30 Bold Predictions for the 2012-13 NBA Season
A year ago, the only bold predictions being made in regard to the NBA revolved around whether or not the season was going to start on time.
With everything that's happened over the past 12 months, last summer's lockout seems like a distant memory.
With the 2011-12 season in the rear-view mirror, it's now time to look ahead toward next year. And while the offseason normally sparks optimism around the NBA, a healthy dose of reality is useful every now and then.
So, with opening night less than three months away, here are 30 bold predictions for the upcoming NBA season.
Bold prediction: Josh Smith will be named to the All-Star team
Now that Joe Johnson is in Brooklyn, Josh Smith is the definitive No. 1 option for the Atlanta Hawks. Smith averaged career-highs in both points (18.8 PPG) and rebounds (9.6 RPG) last season, and it's hard to believe that either of those figures will decrease this year.
With the exception of center Al Horford, Smith's supporting cast is average at best, giving the latter plenty of opportunity to fill the box score on a nightly basis. A 20/10 campaign seems more than reasonable, and if he gets out to a hot start, the 6'9" Smith will earn his first All-Star nod in 2012-13.
But while Smith should have little problem landing a spot in the NBA's midseason classic, he'll have a much tougher time trying to lead a mediocre Hawks team to the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Bold prediction: Will make Eastern Conference finals
The Boston Celtics did a commendable job of reloading this summer, and that offseason work will be rewarded with a second consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
The tandem of Courtney Lee and Jason Terry should more than offset the loss of sharpshooting guard Ray Allen. And if Boston's newest draft picks—Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph—are half as good as projected, the Celtics could potentially be the deepest team in the NBA.
All that depth and talent will get them close to the throne, but the defending champion Miami Heat will prevent Boston from making its third trip to the NBA Finals in the past six years.
Bold prediction: 48 victories
The Brooklyn Nets only acquired one significant player of consequence this offseason (shooting guard Joe Johnson), but the team will be much improved over last year's squad, and could even challenge for the Atlantic Division crown.
Without center Brook Lopez for most of the season, and with point guard Deron Williams missing 11 games, the Nets finished with an embarrassing 22-44 record in 2011-12.
However, as the franchise heads to Brooklyn, there's a palpable level of excitement in the air. That positive energy, combined with the addition of Johnson (and a healthy Lopez/Williams duo) will lead to big things at the Barclays Center.
The Nets' slogan this year is "Bridges Will Be Crossed," and all signs are pointing toward the team crossing the bridge that will result in a winning record for the first time since 2005-06.
Bold prediction: At least twice as many wins as last season
There are few certainties in life, but one that you can bank on is the fact that the Charlotte Bobcats won't be as bad as they were last year. Their 7-59 record perfectly encapsulated the team's futility, but the Bobcats were also at or near the bottom of the league in scoring average (last), rebounds per game (29th) and points allowed per game (27th).
Expecting No. 2 overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to come in and completely turn Charlotte around would be unreasonable.
But the team did acquire a fair amount of serviceable talent this summer (Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions and Brendan Haywood), so don't be surprised when the Bobcats muster up 15 wins or so this season. Just don't expect much more than that.
Bold prediction: Will finish as No. 8 seed
Don't expect that same level of success this season.
It's one thing for a team to pick up its level of play when it knows that its superstar will only be out of the lineup for a short period of time. However, in the case of the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls, the team knows that Rose won't be back until January at the earliest, and may miss the season entirely.
But even though they'll struggle—and despite the fact that the team's bench is much weaker than it was last year—Chicago still has enough talent to sneak into the playoffs.
And if Derrick Rose is completely healthy come April, the Bulls may cause a little havoc in the postseason.
Bold prediction: Will lose 50-plus games this year
The Cleveland Cavaliers have one of the most intriguing young rosters in the league, but the franchise is still years away from reaching the level of success that it enjoyed during the LeBron years.
Kyrie Irving will be a top-five NBA point guard in very short order. Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao form a solid pair in the frontcourt. And rookies Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller should be able to contribute almost immediately.
That said, the rest of the roster leaves a lot to be desired, and if Byron Scott can lead this group to a 35-win season, then he should win Coach of the Year in a landslide.
Bold prediction: Will earn fifth playoff spot out West
After Jason Kidd and Jason Terry left the Dallas Mavericks this offseason, many predicted doom and gloom for Mark Cuban's bunch. Only a few short weeks later, there's an unspoken truth that those same people are finally coming to grips with...
The Mavericks will be better than they were last year.
Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo should thrive alongside Dirk Nowitzki, center Chris Kaman has the potential to average 18 points and nine rebounds, and the team added a few key reserve options (most notably Elton Brand and Jae Crowder) that will greatly improve Dallas' bench.
