BY CHAD SMITH
The FIBA USA summer is over, and we got the Gold. Mission accomplished; now we turn our attention back to the league.
The season is just a bit more than a month away, and with all sorts of high expectations out there, it should be a very exciting year. Everyone will be watching the Miami Threat, Kobe & Phil, the Celtics last run, and the growth of teams like Oklahoma City, Memphis, Philly, and Indiana.
Of course every team is full of valuable roster spots. Most teams try to go eight, nine, or ten guys deep in the rotation. Depth is an important concern that every team would like to address. When it comes to the starting five, some teams just seem to be better than the rest. Having one of the best players at every position in your starting lineup is something every team owner salivates over.
Here are the five teams (in no particular order) I predict will have the best starting lineups this upcoming season…
Hawks, Celtics, Magic, Thunder, Grizzlies, Suns, Spurs, Bucks.
Miami Heat: Chalmers, Wade, James, Bosh, Ilgauskas
Of course all eyes will be on this team all season long. A trio of stars hooking up on the same team is becoming a theme in the league. The Celtics did it a while back when KG and Shuttlesworth decided to take their talents to Boston to help out P.P. The surprise of Rondo really put them over the edge. KG said he wished he had made that move early in his career, and now LeBron and Bosh will get that opportunity. Of course, it is the starting five, not three, so the other guys have to step up. Chalmers is a better option than they had last year with Alston, and big Z at center knows how to play with LeBron.
Houston Rockets: Brooks, Martin, Battier, Scola, Ming
Even though Yao will be limited to just 24 minutes per game this year, it is nice to see him get back onto the court. Brooks was one of the most improved players a year ago, and Kevin Martin is a solid offensive weapon. Battier is still a great defensive leader, and Scola is one of the best power forwards in the game today. With a healthy Yao, Houston should see some quality wins this year.
Chicago Bulls: Rose, Brewer, Deng, Boozer, Noah
Derrick Rose is one of the best young point guards in the league today, and he has some new toys to play with. Carlos Boozer (among others) has made the move to Chicago, and will provide them with an inside presence. Brewer may not be one of the best shooting guards in the game, but he will fit perfectly in this system. Deng is a slightly underrated player who will flourish in this environment with the new additions. Noah is there to play scrappy defense and pull down rebounds, something he does very well.
L.A. Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol, Bynum
Pretty hard to leave these guys off the list. Fisher is another year older, but with the signing of Steve Blake, look for Fisher to provide more veteran leadership. He could use a push in training camp from Blake. Bynum is still very young, and if he can stay healthy, he will be a major force in the paint. Gasol is one of the best big men out there, no worries with him. Artest is still a pesky defender, one of the league’s best. His offense has improved, and overall he is a better player. I don’t really need to tell you about Kobe Bryant.
Portland Trail Blazers: Miller, Roy, Mathews, Aldridge, Oden
Obviously this all depends on how two things go over in Portland. The first is the health of Greg Oden. His career is well documented with his injuries, and all anyone wants to see is him healthy, out on the floor. Andre Miller isn’t one of the top point guards in the game, but he is a solid passer and takes care of the ball. Brandon Roy is still one of the most underrated players in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge is a solid player inside and out, no worries with him. Oh yea, the other thing that will depend on Portland getting a surprising spot in this list, is the play of Wesley Mathews. If he can win the starting job in training camp, he should be a solid contributor for this team next season.