For Part 1 of the 2017-2018 Season preview : A to tha K, click here.
Lonzo Ball Era in Lakerland
After having to endure a full season of hype and speculation, basketball fans finally get to see Lonzo Ball step onto the court as a professional. Ball had a pretty solid Summer League against his peers and other young prospects. Although I think Lonzo will be at times brilliant, he is going to take more L’s this season than he has in his entire life. This is a really young team, but they have a lot of talent.
They also have a great young coach in Luke Walton, and I like the combination of Andrew Bogut, Corey Brewer, Brook Lopez and Luol Deng acting as the vets in the locker room. With former legends like James Worthy and Magic Johnson only a phone call away, these young bucks for the Lakers have a chance to soak up some real game. I’m really excited to see highlights Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. trailing alongside a fastbreaking Lonzo Ball. Things are looking up in Lakerland–hell, maybe they’ll even hit .500 this season……….. Nahhhhhhhhh! That shit ain’t happening.
My Dark Twisted Fantasy Point Guard
Mike Conley has been silently carving up defenses for years now, a largely unheralded hero who has achieved a cult status among NBA geeks. Conley would have already gotten his proper due as an elite point guard if he played in the Eastern Conference (still hoping to see this when Seattle gets a team again and the Pelicans move to Vancouver). He has never been chosen as an All-Star is because of the imbalance of superlative players at his position out west. After playing a perfect playoff series against the Spurs, Conley has proven that his skills can no longer be ignored.
Take a look at the Memphis roster going into this season. They are thin. Besides Gasol, there is no one else on this team that they can count on to consistently chip in with scoring. The front office is banking on Chandler Parsons to be healthy this year (HUGE GAMBLE) and hoping that Ben McLemore’s game will rise after being freed of his situation in Sacramento. This is the youngest the Grizzlies have been in a long time, and this time not for the better. The only way I see the Grizzlies making the playoffs this year is if Conley and Gasol stay healthy, and both have MVP level seasons–and even that may not be enough.
New York’s Next Chapter
With the departures of Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks are content to look forward on their road back to national relevance. The air will be fresher for the franchise as a whole, as New Yorkers endured one of its most dysfunctional seasons of all time (which is saying a lot). This year’s team won’t be significantly better, but this season promises to be relatively drama free (outside of the Charles Oakley/James Dolan legal standoff).
Jeff Hornacek gets to enjoy the freedom of working without a 6’10 micro-managing geriatric looking over his shoulder at every practice. Also, any locker room with the combination of Michael Beasley, Joakim Noah, Enes Kanter, Nigel Hayes, Ron Baker, and Kristaps Porzingis promises to be an interesting mix of personalities. Jarrett Jack and Courtney Lee will be great locker room influences, and I really like what Kyle O’Quinn has to offer under the boards.
Sorry Knicks fans, your boys will be lucky to win more than 35 games. But I think you are going to be proud of this year’s team. I think you will a ton of hustle plays that receive standing ovations from the Garden faithful and the team will fight until the very end of each and every loss. I just don’t think they had to pay Tim Hardaway Jr. 71 million dollars to accomplish this level of play from the Knicks.
One Tough Lottery Bound Squad
No one is going to be looking forward to playing the New Orleans Pelicans. This is another example of one of those “they’d be a playoff team if they were an Eastern Conference” teams. Rajon Rondo’s playoff performance against the Celtics made skeptics think twice about calling him washed, but it is hard to put money on a team to make that is relying on a full healthy season from Rondo. The Pelicans are an imbalanced team going into this season. Their starting front line with Boogie “down” Cousins and Anthony Davis is powerful, but their backcourt is thin and suspect. The biggest question concerning the Pels is “will they trade Cousins before he becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent next season and if not, where does Boogie end up? “
Is it crazy to imagine Cousins and John Wall teaming up in a Washington uniform in the 2018-2019 season? If I’m New Orleans management I’m taking calls from other teams the minute we go 10 games below .500. Demarcus Cousins might be one of those linchpin championship pieces (a la 2008 Pau Gasol or 2004 Rasheed Wallace) come February. Stay tuned folks.
Portland Keeps it Pushing
Paul Allen and Neil Olshey stay pulling the Okey Doke on the Portland locals–this is one of the luxuries of being the only professional sports team within 200 miles. Blazer management continue the formula of trotting out a couple of players good enough to get butts in the seats, then signing ill-fitting role players to high handcuffing salaries.
Are they good enough to make the playoffs? Certainly. Damian Lillard (who has worked himself into becoming an elite player) continues to show us something different every season and C. J. McCollum looks like he intends to light up the league this year. We”ll see how much of a difference a full season of Jusuf Nurkic makes. They are still a player or two away from being a title contending team (how many times since 2001 has someone written this sentence about the Blazers?), but the right kind of trade package for Demarcus Cousins could make very things interesting up there.
