Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

Oh. Hello, casual basketball fan. I did not see you there, looking the other way, rightly paying attention to the 2019 World Series instead of the ragged, sloppy opening games of the NBA’s very long and low-key regular season, which I am now hearing actually happened two days ago. Ah. Hm. That can’t be right.

Listen, whenever the hell it actually started, this seems like a great moment to look ahead, “pre-view” what is to come this season, and address some of the key questions. Who are the teams? Are they the same teams as before? Why wouldn’t they be the same teams as before? Is that really a key question going into the 2019-20 season? Can we just get on with this? The answer to all of the above, and more, is: You can go to hell.

Below you’ll find the NBA teams, in alphabetical order, along with important information about each of them, such as whether they are any good or not. Please print this blog out and carry it with you in preparation for any sudden basketball conversations that might break out. Onward, to the teams!


Atlanta Hawks

Photo: Brynn Anderson (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
The Hawks went 29-53 last season and finished 12 games below the lowest rung on the East’s playoff ladder. Broadly, you may take from this the impression that they were crappy. And they were! They probably still are! But they were the fun kind of crappy; optimistically, they may be an even more fun kind of crappy this season. That’s not nothing.

Who are their guys?
In last year’s NBA season preview, in my haste to own the Hawks for what I saw as an imprudent draft-day trade (and for having shamelessly tanked away the 2017-18 season), I called Hawks guard Trae Young “a dollar-store bootleg Curry brother.” Sometimes the call of the own can be overpowering. I regret succumbing to it in this case! I should not have called Trae Young that. Everybody knows Seth is the dollar-store bootleg Curry brother.

As it turns out, Young is one of the most exciting and promising young players in the NBA, a daring lil’ wiz of a ball-handler and passer who makes every Hawks game into entertaining television despite a set of uniform color schemes that sear my eyeballs and a group of teammates that belongs in the depths of a toilet. Here are some insanely cool Trae Young highlights:

He is also a damn sieve with the ball, which is entertaining in its own way. He averaged an ungodly 5.7 turnovers per 100 possessions as a rookie, and averaged a delightful 8.9 per 48 minutes during the preseason. I’m not sure this matters at all! It’s entirely possible that turning the ball over a lot is actually cool and good now. I just wanted to throw it out there. You know, to make this blog even longer.

Probably the Hawks have some other guys. I don’t give a frig. The hope was that they’d win the 2019 draft lottery and pair Young with Zion Williamson in what would be an inconceivably fun and charismatic duo, but it didn’t happen. Oh well. I’m sure another Zion Williamson will come along 20 years from now.

Are they good?
They’re ass. But Trae Young is good.

Should I watch them?
Do what you want! It’s none of my damn business. But I will watch the Hawks a bunch this season. If only as an alternative to watching the Wizards.

Playoffs?
It’s the East. Anything is possible.


Boston Celtics

LOL.
Photo: Ron Schwane (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
The Celtics entered last season as heavy favorites to represent the East in the Finals; they seemed like the one team loaded and sharp enough to threaten the Golden State Warriors. Then they spent a listless, grouchy campaign bickering with each other, taking crappy contested midrange shots, and wandering the middle of the playoff pack; they didn’t even win 50 games. They managed a run to the second round by clambering over the crumpled ruins of the Indiana Pacers, but that was that: A vicious dismissal at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks followed, and finished them off.

And then they blew it up! And not even to get Anthony Davis, as Danny Ainge had been planning for years, or to get Kevin Durant or to in really any other way make a big step forward! Mostly what happened was, the guys who could leave—Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris—did, and took the Celtics’ Finals ambitions with them.

Who are their guys?
Gone are the two best players on the past two Celtics teams, plus Morris. (Gone also are Terry Rozier and Aron Baynes, traded over the summer.) Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are still in town, their reputations battered by a season of wayward Kobe-ball and comprehensive regression, but there are much worse things to have than a pair of athletic young wings with talent exploding out of them.

Ooh, hey, and also: The Celtics have Kemba Walker now, having liberated him from the dead-end Charlotte Hornets when the latter team completely failed to manage the expiration of his contract. I can envision him making the most of his first opportunity to play for a functional franchise, ever. That could be cool.

I guess Gordon Hayward is still there, too. He was dreadful in 2018-19. Irving’s bitchy weirdness tended to overshadow it, but there were plenty of rumors that the key players from 2018's surprising conference finals run resented coach Brad Stevens for jamming Hayward into a key role in the rotation ahead of other people who didn’t suck quite as bad. If that happens again this season, it will be... delightful!

Are they good?
Sure, yeah, they’re good. If nothing else this ought to be a more fun and less neurotic Celtics team than last year’s, and it might benefit from the lowered expectations and dimmer national spotlight. That is why, the first time they win three games in a row, I will publish a blog on this website asserting that anything less than a championship will be an abject and unforgivable failure.

Should I watch them?
Ugh, if you watch national telecasts, you’re not going to have much of a choice. They’re the Celtics.

Playoffs?
Almost certainly.


Brooklyn Nets

Photo: Sarah Stier (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
The Nets, collectively, were the most fun development of the 2018-19 season. A weirdo squad plenty of coaching staffs and front offices would have viewed as a pretext for selling at the trading deadline and going in the tank, they played smart, tough basketball all season, got impressive across-the-board development from their oddball young dudes, sent D’Angelo Russell to the All-Star game—and wound up winning 42 games and nabbing the East’s sixth playoff seed. They even went on the road and took the first game of their first-round series against the stacked Philadelphia 76ers (before getting their asses handed to them over the subsequent four)! It ruled.

