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NBA predictions: MVP, ROY, champs and the future for LeBron and James Harden

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Is LeBron or AD the bigger signing for the Lakers? (1:56)

Max Kellerman is adamant that the re-signing of Anthony Davis is more significant for the Lakers than LeBron James returning, but Stephen A. Smith couldn't disagree more. (1:56)

The 2020-21 NBA winter forecast is here for Day 2!

Who will win MVP? Who will be the Rookie of the Year? What is the future for LeBron James and James Harden?

Our expert panel is predicting the answers to those questions, plus who will win the Eastern Conference title, the Western Conference title and the NBA championship.

Six NBA experts break down the ESPN winter forecast results for 2020-21.

Let's see what our panel expects for each conference and several superstars.

Day 1 of NBA winter forecast: W-L records for all 30 teams


Who will win the West?

1. Los Angeles Lakers: 139 points (93% first-place votes)

2. LA Clippers: 54 points (7% first-place votes)

3. Denver Nuggets: 25 points

4. Dallas Mavericks: 16 points

5. Portland Trail Blazers: 15 points

6. Golden State Warriors: 3 points

Voters were asked for the top three candidates, and we calculated a weighted score.

Our winter forecast is placing an enormous bet on the power of incumbency.

Coming off a 16-5 postseason run, the Lakers added Dennis Schroder, Marc Gasol, Wesley Matthews and Montrezl Harrell to their championship rotation, which impressed our panelists.

But perhaps the vote says less about faith in the Lakers and more about the lack of confidence in the Clippers, who were regarded as their intracity rival's equal as recently as September.

Even though the Clippers still feature Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and Denver's young star duo -- Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray -- is still improving, as shown by the Nuggets' surprise West finals appearance, the Lakers drew more than 90% of our votes to represent the West in the Finals.

The message from the panel is clear: Bet the field against LeBron James and Anthony Davis at your own peril. -- Kevin Arnovitz

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1:18

What are the Clippers' hurdles heading into the 2020-21 season?

Ramona Shelburne recaps the devastating breakdown the Clippers suffered in the bubble in the 2020 playoffs and lays out what challenges await the team in the upcoming season.

Who will win the East?

1. Milwaukee Bucks: 100 points (61% first-place votes)

2. Brooklyn Nets: 53 points (21% first-place votes)

3. Miami Heat: 45 points (7% first-place votes)

4. Boston Celtics: 28 points (7% first-place votes)

5. Philadelphia 76ers: 24 points (4% first-place votes)

6. Toronto Raptors: 2 points

As much as the Bucks have disappointed during the past two playoffs, it was hard for our panel to get around the fact they've won about three-quarters of their regular-season games over the past couple of years, when they also boasted the NBA's best defense.

Milwaukee is still a team led by a two-time MVP who likely hasn't hit his prime, and it significantly upgraded its position of greatest need.

The Bucks as the majority pick to win the conference isn't much of a surprise, but the Nets as the strong runner-up might be.

Kevin Durant's presence in Brooklyn was enough to vault the Nets ahead of the reigning conference champion Miami Heat, a defensively elite Boston Celtics team featuring two strong young wings with plenty of postseason experience and a Sixers team that still offers lots of talent and intrigue.

The East is more interesting than it has been in years. -- Arnovitz

Who will win the NBA championship?

1. Los Angeles Lakers: 132 points (86% first-place votes)

2. Milwaukee Bucks: 50 points (7% first-place votes)

3. LA Clippers: 30 points (7% first-place votes)

Also receiving votes: Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks.

Our panel is anticipating a repeat after the Lakers upgraded their bench and maintained their veteran experience during a surprisingly busy offseason for a defending champion.

With newcomers Harrell and Schroder supplying more shot creation and Gasol and Matthews adding playoff experience, the Lakers look deeper than the group that won the 2020 title at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

They might need to be. After all, the Lakers didn't have to face either of the next two teams in the voting because the Bucks and Clippers were both upset in the conference semifinals. They too are hoping key offseason additions -- Jrue Holiday for Milwaukee, Serge Ibaka for LA -- will get them over the top.

Our forecast isn't as optimistic about those two challengers and also isn't buying the Brooklyn Nets as anything more than a dark horse despite the return of Kevin Durant. -- Kevin Pelton

Who will win the MVP award?

1. Luka Doncic | Dallas Mavericks: 69 points (36% first-place votes)

2. LeBron James | Los Angeles Lakers: 52 points (29% first-place votes)

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo | Milwaukee Bucks: 47 points (14% first-place votes)

4. Anthony Davis | Los Angeles Lakers: 45 points (14% first-place votes)

5. Stephen Curry | Golden State Warriors: 9 points (4% first-place votes)

Also receiving votes: Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler and Jayson Tatum.

