In the hours leading up to the Celtics/Cavs and Rockets/Warriors opener, here are 10 long-shot predictions for the upcoming NBA season, including where LeBron James ends up next summer. And before you bring it up, predicting the Warriors to win the title at 5:12 odds is not a long-shot. In fact, those odds make the 2017-18 Warriors the team with the all-time shortest preseason title odds across the 4 major U.S. domestic sports leagues. Here we go:
The Warriors begin the season with 17 straight wins — … before finally dropping their November 22nd game in Oklahoma City. Besides one Thursday-night game in San Antonio mixed in there, the toughest matchups for the Dubs (Rockets, Raptors, Wizards, and T-Wolves) all come at home throughout that stretch. The Warriors could also trip-up in Boston on November 16th, but I think it takes a lot of these new “super teams” (e.g. Boston, OKC, Minnesota, Houston) a month or two before guys like PG13, CP3, and Butler (someone get him a nickname stat) become completely comfortable in their new squads.
The Warriors will be 32-1 when the Cavs visit Oracle on Christmas Day — I’ll admit that 17 straight wins to open the year is a bit of a longshot. Golden State has quite a few tests during that stretch, and like I said above, I’m banking on several of those opponents having to work through early season growing pains. But if you look at the Dubs’ matchups between Turkey Day and Christmas, it’s a schedule chock-full of Lakers and Grizzlies games. Prepare yourselves: The 74-8 conversations are coming sooner than you thought.
LeBron James will leave Cleveland, but not for the Lakers — LeBron will not be staying in Cleveland next summer, but he won’t be going to L.A., either. Instead, James will be taking his talents to … <drumroll, please> …
The Houston Rockets!
That’s right, you heard me.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe even provided a roadmap to make it happen:
“Maybe we should take the Houston threat more seriously. Harden is locked up. Paul is there. Getting off Eric Gordon is easy. Snag a pick in the process, and dumping the Ryan Anderson albatross — the one that cost them the official Team Banana Boat photographer — becomes feasible. Trade and renounce everyone else, including potentially Paul for cap purposes, and they are close enough to the double-max for Paul and LeBron that the Texas income tax edge might come into play.”
This late into their careers, I actually think that LeBron and Cp3 would be willing to take less than the max to sign shorter 2-year deals and chase a title. After the events of this last summer, I don’t think it’s that far-fetched.
The Clippers will finish 6th in the West — This might not seem like much of a leap at first, but consider what this means about who L.A. would have to finish ahead of: Portland, Denver, and Utah. Westgate has the Clips hovering around 43.5 wins, which is way too low for me (considering they also have Philly listed at 41.5). L.A. may have lost Chris Paul this summer, but the pieces they managed to bring back – Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari, Milos Teodosic, Lou Williams – are worthy of at least a footnote when we go back to chronicle this summer’s wild free-agency period. I also think that the Teodosic experiment is going to surprise a lot of people right out of the gate. For one, I think Blake and DJ will find playing with Teodosic to be a relief after years spent on the receiving end of a barking Paul.
Two of the biggest problems surrounding the CP3-Blake-DJ iteration of the Clips were CP3-related. First, his competitive drive couldn’t be muted, and so the team always looked like it was playing with loads of unnecessary pressure on its shoulders. The second issue involved how the Clips’ offense operated in close games down the stretch. Everyone knew that it would be Paul – and not Blake – dominating the ball in those scenarios. The Clips’ most dynamic early-game actions (like floppy action to Redick or high-post pick-and-roll with CP3 and DJ) were scrapped in favor of Paul stalling out the entire shot-clock himself before attempting an 18-footer. I would never suggest that Milos is going to come anywhere close to replicating Paul’s production, but I do think that we’re going to see DJ and Blake – now unburdened of Paul’s stressors – have career years.
PS: I immediately retract this prediction when Blake and Gallo go down for the season by the fourth game.
The 76ers win less than 30 games and miss the playoffs — Last year’s Minnesota Timberwolves finished 31-51. Yes, that was the western conference. But there were plenty of experts who predicted the T-wolves would make the jump into the playoffs last year, and that team of young stars actually had a year under their belts. Westgate even has the Sixers’ over/under set at 41.5 wins. I just can’t believe how quickly everyone is willing to anoint a team with two starters who have never played a minute of NBA basketball and a third who has yet to prove he can stay healthy.
Karl-Anthony Towns makes his first All-NBA team — It’s kind of crazy that Towns didn’t land a 3rd Team selection last year over DeAndre Jordan considering he posted 25 and 12, played in all 82 games, and shot nearly 37% from downtown. There is no way KAT gets snubbed again next summer.
The 1-and-done model will be discussed ad-nauseum — This is going to be the year that the NBA gets the ball rolling on changing age-restrictions for entering the league. Of course, this would need to be collectively bargained and discussed with the players (NBPA) first. Adam Silver has been more vocal on the subject recently, especially as it relates to how such a change would impact the NBA’s G-League. Coming off a summer in which the usually invisible NBA Summer League became appointment viewing, there is clearly a market demand for the equivalent of NBA deep cuts and b-sides. In the past, the veteran-controlled players’ union used the age restriction rules to preserve their own earning potential: If they could deny NBA access to the Ben Simmons and Jayson Taytums of the world by even one year, the union would extend the playing career of the league’s veterans it serves. But if the G-League were to become a viable feeder system for high school graduates into the league, the players would have no need to keep the age restriction in place.
Dennis Smith Jr. will win Rookie of the Year — When it was announced that Seth Curry would be out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his leg, Dennis Smith Jr. should have instantly become a favorite for this award. For starters, Lonzo Ball, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz and De’Aaron Fox – aka the other contenders – will be playing for sub-.500 teams, meaning team record will not come into play here. Jayson Taytum will end the season above the .500 mark, but he’ll do so as a complementary bench piece. Smith Jr.’s athleticism and ability to score from virtually anyway on the court will guarantee he pads the stat sheets. The high-flying dunks through traffic will be the cherry-on-top of his coming-out party.
Kawhi Leonard wins MVP — When you think about it, this really isn’t that much of a leap at all. The top-2 finishers last year will be seeing significantly less usage in 2017-18 now that Hall of Famers like Chris Paul, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony have been added to the mix. LeBron can’t be bothered to make the energy commitment required of an MVP season at this point in his career, and Steph and KD will steal votes from one another all season long. The only guy remaining? Kawhi Leonard.
The Knicks will finish the regular season with the NBA’s worst record — This might be the worst defensive team in Knicks history and I haven’t forgotten that Carmelo, Amar’e, and Steve Novak shared the court together in 2013. NBA fans are going to be surprised how much Tim Hardaway Jr.’s game has grown in the last year and there are going to be night’s when the combination of Kanter, Porzingis, and Hardaway offer brief stretches of entertainment on the offensive end. But there is no facet of this Knicks unit that I would consider to be anywhere near “average” on defense. There are going to be stretches where Frank Ntilikina, Porzingis, and either Willie Hernangomez or Enes Kanter will share the court together. And with the exception of Courtney Lee, New York’s closest case for an “average” defender would probably be Lance Thomas off the bench. Think about that.
Considering 2017-18 will be the last season before the NBA’s new anti-tanking draft rules are applied, finishing dead last might not be a bad thing for New York – especially when you consider the projected strength of next summer’s draft class.