Quicken Loans Last Hurrah
Enjoy this last run Cleveland fans. Lebron is doing his hometown one last solid before he heads off to finish his career in Hollywood. The Cavaliers were already one of the oldest teams in the NBA going into the off-season. Now they’ve added Derrick Rose’s broke jumper and bad knees, Dwyane Wade’s bad knees and decent mid range jumper, and Isaiah Thomas’ busted hip to their payroll.
Wade and Lebron both know that the regular season is just for show, and the real money is made during the playoffs. Barring a major injury to Lebron, it is hard to imagine them finishing anything lower than a three seed out east before getting yet another eastern conference title and NBA Finals loss. Then its back to years of undetermined mediocrity for a mediocre sports city. Well Cleveland, at least Lebron got you one title. Some cities don’t ever get one.
Reunited (and it feels so good)
Boston fans haven’t had a legitimate reason to be this excited about the Celtics since the 2012-2013 season. The C’s got younger, and even though they lost two of their best defensive players in Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, they managed to upgrade their point guard position, (Kyrie Irving is a slightly better defender than Isaiah Thomas) and picked up some badly needed scoring in Brad Stevens’ former apt pupil, Gordon Hayward.
I’m still not sold on the Celtics beating any team with a healthy Lebron on it. They are well stocked at the wing position, but their backcourt is suddenly thin. Outside of Kyrie and Hayward, there really isn’t anyone to bring the ball up the court. I still think they are a trade away from being a serious threat to the Warriors or Cavs. Perhaps, the city reunites with Rajon Rondo, if the Pelicans’ season goes belly up?
Sixers Sniff the Playoffs?
I don’t know if the Sixers have enough vets to get into the playoffs, but they will certainly show more offensive firepower this season. Washington Huskies phenom point guard Markelle Fultz joins up with a healthy Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and don’t forget the Sixers added the sharpshooting (at least until the playoffs) J.J. Redick. They have an extremely young team, but much like the Lakers, they are talented.
However, it takes more than talent to win NBA games, and Brett Brown has shown he is a good coach and teacher. Win or lose, they will be a fun team to watch, and the combination of Embiid, Fultz, Saric and Simmons could be promising. There is still a good chance that trading Jahlil Okafor will tilt the Sixers in a favorable direction, depending on who they can net for him.
Thibs the GM >Thibs the Coach?
Minnesota jump started their rebuilding efforts with the acquisition of Jimmy Butler, and on paper, the Timberwolves finally have a playoff team. Years from now, you’re going to be reading think pieces in Sports Illustrated and ESPN about how Andrew Wiggins career trajectory took off when he became teammates with Jimmy Butler. This is the alpha dog the Teenwolves needed to help push Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns into playoff contention. That signing alone would’ve given Minnesota an A+ for the off-season, but then Tom Thibodeau went and grabbed Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford.
Now we get to see what Thibs the coach will do. His “win at all costs” attitude has been known to shorten player’s careers 2 years for every one season they play for him (I bet Thibodeau has snapped more than his share of pencils doing his weekly crossword puzzles). Outside of Jamal Crawford, there are still question marks concerning the T-wolves backcourt. Aaron Brooks is old, and didn’t exactly make his name with his rugged defense; while Tyus Jones still hasn’t proved himself to be a consistently viable option.
The biggest question is can Thibs utilize his role players. It only takes a 8-9 player rotation in the playoffs, but it takes all 15 players to get through the regular season and still have something left in the tank. Thibs’ biggest problem is that he has always coached each game as if it were game 7 of the Finals. This intensity, while admirable, is stupidly short-sighted and might cost the Timberwolves their best players down the stretches that they are needed the most. Do you really want to see Minnesota begin their first playoffs in over a decade with Cole Aldrich and Shabazz Muhammad in the starting lineup, while Jimmy Butler and Karl Anthony Towns cheering the team on in tailored suits? Me neither. Let’s hope this is the season that Thibodeau figures it out.
Utah Takes a Step Back
I found it strange that Boris Diaw couldn’t get on with any playoff contenders (If Emeka Okafor can get a job, I don’t see why Boris couldn’t get signed somewhere). I’m sure he’d have fit in well up in Portland or down in Memphis. He’ll be playing in France this season with an opt-out clause if any NBA teams want to take a flyer on him.
Moving on, Utah lost their other biggest star, scoring forward Gordon Hayward and now are hoping Joe Ingles can take over the scoring duties at the small forward position. I was excited about backcourt of Rodney Hood and Ricky Rubio until I remembered that basketball is a two-way sport.
Rudy Gobert is going to have plenty of chances to swat shots because their perimeter defense looks a little suspect on paper. The good news is they will get another lottery pick, because they will not be in the playoffs this year.
