A Useless, Belated Preview Of An Utterly Pointless NBA Regular Season
If your view of pro basketball boils down to, “We know who’s gonna win, so what’s it matter?”, then I have no compelling rebuttal. On the one hand, the NBA is chaos. Every day, every year, something previously unimaginable materializes (the above photo, for example). Yes, the commotion eventually gives way to a grim finale. But the spectacle is still worth observing and discussing, particularly the seven random things I chose to write about below.
The Likely Rookie Of The Year Can’t Really Jump Or Shoot
Dallas’s hottest new rookie is Doncic. With his lack of muscle tone, #3-from-the-chart-at-Cost Cutters haircut, and elaborate tiger tattoo on his forearm might remind you of your brother-in-law who got kicked off his D-III team playing pickup hungover on Sunday morning at the local community college. But we’re actually talking about 19-year-old Luka Doncic, reigning EuroLeague MVP and favorite for NBA Rookie of the Year.
Doncic, who was born well after Brandy and Monica completed their dominant radio run with “The Boy Is Mine”, is purported to be a passing magician. A highlight reel from his NBA debut Wednesday night supports this notion. With DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Powell, and Wes Matthews, the Mavs’ roster is already tailor-made for the Slovenian’s strengths (lobbing to tall guys and passing to open shooters).
The non-passing elements of his game are less secure. Doncic had blood-curdling .309 three-point percentage (on nearly five attempts per game!) (from a shorter distance!!) for Real Madrid last season, which suggests that he cannot, in fact, hit the broad side of a barn. After averaging just 20 and 25 minutes a game each of the last two seasons, his stamina could quickly come into question. And yeah, maybe he can’t adequately defend any starting point guard in the league. But for the basketball viewer, no-looks and lobs and rich creativity almost always outweigh logistical deficiencies. Doncic alone will bring the Mavericks into national relevance.
The Atlanta Hawks Might Not Lose As Many Games by 20+ Points This Season (Might)
The man Doncic was traded for on draft night, Trae Young, limped the finish line of his lone college basketball season. Young’s Oklahoma Sooners lost 12 of their final 16 games and were only gifted a spot in the NCAA Tournament because he’s an entertaining television product. Sounds like just the guy Atlanta needs to turn their franchise around!
The baffling nature of this trade means Young will be watched LIKE A HAWK this season. Every turnover-filled game (he’s already had one) will be held up next to a highlight reel of Doncic dimes. The possible outcomes for his season spread wider than any other rookie: He could be the next Steph Curry or the next Jimmer Fredette. Folks it’s why they play the games.
Should Young disappoint this season, our main source of exposure to the Hawks will probably be clips of 41-year-old Vince Carter performing moderate feats of athleticism and/or guarding someone half his age. As long as he stays healthy, Carter will remain a reliable source of joy.
(Unrelated: According to the Rim Sports Bureau, the Hawks are the only team in sports history to feature two players whose nicknames derive from the same word used to describe incomprehensible events: Vinsanity and Linsanity.)
Please Just Trade Jimmy Butler So We Don’t Have To Hear About This Anymore
Relentless NBA fans will tell you theirs is the most entertaining league not just because of the thrilling on-court product, but because of the never-ending drama, comedy, and insanity that takes place off it. Who can forget when the Clippers put DeAndre Jordan on house arrest and Paul Pierce tweeted a clipart rocket ship?! Or how about the Cavs’ Halloween decorations after they beat the Warriors in the Finals? Or the time so-and-so said this and that on his IG story and oh snap so petty and savage side eyyyyeee!
These fun bits are useful to keep us interested when the games stop (and let’s be honest, through an unnecessarily long regular season). But at some point the gossipy off-court stuff overwhelmed the sport itself. ESPN has a daily, one-hour NBA show, The Jump, and it seems they spend half their time deciphering the gif choices of players who might want to be traded. The obsession with drama came to a staged head last week, when an unhappy Jimmy Butler just happened to throw a tantrum during Timberwolves practice on the same day ESPN’s NBA reporters were in Minnesota. Adrian Wojnarowski had direct quotes from the closed practice, and Rachel Nichols was on hand so Butler could cut a promo immediately afterwards. For three days, the basketball world revolved around the second-best player on a borderline playoff team.
Our appetite for theater was destined to bring about such orchestrated nonsense. And yet we ate it up anyway. Even as I write this I’m restraining myself from discussing the situation as if it’s anything else than an exaggerated stunt. Please, Timberwolves, just trade the guy and get this over with. Send him to Miami or Brooklyn or the Clippers (because winning, not max salary slots, is what’s really important) and put an end to one of the few NBA storylines in which there are no winners.
