(Photo: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
It’s no secret that Lebron James is looking for a change of scenery this summer. Lebron has a strenuous relationship with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. It’s rumored that he has been touring prep schools in Los Angeles and Philadelphia for his kids to attend. While the Sixers and the Lakers would be great destinations for the King, I’ve been wondering where the best place for Lebron to go would be.
Alright, the season is finally starting up (officially) in just over a week, and I cannot wait. It’s been probably the most entertaining offseason ever, and hopefully that translates over to the regular season. We’ll be looking at the over/under’s on Bovada, the standings in each division and my playoff picks.
- Boston Celtics 55.5 (over)
- Toronto Raptors 48.5 (under)
- Philadelphia Sixers 41.5 (under)
- New York Knicks 30.5 (over)
- Brooklyn Nets 27.5 (over)
- Cleveland Cavaliers 53.5 (over)
- Milwaukee Bucks 47.5 (over)
- Detroit Pistons 38.5 (under)
- Indiana Pacers 31.5 (over)
- Chicago Bulls 22 (under)
- Washington Wizards 48 (over)
- Charlotte Hornets 42.5 (over)
- Miami Heat 43.5 (over)
- Orlando Magic 33.5 (under)
- Atlanta Hawks 25.5 (under)
- Oklahoma City Thunder 50.5 (over)
- Denver Nuggets 45.5 (over)
- Minnesota Timberwolves 48.5 (under)
- Utah Jazz 41 (over)
- Portland Trailblazers 42.5 (under)
- Golden State Warriors 67.5 (over)
- Los Angeles Clippers 43.5 (over)
- Los Angeles Lakers 33.5 (over)
- Sacramento Kings 27.5 (over)
- Phoenix Suns 29 (under)
- Houston Rockets 55.5 (over)
- San Antonio Spurs 54.5 (under)
- Memphis Grizzlies 37.5 (under)
- New Orleans Pelicans 39.5 (under)
- Dallas Mavericks 35.5 (under)
Eastern Conference Playoffs
- Boston Celtics
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Washington Wizards
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Toronto Raptors
- Charlotte Hornets
- Miami Heat
- Philadelphia Sixers
Western Conference Playoffs
- Golden State Warriors
- Houston Rockets
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- San Antonio Spurs
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Denver Nuggets
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Utah Jazz
This is my picks for the All-NBA First, Second and Third Teams, the All-Rookie First and Second Teams, and the All-Defensive First and Second Team. Check it out:
All-NBA First Team
BC: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
BC: James Harden, Houston Rockets
FC: Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
FC: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
FC: Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
All-NBA Second Team
BC: John Wall, Washington Wizards
BC: Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
FC: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
FC: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
FC: Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
All-NBA Third Team
BC: Chris Paul, Houston Rockets
BC: Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
FC: Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves
FC: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
FC: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
All-Rookie First Team
BC: Dennis Smith, Jr., Dallas Mavericks
BC: Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers
FC: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia Sixers
FC: Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns
FC: John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
All-Rookie Second Team
BC: Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia Sixers
BC: De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
FC: Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
FC: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
FC: Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls
All-Defensive First Team
BC: Patrick Beverly, Los Angeles Clippers
BC: Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs
FC: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
FC: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
FC: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
All-Defensive Second Team
BC: Avery Bradley, Detroit Pistons
BC: Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder
FC: Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves
FC: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
FC: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
It has been one hell of a week for the University of Louisville. Head basketball coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich were both put on administrative leave this week following reports from the FBI that most recent signee Brian Bowen had received improper benefits from Adidas, the schools athletic apparel sponsor.
First things first: Pitino and Jurich both deserve to lose their jobs and if you think otherwise, you’re delusional. They are both some of the dirtiest characters in college athletics and have finally been outed for it. Good riddance to both. Which leads me to my second point: this situation could have been avoided (or at least lessened) by paying college athletes. It’s a disgrace that the NCAA is still a middleman to all this and I hope this will be a catalyst toward getting these athletes paid.
