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2007-08 NBA Preview: The Northwest Division
By RAUL SMITH, MOP Squad Sports Staff Writer
Oct 18, 2007 - 3:31:36 AM

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It’s that time of year once again, sports fans.   Baseball’s ALCS is underway with one-half of the World Series set, football is very much in full throttle, and the NHL has kicked off, leaving one major sports league left to get started…the NBA!


And much like last year, I will once again take a stab at predicting how the NBA season will go in 2007-08.   So with that said, here is a look at the NBA, division-by-division, team-by-team, courtesy of MOP Squad Sports columnist Raul Smith.


As I continue my preview of the NBA, division-by-division, I head into Day Five with a look at the Northwest Division, perhaps the weakest division in all of basketball.


Denver Nuggets

Head coach : George Karl is in his fourth season as head coach of the Nuggets and twentieth season as a head coach in the NBA.

Last year’s record : 45-37, good enough for second place in the Northwest Division and the 6th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.   Their playoff run would not last long, as they were eliminated in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs 4-1.

MVP Candidate : Carmelo Anthony demonstrated during the Olympic qualifying tournament that he is perhaps a valid MVP candidate for the entire league.   He has certainly started to dominate in Denver since the arrival of Allen Iverson.

Here’s the lowdown : for the Denver Nuggets, last season was one of both highs and lows.   Obviously, the injury bug going around the locker room was the biggest low for the Nuggets, taking out Marcus Camby for a few games and Kenyon Martin for the majority of the season.   Now, K-Mart is back to full health, Camby is still healthy, Carmelo Anthony is doing well, and of course, you have others ready to play.   Which brings me to the highs; one of which being the acquisition of Allen Iverson.   The former Philadelphia 76ers star made an immediate impact for the Nuggets, but not one big enough to run down Utah for the division title in time.   However, they did make the playoffs, which was a goal of George Karl’s from day one.   Now, hoping to add onto that experience from last season, they made some roster changes during the offseason.   They made yet another trade with Philadelphia, this time sending Ricky Sanchez and Reggie Evans for Steven Hunter and Bobby Jones.   They also signed free agents Chucky Atkins and Jelani McCoy.   The Nuggets hope that this will be more than plenty to make this the immediate favorite in the Northwest Division.

Player to watch this season : despite the acquisitions of Steven Hunter and Jelani McCoy, the health of Marcus Camby remains a major concern for the Nuggets.   Sure, Hunter and McCoy are serviceable centers.   But, Camby brings to the table something very few centers in the league can bring: a validated shot blocking presence.   If Camby gets injured for a lengthy period of time, it could negatively affect the Nuggets’ defense.


Minnesota Timberwolves

Head coach : Randy Wittman is in his second season as head coach of the Timberwolves, his first full season, and his fourth season as a head coach in the NBA.

Last year’s record : 32-50, good enough for a tie for third place in the Northwest Division, but not good enough for a playoff berth.

MVP Candidate : with Kevin Garnett no longer in Minnesota, it’s now up to Ricky Davis to take the helm of this basketball team and perhaps surprise some people.

Here’s the lowdown : it has finally come; the day Minnesota fans have been dreading for years…a Minnesota Timberwolves team without Kevin Garnett.   Kevin McHale made the deal during the offseason to unload KG to Boston for a slew of players; players he believes will help make the Timberwolves a significantly better team.   Among those players are solid role players such as forwards Al Jefferson and Gerald Green, a shot-blocking threat in center Theo Ratliff, and troubled point guard Sebastian Telfair.   In addition, McHale also traded Mike James and Justin Reed to Houston for Juwan Howard, as well as Trenton Hassell to Dallas for Greg Buckner.   Oh, and it helps that they drafted Corey Brewer from Florida with the seventh pick overall.   One slight problem, however, comes in the form of the T-Wolves losing Troy Hudson, which leaves a gaping hole at the point guard position.   The T-Wolves are hoping Buckner and Telfair, along with second-year phenom Randy Foye, can more than make up for it.

Player to watch this season : second-year player Randy Foye will be called upon to put in quality minutes at both the point guard and the off-guard position.   He finished in the top five last year in Rookie of the Year voting, and hopes to capitalize on the success he had last season.


