2016 was one of the most fascinating years we will ever witness in the NBA. The Golden State Warriors set a new record for the greatest regular season record finishing 73-9. Kobe Bryant retired, scoring 60 points in his final NBA game. Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan quietly retired. The Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off an improbable comeback from down 3-1 in the NBA Finals to finally fulfill LeBron James’ promise of bringing a NBA Championship to the organization. The offseason continued to be shocking with Kevin Durant leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to form a ridiculous super team with Steph Curry and friends.
The current season is already off to a great start with new stars making up for the veterans retiring. Golden State is the dominant team in the NBA, embracing their villain role. LeBron is having another outstanding season. A couple of Superstars are getting to the next level of MVP territory. Fan interest is strong and the league continues to grow as a global phenomenon. Next we’ll see new All-Stars named, the regular season conclude with the MVP race finishing strong, another compelling postseason and a drama-filled free agency period in the offseason. We’ll take a look at some of the huge things that will happen in the crazy world of the NBA come 2017.
15. Stephen Curry Signs Historic Contract
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement in the NBA will make free agency a sweeter process for certain Superstars. Stephen Curry fits the bill as a two-time MVP that has spent his entire career with one team. These incentives would allow Curry to make $207 million over five years if the Golden State Warriors agree to re-sign him at such a figure.
Curry could easily get the biggest contract in NBA history. His current contract netting him $12 million per season has made Curry the most underpaid star in the NBA with his rise to offensive dominance. The summer of 2017 will finally see him cash in on his success to make an astonishing pay upgrade. Golden State fans adore Curry and there’s no way the Warriors franchise can afford to let him leave. Curry is setting history with the biggest NBA contract of all-time.
14. Dirk Nowitzki Retires
The likes of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett retiring in 2016 has changed the landscape of the NBA. Dirk Nowitzki is the only major star from the post-Michael Jordan era that is still active today. Unfortunately, age is starting to catch up to Nowitzki. The Dallas Mavericks have been forced to play with their top star sidelined and have one of the worst records in the NBA.
Nowitzki has gone on the record to say that he’s considering retirement after the season if the injuries continue to follow him. No one wants to end their career in pain on the bench, especially a future Hall of Famer. This will be his final season and he will formally announce his retirement by the summer. Dallas being in such a terrible spot means they’ll at least get a high draft pick and possibly find a Superstar replacement for Dirk.
13. Aaron Gordon Wins Slam Dunk Contest
One of the most underrated memories of 2016 was the spectacular Slam Dunk Contest showdown between Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon and Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine. The results saw LaVine win but a large percentage of viewers felt Gordon delivered the better dunks. We finally have two elite dunkers that are made to compete in the competition every year.
LaVine defending the title against Gordon will be one of the high points of the 2017 All-Star Weekend. Gordon has been delivering epic dunks all season with the toughness of the in-game aspect not preventing him from styling on the competition. We’re going to witness him have a tremendous performance this year, winning the Slam Dunk Contest one year after he was robbed.
12. Giannis Antetokounmpo Wins All-Star Game MVP
This may be a wild prediction to the casual fan. Not many people will want to watch the Milwaukee Bucks, but Giannis Antetokounmpo is quietly having one of the best seasons in the NBA. With current averages of 22.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game, Antetokounmpo is clearly going to make the All-Star Team in the Eastern Conference.
The Greek Freak will be a new face to the NBA elite but he has the talent to steal the show. Antetokounmpo does everything one can do on a basketball court and it shows in his numbers. The All-Star Game is always a crapshoot with the player with the best numbers on the winning team getting the MVP. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony likely won’t push themselves extremely hard to win the award with their attention on reserving energy for important games. It opens the window for someone like Antetokounmpo to win the award.
11. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry Have 50/40/90 Seasons
The elusive 50/40/90 season happens when an NBA star shoots 50% from the field, 40% from three-point range and 90% from the free throw line. A star really needs to be efficient to pull off such a feat with the only names to do so being Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.
Durant and Curry are poised to join Nash and Bird as the only stars to do it twice. They will also become the first teammates to pull off the feat if it happens. Curry is currently lacking at the overall field goal shooting percentage (48%) and Durant is lacking at the free throw line (87%) with a lot of time left in the season. Both men are talented enough to bump those numbers up and have a historic end to the year.
10. Stan Van Gundy Gets Fired Before Season Ends
The Detroit Pistons had hopes of being one of the better secondary teams in the Eastern Conference this season. Aside from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the rest of the East was wide open, with plenty of spots available in the upper half of the playoff bracket. As of this writing, Detroit has a 14-17 record and are sitting outside of the playoff picture.
Head coach Stan Van Gundy called out his team for not playing hard. Pistons star point guard Reggie Jackson put the blame on Van Gundy. Things are getting ugly in Detroit and the great players usually wins out in battles against the coach. Van Gundy being unable to harness the talent of the talented Pistons roster will likely see him getting fired sooner or later. The respected reputation of Van Gundy will make him a valued name on the coaching market.
9. Houston Trades For Rudy Gay
James Harden is having a spectacular season leading the Houston Rockets into a prime playoff spot. The chances of the Rockets having home court in the first round are good, but them challenging the three top teams in the West will be tough. Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Patrick Beverley all have strong skills, but Houston lacks another dynamic talent.
The Sacramento Kings have a dynamic talent on their roster that isn’t really a good fit. Rudy Gay is a great scorer with athleticism that makes him a threat any time the ball is in his hands. A trade is likely imminent and is going to happen before the 2017 deadline. The Rockets are a great fit for Gay. A combination of Harden and Gay would make the offense explosive with Gordon and Anderson just having to hit the open three-point shot.
