At long last, the NBA is back, with the Golden State Warriors set to begin their journey back to the mountaintop. Their mission will be two-fold: 1) Win another Larry O’Brien trophy 2) Burn everything. They’re Unicron and the rest of the league is in trouble since Shawn Marion retired. Enter here ye who have abandoned all hope.
It goes without saying that the Dubs are Must See TV. If you’re a Golden State fan you’ll be glued to every game, your view of the screen only obscured by your giant… well you should really consult your physician if it lasts four hours after the game is my advice.
If you’re NOT a Warriors fan, you’re still hate-watching them, like the presidential debates, knowing full well the outcome of the games will be just as predictable and feeling outraged about how rigged the league is for allowing these Kevin Durant shenanigans.
The thing is, the regular season is 170 days long, and the Warriors will play in less than half of those. That leaves a bunch of open dates to watch the other, lesser, teams. And believe it or not, they all have at least one thing about them that’s interesting.
This isn’t the NFL, with its insipid AFC South, its never-ending injury timeouts and holding penalties and defensive slog-fests.
It’s not baseball, where in some deranged tribute to Tony LaRussa every manager these days seems to use eight pitchers to get through innings 6-8, pointlessly replacing one fire-breathing dragon who throws 98 and has no idea where it’s going with another.
The NBA is the best league we have for entertainment value, even if it is predictable. At least the games are fun.
So without further ado, here’s a reason to watch every team:
Atlanta Hawks: A happy Dwight Howard.
I know, this sounds as unlikely as riding a unicorn across a rainbow to find a pot of gold, but it’s really not that crazy of a premise. Howard’s back home, near his favorite adult haunts, and he won’t be playing with anyone trying to undermine him. He’ll have the fans behind him and find contentment in a low-pressure, friendly media environment… at least for a while. And he should be able to thrive for at least another year or two now that he’s away from the cutthroat Western Conference. I’m curious about what he can do. It’s not like the Hawks have many other options, besides poor Paul Millsap.
Boston Celtics: Brad Stevens finally has a fulcrum to shape his offense around.
Al Horford gives the Celtics their first legit star since trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in a fire-sale. Stevens has long been one of the league’s best play-designers and now he’ll actually have a genuine inside, outside big-man defenses will have to worry about instead of counting on Isaiah Thomas to bail them out of bad possessions with hero-ball shots. The Celtics are deep, and they’ll be a nightmare to play for teams that are tired or don’t have much time to game plan for them.
Brooklyn Nets: Linsanity returns to the Big Apple.
Jeremy Lin was quietly very effective as a sixth-man for the Hornets last season. On a Nets squad with Brook Lopez and virtually no one else, he’ll have free reign to do as he pleases. He might average 20 a night, no foolin’. Plus, he’s taken over Drew Gooden’s mantle as the guy who’s most unpredictable night-to-night with his hair.
Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker’s year-long homage to Allen Iverson.
The Hornets lost Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee and Lin in the off-season and replaced them with no one of consequence. Their only hope of scoring aside from Walker is for Frank Kaminsky to show dramatic improvement in year two and for Nicolas Batum to have a pulse. They’re gonna be terrific defensive team with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back, but they’ll have to be like Iverson’s old Sixers squads, grinding out 88-84 games with Walker going for 35 a night on 11-of-28 shooting.
Chicago Bulls: Absolute carnage.
The Bulls remade themselves in the off-season, dumping Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, and adding a pair of over-the-hill, old-school guards in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. Combine them with Jimmy Butler, and that’s three stubborn dudes who’ll all want the ball, who’ll all have zero respect for coach Fred Hoiberg, and who all are loathe to shoot threes. The Bulls might get into more fights with each other than the Blackhawks will with opponents, and Hoiberg, who was known as “The Mayor” in his playing days, would have a better chance of preventing violence if he was the actual mayor of the city. It’s gonna be a disaster, and I can’t wait to watch it.
Cleveland Cavaliers: The return of Kevin Love, superstar power-forward.
LeBron James is going to take it easy this regular season. He’s got nothing left to prove and is saving his energy for the playoffs. He’ll leave it to Love and Kyrie Irving to carry the load during the exhibition season, and Love, in particular, seems primed to be a beast now that the burden’s off of them and James will let him have the ball as much as he wants. I’m thinking he’ll average around 23 and 11, and wouldn’t be surprised if he led the team in scoring.
Dallas Mavericks: Mocking Mark Cuban for signing Harrison Barnes to the max.
Warriors fans know what’s coming. Cuban has struck out for years and years trying to sign a big free agent, and when he finally reels one in for the max, it’s Harry B. This is going to be hilarious.
Denver Nuggets: The best center in basketball?
