ability outside of Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce last year. He gives them a guy off the bench who can go off for 20, just be a spot-up shooter or even initiate the offense. Plus he guards people.

Nate has his strengths (namely energy and hustle), but he can’t do all that. That will make this team more dynamic — presuming, ya know, he keeps his head on straight.

With Ray Allen, Paul and KG all one year older, the bench is going to be key. They need consistency out of the reserves, and if Doc Rivers can figure out how to keep all these bodies happy — something I’m sure he will, like he did last year by keeping Nate ready to go even while glued to the bench — there’s no reason, other than a possibly unstoppable Heat juggernaut, that they can’t bring home Banner 18.

Milwaukee Bucks
MILWAUKEE BUCKS
by Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball

Milwaukee Bucks power forward Drew Gooden drives past Charlotte Bobcats DeSagana Diop during the first quarter of an NBA preseason basketball game Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010, in Green Bay, Wis.

The addition of Drew Gooden gives the Bucks some much-needed depth up front. (AP)

ON THE BUCKS: Milwaukee — with its eager, younger players and overlooked veteran additions — likely has its sights set on the Celtics.

The two teams had a few memorable moments last year and could have had something special in the playoffs had things worked out on the last day of the season.

Milwaukee stocked up themselves this offseason, signing Drew Gooden just after adding Corey Maggette for Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell.

Milwaukee focused on keep their core players from last season while looking to address their main weaknesses this offseason, namely free-throw shooting and power forward size and depth.

The Bucks seemed to have succeeded on both accounts and will very likely be in the hunt for the Central Divison crown. If they capture it, they still may have a hard time surpassing the Celtics’ win total.

A top-four finish doesn’t seem out of the question for the Bucks, and at the very least a playoff spot seems certain.

ON THE CELTICS: Last year, the Celtics seemed prime to fade into the sunset of NBA teams who once were contenders. This year, they seem to have reloaded and added considerable depth to counter their considerable age.

Everyone is talking about the O’Neal’s, Shaquille and Jermaine, but let us not forget that the Celtics quietly, and wisely, picking up Delonte West this offseason.

After trotting out Nate Robinson, Eddie House and at times even Tony Allen as a backup point guard last season, the Celtics definitely needed to address their backup point guard position this past summer. West’s steady hand (I can’t believe I just wrote that and meant it) could be very useful when Rondo is out of the game.

The added bulk up front helps, too, especially if the new technical rules lead to numbers quickly adding up for KG and Perkins. The Celtics have added new blood and appear to be in as good a shape as any of the teams in the East that don’t play in Miami.

Another division title and top-four seed likely awaits the Celtics at year’s end.

Stay tuned for Part 5 of this seven-part series: the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division.

Read More: blogs, Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers
Irish Coffee: Celtics & Heat get … it … on 10.26.10 at 9:39 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Just how out of control has the hype surrounding the Miami Heat gotten this season? Here’s Exhibit A: The Whiskey Tango All-American Bar & Grill in Hollwyood, Fla., is picking up the bar tab each time the Heat lose a game this NBA season.

I guess basketball fans in Miami will be drinking for free tonight.

And just how out of control has the hype surrounding the Boston Celtics gotten this season? Here’s Exhibit A: This guy will trade his car and his camera for a pair of tickets.

I’m guessing Vince Wilfork wouldn’t trade front-row tickets for a 1994 Honda Civic.

By the way, if you’re looking for front-row tickets to tonight’s game between the C’s and Heat, Stub Hub has got one for you. It’ll only cost you $18,824.00.

NBA COLUMNISTS WEIGH IN

The NBA is upon us, and that means newspaper columnists are waxing poetic about who will win, who will lose, who will rise and who will fall in the league this year. Let’s check in with some of the best columnists covering the league around the country.

The Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon says this NBA regular season is the most anticipated since Michael Jordan‘s 1995 return to the game, and he picked the Celtics over the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals …

“Now, they’ll find out what it is like to get every team’s best, most fanatical and purposeful effort every night, starting in Boston tonight,” Wilbon wrote. “And they’ll do it without having the savvy that comes from winning a championship together . . . which is why I don’t believe that Miami is going to win the NBA championship this season. Oh, they’ll win three or four before this group calls it quits – but not this year. They can win 65, 66 games in the regular season and it won’t help them one iota during the playoffs.”

The New York Post’s Peter Vecsey not only believes the Los Angeles Lakers will win a third straight title this season — but he thinks they’ll win a fourth next year. In his eyes, the only team that stands in Kobe Bryant‘s way? The Orlando Magic …

“Only a David Stern-stimulated, full-term lockout, Jerry Buss deciding he’s bored of winning or a dashboard-light outage can stop the Lakers from seeing paradise next season. Only Orlando and injuries can prevent them from three-peating this season.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Heisler is in Boston, and he’s reopening the wounds of Game 7. Good times …

“Remember Game 6 in 2008 when the Celtics sent the Lakers home as crispy critters in a 131-92 rout that recalled the horrors of the rivalry from 1959-1984, when the Lakers were 0-8 in Finals meetings featuring Frank Selvy‘s miss, Jack Kent Cooke‘s balloons, James Worthy‘s interception, Magic Johnson‘s dribbling out the clock, the Sauna Game, the 3 a.m. fire alarm, fans rocking their bus.

“This Celtics loss was worse.

“At least the Lakers never blew a 13-point second-half lead in Game 7 with a title within their grasp.”

Meanwhile, ESPN polled 25 of its NBA writers, and 24 of them picked either the Lakers or Heat to win the NBA title. Only ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg picked the Celtics.

Speaking of ESPN writers, Chris Sheridan‘s pick for Defensive Player of the Year: Tony Allen? Wait, what? Is Sheridan related to Tony?

Tom Brady in Detroit Pistons v Boston Celtics, Game 2

Tom Brady has got his popcorn ready for tonight's Celtics home opener.

TOM BRADY ON THE CELTICS

We all know the only guy whose opinion really matters when it comes to the Celtics is Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. While he won’t be in attendance tonight, he still shared his thoughts on the C’s with Dennis & Callahan this morning:

“I love the Celtics, and they were one game away last year from winning it all. Those guys know how to get it done. They did it a few years ago. Last year, it was heartbreaking to lose to the Lakers the way they did. But if anybody knows how to do it, it’s Doc (Rivers) and KG (Kevin Garnett) and Ray (Allen) and Paul Pierce, who’s been such a great player for so long.

