Is This the Most Intriguing NBA Season…Ever?
In 12 months, the NBA has gone from bland to blossoming.
As I, along with many NBA fans and writers, wait with bated breath for the start of the season (17 days for those counting), something struck me.
Last year, I was not counting at all. This time last year, I was counting the days until the next offseason.
Laid out ahead of us was a snooze-worthy sixth months of basketball with scarce excitement unless you rooted for the Cleveland Cavaliers or Golden State Warriors.
Even then, all that confronted you was a waiting game until the playoffs started in June.
Many people were quick to label the boring year “Kevin Durant disease”, his move to Golden State creating a competitive imbalance in the Western Conference even greater than present in the Eastern Conference.
While Durant can be blamed for being the root of the problem, the real issue was the inability of other teams to react quickly enough to combat the newfound imbalance.
The rest of the League effectively threw their arms up and sighed, “well played”, content to simply ball their hardest to attempt to beat the Warriors rather than wheel and deal their way past them.
Spoiler alert: they couldn’t, but now, the story is different.
The NBA has changed a lot since the start of the decade. When LeBron James signed with the Miami Heat, two superstars on one team was considered wealthy, and three was damn well cheating.
With KD signing with GSW, two is now the minimum requirement, while three is recommended if Larry O’Brien is the goal.
General managers and basketball departments of the other 29 teams have effectively had 15 months to prepare for this upcoming moment: the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, when they would again come into contention.
For Western teams, pillaging their Eastern counterparts has been the dish of the day this offseason.
Paul Millsap has traded the Atlanta Hawks for the Denver Nuggets – hot for cold, as he pairs with Nikola Jokic in the frontcourt in Mile-High City to create one of the West’s most diverse power forward-center tandems.
With a relatively forlorn backcourt in Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, and one of Jamal Murray or Emmanuel Mudiay, there is room for improvement, but gains have certainly been made at the Pepsi Center.
After an MVP-worthy season at point guard from James Harden, the Houston Rockets wowed by adding another top-five PG – Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers.
Some scratched their heads, but all were intrigued, and general manager Daryl Morey doubled down, suggesting point guards were a commodity one could never have too many of.
His theory will be put to the test this season, and entertainingly so, with Mike D’Antoni leading forth a team operating under a philosophy where the point guard is the sacred cow.
Bolstered by significant depth, D’Antoni’s two-headed dragon will almost certainly get their chance to breathe fire at The Dubs during the playoffs, and we can’t wait.
The Los Angeles Lakers will also attract plenty of attention, and only half of it due to the loud mouth of LaVar Ball, father of number two overall pick Lonzo.
The younger Ball (and of course his father) will provide plenty of excitement in Los Angeles, who have also upgraded at center with Brook Lopez from the Brooklyn Nets.
Alongside other youngsters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle, there will be plenty of growing pains, especially on defence, but there is once again something to be excited about on the gold side of LA.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have once again rallied plenty of popular support before the season, and hopefully this time it will come without the inevitable disappointment.
They will roll out a mightily upgraded backcourt of Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler to now boast one of the best two-way, athletically inclined lineups in the League.
Will it be enough to finally break through into the top eight, and drop the tag of “most incompetent NBA franchise”? It looks so – if Tom Thibodeau’s men are still standing after 82 games.
While the New Orleans Pelicans did not break ground this offseason, they will go into 2017-18 with their first full year of an Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins frontcourt.
Make no mistake. This big man tandem has the chance to be the best ever, but the clock is already ticking to convince Cousins to stick around past this season.
With offseason additions such as Cliff Alexander, Perry Jones and Martell Webster, they’re not exactly making a slam dunk case just yet, so the proof will have to be in the on-court pudding, in New Orleans’ biggest season ever.
Perhaps the best storyline this offseason has been the remake of The Count of Monte Cristo orchestrated by the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have slowly but surely made their way back to contention in the wild wild West.
With Russell Westbrook playing Edmond Dantes, the reigning MVP is slowly building his wealth, adding Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to his lineup in a bold move to challenge his Fernand Mondego, played by Kevin Durant.
November 22 is the first of four scheduled encounters between the two this year, and fans will be hoping for more come the postseason.
Perhaps you’d thought I’d forgotten to mention the San Antonio Spurs. I haven’t. For five years I wrote the Texans off as “too old for this shit”, and to a certain extent, I was proven wrong each time.
No matter who suits up for San Antonio, if Gregg Popovich is on the bench, the silver and black will be back.
Of the Eastern teams? Many assume the departure of the Conference’s superstars to mean the departure of the Conference’s intrigue.
To the contrary, expect a power vacuum rarely seen before, offering the unprecedented prize of playoffs basketball to almost each of the 15 teams.
The Charlotte Hornets have noticed this, and responded by adding shooting guard Malik Monk in the draft and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard in a trade.
Perhaps “the class of the East” is a little premature, but expect a massive jump from a team that has not put a squad this good on the court since their first stint in purple and teal.
The Milwaukee Bucks may not have made any Charlotte-esque additions, but with a core surrounding Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker, further gains are to be made this year.
Behind head coach Jason Kidd, quickly proving himself one of the best talent developers in the League, “the Minnesota of the Eastern Conference” will draw plenty of interested viewers. Are they EC Finals smokies?
Were there a "most improved" award for a whole team, it may be won this year by the Philadelphia 76ers, who will debut not one, but two first overall picks in Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons.
Also returning from a season-ending injury is Joel Embiid, already thought by many to be not just one of the best players in the East, but the entire NBA.
It will be the h-word that defines this season for Philadelphia. If they can stay healthy, they may begin to show their initial prediction of a championship within four years to be not that crazy.
If they can’t, and their players again break down, the seeds of doubt that Sam Hinkie may have died for nothing will be sewn.
With a depleted Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards will again feature prominently in playoffs factoring.
Both teams return almost their entire roster, and will fancy their chances to return to the Conference Finals.
However the collective eyes of the East will be on Cleveland and the Boston Celtics.
After renewing their rivalry in the Conference Finals last year, a heated edge was added to the contention when Kyrie Irving defected from The Forest City to The City on a Hill, stepping out of James’ shadow.
Going back the other way was Boston’s spiritual and figurative leader, Isaiah Thomas, who was far less upbeat about the switch than the man he is replacing.
The two teams are predicted to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, and one struggles to remember a series that will evoke as much emotion.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves though – six months ahead – and that’s the beauty of the East. The Conference is anyone’s for the taking, and that makes for enthralling basketball.