And then the front office gutted the roster to make room for two of the league’s most intolerable cheesebutts, one of whom won’t play in another official game before next autumn.

Who are their guys?
Their guys are Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, now. Which is to say, for however long Durant rehabs the catastrophic Achilles tendon injury he suffered in the Finals, the Nets are Kyrie Irving’s team. That worked out pretty disappointingly for the last team that tried it, and it had a better and deeper roster than these Nets.

This is all too depressing to think about. Instead, please enjoy the following video of Irving playing dreadfully against the Bucks and shooting his own team out of the playoffs.

Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen are still there. If they do not enjoy being big-timed and publicly scolded any more than Kyrie’s Celtics teammates did, well, shit.

Are they good?
Not sure! I mean it’s the East, and relative to the East, they’re good. But I am not sure if they’re actually good. Check back at Christmas time.

Should I watch them?
No.

Playoffs?
Sure, yes. The alternative likely involves a total implosion, though, and that could be a lot of fun if you are into schadenfreude, as I am.


Charlotte Hornets

Gif: YouTube

Chicago Bulls

Photo: David Banks (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
The Bulls went 22-60 last season. Nevertheless I have seen more than one national NBA blogger predict that they will make the playoffs in 2020. (No, they did not add LeBron James in free agency since then.)

Who are their guys?
They don’t have any guys. A team that loses 60 games doesn’t have any guys unless it makes a big splash to add a guy from outside itself over the offseason, and the Bulls didn’t do that. They picked Coby White (pictured above) seventh overall in the draft, and people seem to like him a lot, but he is not a guy yet.

Are they good?
I don’t think they’re good. I don’t think that having added two guys (Otto Porter Jr., Tomáš Satoranský) from a crappy Washington Wizards team makes them good. I think it takes more than that to make a 60-loss team into a good one.

Should I watch them?
Heavens no.

Playoffs?
Predicting that the Bulls will not make the playoffs should not feel like taking a risk! Goddammit!


Cleveland Cavaliers

Gif: YouTube

Dallas Mavericks

Photo: Richard W. Rodriguez (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
To the (dubious) extent that a 33-win, 49-loss season can be something like a “success,” the Mavs’ 2018-19 campaign, uh, was one. Teams can spend years—decades!—wandering the wilderness between the end of one legitimate homegrown star’s tenure and the finding of the next real one, but the final season of Dirk Nowitzki’s 21-year career wasn’t even halfway over before it had been made abundantly clear that the Mavs already had their next guy. Then they swung a big midseason trade that, with a little cooperation from health and interpersonal chemistry, might have paired him with another genuine star for the foreseeable future.

Now they just have to win some actual basketball games. That’s a cinch, right?

Who are their guys?
Right, so, about those guys. Guy Number One is Luka Dončić, the 6-foot-7 Slovenian point guard whom the Mavs took third overall in the 2018 draft, who spent his rookie year playing like fifth-year James Harden, and who will not turn 21 freaking years old until after the freaking 2020 all-star break.

Look at how goddamn good this fucking 20-year-old is.

Guy Number Two is Kristaps Porziņģis, and a little less of a sure thing. The Mavs scraped a disgruntled Porziņģis (and, uh, Tim Hardaway Jr.) off the Knicks last January for a bucket of players and stuff. That price might look excessive if the giant Latvian can’t make his way back from a Feb. 2018 torn ACL to steady health, productivity, and the fulfillment of his vast potential—but it’ll look like a steal if he can. That would give the Mavs two monstrously gifted young stars, and one of the best cores of talent in the league.

So long as they can play together, that is.

These things take time!

Are they good?
Impossible to say. They can be good, that is for sure. Then again, you are not here to be told repeatedly about the existence of quantum uncertainty by a frickin’ blogger. You are here for takes! My take is that the Mavericks are not good, but that they have one of the NBA’s most intriguing pathways to becoming good, and that’s cool.

Should I watch them?
Yeah, they’re gonna be fun.

Playoffs?
Give them another year. The West is a fucking slaughterhouse.


Denver Nuggets

When you’re visibly pumped to play some hoops
Photo: Justin Tafoya (Getty)

What is their deal?
They broke through! After missing the playoffs by one game in 2017 and then again by one game in 2018, the Nuggets spent the entire 2018-19 season up near the top of the West, won 54 games and the conference’s second playoff seed, knocked off the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, and got all the way to a seventh game against the Portland Trail Blazers in the conference semis. Along the way, their own large young European blossomed into an MVP-grade star, and an oddball roster well suited to his unique game became a joy to watch. They enter the 2019-20 season as short-listers for the West’s top seed and a visit to the Finals.

Unfortunately for them, we’re already nearing 2,700 words, here, and the NBA season started two days ago.

Who are their guys?
The Nuggets have a lot of guys; they’re one of the deepest teams in the league. Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap, Will Barton, Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig, Jerami Grant—possibly even Michael Porter Jr., should it turn out that a 21-year-old with a spinal column made of graham crackers who has played a grand total of like 18 minutes of official basketball games in his life and who cannot run from here to there without tripping over the crumbling vertebrae exploding out of his torso could ever come close to justifying the absurd hype that made him the 14th overall pick in 2018. All guys!

I hope it is not too obviously a way of hustling through this section of the blog to say that several—up to as many as all—of those guys are only important guys as a function of the fact that they play alongside Nikola Jokić, the rare superstar who would rather throw a slick no-look pass to a cutting teammate than create a shooting opportunity for himself, and the rare unto unheard-of superstar who plays that way while also being a seven-foot-tall center. Pretty much everything about what the Nuggets do, and their ability to play to the strengths and away from the shortcomings of all the rest of their guys, flows from the luxury of running their offense through a giant lummox who can find an open shooter or cutter anywhere, at any time, with either hand, whether facing the basket or with his back to it.

