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Sam Smith predicts NBA’s annual awards

As the 2012-13 NBA season gets started, it’s wide open and ready to go. Sam Smith isn't saying who will win the championship, but he does offer an early look at who may win the MVP, Coach of the Year and some of the other league accolades.
"The big game of opening night is the Celtics in Miami," writes Sam Smith of a game that will feature Ray Allen facing his former team. "Actually, a few more than just in Boston think the Celtics do have a chance to upset the Heat."
(Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

So who do I think is going to be in the NBA Finals next June? I think I know whom the NBA expects. Yes, it’s the Lakers and the Heat.

No one’s really saying, but the NBA’s 2012-13 season opens Tuesday with both the Lakers and Heat hosting each end of the national TV TNT doubleheader.

Coincidence, most likely.

Actually, it’s not a bad prediction since there’s pretty much no one outside Boston doubting Miami’s return to the Finals, if not another championship.

And, of course, the biggest story of the NBA summer was the Lakers’ acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to join Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. That scenario supposedly gained substance with this week’s trade by the defending Western Conference champion Thunder of Sixth Man of the Year James Harden to Houston.

The Thunder remains a serious contender, though perhaps not to TNT.

The third game of opening night has Cleveland hosting Washington. It may be the NBA always has the Cavaliers opening just in case LeBron James ever decides to return.

The big game of opening night is the Celtics in Miami. Actually, a few more than just in Boston think the Celtics do have a chance to upset the Heat. There’s already new bad feelings with Ray Allen signing with Miami and a series of competing interviews in which it appears Ray and Kevin Garnett aren’t friends anymore, Doc and Ray may not be and the Celtics may not be retiring Allen’s number. That would reduce their retired numbers, it is believed, to 156.

Yes, now it seems some people hate Ray Allen more than LeBron.

The Heat return essentially the same team, though less reviled after winning and with James the undisputed heavyweight king of the NBA. Finally, he is a king.

But the Celtics had a heck of an offseason in adding Jason Terry, who pretty much beat Miami in the Finals in 2010, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, Darko Milicic, Leandro Barbosa and rookies Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo. They believe they have the depth and size to take Miami. And were close last season without it.

The Lakers open with a punching bag in Dallas without Dirk Nowitzki. Eddy Curry, picked up last week, may even start at center backed up by Elton Brand. A decade ago we never got a chance to see it. I’m not sure Mavs fans want to now.

Kobe Bryant has been slowed in preseason and may not play Tuesday. So the Bulls’ 72-10 season seems safe for another year.

But there are plenty of intriguing storylines this season in addition to the presumed coronation of the Lakers or Heat. The Celtics, Spurs, Thunder, and even the Nuggets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Pacers and perhaps even the Bulls depending on Derrick Rose’s return may have a say in it before it’s over.

Meanwhile, there’s the question of not only Harden in Houston but former insane point guard Jeremy Lin. The 76ers have spirit, and it all depends on still ailing center Andrew Bynum. The Pacers believe it’s time for them and the Bobcats have to win one of their first four to avoid the longest ever NBA losing streak. Mike, we’re rooting for you.

The Magic have pretty much disappeared without Howard while Brooklyn is said to be cool again. So when was it not?

There are developing players to watch like DeMarcus Cousins, Enes Kanter and Michael Beasley, the latter supposedly restarted in the desert. Ricky Rubio is trying to return from anterior cruciate surgery like Rose and Iman Shumpert. Amar’e Stoudemire already is out a few months, and perhaps much, much longer with his bad knees. John Wall also misses the first month and the Warriors’ hopes rest of guys who always are hurt, Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry.

But for now it’s wide open and ready to go. I’m not saying who will win the championship. But here is an early look at who may win the annual awards:

Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Miami Heat. There’s little argument anymore, especially since I was one of those arguing. I voted him third last season behind Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. But James changed, at least to me, late in that Boston series and carried through the Finals. Finally, he stopped deferring, taking those step back threes and worrying about offending Dwyane Wade. I’ve never contested his talent, which is the best in the league. Just his will. He seems more than willing now with the team now completely cycling around him. I don’t think it’s close unless Boston beats them out by 10 games and then maybe Rajon Rondo. The top five should also include Durant, who needs to become more like James when he gets stronger and play more inside. Maybe Chris Paul and then Deron Williams if the Nets can at least get to third in the East if not higher. And Kobe or Howard with the Lakers slips into the top five.

