Here are my fearless (and feckless) predictions for the upcoming season:
WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPS: With no heavy-duty competition (and no debilitating injuries), the Lakers will cruise.
EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPS: The Celtics play championship defense. They also have the grit, offensive versatility and been-there-done-that experience to overcome the Heat.
NBA CHAMPS: The Lakers have the depth, the moxie and in Kobe Bryant, the best go-to scorer in the game. Not to be underestimated is the motivational push supplied by Phil Jackson’s (latest) swan song.
MVP: Even the writers and broadcasters who vote for this award have come to realize that Kobe does what LeBron wants to do. In any event, votes will be split between LBJ and D-Wade.
COACH OF THE YEAR: A retrospective nod to Jackson, who has only one COY award (1996) to go with his 11 championships.
LEADING SCORER: A repeat performance by Kevin Durant, especially since he’s the only reliable point-maker on the Thunder and therefore, has a license to shoot. KD’s main challengers are LeBron (who will have to share shots with Wade and Bosh), and Kobe (who converted only 99 treys last season as compared to Durant’s total of 128).
LEADING REBOUNDER: Whatever other flaws Dwight Howard may have, he’s still the best retriever of missed shots in the league. By a long shot.
LEADER IN ASSISTS: Steve Nash, because more than any other point guard, he plays with the ball on a string.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ron Artest in another belated reminder of how he shut down both Durant and Paul Pierce in last season’s playoffs.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Marc Gasol, who is rapidly learning the game from the inside out.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Blake Griffin, for spending a year learning the game by osmosis.
WORST TEAM: The Nets will succumb to serious threats by the T-Wolves and the Raptors. N.J.’s negative edge will be Avery Johnson’s hysterical perfectionism eventually distancing himself from his players.
LEAST VALUABLE KNUCKLEHEAD: Gilbert Arenas doesn’t have to say another word all season long to win this dishonor.
MOST TECHS ACCUMULATED: Kevin Garnett.
MOST OBNOXIOUS PLAYER: The self-proclaimed “Chosen One,” who speaks in the imperial third-person and never takes personal responsibility for any of his egregious errors in judgment. In fact, LeBron will retire this particular trophy.
BEST INTERVIEW: The Big Blabbermouth, who says what he thinks, but doesn’t always think about what he says. An added event during the All-Star weekend will be a debate on every subject under the sun between Shaq and Charles Barkley.
THE OPPONENT MOST ROOTED FOR BY OPPONENTS: Yao Ming, for his humility, honesty, tragic injuries and because he’s such a nice guy.