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2006-07 NBA Northwest Division Preview

By Drew Mangione of Doc's Sports Picks

NORTHWEST DIVISION

Much was made of this division's winner having the seventh-best record last year and getting the No. 3 seed, thus screwing over the poor Dallas Mavericks (despite the fact that they could have been No. 1 if they hadn't lost three of their last four games). Well, Cuban and a bunch of wannabe purists whined and the league adjusted to format a bit, but it was all for naught. Denver will deserve its seed this year, though the division overall will again be weak.

George Karl can coach and Carmelo Anthony is a complete offensive threat. This team has the pieces to win and should have more than 50 wins with the offense going through the '03 stud. The key here is the return of Nene who will make the disgruntled Kenyon Martin trade bait for the final piece of the puzzle: a shooter. (My suggestion would be K-Mart to the Cavs for Damon Jones. It helps both teams.)

After Denver, the playoffs seem increasingly out of reach. Utah has a good frontline and some solid young guards, which under Jerry Sloan may be enough to make an impact. If Kevin Garnett and Randy Foye forge what he and Marbury should have had, the T-Wolves might be a possibility, though trade rumors could derail a potentially good thing before it gets chugging. Portland is on the right track, but still far away and Seattle is improved, but only because the players who have been replaced by rookies were awful.

Here's a breakdown of each team in the division:

DENVER NUGGETS
2005 Record: 44-38 (1st Division, 7th Conference)
2006 Title odds: 44/1
2006 Wins O/U: 41.5
2006 Wins Projection: Over
Key Additions: Nene (from injury), F/C; J.R. Smith, SG; Joe Smith, F
Key Losses: Reuben Patterson, SF; Francisco Elson, F/C
Outlook: One problem child is gone, one more to go. Kenyon's contract may make him hard to deal, but Kiki will get it done. Carmelo Anthony is a motivated version of Glen Robinson, with whom Karl won 50 games in Milwaukee. His inside/outside presence along with Nene's return on the inside and Andre Miller at the controls should set the Nuggets up to be a fourth contender in the West. Boykins is a spark plug, J.R. Smith adds excitement and Joe Smith brings some veteran leadership.
Bottom line: The only thing other than multiple injuries that can kill this team is a fractured locker room, but Carmelo is the unquestioned superstar and should step up to lead his team through one or two rounds of the playoffs.

UTAH JAZZ
2005 Record: 41-41 (2nd Division, 9th Conference)
2006 Title odds: 75/1
2006 Wins O/U: 39
2006 Wins Projection: Over
Key Additions: Derek Fisher, PG; Ronnie Brewer, SG; Rafael Araujo, C; Dee Brown (r), G
Key Losses: Keith McLeod, PG; Devin Brown, G/F; Milt Pilacio, G; Greg Ostertag, C
Outlook: Andre Kirilenko is a very good small forward, but without a consistent shot, I find it hard to rate him as highly as it seems vogue to do. However, he's at the top of the second-tier talent and part of a frontline with two other quality second-tier players, giving Jerry Sloan some real tools. Derek Fisher's Golden State experiment proved he is only a role player, but behind Deron Williams, he may just find that role again.
Bottom line: This is a quality collection of mid-level talent that will go as far as Deron Williams takes it. If he's playing well, it's off to the playoffs. If not, it's late lottery again.

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SEATTLE SUPERSONICS
2005 Record: 35-47 (3rd Division, 11th Conference)
2006 Title odds: 48/1
2006 Wins O/U: 35.5
2006 Wins Projection: Under
Key Additions: Saer Sene (r), C; Mickael Gelabale (r), F; Denham Brown (r), F
Key Losses: Mikki Moore, C; Mateen Cleaves, PG; Mike Wilkes, F
Outlook: I wonder if Chris Wilcox is legit? He played well last year after what I thought at the time was a poor trade for both teams. However, the talented but inconsistent forward seemed to give the Sonics a true low block presence. Luke Ridnour is a solid point guard and though Ray Allen is toward the bottom of the list, he is still A-flight talent and capable of keeping games close.
Bottom line: The team dropped some dead weight players and replaced them with three rookies who might pan out. Bob Hill is not the answer for any NBA team, but this team could be a spoiler for playoff positions late.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
2005 Record: 33-49 (4th Division, 14th Conference)
2006 Title odds: 250/1
2006 Wins O/U: 36
2006 Wins Projection: Under
Key Additions: Randy Foye (r), G; Mike James, PG; Craig Smith (r), PF; Vin Baker, PF
Key Losses: Marcus Banks, PG; Anthony Carter, PG; Ronald Dupree, SF
Outlook: Kevin Garnett is perhaps the most complete player in the NBA, serving as his team's best scorer (in the low and high posts), best rebounder, best defender, best passer, and only leader. GM Kevin McHale, however, has never recovered from trying to pay Joe Smith under the table and has now provided his superstar with a promising young guard and another set of scrap heap players.
Bottom line: Can you blame KG if he isn't happy? This team was a contender, but not anymore. How many players will it take to add up to KG's pre-CBA contract?

PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS
2005 Record: 21-61 (5th Division, 15th Conference)
2006 Title odds: 500/1
2006 Wins O/U: 24
2006 Wins Projection: Over
Key Additions: Brandon Roy (r), SG; LaMarcus Aldridge (r), PF; Jamaal Magliore, C; Raef LaFrentz, C; Dan Dickau, PG
Key Losses: Sebastian Telfair, PG; Steve Blake, PG; Brian Skinner, PF; Viktor Khryapa, F; Theo Ratliff, F/C
Outlook: This team is trying so hard to lose the JailBlazers reputation of a few years ago and may be close. Zach Randolph is a legitimate low post presence and a great piece to build around. Management brought in the right coach and it looks good. However, this is still Portland and there are far too many strip clubs and far too easy access to drugs for the players to ignore. They've brought in some reputable veterans in Magliore and LaFrentz, who should defend Randolph's backside and Brandon Roy is expected to make his presence felt quickly.
Bottom line: Any conduct detrimental to the team should not be tolerated and if they behave, this is the rebuilding year and the playoffs might be a possibility down the road.

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