OK, where was I?
MILWAUKEE BUCKS. Did anyone do more to improve their team over the summer than the Bucks? They grab Utah center Andrew Bogut with the first overall pick in the draft, sign the L's Most Improved Player in swingman Bobby Simmons, and then trade athletic yet expendable Desmond Mason for All-Star center Jamal Magloire. Not bad. Of course, the biggest gain of all was the return of one of their own—point guard T.J. Ford—from spinal surgery. He still makes banzai charges into the lane, disrupting defenses like no guard in the League with the exception of AI. And with targets like Magloire inside and Michael Redd outside, even Terry Stotts looks like a genius.
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES. Whither KG? Will he get traded? Will the Wolves rebuild around him? Playing his first full NBA season without coach Flip Saunders, Garnett looks overworked and generally downcast, an unnatural look for the Big Ticket. It doesn't help that Marko Jaric, brought in for malcontent Sam Cassell, has been uninspiring while Cassell has lifted the Clippers. Add in perennial underachiever Michael Olowokandi and you can imagine that Garnett may even miss Latrell Sprewell some days. At least Troy Hudson continues to pull his weight.
NEW JERSEY NETS. The popular thought is that they're a three-man team—Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson—and while they might be the class of the Atlantic, that isn't saying much. While Kidd, Carter and RJ are definitely the stars, let's not forget big man Nenad Krstic, who is the first Net big with a pulse in quite some time. You also can't help but like a team that brings Uncle Cliffy off the bench (Troy Murphy told me a couple weeks ago that Cliff hands-down had the best cars on the Warriors, so there is that). Not to mention Jeff McInnis and Marc Jackson.
NEW ORLEANS/OKLAHOMA CITY HORNETS. It's amazing how much better the arrival of rookie point guard Chris Paul has made them. The leading candidate for the Rookie Of The Year (although the next entry has a good one, too), Paul already leads the team like a seasoned vet. And speaking of seasoned vets, P.J. Brown is still doing his thing at 36. Other than that, a lot of Euros and youngsters (and young Euros) that will take a while to gel. When they do, Byron Scott will be standing there. With his arms crossed.
NEW YORK KNICKS, An enigma wrapped in a mystery stashed inside Larry Brown's head. He hasn't snapped and killed anyone yet, which is a plus, as is the fact that he's already shown a tremendous amount of faith in his three rookies. One, Channing Frye, was named rookie of the month for November, which must have Darko Milicic looking through the Soldier Of Fortune classifieds. They still don't have a starting small forward, and the rotation is more like an octahedron, but it's starting to look like things are headed in the right direction. Maybe.
ORLANDO MAGIC. Apparently, according to local reports, Jameer Nelson has proclaimed himself the driver of Dwight Howard's bandwagon and pronounced the two inseparable, which, given Howard's promise and youth is probably a good move on Jameer's part. Steve Francis—well, you just don't hear about him as much as you did in the Houston days. And the fact that Brian Hill is back as coach is just weird. He should trade for Penny Hardaway and then cut him just out of spite.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS. I don't even understand how Allen Iverson is doing it at this point. Ninth year in the League, ninth year of getting the crap kicked out of him every damn night, and he's playing better than ever. Maybe it's the return of the prodigal Mo Cheeks, maybe Chris Webber is the sidekick he's always needed, maybe it's Kyle Korver's hair. Whatever it is, it's working. These guys could win the Atlantic as well, but then again, so could Jersey, New York or Boston.
PHOENIX SUNS. Losing Amare Stoudemire with the most terrifying surgery possible (at least for a basketball player's knee) has got to be slightly alarming. And then trading both Quentin Richardson AND Joe Johnson may have been a bit extreme. Did D'Antoni just want this season to be more of a challenge? But the Suns still have Steve Nash, MVP, and so far all he's done is shoot the lights out and make Boris Diaw look like a basketball player. Wonder how Kurt Thomas is enjoying all the running?
PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS. Yep, these are the Trailblazers. Ruben Patterson demanding 25 minutes a night or he won't play at all? Ruben, even Terrell Owens thinks you're crazy. And I don't care how good he is, when this contract is up, he might as well move into a house with Latrell Sprewell, or buy into Vin Baker's restaurant. I'd say he wasn't exactly putting his Cincinnati education to good use, but it's not like he got one. Also, having $130 million tied up in Zach Randolph and Darius Miles doesn't seem that smart, especially when you bring in a disciplinarian coach to deal with slacker players. At least Sebastian Telfair looks good. And, inexplicably, Ghostface Przybilla.
SACRAMENTO KINGS. One could argue that it wasn't in Mike Bibby's best interest to spend his summer trying to turn himself into a middle linebacker. Didn't work too good for the Kings, either. Meanwhile, they're also discovering that the bloom is off the Rosejakovic. Peja has been injury-saddled, and ridden hard and put away wet by new acquisition Bonzi Wells on account of it. Meanwhile, Shareef Abdur-Rahim just looks sad. This may be the end of the Adelman era.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS. I give up—they're going to defend their title this year. Happy?
SEATTLE SUPERSONICS. I really have no idea. Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis can shoot, Vlad Radmanovic can complain (maybe put him in with Spree and the Nanny Stopper), Danny Fortson and Reggie Evans can break things. They get extra credit for giving Rick Brunson a real deal, and for keeping Robert Swift around to sweep up or whatever it is he does. It's unfortunate they lost Nate McMillan to their cross-uh, states, rivals, but if Nate was so loyal to the Sonics, the money shouldn't have been the deciding factor, right?
TORONTO RAPTORS. Well, you were right about Charlie Villanueva. He can play. And you're still 1-15. Good job.
UTAH JAZZ. Deron Williams looks good, although not as good as Chris Paul. Carlos Boozer has been a pretty useless signing, seeing that Mehmet Okur has been much better (and actually playing). Hell, even the return of the prodigal Ostertag has been better than the Booze. Then again, as long as they have Andrei "Do Everything" Kirilenko and Jerry Sloan, they should be OK.
WASHINGTON WIZARDS. Getting rid of Kwame Brown is the best example of addition by subtraction I can think of in recent years. Caron Butler makes up for the loss of Larry Hughes, and Gilbert Arenas remains out of his mind in every sense of the phrase. It would be nice if they'd change their name back to the Bullets, but then Etan Thomas would probably have to write a poem about it and we'd all be sorry.