“They add Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal, they’ve got a lot of great players, so they don’t need any advice from me. They know how to do it. I’ll be excited to watch them. They’ve got a great opportunity as well. I hope they take advantage of it.”

Brady really went out on a limb with his prediction there, didn’t he?

HEAT, C’S PLAYERS WEIGH IN 

For the most part, members of the Celtics and Heat are saying all the right things leading up to tonight’s game. We sifted through all the run-of-the-mill answers to the millions of NBA opening-night questions to bring you the best from each team:

“For us, this game is to set the tone,” Glen “Big Baby” Davis told NBA.com. “We have to set the tone against a team like that and just let them know, hey, you guys got a new group of guys, but we’re still the team to beat in the East.”

“I’ve had my battles with Boston the last few years when I was back in Cleveland, and I’ve seen the great games they’ve had with Miami also, so we’re going to take the challenge and it’s going to be fun to start the season this way,” LeBron James told The Miami Herald. “It’ll be a very hostile environment, and us being the most hated team in the world, it’ll even be more hostile.”

 Lace ‘em up, fellas. It’s game time. Keep checking in at WEEI.com all day. We’ve got plenty more preview stuff leading up to the game, and we’ll have you covered pregame, in-game and postgame. I think I just wrote game too many times.

Can you tell I’m excited for this NBA season to tip off? Maybe I’ll buy that front-row seat at Stub Hub.

 

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

Read More: Celtics, LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat
The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (3 of 7) 10.25.10 at 2:31 pm ET
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NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.

We’ll move to the Western Conference’s Southwest Division with the third of a seven-part, two-day series (check out Part 1 and Part 2) …

Dallas Mavericks
DALLAS MAVERICKS
by Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game

Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki wears a chefs jacket and holds mixing bowls during NBA basketball media day in Dallas on Monday, Sept. 27, 2010.

Just what is Dirk Nowitzki cooking up for the Dallas Mavericks this season?

ON THE MAVERICKS: Dallas is still a relevant feature in the Western Conference landscape (they’ll likely be on par with the rest of the conference’s quasi-elite), but their ability to contend leans on a rather substantial “if.” The only way that the Mavericks have access to the same exclusive contender’s club that the Celtics call home is if a certain team on the West Coast experiences some kind of monumental collapse.

The Lakers aren’t just the defending champs. They’re also the most complete team in the league. They won the title last year for a reason, and that reason depends less and less on Kobe Bryant‘s individual brilliance. Naturally, Kobe still matters a great deal to the Lakers’ success, but Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest have never been more relevant.

It’s those players that make L.A. a transcendent team, and it’s those players that make the Lakers into the Western Conference’s seemingly unconquerable threshold. All teams in the West must go through the Lakers, and while the Mavs may have plenty of excellent pieces and a few beneficial matchups, they pale in comparison to L.A.’s grandeur.

It looks to be another successful season for Dallas. They’re shooting for their 11th straight year of 50-plus wins and seem poised to make a deep run into the playoffs. Dirk Nowitzki is still highly productive and efficient; Jason Kidd continues to defy time itself with every jump into the passing lanes and perfectly threaded pass; and the team has some fantastic young pieces in Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones and Ian Mahinmi to complement a deep and impressive cast of veterans (Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler).

Put it all together, and Dallas is an awfully impressive team. Just not impressive enough to join the Lakers on their pedestal.

ON THE CELTICS: It’s tough to determine who will sit where at the top of the Eastern Conference seating chart, but the Celtics are undoubtedly among the conference’s elite teams and among the league’s true contenders. Walking into this season with last year’s roster alone would have put them near that distinction, but it’s Boston’s heavily active offseason that makes them an even more intriguing team.

The C’s are stacked at virtually every position, and that depth will certainly come into play as Boston looks to stay competitive throughout the year while still resting their veterans as much as possible. As I mentioned before, it’s still tough to pin Boston to a particular seed in the Eastern Conference race, not only due to the variance of the East’s other contenders but also because Boston’s lackadaisical run through the 2009-10 regular season provides us more reason to question their in-season motivations than ever.

Will the Celtics do more of the same, taking their time while working into a rhythm? Will they now approach the regular season with the same urgency that marked their 2007-08 campaign? No one can say for sure, and I’m not sure there’s necessarily a wrong way for them to go about it. Last year’s method turned out pretty well for Boston, as did the breakneck pace of the 2008 season, and this year should yield more of the same: A successful playoff run after a good regular season, sprint or not.

They’re probably not the best team in the East, but that doesn’t mean they can’t force their way to the Finals through the conference’s equivalent of rock-paper-scissors (Miami-Orlando-Boston). With the right matchup, Boston can be right there in June, and no one should be surprised.

Houston Rockets
HOUSTON ROCKETS
by Tom Martin, The Dream Shake

Houston Rockets new basketball player  Courtney Lee smiles during a news conference at Toyota Center in Houston, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010.

The under-the-radar addition of Courtney Lee could prove beneficial for the Rockets. (AP)

ON THE ROCKETS: The Rockets, as usual, are relying on good health to prevail throughout the season, especially once May rolls around. They’ve got plenty of talent, if healthy, to make a run for a Western Conference title. They’re deep, they’re experienced and they’re capable of beating anyone.

It remains to be seen how a balanced team can proceed through the playoffs, but if there’s any team that can make it happen, it’s this squad. Yao Ming will need to be healthy, the defense will need to actually exist (and be top-notch, at that), but it’s possible. Keep an eye on Courtney Lee: He could make a big difference. Predicted record: 51-31.

ON THE CELTICS: Last season, Boston showed everyone why winning in the playoffs is a different art than grueling it out for 82 games. With added veteran presences in Jermaine and Shaquille O’Neal, along with a presumably healthy Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics should be ready and able to make, perhaps, one more title run before age gets the best of everyone. I’ve got Boston in the Finals once again. They’re that dangerous. Predicted record: 52-30.

Memphis Grizzles
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
by Chip Crain, 3 Shades of Blue

Boston Celtics guard Tony Allen reacts during the second half of Game 6 of the NBA basketball finals against the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday, June 15, 2010, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 89-67.

The addition of former Celtic Tony Allen gives the Grizzlies defensive depth. (AP)

ON THE GRIZZLIES: The Grizzlies are the mirror image of the Celtics. They are young and talented with nearly no experience. Built via the draft and a few opportunistic acquisitions by former Celtic GM Chris Wallace, not one player on the team is expected to be over 28 to start the season.

