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NBA 2010-2011 Preview -- Reconstructing LeBron

"What should I do?" -- LeBron James, over and over and over again his new Nike spot

The fact that LeBron James is posing the question in his new Nike spot perhaps tells us that he is not completely devoid of self-awareness, as he appeared to be last summer. Of course, the first question he poses in the spot -- "Should I admit I made mistakes?" -- is the one question that deserved the most emphatic "YES!"

Naturally, he never admitted anywhere in the spot to making mistakes. Because in the end, there are only two things any right thinking person wants from LeBron James at this point -- an apology to Cleveland, not for leaving to go to Miami,but for steamrolling the city in a made-for-TV slurpfest, and to just shut up and play basketball.

I don't know that we'll ever get the former, but fortunately LeBron is contractually bound to do the latter, and did so last night.

What should you do, LeBron? Go play basketball. In the end, that's all we wanted all along.

If the first game for the new Miami Heat is any indication, the monster robot that was going to plow through the league still needs some tuning up (and maybe even a center at the trade deadline). The Heat lost to the Celtics in the season opener last night, and while one game is obviously not a sample space from which to draw anything remotely definitive, i can say with unbridled joy that I enjoyed the following:

1. Watching the Heat lose
2. Watching Chris Bosh look completely lost
3. Watching Shaquille O'Neal become the first player to crash through the floor of the TD Garden from landing after a dunk

For virtually the entire game, the Heat looked like a bunch of junior high students at their first dance -- confused, out of sorts, not really knowing how to interact with each other. One thing for sure -- this is LeBron James' team. His personality, his talent, and (given how much pressure he personally has on him this season) his drive are all bigger than Dwyane Wade's. Wade's got the ring, but LeBron is the no doubt tour de force on this Heat roster.

My money says they get it all straightened out, at least to the point where they'll just out-LeBron most of the teams in the East and half the teams in the West; hell, it's what he did in Cleveland. As much as I hate Chris Bosh, he's a major upgrade over Anderson Varajeo as a third banana.

Which brings us to the predictions for 2010-2011. I unveiled my prediction format last season and it goes like this:

All due respect, Tone, the system works

I basically compare each NBA team to a mob family. In the world of organized crime, a mob family is only going to be as strong as the baseline that its boss sets for it. If I may reset from last year (using entirely fictitious characters, mind you), Tony Soprano was such a decisive and forceful leader, his family was going to succeed whether his capos were ultra-capable (Ralphie, Vito) or bumbling idiots (Paulie, Carlo, etc). To be sure, there were ups and downs, but Tony's family always managed to survive and mostly thrive.In the NBA, my feeling is that each team has a "boss," a player whose talents establish the baseline for how many wins that team can achieve. From there, you have the "consigliere" (second banana; Silvio Dante, for you Sopranos fans) and the "capos" (supporting cast; players 3 thru 6 or so), who can move the needle for an NBA team six or seven wins at most either way off the baseline. Then, you have the "soldiers," the rest of the guys who eat up minutes, crack jokes on the bench, and pay for hookers during All-Star weekend. Good soldiers are worth maybe 1-3 extra wins. Maybe. But the Boss is the guy that decides whether you're playing in June or fishing on April 15.

So here's an example, take Boss Player A, whose baseline is 50 wins; if you gave him consigliere/capos that are pretty sporty, you're looking at a 55-56 win team. A few good
soldiers, 59 wins is a possibility. Surround Boss Player A with garbage, and he'll still find a way to win 43 games.

DISCLAIMER: This method of evaluating NBA teams is totally subjective, grounded in
no scientific data, and is largely based on hunches. Now, they are the hunches of someone who watches basketball roughly thirty hours a week, but hunches nonetheless.

If you're wondering how it went for me last season, using Vegas season win totals from before the 2009-2010 season, my Mob Style method yielded 16 predictions that were closer to actual win totals than Vegas was. Vegas was closer on 11, two we pushed, and one team (the Clippers, due to Blake Griffin's injury) had no posted line for season win total.

So without further ado, here is the 2010-2011 Mob Style Overview of each NBA team ...