It also just makes them cool as hell and very hard to defend in traditional ways.

I would hack my little finger off to magically switch it so that the Wizards had drafted Jokić, rather than the vile Nuggets.

Are they good?
They’re real good.

Should I watch them?
In fact you must.

Playoffs?
Playoffs.


Detroit Pistons

What is their deal?
The Pistons made the playoffs in 2019. Even in the East, that is not nothing. But my God, my God, they are so fucking boring.

Who are their guys?
Uuuuuuugh.

Are they good?
No, goddammit, no.

Should I watch them?
It should be illegal to even want to watch them.


Golden State Warriors

I like this crop because it makes it look like Steph has waded out into a pond
Photo: Harry How (Getty)

What is their deal?
Holy smokes, it all went to shit right there at the end, didn’t it? I would not insult the noble Monkey’s Paw by implying that the misfortunes that seem for now to have ended Golden State’s dynasty represent a Monkey’s Paw-type situation—ultimately, losing the NBA Finals, losing Kevin Durant in free-agency, and losing Klay Thompson for a year to a torn ACL are nothing even close to a nullifying penalty for whatever devil’s bargain brought that franchise its historic run of good fortune and success. But still, I doubt many Warriors fans expected the reign to end quite so abruptly, or as bitterly, as it did. LOL! Fuck them! Herb-ass goobers! They can go to hell!

Everybody expected Durant to leave in free agency after last season, which likely would have booted the Warriors out of their spots as Automatic Presumptive Champions under any set of circumstances. But I think everybody also expected that before that happened, the Warriors would rampage to their third straight title; they’d enter this season as the Classic Pre-Durant Warriors back to defend their throne and prove they never needed him. Then Durant hurt his leg in the second round and missed the entire conference finals and the first four games of the Finals; then Thompson hurt his hamstring in Game 2 of the Finals and missed Game 3; then Durant came back for Game 5 and ruptured his Achilles in the second quarter; then Thompson blew out his knee in Game 6; then the Toronto Raptors got rings. Then Durant hobbled off to Brooklyn. That’s the only part of it that went more-or-less as expected.

Not only are the Warriors not defending champions or championship favorites, there are national basketbloggers out here predicting they won’t even make the playoffs. Thompson’s almost certainly out for all of this season. Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are gone. Their bench looks like it came off the cut list of a second-division team in Turkey. It’s all quite delightful.

Who are their guys?
It’s the Steph Curry and Draymond Green show. That’s still quite a show! Few pairs in league history have been as successful as this one, both in big-picture terms and in the granular plus-minus sense of what tends to happen when the two of them are on the court at the same time. No one ought to dismiss lightly the possibility that Steph, freed from the deferential role he played next to Durant these past couple years, will resume vaporizing opposing teams and bomb his way to a scoring title and third MVP award, or that Green, in shape this year and at least as ornery as ever, will anchor yet another smart, stifling Golden State defense even with lesser teammates.

They also added D’Angelo Russell, wrangling the Nets into a sign-and-trade once it became clear Durant intended to team with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn. He’s not the most obvious fit in Golden State’s style: He likes to dribble through ball-screens at the top of the key, and no team does more than the Warriors to de-emphasize the basic high screen-and-roll, and he and Steph make a backcourt pairing with some major defensive shortcomings. On the other hand, his comfort handling the ball seems like it could free Steph to dart around in the hunt for open threes, which is what he does best and how he warps opposing defenses most violently.

This is too much X-and-O tactics-of-basketball shit, dammit. We’ve still got like 73 teams left to cover. Moving on!

Are they good?
Yes. That seems beyond dispute. But the West is murderously tough, and any kind of significant injury to Curry or Green really and truly could drop them into the lottery. That’s crazy.

Should I watch them?
Curry is 31 and has had recurring leg problems his whole career. Green is 29 and has wavered on the verge of fat for years. There are only so many years left to watch these Warriors before they go to hell. Take advantage, even if you hate them.

Playoffs?
I’m predicting playoffs! I will believe the Warriors are dead when I have beheaded their dead bodies, and not before.


Houston Rockets

Sure, they’re smiling now...
Photo: Harry How (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
The Rockets got off to a terrible start last season. They were 1-5, then they were 4-7; they won five straight games and seemed to have righted themselves, then they blew four in a row. They were a game below .500 at the end of November. For a wonderful little while there it looked like they might have washed up; like flagrant cost-cutting at the behest of cheapskate owner Tilman Fertitta had left the roster too barren for even a core as strong as James Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, and Clint Capela to work with. Then Harden spent basically the whole rest of the season going completely fucking nuts, singlehandedly dragged the Rockets to the West’s fourth seed, won his second straight scoring title... and did not win his second straight MVP award, despite thoroughly outperforming his 2018 MVP season and pretty clearly being the absolute only thing a 53-win Western conference team with legitimate-seeming championship ambitions had going for it.

For these Rockets, though, everything has to be placed in the context of the Golden State Warriors. They were built to get past the Warriors, and nearly did it in 2018 before crumbling in the seventh game of the conference finals. And this time, when they met the Warriors again, in the second round... they bounced off in humiliating fashion yet again, losing games five and six despite Kevin Durant missing both. It’s the fourth time the Warriors have eliminated them in the past five postseasons. It could be sad if it weren’t hilarious.

Then they traded Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook! Shit’s crazy, man.

