General Sports: July 19

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-So Kawhi Leonard was finally traded. It was announced in the wee hours of yesterday morning that the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors had a deal that would send Leonard north in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a top-20 protected first round pick that could become 2 2nd rounders in 2020 if the pick somehow ends up being in the top 20. Already we can tell that this trade is an absolute mess. First off, DeRozan was reportedly “extremely upset” that he was included in the deal because he felt he was reportedly “lied to” by the front office about a potential trade. It was also reported that Leonard was not happy with landing in Toronto, as he had made it pretty clear he wanted to play in Los Angeles. To both players I say grow the fuck up. For DeRozan, the only player who is untradeable is LeBron James and that’s because he basically acts as his own GM for whichever team he happens to play for. Could it suck? Yeah, I’ve got to imagine getting suddenly told you don’t play for a team you’ve spent your entire adult life playing for probably feels tough right now. But unless he was flat out told by the front office that he was off limits in any potential deal, then I don’t see why he should think he was untouchable. If he led Toronto to the NBA Finals, then perhaps I’d give him some more credit. But the Raptors got their dicks kicked in by the Cavaliers in the 2nd round of the playoffs. Nobody on that team is untouchable. As for Leonard, you can’t expect the Spurs to bend to your whim because you want to go somewhere else while you’re still under contract. The Lakers and Clippers do not have the assets necessary to compensate for the value lost by your departure. The Spurs need to get something in return if they’re going to trade you. Besides, your contract is up at the end up the season. Suck it up, play in Toronto (which I think is a very pleasant city), then if you decide you’d still rather go to LA, then you can sign there as a free agent. Just make sure you keep playing your ass off with the Raptors so that the Lakers or Clippers will actually WANT to sign you. Because let’s face it, these last few months haven’t been very favorable for your public image with NBA teams.

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-Speaking of trades, it was announced during the MLB All Star Game that the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers had a deal in place that would send superstar shortstop Manny Machado to LA for a package of prospects, one of whom is Yusniel Diaz, MLB.com’s 84th best overall prospect. Pretty much everyone and their mother had Machado to the Dodgers pegged ever since Corey Seager went down for the season with an arm injury. It’s been a revolving door of utility guys at shortstop since then and now that Machado is there, the Dodgers will once again have a superstar manning short while they make another run at a World Series title. That is until Machado hits free agency at the end of the season, which is why the prospect return wasn’t as high as a guy of Machado’s caliber typically commands. Diaz has a ton of potential, but he was far from LA’s best prospect (Alex Verdugo) and the fact that Machado will likely only wear Dodger blue for a few months lessens the trade value a little bit. From what I’ve been reading, it seems very likely that Machado will sign with the Yankees in the offseason and will likely replace fellow impending free agent Didi Gregorius. However the addition of Machado has the red-hot Dodgers looking even better as they go for another deep run into the playoffs. Also, as a sidenote, Machado and pretty much everyone involved with him beating around the bush about the potential trade during the All Star game made for some pretty great television.

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-Brewers breakout reliever Josh Hader had some pretty problematic tweets pop up while he was pitching in the All Star game, which included several uses of racial, homophobic, and other demeaning slurs. Hader has been unbelievable this season and it seems that anytime somebody’s star is on the rise, some idiotic things they said in the past seem to sprout up. MLB has since ordered Hader to take sensitivity training and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s matured a lot since those tweets were sent out and that he isn’t the person those old tweets make him out to be. But guys like Hader need to become examples for future generations for why you need to be careful what you say on social media. It’s basically like getting read your Miranda Rights. Anything you say on Twitter can and will be held against you in the court of public opinion.

-The Home Run Derby was great, particularly the final 2 rounds. I don’t care that Bryce Harper’s dad was throwing pitches before Harper’s home runs landed, which is against the rules. All in all, the Home Run Derby is meaningless, it’s just a fun experience for everyone involved. Plus, Kyle Schwarber, the guy getting screwed in this situation, didn’t care so I don’t care. If you care about Bryce Harper’s dad’s pitches, you take the Home Run Derby WAY too seriously, and this is coming from a guy who already takes the Home Run Derby a little too seriously as it is. Try and tell Bryce Harper’s dad that he cheated. I dare you.

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-Darrelle Revis retired after 11 seasons in the league, most of which with the Jets. Probably the greatest corner of my adolescence, Revis’ last great season came in his lone year with the Patriots en route to helping them win Super Bowl XLIX. It also led to this great text I got from my mom the day after that Thursday Night Football game where he repeatedly got burned by Marquise Goodwin.

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Gotta love parents.

So that’s going to do it for this edition of General Sports. Let me know what you think of the topics discussed in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

LeBron James Signs With the Lakers

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As I craftily predicted, LeBron James will be taking his talents out west to Hollywood. The deal, as Woj pointed out, is a league max of 4 years and $154M. It was also interesting to note that some of LeBron’s reps were in Philly meeting with the 76ers, who were the other team that seemed most likely to land his services. He was not present at those meetings, though, and he was in fact in Los Angeles. Now he joins the storied Laker franchise that has the second most titles among all NBA franchises (trailing the Celtics, of course).

So what does this mean for the NBA? Well, first and foremost the Western Conference is now even more of a bloodbath than ever. You have, of course, the Warriors, who have won 3 out of the last 4 titles and were a blown 3-1 lead away from having won 4 in a row. You have the Houston Rockets who took the Warriors to the brink and are bringing back their future Hall of Fame point guard in Chris Paul with a max deal (again, as I craftily predicted) as well as reigning MVP James Harden. You have the Thunder, sort of, who managed to convince Paul George to stay even though everyone and their mother thought he’d be joining LeBron in LA. And now you have the Lakers, who are mainly just LeBron James right now since he hasn’t really acquired any teammates yet. However LeBron has taken a worse supporting cast to the NBA Finals before so just because there isn’t a ton of talent around him now doesn’t mean that doesn’t make the Lakers contenders.

