In its annual Summer Forecast, a poll of ESPN “experts” finds that the 2021-22 NBA championship is the Brooklyn Nets to lose. And says the panel, expect Kevin Durant, James Harden and Steve Nash to be front-and-center in conversations for individual awards
The panel also gives the Nets a chance, even if slim, at creating a dynasty.
Bottom line: it’s all about the “Big Three” and their health. Everything else in Brooklyn — and the wider NBA — is secondary. The predictions were rolled out over the last three days and includes everything from title thoughts to which NBA team will be “team turmoil.” (It’s Philadelphia.)
In the East, ESPN predicts the Nets will come away with the conference’s best record, at 58-24, one game better than the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks and eight games better than third seed Philadelphia 76ers. (The writers think the Knicks will decline slightly and wind up in the play-in tournament.)
While the Bucks are the defending champions, it is the team they defeated in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Nets, that is seen as the favorites to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2022. The combination of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving plus a retooled supporting cast will be difficult to overcome.
Specifically, the Nets get 78.9 percent of first-place votes in the tally for Eastern Conference champs, with the Bucks second with only 10.5 percent of the first-place votes. The Los Angeles Lakers are similarly the clear favorite, also with 78.9 percent. The Utah Jazz, like the Bucks are at 10.5 percent.
And when it comes to who will win it all, 78.9 is the magic number again. That’s the percentage of ESPN staffers who think the Nets can win it all. Only the Lakers, with 15.8 percent of the votes, have more than a five percent chance.
The Nets’ superstar trio should help them be the top contender all season, but LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers retooled to compete for the Larry O’Brien trophy, too. And they’ll each have to get past tough competition in conference foes.
What about a dynasty? ESPN also asked its writers about that as well. Asked, “How many titles for the Nets with KD, Harden and Kyrie on the roster?” the panel gave the Nets a 25 percent of coming away with more than one title in an unspecified future ... although the implication is through the remaining time the “Big Three” will spend together in Brooklyn, which would be 2026 if Irving and Harden join Durant in signing extensions.
Seventy percent of the panel thinks the Nets will win only one title while only five percent believe Brooklyn will not be hosting any championship parade in the near future.
Individually, KD is seen as a slight favorite for MVP with 38.9 percent of first-place votes, compared to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 33.3 percent. James Harden also made the list with 5.6 percent. That puts him in fifth place behind Durant, Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Joel Embiid.
As for Nash’s chances for coach of the year, he led in first place votes with 22.6 percent but overall finished second to the Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra, who garnered only 5.6 percent of first place votes but won enough of second and third place votes to get him past Nash. No Nets made the list for Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year or Sixth Man, but Cam Thomas is projected to be one of five rookies likely to exceed their draft position.
And the Nets didn’t get any votes for “Team Turmoil,” “Team Turnaround” nor the team likely to wind up with Ben Simmons. So, we shall see. Time will tell. There’s a reason they play the games, etc. etc.
- NBA predictions: Win-loss records for Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks and every Eastern Conference team - ESPN+
- NBA predictions: Our experts’ picks for MVP and Finals winners - ESPN+
- NBA predictions: Our panel’s picks for Team Turmoil, Team Turnaround and pressing 2021-22 questions - ESPN+