"He’s the best player in the game and is playing for a title," writes Smith of James. "Yes, Michael Jordan didn’t win MVP a few times with that resume. But James also didn’t win last season."
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Sam Smith’s 2014-15 NBA awards predictions

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By Sam Smith | 10.20.2014 | 8:57 a.m. CT | asksam@bulls.com | @SamSmithHoops

There’s no reason anyone should know what is going to happen before the NBA season begins. Nor does anyone. You can guess about who’ll be in the Finals: The Cavs, Spurs, Bulls, Thunder, Clippers, Warriors, Grizzlies, Thunder. You can guess about awards, like Rookie of the Year. You can guess about trades and firings. You can never be certain, though it seems fairly safe to predict this season’s Most Valuable Player. There’s always a disclaimer about injury, but MVP seems most certain at this time, LeBron James.

With Kevin Durant coming off surgery and out at least six weeks, Paul George out for the season, Derrick Rose working his way back from missing two years, Carmelo Anthony working his way around the triangle offense, Kobe Bryant also coming back but who knows to where, James Harden and Dwight Howard on a team likely to take a step back and Kevin Love joining James, there doesn’t even seem a strong contender to deny James a fifth MVP award. Before he’s done at this rate, James will have the most MVP awards in league history, surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s six.

So here’s an early look at who may win this season’s major NBA awards with a chance for me to get one correct.

Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

As I stated, it’s one of those contests for second, like Tiger Woods in his prime winning the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 strokes.  I don’t see James having the statistical marks he’s piled up in the past with the presence of Love and Kyrie Irving. But turning the Cavs from a 33-win team into a title contender is enough. He’s the best player in the game and is playing for a title. Yes, Michael Jordan didn’t win MVP a few times with that resume. But James also didn’t win last season. Jordan faced great seasons from Hall of Famers, like Charles Barkley and Karl Malone. There isn’t that sort of player now, which also is why James should break Abdul-Jabbar’s record. But it’s what you accomplished and not who else was there. It will be a heck of a contest for second unless someone comes out of the pack and his team is a big surprise, like Al Horford. I’ll go with Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose.

Coach of the Year: Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks

This is a misleading award at times, and the joke among the coaches is not to get it because there was a run in the early 2000s where maybe a half dozen coaches were fired within two years of winning. That’s because the voting often goes not so much to coaching but which team did better than expected. After all, if the media didn’t expect it, then it must have been fabulous coaching. Carlisle is one of the more underrated coaches. He did win in 2002 and soon was fired. He’s the only coach who gets results from playing zone and is one of the better matchup coaches, good also at adjusting and changing. I believe several new coaches will do well, though you cannot judge the big Cleveland experiment with an international coach given the additions of James and Love. Unless they are bad. Then it’s 20 years before anyone from Europe gets a job in the NBA. I think Steve Kerr, Derek Fisher and Quin Snyder all will have their teams more organized and will improve. But I’ll go with Stan Van Gundy and Brian Shaw making runs for the award as well.

Rookie of the Year: Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks

This is going to be a good rookie class with Nerlens Noel added from last season. Parker is not only good, but he’s going to get every opportunity and put up some big numbers on a weak team. He’ll be compared with Andrew Wiggins as they were the top two choices, and Wiggins will get good numbers as well on another young team. It should be a close race. Players like Marcus Smart, Elfrid Payton, Julius Randle, Shabazz Napier, Dante Exum and Doug McDermott also should have big roles along with Noel. After Parker and Wiggins, perhaps the smart money is on Marcus with Rajon Rondo’s uncertainty.

