I’ve been eager these past few weeks waiting for the start of the NBA regular season. Basketball is a beautiful, intricate game. The NBA is the only major professional sports league (unless you count European soccer) that is star-driven and allows its players to have a personality on and off the court (*cough cough* NFL). Will the Warriors repeat? Will LeBron go to his EIGHTH STRAIGHT NBA Finals? Can Chris Paul and James Harden mesh on the court? Can the league’s reigning MVP, Russell Westbrook, coexist with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to form a team capable of potentially dethroning the Warriors? These questions alone provide reasons why the NBA will keep fans engaged during the regular season. Oh, and did I mention Lonzo and LaVar Ball? Kyrie’s Celtics vs. LeBron’s Cavs? The drama never stops with the NBA, which the not-so-off-season proved.
Just weeks before the start of the regular season, Carmelo Anthony was shipped to Oklahoma City and Dwyane Wade reached a buyout with the Bulls to join forces again with LeBron James. With all the hype surrounding the NBA Draft, free agency, summer league, and the major trades, the NBA had an off-season to remember. Rumors swirled. Kyrie Irving was traded to the Celtics, and then the trade was placed on hold because the Cavs were concerned about Isaiah Thomas’s injured hip, and then the trade was processed. Pandemonium. Madness. There is no singular word that can properly describe the NBA’s drama. And I haven’t even mentioned KD’s (alleged) burner account on Twitter!
Let’s start off with the biggest move of the off-season: Kyrie Irving being traded to the Boston Celtics. Danny Ainge heard the criticism from the media (and myself – not really) about him not being aggressive enough to compete with LeBron James and the Cavs. Ainge went after it this off-season. He signed Gordon Hayward and pulled the trigger on a trade bringing Irving to Boston in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, the Miami Heat’s 2020 second-round, and the Brooklyn Nets 2018 first-round pick.
The Celtics may have lost Hayward for the entirety of the 2017-18 season, as he suffered a grueling dislocated left ankle and a fractured tibia in the first quarter of the Celtics opening night game against the Cavaliers as this piece was being written. Losing Hayward lowers the Celtics chances of dethroning James and the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Championship. The Celtics may not even be good enough to make it to a seven-game showdown against Cleveland (assuming the two teams do not face each other prior to the ECF).
Brad Stevens will now have to rely on rookie forward Jayson Tatum and second-year guard Jaylen Brown to play major minutes at a consistently high level every single game. Brown averaged only 17.2 minutes per game last season, and Tatum, who was expected to be the Celtics fourth scoring option prior to Hayward’s injury, will now have to step-up and fill the scoring gap. It’s safe to say getting back to the Eastern Conference Finals will not be an easy task for Boston with Hayward likely to miss the entire season, but in a weak Eastern Conference, anything is possible.
The Cavaliers are the clear favorites to make it to the NBA Finals for a fourth straight season. LeBron James is still the best player in the world, and while the Cavs lost Kyrie Irving, they added more depth and are utilizing a small-ball starting lineup featuring Kevin Love at center and Tristan Thompson coming off the bench. Yes, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, and Jeff Green aren’t the players they once were, but they’re still competent NBA players, and no one can discredit the championship experience Wade brings to the table.
Don’t underestimate the addition of Jae Crowder. Crowder has the potential to make the biggest impact out of all the players included in the Cavs/Celtics trade. Of course, Crowder is not a top-15 player in the NBA like Irving is, but his defensive prowess, something Irving does not possess, will help ease the defensive burden James is used to carrying. Crowder can guard the other team’s best forward, allowing James to shadow the middle of the floor and most importantly, save his energy for late in games. It may seem extreme, but come playoff time when James can play all 48 minutes instead of having to take a few minutes off, Crowder’s impact will be felt.
The Eastern Conference as a whole, outside of the Celtics and Cavaliers, is very weak. There could be multiple teams below .500 that qualify for the chance to be swept by the Celtics and Cavs in the first round of the playoffs. But just because the Cavs and Celtics will finish as the one and two seeds, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch the Wizards, Bucks, Sixers (yes I said it), Raptors, and Heat. These teams will make the playoffs, and if you have an NBA League Pass subscription, I highly recommend watching the Sixers. They’re great.
The Western Conference is going to be a blood bath. Between every team chasing the Warriors, the Rockets, Spurs, and Thunder competing for seeds two through four, and the Clippers, Pelicans, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, Jazz, and Grizzlies battling it out for the remaining playoff spots. Listen, no one is close to the Warriors, in either conference. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the Western Conference won’t be fun to watch. One could make the argument that the Warriors, Rockets, Spurs, and Thunder will be the best four teams in the NBA, and I’d buy it.
Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and company play basketball more beautifully than any girl I’ve ever seen (I am single if you can’t tell). But seriously, the Warriors will win over 70 games (again) and despite the Rockets and Thunder both upgrading this off-season and the Spurs being the Spurs, the Warriors will get back to the Finals for a fourth straight year.
The Rockets are the only team in the NBA with a fighting chance of taking down the Warriors. Houston’s GM Daryl Morey is a genius. Watch a Rockets game this year, and you’ll be able to count on both hands how many mid-range jumpers the Rockets take throughout the course of the entire game. It’s fantastic. Moreyball, a philosophy developed by Morey, favors shooting three-point field goals over mid-range field goals. Morey will even admit that the Rockets aren’t as good as the Warriors (maybe not publicly), but because of the Rockets play style, reinforced by their head coach, offensive mastermind Mike D’Antoni, the Rockets have what Morey refers to as a “fighter’s chance” of beating the Warriors. If the Rockets catch fire in a seven-game series, they can beat anyone.
A lot of people are skeptical about Westbrook, George, and Anthony (Hoodie Melo) gelling on the court. I think they’ll figure it out sooner than people think. If I’m the Warriors, I don’t want to see the Thunder in the second round of the playoffs. Carmelo Anthony doesn’t have to worry about being his team’s main scoring threat like he had to with the Knicks. Westbrook and George, two of the better basketball players in the world, will figure out a way to coexist on the court, and when they do, the Thunder will be must-watch TV every time they play.
Surprisingly, I didn’t go on a tangent about the Sixers, or how Gregg Popovich is the GOAT. There will be more content to come. It’s impossible to hit on every element of this league efficiently in one article. The NBA is BACK. Enjoy watching the best basketball on the planet. I certainly will.