The NBA lockout is finally over. A season that was nearly canceled will begin Christmas Day, with each team cramming 66 games into 122 days. It's going to be fast, frenetic and unpredictable, but that doesn't stop Randy Hill from gazing into his crystal ball and telling us what he sees.
Eastern Conference champion
For the second season in a row, Miami's Heat will ride their superior wings to victory. LeBron James — playing more with his back to the basket instead of the future — figures out easier ways to score when a game is on the line. In addition to the usual production from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Miami receives big contributions from Shane Battier and rookie point guard Norris Cole.
Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan decides he's more than capable of advising Los Angeles Lakers' star Kobe Bryant on how to survive the divvying up of his assets with prospective-ex-wife Vanessa. According to MJ, Kobe should refuse to give up a penny more than 47 percent of his BRI.
Rookie of the year
With the ability to post small forwards and roast power forwards from outside, Derrick Williams of the Minnesota Timberwolves thrives in the offense of first-year coach Rick Adelman. Williams also realizes that — despite playing with Kevin Love and Michael Beasley — his new teammates are more willing to share than his old buddies at Arizona.
Most improved player
Based on expectation and ability, his rookie season was considered a disappointment. But now that he's learned to find his spots working off the ball more than he was used to, Evan Turner of the Philadelphia 76ers begins to emerge.
MPG for CP3
In an effort to preempt the franchise curse, the Los Angeles Clippers require point guard Chris Paul (left) to tool around L.A. in an upgraded version of the Popemobile. The vehicle really comes in handy during All-Star Weekend, as Blake Griffin (right) jumps over it while catching Paul's alley-oop lob during the dunk contest.
Western Conference champion
Unless the pull-up jumper of point guard Russell Westbrook (left) offers only minimal improvement, the Oklahoma City Thunder are my pick to survive out West. James Harden, another most-improved player candidate, mistakes the playoffs for another run at the Drew League, providing Westbrook and Kevin Durant with a deadly scoring buddy.
When the pants of David Stern spontaneously combust, a league spokesperson says this is a coincidence and has nothing to do with the commissioner's comments regarding the spiked Laker trade involving Chris Paul.
Defensive player of the year
Although Dwight Howard has been looking extremely defensive before the games even begin, we'll go with New York Knicks newcomer Tyson Chandle (right). After working hard to change the defensive culture around Madison Square Garden, Chandler admits his blocked-shot frequency couldn't have occurred without playing alongside Amar'e Stoudemire.
Most valuable player
The winner is Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant, who's seen participating in a quick 3-on-3 run with arena workers at 1 a.m. the morning before Game 7 of the Finals.
It pays to leave
A news eruption in New York City reveals that New Jersey Nets forward Kris Humphries attempted to use the amnesty clause on former wife Kim Kardashian.
Sixth Man of the year
Chicago Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer plays well enough to stay in the starting lineup, but not well enough to prevent teammate Taj Gibson (pictured) from winning this award.
Say it ain't so
The player's identity remains a mystery, but after the 64th time first-year coach Mark Jackson says "Hand down, man down!" during a timeout, one of his Golden State Warriors replies, "Coach, you're better than that."
To demonstrate an extreme level of fitness, Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash orders that 100 candles adorn a cake to commemorate his 38th birthday. Nash overpowers every candle in one breath, then puts an embargo on anyone actually eating cake.
Coach of the year
In a series of maneuvers that wrecks the value of a draft pick the New Orleans Hornets landed in their deal with the Clippers, Rick Adelman coaches the Timberwolves toward decency.
Too little, too late
While attempting to have Vanessa postpone their divorce proceedings, Kobe demands to be traded to a team in a non-community-property state.
Executive of the year
Thanks to an e-mail campaign presided over by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, the winner is David Stern, General Manager, New Orleans Hornets.
With James making clutch plays down the stretch of Game 7, the Miami Heat hold off the Oklahoma City Thunder. LeBron then wrecks a successful rehabilitation of his public image by insisting the MVP-acceptance interview be conducted by Jim Gray.