Portland Trailblazers

Head coach : Nate McMillan is in his third season as head coach of the Trailblazers and his eighth season as a head coach in the NBA.

Last year’s record : 32-50, good enough for a tie for third place in the Northwest Division, but not good enough for a playoff berth.

MVP Candidate : despite the fact that he’s already injured, Brandon Roy, the 2006-07 NBA Rookie of the Year, will definitely need to step his game up now that Greg Oden’s season is over.   Roy led the league amongst rookies last season in most statistical categories.

Here’s the lowdown : the Portland Trailblazers were once again amongst the teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season, finishing with only 32 wins.   But, it seemed like luck was finally about to be bestowed upon this struggling franchise in the form of the first overall pick in the draft, and the option to choose between either Ohio State center Greg Oden or Texas swingman Kevin Durant.   Portland picked Oden with the first pick, leaving Durant wide open for division rival Seattle.   Then, Portland was really feeling it, finally sending troubled forward Zach Randolph, as well as Dan Dickau and others, to New York for Channing Frye and Steve Francis; Francis was later released from his Portland contract.   However, the lows started to arrive.   The Blazers lost Jamaal Magloire and surprise player Ime Udoka both to free agency.   Even worse, Greg Oden suffers a devastating microfracture injury, forcing him to miss the entire 2007-08 NBA season.   Now comes word that Brandon Roy may miss the first two weeks of the season with some sort of heel injury.   Immediately, Portland fans started comparing Oden and Durant to Sam Bowie and Michael Jordan.   Plus, suddenly, the Trailblazers are left a little thin at the center position, with only Joel Przybilla and Raef LaFrentz, who is actually a natural power forward, the only guys they have at the center position.   After everything that has happened during the offseason, and the potential dream season having gone up in smoke, could the Portland Trailblazers be doomed to repeat their 32-50 season from last year?

Player to watch this season : unless Portland knows something about Steve Blake that the rest of us don’t, look for the point guard position to be dominated this season by Jarrett Jack.   He’s one of only three guards small enough for the role, along with Blake and Sergio Rodriguez.


Seattle Sonics

Head coach : P.J. Carlesimo is in his first season as head coach of the Sonics and his seventh season as a head coach in the NBA.   He has also been a head coach for Golden State as well as division rival Portland.

Last year’s record : 31-51, which earned this team fifth and last place in the Pacific Division and, obviously, a trip to the lottery, where they struck it really lucky, gaining the second overall pick in the draft.

MVP Candidate : not only is Kevin Durant now the best player available for Rookie of the Year voting, he is the only player on the Sonics roster remotely good enough for MVP consideration.

Here’s the lowdown : there are two major stories going around Seattle these days involving the Sonics.   The on-court story revolves around the two outstanding rookies the Sonics were able to obtain during the draft.   The Sonics used their own pick to draft Texas standout Kevin Durant, while trading Ray Allen to the Boston Celtics for Wally Sczcerbiak and the fifth overall pick, which turned out to be Jeff Green from Georgetown.   Now, there is some bad news behind this for the Sonics: the last team to have two picks in the top five of a given draft was 2001 by the Chicago Bulls.   The Bulls had their own draft selection, which was the fourth pick overall, and used that on Eddy Curry.   Then, on the same night, they traded Elton Brand to the Los Angeles Clippers for the rights to the second pick overall, which was used on Tyson Chandler.   That next season, the Bulls went 21-61, which obviously ended up being one of the worst records in the league.   The off-court story revolves around how this could be the final season of professional men’s basketball in Seattle.   The legal battles have gone on for the entire postseason between lawmakers and the new owners of the Sonics.   The new owners are trying to get out of the current lease for Key Arena, which doesn’t expire until 2010.   This is leading many in Seattle to believe that the Sonics are looking for a way to move the team to Oklahoma City as soon as next season.   Oh, and the Sonics also made a sign-and-trade deal with the biggest name on the free agent market, Rashard Lewis, and sent him to Orlando for practically nothing.

Player to watch this season : with all of the talk focused on Durant, it should be noted that Jeff Green is also an excellent rookie in his own right.   He should finish in the top five in Rookie of the Year voting come May.


