PBT’s NBA season predictions: LeBron James gets his ring

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Before Miami Heat fans get excited about this, remember that I suck at making predictions.

But thanks to my never-exhausted capacity for self-embarrassment, I’m giving you my predictions for the coming season (scroll down to see Brett from PBT’s calls for this season). I think that the condensed schedule — and condensed playoff schedule — benefits teams with younger legs, and that factors in. Here we go.

Western Conference

1. Oklahoma City Thunder
2. Dallas Mavericks
3. Los Angeles Lakers
4. San Antonio Spurs
5. Memphis Grizzlies
6. Portland Trail Blazers
7. Los Angeles Clippers
8. Houston Rockets

I think Denver is in the mix for one of those last spots as well and I may have made a mistake putting Houston in and the Nuggets out. It’s close. No, the Clippers are not very high (I still need to see them defend consistently), but I think they find themselves mid-season and become the team nobody wants to play come the playoffs. I think Memphis takes steps forward but still has a ways to go, and that Dallas will be great in the regular season but is really going to miss Tyson Chandler come the second round of the playoffs. As for the Lakers, I don’t see the steep drop off many do. There are questions of depth, but they still have Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum up front, Kobe Bryant is healthy and they will play more physically on defense.

Western Conference finals: Los Angles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder.

Eastern Conference

1. Miami Heat
2. Chicago Bulls
3. New York Knicks
4. Boston Celtics
5. Indiana Pacers
6. Atlanta Hawks
7. Orlando Magic
8. Milwaukee Bucks

I think the top six are pretty much locks (even if the order shifts a little, and yes the Pacers with David West are in there), but picking the bottom two is hard. Orlando is in if they hold on to Dwight Howard most of the season (they won 52 games last year) and I think the Bucks will be better this year. But this leaves Philly on the outside looking in and that is hard. Plus I think Washington is going to be a lot better, they may still just miss out. Same with the Nets.

Eastern Conference Finals: Miami Heat vs. Chicago Bulls. (That seems the safe pick, but they were the two best teams last year and they got better. The Knicks will improve but their defense still will not be good enough. The Celtics would need a Mavericks-like run to make it.)

NBA finals: Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder.

NBA champion: Miami Heat.

The Heat are still lacking a big man in the paint and that could be their undoing if they have to face a team that gets a lot of points from their bigs, but I’m not sure I see that on their path to the ring.

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Brett Pollakoff from PBT also gave us his predictions:

The compressed, 66-game schedule the NBA has forced upon teams due to the lockout will have a bigger effect on the season’s ultimate result than any of the big free agent signings. Tyson Chandler to the Knicks is sure to help, and Chris Paul to the Clippers will fill the highlight reels with ridiculousness. But the teams loaded with talent that didn’t undergo wholesale personnel changes — and aren’t too veteran-laden to worry about breaking down over the course of the season — are the ones likely to be there at the end.

Western Conference Finals: Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks

Eastern Conference Finals: Miami Heat and New York Knicks

NBA Finals: Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder

NBA Champion: Miami Heat

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.

 

Report: Lakers would have traded both first-round picks for Irving, Mitchell

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets
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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it,” Lakers GM Rob Pelinka said at media day, pulling back the curtain a little on his thinking of trading two first-round picks. “So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That tracks with the consistent messaging out of Los Angeles all summer: The Lakers would only trade the only two first-round picks they fully control for the rest of this decade (2027 and 2029) for a deal that made them a contender.

That meant landing Kyrie Irving or Donovan Mitchell, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin said on The Hoop Collective Podcast.

“I’ve been told that had the Lakers been able to acquire, Kyrie Irving, or the Lakers been able to acquire Donovan Mitchell, either of those players, the Lakers were willing and able to move both those [first-round] picks to do it.”

The problem for the Lakers is the market price for elite talent has moved beyond two first-round picks. The Jazz got three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) plus the rights to two pick swaps (2026 and 2028) in the Mitchell trade, not to mention three players: Lauri Markkanen (who they will try to trade for another pick), Collin Sexton, and Ochair Agbaji. The price for Kyrie Irving would have been at least as high, if the Nets really wanted to trade him.

The Lakers traded all of their young players and most of their picks to land Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, except for the ones they let walk away (Alex Caruso). Before he was judicious in making trades like he was this offseason, Pelinka made deals that backed him into this corner.

The Lakers likely could use both picks to acquire Buddy Hield and Myles Turner out of Indiana (sending Westbrook back), but that doesn’t make Los Angeles a contender (a playoff team, but not a title threat) and it messes with the plan to have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase a big name.

The Lakers you see in training camp are the Lakers you get. At least for now.