This also takes a mack truck and clears all the small children out of the road for the Celtics to reach their first NBA Finals since 2010 (which happened to be against the Lakers). There is virtually no competition for them. Yeah, the 76ers and Raptors are pretty good, but the Celtics curb stomped the 76ers in the second round of the playoffs last year while the Raptors got destroyed by the Cavaliers, whom the Celtics took to Game 7. And the Celtics did all that without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward, who will both be healthy for the start of the 2018-19 season. The LeBron signing also opens the door for a potential LeBron James vs Kyrie Irving NBA Finals, which will just be a bonanza of storylines to work with.

So what do the Lakers need to do in order to unseat the Warriors? Well for one, they need another player. Since they traded Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance to the Cavaliers at the Trade Deadline (very sneaky play there, LeBron), the Lakers now have room for 2 max contracts in their salary cap. LeBron takes up one of them and they could use another one on one of the potential free agents still out there (DeMarcus Cousins) or pay Kawhi Leonard after acquiring him in a trade from the Spurs (or both, since Leonard has stated he doesn’t really care about the max contract, he just wants out of San Antonio). The development of Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball is also critical, however the latter’s may take a little more time since he tore his meniscus and it is unknown how much time he’s going to miss. Provided, their development only matters as long as one or both of these two aren’t part of a package for Kawhi Leonard. However, since the Lakers have no other ammunition except the potential of Ingram and Ball, there really isn’t any other option for them if they want to land Leonard. I’m also interested to see how LeBron works with Lakers head coach Luke Walton, who was taken 31 spots after LeBron in the 2003 NBA Draft. Pretty much everywhere he’s been, LeBron has basically been the Jackie Moon of his organization and has been the alpha over his head coach. Walton doesn’t strike me as the pushover that Tyronn Lue does or David Blatt and Erik Spoelstra did so there could be some potential head butting.

But regardless, this coming NBA season will certainly be a lot more interesting than last season’s. That’s it for today’s blog, sorry about the brevity but I just came back from the beach and I am just dead, however I couldn’t NOT blog this news so I powered through it the best I could. Good on me. Let me know what you think of LeBron James joining the Lakers in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Top 10 NBA Free Agents

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Before I get into the blog, I’m sure many of you might have noticed that it wasn’t me writing the blog yesterday. That would be James Neary, who will be occasionally contributing to this blog now. He’s a friend of mine from high school with whom I played baseball and basketball. You’ll love him.

As for the blog itself, last night was the deadline for players to opt in or out of their contracts and the free agency class is finalized. So I figured it’d be fitting to look at the class this year and predict where everyone will wind up. So with that, let’s not waste any more time and get to it.

10. JJ Redick-G-Philadelphia 76ers

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Redick is the definition of a catch-and-shoot player with a 3-point shot that can fit pretty much any system. He was a big part of the 76ers’ emergence and if they don’t land LeBron James, I think they’ll put some of that cap space towards bringing the sharp shooter back.

Projected Landing Spot: Stays with Philadelphia 76ers

9. Marcus Smart-G-Boston Celtics

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Smart is one of the toughest players in the league and his defense and energy was critical in the Celtics’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals despite injuries to key players such as Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. There’s just one issue: he can’t shoot. Smart’s biggest asset, though, is his toughness and ability to draw fouls and get in the heads of opposing players and while he is looking for a large contract (he’s looking for an annual salary between $12-14M), I’m sure somebody will be willing to give it to him to bolster their depth and improve their defense.

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with Utah Jazz

8. Isaiah Thomas-G-Los Angeles Lakers

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What a crappy year for Isaiah Thomas. He was the man in Boston, got traded seemingly out of nowhere, and wound up being forced out of Cleveland before being forgotten with the Lakers. He has a chance to start fresh and he has shown he is very capable of leading a team on a deep playoff run.

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with Phoenix Suns

7. Clint Capela-C-Houston Rockets

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As bad of a year that Thomas had, Capela’s was that good. Capela was a revelation this season for the Rockets and made himself into one of the premiere defenders in the NBA. He was a big reason why the Rockets were able to give the Warriors a run for their money in the Western Conference Finals. He’s probably the best defender available and I think that any team that lands him will become that much tougher in the paint.

Projected Landing Spot: Stays with Houston Rockets

6. Chris Paul-G-Houston Rockets

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Like the emergence of Capela, the addition of Chris Paul was a major factor in the Rockets becoming a threat to the Warriors. His chemistry with James Harden helped the bearded one land his first MVP award. He is looking for a max deal but the Rockets have one to spare so if they’re smart, I think they keep the formula that worked so well last year and give it to CP3.

Projected Landing Spot: Stays with Houston Rockets

5. DeAndre Jordan-C-Los Angeles Clippers

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Jordan opted out of his deal with the Clippers at the last minute and became an unrestricted free agent. Jordan is another excellent defender and arguably the best rebounder in the entire NBA. The story about how his last free agency tour went is one of the oddest stories in recent memory and now that there’s nobody left with the Clippers to barricade him inside his house so that Mavericks officials can’t reach him, I do think a deal with Dallas does happen. They are, in fact, rumored to be heavily pursuing him.

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with Dallas Mavericks

4. DeMarcus Cousins-C-New Orleans Pelicans

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DeMarcus Cousins suffered an achilles injury midway through the season, which probably hurt his free agent stock. But he’s one of the most dominant big men in the game when healthy and he was just starting to form a strong 1-2 punch with Anthony Davis in New Orleans prior to the injury. He’s the type of guy who you can count on for a 20-10 season and be the vocal leader of your club house, provided he’s not in one of those “moods.”

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with New York Knicks

3. Paul George-F-Oklahoma City Thunder

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George was traded to the Thunder from the Pacers prior to this past season in what was then perceived to be a VERY lopsided deal for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. However Oladipo earned an All Star bid and won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award while George played second fiddle to Russell Westbrook as the Thunder got bounced in the first round of the playoffs against the Jazz. George is still one of the better all-around shooters in this free agency class though and a star player who will command a max deal.

