4. Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Season: 19-63, 5th Central
This Season: The Cavs celebrated a couple of milestones last year. In their first season without LeBron James since 2002, they set a new record for most consecutive games lost (26), they lost by 55 points against the Lakers in January, and in James’ much anticipated home coming, their former King walked all over them in front of a sold out crowd. However, there is hope.
Owner Dan Gilbert’s son, Nick, was a good luck charm for his father at the NBA Draft Lottery, landing the first and fourth overall picks. Kyrie Irving is no LeBron James, but he still has the ability to change a game. Irving and fellow rookie Tristan Thompson, along with the remnants of the LeBron James era (Anthony Parker, Anderson Varejao and Antawn Jamison) aren’t a terrible team. A reason for their terrible record was their defensive anchor, Varejao, being hurt for more than half the season last year.
The Cavs are also the proud owners of one of the deepest point guard rotations in the entire NBA in Irving, Ramon Sessions and Daniel “Boobie” Gibson. Call me crazy but there’s a slight chance the Cavaliers win a lot more games this year than last. If this group of Cavaliers plays hard every night, they are no longer a doormat. Don’t look now LeBron, but the crew you left behind is already heading in the right direction.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
Last Season: 35-47, 3rd Central
This Season: In the last two years the Bucks and Brandon Jennings, their starting point guard, have gone down similar paths. During Jennings’ rookie campaign (2009-10), him and his team surpassed a lot of expectations by making a bid for the Rookie of the Year Award and making the playoffs before taking a step backwards the year after. The problem for the Bucks certainly didn’t lie on the defensive end, they were the third best team statistically in the league, averaging 92.3 points in points allowed. If only they weren’t the worst offensive team in the league at 91 points a game, the Bucks probably would’ve returned to the playoffs last year.
To remedy their offensive struggles, the Bucks’ management unloaded John Salmons and Corey Maggette in exchange for gunner Stephen Jackson. At media day, Jackson jokingly said the last time he was surrounded by a talented point guard and a big man, he won a championship with the San Antonio Spurs. Jackson could be what the Bucks need to improve offensively; while Maggette and Salmons are both good scorers they were never sold on being the number one option. Jackson has had plenty of experience of being the best scorer on a bad team, so he should help.
In order to achieve any type of success, the point guard (Jennings) and center (Andrew Bogut) Jackson was referring to need to step it up in a big way. Jennings needs to learn how to run the offense better, teams are learning that he is a score-first point guard, but there’s only one problem: he’s not that great of a scorer. Thus in order to open up opportunities for himself, he must find his team mates first. And Bogut needs to prove he’s fully recovered from the nasty elbow injury he suffered in April of 2010. Even at their best, these Bucks are a fringe playoff team.
Next Page: Back to the Playoffs in 2012?