After a chaotic off-season that saw the NBA Draft and Free Agency reduced to a week – almost immediately followed by shortened training camps for teams to adapt to the recently implemented COVID-19 test protocols – the hunt is on to see if the Los Angeles Lakers can repeat their title, or if one of the many potential challengers can replace them.
ESPN talked to eight Scouts and leaders about everything from their best and worst weekends to who will win the Larry O’Brien Trophy next summer.
That’s what they should have said.
Who is the best player in the NBA?
No one chose him in 2019 after James suffered the first serious injury of his career and the Lakers missed the playoffs. Instead, it was Kawhi Leonard who won this category.
This time the roles are reversed. James dominated the vote with seven of the eight votes cast, but did not receive all eight votes, due to the way the question was interpreted.
When it comes to the best player of the season, I do not choose LeBron, said the director of the Eastern Conference, who chose Antetokounmpo instead. As for the play-offs, it’s probably LeBron, because it’s always LeBron.
However, the answer is simple.
Until you’ve found someone, you can’t prove that someone is more reliable, consistent or important for a team’s victory than LeBron, said a Western Conference scout. People may want to claim that [Anthony Davis] is the best player in this team, but now the burden of proof lies with everyone else. He does it everywhere, he does it every year.
But despite all the praise for James, at least one voter has chosen his potential heir to the throne.
If you had to put a gun to my head and win a playoff series, I’d say LeBron, Eastern Conference scout. But let me tell you something: That mother… she’s visiting Dallas. … This guy’s gonna win some MVPs.
Who will be MVP this season?
Since James had already been recognized for prioritizing the pursuit of a fifth ring before his fifth MVP award after a short off-season, he did not receive the vote.
Instead, the chief was this guy in Dallas, Doncic. Many voters said that Antetokounmpo, who has won each of the last two seasons, suffered from electoral fatigue.
It’s hard to imagine that Giannis could win three times in a row, said a Western recruiter from the conference. I think Luca has more possibilities to put together a kind of MVP show and perform better on an individual basis.
Jokic, meanwhile, won a few votes after helping Denver reach the finals of the Western Conference.
I thought he should have been more respected over the past two years, said an official from the Eastern Conference, and now he’s in a bubble with that achievement.
A Western Conference executive predicted that Denver would win a lot in the regular season.
The joke is the driving force behind this team, according to the director.
One of the leaders of the Eastern Conference refused to fire Antetokounmpo because he thought the dollars would be enough to win the prize again.
I think they will be very good again in the regular season, said the manager, and that a star on a top team usually trains to be in the running for the MVP title.
Which team had the best off-season?
It is not surprising that the team that won the title and had two superstars that lasted the longest got the most votes.
The Lakers got Anthony Davis and LeBron James to reconfirm their commitment, according to a participant at the Eastern Conference. The Lakers must be a little nervous about LeBron in the long run, but it’s still good for them.
Several people also pointed out that the Lakers who sign a minimum contract with Marc Gasol can pay out this season.
Gasol, what’s the peak under the radar there, said a scout from the Eastern Conference. Plays solid and with a high IQ in basketball. … Now [JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard] were tall and athletic and protected the edge, so they lost that.
But if Gasol can’t protect the edge like they can, he’s better at everything else.
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The Hawks were also acclaimed for turning over their team in the off-season by signing Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic to free agency, as well as guards Rajon Rondo and Chris Dunn. Also in the sixth round the scouts and managers of the match were enthusiastic about Oneka Okongwu’s essay.
The signing of Nate McMillan as assistant coach to Lloyd Pierce was also mentioned as positive, and some even fell for Clint Capela in February, because Capela did not play for the Hawks last season due to plant fasciitis.
I think Atlanta’s gonna make a big leap, another scout from the Eastern Conference said. They have two guys [Bogdanovic and Gallinari], and they have Capela, who is actually a third free agent.
They take the pressure off all their young people, including Trey Young, who doesn’t have to be the one who owns everything. Both in terms of talent and momentum they have done a good job.
Oklahoma City was praised for collecting selections and assets, while Philadelphia was congratulated on hiring Daryl Morey as head coach and balancing the roster.
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David Fizdale explains why the Rockets have a good connection with James Harden’s walk-on this season.
Which team had the worst offseason?
Between the loss of Morey and Coach Mike D’Antoni this summer, Russell Westbrook’s exchange for John Wall and the James Harden drama, the Rockets have often been mentioned.
A scout from the Eastern Conference said there might not be a second one. You’re in a difficult position.
They’re just out of control now, said a scout from the Western Conference. One of the best players in the world probably doesn’t want to be there. I’m not sure about the Westbrook case.
They are halfway between potential play-off teams in the last half of the championship or one of the worst teams in the league if they fail.
The team that had the most confusing off-season for its opponents was Detroit. While some understood that the transfer of Christian Forest was oversubscribed, the decision to sign several other centres was considered strange. The same goes for the contract renewal process, essentially to be able to sign Mason Plumlee, which in the eyes of most executives is just a good match.
[Pistons] In my opinion, had the worst off-season, the Eastern Conference official said. I don’t even know what they’re doing. I know they want to build for the long term, but I have no idea what they’re doing. If she and Hayes and the other first-class finishers, Isaiah, Stewart and Saddick…. hit, it doesn’t matter. But I don’t know what their plan is.
Meanwhile, the fate of Milwaukee depends on Antetokounmpo’s decision to sign a possible extension of the supermax contract, especially after the Bucks gave up control of their peak clocks to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Jrue Holiday.
