Get ready, America.
After being forced to stomach a NBA Finals sweep that was the least-watched in league history, salvation arrives with this year's predicted championship series, the riveting pairing of San Antonio and New Jersey.
San Antonio and Jersey?
|Yes, it sounds crazy, but if N.J. does go to the Finals, Jason Kidd will be a big reason why. (US Presswire)|
Gregg Popovich and his troops will earn the team's fifth championship in 10 years with a victory over the Nets, who they disposed of in six games to win the 2003 title in a series most of you didn't like, either. Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins are the lone holdovers from that squad, which was coached by Byron Scott and anchored by a then-healthy Kenyon Martin.
So why the Nets, especially now? Good question. There are some who don't even feel they will make the playoffs in the improved Eastern Conference. I've been asked if I lost a bet to Kidd in Las Vegas or something? Don't I know about his back? Jefferson's magnetic pull toward the inactive list once a season? Vince Carter's, well, Vince-anity?
Sure, a lot of things have to come together. Staying healthy is the chief variable. Getting continued development out of Nenad Krstic and a big season out of key offseason acquisition Jamaal Magloire are a must, but Kidd's presence makes everyone's job easier. He's morphed into Yoda. Very wise, he be. Healthy he stay, wise I look.
Keep in mind that none of the general managers polled in this year's preseason survey sees things as I do. Not one. Boston and Detroit came in with 26 percent of the votes to split the favorite role in that poll, while the Spurs locked up 52 percent support to come out of the Western Conference.
As far as the Finals are concerned, 37 percent selected San Antonio as the projected champion, but a single one went with Orlando, which tells you how vast the spectrum of opinion can be.
So, how about those Nets? Would you watch a Spurs/Nets Finals? How about New Jersey and Phoenix, which would help settle the Kidd/Steve Nash best point guard of this generation debate.
Well, tough. At least at this point, San Antonio is the prohibitive favorite and if it wins again, Tony Parker has to start getting mentioned in the same breath as Kidd and Nash, especially if he's as instrumental as he was last summer. If the Spurs win with Parker driving the bus, it would give the French guard four rings in seven seasons, surpassing what even Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were able to do. Each can claim three.
Here's who can claim the rest of the accolades this season, done in the spirit of the GM Survey.
Division winnersAtlantic: New Jersey; Southeast: Miami; Central: Chicago
Southwest: San Antonio; Northwest: Denver; Pacific: Phoenix
MVP: LeBron James is ready to be crowned the NBA's best player, according to GMs who gave him 30 percent of the vote, but I can't see that happening if Cleveland slips to third in the Central Division. Instead, new faces in new places are going to command attention, especially if Kobe Bryant winds up in Chicago. Right now, based on the buzz, Kevin Garnett is the safest preseason pick, because he's going to help engineer a 20-plus win turnaround. Phoenix should wind up with the league's top regular season record, so Nash and Amare Stoudemire will be right there as well. Interestingly, no general manager voted for reigning MVP Dirk Nowitzki, who didn't suddenly forget how to play the game. Houston's Yao Ming should be a viable candidate, too, as will Miami's Dwyane Wade, Washington's Gilbert Arenas, Toronto's Chris Bosh and Orlando's Dwight Howard. With so many options splitting votes, I'm going to sell out on my Nets motif and give a nod to Kidd, who came as close to averaging a triple-double last year as anyone has since Magic Johnson's early years in the league. Can you win an MVP averaging less than 15 points per game? We're about to find out.
If you were starting a franchise today and could sign any player in the NBA, who would it be? James, because he's been able to stay healthier than Wade. Howard, who finished a distant second to James in the GM's vote, would be the top big man to keep.
Which player forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments? Garnett, with so much help around him, will supply this year's most headaches.
Which player is most likely to have a breakout season in 2007-08? This question is far too vague, but I'd say Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, who just started scratching the surface of his potential, will keep Greg Oden smiling and salivating all season. Boston point guard Rajon Rondo will also make the most of his opportunity, surpassing anyone's expectations.
Which team made the best overall moves? Boston got 85 percent of the votes here for obvious reasons, which makes Danny Ainge your clubhouse leader for Executive of the Year.
Which one player acquisition will make the biggest impact? Garnett. If Bryant goes to Chicago, though ...
What was the most underrated player acquisition? The top vote-getters here were Houston picking up the rights to Argentina's Luis Scola from San Antonio, but I'm going to side with the option that got the second-most support (19 percent) and say it was Grant Hill signing with Phoenix. He'll be a stabilizing force in the locker room and has more than enough spring in his step to be a major factor.
What was the most surprising move of the offseason? Orlando signing Rashard Lewis for $118 million, which included working out a sign-and-trade just to give him an extra season and make him even happier. The Magic are rarely that gung-ho about spending and making an effort to win, but clearly, that climate has changed.
Rookie of the Year: Kevin Durant got 93 percent of the GMs votes and if you bought CBSSports.com's preseason magazine, you've already seen the spoiler. Durant gets my vote, too, with Atlanta's Al Horford and Acie Law, Houston's Scola and Minnesota's Corey Brewer rounding out my All-Rookie team.
Which rookie will be the best player in five years? Currently, you have to say Durant because of Oden's uncertainty, but it's hard to judge this as a result. Tell you what, though, Horford will also definitely be in the conversation.
Which rookie is the most athletic? Mike Conley is a blur whose dad was a world class Olympic athlete. It's hard not to go with him.
Which rookie is most likely to be a "sleeper" success? Again, this might be a little too vague, but Rodney Stuckey wasn't a lottery pick and had an impressive preseason before breaking his hand. He'll be back by Christmas and should start hitting his stride just in time for the stretch run. The Pistons should definitely count on a boost from their secret weapon.
Coach of the Year: It should be noted that GMs didn't vote on this award, instead giving Gregg Popovich the nod as best head coach in the league with 73 percent of the vote. He also got most support as best manager/motivator, best at in-game adjustments, best in the last two minutes of a close game, and best defensively. Just goes to show you what winning a handful of championships will do. Considering how little most expect out of New Jersey, though ... my preseason vote goes to Lawrence Frank.
Hey, at least I'm consistent.
Defensive Player of the Year: Boston's Rondo is going to get some consideration because he will lead the league in steals, but I'm going to ride Orlando's Dwight Howard, who will be a much more consistent factor on this end of the floor for new coach Stan Van Gundy. Expect his blocked shots to increase substantially, which combined with the force he can be on the boards, earns him my nod.
Most Improved: Rondo will earn my vote here. Not only will he be counted on to play 30-plus minutes per night, he'll be doing so with expectations hanging over his head next to three likely Hall of Famers who are counting on him to help deliver them the ball. He'll thrive, too. Chief competition here will come from Dallas' Devin Harris, Cleveland's Boobie Gibson, Minnesota's Gerald Green, Orlando's J.J. Redick, Indiana's Danny Granger and Utah's Ronnie Brewer.
Happy New Season. Be sure to print this column for future use. I'll expect to be able to say I told you so, but if not, ridicule is always encouraged.