Just gonna jump right into the West after using all of my preamble capacity introducing the East. This is going to be considerably less bleak, since the West has more than four good teams.
Golden State Warriors– I know I’ve become known for coming with some strong, unpopular takes, but I think this one might take the cake: the Warriors are the best team in the league.
Over/Under 67.5 Wins: Over
Key Offseason Move: Signing the legend Nick Young
Burning Question: Is my Twitter account real, or am I just another Kevin Durant burner account?
Bold Prediction: I think it’d be bolder to say they won’t win the title
Houston Rockets– What would happen if you took a clone of Steve Nash and put him on the 2005 Suns, giving them two Steve Nashes to run the Mike D’Antoni system? We’re about to find out! The Rockets made major waves in the offseason by trading the majority of their bench for Chris Paul, who plays the same role in an offense as James Harden, who just had his second second-place MVP finish in three years. Bold strategy, but it might pay off. Even though at this stage in their careers Harden is the better player, Paul certainly has more point guard bona fides, and will likely handle most of the ball handling duty, lest Harden wants to deal with a CP3 temper tantrum on a nightly basis. Moving off the ball might put Harden back in his OKC mindset, where he was just a heat-check scorer-playmaker that would take over games in the fourth. If Harden just becomes a catch-and-shoot, slashing, quick-decision-and-not-just-dribbling-the-ball-for-23-seconds-before-shooting scoring two guard, he might lead the league in scoring. Regardless, I give it 3 weeks before Chris Paul is screaming at Harden during games.
Over/Under 54.5 Wins: Over
Key Offseason Move: Trading for Chris Paul
Burning Question: Will Chris Paul be invited to the club after they lose second round?
Bold Prediction: They’ll set a record for most 3s attempted in a season by the All Star break
San Antonio Spurs– At this point, I think people respect Popovich and the system more than the actual team. Yes, Kawhi Leonard is a basketball cyborg that seemingly doesn’t have any kind of built-in ceiling, but the rest of the roster is kind of meh. Manu and Tony Parker are on their last legs’ last legs. LaMarcus Aldridge became bad sometime last season, and Pau doesn’t offer much besides smart passing and a skilled shooting touch anymore. Then the role players are just that- a bunch of role players that aren’t particularly different from anyone else’s. Leonard is the only outlier on this roster, but the coaching is so good and the players have such great chemistry and continuity that they’ll still bludgeon weaker, unorganized teams and keep it close against the giants of the West. But I don’t know if there’s enough here to go over-the-top. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m assuming this Spurs team has a very post-Brady-but-not-post-Belichick Patriots feel to it.
Over/Under 53.5 Wins: Over
Key Offseason Move: Signing Rudy Gay
Burning Question: Did Tim Duncan give all of his Old Navy chique wardrobe to Kawhi when he retired?
Bold Prediction: They’ll sit their starters in a TNT game at some point and get the player rest convo going again
Oklahoma City Thunder– I’m pretty sure these win totals might have come out before the Carmelo Anthony trade, because this feels low for them. In one of the greatest displays of general managing/blackmail in NBA history, the Thunder turned all of their bad bench players into Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Not sure if they were holding Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard’s family hostage or something, but picking on the inept Knicks like that should result in some kind of penalty. It’s just not fair for everyone else in the league.
The thought process behind all these moves and the hype surrounding them is pretty simple. Last year, Russell Westbrook was literally the only person on the team, and now he’s got two proven, explosive scorers flanking him. The organization and media will point to the huge extension Westbrook just signed and say “this is because the team showed him they were committed to winning,” but, in reality, Westbrook had no choice whatsoever after the display of pettiness and hatred he showed towards Kevin Durant after he left. The Thunder could have drafted me and said I was playing 40 minutes a game and Westbrook would have signed with a smile on his face (even if he’s dying inside). My biggest concern for this team is can they put the toothpaste back in the tube? They unleashed and unshackled Westbrook last season, allowing him to do anything he wanted on the court whenever he wanted. He shot at will and completely dominated the ball out of necessity, but can he turn it down a little? We all know Melo doesn’t like sharing the spotlight, so I can’t imagine he’ll be super happy if he becomes a higher paid version of Anthony Morrow. Paul George will likely be the de facto backup point guard, but giving him 8 minutes a game when Westbrook is on the bench to spread his wings doesn’t sound like the way to keep him from leaving after this year. I just think Westbrook is going to be Westbrook, shoot the ball a billion times a game including everything even resembling a “clutch” shot, alienate his fancy new teammates by being so intense and never giving them the ball, then play the same woe-is-me, I’m-so-tough-and-loyal-for-sticking-around-unlike-those-pussies-that-skipped-town card that he’s used non-stop since KD left. They also have no bench.