8. Lakers Sneak Into Playoffs
The top seven teams in the Western Conference are almost all guarantees to make the playoffs barring injury. That leaves one final spot open for the rest of the teams to compete over. The Portland Trail Blazers hold the spot and are the favorites, but they don’t appear to have their chemistry working this season. Every other team in the West is within four games of Portland with a lot of time left.
The Los Angeles Lakers have looked interesting when everyone is healthy. Factor in the youth of the Lakers best players seeing improvements as time goes on and they have optimism to believe a playoff birth is in fact a possibility. The Lakers are going to have an impressive second half of the season with the journey to the eighth seed wide open. We’ll only have to wait one season in the post-Kobe Bryant era to see the Lakers return to the postseason.
7. James Harden Finishes Season Leading NBA in Assists
The best NBA stars are starting to see their stats rise in every category, rather than just points and one other area. James Harden is the proof of this with his incredible numbers so far this season. The Houston Rockets Superstar is averaging 27.8 points per game, but that isn’t surprising. However, the fact that he also puts up 11.7 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game is a shock.
Many pundits used to criticize Harden for being selfish with the ball. That has changed with Harden currently leading the league in assists. Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul are right behind him in the assists per game statistic. Harden is proving a point that he can be a facilitator. Houston likely acquiring another solid piece before the trade deadline will just continue to help Harden improve his assist numbers and he’ll finish at the top of the league in the passing stat.
6. Raptors and Spurs Challenge Cavs and Warriors… But Ultimately Fail
Everyone is expecting the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers to meet in the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year. Both teams are overwhelming favorites in their conference, but it isn’t a guarantee. The Toronto Raptors have great chemistry and improve every season. With less resting for the young team in the regular season, they could pass Cleveland to get home court in the playoffs.
The San Antonio Spurs humiliated the Warriors on opening night and have a roster that matches up well against the super team. San Antonio has the blueprint on how to beat Golden State. Both the Raptors and Spurs have enough talent to push the Cavaliers and Warriors to a seven game series. Sadly, they will each fall just short, giving us the Warriors/Cavaliers Final yet again after a hard fought Conference Finals.
5. DeMarcus Cousins Traded To Boston
DeMarcus Cousins’ numbers have been incredible so far this season with 29.0 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Unfortunately for him, the Sacramento Kings are once again having a below average season. Sacramento has a chance to make the eighth seed, but the likelihood is they will miss the playoffs again and won’t be a contender any time soon.
Cousins is wasting his prime and the Kings are failing to take steps forward in becoming a threat in the Western Conference. The lack of composure shown by Cousins with immature moments makes it clear he would be better off elsewhere. One team with young assets and draft picks to offer for a Superstar talent is the Boston Celtics. Cousins heading to Boston and joining Al Horford in the front-court makes sense for everyone involved.
4. LeBron James Will Not Finish In Top 3 MVP Voting
LeBron James has finished in the top three of the MVP vote every year over the past eight seasons. No one is technically as “valuable” to their team’s success as James and the numbers back it up. The Cleveland Cavaliers are once again destined to have a great season thanks to James leading the way. LeBron, however, is likely going to rest more than usual this season.
Six consecutive trips to the NBA Finals means that James is playing a lot of basketball. Cleveland will do everything to save his best days for the playoffs. That will hurt him in the MVP voting and end his streak of finishing in the top three. Russell Westbrook and James Harden are on pace to finish in the top two with their incredible stats. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan all having outstanding seasons will lead to at least one of them passing LeBron in the voting.
3. Russell Westbrook Falls Short Of Triple Double… But Wins MVP
We are all rooting for Russell Westbrook to finish the season with a triple double average, but it will be tough. Westbrook is definitely going to have the double figure averages for points and assists. The issue will come with him having to keep up the pace of spectacular rebounding. As a point guard, Westbrook currently averaging 10.5 rebounds is amazing, but shouldn’t be expected to continue.
As much as Westbrook wants the triple doubles, it will become more and more difficult as the season goes on. Things like back-to-back games and facing opponents battling for playoff spots and positioning deeper into the season will make stat chasing a tough task. Westbrook will fall just short of a triple double average, but his numbers will still be impressive enough to win the MVP Award, especially in his first season without Kevin Durant.
2. Golden State Wins NBA Championship
The Golden State Warriors winning the NBA Championship is the most boring pick because it’s extremely likely. Golden State has had one of the best two-year runs in NBA history and that was before they added future Hall of Famer Kevin Durant. The combination of Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green is a core no one can top unless something drastic happens.
LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated Golden State last year. They also happened to have the help of Curry dealing with injuries, Green being suspended for Game Five and a historic performance from James. Golden State having all of their stars back along with Durant is going to make them unbeatable in a seven-game series. The NBA Championship will once again be in the hands of the Warriors.
1. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin Both Leave Clippers In Free Agency
The summer of 2017 will once again have big free agent names hitting the market. Most of the top stars will remain with their current teams. However, two stars have valid reason to leave, with Los Angeles Clippers All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin both potentially entering free agency with early termination clauses in their contract. Paul has never played in the Conference Finals in his career and is unlikely to this year with the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs ruling the West.
An interview on the Vertical gave an insight into Paul’s deep desires to contend for a championship before his career ends. This will be his final chance to sign with a contender. Paul heading to the Spurs would help them match up against Golden State and give him his best shot at a title.
The departure of Paul makes it less worthwhile for Griffin to remain in Los Angeles. Remember the Clippers threw Griffin under the bus last season following his actions. His loyalty will be less of a factor and Griffin will ditch the Clippers to head home. Griffin joining the Oklahoma City Thunder would create a new dynamic duo with Russell Westbrook to contend in the West.