1. Will The San Antonio Spurs Repeat?
The Spurs have been the most quietly dominant team in NBA history. Six NBA Titles, five of them in the last eleven years. Seven Western Conference Titles, seventeen straight NBA Playoff appearances (franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan has been there for all of them), playoff appearances in twenty four out of the past twenty five seasons. Heck, this franchise has only missed the playoffs four times since it joined the NBA in 1976. Yet, there’s one thing that the Spurs haven’t accomplished that the Lakers and Celtics (and even the Pistons and Heatles) of the world haven’t; winning Back to Back Championships.
Despite all of the offseason hype about LeBron’s return (and Kevin Love’s arrival) to Cleveland, you still have to consider the San Antonio Spurs to be the odds on favorites for the NBA Title. General Manager RC Buford and head coach Gregg Popovich’s modus operandi has long been “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” and The Spurs have done little to alter the chemistry. Why should they? They’re coming off a Championship as well as two straight Finals Appearances (don’t forget that the Spurs were a few catastrophic seconds away from becoming NBA Champions in 2013, although I’m sure San Antonio fans would like to). While I think age has somewhat caught up to San Antone’s old guard of Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker, San Antonio’s done a brilliant job of supplanting them with a new set of similar, workmanlike, effective stars. Kawahi Leonard should carry the franchise into the second half of the decade and beyond, meaning it’s a good time to be a Spurs fan. Then again, there’s been very few times where it hasn’t been in the last twenty years!
While I don’t think the road will be as easy as last season (where the Spurs dominated in the playoffs outside of a tough series against the Mavericks in the first round and a hiccup against the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals), you still have to consider the Spurs the best team in the league coming into the 2014-15 season.
2. LeBron James returns to Cleveland!
I’m not sure if you heard this during the summer but LeBron James re-signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers in a minor offseason transaction.
Well, I guess ESPN made a fairly big deal out of this. The City of Cleveland has been salivating for a championship for over fifty years now and the return of King James and the arrival of All-Star Center Kevin Love (plus Kyrie Irving signing a five year, $90 million extension) has visions of titles dancing in Cavs fan’s heads. While Cleveland will be the most exciting team in the league, I’m not ready to declare the Cavaliers the 2015 NBA Champions. Heck, I’m not sure if I’m ready to declare them the 2015 Eastern Conference Champions. There will be some growing pains with this roster and who knows how the squad will adapt to rookie coach David Blatt’s Princeton style offense. Plus, a Chicago Bulls squad (who we’ll get to in a little bit) has title hopes of their own and the Washington Wizards are ready to take the next step. The Eastern Conference, as a whole, has improved marginally this season. It’s not the Beastern Conference yet but it’s no longer the Leastern Conference, either. I think it’s possible if not probable that no sub .500 team will make the playoffs in the conference. Progress! The 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers will be a very, very good team perhaps even great but the best? Well, the games are played on the court and not on roster sheets. One thing is for certain, it’s a lot better to have your hopes pinned to LeBron James and Kevin Love than Jarrett Jack and Andrew Bynum.
3. Kobe Bryant is back!
Since 2012, everything that could go wrong for the Los Angeles Lakers has gone wrong. This preseason has been particularly traumatic. The $9.7 Million Man Steve Nash is out for the season and is likely done for good. “Swaggy P” Nick Young is out for at least the first few weeks of the season after tearing a thumb ligament. Meanwhile, after missing almost all of last season, Kobe has returned and is acting very Kobe Bryant like in the preseason. He semi-bragged about Swaggy P’s torn thumb being a result of Swag unsuccessfully stealing the ball from Kobe in practice, and told rookie Julius Randle “not to fuck it up”. Kobe’s swagger and arrogance is still there, but are the skills? Well, I think even Kobe would admit he’s nearing the end of his historic career. But judging by his reaction to ESPN ranking him as the 40th Best Player in the league, Kobe still thinks he’s an alpha dog and the Lakers will certainly need him to play like it’s 2007 if they want to be reasonably successful this season.
