1. Celtics finish second in the East
Boston will leapfrog Toronto to finish with the second best record in the East. The Celtics made the right decisions this offseason by signing a veteran center – Al Horford (who can fit into their system), electing not to overpay an overrated Evan Turner, and picking up another utility piece in Gerald Green.
The versatility they have will allow them to go up against almost any system without tweaking much of what makes them effective.
Brad Stevens will get Coach of the Year consideration with the leap in wins by this Boston team.
For the first time in eight years the top-heavy Western Conference will be sub .500 against the East. Despite having what some pundits say will be the best team of all time, in the Golden State Warriors, the West’s middle- and lower-tier teams are outmatched by the Eastern Conference.
3. Houston Rockets win home court in playoffs
Some questions remain about their defense, but the new fast-paced offense will catapult them to a top 4 finish in the West. Daryl Morey has finally found the right mix of players to accomplish his goal of shooting more threes in an NBA game than anyone thought possible.
If the chemistry in the preseason is any indication, and I think it is, then almost everyone on the team will have career offensive numbers, with the Beard leading the way.
4. Harden is MVP
Vegas currently has James Harden at 20 to 1 odds to win the MVP race. I think this is absurd and would suggest to anyone passing by a sports book to throw a small amount down. Harden will see an uptick in stats – lots of triple doubles — under new coach Mike D’Antoni.
Meanwhile, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant will take votes away from each other, Russell Westbrook will be insane but not with the same level of consistency as Harden. LeBron should do just enough to ensure the Cavs finish atop the East without having to resort to too many beast-mode efforts.
5. Trust the Process: Joel Embiid wins Rookie of the Year
With Ben Simmons out for at least 3 months, Embiid will establish his role and take control of the 76ers offense, such as it will be. He could be boosted by a Nerlens Noel and/or Jahlil Okafor move before the trade deadline. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, this team will still finish at the bottom of the Atlantic.
6. Zach Lavine gets MIP consideration
Lavine progressed nicely from his rookie to sophomore years, averaging more points and fewer turnovers. I expect new Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau to push Lavine’s progression even more. He has already had one 30-point game this preseason. Timberwolves will improve as a team, and Lavine will garner the attention he deserves.
7. Lowry Leads the Raptors in scoring
Last year Kyle Lowry shed some weight and increased his production with better shooting and smarter play. This year we should see continued progression. This is a contract year for Lowry, giving him motivation to edge out DeMar DeRozan as the Raptors’ leading scorer.
8. Evan Turner traded
Evan Turner will continue his NBA journey of ‘fit’ by finishing this season on yet another team’s roster. The Trailblazers will have to dump salary unless Paul Allen wants to go bankrupt paying the luxury tax.
Turner won’t fill the desired complementary role to Lillard and McCollum and won’t be effective enough to run the second unit on his own. Look for Portland’s early struggles to snowball into a deadline deal.
9. Alvin Gentry Fired
The Pelicans will have another lackluster season ticking another year off the availability of superstar Anthony Davis. The blame should be shared with GM Dell Demps and the injury bug that seems to plague them every year, but Gentry will be the scapegoat.
It probably won’t be until the end of the season, but someone must be held accountable for not getting anywhere with Anthony Davis on your team.
10. Kings keep their protected first-round pick
This isn’t that bold of a pick, but the absurdity that has allowed the Kings to hold onto their first round pick thus far merits mention. On June 2011 the Kings traded Omri Casspi and a protected first-round pick to the Cavaliers for J.J. Hickson. The protection stipulated that the Kings would keep the pick if it was in the top 14 in 2012, top 13 in 2013, top 12 in 2014, top 10 in 2015, top 10 in 2016, and top 10 in 2017.
The Kings continue to be just bad enough. With the rights to the pick being traded from the Cavs to the Bulls back in 2014, I can only imagine that Bulls fans are hoping for a miracle and the Kings to actually be mediocre this year. I’m sorry, Bulls fans, that won’t happen.