Former Celtic Tony Allen was signed in the offseason to bring experience and defensive intensity to the team. The starting five for Memphis is very strong with all-star Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, but the bench is full of question marks.

If Hasheem Thabeet, Darrell Arthur, Allen, Sam Young, Xavier Henry and Acie Law IV can form a cohesive enough unit to give the starters some rest during games, the Grizzlies should be a strong candidate to return to the playoffs.

If any of the starters gets hurt for an extended period or the bench fails to be able to hold onto leads for the limited minutes they play, then it will be another lottery experience for the fans of the Grizzlies.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics remind me of the expression: “Old age and treachery will beat youth and talent every time.”

The Celtics used this strategy to rest their stars leading up to last season’s playoffs, then unleashed the rested veterans on an unsuspecting conference before finally falling to their archrivals in the finals. The C’s are having to reload this season with some formidable challenges ahead of them.

Perkins’ injury probably cost the Celtics another NBA title last season and could cost them homecourt advantage in the second round this season. The O’Neals, Shaq and Jermaine, were dominant players in their day, but that day has long past. How this will affect the interior defense is unknown at this time.

The loss of Tony Allen as a defensive stopper on the perimeter doesn’t help, either, but the biggest loss could be Tom Thibodeau. The Celtics also added Delonte West, whose off-court issues have overshadowed his on-court play.

The roster is aging but not dead and will likely be a force in the playoffs as the game slows down to a crawl and experience takes precedence over talent.

New Orleans Hornets
NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
by Rohan, Manager, At the Hive

New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul rubs his elbow on the bench in the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Miami Heat in New Orleans, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010. Paul contributed seven points and seven assists to New Orleans' 90-76 win over Miami.

A healthy Chris Paul can only mean better things for the New Orleans Hornets. (AP)

ON THE HORNETS: The Hornets experienced one of the busiest offseasons in franchise history, no question. There was the hiring of a rookie coach, the draft-day trade, the hiring of a rookie general manager, the blockbuster four-team trade, the flirtations with the unveiling of a rookie owner, all overlaid on top of never-ending Chris Paul drama.

And there’s reason to believe they’ve navigated it successfully. The team essentially turned Darren Collison and James Posey‘s terrible contract into Jerryd Bayless and Trevor Ariza (while Collison’s stock is far higher than Bayless’ at this point, the disparity between the two isn’t really that huge).

They brought in competent rebounders — Aaron Gray, Pops Mensah-Bonsu — for Darius Songaila, who, believe it or not, played the second-most minutes at both power forward and center for the 2010 Hornets.

This is by no means an elite team, but via addition by subtraction (Songaila, Posey) and addition by addition (a healthy Chris Paul), it should be a middle-of-the-pack Western team at 45 to 50 wins.

ON THE CELTICS: One of the biggest keys to Boston’s success will be the team’s ability to work the O’Neals (and, to an extent, Delonte West) into the team’s defensive system, without Tom Thibodeau.

Given the ages of the team’s key contributors, the Celtics are going to need a comprehensive 1-12 effort throughout the season. I do like the team’s summer pickups (and it’s important not to overlook the re-signings, either), but whether the various new pieces will fit is another question entirely.

In the end, I think this is a middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference team. Let’s say 45 to 50 wins — with a chance to turn it on in the playoffs, a la 2010. But at the end of the day, they’ll be a step below both Orlando and Miami.

 San Antonio Spurs
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
by Dale Dye, Pounding the Rock

San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan attempts to shoot a basket during an NBA basketball training session in Mexico City, Monday Oct. 11, 2010. The San Antonio Spurs will face Los Angeles Clippers in Mexico City on Tuesday during an NBA exhibition basketball game.

Tim Duncan will be one of many to struggle with the new technical foul rules. (AP)

ON THE SPURS: Hampered by the new rules surrounding technical fouls, Tim Duncan is ejected from the first 10 games of the season. Eventually, he’s able to stay in games by training himself to replace his incredulous expression with his other one.

Manu Ginobili signs a contract with Rogaine, and with his bald spot now completely gone, he grows out his hair again and averages 15 free throws a game as a result.

Tony Parker, playing for a new contract, guns for stats through the first half of the season until finally returning to form after Gregg Popovich threatens to send him down to the D-League.

Richard Jefferson gets engaged and considers joining the cult his fiancée belongs to. After returning from a retreat in Death Valley during the All-Star Break, he says he feels reborn and averages 18 points and nine rebounds for two months, until breaking off the engagement on the eve of the wedding and going into a slump.

Regular season record: 55-27. Third seed in the West.

ON THE CELTICS: In November, Shaq re-changes his nickname from The Big Shamrock to The Big Limerick and is fined $50,000 by the NBA when his first poetical recitation includes an off-color rhyme in the final line. O’Neal responds by mumbling something about artistic license.

December finds Justin Bieber singing the national anthem in the TD Garden on Von Wafer bobblehead giveaway night. The singer dies in the figurine avalanche that ensues.

After a January in which Ray Allen fails to make a single 3-pointer, he proceeds to average .850 behind the arc in February.

In the push to the playoffs, KG and Shaq convince the rest of the team to shave their heads for solidarity, but Delonte West (after spending the entire year growing out his afro) refuses, sending the team into a tailspin that lands them the second seed behind Miami.

Regular season record: 59-23.

Check back tomorrow for Parts 4-7 of this seven-part series: the Eastern Conference’s Central Division.

Read More: blogs, Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets
The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (2 of 7) 10.25.10 at 12:52 pm ET
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NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.

We’ll move to the Western Conference’s Northwest Division with the second of a seven-part, two-day series (you can read Part 1 here) …

Denver Nuggets
DENVER NUGGETS
by Nate Timmons, Denver Stiffs

Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony is surrounded by media after the first day of NBA basketball camp in Denver on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010.

What jersey will Carmelo Anthony be wearing by season's end? For now, he's stilling wearing Denver Blue & Gold. (AP)

ON THE NUGGETS: Everything with the Nuggets this season is based on Carmelo Anthony. It feels like the organization is holding out some type of hope that by keeping ‘Melo around at the start of the season and winning some games early, it will convince him to stay. But all signs point to an eventual trade.

In the meantime, Denver fans will hold out hope that this team will get healthy, prove the doubters wrong and make one more run with ‘Melo at the Western Conference title.

ON THE CELTICS: Age is going to be the main focus in Boston this year. Every time you tune in to a game, we’ll be hearing one of two things: 1) If Boston is winning, how they’re turning back the clock; and 2) If Boston is losing, how father time caught up with the Celtics.

