Summer Forecast: Who will win the NBA title?

Originally Published: September 11, 2008

• 2008-09 offseason predictions: East | West | Awards | Conf. champs | NBA champs

Is it L.A.'s turn again?

Yes, it is, according to about half of our panel of 25 ESPN writers, editors and contributors.

Just as they have been throughout most of NBA history, the Los Angeles Lakers are a force again -- and now the preseason favorites to win NBA title No. 15.

Of course, that means 13 members of our panel predicted the Lakers will not win the 2008-09 NBA championship, and the top challenger in our voting will surprise some: the up-and-coming New Orleans Hornets, not the Boston Celtics.

And, don't forget, the Lakers were also favored going into the Finals in June, and we all saw how the Celtics fed on the skepticism about their chances.

But the difficulty of repeating, especially with an older lineup, is reflected in the voting results below: Only 16 percent of our panel sees the C's going back-to-back.

To register your opinion, click here.

For the full results, including the surging expectations for the Hornets and the dark-horse candidacies of the Rockets and Cavaliers, see below:

2008-09 PREDICTIONS: NBA CHAMPS
RANKTEAMPREDICTED RECORDVOTES
1 Los Angeles Lakers55-27 (.671) 12
2 New Orleans Hornets54-28 (.659) 6
3 Boston Celtics55-27 (.671) 4
4 Houston Rockets53-29 (.646) 2
5 Cleveland Cavaliers50-32 (.610) 1


The Lakers might win the 2008-09 NBA title if ...

• The most famous pinkie in the history of hoops holds up. We've been hearing about Bryant's finger since February, and now he has opted against surgery because he doesn't want to miss any time this season with the team. Maybe this change of heart will lead to a quieter training camp for the Lakers … or not.

• Andrew Bynum regains last season's form. The Lakers were good enough to reach the NBA Finals last season and that was without their rapidly improving big man. Bynum injured his left knee eight months ago, but now says he is 100 percent healthy. If that's the case, watch out.

• The bench mob -- minus Ronny Turiaf, who is now in Golden State -- once again provides quality minutes.

The Lakers might not win the 2008-09 NBA title if ...

• Kobe gets too weary during the next nine months after the Lakers' deep playoff run and his Olympic commitment. Also, if his finger forces him to miss time, that will mean trouble in Lakerland.

• The frontcourt gets too crowded. After Pau Gasol was acquired midseason, he performed well in the frontcourt with Lamar Odom. How will Bynum fit in?

• Derek Fisher shows signs of aging and Jordan Farmar isn't ready to fill the void.



The Hornets might win the 2008-09 NBA title if ...

• Newly acquired James Posey plays tight D and hits clutch 3s like he did in Miami and Boston.

• Chris Paul improves on his MVP-worthy season from a year ago.

• The young squad learned some valuable lessons during its impressive postseason run.

The Hornets might not win the 2008-09 NBA title if ...

• They don't find someone to fill the void at 2-guard.

• Chris Paul, David West and/or Tyson Chandler has one of those seasons in which he misses a big chunk of time due to injury.

• The West is the wild, wild West again. Last year eight teams won 50 or more games, and with many squads making roster tweaks, the West is expected to be as competitive as ever.



The Celtics might win the 2008-09 NBA title if ...

• They continue to be the top defensive club in the league.

• Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo take their games to the next level.

• They can get strong contributions from the likes of Eddie House, Leon Powe, Glen Davis … and (yes) Darius Miles.

The Celtics might not win the 2008-09 NBA title if ...

• They can't find someone to make up for the loss of specialist James Posey.

• The big three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen start showing their age.

• The champs become complacent after winning their rings. The past six NBA champs each failed to defend their title.



The Rockets might win the 2008-09 NBA title if ...

• Ron Artest brings his usual intensity to the defensive end while accepting his role as the third option behind Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady on offense.

• Brent Barry can provide veteran leadership and clutch shooting.

• They finally make it out of the first round.

The Rockets might not win the 2008-09 NBA title if ...

• Ron Artest blows up the team chemistry.

• Tracy McGrady's back flare-ups get too serious or Yao suffers another injury.

• Rafer Alston can't come close to duplicating last season's success.



The Cavaliers might win the 2008-09 NBA title if ...

• Newly acquired Mo Williams is truly the answer at the point.

• LeBron improves on his already off-the-chart statistics.

• Ben Wallace shows he has more left than just a nice afro.

The Cavaliers might not win the 2008-09 NBA title if ...

• The Celtics' star trio stays healthy.

• They don't get LeBron some more help.

• Another team signs that dude who beat LeBron in H-O-R-S-E.

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.