Something that Louisville fans may not be thinking about, or fans in general, is that this latest scandal raises questions about the legitimacy of the past 20 years of Louisville athletics. It’s pretty clear at this point, given his handling of the situation, that Jurich is not running his programs in a way that is acceptable by NCAA standards and when you look at the entire athletic department, some questions that should have been asked before now become more glaring. How does a university like Louisville develop all it’s sports into top 25 programs in under 20 years? The statistics counter Jurich hiring outstanding coaches in every sport, especially to a midwest city like Louisville. But let’s pretend he was able to lure all these coaches above the board. One is Pitino and another is Bobby Petrino, so you’re not off to a great start character wise. And maybe Dan McDonald is the Nick Saban of college baseball, but how is it that the biggest programs in college baseball are essentially the teams from California, the teams from Texas, the teams from the south, and then Louisville. Maybe McDonald is that persuasive, but I’d rather play in one of those other places for a variety of reasons. Women’s basketball came out of nowhere when it hired Jeff Walz in 2007, who had been a lifetime assistant. Again, maybe Walz is THAT DUDE. But you’re now talking about a university essentially lucking into TWO top 3 coaches in two separate sports, and neither of those sports is basketball, which your university was built on. This is obviously all speculation on my part, but I have serious questions about how some of this stuff got done.
Now, getting out of the politics of it, where does (and should) the university go from here? You have a top-10 program who was about to go into the season expecting a run at a title now facing the likely possibility of receiving the death penalty. They are looking for a coach for this season, because they will still compete this year despite the FBI and NCAA looking into everything. I think there is almost no chance, given the Katina Powell situation earlier this year coming to a close, that Louisville avoids the death penalty. So, what should Louisville be hoping for?
Honestly, I think at this point, the death penalty would be the best case scenario for the basketball program. To be clear, this would destroy a lot of money coming into the university and the city, but last time I checked, the FBI doesn’t care about your cities economics. But, in terms of the program itself, you need a reboot. Louisville is a top 7 all-time basketball program, with a storied history and a big following. I believe that if you don’t clean house completely and sit it out a few years, you will forever have a cloud over the program. The new coach will have an absolute disaster of a mess to clean up, plus the NCAA penalty will be so harsh, it will feel like a death penalty while still being able to play the game. It’s college purgatory and will set the program back much farther than it already is.
So let’s paint a much prettier picture. It’s 2023. Louisville got the death penalty. All the players on the roster, who may or may not have received benefits as well, are all gone. The entire coaching staff, gone. Assistants, secretaries, everybody is gone. You have a new athletic director, one who is going to build it right. He’s already run Petrino out of town, because at this point the university can’t afford to take anymore PR hits, and because Petrino isn’t as good a coach as he was. He’s already hired a young upstart for the football team (Jeff Brohm?) and now, he’s looking for the same for the basketball program. David Padgett did an admirable job for the 2017-18 season, the team made the tournament as a six seed and got beat in the second round. He was playing against a stacked hand. The new AD goes to hire another young guy as the basketball coach, one without any direct coaching ties to Pitino (Bashir Mason, Matt McCall, Will Wade?) and he is given a 7 year contract. Plenty of time to build it his way and evaluate as they go. Louisville has been scrubbed clean of all the dirt it accumulated and the reputation has been (somewhat) restored. I like that picture a whole lot better than letting Padgett flounder for a few years trying to salvage a burning ship. He may stop the fire, but the ship needs some major work before it’s operational.
We’re just about a month away from the start of the season, so we’re going to start looking at some of the bigger picture stuff to get you through the last bit of the offseason. We’re starting with a look at the top 10 players at each position. These are in order based on what I project for the upcoming season, not a projection on how good anyone will be beyond that, or a claim on past abilities. So, let’s get into it!
Top 10 Point Guards
- Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
- Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
- John Wall, Washington Wizards
- Chris Paul, Houston Rockets
- Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
- Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
- Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers
- Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
- Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
- Isaiah Thomas, Cleveland Cavaliers
I gave a slight nod to Westbrook this season because I think Steph won’t have to consistently be on his A game, especially given that the Warriors are completely comfortable with each other now. I think we’ll see a lot of the starters sitting in fourth quarters again, and Westbrook, with the addition of Paul George, will be gunning for a top 4 seed in the West. The only other thing I’d like to note is Isaiah Thomas. If he were coming into the season fully healthy, I’d probably have him slotted around 5-6. However, he loses some spots because of his hip.
