With the NBA season on the horizon I figured I would take a stab at the foolish exercise of making 10 bold predictions rooted in reality as I could. This is part I of the NBA season preview. These are ten reasonably based yet bold predictions I’m guessing will come to pass after staring at that crystal ball I have:
1. The Celtics won’t trade Rondo, but will trade Jeff Green- I’m working without any knowledge of how the television deal will affect the salary cap moving forward but I expect an announcement will come midseason. The trade deadline will either be super busy with teams absorbing big salaries from teams trying to add cap space for the future, or teams hoping to gather assets to make a bigger trade down the line. In theory, most teams could use a Rondo. When healthy and motivated, he can hold his own with the best the league has to offer and is NOT afraid of the spotlight. You can thank Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen for ultimately helping him flourish. However its clear that his time in Boston is about to come to an end. He may go to New York or go to Sacramento, or even Houston who would love to add Rondo as their third star, but the question remains who will bite the bullet to trade for such a mercurial spirit Rondo? Boston’s asking price for the point guard is pretty high and teams have shied from giving up future number ones without any assurances Rondo would re-sign with them.
Green on the other hand, is owed $9.2M this season and next. His salary would definitely make a team bite on an expensive asking price and I think the Celtics could get back more. When Green is on, he’s a force that can play big and constantly attacks the rim. The Cavs are all in for the next few seasons so trading away future first round picks will be nothing for them. I think the team that makes the most sense for Green in the East would be Atlanta as Al Horford insurance and another quality big to help space out for Budenholzer’s scheme to have every person on the court be a threat from deep. Atlanta perpetually maintains flexibility and they have picks to throw at Boston too.
2. Dwight Howard will re-emerge as an MVP candidate- Howard has gone from superstar center, perennial defensive player of the year candidate, and Top 3 player to, not even mentioned at all in these kind of discussions. The popular name to throw into MVP discussions is Anthony Davis, the soon to be best player in the league in 3-4 seasons. But I think Dwight is poised to have a breakout season in his second year in Houston. For the first time in three seasons, he’s not exploring ways to skip town or avoid Kobe’s death stare or playing on a bad back. Howard’s entering age 29 where he should be at the peak of his powers and playing on a team that will likely boast at least two to three players at a time that shoot 35% or better from beyond the arc. That was the kind of roster he played with in Orlando. When Dwight is playing regular minutes without any distractions, he’s a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. I’m betting on Dwight to have a big year.
3. The Indiana Pacers will NOT make the playoffs and subsequently will trade David West- Technically this is TWO bold predictions for the price of one. Consider yourselves lucky. The Pacers lost their best offensive threat when Paul George went down in a scrimmage for Team USA and Lance Stephenson took his services to Charlotte to play for Michael Jordan. My guess is that when Paul George starts practicing with the team, he won’t recognize 40% of the roster. The fact is, the Pacers are still a very solid defensive unit but I think Larry Bird, Kevin Pritchard and co know that the best way to make this right is to start over. HIbbert will be off the books after 2016 and chances of him signing a long term deal for big money are slim; the Pacers just aren’t built that way. They have enough smart people to know that they don’t stand a chance this year with the roster as constructed. Wanna know how I know? They basically gave the keys to the offense to Rodney Stuckey. West is their best trade asset and every playoff team will be angling to get him. The Pacers will likely take a bad contract back if they can recoup a decent draft pick. A team like the Suns, with extra first rounders may make a play here if they are in contention. When he initially signed with Indiana, he was coming off a torn ACL- and he’s mostly answered his injury concerns with solid play over the last few seasons as the heart, soul and muscle of an Indiana team that for most parts of last season looked like the best team in the East and a top 4 squad. But if Indiana is willing to take a lesser deal, he could shift the balance in either division.
4. The Top 4 in the East will be Cleveland, Chicago, Washington and Toronto- in that order. I had a hard time picking between Washington and Charlotte. Bradley Beal is set to miss the first month of the season at the least after breaking his wrist, and I’m STILL picking the Bullets to win the division. I don’t trust Toronto’s young guns to take a step forward and I don’t expect them to make a crazy trade, even with Masai at the helm. Cleveland, and Chicago will be the toast of the Eastern Conference and my hunch here is that Chicago will limit Derrick Rose’s minutes. Knowing Thibs that means someone else will feel the whip and I”m guessing its Jimmy Butler. Lance Stephenson vaults Charlotte into serious consideration for one of the top 4 spots in the East but that transition will take some time and losing Josh McRoberts will hurt. I think Miami is a lock to make the playoffs as well. That’s six spots with the remaining two to be fought between Brooklyn, the Knicks, Atlanta, and the Pistons. If I had to pick two today, I think the two New York teams round out the eight but don’t sleep on Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons, and I could be totally wrong on the Pacers.