I think the key to the C’s run is Rajon Rondo. Can he hit the outside shots that teams will be giving him? With all their depth, I see the Celtics challenging for the title again this season, as they’ll make it back to the NBA Finals.

Minnesota Timberwolves
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
by Nate Arch, Canis Hoopus

Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love, left, shoots over Denver Nuggets' Shelden Willliams in the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010, in Minneapolis. Love scored 16 points and had 15 rebounds in the Timberwolves' 122-108 win.

Is the fact that Kevin Love their best player a good thing for the Timberwolves? (AP)

ON THE TIMBERWOLVES: The Wolves will … I have no idea what Our Beloved Puppies will do this season. In theory, they should be much better than last year’s squad. In practice, it remains to be seen whether or not a roster upgraded with several legitimate mid-level rotation players will have any effect on the bottom line.

At the end of the day, Kevin Love is the team’s best player, scorer and rebounder, and he’ll be surrounded by a bunch of guys that won’t be able to create their own shot. This is a team without an A1 talent, and unlike the Blazers (Brandon Roy) or Thunder (Kevin Durant), the Wolves appear to be headed down the Hawks’ path to “success.”

The Wolves also are on the verge of sending the Los Angeles Clippers their first-round pick thanks to the long-since-passed Marko Jaric wunder-trade (top-10 protected until 2011; unprotected thereafter). The doomsday scenario for the Wolves is that they find a way to finish with the 11th-worst record in the league, Jonny Flynn proves himself to be nothing more than a backup and Ricky Rubio decides to wait another year in Europe in order to take advantage of a rule that strips the rookie scale restriction from his first-year NBA paycheck.

If all of this happens, David Kahn will have found a way to have selected four top-six picks in the past two seasons with only one starter. … Well, this also assumes that Wes Johnson can crack the starting lineup by the end of the season. He’ll also have used the team’s much-vaunted cap space on Darko Milicic, Martell Webster, Nikola Pekovic and (hopefully) Rubio’s rookie deal.

Kahn may have been volun-told into radio silence following his comments about Michael Beasley‘s pot smoking, but don’t let the silence fool you into thinking that he doesn’t have an amazing amount of pressure riding on him this season. The Wolves are walking a thin line right now, and they could end up with a nice lotto pick (Harrison Barnes!), Rubio and a nice starting wing (Johnson); they also could find themselves even worse off than before.

We’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out. 

ON THE CELTICS: Our prediction for the Celtics is that they will lead the league in sleeping with LeBron’s mom, Kevin Garnett will be one of the league leaders in the era of Technicals for Everyone!, Glen “Big Baby” Davis will finally take a swing at The Big Ticket in practice and in the conference finals they’ll find a way to beat up on an already-beat-up Miami Heat squad — who, interestingly enough, will be led by a strangely detached LBJ, whose performance will inspire a brand new Tweet tag: #nqgoat (“not quite” … well, you know the rest).

Oklahoma City Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
by Royce Young, Daily Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, center, reacts on the bench late in the fourth quarter of an exhibition basketball game against CSKA Moscow in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010. Oklahoma City won 97-89.

Can Kevin Durant lead the Thunder in taking the next step in the Western Conference? (AP)

ON THE THUNDER: Common sense says the only option is up from 50. No key losses, the existing youngsters should have improved and there have been some nice additions that should help. But the fact some key Western teams dealt with injuries last season and that everything seemed to break right is a bit disconcerting. Last season could have just been a flash-in-the-pan, but I say it was the first step towards something bigger.

The Thunder might not be completely ready to finish second in the West and compete for the conference crown. Keep in mind, last year this was the league’s youngest roster, and they’re only a year older. They will be good, and they will win a lot of games. The Northwest Division title is the first goal, but I don’t think OKC is ready for that. I’ve got them finishing second in the Northwest and fourth in the West.

ON THE CELTICS: Yeah they’re old. Yeah, they get hurt a lot. Yeah, the Heat did something with some players this offseason. But never write off the Celtics. Not yet.

The C’s are your classic closing-window team where time is running out on them. Their core is aging and — for the most part — aren’t what they used to be. Rondo has evolved into the team’s best player, something nobody really saw coming three years ago. Despite Miami having Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James, and the Magic always good with Dwight Howard, it’s tough not to put the Celtics right at the top of the East.

I don’t typically like the, “They’re the champs until someone beat them,” but in Boston’s sense, it applies. They won the East last year, and they will fight tooth and nail to defend it. Of coursem, here’s the “if they stay healthy” disclaimer, because that applies to teams that have guys collecting social security still playing, but I think the Celtics finish first in the East this year.

Portland Trail Blazers
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
by Dave Deckard, Blazersedge

Portland Trail Blazers Greg Oden sits on the bench during the first half of their NBA preseason basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010.

The Trail Blazers are still holding out hope that Greg Oden can be a factor. (AP)

ON THE TRAIL BLAZERS: The Portland Trail Blazers continue their attempt to morph from caterpillar to beautiful butterfly. Six years worth of injuries in six months destroyed their 2009-10 season, holding them to 50 wins and a second straight first-round playoff exit. Conventional wisdom says that once all the pieces are in place the half-team that won 54 two years ago plus the half team that won 50 last year makes a whole team — and a whole lot of wins. But Conventional wisdom doesn’t watch much basketball.

Even when healthy, the pieces on this team don’t mesh well yet. The core of the team is young, coming up without strong veteran leadership. They haven’t learned how to involve each other, let alone sacrifice for each other. They don’t have the drive to defend consistently. They don’t have the courage to force turnovers and run. They don’t have a post presence or enough motion in the offense.

Portland’s key veteran, point guard Andre Miller, needs the ball too much to fit with Brandon Roy, and Miller likes his offense too much to free the other youngsters whose offensive games need to develop. Backup point guard is in flux, and reserve wing Wesley Matthews, though a preseason bright spot, was the Blazers’ major acquisition over the summer — not exactly a revolutionary move in itself.

Center Marcus Camby has been a Godsend, though, and the presumed return of Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla should give the Blazers a three-headed defensive center platoon to be reckoned with. Oden remains the great hope, as he dominates the defensive paint and the glass when he plays. He could be a one-man revolution. But he’s hurt, and his game is raw, and that’s not a good equation for immediate success.

The Blazers have talent.  They will be good this year.  But they haven’t had enough time or experience together to be great. They’ll get to the postseason, and they’re aiming at the second round of the playoffs, but they’ll need a high seed to accomplish that goal. Anything more is pie in the sky at this point.

