1. Question: When will the NBA lockout end? December 1, 2011, seems to be the most reasonable starting date for the NBA season considering the entire month of November is gone, and the two sides are beginning to budge and compromise.
2. Prediction: Kobe will return to prominence. The five-time champion struggled last season due to finger and knee injuries, but his run as the NBA’s most skilled player is not going to come to an end just yet. I think the Black Mamba will return to his 2007-2008 season form and average around 28 points, five rebounds and five assists, with a much better PER and turnover ratio than this past season.
3. Question: Who will be the league’s MVP? I think Kevin Durant has the greatest shot at the award given his knack for scoring the ball. He has led the league in scoring the past two seasons and only needs to develop even the slightest defensive game to be in contention with LeBron, Dwight, and Rose.
4. Prediction: Dwight Howard will not finish the 2011-2012 NBA season in a Magic’s uniform. The Magic will come to the realization that Howard does not have the necessary pieces to make another run at the championship and will trade him for a consolation prize. You can read more about where I think the league’s best big man will end up next season here.
5. Question: Are NBA teams going to attempt to follow the “Big Three” format that the Spurs, Celtics and Heat have laid the blueprint for, considering the fact that all three have reached the NBA Finals, or does the Mavericks’ 2010-2011 success revitalize other teams’ hopes in a traditional 1 to 2-star team backed by role players?
Arguably the Knicks, Thunder, Lakers, Grizzlies, Bulls and Nets are all one piece away from having a 3-star team, while the rest of the league boasts a combination of stars and role players.
6. Prediction: Chris Paul will not finish the 2011-2012 NBA season in a Hornet’s uniform. The Hornets need to begin rebuilding—without Chris Paul as their centerpiece. David West, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza are not going to be enough to get the Hornets over the playoff hump, and the franchise will recognize that. Paul will either look to get traded to the Knicks, Lakers or Thunder, or team up with Dwight Howard elsewhere.
7. Question: How good could the Mavericks be this upcoming season? Caron Butler, who was a defensive stud and averaged 15 points and four rebounds a game, and Rodrigue Beaubois, who averaged 8.4 points a game and was clearly their starting shooting guard before he got hurt, were both absent from the Mavs’ playoff run.
8. Prediction: The Los Angeles Clippers will make the playoffs next season. Eric Gordon is poised for a breakout season, while Blake Griffin is ready to continue his dominance in the paint. If Aminu, Mo Williams or DeAndre Jordan can become a consistent and reliant part of the Clippers’ offense, the team will have a good chance at sneaking into the playoffs.
9. Question: What teams will begin the rebuilding process during this upcoming season? For example, the Lakers, Spurs and Celtics are all in need of a shake-up on their aging rosters. Which franchises will push the envelope and attempt one more year, and which will realize their fates and blow up the rotation in hopes of a brighter future?
10. Prediction: The Miami Heat will win the NBA championship. The most heavily scrutinized and publicized team in the NBA last season made it all the way to the NBA Finals with no consistent point guard or center, and it was only their first season together! The team can only go up from here, and although I don’t think the team will win “not one, not two, not three…but eight championships,” I do think they will become a viable contender for the O’Brien Trophy for the next five years to come.
11. Question: Who will rise and who will drop the most on ESPN's #NBArank come next season? A pair of emerging shooting guards, Wes Matthews (100) and Marcus Thornton (136), are the two I think have the most room to move up, while Tim Duncan (19) is the one who will drop the most.
Matthews was an unheralded part of the Blazers' success this past season. He averaged 16 points and three rebounds a game while doing his best Brandon Roy impression. Thornton averaged over 21 points, four rebounds and three assists after being traded to the Kings midway through the season. You can expect Thornton to continue his hot shooting and prolific scoring next season.
Tim Duncan is unquestionably the player that will drop the most come next season. His #NBArank this offseason was solely due to his legacy. He is no longer a premiere power forward, but an aging leader who will see his minutes and production diminish rapidly.
12. Prediction: Given my prediction that the Heat will win the NBA championship next season, I think that Dwyane Wade will also win the NBA Finals MVP Award. Wade was clearly the better superstar in the NBA Finals and is set to regain his throne (if he has not already).