Note: To celebrate the signings, trades, rumors, roster shuffling, insanity and inevitable hilarity/incompetence of one of the craziest months in NBA history, I unleashed a special series called "The 12 Days of NBA Christmas."
Day 1: The Road to Groundhog Day (and more dumb contracts than ever)
Day 2: The Donut Dilemma (the bubble in the center market)
Day 3: Is Arron Afflalo Really Worth $50 Million?
Day 4: Where the Hell is Chris Paul Going?
Day 5: Inside Grantland Featuring Blake Griffin, Part II
Day 6: The Day the NBA Lost Its Way
The One Day When the Clippers Actually Mattered (VOIDED BY DAVID STERN)
Day 8: The Chris Paul NBA Hostage Crisis Continues
Day 9: The Might of Dwight
Day 10: The Black Sheep Little Brother's Revenge
Day 11: The Day After the Day the Market Crashed
Day 11½: The Two-Part NBA Mega-Preview Podcast
Day 12: The Day I Unveiled The Greatest Fantasy League Ever
Day 13 (12/23): The Day This Gimmick Wouldn't Die
Even if we already covered nearly everything in the "12 Days of NBA Christmas" and my two-part NBA Mega-Preview Podcast, allow me to stuff your stocking with some final wagers and gambling props for the 2011-12 season. Warning: I invoked the spirit of Cousin Sal and made up a couple of these. They're marked with a Maris-like asterisk. Anyway
For Indiana's over/under (36 wins), Minnesota's o/u (24) & Detroit's o/u (24)
I have good news! (Well, if you're a degenerate gambler, but still I have good news!) This season's over/unders for win totals finally trickled out on online betting sites these past few days. I made my "over" picks based on this formula: "(compressed schedule) X (young legs + serious depth) = cheap wins." Detroit won 30 games last season despite a near player mutiny; this season, they have a deeper roster, a better coach, and an easier schedule (heavy with games against the inferior East). Meanwhile, The Timberwolves have absolutely no reason to tank (remember, the Hornets have their unprotected no. 1 pick this year) and might have one "let's try to win now!" trade still in them. If that's not enough, multiple fan bases are slowly coming to the sobering realization that they'd rather watch Minnesota's second team (Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea, Derrick Williams, Anthony Randolph and Anthony Tolliver) than their own starting lineups.
But my favorite of the three picks? Indiana. Here's how much I love this year's Pacers team: I even ogled their Central Division odds (+800) and NBA title odds (75-to-1) for a few minutes before thinking, "Wait, this is getting crazy." Just know that, if the Pacers don't crack 40 wins this season, I'll give you a refund for this column. While we're here, I like these "overs" as well (just not quite enough to bet): Philly (36), Denver (37.5), Chicago (47.5) and the Clippers (41.5). In fact
To win the Pacific Division
PICK: Clippers (-110)
Why bet the Clippers' over when you can just steal money here? Here's what I witnessed in person in two preseason games: A hungry/focused/rejuvenated/deep Clippers team led by a superstar poised for a career year (Chris Paul), a budding superstar who wants to demolish the league (Blake Griffin) and an aging star who's already embraced being one of the team's two leaders (Chauncey Billups, playing with a chip on his shoulder to boot). It took exactly 24 hours for the new pieces to fall into place: They can run and play half court; they can protect the rim and play above it; they have shooters; they have scoring off the bench; they have multiple options at crunch time; they're competitive; they even have two quality handshake/chest-bump guys (DeAndre Jordan and Mo Williams). You name it, they have it. Everyone on that team can smell it already. They know they're going to be good.
