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Anthony Davis? Luka Doncic? Our predictions for NBA MVP, Rookie of the Year

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It’s time for us to say things we will look back on and regret in just a few short months.

With the NBA season just a little more than a week away, the NBA writing staff here at NBC Sports have put together our predictions for MVP and Rookie of the Year (the top three in each). We will likely forget these within 24 hours, but no doubt you readers will remind us how wrong we were down the line.

Let’s get to it:

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Kurt Helin1. Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans); 2. LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers); 3. James Harden (Houston Rockets)

This is the year Davis, already a top-five NBA player, stays healthy and puts up MVP-level statistics, and does so on a team that will be in the playoff hunt, keeping it in the eyes of voters. That will earn him his first MVP, whether it’s enough to keep him in New Orleans long term is another discussion. Beyond Davis, it’s hard not to lean toward the top vote getters from last year, especially LeBron who will be on a team that will need him to carry a big load in the deep West.

Dan Feldman: 1. James Harden (Houston Rockets); 2. Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans); 3. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)

Harden won MVP last year and finished a fairly close second two of the previous three years. He is almost always in the mix for this award, and people seem to be overlooking him in the race this season. Davis and Antetokounmpo are fresh names, and voters sometimes reward that. Of course, if LeBron James — the NBA’s best player — cares about chasing this award, he’ll be in the thick of the race. But getting these Lakers to a record that impresses voters won’t be easy.

Dane Delgado: 1. James Harden (Houston Rockets); 2. LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers); 3. Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors)

I really want to pick Kevin Durant here, because he might actually be the most dominant player in the league even if his value to the Golden State Warriors is obviously less than absolute. I think if the Rockets can build on last season, Harden will continue to be the reason why. Any guy who leads a team who can slow or derail the juggernaut in the Bay Area is going to get a lot of repeat votes.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin1. Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks); 2. Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns); 3. Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies)

Three years from now I’m not convinced Doncic will be the best player in this class — I think that will be Jackson in Memphis — but he’s the most NBA ready and he’s going to get the touches needed to put up numbers. Ayton will get touches in Phoenix this season, if they can figure out the point guard situation. This is a deep class and other players could get in the mix (keep an eye on Marvin Bagley Jr. and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander).

Dan Feldman: 1. Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks); 2. Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns); 3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Los Angeles Clippers)

Doncic and Ayton have tools and roles to flourish early. There’s enough Doncic hype coming out of Dallas already that I gave the edge to him. The third spot was throwing darts.

Dane Delgado: 1. Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks); 2. Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns); 3. Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks)

Luka Doncic is going to get something the other rookies won’t get this season, and that’s unfiltered praise for being a poster boy for the modern NBA. A big tweener forward who handles the rock, shoots, and passes like every game is an AAU All-Star event is going to make the collective NBA social sphere lose its mind each and every night. Ayton might end up having a higher ceiling, but this year Doncic is going to be all over your Twitter feed.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.

How corrosive is tension between James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston?

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Golden State is not going to be contending for a title next season. Sorry Stephen, but you’re just not.

That throws open the doors to the West crown and, eventually, the NBA title, and teams will be lining up to take their shots. The Lakers just added Anthony Davis to go with LeBron James. Denver should improve and is looking for wing help. Utah feels just one playmaker away. The Clippers are big game hunting, and if they land one they become a threat.

Houston, however, should be at the front of that line… if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni are stalled, and at ESPN Tim MacMahon put together a fascinating inside look at the tension between at his isolation-heavy and at his peak James Harden and the intense but declining Chris Paul.

But Paul noticeably lost a step last season, as evidenced by analytics and the eye test. Paul pushed for more plays and sets in the Houston offense, more screening and deception, despite Harden being in the process of putting together a historically dominant individual offensive season.

“Chris wants to coach James,” says a source familiar with the stars’ dynamic. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”…

It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.

There’s tension there, but is it corrosive to the point of the team unraveling? Or, as GM Daryl Morey and everyone else with the Rockets says, is this just blown out of proportion? Time will tell.

Two things to point out.

First, tension between two stars and alpha personalities is far from new in the NBA (or any other professional sport), and it does not mean a team is in trouble. These things can be worked out, they just flared up more in the wake of the round two loss to the Warriors.

Second, these guys are stuck with each other. Obviously, the Rockets aren’t trading Harden. They would be open to trading CP3, but at age 34 and owed $124 million over three more seasons, there are no takers (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener, which they don’t). The players around them may change, the coach could change, but Harden and Paul have years left together.

This team is so close to a title, it’s hard to envision them really coming apart at the seams next season. These guys are too professional for that… although in wild NBA crazier things have happened.

Report: Bucks trying to trade Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova with draft-pick sweetener

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Coming off their best season in decades, the Bucks will send four quality players into free agency – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic.

How will Milwaukee keep its core intact?

Maybe by unloading Tony Snell ($11,592,857 salary next season, $12,378,571 player option the following season) or Ersan Ilyasova ($7 million salary next season, $7 million unguaranteed the following season).

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

With Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic, Milwaukee faces no salary-cap restrictions on keeping just those three. The only cost is real dollars, including potential luxury-tax payments.

It’s trickier with Lopez. Giving him the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to be about $9 million) – the most they can pay without opening cap space – would hard-cap the Bucks at a projected team salary of about $138 million. That could be a difficult line to stay under.

Unless Snell or Ilyasova are off the books.

Neither player has a desirable contract, which is why Milwaukee is shopping them with a draft pick attached. But both can still contribute. Ilyasova is a smart veteran power forward who shoots well from outside and takes a lot of charges. Snell is also a good outside shooter, and though his all-around game is lacking, there’s a dearth of helpful wings around the league.

The Bucks have the No. 30 pick in Thursday’s draft. They could select on behalf of another team then trade the draft rights. The Stepien rule applies only to future drafts.

Beyond that pick, Milwaukee is short on tradable draft picks. The Bucks have already traded two protected future first-round picks and their next three second-rounders. Dealing another first-rounder would require complex protections. Perhaps, a distant second-rounder is enough.

It’s important for Milwaukee to figure this out. Giannis Antetokounmpo likes this core group, and everyone is watching his level of satisfaction with the Bucks as his super-max decision approaches.