2017-2018 NBA Season Preview: 10 Things to Watch
Welp. The National Basketball Association is back once again. After one of the most drama filled offseasons in recent history—in which a record number seven all-stars from the previous season dramatically switched teams via trade or free agency—the upcoming season will be sure to keep basketball junkies glued to the on-court theatrics. Below are 10 key storylines that will likely dominate the headlines throughout the season.
1. The Revamped Celtics: Pundits are almost unanimously onboard with the idea that, despite surprisingly retaining just four players from their 2016-2017 Eastern Conference Finals performance, the C’s got better! That’s unheard of. They’re all in on Head Coach Brad Stevens leading the way and banking on him to fit the new guys in seamlessly. They acquired Kyrie “Uncle Drew” Irving for one of the biggest breakout players from last season, Isaiah Thomas, in a blockbuster trade with Cleveland. They had one of the top free agency signings in former Jazz forward, Gordon Hayward, reuniting with his head coach from Butler when they made the national championship. They lost ‘3 & D guy’ Jae Crowder to Cleveland and also sent their best defensive player, Avery Bradley, to Detroit for stretch 4, Marcus Morris. The C’s look extremely dangerous in having drafted Duke standout, Jayson Tatum with the no. 3 overall pick and the expectation that last year’s no. 3 overall pick, Jaylen Brown will continue to get better. They are dangerous.
2. Bron and Wade reunited for one last hurrah in Cleveland: Peanut Butter and Jelly. LeBron & D-Wade. Reunited and it feels so good. After going 2 for 4 in the NBA Finals in South Beach, the two 2003 draft picks are back together for their 15th season after Chicago bought out Wade’s contract. James and Wade will both be free agents after the season. All eyes will be on James (as always), with rumors circulating that he has done what he set out to do in winning a championship for Cleveland, and now yearns to go out west to L.A. It’s hard to say if Wade and James have a legitimate shot of taking down the Warriors, but they’ve definitely improved. The additions of Derrick Rose—who is also notably on a one year contract (meaning he’s motivated to earn the next big contract, like both Wade & James!), Jeff Green, Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, and Jose Calderon make this team much deeper than it was a season ago, when their bench was forced to rely on guys like…Deron Williams (AHHHHH!!! – now that’s a name that should spook all Cavaliers fans).
3. The Balldashians in L.A. : Lonzo Ball has arrived, or more or less stayed, in L.A. after attending UCLA for a year. Their reality show, ‘Ball in the Family’ is set to unveil its second season. It will be interesting to watch this narrative play out; will Lonzo live up to the number 2 overall pick hype? Will LaVar Ball meddle in the blueprint that Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka are laying? Is Kyle Kuzma going to outshine Ball even though he was drafted much later? There’s always drama in L.A., but it’s extra peculiar this time around. They are an improved team but unlikely to sniff the playoffs just yet, especially when they’ll be forced to run through the gauntlet that is the Western Conference.
4. CP3 + James Harden in Houston: Chris Paul shocked the Clippers when he told them he would not be resigning an extension with Los Angeles and signing with the Houston Rockets instead, forcing the Clippers to acquire Sam Dekker, Patrick Beverley, and Montrezl Harrell in return. Paul has stated clearly and definitively that he wanted to play with Harden and that he mused about it throughout the 2016-2017 season. Harden was the runner up for MVP last year and adding another ball handler like Chris Paul only makes them irrefutably better. Rockets GM Daryl Morey is not shy in trying to acquire as much talent as possible or spend as much money as necessary. In the face of striking out on acquiring Carmelo Anthony from the Knicks, Morey will continue to be on the lookout for more talent to pair with Harden and Paul. Doubtful they challenge the Warriors, but could they lay groundwork for attracting and landing someone like LeBron next summer? (Pssst., there isn’t a state tax in Texas).