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. MIAMI HEAT

Boss (Baseline wins): F LeBron James (60 wins)
Consigliere: G Dwyane Wade
Capos: F/C Chris Bosh, G Mike Miller, F Udonis Haslem, G Eddie House

Mitigating Factors: Say what you want about Dwyane Wade's hamstring issue, Mike Miller's hand injury, and whatever ill will you want to mentally try and heap onto this team. As long as LeBron has a pulse, they win 60 by accident. The playoffs may be a different story -- the other Eastern superpowers have major advantages inside the paint and it will be interesting to see if Erik Spoelstra can make the game-to-game adjustments needed in the postseason. That is assuming Pat Riley doesn't reassign him to the mail room in January so he can take over the reins.

VEGAS SAYS: 64.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 65 wins

2. ORLANDO MAGIC

Boss (Baseline wins): C Dwight Howard (57 wins)
Consigliere: G Vince Carter
Capos: G Jameer Nelson, F Rashard Lewis, G Mickael Pietrus

Mitigating Factors: Who takes over in crunch time in the last two minutes of a game in May or June? They have a boatload of talent in their rotation, but they don't have anyone super comfortable with initiating crunch-time offense, and their best player still gets most of his points on garbage and dunks (and the free throws that he doesn't brick).

VEGAS SAYS: 56 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 59 wins

3. BOSTON CELTICS

Boss (Baseline wins): F Paul Pierce (48 wins)
Consigliere: G Rajon Rondo
Capos: G Ray Allen, F Kevin Garnett, C Shaquille O'Neal, C Kendrick Perkins

Mitigating Factors: Along with the Spurs (Duncan or Ginobili) and the Rockets (quantifying how to assess Yao as a 24-minute-a-game guy), the Celtics "Boss" call was the toughest one for me. Rondo or Pierce? Tie goes to the veteran. And by the way, if you had put this roster together in 2002 instead of 2010, it would have been as hated as the 2010 Heat. Easily.

VEGAS SAYS: 55.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 54 wins

4. CHICAGO BULLS

Boss (Baseline wins): G Derrick Rose (49 wins)
Consigliere: F Carlos Boozer
Capos: C Joakim Noah, F Luol Deng, F Taj Gibson, G Ronnie Brewer

Mitigating Factors: It's not a very deep roster, and losing Carlos Boozer for the first portion of the season from falling down drunk tripping over a gym bag and breaking his hand won't help. Here's betting that this is the year Derrick Rose becomes what Chris Paul appeared to be on his way to becoming two seasons ago -- a guy who can carry pretty much any group around him.

VEGAS SAYS: 46.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 52 wins

5. ATLANTA HAWKS

Boss (Baseline wins): G Joe Johnson (43 wins)
Consigliere: F Josh Smith
Capos: C Al Horford, G Mike Bibby, G Jamal Crawford, F Marvin Williams

Mitigating Factors: A bunch of good to really good players who are now married to Joe Johnson as their crunch-time guy for the next six years, or at least until he becomes Joe Johnson's Expiring Contract in 2015.

VEGAS SAYS: 46.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 47 wins

6. MILWAUKEE BUCKS

Boss (Baseline wins): G Brandon Jennings (45 wins)
Consigliere: C Andrew Bogut
Capos: G John Salmons, G/F Corey Maggette, F Drew Gooden

Mitigating Factors: Was Brandon Jennings' rookie season the most unlikely "taking over a franchise" rookie season that we've seen? Here's a kid who struggled to get on the floor overseas and left the NBA Draft early because he hadn't been selected when he thought he would be (only to return out of the blue when the Bucks took him), whose shot was called "broken" by Jay Bilas on draft night, and there he is hanging up 55 in a game against Golden State early last season. Of course, for all of his hard work, the Bucks rewarded him with Drew Gooden this past offseason. Yeah, sixth sounds about right.

VEGAS SAYS: 45.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 44 wins

7. WASHINGTON WIZARDS

Boss (Baseline wins): G John Wall (45 wins)
Consigliere: G Gilbert Arenas
Capos: C Javale McGee, F Josh Howard, G Kirk Hinrich, G Al Thornton

Mitigating Factors: While expectations are much higher for John Wall entering this season than they were for Jennings last season, the Wizards are still expected to be a lottery team by most. The East is wide open, someone is going to make a move. I'll take the team with the next big thing at point guard and my Most Improved Player pick at center (McGee). (Yeah, how wide open is the East? I just picked the team who won the lottery last season and whose $100 million player was suspended for gun play in the locker room to make the playoffs. The NBA! It's faaantastic!!)

