Another NBA season is upon us, and after the craziest offseason in recent memory, it’s finally time to see how all of that wheeling and dealing will translate onto the court. Here at The Bonus Headquarters, I’ve purchased NBA League Pass, my first full season with it. There was no way I could go without it after the ruckus of this summer, where instead of deciding to wait out the Warriors, several teams went all in, building super teams, or potential super teams, in an attempt to dethrone them. Furthermore, I am going to do my damnedest to keep this lousy blog active, hopefully by posting on a daily basis. An ambitious goal indeed. We’ll see how it goes…
Speaking of seeing how things go, that’s what the teams in this league will be doing. Many of them find themselves implementing the drastic changes they made over the offseason, some of them geared towards title contention, while others have pushed the reset button. Then there’s the young teams trying to lay the path towards the future, while others are still wandering through the wilderness, caught somewhere in the middle between rebuilding, and the 8th seed in their conference.
With the season starting tomorrow, it’s time to put our predictions out there. Will they come to fruition, or will they be horrendously embarrassing? Only time will tell, so let’s get started. Today we’ll go through the Western Conference, and tomorrow, the East. Also, to commemorate my first full season as a proud NBA League Pass subscriber, I’m going to cite a reason to watch each team. Some might be harder than others.
THE WESTERN CONFERENCE DREGS
15. Phoenix Suns (21-61)
The Suns need to fully commit to their youth movement, and they’re almost there, although veterans like Jared Dudley and Tyson Chandler are still on the team, two players that should garner trade interest from playoff contenders. Then there’s Eric Bledsoe, the most talented player on the roster. He’s just enough older than their young core where he might also find himself traded as the Suns search for more assets to build upon. As for their young core, they’ve got 70-point scorer Devin Booker, who is about to turn 21, and rookie Josh Jackson. This team still has a long way to go, and they should be in for another crummy season, which should land them another high draft pick as they continue to try and rebuild themselves. Hopefully they don’t shut their healthy players down for vast chunks of the season like they did last year to Chandler and Bledsoe. If you’re not going to play them, just trade them to a team that will, please.
Reasons to Watch: Devin Booker might score 70 points again.
14. Sacramento Kings (29-53)
The Kings are another team starting over after they finally traded disgruntled franchise player DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans last season. With a vast array of young talent, they’re primed for several more seasons of missing the playoffs and developing/gathering young talent. That’s why it was a little strange that they also added veterans like Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and George Hill in the offseason. Three guys who might do pesky things like helping to actually win games. However, they’ll impart valuable wisdom unto the youngsters, and could become decent trade chips if they find a contender who might want to give up something for a extra help during the playoff run.
Reasons to Watch: I’m a sucker for Zach Randolph’s old-school post game. 40 year old Vince Carter might dunk, one or two of their youngsters might be good.
13. Los Angeles Lakers (34-48)
The Lakers finally might be turning the corner towards a brighter future. Lonzo Ball is in town, along with his brash father, to run the show, and he’s probably actually going to be a good player, and so easy to root against! He’s exactly the kind of person I want to be the Lakers best player. He’s already been a little overshadowed by fellow rookie Kyle Kuzma, acquired along with Brook Lopez from the Nets. Kuzma’s stellar preseason has activated the full ridiculousness of the Lakers hype machine. With these players joining an already solid collection of young players (Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarskon, Larry Nance Jr), and with some helpful veterans in place (Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Andrew Bogut, Luol Deng, assuming they let him play), the Lakers won’t be good, but they’ll be competent, and that’s the sort of thing they need to entice the two superstars they clearly intend on signing next summer.
Reasons to Watch: Aside from rooting against them (if you’re a Celtics fan), there’s a lot of intriguing young players here with bright futures. Whether or not those futures will be in Los Angeles, or elsewhere after they shed all their salaries to carve out cap space next summer, remains to be seen.
THE WESTERN CONFERENCE WILDERNESS
12. New Orleans Pelicans (35-47)
We’ve entered the toughest part of the conference to predict. Any of the next several teams could win between 35-45 games, it seems, so I have to rely on my basketball instincts, and hope for the best, which means the preview’s biggest embarrassments will stem from this group of teams. One thing my basketball instincts tell me is that I do not trust the Pelicans. They’re automatically intriguing with their front court pairing of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, but the rest of the squad leaves a lot to be desired. Jrue Holiday is a solid point guard, but he’ll be paired in the backcourt with Rajon Rondo, who doesn’t provide a lot of shooting, needs the ball in his hands a lot to be effective, doesn’t always decide to care, and is also out with a sports hernia. The rest of the gang bring a similar lack of shooting, or in Jordan Crawford’s case, way too much shooting. I expect a lot of big nights from Cousins and Davis, and not much else. That’s not enough to make the playoffs in a conference as stacked as the West.
