The Painted Area's '07-'08 Predictions (Part I)
M. Haubs' predictions:
Happy Opening Day, everyone. The League is back, rejoice. I feel a little bit weird this year because, while I'm certainly ready to fire up the League Pass, I'm not desperately hungry for the season to start, as I usually am.
Partially I'd say it's because we had a solid month of intriguing international basketball to sate the appetite, between watching Team USA get its groove back and the always-spirited competition at the Eurobasket. Partially, I have to admit, I'd say it's because I'm a fan of one of the teams playing in this weekend's NFL Game of the Century, and I'm having trouble focusing on anything else. Don't fret, don't fret, I still favor the League over the NFL by a wide margin, this is just such a huge game that I need to get through Sunday before I can get my NBA on with the full 110% KG-style intensity that she deserves.
That said, it's also an odd year for predicting the League - I feel like my choices are predicated on a process of elimination of teams that I feel are *not* worthy of hoisting the Larry O'B more than a spirited competition of those who can.
It's weird, it feels like we're headed into another season that's sort of nondescript, yet just think about what might be right around the corner... if Kobe goes to Chicago. We could end up with some desperately needed *juice* in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Imagine an East semis with Kobe vs KG vs LeBron vs D-Wade (OK, so Miami's a longshot, I know, just dream with me for a second). When's the last time the Eastern side of the bracket has been deeply compelling for more than a good series or two? '01, maybe, when we had AI and Vince going off and Milwaukee's Big 3 lighting it up?
As much as I hate to see Kobe go because I believe he should be a Laker for life, I have to admit that, if he takes the final step on the MJ imitation path by donning the red and black, it'll make things that much more compelling come May. And I'll tell you what, I think it's going to happen, and that hunch shapes a big part of these predictions:
6. New Jersey
- First Round: Bulls over Heat, Pistons over Magic, Cavs over Raptors, Celtics over Nets
- Conf. Semis: Bulls over Pistons, Celtics over Cavs
- Conf. Finals: Bulls over Celtics
- With Boston on the ascent, someone has to drop out of the playoffs, and I say it'll be Washington, though I wouldn't be shocked if the bottom fell out in Miami. That said, you could make a plausible case that any Eastern team has at least an outside shot at the playoffs except for maybe Philly (and even they finished strong) and Charlotte (with the injuries already piling up). As always, health will be a huge factor all around.
- I'm picking Chicago no. 1 assuming Kobe will be there, but I have the Bulls up there even if they don't make a deal. Too many flaws on the other top contenders.
1. San Antonio
7. New Orleans
8. Golden State
- First Round: Spurs over Warriors, Nuggets over Rockets, Mavs over Hornets, Suns over Jazz
- Conf. Semis: Spurs over Nuggets, Mavs over Suns
- Conf. Finals: Spurs over Mavs
- Here's the crazy thing about the West: it's not implausible to think that Dallas, San Antonio and Houston could end up with the three best records in the NBA, yet one of them is going to have to be seeded 5th, because of the way the seeding works (Top 4 spots go to the three division winners, plus next best record).
- I dropped the Lakers out because, again, I think Kobe's a goner, yet I still toyed with slotting them into the 8th slot, thinking that Phil might be able to coax a 1993-94 Bulls-type season out of them if he gets enough pieces back....
- I see Memphis also in the hunt for the last spot, and it wouldn't surprise me if Utah drops all the way out of the playoffs - they're so dependent on Boozer, who has an injury history, Okur is hobbled already, and their chemistry seems like it could be fragile with AK47 in the locker room and Derek Fisher out of it.
- NBA Finals: Spurs over Bulls
- MVP: Kobe Bryant
- Rookie of the Year: Kevin Durant
Rookie of the Year notes:
- I'm really going all in on this hunch that Kobe ends up in Chicago, huh? Let me first say that I feel like LeBron is going to have a spectacular year, and that he will be a top MVP contender along with Kobe and KG.
What MVP voters, weenies that they are, love as much as anything is a good story, esp. one that entails changing teams and leading your new team to the top of the conference standings (even if there are four teams with better records in the other conference!).
I'm banking on Kobe coming East and having a little more team and individual success than KG (I think KG's ppg will drop a little), and both players will be better stories than LeBron. If Kobe stays put in L.A., or goes elsewhere, I think KG has a great shot at hoisting his second Maurice Podoloff.
- Darkhorse candidate: Yao. Before you scoff, just consider that it's not crazy to think the Rockets could have one of the league's best two or three regular-season records, and Yao averaged 25 and 9 in Van Gundy's slowdown system. You'd think his numbers will go up with more team possessions in the Adelman era. And he'd be a good story. First things first, though: gotta stay healthy.
- As I mentioned above, my prediction is as much as about eliminating teams I think are deficient as anything:
*I think the thin Suns are too dependent on the fragile health of Grant Hill and I think they'll miss Kurt Thomas' D at some point;
*I can't pick the Rockets given the collective playoff underachievement of Adelman, McGrady and Yao;
*I think Dallas needed to make more significant changes, though I did like the T. Hassell and E. Jones moves;
*While I think the East is improving, it's still inferior, though a Kobe trade might help close the gap further.
That leads me to the Spurs. I'm a little nervous because they didn't make any significant moves on a team that's getting old, but they are the proven club and Tim Duncan is still the best player in the world, MVP or no MVP.
Now we have the emerging report that Timmy will leave $11 million on the table on his extension because it will help give his team flexibility going forward. I'll be interested to see how much media coverage this choice commands, compared to the uber-narcissism of the A-Rod opt-out drama.
While I'm not entirely confident in my pick of S.A. to repeat, I am much more certain that the NBA will continue to be hammered as an example of everything that's wrong with modern sports, and all the while the team and player who are what's right with modern sports (unless you're a Suns fan) will continue to be dismissed as too boring to be worthy of attention.