SAN ANTONIO SPURS* New look: Additions of Matt Bonner, Jackie Butler, Francisco Elson and Jacque Vaughn mean depth should be at least as good before. Outlook: Spurs appear better equipped to play small ball and Vaughn adds defense on the second unit. Assuming Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili stay healthy, San Antonio wins the West.
DALLAS MAVERICKS* New look: Dallas acquired tough veterans in Austin Croshere, Anthony Johnson and Greg Buckner while losing Adrian Griffith and Marquis Daniels. The Mavericks also extended deals for Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Josh Howard and Johnson. Outlook: It seems Dallas made some of its offseason moves with its failures against the Heat in mind, but the toughest task might be getting out of the West. The Mavericks have the talent and depth to do it.
HOUSTON ROCKETS* New look: Houston signed Bonzi Wells on the cheap and now has a legitimate No. 3 scoring option alongside Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. Shane Battier is a needed shooter who also fits with Coach Jeff Van Gundy’s grinding defense. Outlook: There are a lot of pieces that have to fit around McGrady and Yao, and McGrady’s back troubles could resurface. Still, Houston did well with 34 victories last season and figures to get 15 to 20 more and then be a tough out in the playoffs.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES New look: Lorenzen Wright signed with Atlanta, leaving Memphis with one true center in Jake Tsakalidis. Memphis traded Shane Battier for Stromile Swift and the rights to rookie Rudy Gay in the draft, and also drafted Kyle Lowry. Outlook: Pau Gasol injured his foot at the World Championships and could be out four months. Defense allowed the Grizzlies to make the playoffs despite a talent-deficient roster last season, but losing Battier’s toughness and Wright’s size hurts.
NEW ORLEANS HORNETS New look: The Hornets have become a refuge for players looking to jump-start their careers. Peja Stojakovic provides needed scoring punch, but he’s not durable. Tyson Chandler will be asked to run instead of play in the post, where he’s ineffective. Outlook: Hornets are a trendy pick to make the playoffs, and Chris Paul, Stojakovic and David West are good reasons for that. But Paul doesn’t help with scoring, Stojakovic will miss games with injuries and West doesn’t help the post game. A tough closing schedule keeps them out of the postseason.
PHOENIX SUNS* New look: The Suns didn’t do much in the offseason, but the biggest addition would be a healthy Amare Stoudemire. He’s making a comeback from the dreaded microfracture knee surgery. Outlook: Phoenix’s success last season proved that not all depends on Stoudemire. But it’s hard to imagine the Suns making another deep playoff run without him because his absence makes their weak interior defense even worse in a conference where it’s needed.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS* New look: Not much changed. Tim Thomas, who helped lift the Suns past the Clippers in the playoffs, replaces Vladimir Radmanovic. Outlook: The Clippers are strong at each position in the starting lineup. Age is a concern with Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley, but if they stay healthy and productive and Elton Brand and Chris Kaman continue to improve, another playoff berth is likely.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS* New look: Vladimir Radmanovic, a big shooting forward, was the splashiest signing. Maurice Evans is another good shooter, while Shammond Williams was rescued from Europe. Outlook: There’s more depth and lots of size. And, of course, there’s Kobe Bryant. As long as his offseason knee surgery isn’t an issue and Kwame Brown continues to improve, the Lakers have a shot at the playoffs even in this tough division.
SACRAMENTO KINGS New look: Wells misplayed the market and was allowed to leave. Kenny Thomas joins the starting lineup, and underachiever John Salmons was signed. Outlook: Mike Bibby could miss the first month of the season with a thumb injury. The Kings have enough ball-handlers and passers to make up for his absence, but not enough frontcourt size to contend in the West.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS New look: Don Nelson, the last coach to take the Warriors to the playoffs, returns. That has the Bay Area buzzing but doesn’t change the fact that, otherwise, the team looks basically the same. Outlook: Nelson should make the Warriors fun to watch with his small-ball system, but unless he can get Baron Davis under control, it won’t work. So far Nelson has had nothing but good things to say about Davis, but has anyone really been able to keep Davis happy for an entire season?
DENVER NUGGETS* New look: The changes didn’t include Kenyon Martin. J.R. Smith helps with shooting, a Denver weakness, and Joe Smith is insurance in case Martin goes in the tank. Anthony received a five-year extension and project center Nene got $60 million. Outlook: So much depends on Martin because without him happy and productive there’s no appetizing option behind Carmelo Anthony. Then again, the Nuggets might be able to win this division without Martin.
UTAH JAZZ* New look: Though Derek Fisher is past his prime he should still be a good fit. Rookie draft pick Ronnie Brewer adds needed athleticism and should push for early playing time because he can play defense. Outlook: The Jazz has size and toughness in surplus in the frontcourt. The real wild card might be Coach Jerry Sloan, infamous for quickly losing patience and constantly shuffling lineups.
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES New look: Former Heat guard Mike James arrives after a career year in Toronto. Rookie Randy Foye is super quick and eventually could start. Outlook: Kevin Garnett says he’s happy in Minnesota, but it’s hard to see why considering the franchise’s several failed attempts to build a team around him. James and Foye provide hope, but that’s it.
SEATTLE SUPERSONICS New look: Chris Wilcox, who played well after arriving in a midseason trade, signed a three-year deal. For the third consecutive draft, the Sonics selected a project center, this time Mouhamed Saer Sene. Outlook: Seattle’s 2004-05 division title seems so long ago. Ray Allen is 31 and playing on balky knees. Now there’s a chance the new owners from Oklahoma City may move the franchise. It’s all depressing for what’s left of Sonics fans.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS New look: General Manager John Nash is gone. So are Sebastian Telfair and Theo Ratliff. LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy came by way of the draft. Outlook: It’s still about tomorrow in Portland, where the team’s future is uncertain. Roy and Aldridge are the latest prospects added to the collection of young talent, but they can’t help make Portland competitive now.