More important, who's beating them in the Pacific? Not the Warriors, Suns or Kings. That leaves a creaky Lakers team that had the worst 4 thru 12 players of any potential playoff team and is really going to miss Lamar Odom, Phil Jackson and the Triangle (and not in that order). In fact
To have a bigger season from hell
PICK: Lakers (-130*) over Celtics
Put it this way: If this really WAS the "season from hell," wouldn't you have started it with the vetoed three-team trade, the Odom trade, their Black Sheep Brother Clippers getting Paul, Kobe's divorce and Kobe's wrist injury, followed by a 1-3 Bynum-less start to kick off the season and a flood of Dwight Howard-related trade rumors coming? There's just enough "2011 Colts" potential for this 2011-12 Lakers season that I would have soiled myself in delight if not for my decrepit Celtics, who go five-deep (yes, I'm counting Brandon Bass) before it drops off a Thelma and Louise-sized cliff. I'd say the Lakers and Celtics have the same goal: "Let's just make the playoffs. If we can eke out a 6-seed to avoid the top two teams in Round 1, even better but let's not kill ourselves trying. We just need to make sure we get in." That reminds me
For this year's most boring storyline that we'll have to keep addressing
PICK: "The Effects of the Shortened Schedule on the Playoff Picture" (-300*)
Too many games, too few days, too much greed. Scheduling those extra six games at the expense of the overall quality of the season? Indefensible. You'll see older teams throwing away screwed-by-the-schedule games (and resting multiple starters) over playing older stars three games in three nights, eight times in 11 nights, or whatever treacherous stretch is looming. Expect San Antonio, Dallas, Boston and the Lakers to remember what happened in 1999 — when the 8-seed Knicks snuck into the Finals after a 50-game season — and handle their schedules accordingly. Get ready for NBA fans across the country to be saying things like, "Wait, I'm paying to see the Celtics and they're starting Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels and JaJuan Johnson tonight — is this a D-League game and nobody told me?"
Will Dwight Howard get traded this season?
PICK: No (+200*)
If I'm Orlando GM Otis Smith, I'm going down with the ship: Unless the Lakers panic-trade me Bynum and Gasol for Howard and Turkoglu's contract AND fold J.J. Redick's contract within their Odom-created trade exception, I'm keeping Howard and hoping he takes more money to stay (remember, Orlando can pay him more than anyone). If he doesn't stay, I'm getting fired anyway. Let's hope this happens because (a) if Howard goes to Chicago with Derrick Rose, we're screwed (I explain in Day 9's column), (b) it's always scary to think of him on the Lakers, even if they won't have the cap space to help him until 2015, and (c) I'm excited for a super-awkward, "Is Dwight staying or going?!" All-Star Weekend in Orlando.
For this year's most popular ESPN.com Trade Machine companion
PICK: Orlando (-400*)
Bummed out about this one — I was ready to back Utah (+500*) until they shipped Memo Okur's Expiring Contract to New Jersey on Thursday.
For "Kobe and Steve Blake for Deron Williams, Johan Petro and Anthony Morrow" being this year's craziest trade rumor that gains steam.
PICK: Yes (+500*)
Jesse The Crazy Clippers Fan threw this one at me at Wednesday's preseason game and it made me do the nodding/furrowing my brow combo. If you're the Lakers, you'd escape from the last three years ($83.5 million!) of Kobe's cap-crippling deal, reinvent yourselves around Bynum, Gasol and Williams, give yourselves a little more flexibility, get younger and eliminate any possibility of Kobe going into 2007 Toxic Kobe mode. If you're the Nets, you'd abolish any "Williams might leave next summer" concerns and proudly charge into Brooklyn next year with one of the most famous basketball players ever leading the way (under contract through 2014, no less). And if you're Kobe, I mean, maybe you're not unhappy about this deal? New York, new owner, new uniform, new start, new fans, no baggage he'd basically be hitting the RESET button on the final part of his career. Pretty interesting. Who says no?
Will Denver give Tim Tebow courtside seats at least three times this season in a thinly veiled attempt to get Nuggets fans fired up and freak out the visiting team so that a crazy late comeback will happen?
PICK: Yes* (-400*)
Please note: I'm actually throwing this in a three-team parlay with "no" for "Will Steve Nash ask for a trade this season?" (-500*) and "yes" for "Will Khloe Kardashian gain at least 17.5 pounds this season because of Dallas barbecue?" (-220*) for even odds.
For VetoGate going away (over/under January 15)
No way it's going away. None. Too many people were involved; too many people know what actually happened; too many people get pissed off every time David Stern speaks publicly about it. On Colin Cowherd's show this week, Stern said, "I can assure you, and I reiterate it today, that the first time the league office knew the parameters of the suggested trade was when we said no." If that's true, then he's really saying that Dell Demps (the Hornets' GM), Hugh Weber (the Hornets' president) and Jac Sperling (the NBA's league-appointed chairman for the Hornets) blatantly lied to everyone on Houston's side and the Lakers' side as they were negotiating and consummating that trade. I don't know how to make that any clearer. Somebody is lying. For the record, it sure seems like the Lakers and Rockets believe it's David Stern. To be continued.
