NBA predictions for 2011
A work stoppage after July 1 is inevitable, and it won't be resolved by year's end
Carmelo Anthony, this season's LeBron James, will end up in New Jersey
The NBA will get an influx of college coaches, while players will look overseas
1. There will be a work stoppage on July 1 ... and it won't be over by Dec. 31. The fundamental difference between the two sides -- owners complaining the league is hemorrhaging cash, players thinking it is raking it in -- has made a lockout inevitable. The owners aren't looking for subtle changes, either. They are going for the jugular, targeting max salaries and guaranteed contracts and looking to cut deeper into the players' piece of the revenue pie. Talks will break down at the February All-Star break and both sides will dig in. After the 1997-98 season, a lockout lasted nearly seven months, until Jan 20, 1999; it will be at least that long this time around.
2. Carmelo Anthony will be traded to New Jersey. Much like the LeBron Watch did last season, the "where will 'Melo end up" storyline has dominated the first half of this one. It's no secret Anthony wants to play in New York; but it's even less of a secret that he craves signing the $65 million extension that almost certainly won't be available to him this summer, when the CBA will be rewritten. The Nuggets don't want to trade him to a conference foe (sorry, Dallas and Houston) and prefer a wealth of draft picks in any package (there goes the Knicks). That leaves the Nets, a franchise bankrolled by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, that will move into a sparkling $900 million arena in Anthony's hometown of Brooklyn in 2012.
3. The Trail Blazers will be dismantled. Once a young team on the rise, the Trail Blazers have been crippled by injuries and their title hopes have all but vanished. With former top pick Greg Oden out another season with a knee injury and Brandon Roy battling a knee problem of his own, new GM Rich Cho will hit the reset button with this group and dump Roy, Andre Miller and Joel Przybilla, and rebuild around LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews.
4. The Bobcats will rally to make the playoffs. The firing of Larry Brown leaves an already unsettled team in complete chaos, and rumors are flying that owner Michael Jordan is ready to hold a fire sale for the roster. But the firm hand of interim coach Paul Silas will regain control of the team and offensive-oriented point guard D.J. Augustin will thrive away from Brown's controlling hand. Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace will pick up their play in the second half of the season and Charlotte will beat out Milwaukee for the No. 8 spot.
5. LeBron James will win his third straight MVP. Kevin Durant was supposed to inherit the hardware once James signed on to share the ball with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. However, James continues to put up staggering offensive numbers while spearheading one of the league's stingiest defenses. With a huge second half by James and his team, LeBron will join Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird as the only players to win the MVP award three years in a row.
6. An out-of-town buyer will swoop in and buy the Hornets. The NBA will push for Gary Chouest or another local millionaire to take the team off its hands, but money talks and the real money will come from the pockets of someone looking to move the Hornets out of town. The NBA will voice nominal objections and swear up and down that it will consider New Orleans as a future destination, but the city's tepid interest in the team won't make the league think twice about letting a free-spending owner take the club elsewhere.
7. The Dallas Mavericks will unseat the Lakers as Western Conference champions. Forget Carmelo; the addition of Tyson Chandler has fortified the Mavericks' defense, balanced out one of the NBA's deepest and most diverse offensive attacks and made many doubters -- myself included -- believe Dallas has the strength on both sides of the ball to challenge for the Western Conference title. Dirk Nowitzki will finish in the top three in the MVP race, and the Mavericks will go into the playoffs with home-court advantage and the deepest roster in the conference.
8. The return of Yao Ming. Yao's brittle bones cost him another season but they won't prevent him from mounting another comeback for 2011-12. And despite reports of Houston's shopping its franchise center (and his expiring contract), Yao's comeback will happen in a Rockets uniform. GM Daryl Morey will work out a deal that enables Yao to continue to rehab under the team's care, and Houston will put the millions it spent on machines and manpower to work nursing him back to health. If a work stoppage doesn't erase all of next season, Yao will be back and show flashes of his former brilliance.
9. Hiring college coaches will again become en vogue. The colossal failure of Mike Montgomery, Rick Pitino, John Calipari and Tim Floyd temporarily stemmed the flow of coaches from the college ranks. But with possible openings in Sacramento, Golden State, Portland, Memphis and Detroit, the lessons learned will be forgotten. NBA owners will bypass seasoned assistants and once again dip into the NCAA pool and throw gobs of cash at a group that includes Calipari, Tom Izzo and Jay Wright.
10. NBA's loss is interational leagues' gain. Whenever the labor dispute ends, the NBA will be short a few players. Scores of players will sign overseas contracts during the work stoppage as wealthy European teams look to boost attendance with A-list NBA stars. While players with existing NBA contracts can be recalled, teams will have a more difficult time getting rookies and free agents to return. Foreign teams will look to lock up unsigned players to contracts that will keep them overseas for the duration of the season.