NBA Season Preview

This is going to be the most exciting season of my lifetime. Thank goodness too. With a lockout looming, the NBA is going out, temporarily, with a bang. Dwyane Wade and his Superfriends, The Big Three plus Rondo, Dwight Howard supposedly learning how to play offense without dunking, Kevin Durant hoping to lead his team to glory like he led Team USA and Kobe and Co. gearing up for another title defense. This season is not short of story lines or drama or tattoos or Gilbert Arenas. After the biggest summer in NBA history

Every team has something at stake. Cleveland and Toronto are moving on after their one and onlys moved on without them. Boston and Los Angeles are trying to stay at the top while Miami and Oklahoma City knock on the door. The Timberwolves and Suns are going to acquire as many small forwards as possible and the Warriors are testing new uniforms. There’s enough drama and story to cover two seasons, which is good because we the NBA Player’s Association and Stern might hit the skip button after the Finals next summer.

Prediction No. 1: Kevin Durant will be our MVP

Unless LeBron averages a triple-double. Or if Dwight Howard fixes the economy by blocking our debt into the Atlantic Ocean.

Read literally the MVP is awarded to the player who is most valuable to his team. The Lakers, Magic, and most certainly the Heat would be fine without their respective superstar, or stars in the case of the Heat. Westbrook is a good young player, who may progress to an upper-echelon PG this year. Ibaka will be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. The entire team will kill themselves defensively and they’ll crash the boards with zeal. Durant surely has some nice pieces around him that wouldn’t fit as nicely with Kobe or LeBron or Howard or Wade or anyone else. Watching him for Team USA this summer, there is no one who can doubt that he can lead a team.

Prediction No. 2: Greg Oden will look not look one year older than what we last saw him

It’s been said multiple times that he could be a real life Benjamin Button (Gregory Oden?) but I see him more as someone who doesn’t age at all. He will look the exact same at 40 as he does now, mostly because he looks like he is 40 already. I think he should be the subject of an episode of Fringe. I think that Greg Oden was born on the island from Lost. I think Robin Williams is going to play him in a movie that will have early momentum for the Oscar but then everyone forgets about it.

As for basketball, I think (hope) Oden will stay healthy. Just because he’s due. Last year, when healthy, Oden showed some flashes of dominance. He did not look hopelessly lost like his rookie year. He can be a very, very good starting center, read: legit center, in this league and I would love to see him doing it. Hang on a second while I knock on my wooden computer desk violently for the next twenty minutes.

Prediction No. 3:  The Lakers will be slightly better than last year

Steve Blake is an upgrade over Jordan Farmar. Matt Barnes adds more 3-point range, defense, and an extra layer of toughness to the frontcourt. Kobe took the summer off to cure his ails, Pau has to be feeling more confident after taking over the Finals and dragging the Lakers past the Celtics, Artest has a full year in the triangle, and Phil is still the best coach in the game. Blake and Barnes make them more versatile. If they get a healthy season from Bynum, they will be nigh unstoppable.

Prediction No. 4: The following teams will make the playoffs in the East (in order)

Miami, Boston, Orlando, Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Milwaukee, New Jersey

I like Jennings on potential but will anyone be surprised if he fall victim to a sophomore slump?

I like the Knicks and I think Anthony Randolph will be the steal of this past offseason. You mean we get a potential dominant force on both ends and we don’t have to overpay David Lee? Where do we sign?

Avery Johnson is a good coach for a team that needs to be righted. He’s a micro manager and the micro things are what win games. Sure, they’ll get tired of him in the next couple years but he’ll help them play some good basketball. Until someone accidentally runs him over in the parking lot in April.

Prediction No. 5: Carmelo will play harder than usual

Once he gets to the Knicks. The Nuggets will get something for him but nowhere near fair value. Gallinari, two No. 1’s, and maybe an expiring contract. Then say goodbye to Billups and so begins the rebuilding effort. At least the Nuggets will be in decent shape going forward with Martin’s contract expiring and the extra future draft picks. The Timberwolves are the basketball equivalent of modern politics. Lots of moves, lots of posturing, but ultimately no progress.

Prediction No. 6: The following teams will make the playoffs in the West (in order)

Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City, Portland, Utah, San Antonio, Houston, Los Angeles Clippers

Oklahoma City will be the three just because their division is so competitive. Portland and Utah both have a legitimate shot at the second seed. Dirk was on fire, and so was Dallas, until Carl Landry’s tooth attacked Dirk’s forearm. I think Dallas starts strong again and maintains enough to get the second seed.

At this point isn’t it guaranteed that Portland is guaranteed to have health issues? If they lose a minimal amount of games to injury, the TrailBlazers will be the challengers the Thunder are supposed to be.