Over/Under 52.5 Wins: Over
Key Offseason Move: Getting PG and Melo
Burning Question: If you really think about it, what’s the point of any of these West teams trying, anyway?
Bold Prediction: At some point in mid-March, Melo’s feet will fully fuse with the court as he stands in the corner all game
Minnesota Timberwolves– The Wolves are kind of the West version of the Sixers, in that they’re a popular pick to take a big step forward and everyone desperately wants them to be good. And, like with the Sixers, I’m not really all the way in, but at the least the T’Wolves have at least one player who’s proven that he can both play 82 games and play actual defense in all of them in new addition Jimmy Butler. Everyone knows (I just kind of assume everyone remembers every take I’ve ever had) I didn’t want the Celtics to give up everything to get Butler, but that’s mostly because he would have been the Celtics primary option on offense. He won’t be, here. Karl-Anthony Towns could legitimately be the best offensive player in the NBA, and it’s going to seem awfully nonsensical in a couple years that he didn’t make an All-Star team or All NBA team his first two years after he reels of 10 straight. There’s literally nothing he can’t do on the court that the laws of physics and his own massive body prevent him from doing (except playing defense). I don’t even know how he can get better, but I know he can. Andrew Wiggins seemed like the perfect complimentary piece, but Jimmy Butler plays the same position and has the exact same game. And because they got Jimmy Butler, they felt like they had to trade Ricky Rubio, who has become a true unicorn in the era of unicorns: a legitimately underrated NBA player. Now they have Jeff Teague running the point, and I really hope they don’t sincerely think Teague’s leading them to the Promised Land. This team kind of feels like it was cooking along low and slow in the smoker, maturing and progressing at their own, natural pace, but then Tom Thibodeau took it out and threw it in the microwave for some instant results. I’m worried Towns is going to get stuck in the same vortex of mediocrity Kevin Garnett was in when he was in Minnesota. Being the five or six seed and losing first round every year isn’t helping anybody.
Over/Under 46.5 Wins: Under
Key Offseason Move: Trading for Jimmy Butler
Burning Question: How furious is Jimmy Butler that he couldn’t have been traded to Miami or somewhere where it isn’t terrible in winter?
Bold Prediction: They’ll have the number 20 pick in the draft for the next five years
Denver Nuggets– Gotta say, I’m not a fan of the Nuggets going primarily navy blue in their updated jerseys. The light blue was prime time. No one tunes into some Nuggets action looking for some navy blue jerseys (unless it’s the Melo-era alternates, which were awesome) (Speaking of Melo-era Nuggets: the Nuggets from when Allen Iverson got there until Melo left were legitimately some of my favorite teams ever. Everything was fast paced but also 100% isolation-based. There wasn’t Al-Harrington-Don-Nelson era Warriors level of reckless jacking by anyone who touched the ball (another one of my favorite teams ever), but they got some shots up. My favorite thing about them that I think only I ever noticed was that every game they would switch the colors of their accessories. My favorite looks were when they went white jerseys with light blue headbands/sleeves and when they went light blue jerseys with yellow headbands/sleeves. Navy alternates with yellow headbands/sleeves was also a good look. Light blue jerseys with whit headbands/sleeves was an underrated look, but I’m glad they didn’t go to it too often. I also miss the hanging Pepsi globe they used to have). At least the yellow alternates look good.
Anyway, the Nuggets are going to be really fun to watch. Their games are pretty much just first to 150 wins, so don’t expect them to be playing that lockdown, championship level defense come the playoffs.
Over/Under 43.5 Wins: Over
Key Offseason Move: Getting Paul Millsap
Burning Question: Has the Denver Airport recovered since I left?
