2013-14 NBA season: A fearless forecast

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2013-14 NBA season: A fearless forecast

Plenty has happened since last season’s NBA Finals came to a dramatic conclusion.

With the 2013-14 campaign set to tip off, I take a look into my crystal ball and try to predict how things will shake out six months from now.

Let’s get down to business …

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division
Predicted winner: Brooklyn Nets
The Nets gave their franchise a complete makeover during the offseason. The additions of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry give Brooklyn an instant talent upgrade and championship pedigree. Mix that with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez and they should not only win the Atlantic but also seriously contend in the East. The only question will be how Jason Kidd handles his duties in his first season as a head coach.

The rest of the pack
2. New York Knicks
3. Toronto Raptors
4. Boston Celtics
5. Philadelphia 76ers

Central Division
Predicted winner: Chicago Bulls
The Bulls fell shy of winning the division title last year by less than a handful of games. Now they get former MVP Derrick Rose back and he has a United Center-sized chip on his shoulder after being criticized in NBA circles for sitting out all of last season while he recovered from a torn ACL. The key for the Bulls is health for Rose and the rest of his teammates. If they avoid the injury bug, the Bulls will reclaim the division from the Indiana Pacers.

The rest of the pack
2. Indiana Pacers
3. Detroit Pistons
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
5. Milwaukee Bucks

Southeast Division
Predicted winner: Miami Heat
The road to a three-peat for Miami will start with conquering the relatively weak Southeast Division. The Heat won the division last season by a whopping 22 games. While each team in the group tweaked its rosters for the better, they clearly aren’t in the same class with the reigning champs.

The rest of the pack
2. Washington Wizards
3. Atlanta Hawks
4. Charlotte Bobcats
5. Orlando Magic

Western Conference

Northwest Division
Predicted winner: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder may have lost some firepower, but they are still the class of this crop. Reggie Jackson proved in the playoffs that he can hold down the fort at point guard until Russell Westbrook returns from injury. While Kevin Martin’s departure will hurt in the scoring department, it won’t be enough for anyone to knock the Thunder off their perch in the Northwest.

The rest of the pack
2. Minnesota Timberwolves
3. Denver Nuggets
4. Portland Trail Blazers
5. Utah Jazz

Pacific Division
Predicted winner: Los Angeles Clippers
It’s not often that a team’s best offseason acquisition is its head coach, but that’s exactly the situation with the Clippers. Doc Rivers brings his championship past and toughness to a supremely talented Clippers roster. Bringing in veterans Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Antawn Jamison and J.J. Redick provides plenty of depth to the reigning Pacific Division champs.

The rest of the pack
2. Golden State Warriors
3. Los Angeles Lakers
4. Sacramento Kings
5. Phoenix Suns

Southwest Division
Predicted winner: San Antonio Spurs
Pick against the Spurs at your own risk. Time and again, they have proven the naysayers wrong. I have no doubt that Gregg Popovich’s crew will come back strong from that heartbreaking Finals loss. Look for Kawhi Leonard to take a more prominent role in helping the Spurs stay atop the league’s deepest division.

The rest of the pack
2. Houston Rockets
3. Memphis Grizzlies
4. Dallas Mavericks
5. New Orleans Pelicans

Who’s in the NBA Finals: Signs point to a rematch of last year’s epic Finals, but in the end I believe the two most talented teams will square off for the Larry O’Brien trophy: Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Clippers.

The Heat definitely will be challenged in the top-heavy East. However, they still have the league’s best player in LeBron James and the desire to be mentioned with great NBA teams of the past with a three-peat.

On the other side, the Clippers have had a roster built for success over the past few seasons but apparently needed the right coach to bring it out of them. In walks Rivers, who will teach them how to take that critical next step from being really good to great.

In a heavyweight matchup, I feel the Heat will do all the little things to walk away with a third straight championship.

Now, let’s get to the real fun by predicting some things to keep an eye out for this season and who will take home the individual hardware.

Awards

Team awards

Team on the rise
Predicted winner: Golden State Warriors
Last year’s introduction to the postseason party was just the beginning. The Warriors have the potent offensive attack with the Splash Brothers -- Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson -- and on the low block with David Lee. Adding Andre Iguodala will only help, as the veteran forward will slide right into his natural role of playmaker and defensive force.

