Cohen: Bold Predictions

By Josh Cohen
October 4, 2012

ORLANDO -- I present five league-wide predictions that may seem far-fetched at first glance, but upon further review, may not be so unimaginable after all.

Dwight Howard will not be in Los Angeles after this season

Yes, he was outwardly ecstatic when he discovered he would be the next dominant center to roam around the red carpet in Hollywood and yes, there was extreme relief to disengage from the unremitting media circus prior to the blockbuster deal.

However, if you ask me, Howard seems more uncertain than ever.

If the Lakers recapture the title, ignore this forecast. The euphoria of winning on the grandest stage supersedes all else and that will be plenty to rope in Howard for the long haul.

But let’s suggest L.A. fails to reach those triumphant expectations. What decision will the best big man of today choose to pursue?

Howard still wants Brooklyn and without much divulgence, Brooklyn still wants Howard. But Dwight’s irresolution in the months between his initial trade request last December to the moment it was time for the Nets to convince Deron Williams to stay forced Brooklyn to load up its payroll and exceed the salary cap.

It would seem unimaginable for the Nets to find a way to shed salary and create sufficient cap space to lure Howard away from the Lakers next summer.

On the other hand, if there were any inkling that Dwight will consider leaving L.A. in free agency, I would not rule out the Nets making one last effort to sequester the six-time NBA All-Star. Could Brooklyn ascertain a route to trade Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace – two payroll eaters on its roster – by July 1, 2013 to create just enough room to offer Howard a max contract? It sure seems doubtful, but not impractical.

If not Brooklyn because of some sort of financial surrender, there is another city ready to try and entice Howard to join its franchise.

Remember, there originally were three teams Dwight wanted to be traded to when he made that iniquitous trade request last winter. They included the Nets, Lakers and Mavericks.

After striking out on Deron Williams this offseason and signing players to just one-year contracts (ex. Chris Kaman and Elton Brand), Dallas will have a plethora of cap space to make a play for Howard.

Bear in mind, however, if Dwight decided to bolt L.A., he would be forced to accept a pay cut with one less guaranteed year.

But, it seems fathomable that if the Lakers crash and the disturbance of not being the primary star on a team bothers him, Howard may choose to invent his own path.

Listen, the Lakers are in the driver’s seat to retain Howard for many years because Dwight’s main target, Brooklyn, is out of allowable funds and Los Angeles is a big market Dwight covets.

However, turmoil can rapidly build and aside aging All-Stars, the future of the Lakers may be gloomier than what presently meets the eye.

Philadelphia will regret trading for Andrew Bynum

From one dominant center to another, everyone is raving about Philadelphia’s newest addition.

Bynum’s arrival has created an illusion in Philly that the Sixers can compete for a title.

This notion is not only unwarranted, it’s extreme. But sometimes hype and hope can lead to unnecessary apparition.

Listen, Bynum showed last season he has the potential to be good. But never did he exemplify the composition of someone that will consistently be great.

And now with the latest reports that he will miss the entire preseason out of precaution after undergoing surgery on his knees, it’s just hard to believe suddenly there are no major health concerns.

The Sixers are committed to Bynum. They will do absolutely everything to convince him to sign long term next summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

But heightened expectations and a belief that Bynum can single-handedly transfigure a franchise may really hurt Philadelphia’s ego.

If healthy, Bynum will probably average about 20 points and 12 rebounds, which is excellent. However, the price to acquire him and the cost to keep him long term may not match the results.

The subtraction of Andre Iguodala, who the Sixers dealt to the Nuggets in the four-team blockbuster deal, Lou Williams, the team’s leading scorer last season, and Elton Brand, who despite injury issues was still a valuable piece, may taint Philly’s eagerness.

Remember, the 76ers were previously one of the better defensive teams because of Iguodala’s ability to shut down opponents on the perimeter. They also were one of the more athletic teams because Iggy and Williams were so explosive.

Now, however, despite the addition of Bynum who certainly offers Philadelphia a low-post threat, the Sixers are deficient in an abundance of other areas.

Some imply Philly is a borderline championship contender. I, on the other hand, believe Philly is a borderline playoff team. Sorry for being so critical.