Who are their guys?
Their guys are James Harden and Russell Westbrook, perhaps the two most ball-dominant one-man-armies in the history of the sport. It’s going to be weird. There’s no small chance that it will in fact be a big ugly mess; it’s hard to imagine how Harden and Westbrook can complement each other on a basketball court, or how they will share the ball. But after years of nimble and increasingly sweaty work to keep the roster stocked around Harden—and within the constraints of Fertitta’s (reported and denied) penny-pinching—Houston GM Daryl “The Scourge Of China” Morey seems to have reached a point at which the only thing left to do is rear back and take one last, violent, desperate swing at a championship.

The Rockets are not a team built to peak three years from now. The abstract-asset stuff largely is gone; there are no blue-chip young doofuses developing on the bench. Morey and aging coach Mike D’Antoni likely are gone within the next couple seasons. Might as well throw Harden and Westbrook together and see if they can make their way to a title, or at least a Finals berth, before Fertitta pulls the plug.

Are they good?
Sure, yes. Harden is enough of an offense unto himself at this point that you probably could surround him with just about any plausible constellation of replacement-grade NBA players, plus one or two solidly starting-quality guys, and the team would win enough games to make the playoffs. And Russ, for all that his never-great efficiency has plummeted over the past couple seasons, and for all the fun assbrain basketbloggers have had at his expense over it, remains a unique force of nature capable of overwhelming opposing teams under a wide range of circumstances. They’re good. They’re just not remotely good enough to get past the Los Angeles Clippers.

Should I watch them?
Maybe just keep an eye on their results, and on Harden’s highlight reels. The Rockets were brutally bad to watch last season, and they’ll likely have a harder time with floor spacing and ball movement this time around, assuming they even care at all about either of those things and won’t just have Harden pumping up set shots from the half-court logo on all their possessions.

Playoffs?
Yes.


Indiana Pacers


Los Angeles Clippers

I don’t have a joke for this caption. The five Clippers employees in this photo could beat the Washington Wizards by 70 points.
Photo: Ringo H.W. Chiu (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
What even is the use in talking about how the Clippers performed last season? They added two of the top, what, dozen or so players in the frickin’ league as soon as it ended, including the reigning Finals MVP, and did it almost entirely without overhauling the rest of the roster. All that matters about last season is that they were good enough to attract the most in-demand free-agent in the league, the guy who’d just smushed the Golden State Warriors in the Finals and sent their dynasty to hell. No this is not just an excuse to speed through this part. (Yes it is.)

Who are their guys?
The Clippers had a lot of guys even before they got Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. They had a crazy number of guys! Then they added Kawhi Leonard and friggin’ Paul George! It’s not fair. It’s not fair to the other teams who have a shortage of guys, but mostly it’s not fair to me.

Informally, just glancing at their roster, the Clippers have at least 11 dudes who are either starter- or rotation-grade NBA players. That’s absurd. Even if two of them were not Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but were instead, like, Jeremy Lamb and Joe Harris, the Clippers would still be stacked. They bring perhaps the league’s deadliest pick-and-roll combination (Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell) off the bench. It fills me with disgust and resentment.

Are they good?
How dare you ask me that.

Should I watch them?
You should watch me slash the tires on their cars!

Playoffs?
I refuse to dignify this question with a response.


Los Angeles Lakers

Too much raw garlic in the Lakers’ team lunch spread?? Dragon breath??? Investigate??????
Photo: Tyler Kaufman (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
The Lakers were a mess in 2018-19. LeBron James, newly signed at the end of his second run in Cleveland, suffered the first significant injury of his career during a Christmas Day blowout of the Warriors and missed a month of games right when the team had seemed to be hitting its stride. The vacuum bag of weirdo veterans the team put around him never yielded anything of value. The promising young guys—Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma—playing under the shadow of an inevitable-seeming trade for Anthony Davis, mostly regressed and floundered and looked like shit, when they were even healthy enough to manage it, which they mostly weren’t. The very public and messy effort to pull off that trade dissolved the team’s focus and chemistry. They alternately sulked and panicked their way to 37 miserable wins and missed the playoffs.

But then, hey, they pulled off the trade after all, over the summer, selling off nearly all their youth and all the future draft picks they could part with to make it happen. They’ve got Anthony frickin’ Davis! The Lake Show is back, baby!!!!!

(They lost to the Clippers on Monday night, by 10. Paul George watched the game in a tuxedo.)

Who are their guys?
This list was supposed to include DeMarcus Cousins, whom the Lakers signed to a cheapo one-year deal after the mostly encouraging season he spent in Golden State, returning from the Achilles tear he suffered in early 2018. Then he tore his ACL in August; it’s very possible if not quite certain that the productive part of his career is over.

And it ought to include 24-year-old forward Kyle Kuzma, the one youngster the front office withheld from all trade talks for Davis. It likely will, at some point. But for now he’s out with a stress injury in his foot. He can’t help anybody.

To an alarming degree, the Lakers only and entirely are LeBron and Davis, for now. It’s anybody’s guess how well they’ll work together as they get comfortable sharing the floor. On Monday, anyway, it was pretty rough; it mostly involved everybody standing around, watching Davis try to cook his defender in the post, with either JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard’s defender standing close enough to just reach out and snatch the ball away.

The Lakers seem likely to have a hard time running any kind of half-court offense until they get Kuzma back and/or sift the dregs of free agency for another credible spot-up shooter or two. It’s sacrilege to say, and he’ll surely drop many dozens of thunderous dunks on the hapless Wizards as punishment, but LeBron is slowing with age and now needs more space than the shooting-deficient Lakers can give him to work his way into the paint off the dribble or beat his man one-on-one. But they also can’t really give him a steady diet of touches in the post, where his size and passing ability can make him the crux of a functional offense, without making Davis play away from his strengths. It’s a real pickle. They can’t win much if he’s playing like Hulk Juice Rajon Rondo.

