By Rahul Lal
What if I told you back in 2015 that the 2016 NBA Dunk Contest would be as exciting as watching MJ and Dominique go at it in back in 1988? Would it have sounded crazy to say that the Warriors would go on to win 73 regular season games and then add Kevin Durant in the offseason after a messy divorce in OKC? What if I proposed that in between shooting commercials about "bringing one back for the land," LeBron James actually found a way to do it?
All that and more happened in 2016 and, quite frankly, left us dumbfounded. There's probably an NBA Nostradamus out there who figured all this out, but I'm not him... yet. Here are some of my 2017 NBA predictions, so next year I can take full credit.
1. Golden State Warriors Finish 70-12
Add in Kevin Durant and you have an instantly better team, right? Well, not so fast. These Warriors are truly special, and there's no arguing that. But the bench that separated the Warriors in years past lost a host of key players ranging from big men like Andrew Bogut, Marreese Speights and Festus Ezeli all the way down to role players like Harrison Barnes and Leandro Barbosa.
Steve Kerr has gone on record saying he should've rested more players down the stretch last season as they seemed fatigued late season. The Warriors are fully capable of breaking their own record, but they'll slow down and depend on their depleted bench as the playoffs get closer.
Chris Paul (Photo Credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
2. Chris Paul Leaves Los Angeles This Offseason
It's about time that we take a step back and look at the team that's consistently the best on paper. The Clippers always seem to make the right signings over the offseason and feature a host of potential award-winners. They're always just a breath away from taking that next step, but never seem to. Earlier this season, they looked poised to make the jump until the Warriors dismantled them.
And now they face another hurdle in the form of Blake Griffin's knee. How much longer can Chris Paul, an unrestricted free agent this offseason, take this disappointment? Something tells me there's a banana boat buddy and a 7'3" unicorn named Kristaps waiting for him in New York with open arms and a two-year deal.
3. Dirk Nowitzki Hangs It Up
Anybody who has watched the Mavericks this season could expect just about anything at this point. As much as it pains me to say, it looks like it's about time for one of the game's most talented players ever to hang it up. He recently remarked that he doesn't want to but could see himself retiring after this season. While fans won't want to hear this, it's time for the Mavs to rebuild and reload. To get back to the top, they'll have to move on from their golden era of basketball.
Joel Embiid (Photo Credit: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
4. Everybody Starts To Actually Trust The Process
Is there still anybody who doesn't think Joel Embiid is legit? If so, go and watch a few of his games. His footwork is phenomenal; his mobility is impressive and his stroke is encouraging. Even with all that, his motor might be the deadliest trait at the end of the day.
While the rest of the 76ers roster seems like a bit of a headache, including the power struggle between Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, there's plenty of talent developing in Philly. Dario Saric has shown flashes of being a truly gifted player, and Ben Simmons is still waiting to come in and play floor general. The coming year may just give us reason to stop mocking Sam Hinkie and actually trust the process. With some good health and experience, this team will get more and more dangerous.
5. James Harden Is Your 2016-2017 NBA MVP
His former teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are putting up historic seasons, but Harden is doing something really special. And he's truly is the most valuable player to a team winning lots of games.
Also, wouldn't this storyline be memorable for the NBA: Mike D'Antoni back in the NBA winning games like he has Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire running pick and rolls all over again while breaking just about every record that has anything to do with a three-pointer?
Harden will finish second in triple-doubles to Westbrook (who will come shockingly close to averaging a triple-double). He'll lead the NBA in assists per game and rank top five in points per game, while the Rockets put up more offense each night than almost everybody in the league.
Rahul Lal is an LA native stuck in a lifelong, love-hate relationship with the Lakers, Dodgers and Raiders. You can follow him on Twitter here.
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