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with Los Angeles Lakers

2. Kevin Durant-F-Golden State Warriors

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Technically, Durant is a free agent, which is why he makes this list. However nobody believes he’s not returning to Golden State, as they can afford the potential deal despite the ludicrous amounts of talent on that roster. So I’m not going to give this much more thought for the 2-time NBA Finals MVP.

Projected Landing Spot: Stays with Golden State Warriors

1. LeBron James-F-Cleveland Cavaliers

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The one we’ve all been waiting for. It’s very unlikely that LeBron remains in Cleveland, as his relationship with team owner Dan Gilbert is pretty strained. Plus, the talent on the Cavs’ roster is nowhere near where it needs to be in order for the King to get his 4th ring. I’ve heard of a million different potential landing spots for him and I really don’t have the faintest clue as to where he’s ending up so for my Projected Landing Spot, I’m going with the team that I’ve heard the most about.

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with Los Angeles Lakers

Bonus: Kawhi Leonard-F-San Antonio Spurs

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No, he’s not a free agent, but Leonard wants out of San Antonio and the Spurs are fielding offers. With just a year left on his current contract, if a team is going to give up the king’s ransom it’s probably going to cost to get him, they’re going to want to ensure that they’re going to be able to lock him up to a multi-year deal. And based on some of the packages I’m hearing, there’s only one team that has the assets to land the former NBA Finals MVP.

Projected Landing Spot: Traded to the Boston Celtics for a package including the Kings pick, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier (Yes, I am aware that Danny Ainge just said the team isn’t looking to make a blockbuster deal. But I’ll believe it when I see it)

Let me know what you think of the 2018 NBA Free Agency class in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

What NBA Free Agency Can Teach Us about the International System & Political Signaling

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By James Neary

The intersectionality of politics and sports is an ever-present fissure in the harsh divisions of America today. You can yell back and forth across the dinner table about why players should or should not kneel, wear black hoodies, or lambast the president. But you can’t argue this: sports ​are politics. Power dynamics, economics, and public relations are obvious driving forces behind both the Warriors and the White House. While this article largely focuses on the context of the NBA and the boisterous atmosphere surrounding free agency headed into this weekend, the concepts mentioned here will be largely applicable to other leagues as well. While to most political scholars the metaphor is apparent, the sports fan less versed in the traditions of Capitol Hill stands to gain a lot from this discussion.

Although the metaphor isn’t perfect, the NBA today can be seen as an international system similar to the one every human on earth calls their own, except for maybe Marxists. Political scholars usually refer to our syste​m as ​anarchy ,which you know the meaning of. Despite the UN and other international organizations’ best effort to instill some rule of law on a global level, realist theory in political science argues that doesn’t mean much. How the NBA functions similarly to this follows: Each team acting as a nation, or ‘black box,’ in which you can hardly see the inner policy, practices, and traditions of the institution itself, but are left instead with the resulting implications of the choices made through their internal processes. There are institutions such as the NBA itself, the NBPA, the television and internet service providers, etc. that do impose rules over combat (games), economics (salary caps), diplomacy (trades), and ethics (dress code). Politically, either from a realist or liberal (not like that, idiots) perspective, the argument can be made both that these institutions do and do not play a leading role in the decisions made by teams.

Now that the overall framework and political theory is established, it’s time to take a look at this year’s NBA free agency circus and see how it corresponds to our political conditions. To be completely forthcoming, I’m a diehard Celtics fan, but I also appreciate the unprecedented grandeur of (IMHO) the greatest player of ever, Lebron. In our metaphor, the games these teams play against each other are representative of actual battle between states. This can be thought of as either military or economic competition, as the former seems to be traded for the latter in recent politics. If you are going with the most basic metaphor, games as battles, then in that context Lebron is equal to the largest concentrated nuclear payload on Earth. Golden State has the most combined nukes, and maybe even the second largest single concentration in KD or Steph. Draymond is kind of like a predator missile: easy to deploy and very destructive, but can cause a lot of unwanted damage. Teams, just like states, are in a constant struggle with others to secure these assets and deploy them effectively on the battlefield to maximize their returns.

As stated above, the metaphor isn’t perfect, but it’s obvious the teams in the NBA (and the WNBA, NFL, CFL, MLB, NHL, MLS, LLWS… maybe not that last one) function according to a framework of power dynamics similar to that of our international system. What prompted this discussion, however, is the ​seemingly exaggerated media circus leading up to Lebron, Kawhi, and PG’s decision to stay or leave their respective teams this year. Sorry to burst the bubble, but I’m of the school of thought that this is not out of the ordinary in any way. It’s the very nature of our political institutions and their derivative economy to systematically bombard us with information every hour of the day, every day of the year. This might be a phenomenon that has developed recently, seeing as the most unrelenting place it manifests itself, in both the political and athletic arenas, is my push notifications. The logic stands though, the NBA or any other sports organization has nothing to gain in a quiet offseason. They lose money, they lose ratings, and they lose traction. Michelle Beadle and Mike Greenberg, on GetUp! On ESPN following the NBA awards, pointed out the balance of awkwardness for having the show so long after the regular season (when the votes were cast) and of politics for having so much invested in such an ambitious event. So there it is, whether through free agency, championship parades, fallings out between superstars, or fashion shows, the NBA will always give you as much to talk about in the offseason as it can.

