As you’ll see on Friday, LeBron James is no longer our pick to win the Most Valuable Player award, so he’ll have to settle for being the runaway winner of the preseason Newcomer of the Year award — the player who “will have the biggest positive impact on his new team.”
Of the 93 NBA experts on our panel, 83.9 percent picked the Miami Heat’s new small forward as the top newcomer, with fellow free agents Carlos Boozer and Amare Stoudemire far behind.
Here, then, are the players expected to do the most to make their teams new and improved:
James: Considering that he was the most coveted free agent in NBA history and that his move to Miami is the most celebrated (and debated and decried) ever, it’s not hard to figure out why LeBron James is the choice for Best Newcomer.
His Heat are predicted by our panel to lead the NBA with 61 wins, and yet a plurality of SportsNation says that estimate is too low. Meanwhile, our panel puts the jilted Cavaliers at 30 wins, and a plurality of SportsNation says that estimate is too high. The bottom line: Most expect the Heat to lead the NBA in winning percentage and the Cavs to be 30 to 35 games worse than last season.
And of course, as polls have shown, much of the vitriol directed at LeBron is coming from locales such as Ohio, New York, New England and California, where the fear of his decision and the loathing of his “Decision” seem to be quite connected to one another.
So whether you call LeBron the Worst Departure, the Biggest Turncoat or something worse … you also can call him the Best Newcomer.
Boozer/Stoudemire: Carlos Boozer and Amare Stoudemire share the “consolation prize of the year” award. The two high-scoring power forwards defected from Western Conference powers to Eastern Conference hopefuls, happily snapping up the dollars Chicago and New York, respectively, were unable to spend on fellow free agents James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
For the Bulls, Boozer is seen by some as a relative bargain (at $14.4 million this season, well below the max), and a great fit for a team short on scoring and long in need of a player who could pound opponents in the post. While there have been questions about Boozer’s durability and defense, he looks like a perfect complement to up-and-coming center Joakim Noah, who can get the dirty work while Boozer gets buckets.
For the Knicks, Stoudemire is the partial answer to their prayers, a star who might become a magnet for other stars. He is an ideal big man for Mike D’Antoni, whose style of play Stoudemire mastered in Phoenix. He can run the floor and play the pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop game that D’Antoni coaches, easily filling the shoes of the departed David Lee, presuming his knees hold up.
Not everyone agrees that Boozer and Stoudemire are worth the money, but in the short term, local fans have reason to hope for a boost in their franchises’ fortunes, even if their new PFs are making a fortune.