America’s a pretty crazy place right now. Even more so than usual.
While the Northeast deals with Superstorm Sandy‘s brutal aftermath, the entire nation is gearing up for another “game-changing” presidential election that probably won’t change the game much at all. Regardless of who wins on November 6, our personal and shared problems won’t magically vanish like the GOP’s memory of George W. Bush’s eight years in office. Our struggles will simply mutate for a little better or worse.
Most Americans are too distracted to feel overwhelmingly hopeless. Whether you divert your attention by Instagramming your meals, watching Honey Boo Boo (an Obama advocate), or analyzing Fifty Shades of Grey like it’s Willie Shakespeare, escapism is good for the soul (even if some forms may be dangerous for the mind).
My favorite distraction is the National Basketball Asssociation, and The League couldn’t be returning at a better time. With my non-swing state flooding, the power out, the start of the NBA season evokes a feeling of optimistic engagement I’m lacking during this complex time.
Writing my 2nd Annual HyperVocal NBA Preview was a real game-changer for my spirits, and I hope it helps you temporarily escape to a very different (and much healthier) kind of craziness that’s about to sweep the country.
Team Canada is a poor man’s version of the playoff-bound Denver Nuggets. While Bryan Colangelo has assembled an intriguing roster of guys who would make excellent role players on better teams, the absence of an alpha dog will continue to haunt the Raptors even more than Linsanity and Vince Carter’s historic 2004 tank job. Kyle Lowry is a gritty addition, but it’s time to move potential title-swingers Andrea Bargnani and José Calderón to American teams that would benefit more from their immediate value.
Acquiring Andrew Bynum was as simultaneously necessary and reckless as FX’s decision to order 90 more episodes of Anger Management. Like Charlie Sheen, Bynum is a world-class talent who got too much too soon and couldn’t stay healthy or focused enough to thrive in a seemingly perfect situation. Sheen has made the most of his countless second chances, but will the enigmatic 24-year-old center embrace his first in the City of Brotherly Love? Doug Collins is smart enough to know he maximized his team’s potential last season, but adding Bynum, Kwame Brown, and Nick Young will give the disciplinarian coach anger management issues of his own.
3. New York
My beloved Knicks continue to drive me more insane than Lori Grimes on The Walking Dead, which is fitting because Amar’e Stoudemire (unsurprisingly out 6-8 weeks), Marcus Camby, Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni, Kurt Thomas, and Rasheed Wallace are basketball zombies. I’m thrilled Gren Grunwald and Mike Woodson value veteran influence, but it’s meaningless when the organization’s true “leaders” evolve less than the least responsible mother in AMC’s highest-rated drama.
The Knicks cannot legitimately contend for a title unless Carmelo Anthony and James Dolan prove they can adapt. The former must follow in the (awkward) footsteps of 2011 Dirk Nowitzki and sacrifice individual glory for team unity. The latter needs to pay the bills and learn to stay out of the way (let’s hope JD & The Straight Shot embark on a massive global tour). I’m not sold on either scenario, let alone both.
Though raising a fresh championship banner in MSG’s rafters is highly unlikely (the NHL lockout isn’t helping the cause), the Knicks will battle on a nightly basis. Reigning D.P.O.Y. Tyson Chandler holds everyone accountable while “Buddy Cops” J.R. Smith and Steve Novak supply high energy (and comedy) off the bench. Assuming Raymond Felton doesn’t eat the “big chip on his shoulder,” he’ll quickly make Knicks fans forget about Asian Tebowmania. Iman Shumpert’s surgically-repaired knee could decide whether or not this squad finally makes the leap into the second round.
You have to hand it to Nets owner (and future Bond villain) Mikhail Prokhorov. He’s resuscitated a dying organization while injecting more excitement into a growing cultural epicenter. Keeping Deron Williams was critical, and it absolutely justified absorbing Joe Johnson’s Chris Christie-sized contract. Although the Nets offseason was haunted by Dwightmares, D-Will’s commitment is a dream come true.
Coach Avery Johnson is diminutive, but his squad will attack opponents with size advantages at nearly every position. Still, frontcourt defense (or lack thereof) will determine just how “hard” Brooklyn will be able to go (obligatory Jay-Z reference). Kris Humphries knows a thing or two about short-term commitments, but he and Brook Lopez must prove they can protect the rim for 82 games. Andray Blatche isn’t stopping anyone but himself.
The rival Lakers made the biggest offseason splashes, but the Cs improved more than any team that maintained its identity. Jason Terry (currently a better fit than Ray Allen), Courtney Lee, rookie Jared Sullinger (so underrated he’s now overrated), and a healthy Jeff Green will help reduce Pierce and KG’s minutes and give underappreciated superstar Rajon Rondo the breathing room he needs (if aliens actually need oxygen). Boston is deep and driven to take down Miami in the Conference Finals. They’ll get their chance. Dan Aykroyd and Daniel Stern should already be preparing to kidnap LeBron.
