In a sense, the NBA awards season has already begun, because part of the race for the MVP, ROY and other awards is the expectations game.
Surprising success is one way to the MVP award, as Steve Nash has shown. But woe is the player whose performance (or whose team) disappoints the voters and fans.
So while we expect the MVP race and other award races to, as usual, shift rapidly throughout the season, it's good to get a snapshot of how things look now.
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We asked 25 ESPN writers, editors and contributors for their early forecast on four categories for individual players: Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Best Newcomer and Worst Newcomer.
Here is the collective wisdom of our committee:
Five reasons LeBron James might be the 2008-09 MVP:
• He has inherited from Kobe Bryant the unofficial title of "best player not to win MVP."
• Bryant finally got his award, then struggled at times in the NBA Finals and the Olympics.
• The Olympics gave LBJ the best showcase yet for his all-around prowess and leadership.
• In his five seasons, he's finished 9th, 6th, 2nd, 5th and 4th in the voting.
• The Cleveland Cavaliers should improve from last season's disappointing 45-37 record.
Five reasons LeBron James might not be the 2008-09 MVP:
• If he's weary from the Olympics, he could be unable to play his usual 41 minutes per game.
• He might pace himself (or coast or slack off ... take your pick) as he did in 2006-07.
• While James is unselfish on the court, his Cavs teammates often fail to thrive in his shadow.
• There's no guarantee the Cavs will get 50 wins, which is the usual threshold for MVP voters.
• KB24, CP3 and others (D-Wade, Superman, Amare, T-Mac and D-Will) are ready to take it.
Michael Beasley, probably the best pure talent to enter the NBA in five years, is a half-full/half-empty kind of guy, so it's fitting he got 13 votes, about half the 25 cast by our panel.
On the one hand, his athleticism, NBA-ready body and ability to score from all over the court with equal measures of grace and power make some observers wonder if the Chicago Bulls should have their heads examined for passing on him, no matter how much they liked No. 1 pick Derrick Rose.
On the other hand, maybe it's Beasley who needs to get his noggin checked out -- his reputation for prankish immaturity and a lighthearted approach to the game make him a risk that the Miami Heat tried to avoid, according to reports about their efforts to trade the No. 2 pick until right before the draft.
If the Heat get past their reservations and give him big minutes, they have a strong chance of winning Beasley some hardware, since the rookie, Shawn Marion and a healthy Dwyane Wade will presumably produce a lot more than 15 wins this year. On the other hand, if Beasley doesn't get enough run or enough shots to average north of 15 points per game, perhaps more like 20 ppg, the door might open for another rookie to take home the ROY trophy.
Greg Oden, the Blazers' redshirt rookie, got strong support from our voters as well. As with Beasley and Miami, a strong surge into the playoffs by Portland this season might win the award for Oden.
No one mentioned Rose, No. 5 pick Kevin Love, or No. 6 pick Danilo Gallinari, while O.J. Mayo (No. 3), Russell Westbrook (No. 4), Anthony Randolph (No. 14) and Rudy Fernandez (2007; No. 24) received marginal support.
Elton, can you feel the love tonight?
Ever since EB got his Philadelphia freedom, the 76ers have been the East's new darlings, as our predictions show. With Philly so weak down low and in the half-court last season, Brand's a perfect fit on paper.
Now the Sixers have a few things to prove: that Brand is back 100 percent; that Thaddeus Young is both for real and able to shift from PF to SF; that Andre Iguodala can shoot well enough to be called a shooting guard, and that he's worth $80 million; and that Andre Miller can, at age 32, repeat his stellar 2007-08 season.
Ron Artest, who like Brand made a noisy departure from the Pacific Division, is expected by some to be next season's biggest impact player (that includes several who see him as having a detrimental impact, as the next category shows). For those who like Houston's acquisition of Artest, his arrival gives the Rockets their own version of the Big 3.
And Rudy Fernandez? Clearly, his dunk over Dwight Howard and his sensational shooting in that Olympic final turned some heads.
Four others received one vote each: Mike Miller, Greg Oden, Jermaine O'Neal and Mo Williams.
Here's the formula for inviting skepticism from our panel: Miss a lot of games with injury over the years, and compound that with questionable team spirit.
That's the equation that put Baron Davis and Jermaine O'Neal at the head of the pack for the player likely to have the greatest negative impact on his new team. Obviously, the Clippers and Raptors don't want to believe that, as they owe BD and JO a combined $109 million over the next few years.
Davis and O'Neal were hardly alone, with a whopping 16 players meriting mention as the potential "Worst Newcomer." Next in line were Ron Artest, who's worn out a few welcomes; Kwame Brown, looking for redemption with his fourth team; Yi Jianlian, coming off an underwhelming rookie season and weak Olympic tournament; and Corey Maggette, who is expected to bring the Warriors scoring but not much else.
Also receiving one vote each: Michael Beasley, Larry Brown, Marcus Camby, Ricky Davis, Danilo Gallinari, T.J. Ford, Stephon Marbury, Darius Miles, Derrick Rose and Mo Williams.
Predictions compiled from the forecasts of 25 ESPN writers, editors and contributors: Henry Abbott, J.A. Adande, Kevin Arnovitz, Jon Barry, Jordan Brenner, Maurice Brooks, Chris Broussard, Ric Bucher, Chad Ford, Jemele Hill, John Hollinger, Mark Jackson, Scoop Jackson, Tim Legler, Jackie MacMullan, Chris Palmer, Chris Ramsay, Dr. Jack Ramsay, Jalen Rose, Chris Sheridan, Marc Stein, David Thorpe, Royce Webb, Brian Windhorst and Matt Wong.