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Early Predictions for the 2016-17 NBA Season

For avid NBA fans and handicappers, it's never too early to take a look around the league and makes some predictions about the upcoming season. After watching the Cleveland Cavaliers take down the Golden State Warriors in an exciting 7-game series in 2016, it gives everyone, including online bookmakers, a lot to ponder during the off-season. With the draft and most free agent signings already on the books, let's take a look around the league.

As should be expected, the 2016-17 season seems to go through the Golden State Warriors. As though breaking the NBA record for wins in a season (73) wasn't enough, the Warriors did anything but stand pat with the signing of F Kevin Durant to a long-term deal out of free agency. It was a difficult for Durant to say goodbye to the fans in Oklahoma City, but the allure of a few possible NBA Championships was simply too much to resist. In that regard, the rest of the league is left to ponder how in the world they are going to stop a four-headed monster that includes Stephon Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Durant.

In San Antonio, there was a changing of the guard in the off-season with the announced retirement of future Hall of Fame center Tim Duncan. In order to fill his massive shoes, the Spurs signed Pau Gasol. The veteran center is certainly serviceable enough to make a front line of Aldridge/Leonard/Gasol very formidable. With everyone anticipating this being G Tony Parker's last year, the Spurs will be motivated to send him out a winner. From a talent perspective, this is the only team in the league that matches up even close to the Warriors.

With the Oklahoma City Thunder suffering the loss of Durant, the rest of the league looks ordinary, unless the L.A. Clippers can avoid injury and play a little more consistently. The drafting of F/C Brice Johnson from North Carolina will add depth to the front line, but it's hard to imagine this team competing with the top two without adding another significant piece.

Speaking of Los Angeles, the post Kobe Bryant era officially starts for the Lakers. It has been difficult to watch the demise of this great basketball franchise, but hopes are high that a young core that includes D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randal and rookie Brandon Ingram will someday return the team to glory. In 2016-17, 20 wins and another top three draft choice seems to be the ceiling.

In the Eastern Conference, all eyes will be on the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers. They dodged a bullet by signing Lebron James to a new 3-year, $100 million deal. Other than that, everything stays the same in Cleveland, where they enter the season a solid favorite to represent the conference in the championships.

In Boston, the signing of Al Horford to a nice free agent deal gives the Celtics the scoring threat they need in the middle. The team signed a bunch of its role players to new contracts, which should set everyone up to focus on one thing, overtaking the Cavaliers. Any further improvement over last year's excellent 48-34 season could find them in the promise land.

With the loss of Derrick Rose and Yoakim Noah, the Chicago Bulls moved on and picked up Rajon Rondo and Dwayne Wade from free agency. With Jimmy Butler back happy and healthy, the Bulls could give the Cavaliers a run for the money in the Central Division. By the way, Chicago's loss was the New York Knicks gain as both Rose and Noah signed deals to join Carmelo Anthony for one last run at a title.

Handicappers should be busy now looking for new online bookmakers that are offering aggressive promos around free bets. Any free bets could be used to accumulate a nice bankroll headed into the new NFL or NBA seasons. Aside from watching the Warriors destroy the league, the rest of the action is sure to be fast and exciting.

-- Tony Samboras 

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