 

That being said, what was about this offseason in particular that prompted such a discussion on the intersectionality of sports and politics? To be honest, I think the average basketball fan is becoming increasingly aware of this connection due to the rate at and ease with which we see these developments. What has been particularly noticeable this offseason is the amount of political signaling going on between teams and parties. Magic Johnson, proving to be a very skilled statesmen, has executed some of the better attempts at this so far. Signaling to fans his resolve, he recently committed to stepping down as President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers if he were unable to land some big free agents this offseason or next. Signaling resolve is often used by leaders during international combat, but can be utilized in economic and diplomatic relations as well. Perhaps most similar to Magic’s case in a relevant American context, Republican Senate Candidate for Missouri Austin Petersen challenged grassroots Republican primary adversary Tony Monetti to a high stakes unofficial ballot in which the loser would resign. Both candidates initially agreed, but Monetti backed out, signaling weak resolve to his voting base while Petersen signaled strong. US Rep Maxine Waters’ call for private discrimination against members of the Trump administration and Senator Chuck Schumer’s condemnation of her remarks are also signals of resolve relevant to their respective voting bases. Magic Johnson’s recent strategic move, however, is also indicative another political phenomenon we’ve seen play out on the international stage recently. What Magic did was essentially ‘draw a line in the sand,’ as President Obama did in 2012 with his denunciation of the Assad regime in Syria. What weight these red lines actually hold in practice however, is up for debate.

Besides just the words of Magic Johnson, there have been numerous occurrences of political signaling in recent days of the NBA offseason. Perhaps the most obnoxious form of signaling is coming from Lavar Ball. When looking at the dynamics of the Kawhi Leonard situation, Lavar’s endless media stunts, self-promotion, and cold takes make perfect sense. The Spurs, a franchise notorious for flying under the radar and giving the media as limited access as possible, see Lavar as significant cost to obtaining Lonzo from the Lakers. The fact that it’s the Spurs makes that cost significantly higher than it would be for any other team as well. Knowing that the Lakers will probably have to deal Zo or Kuzma to San Antonio to grab Kawhi, Lavar is making it exponentially more difficult for that deal to happen with his son. Therefore, Lavar is setting up Lonzo, a pass-first and lanky rebounding point guard, to play with two of the greatest two-way wings of all time. A pretty brilliant move in my opinion, and one that echos Israel’s attempts to leverage as much power as they possibly can to shift the international relation strategies of the United States more in their favor.

 

The metaphors and political connections in this scenario between the Lakers, Spurs, and Lebron do not stop there obviously. You have virtue signaling, like in that horrible poem that Lakers intern wrote for softy Paul George. Commitment signaling, like in how Kyrie was absent from the Celtics bench in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals this year. I think it could even be reasonably argued that Lonzo’s diss track to Kuzma was a signal to Lebron that he was willing to part ways with his good friend to make space for him. The Lakers, evidently thought this was poorly executed, as they reprimanded the two rising sophomores for their antics, thus signaling to Lebron their capabilities. Lebron has even engaged in this signaling himself, most probably by orchestrating leaks from his camp that he doesn’t want to hear any pitches, most absurdly by wearing a hat during the finals saying “There is no magic pill.” It seems that every year, every summer, there has developed this atmosphere of circus surrounding NBA free agency. I hope that I’ve established this atmosphere is far from unprecedented or unreasonable. Applying frameworks of political science, including organizations of international systems, political signaling, and power dynamics is useful for understanding the neverending onslaught of Joel Embiid’s tweets and Stephen A.’s rants involving the NBA.

Kawhi Leonard Wants out of San Antonio

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So apparently this qualifies as news because I’m pretty sure if you’ve been following the Kawhi Leonard saga over the past year, everybody assumed he wanted out anyway. However now that it’s pretty much official that he has confirmed he wants out, it becomes acceptable for actual journalists to talk about it.

Here’s the situation with Kawhi: he injured his right quad and was rehabbing. He didn’t trust his body’s health enough to return to play and apparently the Spurs’ medical staff was saying that he was fine and the franchise pressured him into returning. Leonard didn’t feel like he was healed enough and refused and ended up only playing 9 games in the 2017-18 season (I may have predicted him to win MVP in my NBA season preview blog back in October…). Unsurprisingly, Leonard wants out. He has named Los Angeles as his preferred destination and doesn’t really care about getting a huge contract out of the trade, he just wants to leave San Antonio.

This is one of those cases where I legitimately understand where both sides are coming from and why they should both be frustrating. Leonard is a tremendous talent and one of the best all-around players in basketball, who was cleared by the team’s medical staff. So if you’re the Spurs, you’ve got to be really upset with him that he’s refusing to play. However if you’re Leonard, you have to listen to your body. If it’s telling you you’re not healthy, don’t risk the rest of your career to play a few more games. He probably felt like he was being rushed back before he was ready and did not appreciate the pressure being put on him by the Spurs.

So where does Kawhi go? Well like I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago, he would prefer to end up in Los Angeles, however since he’s still under contract for another season with the Spurs, that’s not really his decision to make. The Celtics reportedly made an offer for him before the trade deadline but were turned down and the belief is that they’re going to make another run at him this offseason. Quite frankly, as a Celtics fan, I’d rather not give up all our assets to get Kawhi for one season. The only way I’d be satisfied with this trade is if the team was able to lock down the former NBA Finals MVP to a multi-year extension because I assume they’d have to give up a lot of young talent and future draft picks to net this guy. I’m not mortgaging my future on one season of Kawhi Leonard. Perhaps Jaylen Brown and next year’s Kings’ pick would be the main pieces of a potential deal?

I also think that if and when Leonard does get traded, it will play dividends on where LeBron decides to sign this offseason. But I’ll get more into that when I inevitably do a LeBron free agency blog.

That’s going to do it for this quick update, let me know what you think of the Kawhi Leonard situation in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

NBA Season Recap

The NBA regular season has come and gone and now we’ve got what feels like the longest postseason in sports to look forward to. The NBA playoffs typically last around 2 months, with the first playoff game starting up on Saturday and Game 1 of the NBA Finals scheduled for May 31. I think there’s one too many playoff rounds, but that’s neither here nor there. The point of this blog is to recap what was a pretty interesting NBA season, from giving out my personal awards to playoff predictions and every storyline in between. So let’s get to it.