ON THE CELTICS: For everyone running against the Miami Hype Machine who also can’t bear to hop on board with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics represent the last, best hope for a happy end to the 2010-11 season.  Last year’s Eastern Conference champs have plenty to recommend them.

A starting lineup of Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal need not blush before the league’s super-teams. Even better, the second unit of Delonte West, Nate Robinson, Davis, Jermaine O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins ensures that the galloping geriatrics won’t have to spend 40 minutes per night on the floor in the regular season.

Last year, the Celtics ranked in the upper third of the league in several traditional barometer categories: point differential, points allowed, field goal percentage and field goal percentage allowed. Their comparatively anemic rebounding production should be bolstered by the influx of O’Neals. They may not generate the same headlines they did in 2008, but they’re going to win professionally and consistently.

Unfortunately, it isn’t going to work.

The only way the Celtics can go upwards is to reclaim the championship. Every team in history that has come in second has looked back on a game or a moment that, if tweaked, seemingly could have tipped the scales in the other direction. With all of those banners in tow, Celtics fans already know that winners were meant to win. The distance between second and first is greater than it seems. Unless the surrounding tide recedes, you have to revolutionize, not just bolster, in order to bridge the gulf between the trophy and “almost.”  The tide has swept in farther around the Celtics, and they haven’t revolutionized.

Needing to drink from the fountain of youth, Boston drank from the fountain of slow instead. J.O. is hanging on despite the decreased mobility, but he’s not the complementary player that Perkins is. He needs to be featured in order to shine. Shaq comes equipped with his own leather jacket and water skis nowadays. Every team that’s had him since Miami has figured out he’s an extremely expensive billboard reading, “You just jumped the shark.”

Those aren’t “We got KG in 2007″ acquisitions. They’re “We got KG right now” signings at best. They’ll help out in the regular season, if healthy. They’ll keep the Celtics from sinking, probably propelling them to a higher seed. But they’re not going to lead them to the Promised Land. No matter how many wins lie in between, seven-game series with the Heat and the Lakers still wait at the end of the road. That’s bad news for Celtics fans.

Utah Jazz
UTAH JAZZ

by Amar Acharya, SLCDunk.com

New member of the Utah Jazz, Al Jefferson, smiles after being introduced at the Jazz practice facility in Salt Lake City on Thursday July 15, 2010. Jefferson says he's excited to join a contender led by All-Star point guard Deron Williams.

Al Jefferson has shined so far in the preseason, thanks to help from Kevin McHale. (AP)

ON THE JAZZ:  Jazz fans (and coaches) are starting a new “Carlos Boozer free” era of basketball. He was a good finisher, but his defense became such a weakness that other teams went right at him in the playoffs — and faced little resistance. The Jazz were never going to win with him, especially when he’d disappear for entire playoff series’ at a time. We’re all happy to see him go. So far, he’s already gotten injured, and the Jazz have beaten the Lakers twice on the road. Yes, it’s only preseason, but optimism is high in Jazz land again this season.

Deron Williams is one of the best point guards in the game, and establishing him as the primary scoring option will only make him more dangerous in the playoffs, where superstars get favorable calls. Also, all the new parts seem to be picking up the flex offense as best as they can. Furthermore, the new additions seem to be more defensive-minded than the people they replaced. For example, Raja Bell for Kyle Korver is a step in the right direction for playoff-minded basketball.

More than anything else, Jazz fans are most enamored with former Celtic Al Jefferson. His tutelage under Kevin McHale really shows, and he has an almost limitless array of post moves that allow him to score up or around Pau Gasol in ways that Boozer couldn’t even imagine without getting injured. Jefferson and Gasol played a lot of minutes against one another in the two preseason games, and if this is anything to look forward to the Jazz will not roll over so easily in the playoffs this year.

If the Jazz are healthy and reintegrate recovering Mehmet Okur well into the system when he returns, then I fully expect them to finally have homecourt in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs — something that they were never able to do when Boozer was around.

ON THE CELTICS: First of all, Jazz fans love the Celtics. We can only admire and applaud the successes of your franchise and the depth of your collective disdain for the Lakers (a squad we’re not very fond of either). It may sound hyperbolic, but this season the Boston Celtics have one of their deepest rosters in decades.

The depth is no greater than in the paint. It’s a shame for them that there are only 96 total minutes to play at power forward and center during a regular length game — a fact that could become one of the greatest challenges this season. But it’s a challenge that 29 other teams in the league wouldn’t mind having. When it comes to shooting, Rondo isn’t Mark Price, but by the same token Price never got a triple double in the playoffs. Rondo has five so far (and he’s still so young), including one in an NBA Finals game. He’s only going to get better in the next few seasons.

When everyone is healthy, and the games count the most, I fully expect the Celtics to grind the other East squads into the hardwood with a structured and deliberate defense that funnels other teams into their own dooms. You win in the playoffs with defense and rebounding. I expect another 50-plus win season, complete with at least 10 playoff wins — if not more.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this seven-part series: the Western Conference’s Southwest Division.

Read More: blogs, Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves
Irish Coffee: NBA Fun & Games 10.25.10 at 10:53 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Over the weekend, NBA.com released a series of videos — entitled “NBA Unscripted” — leading up to tomorrow’s opening-night tipoff between the Celtics and Heat.

The footage includes some pretty cool interactions between the C’s Big Three. Here are some nuggets:

Kevin Garnett: “This training camp has some of the same energy that ’07 did. We stepped in the gym, and everybody was there early. I just feel like we’re reliving that. It feels like deja vu a little bit. In ’07, when we were alone, we came in the gym, and there was an energy. You could feel it. There were certain things you didn’t have to say.”

Ray Allen: “After Game 7, we were on the bus, and we started talking about the summer and the future, and we all hurt inside. We all had pain, and to this moment it bothered me to think where we were, what we did and what we could’ve gotten accomplished. We can say that we don’t have regrets, but there are things that we wish we could’ve done better.”

There’s plenty more on the Celtics in the Unscripted series. Check these out: The Countdown, Embracing a Role and Floor Leader, which includes this from Rajon Rondo:

“The more years I play and each year I get more experience, the more of a leadership role I have to take on as the point guard of this team. It’s as simple as that. Whether I play as great as I did the last couple years or not, I’m still the leader. I’m here for a reason.”

