Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant
Even though it's extremely early, be sure to bookmark these predictions for every major NBA award winner in 2013-14 and check back in April.
These winners include an Executive of the Year who most expect, along with a rookie who some may not. They also include a Defensive Player of the Year who came close in the past and a Sixth Man settling into his new role.
From Most Improved to MVP and everything else in between, each projected winner is highlighted accordingly.
Fueled by untapped potential and explosive athleticism, Eric Bledsoe was one of the most highly coveted trade assets throughout the 2012-13 campaign.
In a three-way deal that eventually sent Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Bledsoe, the Phoenix Suns acquired the 23-year-old combo guard on the final year of his rookie contract.
After playing a role in support of Chris Paul for the Clippers, Bledsoe now has an opportunity for extended minutes with the Suns. Expect the player who averaged 14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists per-36 minutes last season to take full advantage of his new environment.
While competing for the Most Improved Award specifically, Bledsoe's production will be measured against his three-year NBA career averages of 6.7 points, 3.0 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game.
Playing upwards of 30 minutes per night for the Suns moving forward, however, Bledsoe has a legitimate opportunity to double his 2012-13 stat line of 8.5, 3.1 and 3.0, respectively.
Beyond simply working to establish himself as an NBA starter in 2013-14, Bledsoe will also be playing for a new contract. If he maxes out his production alongside Goran Dragic at somewhere around 16.5 points, five assists and five rebounds (numbers it appears he's capable of), Bledsoe will run away with the MIP award.
In addition to securing that honor, he will also be on his way to cashing in big on a lucrative contract in free agency.
With an improvement in production to 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds during the postseason for the Golden State Warriors, Harrison Barnes showed he is worthy of earning a starting job in the NBA.
Despite that, however, the Warriors upped their roster collectively this summer by acquiring former All-Star Andre Iguodala in free agency. The signing of the free-agent small forward will likely move Barnes into a sixth-man role, but he appears to have the professional mindset necessary to embrace that opportunity.
During Team USA minicamp in July, Barnes spoke on the possibility of coming off the bench in 2013-14 with Sean Deveney of Sporting News.
"My role will remain the same—do whatever it takes to win,” Barnes told Sporting News. “Whether it is starting, coming off the bench. There are plenty of minutes to be divided up among everybody. I just have to make sure I am ready."
This winning spirit, coupled with a skill set that combines strength and athleticism at the small forward position, will create mismatches for Barnes against opposing second units on a nightly basis. Expect the second-year forward out of North Carolina to take full advantage throughout the year and excel as the league's top reserve.
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey will go wire-to-wire as the NBA's Executive of the Year in 2013-14.
Unless he ends up trading his starting five to the Toronto Raptors before the All-Star break, I don't see this award shaking out any other way.
This summer, Morey completed a two-year overhaul in Houston that transformed the Rockets from a run-of-the-mill NBA team into a legitimate title contender.
He's also filled out the Rockets roster with low-priced veterans like Marcus Camby, Francisco Garcia and Omri Casspi in support of his two stars, while maintaining the rights of Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin.
Simply stated, Morey has done everything in his power to build a winning roster in Houston, and he will likely be honored for accomplishing as much by season's end.
Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers won big this offseason when they acquired the coaching services of Doc Rivers from the Boston Celtics.
At the disposal of the coach who has won an NBA championship to go along with 1,060 regular-season games is an MVP-caliber floor general equipped with a number of weapons offensively. If any coach is capable of helping his lead guard put those weapons in the best position possible to succeed, it's Rivers.
To win the NBA's Coach of the Year award, however, Rivers will first need to implement the newly acquired J.J. Redick effectively while also helping Blake Griffin take a step forward in 2013-14.
Rivers must then position the Clippers as a serious threat collectively to win the Western Conference by the time the postseason approaches.
Based on his track record of success, rapport with his star point guard and ability to game-plan effectively on both ends of the floor, Rivers projects to accomplish all of that while securing this award.
Unlike the majority of this year's rookie class, Anthony Bennett will be placed in a position of strength by the Cleveland Cavaliers as he makes his transition into the league.
Despite the traditional burden associated with being this year's No. 1 overall pick, nobody in Cleveland will be asking Bennett to save the franchise. That responsibility rests comfortably on the shoulders of Kyrie Irving, the player the Cavaliers selected first overall two seasons ago.
Irving's presence at the point guard position will be pivotal to Bennett's success as a rookie. Paired in the backcourt with Dion Waiters, the Cavaliers will be able to employ a two-out, three-in lineup offensively with Bennett playing a hybrid small forward position that demonstrates low-post characteristics.
This system, specifically suited to Bennett's skill set, will lead to open looks in and around the high post area. There will also be 15-foot jumpers available, along with driving and post-up space created by the attention Irving and company will generate.
Additionally, Bennett will be able to learn how to attack the NBA glass by playing alongside the likes of Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao. If Andrew Bynum proves to be healthy, Bennett could even find himself essentially unguarded at times while defenses shift their attack to primarily stopping Irving and Bynum.
Bennett's statistical production could be somewhere around 15 points and seven rebounds per game as a result. Assuming the Cavaliers do contend for a playoff spot in 2013-14, Bennett would be in line for Rookie of the Year honors by season's end.
Miami Heat's LeBron James blocks San Antonio Spurs' Tiago Splitter
LeBron James began publicly lobbying for Defensive Player of the Year honors in response to finishing second to Memphis Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol in 2012-13.
After noting that "it sucked" when he wasn't named DPOY, James offered the following, according to Ethan Skolnick of The Palm Beach Post: "I mean, I guard everybody on the floor. I don’t know if there’s one player in NBA history who’s guarded one through five (positions). It’s over with now, but that’s cool."
The truth is, James is correct with respect to his defensive versatility.
He is capable of defending 1 through 5 effectively, and there is not another player in the league who is able to accomplish as much.
James complements his defensive versatility with the ability to connect on the spectacular block too, as San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter can confirm.
Coming off a season where he also averaged 1.7 steals per night, expect James to collect his first Defensive Player of the Year award in 2013-14.
Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant
Despite an injury to All-NBA teammate Russell Westbrook, critics openly questioned Kevin Durant's greatness as the short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder tumbled toward elimination in the second round of the 2013 playoffs.
As a result, expect a less-than-friendly version of Durant to take the hardwood next season.
While playing with a chip on his shoulder, Durant will not only win the fourth scoring title of his career but also his first MVP award.
LeBron James will enter the 2013-14 campaign as the favorite to win the MVP for the fifth time with good reason. It will inevitably require a career year from Durant to dethrone James, but that is the specific performance he is capable of delivering.
James Harden is gone and he's never coming back. Westbrook's return from injury is out of Durant's hands as well. All he can control is himself, and Durant will channel that energy into an MVP campaign that will put his Thunder right back in contention for an NBA championship.