By John Hareas, NBA.com
Posted Oct 28 2008 6:04PM
The driving rain and 36 mile-per-hour wind gusts couldn't dampen the spirits of NBA fans braving the mid-December like weather conditions for the Kia Motors Tip-Off street event in New York City's Union Square today.
Fans in attendance not only snagged free Knicks merchandise but also had a chance to mingle with a pair of six-time NBA champions, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Scottie Pippen, who signed autographs and bantered about the upcoming season. NBA Commissioner David Stern was also in attendance before heading up to Boston to present the Celtics with their championship rings tonight prior to the Cavs game (TNT, 8 ET). Spike Lee was seen walking around the area, too, seeking shelter from the storm, while chatting up Mike D'Antoni about the Knicks' chances to surprise this season.
Without further adieu, here are the 2008-09 predictions courtesy of Kareem, Scottie and Spike:
Atlantic Division: I expect Boston to repeat in the Atlantic Division. They lost some bench guys, most notably James Posey, but their nucleus is in tact and the leadership of Doc Rivers will prove to be a deciding factor.
Central Division: In the Central, I think Cleveland is the team to beat. I like the Mo Williams pick up and expect his play to complement LeBron's overall game plus I think the Cavs are hungry.
Southeast Divsion: The Southeast is kind of difficult to predict because Gilbert Arenas isn't going to be playing for Washington to start the season. Atlanta really surprised everybody, pushing the Celtics to the limit in the first round. They came together and really got a great effort and I expect them to build on last season. I'm gonna have to go with Atlanta right now depending on whether or not Washington can be healthy and ready for the entire season. I know Orlando has Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis plus they picked up Michael Pietrus, but I'm going to go with Atlanta.
Northwest Division: In the Northwest, I'm going to go with Portland. I think they are going to surprise Utah and a whole lot of other people. Greg Oden has shown so much in the preseason. He's hungry, he's talented, he wants the ball and they already had a good nucleus. Portland is the team to beat in that division.
Oden kind of reminds me of Moses Malone with hands. He's got good hands and is a better defensive player than Moses. That's just what Portland needed -- somebody that could defend the hoop and rebound for them. I don't know too much about him as an offensive player, but on that team he doesn't need to deliver a lot of offense to help them out a tremendous amount. I think he's going to be a tremendous addition.
Pacific Division: In the Pacific, I like the Lakers. I don't think anybody else has improved to the point where they can challenge the Lakers in that division. I think as soon as Andrew Bynum feels confident about his injury ... that's the type of thing that bothers you for a while, from a mental standpoint. You don't want to get injured again and you think about it all of the time. That might be an issue for Andrew for a little while. Andrew seems to have recovered, physically. He and Pau [Gasol] just have to figure out how to play together. I think they've already worked it out for the most part during the preseason and they will only get better as the season progresses. They're getting used to each other and they could be a really devastating frontline combination.
Southwest Division: In the Southwest, I think that is a real horse race down there. You've got San Antonio, New Orleans and Houston and all of them can win that division. I don't know how you're going to figure that one out. Memphis will finish last, but don't expect me to predict anyone else. Even Dallas has a good nucleus, but they've lost some guys and they've got a new coach. San Antonio, New Orleans and Houston all are contenders.
Eastern Conference Champion: I am going to pick Boston just because they know how to do it, they maintained their nucleus and they'll have some momentum from this past season. They'll find somebody else to fill Posey's position. I don't think that's going to be a major loss for them, although Posey is a fine player. They can probably replace him ... someone will emerge.
Western Conference Champion: I think out West is seriously going to be a horse race. Utah, Portland, the Lakers, New Orleans, Houston, even San Antonio, they're all there. I don't have any clue as to who is going to do it. Again, I'll pick the Lakers just because they dominated last year, but there has been a great deal of improvement among the other teams and the Lakers will by no means have an easy time getting it done. If Andrew Bynum is healthy, physically and mentally, he can make a big difference for the Lakers in getting over the hump. The Lakers didn't really get anybody in the draft or trade for anybody, but just having Bynum back healthy and if he starts playing again like he was playing right at the time he got hurt, he will make the Lakers very tough. That would be a deciding factor in the way things go in the West.