Of course, no NBA preview would be complete without plenty of Heat discussion. Unscripted is no different. Here’s a couple tidbits from Miami:

Chris Bosh: “To get to where we want to go, it has to be intense. We know that other teams like the Celtics are out there working very, very hard, so we probably have to go even harder.”

Dwyane Wade: “People say we’re there, but we’re not there yet. We look at the Boston Celtics of the world and say, ‘That’s what we need to get to.’ And we’ve gotta work very hard to get there.”

MEET SHAQUITA

Shaquille O’Neal generates more gems than Tiffany & Co. After posing as a statue (sorry, “Shaqtue”) for an hour in Harvard Square last week, The Big Shamrock is already planning his next stunt, according to USA Today.

Always wondered what Shaq might look like as a woman? Well, on the subway this Halloween, you just might meet Shaquita, a 7-foot-1, 345-pound woman. Ever want to hurl a snowball at Shaq? This winter, he may don a snowsuit and stand in a field somewhere as a human target.

“This is the funnest team I’ve been on in my life,” Shaq told the paper. “Seriously. These guys are great. Usually, I’m the ringleader of bringing fun to a team, but I haven’t even done anything yet. These guys crack me up. Big Baby (Glen Davis) and Nate Robinson, they need their own TV show.”

Still, in the same article, Doc Rivers stressed that Shaq’s maintaining a balance between off-the-court fun and on-the-court production.

“This city wants a winner,” added Shaq. “I want a winner. Everybody on this team wants to win. For me, that’s what it’s all about.”

Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce smiles as he walks off the court with his teammates at the end of their practice at NBA basketball training camp at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I. , Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010.

Paul Pierce isn't making excuses, but he was hurting during last year's NBA Finals. (AP)

PAUL PIERCE FEELING FIT

KG isn’t the only Celtics veteran feeling fully healthy after a summer filled with thoughts of vengeance. According to Jackie MacMullan on ESPN.com, Pierce is, too.

“I feel great for the first time in a long time,” Pierce told MacMullan.

After suffering knee, foot and thumb injuries during the 2009-10 regular season, Pierce reportedly had to wear a brace and some serious padding in his shoe just to make it through the NBA Finals.

The most disturbing revelation from MacMullan’s fantastic piece (per usual): After Pierce’s minor surgery midway through last season, his knee would actually pop open and gush liquid (I hope you’re not eating your breakfast with this Irish Coffee).

“I was probably a little stubborn about not letting it heal right,” Pierce admitted to ESPN.com. “I told them I was fine, but I had this fluid leaking out all over the place. It wasn’t so much the pain. I just lost all my strength. I played a lot of last season on basically one leg.”

STEPHANE LASME PHOENIX-BOUND?

It’s nice to see Stephane Lasme getting a shot at making another NBA roster. The former UMass standout received an invite to work out for the Phoenix Suns, according to NBA reporter Alex Kennedy.

Lasme was a stand-up guy in Celtics training camp, and even carried himself with dignity following the news that the C’s cut him from the roster — wishing each of his teammates good luck this season.

The C’s have a deep roster this year, so failing to make the cut shouldn’t deflate a guy like Lasme, who could still contribute to an NBA team.

IT’S PREVIEW TIME

Green Street has you covered for any and all information you could possibly want leading up to tomorrow night’s opener. Paul Flannery has already churned out a ton of impressive stuff, including a great piece on Jermaine O’Neal, a breakdown of the secret to the Big Three’s success, this season’s top five NBA storylines and his Talking Hoops podcast.

Meanwhile, I contacted 30 blogs from around the league to give you a prediction for the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics. I’ll say this: You’ll be surprised by the range of projections. Part 1 is already up on the blog. Stay tuned for the remainder of the Western Conference today and the Eastern Conference tomorrow.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

Read More: Celtics, Miami Heat, NBA, Paul Pierce
The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (1 of 7) 10.24.10 at 10:18 pm ET
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NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.

We’ll begin in the Western Conference’s Pacifiic Division with the first of a seven-part, two-day series …

Golden State Warriors
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

by Rasheed Malek, Warriors World

Golden State Warriors' David Lee, left, drives against Portland Trail Blazers' Dante Cunningham during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 18, 2010, in Oakland, Calif.

The addition of David Lee (left) gives the Warriors their own Big 3. (AP)

ON THE WARRIORS: The shackles on the Warriors have finally been removed, as dysfunctional owner Chris Cohan sold the team to a group headed by former Celtics minority owner Joe Lacob. Sheer jubilation and excitement has captivated Warriors fans, as they’ve begged Cohan to sell the team for years, and he finally obliged.

Gone are Don Nelson and Corey Maggette, both of whom were jettisoned this offseason — much to the approval of everyone in and around the team. Keith Smart takes over for Nelson and gets an All-Star power forward in David Lee to add to his core of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis. Andris Biedrins looks to be healthy for the first time in two years, and the addition of Dorell Wright gives the Warriors a legit NBA frontcourt.

If healthy, the team has an outside shot at making the playoffs as long as they show and execute an actual desire to play defense.

ON THE CELTICS: It seems a foregone conclusion to many that the Miami Heat are going to stroll into the NBA Finals, and the rest of the Eastern Conference has no say in the matter. This is where I disagree. The Celtics quietly had a great offseason, as they accumulated additional front-court depth in Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal, brought back Nate Robinson and added Delonte West to replace Tony Allen.

Add a fully healthy Kevin Garnett, a slimmer Paul Pierce and quite possibly the best point guard in the NBA in Rajon Rondo, and the Celtics are poised to make another Finals run. Kendrick Perkins should return around the All-Star break to provide depth up front, which will keep the front line fresh and ready to go during the playoffs.

I see the Celtics making a return trip to the Finals, as their chemistry, experience and toughness will prove to be too much for Miami and the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Los Angeles Clippers
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
by Steve Perrin, Clips Nation

Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin dunks the ball as Denver Nuggets' Shelden Williams looks on during second half of their NBA preseason basketball game, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010, in Los Angeles.

The Clippers desperately needed Blake Griffin's on-court demeanor. (AP)

ON THE CLIPPERS: The Clippers have long been one of the most unpredictable teams in the NBA (unless you just take the easy route and predict bad things). Every year, they look pretty good on paper, yet every year they seem to underachieve. I call them the anti-synergy team — the whole is always less than the sum of the parts.

