The 2012-13 NBA season could be one of the most exciting in years. The storylines are better than ever, and the players filling the roles are incredible.
New storylines start as soon as the new season begins. There is a collection of storylines that carry over from the previous season or the bold offseason. Jeremy Lin's offseason was a huge storyline when he signed an offer sheet with the Houston Rockets. The New York Knicks spitefully didn't match Houston's offer, so now Linsanity is a member of the Rockets.
This is just one of many exciting storylines that will surely ignite a fire under the 2012-13 season. Here are my predictions for what promises to be an incredible NBA campaign.
The biggest question mark heading into the 2012-13 season is Jeremy Lin.
Will he be a good player in Houston? Or will Lin be a bust?
Early in the preseason, indications point toward the latter. Obviously, it's the preseason, and nothing in the preseason should be taken too serious. We won't find out if the Lin signing was a success or failure until later this season.
Why is that so?
Well for one, the Houston Rockets have a weak roster. Their best player is Kevin Martin, whose production dropped significantly last season. Besides Lin and Martin, the Rockets' most proven players are Carlos Delfino and Shaun Livingston. Neither one has been an NBA asset in years. Everyone else who will receive playing time this year is a rookie, sophomore or third-year player.
Secondly, Lin will have to adjust to being the focal point of a team. Lin was fantastic for the New York Knicks when nobody knew who he was. Now Lin is a known commodity, and many point guards would love nothing more than to shut him down.
Lastly, Lin's knee is still creating news. That's not good. He missed the Rockets' preseason game against the Dallas Mavericks, but according to the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen, that was scheduled as part of his recovery plan. If the knee continues to give Lin trouble, Linsanity may take a pink slip until the 2013-14 season.
Prediction: Lin will struggle his first season with the Rockets, but will make strides toward the end of the year.
Will Dwight Howard stay in Los Angeles? It's the question you will be hearing all season.
So far, Howard has said all the right things. He's yet to play in the meaningless preseason, and likely won't. Odds are we'll have to wait until October 30 to see Howard in action wearing a Lakers' uniform—maybe longer.
The 2012-13 season will be a flier season for Howard. He wants to test the Los Angeles waters before he makes his long-term decision. It's like the greatest possible ice cream sample you could ever taste. If Howard doesn't enjoy Los Angeles, he will simply move on.
With that being said, what reason would Howard have not to enjoy his time in Los Angeles? He'll get to play with one of the smartest point guards who has have ever played the game and one of the most skilled big men in the league. Sure, teammate Kobe Bryant isn't the nicest person in the world, but another alpha dog could be just the thing to motivate Howard to push himself to that next level.
The Lakers will be in the mix for the 2012-13 NBA championship, and Howard will love the attention he receives from playing on a serious contender. The fame, the weather and the wins will ultimately make Los Angeles an easy decision for Howard.
Prediction: Howard will sign a maximum long-term contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers will lose to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
New York Knicks vs. Brooklyn Nets.
Who you got?
The two are set to face off in the season opener, November 1. It will be the inaugural game at the new Barclays Center.
The New York Knicks always seem to receive the benefit of the doubt, but it may be time to re-evaluate that benefit. Their roster looks weak this season. They could be in danger of not making the playoffs. Here are their top 10 players:
PG: Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd
SG: J.R. Smith, Ronnie Brewer
SF: Carmelo Anthony, Steve Novak
PF: Amar'e Stoudemire, Kurt Thomas
C: Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby
The 2012-13 Knicks look like an awesome 2006-07 team. Kidd, Thomas and Camby are ancient and haven't played well in a couple of seasons, and let's not forget Rasheed Wallace, who could make the roster. Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler are all over 28 years old. It's not like the Knicks are desperate for veteran leadership.
The Knicks' roster screams issues. They are going to struggle with back-to-back games, long road trips, defending athletic teams and dealing with injuries. The Knicks are going to count on Anthony to take them as far as he can, and as we've seen in the past, that's not very far. Things are going to be rough for the Knicks this season.
As for the Nets, their ceiling is much more interesting. Pairing Joe Johnson with Deron Williams could be lethal. Brook Lopez has the potential to break out into a star, and Kris Humphries has silently become a double-double machine. The bench isn't an issue for the Nets either. Other than at small forward, the Nets have a reliable backup at every position.