Awards:

NBA MVP: James Harden-G-Houston Rockets

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This is probably going to be unanimous amongst the writers, as not only did Harden lead the NBA in scoring with 30.4 PPG, but the Rockets are now legitimate threats to the Golden State Warriors, something we haven’t had in the Western Conference since the twilight of the Spurs. Russell Westbrook may have averaged a triple-double for an entire season again, making him the only player ever to do so, and LeBron James was LeBron James, but Harden’s the pick here.

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert-C-Utah Jazz

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This was tough because Gobert only played 56 games and it was really tempting to choose somebody else. But there’s no denying the impact Gobert had in those games. Utah’s defensive rating was the best in the NBA when Gobert was on the court and he himself had the best individual rating in the league. Other candidates include pretty much every member of the Celtics, DeJounte Murray, and Joel Embiid.

Rookie of the Year: Donovan Mitchell-G-Utah Jazz

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This might be a bit controversial because Ben Simmons is more than likely going to win this award. But if you’ve been reading my scarce number of NBA blogs, then you know my stance on what qualifies as a rookie and apparently, Donovan Mitchell shares that sentiment, as he’s been wearing sweatshirts that are seemingly against Simmons’ rookie eligibility. Mitchell has turned the Jazz from a team that was in an apparent rebuild to the 5 seed in the Western Conference in just his first season. Ben Simmons’ overall numbers are better, but again, I don’t consider him to be a rookie. He had his chance but missed his rookie year with an injury.

Coach of the Year: Brett Brown-Philadelphia 76ers

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I’m seeing that other coaches are getting more love than Brown, but when your team goes from 4th worst record in the NBA to 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference, that should make you a lock for Coach of the Year. I did predict that the 76ers would make the playoffs for the first time in years, but I didn’t expect them to be this good. Trust the Process, indeed.

Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams-G-Los Angeles Clippers

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Lou Williams was a big part in keeping the Clippers from being an embarrassment this season. He averaged 22.6 PPG and while he did start 19 games this season, he primarily came off the bench. That scoring total was 18th best in the NBA and was best amongst players who primarily came off the bench. That’s going to win you the award pretty much every time.

Most Improved Player: Victor Oladipo-G-Indiana Pacers

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Oladipo finally emerged as the star he’s always had the potential of being. He credits this to his year in OKC, as he got a chance to watch Russell Westbrook and mimic his work ethic. That has led to the Pacers being the 5 seed in the playoffs with a legitimate chance of taking down the Cavaliers. Oladipo scored 23.1 PPG, 12th best in the NBA, this coming after being a sidekick for much of his career.

Comeback Player of the Year: Jrue Holiday-G-New Orleans Pelicans

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This was a hard one to pick but I’m going with Holiday on this one mainly because he had a career year after many injury-plagued seasons. This was the first season since his 2012-13 All Star campaign that he was healthy for the entire season and he proved his health by scoring a career-high 19 PPG.

Playoff Predictions:

Eastern Conference:

Round 1:

1 Toronto Raptors vs 8 Washington Wizards

Not a hard one here. The Wizards have looked lost with John Wall injured while this may be the best team the Raptors have ever fielded.

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The Pick: Raptors

2 Boston Celtics vs 7 Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo may cause problems to this injury-riddled Celtics squad, but Boston is too deep to be overcome by the Bucks.

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The Pick: Celtics

3 Philadelphia 76ers vs 6 Miami Heat

The 76ers are arguably the hottest team in the NBA right now and they continue that momentum by easily dispatching the Heat.

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The Pick: 76ers

4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs 5 Indiana Pacers

The Cavaliers are their lowest seed by a LeBron-led team since the 2007-08 season (which was also the 4th seed) and the issues surrounding them have been well-publicized. But LeBron in the playoffs is nearly untouchable so while I do think the Pacers give them a bit of a scare, I’ve got the Cavs moving on.

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The Pick: Cavaliers

Round 2:

1 Toronto Raptors vs 4 Cleveland Cavaliers

Yes the Raptors are really good, but it’s hard to bet against Playoff LeBron. I think the Cavs make the Eastern Conference Finals for the 4th consecutive season.

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The Pick: Cavaliers

2 Boston Celtics vs 3 Philadelphia 76ers

This is going to be a really fun series, one that was a lot more evened-out thanks to Kyrie Irving’s injury. But I’ve got the Celtics prevailing on the strength of their defense.

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The Pick: Celtics

Eastern Conference Finals:

2 Boston Celtics vs 4 Cleveland Cavaliers

Things might go differently with a healthy Kyrie, but alas, that is not the case and the Celtics’ luck runs out against Playoff LeBron as the Cavs make a 4th straight trip to the NBA Finals.

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The Pick: Cavaliers

Western Conference:

Round 1:

1 Houston Rockets vs 8 Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves are ice cold and run into the best team in the NBA. This won’t take long.

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The Pick: Rockets

2 Golden State Warriors vs 7 San Antonio Spurs

Steph Curry will miss the series due to injury, but without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs never stood much of a chance anyway.

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The Pick: Warriors

3 Portland Trail Blazers vs 6 New Orleans Pelicans

This is the one series I have where a lower-seeded team wins and it’s mainly due to the stretches of dominance the Pelicans have had throughout the season. No knock against the Trail Blazers, but New Orleans is too hot right now.

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The Pick: Pelicans

4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs 5 Utah Jazz

The Jazz had a fun run but Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and the Thunder will be too much for Donovan Mitchell’s Jazz squad.

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The Pick: Thunder

Round 2:

1 Houston Rockets vs 4 Oklahoma City Thunder

The Rockets stay hot and Harden beats his old running mate in Russell Westbrook. I still shudder to think of what OKC would look like if they kept the trio of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden together, especially with the versions of each player we have today.

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The Pick: Rockets

2 Golden State Warriors vs 6 New Orleans Pelicans

With a healthy Steph Curry, the Warriors squash the Pelicans’ momentum and return to the Western Conference Finals.