Was the recent lack of synergy a function of the seven-year regime of coach Mike Dunleavy, and might new coach Vinny Del Negro be the answer? Unclear. What is clear is that, perhaps more than ever (and forgive me if you’ve heard this before), the Clippers are loaded (on paper). At four positions, the Clippers start a player with an impressive prefix for his name: two-time All-Star Baron Davis, Team USA gold medalist Eric Gordon, 2010 All-Star Chris Kaman and 2009 first overall pick Blake Griffin. Of course, three of those guys were there last season when the Clippers won only 29 games.

Griffin is the key, only partly for his basketball ability (which is almost unlimited). Just as important is the attitude he brings, and the Clippers are hoping it will infect the entire team. While the Clippers have visibly given up on their last three seasons, Griffin has never in his life given up on a single possession. If his presence serves to keep the Clippers playing hard all season, then perhaps the prospect and the reality will finally align for the Clippers.

I expect them to finish near the .500 mark this season, a definite step forward but probably not enough to qualify for the playoffs.

ON THE CELTICS: Five players on the Celtics have combined for a staggering 51 All-Star Game selections in their careers. When the Celtics decided to corner the market on former All-Pros named O’Neal who were willing to take $18M pay cuts, Jermaine (6 All-Star selections) and Shaq (15) joined Pierce (8), Ray Allen (9) and Garnett (13) on what must surely be the most decorated team of all-time.

Yet it may be two other Celtics with just a single All-Star selection between them who hold the key to Boston’s season. For all the accolades of the ‘drafted in the 90s’ crew, Rondo is the engine that makes Boston go, while Perkins is a lynchpin in their stifling defense. How well Rondo plays and how quickly (and how well) Perkins returns from ACL surgery will be major factors in Boston’s fortunes. Rondo is the one guy on the team who is entering elite status as opposed to exiting it, and elite teams always have elite players.

Meanwhile, it’s far from clear that either of the O’Neals has anywhere near enough gas in the tank to do what Perkins does in Boston’s vaunted defense. With so many 30-somethings, health will of course be a factor as well, but if Rondo takes the next step and the team enters the playoffs healthy (including a full-strength Perkins), then I expect the Celtics to give Orlando and Miami a run for the Eastern Conference championship and possibly even bring another banner back to Boston.

Los Angeles Lakers
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
by Jason Riley, The Lakers Nation

Matt Barnes holds his new Lakers jersey at an introductory press conference in El Segundo, Calif. , Tuesday, July 27, 2010.

Free-agent signing Matt Barnes gives the Lakers some added toughness. (AP)

ON THE LAKERS: The Champs had a surprisingly busy offseason — picking up a veteran point guard (Steve Blake), another solid, defensive-minded role player (Matt Barnes) and an insurance policy for Andrew Bynum (Theo Ratliff). The Lakers have two simple goals during the regular season:

  1. Get healthy for the playoffs.
  2. Win the West.

If I know Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant, they’ll take a clean bill of health in April over the No. 1 seed every single time. The regular season will be a grind, but I expect L.A. to find a way to emerge as the top seed in the West. If Kobe is healthy and Bynum can find a way to stay off the operating table, I like the Lakers’ chances to have another ring ceremony this time next year.

ON THE CELTICS: If the NBA were a horror franchise, the C’s would undoubtedly be Jason Voorhes — the aging, veteran killer who isn’t exactly chasing people down anymore, but continues to get the job done, sequel after sequel. With the offseason additions of the Big Minimum (Shaq), Delonte and the cadaver formerly known as Jermaine O’Neal, the C’s are actually more talented (and deeper) than they were last season. If everyone stays healthy (their biggest concern), I expect Boston to give Miami all they can handle in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Phoenix Suns
PHOENIX SUNS
by Seth Pollack, Bright Side of the Sun

Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash looks to an official during the second quarter of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, in Phoenix.

Steve Nash and the Suns will have to catch some breaks to return to the Western Conference Finals. (AP)

ON THE SUNS: The range of goals for the Suns this season goes anywhere from not losing 40 games to a return trip to the Western Conference Finals. It’s almost impossible to predict what the Suns will do this year, given the question marks and variables.

If all goes well (really well), and the team catches breaks along the way, they could certainly be right back at the top of the non-Laker heap. That would require other teams suffering big-time injuries — which played a huge factor last season — along with everything going right in Phoenix.

On the flip side, it’s not inconceivable that the Suns are back in the lottery if a couple of teams improve (and stay healthy). There are just too many unanswered questions going into the season to predict with any degree of confidence that the Suns will win 45 games. At the same time, I can easily make the case that they’ll win 55. That puts the goal somewhere between 40 and 55 wins. That’s the best I can do with this team right now.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics are old. Really, really old. And got older by adding Shaq. But we saw last season that Doc Rivers understands how to limp through the regular season and position his guys to be fresh for the playoffs. It’s a risky plan that worked once and may work again.

Or maybe it won’t. It’s so hard to predict when you’re talking about the health of older players. Of course, it’s one of the younger guys, Perkins, who’s the biggest question mark. Even if he returns midseason, it’s going to take months to get him back to where he was.

Fortunately for Celtics fans, the East isn’t that deep past the top three (I’m including the Bulls). Overall, it’s hard to see Boston finishing lower than a sixth seed, and then all bets are off. We know Boston can beat Orlando, and I’m not convinced the Heat will be a great playoff team. This all assumes, of course, that KG doesn’t get fined into the poor house with the new “Respect for the Game” rules.

Sacramento Kings
SACRAMENTO KINGS
by Bryan, Editor, A Royal Pain

Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans looks down at the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy he received as NBA basketball Rookie of the Year, in Sacramento, Calif. , Thursday, April 29, 2010. Evans, who was the fourth overall pick in last year's draft, beat out Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings for the award.

Coming off his Rookie of the Year campaign, Tyreke Evans added a jump shot to his arsenal. (AP)

ON THE KINGS: They’re certainly improved but already dealing with some concerning injuries. Newly acquired center Samuel Dalembert is going to miss a few weeks to start the season, and while I love the potential of DeMarcus Cousins, defensively he’s not there yet. That’s not to say he can’t get there quickly, but as of right now he’s struggling (as to be expected) on that side of the ball.

Assuming Dalembert returns healthy, the Kings’ defense will be far better than it was last season (how could it not be?). They’ve added a great deal of size with rookies Cousins and Hassan Whiteside, along with other big men Dalembert,  Jason Thompson and Carl Landry. They’ll be able to pack the lane much more effectively, and their size should be a unique advantage, especially with 6-foot-11 Donte Greene being named the starting small forward.

