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.

NBA Notes: City officials declare Kobe Bryant Day in Los Angeles

NBA Notes: City officials declare Kobe Bryant Day in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES -- Lakers fans packed Los Angeles City Hall chambers to witness the mayor and other officials declare Kobe Bryant Day in honor of the retired NBA superstar.

Councilman Jose Huizar said Wednesday's declaration is the city's way of thanking Bryant for his excellence on the court and philanthropic efforts across Los Angeles.

Bryant attended with his pregnant wife and their two daughters. He called the experience "surreal" and jokingly said someone would have to explain to his unborn daughter why "daddy has a day named for him."

Fans cheered and chanted Bryant's name as he was presented a framed proclamation by Mayor Eric Garcetti and council President Herb Wesson.

Bryant played his entire 20-season career with the Lakers, leading them to five NBA championships.

Lakers: No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram, vet Yi Jianlian signed
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers have signed top draft pick Brandon Ingram and Chinese NBA veteran Yi Jianlian and re-signed center Tarik Black.

Ingram was the No. 2 overall pick in this summer's draft. The Duke product's rookie contract is expected to be worth more than $23 million over four years.

The 28-year-old Yi hasn't played in the NBA since 2011-12 with Dallas. The former No. 6 overall draft pick by Milwaukee spent five seasons in the NBA, averaging a career-best 12.0 points and 7.2 rebounds for New Jersey in 2009-10.

Yi spent the past four seasons with the Chinese Basketball Association's Guangdong Southern Tigers. He is an eight-time MVP of the CBA, winning four championships.

The 6-foot-11 Yi averaged 20.4 points per game for China at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Black has averaged 5.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in two seasons with the Lakers.

Timberwolves: Towns chosen as face of 2K mobile app
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns has been tabbed to be the face of 2K's mobile companion application to NBA 2K17 video game, which is set to launch on Sept. 8.

The reigning rookie of the year will be the icon cover athlete for MyNBA2K17, the latest in a series of high-profile endorsements for Towns. The NBA 2K franchise has been the No. 1 selling NBA video game for the last eight years.

"I've been a dedicated NBA 2K fan since I was young, and being selected as the face of MyNBA2K17 is an incredible milestone this early in my career," Towns said on Wednesday. "Playing MyNBA2K and NBA2K is an essential part of my offseason and keeps me grounded during the season with all my travel. I love that I will have the opportunity to connect further with my fans through MyNBA2K17."

The free app connects players to the NBA 2K17 console game and includes facial scanning technology. That allows fans to design players for the game on Xbox One or PlayStation 4 using their own facial features. The app also allows users to watch 2KTV on their mobile devices and play quick games and season tournaments against users around the world.

Towns also has deals with Nike and Samsung among others and made a guest appearance on the Disney television show "Gamer's Guide to Pretty Much Everything" this summer.

On the court, he is teaming with Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn to try to end the Timberwolves' 12-year playoff drought.

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' opening night roster

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' opening night roster

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com Sixers insider Jessica Camerato, CSNPhilly.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton, and CSNPhilly.com producer/reporter Paul Hudrick.

This week, we'll take a stab at the Sixers' opening night roster.

Camerato
The Sixers' roster is overloaded as it stands in late August. Decisions and moves will have to be made by opening night to narrow down and balance out the roster. Let’s break down the potential opening night outlook (15 players, active and inactive) as the team is today. Of course, the roster could look completely different if the Sixers were to make a trade to clear up their logjam of bigs in the frontcourt. 

There are toss-up scenarios with overlaps. First off, Richaun Holmes and Carl Landry, the second-year player and the veteran. They fill similar needs and often were alternated on the court. Landry’s experience gives him the edge on the active roster with Holmes beginning on the inactive list. 

What was once a position of need is now one of abundance. The Sixers signed two true point guards this offseason in Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez. Ben Simmons plays point-forward and will assume floor general responsibilities during the season. Even if he is not slotted into the one-spot specifically, Simmons often will be running the court. This could leave T.J. McConnell as the odd man out. The undrafted McConnell was the underdog story of last season. He earned his minutes by grinding it out on each possession and garnered high praise from Brown, who frequently referred to him as a “marine.” The Sixers' needs are different this season at the point guard position, though, with backcourt versatility highly valued. During summer league, Brown said, “We’ve got Sergio and T.J. as who you’d stamp off on and say that’s a true point guard.” Out of the two, Rodriguez has the edge over McConnell. 

