Shoutout to NBA’s The Starters
There are many reasons why basketball is my favourite sport and the NBA is my professional sports league of choice. If you look at this letter from Commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players’ Association leader Michele Roberts, the NBA is definitely one of the more progressive sport institutions. The free flowing nature of the sport, being able to visualize each player’s distinctive play style, and observe the contrasting team strategies unfold in real time is a joy for a basketball geek like myself. The game has evolved to emphasize shooting, speed, and skill. This makes watching an NBA game so aesthetically pleasing. Here are 17 reasons I’m excited about the upcoming NBA season:
- A 73-9 team added one of the best basketball players on the planet.
The Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA finals… That devastating heartbreak on their home floor ultimately lead Kevin Durant to sign with them. What a silver lining! Essentially, the best regular season team of all-time is replacing Harrison Barnes with Kevin Durant. I think his transition will be seamless. Like Steph, he already knows how to do this. Losing Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli will undoubtedly hurt their defence but tell me how anyone can guard Draymond/KD/Iggy/Klay/Steph… (Note: I’m posting this after watching the Warriors get thoroughly dismantled by the Spurs)
- LeBron James is an underdog after winning a championship for Cleveland.
The Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals… The reason is simple: LeBron James. Down 3-1, LeBron had 41/16/7/3/3 in Game 5, 41/11/8/4/3 in Game 6, 27/11/11/2/3 in Oracle Arena for Game 7. Looking at those video game numbers, I still can’t believe it! After a tumultuous regular season, he brought the Cavaliers back from down 3-1 against the greatest regular season team of all-time. After KD’s decision to join the Warriors, he’s an underdog despite winning the championship! After what I witnessed in the 2016 NBA Finals, I know better that to doubt LeBron again.
- Russell Westbrook unleashed.
Are the Oklahoma City Thunder headed towards a downward spiral? As Russell Westbrook would say, “That’s cute man.” During the 2014-2015 season when KD was sidelined for 55 games with a Jones fracture in his right foot, Westbrook averaged 31.4/9.9/8.6 after the all-star break to try and lift OKC into the 8th seed of the Western Conference. His efforts were for naught as Anthony Davis and the Pelicans took the 8th seed. This time around, Russ has a great pick-and-roll partner in Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to alleviate ball-handling duties. The Thunder should remain in the playoff conversation with their combination of youth, athleticism, and defence.
- A less-injured Anthony Davis and his New Orleans Pelicans.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Anthony Davis will be a future MVP. He showed off his enormous ceiling earlier this year during his 59/20 game against the Pistons. However, he has already been out for two weeks after spraining his ankle in an exhibition game. To reach his limitless potential, AD has to find a way to finally play over 70 games in a season. What’s disheartening is that the plethora of injuries he has endured are only loosely related. The Pelicans had to deal with injury problems of their own last year, leading the league with 351 games missed due to injury. I would imagine last year could just be written off as bad luck but with AD already dealing with another injury and Jrue Holiday tending to a family matter, New Orleans will not start the season as they had hoped. It remains to be seen if their depth additions in free agency will be able to weather the storm in case injuries strike the team again.
- It’s gut check time for the Clippers.
I feel for Chris Paul. He’s arguably the best point guard of his generation. Since joining the Clippers he’s averaged 18.9 points and 9.9 assists with only 2.3 turnovers a game and has lead his team to win 61.6% of their games. Furthermore, the Clippers purged their team of one of the most heinous owners in professional sports and completely altered their image from laughingstock to “Lob City” entertainers and consistent winners upon his arrival. One accomplishment has remained out of reach: the Western Conference Finals. Blowing their 3-1 lead against the Rockets in the 2014-2015 playoffs after eliminating the Spurs in 7 games was devastating. Last year, unintentional and self-inflicted injuries to impending free agents Chris Paul and Blake Griffin derailed them again. The clock is ticking.
It’s so weird that Tim Duncan won’t be playing for the Spurs this season. On paper, adding Pau Gasol to replace a 40-year old Duncan looks like a clear upgrade but that would downplay Tim’s towering presence over the last nineteen years. His hall of fame talent, leadership, humbleness, and selflessness will all be missed in San Antonio. Attempting to fill his shoes are Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Kawhi seems to fit the personality profile while LaMarcus has the post skill mastery covered. For the Spurs to continue consistently winning games, they will have to maintain their dizzying ball movement predicated on unselfishly hunting for open shots without their anchor defending the middle. I look forward to how Coach Pop leads the Spurs for the first time without his right hand man.
- If you aim at King James, you best not miss.
