“A to the K?”
“A to tha mutha*%$king Z”
~Hold up scene from the movie Wild Style
I love NBA basketball, but I find it unfortunate the off the court news is more entertaining than the majority of what happens on the court . We’ve had a lot of players changing jerseys to bridge the gap between the top four teams (Golden State, Boston, San Antonio, and the Lebrons). Some teams got better (Minnesota, Houston, Boston, Los Angeles, Golden State,Oklahoma City). Some teams got worse (Toronto, Utah, Memphis, Chicago and the Clippers) and some teams stayed the same (Detroit, Portland, Washington, San Antonio, and Dallas).
Although this season will undoubtedly be more competitive (at least out West),–all things being equal— I don’t see how a Warriors-Cavs finals is anything but inevitable. Luckily for me, I’m a hard-core hoops fan, and NBA minutiae fulfills the geek in me. There is a lot more to a basketball season than who wins and who loses. It is a long season and if all you care about is your favorite team winning a championship, then outside of the four cities I mentioned earlier; there are going to be a lot of dissatisfied people. There is a lot to look forward to this year: new players in the league who look to be exciting, and older players looking to leave their mark on the league before their career is over. Personally, I’m looking forward to the various basketball threads I have running in my email and text message inboxes. And with that, I’m happy to bring back for you: Bobby Mickey’s 26 most compelling NBA story lines: A-Z.
Shout out to Adam Silver and staff on this one. Despite the national anthem edict, the man is such a breath of fresh air compared to that old Fuddy-Duddy–ass fun ruiner, David Stern. Silver saw a problem that was ruining the product and he wasn’t afraid to fix it. There will be no more stretches of four games in five nights for the players, and back–to–back games have been reduced for all the teams, with no team having more than 16, and no team having fewer than 13. And guess what else? Marquee games will no longer fall in the midst of those back to back or five games in seven nights scenarios. Let’s get it!
Beware: Deer Crossing
Like Bambi, we’ve had the privilege to watch Giannis Antetokounmpo grow up before our very eyes. My Nigerian brethren even thinks he can make a run at the MVP this year–which typically scares me away from a player– but in Giannis’ case, his swag level may be justified. Other than Khris Middleton, and an injured (expected back at the second half) Jabari Parker, the Bucks are a team filled with role players. I expect their backcourt to be better with the return of Rookie Of the Year winner Malcolm Brogdon, and the vets Brandon Rush, Jason Terry, and Gerald Green can help out on the court in addition to being good locker room guys. Don’t be surprised if they get a second seed in this year’s Eastern Conference playoffs.
Carmelo Finally gets a Mulligan
Let the Hoodie Melo-era begin. As rough as Melo’s season was last year, it was tough to feel sorry for the guy knowing that he chose to sign a huge contract extension–with a no-trade clause. Who knows how much that had to do with his family dynamic, but he took James Dolan’s money– which is like doing a deal with the devil. But Melo is free now, and he finally has some teammates in which to share the burden with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. It took me a minute to process it, but when you look at the collective star power of the three, and the incoming role players, it is hard to not to get excited about this lineup.
Oklahoma City might be pretty nasty (at least in the regular season). Presti may have finally got some players whose playing styles blend with Westbrook. Russ might average a triple double again this season with an increase in rebounds and assists and a decline in points. Paul George doesn’t have to be the man, and can just concentrate on spot up three pointers and playing defense. Andre Roberson just has to shoot a better free throw percentage to justify his playing time. Raymond Felton (by the way, OKC finally got a decent backup point guard) can just feed Melo when Russ is taking a breather, and now the Thunder have one more lethal offensive option in endgame scenarios. Teams can’t just key in on Russ anymore and the most immediate beneficiary for that is Carmelo Anthony.
Dejounte’s Big Audition
Tony Parker’s torn quadricep may end up being a blessing in disguise. Parker stands to be a little extra rested come April (and we saw what a rested Parker was looking like before he had that season ending injury last spring). Which brings us to the precocious point guard out of Seattle, Dejounte Murray. It isn’t his time yet, but this is a pivotal opportunity for him to develop.
Murray showed flashes of a very dynamic skill set last season. He is tall, quick, a decent ball handler, and can finish around the rim. We should see an overall improvement in his game. He has had a year to see what it is like running an NBA offense, and with Kawhi Leonard handling the ball at such a high user rate, Murray won’t be asked to do more than he is capable of at this point in his career. I think he’ll show flashes of brilliance that will become more frequent as he develops into the player that we suspect he is.
Eastern Conference Still Doo-Doo
While 50 wins may not even be enough to get into the Western Conference Playoffs, we may only see four teams out east that get to 50 wins. You know Boston and Cleveland will hit their 50, but would you put money on Washington or Toronto hitting the half century mark? If you are just aching to bet on someone other than the Celtics or Cavs, I’d suggest the Bucks, which may be asking much to see an 8 game increase in win expectancy. I doubt I will be watching much basketball before 6 pm this season and that is probably a good thing. As busy as I am for the next 12 months it will be hella difficult to justify watching any scrub teams–east or western conference– this season. Life is too short.
Feels like 1996 Again
Remember when the 1996 Chicago Bulls won 72 games and they were immediately hailed as the greatest team of all time? Do you remember the very next year when they brought back almost exactly the same team except they added Robert Parish (well past his prime) and Bison Dele (RIP)? We bout to have some De Ja Vu up in this mofo (shout out to Co-founder of Steely Dan, Walter Becker who died last month).