MIAMI HEAT* New look: Pat Riley has said younger players will get minutes and the veterans nights off, but it’s hard to imagine that actually happening much on his watch. Outlook: It seems the East final again is the minimum expectation. Complacency is a concern especially considering how the Heat meandered through last season. But no one wants to face this talented, experienced, deep team in the playoffs.
WASHINGTON WIZARDS* New look: Jared Jeffries was allowed to depart for New York because his price was too high. DeShawn Stevenson allows for a lineup with a natural shooting guard, particularly helpful for the perimeter defense. Darius Songaila helps the bench. Outlook: Coach Eddie Jordan is preaching defense but may still lack willing converts, especially in the post. The Wizards can score with the best, but that’s no comfort in the playoffs.
ORLANDO MAGIC New look: Darko Milicic, a bust in Detroit, showed signs of life playing alongside Dwight Howard. Draft pick J.J. Redick adds outside shooting, a major weakness for the Magic last season. Outlook: Howard is a star. Milicic, eligible to become a restricted free agent in the summer, is motivated. Grant Hill is healthy (for now) and Jameer Nelson is promising. It might be enough for the playoffs.
CHARLOTTE BOBCATS New look: Adam Morrison is the latest college star to be drafted by the Bobcats. He lit up the Orlando Summer League and will get plenty of minutes. Outlook: Staying healthy while playing ugly could mean real improvement. But that may not be enough to satisfy fans still smarting from their experience with the Hornets franchise.
ATLANTA HAWKS New look: Speedy Claxton fills a big need at point guard, and he has several athletic wing players to run with him. Draft pick Shelden Williams provides muscle to a frontcourt that lacks it. Outlook: The ownership problems cloud everything – if the young players are still in it come January, will they get any help? Hawks should at least be fun to watch.
DETROIT PISTONS* New look: It will be interesting to see the Pistons without Ben Wallace, who energized them with his gritty play. Nazr Mohammed is much more polished offensively, but now Detroit can be had in the post. Outlook: Wallace’s departure hurts. Eventually the incredibly long run of injury luck has to end, and there’s not enough depth to sustain it. But with Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace, the Pistons still have enough for one more run.
CHICAGO BULLS* New look: Ben Wallace was the biggest free-agent signing of the offseason. He fits right in with Chicago’s style even if he doesn’t help their post scoring, a real weakness. P.J. Brown still is a pretty good defender and can shoot. Outlook: It’s tempting to say these are the new Pistons, except Detroit had more scoring options than this. A deadline deal for a scorer might be necessary to give Chicago a real shot at the conference title.
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS* New look: Not much different after 2005. Scot Pollard is another big body, draft pick Shannon Brown can shoot and the Cavs hope David Wesley has another good year left. The most important moves were an extension for LeBron James and re-signing Drew Gooden. Outlook: Still not clear where the shooting will come from among the regulars unless Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall can regain their stroke. That’s about the only glaring weakness.
INDIANA PACERS New look: Al Harrington, in his second stint with Indiana, will play power forward in a smallish lineup. Danny Granger and Marquis Daniels should be part of the running, too. Outlook: Harrington is a nice player, not a star. Jermaine O’Neal and Jamaal Tinsley can’t stay healthy. Stephen Jackson can’t stay out of trouble. Indiana finally falls out of contention.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS New look: T.J. Ford was traded for Charlie Villanueva, a good swap for the Bucks, who now have Mo Williams, Villanueva and Andrew Bogut as a good young core. Outlook: The Bucks figure to join the small ball trend and, like most, they’ll have to figure out how to defend inside. That task got harder for Milwaukee with Bogut (leg) expected to miss the first month or so.
NEW JERSEY NETS* New look: New Jersey believes it got a steal in No. 22 overall draft pick Marcus Williams. The athletic guard and new arrival Eddie House are part of the plan to push the pace and score in bunches. Outlook: The Nets are good enough to win a weak division again, but it’s questionable whether they can grind with the Heat, Bulls or Pistons in the playoffs. If it doesn’t work this time around, expect some major changes next season.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS* New look: With no takers for Allen Iverson on the trade market, the Sixers made no major offseason moves. There’s a chance for first-round draft pick Rodney Carney to earn big minutes. Outlook: Looks like more of the same or worse for the 76ers, who are suffering from dwindling fan support. Expect Iverson trade rumors to be the dominant theme.
BOSTON CELTICS* New look: Sebastian Telfair and Rajon Rondo, along with Delonte West, have the Celtics thinking up-tempo. Solid veteran center Theo Ratliff helps now while Kendrick Perkins develops. Outlook: Since the team is loaded with so many talented prospects, the results could swing wildly one way or the other. The Celtics could push for a playoff spot or struggle to 30 victories.
NEW YORK KNICKS New look: Larry Brown was fired and Isiah Thomas, the GM, took over. Jared Jeffries signed as a free agent, and the team drafted Renaldo Balkman and Mardy Collins in the first round. Outlook: The Knicks actually have some talent, versatility and promising young players. They should play harder for Thomas, who is under orders to make significant improvement. The Knicks will be better, but it might not be enough.
TORONTO RAPTORS New look: In his first summer as personnel chief, Bryan Colangelo traded Charlie Villanueva for T.J. Ford, a super-fast point guard who replaces Mike James. Rasho Nesterovic, another trade acquisition, adds needed size and helps shore up the interior defense. Outlook: The Raptors want to run, and Ford does it better than most. Still, he doesn’t score like James, and there doesn’t seem to be much scoring beyond Chris Bosh or enough defense to make up for it. *Denotes projected playoff team. © 2006 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information