Seven bold predictions for NBA season as Warriors prepare to tip-off
Let the games begin
The three-month wait for NBA fans no doubt felt like an eternity.
After Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors to their first NBA title in franchise history over a hobbled Warriors team, the league was flipped on its head. Anthony Davis joined LeBron James with the Lakers via trade. Kevin Durant left the Warriors to join the Nets with Kyrie Irving. Leonard played the Lakers like a fiddle only to go to the Clippers, who also swung a trade to land Paul George. Russell Westbrook then was shipped out of OKC to join James Harden in Houston.
All this was the precursor to what is expected to be the most exciting and wide-open season in recent NBA memory.
Leonard and the Clippers opened the season by beating James, Davis and the Lakers in the true definition of a heavyweight bout.
The five-time defending champion Warriors will kick off their season Thursday when they face those Clippers at Chase Center.
1. Andre Iguodala chooses Lakers
We'll open with a not-so bold one.
The 2015 NBA Finals MVP is waiting for the Grizzlies to trade him or engage in buyout talks. Eventually, the Grizzles will budge, giving the veteran forward his walking papers.
I don't think Iguodala will get his release until well into the season, and by then, it'll be clear the Lakers need defensive help on the wing. Iguodala heads to Tinseltown to help his old agent Rob Pelinka bring a title back to the Lakers, choosing to play alongside James instead of the Clippers, Rockets or other interested teams.
After a few months in Purple and Gold, Iguodala will sign with the Warriors to finish his career with Curry and the Warriors.
2. De'Aaron Fox leads Kings to playoffs
Yes, the Kings looked like something resembling baby puke in their season-opening loss to the Suns. But, there are 81 games left for them to turn it around.
The young core of Fox, Marvin Bagley, Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield is talented enough to get the Kings through the Western Conference gauntlet and into that coveted No. 8 seed, snapping a 13-year drought.
But if the Kings and Lakers are making the playoffs which two teams are dropping out? Not to pick the low-hanging fruit, but the Thunder (sorry, Chris Paul) and Spurs will not be making it to the dance this season.
As the Kings' playoff drought ends, so will the Spurs' streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances.
3. Rockets barely make NBA playoffs
So you thought there were going to be issues with James Harden and Russell Westbrook? Well, you were right.
The Rockets struggle out of the gate, going 8-15 in their first 23, putting them behind the eightball in the Western Conference. But after a closed-door meeting following a loss to the Kings, the Rockets kick it into gear with Brodie and Beard torching opponents with lethal efficiency.
Houston will enter April with some work to do, but a closing stretch against the Spurs (twice), Wizards, Grizzlies and Suns give the Rockets the wins needed to grab the No. 7 seed.
4. Damian Lillard wins MVP
The Trail Blazers are the forgotten team in the Western Conference.
After getting swept by the Warriors in the Western Conference finals, the Blazers made some changes to a roster that has been the picture of continuity. Gone are Meyers Leonard, Mo Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Evan Turner and Seth Curry, while Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, Mario Hezonja are in.
No, those moves aren't flashy, but the 'Zers still have Lillard and CJ McCollum, one of the best backcourts in the NBA.
After signing his max extension this summer, Lillard won't rest on his past accomplishments. That's not how he's wired. With many doubting the Blazers' ability to compete in the souped-up West, Lillard will have a massive year, leading the Blazers to the No. 1 seed while averaging 29.7 points, 6.7 assists while shooting over 40 percent from 3-point land.
5. Steve Kerr wins Coach of the Year
No Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston or Iguodala means Kerr gets to put his coaching chops on display.
The Dubs' young roster will struggle out of the gate, but Curry, Draymond Green and D'Angelo Russell will keep them afloat while Kerr molds this team into a contender.
A second-half surge buoyed by incredible play from Curry and Russell, and a huge improvement from the likes of Jordan Poole, Marquese Chriss, Eric Paschall and Glenn Robinson III gives the Warriors the No. 5 seed in the West and gives Kerr the recognition he deserves.
6. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons lead 76ers to 68 wins, NBA Finals berth
The Sixers making the NBA Finals isn't bold, it's expected. Really, only Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks stand in their way.
But the 76ers might be the most talented team in the NBA, and if a weakened Eastern Conference they can rack up the wins en route to one of the best seasons in NBA history. They'll threaten the Warriors' 73-win season, but will fall short, electing to rest Embiid, Simmons and Co. for a deep run, which sees them roll through the East and land in the NBA Finals.
7. Warriors make Western Conference finals
No playoffs for Curry, Kerr and the Dubs? No chance.
After shaking off a slow start, the Warriors put it together and grab the No. 5 seed despite Thompson missing the entire season while recovering from an ACL.
These Warriors never say die, though, knocking off the No. 4 Nuggets six games in Round 1 before bouncing Lillard and the Blazers in an epic Game 7 at Moda Center.
Standing between the Warriors and sixth straight trip to the Finals is old friend LeBron and the Lakers. Despite a valiant effort, the Warriors' lack of size is their downfall as they fall to LA in five games.