Earl: Yes, mom?
Mom: Things are going to be different now. He’s not coming back.
Earl: He’s not?...... Was it me?
Mom: No, he loves you Earl. That’s why he went and got Lance Stephenson on his new team.
Earl: Oh. (stares off into the distance with longing in his eyes)
Mom: But you have a new mission, a new responsibility.
Earl: (squints really hard)
Mom: His name is Cedi. And he’s from the future.
The NBA season is upon us and things are different in Cleveland. LeBron is gone. So even though its Tyronn Lue’s third season with the title, this will be his first year as the actual head coach of the Cavs. Kevin Love signed a 4 year contract extension to stay in Cleveland which came as a surprise to many. And the Cavs have decisions to make on what the end goal of this season is going to be.
The Cavs have already publicly stated that the goal this year is to be back in the playoffs. But the reality of the NBA landscape for have-not cities like Cleveland is not so simple. The Cavs first round pick is top 10 protected due to the Kyle Korver trade with the Hawks. If they make the playoffs, they lose their first round draft pick; the easiest way for most small market teams to improve. The last time LeBron left, the Cavs ended up with Kyrie Irving in the draft. Tanking (the act of losing games on purpose to improve your draft selection) is not good for organizational culture but if it lands you Zion Williamson, who’s gonna argue against it?
The Cavs have some pieces that will be fun to watch but I find it difficult to have high hopes for this squad. Kevin Love was the quintessential ‘good stats on a bad team’ guy in Minnesota, the last time he was the best player on a team. He has been criticized for his leadership or lack thereof while there which begs the question: Who’s gonna lead this Cavs team? Tristan Thompson? I wouldn’t let him order me a ham sandwich. Lue doesn’t strike me as a someone that has full control of this team but that could be the LeBron effect. It’ll be interesting to see who fills this void.
There are however a few young players that are going to make the Cavs enjoyable to watch. All eyes will be on first round pick Collin Sexton out of Alabama. He’s a gamer that will show you glimpses of a bright future but at times have you shaking your head but in a good way when he tries to do a little too much. Cedi Osman is back and he could be starting this year. Cavs fans already love him and him playing more will only spread his legend. And Larry Nance Jr. is a similar player with that scrappy ‘hustleability’ fans of Chris Jent tear up at.
Season Outlook: The Cavs may very well try to make the playoffs but I think by the All Star break, they’ll find themselves on the outside looking in and tanking will commence.
Here’s my predictions for this NBA season with assorted comments.
15. Atlanta Hawks
14. New York Knicks
13. Orlando Magic
12. Brooklyn Nets
11. Cleveland Cavaliers
10. Chicago Bulls
9. Charlotte Hornets
8. Miami Heat
7. Washington Wizards
6. Detroit Pistons
5. Indiana Pacers
4. Milwaukee Bucks
3. Toronto Raptors
2. Philadelphia 76ers
1. Boston Celtics
Boston is going to be really impressive to watch. Can’t wait to see how boy genius Brad Stevens has these guys playing. A full year of Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, and Jayson Tatum is going to be too much for most teams. Boston will have some serious questions if this squad doesn’t make it to the Finals.
Toronto is better now with Kawhi Leonard but they have an unproven first year head coach with the added pressure of convincing Leonard to sign long term in Toronto. Philadelphia has a proven coach and should improve with recent number 1 pick Markelle Fultz playing more. If Fultz plays up to potential, the Sixers could cause real problems for Boston.
Giannis reportedly worked on a 3 point shot and the Bucks improved at head coach so they should be better this year. The Pistons will get a full year of Blake Griffin and I think he’s gonna dominate the Eastern Conference. The poor Knicks will be without their beloved Godzingis who has no set return date but rumors of Kevin Durant having interest in signing next year should get any fan base excited. The Knicks can easily follow the Lakers’ strategy of tanking and storing up young talent to attract Durant. This year may not be the best, but there’s hope in New York.
15. Sacramento Kings
14. Phoenix Suns
13. Dallas Mavericks
12. Los Angeles Clippers
11. Memphis Grizzlies
10. San Antonio Spurs
9. New Orleans Pelicans
8. Denver Nuggets
7. Portland Trail Blazers
6. Minnesota Timberwolves
5. Utah Jazz
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
3. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Houston Rockets
1. Golden State Warriors
The West is loaded. It’s going to be a battle between several teams for the last few playoff seeds. And the hardest part was picking San Antonio to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1997. Leonard to Derozan is a bigger downgrade than I think people realize but losing point guard Dejounte Murray really puts the Spurs in a tough spot. Frankly it would be a bigger surprise if they did end up missing the playoffs.
For all the haters out there, Luka Doncic is going to make you love basketball again. He’s if LeBron James and Toni Kukoc had a child. He’s got a little of LeBron’s all around game and Kukoc’s flair for being European. Dallas will be fun to watch but this year is about saying bye to Dirk Nowitzki. He’s setting the record for most seasons ever played with one team (21) and I don’t think he’s coming back next year. Congrats on a great career.
But the biggest story in the NBA usually always revolves around one LeBron James. And this year will be one of the biggest seasons in his career because he now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. I’ve seen enough of LeBron and this young Lakers team to sit on the side of the aisle that argues these Lakers will figure it out sooner rather than later and will be one of the best teams in the West. It’s the best ballplayer in the world with a bunch of hungry, unselfish, talented young kids that can already play defense plus some uniquely skilled (and minded) veterans.
But while it will be fun watching just how well these Lakers play with each other, barring injury, this year belongs to the Warriors. It’s really hard to 3 peat and that may be their only real challenge. But as long as they want it, no one is beating them. Still, there’s a reason the season is played and we don’t crown champions before their time.
Finals Prediction: Warriors over Celtics in 5.