May 10, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce (34) guards Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) during the third quarter in game three of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Barclays Center. Brooklyn Nets won 104-90. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Part of the fun of the off-season is to make predictions about what is to come. What should fans expect to happen in the NBA this season?
Pierce and Washington Wizards will knock out LeBron James and Cavs
Though they didn’t make any splashy moves, the Washington Wizards quietly improved their roster with a number of veteran players. Most notably is former All-Star Paul Pierce who is trying to make one more run at a title before retirement. The problem is he hasn’t been able to get past LeBron James since 2011. Now that the King is back Cleveland, it creates a power vacuum in which Pierce may see a level playing field. Not only will the veteran and his new team meet James again in the playoffs next May, but the Wizards will shock everybody when they knock the Cavaliers out.
Tony Snell will supplant Mike Dunleavy in Bulls starting lineup
Everything seems set for the Chicago Bulls heading into the coming NBA season. Their front court is among the deepest in the league. Derrick Rose is back and their bench appears to have a nice rotation of shooters available. The only thing left undecided is their final starting lineup. Most assumed it will be Rose at point guard, Jimmy Butler at shooting guard, Mike Dunleavy Jr. at small forward, Pau Gasol at power forward and Joakim Noah at center. It’s a fair assumption, with one exception.
Fans should expect a surprise at small forward. Mike Dunleavy Jr. is the most experienced at that position and brings plenty of shooting prowess, but he will be supplanted by second-year man Tony Snell. The New Mexico product was modestly good as a rookie but nowhere near ready. However, after a full off-season of work he has looked light years better in the Summer League, averaging 25 points per game and over 50% shooting from three-point range. That alone makes him a threat to Dunleavy, but what will put him over the top is his defense. Snell is a better athlete and will bring value to the floor in guarding opposing scorers, something Dunleavy can only offer in limited quantities.
Warriors will relent on Klay Thompson for Kevin Love
The resistance from the Golden State Warriors front office on the issue of making sharpshooter Klay Thompson part of the trade package for All-Star Kevin Love remains strong. It has created an impasse with the Minnesota Timberwolves and threatens to cause a breakdown. NBA fans should not expect any changes for awhile. Clearly the Warriors believe the loss of Thompson would hurt their title chances more than gaining Love would help them. It will take some time before they realize to win in that Western Conference they will need a dominant front court, which they don’t have. Adding Love would change that. Sooner or later Golden State will see it too and give the green light on Thompson.
Miami Heat will win a playoff series
The loss of LeBron James has all but crippled the title chances of the Miami Heat in the minds of many. That is an unavoidable consequence. At the same time, team president Pat Riley has showed some savvy in quickly rebuilding the roster. He brought back Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade on new deals, added Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts to the bench and then signed Luol Deng. It is a much more formidable lineup than people realize, showing a nice blend of scoring potential and defense. Is it NBA championship material? Not likely. Still, the group is better than a lot of what the Eastern Conference has to offer at present. Not only will the Heat make the playoffs in 2014-2015, they will stun many by winning their first series.