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Looking (Far) Ahead

Ian Thomsen takes a fearless stab at what will come to pass in the 2005-06 season

MOST SURPRISING NEWCOMER The offensive creativity of North Carolina guard Rashad McCants will help him finish second to Andrew Bogut in the Rookie of the Year voting.

LEAST-PRODUCTIVE LOTTERY PICK High school swingman Gerald Green will barely contribute, though a patient approach should eventually bring out the Vince Carter in him.

WORST MANAGEMENT Having lost two months searching for front-office leadership (Danny Ferry was finally hired on Monday) instead of developing a plan for the draft and free agency, the Cavaliers will alienate LeBron James, who can leave as an unrestricted free agent in 2008.

MOST IMPORTANT FREE-AGENT SIGNING If Ray Allen re-signs with the Sonics they'll remain a title contender; if he doesn't, the 30-year-old shooting star could well make his new team into one.

BIGGEST TRADE The Celtics will exchange swingman Paul Pierce for a similarly potent scorer by the midseason deadline.

MOST SURPRISING CHANGE Heat president Pat Riley returns to coaching--though not in Miami.

BREAKOUT TEAM The Warriors won't have as dramatic a turnaround as Phoenix did this season, but after an 11-year drought they'll return to the postseason.

BREAKING-DOWN TEAM Unless Jerry West can magically overhaul his roster this summer, the once up-and-coming Grizzlies will slide out of the playoff picture.

MVP Under Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant will lead the Lakers to a surprising 50 wins and again be recognized as the game's best all-around player.

NBA FINALS MATCHUP San Antonio and Miami will square off, and with Dwyane Wade leading the charge, the Heat prevails.

COLOR PHOTO

BILL FRAKES (BRYANT)

WIN-WIN

Look for Bryant (left) to snag the MVP award and Wade a ring.

COLOR PHOTO

DOUG PENSINGER/GETTY IMAGES (WADE)

[see caption above]