TSO League Passers: 5-on-5: NBA Forecast If you’ve ever browsed the NBA section of ESPN.com or scoped TSO’s 2K XBOX Online Association “The Baseline” you know what the 5-on-5 is all about. If not, its basically a roundtable conversation of 5 “experts” answering 5 trending questions of the NBA. What I’m bringing to TSO is the same thing with 4 guys and yours truly. The 5 of us are ALWAYS talking hoops whether it be on skype, twitter, facebook, or even text message. We figure we’re qualified enough to give our opinion and come across at least somewhat intelligent. Now we aren’t on the beat of any of these teams so I came up with a cutesy headline to represent our fanhood or where we are located. Without further ado, the first edition of the TSO League Passers… 1. Do the Heat NEED a healthy Greg Oden to capture a 3-peat? Blaza, Trapped In The Cable Box: Absolutely not. I won't even speak on the offensive end of the floor, as everyone knows what the Heat are capable of there. Defensively, I still think the Heat can manage to make the Finals based on their hardcore, switching, attacking perimeter defense. Where the Bulls play great defense by staying disciplined and sitting back to clog passing lanes, the Heat extend, sometimes out to halfcourt. They jump passing lanes, and switch on screen since they are athletic enough to guard different position. Bosh is learning to play bigger on D (although his tendency to float on offense may hurt their rebounding). The Heat are still the team to beat. Dru50, Bull in Clips Clothing: No. I am rooting for Oden to have a healthy and productive season, but let's face it, history is against him. Miami is still the odds on favorite to win it all again, and that's because of one big reason - they have Lebron and no one else does. There are a ton of contenders this year (Bulls, Pacers, Nets, OKC, Houston, Clippers, Spurs), but as long as King James is healthy the Heat will likely take home the trophy again and then things get very interesting in the offseason as that entire roster could be free agency bound. JrRawlins, Capital Punishment: They don't need Oden to three-peat. They do need some additional size. But considering Oden's track record, the style of play of the Heat and the potential opponents of the Heat in the playoffs, Oden is not essential to the Heats chances. He would make things much easier if he were fully healthy but I don't think that will ever happen again. JFace907, Waiting For Next Year: No. Greg Oden is a great piece and I’m a personal fan of his being a Buckeye fan and all, but he is not needed for the 3-peat. His services will help against teams like the Pacers, Grizzlies, and Spurs, but the Heat are deep enough and talented enough to where his services are not required to achieve a 3-peat. Does Oden make the quest easier? Without a doubt. Bondzai, Magic Kingdom: They definitely don't NEED him, but it will only help. When they are going up against guys like Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah, and possibly even Dwight Howard in the playoffs it will only be a plus to have a healthy Oden. With that being said I think they are still the favorites even without him. 2. As a first year head coach on a title contending team, how much slack does Jason Kidd have in Brooklyn? Blaza: Although the Big Bad Russian has been known to have a short trigger (see Johnson, Avery) I actually think Kidd will do a solid job in BK. Though he has no coaching experience, i see his tenure being more of a HNIC type with him doing alot of delegating to his assistants. He has veteran coaches like Lawrence Frank to take care of X's and O's while he makes the final call and keeps the locker room in check. I really do see kid being a solid player's coach and as one of the best Floor Generals of all time, I think he will do a good job keeping it all together. Dru: Kidd hired some good former coaches to help him out on the bench, especially Lawrence Frank, so I think he will do fine. To be honest, I think the success the Nets have this year will be far less due to Kidd and more due to how healthy the aging vets on this team will be for the season. If 100% healthy, I think Brooklyn has a great chance to come out of the East, and no other team has a starting 5 with the kind of length, versatility and scoring ability that they can trot out. Issues that the Nets had last year with showing up in big games and wilting under pressure should be aleviated by the presence of KG and Paul Pierce, who are two of the best big game players the league has seen over the past 5-7 years. Jr: None he gets zero slack. Kidd knew the situation he could potentially be walking into with an owner who was desperate to win a title. Now he has talked a great game in the interview room. Now he needs to get that nets team to at least the fish's if not raise the trophy. JFace: I think we’ll se Kidd on a rather long leash as they hired him expecting him to grow and be that player’s coach a veteran laden team often needs. The hiring of his supporting cast will also help him immensely. Lawrence Frank returns to the Nets franchise to be Kidd’s right hand man and a three time NBA champion assistant Joe Prunty leaves Cleveland to help Kidd as well. Kidd could not have set himself up better for beginning success. If he somehow stumbles out of the gate, I see his assistants getting the can, not Kidd. Bond: I see this Nets team as the Lakers team that signed Karl Malone and Gary Payton before the '03-'04 season. They struggled with injuries but did win the West. Now I don't see Brooklyn winning the East but they have enough talent to meet Miami in the East Finals. Another thing you have to consider is Jason Kidd's top assistant is Lawrence Frank, so there is no lack of good coaching there. I don't see Kidd getting on the hot seat unless the team just implodes. 