Bold Prediction: They’ll lead the league in both scoring and points allowed
Los Angeles Clippers– After years of hating the entire Lob City experience (Chris Paul, the flopping, the bitching, Chris Paul, the constant yelling at refs, Chris Paul, the playoff collapses, Chris Paul), I find myself kind of liking (at least the idea of) this new Chris Paul-less Clippers. Maybe it’s just because they now have Danilo Gallinari, may favorite NBA player (I don’t know why, either). Maybe it’s because they don’t have Chris Paul (my second least favorite NBA player). Either way, I’m kind of excited for this team. I’m ready for a huge Blake Griffin season and am fully invested in Milos Teodosic, who could easily supplant Gallo as my favorite player if he keeps firing no look passes for no reason other than the fact that he can. Unfortunately Doc Rivers is still the coach, which means Austin Rivers (who actually is kind of decent now) will play the whole game. If they can finally get Doc out of there, the Clippers might have something going.
Over/Under 42.5 Wins: Over
Key Offseason Move: Getting rid of Chris Paul
Burning Question: How will DeAndre Jordan get any State Farm commercials without CP3?
Bold Prediction: Milos will average 15 assists per game in November until everyone just puts some freak athlete on him and ruins the fun
Portland Trail Blazers– The only potential playoff team in the West to pretty much come back with the same roster as last season (partly due to their brutal cap situation), the Trail Blazers are pretty much just going to be exactly what they were last year (difficult logic, I know). I have a soft spot for high scoring, high volume backcourt duos, so the Lillard-McCollum tag team is right up my alley. The only problem is they don’t have much else. Sure, Jusuf Nurkic plays an important role in the NBA’s underground crime syndicate, but he’s kind of just a big chunk of meat. There’s no real reliable third scoring option or second unit ballhandler, and they might have the worst backcourt defense in the league. If they make the playoffs, they won’t be there for long.
Over/Under 40.5 Wins: Over
Key Offseason Move: Nothing
Burning Question: Did you know Portland was weird? You rarely hear about it
Bold Prediction: One game they’ll try to have Lillard or McCollum take every single shot
New Orleans Pelicans– Last season’s mad science experiment of acquiring DeMarcus Cousins to play next to Anthony Davis in a league obsessed with going small yielded pretty uneven results. The ‘Cans went 7-10 with Cousins in the lineup, but now they’ve had a full offseason to jell. They can learn each other’s tendencies, work out positioning, build up passing and (possible?) pick and roll chemistry, and get ready to dominate teams on the interior. A few issues: Anthony Davis is always nicked up. He misses games left and right every season and is dangerously close to “Mr. Glass” territory. DeMarcus doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to team chemistry and willingness to be coached, and is always liable to get suspended. They also don’t have anything besides those two. I may count Jordan Crawford isos as reliable offense, but I think I’m in the minority. If either one goes down or if it just doesn’t work this team is absolutely done. Cousins is a free agent after this year, too, so if things aren’t going to plan he might get traded once again.
Over/Under 40.5 Wins: Under
Key Offseason Move: Signing (gulp) Rajon Rondo
Burning Question: Can we get J.R. Smith back in the Big Easy?
Bold Prediction: Everyone’s getting traded
Utah Jazz– Think the Jazz are the only West team to get this distinction, but Utah has been given the Official Brian’s Den Seal of Anti-Approval. Do not watch this team play basketball if you don’t share my unhealthy love of missed shots, shot clock violations, bad spacing, and turnovers. They’ll play stifling defense, sure, but that only adds to their inherent unwatchability. I just don’t know where the scoring is coming from since Gordon Hayward left Utah’s warm embrace (how could he?). The only saving grace will be Ricky Rubio (who I love) running some pick and roll with Rudy Gobert, who has a legitimate chance at Defensive Player of the Year. Barring a scoring explosion from Joe Ingles (can’t rule it out), Jazz will be sippin’ milk at home as the watch the playoffs.
Over/Under 38.5 Wins: Under
Key Offseason Move: Getting Rubio
Burning Question: Can Joseph Smith rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the burned Hayward jerseys?