5. Kobe will be top 10 in scoring this season- Have you seen the Laker roster? Have you heard that ESPN ranked him as the 40th best player in the NBA? Shockingly Kobe took neither thing very well and there’s little doubt that Kobe will shoot himself into some conversation. Whether its the analytics folks talking down to Kobe as a black hole of efficiency or the Kobe fanatics flooding ESPN’s comments sections with not so polite things to say about ESPN’s columnists and their lack of basketball wisdom, trust and believe that Kobe will shoot through the season with no remorse. I want to see Byron Scott try and make a power move on Kobe and try to bench him for not making the extra pass to Jeremy Lin in the corner. I want to see it. Even if it happens, I won’t believe it.
6. The Knicks will trade Iman Shumpert- I don’t think this is a crazy bold prediction but one that will surely make Knicks fans upset. Look, I like Shump. I think with his physical gifts, he can grow into a very good sixth man and defensive stopper but he is also an asset. He and Hardaway are the two guys that everyone asks for with the Knicks but I believe the Knicks love Hardaway’s offense more than they love Shump’s defense. In the end, he will be the one traded and it may be to a Western conference team looking for a guy to guard the wings in the West and who knows what Uncle Phil will look for when it comes to trade time. I do know that if the Knicks trade anyone Shump is going in the deal and that includes an Amar’e or Bargnani trade that would rid the team of an expiring contract which recently hadn’t been something teams were willing to do but now would be the quickest way to free up the most amount of money in anticipation of the Summer of 2016.
7. The top four in the West will be the Spurs, Clippers, the Warriors, and the Thunder- in that order. I like the rivalry brewing between the Clippers and the Warriors and I think that battle will come down to the final three weeks. Losing Kevin Durant for at least a month and a half will slow the Thunder down in that race and the Spurs know how to get to 55 wins in their sleep. Its the Warriors I’m extremely high on who I think will make a play to be one of the best teams in the entire league. I think Steve Kerr is a bright coach and he comes into a great situation with a loaded team. The one thing that worries me about them is when they go through an extended slump or an injury and then the Kevin Love what-if scenarios start playing out in post game questions. This is a team full of young guys with a rookie head coach. Expectations will be high for a young head coach and as easy as it is to talk about doing the right thing, its another thing to coach it. Let’s see what happens.
8. Four head coaches will be fired this season; and one of them in season- My guess on the coach who will see the ax midseason? Mike Malone. Which is fascinating because Vivek Ranadive the majority owner of the Kings knows him from his time as a part owner of the Golden State Warriors and took him to Sacramento. But Ranadive hired him before hiring a GM which can make for an uneasy co-existence. Add to that the quote recently by the owner that the “team will be judged by wins and losses,” and you can already see that the stage is being set. One can only wonder how much time will be given to coaches to make their mark here but it won’t be long. The other three? I think Jacques Vaughn in Orlando will get the heave ho. I also see Brian Shaw getting the early ax as he has two more guaranteed years remaining and in a tricky ownership situation Mike Budenholzer getting the pink slip once new ownership group gets settled but that likely won’t happen until after the season. Budenholzer will naturally go back to San Antonio to make a great coaching team even stronger. Awesome!
9. The Nets will be sold- Based on everything I”ve read, and the fact that Mr. Prokhorov has already tested the waters, and the promise of a huge payday given how much the Clippers were sold for (THE CLIPPERS!), Prokho may already have five people blowing up his assistant’s phone chomping at the bit. The fact is, the new television deal makes owning an NBA team even greater than it already was and with a market like Brooklyn behind it, its easy to see why the possibility of an insane bidding war would make Prokho look at this as the best possible time to sell everything and move! Once he realized he wasn’t winning a title anytime soon, you have to figure that the White Russian basically lost all interest and had his sights set on selling it. This would be the best time to sell.
10. The Minnesota Timberwolves will be the 2014-2015 version of the Phoenix Suns- The Suns were the biggest winners of last year when given the amount of draft picks they had, rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek installed an ultra aggressive two point guard system that scored at a crazy pace. This year, Minnesota has the young guns to run up and down the court for days. While Flip Saunders isn’t my idea of a great head coach, his handling of the Kevin Love situation was something I agreed with. He got Andrew Wiggins and drafted Zach Lavine who’s more than just a dunk show freak. Look for them to make noise for the 8th seed, but fall short.
I should get extra points for not writing the names of Lebron James or Kevin Love at all in this article about the upcoming NBA season. OH wait…