Sorry folks, but this post’s theme song … needs no lyrics.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. John Tesh:
As one of the three die-hard NBA fans in our fine five county metropolitan area, it's tough to put into words, how sweet tonight is.
Don't get me wrong -- I watch an inordinate amount of college hoops. I think the moment I knew "The Ex" and I would always remain friends, was when she somehow, someway, didn't divorce me after the UConn / 'Cuse six overtime game four years ago. A lesser chica would have kicked my ass to the curb, for the "hang on, it's still going, I'll be in bed in ten minutes" routine I pulled for three straight hours.
(No, wait -- we were at Stubbs that night. So I'd have kicked her out, for leaving me over a basketball game? (cue the befuddled and aloof look.) God, this is confusing. No wonder I'm single.)
But the NBA. I love the Association. I love it because I love seeing greatness flourish. You don't make it into an eight, nine man rotation in this league, unless you are truly one of the most gifted, skilled athletic specimens walking this fine place we call Earth.
This season is going to be interesting. I think everyone entering last year expected Miami to win the East. And nobody was stunned that three of the last four standing in the West were San Antonio, Memphis, and Oklahoma City.
I'd argue entering the season, at least eight teams have legitimate Finals credentials: three in the East, five in the West. And another couple in each conference, with the right breaks and a costly injury or three to the opposition, could sneak through ala the 1999 Knicks or 2007 Cavaliers. Furthermore, for the first time in a long time, you can effectively write off the Lakers and Celtics before the season begins (although I do think one of them, will make the playoffs). And Tankapalooza is already fully underway in Phoenix, Philly, and the aforementioned Boston.
Plus, it's David Stern's final rodeo. The man who is arguably the most innovative and successful sports commissioner in North American history (although Pete Rozelle has a decent argument for himself) is finally hanging it up. You could argue no commissioner has ever meant more to his sport than Mr. Stern has to the Association -- his first real action with the League was negotiating the ABA surrender in 1976 that launched the modern era. From that, to the golden age of the 1980s with Bird, Magic, and a rising Michael Jordan, to the Bulls dynasties of the 1990s, to the Lakers and Spurs brilliance the last fifteen years, he's overseen it all. The Draft just won't be the same without him. Somehow, I don't envision Adam Silver having fun with the fans booing and taunting him, like Ol' Dave does.
The Rolling Stones were right: "what a drag it is getting old."
Here then are this "fertilizer" blogger's wild turkey guesses, at how the season will unfold. (Pause). What? (Pause). Yeah, that's true -- you wouldn't be completely out of bounds, to accuse me of chugging the Wild Turkey, when writing these.
1. Brooklyn Nets
2. New York Knicks
3. Toronto Raptors
4. Boston Celtics
5. Philadelphia 76ers.
Division MVP: Deron Williams, PG, Brooklyn.
Division Coach / Year: Dwane Casey, Toronto.
Playoff Team(s): Nets (2), Knicks (5), Raptors (7).
Rationale / Reasoning: I am really high on this Brooklyn team. Don't ask me why; I just love the make-up of this team ... for the next two years, anyway. Then they're going to be an even bigger trainwreck than their rivals twelve miles away in midtown Manhattan. The Knicks will make the playoffs, and if they draw the right matchup (which would have to be Chicago, or possibly Brooklyn), they might win a round. The Raptors are better than people give them credit for. Boston and Philly combined won't win as many games as the Nets do. Tank away boys! Tank away!
1. Indiana Pacers
2. Chicago Bulls
3. Detroit Pistons
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
5. Milwaukee Bucks
Division MVP: Paul George, F, Indiana.
Division Coach / Year: Frank Vogel, Indiana.
Playoff Team(s): Pacers (3), Bulls (4), Pistons (6), Cavs (8).
Rationale / Reasoning: I think the Pacers are the East's best team entering the season, but the division is so tough, it's going to cost them a few wins and a couple slots in the postseason seeding. (Conversely, the Southeast is so god-awful, Miami can sleepwalk through nearly all of it's divisional contests and emerge with the W.) Detroit, Cleveland, and Milwaukee are all interchangeable -- two of the three of them, are sliding into the postseason and losing 4-1 at best to one of the East's finest; the team without a chair when the music stops, is really going to regret not embracing the disgrace that is Tankapalooza. And my guess is, it'll be Milwaukee.
Although when it comes to the Bucks (this site's official rooting interest), I loved the Larry Drew hire, think there's a decent young nucleus there, and I love, and I mean LOVE, the new court design. But folks? Sorry -- once again, Bango! will be the most lovable thing at a Bucks game. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But it's not a good one.