Bold Prediction: Every big time free agent from now until forever will always choose to leave Utah
Memphis Grizzlies– Sad times in Memphis. Sad times indeed. A true end of an era. Grit ‘N’ Grind, gone but never forgotten. Without Z-Bo and Tony Allen, the Grizzlies’ well forged identity is gone. Sure, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol remain, but they’re not necessarily Grit ‘N’ Grind, they’re just really good players. And now without their spiritual rudder, the Grizzlies’ ship may go adrift in the rough waters of the Western Conference. Everyone on the roster outside of Conley and Gasol is either always hurt, young and unproven, or old and proven to be bad. There’s really not a lot to like and there doesn’t seem to be much of an identity. I love Marc Gasol. He’s one of my absolute favorite players to watch in the league. But he’s not a guy who’s going to drag his teammates up to his level and force them to win games. Conley is a bit, but he won’t be enough to keep them out of the lottery. Possibly the high lottery.
Over/Under 38.5 Wins: Under
Key Offseason Move: Getting Tyreke Evans (yikes)
Burning Question: Can we please just get Tony Allen back on the team?
Bold Prediction: Marc Gasol will be sad all season, which will make me sad
Dallas Mavericks– There’s too much blue in the NBA. That’s my take. Too many teams with some shade of blue as their primary color. Time to switch it up a bit.
Anyway, Dirk is one of my favorite player ever (is it bad that I keep listing all these white guys as my favorite players? I think I’ll just avoid talking about who I like from now on), so seeing him finish out his career on bum teams is a real downer. Hopefully him and Dennis Smith, Jr. can roast some people offensively, because I’m not sure if this team is going to stop anybody all season. Rick Carlisle should help them win more games than they should, though.
Over/Under 35.5 Wins: Over
Key Offseason Move: Finally resigning Nerlens Noel after a bizarre contract negotiation
Burning Question: If they fail to make the playoffs again, will that be the reason that Mark Cuban is out? (A little Shark Tank joke because I give the people what they ask for)
Bold Prediction: Dirk will win All Star game MVP in my dreams
Los Angeles Lakers– Did you guys know that Lonzo Ball has that special passing gene that infects the whole team? Did you know he brings a special energy that lifts the team and will likely be enough to win the title this year? Did you know Lonzo is not only the best point guard in the NBA, but is also the best coach, and, soon enough, will be the best GM? If you didn’t, you’ll find out soon! Get ready to get hit in the head with the Lonzo-is-God storyline every time the Lakers win (or come close to winning) a game. It’s going to completely siphon all the fun out of the Ball family, and somehow it isn’t Lavar’s doing. Just the side effect of being on the Lakers/Yankees/Cowboys/Knicks. If you show any sign of promise whatsoever you’re the second coming automatically. How do you think we would up as Lonzo and Kyle Kuzma as the two favorites for MVP?
If you couldn’t tell, I don’t like the Lakers, and now I’m doubly rooting against them now that the Celtics get their pick if it falls between 2 and 5. Everyone always wants them to be good, but I’m fine with them being shitty, and they’re going to be shitty again this year, #sorrynotsorry. If Lonzo is afraid to play against De’Aaron Fox, what’s he going to do when Russell Westbrook comes to town?
Over/Under 32.5 Wins: Please Under
Key Offseason Move: Drafting Lavar Ball
Burning Question: Did you know Lonzo has a rare passing skill?
Bold Prediction: Lonzo will post the worst defensive rating of all time
Sacramento Kings– Kings are going to be terrible, but they’re going to be fun and terrible. I was about to say I like that they committed to just going young until I remembered they signing Zach Randolph and Vince Carter, who was born in 1977! And is still in the NBA! Crazy. I hope they don’t play those guys and George Hill too much, because I just want as much De’Aaron Fox as possible. I’m still on the Buddy Hield bandwagon, and the Labissiere-Cauley-Stein duo is Jay Bilas’s wet dream.
Over/Under 29 Wins: Under
Key Offseason Move: Getting George Hill
Burning Question: Is Sleep Train Arena the worst stadium name in history?
Bold Prediction: They’ll make a blockbuster move for malcontent and free-agent-to-be DeMarcus Cousins
Phoenix Suns– Someone needs to tell the purple teams it’s okay to have good teams. Sick of such a noble color being dragged down by these crappy teams.
Suns are trash. Devin Booker is good, but he’s not especially enjoyable to watch. Eric Bledsoe is good but fragile. Tyson Chandler is ollllllllllllllllllld. Everyone else is like 16.
Over/Under 28.5 Wins: Under
Key Offseason Move: ???
Burning Question: Why do they keep forcing weird black jerseys on us?
Bold Prediction: They’ll somehow get screwed in the lottery again
Gonna be a great season. Can’t wait.