Long term, the Nets may not be any better than the Knicks. All those huge deals will surely come back and bite them eventually. Not this season though. The Nets are suiting up for an exciting first season in Brooklyn.
Prediction: The Nets will finish with a better record than the Knicks. The Knicks will struggle to make the playoffs, while the Nets will have a good shot to move on to the second round of the playoffs.
By now you've must have heard the news concerning James Harden, last season's super sixth man for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
If not, here's the situation in a nutshell: Harden has until October 31 to sign an early extension with the Thunder. If Harden does not sign the extension, he will become a restricted free agent next summer. Surely Harden will be a max contract player, which will make it difficult for the Thunder to re-sign him. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins all currently have large contracts, so the Thunder would have to go deep into the luxury tax to re-sign Harden. The new collective bargaining agreement (the reason for last season's lockout) adds increased financial penalties for teams that go too high into the luxury tax.
What to do, what to do.
Whether you think the Thunder should re-sign Harden, let's think about the ultimate goal of owning and operating an NBA franchise. The goal is to win an NBA championship. The Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs have done whatever it's taken to win a title. Regardless of the amount, sometimes you simply have to pay it if it means a championship.
Some franchises think the goal is to make money, or lose as little of it as possible. Look at the Phoenix Suns. They went the cheap route and decided season after season to go the way of saving money. They have no titles to show for their actions, and all they did was waste the primes of Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire.
The Thunder are a small market team, but they're arguably the most popular franchise in the NBA. They've been blessed with a young core capable of winning an NBA championship. Small market teams get in trouble when they max out all their money by signing older players to long-term contracts. The Thunder won't be doing that.
Harden is 23 years old. We still have not seen Harden's best. Harden, Westbrook and Durant are so good you forget about the rest of the Thunder's roster. Without Harden, the Thunder would only have two players you'd feel comfortable shooting 15 times a game. Ibaka is a great player on the defensive end, but he does little to help on offense.
The move may be to amnesty Perkins, whose presence is severely overrated. Ever since hurting his knee, Perkins hasn't been the same. You can find players like Perkins now—big bodies who mean mug and do a decent job on the boards. It will be difficult to replace Harden, who's of the best shooting guards in the NBA.
Prediction: The Thunder will keep Harden. Forget about being a small market, you can't blow up a good thing, especially considering how young their Big 3 is.
The Miami Heat chose in the offseason to go further in the direction of their super-small-ball style instead of adding size in the low post. Their starting center is now officially Chris Bosh, with Shane Battier starting next to him at power forward.
The position names are meaningless for the Heat because ultimately they don't play with any real positions. LeBron James plays a hybrid between power forward and point guard, which no NBA team has been able to slow down.
The Heat's big offseason acquisitions were adding the two big guns from the 2004-05 Seattle Supersonics, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Were these acquisitions good moves?
By name recognition, signing Allen was great. The Heat stole one of the Celtics' Big 3 and added some outside shooting off the bench. In terms of how the Allen move will actually play out for the Heat, don't get your expectations too high. Did you watch the Celtics last season? They were a better team once they increased Avery Bradley's role and decreased Allen's. This is not to say Allen won't be great on the Heat, but it's far from a sure thing.
As for the other move, why is everyone so Gung-ho on the Lewis acquisition? This guy is done. Lewis hasn't played at a high level since the 2008-09 season. Don't buy the argument on how Lewis will play limited minutes and stand out by the three-point line and shoot. Lewis may start the season with that role, but as the season progresses, coach Erik Spoelstra will realize Lewis is a lost cause. Once a guy has lost it, he's lost it. Lewis lost it seasons ago.
As long as the Heat have James, Wade and Chris Bosh, they'll be fine. They have the best, and probably the easiest, shot out of any of the contenders to reach the NBA Finals.
That doesn't mean they'll win it though. The Oklahoma City Thunder will be a better team, and the Los Angeles Lakers will certainly be better.
Prediction: The Heat will reach the NBA Finals for the third consecutive season, but they will not repeat. Both the Lakers and the Thunder will be better teams than the Heat in 2012-13.