5. The NBA’s Worst Kept Secret: Charles Barkley recently stated that the worst part about the upcoming NBA season is that it’ll be tough and boring lying to ourselves that anybody but the Cavaliers and Warriors will make the NBA Finals next June. Sadly, he’s not really wrong. The likelihood of any other team usurping these two is slim to none. All signs point to yet another Dubs/Cavs matchup. 93 percent of all NBA GM’s polled said that the Warriors will win the NBA title. It will be interesting to see if the lack of parity at the top will hurt or help the NBA’s product. If you don’t want to see the Cavs or Dubs, your best bets, realistically, would be to root for the Spurs, Rockets, Celtics, or Thunder.
6. Will Russ be able to make it work with PG-13 & Melo? : Russ finally received some help this offseason, acquiring heralded all-stars Paul George from the Indiana Pacers and Carmelo Anthony from the lowly New York Knicks. Both trades were seen as heists for the Thunder, giving up middle of the road players like Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo, Doug McDermott, and Domantas Sabonis. Many have attributed Kevin Durant’s departure from the Thunder to Russell Westbrook’s inability to be a true point guard, he’s often regarded as your archetypical ‘shoot-first’ point guard. After winning the MVP last season and averaging a triple double (the first to do so since Oscar Robertson in 1961), he’s now equipped to do more than just make highlight reel plays and put up stats—they have a team that can win…BIG. It will be up to Russ to make it all work.
7. Warriors Set to Repeat: Seriously, who is going to stop these guys? They retained Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, and David West, added rebounding and defensive stalwart Jordan Bell from the University of Oregon in the draft, and shooter Nick Young. KD took a $9M paycut to save Owner Joe Lacob some luxury tax money in order to lock up Steph Curry to a 5yr/$201M contract. I guess the only thing that could hold them back is the idea of having to depend on minutes from the clown combination of JaVale McGee and Nick Young—trust me, I’m a Wizards fan. John Wall ran them out of town quicker than you can say Gilbert Arenas & gun control.
8. The Abyss that is the Eastern Conference: As stated earlier, it looks as though no one is going to step up and challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers & King James’ deep roster. After the Celtics, it’s questionable whether or not other teams will be competitive. The Wizards, Raptors, and Bucks would appear to be the next best three. John Wall and Bradley Beal continue to make leaps each season, but they have little bench help and Ian Mahinmi and Marcin Gortat as bigs. There’s another Halloween spook fest for you. The Raptors, like the Wizards, are led by their backcourt, but continually receive little to no help after that—but they’ve won 50 games in consecutive seasons (49 the year before that). The Bucks could make a leap behind coach Jason Kidd, the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rookie of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon.
9. Tank-a-palooza: After NBA Owners voted to change the NBA Draft Lottery rules—where the worst three teams will all have an equal 14% chance of acquiring the no. 1 overall pick—this season will officially be the last in which teams can actively ‘tank’ their season in order to acquire a top three pick. The previous percentages were roughly 25 for the team with the worst record, 19.9 for second worst, and 15.6 for the third worst team. So, all the teams who don’t really have a shot whatsoever; the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic—might want to look into playing as many young guys as possible and collecting those losses. This will be the last season you could actually influence your chances of accelerating the rebuild-process.
10. Sixers and T-Wolves Looking to Make Significant Jumps: There are plenty of teams who have made enough offseason moves to improve and be ready to compete. Minnesota added all-star Jimmy Butler, veteran journeyman & sixth man Jamal Crawford, and underrated point guard Jeff Teague to an otherwise solid tandem in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. They could make a leap to the 4 or 5 seed in the West, but even that is asking a lot from a team that has not made the playoffs since 2004. If you are a Sixers fan, you might want to make donations to the medical staff in order to preserve hope that Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz, and Ben Simmons stay injury-free. “The Process” looks like it’s finally taking shape and these guys could make some noise barring impacts on their health; J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Jeryd Bayless, and Dario Saric are all formidable role players. Bank on these two teams to make the biggest leaps from last season.