Gordon reads the tea leaves for the second half:
The All-Star break is over and games resume tomorrow night. Time to make some predictions for the final 30-or-so games of the season. First up, players and individual awards:
Kyle Korver keeps up his unprecedented shooting and makes NBA history by finishing the first ever 50-50-90 season. The Hawks were wearing down a little bit before the All-Star break; their last game was a one-point loss to the Celtics. The extra rest this year will help the Hawks and Korver stay fresh for the home stretch. He did make 7-of-12 threes during the All-Star Game.
Jimmy Butler wins the Most Improved Player Award. This seems pretty obvious. Butler has had a great season and made a huge bet on himself when he turned down the extension the Bulls offered him prior to the season. He is going to get paid. Whatever offer he gets in restricted free agency, the Bulls will certainly match.
Mike Budenholzer wins Coach of the Year. Steve Kerr would probably win this award if it weren’t for the season the Hawks are having.
Danny Ferry wins Executive of the Year. I’m not sure this is even possible since Ferry has been on an indefinite leave of absence since an embarrassing story broke last September, but with the Hawks coalescing into an Eastern Conference favorite, who else would it be? LeBron James? (Admittedly, that article already looks pretty short-sighted as the Cavs cruised into the break winning 14-of-16, including a stretch of 12 in a row.)
Steph Curry narrowly edges out James Harden for the Most Valuable Player Award. You can make an excellent case for either one of these guys, but I think the voters just like Curry more than they do Harden.
On to the teams and playoffs:
The Suns fall out of the eight seed. This is so sad. They could be the best team to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. And now Goran Dragic wants out and the Suns will apparently be forced to move him before the trade deadline. Just sad.
The Cavs climb up to the number two seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto and Washington have scuffled a little while the Cavs have been moving in the other direction. Maybe LeBron is a better GM than we thought.
Milwaukee wins a playoff series. This may seem pretty outlandish right now, but I see them getting Toronto in the 3-6 matchup and wreaking all kinds of havoc with their positional funkiness.
The trade deadline is boring, for the most part. Most of the teams with moves to make have already done so. There will be a trade or two, because there is always a trade or two, but most of the big moves have been made.
Memphis wins the Western Conference. They win with bulk in the pace-and-space era. No one else does what they do, which makes them so difficult to prepare for and match up against.
Atlanta wins the East. The dream season continues. They have proven their style of play can work against anyone and no one is scary with the possible exception of the Bulls and Cavs. But they will likely beat each up on each other in the conference semi-finals, leaving the Hawks with a bruised opponent in the conference finals.
And your NBA Champion is: your favorite team and mine, the Atlanta Hawks.
They win a grueling seven-game series with Memphis. And, thanks to a pick swap with the Nets, they also win the draft lottery, ushering in a decade of dominance unseen in the NBA since the 1960s.
Please excuse the indulgent piece of fan fiction above, but it is completely within the realm of possibility that the Hawks win the title. Especially when you consider that they have $4.9M in cap space, more than enough to sign a buy-out candidate or take on salary in a trade. (Thanks to Zach Lowe for the cap number.)
Anyway, enjoy the stretch run of the most intriguing NBA season in recent memory. It’s bound to be extremely entertaining.
(I was going to predict that Carmelo Anthony would sit out the remainder of the season to rest his ailing knees, but espn.com is reporting that he will have surgery and miss the rest of the season. I can’t predict what already happened – or should I say I’m already 1-for-1?)