It's been awhile since the NBA's Most Valuable Player race this wide-open. Here are Bovada's odds to win the 2012-13 NBA MVP:
- LeBron James (MIA) 9/5
- Kevin Durant (OKC) 15/4
- Kobe Bryant (LAL) 12/1
- Russell Westbrook (OKC) 16/1
- Dwight Howard (LAL) 16/1
- Steve Nash (LAL) 16/1
- Chris Paul (LAC) 20/1
- Kevin Love (MIN) 20/1
- Dwyane Wade (MIA) 22/1
- Deron Williams (BK) 25/1
- Blake Griffin (LAC) 25/1
- Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 25/1
- Tony Parker (SAN) 25/1
- Rajon Rondo (BOS) 28/1
- Dirk Nowitzki (DAL) 30/1
Let's examine this list closely. There are a few guys we can cross off almost instantly. Unless James or Durant gets seriously injured, Westbrook and Wade will have no chance of winning the MVP. Blake Griffin is still on the up rise in his career, but let's be honest, Chris Paul is the MVP of the Los Angeles Clippers. Without Paul, the Clippers wouldn't be a playoff team. Cross Griffin off.
The MVP odds list often goes off name recognition. Steve Nash is arguably the fourth best player on the Los Angeles Lakers. If the Lakers come out steam rolling, it'll be Howard or Bryant that receive a lion’s share of the credit. Nash has no chance of winning the MVP. Parker and Nowitzki could win the MVP if their respective teams finished with the best record, but that seems unlikely as well.
That leaves the list with Rajon Rondo, Anthony, Williams, Kevin Love, Paul, Howard, Bryant, and of course, James and Durant.
Of the remaining list, you would have to say Williams of the Brooklyn Nets and Anthony of the New York Knicks are the biggest long shots. Neither leads a team that anyone realistically thinks can win the NBA championship, but both play in the New York market. Because of the scrutiny and attention both will receive, they'll always be in the limelight. If they underperform, the critics will throw darts non-stop. But if they play above expectation, the limelight will work in their favor; similar to the way it does for the Notre Dame football team when it plays well. The odds are unlikely; especially since Anthony and Williams have done little to prove they can lead a team to an NBA title. With that said, neither player is a complete write off.
With Anthony and Williams now off the list, that leaves a collection of serious contenders for the MVP:
Bryant and Howard: It's easy to say Howard is the most talented player on the Lakers' roster, but we have to see how he reacts to playing in the new market first. He's not the leader of the Lakers, Bryant is, and he won't have the most offensive opportunities, Bryant will. Howard could steal the award from Bryant if he delivers one of the most dominant defensive seasons in years. The Lakers will have little issues on the offensive end of the floor, but on defense they could be a mess. If Howard can lock up the paint and take the pressure off of Nash and Bryant, he could prove to be the MVP of the league.
Love: The news of Love's broken hand that will sideline him for 6-8 weeks is a huge deterrent. But Love is still the best power forward in the NBA, and he now has a roster surrounding him that has the talent to reach the postseason. Leading the league in rebounding and finishing in the top five in scoring would serve Love well in the MVP race. Getting the Wolves to the playoffs would be even better.
Paul: There's doubt he could pull off the MVP award because of his tendency to go on cruise control until the fourth quarter, but there's no denying his importance to the Clippers. Without Paul, the Clippers would be a lottery team. Depending on where the Clippers finish in the standings will reflect Paul's MVP chances.
James: What is there to say? James will probably average 28-7-7 and lead the Heat to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. James' biggest competition may be the MVP voters, who tend to mix things up if one guy is dominating year-in and year-out, à la the 1996–97 NBA season when Karl Malone beat out Michael Jordan for the MVP.
Rondo and Durant: Where the race will become interesting is between Rondo and Durant. Obviously James will be in the mix, and Durant will too, but Rondo is becoming a serious dark horse. His odds, 28/1, are laughably low for being the most important player on one of the best teams in the NBA.
This race will come down to Rondo and Durant, with James being the default winner if neither of them takes it from him. Durant will be even better than last season, but he has internal competition with Westbrook. Look for Rondo to finally steal the title of best point guard from Paul in 2012-13. He's the best/most important player on the Boston Celtics and will put up an insane amount of triple-doubles.
Prediction: Rondo will win the 2012-13 MVP award, once again delaying Durant from winning his first MVP.