PBT’s preseason predictions: Yes, expect Heat vs. Lakers final

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It’s that time of year again, when we NBA writers make predictions we will wince at in a few months. When you can read our predictions and use those as evidence that we clearly hate your favorite team (pick a team, any team).

What follows are the ProBasketballTalk predictions for the 2012-13 season by myself plus writers D.J. Foster and Darius Soriano. Yes, we all see the same NBA finals. I really want to predict something other than the obvious, but sometimes things are obvious for a reason. Anyway, here are our picks.

Eastern Conference Standings:
Kurt  Helin                       D.J. Foster              Darius Soriano
1. Miami Heat                 1. Miami Heat              1. Miami Heat
2. Boston Celtics             2. Boston Celtics         2. Boston Celtics
3. Indiana Pacers           3. Indiana Pacers       3. Philadelphia 76ers
4. New York Knicks       4. Brooklyn Nets         4. Brooklyn Nets
5. Brooklyn Nets             5. Atlanta Hawks       5. Indiana Pacers
6. Philadelphia 76ers    6. Chicago Bulls         6. Atlanta Hawks
7. Atlanta Hawks           7. New York Knicks   7. New York Knicks
8. Chicago Bulls             8. Toronto Raptors     8. Chicago Bulls

Western Conference Standings:
Kurt  Helin                                       D.J. Foster                                 Darius Soriano
1. Los Angeles Lakers                   1. Oklahoma City Thunder       1. Oklahoma City Thunder
2. Oklahoma City Thunder          2. Los Angeles Lakers               2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. San Antonio Spurs                    3. San Antonio Spurs                 3. San Antonio Spurs
4. Los Angeles Clippers                4. Denver Nuggets                      4. Denver Nuggets
5. Denver Nuggets                          5. Los Angeles Clippers            5. Los Angeles Clippers
6. Memphis Grizzlies                    6. Memphis Grizzlies                  6. Memphis Grizzlies
7. Utah Jazz                                    7. Utah Jazz                                    7. Utah Jazz
8. Minnesota Timberwolves        8. Houston Rockets                     8. Minnesota Timberwolves

Eastern Conference Finals:
Kurt Helin: Heat over Pacers
D.J. Foster: Heat over Celtics
Darius Soriano: Heat over Celtics

Western Conference Finals:
Kurt Helin: Lakers over Thunder
D.J. Foster: Lakers over Thunder
Darius Soriano: Lakers over Thunder

NBA Finals:
Kurt Helin: Heat over Lakers
D.J. Foster: Heat over Lakers
Darius Soriano: Lakers over Heat

MVP Winner:
Kurt Helin: Kevin Durant
D.J. Foster: Kevin Durant
Darius Soriano: Kevin Durant

Rookie of the Year winner:
Kurt Helin: Damian Lillard
D.J. Foster: Anthony Davis
Darius Soriano: Anthony Davis

Most Disappointing NBA Team:
Kurt Helin: Dallas Mavericks
D.J. Foster: Philadelphia 76ers
Darius Soriano: Dallas Mavericks

Raptors president Ujiri apologizes to departed DeRozan

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TORONTO (AP) — Raptors president Masai Ujiri apologized Friday for a “miscommunication” with four-time All-Star and franchise icon DeMar DeRozan, but Toronto’s traded All-Star guard didn’t seem quite ready to make amends.

Speaking for the first time since sending DeRozan to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard, Ujiri began by saying sorry to DeRozan. The career Raptor had expressed anger and frustration in an Instagram post after learning of the deal, indicating he’d been told he would not be traded.

Shortly after Ujiri apologized Friday, DeRozan added a new post to his Instagram feed: a facepalm emoji, a symbol of frustration and exasperation.

Reflecting on a conversation he’d had with DeRozan at Summer League earlier this month, Ujiri said he “should have handled it better” when discussing future plans.

“Maybe my mistake was talking about what we expected going forward from him,” Ujiri said. “I think that’s where the gap was, because in my job I always have to assume that I’m going forward with the team that I have. If there was a miscommunication there, I do apologize to DeMar.”

Still, after three straight disappointing playoff exits, Ujiri felt something needed to change with the Raptors. He acknowledged struggling with the “human side” of the trade, but decided Leonard was too good a prize to pass up.

Now, Ujiri says, the Raptors “are stepping on territory that we never have.”

“I think if we look at ourselves honestly, everybody knows that we had to do something different, even if it wasn’t this,” Ujiri said. “We had to figure out something different. I take responsibility for that.

“We’ve been doing this how many years?” Ujiri said. “You can’t continue doing the same thing over and over again. And when you get a chance to get a top five player, which doesn’t come very often, I think you have to jump on it. We’ve given a chance to this team, we’ve tried to build it as much as we can but, at this point, this opportunity came in front of us and we had to jump on it.”

DeRozan led the Raptors in scoring in each of the last five years, and was key to Toronto winning a franchise-record 59 games and securing the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference last season.

“There’s no measurement for what DeMar DeRozan has done for this organization,” Ujiri said, pledging that the departed guard will be acknowledged “in the biggest way that we can possibly do it” for his nine seasons with the Raptors.

Even with DeRozan, Toronto lost three straight postseason series against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, including consecutive second-round sweeps. The Raptors have never reached the NBA Finals.

