Eastern CONFERENCE PREVIEW A FRIEND of my doctor e-mailed him a couple of years ago complaining he suffers from Knickcrophobia. He can't sleep; all he dreams about is a bunch of stiffs.
Regrettably, the guy's condition is unlikely to improve this season. Countless additional wakeful nights are imminent. When Donnie Walsh came to New York 18 months ago, his singular mindset was to create a wealth of cap space for LeBron James' free agent coming out party in the summer of 2010.
To that end, the team president has been successful. Too bad winning isn't part of the equation. The Knicks may not be as noxiously lifeless as they were under Isiah Thomas, but they're certainly not designed to be harmful to the health of all that many rivals.
"I'm losing faith in Walsh as a judge of talent," e-mails Lou Gaglia, expressing an increasingly common conviction of those who aren't enamored with the Knicks fiddling while ticket buyers get burned. "Danilo Gallinari and Jordan Hill might turn out to be good players, but right now there's nothing except, 'Hill's very active' and 'Gallo is the best shooter in Southern Italy.'
"The LeBron countdown is very entertaining. I always enjoy watching time tick away. I like to be reminded time is a-wasting."
The good news is, the Knicks' second team is as good as the first, column contributor Sam Lefkowitz submits. "The bad news is, their second team is as good as the first."
The regular season begins tonight. Since I've got a limited amount of column inches to supplement a rapidly dwindling stream of consciousness, I'm purely prepared to pretend to care about franchises that pretend to care about winning. In a survey conducted by me reaching out to column castigator Frank Drucker for his always-courteous opinion that number is tinge more than half of the NBA's 30 teams:
Celtics: Last year at this time, I looked at the Spurs' roster and wondered how many players would sit due to colonoscopies. Hopefully, Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Eddie House had their annual checkup prior to training camp. On second thought, even if one or two of them go down for any length of time, it's not as if capable reinforcements aren't present and accounted for. Kendrick Perkins, who did not undergo shoulder surgery, but is 15 pounds lighter (270), and Glen Davis picked up invaluable experience in last year's playoffs, whereas Rajon Rondo is a pending ballot removed from gaining All-Star recognition.
Magic: Rarely, if ever, has a conference champion changed its roster so radically from one season to the next. Five notable newcomers - Vince Carter, Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson, Matt Barnes and Jason Williams - enhance Orlando's title chances . . . as long as Boston cooperates by getting old in a hurry. On the other hand, Hedo Turkoglu's late-game playmaking and shot-making with games up for grabs will be greatly missed with or without Jameer Nelson.
Cavaliers: It took Michael Jordan until his seventh season to take the Bulls to the Promised Land. LeBron has six behind him and hasn't even promised to re-sign. Being crowned is James' sole challenge still to be accomplished. Having the artist formerly known as Shaquille O'Neal as his sidekick, as well as the right of first refusal on all Browns' player movements gives him renewed hope. Focus is on Shaq's grand entrance, as well it should, but the arrival of Anthony Parker may be the critical addition that unlocks the safe.
Wizards: Owner Abe Pollin, like just about everyone else in D.C., is throwing around money with abandon (the difference being this assembly may actually get some bang for the buck) barring any long-lasting breakdowns, naturally, by Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison (already sidelined a few weeks minimum with a shoulder separation) and Brendan Haywood, who is very possibly more indispensable than anyone. Let's not forget, before Arenas and Haywood crumbled Washington was battling Cleveland for fourth place each season and home court advantage. This time around Ernie Grunfeld fortified the back court by acquiring Randy Foye and Mike Miller to augment Nick Young, DeShawn Stevenson and Andray Blatche.
Hawks: The four above teams must pay luxury tax. Boston has spent $19.4 million more on its talent than Atlanta. Cleveland's salaries are $16.7 million more. Orlando's is $17 million. And Washington is nearly $13 million in excess. Realistically, given its payroll and direction, it's very important for Atlanta to be the best of the rest. The sum of its parts will make that happen, though it certainly would help if individual achievements also ascended. Like Joe Johnson elevating from All-Star to All-Pro, Al Horford becoming an All-Star and Josh Smith developing defensively into the next Scottie Pippen. Fresh from back-to-back tournament appearances after failing to sniff the second season from '99 to '08, the core is in place. Jamal Crawford, flaunting a better than advertised handle and already a legit candidate for the Sixth Man Award, joins the cast along with rookie Jeff Teague, giving coach Mike Woodson a nine-man depth chart. If attitudes remain in check, they can be dangerous, meaning returning to a 47-win team again figures to make Eastern elitists sweat.
Raptors: Rising free agent Chris Bosh has one more season to establish himself as a legit franchise player, something he's not judged to be by those held accountable for off-season spending. Bosh might want to raise his stock be leading this franchise to the playoffs and beyond a round or two. It's not as if Bryan Colangelo didn't recruit a swarm of helpers to harmonize with Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon. In almost a complete makeover, Turkoglu (see above attributes) and eight others joined forces, the largest north-of-the-border influx on record not involving draft dodging. Timing and familiarity could be an issue early, but should improve as year goes on. Overall athleticism is better (DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, Sonny Weems) and toughness (Reggie Evans, Antoine Wright, Reggie Evans, Jarrett Jack) has been conspicuously upgraded. Bargnani looks ready to burst; he finished strong last season (from Dec. 26 on) averaging 19 points, six rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Should new-age Dinos prove a success, Isiah Thomas is prepared to take full credit . . . the way he did recently for Vince Carter when, in fact, it was GM Glen Grunwald who acquired him for Jamison on draft day, 1998.
Pistons: When you boast offensive weapons like Ben Gordon, Rip Hamilton, Charlie Villanueva, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum, the emphasis must be on two areas: Unselfishness and defense. Making the playoffs is unadulterated fantasy unless they take precedence over scoring. Oh, yeah, and Ben Wallace somehow recaptures his athleticism and enthusiasm and Kwame Brown overachieves like never before.
Next: The West
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