The NBA is back, which sounds weird, because it feels like it never ended. Actually, it kind of feels like it’s ending now, when it’s actually starting, because with all the offseason drama behind us, the only thing that’s left is boring old basketball. This leaves me and the nine other people that waste their time watching regular season games played in dead arenas as the only people left paying attention. So for you, my sad nine friends, here are five predictions for the actual, basketball-playing season.
1. The Wizards will be NBA champions.
Just kidding, I don’t actually think the Wizards will win the championship. But the East is still weak. The age of Heat-Pacer superpower domination has come to an end. The two consensus contenders to emerge in their wake, Chicago and Cleveland, are only consensus contenders because the media says they are. We’ve barely seen either team step onto an NBA Court. For every 2011 Heat and 2008 Celtics, there’s a 2013 Lakers.
So don’t just pencil in Lebron or Rose’s team. The East is still a vacuum waiting to be filled. Here’s how I’d break down everyone’s chances.
a) The Favorites (Chicago, Cleveland)
Each team has MVPs (Lebron, Rose) and multiple other All-Stars (Love, Kyrie, Gasol, Noah). The gulf in talent between these rosters and the rest of the East is staggering. If they figure things out, no one else will be able to touch them. IF they figure things out.
b) The Challengers (Washington, Toronto)
It might be a stretch to put the Wizards and Raptors in a tier of their own above the rest of the Eastern Conference playoff teams, but none of those teams check all the boxes quite like the Wizards and Raptors. Both were competitive playoff teams last season (check), both have promising young players that should improve (Wall, Beal, and Porter for the Wizards, Derozan and Terrence Ross for the Raptors — check) and, perhaps easiest to overlook, both are bringing back more or less the same group of players, which means these guys already know how to play together (check).
Put it this way, you know both of these teams believe they can win the East. That’s what separates them.
c) The Good Teams (Atlanta, Charlotte, Brooklyn, Miami)
All good. Probably not good enough.
d) The Bad Teams (New York, Detroit, Indiana, Boston, Orlando, Milwaukee, Philadelphia)
Yeah, I put New York in the same group as Philly.
2. The Hornets will be Doctor Strange.
Doctor Strange, for those not familiar with the Marvel comic (myself included until reading a fantastic article on him by Alex Pappademas last week), is the countercultural superhero. He’s the guy that fights mystical threats in other dimensions and comes across such characters as Eternity and God.
Basketball is simple. Success is winning; failure is losing. In the universe of superheroes, the same is true. You beat the villain and save the day, or everybody dies.
Then there’s Doctor Strange.
Lance Stephenson does not operate in the same plane as the rest of the basketball world. While we’re thinking about the score, he’s thinking about what would happen if he could shrink himself and crawl inside Lebron’s ear. Would he feel tiny, or would Lebron’s ear feel huge? Once inside Lebron’s head, would it seem like an alien world with strange terrain and bizarre smells and sounds, or would he be able to formulate what his senses were perceiving into the conventional way we think of a “brain.” Unable to answer these questions, Lance must settle for the next best thing, blowing a stream of air into Lebron’s ear.
People are already hyping up the Hornets, in large part thanks to the addition of Lance. I’m excited too. But this team isn’t about wins and losses. It’s about the strange journey that makes no attempt to meet our expectations. It’s about Big Al Jefferson lumbering through people. It’s about Hero Ball Kemba crossing guys up and launching fadeaway buzzer beaters. It’s about Kidd-Gilchrist praying his new jump shot holds up. It’s about Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh trying to become NBA players. And, above all, it’s about Lance. Welcome to the honeycomb.
3. There will be Drake sightings.
Where will he turn up? Toronto? Cleveland? More importantly, will he bring his lint roller?
4. A bunch of teams will fall well below expectations.
A lot of teams look good this year. Unfortunately, this isn’t the economy, where growth is possible for everyone. There are a finite number of wins in the NBA season; it’s a zero-sum game. (Unless the 76ers absorb the expansion of quality by somehow winning negative games.)
The West was already overloaded with talent last year. Anthony Davis is reason enough to put the Pelicans into the mix this time around, and the Kings at least think the Kings should be good. In the East, other than the Pacers, no team that was good last year will be bad this year. Most teams will be a little bit better.
I think people understand that the West is competitive, and someone will be left on the outside looking in. Not so in the East, which means if a team with playoff aspirations struggles, things could get ugly quickly. My guess as to which teams have the highest potential for trouble?
First, Brooklyn. Losing Shaun Livingston and Paul Pierce hurts more than people realize. They were starters and crucial pieces in Brooklyn turning things around after last year’s rocky start. Lopez is back, Jarrett Jack’s supposed to replace Livingston, and Bogdanovic is intriguing, but the Nets are going to need time to figure things out. Throw in a new coach, and the fact that the Nets have never felt like a team with more than a second round ceiling in the first place, and I’m not thrilled about wherever this team is headed.
Charlotte, on the other hand, was a 7-seed that lost in the first round last year in a historically atrocious conference. They improved over the summer by signing a lunatic and key ingredient in the Pacers near-combustion last season. Promising.
5. All predictions will be incorrect.
For some reason, I fall into the trap every year of thinking the NBA landscape is set in stone before the season begins. There are the contenders (Spurs, Clippers, Thunder, Cavs, Bulls), the fringe contenders (Warriors, Rockets, Grizzlies, Blazers, Mavs), the good teams (Suns, Wizards, Raptors, Nets, Hawks, Heat, Hornets), the fringe playoff/lottery teams (Pelicans, Nuggets, Kings, Knicks, Pistons), and the teams that are putrid (Jazz, Timberwolves, Lakers, Pacers, Celtics, Magic, Bucks, Sixers).
It never works out like that. Not even close. Look no further than last year’s Suns for a great example. Before the season, they were most definitely in the putrid group. In fact, they might have been below the putrid group in a separate tier with the 76ers for teams that appeared to be actively trying to lose games. The Suns finished 14 games above .500.
The lesson? We know nothing.