• This is the year Portland will break up the potent backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
The Blazers don’t want to trade either one, especially when they awoke Wednesday ranked seventh in the league in defensive efficiency despite the annual external skepticism about the pairing’s capabilities at that end of the floor. But the easiest path to balancing the roster is by parting with one of their two guards — most likely McCollum — for a package headlined by a frontcourt player on their level. No one’s suggesting it’ll happen before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, but Portland’s latest so-so season threatens to be the impetus that finally pushes the longtime Blazers owner Paul Allen in a new direction.
• DeMarcus Cousins will re-sign with New Orleans.
The Pelicans are planning a five-year maximum offer to Cousins approaching an estimated $175 million. The marketplace, as it stands, isn’t exactly teeming with attractive alternatives for Cousins to consider, with rival suitors limited to offering four-year deals. New Orleans is thus a heavy favorite to keep its throwback big-man tandem of Cousins and Anthony Davis intact.
(Also F.Y.I.: The Pelicans are nowhere close to even entertaining a single trade proposal for Davis from Boston or anyone else. The Brow, based on everything I’ve heard, badly wants to make it work with the Pels and also happens to be under contract for two more seasons after this one. No matter how many people suggest it, Boston can’t trade for Anthony Davis. So can we drop this one?)
• Jay Triano will be retained as coach of the Phoenix Suns.
Triano is one of two interim coaches in the league at present, along with Memphis’ J.B. Bickerstaff, but the signals I’m getting suggest that the Suns — focusing on player development more than the results in the standings — are leaning toward making Triano their full-time replacement for Earl Watson.
• Vince Carter will retire with the Toronto Raptors.
The salary cap mathematics make it pretty costly for Toronto to swing a deal before the Feb. 8 trade deadline and absorb Carter’s $8 million salary just to fortify its bench and boost its experience quotient. But Carter, who turns 41 on Jan. 26, will be back on the free-agent market in July. Whether he decides to play on for one more season or the Raptors simply want to sign him so he can go out the way he came in — as Air Canada — it’s a second marriage I think (stress: think) Torontonians are ready to toast.
• The Cleveland Cavaliers will reach a fourth successive N.B.A. finals.
Given how bad they’ve looked lately, especially defensively, this may be my boldest prediction. Even the Cavaliers have sounded pessimistic about pulling out of their recent 3-9 funk, but I still can’t talk myself into the idea that Boston or Toronto can win four times in a seven-game series against a LeBron James-led squad.
James sat wearily at his locker in Toronto last week after a humbling 34-point rout and chided a reporter for even daring to suggest that Cleveland can flip the proverbial switch once the playoffs begin. But his Cavs did exactly that last season, playing .500 ball for more than half of the schedule (going 23-23 after Jan. 8) and then looking like a completely different team in the East playoffs (going 12-1). The Celtics and Raptors are indeed more formidable than they were then — and Kyrie Irving, rather crucially, plays in Boston now — but I’ll let others say Team LeBron can’t do it again.
• The Golden State Warriors will fail to re——
Apologies. Can’t even bring myself to type the words. The Warriors will win their third championship in four seasons in June. Good luck finding a scribe sufficiently fearless to pick otherwise.