HOW THEY’LL FINISH: Eastern Conference New Jersey Nets (15)
In with the new: fresh faces and a dribble-drive offense. Out with the old: success.
FAST FACT: Among rookie 7-footers with at least 500 field goal attempts, only Tom Boerwinkle of the '68-69 Bulls (38.3%) and Tom Burleson of the 74-75 Sonics (41.7%) shot worse than Yi Jianlian's 42.1% last season.
ENEMY LINES: A rival scout on the Nets: With his legs going, Vince Carter will post up more and try to use his size. If you give him a good screen, he can still turn the corner, but there are nights when he settles for the jump shot way too much….Devin Harris isn't great at executing and making decisions in the half-court; he's much better pushing the bail up the floor. And he's a terrific defender-as quick as you can get with decent size for the position.... I'm not sold on Yi Jianlian. He has a nice stroke, but when the game gets physical, he shies away from contact and becomes a jump shooter. If they're hoping to build a Chinese fan base, they need to consider two possibilities: The fans are going to be disappointed when Yi doesn't play, and he's going to get exposed when he does….There shouldn't be any expectations here-they're not done clearing the roster-so Lawrence Frank should be safe. Frank can wear on people, but as far as being organized and prepared and a teacher, he is pretty darn good.
SUMMARY: The foundation rests on a new offense, a dribble-drive scheme that will maximize the playmaking abilities of point guard Devin Harris. In anticipation of a heavier workload, Harris spent the off-season honing his three-point shot (he shot 33.5% from long range last season) and packing 10 pounds of muscle onto his lower body. "This new system is perfect for me," says Harris, 25, who averaged 15.4 points and 6.5 assists in 25 games after being acquired from the Mavericks for Kidd.
COACHES WITH A BIG CHALLENGE: Mike D’Antoni, Knicks, and Lawrence Frank, Nets. Each must improve their team while the front office shuffles the roster, laying the ground work for a run at Lebron James in 2010.
GOOD BUYS TO BE HAD: Vince Carter, G, Nets. The declining star is a bad fit on New Jersey’s young roster and a team could get him on the cheap since he’s owed an onerous $67 million over the next four seasons. (Editors’ Note: Actually $53 million)