Hello fellow NBA ‘Cados! I am back for the now 3rd annual NBA preview. Oh boy what a year we had huh? Congrats to the Warriors for their fun finals run last year. This year I’m excited because we have a lot of teams trying to compete. Everyone has decided for now that the play-in is worth going for so there is a very limited list of truly tanking teams. Both conferences are crazy deep and the middle tier is going to be an absolute mess.
In the off-season most players stayed put in free agency after all that talk but the Jazz helped shake things up with the big trades. Lets run it down quickly shall we?
Bradley Beal: Re-signed! (I guess this was actually an extension)
Zach Lavine: Re-Signed!
James Harden: Re-Signed!
Deandre Ayton: Took a bit but was Re-Signed!
Jalen Brunson signed with the Knicks and extensions were signed by Jokic, Booker, Ja, Zion, Garland, Towns, and Lillard. The big names that actually switched teams occurred because the Jazz decided to blow it up and the Spurs decided to tank. With Gobert and Mitchell now mercifully separated (landing in Minnesota and Cleveland respectively) and Dejounte Murray joining Trae Young in Atlanta.
This has been an off season defined by drama and it mostly hasn’t been the fun kind I can joke about. KD demanded a trade and then rescinded that request so I’m sure everything is fine now. Deandre Ayton and the Suns have a very “staying together for the kids” kind of vibe. After I started writing this Draymond punched Jordan Poole at practice and we don’t yet know what the fallout of that will be.
The other drama is that the Suns are getting a new owner at some point as Robert Sarver has begun the process of selling the team after being suspended for a year and fined $10 million after an NBA investigation found he created a culture of sexism, racism, and misogyny.
In other news, at the time of this writing Celtics head coach Ime Udoka has also been suspended for the year after leading Boston to the finals last year. As I’m writing this details are sparse and vague which has led to a lot of speculation but not a lot of actual facts. I think it would be quite irresponsible for me to speculate as nothing more than a fan who is plugged in a bit more than average.
Finally, Miles Bridges is facing extremely serious allegations and charges of domestic violence and felony child abuse. The news broke right as free agency began and Bridges was set to quite probably get a max contract. He very well could find himself out of the league (but I know better).
It should go without saying but is so often forgotten in the sports world. The game that we enjoy as fans is far less important than the actual lives that have been affected by these situations.
Turning to actual basketball, there are logjams in both conferences as there are honestly more good teams than bad. The play in really has created an atmosphere (at least so far) where most teams seem compelled to try to compete even at the bottom of the conferences. There is just so much talent top to bottom and there are a lot of teams I really like yet not enough playoff spots. There’s maybe 4 or 5 teams truly not interested in winning and even they have some potential future stars on their rosters. Quite frankly it feels like injuries are what are gonna really make the difference in a very crowded top, 2nd, and even 3rd tier of teams.
Per usual, having established this format with no real reason to change it, I’m gonna give a very brief blurb on each team. Keep in mind this is coming purely from me as a fan and I can’t possibly keep up with every team. It’s just meant to be a short and fun quick hitter. I invite everyone to sound off in the comments on how they think their team will do and on anything they find interesting about the upcoming season.
At this point we should all understand that health may be the biggest factor when it comes to winning a championship. So rather than write that for every contending team just add a little “if they stay healthy” to every blurb. That being said there will be some specific health risks I’ll point out. Let’s get started in the East.
Oh boy. On the court they should in theory continue to be a strong contender for a title. The key addition of Malcolm Brogdon to go with their star duo of Tatum and Brown could end up what they need to get over the top if everyone can stay healthy. Horford turned the clock back last year but can he keep finding the fountain of youth? Gallinari would be an interesting addition but already had ACL surgery. Robert Williams also had knee surgery. None of that is nearly as meaningful as what is happening off the court though so we’ll see if that affects them. The Celtics are actually the current Vegas favorites for the title and while I do like their team I’d probably take the field.
Embiid continues to be denied his MVP and finals trip. This team got a shake up last year after trading for James Harden. Which version of James Harden they end up getting this year is perhaps their biggest question. This team does not want to waste any more of Embiid’s prime. If Harden can look like the Harden of his MVP caliber seasons but with a lighter workload this team will be a prime contender. Even if he’s something like 80% of that and leans on his passing he’ll be a great addition. If Tyrese Maxey finds yet another level it may not even matter. Reports are that Harden has come in locked in and in shape so here’s hoping.