Coach of the Year: Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics. This is another of those awards with philosophical differences. It too often goes to the coach whose team the media most misjudged. Thus if that team did better than we thought then, well, it must be coaching. Which is why so many former Coach of the Year winners, like Sam Mitchell, Byron Scott and Avery Johnson get fired so fast. I prefer appreciating great coaching, which Rivers has consistently done for several years now and could take his team to the top of the East this season. Even second would work. I also think Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau could win again, though many felt he should have won last season getting the best record with Rose missing 27 games. Thibodeau could rise up again with a good season without Rose. I’m not a fan of consecutive winners in this, so forget Gregg Popovich as good as he is. Maybe George Karl if the Nuggets have the surprise season many are predicting or Doug Collins if he gets a healthy Bynum.

Rookie of the Year: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets. They’re headed for a very bad season, though one that could be worse if they didn’t have a good coach like they do in Monty Williams. But Davis has been amazing already in brief preseason games. In three or four years if the Hornets improve he’ll be in the MVP talk. He’s that good. It’s tough to pick rookies this soon, but Portland’s Damian Lillard should be in the race with plenty of time as a starter and some bright moments already. Rookies with good teams won’t play as much, which makes it somewhat unequal. Bradley Beal should get plenty of opportunities with Washington. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will with Charlotte, but his scoring is questionable. I’d say watch Harrison Barnes with the Warriors, Meyers Leonard in Portland and Andrew Nicholson with the Magic.

Most Improved Player: Omer Asik, Houston Rockets. This is another that draws different theories. I generally don’t think it should go to high draft picks who were bad, say like Beasley. They were supposed to be good. Asik was a second round pick whom many said couldn’t play in the NBA. He’s starting for the Rockets and has been the best rebounder in preseason. Though he also was a high pick, I make an exception with Jeff Green, who is coming back from heart surgery. Just walking is a big improvement. Maybe Corey Brewer if he has a good season in Denver. Evan Turner and O.J. Mayo get mentioned, though Mayo seems more legitimate as he was overdrafted. I can see Mike Conley, who has come a long way even though he was a high pick. I guess you could make a case for formerly retired Brandon Roy. I prefer guys like Danny Green, who came on last season, or maybe Gordon Hayward in Utah if he makes some shots.

Sixth Man: Jason Terry, Boston Celtics. This one is open with James Harden now not only a starter in Houston but the go to franchise player. It wasn’t too long ago Jeremy Lin was. This is a tough one with so many good candidates, like prior winners Jamal Crawford, Manu Ginobili and Ben Gordon. There are some other good possibilities like the Bulls’ Taj Gibson, Jeff Green, Gerald Green in Indiana, Andre Miller, Antawn Jamison, Jason Richardson, Kyle Lowry, J.R. Smith, Carl Landry and Ray Allen.

Defensive Player of the Year: Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder. I know. Dwight Howard said he was robbed by Tyson Chandler last season because Howard was busy acting out. So what does Howard do: Block shots. Ibaka blocks more. I like to vote for perimeter players, but it’s so hard to play defense on the perimeter anymore. LeBron James is regarded by many as the best. He makes those run down blocks, but floats too much for my liking. Andre Iguodala is very good and Tony Allen gets credit, though makes some really bad fouls. I think you put Luol Deng in that group. Avery Bradley is very good, though Kevin Garnett gets the most credit in Boston. If he would get serious, Josh Smith could be the best.


First Team:
Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka.
(Do we have to include centers how that they are off the All-Star team?)

Second Team:
Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard.

Third Team:
Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Luol Deng, Josh Smith and Marc Gasol.

This, of course, is subject to change once games actually are played. OK, let’s go.

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