Attention humanity: The NBA season begins today.
Last year’s absolutely delightful playoffs and then the pitch-perfect Finals (by turns uplifting and crushing, regardless of affiliation) set the bar amazingly high, but this season has a legitimate chance to dethrone our recent cherished memories with something even better. After a storm of off-season trades and Free Agency nuclear armament, the playing field is completely unpredictable and dangerous. Forget what you think you knew! I predict this season will combine the inexorable doom of Greek Tragedy with the feeling you had when you first fell in love and throw in a healthy dose of insane buzzer beating game-winners. So what are we most excited about? That would be like choosing which of your children you love best but here’s a few things to consider:
The return of Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose is back after a yearlong hiatus and the Chicago Bulls are looking to rejoin the ranks of the league’s elite. Though hard-nosed and scrappy as all heck, they simply can’t be a serious contender without Rose playing some supernatural ball. Whether he is capable of returning to form is a matter of some contention, but just the idea of a fully rejuvenated Derrick Rose has to give Miami night terrors. Well, everyone but LeBron. LeBron isn’t scared of anything anymore.
The Redemption or Damnation of Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard forced his way out of Orlando with pouting coach-killing skullduggery and promptly squandered an opportunity to make the Los Angeles Lakers (the most storied team in league history!) his own. Instead he sulked and absconded to the unexpectedly greener pastures of the helter-skelter Houston Rockets. So after destroying the hopes and dreams of two fanbases, what does Dwight do next? In a perfect world he will shut up and play basketball, accept his role as James Harden’s second banana, improve his game, and get back to being that loveable freak of nature that wowed us with spectacular dunks and unstoppable athleticism. No more fart noises, no more badly mangled geo-political jokes. The likelihood of this? I’m not a scientist, but I’d say 53%.
The Heat will find themselves in illustrious company if they manage the much ballyhooed three-peat (for those less inured to basketball nomenclature: winning a championship three times in a row). The Shaq/Kobe Lakers were the last to accomplish that enormity. Michael Jordan’s Bulls did it twice with a brief baseball (or gambling?) related interregnum. The Spurs-the gold standard of NBA franchises-have never defended their title. Likewise the Pistons, Celtics, and Mavericks of the past decade were one hit wonders. So this Miami team is on the brink of something historic and yet my fearless prediction is that their bad habit of letting inferior opponents get “too close” will finally catch up with them. The Pacers or the Bulls will be their undoing. The Knicks won’t. Spoiler alert: THE KNICKS WON’T BE THE TEAM TO BEAT THE HEAT.
Favorites to win the title
In no particular order: the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers. The Clippers and the Rockets will do it with high-powered super-star fueled offense while the Bulls and Pacers with do it with defense. The Heat have this guy named LeBron and he is pretty good at everything
The Self-Esteem of the Spurs
I like to think of the Spurs as a team of unflashy robotic assassins that are put in stasis during the off-season and are dutifully dusted off by Gregg Popovich a few minutes before Opening Night. But the Finals revealed a new wrinkle, a certain vulnerability that belied the stoic acceptance of defeat. The Spurs wanted that series and they had it. Tim Duncan is the anti-Dwight Howard and won’t let something as petty as squandering a lead in a potential series clinching Finals game affect his play…but I wonder if he hasn’t lost faith in his righteous cause and his team’s ability to win it all.
Rookie of the Year Race
Make your bets now and follow my lead without question. Atlanta Hawks rookie Dennis Schroeder will take this going away. Keep in mind this kind of thing is impossible to predict and if Dennis Schroeder does end up winning Rookie of the Year it will be basically a coincidence and I should not be paraded through the streets as a handsome prophet. Just a lucky guess.
Who Will win 6TH Man of the Year?
This award does not matter. Stop worrying about it.
The New York Knicks bombed their enemies into submission with three-point shooting fusillades for a few months. Things seemed really keen. That was before the regression into anarcho-mediocrity that Knicks fans are sadly accustomed to. They pulled it together towards the end, dispatched the Boston Celtics and fell to the Pacers.
This year Carmelo is eyeing Free Agency not unkindly and the team once again feels slightly less than truly dangerous. Their biggest splash in the off-season was the acquisition of the perpetually disappointing man-boy Andrea Bargnani, a seven-footer with a schoolboy crush on shooting bad three-pointers. He’ll fit in! Carmelo will make snide comments to the media and joyously become a Free Agent. The Knicks will fall in the first round of the playoffs. J.R. Smith will join a Gnostic sect. Metta World Peace will join a different Gnostic sect. Hilarity will ensue and the Knicks will still boast amazing attendance numbers.