• TRACK RECORD: NBA 2011-12 Preview: ‘Nuclear Winter’ Wonderland
Today’s NBA is arguably the most densely talented professional sports league in history, and it’ll be awfully hard to stand out when your best player is Greg Monroe. Drafting frontcourt mate Andre Drummond will make Joe Dumars look smart (for the first time in a while), but this team has less substance than Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye have body fat.
If Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis can coexist slightly longer than Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey at American Idol auditions, stresshead Scott Skiles might avoid taking a Bango the Deer-esque plunge off the Bradley Center’s roof. Expect a compelling mess.
Cavs fans are lucky. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s impossible to replace He Who Must Not Be Named, but Kyrie “Uncle Drew” Irving will do his part to keep Ohio relevant long after the election. Anderson Varejao’s returning energy will be contagious, and Dion Waiters will be one of the league’s highest scoring rookies. The No. 8 seed is within reach.
Does any sane NBA superstar (sorry Kobe) care more about the game than 2010-11 MVP Derrick Rose? Nobody knows when the John Boehner-esque point guard will return from knee surgery, but Tom Thibodeau will keep his hungry bunch prepped for his inevitable Return. Rose’s absence will force the defensive-minded Bulls to play with even more tenacity. It may take time to figure things out, but they’ll be just fine.
Frank Vogel’s 2012 sleeper squad was one win away from breaking up Miami’s Big Three. Now, they’re over the radar. Locking up anchor Roy Hibbert was the right move (not just because keeping him out of Portland likely saved his career), but it’s hard to make major strides two years in a row. Fortunately they’re in good hands. Knicks savior Donnie Walsh is back at the helm, and the Pacers should benefit most from a Rose-less Central.
Like Cougar in Top Gun, Michael Jordan realized he “lost the edge.” Stepping away from basketball operations was ironically the greatest contribution His Heirness has made to the second-highest paid college team in the country (John Calipari’s wallet is apparently even thicker than his hair gel). Kemba Walker and Ben Gordon have too much in common and prepubescent Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will have to contribute immediately if the Bobcats want to climb out of the Eastern Conference’s cellar. Reaching double-digit wins is a more practical goal.
Dwight Howard had to go. Stan Van Gundy did not. Although the loss of the latter may ironically cause more chemistry problems, this season can’t possibly be more embarrassing than last. Aaron Afflalo is a nice rebuilding piece, but there will be plenty of additional roster turnover in Disney World before February’s deadline. J.J. Redick would fit in nicely on several Western contenders.
Congratulations Wiz fans! Trading for Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, and Nene solidifies your team’s position as a fringe playoff team for years to come. This investment in mediocrity will certainly help the intriguing John Wall/Bradley Beal backcourt play to their strengths (assuming “Jimmy” can stay on the floor), but it’s problematic when you’re capped out and .500 is the ceiling (us Knicks fans are experts on this topic).
The Hawks are still soaring in “good but not great” airspace. Even though Josh Smith is a shoe-in for this season’s Most Valuable Contract Year Player, his supporting cast doesn’t compare to Miami or Boston’s. Joe Johnson is WAY better than his departed contract, but newcomers Lou Williams, Devin Harris, and Kyle Korver will spread the floor and help secure a top 4 seed. A second round elimination is likely.
I felt a strange sense of relief when King James was finally coronated by Maury Levy and Lester Freamon. Rooting against LeBron for 1.8 seasons (lockout dig) was exhausting, and I’ll never forget watching him pull a 2009 A-Rod (though the New York sports media denies it, this actually happened).
In last year’s NBA preview, I (prophetically) wrote “Miami became vulnerable in June, but vulnerability will be their greatest weapon in ’11-’12. The target is off their back (or at least much smaller), and they will ironically be in better physical and mental condition at the end of this shortened regular season.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but I wasn’t writing about the whole Heat team. I was writing about LeBron, who confronted awkward vulnerability with even more bravado than Lena Dunham. Like Dunham’s infamous Girls sex scenes, LeBron’s 2013 playoff performance was simultaneously magnificent, terrifying, and unmissable. My hero Bill Simmons believes LeBron’s “Quest for Immortality” begins this season, and he’s probably right. I just know I’ll always remember him for last year’s Quest for Redemption.
LeBron and his (unquestioned?) sidekick Dwyane Wade will plow through the East more effortlessly than John Mayer and Derek Jeter would plow through NYU sorority girls in the Meatpacking District. The Celtics are the only viable threat to Miami’s third straight Finals appearance, but it’s hard to imagine them delivering a stunning death blow (unless it comes from a KG elbow).
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