The NBA season kicks off in two nights. WOOOOOHOOOOOO!!
Now, before we get too excited, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the horrible news that broke today that long time NBA head coach Flip Saunders passed away Sunday after a battle with cancer. This is devastating news, and my heart goes out to Saunders’ family, the Minnesota Timberwolves organization and the NBA at large. Saunders was a great ambassador for the NBA and one of its top coaches. By all accounts he was an even greater man. He will be missed dearly.
The NBA that Saunders leaves behind is in great shape. There are more superstars and top flight teams in the league than perhaps anytime in the last 30 years. There are storylines galore. How will first year college to pro coaches – Fred Hoiberg (Bulls) and Billy Donovan (Thunder) – fare after taking over contenders? Can Anthony Davis make the expected leap to league’s best player sooner than later? Can the champion Warriors prove last year wasn’t a fluke? Will the small-ball revolution continue and teams trend closer toward positionless basketball? How will Kevin Durant’s comeback-from-injury tour unfold? And for that matter, Paul George’s?
Speaking of injuries, the worst trend in recent NBA seasons has been the amount of time missed by hobbled star players. The following sample reads like a USA Basketball practice roster: Durant, George, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire. All of these guys have missed significant game time or whole seasons since 2012. Last season could have been an all-timer in terms of basketball greatness, yet by the end of the playoffs we were so marred by injury that teams were a shell of themselves. Look, injuries are always going to factor into an 82-game season with two months of postseason play; and the team with the most injury luck is normally the last team standing in June. But last season got ridiculous.
It’s why the Warriors are (unfairly in my opinion) having to defend their title verbally before the season even starts. Golden State won a historic 67 games, had the League MVP and more or less rolled through the playoffs, but teams and pundits are still chirping that their championship win was due more to other contenders in their path being decimated by injury. In the Finals, the Cavs were without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. The Rockets lost Pat Beverley and had a hobbled Howard in the Western Conference Finals. After going up 2-1 on the Warriors in the second round, the Grizzlies’ backcourt became dinged up.
I’m not taking anything away from the Warriors. That’s nonsense. But I can’t deny that the level of play goes down considerably with all this attrition. And the basketball watching public suffers. This year, the Pelicans are already a basketball MASH unit, which will put considerable strain on Davis. Please, Brow, please stay healthy.
I read a lot of NBA coverage and listen to a ton of podcasts – I love prognostication. One thing you learn quickly is in any season previews or playoff predictions, the words “If they stay healthy” or “With all things being equal” has to be mentioned constantly. If Durant and Serge Ibaka stay healthy, OKC could win 65 games. If Rose stays healthy the Bulls could get the 1 seed. See what I mean?
Teams recognize this as a huge issue, as does the top NBA brass. You’re seeing teams invest in new wave training staffs and sending players to sports science organizations like P3 in Los Angeles during the offseason. Commissioner Adam Silver is working on ways to eliminate back to backs and four games in five nights, while someday we may see fewer games with more rest in between. Whatever it takes, I’m for it. Because only injuries and hack-a-thons can take away from what should be an awesome 2015-16 season. It’s time to get fired up.
The season starts Tuesday with three great matchups. Here’s a brief look:
Cleveland @ Chicago (TNT) – 7 p.m.
Oh yeah, baby. This is the stuff I’ve been waiting for since June. As a Bulls fan, I’m cautiously optimistic about the Fred Hoiberg era. Rose will be in the lineup after his broken orbital bone injury, and LeBron will also play after his preseason back injection. No Iman Shumpert or Kyrie though, already out with injuries. Sigh. At least the King and D-Rose will be out there. I like the Bulls to get Hoiberg a win in his first regular season game.
Detroit @ Atlanta – 7 p.m.
This may not intrigue casual fans, but I’m very interested. The only thing casual about me is my wardrobe, son… /adjusts basketball shorts. Stan Van Gundy is reshaping the Pistons with one big in the middle (Andre Drummond) and four shooters on the outside. They should play faster and be much harder to deal with defensively. Atlanta won 60 games last year and lost Demarre Carroll to free agency, but signed Tiago Splitter and return with a chip on their shoulder. Nobody thinks they can be as good this year, that last year was an aberration. Time to prove doubters wrong. I like them to start out 1-0.
New Orleans @ Golden State (TNT) – 9:30 p.m.
A rematch of last year’s first round playoff series, which the Warriors swept. This game looked a lot better when the schedule first came out. But as mentioned, New Orleans is banged up badly. They could be without Tyreke Evans, Norris Cole, Quincy Pondexter, Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca, and Jrue Holiday will be on a minutes limit. Meanwhile the Champs are healthy, playing at home and have haters to quiet. I like the Warriors big.
Here we go. Let’s be careful out there NBA teams. May your injury reports be short and your medical staff be bored.