The ripple effects of The Decision II have been felt across the NBA and the stage is set for one of the most uncertain seasons in recent memory. The East has become extraordinarily more competitive with the emergence of the new “Big Three” in Cleveland, a much deeper Chicago squad and a flurry of new teams trying to make their mark. Per the usual, the West is loaded with the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, a star-packed Los Angeles squad not named the Lakers and a cluster of good, but not great, teams trying to take the next step. Without further to do, here are my predictions for the 2014-15 NBA season.
Regular Season Standings
- San Antonio Spurs: I want to choose against the Spurs, and the Cavaliers for that matter, with all of my being. However, it’s pretty difficult in San Antonio’s case when they’re night in and night out the most fundamentally sound squad. The ageless Tim Duncan returns with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli once again. Add in NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, alongside Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli and the best coach in the game, and you have yourself a recipe for success. See: The last decade or so.
- Los Angeles Clippers: How would things in the NBA be different if the original Chris Paul trade went through? Would CP3, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard be headlining this city for the Lakers and the Clippers stuck in their usual second-tier rut? We’ll never know, but what we can expect is Doc Rivers to have one of the best squads in the NBA this season, especially with his system implemented for another year.
- Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook may be the highest scorer in the league come December. Afterwards? Not so much. That’s when Kevin Durant will return and lead what will potentially be a middle of the road team back to the top three in the West. Steven Adams showed he could be a decent big man in the league, so Kendrick Perkins may find more and more pine. Anthony Morrow and Jeremy Lamb still aren’t a replacement for James Harden, but they should stretch the floor consistently. That is, if Westbrook and Durant don’t do it enough.
- Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki finally has help again in Dallas. Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler should form a dangerous starting lineup run by Jameer Nelson. If the Mavericks do make a top four seed in the West, does Rick Carlisle have a case for coach of the year? There’s a strong chance. Remember, the Mavericks took the Spurs to seven games last season. They’d meet them in the second round this year.
- Golden State Warriors: And here we have the Western Conference team that everyone wants to play as in video games. Do you want scorers? Well, they have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodola, Shaun Livingston, Brandon Rush, David Lee and Andrew Bogut. Even new head coach Steve Kerr can knock it down from range. The defense might be a little
- Portland Trail Blazers: If Damian Lillard played in a bigger market than Oregon, he’d be a superstar in this league. Lamarcus Aldridge is a top tier power forward, but I felt was overhyped during his magnificent stretch of last season. It didn’t carry deep into the playoffs, losing to the Spurs in the second round in five games after eliminating the Rockets in the first. Nicolas Batum might be the key factor if the Blazers can take the next step, while Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews and Steve Blake will also play significant roles.
- Houston Rockets: Don’t get me wrong, the Rockets are a strong team with Dwight Howard and James Harden. However, the loss of Chandler Parsons will really hurt. Trevor Ariza ought to bring a strong third option, but I’m not too sold on the depth of this squad. I wouldn’t hold my breath on a championship run.
- Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies won 50 games in 2014 despite multiple missed games by their stars. Marc Gasol may not be on the squad a year from now, but Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and Mike Conley should be enough to push the Grizzlies into postseason play.
- New Orleans Pelicans: Honestly, I had to fix the mistake of putting “Hornets” down. Look at this lineup, though: Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis and Omer Asik. Austin Rivers and Ryan Anderson can come off the bench and form a pesky team throughout the season. I have them ninth, but they should be in the playoff hunt up until the end.
- Denver Nuggets: Kenneth Faried looked like a top-level player in the FIBA games. Nate Robinson will be back and healthy as a sparkplug. Danillo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, Aaron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov put together a pretty talented roster that might be in the running for a final seed.
- Phoenix Suns: The Suns played as well as anyone could have expected last year…and still just missed the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference. A step back is more likely than a step forward as they played a little over their heads in 2013.The Rest
- Los Angeles Lakers: I’m not as low on the Lakers as most. They finished second to last without Kobe in 2013, so with Kobe it ought to be a little better. Or at the very least more entertaining. Carlos Boozer, Jeremy Linn and Nick Young don’t exactly form a stellar “Big Three” to tag along. You might as well have Kobe go for the record 100 points every single game.