Are they good?
Barring a serious injury to one or both of them, I really can’t conceive of a team with both Anthony Davis and even an age-eroded LeBron James on it failing to beat the living shit out of most of its regular-season opponents. The Lakers are good. But they do not appear to be a very versatile, efficient, or well lubricated variety of good. What they can’t accomplish by just having Davis or LeBron will it into reality, they can’t accomplish.

Should I watch them?
Hell damn yes you should.

Playoffs?
Playoffs.


Memphis Grizzlies

“Psst. Hey man, do you know how to play basketball?” “Wait, I thought you were supposed to tell me how.” “Shit.”
Photo: Brandon Dill (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
Their deal is, their best players are a combined 14 years old and will not be good or competitive until whole years from now. I do not have time to write about small children! We are in the damn news business, here.


Miami Heat

I’m not sure which of these two ought to be running away screaming, but it sure seems like it has to be at least one of them.
Photo: Michael Reaves (Getty)

What is their deal?
The 2018-19 season was the last one for Dwyane Wade, the most important and beloved player in Miami Heat history. The Heat commemorated it by stumbling over the season’s final few weeks, losing seven of their last 11 games, and blowing their chance at giving him one last playoff run. It sucked real bad. Then they sort of blew up their team.

Who are their guys?
The Heat are an official James Ass production, now. Via a complicated four-team July sign-and-trade the fine particulars of which I will make no attempt to recall or relate here, Pat Riley sent off very good young wing Josh Richardson (to the Philadelphia 76ers) and very useless giant oaf Hassan Whiteside (to the Portland Trail Blazers) and got back Jimmy Butler, with all that might entail.

Butler is extremely good; for long stretches he kept the 76ers afloat singlehandedly in their run to the second round of last season’s playoffs, as Joel Embiid dealt with crippling mudbutt and Ben Simmons did weird neurotic Ben Simmons shit. But he also and rather famously isn’t the most agreeable or amiable of dudes. He alienated his teammates in Chicago; he very publicly alienated his teammates in Minnesota; wouldn’t you know it, he reportedly weirded up the chemistry in Philadelphia, too. The Heat rather famously have a tough and demanding internal culture. That could be just what he needs in order to thrive and be a good citizen! Or he could go full Randall P. McMurphy, here.

Other Heat guys include Justise Winslow, who found his professional footing as an oversized point guard last season; Bam Adebayo, who is huge and terrifying; and Kelly Olynyk, who is not so much terrifying as horrifying. I take it as a sign of tremendous internal harmony and sophistication that just over the past few weeks, the Heat have sent James Johnson away for being too fat and suspended Dion Waiters for being an asshole. Either of those two could be a Heat guy at some point. My puke coworkers will want some rookie goober named “Tyler Herro” listed as a guy, here, but they can go straight to hell.

Are they good?
They’re East-good.

Should I watch them?
Nah.

Playoffs?
Seems like it.


Milwaukee Bucks

Pictured: Milwaukee’s half-court offense
Photo: Ronald Martinez (Getty)

What is their deal?
This might be an odd claim to make about a 60-win season in which a formerly gangly project player the team once drafted 15th overall won the MVP award and seemed to cement himself as the LeBron After LeBron, but the 2018-19 Bucks season (and subsequent summer) ended as... something of a mild disappointment? If not as an ominous harbinger? Let me try to explain.

The Bucks were the toast of the league all year, monstrously good at both ends of the court, and seemed the team likeliest to pull off an upset of a full-strength Warriors squad in the Finals. Then they blew a 2-0 lead in the East finals and bowed out feebly in six games, at the hands of a Raptors team that exposed both Milwaukee’s simplistic offense and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s very real limitations as a scorer and playmaker. Shortly thereafter, Malcolm Brogdon, quietly a critically important element of the team’s success, left for Indiana in a sign-and-trade, as the Bucks’ ownership chose a depleted roster over spending into the luxury tax.

That latter bit may be more worrisome than the playoff shortfall: Antetokounmpo, by any sane reckoning one of the league’s absolute brightest stars and most extraordinary talents, is scheduled to hit unrestricted free-agency in the summer of 2021, after next season. The 76ers got better over the summer and are probably the favorites to come out of the East playoffs in 2020. The Bucks already weren’t good enough to break through, and the owners seem unwilling to fund improvements. Will Giannis stick around on an also-ran team hamstrung by cheapskate owners in a cold, dark, unsexy upper Midwestern town? Why on earth would he?

All of which is to say: The Bucks’ conference finals crap-out wouldn’t be a disappointment if they’d spent the summer stocking up to take the next step. And their summer of mostly standing pat wouldn’t be quite as alarming if they hadn’t already fallen short of where a player of Giannis’s caliber will expect to go to make his legend. Taken together, it’s all a bit, well, concerning. It’s concerning! This thing could be a lot closer to its end than it seemed not so long ago. Its peak could already be in the past.

Who are their guys?
I just damn covered this! Leave me alone!

Are they good?
I will answer your question with a question of my own: Are they good... enough?

(Yes of course they are good.)

Should I watch them?
Watch what the hell you want to watch! What am I, TV Guide? I’m not TV Guide.

Playoffs?
Absolutely.


