I don't know that I've ever been more excited for an NBA season.
Maybe it's because I am older and pay more attention to sports, but the story lines this year are fascinating. From the much anticipated return of the former MVP Derrick Rose, to LeBron trying to three-peat like Michael Jordan did (twice).
Also, stories like the re-built Brooklyn Nets who are built to win NOW, the battle for the top in Los Angeles, Dwight Howard's new home in Houston and last but not least, the return of Russell Westbrook - and we'll get to see just how good the Oklahoma City Thunder really are.
In this post, I will try to hit the major stories that are being talked about going into this season and I'll do some rankings in player awards, teams and playoff predictions (baring injury, or anything that could happen to players).
The preseason is already showing who is ready to go and who still needs some time, so let's do this.
Let's start with the King. LeBron James is unequivocally the top player in the National Basketball Association. I'll be honest, I used to really dislike LeBron.
I still do from a fan point of view, because when he constantly beats on your team, it's not like you can cheer for him. But when you look at how he plays, and how you could put a brick wall in front of his drive and he'd break through it, you have to appreciate his authority.
During the 2013 Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat seemed to have met their match. Danny Green started shooting darker than lights out, Tim Duncan was Tim Duncan and Tony Parker made a couple of the craziest shots you'll ever see to keep the series going, eventually to seven games.
LeBron seemed to have met his match as Danny Green, along with others, somehow slowed down the MVP of the league for the first few games. Once Green came back to Earth and shot like he did in the regular season, James took over.
It was his fierce drive and ability to make any shot on the court that proved to be the difference in the series. That AND Ray Allen's three to go into overtime in Game 6 (with an able-bodied Tim Duncan on the bench).
James won the Finals MVP, his second of his career, and at 29 years old and a decade into his NBA career, the top of the podium, of all time, is in his reach. Remember when Kobe would get that stare and everyone just kind of gave up because they knew they were toast? The LeBron face has been forming the past couple years, first most notably against the Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012.
No teeth, no smiles, just buckets, and lots of them. The clutch gene, if it's real or not, had eluded James for quite sometime leading to some people, notably Skip Bayless of ESPN, to say that he wasn't among the all-time elites of the game.
I think that the past two seasons have shown everyone that, even though he only has two buzzer winning shots in his career, he is clutch in the final quarter of games that matter the most.
If he wasn't so unselfish as a player, I believe that he could easily score 50 points a game and not even blink an eye. The Heat don't play that way, however, and that is why they have found their rhythm and won back-to-back titles. T
he King isn't just great in the postseason, but the regular season, too. Only averaging over 27 points per game once in his three years at Miami (yes, ONLY once) shows you that he has matured as a player and from his days at Cleveland where he would score upwards of 30 a game.
He averaged a career high eight rebounds a game and a second career-best in assists at 7.3 a game, improving his all-around ability and further more making himself the best in the game today.
The Eastern Conference doesn't have many teams that look like they could challenge the Heat this year. With the Addition of Greg Oden in the middle of their lineup, the Heat have filled the one void that the Pacers found last season, a big man - if he stays healthy, of course.
The return of Derrick Rose makes the Bulls a viable foe, and the additions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett rounds out the lineup for the Brooklyn Nets, but the Heat only got better this off-season. Losing Mike Miller wasn't a big loss because his back is basically peanut brittle.
As long as James stays healthy (he hasn't been hurt for a substantial amount of time yet) there shouldn't be any reason for James to get back to the Finals for a third-straight year and possibly win his third straight, just like MJ did (twice).
Kevin Durant has a ways to go to surpass him, and who knows, maybe this year he makes strides, but for right now, James is the best player in the game, and is coming for Michael Jordan's spot at the top of the game's greats.
Derrick Rose had his preseason debut this past week, and man, was it scary. Rose scored 22 points in as many minutes in his first game since April 2012. The jokes have been frequent, and quite hilarious actually. Skeptics have been piling up criticism on Rose as rumours were coming out of the Bulls camp that he was 'dominating' in practice and looked like he could have come back in time for the playoffs last season.
I think that's what makes the Chicago Bulls look good this year, they played their hearts out last postseason and almost beat the Nets in the first round without their MVP point guard. Say what you want about Rose and the questionable stance he took by not returning last year, but his explosiveness looked to be back at full speed in his first game back.
Granted, it IS the preseason and really, who actually is in mid-season form already and wants to put postseason-type effort into a game in October?
I might be overdramatic here, and I probably am blowing his performance out of the water, but seriously, some of the drives he took and his full court speed that only he possesses looked close to his norm of 2012.