VEGAS SAYS: 33 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 41 wins

8. NEW YORK KNICKS

Boss (Baseline wins): F Amare Stoudemire (41 wins)
Consigliere: G Raymond Felton
Capos: F Danilo Galinari, F Anthony Randolph

Mitigating Factors: Soooo....the Knicks spent the last three seasons digging out from underneath rubble left behind by Hurricane Isiah, clearing out cap space, hell even rubbing elbows with Tracy McGrady for half a season, so that they could overpay a one-trick-pony forward with a bad eye and microfracture surgery on his medical records, and pilfer a third-tier point guard from the Bobcats? All righty then. Carmelo Anthony is the wild card in all of this obviously. That said, I think losing 'Melo makes the Nuggets much worse than getting 'Melo makes the Knicks better, if that makes any sense.

VEGAS SAYS: We want clarity on the 'Melo deal! (no line) ...SEAN SAYS: 38 wins

9. INDIANA PACERS

Boss (Baseline wins): F Danny Granger (37 wins)
Consigliere: G Darren Collison
Capos: G Mike Dunleavy, C Roy Hibbert, G Brandon Rush

Mitigating Factors: On the plus side, the Darren Collison deal looks to give the team a nice point guard-scorer combo to make a move in the East with maybe another piece or two. On the down side, they were one pick away from getting Gordon Hayward, who would have given the Pacers enough white forwards to surpass the Jazz and the 1980's Celtics for most white forwards on one roster. So close!

VEGAS SAYS: 34 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 37 wins

 

10. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS

Boss (Baseline wins): F Gerald Wallace (35 wins)
Consigliere: G Stephen Jackson
Capos: G D.J. Augustin, F Boris Diaw, F Tyrus Thomas, C Nazr Mohammed

Mitigating Factors: When it comes to talent evaluation by former NBA greats, for every Jerry West there's a hundred Michael Jordans. (Yes, I'm insulting Michael Jordan.)

VEGAS SAYS: 38.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 36 wins

11. DETROIT PISTONS

Boss (Baseline wins): G Richard Hamilton (32 wins)
Consigliere: G Ben Gordon
Capos: G Rodney Stuckey, F Tayshaun Prince, F Charlie Villanueva

Mitigating Factors: This team is a mess, a bunch of second bananas and/or guys who think they're a first banana. Drafting seventh, if I were the Pistons, I'd have taken Gordon Hayward and just seen if you could find a guy who can be the go-to guy. What did you have to lose? Greg Monroe?

VEGAS SAYS: 32 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 27 wins

12. PHILADELPHIA 76ers

Boss (Baseline wins): Andre Iguodala (29 wins)
Consigliere: F Elton Brand
Capos: G Evan Turner, G Jrue Holliday, C Spencer Hawes

Mitigating Factors: Evan Turner is the wild card. If he plays like the second pick in the draft, the team could bump against the back end of the playoffs.

VEGAS SAYS: 35 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 26 wins

The Nets's glory days: Not 2010

13. NEW JERSEY NETS

Boss (Baseline wins): Brook Lopez (26 wins)
Consigliere: G Devin Harris
Capos: F Derrick Favors, G Terrance Williams, G Jordan Farmar

Mitigating Factors: For all of the bluster about the Russian owner of the Nets coming and taking over the East like Drago in the beginning of Rocky IV, the whole offseason was one big popcorn fart in New Jersey.

VEGAS SAYS: 24.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 24 wins

14. TORONTO RAPTORS

Boss (Baseline wins): C Andrea Bargnani (23 wins)
Consigliere: G DeMar DeRozan
Capos: G Jose Calderon, F Linas Kleiza, F Amir Johnson

Mitigating Factors: Too bad the NHL isn't still around to distract Raptors fans from this debacle. Wait, what?

VEGAS SAYS: 27 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 23 wins

15. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Boss (Baseline wins): F Antawn Jamison (24 wins)
Consigliere: G Mo Williams
Capos: C Anderson Varajeo, F J.J. Hickson, G Anthony Parker, G Boobie Gibson

Mitigating Factors:
When the final word is written about the LeBron James Era, even if he goes on to win an NBA championship, his greatest accomplishment may be coaxing back-to-back 60-plus win seasons from this gaggle of misfits. It's too bad Tom Izzo didn't take this gig; it would have at least been entertaining watching him vaporize after a 20-point loss to the Wizards in January.
VEGAS SAYS: 31.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 18 wins

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Boss (Baseline wins): G Kobe Bryant (59 wins)
Consigliere: F Pau Gasol
Capos: F Ron Artest, F Lamar Odom, G Derek Fisher, G Shannon Brown, C Andrew Bynum (when healthy)

Mitigating Factors: Actually, come to think of it, winning a title wouldn't even be LeBron's second greatest accomplishment -- making casual fans actually root for Kobe Bryant is far more impressive. Wild card for this team is Kobe's general health. Is this still a 60-win team or have they evolved into a "pace yourself" team like the Spurs? Let's not forget that, while they were the one seed last season, they did "only" win 57 games.