- Sacramento Kings: The Kings could be a surprise team in the sense they might be around the 10th-seed by year’s end. Could. We’re talking Dumb and Dumber level chances. Ben McLemore, DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Derrick Williams and all of the Big Ten’s favorite Nic Stauskas form a young core. If someone like Sim Bhullar turns out to be more than height, they could be dangerous. But don’t count on it.
- Minnesota Timberwolves: “Why can’t this be Love?” “Do you believe in life after Love?” “Love is a battlefield.” This might as well be the Timberwolves pregame music. Wiggins should sell some tickets, but they won’t win many games.
- Utah Jazz: I mean, the Jazz have players who could be decent in the future. As for right now? Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, Trey Burke, Enes Kanter and Gordon Hayward aren’t exactly striking fear into anybody. Daunte Exum may end up being a good draft pick, but he has looked a little overwhelmed in our limited viewing.
Regular Season Standings
- Chicago Bulls: The Bulls boast the deepest roster in the league. Rumor has it that rookie Doug McDermott may find a starting role so it looks something like this: Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, McDermott, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah starting, Kirk Hinrich, Tony Snell, Mike Dunleavy, Nikola Mirotic, Taj Gibson rotating off the bench, and Aaron Brooks with Nazr Mohammed available for spot minutes. What worries me? Despite the depth, Rose and Gasol’s health are vital, especially the former. We’ve all heard that enough throughout the past few years for the former.
- Cleveland Cavaliers: We keep being force fed information about LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, so I’ll stray away from them. If Dion Waiters can take a step forward, Mike Miller stays healthy, and Anderson Varejao does the same, the Cavaliers should win the East. The biggest, underrated offseason move of the season? Cleveland getting Shawn Marion. He can provide some defense where Love and Irving don’t.
- Toronto Raptors: And here we hit the ridiculous amount of solid teams that East has relative to last year. But honestly, most of these teams aren’t making the playoffs in the West. Toronto boasts Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan and Jonas Valanciunas among a group of good role players.
- Washington Wizards: I could see any order happening from teams ranked 3-6, and then again from 7-12. The Wizards are here because they, and I’m going to make up a few words here, outgritted the grittiest team in basketball last year in the playoffs. Sure, it was a banged up Bulls team, but Nene and Gortat took it to Noah and Gibson. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce finish up a starting lineup that could make some noise.
- Miami Heat: Sure, the Heat lost the best player in the game to Cleveland. That doesn’t mean they’re going to fall as fast and hard as the Cavaliers did when they originally lost James. Wade, Bosh, Chalmers and Anderson all return to the squad. One of the best two-way players in the game in recent years, Luol Deng, joins them and so does Shannon Brown, Danny Granger and rookie Shabazz Napier. The Heat still have plenty of firepower to make an impact on the East.
- Charlotte Hornets: Outside of any of the Cavs’ moves, Lance Stephenson is the biggest name in the East to change homes this past offseason. Combined with Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller, the Hornets have their best team in the Michael Jordan ownership era. Don’t be shocked if you hear something along the lines of “Al Jefferson” and “MVP” at some point. He won’t win, but he could very well be mentioned if the Hornets get off to a blazing start.
- Brooklyn Nets: I have so many problems with the Nets. First of all, I said immediately that the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade was one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Secondly, remember when Deron Williams versus Chris Paul was actually a thing? Two more stars of yesterday are featured in this lineup: Joe Johnson and Andrei Kirilenko. Brook Lopez only managed to play in 17 games last year. This team has enough to make the playoffs, but not much more. They’ll be at the very bottom of the East in about two or three years.
- New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony received a ton of hatred last year, and in his whole career for that matter, for being lackadaisical, not winning playoff games and struggling defensively. From my perspective, very few played harder for their team – if you can call what is around ‘Melo a team. Phil Jackson’s influence should bring improvements across the board to get this team into the playoffs, and then next year the real rebuilding begins.
