Latest posts by Chris Sheridan (see all)
- Sheridan: A look behind, a look ahead at NBA’s one-month mark - November 14, 2018
- Sheridan’s Picks: Winners, losers and who won’t last with current team - October 15, 2018
When you cover the NBA, you pick your analogies carefully. For example: You don’t call someone the “next Michael Jordan” unless you are pretty damn sure he has 84 strands of championship DNA.
So as we head into the 2018-19 season and await yet another title for the Golden State Warriors, we shall choose the proper analogy:
This is the Year of the Rental.
Kawhi Leonard is going to be buying a whole new set of clothes after the first four months of the season, general manager Masai Ujiri will have no choice but to trade him to one of his desired destinations — likely Los Angeles, New York or Philadelphia.
Jimmy Butler is currently in limbo in Minneapolis, the Timberwolves’ effort to trade him having hit several dead ends that have yet to be resurrected. Every day brings new drama in that saga, and Butler PTSD is running rampant among NBA scribes.
All of the talk in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Staples Center — along with many points in between — concerns the summer of 2019 when more than half of the league’s players will either be free agents or angling for the right trade. See Davis, Anthony — who wants to be dealt to a larger market after the New Orleans Pelicans lost free agents DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo in the offseason and got nothing in return.
Cousins is on a one-year deal in Golden State (he is likely renting instead of buying), and Rondo is on a one-year deal in Los Angeles competing for playing time with Lonzo Ball (whose family had a rental in Lithuania last season, as you may have heard).
And Rondo is not the only member of the Lakers best advised to rent rather than buy. The holdovers from the pre-LeBron James era (most notably Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Ball) are more or less on an extended tryout. If LeBron does not think he can win with them, they will become expendable in February at the NBA trade deadline when Leonard, Davis and a whole host of big-name players could be on the market.
Remember one thing and one thing only when heading into this season: What the Lakers look like today means nothing. What they look like on March 1 is what will matter heading into the playoffs.
Let’s not forget: LeBron has been to eight consecutive NBA Finals. So he’s pretty good, OK?
With that in mind, let’s look into the crystal ball and try to determine who will come out of the season holding some hardware. My predictions follow:
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Lakers. It’s incredible to me how people continue to doubt this guy. How many times did we all hear: “He will never go to the West. He can’t win there!” Memo to the cranially deficient: If you tell LeBron he can’t do something, he is going to try to do it. Strong MVP candidacies should be had by Kyrie Irving (he will be the best player on the best team in the East, which usually means a lot to MVP voters) and Victor Oladipo of Indiana (best player on the best team does not necessarily have to be the Celtics, despite all of the self-assuredness that is rampant in Boston).
Rookie of the Year: Luka Doncic, Mavericks. He will be given every opportunity to log heavy minutes for the rebuilding Mavs, who still have enough holdovers from the past (Harrison Barnes, Wes Mathews, Dirk Nowitzki) along with a blend of new (Doncic and center DeAndre Jordan) to be a playoff contender despite preseason prognostications, for which we should always remember the armpit rule: Everyone has one, and most of them stink.
Coach of the Year: Mike Budenholzer, Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo and many of his teammates spent a week together in New York over the summer, and Coach Bud was with them. Whatever friction that existed between Giannis and Eric Bledsoe has dissipated, a floor spacer has been added on the cheap in Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton is coming off a summer in which he came of age with Team USA, and there was an addition by subtraction move in allowing Jabari Parker to leave. Memo to Knicks fans: Do not forget that Bud was on the board when the team was interviewing anyone and everyone they could find. Internal politics at MSG played a major role in Dave Fizdale getting the job.
Most Improved Player: Jarrett Allen, Nets. Jimmy Butler would be based in Brooklyn by now if not for the high hopes the Nets hold for Allen, their center of the future. Back when the Butler talks were first getting underway at the start of training camp, word on the street was that Butler could be had for D’Angelo Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Allen. Guess who the deal-breaker was? May challenge Rudy Gobert for the league lead in blocks.
Defensive Player of the Year: LeBron James. Typically, a bunch of MVP and other award voters give this one to the guy who led the league in blocks and/or steals. But with defensive analytics being what they are these days, a much better sample size of relevant data can be examined by those who take the time. And then there is this: Who is the guy who can lock down anyone on any given night and lead his team to places where they never dreamed they’d be? Answer: The only guy in human history who actually gets younger as he ages is going to be doing that this season for the Lake Show.
Teams not named “Golden State Warriors” who have a legitimate shot of winning the NBA championship: Utah Jazz; Los Angeles Lakers; Oklahoma City Thunder; Boston Celtics; Philadelphia 76ers; Indiana Pacers.
Worst team in the NBA: Toss-up between the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks.
First coach to be replaced: Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota.
Player you will regret not drafting in fantasy: Domantis Sabonis, Indiana.
Executive of the Year: Magic Johnson.
Chris Sheridan is the senior sports gambling writer for GetMoreSports.com and is a contributing writer for AmicoHoops. His columns will appear mid-month throughout the 2018-19 season.