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The Pick: Warriors

Western Conference Finals:

1 Houston Rockets vs 2 Golden State Warriors

This is the first time in a long time that there was a legitimate threat to the Warriors’ chances of returning to the NBA Finals. I think this series goes a full 7 games, but I’ve got the Warriors emerging victorious once again.

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The Pick: Warriors

NBA Finals

2 Golden State Warriors vs 4 Cleveland Cavaliers

I would hate to see this matchup for a fourth consecutive season because I enjoy parity when it doesn’t involve my favorite team. But I just have a bad feeling that it’s going to happen again. I would love to see Raptors-Rockets in the Finals, but I think we’re going to get more of the same and I’ve got the Warriors once again wiping the floor with the Cavs.

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The Pick: Warriors

Congrats to the Warriors on another title, 3rd in 4 years. Don’t get comfortable, though. The Celtics are coming for you next season. That’s going to do it for my NBA regular season recap, let me know what you think in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

NBA Top 10 Players by Position

This is the next in my NBA season preview. You can check out my playoffs and awards projections here. In this, like my MLB postseason review, I will be ranking the top 10 players by position. All players on active rosters are eligible to make these lists, except for rookies, since they have yet to really show if they can make it in this league, however they will, of course, be eligible for the postseason version of this list, which will likely come out in April. As for the Top 100 that is set to be released tomorrow, I have yet to decide if I should break that up into smaller articles. Probably should get on that. Without further ado, let’s see the lists.

Point Guard

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The reigning NBA MVP, Russell Westbrook consistently stuffs the stat sheet for OKC (photo credit: NBA.com)

1.Russell Westbrook-Oklahoma City Thunder

2.Stephen Curry-Golden State Warriors

3.Kyrie Irving-Boston Celtics

4.John Wall-Washington Wizards

5.Isaiah Thomas-Cleveland Cavaliers

6.Damian Lillard-Portland Trail Blazers

7.Chris Paul-Houston Rockets

8.Kyle Lowry-Toronto Raptors

9.Kemba Walker-Charlotte Hornets

10.Mike Conley-Memphis Grizzlies

I was torn between Westbrook and Curry. On the one hand you have Curry, who drains shots like it’s nobody’s business and has some elite moves to go with it. On the other, Westbrook literally does everything well, as evidenced by his being the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple double for an entire season. I gave the nod to Westbrook since I have a soft spot for statsheet stuffers. 3-6 was pretty tight, and I would probably have IT a little higher if not for the hip injury that he’s dealing with that could cost him significant time to open the season. Kemba Walker has a special place in my heart because it was his UConn Huskies team in 2011 where I picked my first champion in a March Madness bracket. I’ve only done it twice, the other being Anthony Davis’ Kentucky team the following year, but I don’t brag about that one because literally everybody picked Kentucky that season.

Shooting Guard

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Since joining the Rockets, James Harden has been a scoring machine (photo credit: Grantland)

1.James Harden-Houston Rockets

2.Klay Thompson-Golden State Warriors

3.DeMar DeRozan-Toronto Raptors

4.Bradley Beal-Washington Wizards

5.Andrew Wiggins-Minnesota Timberwolves

6.CJ McCollum-Portland Trail Blazers

7.Avery Bradley-Detroit Pistons

8.Victor Oladipo-Indiana Pacers

9.Nicolas Batum-Charlotte Hornets

10.Devin Booker-Phoenix Suns

James Harden was a pretty easy selection for number 1 here for me. Despite the fact that he plays less defense than the Mountain in the Trial by Combat with Oberyn, Harden scores enough where I’m willing to look the other way. Also, he has a delicious candy that a coworker of mine randomly found at a mini mart down the street from where I work.

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James Harden was actually delicious

Gummi beards, I guess they’re called. They look terrifying but are actually quite good. After the top 6, this list got pretty difficult. I went with Avery Bradley at 7 and I think he is one of the most underappreciated players in the NBA. He plays fantastic defense and is quietly a very good shooter as well. Plus he has the respect of his peers:

One voter did claim that he left Bradley off of his All-Defense team because of the 70-point game by Devin Booker. Bradley did not play in that game.
Small Forward

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics

LeBron James is the best athlete perhaps in all of sports today (photo credit: Fortune)

1.LeBron James-Cleveland Cavaliers

2.Kawhi Leonard-San Antonio Spurs

3.Kevin Durant-Golden State Warriors

4.Paul George-Oklahoma City Thunder

5.Jimmy Butler-Minnesota Timberwolves

6.Gordon Hayward-Boston Celtics

7.Khris Middleton-Milwaukee Bucks

8.Andre Iguodala-Golden State Warriors

9.Otto Porter-Washington Wizards

10.Robert Covington-Philadelphia 76ers

LeBron James is a guy a lot of people like to compare to Michael Jordan, with many saying he’s better than MJ. I’m going to have to disagree with that, in fact, I would put Kobe ahead of LeBron. However, I think once LeBron is done I’ll have him above Kobe, maybe even Jordan. But with the body of work right now, he’s not there yet. That being said, LeBron is still the best player in basketball today, maybe even the best athlete in sports, period. As I wrote in my awards predictions yesterday, I have Kawhi Leonard taking home MVP honors this season. He is one of the more special talents I’ve seen in a while. I cringed at putting Kevin Durant at number 3, it just didn’t feel right. But in my heart and mind I feel that I would rather have LeBron or Kawhi than KD. Robert Covington is probably the more surprising entries on this list and that’s a shame. Sure, he’s not a household name by any means, but he’s a better player than most people give him credit for and I think that his name will gain more recognition should the 76ers improve the way I expect them too. However he will still be overshadowed by Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz.

