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.

2018 Full NBA Mock Draft

So the NBA Draft is today and for you basketball fans out there, I apologize for not going nearly as in depth about this as I did with the NFL Draft but as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’m not nearly as good with basketball as football. Also, I’m not going to lie, I didn’t do nearly as much research before doing this as I should have. I’ve been VERY busy with some things that may or may not be in the works right now as well as being a cashier at a liquor store. So if you’ve been following this draft and my analysis is just flat out wrong, that’s why. But I’m going to do my best with this one and I’m going to do the entire 2-round NBA mock. I’m only doing explanations for the lottery picks (1-14) because really those are the only picks anyone cares about. So with that, let’s get to the mock.

Round 1

1. Phoenix Suns-DeAndre Ayton-C-Arizona

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This is pretty much the only guarantee I can make with this draft because it’s basically a foregone conclusion that Ayton is going to be the top pick to the Suns. He’s the best prospect and probably the safest, too. I liken him to DeMarcus Cousins minus the mean streak (that we know of) and I think at worst he’s going to be a quality starter.

2. Sacramento Kings-Marvin Bagley-F-Duke

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Marvin Bagley was the preseason pick to be the top selection in the draft but with the rise of Ayton and Bagley not being as amazing as everybody thought (he was still really good, though). But Bagley’s potential is too high to pass on so I think the Kings will take their shot here.

3. Atlanta Hawks-Jaren Jackson-F-Michigan State

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The Hawks have nothing right now and Jaren Jackson is among the best prospects in this draft. Jackson needs to put on some muscle but his basketball skills are top-notch. He might get bullied in the paint a little bit at first but if he can fill out, there may not be a bigger threat in the post.

4. Memphis Grizzlies-Luka Doncic-G/F-Slovenia

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This is the biggest question mark of the draft. Yeah, Doncic is 6’8 with really good handles, but his competition is trash. Also I guess he’s getting fat? I don’t know, like I said at the outset, I haven’t done as much due diligence as I probably should have. But from what I understand, Doncic could be another Ben Simmons, but he could also be another Andrea Bargnani.

5. Dallas Mavericks-Mo Bamba-C-Texas

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Bamba’s potential is off the charts but he’s raw as all Hell. He’s going to need a year or two before he’s really ready for the big time. But he’s a 7-footer with a 7’9 wingspan, which at worst he’s just going to block every single shot. Dirk Nowitzki’s not getting any younger and there’s nobody better for Bamba to try and model his game after.

6. Orlando Magic-Michael Porter-F-Missouri

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We really don’t know anything about Porter since he missed basically his entire season at Missouri with a back injury. He was the number 1 recruit last year, though, and that doesn’t just get handed out for nothing so I think the Magic, who really have no marketable talent right now, should take a chance on him.

7. Chicago Bulls-Trae Young-G-Oklahoma

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Young was the story of the college basketball world last year as his shooting numbers were just stupid. However he faded down the stretch and people are really wondering whether he’s another Jimmer Fredette. Quite frankly, I think he’s going to be another Monta Ellis but better passer (Young’s a better passer than people give him credit for).

8. Cleveland Cavaliers (from Boston Celtics through Brooklyn Nets)-Mikal Bridges-F-Villanova

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Despite Jalen Brunson garnering all the attention, Bridges is the better prospect. With Cleveland expecting to lose LeBron James, they need to nail this pick in order to remain relevant. Bridges, of course, is far from being LeBron James, but he’s a similar style of player and has the potential to be a star in this league.

9. New York Knicks-Wendell Carter-C-Duke

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I mentioned this the last time I did a mock, but when Duke came to Indiana last year, I actually came away more impressed by Carter than I was by Bagley and I think he has the potential to be the steal of this draft. Aside from Kristaps Porzingis, who may not even want to be there much longer, the Knicks don’t have shit from a talent standpoint so adding a bruiser like Carter could give them a very dominant duo down low.

10. Philadelphia 76ers (from Los Angeles Lakers)-Collin Sexton-G-Alabama

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Full disclosure, I actually like Collin Sexton a bit more than Trae Young, mainly because I think I trust Sexton a little more. I think he’s the safest of the two and he’s a better passer. He doesn’t have Young’s shooting ability, which is why I think Young will go higher, but Sexton is more of a traditional point guard that could be a real asset to the 76ers, especially if Markelle Fultz is as broken as everyone says he is.