VEGAS SAYS: 58.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 62 wins

2. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

Boss (Baseline wins): F Kevin Durant (57 wins)
Consigliere: G Russell Westbrook
Capos: F Jeff Green, G Thabo Sefolosha, G James Harden, C Nick Collison

Mitigating Factors: I am frankly petrified about this pick, but if you go by the Mob Family theory, you need to stick to your guns. Kevin Durant is, at worst, the fourth-best player in the league behind LeBron, Kobe, and D-Wade. So if that's the case, this is at least a 55-win team, right? Side bar question -- can you imagine how this team could spread the floor if they drafted Steph Curry instead of James Harden in 2009 (like I told them to!)?

VEGAS SAYS: 51.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 57 wins

3. UTAH JAZZ

Boss (Baseline wins): G Deron Williams (54 wins)
Consigliere: C Al Jefferson
Capos: F Andrei Kirilenko, F Paul Millsap, G Raja Bell, F Gordon Hayward

Mitigating Factors: Well, if Gordon Hayward wasn't going to land in Indiana, at least he landed in Utah. Basically, the Jazz traded Kyle Korver, Carlos Boozer, and Wes Matthews for Al Jefferson, Raja Bell and Hayward. If Jefferon's knee is right, this is a better team now than at the end of last season.

VEGAS SAYS: 49 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 55 wins

4. DALLAS MAVERICKS

Boss (Baseline wins): F Dirk Nowitzki (52 wins)
Consigliere: G Jason Kidd
Capos: G Caron Butler, F Shawn Marion, C Brendan Haywood, C Tyson Chandler, G Jason Terry

Mitigating Factors: Is the window closing on the Mavs? How soon until Dirk is on the back side of his career? Will Jason Kidd ever die? What ever happened to Dirk's alleged baby mama? Yeah, this team feels like about a four seed.

VEGAS SAYS: 49.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 54 wins

5. SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Boss (Baseline wins): C Tim Duncan (47 wins)
Consigliere: G Manu Ginobili
Capos: G Tony Parker, F RIchard Jefferson, F DeJuan Blair, G George Hill

Mitigating Factors: I so wanted to put Ginobili in as the Boss of the Spurs. I struggled with it. So I went to the best and smartest Spurs fan that I know, Rick in Missouri City, and asked him. His answer: "Until Duncan is in a wheelchair or eating dinner at 3:00 PM in Del Boca Vista, he still has the spot. In an Uncle Junior way, but still." So as Ralphie Cifaretto would say, it is so decreed!

VEGAS SAYS: 49.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 48 wins

6. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

Boss (Baseline wins): G Brandon Roy (47 wins)
Consigliere: F LaMarcus Aldridge
Capos: C Marcus Camby, G Andre Miller, G Wesley Matthews, G Rudy Fernandez

Mitigating Factors: This team was supposed to be the new breed, threatening the balance of power in the West with Brandon Roy knocking on the door of the LeBron/Kobe/Wade pantheon as the next big crunch-time leader. Then not only did the Blazers screw up by not taking Durant when they could have, but Durant went and took their damn spot at the table in the upper half of the West, or at least he's about to. Seriously, never has one person (Durant) ruined so many lives in one part of the country (Pacific Northwest, Seattle and Portland) merely by being an exemplary citizen and standout basketball player.

VEGAS SAYS: 49.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 47 wins

 

7. HOUSTON ROCKETS

Boss (Baseline wins): C Yao Ming (39 wins with the 24-minute-a-night caveat, otherwise it'd be closer to 45 wins)
Consigliere: G Aaron Brooks
Capos: G Kevin Martin, F Luis Scola, F Shane Battier, G Courtney Lee, F Chase Budinger, G Kyle Lowry

Mitigating Factors: The other really difficult team to quantify under the "Mob Family" methodology for two reasons -- first, their best player will only be playing 24 minutes a night. And second, this is a group that is a clear "whole greater than sum of its parts" ensemble, in every way. In the end, I settled on 39 as Yao's baseline and a seven seed with 45 wins, but who the hell knows.