It seems like most of the 2014-15 L.A. Lakers roster was assembled via Battlebowl selection. I don’t think the Lakers will be one of the worst teams in the League or even the Western Conference (I think they’re better than the putrid Utah Jazz and likely better than the rebuilding Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves) but I think a whole hell of a lot would have to go right for them to go .500 this season, let alone sniff the Playoffs. I think 30 to 35 wins is a reasonably optimistic prediction for the Lakers this season. 25 to 30 is probably the reality.
Kobe Bryant has survived and thrived in rebuilding seasons before but how much more can he put up with before he decides he’s too old for this shit. The future for the Lakers is very uncertain. If you’re a Lakers fan this season, my advice is to hope for the best but expect the worst.
And hey, you’ve got the Clippers in town. It’s not the Northeast where temporarily switching allegiances is a fate worse than death. The “other” team in the Staples Center promises to be a top contender in the West and in my mind, could be the biggest threat to the Spurs. With a new owner that’s not a racist and one of the best coaches and the best point guard in the League, it’s not unreasonable to think the Clippers could capture the #1 seed in the West (remember Pop will give Duncan, Manu, and TP plenty of rest during the regular season). So watch those guys instead, go to the beach, take a hike. I’ll be shoveling snow while watching the Celtics blow twelve point fourth quarter leads to the Raptors.
4. D-Rose and The Bulls are back…we think!
After missing most of the last two seasons, Derek Rose is back…we hope. D-Rose had an underwhelming but injury free run for Team USA in the 2014 FIBA World Cup but has shined at moments in the preseason. Even if D-Rose is only at 80% of his pre-injury level of play, I think the Bulls are still contenders for the NBA Title this year. Hell, without D-Rose last year, the Bulls have grinded it out to 45 wins and 48 wins respectively in the past two seasons. With Rose back at point guard and Pau Gasol coming to Chicago, I think they’re the very slight favorite to be the #1 seed in the East. IF Rose can stay healthy that is. Hopefully. It’s always terrible to see a great cutdown in their prime and I don’t know if we’ll ever see Rose play like he did in 2011. Hopefully, he has plenty more good seasons in him left in the tank. The Bulls will need it if they want to make their first NBA Finals appearance in seventeen years.
5. Russell Westbrook (temporarily) leads the Oklahoma City Thunder
After a second straight disappointing playoff run and a lackluster offseason, Oklahoma City Thunder fans were given more bad news when they learned that Kevin Durant would be out for six to eight weeks on October 11th. KD’s sidekick Russell Westbrook will get a shot at being the leading man for OKC in the first few weeks of the ’14-’15 NBA season. Perhaps it’s a vision of the future. Kevin Durant’s contract expires at the end of the 2015-16 season and speculation is running rampant that perhaps Durant will depart the Sooner State. It’s undeniable that the Thunder’s front office’s spendthrift ways have hindered the team greatly. Even without KD for the first month, I expect the Oklahoma City Thunder to win over 50 games this season and win the Northwest Division. The Thunder’s schedule is relatively easy in October/November and barring catastrophe, I think they’ll go above .500 with relative ease and put themselves in OK position before Durant returns. However, I just don’t see the Thunder getting past the Western Conference Finals this year, barring a miracle with the roster as it is. Unless the Thunder front office makes a big mo—-BWAHAHAHAHAHA!
6. Will Rondo be Gondo from Boston?
Speaking of midseason moves, all of the hoops talk here in New England revolves around Celtics Captain Rajon Rondo and whether or not he will stay in Beantown. There are so many variables here. First, Rondo only played in 30 games last year (and 38 the year before). Rondo claimed he was healthier than ever…then he missed the preseason with a hand injury. Right now, I just don’t know about Rondo. Anybody’s guess is a good as mine. I think GM Danny Ainge has been very good at not jumping the gun with the decision to trade Rondo. I don’t think he wants to trade him for seventy five cents on the dollar like he did with Paul Pierce & Kevin Garnett last summer. I think there’s no harm in seeing how things play out for the first few months of the season before pulling the trigger on a trade. I think Ainge will try to trade everybody but Rondo (Jeff Green is another trade rumor favorite in Boston) before he pulls the trigger on a trade involving the Celtics captain. Hey, if the Celtics start off well then maybe…hey, stop laughing! A man can dream…