MVP: If LeBron stays healthy, he'll probably win it just because he has such a prominent scoring role for his team, which influences people who vote for the MVP.
Rookie of the Year: I like Greg Oden. The Trail Blazers are just waiting for somebody like him to come and make it all right.
Coach of the Year: Nate McMillan has been overlooked throughout his coaching career and he is probably going to win it. Although keep an eye on Mike Woodson and Mike Brown, especially if the Cavs gel and can have a consistent effort throughout the season.
Atlantic Division: I think Boston is automatic. You look at the teams in that division -- New Jersey, New York -- Philly (which moves up thanks to the Elton Brand acquisition) and Toronto -- but Boston is just a shoe in. They still have the nucleus of [Kevin] Garnett, [Paul] Pierce, Ray Allen [and] with Rajon [Rondo] coming on and another year of experience under his belt just makes him even better because now they have a guy with some experience, speed and quickness. I just think it's going to open up for him.
Central Division: It's really going to be a toss up between Cleveland and Detroit. I think Detroit is definitely a stronger team when they want to be, but they have the tendency of not playing up to their level. I think Cleveland is still missing one piece. LeBron [James] just doesn't do it in terms of being able to go out and win every night. I think he needs someone alongside him of star caliber. The Mo Williams addition will be a huge help for them, but he is not looked at as a star point guard. He's been very solid throughout his career, but in terms of a guy who is going to get out there and make plays time after time, I just don't see that guy at the side of LeBron right now. He still doesn't have that All-Star sidekick.
Detroit will take the Central just because they have the experience. This team has been together so long and even with a new coach in Michael Curry, you're not going to change much with him.
Southeast Division: This one is really up for grabs. Miami can be strong with a healthy Dwyane Wade and rookie Michael Beasley. Orlando should build upon last season in Stan Van Gundy's second season there. Washington, Atlanta and Charlotte, I don't expect them to do too much, especially the Wizards with Gilbert Arenas not 100 percent. If he isn't healthy, that team isn't going anywhere. I'm going with Miami. I think Wade is going to give them the leadership that they lacked last year and they way he played this past summer, he looked like the Dwyane Wade of the 2006 NBA Finals.
Northwest Division: That could be a tough one. Portland is definitely my first choice but with Denver, you never know what you're going to get. Carmelo is still a player who has a lot of growth and maturity ahead of him. Utah is still a solid team. With Deron out at the beginning of the season with a sprained ankle, that may cause them to get off to a slow start. I think Portland really does it for me with [Greg] Oden coming in. You can still say he's a rookie but he has had a year of really working on his body. I'm sure [Portland trainer] Jay Jensen has done a tremendous job with him of not just focusing on his injury, but focusing on the body as a whole. So I expect him to put on as good a show as a big man that we've seen in a long time in our league from the stand point of being a shot-blocker and also having some good offensive skills. Oden will be a very explosive player.
Pacific Division: I have to give a nod to the Lakers, but Phoenix is still a very solid team. They got Nash, Stoudemire and some very solid All-Star players on that team undergoing a transition of sorts under Terry Porter. But you look at last season and what the Lakers did without [Andrew] Bynum and with the acquisition of Pau Gasol at the end of the season, you have to think that this training camp has been very beneficial for Phil Jackson to be able to get these guys playing together and maybe even using Bynum and Gasol on the court together. I have to go with the Lake Show. They're just too solid of a team. They have the right package. They've got bigs, they've got Kobe, they have got good guards, so I give them a nod in the Pacific.
Southwest Division: That's probably one of the most competitive and most difficult divisions that we're gonna see this season. You've really got solid teams across the board with the absence of maybe Memphis. I was impressed with Chris Paul's play last season, especially during the playoffs when he took it to San Antonio. He played like a big man in a small body and showed how a guy of his caliber can lead a team. But San Antonio has just been so solid for so long. They don't stay underwater long, so I'm probably going to have to give them the nod.