LeBron James has made six straight NBA Finals. That’s an absurd number of consecutive appearances and that streak doesn’t look like it will end this season. In my opinion, the Cavaliers have two teams vying to supplant them in the East. First off, I like the chances of my hometown Toronto Raptors. The Raptors finally slayed their first round demons by grinding through two 7-game series with the Pacers and Heat respectively to secure a berth against the Cavs in the conference finals this past June. The playoff experience was invaluable for this young team but Toronto must still offset the losses of backup center and playoff hero Bismack Biyombo to free agency and offseason addition Jared Sullinger to a preseason foot injury that will cause him to miss about three months to start the season. There is ample opportunity for Jonas Valanciunas to command a larger role on both sides of the ball.
Another contender ready to pounce is the 48 win Boston Celtics who added all-star Al Horford over the summer. Horford is jumping from the equal-opportunity offence of the Atlanta Hawks to another team-centric culture fostered by Head Coach Brad Stevens in Boston. He is the centrepiece of a team that was already on the precipice of contending with the Eastern Conference’s elite and should fit seamlessly next to Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. The Celtics have assets on the horizon, a competitive team, and a great head coach locked in on a multiyear deal. Boston is set up well for Eastern Conference supremacy going forward.
.. but they might be stuck in the wrong era. On paper, a starting lineup of Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Joakim Noah looks highly formidable – in 2011. There are too many questions regarding this iteration of the Knicks to confirm their status as contenders. I believe this team is stacked with talent but I am unsure how they will mesh together and most importantly, stay healthy. Joakim Noah was limited to just 29 games last season and by now, basketball fans are well aware of Derrick Rose’s injury history. Rose has been embroiled in highly publicized sexual assault allegations throughout the offseason that have resulted in more troubling decision-making. The Knicks can either contend for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs or miss out altogether.
- Dwight Howard trying to flip the narrative.
It seems like forever ago that Dwight Howard was a popular figure and MVP candidate playing for the Orlando Magic. It was only three years ago that he left the Lakers after a tumultuous season and decided to form a superstar tandem with James Harden in Houston. Only two seasons ago everything was going according to plan with Houston playing in the Western Conference Finals after shocking the Clippers in the second round. Last season, absolutely everything went wrong for the Rockets and the Harden/Howard partnership. Since forcing his exit from Orlando, Dwight has bounced from the Lakers, then to Houston and has experienced various levels of success (and failure) at both stops. It’s been a rocky road for Dwight Howard since making the NBA Finals more than half a decade ago. This summer, he decided to join his hometown Atlanta Hawks. On an unplanned 14 minute segment with Inside the NBA, he stated his desire to enjoy playing basketball, work on his legacy, and play to his capabilities again. Dwight is capable of controlling the next chapter of his career. It would be great for the NBA to have a resurgence of a formerly dominant big man to contrast the small ball variances that are commonplace nowadays.
- James Harden partnered with Mike D’Antoni.
Oh my. The Houston Rockets have to be pencilled in as at least a top-7 offence this season. The hyper-charged offence of the Phoenix Suns’ “7 Seconds or Less” era is back as D’Antoni will have the talent, proper roster construction, and support from management and ownership to execute the vision he was unable to replicate in both New York (other than the short-lived “Linsanity” era) and Los Angeles. The ability of the Rockets to defend at a league-average level and/or establish a top-3 offence will determine whether or not they make the playoffs in an always-competitive Western Conference. If the team continues to play lackadaisical defence, they won’t crack the top-8. Either way, the Rockets will be infinitely fun to watch play offensively.
I imagine a parallel universe where the New York Knicks decided to match the Houston Rocket offer sheet to Jeremy Lin. I see Jeremy Lin, Carmelo Anthony, and Amare Stoudemire learning to co-exist and complement one another in this alternate timeline. Instead, Lin’s darkest timeline unfolded. He battled with incredible defender Patrick Beverley for minutes and never played for a coach that trusted him as much as Mike D’Antoni did after inserting him into a midseason game back in 2012. A moment like the Valentine’s Day game-winning dagger on Toronto would not be replicated. Fast forward a few years, following a slight comeback season as the 6th man of the Charlotte Hornets, and Jeremy finds himself as an alpha dog in New York once again. This time, he’ll be doing it as a member of the Brooklyn Nets. The rebuilding Nets will feature Jeremy Lin and Robin Lopez prominently, alongside their younger and unproven draft picks and free agent signings. The two veterans will provide bridges across what will be a slow and painful build due to the team’s limited future assets. Maybe Lin can make the case to be a part of their future. One thing’s for sure, the spotlight will be on him once again. Let’s see if he’s ready to reacquaint himself with the bright lights of New York.
- Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins anchoring a Tom Thibodeau defence.