7. Which New York team will make the playoffs? Will any of them?
The New York Knicks would love to have Rajon Rondo while the Brooklyn Nets are hoping that Deron Williams isn’t as injury ridden as Rondo. Both NYC teams had tumultuous offseasons that involved coaching changes- the Knicks’ changing of the guard was hardly a surprise. Phil Jackson has been rumored to be taking control of the wheel for the Knickerbockers basketball club for years if not decades. It’s unclear how freshly retired from the court, first year head coach Derek Fisher will do with the clipboard but hopefully, things go better for the Knicks in that situation than they did for the Nets last year. Jason Kidd unsuccessfully attempted a coup d’etat to take complete control over the franchise and was sent packing to Milwaukee. In his place as head coach is Lionel Hollins, who coached the Memphis Grizzlies to a cameo in the Western Conference Finals two years ago before getting unceremoniously fired.
Expectations are tempered for both squads at the beginning of this season compared to last season’s preseason expectations. The Knicks and Nets are no longer expected to challenge for the Eastern Conference Championship as they were last year. They’re just expected to be respectable. I imagine Brooklyn will finish with around the same record as they did last year (44-38) and finish 2nd in the Atlantic Division and 6th 0r 7th in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks will be marginally better and sniff .500 but I think Carmelo and co. will still be on the outside looking in during playoff time.
8. How bad is it for the Indiana Pacers?
The Indiana Pacers’ offseason made the Los Angeles Lakers offseason look like the Cleveland Cavaliers. What a difference a year makes. At the beginning of 2014, the Indiana Pacers were sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference and looked like they would finally topple the Miami Heat to make their first NBA Finals since 2000. Then the midseason trade for Evan Turner was a bust, Roy Hibbert had a confoundingly disappointing playoffs, and the Pacers were once again beaten by the Heat in the playoffs. Then, bad went to worse this offseason when Paul George suffered a freak, catastrophic, and most likely, season ending injury during an intersquad scrimmage with the USA Basketball team in Las Vegas. To rub salt on the wound, Lance Stephenson signed with the Charlotte Hornets.
There’s a few mindsets you can take here. One is that this is a blessing in disguise. Remember when David Robinson went down with broken foot during the 1996-97 season and The San Antonio Spurs instantly went from title contenders to a 62 loss team? Well, the Spurs ended up with a young power forward named Tim Duncan in the draft the next year and a dynasty was born. Now, I’m not saying that will happen to the Pacers but this might provide a chance to reload that might not have happened if not for the misfortunes off the season.
That being said it’s hard to imagine competitors like Larry Bird and Frank Vogel channeling Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown. But David West, George Hill, and even possibly low-risk, high reward offseason signing Rodney Stuckey all starting the season on the sidelines with Paul George. It’s possible that Roy Hibbert will have a career year and Stuckey, West, and George Hill will all step up in leading roles but it’s hard to imagine things getting much better. Like every team in the bottom of the East, The Pacers are resting their futures on a lot of “Ifs and Buts” and the NBA Title dreams have been temporarily sidelined. For now, they’re stuck playing the waiting game…
Coming Soon In Part Two, we discuss…
Will the Philadelphia 76ers be the worst team in NBA history?
The Southeast Will Rise Again! Charlotte are Hornets again! Washington learns about The Truth and The Heat Move On!
Jason Kidd goes to to Milwaukee! Stan Van Gundy Goes to Detroit!
Who is in and who is out in the Western Conference Playoffs!
The Race for Rookie of the Year
Who is this year’s Phoenix Suns? How does this year’s Phoenix Suns do?
Prediction on Who Will Win It All!