8 Bold Predictions for the 2nd Half of the 2013-14 NBA Season
Halfway through the 2013-14 NBA season, a number of outcomes appear all but preordained.
Barring injury, the Indiana Pacers will run away with the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Barring an eruption from Mount LeBron, Kevin Durant will earn his first-ever regular-season Most Valuable Player award.
Other contests—the No. 3 seed in the East, the Rookie of the Year race, the final playoff spot in the West—remain far more up in the air. We're also bound to see at least one league-shaking surprise between now and the Feb. 20 trade deadline.
With that in mind, enjoy these eight bold predictions for the second half of the 2013-14 NBA season.
Notes: Remember, these are bold predictions. They're not the most likely outcome to occur (see: KD as MVP), but they're within the realm of possibility. All statistics and records are current through Jan. 28.
The Minnesota Timberwolves Will Make the Playoffs
The Minnesota Timberwolves entered the season with a gun to their heads.
Their best player, 2014 All-Star starting forward Kevin Love, can opt out of his contract following the 2014-15 season. Back in December 2012, Love all but told Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski that if the T'Wolves weren't serious contenders by his opt-out date, he'd leave.
I haven't been in the playoffs yet. I'm looking at my contract in the eye of two years from now, and if I haven't been to the playoffs – or it's been one playoff berth – well, it's going to be tough to say, 'Oh well, I'm going to stay here and continue to rebuild.'
Minnesota crumbled amid an avalanche of injuries during the 2012-13 season—Love only played 18 games all year—and missed the playoffs by 14 games. Based on the power forward's comments to Wojnarowski, last season's failure only increases the Timberwolves' urgency to make the 2014 playoffs.
As of Jan. 29, the Timberwolves' 22-22 record has them three games behind the Dallas Mavericks for the West's No. 8 seed. Their average point differential (plus-4.6) is higher than all but four teams in the conference, however, suggesting that their record doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of their team.
Expect Minnesota to overtake either Dallas or Phoenix (one game ahead of Dallas) for one of the conference's final two playoff spots in the second half of the year.
The Brooklyn Nets Will Be the East's No. 3 Seed
After stumbling through the first two months of the season, the Brooklyn Nets have seemingly righted the ship since the calendar flipped to 2014.
As of Nov. 30, Brooklyn's record stood at 5-12, tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for third-worst in the East. Things didn't get much better in December, as the team went 5-9 while losing starting center Brook Lopez for the season to a broken foot.
Once the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs thrashed the Nets in the last week of 2013, all hope appeared lost. Even in a dismal East, Brooklyn sat 11 games under .500 (10-21), tied with the Cavs and the Orlando Magic for fourth-worst in the East (trailing only Milwaukee, New York and Philadelphia).
The Nets flipped the switch since the beginning of 2014, however, kicking the year off with a stunning 95-93 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Through Jan. 29, they've ripped off 10 wins in their previous 12 games, vaulting to the No. 7 seed in the East. Their defense largely fueled the rise, as they're tied for fifth in the league in defensive efficiency this month, per NBA.com (100.9 points per 100 possessions allowed).
Brooklyn's only two losses of 2014 have both come at the hands of the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors, who currently sit 2.5 games ahead of it in the playoff race. The squad lost a last-second heartbreaker against Toronto on Jan. 29, 104-103, after Patrick Patterson knocked home the go-ahead jumper with six seconds left.
Given the way the Nets have banded together over the past four weeks, the Raptors only delayed the inevitable with that late-January win. Not only will Brooklyn overtake them to win the Atlantic, but it'll also finish as the No. 3 seed in the East, beating out Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, too.
The Detroit Pistons Will Trade Greg Monroe
The Detroit Pistons dug themselves into a hole by signing Josh Smith to a four-year, $54 million deal this past offseason.
By inking Smith to that deal, they effectively sealed their fate with Greg Monroe, who is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Instead of having a frontcourt of the future in Monroe and Andre Drummond, the Pistons likely will lose the 23-year-old to a higher bidder in July.