- Indiana Pacers: Lance Stephenson left, Paul George broke his leg and there isn’t a bigger head scratcher in the NBA than Roy Hibbert…literally. The core of this team that was supposed to dethrone the Heat is in shambles. It could still have enough to find a postseason berth, but it could also tank to a top pick.
- Detroit Pistons: This is where the East falls apart. It has no depth on outsiders looking in. The Pistons feature a front court of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith. It bothers me to this day that the Pistons shelled out so much cash for Smith, but fortunately, I’m not a fan of any Detroit sports. Brandon Jennings and Jodie Smith will head the backcourt, as the Pistons will make an effort at being swept in the first round of the playoffs. Stan Van Gundy will help matters some, but the current Pistons roster is like three different puzzles thrown into one box.The Rest
- Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks are here simply by default of making the playoffs last year, albeit finishing 38-44. There may not be a more boring team on paper in the NBA. Or on the court. Kyle Korver is fun to watch shoot threes. That’s it, we’re done here.
- Orlando Magic: Roy Devyn Marble will score 20 points per game and…oh, forget it. The Magic actually have one of my favorite underrated players in Nikola Vucevic. Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Even Fournier, Tobias Harris, Channing Frye, Mo Harkless and Seth Curry might be the biggest group of average players to ever grace a professional team.
- Boston Celtics: Just give it time and that trade off of Pierce and Garnett will look great. Unfortunately for Rajon Rondo, he has to play during that time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is in another uniform by the All-Star break. There is potential on this squad in Marcus Smart, Evan Turner, Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger, but that’s for down the line.
- Milwaukee Bucks: At least the Brewers didn’t have a complete meltdown and miss the playoffs after having a huge division lead or anything. Jabari Parker and O.J. Mayo are an interesting backcourt, but that’s about the extent of my interest in this team. It will take a few drafts for the Bucks to be back in the playoffs.
- Philadelphia 76ers: Outside of Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, name two players on this team right now. Try it. If you can, I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t be able to. Here is the rest of the roster: Michael Carter-Williams, K.J. McDaniels, Hollis Thompson, Henry Sims, Luc Mbah a Moute, Brandon Davies, Chris Johnson, Jerami Grant, Arnett Moultrie, Alexey Shved, Elliot Williams, Jason Richardson, Tony Wroten and Casper Ware. Yes, Jason Richardson is still in the league, apparently. And yes, the 76ers will have the worst team in the NBA.
Playoff Predictions and Awards
Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Bulls in six. The Bulls will have the better regular season record, but will continue to struggle to get past LeBron James. At this point, it’s going to put Chicago in a bind about how it can compete going forward. 2014-15 is the window for this Chicago squad. Cleveland will take a little bit of time to get all the kinks out, but should hit their stride come playoff time.
Western Conference Finals: Clippers over Mavericks. That’s right, no Spurs or Thunder in this matchup. The Mavericks will take out the Spurs in the second round, but run into a tougher matchup in the Doc Rivers-led Clippers. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and company continue taking positive steps on both ends of the court and get on a hot streak to finish the season.
NBA Finals: Clippers over Cavaliers. The “Jordan wouldn’t have lost,” arguments gain even more fuel as LeBron James reaches his fifth straight Finals. Cleveland will continue to be a threat however by adding a few role pieces and defensive additions in the next offseason to make what should be multiple consecutive deep playoff runs.
Coach of the Year: Rick Carlisle, Dallas. If the Mavericks are able to make a top four seed in the West, I can’t see anybody else staking a claim to this award.
Rookie of the Year: Doug McDermott, Chicago. The rookie will be getting a lot of shot attempts on a Chicago squad desperate for offense. If he does end up starting and Thibodeau continues to like his “swag,” as the coach said during the preseason, then he could out-perform Parker, Wiggins and company.
MVP: Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers. If Chris Paul plays a full schedule last year, his name is right up there with LeBron and Durant. With Durant’s injury, it’s going to be difficult for a repeat MVP performance, so it may come down to CP3, who averaged nearly 20 points to complement 10 assists per game, and James.
Defensive Player of the Year: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies. Once again, LeBron finishes second in this category. Gasol will be the best defensive player on the best defensive team.