Reasons to Watch: Enjoy the Davis/Cousins duo while it lasts. Cousins can be a free agent at the end of the season, and if things go awry, one of them could be traded if the Pelicans decide to give up on the experiment.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (37-45)
This one hurts. I’ve loved the Grit and Grind Grizzlies, but Tony Allen and Zach Randolph have left town, yet the Grizzlies still approach the game with the same gritty mentality. The problem is, the personnel beyond the always great Marc Gasol and Mike Conley is lacking. Presumed third banana Chandler Parsons is a human injury report, and aside from maybe Tyreke Evans (another oft-injured soul), the rest of the roster doesn’t contain many players who should be in a starting lineup. Nevertheless, they’ll always show up to play, and they’ll be a pain in the ass, but I think their days in the playoffs are done for now.
Reasons to Watch: Marc Gasol and Mike Conley leading this noble squad against insurmountable odds each night.
As I am writing this, I saw the following tweet!
It looks like Chandler Parsons’ “presumed third banana” days are actually over, though, if he can stay healthy, and show flashes of his pre-injury performance, he could be a helpful bench player this season.
10. Dallas Mavericks (39-43)
Another team that’s past its playoff years, but will always put up a worthy fight, is the Dallas Mavericks. This season, they come in with one of the more exciting rookies, point guard Dennis Smith Jr, who should be in the conversation for Rookie of the Year. It’ll be interesting to see how they use Nerlens Noel, who turned down a four year, 70 million dollar contract from them, became a restricted free agent, then sat around all summer as nobody else came calling, eventually having to come crawling back for the 4.1 million dollar, one year qualifying offer. Hilarious. On top of that, he might not even start, as the Mavs might instead start Dirk Nowitzki at center. Nevertheless, this will be a solid squad, with or without Noel starting. Having Dirk start at center will be detrimental to their defense, but coach Rick Carlisle will ensure that the offense will be a finely tuned machine.
Reasons to Watch: Dirk Nowitzki could move up to fifth place on the NBA’s all time scoring list. It could also be his final season, so get your Dirk viewing in while you can. Dennis Smith Jr is an exciting youngster, Harrison Barnes should be better as he enters year two of being the number one guy, Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrel’s scoring bursts. There’s a lot to enjoy with here. Who doesn’t like the Mavs anyway?
9. Utah Jazz (41-41)
The poor Utah Jazz. They were served a crushing blow when their leading scorer, Gordon Hayward, left for the Celtics, leaving the Jazz without the focal point of their offense. They might want to take a page out of the Grizzlies old playbook, and grit and grind their way through the season. The trouble there is, while the rest of the team is suitable to that approach, they went and traded for Ricky Rubio, a fast paced, razzle dazzle point guard. It will be intriguing to see if Rubio can adapt to a slower pace, or if the Jazz can run with his faster style of play. All is not lost. Rudy Gobert is one of the finest defensive anchors in the league, and should receive a lot of lobs from Rubio. Derrick Favors, likely back in the starting lineup, will have a chance to prove himself, and play for a new contract. There’s a lot of steady, solid players here, and they have a lot of depth. The only problem is, at the end of the day, you still need to put the ball in the basket, and whether or not they have enough firepower is questionable, though perhaps Rodney Hood, if he remains healthy, can approach Hayward’s scoring numbers.
Reasons to Watch: Watching this team fight for a return to the playoffs all year should be reason enough. They also have a potential Rookie of the Year candidate in Donavan Mitchell, stolen in a draft day trade with the Nuggets. There’s an awesome motley crew of savvy players on the Jazz. Joe Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Thabo Sefalosha and Joe Ingles, to name a few. They won’t be flashy, they won’t be high scoring, but if you appreciate watching a team that just works well together, look no further than the Jazz.