VEGAS SAYS: 48.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 45 wins

8. PHOENIX SUNS

Boss (Baseline wins): G Steve Nash (49 wins)
Consigliere: F Grant Hill
Capos: F Hedo Turkoglu, G Jason Richardson, C Robin Lopez

Mitigating Factors:
Easily Steve Nash's greatest test so far as the point guard of the Suns, next to trying to accommodate Shaquille O'Neal completely clogging the middle of the floor two seasons ago. Seriously, is there a potential playoff team where it's harder to find a second guy worthy of consigliere status? In the end, I settled on Hill just based on reliabaility, but if Grant Hill is your second best player, how good can you really be?

VEGAS SAYS: 41.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 43 wins

9. DENVER NUGGETS

Boss (Baseline wins): F Carmelo Anthony (50 wins)
Consigliere: G Chauncey Billups
Capos: C Nene, F Al Harrington, C Chris Andersen, F Kenyon Martin

Mitigating Factors: If 'Melo stays, they edge out the Suns or Rockets for a playoff spot. If he goes, this team becomes Golden State. 41 wins is merely splitting the difference.

VEGAS SAYS: Same as the Knicks line, need 'Melo clarity (no line) ...SEAN SAYS: 41 wins (playing it neutral)

10. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

Boss (Baseline wins): G Chris Paul (45 wins)
Consigliere: F David West
Capos: F Trevor Ariza, C Emeka Okafor, G Peja Stojakovic

Mitigating Factors: Congratulations Chris Paul! Hornets management's message that they're serious about winning was bringing in Trevor Ariza. Have fun with that!

VEGAS SAYS: 41.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 40 wins

11. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

Boss (Baseline wins): F Blake Griffin (36 wins)
Consigliere: G Baron Davis
Capos:
C Chris Kaman, G Eric Gordon, F Ryan Gomes

Mitigating Factors: If your clear-cut best player and leader is a second-year player who missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury and yet you still have enough overall talent to scare some playoff teams...you might be the Clippers.

VEGAS SAYS:
37.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 35 wins

12. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

Boss (Baseline wins): G O.J. Mayo (34 wins)
Consigliere: F Zach Randolph
Capos: F Rudy Gay, C Marc Gasol, G Mike Conley

Mitigating Factors: If you gave a max-level deal to a guy who has never played in an All-Star game in a scenario when you were basically bidding against yourselves, and he's still not even your Boss or Consigliere level player....you might be the Grizzlies.

VEGAS SAYS: 39 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 31 wins

13. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Boss (Baseline wins): G Stephen Curry (35 wins)
Consigliere: F David Lee
Capos: G Monta Ellis, C Andris Biedrins

Mitigating Factors: I actually think the Curry/Lee/Ellis combo with some veteran pieces around it would be good enough to contend for a playoff spot in the East. But Golden State is not in the East now, is it.

VEGAS SAYS: 31 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 30 wins

14. SACRAMENTO KINGS

Boss (Baseline wins): G Tyreke Evans (33 wins)
Consigliere: C DeMarcus Cousins
Capos: F Donte Greene, F Carl Landry, G Beno Udrih

Mitigating Factors: Carl Landry had lost a tooth after it embedded into Dirk Nowitzki's elbow and was shot in the leg at four in the morning on Leeland in downtown Houston, so he's probably fairly well prepared for life with DeMarcus Cousins.

VEGAS SAYS: 26.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 29 wins

15. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

Boss (Baseline wins): F Kevin Love (29 wins)
Consigliere: F Michael Beasley
Capos: G Luke Ridnour, G Corey Brewer, C Darko Milicic

Mitigating Factors: Is Luke Ridnour and Corey Brewer the worst starting backcourt in the last ten years? Discuss.

VEGAS SAYS: 22.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: 20 wins

MVP --
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
ROOKIE -- John Wall, Washington Wizards
COACH -- Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat (Mike Brown-style, reward for winning 65 games with LeBron)
MOST IMPROVED -- Javale McGee, Washington Wizards
DEFENSIVE -- Dwight Howard, Orlando

NBA FINAL FOUR --
Los Angeles over Utah, Boston over Miami
NBA FINALS -- Boston over Los Angeles in 7


Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.


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