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‘Tis the Season(,) (There)For(e) Predictions

Professional basketball begins this week in 26 cities across the country. Rejoice, or w00t, as the kids are always saying to me these days.

(insert banalities about crystal balls and such)

I am making predictions! Here are they.

Pistons win total: 45

Using 39 wins last year as a baseline.

We add 3.5 wins by adding a competent coach. Essentially, I operate under the (not terribly scientific) assumption that coaches can impact seasonal performance by no more than five wins each way. In other words, Michael Curry costs you five wins, while Greg Popovich nets you five. Most coaches do neither, and I'm lumping Kuester in with the majority here. That would give us five wins, save for the fact that some of his impact will be duplicated below...

I think Rodney Stuckey ups his game this year. If we increase the tempo (Kuester's move, hence: duplication), we can take advantage of his explosiveness. If his PER clocks in at 17 or so, and he plays 30 mpg, this represents an average of 2.5 wins per game.

Swapping out Sheed for Villanueva, who is a superior offensive talent, and an equally inferior defender, is a wash.

The exchange of Ben Gordon for McDyess and Spellcheck is largely a wash. Bynum and Gordon add sufficient value to their minutes to offset the downgrade from McDyess to Kwame/Ben.

Eastern Conference Champ: Cavs

The Magic did more to improve in the offseason, but the Cavs were already a much better team, and addressed the matchup problem that lost them the EC Finals. As for the Magic's undefeated preseason, it is worth noting that the team has posted a 26-4 record over the last four preseasons. Impressive, but not necessarily indicative of regular season performance.

Boston deserves a mention here. So I'll mention the fact that Boston largely tread water during the offseason while their rivals substantially improved. They are the third best team in the conference if healthy, and they aren't likely to stay healthy.

Western Conference Champ: Lakers

Will Artest be a distraction? Doesn't matter. Intangibles and distractions matter to fringe contenders, not teams that feature Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

NBA Champ: Cavs

They would have won it last year had they been able to get past the Magic. They are the best team in basketball, and I think Shaq will get enough rest for a deep playoff run.

MVP: Dwight Howard

Voters love to find reasons not to give the award to the best player, and Dwight Howard will give them every reason they need to deny LeBron this year. He plays a tough position. His team is going to win 60 games. He forced his conference rivals to pick up an aging Shaq. He'll step up his game to offset the "loss" of Hedo Turkoglu (someone will write this, I guarantee it).

None of this adds as much value as LeBron does to his team, but that just doesn't always matter.

Coach of the Year: Flip Saunders

Great coach on a team that won 19 games last year and gets Gilbert Arenas back.

Defensive Player of the Year: Shane Battier

The team MIT built seems poised for the lottery, but if they inexplicably keep winning,expect a lot of attention for the league's most inexplicably effective player. Tim Duncan could make a sentimental push here as well, and Howard will be in the mix if he doesn't become the MVP front-runner (you can't be great at defense and valuable at the same time).

Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin

Almost a no-brainer, though the Kaman-Camby front-line will sap some of his rebounds. Still, he'll get the minutes and has the talent to run away with the award.

Most unlikely playoff team: Houston Rockets

See above. I'm drinking the Morey Koolaid. This guy is the MacGyver of GMs. Pops Mensah-Bonsu? Why the hell not?

Sixth Man of the Year: Ben Gordon

Why does the NBA hand out this award?

Most likely blockbuster trade partner: Dallas

The Mavericks are certain to be competitive, but aren't quite there talent-wise. Cuban has some pieces to work with and every incentive to bring on an ugly contract this year.

Biggest Disappointment: Raptors

One gets the impression that they are expecting big things in Toronto this year. Well, missing the playoffs is kinda big. Losing Bosh is certainly big. On the basketball court? Things won't be so big.

Greatest seismic shift: +/-, and what to do with it

No statistic has the potential to properly assess a player within a team context. Yet, the results are so frequently counter-intuitive (see: Durant, Kevin) that it can be difficult to take seriously. If someone cracks the code, it will become the basketball equivalent of OPS.

Biggest trend: Three point shooting

As three point shooting becomes more prevalent, we have reached the point where the worst thing a player can do is take a two point jump-shot. Teams will begin to exploit the threshold whereby the most effective game set is geared around the three point shot.