Team on the decline
Predicted winner: Denver Nuggets
Don’t count on the Nuggets repeating their 57-win success from last year. Don’t believe me? That’s fine, but what if one of their own players says it won’t happen? “Nah, you know that won’t happen again,” point guard Andre Miller said at the Las Vegas summer league this offseason. Miller’s right. With George Karl replaced, Iguodala in Oakland and Danilo Gallinari still recovering from an ACL tear, the Nuggets could be in for a step backward.

Biggest surprise
Predicted winner: Washington Wizards
The Wizards are big, skilled and hungry. That’s a solid mix for a team looking to get back to the postseason. Last week’s trade for Marcin Gortat only makes them more dangerous and John Wall is due to finally have his breakout season.

Biggest disappointment
Predicted winner: Indiana Pacers
It’s hard to pick a team that just took the eventual champion Heat to Game 7 in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals to experience a dropoff, but that’s exactly what I envision happening for the Pacers. The top half of the East will be as tough as ever. Plus, Danny Granger’s insertion back into the mix will throw things off, especially with his health in flux (he is already scheduled to miss the first three weeks of the season with a strained calf after sitting out the bulk of last year with a knee injury.)

Individual awards

Rookie of the year
Predicted winner: Victor Oladipo
The Orlando Magic guard proved he could get better each season during his time at Indiana. I don’t expect that to stop in the pros. His defense will be what sets him apart from other the league’s other top rookies.

Most improved player of the year
Predicted winner: Eric Bledsoe
Sometimes all you need is an opportunity. Stuck behind Chris Paul with the Clippers, Bledsoe will finally have the stage to himself with the rebuilding Phoenix Suns.

Defensive player of the year
Predicted winner: Dwight Howard
Houston’s new big man will give a team that ranked 28th in opponents’ points per game a boost. The Rockets’ up-tempo style of play can create easy paths to the basket at times, but Howard’s career 2.2 blocks per game average should deter some of those trips through the lane.

Sixth man of the year
Predicted winner:
Tyreke Evans
Take a player that was forced to try and have a well-rounded game as a starter and move him to the bench with his sole focus being on scoring. Enter, Tyreke Evans. No longer responsible for setting things up on offense for those dreadful Sacramento Kings teams, Evans will be asked to score and score in bunches as the New Orleans Pelicans’ top man off the bench.

Coach of the year
Predicted winner: Doc Rivers
I guess if I tabbed him to take the Clippers to the Finals, he has to be my pick for COY.

Most valuable player
Well, Rose is back and could be better than ever. … Paul will only raise his game in Rivers’ system. … It’s only a matter of time before Kevin Durant breaks through. Stop. Until proven otherwise, James is the game’s best player and it shows on a nightly basis. It all comes down to whether there will be voter fatigue for a player who has won four of the last five MVP trophies.

Well, what do you think? Am I right? Am I way off base? Let your feelings and personal predictions known in the comments.

Sixers free-agent fits: Point guards

Sixers free-agent fits: Point guards

Over the course of this week, we will look at the Sixers' free-agent possibilites at each position. First up is point guard.

Sixers point guards for 2016-17
T.J. McConnell (non-guaranteed, $874,636)

Kendall Marshall (non-guaranteed, $2,048,257)

Current PG situation
The Sixers' biggest hole is at the point guard spot. Brett Brown has deemed this position the most important on the court, yet it has been the most changing. 

Last season, the Sixers did not establish a consistent starting point guard until they re-acquired Ish Smith in December. Smith wasn't brought in as the long-term point guard of the future, though. He is an unrestricted free agent again this summer and should receive interest from other teams after a solid season stepping into the starting role. 

There are several young point guards on the market, but the Sixers would benefit the most from bringing in someone with veteran experience to be a leader on the court. While incoming rookie Ben Simmons can play point-forward, the team plans to start him off at the four spot and let him learn the NBA first before assigning him ball-handling duties. With that in mind, a good free-agent fit would be able to play off the ball when Simmons does run the floor. 

Of the current players, McConnell has developed into a backup option after emerging as the sleeper of last season's team. The Sixers would be getting a bargain with his contract value (see below). The sparingly-utilized Marshall has a non-guaranteed deal at just over $2 million for next season and the team could get more return spending that money elsewhere. 

