The lockout has finally ended, and we will be watching basketball this year.
The lockout has forced the league into a two-week offseason, meaning teams will have to move frantically to fill out their rosters and make trades to bolster their championship/playoff hopes.
The Dallas Mavericks are the defending world champions, but the Thunder are on the rise with their young players improving, the Heat have their Big 3 in their second year together, the Knicks added Tyson Chandler to their superstar core of Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire and the Clippers are suddenly contenders with the acquisition of Chris Paul.
This season has the makings of being a crazy one, and here are three bold predictions on how it will turn out.
The Los Angeles Clippers easily had the best off-season of any team in the NBA.
They added superstar point guard Chris Paul, claimed Chauncey Billups off waivers from New York, signed forward Caron Butler, and re-signed starting center DeAndre Jordan. These players join All-Star forward Blake Griffin and point guard Mo Williams on a suddenly very scary roster.
The Lakers on the other hand traded Lamar Odom to the Mavericks for nothing more than a trade exception and their biggest acquisitions were signing Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy. Kobe Bryant is a year older and starting center Andrew Bynum is suspended for the first five games of the season for his hit on JJ Barea in last year's playoffs.
The Clippers showed they are for real (or the Lakers just played terribly) in their preseason opener knocking off the Lakers in dominating fashion 114-95.
This may be a preview of what is to come this season from both the Clippers and the Lakers and this is the year the Clippers will dethrone the Lakers as kings of the Pacific division.
The Clippers are among the deepest teams with their guard rotation and the only thing they lack is a reliable backup big man to give Griffin and Jordan rest. If they can fill that need, they will a difficult team to beat.
The Lakers age will catch up to them this season and the Clippers will use their youth and athleticism to their advantage late in the season, something the Lakers cannot do.
The Boston Celtics achieved their dream of winning an NBA Championship again in 2008 when they brought their Big 3 of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce together.
Now, the Celtics are losing their status as an elite team in the NBA. They are another year older and last season was likely their last at making a legit Finals run.
Rondo will have to carry this team if they are going to go anywhere this season as Allen and Garnett are now in their mid-thirties and Pierce, though still a reliable scorer, isn't the same player he was a few years ago. The loss of forward Jeff Green doesn't help things either.
The Celtics are relying on Jermaine O'neal to be their starting center. Though still serviceable at this point in his career, he is no longer the dominant force he used to be and is not a starting caliber center on a championship roster. They Celts will need to find a stronger big man in the middle if they hope to make a deep playoff run this year.
Well, that's just not going to happen. The Celtics will get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs this year.
I can name at least 4 or 5 teams that will be better than them this season: those would be the Heat, Bulls, Magic, Hawks, and Knicks. Each of those teams could beat these Celtics in a seven game series.
The Celtics just don't have the stamina or depth to make a deep playoff run anymore and the Allen-Pierce-Garnett era will likely come to an end this season.
The Dallas Mavericks are coming off their first title in franchise history - and they will win their second this season. Yes, the Dallas Mavericks will repeat as NBA Champions.
The Mavericks lost key players in JJ Barea, Tyson Chandler, and DeShawn Stevenson, but the core of their roster remains with the returns of Jason Terry, Brendan Haywood, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, and Dirk Nowitzki.
The team acquired Lamar Odom from the Lakers via trade and signed veteran guard Vince Carter to pair with Kidd in the back court. The team also signed guard Delonte West.
This year, the Mavs feature a team with yet another strong bench and a strong starting five with Kidd, Carter, Marion, Nowitzki, and Haywood. They will feature two sixth man of the year players in Odom and Terry coming off the bench.
Marion and Odom will likely split time at small and power forward and Odom is especially valuable because he can run the role of point forward and keep the offense running smoothly.
The key for this team will be the play of new starter Brendan Haywood.
Haywood was supposed to be the answer at center last season, but the Mavs signed Tyson Chandler and he ended up winning the starting job.
Haywood played limited minutes last season but was productive the season before while starting (8 ppg, 7 rpg).
He is a strong defender and a big body to clog up the paint as well as being a solid rebounder and post scorer. If he can hold down the paint like Chandler did last season, the Mavs will remain a good defensive team. If he can continue to play well down the stretch, the Mavs will be title bound once again this season.