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PBT’s 2013-14 NBA season predictions… it’s not all Miami

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The last couple years, it has felt going into the season that the road to an NBA title went through Miami. And it wasn’t going any farther.

This year it feels far more wide open. Make no mistake, the road goes through Miami and they are saying all the right things about defending their title, but the last team to even make it to four straight finals was the Larry Bird Boston Celtics in 1987. It’s a hard road, no matter how many times you’ve been down it, no matter how good you are.

Which is why you see a lot of teams other than Miami in tables below when myself and the PBT staff sat down to make our predictions for the coming NBA season.

Let’s start with the fun stuff, some of the awards:

Name MVP Rookie of Year Defensive player of year
Kurt Helin Kevin Durant Victor Oladipo Dwight Howard
Brett Pollakoff Chris Paul Victor Oladipo LeBron James
Dan Feldman LeBron James Victor Oladipo Dwight Howard
D.J. Foster LeBron James Cody Zeller Roy Hibbert
Darius Soriano Kevin Durant Victor Oladipo Roy Hibbert
Rhett Anderson Dwight Howard Victor Oladipo LeBron James

Of note here, both Darius and myself had picked Trey Burke to win the NBA Rookie of the Year in an earlier PBT Roundtable, but that was before the finger injury which required surgery and will have him out at the start of the season.

As for LeBron James getting a fifth MVP, it could well happen, but I think we’ll see voter fatigue as they look for someone else to honor.

Let’s move on to the division winners.

Name Atlantic Central SouthEast Southwest Northwest Pacific
Kurt Helin Nets Bulls Heat Spurs Thunder Clippers
Brett Pollakoff Nets Pacers Heat Rockets Thunder Clippers
Dan Feldman Nets Bulls Heat Spurs Thunder Clippers
D.J. Foster Nets Pacers Heat Spurs Thunder Clippers
Darius Soriano Nets Bulls Heat Spurs Thunder Clippers
Rhett Anderson Nets Pacers Heat Rockets Thunder Clippers

Sorry Knicks fans, I know most of you don’t get the Nets thing, but the fact is they finished just five games back of you last season then went out and got Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko. We think they leapfrog you.

But not a huge leap in the playoffs. Here’s our predictions on who wins it all:

Name Eastern Conference Finals Western Converence Finals NBA Finals Champion
Kurt Helin Pacers vs. Heat Clippers vs. Thunder Clippers vs. Pacers Pacers
Brett Pollakoff Pacers vs. Nets Clippers vs. Spurs Clippers vs. Pacers Pacers
Dan Feldman Heat vs. Bulls Clippers vs. Thunder Heat vs. Clippers Heat
D.J. Foster Heat vs. Bulls Clippers vs. Spurs Heat vs. Spurs Spurs
Darius Soriano Pacers vs. Bulls Clippers vs. Thunder Thunder vs Bulls Bulls
Rhett Anderson Pacers vs. Heat Clippers vs. Thunder Heat vs. Thunder Heat

Yes, I’m taking the Pacers over the Clippers in the Finals. I’m buying the Clippers hype that they can defend for Doc Rivers. The Pacers were a very good team last year with their core — Paul George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill — still improving every year. Then the front office went out and stocked up what had been the worst bench in the league. I think they probably end up the three seed in the regular season but they are a roster built for the grinding game of the playoffs.

Make your predictions in the comments, or just tell us why we’re so wrong.

Evan Fournier “hated” being left off the French national team

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 11:  Evan Fournier #10 of the Orlando Magic sets up the offense during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Amway Center on November 11, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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One of the most surprising developments of the summer came when Evan Fournier, coming off an excellent year with the Magic, was left off the French national team that went to Rio to compete in the Olympics. Fournier himself doesn’t have a good answer for why he wasn’t included, according to an interview with the French magazine L’Equipe (translation via EuroHoops.net).

“I hated not being in the Olympic Games,” he said. “I had suspected that I won’t make the cut a week before I was informed about it. I was reading interviews where only Rudy (Gobert) was mentioned among the players who didn’t play in the OQT but would go to Rio. In the end, I received a voicemail by Vincent Collet that briefly explained the reasons I was left out.”

Fournier said he didn’t have much communication with the national team, except for when head coach Vincent Collet asked him for tickets to a Magic game.