Power Forward

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Anthony Davis has been one of the most dominant forwards in the game since entering the league in 2012 (photo credit: SLAMonline)

1.Anthony Davis-New Orleans Pelicans

2.Giannis Antetokounmpo-Milwaukee Bucks

3.Draymond Green-Golden State Warriors

4.Kristaps Porzingis-New York Knicks

5.Blake Griffin-Los Angeles Clippers

6.LaMarcus Aldridge-San Antonio Spurs

7.Carmelo Anthony-Oklahoma City Thunder

8.Serge Ibaka-Toronto Raptors

9.Julius Randle-Los Angeles Lakers

10.Harrison Barnes-Dallas Mavericks

Anthony Davis’ unibrow is one of the most recognizable body features in all of sports, if not the most. Right up there with James Harden’s beard or Dennis Rodman’s…whatever it is he’s feeling like having on his body on a particular day. This may be because my brain is just geared towards sports, but anytime anyone mentions a unibrow (or monobrow, if you’re weird), I immediately think of the one living on Davis’ face. Davis is more than just a unibrow, though. He’s perhaps the most dominating forward in the game on both ends of the court. Giannis (please don’t make me write out his last name again) is one of the craziest athletes I’ve ever seen. He can make his body do things that just aren’t natural. I mean, look at this:

That’s just not right. Carmelo Anthony comes in here because he’s slated on the Thunder depth chart on RotoWorld as the team’s power forward despite playing small forward in Denver and New York. I’m still not totally convinced that Big 3 in OKC is going to work. Serge Ibaka’s a guy you can’t sleep on, especially since his 3-point shot has gotten better every season. He might not be as prolific as he was with the Thunder, but anytime you have a big that can defend the paint and pop threes, you’re going to have a good time.
Center

Utah Jazz v Minnesota Timberwolves

KAT has revolutionized the center position in the NBA (photo credit: Stack.com)

1.Karl-Anthony Towns-Minnesota Timberwolves

2.Rudy Gobert-Utah Jazz

3.DeAndre Jordan-Los Angeles Clippers

4.Hassan Whiteside-Miami Heat

5.Kevin Love-Cleveland Cavaliers

6.DeMarcus Cousins-New Orleans Pelicans

7.Joel Embiid-Philadelphia 76ers

8.Nikola Jokic-Denver Nuggets

9.Marc Gasol-Memphis Grizzlies

10.Al Horford-Boston Celtics

Karl-Anthony Towns, like Ibaka, is a sharpshooting big man who actually beat Isaiah Thomas in the NBA Skills Challenge a couple of years ago. Considering that IT is one of the fastest and quickest players in the game with great passing and shooting abilities, it’s no wonder Towns tops this list. Rudy Gobert is a guy I don’t think gets enough love, as I wrote yesterday in my awards predictions, and I think he got robbed for Defensive Player of the Year. Full disclosure, I totally forgot about Kevin Love while making this list at first, though to my credit, the Cavaliers plan on moving him to center and having Tristan Thompson come off the bench this year with the arrival of Jae Crowder in the IT-Kyrie trade (both Thompson and Crowder barely missed out on these lists). But Love is still one of the best big men in the game despite the fact that he’s kind of become the Chris Bosh of this Cavs team, being the big man that doesn’t get enough respect for what he brings to this team. Joel Embiid is a guy I just couldn’t leave off this list despite the fact that if he blinked wrong he’d be out for an unknown period of time. He’s just such a wonderful dude. How many guys can wear their own jersey to a night club and everybody still loves him for it?

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Where’s Joel? (photo credit: Twitter)

Guarantee you if any other player did that they would get crucified. But not Embiid. Nikola Jokic is another guy who is under the radar, but that tends to happen when you’re an eastern European with a difficult name to pronounce. The guy had a big season for the Nuggets last year and could be a sneaky contender in the Most Improved Player list.

Those are my top 10s. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

NBA Season Preview

The NBA season opens on October 17 in a game between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, which couldn’t be more perfect considering these two teams pulled off a huge trade a month ago where they swapped superstar guards. I felt that just under a week left until the start of the regular season would be the perfect time to give my predictions on how this season will play out. This will be a 3-part series, much like my postseason MLB series, with top-10s by position coming tomorrow and a top-100 coming Friday. However that one I’m considering breaking up into multiple parts. Stay tuned for that. For this preview I will project awards, All-NBA teams, and the playoffs. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Awards:

NBA MVP: Kawhi Leonard-F-San Antonio Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard already has a Finals MVP on his resume, now he looks for League MVP (photo credit: Slam Online)

After flirting with the idea of Leonard as MVP for a few years now, I think this is the year he finally gets it. Leonard has been the best player on the Spurs for some time and that’s saying something, considering the team is typically littered with Hall of Famers and has the best coach in the game in Gregg Popovich. Leonard is a stud defender who also puts up over 20 points per game and will lead this Spurs team on another deep playoff run.

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert-C-Utah Jazz

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Rudy Gobert has been a nightmare for anyone brave enough to enter the paint (photo credit: Salt City Hoops)

Truth be told, I thought Gobert should have won this award last year. His 8-foot wingspan along with his 7’1 height make it damn near impossible to score in the paint, as he consistently swats away any shot that has the audacity to approach his territory. I think he gets this award this time and gets the recognition he deserves after a few years of really strong defensive play.

Sixth Man of the Year: Andre Iguodala-F-Golden State Warriors

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Andre Iguodala looks to add another trophy to his mantle (photo credit: Sporting News)

This is always a hard award to predict and it feels like kind of a cop out to pick Iguodala here. The guy could not only start for most teams, but be their best player (looking at you, Nets). Yet on this stacked Warriors team, he comes off the bench and he does it as well as anybody. How many players can say they were Finals MVP while coming off the bench? Just Iggy.

Rookie of the Year: Dennis Smith Jr-G-Dallas Mavericks

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Dennis Smith Jr has looked really impressive in his small body of work with the Mavericks (photo credit: Sports Illustrated

I was really tempted to choose Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, or De’Aaron Fox for this spot, but I felt that Dennis Smith Jr would ultimately be the guy to go with. He’s locked down the starting point guard job for the Mavericks already, coming off a really strong summer league performance that reminded me of Damian Lillard’s quick ascension. I think Smith is in the best position to succeed early out of any rookie in the league (and I’m not counting Ben Simmons for this even though he technically still qualifies. He had his chance at a ROTY in my book and couldn’t stay healthy).