Minnesota Timberwolves


New Orleans Pelicans

I have a bad feeling that Zion is going to spend a lot of his rookie season doing this instead of playing, so you might as well get used to looking at it.
Photo: Jonathan Bachman (Getty)

What is their deal?
Their deal is, I was very excited to write about these Pelicans, their fun combination of wily veterans who play good defense and callow young guys happy to have escaped the Lakers, and Zion Williamson, one of the most exciting young goofuses to enter the league in many years. Then Williamson tore his damn meniscus and had surgery, and now I fear and/or believe and/or am convinced that he is too Muscular and Beefy a lad for his poor skeleton to survive the rigors of professional basketball, and will just always be injured in one way or another. And the whole thing is too damn depressing to think about, so I am moving on to the next team in the alphabet, which surely will not be as depressing and will in fact be a breath of fresh air.


New York Knicks, Goddammit

In previous years this space has been reserved for a GIF of a burning toilet. That’s progress!
Photo: Mary Altaffer (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
The Knicks tanked their way shamelessly through the 2018-19 season. The plan was to bottom out with cheap young players, thereby saving on salary cap space that could be used to sign free-agent superstars, buttering up some of those young players to possibly go into blockbuster trades, and also giving the club its best shot at lucking into Zion Williamson in the lottery. Along the way, the front office also alienated, badmouthed, and traded off Kristaps Porziņģis, the most promising and charismatic youngster they’d drafted since Patrick Ewing, for a bunch of crud. Tanking sucks, and alienating and bailing on talented young players also sucks, and so it’s a kind of unutterably bleak and/or hilarious justice that although the Knicks succeeded in posting the league’s worst record in 2018-19, they nonetheless came away with exactly none of the stuff for which they’d been scheming.

They signed no superstars. They made no blockbuster trades. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant spurned them for the Nets, right in their own backyard. Kawhi Leonard spurned them for the friggin’ Clippers. They slipped to third in the shallow draft and wound up with the fine and promising but also cosmically disappointing RJ Barrett. They used their salary cap space on short-term contracts for like 13 redundant and unexceptional veteran power forwards.

In the abstract there’s nothing wrong with a franchise passing through a summer and making no big, splashy improvements, or with avoiding long-term commitments to players unlikely to radically improve a bad team’s fortunes. But it’s not as though the Knicks were last season’s worst team out of some totally unavoidable happenstance; they could have put a better team on the court, and didn’t. They yanked their own cord on purpose, asked their fans to accept it as a necessary step to facilitate big, earth-shaking improvements, and cashed it in for the third-best prospect in a two-man draft, a three-year contract with Julius Randle, and no particular reason to feel confident they won’t be one of the NBA’s worst teams again this season.

Who are their guys?
With apologies to Barrett (and, to a lesser extent, to poor doomed Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox), the closest thing to a silver lining in all of this is Mitchell Robinson, the giant, 21-year-old, phenomenally springy dunk-and-block (and -foul) monster the Knicks somehow scored in the second round of the 2018 draft. He is the most exciting young player the Knicks have had in house since, well, Porziņģis, as well as the one dude on the roster right now with the best shot at becoming something genuinely special and worth coming out to see. Naturally, he missed the season opener with an ankle injury.

But here is a video of some cool stuff he did in summer league:

He’s cool.

Are they good?
No.

Should I watch them?
No.

Playoffs?
No.


Oklahoma City Thunder

This skeleton is doing a dance.
Gif: YouTube

Orlando Magic

I’m probably imagining the raw terror in his eyes. Probably.
Photo: John Raoux (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
The Magic are fine. A fine Eastern Conference team. After what felt like an eternity in the wilderness, they went 42-40 last season—including an 8-2 closing run—snatched the East’s seventh playoff seed, and even took a game off the eventual champs in the first round. They did it with a reasonably young team that returns reasonably intact. That’s great! And I don’t care about them even a little bit.


Philadelphia 76ers

Pictured: Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid cranes his neck to look up at a 6-foot pull-up bar, just out of frame.
Photo: Vaughn Ridley (Getty)

What is their deal?
The Sixers made huge moves in 2018-19, trading important rotation players for Jimmy Butler in November and then for Tobias Harris in February; by springtime they had a starting five to rival Golden State’s. Joel Embiid blossomed into an MVP- and DPOY-level superstar; he could’ve claimed both of those last season if he’d produced at the same level but with only a little less workload management, and will have his eyes on both again this time around. Ben Simmons became an All-Star. And the Sixers won one fewer game than they did in 2017-18, claimed the same playoff seed as the year before, and bowed out in the second round for the second year in a row (when Kawhi Leonard eliminated them in Game 7 by hitting one of the most incredible shots in the history of basketball).

If that qualifies as a bit of a disappointment up close, from slightly farther back the picture’s still pretty great. The Sixers certainly look like at least co-favorites to represent the East in the Finals in 2020, with a top-heavy but absurdly stacked roster in a conference depleted by Leonard’s departure and the partial breakup of the Celtics. They have a 25-year-old MVP candidate. They made two more big moves to improve themselves over the summer. The future is bright.

But here it’s worth considering the Washington Wizards, if only to lend this whole exercise a ghoulish yet appropriate sense of urgency. In the summer of 2015, the Wizards didn’t have nearly the level of top-line talent today’s Sixers possess, but nevertheless were an up-and-coming team in the East popularly regarded as future contenders; they’d made the second round two years in a row with a talented young core and seemed on a mission to break through to the conference finals. The future looked great. And then it turned out they’d already gone as far as they ever would.