Top 10 Shooting Guards
- James Harden, Houston Rockets
- Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
- Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
- Demar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
- CJ McCollum, Portland Trailblazers
- Avery Bradley, Detroit Pistons
- Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
- Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
- Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
- JJ Redick, Philadelphia Sixers
This is where I expect the most differences. I think the league is split up between three actual positions. You have primary ball handlers (point guards essentially), wings (shooting guards and small forwards, and some power forwards) and bigs (centers and non-stretch power forwards). So to get caught up in whether Andrew Wiggins is listed as a shooting guard or a small forward isn’t the point. Wiggins and Jimmy Butler will play on the wings, and Butler will guard the other teams best wing player. That will usually mean he’s guard a small forward, just based on the depth of the two positions in the league.
Top 10 Small Forwards
- Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
- Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
- Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
- Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves
- Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
- Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics
- Carmelo Anthony, Oklahoma City Thunder
- Ben Simmons, Philadelphia Sixers
- Harrison Barnes, Dallas Mavericks
I wanted so badly to put Giannis over Lebron. I really did. I think this is Giannis’ leap into superstardom and if that happens to full effect, he’ll be the second best wing in the league. I know it’s strange to think about Kawhi being the fourth best small forward in the league, but I think he’s on a better team this season than last and won’t have to exert himself like he did last season. If he plays like he did last season though, it’ll go Durant, James, Kawhi, Giannis. At least for one more season.
Top 10 Power Forwards
- Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
- Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
- Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
- Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
- Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets
- Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
- Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
- LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
- Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
- Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors
Draymond is the glue to the Warriors and Davis is hurt consistently and on a terrible team. Sorry, but Green gets the nod. I expect Kevin Love to be huge this season. It will basically be just he and Lebron until Isaiah comes back, so I’d imagine they’ll both look great. I’m also expecting Blake Griffin to look pretty good without Chris Paul in LA, and if Jabari can (finally) stay healthy, we may see why he was the second pick in the draft. Lastly, as I said in my Most Improved Player piece, I love Julius Randle going into this season and he could rock the boat in this category.
Top 10 Centers
- Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
- Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
- DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans
- Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
- Joel Embiid, Philadelphia Sixers
- Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
- Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
- Deandre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
- Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
- Al Horford, Boston Celtics
I’d expect Gobert to improve a bit with Gordon Hayward’s production leaving town. I love Jokic, but I’ve got high expectations for Gobert. Embiid’s position is solely based on the fact that I need to see him healthy for the whole season. If he manages to have a fully healthy season, he’ll probably end up somewhere in the top 3. I think with Myles Turner being the focus in Indiana, he could start to shine.
My picks for the games coming up this weekend. I’ll be picking weeks going forward, and giving you my Games I’d Bet at the end. All selected winners are in bold, and all lines were accurate as of 1:00 PM on Thursday.
Games I’d Bet
Temple @ #21 USF -19.5
I like the work Charlie Strong has done already in Tampa, but as a head coach, generally Strong’s teams don’t blow out opponents. 19.5 points is a lot to give a not-terrible Temple team, especially on a Thursday night.
Kent State @ #19 Louisville -44
I know Kent State is not good, at all. But the Louisville defense is ripe for the picking and the offense is still limited by a struggling offensive line. 44 points just seems too high, especially the potential for a letdown after a rough game against Clemson.
#17 Mississippi State @ #11 Georgia -5.5
This one is tough. I love Georgia this year, and they are playing well. But Mississippi State is on FIRE and I’m expecting that to carry over.
#20 Florida @ Kentucky +1.5
This line has been shrinking all week and I just have a gut feeling Kentucky manages to pull this one off, finally. Florida isn’t good, and I think Kentucky figured some things out last week against South Carolina.
#4 Penn State @ Iowa +13
Another team I love this season is Penn State, and I’m not sold on Iowa at all. Trace McSorley is starting to steal some Heisman shine from his backfield mate Saquon Barkley, and James Franklin is bringing some serious swagger to State College.
