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Abandon All Hope Ye Who Read These Picks

A Daily Babble Production

It's hard to believe the time is almost here.  Barely three days from now, our beloved Celtics will raise their first title banner in 22 years, and then they will tip off the campaign to defend that title.  After shortest offseason in more than two decades for the green faithful, it's a pleasure to be ready to watch the reigning champs (hey, that's got a nice ring to it, huh?) get back in action.

But alas, there is one more hurdle for you, faithful reader, to cross before we get to the opening tap.  There are in fact 29 other teams with which the Celtics will be competing as they fight for the 18th banner this season, which means that our inaugural Daily Babble NBA regular season preview is in order.  It's coming over the next two days, with projections for the Western Conference hitting the blog waves on Sunday afternoon before the East gets its turn on Monday.

The reason it's called a hurdle, though, is because telling you that you should take the coming prognostications with a grain of salt might be the understatement of the year.

In the interest of providing you fair warning of what lies ahead with my powers of prediction, it seems only just to take today to flash back to the last time I tried my hand at this game.  It was nearly a year ago at my old site, Taking it to the Rack, and the archives there have since been wiped out, but I've (sadly) still got the Word documents.

It's time to humble your Daily Babbler.  Ready? To the highlights of the carnage we go...

We start in the Western Conference, where the danger of making dark horse picks for the playoffs is that there's a really good chance those picks will come back to make you look like an idiot:

8.    Memphis Grizzlies: New coach Marc Iavaroni is a keeper who will help permanently change the culture in Memphis.  To the surprise of many, Darko Milicic will prove himself worth the money, and he will be in the running for recognition as the league’s most improved player.  With Pau Gasol, Mike Miller and Rudy Gay all raring to go, the only major question mark right now as at the point.  The decision to go with Damon Stoudamire for the time being represents a belief in Memphis that this team can get to the playoffs right now.  We agree.

Well, let's see here.  Iavaroni made it through the season but did so amidst rumors that he was on his way to the treatment Sam Vincent got in Charlotte: unceremonious bouncing after one season.  He's still around, but my "keeper" claim might have been a bit premature.  He really killed it on the defensive end, too, leading the Grizz to a ranking of 28th in defensive efficiency. 

Milicic spent the first season of a three-year, $21 million deal putting up colossal figures of 7 points and 6 boards per game.  Beast.  Stoudamire managed to make it through 29 games prior to having the team buy him out so he could high-tail it to San Antonio to play really bad basketball for a really good team.

Oh, by the way, these guys won 22 games, putting them just 26 shy of a 48-win Golden State team that also didn't make the playoffs.

Somehow, in my infinite wisdom, the Memphis nonsense actually fell short of being the true cream of the Western Conference crop as far as patented tomfoolery is concerned.  Looking back at this piece late Friday night, it was stunning to see that I actually once wrote this (and believed it to boot):

10.    Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe [is] really good.  Everybody else isn’t.  Somehow, this has been good enough for a combined 87 wins over the last two seasons.  That won’t be the case this season, especially given that there is certainly a legitimate chance that Kobe could be gone in favor of rebuilding efforts at some point this season as well.

How much credit do I get for knowing that Kobe was really good?  As for the rest, well, all you need to know is that the "10" means I thought the eventual Western Conference champion wouldn't make the playoffs

Are you excited for tomorrow's preview or what?  On to the East...

2.    Chicago Bulls: It might take until the February deadline for us to know who this team really is, but as of now, they appear primed to jump a level in the Eastern Conference.  This will be Luol Deng’s breakout season, and the solid core of Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Andres Nocioni and Ben Wallace will continue to succeed at playing team basketball under the solid leadership of Scott Skiles.  Ultimately, it will be the level of progress made in the continued maturation of youngsters such as Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha that determines just how far this team can go this season.  Or perhaps the acquisition of Kobe Bryant will do that.  Plenty is left to unfold in Chicago.

There was some point last year when I couldn't tell enough people that this was the only Eastern team I really didn't want the Celtics to have to play in the playoffs.  That the Bulls were on the cusp of an era of dominance of their own.  That Luol Deng was about to become a superstar.  Hard to believe that a year later, they are eight months off making a trade that included Larry Hughes yet might have made them better, and they might actually be in rebuilding mode - although I certainly can't tell.  More than any other, this is the team that could be a big-time X-factor in shaking up the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture in 2008-09.  It wouldn't be a shock to see them finish fifth or sixth.  It wouldn't be a shock to see them finish 10th or 11th.  Moral of the story: I need to start spending more time on Blog-a-Bull and maybe buy a clue about how to get a read on this team.

10.    Toronto Raptors:  Don’t worry; we know that we’re going to catch some flack for this one.  This group may have surprised a lot of folks last year, but the fact remains that I’m not wholly sold on anyone not named Bosh in Toronto.  They got a lot out of all their role players last year but don’t have a definitive core.  We’ll see if T.J. Ford can stay healthy, and I’m not sure how much more you can get out of the Calderons and the Garbajosas and the Anthony Parkers of the world.  In a year where much of the conference improved, this team’s biggest move was to sign Jason Kapono, and it is my contention that they will take a step back this season.

At least we knew it was coming.

And finally, one more  embarrassing bit of underestimation:

15.    Philadelphia 76ers:  Sixers fans had best hope Andre Iguodala is as good as everyone seems to think he is.  Because there won’t be much else to cheer for in the City of Brotherly Love.

Yeah, sure, except for a 19-5 run from early February to late March and a pair of playoff victories over heavily favored Detroit in the first round.

So there you have it, folks.  Transparency at its worst, but confession is supposed to be good for the soul.  We'll shoot for some crystal ball redemption tomorrow.  In the meantime, who wants to join me with some anecdotes of misguided picks of your own?

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