Thibs is back! After being unceremoniously dismissed from the Chicago Bulls, he took a year off coaching basketball and has now returned as the Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Posting a 64.7% winning percentage, developing a dominant defence, and making the playoffs every year (in spite of Derrick Rose’s injury woes) was not enough to keep his job. Now, Thibodeau gets gifted two-way talent in recent first overall picks Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. He will drill a defence-first mindset into his two franchise players while leveraging their immense talent, potential, and athleticism. Minnesota still has slick playmaker Ricky Rubio to mentor their most recent draft pick, point guard Kris Dunn, and ignite fast breaks alongside high-flying and awe-inspiring Zach LaVine. The Wolves are on the upswing. We’ll see if they can convert all that potential into some meaningful games throughout the upcoming season.
- The Chicago Bulls confusing everyone.
The Chicago Bulls have tried to transition out of the Tom Thibodeau era of defensive slugfests into a more up-tempo style preferred by his replacement Fred Hoiberg. Perhaps the most confusing part about last season’s Bulls was their baffling decision to bring their heart and soul, Joakim Noah, off the bench. In his place, Pau Gasol and sophomore Nikola Mirotic started in hopes of spacing the floor and providing more offence. This strategy backfired as the Bulls dropped from 11th to 23rd in Offensive Rating and fell to 15th in Defensive Rating, thus losing their identity and not truly establishing anything other than solidifying Jimmy Butler’s status as franchise player. Over the summer Dwyane Wade shockingly left the Miami Heat to play for his hometown with Rajon Rondo signing on as well. These signings were perplexing decisions as the Derrick Rose trade seemed to signify the beginning of a rebuild. I can’t knock the talent at the Bulls’ disposal, but the fit is less than ideal as Butler, Wade, and Rondo are all ball-dominant players. Furthermore, Coach Hoiberg’s system emphasizes shooting but on paper, his starting backcourt has the worst 3-point shooting in the NBA. It’ll be intriguing to see if Wade’s excellent backdoor cutting will be the most prominent part of his offence and if Butler will seek more catch-and-shoot opportunities with Rajon Rondo dominating the ball and surveying the court for easy scores.
- Pat Riley overplayed his hand and Miami is a mess.
It’s so interesting to me that Pat Riley always talks about loyalty. It’s as if the concept only applies when it benefits the Miami Heat. Dwyane Wade has never been the highest paid player on his own team. The first championship with Shaq, suffering through a 15-win rebuilding season, recruiting LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and being the quintessential player of the Miami Heat franchise was not enough to earn him his due in this past summer’s free agency. Instead, Riley let Wade leave and is essentially pushing Chris Bosh out the door after he suffered potentially life-threatening and career-shortening blood clots. All is not lost in Miami as they still have Coach Erik Spoelstra, Goran Dragic orchestrating the offence, and Hassan Whiteside manning the middle. But beyond their two foundational pieces, losing their franchise player forced Miami to match Tyler Johnson’s exorbitant offer sheet. Without an all-star level replacement for Dwyane Wade, Miami needs to strike big in free agency again next season. Will the allure of Pat Riley and his rings have the same pull next offseason? Time will tell.
- The 76ers are fielding a competitive team again.
Make Philadelphia basketball fun again! Joel Embiid! Ben Simmons! Spanish Chocolate! Bryan Colangelo hasn’t had me this excited about a basketball team since these guys. I know it’s a process and Ben Simmons is likely out for the year, but this team is stacked with so much young talent! I haven’t even mentioned Dario Saric, or incumbents Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel. I’m just excited for the city of Philadelphia being able to watch some NBA basketball again. Bryan Colangelo addressed the need for SOME veteran talent on the roster, with the additions of Gerald Henderson and Jerryd Bayless. These moves sought to mend bridges with agents and players that were burned by brilliant but stubborn predecessor Sam Hinkie, who refused to sign any semblance of NBA-level talent or traded it away during his scorched-earth rebuild. I can’t wait to watch Ben Simmons run this team – I hope that he makes a full recovery.
- The young Bucks are looking to bounce back.
It was a devastating blow when Milwaukee lost Khris Middleton for the season. His shooting and two-way ability was the perfect glue for this young team still learning how to shoot and defend. What the Bucks do have is length – and they know it. Their youthful energy was unable to sustain their 4th ranked Defensive Rating of the 2014-2015 season as they fell to 23rd last season. Greg Monroe was unable to defend adequately as an anchor for their defence. Late last year, Head Coach Jason Kidd sought to make Giannis Antetokounmpo the primary playmaker, a 6’11” player with a 7’4” wingspan! If all goes according to plan, Milwaukee will be stalking passing lanes and making offence difficult for their opponents all year long.
- The NBA and NBPA are going to avoid a lockout.
Finally some labour peace! The NBA is experiencing a huge influx of cash after their massive 9 year/$24 billion television deal and would be foolish to stop this financial momentum with a work stoppage in 2017. The NBA and NBPA will choose not to alienate their fans as major points have already been agreed upon and a new collective bargaining agreement looks to be in place before the opt-out deadline in December. Furthermore, I love their new public service announcement on togetherness.