Best of the Rest
Virginia @ Boise State -12.5
#23 Utah @ Arizona +3.5
Texas A&M @Arkansas -2.5
UMass @ Tennessee -28
West Virginia @ Kansas +21.5
Texas Tech @ Houston -6
Army @ Tulane -2.5
UNLV @ #10 Ohio State -40.5
NC State @ #12 Florida State -13
Pittsburgh @ Georgia Tech -8.5
New Mexico @ Tulsa -11
Old Dominion @ #13 Virginia Tech -27.5
Idaho @ South Alabama -4
Ohio @ Eastern Michigan -2.5
Central Florida @ Maryland -3.5
LA Tech @ South Carolina -8
#1 Alabama @ Vanderbilt +18.5
#16 TCU @ #6 Oklahoma State -13
#5 USC @ California +17
Georgia Southern @ Indiana -24
Rutgers @ Nebraska -12.5
Boston College @ #2 Clemson -34
Duke @ North Carolina +2.5
Toledo @ #14 Miami (FL) -13.5
Wake Forest @ Appalachian State +5
Cincinnati @ Navy -11.5
Miami (OH) @ Central Michigan -1.5
#8 Michigan @ Purdue +10
UL Monroe @ Louisiana -6.5
Nevada @ #18 Washington State -28
Georgia State @ Charlotte +1
Akron @ Troy -15.5
#3 Oklahoma @ Baylor +27.5
UAB @ North Texas -13
Syracuse @ #25 LSU -21
FAU @ Buffalo -2
Ball State @ WKU -8
Arkansas State @ SMU -5.5
#22 San Diego State @ Air Force +3
#15 Auburn @ Missouri +18
FIU @ Rice -2
UTSA @ Texas State +12
Utah State @ San Jose State -1
Notre Dame @ Michigan State +4
UTEP @ New Mexico State -19
#24 Oregon @ Arizona State +14
#7 Washington @ Colorado +11.5
Hawai’i @ Wyoming -6
UCLA @ Stanford -7
East Carolina @ UConn -4.5
Last seasons rookie class took a big hit with Ben Simmons missing the entire season and Joel Embiid getting hurt about halfway through the season. It was definitely one of the least exciting Rookie of the Year votes in recent memory, but this season is going to be much different. I mean, when Malcolm Brogdon (who I love) wins the award and Buddy Hield finishes fourth, after basically not existing in New Orleans until the All-Star break, behind Joel Embiid, who literally missed half of the season, it’s a bad year. But we move forward. The top 5 this year is a great class and should make this a great race as long as everyone stays healthy.
1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia Sixers
Last seasons expected winner of the award is expected to be back with a force this season, and he’s got some talent around him. Embiid proved what he could be last season in his limited time, and if he stays healthy, will help Simmons and fellow rookie Markelle Fultz bring the Sixers back to prominence. I will go ahead and say, Fultz isn’t on the list. If anyone wins it from the Sixers, I believe it will be Simmons, and I think there’s a chance that if both perform well, they’ll split some votes anyway. Either way, it’s clear the Sixers were smart to Trust the Process.
2. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks
A lot of the ROY award is attributed to who gets opportunities. Simmons and Fultz are going to start, and the same can be said about most of the players on the list. Smith Jr. is in that category. Yogi Ferrel was a fun experiment, but DSJ is the future and if he can embrace coach Rick Carlisle’s system, he could become a force quickly in the league. He has better talent around him than they do in Philadelphia and if he plays his cards right, he could be going on stage to receive the award in June.
3. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers
The last starter that I believe has a real chance at winning the award, Ball displayed his potential in Summer League. I would expect to see similar stat lines in the season (low scoring triple doubles and double doubles) and if the Baby Lakers make a bit of a jump, expect to Lonzo in the conversation at the very least.
4. Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets
Monk is not a starter this year, and barring injury, which isn’t unlikely given Michael Kidd-Gilcrest’s history, won’t crack the starting lineup. However, he is a dangerous offensive player and could earn a lot of minutes coming off the bench. If he can light people up on the second unit and work his way into 20-ish minutes a night, Monk could jump into the conversation.
5. Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns
The way I see it, there’s a slim chance Jackson wins the award. But it’s a chance. He’ll have to come in playing lockdown defense on the perimeter, stabilizing the Suns defensive efforts. In addition, he’s going to have to be an aggressive scorer in an offense surrounded by talented scorers and prove that he has put in the work in the offseason on that end. He doesn’t necessarily need to be draining three’s and knocking down mid range jumpers, but he does have to show glimpses of at least becoming, one day, a version of DeMar DeRozen. But it is a long shot to be sure.