Nets: The New Celtics
What about New York’s other team, the expressionless Brooklyn Nets? They made headlines with their blockbuster trade for the two men most responsible for bringing Boston its 17th championship-Paul “Slovenly Dude” Pierce and Kevin “Angry Man” Garnett-and they expect big things out of their new acquisitions. Can these two strangely grim prima donnas re-create the magic of 2007? Hey, it’s only been half a decade! After some growing pains I expect the Nets to roll through the regular season and win more than they lose until they sputter towards the finish line amidst a violent implosion of best last hopes and blown out knees. But the nice thing about having a Russian oligarch as your owner is that you get Andrei Kirilenko at a discount price. Silver linings, man.
Teams That WON’T Win an NBA Title This Season
Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic. The 76ers might not win ten games. Phoenix is also pretty gross.
The Thunder: The Fall of the Golden Boys
The Thunder should never have traded James Harden. Now that I’ve typed the most obvious sentence in the world I can continue! To return to relevance they need to turn Kendrick Perkins into something of value. They need to find a reliable third option on offense quick. Russell Westbrook will miss the first few weeks of the season and that could have dire ramifications. Kevin Durant is going to be playing 1 on 5 on offense for long stretches. The Thunder were a rare gang of do-gooders who represented building a team the right way. Now they’ve shipped most of that team out due to salary considerations. It’s all amalgamation and capital, my friends! My fearless prediction? The Oklahoma City Thunder-formerly the toast of the NBA town-will end the season as the 5th seed of the Western Conference.
Rags to Riches
The Detroit Pistons have been a completely depressing, Romeo pining after Rosalind mess since the infamous trade for Allen Iverson. They have failed to make the playoffs, fired half a dozen coaches, and fostered a culture that seemed to be at least somewhat inspired by Lord of the Flies. In short, they’ve been miserable and painful to watch and they’ve lost a ton of games in boring fashion.
This year things figure to be a little different. Whether or not this new gambit will translate into wins is anyone’s guess, but these aren’t your slightly older brother’s Detroit Pistons. Detroit nabbed Josh Smith, a high-flying dunking flammable knucklehead with a penchant for inefficient shots and long-armed defense. They traded for the intense and talented (yet less than disciplined) Brandon Jennings to run the point. They’re relying on the progress of their dynamic frontcourt duo, high-scoring Greg Monroe and athletic freak Andre Drummond. And they’ve lured back the prodigal son: Chauncey Billups. Billups figures to end his illustrious career in this strange new iteration of what I like to call The Chaos Theory Pistons. It’ll be great and unhinged fun to see how it all comes together. But I think the important thing to zero in on is that Rasheed “Ball Don’t Lie” Wallace is now an assistant coach. Life is good for casual observers of madness.
Most Improved Teams
There are plenty of good options for both the bold and the craven gambler. A few off the top of my head: Sacramento Kings (tough new coach, plethora of solid role-players), the New Orleans Pelicans (no matter their record, the Pelicans are assured of having the best year the Pelicans have ever had), the Cleveland Cavaliers (developing superstar in Kyrie Irving), and the Portland Trailblazers (deceptively talented roster).
The Dark Horse Contender
The Golden State Warriors are your 2013-2014 Dark Horse Contender. Nothing is quite so beautiful in this world (perhaps the birth of your first child, I don’t know) as a Stephen Curry pull-up 3 pointer in transition. Dear God. If only that shot could be my first child!
The Warriors are used to being losers. Last season gave the team an unexpected feeling: victory. For a franchise so mired in self pity and insecurity, seeing the pieces of the puzzle finally start to fit was a beguiling feeling. Underdogs in every way, the Warriors are stealthily built to go the distance.
Naturally almost everything would have to break favorably for these Bay Area scallywags. Steph Curry’s notorious fickle ankles will have to hold up, as well as the brittle bones of Andrew Bogut, their seven-foot center. Assuming their continued good health and contributions from deadeye shooter Klay Thompson, newly acquired jack-of-all-trades Andre Igoudala, and sleek glue-guy David Lee, the Warriors have a serious chance to take the Goliaths of the league by surprise. Or they could end up the fourth worst team in the league!
Hundreds of storylines and pathos and bathos galore are ready to be devoured. It’s time for crossovers beyond good and evil and honorable ankle breaking. Contemptuous floaters and elegant teardrops and divine fadeaways and hazardous dunks and Pamplona paced fast breaks. Lead changes and scrums and coming out parties and the sad slow decline of champions. All this silly talk of narratives and meaning vanishes after tip-off. Then its just dudes going to war on the hardwood dancing that beautiful dance.
Every single thing I’ve predicted might end up wrong and I’d still be thrilled because just like that there’s magic in the world again.
The NBA is back, my friends.
Alex Siquig is a writer who recently left the San Francisco Bay Area for the lovely streets of Baltimore. His work has been published in Thought Catalog, Lubricated, Urban Image Magazine, and he is the co-creator of the web-comic Black Snow: Two Drink Minimum, which finished second place in the Washington Post’s Best Web-Comic of 2011. He lives with two fine cats and a fine woman.