11. Charlotte Hornets-Kevin Knox-F-Kentucky

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Knox was a high-ranking recruit but he didn’t do as much at Kentucky as everyone expected. He’s a bit raw right now and pretty much everything we have on him is projection at this point. But there’s no doubting his talent and if developed properly, he could be the perfect sidekick for Kemba Walker in Charlotte.

12. Los Angeles Clippers (from Detroit Pistons)-Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-G-Kentucky

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This is a guy whose draft stock is rising a lot lately. In fact, there are rumors that the Raptors are so enamored with Gilgeous-Alexander that they are trying to trade into the top 10 to land him (the Raptors do not have a pick in this year’s draft). Since they don’t have a pick, a trade to land this guy would likely cost a star player such as Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan. If a team is that in love with a guy, there’s definitely more worth delving into.

13. Los Angeles Clippers-Miles Bridges-F-Michigan State

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Miles Bridges was my favorite player in college basketball, but as far as NBA talents go, he’s a little raw. There is definitely something to work with, though, as he took over plenty of games while in East Lansing. If he can translate that over to the NBA, the Clippers could find themselves with a Hell of a player.

14. Denver Nuggets-Lonnie Walker-G-Miami (FL)

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Full disclosure, I know nothing about this guy, but that hair is so absurd that he has to be a lottery pick. Not as nuts as Elfrid Payton’s, but it’s pretty damn close But he’s rated pretty highly on all draft boards so he’s probably a guy who could help the Nuggets in the short and long term.