Point guard Kendall Marshall’s contract is non-guaranteed for next season ($2.04 million). Given his lack of playing time last season and the additions at his position, it seems unlikely he will be back with the Sixers. 

Shawn Long, Brandon Paul and James Webb III participated in the Sixers' summer league and signed non-guaranteed deals. They are fits for the Sixers' NBA Development League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers.

Active
Jerryd Bayless, PG/SG
Robert Covington, G/F
Joel Embiid, F/C
Jerami Grant, F
Gerald Henderson, G/F
Carl Landry, PF
Nerlens Noel, F/C
Jahlil Okafor, F/C
Sergio Rodriguez, PG
Dario Saric, F
Ben Simmons, F
Nik Stauskas, SG

Inactive
Hollis Thompson, SG
Richaun Holmes, F/C
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, G/F

 

Haughton
For the first time during his tenure as Sixers head coach, Brown will make roster decisions primarily based on ability instead of injuries, reaching the salary cap floor, etc.

With that being said, there should be only a couple tough decisions to make regarding the final 15 that make the team.

Point guard slots will go to Bayless, Rodriguez and McConnell. Marshall's status remains up in the air. However, the Sixers signed Bayless and Rodriguez as free agents for a reason and McConnell has again proven worthy of a spot.

The wing is where things start to get a little interesting. Covington and Grant are locks at small forward, but there will be five shooting guards in camp battling it out. Henderson certainly gets a nod after the Sixers went after him in free agency. I also believe that Stauskas will get another season to prove his worth. That leaves Thompson, Luwawu-Cabarrot and Paul. I believe Thompson, with his ability as a spot-up shooter on a team stacked with big men, will get an opportunity to stay for the final year of his contract. First-round pick Luwawu-Cabarrot will also get a spot and spend the season developing in the D-League, while Paul will be shown the door.

The Sixers know they have a loaded frontcourt, but that also means they understand not everyone can stick around. No. 1 overall pick Simmons, Saric, Noel, Okafor and Embiid are no-brainers for the final roster. The final spot all comes down to how the Sixers feel about their leadership. If they think new veterans Bayless, Henderson and Rodriguez can handle the job, then Holmes gets to stick around. If not, then Landry will return to give the young bigs a seasoned vet to lean on. In the end, Landry should get the call. Holmes is a nice find as a second-rounder, but with the potential star power on the Sixers' frontline, he would just be wasting away on the bench with no real potential of significant playing time.

Active
Jerryd Bayless, PG/SG
Robert Covington, G/F
Joel Embiid, F/C
Jerami Grant, F
Gerald Henderson, G/F
T.J. McConnell, PG
Nerlens Noel, F/C
Jahlil Okafor, F/C
Sergio Rodriguez, PG
Dario Saric, F
Ben Simmons, F
Nik Stauskas, SG

Inactive
Hollis Thompson, SG 
Carl Landry, PF 
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, G/F

 

Hudrick
If Stauskas can ever figure out how to make his shot fall consistently in NBA games, he'd be an excellent fit on this team. That's the skill that can separate him from the other guards on the roster. If he can't, then his minutes will slip. The Sixers have legitimate NBA players in their frontcourt with the free-agent additions of Bayless, Henderson and Rodriguez. Stauskas will have to perform or take a seat.

I don't think Thompson makes the club this year. Thompson can shoot the basketball, a skill this team certainly lacks. But Thompson often looks lost on defense and isn't a great ball handler. Not that Stauskas will be making any All-Defensive teams any time soon, but Stauskas' contract is guaranteed for $3 million. Thompson's is just a shade over $1 million. Brown may like Thompson, but he also likes Stauskas, at one point comparing him to Manu Ginobli (he said it, not me). Thompson is the odd man out.

Holmes misses out simply because of the numbers. He'll get a ton of minutes with the 87ers down in the D-League. Sure, Holmes is another big man, but I'd hold on to him. If the Sixers move a big (or two) having a player like Holmes in the system could come in handy. I also like his ability to play in an uptempo style, running the floor and hitting the occasional jumper.

I can't see a scenario where the Sixers don't keep McConnell in some capacity. Bryan Colangeo has said he'll utilize the D-League more than the team has in years past. Think of it like baseball: McConnell is a depth point guard in the "minors," ready to join the big club in case of injury while still getting valuable playing time in Delaware.

For the record, I'm saddened that I can't add Luwawu-Cabarrot to the active roster, but we have to be realistic. I thought he showed chemistry with Simmons in summer league action, moving well without the ball and hitting the occasional spot-up three, but he needs the minutes in the D-League.