One of the most unpredictable awards is also my second favorite (behind Rookie of the Year). I love this award because there is nothing better than a player making the leap from good to great and making himself someone to be taken seriously. Or maybe he just got more minutes this season. Either way. Regardless, I am really intrigued by all five players on my list and think they could all be making a jump this season.
1. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
Ingram is so raw that there is a lot of room to grow for him. That helps. What else helps is having someone with the vision and pass-first mentality of Lonzo Ball as your new point guard. The Baby Lakers are going to be a lot of fun to watch and they could even win a handful of games if the young guys gel around Brook Lopez. What might be crazier is I have three players from last years Lakers on my list.
2. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Jaylen was raw last year as well, but come the playoffs, he showed flashes of his potential on defense in particular. He has the defensive potential to be one of those few players that could bother Lebron (although by the time Brown gets to that point, James won’t be peak Lebron anymore). I think the Celtics best move is to start Brown this season, so I think the combination of additional minutes plus more development could launch Jaylen to the MIP award.
3. D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets
(Former) Laker #2. I love Russell’s potential and given his fresh start in Brooklyn, I’d like to see the Nets turn the keys over to him and let him fly. The Lakers weren’t big on Russell as everyone knows by now, and it was obvious that they weren’t letting him reach his full potential. I still expect big things from D’Angelo.
4. Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
And Laker #3. Normally this is an award directed toward younger (yes I know Randle is only 22) players, mostly second year players. But I’ve been hearing that Randle has put in crazy work this offseason and could be a monster this year. I really hope so. Randle seems like one of the genuinely great people in the league and I’d love to see him make that leap into a real force at the 4.
5. DeAndre Bembry, Atlanta Hawks
Bembry was turning some heads last season, before the Hawks lost Tim Hardaway Jr., Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard and went into full rebuild mode. He won’t start, but the Summer League standout will earn significantly more minutes this season and if he continues to impress, could sneak away with the award.
Similar to the Most Improved Player award, there are two different methods for how coaches win the award. Either they are the coach of a good team that exceeds a bit and maybe plays its way into a seed or two higher in the playoffs, or they go from having a bad or mediocre team to surprising people and either making the playoffs or ending up in the top four of their conference. Fittingly, there’s a mix of both on the list this year, although the coaches with better teams usually have a better chance of winning. With that said…
1. Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
For years, Boston has been playing above its head, which most attribute to coach Brad Stevens. Now, Stevens has some real talent. The acquisition of Gordon Hayward was huge obviously, and with the trade completed for Kyrie Irving, the Celtics will be extremely formidable on the offensive side of the ball. They can take a real shot at throwing Cleveland off the throne and establish themselves going forward as the team to worry about in the East.
2. Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets
If Houston was coming back with the same team as last year, D’Antoni wouldn’t have made the list. He’s done a great job with the Rockets, but coaches never win the award twice in a row. No seriously, it hasn’t happened. However, if anyone has a chance at it, it might be D’Antoni. The Rockets added Chris Paul for basically nothing this summer, and they could challenge Golden State for the wins record in the regular season. Golden State could rest more this season and not worry about giving up home court to Houston. I think if Houston finishes the regular season with the best record in the NBA, D’Antoni could be the first back to back winner of the award.
3. Brett Brown, Philadelphia Sixers
If the Sixers stay healthy this season, they will probably make the playoffs. If they make the playoffs, even with a middling record, Brown will be getting a lot of love from the media for the job he’s done there. Whether you want to give him the credit for having 98 top 3 picks in the last few seasons is debatable, but the Process will finally be paying some dividends for the fans in Philly.
4. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors
Here is your alternative to the scenario with the Houston Rockets. Golden State could come out on fire, ready to make a run at back-to-back championships, and light everyone up. I’ll keep this short and sweet. If the Warriors set the record (again) for wins in a season, Kerr stands a good chance at winning the award.
5. Jason Kidd, Milwaukee Bucks
I might as well have put Giannis Antetokounmpo’s name instead of Jason Kidd’s. Kidd is a fine coach, but the only reason he has a chance at this award is because of the Greek Freak. If the team makes a leap this season, playing it’s way into a 3rd or 4th seed in the East, Kidd could potentially win the award. It’s not likely but stranger things have happened. (Mike Brown and Byron Scott have Coach of the Year awards in the last ten years)