Most Improved Player: Anthony Bennett, Minnesota Timberwolves

I’m going against my own rule here as you should not win this award if you were a high lottery pick since you were supposed to be good. Being injured or not playing and then playing well doesn’t make you improved. But Bennett was bashed so much last season as a No. 1 overall pickwith a horribly dysfunctional team that he’s gone into Kwame Brown land as far as busts. I think he’ll come back from that and produce reasonably well. It’s as good a guess as any since this award varies the most in criteria from those lottery picks I usually don’t support to guys hurt or not playing. The picks will range all over with names like Giannis Antetokounmpo, who may not win because it’s too difficult to spell, Chandler Parsons, C.J. Miles, Jimmy Butler, Ricky Rubio, Jeff Teague, Klay Thompson, Eric Bledsoe, Anthony Morrow, Evan Turner, Steven Adams and everyone who gets to play while Kevin Durant is out. The Bulls’ Butler should make a strong run and perhaps Adams.

Sixth Man: Taj Gibson, Bulls

Gibson should have won last season and came in a close second to Jamal Crawford, who was deserving and probably will be again, though the Clippers may be better if he starts. He’s better than J.J. Redick, so he’s not really the classic sixth man. Gibson wasn’t supposed to get another chance, but the Bulls added Pau Gasol. So Gibson remained a non-starter. Phil Jackson has taken an interest in J.R. Smith, so he should have a bounce back season and Isaiah Thomas will put up numbers with the Suns, as everyone does. Boris Diaw also is an interesting possibility. He won’t get the numbers with the Spurs, but his presence was crucial to winning the title. And now that he’s healthy Ryan Anderson. So make it Anderson second and Smith third as Crawford already has won twice.

Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Davis is promoted as the player to watch this season after his strong finish and USA Basketball summer. He could put up some big block and steal numbers now working off Omer Asik, who could rate defensive mention of his own. Jimmy Butler should get some mention as one of the best overall perimeter defenders along with players like Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverly. Though LeBron James may be the biggest threat to Davis. James always has been among the top defenders, but never over an entire game. Playing with one dimensional offensive players like Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, James could be on the defensive more.  Joakim Noah won last season and will be in it along with Serge Ibaka, Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard. Butler gets another top three to top off the top guys.

All-NBA First Team: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose

Second Team: Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook

Third Team: LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Klay Thompson, Chris Paul

Sorry Kobe. It’s tough to leave some good guys out, like Noah, first team last season. But his role changes this season with the Bulls. No Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh without LeBron as the Heat look like a .500 team. I’d have put James Harden in, but there are so many good Western Conference guards and Klay Thompson looks so much more confident with a better team. I’d say Kyrie Irving has a better chance to sneak in than Kevin Love. Al Jefferson and Goran Dragic were there before, gut their scoring opportunities should diminish. Maybe John Wall, DeMar DeRozan, Damian Lillard or Mike Conley. Maybe Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol or Kenneth Faried, the surprise star of USA Basketball this summer. And the way the Spurs keep winning I wouldn’t argue including Tim Duncan.  

NBA news and notes

-- The hope is this week won’t be quite as embarrassing for the NBA as last week. No, not college sports embarrassing or NFL embarrassing. The league never is that embarrassing when Dennis Rodman or Ron Artest isn’t involved. This time, sadly, it was its stars, like LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki, and many who care about basketball apologize for them. This comes in the wake of the NBA’s new, very impressive TV contract. The players with Kobe Bryant and James sort of as spokesmen offered various versions of, This time they are getting theirs. Not that they haven’t, but that’s not unreasonable after the players cut back their revenue sharing in the last agreement from 57 percent to 50/50. Though 50/50 seems fair, that discussion will wait. First, the league itself came up with a goofy test of a 44-minute game. The NBA tested it Sunday after, it claimed, the issue came up when the coaches met before the season, though once it was announced just about every coach said it seemed like a ridiculous idea. Now baseball and football, they are too long. The NBA? Not so long. The issue supposedly is to cut down on injuries through fewer minutes. But anyone who pays any attention knows the stars still will play 40 minutes, which basically eliminates the need for reserves. Could it be a ploy by owners to cut payrolls? After all, if your best players play 40 minutes, who needs all those $5 million players on the bench? The players eventually will figure that one out and that’s not going anywhere. Then LeBron and Nowitzki declared, well, the time of game is OK, but there are too many games. Maybe 60 or so? This after saying they didn’t make enough money. So if we can follow, the best athletes in the world whose league average pay is the highest in the world not only want to make more money, but they want to work maybe 20 percent less to make it? This prompted even the mostly reclusive Michael Jordan to apparently gag and tell ESPN he could not understand not wanting to play. It’s true. He’d play 82 games today if he could. What is wrong with kids today? The NBA season is about 25 weeks. You can’t play basically three games a week for six months? Travel on private aircraft, stay at virtually only Ritz and Four Seasons hotels, travel, literally, with trainers, cooks and probably better security than the president. And take games off, anyway, as even the seemingly invincible James never has played an 82-game season, something Jordan was doing every year in his mid-30’s. It’s shake-your-head unbelievable. And then there are pictures of Amar’e Stoudemire—you can’t make this up—now taking baths in red wine at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Stoudemire claimed it’s a rejuvenating process, though I once heard about it as a cure for cellulite. I’m also guessing it wasn’t Boone’s Farm. Though as Stoudemire has converted to Judiasm, I can’t imagine it’s Manischewitz. The regular season can’t come quickly enough.