15. Washington Wizards-De’Anthony Melton-G-USC

16. Phoenix Suns (from Miami Heat)-Zhaire Smith-G-Texas Tech

17. Milwaukee Bucks-Robert Williams-C-Texas A&M

18. San Antonio Spurs-Kevin Huerter-F-Maryland

19. Atlanta Hawks (from Minnesota Timberwolves)-Troy Brown-F-Oregon

20. Minnesota Timberwolves (from Oklahoma City Thunder)-Elie Okobo-G-France

21. Utah Jazz-Jacob Evans-F-Cincinnati

22. Chicago Bulls (from New Orleans Pelicans)-Mitchell Robinson-F-N/A

23. Indiana Pacers-Keita Bates-Diop-F-Ohio State

24. Portland Trail Blazers-Melvin Frazier-G-Tulane

25. Los Angeles Lakers (from Cleveland Cavaliers)-Khyri Thomas-G-Creighton

26. Philadelphia 76ers-Shake Milton-G-SMU

27. Boston Celtics-Grayson Allen-G-Duke

28. Golden State Warriors-Donte Divincenzo-G-Villanova

29. Brooklyn Nets-Dzanan Musa-F-Bosnia and Herzegovina

30. Atlanta Hawks (from Houston Rockets)-Jerome Robinson-G-Boston College

Round 2

31. Phoenix Suns-Jalen Brunson-G-Villanova

32. Memphis Grizzlies-Devonte Graham-G-Kansas

33. Atlanta Hawks-Chandler Hutchison-F-Boise State

34. Dallas Mavericks-Aaron Holiday-G-UCLA

35. Orlando Magic-Anfernee Simons-G-IMG

36. Sacramento Kings-Landry Shamet-G-Wichita State

37. New York Knicks (from Chicago Bulls)-Mo Wagner-F-Michigan

38. Philadelphia 76ers (from Brooklyn Nets)-Bruce Brown-F-Miami (FL)

39. Philadelphia 76ers (from New York Knicks)-Gary Trent Jr-G-Duke

40. Brooklyn Nets (from Los Angeles Lakers)-Jarred Vanderbilt-F-Kentucky

41. Orlando Magic (from Charlotte Hornets)-Rodions Kurucs-F-Latvia

42. Detroit Pistons-Gary Clark-F-Cincinnati

43. Denver Nuggets (from Los Angeles Clippers)-Josh Okogie-F-Georgia Tech

44. Washington Wizards-Trevon Duval-G-Duke

45. Brooklyn Nets (from Milwaukee Bucks)-Omari Spellman-C-Villanova

46. Houston Rockets (from Miami Heat)-Kenrich Williams-F-TCU

47. Los Angeles Lakers (from Denver Nuggets)-Hamidou Diallo-F-Kentucky

48. Minnesota Timberwolves-Justin Jackson-F-Maryland

49. San Antonio Spurs-Rawle Alkins-G-Arizona

50. Indiana Pacers-Ray Spalding-C-Louisville

51. New Orleans Pelicans-Tony Carr-G-Penn State

52. Utah Jazz-Malik Newman-G-Kansas

53. Oklahoma City Thunder-Vince Edwards-F-Purdue

54. Dallas Mavericks (from Portland Trail Blazers)-Isaac Bonga-F-Germany

55. Charlotte Hornets (from Cleveland Cavaliers)-Chimezie Metu-C-USC

56. Philadelphia 76ers-Devon Hall-G-Virginia

57. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Boston Celtics)-Svi Mykhailiuk-F-Kansas

58. Denver Nuggets (from Golden State Warriors)-Alize Johnson-F-Missouri State

59. Phoenix Suns (from Toronto Raptors)-Jevon Carter-G-West Virginia

60. Philadelphia 76ers (from Houston Rockets)-Kevin Hervey-F-UT Arlington

That’s going to do it for this NBA Mock Draft. I’ll try and get a recap out after the actual event is over, but I can’t promise anything since I’ll be working during it (I’m going to try and stream it on my phone but I won’t be able to get instant reactions onto paper like I did for the NFL Draft). Let me know how you think this draft is going to go 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 All Star Weekend Preview

We’re at that magical time of year where it’s NBA All Star Weekend, which aside from the Super Bowl is really the only sporting thing of note in February. It’s in Los Angeles this year and I typically find that the challenges they do to be more interesting than the actual game itself. I’m writing this around 6 pm on Friday night, so I’m just going to give a couple of quick picks on the Celebrity Game and Rising Stars Challenge. I think that team Lakers, coached by ESPN NBA Analyst Rachel Nichols, is going to win mainly because they’ll have Candace Parker on their team, who is really the only person on either roster that I know for a fact is good at basketball. For the Rising Stars Challenge, I think Team World is going to defeat Team USA. I know, that’s very unpatriotic of me, but Team World has both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The best Team USA has to offer is Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Brown, two good players but not up to par with what Team World can offer. I’ll be rooting for Team USA, though, not just for nationalism purposes, but because they have 2 Celtics players (Brown and Jayson Tatum) whereas Team World has none. We’ll see how my picks did on Saturday morning when this blog is published. Let’s get into the festivities.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

Are they not doing that Shooting Stars challenge this year? Damn shame, I actually really enjoyed that event, especially once everybody got to shooting half-court shots to try and beat the best time. Well as we get into the third year of the Skills Challenge obstacle course/gauntlet/whatever you want to call it, the new twist implemented has been pretty riveting. The 6 participants are not only just guards now, but big men as well and in fact, both years that this has been in effect a big man has won (Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porznigis). Granted both winners were genetic freaks of nature, which makes it surprising to me that Giannis Antetokounmpo is not taking part in this, as I feel he could totally keep the streak going for big men. But as it stands right now, the participants this year are guards Buddy Hield of the Kings, Jamal Murray of the Nuggets, and Lou Williams of the Clippers to go along with big men Andre Drummond of the Pistons, Al Horford of the Celtics, and Joel Embiid of the 76ers. Drummond’s involvement in this has to be a joke, right? The guy’s a terrific defender and post player, but handling a basketball? Come on now, the guy has a family. Of course, as soon as I say that he’s probably going to go and win the damn thing. I’ve got to imagine the favorite to actually win this thing is Clippers guard Lou Williams, but the way this competition has been going, it’s going to be an athletic big man. Al Horford is probably the most athletically gifted of the bunch but he gives off such a vanilla air that it’s probably going to be a colorful personality like Joel Embiid, who had a pretty great comment over the weekend. Paying homage to Dikembe Mutombo, Embiid was asked what his favorite pickup line is, to which he responded “who wants to sex The Process?” Legend. Embiid’s probably going to win.

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Projected Winner: Embiid defeats Williams in the final.