I’m not sure how many people know about Nikola Jokic just yet, but he balled out as a rookie last year and wrecked Team USA playing for Serbia in the Olympics. He might be the best pure center in the league if we call Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis power-forwards. Regardless, Jokic is going to put up a 20-10 this year or come damn close, and he’s got a bunch of fun young dudes around him. The Nugs are going to score a ton and upset a lot of teams this season.
Detroit Pistons: Stan Van Gundy.
The best coach to watch game in, game out, bar none. I love his reactions from the bench. I love his interviews, both in-game and post-game. Gregg Popovich has the reputation for being the gruff, sarcastic curmudgeon, but Van Gundy gives better material. It’s not even close. And we know Donald Trump is a fan of his ideas.
Golden State Warriors: JaVale McGee.
I’ll be honest, most of the team bores me to tears. But they’ll have plenty of garbage time in games for McGee to McGee things and earn his gold dunce cap for the Shaqtin-a-Fool Hall-of-Fame.
Houston Rockets: Zero bothers given.
The Rox will be trotting out a team with James Harden, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon on the floor at the same time, and Mike D’Antoni coaching them. They’re not exactly built for defense, and they won’t even bother pretending to be, especially with Patrick Beverley sidelined. They might average 115 per game and allow 120. They’ll be like something between the ABA, the old-school Nuggets, and the Rookie-Sophomore game on All-Star Weekend. Just take the over every night.
Indiana Pacers: Paul George finally gets to play with a real point guard.
Indy traded for Jeff Teague in the off-season, meaning that George won’t have to create all his own looks for once. He’s going to have a monster season. The Pacers are a darkhorse for a 2 seed, and second-year man Myles Turner is the second-coming of Chris Bosh, just you watch. Plus they added “Big Al” Jefferson to give their bench a boost.
Los Angeles Clippers: Lob City, together again.
Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Co. return for another crack at this after injuries ruined what tiny chance they had of toppling the Warriors last season. Their starting lineup is basically unstoppable, and now it looks like they’ve added just enough pieces to make their bench viable. With the Spurs and Thunder losing their franchise players, the Clips have been promoted to Golden State’s biggest threat in the West by default.
Los Angeles Lakers: Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedom!
Unlike that above clip, young Lakers stars Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, and Jordan Clarkson will have plenty of balls to play with now that Kobe Bryant has finally hung ’em up. The Lakers won’t be very good, but they will be young, athletic and fun. The T-Pups get all the hype, but these young guns might be the league’s next big thing after the Warriors have their run for a few years.
Memphis Grizzlies: A real wing for the Grit-and-Grind gang.
It’s a long shot, since Chandler Parsons seems incapable of getting his knees healthy, but if he can ever get right physically he’ll give Memphis the wing scorer they’ve lacked for pretty much the entire history of the franchise, adding a whole new dimension to the crew we’re used to here with Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Tony Allen. They’ve got a deep bench, too.
Miami Heat: Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, unchained.
It’s probably going to be a full-fledged tankapalooza for the Heat. But now that Dwyane Wade is out of the picture and medical issues have forced Chris Bosh out, their youngsters will get to play without pressure or consequences. Goran Dragic will get to be the guy he was in his Phoenix heyday, driving recklessly to the rim, we’ll see plenty of Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, and Whiteside, armed with the security of a max contract, might be a maniac at both ends. They’re gonna be a bonkers team to watch.
Milwaukee Bucks: The Greek Freak doing everything.
Khris Middleton might miss the whole season for Milwaukee with a torn hamstring. Their only point guard, really, is newcomer Matthew Dellavedova. Giannis Antetokounmpo played point-forward down the stretch for them last season and was a triple-double machine. He might get to do it from the jump this year. What else do they have going for them?
Minnesota Timberwolves: The T-Pups introduce themselves to America.
A ton of hype awaits Towns, Andrew Wiggins and rookie Kris Dunn. They’re going to be League Pass darlings and a playoff darkhorse. Can they live up to the pressure, now that they’ve finally got a real coach in Tom Thibodeau? We’ll see. But they beat the Warriors on the road last in the season and had zero fear. I’m not sure there’s another guy in the league you’d draft over Towns if you had your pick of anyone in the NBA to start a team with.
New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis’ revenge tour.
The Pellies are the cautionary tale for Minnesota, a team with a star big-man who flew too close to the sun and crashed back down to earth the next season. Davis lost some supporting cast members in the off-season and the availability of Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday remain in doubt, but he’s a force of nature if he’s healthy, someone who can keep the team in games by himself. Don’t forget, he put up a PER over 30 two years ago, as a 21-year-old. That’s insane.