Utah Jazz

Head coach : Jerry Sloan is in his twentieth season as head coach of the Jazz and his twenty-third season as a head coach in the NBA.   He is currently the longest-tenured coach for a specific team in professional sports today.

Last year’s record : 51-31, which was good enough to earn this team the Northwest Division title and the 4th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.   They started the postseason with a classic seven-game series with the Houston Rockets and ended up winning that series 4-3.   They then eliminated the Golden State Warriors in the second round 4-2, but would fall in the Western Conference Finals to the San Antonio Spurs 4-1.

MVP Candidate : according to both head coach Jerry Sloan and executive VP Kevin O’Connor, Carlos Boozer looks even more built and healthy in preparation for this season.   He’s said to have been working out throughout the entire season, and will look to better what was already a career year last season.

Here’s the lowdown : the end of last season was a tale of two Utah Jazz teams.   The first team reared its ugly head towards the end of the regular season, shortly after finding out they’d clinched the Northwest Division title and one of the top four spots in the West.   For some odd reason, the team decided to put it in cruise control, not knowing that they’d lost home-court advantage to their eventual first-round opponents, the Houston Rockets.   The second team showed up just in time for the Houston series, and easily polished off a very gritty and tough Golden State team.   However, the first team showed up once again at the worst possible time during the San Antonio series, and that was the end of that.   Then, during the offseason, the Jazz felt they needed more help at point guard after losing Derek Fisher to the Lakers.   So, instead of staying with loyal point guard Dee Brown, who was not only Deron Williams’ college teammate at Illinois but also left his neck on the EnergySolutions Arena floor, they release Dee Brown and instead sign journeyman point guard Jason Hart.   Furthermore, they bring in three-year NBA player Ronnie Price, who graduated from Utah Valley State College, from the Sacramento Kings.   Now, while the Ronnie Price acquisition makes a little sense, the Jason Hart acquisition makes no sense whatsoever.   Granted, the Jazz have had a history of taking point guards that didn’t even see the light of day, let alone playing time, and turn them into outstanding backup point guards (see examples: Carlos Arroyo and Howard Eisley) but the Jason Hart acquisition is still a tough pill to swallow considering they pretty much kicked Dee Brown to the curb.   But, amidst the bone-headed decisions, O’Connor did make two good decisions on draft day: he took advantage of the twenty-fifth overall pick and drafted Morris Almond from Rice, perhaps the best shooter in the draft, while trading their second-round selection, Herbert Hill, to Philadelphia for their second-round selection, Ukranian center Kyrylo Fesenko.   This will add much-needed depth to the center position behind Mehmet Okur.   On top of all that, there was the Andrei Kirilenko soap opera.   Since then, Kirilenko has worked things out with both Sloan and owner Larry Miller, so how this plays out will remain to be seen.

Player to watch this season : although he’s not the MVP of the Jazz in terms of who gets them more points, Deron Williams showed during the playoffs and even during the Olympic qualifying tournament that he is without question a rising star to watch out for.   Having been personally coached the last three offseasons by two of the very best the NBA has ever seen at the point guard position – Jason Kidd and John Stockton – D-Will looks to make it known that he is no longer a superstar-in-the-making, but rather a superstar…period.


Overall, here’s a look at where I think each team will rank at the end of the season:


1.) Utah Jazz: assuming Kirilenko and Sloan have worked out their differences, and since they didn’t lose too many guys, this is a team that once again should be on everybody’s radar come early April.

2.) Denver Nuggets: Carmelo and AI should help push the Nuggets near the top of the division once again.

3.) Portland Trailblazers: the loss of Greg Oden shouldn’t hurt Portland nearly as badly as Minnesota losing KG.

4.) Minnesota Timberwolves: be careful what you wish for; you might just get it and both the good and the bad that come with it.   Welcome to the post-KG era, Minnesota.

5.) Seattle Sonics: pretty sad, that after 40 years in the same city and having the same name, what could potentially be the Sonics’ last season in Seattle will end up being nothing more than a not-very-funny joke.


That’s a look at the Northwest Division.   Tomorrow is the final column for the NBA preview for 2007-08 as I venture to the Southwest Division, home to the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.


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