The top four spots in the Western Conference playoffs are already pretty much accounted for, but it's very likely that the Mavericks—a team that was left for dead in early July—will still be playing next May.
Bold prediction: Will lead the league in scoring
Ever since the days of Alex English and Fat Lever, Denver Nuggets fans have (for the most part) been treated to run-and-gun style basketball.
The 2012-13 season should be no different.
Denver led the league in scoring with 104.1 points per game last year, and they should obliterate that mark with the addition of 6'6" swingman Andre Iguodala from the Philadelphia 76ers. Iguodala is a terror on the fastbreak, and his exceptional defensive skills will cause more TOs, which will lead to more run-outs for the Nuggets.
With the exciting brand of basketball set to come from the Mile High City in a matter of months, the Nuggets will sell more than their fair share of NBA League Pass subscriptions this year.
Bold prediction: Will finish last in the Central Division
Greg Monroe is one of the league's better big men, but if he's the best player on an NBA team, then that team won't win very many games.
There are a few complementary pieces surrounding Monroe (PG Brandon Knight, SG Rodney Stuckey, C Andre Drummond), but the Pistons have one of the thinnest rotations in the entire NBA.
Expect Detroit and Cleveland to wage a spirited battle for both the No. 1 overall pick as well as for the Central Division cellar.
After the moves that they made this offseason, the Pistons could have close to $25 million in cap space next summer. Now all they have to do is to convince someone to come to Detroit.
Golden State Warriors
Bold prediction: Will contend for eighth playoff spot
If NBA teams were ranked based on how their starting lineups appear on paper, the Golden State Warriors would be in the top 10.
Golden State boasts shooters/scorers (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson), a solid, young small forward (Harrison Barnes) and two rebounding machines in the frontcourt (David Lee, Andrew Bogut).
Health always seems to be the issue when it comes to the Warriors, and provided that the team doesn't suffer any major injuries, Golden State will battle the Utah Jazz for the No. 8 seed out West.
If nothing else, the Warriors will be fun to play with on NBA 2K13.
Bold prediction: Will finish with the worst record in the Western Conference
No matter how a team tries to sell it, building a franchise around point guard Jeremy Lin and center Omer Asik simply isn't a plan for success.
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tried to move both heaven and earth in a desperate attempt at Dwight Howard this summer. Instead, the team ended up with a handful of rookies, two excessively-paid free agents, and a very bleak outlook for the 2012-13 season.
But contrary to popular belief, that light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train.
The Rockets are set to have somewhere in the neighborhood of $35 million in cap space next summer, and if the team can land one or two top-flight free agents, then maybe Morey is smarter than us all.
Bold prediction: Will win Central Division by at least five games
In fact, they may be able to wrap it up before the beginning of April. With center Roy Hibbert back in the fold, and with shooting guard Paul George ready to take that next step toward NBA stardom, Indiana could easily win 50-plus games.
Injuries are the only thing that can derail Indy from capturing the division crown next season, but the team is still a notch or two below the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics when it comes to Eastern Conference supremacy.
Los Angeles Clippers
Bold prediction: 50-plus wins and the No. 4 seed out West
The recent Dwight Howard trade only cemented the Los Angeles Clippers' status as "the other team" in Hollywood, but the "Lob City" crew will roll through the Western Conference for the second straight season.
Clippers owner Donald Sterling wasn't able to land any superstars this summer, but by adding Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill to the team's bench, Los Angeles has one of the better nine-man rotations in all of basketball.
Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan still need to work on rounding out their respective offensive games, but even with their current skill set, they will help to make the Clippers a very dangerous team come playoff time.
Los Angeles Lakers
Bold prediction: NBA champions
The old adage "games aren't played on paper" will always be relevant, but it's hard to completely dismiss what the Los Angeles Lakers were able to do this offseason.
Kobe Bryant's presence alone made the Lakers one of the more formidable teams in the Western Conference, and Los Angeles would have been decent if they had merely stood pat.
The Lakers don't do mediocrity very well, so over the span of five weeks, general manager Mitch Kupchak went out and acquired both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
When Pau Gasol—fresh off of an impressive performance in the London Olympics—is arguably a team's fourth-best option, finding someone who can defeat that team in a seven-game series is an arduous task.
The Lakers may not challenge the 72-10 regular-season record of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, but they will finish the year with a more important distinction: NBA champions.
Bold prediction: Will lose in the first round of the playoffs
In the NBA, an average team that makes very few changes during the offseason typically regresses the following year. Case in point: the Memphis Grizzlies who, for the second straight year, will lose in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have more than enough talent to lead Memphis to 45 wins, but the Grizzlies simply can't handle any of the teams they could potentially face in the postseason.
Memphis is in desperate need of a major shakeup, and that can only happen if the franchise moves one of its three best players.