Coach of the Year: Brett Brown-Philadelphia 76ers

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Brett Brown looks to reward Philly fans’ patience with a playoff berth (photo credit: CSN Philadelphia)

I don’t know if Brown will do anything otherworldly, but if you check my playoff predictions below, you’ll know why I have him winning coach of the year. After years of Trusting the Process, it seems that the 76ers are primed and ready to be relevant again. I think they have the pieces in place to make a playoff run if they can stay healthy. And that’s a BIG “if.” But I think they will be healthy enough and capture the 8th seed in the East. And since Brown will be at the helm of this resurgence, he will get the honor of Coach of the Year.

Comeback Player of the Year: Chandler Parsons-F-Memphis Grizzlies

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The normally deadly sharpshooter didn’t look like himself in 2016-17 (photo credit: Sporting News)

Parsons struggled mightily in the first year of his big contract from the Grizzlies. His points per game was cut in half, his FG% dropped from 49.2% to 33.8% and his 3-point shooting, his best trait, was down from 41.4% to 26.9%. A shooter of his caliber should not have a lower 3-point percentage than DeMarcus Cousins (36.1%). I think he bounces back this season and gets recognized for his return to shooting prominence.

Most Improved Player: Myles Turner-C-Indiana Pacers

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Myles Turner looks to take a big step in his development (photo credit: NBA.com)

Myles Turner is a guy oozing with ability and I was praying he would fall to the Celtics at 16 in the 2015 NBA Draft. The Pacers took the Texas product at 11 and have reaped the benefits thus far, as he has averaged 12 points per game and 6 rebounds per game over his career. However when you watch him play, it is pretty clear that those numbers should be higher as he is seemingly always around the ball and the loss of Paul George for the Pacers will open up more opportunities for him to get big numbers this year.

All-NBA Teams

First Team

G-Stephen Curry-Golden State Warriors

G-James Harden-Houston Rockets

F-LeBron James-Cleveland Cavaliers

F-Kawhi Leonard-San Antonio Spurs

C-Anthony Davis-New Orleans Pelicans

Second Team

G-Russell Westbrook-Oklahoma City Thunder

G-Kyrie Irving-Boston Celtics

F-Kevin Durant-Golden State Warriors

F-Giannis Antetokounmpo-Milwaukee Bucks

C-Karl-Anthony Towns-Minnesota Timberwolves

Third Team

G-Damian Lillard-Portland Trail Blazers

G-John Wall-Washington Wizards

F-Paul George-Oklahoma City Thunder

F-Kristaps Porzingis-New York Knicks

C-Rudy Gobert-Utah Jazz

Projected Playoff teams with Seeds

Eastern Conference

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Boston Celtics
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Toronto Raptors
  5. Milwaukee Bucks
  6. Charlotte Hornets
  7. Detroit Pistons
  8. Philadelphia 76ers

Western Conference

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. San Antonio Spurs
  3. Houston Rockets
  4. Minnesota Timberwolves
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder
  6. Portland Trail Blazers
  7. Los Angeles Clippers
  8. New Orleans Pelicans

Playoff Round-by-Round Predictions:

Eastern Conference:

(1)Cavaliers def. (8)76ers

(2)Celtics def. (7)Pistons

(3)Wizards def. (6)Hornets

(5)Bucks def. (4)Raptors

(1)Cavaliers def. (5)Bucks

(2)Celtics def. (3)Wizards

(1)Cavaliers def. (2)Celtics

This conference is really a 2-man race between the Cavaliers and Celtics. The Wizards and Raptors may make things interesting, but overall Cleveland and Boston are the teams to beat as they will duke it out for the Eastern Conference championship for the second straight year. I have the Cavs winning it over the Celtics for a second straight year and fourth straight overall as they are just too deep for the much-improved Celtics to compete with. It won’t be as lopsided a series as it was last year, but the Cavs will prevail.

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The Cavaliers and Celtics are the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference (photo credit: Newsday)

Eastern Conference Champions: Cleveland Cavaliers

Western Conference:

(1)Warriors def. (8)Pelicans

(2)Spurs def. (7)Clippers

(3)Rockets def. (6)Trail Blazers

(5)Thunder def. (4)Timberwolves

(1)Warriors def. (5)Thunder

(2)Spurs def. (3)Rockets

(1)Warriors def. (2)Spurs

Unlike the East, the West has 5 teams that I could envision winning it, however the Warriors will win once again because they are just that much better than everyone else. As long as Gregg Popovich coaches the Spurs, they will compete for a title but they aren’t quite as deep as they have been in years’ past. The addition of Chris Paul will be big for the Rockets as James Harden has a world-class distributor to feed him the ball. The Timberwolves had a fantastic offseason and they have the look of a team that is sick of losing. I think the Thunder will struggle out of the gate with their new Big 3, but I think they will put it together by the end of the year in time for a run. There are a lot of mouths to feed in OKC and that could lead to some on-court issues between Westbrook, George, and Carmelo Anthony. But again, the Warriors are just better than everyone else and they will win the West.

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs

The Warriors and the Spurs have been two of the elite teams in the West for the last few seasons (photo credit: Sports Illustrated)

Western Conference Champion: Golden State Warriors

NBA Finals:

(1)Warriors def. (1)Cavaliers

I’m getting pretty sick of this matchup but it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. I have the Warriors and Cavs meeting in the Finals for the fourth straight year, which has never happened before and will beg the question: is this a better inter-conference rivalry than Celtics-Lakers? I think the Warriors take it in 7 and Steph Curry wins Finals MVP. Fun fact, Curry didn’t win Finals MVP either time the Warriors won under his tutelage.

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Could we really get a fourth consecutive Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals? (photo credit: Sporting News)

NBA Champions: Golden State Warriors (MVP: Stephen Curry)

Those are my picks for this NBA season. I’ll revisit them at some point this year. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.