Adidas is doing their part to hype him up after his injury, as they did with Robert Griffin III, and the doubters are in full force and ready to scrutinise his every move once the season starts.
Now, I don't care about last year, because quite frankly I don't think an 80 per cent Rose is going to make a difference in the later rounds of the playoffs last year. I do think that he can come back to be his MVP-level self again this year, and if he does that, they could make a run at the Heat.
Rose needs help, however. Joakim Noah needs to be more consistent and make more of his shots while becoming a team-oriented player. Look out for Loul Deng to be big this year working with Rose as a nice 1-2 punch offensive attack.
Also, I'm calling it now, Jimmy Butler will be a breakout player this year even if he's off the bench. Butler is a good prospect and he showed his scoring ability last season with no Rose to take the shots he usually accounts for. It would take a great team series to take down the Heat in the playoffs, but Rose was the Most Valuable Player for a reason, he changes games and his explosiveness is second to none.
Paul Pierce is in black this year. The Boston Celtics' shocking move to trade The Truth and The Big Ticket Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn for some role players sent shockwaves throughout Boston, the NBA and even Pierce. If you're a die-hard Celtics fan like I am, it was hard to accept this reality of having Rondo as your centre piece and biggest star moving forward.
You know who else it was hard on? Pierce, The Truth, the perfect Celtic, the guy who was a part of years of horrible seasons in order to win that one championship with the Big three.
He was Boston, and you could tell that in his first press conference as a Net, the reality hit him at that moment as he stopped after saying he was a Net. But no one can do anything about it now, the teams are the teams, and the Nets look like contenders.
The starting lineup is filled with big-name players. Brook Lopez and Garnett will take over the paint while Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Paul Pierce are the orchestrators of a back court that you could match up with anyone while putting up a fight.
Pierce and Garnett aren't exactly young, at all, but with 35 all-star appearances through the starting five, the team is filled with game-changing athletes.
It will be interesting to see how well they mesh as well as the minutes that Garnett and Pierce get in preparation for the playoffs and if the bench players can step up. This is a team that, if they don't win in the next two years (and even that is pushing it), will need to find a three and a four for their lineup as KG and Pierce won't be able to be starting players on any team.
Jason Kidd is a first-year head coach but wants to win now and knows how to win. I think he'll be able to make up plays and schemes to try to dismantle the Miami Heat, who have already come out and said the bad blood they felt towards Boston will move to Brooklyn well.
KG and Pierce need to be big, especially in the spring, and if they are, anything can happen.
Second Best. Kevin Durant. Those four words have been together since he was drafted. Sports Illustrated did a whole cover-story piece on how Durant was second best since the NBA draft of 2007. The player drafted ahead of KD, Greg Oden, has played a total of 82 games in his career, that must ignite the fire even more under Durant (Could you imagine Durant on the Blazers with Brandon Roy? That would have been a scary couple of years).
KD lost the Finals to LeBron in 2011 and is considered the second-best player in the NBA, making the pressure on him to show up this year greater than ever. Russell Westbrook will help him do that this year but there are still question marks.
The bench isn't as strong this year, which means the Oklahoma City Thunder have to rely heavily on Thabo Sefolosha and Reggie Jackson as starting guards with the departure of Kevin Martin.
Westbrook is a top-ten NBA talent, however, and the duo of him and KD has been lethal in the past. If the other new players on the team can step up, and I mean really step up, they can make a play at returning to the Finals. It will take a lot, but Durant is 1A to LeBron and can single-handedly bring this team to a top spot in the playoffs, and Westbrook only helps his case.
Finally! Dwight Howard got to choose where he wanted to go! Everything is well with the world now. Like with Brett Favre, everyone wanted this almost two-year saga to come to a close. I, for one, hope he's happy there. He wanted to leave Orlando (where he was THE man), and when he was traded to the Lakers, he wasn't happy because he wanted to go to Brooklyn.
This past off season, Howard was able to become a free agent and choose which location he wanted to play basketball and bring his circus to. Even with a late-night push to sign with the Lakers again, Howard let the world know where he was playing this upcoming year by changing his Twitter avi.
What better way to tell people where his next destination will be than the place where most of the controversy was brewing?
I have a couple things to say about this. One, in no way do I think that the only reason he didn't want to play for the Lakers was because he wanted to go to Brooklyn. I think that it was because he had to play with Kobe Bryant.