To be the best amnesty pickup
PICK: Baron Davis (+180*) over Chauncey Billups
I love the Chauncey/Clippers match: He gets to shoot open 3s, save his legs, defend the other team's worst perimeter player, be a leader and do Chauncey things. But Baron landed in an even better situation: As I've written a million times, he feeds off the crowd for better or worse. When it's "better," he rises to the occasion and unleashes the full Baron package: attacking the rim, bouncing around, coming through in the clutch, you name it. When it's worse, he goes through the motions, jacks up awful 23-footers and feeds himself (food).
Those past three Clipper years couldn't have been worse for him: Sticking Baron on a hopeless team in front of a dead crowd just means he'll check out (and with no remorse whatsoever). But a team like the Knicks? On a contender that needs him? With those great fans, with that spotlight/pressure on him, with every home game feeling like a show? I think 2007 Baron comes back. Remember, Knicks fans have a proven track record of attaching themselves to head cases (Latrell Sprewell, John Starks, etc.), disregarding their baggage and clicking with them. They won't accept anything less than Baron's best. It's the right match at the right point of his career. Baron Davis can be redeemed. I truly believe that.
To be the fattest Knick of all time, even fatter than Eddy Curry
PICK: Baron Davis (+1500*)
Sorry, I had to hedge the previous bet.
To be a more valuable better free-agent pickup
PICK: Rip Hamilton (+150*) over Shane Battier
Question: Would Miami have won the 2011 Finals if Battier had been out there instead of Mike Miller? Yeah if it was the Battier from 2007 or 2008. I don't think 2012 Battier is the same guy. He'll definitely help Miami as a bench guy; he pushes the Heat closer to the whole "you need eight solid-or-better guys to win a title" threshold; he definitely gives them more reliable Wade/LeBron injury protection. But he doesn't have the potential to transform Miami like Hamilton does in Chicago. Now that he's finally playing with a real point guard and guys who can actually set picks again (remember, he suffered through a three-year drought in Detroit there), I see Rip curling off screens, hitting open 3s and opening the floor for teammates just like he did in Detroit once upon a time. Perfect team, perfect fit. I love when stuff makes sense.
To have a better comeback season
PICK: Carlos Boozer (-110*) over Billy Crystal
I don't blame Crystal for giving away his Clipper courtsides these past few years; would you want to watch uninspired basketball while having to make small talk with the reprehensibly oily Donald Sterling during timeouts? I'm amazed he kept the seats. Now I see him making a massive comeback for Lob City this season; he even attended Wednesday's preseason game, for god's sake. Still, it won't match the impact of Boozer's comeback season in Chicago. There were real reasons why he stunk last year (new team, new situation, injured in training camp, not in the best shape, just never got it going, lost confidence) and real reasons why he'll shine this season (motivated and hungry, a 20/10 guy when healthy, better chemistry with Rose). He's too good to stink twice.
That the league's first legitimate HGH scandal will break
PICK: Yes* (+1200)
Just throwing it out there.
To be the league's leading rebounder
PICK: Kevin Love (+200)
Easy money. Love beat out Howard by a full rebound last season and he's in better shape. What am I missing?
To be the league's leading scorer
PICK: Carmelo Anthony (+700)
Kevin Durant is the favorite (-150), but Carmelo (headed for a monster year, by the way) averaged almost exactly the same points after the Denver trade that Durant averaged after the Perkins trade (when Durant's minutes finally went down). Throw in more shots for James Harden this season and I see Carmelo edging Durant by a full point. That reminds me
To be this season's breakout guy
PICK: James Harden (+250*) over Eric Gordon and John Wall
All three will make "The Leap," it's just that everyone will notice Harden most because he's playing for a contender (and in a bunch of nationally televised games). It's going to be cool to say things like, "I know everyone can't stop talking about Durant and Westbrook, but I really love that James Harden" in about six weeks.
The words "Phil Jackson" and "Knicks" will be uttered in the same sentence over/under 15 million times on ESPN between now and July
Easy money. I'm parlaying this with +250 odds for "Jackson has been secretly working on a book about his last few Lakers years that creams Kobe, Mitch Kupchak and Jimmy Buss."
For Golden State's over/under (31.5 wins) and the Lakers' over/under (40.5)
We already covered the Lakers; just know that Golden State's "under" is my single favorite wager on the board. Mark Jackson made the classic "I'm the new coach!" mistake: He's trying to impose his own idealism ("we're gonna be all about defense!") on a team that isn't even remotely built for that idea (a Warriors team with Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry and David Lee — three of the worst defensive players in basketball) instead of just looking at his roster and saying, "Here are my team's strengths, I need to play to those for now until I get the right players for what I want to do." It's too bad Jackson and Mike D'Antoni can't just switch jobs. By the way, Golden State plays 48 games against the much-tougher West and just 18 games against the weaker East. This is like stealing.
