The beauty of sports is that our predictions are often off the mark — like life itself it goes in directions we can’t predict.
Still, we have some ideas of what we will look back on in a year as the biggest stories in the NBA for 2014. If the Miami Heat three-peat it will be a huge story, a coronation for LeBron James. A first title in Indiana or Oklahoma City would be epic. Unfortunately injuries to star players — Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Brook Lopez — and their returns will continue to be huge.
But I predict the biggest 2014 NBA story will be the June draft.
We may not know if the individual players pan out until sometime in 2017, but the way teams are jockeying — read: tanking — because their scouts tell them the upcoming draft class really does contain multiple franchise-changing players has already changed this NBA season. Once the lottery balls find their slots it will forever change several franchises for the rest of the decade (at least). Nothing will shape the NBA landscape in the next 12 months like this draft.
Most draft boards still have Andrew Wiggins, the explosively athletic Kansas swingman, at the top. His ceiling almost doesn’t seem to exist, the question is do teams think he can play that way consistently and get there?
Then you get into the big men — Julius Randle, the Kentucky power forward; Jabari Parker, the Duke sensation at the four; then maybe the most interesting of the group, Kansas center Joel Embiid.
They are followed by a couple of point guards such as Australia’s Dante Exum and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart.
Any or all of them could be franchise changers. We know based on history that a couple of those guys will not be as elite as imagined, but it’s also likely somebody picked farther down the board (Gary Harris of Michigan State?) will exceed expectations.
What we do know already is a host of NBA teams trying to be bad this season to get one of those top lottery slots and a chance at one of those game-changing players. In the NBA you need one of about 10 elite players (ideally two of the top 15) to win a title. If you are in a middle to small market you can really only get those players through the draft.
When Adam Silver announces the lottery order in May the fortunes of multiple franchise will change — some will get one of those coveted top slots, others will fall down and look for other ways to rebuild.
But one way or another the draft of 2014 will shape the NBA going forward in ways even other recent drafts do not.
Those lottery balls and the players attached to them will be the biggest NBA story of 2014.