8. Los Angeles Clippers (44-38)
The greatest era in Clippers history came to an end when they traded Chris Paul to the Rockets. Now, they’ve committed to Blake Griffin, giving him a big contract extension. They’ve also brought in Danilo Gallinari, forming an intriguing front court of him, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The only problem is, Griffin and Gallinari are constant injury threats. Any significant time missed by one, or both of them, could definitely submarine their season, and since this is the Clippers, this will almost certainly happen. Also no longer in LA is JJ Redick, who signed with the 76ers, and took his fine three point shooting with him. Patrick Beverly will have the unenviable position of having to replace Chris Paul, but he’ll instill a scrappiness that the Clippers haven’t had in a long time, and that they’ll sorely need now that their star power has diminished. They got some sold role players out of the Chris Paul trade, so there is some depth here, and Lou Williams is now on the bench to replace imitate the scoring left behind from the also departed Jamal Crawford. However, after missing just four games in his first four seasons (not counting the season he was drafted, lost to injury), Blake Griffin has missed 83 over the past three seasons, while Gallinari has played in 70+ games just twice over the course of his career. There’s a lot riding on the health of those two players. Too much, if you ask me.
Reasons to Watch: …but if they can stay healthy, this will be a fun team to watch. Beverly, and the others they got in the trade with Houston (Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell) bring an aforementioned scrappiness that I don’t think the Clippers have had in awhile. European rookie Milos Teodosic has already turned heads with his ridiculous preseason passing, and if there’s one thing fans of the NBA can all agree on, it’s that ridiculous passes are often. It will be fun to see Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the receiving end.
7. Denver Nuggets (46-36)
Once the Nuggets finally figured out what they were doing last season, they realized they had one of the league’s best offenses, orchestrated by center Nikola Jokic. In the offseason, they signed Paul Millsap, who should be the perfect power forward to put alongside Jokic. The rest of the roster is littered with intriguing young players, and if one of them makes a leap (Gary Harris, perhaps?), the Nuggets could threaten to become a real force in the Western Conference. They still have a ways to go, and some things to figure out. What are they going to do with Kenneth Faried, who insists he is a starter, but finds himself relegated to the bench by Millsap’s arrival, and potentially even behind Mason Plumlee on the depth chart that is clogged with forwards. Faried’s quotes make it seem like he’s not trying to have it.
“I’ll just put it out there for everybody. I’m not a bench player. I’ve been saying that for the longest. I’m a starter…Yes, that’s me. One hundred percent, that’s been my whole life. And I’m going to fight for a starting position. I’m just not going to lay down and let somebody take it.”
But, there’s more!
“There are 29 other teams. If this team doesn’t want, or respect me enough, to play me the minutes that I think I deserve to play, then I understand that. Hey, there’s 29 others. Maybe I’ll go somewhere else and do what I need to do there.”
Also, they have a weakness at point guard, unless the young Emmanuel Mudiay can improve after a shaky start. Needless to say, this team could stand to make a trade.
Reasons to Watch: If you’re a fan of drama. Also, Nikola Jokic is poised to become one of the next big stars of the league, so get on board with him as quick as you can.
6. Portland Trail Blazers (48-34)
After acquiring Jusuf Nurkic from the Nuggets, the Blazers went 14-5 to close out the season and salvaged a playoff spot. Nurkic averaged 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds, giving Portland a real third banana behind their prolific backcourt tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The question is, can Nurkic keep it up for an entire season, and if so, just how good will the Blazers be? They’re returning roughly the same squad as they closed out last season with, and while I think they’re going to not quite reach the heights of that 14-5 finish (a pace that would put them around 60 wins over the course of an entire season), I think they’re in for a good year, although, it’s off to a funny start, with McCollum suspended for opening night for leaving the bench during a preseason altercation.
Reasons to Watch: A full season of one of the highest scoring backcourts combined with a gigantic Bosnian center wreaking havoc. Also, Evan Turner sounds kind of like Meatwad from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, so be on the lookout for any interviews with him during broadcasts.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves (50-32)
The Seattle Supersonics have made the playoffs more recently than the Minnesota Timberwolves have (2005). I am going to miss being able to tell people that. The Timberwolves had one of the splashiest offseasons, trading for Jimmy Butler, bringing him in to join Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. This year will answer a lot of questions about Butler, namely, is he the kind of player that you can bring in and transform your team to a playoff contender. I am leaning towards yes, but even as I’m writing this, I feel like 50 wins might be a little high. It remains to be seen. Other important offseason additions were Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford. There’s certainly a lot of added experience in Minnesota, and with the continued improvement of Towns and Wiggins, this could become quite a team. Either way, it’s nice to see some actual expectations emanating out of Minnesota, though, they could stand to add a little more depth to their top-heavy roster.
