We're breakin' down the upcoming NBA season in style, and reached out to A Tribe Called Quest's legendary Phife Dawg for his opinion on the Eastern Conference (You can check DJ Dunson's Western preview here). Whaddya say, Phife?
1. There's a lot of talk about the Brooklyn Nets being title contenders but how often, and for how long, will Garnett, Pierce and Deron Williams be healthy? For them to be true contenders, these guys have to be on the court come playoff time.
PHIFE: I believe Coach Kidd and assistant coach Lawrence Frank will closely watch Garnett and Pierce's minutes during the regular season. Brooklyn has enough depth to where they can rest the two former Celtic vets, including Andre Blatche, Reggie Evans, Alan Anderson and Mason Plumlee, who will be a good one for years to come. D.Will is still in his prime, but if he happens to get banged up and needs rest, there's always the 6'7 journeyman Shaun Livingston.
2. Will the Knicks take another step forward and reach the conference finals or will the strengthening of the Nets, the return of Derrick Rose, Andrew Bynum teaming with Kyrie and the growth of Indiana, push them further down the rankings? And if they don't improve will Melo dash in free agency?
PHIFE: The Knicks may very well regress from last season. They won the Atlantic and finished second in the East. This season, I see them finishing 5th seed in the East & second in the Atlantic, unless Stat has a surprisingly incredible season and if Felton can out-play the opposing point guards (Irving, Holiday, Rose, Westbrook, Paul), who all gave him the business last season (except Rose). The Bulls, Heat, Pacers and Nets have all gotten better (at least on paper).
As a result, Melo will test the free agent market and sign with the Lakers...unless Mike D'Antoni is still coaching there!
3. Will Derrick Rose return to MVP form and be that final piece to a Chicago championship run? He's looked good so far in preseason , the big test will come as the season progresses and how his knee holds up over the 82-game season.
PHIFE: Derrick Rose, LeBron or Chris Paul will win MVP this season. Either way, he will lead the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat. The more Rose plays, the more confident he'll get. By All-Star break, his hunger and his game will truly be something magnificent for all to WITNESS!!!
4. Everyone is singing Paul George's praises and predicting he'll become a full- fledged superstar this season. Does he shoot consistently enough to be an offensive stud?
PHIFE: Paul George has definitely come into his own; I've witnessed incredible growth from the once unknown guard/forward from Fresno State. He has absolutely proved his worth in a short amount of time (see: 2012 playoffs). His defense is to die for, but he's still raw as far as his offensive game (if you compare him to a Kobe, Pierce, Stephon Curry or D.Wade). He needs work on that perimeter shot, but he is definitely a rising star in this league.
The major question is, Will Granger's return mess up the chemistry from last season?
5 Detroit gets further from that 2004 championship every season . How will a team with josh smith and Brandon Jennings leading the way play?
PHIFE: This is a tough question. I predict Detroit will sneak into the playoffs as a 7th seed—best case scenario. Worst case scenario, they waver around 9-11 th place in the Eastern Conference and let Washington and Milwaukee beat them out for a spot in the postseason.
I think Brandon Jennings benefits from the return of Chauncey Billups, as will Josh Smith and that whole crew. Chauncey along with Rasheed Wallace (asst coach) will show and teach that young nucleus how to win, and always be professional.
6. What eastern conference coach will have biggest impact?
PHIFE: Well, outside of Spoelstra in Miami, I see Mike Brown back in Cleveland, Vogel in Indy and/or Tom Thibedeau in Chicago. I'm gonna roll with Thibbs. As long as Rose and Deng are healthy, and if Boozer retrieves the grown-man game he had in Utah, there are no excuses for the Bulls not to shine, and Thibbs to get his due as a coach.
7. Who can stop Miami and LeBron from three-peating?
PHIFE: DA BULLS!!!!!!!!! I know everyone wants to throw BKLYN in there, but I'd predict Indy before Brooklyn only because Indy is younger and plays better defense. Chicago (when healthy) plays better defense and rebounds better than anyone else in the East (if not the league).
8. Who goes on the DL first? Amare, KG or Andrew Bynum?
PHIFE: Bynum, then A'mare'. Face it, Bynum is stealing $$$$$$$. What he did to Philly was a robbery in broad day light! I hope I'm wrong about the latter of the two, but living thru (what is now) a 41-year-old championship drought, I've learned the Knicks have no luck and our front office (since Frank Layden, after Grunfeld left) always makes the worse decisions.
Ewing to Seattle for Vin Baker, Sprewell for Van Horn, giving Allan Houston all that $$$$$, the Chris Childs contract...the list goes on and on.
Imagine if Mark Jackson (at the 1), played with Sugar Ray Richardson (at the 2), Bernard King (at the 3), Oakley as the enforcer (at the 4) with Mason behind he & King, plus Patrick Ewing at the 5? NY would have brought home two more titles in the 90's. But the front office always stunk!
9. What rookie will come out of a starless draft, shock the world and become this years’ Damian Lillard?
PHIFE: Lillard's rookie teammate C.J. McCollum, if he started the season healthy. Watch out for Victor Oladipo in Orlando and Ben McLemore in Sacramento. With Tyreke Evans leaving for "The Big Easy," that 2 & 3 spot is wide open for McLemore to pop some tags and get playing time immediately. Oladipo's motor is just through the roof though!
Neither team will make a dent in the c’hip chase, but those are the two rookies (aside from Utah's Trey Burke) that I have my eyes on.
10. Will mike Beasley and Greg Oden play major roles for Miami? Why?
PHIFE: It's possible. Not sure about Greg Oden's health. The good thing about his new situation in Miami is that he won't be asked to do too much. The pressure of being the next Bill Russell is gone. Now, he’s trying to avoid being the next Sam Bowie. Difference is, Bowie got drafted ahead of Jordan, but never go to play with him. Oden has LeBron to do the heavy lifting.
Now if for some strange reason Oden shows glimpses of what he was coming out of Ohio State, then the Heat will be unstoppable, but I imagine him contributing a decent 8 and 8.
Beasley has no choice but to grow up. Riley will see to it, Wade and LeBron will see to it, as well as veterans Ray Allen and Alonzo Mourning, who will be in his ear. Not to mention, this is his last chance to be in this League. He’s a blunt and a bad shot away from being a USBL attraction. As far as his game goes, Beasley is instant offense. Once his mind is right, his offensive game is flawless, however, he'll have to play some defense if he plans on sticking with the team that originally drafted him. He owes it to the franchise.