This shit can happen! Embiid, perhaps the single most extraordinary talent in the NBA, has played his entire career to this point under the shadow of suspect conditioning and the threat of leg problems that seem like they could return at any minute. Simmons is a prickly, self-conscious, stat-padding weirdo with vast gaps in his skill set and a well-publicized resistance to working on them. His game and Embiid’s don’t mesh, and there have already been reports that they don’t even like each other all that much. Their key offseason addition is a stiff-legged 33-year-old with a billion miles on his basketball odometer. They lost J.J. Redick—Embiid’s most effective on-court partner, by far—in free agency. What I am saying here is that these are reasons to fear the present team’s window could snap shut rather abruptly, before anybody even senses it. With the Wizards, nobody recognized until after the fact that it had already been shut for quite some time.

Now that I have sprinkled doom over the 76ers, they will win 67 games and sweep their way to a championship.

Who are their guys?
Embiid and Simmons are the main two, of course. The 33-year-old I mentioned is Al Horford, whom the Sixers signed away from the Celtics over the summer to lighten Embiid’s defensive workload, help them manage his playing time more effectively, and just generally be a lubricating presence on a team of strong personalities, like he was in Boston and Atlanta. I had an impulse to write that he finally showed signs of erosion last season—anecdotally, it seemed like it—until I checked his Basketball Reference page. Nah. He’s fine.

The most interesting thing about the addition of Horford is that he gives the Sixers a cartoonishly huge starting five. He and Embiid are both lumbering centers (even if the NBA’s new height-measurement regime insists the mountainous Embiid somehow stands shorter than seven feet). Harris, a 6-7 tweener before the league’s abrupt shift to small-ball fours and now clearly a power forward, is the small forward. The point guard is Simmons, who stands 6-foot-10 and struggles to shoot confidently or accurately from literally anywhere outside of the restricted area. Josh Richardson, whom the Sixers acquired in the big sign-and-trade deal that shipped Butler off to Miami, is, at a very long-limbed 6-foot-5, the only remotely guard-sized player in the starting five.

In Philadelphia’s season-opening win over the Celtics, the 76ers did not even give so much as two minutes of playing time to a single player who stands shorter than 6-foot-5; Simmons was the only even vaguely point-guard-ish player who touched the floor before garbage time. I’m into this! More teams should lean hard into stuff like “having more giant dudes on the floor than anybody else,” rather than just trying to cobble together the best cheap-shit ripoff of the sport’s prevailing trends they can manage under the salary cap. If nothing else, it will make the Sixers an absolutely terrifying defensive team. On the other hand, it will also likely make them absolutely brutal to watch.

Are they good?
They’re very, very good. They’re also all in each other’s way at all times on offense! Which is pretty funny.

Should I watch them?
I think you kind of have to. They’re trying something new and weird, and they have the talent, particularly in the weak East, to take it all the way to the Finals, where Kawhi Leonard will send them to hell and make Embiid sad all over again.

Playoffs?
Playoffs.


Phoenix Suns

Look out! They may possibly be advancing in this direction!
Gif: YouTube

Portland Trail Blazers

Photo: John Leyba (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
This blog is real long, man. It’s real damn long. I feel sad for the Blazers, who made it all the way to the freaking Western Conference Finals last season, but somebody has to, like, pay the piper or whatever, here, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be me. If they wanted full coverage in this blog, they should have made more blockbuster changes to their roster, dammit!

Who are their guys?
Surely you remember Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who have been Portland’s guys for many years now. Here is Lillard hitting an insanely savage shot to eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder and boot their asses all the way into rebuilding mode last spring:

Nice. The Blazers traded for Hassan Whiteside over the summer. Not nice.

Are they good?
Sure. Yes. They’re good. But not because they added Hassan Whiteside, that’s for sure!

Should I watch them?
Yes. Their whole style of play comes down to Lillard and McCollum being just spectacularly good shot-makers, and that’s good TV.

Playoffs?
Probably. I lost track of how many West teams I’ve already said will make the playoffs.


Sacramento Kings

Hell yeah.
Photo: Rajanish Kakade (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
HELL YEAH BUDDY, HELL FUCKIN’ YEAH. HELL YEAH!

Who are their guys?
HELL YEAH MAN HELL YEAH, HELL YEAH. DE’AARON FOX, MARVIN BAGLEY, BOGDAN BOGDANOVIC, FRICKIN’ HARRY GILES. FRICKIN’ BUDDY HIELD. HELL YEAH. HELL YEAH.

Are they good?
NOT REALLY MAN BUT WHATEVER, HELL YEAH. THEY LOST TO THE GODDAMN PHOENIX SUNS BY 29 FRIGGIN’ POINTS LAST NIGHT AND I OUGHT TO REVOKE THEIR HELL YEAH STATUS FOR IT, BUT WE ARE TOO FAR INTO THIS THING AND THERE IS NO TURNING BACK, HELL YEAH.

Should I watch them?
HELL DAMN YEAH.

Playoffs?
SHIT MAN PROBABLY NOT.


San Antonio Spurs

This photo symbolizes Themes, possibly regarding Fame and Society. I dunno man, this blog is real long.
Photo: Eric Gay (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
Another year, another depleted Spurs roster full of oddballs and mutants that does not look on paper as though it ought to finish higher than 12th in the West, another playoff appearance. 2017-18 was the first time since the lockout-shortened 1998-19 season that the Spurs failed to win at least 50 games and only the third time since motherfucking 1990 that the Spurs failed to win at least 60 percent of their games. Last season they did both of those things again, finishing with 48 wins and a .585 winning percentage. So the trend lines seem to be going sort of generally downward for this invincible success machine. On the other hand, the Washington Wizards have won as many as 48 games exactly once in my entire goddamn 38-year lifetime. So, uh, it’s all relative.