Carmelo Anthony Is Here To Make Sure The Rockets Window Is Closed All The Way
When I was a kid, my mom would round us up before school and we’d pile into light blue wood-paneled Town & Country van. I was almost always the last one into the garage, and every day I’d hop in the car, put my seat belt on, and she’d say, “Go make sure the door’s closed all the way.” The door was almost always closed all the way, so I’d open it and slam it shut to make a point. Nothing’s getting through that door.
Carmelo Anthony plays a similar role for the Houston Rockets. Houston was in control of last year’s Western Conference Finals before Chris Paul’s hamstring injury forced him to miss Games 6 and 7. Their window seemed to close when two of their most reliable veteran defenders — Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute — bolted in free agency. Anthony — 34 years old, not exactly known for his defense, and already grousing about coming off the bench — is here to make sure the window is closed all the way. And if it’s not, he will slam it by demanding the ball and more minutes.
Keep An Eye Out For The Lakers And The Lakers Who Aren’t Lakers Yet
New Lakers fan here. I must say I’m excited to bring my bring my time-honored traditions of blaming LeBron’s teammates for everything and calling for LeBron’s coach to be fired before Thanksgiving to the west coast. These habits are easily transferable across time zones.
When LeBron chose the most glamorous franchise in American sports for the final act of his storied career, most expected a second star — Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, even DeMarcus Cousins — to join him, rounding out a core worthy of competing with the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors. Instead, the Lakers surrounded their new centerpiece with a motley group of castoffs and irritants: Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, and Michael Beasley. In a “build a combustible locker room” fantasy draft, these are your top four picks.
The other barnacles attached to this LeBron cruise liner are tantalizing for different reasons. Brandon Ingram has telescoping pool skimmers for arms. Kyle Kuzma can beat almost anybody one-on-one. Lonzo Ball shoots as if he’s under water with a medicine ball. Josh Hart is good. Indeed, almost every young Laker has a compelling skill set!
(Worth noting: LaVar Ball, who speaks loudly and carries a defective stick, has been conspicuously muted since LeBron arrived. It’s possible reporters have simply been too busy covering actual stars to give screen time to bench player’s dad who wears sweatpants courtside and twirls around to emphasize points. I like to think it’s more likely the Lakers told Lonzo to keep quiet or they’ll ship his son to Minnesota.)
It’s foolish to predict the fate of this team with any confidence. The likeliest scenario involves a minor trade and a second-round playoff exit. Those of us who don’t want to see LeBron waste a precious year on a non-contender would prefer a a blockbuster of some sort, a trade so glaringly in the Lakers’ favor that it prompts a collusion investigation. We (longtime Lake Show fans) need Damian Lillard. We need Anthony Davis. At this point we’ll take a Kevin Love deal. Just get us something to make a ninth-straight Finals trip seem possible. The wacky late-night sideshow will only be entertaining for so long.
One Of Three Teams Will Secure The Privilege Of Losing To The Warriors In The Finals
The most relevant on-court question centers around the three contenders in the Eastern Conference: Who among the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, and Toronto Raptors will earn a trip to the Finals?
No need to dither around here: Cross off the Raptors. Until they change their team name, uniforms, color scheme, and raze their arena, their franchise and fan base will retain the odor of LeBron’s abusive downpour in May. (You know when a really embarrassing memory pops into your head while you’re showering or driving or something? Everyone in Toronto periodically thinks about the time LeBron James smothered their favorite team on a national stage. And they wince.)
Go ahead and discard the 76ers. Their journey from punch line to contender was endearing, but the reality is they don’t have the depth to compete with the Celtics. They will regret not trading for Kawhi Leonard.
Boston cruised past the Sixers in five games last year without two of their three best players. Without LeBron in the East, the path is clear for a Finals run.
Championship Prediction: The Team With Like Six Future Hall Of Famers
The list of events that could prevent the Golden State Warriors from winning their third straight championship (and fourth in five years) is unsettling. Nobody wants labor disputes or injuries or earthquakes or apocalypses, but one or more of those would probably need to happen for a ring ceremony to take place outside of the Bay next year. Even if their newest big-name addition, DeMarcus Cousins, poisons the locker room or lags behind in the fitness department, they can just trade him for draft picks and cruise to another title. Rooting against them will be fun, but ultimately fruitless. |ES|