Welcome to South Shore Ave’s NBA Season Preview. Today on Part 1 we are going to tackle the Western Conference, while tomorrow we’ll discuss the Eastern Conference. Simple enough right? Well, let’s get into it then…
Can The Spurs 3-Peat this season?
I know, I know, they didn’t repeat last year, but if not for Ray Allen at the end of Game 6 in 2013, you wouldn’t have been looking at this question like it had a typo in it. Honestly though, we should be talking about a 3-Peat scenario & not a repeat one. This has been the best team in the NBA the last two years regardless of Miami basically stealing a title from them two seasons ago, & nothing has changed now. The Spurs came into the season with the best chance to repeat in comparison to the other four titles. In Gregg Popovich, they have the best culture in the NBA (& possibly team sports in North America) that gets the very best out of its young players & veterans. Like Manu Ginobli & Tony Parker before him, I expect Kawhi Leonard to officially take the mantle as the best player on the Spurs. After the performance he put on during the last three Finals games last season which ended with him being one of the youngest players in NBA history to win Finals MVP, you can say he’s ready. Let’s hope he can bring it on a consistent basis every night, because if he does, it’ll be even harder to bring the Spurs down. Add rookie Kyle Anderson to the mix with his skill level & IQ (as well as his young legs), I can see the Spurs winning yet another 60+ games in the regular season. It almost isn’t fair.
As far as Tim Duncan is concerned, I can actually see him playing for two more seasons. The fire that he played with in the playoffs the last two years is one reason, but here’s another. He has never won back-to-back titles in his career. I mean, who’s he to complain? He’s got 5! Between 2003 – 2007 he won 3 of those titles, but Derek Fisher’s “0.4 jumper” in the 2nd round of the 2004 playoffs & Dirk Nowitzi’s “And-1” in the same round two years later, halted a legitimate chance for him & the Spurs to 3-peat. It would be sweet to close the chapter on his career with a chance to repeat or possibly 3-peat by 2016; and the way the team is set up barring injuries, he has a real chance. We haven’t seen the last of Duncan yet.
“Pass It to Russ”
No one loves that classic episode of Will Smith leading Bel Air Prep to glory more than me, especially when the coach keeps telling the players, “Pass it to Smith. You know what to do” & doling out laps & push ups to any of his players questioning his method of said success. I can’t even say that this offense without Kevin Durant is going to be in the same scenario with Russell Westbrook, because who’s going to pass the ball to Westbrook when he’s the point guard handling the ball 80% of the time anyway??? He’ll only be passing to the basket. Potentially, Westbrook could be the first 6’3″ & under guard to lead the league in field goal attempts since Allen Iverson. My only question is at what point in the season will Serge Ibaka pull a Carlton & literally rip the ball out of Westbrook’s hands to get off his own shot? Nov 8th? 15th?
Seriously though, without Durant, it’s gonna be some bumpy times on Oklahoma City trusting Westbrook to make others better until KD gets back. I still expect them to get around the neighborhood of 55 wins but in the West, that could result in a 4th or 5th seed. I’m actually on the side that they will not win a title before Durant becomes a free agent for two reasons:
- The Thunder has not done a good enough job developing the young talent surrounding Durant & Westbrook since they traded James Harden. The pieces that they have picked up in Perry Jones III & Jeremy Lamb haven’t done anything up to par. Yeah, they might be young, but watching them in the pre-season thus far, it still looks like not much has changed. On the flip side, Steven Adams needs to start immediately. Kendrick Perkins got brought in for his veteran presence & championship know-how at a time that OKC needed it, but that was almost 4 years ago. That KD/Russ/Ibaka core are becoming vets now, it’s not as needed. He can still provide guidance without, you know, actually being on the floor. Outside of his size, he’s starting to hold the team back. Give him 10-15 mins/night, let him use his 6 fouls, and teach Adams how to be more asshole-y in practice. Enough already!