This team has a lot of roughly the same caliber player with Pascal Siakam on probably year 3 of “Will be become a super star?” That question will now be equally focused on Scottie Barnes and I think the answer for Barnes is leaning yes. I really like the Raptors. I’m not sure they have a that superstar to carry them offensively when needed but they have a lot of very good players. They’ll be a very tough out in the East at the very least.
It feels wrong to even pontificate on this team given that there’s somehow a chance the entire roster or the entire front office changes at some point during the season. Here’s what I think though. IF Ben Simmons returns at the level that made him an All-NBA player, IF Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant, IF Kyrie gets off his bullshit long enough to actually play, and IF the coaching works and everyone stays healthy? They are going to be a very tough team to actually beat. It is equally possible that Kyrie takes half the year off and KD demands a trade again and Steve Nash gets fired 20 games into the season.
New York Knicks
After a fun and competitive year in the 2020-21 season the Knicks fell back to Earth pretty hard last year. Julius Randle didn’t look close to his form in his breakout season and Kemba didn’t work out at all. This year they have added Jalen Brunson and I’m sure that will go well because it’s the Knicks. They did extend RJ though.
The only meaningful change here that I remember is that they added Joe Ingles. Giannis is a force of nature and they’ll be competing with the top of the East yet again. Middleton will be missing some time early in the year however after his injury derailed their attempt to repeat in the playoffs last year.
Oh wow this team. They came on strong in the first half of the year but post All-Star break they had some very bad injury luck and couldn’t keep it up. The question is if they’re really as good as that initial surge. Personally, I think not. DeRozan is awesome and Lavine stuck around in free agency. Lonzo is already hurt though and his knee is seemingly fucked up in a way no knee has ever been fucked up. New addition Goran Dragic should help ease that loss and hopefully Patrick Williams comes back strong. This team is fun but the East is honestly stacked. Top 6 avoid a play in game and the Bulls will probably be right on that line.
Hey a team that actually made meaningful change! They were actually fun and pretty good last year before Jarrett Allen got hurt down the stretch. Then they went and added Donovan Mitchell to join Darius Garland in an all-star back court to go with Allen and Evan Mobley in an all-star front court. Kevin Love is still here! Caris Levert is the 5th or 6th best player on this roster. I like them. They actually feel similar to the Bulls of last year where it felt like a big move just to most likely stay in the middle of the East. But there’s a ton of potential here if they stay healthy. The Cavs are going to be one of the most anticipated teams of the year. I’m excited! Maybe Mitchell will even stay in front of someone on defense once or twice.
The year is 2036 and the Pacers are still “involved in talks” about moving Myles Turner.
Hey Cade Cunningham looks good right? They’re in the transition phase of turning over the keys to the franchise to Cade and possibly Jaden Ivey. Also Kemba Walker is here now. The more reps their young players get the better and for right now the more games they lose the better but I’m not sure anyone truly sucks this year.
You know who the Heat are. They’re gonna compete like hell and most likely land top 4 in the East. We’ll see if they can go beyond that. Kyle Lowry wasn’t that great for them last year and they paid Duncan Robinson who somehow then became unplayable. But they’re the Heat and they’ll be in the mix when it counts led by Jimmy Butler and coach Erik Spoelstra. Tyler Herro feels like he’s gonna be that next player who is always the next potential breakout superstar (he also just got paid). Udonis Haslem should keep “playing” until he’s 70.
This team cratered last year after reaching the Eastern Conference finals the year before, finishing 9th and being unceremoniously bounced by the Heat in 5 games. This year they’ll try to return to the form that made them a bit of a Cinderella. They were very streaky last year but were better post all-star break. They’ve added Dejounte Murray to pair with Trae Young and that should be interesting.
The Hornets are pretty much the same team as last year with the notable exception of restricted free agent Miles Bridges who I talked about above (Update: his qualifying offer actually was allowed to quietly expire). LaMelo Ball is still here and should continue to develop nicely. Oh the other Ball brother is here now too.
Bradley Beal signed an extension with a no trade clause and now he gets to hang out with Kristaps for a while.
Poor Markelle Fultz is already hurt again. I’m still rooting for him. By far the most important thing that happened to Orlando is adding Paolo Banchero in the draft. They could be a really fun young team and who develops and how quickly is going to determine their future.
