Then the draft happened, and big men went in more or less the same ratio they usually go, perhaps because none of the guards looked like an absolute replica for Stephen Curry. Besides, if your rookie big isn't a world beater, he's still in the league. Guards that don't excel are utterly worthless, and are usually drafted by the Kings.
What will happen this year? Well, stars will try to avoid burning themselves out during the first 82 games, but as last year's Thunder team showed, that strategy isn't always wise. Everyone will try to pretend that the lEast matters, when it really doesn't. Some team will replicate the Raptors or Hawks strategy of winning a lot of games with a fully competent team, then get rolled by Star Power. Two second round picks will be good, giving eternal hope to the lie that those picks are anything but a complete crap shoot. And LeBron James will coast to the Finals, because the rest of the lEast could probably put together an All-Star Team and still lose to the man, because he's actually (shh!) the best basketball player in the modern era. (I have no idea how you'd compare him to Wilt and Russell, given that the '60s were an inflated era of pace, but the plain and simple is that in the past 30 years, it's either Jordan or James, and I'll take the guy who keeps getting to the Finals with freaking Boobie Gibson, Chris Anderson and Matthew Dellavedova.)
Anyway... on to the predictions!
14) New York
Chicago will spend much of the year giggling over how much fun they are having without Tom Thibodeau, and they are due for a solid half of a season of mild health from Derrick Rose before he shatters in the breeze. Cleveland will derp around for the first 30 games, then get scary when Kyrie Irving returns. Miami could be beastly, but they need health from Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside, and both are unlikely. DC looks really good with Nene going to the bench, and a healthy Bradley Beal should kick them up a gear, but John Wall is in his 7th year already, and this may be all there is.
On the road side of the playoff draw, Atlanta can't have as good of a year as last year, with Kyle Korver being the absolute poster child for regression. They'll also miss DeMarre Carroll, and Dennis Schroeder may not be willing to stay pine-bound for Jeff Teague for too much longer. Toronto is the best of the worst division in NBA history for three years running, and it matters not at all. Milwaukee needs Jabari Parker to come back stronger and better, and Year Two of Jason Kidd tends to grate, but the Greek Freak will erase many mistakes. Orlando is my pick to surprise, as I think the backcourt will develop, and at some point, Tobias Harris has to stop being under the radar and just actually emerge.
Outside of the dance is Boston, the eternal trying too hard tankers, and we're all just praying they somehow bone the billion picks they've got in the next few years, because the last thing the world needs is another reason for Boston Fan to be happy. Charlotte is built to hang just outside of the playoffs, because Jordan might be the worst GM since Zeke Thomas, while Detroit is actually going to be frisky, but won't shoot it well enough to avoid a lot of close but not quite losses. Indiana deserves points for originality in shoehorning Paul George into the 4 spot, but Monta Ellis is the definition of empty calories. I'm an eternal idiot optimist about my Sixers, who actually might get top-shelf work out of Nerlens Noel and Robert Covington, and aren't *that* far away from being a frisky 30-win team. Bringing up the rear is the abomination that is New York, where no one can play the game, understand modern analytics, or stay healthy. Burn it to the ground.
In the playoffs -- oh, it's Cleveland, it's always Cleveland. It doesn't really matter who they beat, does it?
2) Oklahoma City
3) Golden State
4) LA Clippers
5) San Antonio
7) New Orleans
12) LA Lakers
The Rockets are absolutely going to love Ty Lawson, assuming he's (a) sober and (b) not getting posted up in the playoffs. At that time, the pace of the game is going to make them give too much time to Patrick Beverly, but the bigs are too solid, and less of James Harden will actually make for much better James Harden, and much better James Harden might be illegal. I like the Thunder to stomp the earth a lot this year, but it's unlikely that they'll stay healthy enough to take the top spot. Golden State is due for some regression and injury issues, and losing coach Steve Kerr to back surgery at the start of the year will also cause issues, but if they are playing their best ball in April, no one will care. It also doesn't take much to slip from the top spot in the West, because the top teams in the West are absurdly good. The Clips have to get more from their bench this year, and I think this is the last great year of Chris Paul's career, which just might be enough to break through in the murderous West... but probably isn't. Look for Paul to get even dirtier as he enters the Wrestling Heel portion of his career, aka where Wade has been for the last five years.
On the bottom half of the playoff draw, the Spurs will do what they do; ration minutes, figure out how to fit new pieces, and be utterly terrifying in the spring. The only question is whether they can get good enough play from their point guards. Memphis might be too high here, but I always underestimate these guys, and they can ugly up teams like nobody's business. New Orleans has the guy (Anthony Davis) who will get the MVP while James takes time off because he can, but the team is slowly becoming more than him, with guys like Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon prone to grow. Utah in the 8th spot is a stab, but they can defend like mad and have a great court advantage, and I just like their chemistry. They'll miss Dante Exum, but not enough to miss getting four games of experience in the first round.
Outside but competitive will be Portland (just too much lost for Damian Lilliard to overcome), Phoenix (they kept the right Morris Brother, but they need five years ago Tyson Chandler, not right now Tyson Chandler), and Dallas (the latest team to be let down by Deron Williams). Outside and not nearly competitive enough will be the Lake Show (a tough transition from Final Kobe to D'Angelo Russell and Julian Randle, with way too much dinosaur thug time for Roy Hibbert and Metta World Peace), Denver (who will try to volume force Danilo Gallinari into All-Start status and fail), Minnesota (on the rise, but ye gads, Ricky Rubio Can't Shoot At All, and Karl-Anthony Towns isn't ready on offense yet, either), and Sacramento (George Karl's Waterloo, and probably the most entertaining train wreck in the league, because the Knicks being a train wreck is all the damned time, and the Lakers will just play kids and have fun after February).
Playoffs? I want as many games as possible, and dream of a Thunder-Dubs Conference Finals, but honestly, it's hard to hate on any of the top five teams. I'll give it to the Thunder, because a motivated Kevin Durant is nearly as terrifying as a motivated Russell Westbrook, and I can't help but think that they'll get a boost from having an actual coach this time around. But honestly, the Dubs just might repeat. It's not like they are old. (Also, the Thunder could have had three of the best six players in the NBA this year, had they just done everything to keep Harden. Ye Gads.)
First Team All-NBA: James, Curry, Davis, Harden and Durant.
Second Team: Westbrook, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin.
Third Team: Marc Gasol, Chris Bosh, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LaMarcus Aldridge and Klay Thompson.
Rookie of the Year: Jahlil Okafor
Defensive Player of the Year: Joakim Noah
Sixth Man: Andre Iguodala
Coach of the Year: Fred Hoiberg
Champions: Cavaliers. (James can't lose it every year, can he?)
Games start tomorrow. Game on!