3. Derrick Rose is back and appears to be ready to reclaim his MVP form. Over/Under 60 wins for the Bulls? Blaza: Under, but not by much. I think the Bulls will still need time to "re-gel" and find their rhythm with D-Rose back in the lineup. Obviously, he is extremely ball dominant...will he mess up the flow of Deng or Jimmy Buckets? Will he get his groove back defensively and not miss rotations? These questions will take time to figure out. Dru: Under, just barely though. History shows that the Bulls with Thibs coaching and Derrick playing have won an absurd amount of games in the regular season, but the East is stacked at the top and I think Chicago ends up in the 55 win area. As a Bulls fan, I am less concerned about regular season records and more concerned with whether Thibodeau runs the roster into the ground heading into the playoffs again. Oh, and if the preseason is any indication, DRose is on a mission to show the league that he isn't dead yet. It should be a fun ride. Jr: Rose is Back!!!!!!! But the Bulls don't win 60 games. They barely win 50, finishing right around 53 wins. The easy is much tougher this year with the moves some of the tans in the East made to improve. JFace: I’ve got them hitting 60 right on the nose. This team does need time to re-gel, but they will work that out very quickly. The only thing that will hold them back is the fact that the Central Division is looking like the toughest division in the NBA. The Bucks, Pistons, and Cavaliers all look to be contenders or fringe contenders at the very least. And of course you have defending Central champ Indiana looking better than ever. Actually, you know what. Forget my first sentence there. I just talked myself to UNDER. Bond: I'm looking for the Bulls to have a great year. They played well without Rose and he had plenty of time to get back to 100%. It may take a little while to shake the rust off an get the chemistry back so I will go slightly under at 58 wins. 4. What second or third year player takes the “leap” this year? Who becomes this season’s Paul George? Blaza: I'm gonna go with John Wall here. Wall missed most of last season with an injury, but when he came back, he went nuts, carrying the Wiz to tons of wins after they looked horrible to start the season. John is unmatched athletically, with breakneck speed, and he has shown he can run the offense, going over the 8 assist mark twice. With the attention of Porter and the Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat, I see big things poppin' for Wall's future. Dru: My pick is The Brow, Anthony Davis. New Orleans has put together a nice collection of young talent that likely isn't ready to contend now but Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans are all in the 23-24 year old range and under contract for at least another 3 seasons so this team could be very good in a year or 2. Much like the team that Davis excelled on at Kentucky, I think he becomes the glue to this team on offense, getting offensive rebounds and adding scoring here and there, but his real jump will be as a destructive force defensively. He was pretty good there last year and with a year in NBA offseason strength training I envision him contending for the league lead in rebounds and blocks while also having good steal figures. Jr: Anthony Davis was putting on a show during the preseason. His athletic ability and skill level is unparalleled. I expect him to take that leap into the all star level talent. JFace: Someone put this in permanent marker and hold it against me because I’m 100% confident in this. Kawahi Leonard will become a top level wing player in the NBA this season. He sort of took a mini leap in the NBA Finals with his defense on LeBron and flashes of brilliance shown on offense. I look for him to take the mega leap and have a dominant season leading the Spurs to another deep playoff run. Bond: I think Bradley Beal has a big breakout year. John Wall is starting the season healthy and rumors are that Beal has grown 1 or 2 inches. Look for Beal to light up the scoreboard and help Washington make the playoffs. 5. How many new playoff teams will we have this year and who are they? Blaza: Tough one here. I'm gonna go with the Cavs, Pelicans, Wiz, and Blazers. Dru: I like Minnesota and New Orleans to crash the playoffs in the West, while in the East I think that Washington and Cleveland will contend for the playoffs this year. Unfortunately for all those teams, I foresee them running into teams in the top 4 that are just too good and too experienced for anything more than a 4-5 games 1st round series. Jr: The new playoff teams will be the Wizards, Pelicans and Pistons.. I think the Pistons frontcourt with Smith, Monroe and Drummond is gonna be nasty. They are simply huge down there and dominate on the glass both offensively and defensively. The Pelicans (if they can stay healthy) have a bunch of talent and they could really play well. The Wizards, I am simply hoping they can put it together and pull out an 8th seed to get swept by whoever the #1 seed in the East is. JFace: I think we’re going to see at 2 new playoff teams in both the West and in the East. Out West the Lakers definitely won’t be making a return trip to the playoffs so taking their place will be the Dallas Mavericks. I just love their offense and the fact that Dirk is coming back healthy without going through a taxing Olympic/Olympic qualifying campaign. Next I’ve got Denver missing the playoffs after all the roster and front office shakeup with the New Orleans Pelicans taking their place. The Brow Anthony Davis will be another one of those making a leap and will lead this squad to a playoff birth. I love their roster and if Davis can protect the rim at a high enough rate to pair him with Ryan Anderson, this team will have a great balance of offense, defense, and rebounding. In the East I think the Detroit Pistons made all the right moves to become a playoff contender and ultimately bump division foe Milwaukee out of the playoff picture. Even though the paint will be more congested than California freeways, I think this team will play good enough defense and get out on the break enough to take a 7 or 8 seed. The Boston Celtics are in complete rebuild so they won’t be returning to the playoffs and taking their spot will be the Washington Wizards. I think John Wall will stay healthy this year and ultimately solidify himself as a top point guard in the League. The recent trade to bring in Marcin Gortat is huge as he replaces an injured Okafor and really solidifies their defense and rebounding. Gortat is also a nice offensive piece showing skills on the pick and roll and provides great energy for offensive rebounds and put backs. Bond: In the East I only see one new playoff team. I think the Pistons will replace the Celtics as an Eastern Conference playoff team. The Pistons added Chauncey Billups and Josh Smith, drafted Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and will see Andre Drummond improve. The Celtics gutted their team and Rondo is hurt so they will suck. In the West, the only team that I think will miss the playoffs that made it last year is the Lakers. That leaves room for the Jazz, Blazers, Timberwolves, etc. But I think the surprise team out West will be the Pelicans. If Eric Gordon stays healthy, with the improvement of Anthony Davis and the addition of Jrue Holliday the 'Cans can lock up that last playoff spot. That’s a wrap on the first League Passers 5-on-5. Hope you enjoyed it and don’t hesitate to share your opinions. Embrace debate!