The Warriors have managed to get better this season with the additions of (don’t laugh) Nick Young and Omri Casspi. They managed to snag a couple of bigs from Oregon out of the draft in Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell (possibly the biggest steal of the entire draft). Both players could make great pupils under the tutelage of Draymond Green and David West. Somehow Iguodala had everyone convinced that he was washed before last season started, but then he managed to stay healthy for the entire year with no major injuries. Was it luck, or conditioning and diet? His health is still the key, but what is great about the Nick Young acquisition for the Dubs is that they added yet another 6’5 ball handler to come off the bench.
Good and Terrible: The Phoenix Suns
Poor Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley must feel like they got sent down to the junior varsity team. The Suns are a young team, which makes this the perfect place for Earl Watson to start his head coaching career. He has a chance to kick some real game to those youngsters down in Phoenix, and this is a great opportunity for him to springboard his career. No one expects Phoenix to win 40 games (at least no one sane), so what Watson will ultimately be judged on his how the players developed individually and as a team.
Under the stewardship of Robert Sarver, this franchise (from the front office to the players) has become a great farm system for the rest of the NBA. Watson eventually leaving for a better situation is an inevitable reality, once the young studs in Phoenix play themselves into situations where they control their next NBA destination–while the Suns franchise revolve into their perpetual rebuild. I think Devin Booker will continue to get buckets, and Josh Jackson will give us a glimpse of what Andrew Wiggins would be like had he grown up in America. Also, don’t be surprised if Eric Bledsoe (reunion with Doc in L.A.?) finally gets traded this season; as Tyler Ulis and Brandon Knight’s (geezus they’ve got FOUR Kentucky guards) combined salaries equal what Bledsoe is due to make. I’d go to a Suns game, but not for anything higher than 28 bucks (after fees).
Houston Remains Annoying
I was worried the Spurs would acquire one of my least favorite NBA players, Chris Paul, and was so relieved when Houston signed him. He is a great player and the best point guard in the league, but I’m not trying to root for that guy. Plus, Houston is such a great fit for him and his cantankerous on court personality. I thought there could be no more of an annoying scenario than watching the Chris Paul-era Clippers play the Harden-era Rockets. I was wrong.
The fascinating part of this trade is that neither the Clippers nor the Rockets got any less annoying for this season. Add Patrick Beverly to a team that already has Austin Rivers and Blake Griffin, then subtract Jamal Crawford, and voila! The Clippers got MORE annoying. For the Rockets, you’ve just put one of the biggest crybabies in the NBA and paired him up with the biggest flopper in the NBA. Good luck watching that for 82 games a year Rockets fans.
The good news for NBA fans is that Rockets are coached by Mike D’Antoni. We finally have a coach that can use Chris Paul the way God intended Paul to play basketball. Harden says he wants to just spot up and shoot, but watching the both of them run a fast break will be–at times– a thing of beauty. Also, don’t sleep on the Tarik Black and P.J. Tucker signings. The Rockets front line just quietly got bigger and meaner. Rebounding, while always important, is even more integral in a D’ANtoni run offense, where so many shots are taken during the course of a 48 minute game. Also, is Isaiah Taylor going to get some tick playing for D’Antoni? Or is he Daniel Gibson 2.0?
Indiana is NBA Siberia
Unlike places like New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Miami, Atlanta, or D.C. where a player can take solace that they are a millionaire in a premier city, Pacers players have only basketball and road *ahem* attractions to keep their minds off the fact they play for a floundering franchise. A guy can even drown his sorrows in some delicious fried chicken in places like Charlotte and Chicago. But I can’t imagine an NBA reality worst than playing for a midwest franchise that has no chance of competing for a title.
I took a peek at the prospective depth chart of the Pacers and my first thought was, “maybe they aren’t as bad as I thought they’d be.” But then I saw that their strongest locker room personality is Lance Stephenson and that Nate McMillan is their head coach (No disrespect). They have some good young players. but I’m not sure they have enough veterans to push them through the tough times and into the playoffs. I think they’ll come close though and it will be a dogfight for that 8th seed between *YAWN* Indiana, Miami, and Charlotte.
Jokic Might Be The Real Deal
Every time I look at the Nugget roster, I want so badly to plug them in as an eighth seed but there is no way to do it without envisioning an injury to someone in the Portland Trailblazers’ backcourt. While Jokic may not be enough for the Nugs to be playing a home game on April 20th, I think this is the year that he turns the mainstream media’s heads–and maybe even make the All Star Team. He averaged six more points last season than he did his rookie year, and he should average 20 points a game in this one. In addition to being a decent ball handler, the young Serbian is an avid passer, averaging 4.9 assists last season and he gobbled up 9.8 rebounds a game. Jokic is in line for a monster year if he can stay healthy. If there is any slippage with Portland at all, then I think Denver will take that eighth seed for the West.
Kawhi’s MVP Campaign
My alter ego, formerly over at Fansided, predicted the jump Kawhi Leonard would make right before the beginning of last season, by midseason, NBA nerds were wide open to the San Antonio phenom. Kawhi’s metamorphosis has been nothing short of beautiful and spectacular and now that he has everyone’s attention, his game will take yet another leap. People are high on the Thunder, Rockets, and Timberwolves, but the Spurs will still win their 60 games, and it will be because Kawhi Leonard put the team on his back. He just might be Jordan 2.0, but if that is the case, then he still needs his Scottie Pippen 2.0. Which is why he will win MVP, because of all the superstars left on title contending teams, Kawhi is the only one without a superstar to step onto the court with him.
To Be Continued…….
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.