Leonard, the 2014 NBA Finals MVP, has twice finished in the top three in MVP voting and is a two-time winner of the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Ujiri called his new acquisition “a no-nonsense basketball player that plays on both sides of the floor and produces.”

Still, there are reasons for concern. A seven-year veteran, Leonard missed all but nine games last season because of a leg injury. He can become a free agent next summer, and has stated his desire to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.

As long as Leonard is with the Raptors, however, Ujiri will work to show him what Toronto has to offer.

“I think there’s a lot to sell here,” Ujiri said. “Our team, our culture, our city, our ownership. We have everything here except a championship, in my humble opinion. I don’t think we lack anything in this city.”

Leonard has yet to pass a physical, Ujiri said, adding one is expected to happen “in the next couple of days.”

Ujiri, who returned from a trip to Africa earlier Friday, has not met Leonard in person since the trade, but said they have spoken on the phone. Ujiri disputed rumors that Leonard has no interest in playing north of the border.

“He didn’t express a lack of interest about playing in Canada to me,” Ujiri said.

DeRozan and Leonard are expected to be on the court together next week when USA Basketball convenes a national team training camp in Las Vegas. That team is coached by San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich.

Draymond’s pitch to Cousins: “I’m pretty sure me and you are going to fight”

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Good thing Draymond Green found his calling in basketball because if he had to make a living as a salesman he’d be living on Nissin Top Ramen. At best.

Everyone has heard the story already: After not getting any serious offers the first 24 hours of free agency, DeMarcus Cousins took matters into his own hands and called up Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors and pitched his services. The Warriors jumped at the chance and signed Cousins to a one-year, $5.3 million contract. And then the NBA freaked out.

What is new is Cousins telling ESPN’s Chris Haynes about Green’s horrible pitch to get him to come to the bay area.

“Draymond probably had the worst pitch,” he said while chuckling. “He was like, ‘Cous, I’m pretty sure me and you are going to fight.’ I’m like, ‘Draymond, Come on. Whoa. Whoa.’ But Draymond, that’s my guy. I respect him as a player, I respect him as a competitor. He’s one of the top in this business and just his approach to every game, I want that guy on my team every day. So, we talked, we kind of communicated about what we both wanted, which was winning games. He openly said he knows I wouldn’t get as many touches and I don’t give a, I don’t care. And the same thing for me. It’s about winning the games. I think me and Draymond will mesh well.”

Cousins also was amused by the backlash to his signing.

“But, it’s just kind of funny because before the whole thing started, I was just kind of wasted. I was damaged goods, not a winner, just everything negative. And soon as it happens, it’s like, ‘He’s too damn good to [be a Warrior].’ So, it’s just kind of funny how the narrative switches right away when things don’t go the way they expect it to.”

If you want more insight into Cousins’ thinking (and don’t mind some NSFW language) check out this trailer from the upcoming SHOWTIME Sports documentary about Cousins’ decision this summer.

Michael Beasley reportedly joins Lakers on one-year contract

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Because a locker room with Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, and Rajon Rondo — with LaVar Ball circling around it — did not have enough distractions…

Michael Beasley, welcome to the Los Angeles Lakers.

It’s one year for $3.5 million.

Beasley is another eccentric guy for the Lakers’ collection. Remember when he changed teams from Minnesota to Phoenix and rather than move his stuff he just had a big estate sale and sold it all? Beasley by himself isn’t a distraction at this point, but all of those personalities in one locker room and… I do not envy Luke Walton right now.

Beasley had a solid offensive campaign for the Knicks last season, averaging 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists playing more than 22 minutes a night (he also started 30 games for them). He can attack off the dribble and score, gets to the line, and shot 39.5 percent from three — the man has embraced his role as a scorer off the bench and he can get the Lakers some buckets.

He’s also going to give up a lot of buckets because he does not play defense (he did rebound a little better last year, but that’s only when the guy missed despite his lack of D).

How Walton fits all this together remains to be seen. Beasley played 93 percent of his minutes last season at the four, where the Lakers will start Brandon Ingram but also rotate LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma through. Guys are versitle and basketball is evolving to being positionless, but that’s a lot of guys eating up minutes for similar roles.

At the price they are paying, this is a decent signing by the Lakers. Beasley will get them points if he stays healthy (he did play 74 games last season). I’m sure Magic/Pelinka will sell this as “adding another veteran playmaker to our roster,” and they will ignore all the baggage that comes with it. All those guys are on one-year contracts, the Lakers are looking farther down the road at much bigger targets than the new guys in the locker room.

But man, that Laker locker room this season is going to be a piece of work.

PBT Extra: Carmelo Anthony will be a Rocket, but will he accept new role?

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Carmelo Anthony will be a Houston Rocket soon.

How smoothly things go this season with him is another question entirely, something I get into a little in this latest PBT Extra. However, after a three-team trade involving Atlanta, Oklahoma City, and Philadelphia was agreed to in principle, it’s just a matter of time. Anthony is being traded to the Hawks, who will waive him, making him a free agent.

Then he signs with James Harden, Chris Paul, and the rest of the Rockets. Oklahoma City gets Dennis Schroder, another guy who will have to accept a new role. Philly adds some shooting. Watch the video above for a breakdown.