Veteran Locker Rooms
You can count the number of veterans on any NBA roster and figure out what direction the franchise is going. The Dallas Mavericks for example are in the middle of a quiet rebuild. On paper, they are a veteran team, but this year they will lean heavily on the production of Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews, and Dennis Smith Jr.–all three players who are still relatively young for their positions. Dirk will still be the guy who takes the final shot, but at least this season he knows the young guys can carry him until money time, late in the 4th quarter. No one quite expects the Mavericks to win more than 45 games, but it also wouldn’t surprise anyone if they got 50. Rick Carlisle is too good of a coach for Dallas not to compete.
Minnesota, has been perpetually rebuilding ever since before the Kevin Garnett trade. They went young in 2007 and stayed young. If you went and looked at any game footage from ’07 to the present and you won’t count more than three or four veterans on the roster. In just one off-season, the Timberwolves have gone from just hoping to win every night, to expecting to a playoff berth in April.
Of course, the most extreme example of a veteran locker room was the 2015 San Antonio Spurs who were one of the oldest teams in NBA playoff history and they got their shit rocked by a younger, more physical Oklahoma City Thunder team. The point is that a championship team has to have a perfect balance of superstar players in their prime flanked with role players around the same age or slightly older. This is why I can’t convince myself that Boston can beat Cleveland in a 7 game series–I think their key role players are just too young.
Washington, D.C. belongs to John Wall
John Wall passed his “Point God” audition last playoffs with flying colors. He was the only reason to even check in on the games out east. Had he had even a little bit of help with the ball handling duties, we’d probably have been treated to a more competitive Eastern Conference Finals. Unfortunately for Wall, the Wizards didn’t get any better, and they will be lucky to get to the 2nd round. The Wizards can’t expect to get far with such thin backcourt reserves.
X Marks the Spot
One of the downsides to teams like the Warriors playing with pace and space, is that the rest of the league tries to copy that formula, and it messes with the product. Sure it works for the Warriors because they have three of the best 3 point shooters in NBA history. That doesn’t mean I want to watch the Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers just chuck 3 pointers up for 48 minutes a night. It doesn’t look good even when they are going in. Expect more three-point shots attempted, which of course means more three point shots missed this season. We’re going to see a lot of bricks this year.
Yesterday’s New Quintet
People are sleeping on the Clippers, but a couple of things happened this summer that makes me take them seriously:
1) They finally relieved Doc Rivers of his front office duties and
2) They hired Jerry West as a team consultant.
The media narrative is that the locker room is a lot looser now that Chris Paul has been traded. I thought their biggest problem was replacing him, but the team looks like theya re having more fun playing with Milos Teodisic at the point. Lou Williams only steps on the court to get buckets. Austin Rivers is better than he was three seasons ago, and has managed to go from being laughable to playing like a dark-skinned Steve Blake. The Clippers are going to be a real pain in the ass to play with Patrick Beverley on the perimeter and DeAndre Jordan in the paint.
We can only be so lucky to see another Rockets-Clippers matchup come April. I could be talked into watching any of the series swinging games with the right company. I like what the Clippers have done this off-season and think they will make the playoffs.
Z-Bo Making M’s,
smoking Taking L’s
Zac Randolph has been the OG around the block for a while. He, George Hill, and Vince Carter are teaming up to be the big homies of reason for the Sacramento Kings this season. The mixture of players on that roster has the feel of a bad basketball movie , and not because Randolph looks like the dude from Family Matters.
It is a shame to see Randolph ending his career on a rebuilding team, but I guess Sacramento isn’t a bad place to spend your late 30’s–especially as a multi-millionaire. It wasn’t that long ago when Randolph was one of the scariest black dudes in the NBA. Remember when he would just mush Blake Griffith’s face into the court floor and Blake wouldn’t even look Z-Bo in the eyes? If there is any justice from the basketball gods this season, Randolph will get bought out of his contract and end up a key bench contributor for a title contender.
Fans of rebuilding franchises like Philadelphia, New York, Sacramento, Dallas, and Minnesota should feel optimism going into this NBA season. There is a lot to look forward to throughout the league and you won’t have to watch the Warriors or Spurs to be spiritually fulfilled. For the first time in a long time, the NBA has enough good basketball to go around for everyone.
1)Boston 2)Cleveland 3)Washington 4)Milwaukee
5)Miami 6)Charlotte 7)Toronto 8)Philadelphia
1) Golden State 2) Houston 3) Oklahoma City 4) Minnesota
5) San Antonio 6) Los Angeles Clippers 7) Portland 8) Denver
Regular Season MVP Kawhi Leonard
Defensive Player Of Year Draymond Green
Most Improved Player Zach Lavine
Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams
Co-Rookies of the Year Ben Simmons/Lonzo Ball
Coach of the Year: Brett Brown
Western Conference Finals Golden State vs. Oklahoma City
Eastern Conference Finals Boston vs. Cleveland
NBA Finals Golden State over Cleveland in six games
Finals MVP Kevin Durant
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 @goodassgame. For booking inquiries, send contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org.