New York Knicks: Porzingis as Dirk 2.0
There’s some depressing elements as always with the Knicks, but don’t be discouraged by Noah’s frail body or Rose’s general garbage-humanness. Rejoice instead in Year Two of the Kristaps Porzingis Era. I think he’s going to be completely unguardable now that he’s got a bit of experience and meat on him. And Carmelo Anthony has rehabilitated his image through social activism to where you genuinely root for him now. The Knicks might not be very good, but they won’t be boring.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook as Beatrix Kiddo.
Hell hath no fury like a Westbrook scorned. There’ll be body parts flying all over the place. Some might even belong to his teammates. Westbrook is going to be a complete maniac this season, and he and Victor Oladipo might form the most athletic backcourt we’ve ever seen. Also, Steven Adams remains both delightful and utterly terrifying. I have no idea what to expect from this gang of marauders.
Orlando Magic: A different hero, every night.
I’ve got no idea what to make of the Magic. Their roster is like a fantasy team without picks in rounds one or two because the owner being punished for not paying his fees on time the year before. They’ve got Aaron Gordon playing small-forward. Mario Hezonja finally has Scott Skiles off his back and might be their sixth-man. Evan Fournier will get most of Oladipo’s shots. They’ve got Bismack Biyombo, Nikola Vucevic and Serge Ibaka vying for minutes at the four and five spots and Jeff Green too. It’s a loaded frontcourt, and they’ve got a solid coach in Frank Vogel, only you can’t trust any of it because they have no point guards.
Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid, returning to the land of the living.
And pretty much just Embiid since Ben Simmons is out til at least the All-Star break, emphasis on break. We don’t need Embiid to be the next Hakeem Olajuwon. We just want, hope against hope, for him to not be the next Greg Oden. Also, rookie Dario Saric might lead the league in perspiration, so watch for that.
Phoenix Suns: Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight’s trade showcase extravaganza.
The Suns are super young and rebuilding with a ton of rookies. Neither Bledsoe nor Knight needs to be here for this, and both are too good to be on the bench. You’ve got to think one or both will be moved if they show anything.
Portland Trail Blazers: Warriors Lite.
I love the Blazers. They’re like the Warriors before they got popular and sold out to the man and started charging $50 for cheap T-shirts at their shows. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are among the best backcourts in the league, Allen Crabbe might be a sneaky Sixth Man of the Year candidate, and Evan Turner might be the perfect missing piece to help their bench. Don’t be shocked if these guys put a scare into the Dubs in the Western semis.
Sacramento Kings: Chaos.
Dysfunction junction, what’s your malfunction? I like Dave Joerger, and he gets guys to play hard for him, but I’m not sure he realizes what he’s gotten himself into with the Kings. Their point guard situation is a mess, Rudy Gay wants out, and Boogie is Boogie, skinny or not. They’re like the West Coast Bulls, only more depressing somehow.
San Antonio Spurs: Kawhi Leonard taking the torch.
Now that Tim Duncan has retired, the Spurs are officially Leonard’s team. He keeps improving ever year and I’ve given up trying to put a ceiling on his capabilities. The LaMarcus Aldridge-Pau Gasol big-man combo sounds fascinating on paper. Jonathon Simmons attacking the lane is the kind of treat we’re not used to seeing from these guys. And they still have Manu Ginobili, who even at 39 will do one or two things per night you won’t see anywhere else.
Toronto Raptors: Full-time small-ball?
The Raptors lost Biyombo to free agency and didn’t address their big-man issues except for the draft. They’ll give the rookies a look, but more likely they’ll rely on the likes of Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll to be their stretch fours, going small-ball full time to space the floor for Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Cory Joseph and Norman Powell. They’ve got more guard depth than anybody, and they’re going to need it, though I do think Jonas Valanciunas is underrated. The Raps have the best home-court advantage in the East, a real college-like atmosphere, and they’re my pick to get the top seed in the East.
Utah Jazz: The deepest team in the league, top to bottom.
The Jazz don’t have an alpha-dog star, but adding George Hill means point guard is no longer their weak link, and their second unit is pretty loaded too. Really, any combination of the 12 guys they throw out there will be able to compete and will allow them to get through injuries, like Hayward’s broken hand which will sideline him a month. The Jazz will be challenged to score 100 a night, but they’ll be a playoff team and push the Jazz for the Northwest Division crown.
Washington Wizards: Guys with lots to prove.
John Wall has to show he can get along with Bradley Beal. Beal has to show he was worth a max contract and that he can stay healthy. Markieff Morris has to show he’s not a cancer. Scotty Brooks has to show he wasn’t simply a figurehead retread who got lucky by getting to coach Durant and Westbrook. The Wiz are quietly on of the more talented teams in the East, but they can finish anywhere between fifth and 12th in the East, and you wouldn’t be surprised. Wall by himself is worth the price of admission, though. He’s the closest the East has to CP3.