Bold prediction: Will lose in NBA Finals
Dwight Howard's move to the Lakers has completely shifted the balance of power in the NBA.
A month ago, the Miami Heat were the overwhelming favorites to capture their second consecutive championship. Now, they will be the ones looking on as the Lakers take home the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Adding Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to an already formidable "Big 3" only strengthen the Heat, but Miami—and every other team in the league—lacks a tandem that can compete with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in the post.
Miami got away with playing LeBron James and Shane Battier at the 4 position at times last season—that simply won't work against Los Angeles.
Next June, James should receive accolades for leading his team to three straight NBA Finals appearances. Instead, he'll get the lion's share of the blame after the Lakers knock off the Heat for the title.
Bold prediction: Will miss playoffs
Pairing Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis in the same backcourt only makes sense in dreams and in video games.
Unfortunately for the Milwaukee Bucks, since the team will be playing actual, real-life basketball, the playoffs will only be in their dreams as well.
Sure, the Bucks will score a lot of points, the team scored a lot last year (99 points per game, fifth in the NBA). But their inability to stop anyone (98.7 points allowed per game, 22nd in the NBA) led to their second straight appearance in the lottery.
Milwaukee isn't dreadful; Jennings and Ellis are too good to allow that to happen. The rest of the roster (save Ersan Ilyasova and rookie John Henson) leaves a lot to be desired, however.
Bold prediction: Will make playoffs
Kevin Love will finally get a taste of the postseason, as the Minnesota Timberwolves will make the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04.
Love and Ricky Rubio obviously grab most of the headlines, but center Nikola Pekovic is the best big man that no one knows about (his PER last season of 21.47 was the 24th-best mark in the NBA).
Small forward Andrei Kirilenko is back in the league after a brief Russian sojourn, and Alexey Shved—who teamed with Kirilenko in the London Olympics—is a talented, 6'6" swingman who helped lead Russia to the bronze medal earlier this month.
Seven different men have coached the T'wolves since the last time the franchise was in the postseason (including two stints by Kevin McHale). However, few of those men had a starting lineup that is on par with this year's squad.
New Orleans Hornets
Bold prediction: 25 wins
They won't win a whole lot of games, but between Gordon and rookies Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, there should be a fair amount of exciting basketball.
The Hornets pulled off perhaps the biggest coup of the summer when they acquired Ryan Anderson for Gustavo Ayon, but the team should have done more to improve a second unit that ranks among the league's worst.
So while New Orleans will win at a lower clip than it did last year, it won't be far-fetched to see the team in the playoffs two or three years from now.
New York Knicks
Bold prediction: Fouth place in the Atlantic Division
The New York Knicks are a good team, and some might argue they improved this offseason after bringing in Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton and Marcus Camby.
But working against them is the fact that Brooklyn, Boston and Philadelphia all made significant improvements this summer—improvements that will relegate the Knicks to fourth place in the Atlantic Division at year's end.
That isn't to say that the Knicks won't make the playoffs—a team with Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler is almost certain to be in the postseason. In fact, New York could even pull off a first-round upset given the right opponent.
However, the Knicks' chances at winning the Atlantic Division for the first time since 1993-94 are extremely slim.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Bold prediction: Will fail to reach NBA Finals
Last year was supposed to be part of the dues-paying process for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The way it usually works, the young, up-and-coming team (the Thunder) gets served by the more experienced team (in this case, the Miami Heat) for a year or two before ultimately reigning supreme over the league for a spell.
That's how it typically happens. But then the Los Angeles Lakers got Dwight Howard.
Kevin Durant's coronation as the NBA's next torchbearer will be put on hold for a bit. As talented as the Thunder are, they simply can't compete in the middle with the Lakers, whose 1-2 punch of Gasol and Howard is one of the best in league history.
Durant might get his fourth straight scoring title, but when the NBA Finals roll around, he—and his teammates—will be sitting at home.
Bold prediction: Will wind up with a top-three lottery pick
There's no reason to sugarcoat it: The Orlando Magic will be dreadful. The rebuilding plan has officially begun in the Magic Kingdom—this year is all about finding the players who will serve as the team's foundation going forward.
Three of the team's top four scorers are gone, Stan Van Gundy is no longer patrolling the sidelines, and the Magic have zero chance of making the playoffs. But on the bright side, at least there's no more Dwightmare to deal with.
New head coach Jacque Vaughn has his work cut out for him down in Orlando—not even Phil Jackson could coach Orlando to a winning record this coming season.
Bold prediction: Top-five seed in Eastern Conference
Not only is a top-five seed a possibility for the Philadelphia 76ers, but anything less should considered a disappointment.