Tyreke Evans has spent the entire offseason working on his jumper (when he wasn’t speeding down the freeway), and the hard work has clearly paid off. Make no mistake, you won’t ever confuse him with Ray Allen, but Evans adding a reliable jumper and 3-point shot to his arsenal is a scary sight for other Western Conference teams.

The Kings still aren’t there, yet. The West has a lot of really good (but not elite) teams that will clog the bottom rung of the playoff seedings, but a season with 32-35 wins would be a fantastic growing point for the Kings.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics are going to continue to face the “age” question throughout the season. When are they going to show how old they are? A lot of people thought you’d begin to see the cracks last year, and it was completely the opposite, as they ran through the Eastern Conference. And I’d be hard-pressed to say they can’t do it again.

I love the additions of both O’Neal’s, and I don’t think we’ve seen the impact Nate Robinson can have yet. I do think the loss of Perkins is a big blow, but one they can manage through. Perk certainly doesn’t get the recognition he deserves around the league, as he’s one of the best defensive big men in the NBA and a cog in what the Celtics do. With that said, the Celtics clearly have the talent to maintain until he’s able to return later in the season.

The East did steal some power from the West with the additions of Carlos Boozer in Chicago and Amar’e Stoudemire in New York, but with the Knicks limited in other areas and Boozer’s injury the Celtics shouldn’t have much issue hanging onto the second seed (not that the Knicks are or were a threat).

They’ll give the Heat a run for their money if they meet in the playoffs. Can they beat them in a seven-game series? That’s a tough call. Injuries will always play a huge factor, but I’m not one of the many ready to just hand over the trophy to South Beach yet. Assuming the Celtics hang on to the No. 2 seed, they wouldn’t meet until the Heat ran through a gauntlet of tough lower seeds. As Garnett so famously said, “Anything is possible,” and I’d be far from shocked to see the Celtics come out of the season hanging yet another Eastern Conference championship banner.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this seven-part series: the Western Conference’s Northwest Division.

Read More: blogs, Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers
Irish Coffee: NBA’s (David) Stern warning 10.22.10 at 10:36 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

What if your boss came up to you and said, “Um, yeah, I’m gonna need you guys to go ahead and cut your salaries by $800 million”? I know I wouldn’t like if WEEI slashed my salary by $800 million, and NBA players aren’t going to like it, either.

But that’s exactly what NBA commissioner David Stern is proposing on his side of the collective bargaining agreement to make his league profitable again. Owners claimed $380 million in losses last season and project $350 million in losses this season.

“Even though we reported we have record season ticket sales over the summer and otherwise very robust revenue generation because of the built-in cost of the system,” deputy commissioner Adam Silver told reporters, “it’s virtually impossible for us to move the needle in terms of our losses.”

The NBA player’s association contested those numbers, and I am, too. You’re telling me that the league is losing that much money when season-ticket sales are at an all-time high and they’re just four months removed from a seven-game finals series between the league’s two biggest rivals? Didn’t 8.4 million people tune in just to watch the league’s biggest star announce where he was going to take his talents?

Slashing salaries by 36 percent is going to be a hard sell to the players, especially in a year that the league itself projected attendance to rank in the top five seasons ever.

“They’re saying lockout,” Clippers center Chris Kaman told the Los Angeles Times. “You just never know. You’ve just got to be ready and prepare yourself for that, moneywise. I’ve been saving a lot – looking out.”

If this is truly how the NBA owners are expecting to negotiate the collective bargaining agreement, don’t expect the season to start on time next year. The Celtics‘ starting five would have to give up $40 million next year alone to meet Stern’s demands. I’m not naive enough to believe that’s possible.

CELTICS WILL LOSE: SCOUTS’ HONOR

Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen released his annual survey of NBA advance and personnel scouts, and they don’t expect the Celtics to reach the finals. The highlights:

  • The Miami Heat and Orlando Magic are expected to finish with higher seeds than the Celtics in the East.
  • Three of the six scouts believe the Heat will take down the Celtics in the conference finals. Two scouts predict the C’s won’t even make it that far, and only one has Boston returning to the NBA finals.
  • That lone scout has the Celtics beating the Lakers in the finals. Three of them have the Lakers beating Miami, one has those two finishing vice versa and the sixth scout has the San Antonio Spurs as champs.
In this photo taken on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010,  Inside the NBA analyst Charles Barkley watches basketball games from the viewing room at TNT studios in Atlanta.

Charles Barkley continues to call LeBron James' "Decision" extravaganza "silly." And he's right. (AP)

ONE-ON-ONE: CHARLES BARKLEY VS. LEBRON JAMES

First Michael Jordan took on Kobe Bryant, and now Charles Barkley takes on LeBron James. The Round Mound of Rebound told USA Today:

“When we were at the Hall of Fame, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and myself said we would not have went to Miami. That’s just a basketball situation. That has nothing to do with anything. We just said we wanted to beat the other guy. That’s not a criticism; that was just giving our opinion. My criticism, and the only criticism I’ve really heard about LeBron, is how he handled the situation.”

While many people are arguing MJ ripped Kobe and Barkley dissed LeBron, that’s not really the case. Jordan called Kobe one of the top-10 guards of all-time, and Barkley called LeBron the best player in the NBA. Those hardly sound like fighting words.

Now, the real controversy should be over this statement from Oscar Robertson to ESPN: “LeBron James is in a class by himself,” even compared to Jordan. Really? I think Jordan’s six NBA titles and LeBron’s zero beg to differ.

A LAYUP DRILL

In the bad news department, former Celtic Charles Smith was shot twice in the chest in a Washington D.C. home yesterday afternoon, according to the local NBC affiliate. Smith reportedly remains in critical-but-stable condition following surgery.

After capturing 1998-89 Big East Player of the Year honors, Smith played 60 games for the 1989-90 Celtics that reached the playoffs. Continue to cheer for him. …

According to The Washington Post, the Wizards waived Adam Morrison yesterday. Back in July, the Celtics were one of four teams scouting Morrison’s Las Vegas workout. Any chance the C’s could bring him in for a look? …

Former Celtic Dominique Wilkins met with 30 kids from Maine who suffer from Type I diabetes to share his own experiences with the disease, The Portland Press Herald reported. Add that to his highlight film. …

Los Angeles Lakers villain Sasha Vujacic proposed to tennis star Maria Sharapova. Despite his 2.8 points-per-game average, she accepted. I’m sure he cried.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

Read More: Celtics, Charles Barkley, David Stern, LeBron James
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