Anyone who watches and follows basketball knows that Bryant is selfish, egotistic, and the man in charge in LA. Howard, once the man in Orlando, didn't want to follow what Kobe had to say because until Bryant retires, he will be in charge.
His late-night charge for LA was because Kobe is hurt, and his torn achilles might shorten his career from what was expected. If Howard could sign a long-term deal there and just wait it out for Kobe to retire, he'd be the man AND be in Los Angeles, the biggest market in America.
My second note is his choice of Houston was probably the best one he could have picked. With one of the best 2 guards in the league in James Harden, Jeremy Lin and the 3-point shooting Chandler Parsons around him, it should open up the floor for him to get him good looks at the basket.
When Howard wants to play, the MVP is within reach. He also plays top-level defence, and if Lin, Harden and company improve on that end, the Houston Rockets could challenge everyone in the West.
They have weapons, and D12 was the missing link for the Rockets to take the next level. Can he stay emotionally interested throughout the whole year, we will have to wait and see.
Joe Namath I am not. BUT, I think I know a thing or two to make some NBA Preseason predictions.
Now, predictions can be risky to say the least. Not one of ESPN's baseball writers picked the Boston Red Sox to win the AL East this year, so people make mistakes.
I'm going to see how I do, and we'll check back in on these predictions throughout the season.
I will be doing each division, all major awards and of course, postseason predictions. I'll try to leave all biases out of these and do my best analysis of the up coming NBA season. HERE WE GO!
New York Knicks
--- Brooklyn's full lineup outlasts Carmelo and the Knicks for the top spot. Knicks still get playoff spot while Celtics rebuild.
--- Derrick Rose makes all the difference as both the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers get playoff spots. So does everyone else in the division as they take five spots in the Eastern Conference.
--- Miami Heat runaway with the division, Washington a year out from being contenders, could play spoiler.
San Antonio Spurs
New Orleans Pelicans
--- The high-powered Houston Rockets beat out San Antonio, both make playoffs along with Memphis who only improved from last season's campaign.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Portland Trail Blazers
--- Kevin Durant leads the Thunder to the top of the division, Nuggets gaining momentum as well as Kevin Love and the young Timberwolves. Nuggets and Thunder both make playoffs.
Golden State Warriors
Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Lakers
--- Stephen Curry doesn't break his 3-point record but improves his all-around game and leads the Warriors to the division title. Clippers close behind while Kobe takes the Lakers to the playoffs in a crazy, late-season charge.
1. Heat 2. Bulls 3. Nets 4. Pacers 5. Knicks 6. Bucks 7. Cavaliers 8. Pistons
First Round: Heat 4 - Pistons 1, Bulls 4 - Cavaliers 2, Nets 4 - Bucks 3, Pacers 3 - Knicks 4
Second Round: Heat 4 - Knicks 3, Nets 4 - Bulls 2
Eastern Conference Finals: Heat 4 - Nets 3
1. Thunder 2. Warriors 3. Rockets 4. Clippers 5. Spurs 6. Nuggets 7. Grizzlies 8. Lakers
First Round: Thunder 4 - Lakers 2, Warriors 4 - Grizzlies 3, Rockets 4 - Nuggets 3, Clippers 4 - Spurs 2
Second Round: Thunder 4 - Clippers 3, Warriors 4 - Rockets 1
Western Conference:Thunder 4 - Warriors 3
NBA Finals: Thunder 4 - Heat 2
Kevin Durant does it!
In six games, Durant shows the world that he is right up there with LeBron James, who does all he can but can't will his team to any more than two victories, and that he can win the big one.
LeBron lost one before he won one. Russell Westbrook shows that he is still effective and outplays Dwayne Wade during the whole series. The x-factor of the Finals are the big men, and the two-headed monster of Perkins and Ibaka is too much for the Heat to handle.
- MVP: Kevin Durant - Oklahoma City Thunder (2. James, 3. Curry, 4. Love, 5. Anthony)
- Defensive Player of the Year: Serge Ibaka - Oklahoma City Thunder
- Most Improved: Larry Sanders - Milwaukee Bucks
- Rookie of the Year: Victor Oladipo - Orlando Magic
- Coach of the Year: Mark Jackson - Golden State Warriors
- Sixth Man of the Year: Jimmy Butler - Chicago Bulls
- First Team All-NBA:
PG: Chris Paul, SG: Stephen Curry, SF: Kevin Durant, PF: Kevin Love, C: Dwight Howard
- Second Team All-NBA:
PG: Derrick Rose, SG: James Harden, SF: LeBron James, PF: Blake Griffin, C: Roy Hibbert
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