This is the roster that I was working with last August:
At Center: Vitali Potapenko, Robert Swift, maybe Mikki Moore
At Power Forward: Nick Collison (C), Danny Fortson (C), Reggie Evans
At Small Forward: Rashard Lewis (PF), Vladi Radmanovic (PF)
At Shooting Guard: Ray Allen, Damien Wilkins (SF), Ronald Murray (PG)
At Point Guard: Luke Ridnour, Rick Brunson
The only people missing from that list are Cleaves and Petro. I thought that Cleaves would put up a fight for a spot but I didn't expect him to win it. Showing up a little slimmer and displaying the ability to run the team as a point guard has to on offense was what Coach Bob Weiss was looking for, and what Cleaves delivered.
The other thing I was thinking early in the summer was that Johan Petro would end up starting the year in the NBDL, forcing Supersonics.com writer Kevin Pelton to travel to Albuquerque (Go Thunderbirds!), but this is not the case. Johan Petro has stepped up to the task of filling a role on the team by giving Coach Weiss something else he was looking for, somebody to effectively play some minutes at the center position. If Petro can continue to improve throughout the year the I can't see how anybody could look at the 25th overall pick as anything but a success. As it is, Petro could be the second or third center on the roster, and the insurance policy that is Mikki Moore might end up being just that, insurance.
One thing that has become clear through the preseason is that Danny Fortson and Nick Collison make a good tandem in the front court, and they will likely see playing time ahead of Petro. The combination of Collison and Fortson can match nearly any two front court players any other team has coming off the bench, and more than a few of teams starting players. Grouping Fortson and Collison with a variety of players that can play the back court, and Small Forward position, makes the Sonics a tough team match up against for a full 48 minutes.
As was pointed out on this site by Brian Robinson, Robert Swift has been bothered by a hip injury. So, I'm not entirely convinced that the player that some in the media were a little disappointed in was able to show all of the progress he has made over the summer. Petro might have jumped ahead of Swift on the depth chart by virtue of being able to jump at all, maybe not. But, I will be happy as a Sonics fan to wonder which 7 footer, 20 or under, is able to play regular minutes at an NBA level. Who knows, maybe in 5 years, when they are old and 25, they might start together.
That all being said, here are picks for the end of the season top 8 for the Western Conference:
As was the case back in August, I will not explain it, or back it up. It is what it is, deal.
Sonics (50-32, 3rd seed on tie breaker)
Warriors (the shocker!)
I didn't change a thing from last August, though, the most likely to fall down are the Twolves. It is possible for the Grizzlies and Twolves to swap places 5 and 9
Who is out and maybe I'll say why:
The Grizzlies, they have a lot of talent, they might get into the playoffs, maybe they will bust my top eight and surprise me. Maybe Mike Fratello is going to micromanage them into the NBA lottery. The uncertainty has tipped my scales to having Baron Davis lead the Warriors into the playoffs ahead of the Griz.
Lakers are not as bad as the Blazers, but they are bad. Anytime you take on somebody like Kwame Brown as a starter and see him as a major upgrade you are in trouble, they still have a bunch of holes to fill.
Utah is climbing out of a hole. Keep climbing, you'll get there.
Blazers are bad, Sonics broadcaster Kevin Calabro put it best Friday night on KJR radio during the preseason game between the Sonics and Blazers "Portland looks like an expansion team... a mix of veterans and rookies that don't quite fit together". Couple that observation with the fact that Zack Randolph doesn't quite understand yet that he was selected in the draft by the general manager that was fired, and the coach, Nate McMillan, was selected by the owner. Zack, this is work, and you had better understand the higharchial structure of the company that employs you.
The Hornets just traded big for small, are playing on the road all year, and still might jump ahead of Portland.
That's it, welcome back NBA, I've missed you (in a cold beer and pizza kind of way).