The Jazz have blown it up after a playoff exit where everyone was clearly miserable. They did get back every draft pick ever for their trouble so it isn’t all bad. I’d expect them to move anyone else of value as well as the season goes on and they’ll be one of the few teams truly not playing for anything except lottery odds.
The Nuggets really need to just stay healthy so we can even see what this team can be. I don’t even remember what it’s like to watch Jamal Murray play basketball. As long as 2 time superstar MVP Nikola Jokic is here this team will get dragged to relevance no matter who else is on the court. Fully healthy though this team is talented as hell and in the running to be the top team in the West.
Alright another team that actually changed things up. Rudy Gobert is here to join Karl Anthony Towns and the Wolves now have true twin towers to go with budding star Anthony Edwards. D’Angelo Russell is also still here. I like that they actually did something in an off-season full of impact players standing pat. Anthony Edwards is about to just be given the green light.
Dame had a down year last year by his standards and was hobbled by some injuries. Now they’ve got Jeremi Grant, Anfernee Simons and added Gary Payton Jr to go with Lillard. The West is just so crowded again I’m not sure where they land. Hopefully Dame stays healthy.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder might be sneaking a little too close to being good. It is heartbreaking that rookie Chet Holmgren is already hurt. Meanwhile Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, and Lu Dort will continue to develop.
Better known for their drama off the court this off-season. Last years regular season champs will look to give it another run without a lot of changes to the roster but with a change at owner coming at some point in the near future. There is a real feeling that they got exposed a bit in the playoffs last year so we’ll see how they bounce back.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors won the championship last year and I think it may be my favorite of their recent titles. Interestingly at their peak they may actually be better this year. Klay should continue to re find his form. DiVincenzo should slot right in. We may even get some Kuminga and Wiseman minutes. There’s not a lot more to be said that NBA fans don’t already know. There could be some more Draymond drama though!
Los Angeles Clippers
Look it may be unrealistic but I love John Wall and choose to believe he will contribute. Hopefully Kawhi and Paul George get to actually play together and hopefully they’re both at full strength. This is a true title contender with everyone healthy.
Los Angeles Lakers
No idea. Either Lebron and AD are enough to compete or they both get hurt and they barely compete for a play in. Russ may or may not be on this team by the end of the year. There will be more than enough Lakers discourse to come.
The Kings are in their usual spot of trying to compete for a play in spot. In a crowded West I’m not sure where they land without some injury luck. I like Keegan Murray though and have always been a fan of Fox. I just don’t really see them being anything but a potential play in team.
Memphis made the leap last year before our eyes. Can they stay near the top of the West with seemingly every other team improving as well? We shall see. Jaren Jackson Jr needs to stay healthy but they have a fun and hard working roster and fancy themselves as true contenders.
Anyone else getting a similar feel to the Hawks of yesteryear? Led by a dominant star and seemingly overachieving in an unexpected conference finals run? We will see if the Mavs fall off like the Hawks did or if they can continue this success. Luka is going to be a top 3 MVP candidate for like 10 years so they’ll be good no matter what.
New Orleans Pelicans
Led by stalwart 2nd year superstars Jose Alvarado, Herb Jones, and Trey Murphy, the Pelicans will no doubt cruise to a finals appearance, smashing aside all challengers with assistance from Larry Nance Jr and Jonas Valancunias. Head coach Willie Green’s speeches will be broadcast nationally and monuments erected in his honor as a new world order forms around him. Oh also some dudes named Brandon, CJ, and Zion play here (stay healthy dammit).
San Antonio Spurs
Somehow the Spurs are one of the tanking teams this year and somehow Pop will get them to win more games than they should.
Houston is young and fun but they probably won’t actually be good. Watch Jalen Green if you get a chance though.
There are a lot of teams that consider themselves contenders and a lot of teams that are in a tier just below that this year. I’d probably say the Celtics, Sixers and Bucks feel like the top of the East while the West is led by the Warriors, Clippers, and Denver. I look forward to being completely wrong.
Phew, and that is that. Good luck to everyone! I’m sure there will be a lot of storylines cropping up and inevitably some mid season trades and even more drama to discuss. I should note that I wrote all of the above before Victor Wembanyama came to the states and looked ridiculous so I think every team that starts slow may just shift into tank mode now. Everyone be good to each other and enjoy the season!