While we're here, I like these "unders" as well (just not quite enough to bet): Boston (41 wins), Miami (50.5), and Sacramento (20.5). In general, the contenders got screwed by being more television-friendly. You know how every NBA team only plays three teams twice from the other conference? Well, the Celtics drew the Lakers, Mavericks and Oklahoma City; the Lakers drew Boston, New York and Miami; Dallas drew Boston, Miami and New York; and Miami drew Dallas, Oklahoma City and the Lakers. All of those games will be televised on ESPN, ABC and TNT. Meanwhile, Indiana drew Golden State, Minnesota and New Orleans and you're not gonna believe this, but you won't see any of those six games on ESPN, ABC and TNT. Who said there wasn't a single advantage to being a small-market NBA team?
For Ron Artest's next name change
PICK: "Metta World Amnesty Clause" (+2500*)
(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
To win Rookie of the Year
PICK: Kemba Walker (+500)
It's the kookiest "Rookie of the Year" race in recent memory. Other than Kemba, the only other potential picks I liked (if only for favorable odds) were Ricky Rubio (+750) and Tristan Thompson (+700 as a "field" bet since he doesn't even have odds). Why Kemba? He's the only rookie who can (and probably will) become his team's crunch-time scorer. If you win the most SportsCenter highlights, you'll win "Rookie of the Year." That's just the way it goes.
By the way, I don't mind this rookie class: I'm excited to watch everyone we just mentioned, as well as Derrick Williams (a future star, although he won't get the minutes this year), Kyrie Irving (two years away from being good, but whatever), Brandon Knight (ditto), Rubio (even if he can't hit the side of a barn with his jump shot, you'll love watching him because he already passes the "half-step ahead of everyone else," "definitely has the passing gene" and "couldn't be more fun to play with" tests), the one and only Jimmer Fredette (25-foot range and streaky in a good way, like Vinnie Johnson crossed with Steve Kerr), and of course (Marv Albert voice), "Bis-mack Bi-YOM-bo!!!!!!!"
To be the league's 2012 MVP
PICK: Chris Paul (+1000)
Total value pick. If the Clippers break through this season (and I say they will), Paul will receive the lion's share of the credit just like Steve Nash did in 2005. It's either going to be Paul, LeBron (+250), Rose (+500) or Durant (+500). May as well grab the best odds.
(Confession time: At gunpoint, I would have picked Paul, anyway. It took exactly three quarters for him to totally own that entire Clippers team. If you watch them on Christmas, watch for little breaks in the action when Paul beckons over his other four teammates and they come scurrying over like little kids. It's like watching Kanye yell for his backup dancers during a rehearsal or something. Pretty funny to watch. There isn't a leader in the NBA quite like Chris Paul. You will see.)
To win the Western Conference
PICK: Clippers (+600)
Confession time, no. 2: I don't think you should bet the West. The Clippers, Dallas (+300) and Oklahoma City (+200) have the best teams; you could also talk me into the Spurs (+1100) or Lakers (+250) pulling a 1999 Knicks and catching fire for a couple of series; and you could absolutely talk me into the Grizzlies (+1400) unexpectedly wreaking havoc again. That's six potential winners in all, which means two words: stay away. The Western playoffs will be like the NHL playoffs this past spring: total craziness, total chaos, be prepared for anything. But if I absolutely HAD to make a wager? Lob City has the best odds and it's the most fun pick. You're wagering on, quite possibly, one of the most entertaining professional basketball teams ever assembled and it's in YOUR best interest for them to win. What's better than that?
To win the 2012 title
PICK: Chicago (+600)
The Bulls weren't that far off from beating Miami (+180) last spring; they're decidedly better now. Besides, what would be more fun than a Clippers-Bulls Finals? Los Angeles vs. Chicago? Blake Griffin on a national stage? Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton reunited in the Finals, only on different teams? DeAndre Jordan and Joakim Noah woofing at each other for seven games? Vinny Del Negro and Tom Thibodeau having a "deer in the headlights" contest? And best of all, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul battling for the Best Point Guard championship belt, the NBA championship and the heart of Worldwide Wes? That's the best Finals since oh, wait, since last year. And that's pretty good. Merry Christmas and thanks for reading.
Bill Simmons is the Editor in Chief of Grantland and the author of the recent New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball, now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. Follow him on Twitter and check out his new home on Facebook.
Previously from Bill Simmons: