Prediction time: NBA champion, MVP, all of the top awards


With the NBA season tipping off in less than 48 hours, it’s time to be wrong to put my predictions for the upcoming season on the record.

In a wide-open NBA season with a deep pool of title contenders, most of the awards feel the same way — this is going to be an unpredictable NBA season. Still, we’re going to try. So here are my predictions for the upcoming NBA season.

NBA Champion

Eastern Conference Finals: Bucks over Celtics
Western Conference Finals: Clippers over Warriors
NBA Finals: Bucks over Clippers

It’s been a quiet offseason for Milwaukee compared to its competitors, and with that, the Bucks have flown a bit under the radar. You know Giannis Antetokounmpo and Mike Budenholzer are just fine with that. This team won the title two seasons ago and might have returned to the Finals to defend that crown if not for Khris Middleton’s knee. The Bucks have the best player in the world in Antetokounmpo, a solid supporting cast, continuity and defense. There are just fewer questions about Milwaukee than any team out there.

Picking the Clippers is a bet on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George being healthy (as well as the Warriors just not coming through the way they did a season ago). Golden State has the roster to repeat, and the Nuggets and Suns must be considered. Still, I will take the versatility of the Clippers — they are 12 deep with quality rotation players, and Tyronne Lue is an underrated coach by many who will know how to use them.

Most Valuable Player: Joel Embiid (76ers)

Luka Doncic is the betting favorite to win MVP — for good reason. With Jalen Brunson having packed up and left for New York, Doncic will be asked to carry even more of an offensive load for the Mavericks. He will put up massive numbers, but can he lead the Mavericks to enough wins? The 76ers are going to win a lot of games, Joel Embiid is their best player and will not just put up MVP numbers again but will impact winning. Plus, after finishing second the last two years, there is a narrative voters will latch onto.

Others in the mix: Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum, Stephen Curry and, if the Nets win a lot, Kevin Durant. Nikola Jokic should be in this group, too, but to win his third MVP in a row it will have to be such an undeniable choice voters don’t have another option.

Defensive Player of the Year: Bam Adebayo (Heat)

There’s good reason to think Rudy Gobert could win his fourth DPOY — we grew numb to what he did in Utah and took it for granted, but now thrust into a new situation in Minnesota he could remind everyone what a force he is on that end of the floor. That said, I will take Adebayo and his versatility keeping the Heat defense near the top of the league. After watching him thrive the past couple of postseasons, voters are catching on to what Adebayo can do. Antetokounmpo and Mikal Bridges could also be in the mix, and Evan Mobley is a great long-shot candidate. (Robert Williams might have been the favorite to win the award, but after his latest surgery the Celtics big man will miss too many games.)

Rookie of the Year: Paolo Banchero (Magic)

It’s hard to pick anyone but Banchero, the No.1 pick should run away with this. He can get buckets, and he’s got impressive shot creation skills on a Magic that doesn’t have anyone else who fills that role nearly as well. Banchero is going to get all the touches he wants. Two long-shot candidates to watch based on seeing them at Summer League and in the preseason: Bennedict Mathurin of the Pacers and Keegan Murray of the Kings. Both will get a lot of run and are great fits with their teams.

Sixth Man of the Year: Jordan Poole (Warriors)

Poole is the obvious choice, but the new $140 million man is primed for a huge season and the biggest obstacle to him winning the award is likely him starting too many games (because of injuries/rest for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson). Poole found his form last season and the Warriors are going to lean into him more this season.

I almost chose Malcolm Brogdon of the Celtics, but I just trust Poole more. If John Wall bounces back with the Clippers he could be in the mix, and same for Kevin Love if he continues to play well off the bench for the Cavaliers. Finally, Christian Wood is an interesting bet out of Dallas, he could have a monster offensive season.

Coach of the Year: Chris Finch (Timberwolves)

Erik Spoelstra has a real chance — people nationally are a little down on the Heat after a quiet offseason, but his teams always beat expectations. A top-3 finish for the Heat and Spo could get the hardware. But I will bet on Finch because the Timberwolves will win a lot of games and fitting Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns together with Anthony Edwards is not simple. It’s a wide-open field this year and a lot of quality coaches could be in the mix at the end: Taylor Jenkins in Memphis, Michael Malone in Denver, Willie Green in New Orleans and more.

Most Improved Player: Tyrese Haliburton (Pacers)

Always the most challenging award to predict because the very concept is the player who surprised us with the biggest jump in skills. Haliburton isn’t so much improved as just put in a better spot to showcase those skills on what will be an otherwise unimpressive Pacers team (looking to trade its other best players in Myles Turner and Buddy Hield). Other players to watch in this category, Anthony Edwards and Tyrese Maxey. (Zion Williamson is a betting favorite, but is he really improved or just healthy for the season?).

NBA owners, players union reportedly agree to push back CBA opt-out date


NBA owners and players are both making too much money to risk screwing things up with a labor stoppage, right? RIGHT?

Don’t be so sure.

In a sign the two sides have a lot of work to do to reach terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement — primarily because of an internal dispute among the owners — the NBA (representing the owners) and the players union have agreed to push back the opt-out date for the CBA from Dec. 15 (this would end the current CBA on July 1, 2023). Marc Stein reported this earlier in the week (covered here) and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski added details today.

