for the weekend:
Who'll have the better regular season record next year, Seattle or Portland, and why?
I'm talking strictly on paper for this exercise ... I won't be looking up your answers six months from now and calling anyone an idiot ... so tell me what you think.
Portland brings back the same roster minus Zach Randolph plus Channing Frye and Greg Oden while the Sonics turned over their superstars, but arguably got more talented players to replace them ... certainly less redundant ones... and added two veterans in Wally Z and Kurt Thomas. Seattle has Robert Swift in a contract year as well. Seattle will also have either a totally new or mostly new coaching staff in place.
On paper it would seem that Portland's organizational stability would serve them well in building from last year to this one. However, they still have questions at PG just like the Sonics and they really don't have any players in the everyday rotation with the experience of a Kurt Thomas. Looking over their roster their two most experienced guys are Raef LaFrentz and Joel Pryzbilla, after that their most experienced players are all 4th year guys: Steve Blake, James Jones, and Travis Outlaw (not counting Darius Miles who won't play). The Sonics' grand old man is Kurt Thomas with 12 years in the league it's Wally Z with 8, then Earl Watson with 6 and Chris Wilcox with 5.
Nate McMillan has exceeded his team's Pythagorean winning percentage each of the last two years. I'd expect him to do the same this year, the question is by how much. I'll be a bit conservative and say the Blazers should be able to improve by 4 games over last year's record, putting them at 36 wins.
Can Seattle do better than 36 wins? I believe so but a great deal depends on what happens between now and the start of the season. We still don't know who the entire coaching staff is or what style they'll try to play. It is possible that the roster we have today won't be the roster that breaks camp. Assuming the roster stays the same and the coaching staff decides to play a more deliberately paced style I think 36 wins is definitely within the realm of possibility. One thing I believe can be counted on is that this year's team will be much, much better defensively. In the last couple of years we definitely needed All-Star level offensive production from both Ray and Rashard to have a chance at winning games simply because their offense had to carry a young club and the fact that nobody on the team could guard anyone else consistently. With a change in style it may, emphasis on may, be possible for the team to get enough stops that they won't have to rely on Durant and Green scoring 25+ every night to have a chance at even being close. I don't expect the Sonics to compete with the Jazz for the Northwest division title, but at the same time Sloan has fielded very competitive teams with less talent than Seattle has on their roster right now. I look forward to seeing what PJ and Presti try stylistically to compete this year.
Last year the Blazers were one game better than the Sonics, but overall their young roster and lack of a second go-to player may come back to haunt them. I see the Sonics being more likely to have a couple players have breakout seasons because they're at that 4th year nexus ... it's easier for me to believe that a Luke Ridnour or Robert Swift or might have a breakout year as a reliable 2nd or 3rd option than believing Travis Outlaw or James Jones will, but that's probably just the homer in me.
Both clubs will be close again ... Right now I'll say I see the Sonics being about a 40 win club and the Blazers 38. Let's hear your thoughts.