-- It wasn’t quite the early blockbuster as Will Bynum went to Boston for Joel Anthony. It saved Boston some money and for Detroit opened more playing time for D.J. Augustin, and perhaps some more protection for when they trade Greg Monroe. You know that one is coming as is the trade of Rajon Rondo once he returns to play. There’s been plenty of preseason speculation and guessing about players losing jobs or playing time and maybe available, like Gerald Green, Jeff Green and Monroe. Others who’ll be added to that list probably will include Austin Rivers, Jason Thompson, Brandon Bass, Nate Robinson, Luis Scola and anyone who might be able to help the 76ers. … Brook Lopez was playing well before what’s said to be a minor foot sprain that puts him out two weeks. But it’s uh oh, unfortunately, after all the foot problems (three surgeries the last three years to the same foot) and having to go out after just three games. The hope is it really is minor. … Though Steve Nash and the Lakers continue to give a sunny outlook, those who have seen Nash say there’s no way he is able to play much. But he’s owed almost $10 million. Given how poor this Lakers team will likely be, there’s probably no point to pay someone else even a minimum salary for the roster spot. Let Nash have his farewells like Kevin Garnett. … The Celtics would love to recreate the 1960s, though now with a front court of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk it’s looking more like the 1950s. … Who knew the eternally grumpy Rondo had a sense of humor. He told the Boston Herald: “I went to see a psychic yesterday because this is Philly. Her name was Miss Geo or something. She only cost $12, so I don’t know how good she actually was. She said one or two months (until he plays) and I got out of there because I didn’t want to hear that.”

--  Derek Fisher related a nice story to New York media of when he and Phil Jackson were flying back to Los Angeles from New York in July after Fisher was hired. They stopped off in Kansas to see Tex Winter. “My assumption was that there was a confluence of men who have been impacted by this (triangle) offense and system that many people would never have guessed decades ago, Phil’s idea behind it was to show honor and respect for [the role] Tex was able to play in his coaching career and his life. Now offering this job to me, there was a passing-of-the-torch type of feeling to the day. It was a special day. I didn’t know why he wanted me to go at first. We sat at this table, the three of us just talking basketball and it hit me then why he wanted me to go.’’... Perhaps the Bulls should try some zone when they play the Cavs Monday, or more likely the Oct. 31 home opener. The Cavs had a heck of a time with it in losing to the Mavs Friday. Though no one in the NBA runs it as much as Rick Carlisle, who is to the zone what Phil Jackson is to the triangle…Where have we heard this one before? Stan Van Gundy after a big talk with Josh Smith: “I think Josh has a very good understanding of the shots he needs to shoot that are not only best for him, but best for our team.” How many former Atlanta and Detroit coaches have heard that one? ... First round to Jabari Parker in Cedar Rapids Friday with 21 and 11 and a big closing slam to seal the win for Milwaukee over Minnesota as Andrew Wiggins had 10 points but sat out the fourth quarter. … Jimmer-mania is back as the briefly Bull, Fredette, is shooting more than 50 percent on threes in the preseason, 11 of 20 and averaging 12 points in 20 minutes per game. … The predictions of the player to have the big jump off USA Basketball has been Anthony Davis, who has done well. But the scoring star of the preseason has been the Warriors Klay Thompson, who was the most reliable shooter for the gold medal winning summer team. … Surprise rookie so far is Denver’s Jusuf Nurkic, leading all rookies in rebounding and with a nice offensive touch.