But problems with the way the Bucks handled their off-season went even further and included both Bogdan Bogdanovic’s bad set up and Milwaukee’s reaction by signing Bobby Portis, Bryn Forbes, Torrey Craig and D.J. Augustine to strengthen the bank.
Milwaukee has lost a bit, said the leader of the Eastern Conference. Much of this seems to be due to their disappointment that they didn’t carry out their plan, or didn’t have a better plan. It looked like they were just after the [Bogdanovic] deal.
Where does James Harden play after the trading date?
Although it is clear that Harden would like to be traded, this is much easier said than done, at least in the eyes of rival scouts and executives. Harden’s large contract – and the interest in a contract extension from just a handful of teams – makes salary comparisons difficult, especially if the Rockets continue to claim a bundle of potential young stars and a boatload of future first-round picks.
These factors taken together have led most people to believe that Harden will not leave in the short term, despite its current performance.
Who knows, the Eastern treasurer said laughing. I don’t think it will be exchanged unless other teams start a bidding war. Otherwise, I think they’re just gonna stop Pat. They won’t trade it for shit.
The other two, however, each gave one voice to the two teams that are most connected to Harden: Nets and 76ers.
Are you trying to predict where James Harden might end up? Make your own transactions with ESPN’s exchange engine.
I still think [Brooklyn] could set up a better program for him, said a Western leader of the conference. Maybe someone else can, but hers is the best I can see.
Meanwhile, the case of Harden and Philadelphia is simple: If the 76ers are ready to move Ben Simmons, Houston probably won’t have a better game.
The universe of options is limited, said a scout from the Eastern Conference.
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Stephen Curry says he hopes to retire with the Warriors while both parties work to extend his contract.
Which team will surprise this season – good or bad?
Nothing sums up the current chaos in Houston better than these two opposing answers to the question of which team could surprise this season – both went to the Rockets, who were the only team to get more than one vote, but for very different reasons.
Houston will surprise people if they continue to win a lot, even though everyone hates each other, said a leader of the Eastern Conference.
Even if Harden is there, said a Western conference leader, I think Houston will be bad.
This whole situation is toxic.
Meanwhile, the Warriors – despite spending a lot of money on Kelly Oubre Jr., who coaches James Wiseman and brings back Stephen Curry and Draymond Green – are skeptical about their chances of success in the West this season.
I don’t think they have much chance in the playoffs, said a player from the East. If Draymond doesn’t get a rebirth, Steph can be all he ever was and they still can’t make the playoffs.
Atlanta got a mood that exceeded expectations after an impressive off-season, while Milwaukee was used by someone to take a step back.
Oklahoma City, on the other hand, was chosen to exceed the meagre expectations of the Thunder of the Joy of Trade.
Some over/under for the OKC, I’ll take over, said the head of the Eastern Conference. I think they’re gonna win a few more games than they think. They’re developing very well and I think [Al] Horford will be good for them. They’re the best at turning guys and making something out of them.
Meanwhile, two Western conference teams hoping to have a voice in the play-offs – the Suns and Trail Blazers – also got a positive reinforcement in that direction after making some changes in the off-season.
I love Phoenix, said a scout from the Eastern Conference. I really like what they did this summer, and it’s not just Chris [Paul]. At least they have some very good, solid actors. Galloway and Moore are guys you know you’re gonna get, and they’re also great locker room guys. Not the best fighters in the world, but guys like that should be in good teams. And I think [Paul] will be a great help to [Soothsayer] Booker.
Which teams win in the East and West, and who wins the finals?
- 1. Milwaukee Bucks: 5
- 2. Philadelphia 76: 2
- 3. Brooklyn Nets: 1
After the Bucks and the Lakers were the top teams in each conference last season and neither team took a significant step forward this off-season, both teams are expected to come out of their half in the standings next summer – and the Lakers are expected to fight for another title.
LeBron and AD are too good, said the Western conference official, who tipped the Lakers off to win the title. And I think they’ve gotten better.
But five different teams received championship votes – including one for the Bucks, Clippers, Nets and 76ers.
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Some of those who chose Milwaukee as an exit from the East did so almost by default, citing the absence of one of the most important conference candidates as a reason for a significant improvement and the addition of Holiday, even with part of the resulting dollar loss.
However, the Oriental artist selected to win the title mocks the idea that this is a team in crisis after two consecutive dominant regular seasons.
I played for the Bucs last year, the manager said, and the story that [Mike Budenholzer] can’t coach, Bud could get fired, it makes me angry. This team has won 60 races two years in a row. Let them do their job and find a solution.
Not an easy win. They don’t win easily.
An East scout, on the other hand, joked that he was a bit against the Nets since he bet on them to win the title, and acknowledged that the chemistry of the team could explode. But he said his talent, when it’s about to happen, is undeniable.
They’re so talented, the scout said. They’re just loaded.
Meanwhile, the Sixers voted after their crazy season outing, and the East Philadelphia conference believed in Doc Rivers’ ability to communicate with his players and create a better ecosystem throughout Philadelphia.
If they are healthy, they are talented, and Doc has had success in the past with players like Ben [Simmons] and Joel [Embiid], said the manager. I think they’ll trust him more than the former coach and all their employees. You’ve got a pretty solid group here.
Then there were the Clippers, who were the obvious choice last year to win the title before losing to the Denver Nuggets in a dazzling second round defeat.
The noise around them was overwhelming, said another Oriental artist. They took a 3-1 lead and had three very bad second halves. I thought they were probably a better team last year when they were healthy, and I think they’re in the same boat this year.
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