1. Miami Heat
2. Washington Bullets
3. Charlotte Bobcats
4. Atlanta Hawks
5. Orlando Magic.
Division MVP: LeBron James, F, Miami.
Division Coach / Year: Eric Spoelstra, Miami.
Playoff Team(s): Heat (1).
Rationale / Reasoning: this is not an anti-Hawks pick. As they're currently constructed, they should be the six seed. But Danny Ferry's too smart to wallow in no-man's land any longer than he has to. This is gonna be a full on fire-sale at the deadline, if not earlier. The Heat are trying to accomplish something only two teams have done since the merger: reach four straight Finals. This will be their toughest trip yet, to try to get there, and considering Boston had them on the ropes, Game Six at the Fake Garden, back in the 2012 Eastern Finals, that's saying something. I could see the Bullets stealing the eight seed if everyone stays healthy, but if John Wall hasn't played a healthy season to date, why start wagering that'll happen.
If they are healthy, they are a must-watch team on the League Pass. You will drool over Bradley Beal folks. The Magic are in rebuilding mode, and the Bobcats? I hear that Nathan Scott dude is available; he's a better option at the two, than anything on the roster currently.
(What? I haven't gotten to use the not-even-remotely-funny "One Tree Hill" joke in a while! Cut me some slack!)
Eastern Conference Postseason:
1 Miami Heat over 8
Detroit Pistons Cleveland Cavaliers in five.
2 Brooklyn Nets over 7 Toronto Raptors in four.
3 Indiana Pacers over 6 Detroit Pistons in five.
5 New York Knicks over 4 Chicago Bulls in six.
1 Miami Heat over 5 New York Knicks in seven.
2 Brooklyn Nets over 3 Indiana Pacers in seven.
2 Brooklyn Nets over 1 Miami Heat in six.
Eastern Conference Champion: Brooklyn Nets.
1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Houston Rockets
3. Memphis Grizzlies
4. Dallas Mavericks
5. New Orleans Pelicans.
Division MVP: Dwight Howard, Houston.
Division Coach / Year: Kevin McHale, Houston.
Playoff Team(s): Spurs (1), Rockets (4), Grizzlies (7).
Rationale / Reasoning: I can make a case for any of these teams at least reaching the playoffs. The Spurs at this point have become like the Jayhawks basketball team: until they actually don't win, how can you pick against them? They've won at least 50 games every season since 1997 save for the 1999 lockout season ... and that's the year they broke through and won their first championship. (Even in the 2011-2012 lockout shortened season, they still won 50, against a 66 game schedule.)
I like this Rockets team, and Kevin McHale can flat out coach, but I'm not sold on it. Memphis will be what they have been the last two, three seasons: a solid regular season team, a really tough out in the playoffs. Dallas and New Orleans look like also-rans in a loaded West; if they were in the East, they'd be a six seed at worst.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
2. Portland Trail Blazers
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
4. Denver Nuggets
5. Utah Jazz
Division MVP: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City.
Division Coach / Year: Scotty Brooks, Oklahoma City.
Playoff Team(s): Thunder (2), Trail Blazers (8).
Reasoning / Rationale: other than Miami, noone has an easier path to a division championship and top two seed, than your Oklahoma City Thunder. The only way they don't win this division by ten games minimum, is injury issues. Everyone else is fighting it out for the right to get rolled on the Riverwalk to open May. I think Portland's the best of the bunch, although the Timberwolves won't be half bad. The Nuggets have begun the rebuild; the Jazz began it a season ago. Honestly, the only team in this division worth tuning in to watch is OKC, unless you're into cool looking courts, in which case taking in a few minutes of a game at the Rose Garden in Portland or Target Center in Minneapolis isn't a bad idea.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
2. Golden State Warriors
3. Los Angeles Lakers
4. Sacramento Kings
5. Phoenix Suns.
Division MVP: Stephen Curry, Golden State.
Division Coach / Year: Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers.
Playoff Team(s): Clippers (3), Warriors (5), Lakers (6).
Reasoning / Rationale: I envision many a late, late night staying up to watch two of the funnest teams in the Association ... and two of its most dysfunctional. I'm not as sold on Doc Rivers as most, but quite frankly, I'd be a step up from Vinny Del Negro, and my coaching would make Wilt Chamberlain's efforts in 1974 for your San Diego Conquistadors look accomplished. (True story: ABA Commissioner Tedd Munchak actually had to pass a rule that required coaches to wear shoes on the sidelines. Wilt coached in sandals ... the forty or so games, he showed up for*.