-- Many believe the Rockets are going to fall behind the Pelicans, and Houston coach Kevin McHale knows his team has taken a big loss in Omer Asik. Said McHale to the Houston Chronicle: “We’ll definitely miss Omer, there’s no question. You’re going to miss a guy with that amount of talent. He’s a big body. He sets screens. He’ll help his team immensely because he doesn’t need the ball to help you. A lot of guys in this league need the ball. If they don’t have the ball, they’re not worth the gum on your shoe. He knows how to play.” The Rockets gave Asik to the Pelicans to clear cap space for LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. Ooops. … Having a good preseason for Dallas is Gal Mekel from Israel, whom Cavs broadcaster Austin Carr said was the next Crash Mengelt. … Though everyone seems to believe LeMarcus Aldridge will resign with the Trail Blazers, there’s no catching teams by surprise this season and if the Trail Blazers don’t have a good season there will be a lot of teams chasing Aldridge. … You always heard Chris Kaman was different, but no one ever explained exactly how and why he kept moving around. Kaman gives you a pretty good idea with a reality web series he filmed this summer with friends, Exploring Kaman, who is sort of Bison Dele goes to South Park. I’m guessing Paul Allen didn’t watch before they signed him.

-- The Oklahoman newspaper quoted Dr. Lowell Scott Weil, Sr., identifying him as a podiatrist for the White Sox, as saying Kevin Durant’s injury would more likely keep him out 10 to 12 weeks…Steven Adams scored at least 15 points in his first three preseason games for the Thunder. In three years with the Thunder, the entombed Kendrick Perkins has scored as much as 14 points twice. … Quin Snyder is getting good early reviews for the play, organization and discipline of the Utah Jazz. … Now this is why we love the NBA. Back in 2005 when the Spurs held out Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili in a game in Phoenix, owner Robert Sarver flapped his arms like chicken wings at the Spurs bench. After the Spurs showed up in Phoenix with half their team missing last week, though in the first game back from overseas, Sarver apologized to fans and offered gift certificates. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said the next day he was surprised Sarver didn’t make his announcement in a chicken suit.

-- Disappointing team of the preseason, though the record is irrelevant, has been the Clippers, who look awfully weak at the wing positions for a contender. … There should be a prize if you can name one starter for the 76ers in their Saturday game: Brandon Davies, Henry Sims, Casper Ware, Elliott Williams and Hollis Thompson. Yes, they charged admission. And they beat Orlando. This is getting worse than NFL preseason. … Kobe Bryant averaging about 15 points and 15 shots continues to follow his idol, Michael Jordan, as the older version of Kobe shoots mostly those baseline turnarounds we saw so often from Jordan in 1998 and with the Washington Wizards. … Nice move from Steve Kerr and wife Margot with a $1 million pledge to the University of Arizona to assist with the renovation of the McKale Center, where Kerr played college basketball. The money will also go toward future academic facilities enhancements. "We wanted to do something good for the school and something meaningful that would make an impact on the latest generations of student-athletes that are going through there," Kerr said. I liked this one, also. Kerr went to coach the Warriors after rejecting an offer from the Knicks and Derek Fisher went on to accept the job and $5 million annual salary Kerr was to get. So Kerr reportedly received the same contract from the Warriors. But get this, not that he’s poor. But it just doesn’t happen. Kerr supposedly told the Warriors it would not be appropriate for him to make that much money as a rookie coach and somewhat disrespectful to the veteran coaches who worked up to that financial level. So he asked for a cut in pay and received it. 

There is no Next, a book by Sam Smith