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All Illustrations by Louis Eastman
We are only a few days away from the beginning of training camp, and it is time to dust off the cobwebs and fire it back up. Although the biggest story of the off-season was the Kevin Durant free agency, there are plenty of other story lines to follow this year. I’ve listed (from A-Z ) the ones that I find the most compelling for the 2016-2017 season.
Did you miss Part One? Well catch back up here.
The LOL Lakers are finally Kobe-free
Maybe Mr. Jellybean Jr. should have hung it up after that first Achilles tear back in 2013, but I understand why he kept coming back. He was only 34, what else was he going to d0? Join a hipster bingo league? His hard work paid off handsomely because the Lakers gave him an extra 38 million to invest in drones, video games, or whatever is really wealthy people do when they get bored with being rich.
The Lakers will still have their growing pains, but at least they won’t be as pitiful as they have been in past years. With some young, talented wings in Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Ingram, and an occasionally dazzling point guard in D’Angelo
Barksdale Russell, they should be competitive on a nightly basis.
I think Larry Nance Jr. will have some opportunities to get loose this season, and a locker room with Luol Deng, Thomas Robinson (hopefully), Tarik Black and Timofey Mosgov will have a positive impact on the younger players.
Luke Walton will actually get a chance to coach the team this year. I was never sold on Byron Scott as the head coach, but the organization put him in an unfair situation when they signed Kobe (after multiple surgeries) to that contract extension.
Manu Ginobili’s Swan Song?
The 2016-2017 may be the last chance for Spurs fans to celebrate the phenomenal basketball career of Argentina national hero, Manu Ginobili. He won’t average 19 points for the season like he did in his prime, but you can expect at least 1-2 wow plays a game. He may be old, but the man still plays like a veteran magician.
Nerlens Noel and The Other Philly Bigs
Sam Hinkie’s Matt Millen impersonation (drafting 3 big men in 3 straight years) probably contributed to him being ushered out-of-town. I still have yet to read the rationale behind it, put so eloquently in his manifesto (and I probably never will), but apparently it was a good internet laugh for a day or three.
I think at his best, Nerlens becomes a Marcus Camby/Tyson Chandler type defensive specialist. He needs someone to get him the ball because he can’t create his own shot. Don’t be surprised if Noel is traded to a playoff contender near the February deadline. Philadelphia needs either assets or some wing/back court help if they are going to do anything positive in the next 4-5 years.
Joel Embiid, Noel’s backup is reportedly ready to begin his rookie campaign. I’m slightly skeptical that he will remain healthy since it hasn’t even been proven he can last a full season of NCAA hoops. Foot problems can be the death of big men’s careers, and I hope this is not the case for “Embiidst Mode”. Joel is a gifted player who has a lot to offer the game. It would be a shame if he didn’t get a chance to show off those gifts.
Ben Simmons is coming into the league with Lebron James level type of hype. Simmons is tall, athletic,and a gifted passer, but word on the street is that he lacks a jump shot. I’ve only watched a handful of LSU games last season, where Simmons was playing with scrubs, and he still handed out assists like cops be handing out beat downs.
Philly has not one transcendent ball handler on their roster, so expect the ball to run through Simmons hands more often than not. I think he will be the real deal, but I don’t think this is the right situation for him.
Jahlil Okafur’s sophomore season can’t be nearly as bad as his first year. I feel bad for the guy. He gets drafted by Philadelphia, a terrible God forsaken, racist sports city, and he loses more in the first month than he did his entire freshman season at Duke. The good news: 76ers surely win more than 10 games this season. The bad news: they will still end up in the lottery. But look on the bright side Sixers fans, you may end up with yet another number one pick next summer.
Oladipo Lands in Oklahoma
Victor makes a great back court mate for Russell Westbrook. Oladipo’s pressure on the defensive end will create a ton of fast break opportunities. He isn’t a great shooter yet, but anyone who saw him play for Tom Crean at Indiana, knows that he is a great defender and a high flyer. He ain’t no punk. Oklahoma City lost some talent, but they still will not be fun to play against –especially for teams coming off the front end of back-to-back scheduled games.
The Parsons-Timberlake Bromance
You mean you haven’t thought about this? He’s probably already having dinner with Timberlake and Jessica Alba, bringing a different girlfriend over to their house every other week. Jessica be like, “Chandler, when you gonna finally settle down–meet you a nice girl? You know I have plenty of single friends in Hollywood.”
Justin cuts her off, “Uhhhh you don’t wanna mess with no Hollywood girls man.”