Talks on a new CBA are ongoing, and a formal ratification of an extension — likely into February — is expected to come at a virtual board of governors meeting Wednesday, sources said.

What’s the stumbling block? A group of owners — bothered by the massive spending into the luxury tax of the Warriors, Clippers, and Nets  — is pushing for an “Upper Spending Limit” for teams. Call it whatever they want, that’s a hard cap and there is no chance the players will sign off on any form of a hard cap. 

The NBA has used a punitive and progressively intense luxury tax to rein in the spending of some owners. However, some owners — how many is unclear, but enough that the NBA has put the issue on the table — feel the tax isn’t doing its job in the wake of new, even wealthier owners. 

Unquestionably some owners are unbothered by the tax. To use the example I have used before, Steve Ballmer’s Clippers are on track to pay $191.9 million in payroll this season, which will result in a $144.7 million luxury tax bill (leading to a payroll and tax total of $336.6 million). The Warriors and Nets will be in the same ballpark. The Clippers will pay more in tax alone than 11 teams will spend on total payroll. Two-thirds of NBA teams will pay around $150 million in payroll or less, not much more than the Clippers’ tax bill.

Recently, the same NBA owners approved a rule change that would allow a sovereign wealth fund — the financial arms of generally oil-rich countries such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia — to buy up to 20% of an NBA team as a silent partner. That has not happened yet, but the door is open. It’s part of a pattern of wealthier owners — including hedge fund managers and the like — entering the playing field for the NBA.

All that has some of the more established, older owners feeling squeezed by this new group’s willingness to spend. That has the older owners pushing for a hard cap to stop what they see as an increased willingness to spend.

Again, there is no chance the players approve a hard cap. The owners know this, but some seem willing to play brinksmanship with a lucrative, growing business (particularly internationally) to protect their bottom lines.

If you read all that and thought, “this isn’t about the players really, it’s an owner vs. owner issue,” you’re spot on. The league and players are giving the owners more time to work out their internal issues.

Are struggling Mavericks on the clock with Luka Doncic?


Luka Doncic is in the first year of a five-year, $215.2 million contract. More than that, when asked recently if Mavericks fans should be worried about him wanting out as the team has stumbled at points to start this season, Doncic didn’t sound like a guy looking to bolt:

“I don’t think they’re worried about it right now. I got what, five years left here, so I don’t think they should be worried about it.”

The Mavericks’ front office should be worried about it — teams are always on the clock with a superstar.

The Mavericks let Jalen Brunson get away in the offseason, then brought in Christian Wood (whose defense is an issue and he is coming off the bench). This remains a team a player or two away from contending despite having a potential MVP in Doncic carrying a historic offensive load.

That doesn’t mean Doncic will ask out at the deadline or this summer (he won’t), but if his frustration grows over the next couple of years… who knows. Tim MacMahon of ESPN put it well on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM):

“I think they have a two-year window. This season and next season going into that summer [2024]. I think they have a two-year window where, you know, like Milwaukee did with Giannis [Antetokounmpo], I think in that window they really need to convince Luka that he has a chance to contend year in and year out right here in Dallas. If they can’t get it done in that two-year window, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he’s going to force a trade or ask for a trade. I’m just saying at that point if he’s not happy, he has all the leverage in the world if he would be looking to leave..

“I don’t think Luka will look for reasons to leave. I think he’d be perfectly happy spending his entire career in Dallas. But if he doesn’t have to look for reasons and they’re slamming him in the face, then that’s a problem. He’s also a guy who is a ruthless competitor, which means he loves winning. He’s used to winning. He won championships with Real Madrid. He won a EuroBasket championship with the Slovenian national team. He also detests losing. Like can’t handle it.”

The Mavericks made the Western Conference Finals last season, knocking off the 64-win Suns in the process — this team is not that far away. Not with Doncic handling the ball. But it feels like a team that has taken a step back from those lofty levels this season. There are many more questions than answers, and it’s impossible to guess how Doncic will feel after this season’s playoffs, let alone the ones ending in the summer of 2024.

But the Mavericks stumbles this season have to put the Dallas front office on notice — this team is not good enough. And if we know it, you can be sure Doncic knows it.

Curry thinking retirement? ‘I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon’

2022 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards Presented by Chase
Kimberly White/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

Stephen Curry is playing at an MVP level this season: 30 points a game, hitting 43.2% from 3 with a 66.4 true shooting percentage, plus pitching in seven assists and 6.6 rebounds a game. He remains one of the best-conditioned athletes in the sport.

In the face of that, even though he is 34, asking him a retirement question seemed an odd choice, yet a reporter at the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award ceremony — Curry won the award, if you didn’t know — asked Curry about it seems he’s not interested.

Curry should not be thinking of retirement, but there is a sense around these Warriors that this era, this run is coming to an end in the next few years. Curry may be defying father time, but Draymond Green and Klay Thompson (especially post injuries) are not. There is a decline in their games (and this season, the role players have not stepped up around them the same way). With that comes a certain pressure to take advantage of the opportunities, there aren’t going to be as many.

Which is why the Warriors are a team to watch at the trade deadline (and will they sell low on James Wiseman to a team that still sees the potential in him?).

As for Curry, he will still be around and producing for a few more years. Nobody is ready to think about his retirement. Including Curry himself.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins


To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.