NBA 2010-2011 Preview -- Reconstructing LeBron

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Please, no more operations on Yao Ming
"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:

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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


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