Reasons to Watch: Butler, Towns and Wiggins is quite a big three, and of course, the sideline antics of coach Tom Thibodeau are always worth tuning in to.
THE WESTERN CONFERENCE ELITE
4. San Antonio Spurs (52-30)
Speaking of top-heavy, we’ve made it to the top of the Western Conference. I have a rule: always pencil the Spurs in for at least 55 wins, and I was fully willing to do so again this season, but the news about Kawhi Leonard’s injured quad is scaring me off a bit. He’s out for opening night, and ominously, there is no timetable for his return. Is it standard Spurs cautiousness, or something worse? Even the mighty Spurs can’t last too long without him, with their aging core. Tony Parker himself won’t be back until November as he recovers from his quad injury, suffered in the playoffs. Manu Ginobili is 40, Pau Gasol is 37. Their only big offseason addition, Rudy Gay, is also coming off a season ending injury. With Parker out to start the year, and if Leonard misses more than a few games early on, they are going to need excellent starts from LaMarcus Aldridge, who has at times struggled to fit into his role on the Spurs, and Gay. For the first time in a long time, actual uncertainty is in the air around the Spurs.
Reasons to Watch: They’ll still win at least 50 games, you know they will. Gregg Popovich’s grouchy coach interviews are always worth the price of admission.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (56-26)
The Thunder found themselves at the center of the offseason fun, swooping in to trade for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, teaming them up with the reigning league MVP, Russell Westbrook. What did you do this summer?
That is a lot of firepower, and as we’ve said before here on The Bonus, if Carmelo Anthony can tap into the Olympic version of himself, it could be a legendary year for the Thunder. It probably will be anyway. The only cause for concern is their depth. Beyond a great starting five of Steven Adams, Melo, Paul George, Andre Roberson and Westbrook, the bench is a little thin. Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton were a couple of nice additions, and Jeremi Grant sure can thrown down a mean dunk, but they’re going to be relying heavily on the starters this year. Still though, that starting five should be able to carry the burden.
Reasons to Watch: If you need me to explain the reasons to watch this team, you’re probably not into basketball, and if that’s the case, why have you been reading this?
2. Houston Rockets (59-23)
The Rockets also participated in the summer fun, trading for Chris Paul and teaming him up with James Harden for one hell of a backcourt pairing. There could be some big kinks to work out here, as both players thrive when they dominate the ball handling, and Paul can certainly get ornery, but you have to think that the two of them will be able to come to an understanding, and when they do, it’s going to be fun to watch. Their trademark three point shooting will still surround the perimeter, with Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon patrolling the three point line, awaiting passes zipped their way from Harden and Paul. Clint Capela provides Paul with a new lob partner, and Ariza, PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute are on hand to harass opponents with tough defense on the wings. It’ll be a big year in Houston, particularly for Chris Paul. If he can’t finally make it to the Conference Finals (let alone the NBA Finals), with this squad, it will only embolden rabble-rousers and naysayers, myself included, that like to give him demerits for never making it past the second round.
Reasons to Watch: It’s become a 3 & D league, and this team has taken that to heart. If you like the modern NBA, these guys will be a must watch on a nightly basis.
1. Golden State Warriors (75-7)
I just really want a team to go 75-7 someday. Once again, the Warriors are the team that everyone’s chasing. The offseason chaos was a direct result of other teams doing whatever they think they can to have a puncher’s chance against this juggernaut. It still might not matter, because these guys got even better themselves, adding Omri Casspi and Nick Young, their latest reclamation project after rehabilitating JaVale McGee into a useful NBA player. No team has more weapons, and their chemistry should be even better this season, with a full year of Kevin Durant already under their belt. It’s practically unfair.
Reasons to Watch: You appreciate NBA history and want to be able to tell your grandkids about watching these guys someday. You’re rooting against them and want to see them toppled. You generally enjoy basketball.
That does it for the West. Tune in tomorrow for the Eastern Conference Preview, and the first of what I hope will be daily morning reports right here on The Bonus.