One of the highlights of the sports year is the unpredictability — like an NCAA tournament No. 16 seed knocking off a No. 1, or an offseason transaction that shakes the sports world (LeBron James to the Lakers).
What will 2019 bring? USA TODAY Sports offers some serious and not-so-serious predictions.
1. Kevin Durant to the Lakers. LeBron James going to Hollywood seemed far-fetched last year around this time, and then his summer free-agency made one of our bold predictions for 2018 come true. But why would Durant leave, especially if the two-time Finals MVP can guide the Warriors to a three-peat? Durant’s recent flap with Draymond Green and an ongoing need to quiet doubters on social media could be major factors.
2. Le’Veon Bell signs with the New York Jets. Bell sat out 2018 with hopes of landing a massive free-agent contract in 2019. And the Jets, who have tons of cap space and a desperate need to surround Sam Darnold with more talent, give it to him.
3. Jerry Jones finally fires Jason Garrett. Jones, the long-time Cowboys owner, has steadfastly supported Garrett through dark days and poor playoff performances — Garrett’s Cowboys have only made the playoffs three times over eight seasons with a 1-2 record. If the Cowboys lose their wild-card game against the Seahawks on Saturday, Garrett should put the “For Sale” sign in his yard.
4. Tiger Woods wins another major. The 14-time major champ showed flashes of his former self in 2018 — finally competing at a healthy level after multiple back surgeries. His sixth-place finish at the Open Championship and second-place finish at the PGA Championship last summer got everyone’s attention. Seven of Woods’ 80 PGA Tour wins were at courses hosting a major in 2019, including six of his 14 major championships.
5. Lakers fire Luke Walton; Phil Jackson comes out of retirement (again). Walton wasn’t hired by Magic Johnson or GM Rob Pelinka, so any stretch of underachievement could put his job in jeopardy. And while Jackson hasn’t coached in nearly a decade, Kobe Bryant’s friendship with both the 11-time champion coach and Pelinka could broker a come-back-for-one-last-title recruitment strategy.
6. Serena Williams gets back into the Grand Slam wins column. Williams’ comeback season from pregnancy wasn’t short on headlines, but the 23-time Grand Slam winner came up just short of adding to her majors win total, falling in both the Wimbledon and US Open finals. It’s hard to imagine arguably the greatest player of all time would go 0 for 4 in 2019.
7. An All-Star in a top-four sport comes out. Former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jeff Rohrer became the first openly gay former NFL player to get married, much to the surprise of his old teammates. And the year before, former Kansas City Chiefs player Ryan O’Callaghan came out. We’ve seen pioneers such as Jason Collins in the NBA pave the way for more closeted LGBT athletes to come forward, but the sports world hasn’t seen an All-Star-caliber player step into that spotlight.
8. Pop for president: San Antonio coach and former Air Force officer Gregg Popovich leaves the Spurs and announces he is running for president in 2020. Pop immediately becomes the front-runner in a crowded Democratic field.
9. Drew Brees announces his retirement. Not wanting his future to be a distraction, the quarterback makes it official: The 2019 season will be his last, allowing the Saints to hasten the search for his successor.
10. Tom Brady … does not. “I definitely think I can play at least until I’m 50, if not beyond that,” Brady tells Jim Gray. (“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Gisele responds.)
11. Zion Williamson makes an NBA team immediate contender. Even LeBron James didn’t make the Cavaliers a playoff team right away. But he also didn’t get a year of college ball under one of the greatest coaches of all time the way this ferocious, rim-rattling 18-year-old is at Duke. Williamson’s 6-7, 280-pound frame make him a transcendent player in the NCAA — and very likely at the pro level, too.
12. The Browns reach the playoffs. With No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield bringing much-needed swagger to this team, a winless 2017 seems even further away in the rear-view mirror.
13. Babe who? The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani doesn’t throw a pitch, yet he pulls off something even Babe Ruth couldn’t dream of – a 30-homer, 30-steal season.
14. An NBA champion team visits Donald Trump’s White House. The Golden State Warriors have turned down invitations to visit the president — or according to Trump, they’ve been “uninvited.” But perhaps Steve Kerr and the Warriors change course. If another NBA team is crowned, a White House visit might be back on the table.
15. Balance in baseball. For the first time since 2014, nobody wins 100 games as MLB edges closer toward its platonic ideal of 30 teams finishing 81-81 while operating at maximum “efficiency.”
16. Oakland Raiders sign Colin Kaepernick. Looking to push Derek Carr and make a splash as their Las Vegas move approaches, the Raiders invite Kaepernick to training camp to compete for the backup quarterback job.
17. Tim Tebow reaches the major leagues. After starting the year at Triple-A, Tebow gets a cup of coffee with the Mets.
18. Oilers overhaul. The Edmonton Oilers will miss the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 seasons, and general manager Peter Chiarelli will be relieved of his duties. Joel Quenneville will end up as coach. Ken Hitchcock will be a consultant.
19. After leading Duke to sixth national title, Mike Krzyzewski retires. Coach K turns 72 in February, making him one of the oldest coaches in the game. His talent-infused roster of teenagers will give him one more ring before riding into the sunset this April. (Editor’s note: We predicted this last year. And the year before. It’s bound to come true.)