JA: “What’s wrong with Hollywood women Justin? I’m from Hollywood.”
JT:“Yea but you’re different baby.”
JT: “Well you know, the only difference between a lot of Hollywood women and NBA groupies is that Hollywood girls have a better acting resume–though I could argue that NBA groupies may be better actors.”
JA:“Wait what? Half the women you’ve messed with were from Hollywood or Mickey Mouse Club.”
JT: “Which is why I’m able to give an informed opin–never mind. Do what you want Chandler. You’re a grown man.” Jessica turns her back to take the dessert plates into the kitchen. J.T. shakes his head feverishly and mouths“NO! Don’t do it.You’ll thank me later.”
By the way, am I the only one who thinks Chandler Parsons is destined to be either an agent, or a general manager, or maybe both? I bet he looks at Warriors GM, Bob Myers and thinks, “That is going to be me someday.”
Quinn Snyder’s Moment of Truth
This is Quinn Snyder’s year to prove he belongs in the NBA as a head coach. I personally have mixed feelings about Snyder. Here is a guy who played at Duke and coached at Missouri, but was also a Gregg Popovich disciple. Maybe my dislike can be reduced to just not liking his face. I guess because he looks like he could’ve been Andrew McCarthey’s understudy in all those corny 80’s movies.
Unfortunately for me I will be seeing a lot of his face this season, as I plan to watch a good chunk of Jazz games. They are primed to take that next step of the young, pesky team that pushed their first round opponent to the brink of elimination. On paper there is no reason this team doesn’t make playoffs. The veteran signings of Boris Diaw, George Hill, and Joe Johnson should be the extra push in the right direction.
Russell Westbrook Unleashed
A lot of people are excited to see Russell Westbrook win the scoring title, put up multiple 40 point games, amass a long reel’s worth of jaw dropping, head shaking highlights, and lose 40 plus games this season. I mean, I guess if you are into that sort of thing. By the way, major props to Russell Westbrook for speaking out about all these shootings. He isn’t hiding behind his “brand” he is saying what a lot of us feel (I’ve never felt more proud or terrified to be a black man in this country than I do right now). I appreciate Russ, and I’ll never (publicly) give him grief for doing #fucboishit again, but unless they get some outside shooting, there is going to be some ugly basketball played in the land of red dirt.
Spurs Enter The Post-Duncan Era
I don’t know if I can put it better than my dude Robert McFail, who sums it up perfectly with this preseason preview of the Spurs. Yes the Spurs will still win, but it would take a series of extraordinary strokes of luck for a return to the NBA Finals. Spurs fans, it is time to start having realistic expectations. For the first time in a very long time, your team is in the “everybody else”category.
Thibs’ Crazy Litter Of Teen Wolves
The Timberwolves are only slightly better than last year. Drafting Kris Dunn may signal the end of the Ricky Rubio experiment in Minnesota. Rubio should get on the phone with his agent and see if they can swing a deal to get him to Boston rather than a spot in Sacramento, Atlanta, or Philadelphia. Minnesota will be a tough team to beat night in and out, but they are young and still rebuilding. I bet the Knicks win more games than they do this year.
While I’m sure players like Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns will be improved, they brought back pretty much the same team minus Kevin Garnett (who retired yesterday) and Nikola Pekovic (who may not ever play basketball again). Kansas Jayhawks fans will watch more Timberwolves games this season with the addition of Brandon Rush and Cole Aldrich, but that won’t necessarily translate to wins will it?
Uncle Drew Earns A Ring
Kyrie Irving shut up all the haters (including me) when he balled out in the final 3 games of last year’s Finals. For the record, I’ve never said he wasn’t good. He just could never stay healthy. I’m still of the belief that last year was about as fluky of a title this side of 1999 (sorry Spurs fans–even you all admit that was the worst roster of all the championship seasons).
Now that Kyrie has that chip, let’s see if he will lose some competitive fire. Or will he ball even harder now that the pressure of winning a title is lifted? Will he shock the world and remain healthy for another full season? Last season, Clevelanders believed he would be the difference between another Finals L and some champagne, and I guess they were right.
Vroom!!! Vroom!! (Go The Houston Rockets)
Pick up your door prize if you guessed that the letter V would be dedicated to the Houston Rockets. How do you appease a high volume scoring 2 guard who doesn’t like playing defense? You go out and you hire a coach who doesn’t give a shit about playing defense. This is a marriage made in NBA heaven for Mike D’Antoni and James Harden. There will be some games this season where they will score 132 points. The bad news is they will be giving up 145 points in those same games.