Active
Jerryd Bayless, PG/SG
Robert Covington, G/F
Joel Embiid, PF/C
Jerami Grant, F
Gerald Henderson, G/F
Carl Landry, PF
Nerlens Noel, PF/C
Jahlil Okafor, PF/C
Sergio Rodriguez, PG
Dario Saric, F
Ben Simmons, F
Nik Stauskas, SG

Inactive
T.J. McConnell, PG
Richaun Holmes, PF/C
Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot, G/F (begrudgingly)

NBA Notes: Kobe Bryant starts $100 million investment fund

NBA Notes: Kobe Bryant starts $100 million investment fund

NEW YORK -- Retired NBA star Kobe Bryant is moving to Wall Street, announcing the formation of a $100 million venture capital fund to invest in media, technology and data companies.

The fund, known as Bryant Stibel, is being co-managed by investor Jeff Stibel. The two met through mutual friends, Stibel said.

Bryant Stibel has already made investments in 15 companies, including LegalZoom and home juicing company Juicero, according to their website. The firm was founded in 2013, but is going public now with the retirement of Bryant from the Lakers.

Stibel said the firm is focused on companies at all stages of growth.

"We are actively looking for great entrepreneurs, but we are in no hurry to deploy capital," he said.

Bryant earned roughly $680 million in salary and endorsements during his 18-year NBA career, according to Forbes, and has been in the process of transition from professional athlete to businessman. Bryant created a company in 2014 called Kobe Inc. to help handle his image.

Timberwolves: Rubio ready to mentor Dunn
RIO DE JANEIRO -- When Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden were hired to take over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the expectation within in the organization and around the NBA was that they were coming in to make significant changes to a franchise with the longest-running playoff drought in the league.

Ricky Rubio heard his name floated in the constant trade rumor mill, never more than after the Wolves selected Providence's Kris Dunn, another point guard, with the fifth overall pick in the June draft.

Rubio remained quiet throughout the summer, putting all of his focus into grieving the loss of his mother and then joining his national team to prepare for the Olympics. Now that the Rio Games have concluded and Rubio has earned a bronze medal with Spain, he said he is looking forward to returning to Minnesota to work with Dunn and reiterated his desire to remain with the Timberwolves and help turn them into a winner.

"Really it's a challenge. When a young guy like him who has a lot of potential comes, I think we can really play together," Rubio told The Associated Press. "But if we don't (share the floor often), I can really help him" (see full story).

Bucks: Team signs veteran guard Jason Terry
MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Bucks have signed free agent guard Jason Terry.

The team announced the signing Monday. Terms were not disclosed.

Bucks general manager John Hammond calls the 38-year-old Terry "a true professional who understands what it takes to be successful" in the NBA.

The 17-year NBA veteran spent the last two seasons with Houston. Terry played in 72 games, including seven starts, with the Rockets last season, averaging 5.9 points, 1.4 assists and 1.1 rebounds in 17.5 minutes per game.

The 6-foot-2 guard was selected by Atlanta with the 10th overall pick in the 1999 draft and spent the first five seasons of his career with the Hawks.

Terry then played eight seasons with Dallas, including the Mavericks' 2011 NBA Championship team. He also has played for Boston and Brooklyn.

USA: Transition time for U.S. national team
RIO DE JANEIRO -- Mike Krzyzewski is heading out, Gregg Popovich is coming in and maybe LeBron James would even come back.

It's a time of transition for both the U.S. Olympic team and international basketball and it starts, as usual, with the Americans on top.

The U.S. won its third straight gold medal Sunday, beating Serbia 96-66 in the final game for Krzyzewski, who led the program for a decade and became the first coach to win three Olympic gold medals. He also guided the Americans to a pair of world championships, an 88-1 record and from the bottom back to the top.

"It's been a joy," Krzyzewski said. "I've been so lucky to have been given this opportunity."

Now it goes to Popovich, the other coach Jerry Colangelo considered before choosing Krzyzewski after taking control of USA Basketball in 2005. Like Krzyzewski, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Popovich is a military man who attended the Air Force Academy and has built one of sports' most successful organizations while winning five championships with the San Antonio Spurs.

Krzyzewski has used the military as an inspiration for USA Basketball, referring to playing for the team as service and sacrifice, and Popovich should be an ideal choice to continue that relationship.

"You have the best guy in the world who's going to coach the team now and that says a lot for the program that's been developed," Krzyzewski said (see full story).