Andrew Bynum's arrival in Philadelphia immediately changed the fortunes of a team that had already maxed out its talent. That group came within minutes of the Eastern Conference finals last year, and the current roster is more than capable of replicating that success.
Bynum could potentially go 20/12 for the Sixers, and with promising young stars Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner in the backcourt, Philadelphia will be one of the league's more exciting teams next season.
Doug Collins coached every bit of talent out of his squad last year, and if he does it again, a deep postseason run isn't out of the question.
Bold prediction: Will finish below .500
All in all, it wasn't a bad summer for the Phoenix Suns. While the team lost point guard Steve Nash, it did add (among others) Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, Michael Beasley and Kendall Marshall.
With Nash, the team was 33-33 last year and made a run at the No. 8 seed until the final few days of the lockout-shortened season. The playoffs are nothing more than a mirage for this year's Suns, who will be fortunate to win 35 games in 2012-13.
Dragic and Scola have chemistry from their days together in Houston, but with so many new faces in Phoenix, it will take quite some time before this roster can gel and turn postseason hopes to reality.
Portland Trail Blazers
Bold prediction: Damian Lillard will win Rookie of the Year
His games won't be seen by many people east of the Mississippi River, but Portland's Damian Lillard will overcome all odds to win the Rookie of the Year Award.
Lillard crushed the competition during the NBA Summer League in Vegas (26.5 PPG, 5.3 APG, 4.0 RPG), and the 6'3" point guard showed skills reminiscent of a six-year veteran.
Once the regular season starts, he'll be paired with power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, and the two-man game between them should be something to watch.
Three of the last four winners of the ROY were the first overall picks in their respective drafts, but Lillard—the No. 6 pick last June—will soon render that trend null and void.
Bold prediction: Thomas Robinson and DeMarcus Cousins will thrive next season
The perennially-underachieving Sacramento Kings finished with a 22-44 record in 2011-12, but their struggles last year ultimately allowed them to select Thomas Robinson fifth overall in June.
Provided that DeMarcus Cousins has his head on straight (a very big assumption), he and Robinson will be one of the more dominant PF/C combos in all of basketball.
On the court, Cousins had a stellar sophomore campaign (18.1 PPG, 10.9 RPG), and projects to be a 20-point, 10-rebound player for the next decade.
Robinson had a disappointing showing in the Vegas Summer League, but if he regains the All-American form that he displayed at Kansas, very few power forwards in the league will be able to check him.
San Antonio Spurs
Bold prediction: Will take Oklahoma City to seven games in the Western Conference semis
When looking at each team's potential starting lineup, the San Antonio Spurs seem to be no match for both OKC and the Lakers.
However, perhaps no team in the NBA is as deep as San Antonio—12 Spurs who played in half of the team's games in 2011-12 averaged at least 19 minutes per game last year.
San Antonio may not have much elite level talent (even though Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are still pretty good), but their ability to come at you in waves makes it difficult for opposing teams to match up against them.
The Spurs' decade-plus run of excellence will end at some point, but there's still at least one more good season left in them.
Bold prediction: Won't win 30 games (but will be enjoyable to watch)
Three years from now, the Toronto Raptors should be a pretty good team. Now? Not so much.
There's definitely something to look forward to for Raptors fans: Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas should have good showings as rookies, Kyle Lowry is a very skilled point guard, and once DeMar DeRozan puts it all together, he's going to be a star.
The remainder of Andrea Bargnani's deal (three years, $33 million) isn't terribly cap friendly, but as long as he averages 18-20 points and five-seven rebounds per night, his contract shouldn't be an issue.
What is an issue for the Raptors is scoring—Toronto only averaged 90.7 points per game last year, and its struggles on the offensive end figure to continue this season.
Bold prediction: Paul Millsap will be sent away at the trade deadline
With Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter waiting in the wings for the Utah Jazz, something has to give. And that something is power forward Paul Millsap, who will be traded before the deadline next year.
The Jazz have already offered Millsap a three-year extension, but like most players in his position, the 6'8" forward plans to hold off on any decision until he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.
With center Al Jefferson also coming off of the books next year, Utah is eager to settle its frontcourt situation sooner rather than later.
Millsap wants to remain with the team, but unless he signs an extension over the next couple of months, his days in Utah may be numbered.
Bold prediction: Will battle all season for No. 8 seed, but fail to make playoffs
It's not quite time yet for the Washington Wizards to make that jump to the next level, but it's clear that the potential is there.
In fact, that potential will be on display all year long as the Wizards will battle for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot until the final week of the season.
Newcomers Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza will contribute far more than Rashard Lewis did last season, and University of Florida product Bradley Beal will pair with John Wall in one of the NBA's more explosive backcourts.
These are not your father's Washington Wizards—the 35 wins that they rack up this season will be proof of that.