The NFL season is underway, the Premier League is in full swing over in Yurrup, and on Tuesday we’re getting the start of the MLB playoffs- but all I can think about at the moment is basketball. Everything else seems to be business as usual so far. What’s driving me nuts about hoops at the moment is all the drama in store for us. October 17th just can’t come soon enough. The curtains will be drawn to reveal the mythical kingdom of Cleveland, Ohio, and its snow-capped castle, the Quicken Loans Arena. And as the emboldened armies of the east, flying their green flags, gather at the gates, only the noble King James can stop them, with nothing but a pair of Nike sneakers in one hand and presumably a book of sonnets in the other.
Today I’m giving my take on why you need to be excited for the 2017-2018 NBA season!
We’re living in the age of the superteams. Of that, there can be no doubt. The fact that the last 3 NBA finals have been dominated by just two teams has undoubtedly turned some fans off of watching the regular season. The juggernauts simply go through the motions, their eyes already on the postseason. And if the players are hardly concerned by the regular season, why should the fans be? So everyone is just counting down the days until summer, when the likes of the Spurs and the Celtics sort of challenge the big boys but not really.
What’s different this time is that we’ve just had the Greatest Offseason Of All Time. Teams aren’t waiting around to build up through draft picks. They don’t want to succeed to the Warriors’ throne in a few years’ time; they want to take it with fire and blood. Just look at the big news this week for example. Russell Westbrook has the option to leave the Thunder next summer. Perhaps a few years ago they would have traded him for young talent and draft picks, accepting that the timeline wasn’t right for a championship run and it would be more prudent to play the long game, rebuild, and make a push in 5 or 6 years. Instead they went all in to keep their star and somehow pulled off swapping a few role players for two All-Stars in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And the Thunder aren’t the only ones stockpiling greatness. Everyone seems determined to topple the Warriors and teams are ruthlessly entering Free-Agency to emulate their success model. The Rockets, who had hoped Melo would join their ranks, went out and acquired Chris Paul. Even without Melo, they still have one of the most dangerous backcourts in the league, and a great coach in Mike D’Antoni. And not far up the coast you have the same strategy, only with big men, in the New Orleans Pelicans. Even though I don’t expect the Pelicans to be a serious contender, it must be remembered that they started this year with the ambitious acquisition of Demarcus Cousins to accompany Anthony Davis. That’s the two best big men in the league playing for the same team. The Timberwolves grabbed Jimmy Buckets and the Cavs landed Isaiah Thomas. And then of course there’s the Boston Celtics, armed with a proven winner in Kyrie Irving and an underrated stud in Gordon Hayward.
It remains to be seen whether all these superstars can play together, and I know that spacing is usually the concern. But I believe that the best players are intelligent enough to learn how to get the best out of each other. What’s so compelling about the Thunder’s offseason is that it shows how hungry they are for a championship. Like I said, they are going all in. Win a championship and get Westbrook to resign. That’s the plan. And we know Russ wants it most of all, and that’s why he’ll learn to share the ball with PG and Melo. Last season saw Westbrook post a record-setting usage rate of 40.8. Everything seemed to go through Russ, and obviously this won’t be the case this season. Both PG and Melo are better shooters than him, and in Adams and Patterson he has some solid enforcers. The Thunder look like a championship caliber team. I’m not saying they’ll win it, or even that they’ll make it to the finals. I still think they have to get past the Spurs for a shot at the Warriors’ crown. It’s been a solid if relatively quiet offseason for San Antonio, but they will do what they always do, and I expect them to remain the biggest threat the Warriors have to deal with. At the end of the day they possess the greatest coach in basketball history- Gregg Popovich- and arguably the second-best all-around player in the world in Kawhi Leonard.
But what I’m really interested in are the storylines that are being set up for this season. In Cleveland we have Lebron chasing the ghost of MJ and trying to secure his legacy, his urgency increasing with every year he gets closer to his retirement. In Boston you’ve got Kyrie, determined to prove to the world that he can win without him. Meanwhile in the west the wolves are coming for Steph Curry and co. The stage is set for a Westbrook revenge narrative, and how sweet would it be for him to finally get his ring at the expense of Kevin Durant?