Who are their guys?
The customary tinkering outside the core—DeMarre Carroll and Trey Lyles in, Dāvis Bertāns out—notwithstanding, the Spurs are basically running it back with DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Derrick White, and a return to full health for 23-year-old guard Dejounte Murray, whom everybody expected to be last season’s breakout Spur before he tore his ACL in a preseason game. (So far, so good: In their season-opening win over the Knicks, Murray scored 18 points on 70-percent shooting in 23 minutes, and dropped no limbs.) That’s a good group! A lot of solid professionals, not a one of whom requires me to find a highlight video of him doing cool things. That is what the hell I look for in an NBA team at the back-end of alphabetical order.

Are they good?
Of course they’re good. The sun rises, the sun sets, the Spurs are good. They play stubbornly anachronistic basketball, largely eschewing three-pointers and pumping up more mid-range jumpers than anybody in the sport, but they’re good. They’ll always be good.

Should I watch them?
Why? You’ve already seen them eight billion times.

Playoffs?
What the hell. Sure. I’m pretty sure I’ve got 15 West teams going to the playoffs, and like four East teams. That’s as it should be.


Toronto Raptors

It’s anybody’s guess what uniforms these two will be wearing in March.
Photo: Sarah Stier (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
They’re the defending champions! After years of comical postseason failure, the Raptors finally broke through on Kawhi Leonard’s back, vaporized the younger and sexier 76ers, punished and dismissed the top-seeded Bucks, and smushed the Warriors into the dumpster. A fanbase that fought off dejection and despair year after year finally got a championship to celebrate; a front office that rejected any number of opportunities to blow it up made its own good luck and got the very best kind of vindication. Honestly, it ruled.

I suppose it’s a little bitter that, just less than a month after the Raptors hoisted the trophy, Kawhi bolted for Los Angeles and made an instant championship favorite there with his best buddy Paul George. I doubt many Raptors fans are all that broken up about it: They still got their trip to the mountaintop! But, realistically speaking, his departure means the Raptors have almost no chance of even earning an opportunity to defend their title in the 2020 Finals. It also, and a little more upsettingly, means there’s a very good chance that if the Raps stumble through the first half of this season in his absence, their front office will sell off some of the aging faces of that championship run: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and, most painfully, Kyle Lowry. That’s a reason to root for the Raptors, by my way of thinking. The reward for delivering a title ought not to be a forced midseason relocation.

Who are their guys?
Lowry, Ibaka, and Gasol are still there, for now. But even if those three aren’t traded at midseason, the Raptors are fast becoming the team of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet—and, if his development continues apace, 22-year-old wing OG Anunoby, who missed last spring’s postseason run recovering from an emergency appendectomy. Siakam is a giant do-everything forward, a sort of rawer, slightly less physically impossible entry in the Giannis Antetokounmpo category, like a lesser midpoint between him and Ben Simmons. VanVleet is just a really good lil’ guard who gave Steph Curry hell in the Finals.

What the hell. Here’s a video.

What an impetuous little scamp!

Are they good?
They’re good. Probably not as good as most defending NBA champions, but definitely good.

Should I watch them?
It’ll be fascinating to see the Raptors, a smart, unselfish, and experienced squad whose key guys have been together through a championship run, try to figure themselves out in the absence of Leonard, whose individual shot-making and uncanny defense were so important last season. And Siakam is a holy terror. They’ll be good to watch, so long as they stay together.

Playoffs?
Yes. I cannot imagine there being eight teams that finish ahead of them in a conference that only has like four good teams in it.


Utah Jazz

When you’re the Utah Jazz and the visiting NBA team has some black players on it
Photo: Rick Bowmer (AP Photo)

What is their deal?
The Jazz won 50 games last season, claimed the West’s third seed for the third year in a row, and entered the playoffs looking to surpass the second-round exits of the previous two springs. Then James Harden ground them into dog food and sent them home from the first round in five games. Oof.

Now they’re swinging for the damn fences! A trade for Mike Conley gave them a massive upgrade at point guard; the addition of Bojan Bogdanović in free agency gave them one of the better scoring wings in the league as their third option. After years of stingy defense propping up grinding, slow offense, they actually... have a lot of firepower? In Utah? Is that even possible? Anyway, it’s cool. I’m into it. They’re all in to get a ring for, ah, the fanbase so racist the owner had to come out on the floor and ask them to quit being shitty to black players.

(Yesterday the NBA announced that Salt Lake City will host the 2023 all-star game. LOL. I’m sure that gives civic leaders plenty of time to, uh, fix it.)

Who are their guys?
You remember Rudy Gobert, the impossibly gigantic Frenchman who has won the NBA’s last two DPOY awards. And you remember Donovan Mitchell, the delightfully teensy lil’ scoring guard who memorably crushed and destroyed the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the 2018 playoffs. And possibly you remember Joe Ingles, the feisty shit-talking Australian wing. Or, in any event, you had damn well better remember their asses, because I’m moving on!

Are they good?
The Jazz are extremely good. They would need some lucky breaks to get past the Clippers, but so will literally everyone else. They would need some more modest breaks to get past the Nuggets, I think. If that sentence does not make it into publication, it will be because the vile Tom Ley has deleted it.

Should I watch them?
It’s going to be cool to get to see Conley away from the Memphis Grizzlies. Nothing against the Grizzlies! But they were in decline for each of what sure felt like his last 53 years there. Now he’s on what ought to be one of the league’s real heavyweight teams.

Ah, but, right, the question was whether you should watch them. Let’s revisit this question in a few weeks! The Jazz have played dour, robotic, butt-ugly basketball for basically my entire lifetime, and I am not ready to prescribe them for anybody’s poor eyeballs just yet.

Playoffs?
Playoffs.


Washi—

That is all the NBA teams. Thank you.

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