Reach free agent
Mike Conley (unrestricted)

Even in spite of his injuries, Conley is the best point guard available in free agency. He averaged 15.3 points, 6.1 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.5 turnovers for the Grizzlies last season. Conley has a high basketball IQ and is playoff-tested. He will garner big money on the market, and the Sixers are not necessarily looking to break the bank this summer to fill the role. Conley could stay with the Grizzlies, who put together a Justin Timberlake-led video to express their interest in keeping him. He will turn 29 in October. 

Possible fits
Matthew Dellavedova (restricted, $1,434,095 qualifying offer)
Could there be another Australian on the Sixers next season? Brown, who coached there, is a fan of Dellavedova's game. Dellavedova, 25, averaged 7.5 points, 4.4 assists and 2.1 rebounds for the championship-winning Cavaliers. Dellavedova could have double value to the Sixers: he could run the floor and give Simmons a sense of familiarity being from Australia. 

Jeremy Lin (unrestricted)
Lin was a backup for the Hornets last season and could earn a paycheck this summer as a starter. He would like to find a long-term team, which may not fit into the Sixers' plans for the future. Lin, though, does have six years of experience and averaged 11.7 points, 3.0 assists and 3.2 rebounds mostly off the bench for the Hornets. 

Greivis Vasquez (unrestricted)
Vasquez's sixth season was cut short after only 23 games because of foot surgery last December. Coming off of injury, could he be available at a discount? When healthy, he is a high-energy ball handler. Vasquez averaged 5.7 points, 4.0 assists and 2.0 rebounds per game last season. 

Ben Simmons favorite to win Rookie of Year, Joel Embiid not far behind

Ben Simmons favorite to win Rookie of Year, Joel Embiid not far behind

Last week, the Sixers used the No. 1 overall pick to take Ben Simmons out of LSU. 

This week, Simmons is the favorite to be the NBA's Rookie of the Year in 2017, according to Bovada

Simmons, 6-10, 242 pounds, beat out Buddy Hield (11/2), Brandon Ingram (13/2), Kris Dunn (15/2) and Jamal Murray and Denzel Valentine (both 12/1) among the top six. 

Right after them? Joel Embiid. Embiid was the Sixers' third overall pick in 2014, but foot injuries haven't allowed him to play in either of his first two NBA seasons. Now 22, Embiid's odds to become Rookie of the Year are 14/1. 

The last Sixer to win Rookie of the Year was Michael Carter-Williams in 2013-14. He was the last since Allen Iverson in 1996-97. 

Here are this year's full Rookie of the Year odds from Bovada:  

Ben Simmons (PHI)

13/4

Buddy Hield (NO)

11/2

Brandon Ingram (LAL)  

13/2

Kris Dunn (MIN)    

15/2

Jamal Murray (DEN) 

12/1

Denzel Valentine (CHI) 

12/1

Joel Embiid (PHI) 

14/1

Wade Baldwin (MEM)

16/1

Marquese Chriss (PHO) 

16/1

Thon Maker (MIL)     

16/1

Taurean Prince (ATL)      

16/1

Dragan Bender (PHO)    

20/1

Jaylen Brown (BOS)

20/1

Brice Johnson (LAC)   

20/1

Caris LeVert (BKN)   

20/1

Malachi Richardson 

20/1

Jakob Poeltl (TOR)    

25/1

Domantas Sabonis (OKC) 

28/1

 

Cousin of Sixers' Ben Simmons killed in hit-and-run accident Saturday

Cousin of Sixers' Ben Simmons killed in hit-and-run accident Saturday

The cousin of Sixers No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons was killed in a hit-and-run accident early Saturday morning.

Zachary Simmons, 21, was struck by a black SUV around 3:30 a.m., CBS New York initially reported. Ben Simmons confirmed the death of his cousin on Twitter.

Zachary Simmons' mother, Monique Steel, said she was told by police that the driver was going at least 70 miles an hour. She also told CBS2 in New York that her son was out Friday for a friend's birthday and was celebrating the night before with his first cousin, Ben, following the NBA draft.

Investigators are analyzing pieces of the SUV and checking surveillance video in attempt to find the driver.

Ben Simmons, a native of Australia, has roots in New York where his father Dave was born.