Blake Griffin will do all of these things this year: Win Rookie of the Year, finish top-two, with Howard, in rebounding, keep Baron Davis motivated, play with such reckless abandon that he will immediately become a fan favorite (even to fans of other teams), and lead the Clippers to the playoffs.

Prediction No. 7: The Heat won’t win 72 games

They won’t come close. A defending champion always get everyone’s best shot. Every night. Every home game. Every road game the fans will be pumped and every player knows that everyone is watching. The Lakers don’t have to deal with that this year. The spotlight is on the Heat. These guys haven’t played with each other outside of the Olympics. Chemistry means something in basketball. Familiarity with one another is going to turn them into a great team. They’ll be good this year, no question, but not great. I still think they’ll get the top Eastern seed because Boston has a propensity to drop some games that they shouldn’t but I don’t think they’ll win more than 62 games.

Prediction No. 8: First Team All NBA will be

G: Chris Paul-If he stays healthy, he is the best in the league. Williams and Rondo were great in the playoffs but Paul was a revolution the last few years until the injuries.

G: Kobe Bryant-Until someone proves otherwise he deserves to inked here. Does anyone think Kobe isn’t going to put together a great season when he can tie Jordan and Shaq is a Celtic?

F: LeBron James- A legit threat to get a triple double since he’ll be a facillitator and there is not rebounding presence on his team.

F: Kevin Durant- Averaging 34 ppg and just seeing an overall improvement in every facet of his game, from defense to passing, he has the ability to win this year.

C: Howard- No one else even comes close, and that’s before considering he has no low post moves. If he develops his offense, then it’s a bigger no brainer than before.

Prediction No. 9: The Lakers will meet the Celtics in the Finals…again

I’ll believe that Howard has an offensive game besides dunking when I see it. The Heat need a year to blend and they don’t have an inside presence. The Bulls are a piece away and Durant and the Thunder are a year away. The Blazers could be a threat but if they’re not healthy then they can’t compete. Unless the Heat learn to play together overnight, I fail to see any threat to the third Green and Gold Finals in four years. As for who will win, I change my mind every five minutes and I’m sure I would again immediately after I’m done with this.

Prediction No. 10: The Warriors will actually start turning the corner towards being a consistently respectable franchise

New owners, new coach, new scheme, new uniforms. I’m not saying they will make the playoffs but they’ll win a few more than last year and they will put a plan in place to bring the franchise back to the playoffs consistently. It needs to start with trading Ellis for a guard that complements Steph Curry and building around his ability to create for others and his dead eye shooting ability. Ellis can fill the bucket and take over a game with hsi scoring but he takes so many bad shots when he is on the floor for extended periods. He’s better suited to be the sixth man on a team like Boston where there are a bunch of veterans to keep him in check and he can come off the bench to just try and score as much as he can in 6 minutes. Can Steph Curry be the best player on a championship team? Potentially. Could he be a great complement to someone like Durant, or Kobe, or Howard? Yes, most certainly. He’s already one of the smartest players in the league. If you can’t find a way to play with him (he can play any type of game from run and gun to catch and shoot to plodding half court and iso sets) then the problem is with you and you alone.

As a long-suffering Warriors fan, this season is already a success. The new owners seem to actually care about producing a winner long term and Curry is a joy to watch. Nelson retiring was key because there were times when you could watch him last season and think he wasn’t even interested in what was going on with the team. Of course I want to see them win. Of course I want to see them make the playoffs. Of course this is not going to happen this year. The bench is weak and the starters don’t match favorably against many teams. I just want to see progress. Even if it means they have less ping pong balls, but if they do end up with more ping pong balls then it’s not the worst thing to happen. Landing a top three pick might be the only way to get a Kobe or Durant or LeBron in Oakland. Carmelo doesn’t want to be in Oakland. If they somehow get him he’ll bolt for New York immediately after the season. The Warriors need to follow the Thunder blueprint:

Maximize cap room and assets to remain flexible as a team and organization
Draft a player who can lead on the floor and by example (Check)
Build around that player through the draft in order to remain flexible cap wise
Acquire as many draft picks and expiring contracts as possible in order to obtain either more picks or veterans that add something to the team

The Sonics were awful three years ago. Terrible. The were always stingy with money so step 1 was already completed. Durant was step 2. They’ve maintained the course and they are suddenly a trendy pick to make or even win the Finals. A three year turn around. That’s setting the bar a little high but as a Warriors fan for the past twenty years, the bar couldn’t be set any lower.

Follow me on twitter @stefanhynes. Or don’t. Whatever you want. No pressure.


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