“The only time I’ve heard from the Federation this year was during a visit from Patrick Beesley (French NT technical director) in Orlando where he told me the dates of the qualifying tournament and Olympics. He didn’t tell me ‘If you do not come in Manila, then you do not come in Rio’. The second time was from an sms by Vincent Collet. It was our only contact outside competitions in the last three years. He was asking me for tickets to a game for his friends. I never closed the door to the French national team but these events sent me a clear message. That i’m not in the project. It’s that simple and it hurts.”

It’s a little bizarre that Fournier, at 23 years old and one of the better basketball players from France, isn’t on the team and a clear reason hasn’t been given. But it sounds like that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Jamal Crawford rocks Seattle pro-am defender with fake behind-the-back dribble (video)

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 27:  Jamal Crawford #11 of the Los Angeles Clippers reacts to a foul called on his team in a 108-98 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers during Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Seattle pro-am always produces great highlights.

Here’s another.

Jamal Crawford pretends to go behind his back with his dribble, leaving his defender off balance and whining about a carry. In a pro-am. However you can try to preserve your dignity, I guess.

51 Q: Tom Thibodeau can coach, is he ready to run a franchise?

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 12: Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls yells to his players in the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Five in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena on May 12, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Bulls 106-101. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Timberwolves were probably not going to get Tom Thibodeau without the promise of organizational control. After his contentious relationship with the Bulls’ front office led to his exit after five seasons in Chicago, he took a year-long sabbatical from coaching and observed how other organizations run their operations from both a coaching and a front-office standpoint. He was in high demand as a coaching free agent and could essentially name his price, and if he wanted personnel control too, he could have it. That’s what ended up happening in Minnesota, and Thibodeau will be the latest test case in whether the two-in-one model works. Thibodeau’s coaching ability is indisputable. How he’ll fare as an executive is a different question entirely.

The Timberwolves had a solid offseason after a rumored draft-night trade for Jimmy Butler fell apart. Given Thibodeau’s history of stubbornness and intractability, it was a valid fear that he’d take the same approach to roster-building as his former mentor Doc Rivers has in Los Angeles, simply bringing back all of his old mainstays from the Bulls days. With Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Kirk Hinrich on the market, the opportunity was there to get the band back together, spending too much money in the process and hindering the development of maybe the most promising young core in the NBA in the name of more wins in the short term.

But Thibodeau didn’t do that. Instead, he and GM Scott Layden plugged some holes with value deals. Getting Cold Aldrich for three years at $22 million gives them a more than serviceable backup center, and they landed Brandon Rush on a one-year deal for $3.5 million to provide some outside shooting. They didn’t do anything to sacrifice long-term flexibility and didn’t sign anyone that will get in the way of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine getting plenty of playing time.

The idea of a coach making personnel decisions is a dicey one for several reasons, not least of which being that it’s harder to have the emotional detachment to trade a player if you see them every day in practice. But the Chicago team Thibodeau inherited in 2010 was a readymade contender that needed a coaching upgrade. This Minnesota team isn’t there yet, and even his ability to get more wins than expected out of any roster he’s given won’t make them truly competitive in the upper echelon of the Western Conference playoff picture, at least not yet. So far, his moves reflect an understanding of that reality.

The first big roster decision Thibodeau will have to make during the season will be the point guard situation. Thibodeau loves Kris Dunn, whom he drafted at No. 5 overall in June, and Dunn provides shooting that Ricky Rubio does not. If Dunn takes the starting spot in training camp, Thibodeau will have to look long and hard at moving Rubio. Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad could also wind up on the block, depending on how the rotation shakes out, and how Thibodeau fares at getting a return on his trades will be worth monitoring.

With that said, it’s pretty hard to screw up a core that includes Wiggins and Towns, and Thibodeau seems to know what he has in those two. As long as he can put complementary pieces around them and keep their development up to pace on the court, this experiment should prove to be a success.

Julius Randle lacerates hand, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

Julius Randle
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Julius Randle suffered a season-ending injury in his first NBA game.

His third pro season includes an even earlier setback.

Lakers release:

Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a laceration to his right hand (webbing between middle and ring fingers) yesterday while practicing. He received seven stitches and will be re-evaluated in approximately 14 days.

Thankfully, this doesn’t sound as major and happened well before training camp. Even if he needs twice as long to heal after his announced reevaluation, he’ll be ready for the preseason.

The key is getting Randle fully recovered. His ball-handling ability for a power forward is a key facet to his game, and a cut in his hand could impede it.