If Miami does not win the title in either of the next two seasons, LeBron James will take his talents elsewhere

Before Heat fans start tweeting me with rage, let me just clarify this “bold prediction.”

First off, LeBron can exercise an early termination option in 2014 – as can the remainder of Miami’s Big Three.

Much was rescinded regarding LeBron’s somewhat indecisive future when he guided the Heat to the NBA championship this past season.

For now, the scrutiny has been lifted and the tribute has been awarded.

However, one title in four years in Miami will not sit well with James or anyone for that matter. There is still a ton of pressure for LeBron to capture at least one more title before he can choose to become a free agent again.

Reports trickled out over the past two seasons that James wasn’t entirely content in Miami. And while LeBron denied any of those feelings, it sure seemed James had a few regrets before hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy this past June.

It’s hard to envision two years from now, especially when the Heat just captured the title to silence all the critics.

But bear in mind, if Miami were to suffer back-to-back devastating defeats in the playoffs over the next two seasons, it sure would seem fathomable to believe LeBron would exit South Beach and try to restore a positive reputation.

As outlandish as it would seem after all that unfolded two years ago when James made his unforgettable announcement in front of a national audience, some insiders believe LeBron still has a heart for Cleveland and that a return to the Cavaliers isn’t as ridiculous as one would think.

This prediction is a stretch, for sure. It’s just an inkling if the Heat do not retain all their glory they have enjoyed for the last few months, James may again take his talents elsewhere.

The Magic will land at least one marquee, max-level free agent over the next few years

One of the appealing facets of the Dwight Howard trade in August was the formation of financial flexibility.

By not acquiring a player with an expensive price tag, the Magic created an opportunity to be free agency players over the next few summers.

It’s impossible to accurately forecast the path GM Rob Hennigan will choose to pursue in the upcoming months and years, but it’s apparent he has opened up options for the franchise to explore.

In addition to players it will obtain from the draft, Orlando will likely have sufficient salary cap space as early as next summer to make a push for impending star free agents.

History implies that when the Magic have a plethora of funds to spend, they accomplish. In 2000, Orlando landed Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill and nearly sequestered Tim Duncan away from San Antonio. In 2007, similarly, the Magic acquired Rashard Lewis – the top free agent that year.

It’s not unimaginable for the Magic to replicate what the Heat achieved in 2010. Remember, Miami tactically positioned itself to have enough cap room to sign LeBron, Wade and Bosh.

With a gorgeous new building, no state income tax, beautiful weather all year long and Disney World next door as a way to market, Orlando is a destination many NBA players want to land. Howard’s choice to leave was an aberration.

The golden summer may be 2015, when LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo will all be unrestricted free agents. And while I would never imply that all three will definitely leave their current teams, it would seem reasonable to believe that at least one if not two or all three would be interested in what the Magic have to offer.

Boston and San Antonio have a chance of meeting in the NBA Finals this season 

Well, this isn’t really a prediction since I specifically said, “have a chance,” but considering everyone has the Heat vs. the Lakers or Thunder in the NBA Finals, I will consider this a bold prediction.

I refuse to surrender on the Celtics. Last season at around the trade deadline, 99 percent of the basketball universe gave Boston no chance of reaching the NBA Finals. In fact, most assumed either Paul Pierce, Ray Allen or Rajon Rondo would be dealt away and Boston would be in rebuild mode.

But instead, the C’s were one win away from advancing to the championship and if not for a breakthrough performance from LeBron James in Game 6 of the conference finals, it’s very possible Boston would be celebrating another title.

Though they lost Allen to the Heat, the Celtics still have a lethal Big Three with Rondo, Pierce and Kevin Garnett. They also added Jason Terry and Courtney Lee and get Jeff Green and Avery Bradley back from injury. Don’t rule out Boston again.

The Spurs, similarly, return essentially the same group as last season when they won 50 games and during one stretch of the regular and postseason combined recorded 20 consecutive victories.

This season is San Antonio’s last hoorah. Manu Ginobili is in the final year of his contract and Tim Duncan isn’t getting any younger.

I expect the Spurs to work harder than ever to try and win one more title before time runs out.

Honestly, I do think Miami has the edge in the East to return and OKC still seems like the team to beat in the West. But a Boston vs. San Antonio final should not be construed as impractical.

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