No Dwight Howard? No problem. Ryan Anderson will have multiple 30 point games. James Harden will score at least 60 in one game and have multiple 50 point games. Even Corey Brewer will break 30 points in a couple of games this year. The Rockets season will resemble an after-party thrown by Magic Johnson in the 1980’s, EVERYBODY GETS SOME!!!!
Remember when I said that “everyone” in the NBA was eating? This is absolutely true. However some people are eating expensive grass-fed Chilean steaks from cows that were shipped to the U.S. before they were slaughtered, and some people, like Dion Waiters, are going to Sizzler.
Dion Waiters sat on a 1 year offer for 6.7 million dollars from the OKC Thunder for so long, that the organization rescinded it. Miami, blindsided by the Dwyane Wade departure, offered Waiters a 2 year contract worth 5.9 million (1st year worth 2.9 million with a second year player option).
I’m no mathematician, but isn’t 6.7 million is a larger sum than 2.9? You ever hear the phrase “He bet on himself and won”? Well no one is saying that about Dion Waiters. This scenario screams of two jilted lovers, fresh out of relationships, clinging to the first warm body they could get to move into their apartment with them.
Time will tell which as to which party “settled” the hardest. I think Waiters has to stay the full 2 years to make this worth his while. Imagine the phone calls Dion made when he fired entire entourage because he can’t pick up any checks this season (how much of that 2.9 million will be left after taxes and agent fees?). Funnily enough, this is exactly the kind of player that Miami Heat fans deserve. Maybe we’re witnessing karma for the Lebron years.
X’s and O’s
The NBA as a whole got better in the head coaching department. Frank Vogel is a solid replacement for Scotty Skiles. I think he’ll be worth an extra 5-7 wins for that franchise. Dave Joerger will be a good fit for Sacramento, but their dysfunctional front office will find a way to mess that up. I’m still not sold on Tom Thibodeau as a long-term solution,only because I think he burns his players out.
The Knicks can’t help but get better under Jeff Hornacek, who hopefully won’t date his players’ ex-girlfriends like the previous coach. Scotty Brooks may or may not be better than Randy Wittman, but it is D.C. Those Wizards are going to do what Wizards do regardless of who is coaching them.
In Dallas, it feels like Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle sit down at the beginning of every off-season to figure out a way to keep Carlisle mentally stimulated. “What is that Rick? You don’t feel challenged enough? Well how about we go into next season with only 1 small forward, and I’ll pay him a 100 million to keep our salary cap strapped? You’ll definitely win Coach of the Year with this lineup we’re trotting out.Be sure to thank me in your acceptance speech.”
Out with the old and in with new right? KG, TD, and Kobe are done. Steve Nash is done. Vince Carter, Jason Terry, and Tony Parker are old. Jason Kidd is a head coach now. Remember that 2003 draft? Well those guys are veterans now, and many of them are on their way out of the league too. Guard play and small ball is the new emphasis of the NBA, which means its even more of a young person’s game.
It is hard to believe, but players like Demarcus Cousins, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook are barely into their primes. Once Lebron finally slows down, the league will belong to the picks from the previous 5 drafts (Devin Booker is getting all kinds of hype). Compared to the vacuum the Jordan era players left when they retired, NBA fans of today are pretty spoiled. The legends from my youth are done, but NBA basketball is still a good ass game.
Zach Lavine: Is He Good?
It seems silly to judge a 3rd year player too harshly, but NBA fans will be watching Zach Lavine closely, if only to see how much he improved from last season. His decision-making last year was spotty at best, and teams dared him to settle for 3 pointers and jumpers. Will Lavine be the next Demar Derozan, or will be he more like Gerald Green? This season could give us a glimpse into Lavine’s (and Minnesota’s) future.
Eastern Conference Playoff Teams:
Cavs, Celtics, Pistons, Raptors,Hornets, Pacers, Bulls, Bucks
Western Conference Playoff Teams:
Warriors, Spurs, Trailblazers, Clippers, Rockets, Mavericks, Jazz, Thunder
Eastern Conference Finals:
Cavs vs. Pistons: Cavs in 5 games
Western Conference Finals:
Warriors vs. Thunder: Warriors in 6 games
Warriors vs. Cavs III: Warriors in 7 games
Finals MVP: Draymond Green
Regular Season MVP: Russell Westbrook
Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green
Rookie Of The Year: Ben Simmons
Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org.