Dallas is still sinking. I don't expect them to make any noise this season. They lost their shot a couple years ago when they didn't take advantage to really step on some teams. I think a lot of teams took a look at what Golden State did to them and they know that they are a beatable team. Defensively that is a huge weakness for them and they attack them from an offensive standpoint.
So I'm going with San Antonio. I expect them to bounce back. I expect Tim Duncan to come back and have an MVP caliber year. I expect Manu Ginobili to come back and be much more healthy. And with Tony Parker, when you have three superstars on one team it's pretty tough.
Eastern Conference Champions: Boston. No one in the East is at their level, including Cleveland ... at least not yet.
Western Conference Conference: Lakers. Bynum on board makes a big difference for the Lakers, especially combined with Pau in the middle.
Finals champs: Boston. I think Garnett is in the prime of his career right now and he realizes that and he's playing some of the most dominant basketball that I've seen a big man play in a long time. He's controlling everything. He did a lot of this when he was in Minnesota and now it may mean multiple championships for him.
MVP: Garnett. I think he's definitely deserving of it from last season just how he came out and performed. I felt like it was a showcase year for him to be in Boston. It kind of relieved a lot of the pressure he's dealt with his whole career of trying to do everything out on the court. He had other guys out there that could kind of carry some of the scoring load and do some of the little things that he's had to do his whole career.
Rookie of the Year: Greg Oden.
Coach of the Year: Nate McMillan. I think they're going to be an awesome team, especially given the fact that they've sort of completed the puzzle by bringing in a guy like Oden. Last season they excited a lot of people, but he's going to make the difference. They're going to be a better team defensively. They'll have the ability to have an uptempo game. Oden has great speed for a big guy, he gets up and down the floor. He's very dangerous around the basket. I just feel like they're going to be the team to watch in the West.
Atlantic Division: Boston. They're the NBA champs. Regarding the Knicks, I didn't like them cutting Patrick Ewing Jr. He deserved to make the team. We need players like that that want to play and that love the game. You can always find a place for a player like that. Some other team will snatch him up. I feel bad for Patrick Ewing Sr. I know for sure he has no good feelings about the Knicks now. This will be Stephon Marbury's final year with the Knicks. We have to start making cap room if we're going to be in the running to bring LeBron here.
Central Divsion: Cleveland. I think that LeBron is going to drive his team even harder in his hunger for a ring. They're not going to win it all, though.
Southeast Division: Orlando. Watch Dwight Howard become even more dominant this season.
Northwest Division: Portland. Greg Oden. That squad is crazy. That is going to be a dynasty if they keep those guys together and they play the way they should.
Pacific Division: Lakers. They're going to be strong and hungry. They were embarrassed. The Celtics humiliated them and they want to get that taste out of their mouth.
Southwest Division: Houston. Artest is going to make the difference and Tracy McGrady will win his first playoff series. Artest can shoot, defend, act crazy ... he's hungry. He can scare opposing players because they know he's crazy.
Eastern Conference Champions: Boston vs. Cleveland
Western Conference Champions: Lakers vs. Hornets
No one can hold Chris Paul. Best point guard in the game hands down. I love Jason Kidd but that was no match up in the playoffs. He was blowing right by Jason Kidd! And the Hornets have Posey now. Watch out!
NBA Finals: Lakers. The Big 3 in Boston had to play a lot of minutes last season To make it to the Finals they'll have to play a lot of minutes again. James Posey is a tremendous loss for them and besides, who repeats anymore? The Lakers are going to avenge their Finals loss this season. If [the Celtics] don't repeat I'm going for LeBron because he didn't win it last year. He is going to have to lift even more of this team on his shoulders.
Rookie of the Year: Greg Oden because he didn't play last year.
Coach of the Year: Mike D'Antoni. We're going to be competitive this year. We might surprise a few people...I'm hoping. If he is Coach of the Year, you know something good happened.
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