- The Thunder can’t win a title with Scott Brooks coaching any more. I don’t think he sucks, in fact, I feel he is a good coach. But my complaint with the Thunder is that against the elite teams, they work too hard to score baskets. It gets masked a lot of times by Durant’s scoring talents but they do most of their damage on the perimeter. They don’t have plays to get them easier baskets or have anyone with a post up game that can either collapse the paint (by drawing double teams or getting fouled) or get an easy basket. The playoffs is all about controlling the paint on both sides of the ball. Because of Ibaka, they do a wonderful job of doing that on the defensive end, but on offense at the end of games, it always bogs down to tough 20-footers. That can work against Sacramento in February, but that’s a small margin for error to work with in June. Three years after losing to the Heat in the Finals, Scott Brooks still hasn’t quite worked that out yet. I’d keep someone like George Karl on speed dial if Brooks can’t get over that hump. Too much at stake with Durant being a UFA in 2016, you can’t keep waiting for him to figure that out past this season.
Are James Harden & Dwight Howard the new Stockton and Malone?
If that means that they are destined to be ringless, then yes. I’m sorry, I will never be sold on this duo contending for titles as long as they don’t have a proper point guard that gets them into their sweet spots to take advantage of teams. I’ve said this before about Dwight, offensively he is what he is at this point. He’s a physical specimen, an athletic freak, someone who’s built to dominate on defense, but also one who’s game isn’t built to dominate the paint offensively. He’s strong as hell, can & will bully other bigs at times, but he doesn’t have that extra gear to go nuts scoring-wise like LaMarcus Aldridge did to his team last spring, dropping 40 pts at will. He doesn’t have that kind of feel or scoring touch, & he’s now in Year 12. That ship has sailed.
As far as Harden goes, he is one of the best one-on-one players in the NBA, & he’s young enough where he can still make his teammates better, but there’s something about when a player gets the green light to score or to shoot three’s, they just follow the glow of the basket. No different than a Moth to a porch light. You start leaving things behind (like defense). For example, I used to love Dan Marjele back in the day, tough two-guard with an all around game. Once he started getting the knack for shooting threes, the three point line might as well have became a cliff because he rarely went past it. Even when Tracy McGrady was with the Raptors, he was becoming a really good all-around player who took pride in locking dudes up on defense. Once he left the T-dot & started winning scoring titles, the defensive intensity dropped considerably. A similar thing has happened to Harden, where he was actually one of the better defenders in OKC, & now in Houston he plays defense like he’s intentionally point shaving. Apparently, he played better on defense in the World Championships this summer so let’s see if it translates over now. Something tells me he’s going to need Rosetta Stone to re-learn this concept.
As far as the offseason moves, I know having three superstars to play on a team is supposed to give you a better chance to win. I agree…..but it has to be the right three superstars/stars, it can’t just be any collection. Chasing down Carmelo Anthony was a foolish move because he doesn’t share the ball, it’ll be three players jacking shots & mostly likely Dwight Howard would be the one bitching & complaining because he’s getting the least out of the pie. As my friend Luugi would say, it’s a trainwreck waiting to happen. The big move that makes the most sense is acquiring Rajon Rondo. He’s a star guard who plays on both ends of the ball, has championship pedigree, & unlike most stars, he lives to make others better with his passing. Someone will have to sacrifice or be the one to share the basketball. If he ends up on the Rockets somehow, then they’ll truly be a threat to win it all. Until then, they’ll have to keep playing the field.
Did Steve Ballmer overpay to purchase the Clippers?
I will say yes and no. Yes, obviously because paying TWO BILLION dollars in a league where maybe one team was worth $1B is ridiculous. But then you start to think of all the opportunities you get when you wipe the slate clean from the Donald T. Sterling era if you’re Ballmer. You can come in on a horse like a hero and provide stability to a franchise that never had it before. You have Doc Rivers here for the next 5+ years on the bench and running your front office. You have exciting assets in Chris Paul, Blake Griffin that are not only among the best players in the league, but also among the most marketable, especially Griffin who’s on TV way more these days than any player with maybe the exception of LeBron James. The Clippers lost some sponsors during the Sterling/V.Stiviano fiasco, not only will you get those ones back, but with the new energy that’s provided, you’ll get even more sponsors. I’m not just talking locally, but nationally & possibly globally. With the new TV Deal the NBA signed with Turner Sports & ESPN/ABC, which almost tripled the current deal, you just guaranteed a rapid increase in profits, while your team hasn’t even played a real NBA game yet.