The key to Golden State is health. IF Andrew Bogut can give them sixty games, look out. Steph Curry is a pleasure to watch. David Lee was the only thing redeemable about the Isiah-era Knicks (other than the live blog of the MSG pregame show on my original site, "The Herm". There's comedy, there's high comedy, and then there's Al Trautwig tossing it to Gus Johnson and a pimped out Walt "Clyde" Frazier, while Zeke is ducking debris being tossed by the Gahden faithful after another 105-72 beatdown to the lowly Bobcats. 2007 Knicks Basketball: As Awful As It Sounds!)
Ditto the Lakers. If Kobe gives you anything more than half a season, they're stealing one of the last three seeds. I'm not seeing it for Sacramento or Phoenix, who should give your 1972 Philadelphia 76ers a healthy run for their money, for worst record ever. (They went 9-73.)
(*: I'm telling you, if you want a phenomenal read, get "Loose Balls" by Terry Pluto. It's the oral history of the nine year history of the ABA. It's a damned shame the ABA folded up shop in 1976, so it's ineligible for "30 for 30" treatment. (And fell just six months short of being a part of my life.)
Just the Spirits of St. Louis chapter alone could be made into a phenomenal 90 minute documentary. I mean, let me type ten things the ABA gave us, both quality and pure entertainment, that the David Stern NBA would never stand for. You tell me which of the ten is not quite factually accurate.
1. The first female to run a professional sports franchise, Colonels owner John Y. Brown's wife Ellie, who noted of her qualifications for the job: "well, my husband can't fry a chicken, but he seems to do quite well for himself." (John Y. Brown owned Kentucky Fried Chicken at the time.)
2. Adolph Rupp, about fifteen bourbons in, calling his team's star player every racist term in the book, up to and including "coon (n-bomb)", audibly loud enough to be heard by the entire press corps in the Memphis auditorium. (Although in Mr. Rupp's defense, actual attendance that night was likely in the tens of tens, so noise was not likely a factor.)
3. The slam dunk contest, invented in 1976 at the ABA's final All Star Game in Denver.
4. Spirits of St. Louis star forward Marvin "Bad News" Barnes, beating his teammate senseless with a tire iron, after pistol whipping him didn't get the job done.
5. Pat Boone (yes, THE Pat Boone) losing over $4 million dollars (a huge amount in 1969) because his fellow owner used a blank check from his Bank of America account, to open up a line of credit for himself, that he used to run up millions of dollars in debt, bankrupting the Oakland Oaks franchise after two seasons.
6. The red, white, and blue basketball.
7. A team named the Baltimore Hustlers ... which quickly morphed into the Baltimore Crabs ... before settling on the Baltimore Claws ... before folding without playing a game.
8. A team named the Virginia Squires, who in their final season of existence (and the last of the ABA), employed not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, but seven -- SEVEN! -- different head coaches.
9. When the final merger settlement agreement came, three teams were left out. The Virginia Squires were bankrupt and unviable. The Kentucky Colonels took a buyout (due to Chicago’s objections of territorial rights, the Colonels were not considered for the NBA, even though they were a better franchise than at least 3/4ths of the NBA at that point), that owner John Y. Brown immediately used half of to purchase the Buffalo Braves (who eventually became the LA Clippers).
The most shrewd of the three owners to not get in, was the Silva brothers of the Spirits of St. Louis. They got their buyout … but they also demanded, and received, 1/7th of the shared revenue stream of the four franchise that the NBA did accept (the Spurs, Pacers, Nets, and Nuggets) – IN PERPETUITY. As of 2011, the Silva had earned nearly $280 million dollars, for simply doing nothing, from those four franchises.
10. A young first year broadcaster fresh out of Syracuse University named Bob Costas was the Spirits of St. Louis play-by-play announcer, and famously said during one early 1974-1975 broadcast "Bob MacKinnon (the Spirits coach) certainly doesn't want to see a repeat of last night's blow job (by the Spirits)."
And … time.
The answer? (4). Mr. Barnes pistol whipped and beat up a teammate with a tire iron, while still a student athlete at Providence. Thanks for playing!)
Western Conference Playoffs:
1 San Antonio Spurs over 8 Portland Trail Blazers in five.
2 Oklahoma City Thunder over 7 Memphis Grizzlies in seven.
3 Los Angeles Clippers over 6 Los Angeles Lakers in six.
5 Golden State Warriors over 4 Houston Rockets in six.
5 Golden State Warriors over 1 San Antonio Spurs in six.
2 Oklahoma City Thunder over 3 Los Angeles Clippers in seven.
2 Oklahoma City Thunder over 5 Golden State Warriors in five.
Western Conference Champions: Oklahoma City Thunder.
2 Brooklyn Nets over 2 Oklahoma City Thunder in six.
NBA Champions: Brooklyn Nets.