Despite -- or perhaps more accurately because of -- consecutive MVPs for Antetokounmpo, our panel sees no clear favorite for the NBA's highest individual honor. Back-to-back-to-back MVPs haven't happened since Larry Bird earned the award from 1983-84 through 1985-86, suggesting two-time winners are competing not just with the rest of the field but also the standard previously set. As a result, Antetokounmpo finishes just third in our forecast.

If not Giannis, who might win? Last year's second-place finisher, James, isn't our panel's top choice either, which makes sense given he is likely to downshift in the regular season after getting barely two months between hoisting the championship trophy and starting the abbreviated 2020-21 campaign.

Instead, we like Doncic as the frontrunner. At 21, Doncic could be poised for another leap after becoming both an All-Star and an All-NBA First Team pick for the first time in his second season. Doncic got a longer break after the Mavericks lost in the first round of the playoffs and might get the credit if Dallas can crack the top four in the Western Conference this season. -- Pelton

Who will win Rookie of the Year?

1. LaMelo Ball | Charlotte Hornets: 80 points (36% first-place votes)

2. James Wiseman | Golden State Warriors: 54 points (21% first-place votes)

3. Anthony Edwards | Minnesota Timberwolves: 36 points (11% first-place votes)

4. Obi Toppin | New York Knicks: 32 points (7% first-place votes)

5. Tyrese Haliburton | Sacramento Kings: 21 points (11% first-place votes)

Also receiving votes: Deni Avdija, Killian Hayes, Cole Anthony, Onyeka Okongwu and Patrick Williams.

Ball should be the clear frontrunner in the Rookie of the Year race thanks to his overwhelming talent and the potential opportunity to run the show in Charlotte, and our panel agrees he's the top choice heading into the 2020-21 season.

Even with other ball handlers on the roster, Ball's passing genius and rebounding instincts have already stood out in preseason play. As long as coach James Borrego lets him have the keys to the offense, and especially if Ball can find some consistency as a shooter, I'd expect the 19-year-old to become the youngest player in NBA history to post a triple-double in a regular-season NBA game while making the Hornets a League Pass favorite.

Our panel identified 10 candidates in all, and it's easy to see how some could challenge Ball if things fall into place for them.

Among the top two picks, Wiseman figures to have the opportunity as the Warriors' only true 7-footer, but his game is still very much a work in progress in terms of his defensive instincts and offensive polish. Meanwhile, Edwards, the No. 1 overall pick, will have big scoring nights but will also be tasked with meshing alongside D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns for the playoff hopefuls.

Toppin's maturity and skill set could make him a contender if he can stay on the court for the Knicks by finding a way not to get exposed defensively.

Of the dark-horse candidates, Avdija is my favorite for ROY, with a Wizards starting spot up for grabs, a versatile skill set at 6-foot-10 and more than 100 games of pro experience. -- Mike Schmitz

What outcome do you expect for James Harden?

He will be traded between opening day and the trade deadline: 71%

He will remain with the Rockets for the full season: 18%

He will be traded before the season: 11%

Expect the trade talks with Harden to intensify from the end of January up to the trade deadline in mid-March, according to our Winter Forecast.

Before then, a six-week hiatus is likely because of two critical factors:

First, teams are in a honeymoon period when it comes to their roster and will have a better assessment after 10-15 games.

Second, a majority of players who signed contracts as free agents cannot be traded until Feb. 6. (A handful of players have a March 3 restriction.)

Still, a minority of our panelists believe Harden will remain in Houston this season, and an even smaller minority thinks he will be traded just before the season for the second time in his career. -- Bobby Marks

Will Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid both start the 2021-22 NBA season on the 76ers?

Yes: 54%

No: 46%

The Simmons and Embiid dynamic will be under the microscope (again) this season.

The duo enters Year Five of playing together. Expect new personnel chief Daryl Morey and new head coach Doc Rivers to use this season to see if this partnership can work.

Considering all the noise surrounding James Harden and his connection to Morey from their time together in Houston, the odds appear to be a coin flip that both Simmons and Embiid will be on the roster when next season (2021-22) starts, according to our panel.

Don't forget Morey is one of the more aggressive executives and has a long track record of shaking up the roster if the season ends in less than a championship. -- Marks

How many more championships will the Lakers win with LeBron James?

One: 61%

Two: 29%

Three: 7%

Zero: 4%

Average: 1.4 championships

Based on the prevailing opinion that the Lakers grew a bit stronger this offseason while other contenders stayed at about the same level or took a step back, one more title for James and the Lakers appears to be the safest bet, according to our panel.

Going beyond that suggestion -- to say they'll likely win two or even three -- is more a stretch. That's not only because Giannis could have a new address with his own superteam by then, but also because the further out we look, the more likely it is Father Time actually wins a game of 1-on-1 against James, who turns 36 this month.

And if and when that happens, it's not clear whether the Lakers would be title contenders anymore, even with a prime Anthony Davis on board. -- Chris Herring