That's why Detroit needs to pull the trigger on a trade for Monroe by Feb. 20. The chance of retaining the big man as a restricted free agent doesn't outweigh the value of getting something in return for him, especially given the high probability that he signs a lucrative deal elsewhere this summer.
The Washington Wizards are "planning to pursue Monroe, either through trade or free agency," per Alex Kennedy of BasketballInsiders.com, and the trade chatter surrounding the big man should only heat up as the deadline draws nearer. As noted by Kennedy, "it's not every day that a 23-year-old big man with Monroe's skill set and potential becomes available."
Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster also suggested the New Orleans Pelicans as a potential landing spot for the Georgetown product. Given his Louisiana roots and the chance to share a frontcourt with budding superstar Anthony Davis, the Pelicans might be the ideal destination for Monroe.
With Smith submarining his trade value by bricking jumpers left and right, the Pistons can't keep their dysfunctional frontcourt as is. Unless they're willing to risk losing Monroe for absolutely nothing come July, they'll need to move him before the trade deadline.
Trey Burke Will Be Named Rookie of the Year
At the halfway point of the 2013-14 season, Philadelphia 76ers point guard Michael Carter-Williams appears to be the runaway favorite for the Rookie of the Year award.
ESPN.com's Forecast panel recently gave Carter-Williams 40 of its 51 first-place votes for the award. Orlando Magic point guard Victor Oladipo earned seven first-place votes, while Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke took home the remaining four first-place votes.
Given Carter-Williams' eye-popping per-game stats—17.4 points, 6.7 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 steals—not to mention the Sixers' miserable record with him sidelined (1-10), it's no surprise that he's the front-runner for the award. Rule out Burke at your own peril, though.
The Jazz rookie missed the first 12 games of the season after fracturing his right index finger during an Oct. 12 preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Utah went 1-11 during that stretch, staking early pole position in the "Riggin' for Wiggins" race.
Since Burke made his debut on Nov. 20, however, the Jazz have been a respectable 15-18. His per-game stats—13.3 points, 5.7 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 0.7 steals—don't jump off the page like Carter-Williams' do, but he clearly has as much of an impact on his team's bottom line.
With dark-horse Rookie of the Year candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo ruled out due to the Milwaukee Bucks' brutal season, the race will boil down to Burke and MCW. Despite Carter-Williams' superior per-game stats, voters will reward Burke for helping to make his team somewhat respectable since his late-November debut.
The Philadelphia 76ers Will Finish with the NBA's Worst Record
Heading into the 2013-14 season, many NBA observers expected the Philadelphia 76ers to range from "depressingly mediocre" to "raging tire fire." Oddsmakers set the team's over-under win total at 16.5, the lowest of any team, per the Associated Press' Tim Dahlberg.
The Sixers defied that logic in the early going, ripping off three straight season-opening wins against Miami, Washington and Chicago. They quickly regressed to the mean, however, going 6-21 through the rest of 2013.
As of Jan. 29, they sit at 14-31, the third-worst record in the NBA. They're 2.5 games ahead of the Orlando Magic and a whopping 5.5 games ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks, which speaks more to the Bucks' misery than the Sixers' talent.
To ensure a top-five draft pick in June, the Sixers must finish with no better than the second-worst record in the league. Philadelphia general manager Sam Hinkie won't stop there, though.
By the time the Feb. 20 trade deadline rolls around, one (or more) of these players—Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young—will no longer call Philadelphia home. Hinkie's beautiful dark twisted fantasy has only just begun.
The Sixers remained shockingly competitive for the first half of the season, but the race to the bottom of the league is now all systems go. The smoldering wreckage left in Philadelphia after the trade deadline will plummet straight to the worst record in the league, somehow managing to even surpass Milwaukee.
The Portland Trail Blazers Will Finish with the NBA's Best Record
The Portland Trail Blazers' rise from playoff hopeful to championship contender should go down as one of the biggest surprises in the first half of the season.
