The following transcript is an excerpt from Open floor podcast. Listen to the full episode on podcast players everywhere or in SI.com.
Pineapple: I want you to give me a bold prediction about the Western Conference. It could be a team. It could be a player. This can be very positive. This can be very negative. What is something semi-outrageous you want to get off your chest in prediction form about the Western Conference this season?
Herring, I want you to throw us out here.
Herring: The T-Wolves will make the playoffs without ever having to use the play-in. They will be the sixth seed.
Herring: I don’t really believe that, but I had to find something to write about. They have enough talent to do something so wild. Will it happen? No. Will they even make the playoffs? Probably not.
Pineapple: Herring, you said the quiet part out loud. … They are supposed to believe that you think that.
Herring: You’re absolutely right.
Crazy, crazy things happen. They have talent. I mean, KAT, as you wrote so eloquently, the guy was not healthy at all last season, whether we’re talking physically, God only knows how he felt last year, which he also told you about. So there is that element. If you get better defensive effort and some development out of those guys, you’d expect you to get it just because they’re young. … You still have a little faith that this will come true.
The idea that KAT is potentially some kind of generational offensive talent. (Anthony) Edwards scoring the way he did towards the end of last season, when he wasn’t even always the focal point of what they were doing. You have so many guys that they are capable of taking a leap. You have so many guys who are individually talented on defense. That’s not really a scheme, a team-based thing, but if some of those things come together and consolidate a bit, they might make the playoffs. Is it a team that can avoid play-in? I wouldn’t take that bet. I say the quiet part out loud. But they can make things interesting. And for me, that’s interesting enough in and of itself when you look at this team and how far apart they were last year.
Nadkarni: Here is my actual bold prediction. This is something I promise you haven’t heard anywhere else. Give me Nikola Jokić repeating as league MVP. How about that for a bold prediction?
Nobody talks about Jokić. This guy came out of the bubble and played in each and every game for the Nuggets last season, while every other team that went as far as them had players dropping like flies. It was spectacular last year. …
He’s in the prime of his career, he should only get better in the future. I think his team is based on him. … It’s going to be even more of a focal point with (Jamal) Murray out. I think it’s going to get huge numbers, and you know what? I think he too, as crazy as he sounds, has something to prove after how many people tried to say, ah, he’s a serendipitous MVP. He only won because the season was short. He only won due to injuries, etc. I know he’s apparently not emotional about that sort of thing, but he’s definitely someone that I think has a lot of intrinsic motivation and, yes, he gives me Nikola Jokić repeating as MVP.
Pineapple: I like it. I like this a lot. I think it is possible. I’ll save my MVP pick for a later episode. If someone, and this is not my pick, but if someone other than Giannis wins the MVP this year, I will be a little surprised.
Nadkarni: This is a classic Pina move. This is how you get to have the two things where you can say that this is not your choice, but it is also who is going to win. So now he takes six bites of the apple with each question. It is a truly masterful job.
Pineapple: When you are the host, you can do whatever you want. And on my corpse, that will never happen.
Howard, do you have a bold prediction here for the Western Conference heading into the season?
Stream: I make. And he just so happens to skip Rohan’s bold prediction, which is that the Nuggets will win the West.
Nadkarni: Yes! Let’s go!
Stream: Listen, the West is much more open than anyone wants to acknowledge. We have to see if Russell Westbrook really fits in with LeBron and AD. We have to see LeBron get through the season healthy. We have to watch the rest of the Lakers group, 38 and older, which may be a slight exaggeration, stay healthy throughout the season. We have to see what kind of cohesion they have with a whole new roster around LeBron and AD. We cannot assume much.
We have to see Klay Thompson come back for the Warriors. We have to see who the Clippers are without Kawhi Leonard probably all season long. We have to see if the Suns can repeat what they did last year and without some of the good luck that came to them in the playoffs. We need to see if the Jazz can repeat what they did in the regular season. And if his fall in the playoffs is only going to suck the oxygen out of the room, right? Since you did everything, you were the best you could be. Absolutely, credit to the Jazz, they maxed out who they were. But they maximized who they were. … I just don’t see where the next gear is for that team.
So you go up and down the top of the West and yes, the Nuggets come in with a warning of their own. They all have caveats and it’s Jamal Murray, but they have the reigning MVP.
And apparently the soon-to-be twice MVP, according to Rohan. They have Michael Porter Jr. They have a full Aaron Gordon season. They’ve got this weird mix-and-match backcourt where every year Michael Malone just grabs someone, throws them there, and they do it pretty well when Jamal Murray is injured, or on the bench or whatever. They find a way, the Nuggets, and we’re all going to sleep with them because there’s nothing particularly sexy about that team, but they have tremendous firepower. They have cohesion. They have continuity. That core group has been together for a while. In a Western Conference where there are no sure bets and all kinds of asterisks flying everywhere, I think the Nuggets are as solid a bet as any.
Pineapple: So I love that choice of yours, Howard. And what I’m going to say is much more extreme. I do not know. I think the Los Angeles Clippers will come out of the Western Conference.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.