JBL Three-Point Contest

Wrestling fans will probably do a double-take at the sponsor, but no, it’s not that JBL, but a speakers company. Shame that there won’t be anyone yelling “ballgame” or emotionally (and in some cases, physically) abusing coworkers. But all tangents aside, the contest this year will feature reigning champ and former Indiana Hoosier Eric Gordon of the Rockets, Klay Thompson of the Warriors, Devin Booker of the Suns, Wayne Ellington of the Heat, Paul George of the Thunder, Bradley Beal of the Wizards, Kyle Lowry of the Raptors, and Tobias Harris of the Clippers. Klay Thompson’s got to be the odds-on favorite to win this event as he’s arguably an even more prolific 3-point shooter than his teammate Stephen Curry is, but that’s probably because shooting 3’s is all Thompson is really known for while Curry has insane handles to go with his 3-point shooting prowess. But I actually think that Thompson won’t win. He did win it when the event was in Toronto two years ago, but I think the fact that he has won it before will kind of take the sense of urgency out of him. I’m actually going to go with a guy who’s star is on the rise…a star…rising to the sun? Okay, I’m saying I’m picking Phoenix Suns’ guard Devin Booker to win. He’s a very capable shooter and I think he’s going to be on a mission to make an impression on the rest of the league, considering he doesn’t get much respect being the best player on one of the worst teams.

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Projected Winner: Booker defeats Thompson and George in the final.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

Didn’t it always use to be Sprite sponsoring this? I wonder how Verizon is going to make their little scorecards look. But that’s neither here nor there. We’re at the Slam Dunk contest and here’s another event where I think the NBA is totally whiffing on an opportunity to have Antetokounmpo participate. A guy of his freakish athleticism would certainly shine. But we do have a pretty solid list of participants. We have rookies Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz and Dennis Smith Jr of the Mavericks, Larry Nance of the Lakers, and former Indiana Hoosier Victor Oladipo of the Pacers. No real household names (though the way Mitchell and Oladipo are improving, that may change), but some real hop from all of these guys. Oladipo lost in the final round of this contest in 2015 to Zach LaVine, which pretty much spells disaster if you have to face that guy. The fact that he still won in 2016 even though Aaron Gordon’s dunks were way better still doesn’t sit well with me. The reigning champ, Glenn Robinson III, is not participating this year in a dunk contest that was ultimately a letdown from the absolutely incredible 2016 affair. But I think Oladipo is going to come out on top this year. I don’t know if the contest is going to be great, as 3 of the 4 competitors will be making their first appearance in this contest so we don’t know how creative of dunkers they really are. But I do know that Oladipo is capable of some impressive dunks in games, plus he was pretty good when he lost to LaVine in ’16. I think he takes home the hardware this year.

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Projected Winner: Oladipo defeats Mitchell in the final.

NBA All Star Game

This one has an interesting component to it because the top two vote getters, LeBron James and Stephen Curry, picked their teams. On Team LeBron, we’ve got of course, LeBron James of the Cavaliers, Anthony Davis of the Pelicans, Kyrie Irving of the Celtics, Kevin Durant of the Warriors, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Spurs, Bradley Beal of the Wizards, Goran Dragic of the Heat, Andre Drummond of the Pistons, Paul George of the Thunder, Victor Oladipo of the Pacers, Kemba Walker of the Hornets, and Russell Westbrook of the Thunder. On Team Curry, we’ve got of course, Stephen Curry of the Warriors, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks, DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors, James Harden of the Rockets, Joel Embiid of the 76ers, Jimmy Butler of the Timberwolves, Draymond Green of the Warriors, Al Horford of the Celtics, Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers, Kyle Lowry of the Raptors, Klay Thompson of the Warriors, and Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves. I’m not nearly as interested in the winner of this game as I am to seeing if a team reaches 200 points. They’ve come close each of the last two years, as the West hit 196 and 192 in 2016 and ’17, respectively. But I guess I have to pick a winner in this game and I think I’m going to go with Team Curry here, as I think they’re a little deeper than Team LeBron. Poor LeBron, can’t seem to shake that Curry kid.

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Projected Score: Team Curry: 187 Team LeBron: 181

That’s going to do it for my NBA All Star Weekend preview, let me know what you think is going to happen in each event in the comments section 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.