Looking at the decline of the Lakers with management that’s losing credibility points with every major free agent that shoots them down; Kobe Bryant on his last legs & no one in sight to take the mantle of being the next great Laker; the Clippers can make a real dent as the kings of L.A. sports scene for the foreseeable future. It’ll never truly be a Clippers town just like New York can never truly be a Mets town as long as the Yankees reside in the Bronx. But in the 2nd largest TV market in America, making a dent in popularity here holds real value and weight. Now, say you continue to make deep playoff runs (which the team is currently built to do for the short and long term) that ends in the conference finals, or better yet a championship or two, & you look over at the Lakers situation which is floundering in comparison to yours but have their own lucrative local TV deal…..well……. then why can’t you get your own television network? There’s a reason why there was a crazy bidding war for this franchise, because the wealth groups & bidders like Ballmer see the same things I just laid out for you, plus other scenarios down the line that we don’t even see coming. So for now, yes, Ballmer did overpay, but considering what the possibilities are, the franchise will be worth that $2B price tag much sooner than you & I think.
As far as basketball side of things, the Clippers will be the Western Conference’s best answer this season to stop the Spurs from getting back to the Finals for a third straight season. I don’t think it will happen, as long as the Spurs stay healthy. If not, the Clippers will head to their first NBA Finals ever with great chance to win it, whoever they meet on the other side of the bracket.
Hard to predict any of the playoff teams creeping up on anyone, as all of them are determined to beat their brains in every night, so I’ll pick a non-playoff team…..and it’s not Phoenix. I can see the Denver Nuggets flirting with 50 wins this season & fighting for that 8th seed all season long. This team was deep last year, but also unhealthy. Getting back Danilo Gallinari to fill that SF spot is beyond huge. They basically stole Aaron Afflalo from the Orlando Magic. Getting back Nate Robinson & JaVale McGee from their injuries, & having Kenneth Faried fresh off his impact he had on Team USA during the World Championships this summer (& his freshly-minted 4 year/$50M deal), don’t be surprised if by January you see all the “Nuggets on the Rise!” & “Where did this team come from?!?!” stories popping out from everywhere.
Regular Season Power Rankings
1. San Antonio – Best team in the NBA, signed all their free agents back, & is working on Kawhi Leonard’s extension. Best chance to repeat out of all their title defenses.
2. L.A Clippers – It feels like it was so long ago that V. Stiviano was a part of our lives, huh?
3. Oklahoma City – “That’ll be 20 laps chowderhead! Pass it to
4. Portland – I feel a monster season from Damian Lillard coming. And a mixtape.
5. Dallas – Quietly had a solid off-season. Getting back Tyson Chandler & grabbing Chandler Parsons and Jameer Nelson from free agency.
6. Golden St. – If Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green can step their games up this offseason, this team will be really dangerous.
7. Houston – Will feel the loss of “that role player” Parsons more than they think. When I say “they”, I meant James Harden & Dwight Howard. Smh.
8. Memphis – Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I like the signing of Vincent Lamar Carter to the team. Gonna go take a shower now, I felt really dirty typing that.
9. Denver – Will be the best non-playoff team in the NBA this season. Will probably win 50 games too.
10. Phoenix – Like that they resigned Eric Bledsoe. Don’t understand why they have four PGs on the roster (Blesdoe, Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas & Tyler Ennis). I smell a trade package coming.
11. New Orleans – The Unibrow will take one step further to superstardom. It won’t mean anything in the West, but still.
12. Sacramento – DeMarcus Cousins wanted to limit his technicals this season. He has 4 techs in the preseason so far. Sigh. Another long season coming.
13. L.A. Lakers – Remember when Kobe carried that shitty Laker team in 2006 & 2007 to playoff seeds? Well that Kobe was in his prime & he had Phil Jackson on the bench. Old Kobe & Byron Scott? 30 wins max.
14. Minnesota – Potentially the most exciting team in the NBA. Will lose plenty. Also, I predict Andrew Wiggins & Zach LaVine will combine to own the dunk contest this year like VC & TMac did in 2000. Without the earth-shattering impact of course.
15. Utah – The Western Conference version of a dumpster fire.
CLICK HERE TO SEE PART TWO: THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
Cal Cee // South Shore Ave
To subscribe to The Baseline Blog, click onto the Follow button.