Portland entered the year as a fringe playoff contender, but through the halfway point of the season, it owns the league's fifth-best record (33-13). The Blazers sit a half-game behind the San Antonio Spurs and three games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder in the West, while trailing Indiana by 2.5 games in the East.
With LaMarcus Aldridge posting a career-high 24.3 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game and sophomore Damian Lillard building upon his impressive Rookie of the Year campaign, the Blazers should be taken seriously. Four losses since Jan. 20 may have some skeptical of the squad's staying power, however.
Consider this: Portland is tied with Miami for the league lead in offensive rating (109.5 points per 100 possessions), per NBA.com. Its defensive shortcomings—it ranks 23rd in defensive rating, per NBA.com—won't be as much of an issue in the regular season as they will in the playoffs.
As the wear and tear of the regular season builds up, a team with such immense scoring potential only stands to benefit. Knowing San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, he'll begin his typical maintenance program for his stars once the No. 1 seed appears wholly out of reach.
That leaves the Thunder as Portland's main obstacle in the West. Reintegrating Russell Westbrook into the OKC lineup could end up costing the team a few games, which should give the Blazers an opportunity to squeak ahead.
In the East, barring another 27-game win streak from the Miami Heat, the Pacers should have the No. 1 seed locked up by early April. That should allow coach Frank Vogel to rest his stars too, opening the door for Portland to seize the league's overall best record.
Derrick Rose Will Be Back by the Playoffs
After missing the entirety of the 2012-13 season to recover from ACL surgery, Derrick Rose made his triumphant return on opening night this year.
His Chicago Bulls couldn't knock off the defending-champion Miami Heat, but seeing Rose make it through a full NBA game healthy was a moral victory for the organization.
That moral victory lasted less than a month, however. While making a routine turn against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 22, Rose tore the medial meniscus in his right knee.
According to the Hospital for Special Surgery (via B/R's Will Carroll), the surgery Rose underwent—an arthroscopic repair of the medial meniscus—typically has a recovery time between 12 and 16 weeks. Following the procedure, however, the Bulls ruled him out for the rest of the season.
After the fiasco of the 2012-13 season—namely, the never-ending "when will he return?" questions—it's no surprise the Bulls played it conservative with Rose's recovery window this time around. Chicago general manager Gar Forman told Bulls.com's Sam Smith "it's a six-month process" for the star point guard.
The franchise clearly won't risk Rose's long-term health to rush him back. However, there's no question that "The Return" debacle left a bitter taste in the mouths of everyone involved.
Rose will push himself to get back before the start of the 2014 playoffs, putting a permanent end to the questions about his heart and desire. And Chicago will love him for it.
The New York Knicks Will Trade Carmelo Anthony
Fresh off Carmelo Anthony's record-setting 62-point night against the Charlotte Bobcats on Jan. 24, the New York Knicks would be crazy to trade him, right?
Wrong. There's no better time to trade a player than right after a career-best performance jacks up his perceived value.
The New York Knicks have two options with Anthony, as B/R's Howard Beck wrote earlier this month. They can either keep him past the trade deadline and pray he's not willing to walk away from the extra $30 million in free agency that they can offer, or they can cut bait on him now and begin their inevitable rebuilding process.
The latter option would be the wiser of the two choices, as Beck explains:
The Knicks should trade Anthony now, regardless of his intentions, if they ever hope to build a more sustainable model. While they are at it, the Knicks should move Tyson Chandler—and anyone else of value—to begin restocking their supply of draft picks and young talent.
This is the way the smart franchises operate in the luxury tax era: spend wisely, use draft picks prudently, develop young players, value your assets. And when you hit a dead end, cash out and start over.
With Melo having wrested the Madison Square Garden scoring record away from Kobe Bryant, there's little more for the Knicks to play for this season. At best, they're looking at a low playoff seed and a first-round knockout at the hands of Miami or Indiana.
Re-signing him to a five-year max deal this summer will condemn the Knicks to the treadmill of mediocrity for the next half-decade. They'll ultimately realize that the slow burn toward competing for a championship outweighs Melo's marketing appeal and will offload him to the highest bidder by Feb. 20.