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A Thorough 2022–23 NBA Season Preview, In Case They Have One (Not Decided Yet)

Seven old-timey hoopers in white outfits and high socks
Picturenow/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Hello and good afternoon, casual basketball enthusiast! It’s brisk and breezy outside and the leaves are changing colors, and that means it’s that time again: Time to wonder whether they will be having another one of those National Basketball Association “seasons” this year! It’s a big mystery! Appropriate in that sense for the Halloween season, which as I understand it incorporates some mysterious type of stuff sometimes.

With that in mind, and because I am by nature an industrious sort who does not like to leave things to chance or the last minute, let’s “preview” what the upcoming NBA season might be like, if they eventually decide to have one, which so far as I know is still up in the air at this point. Like a ball! A ball arcing toward a basket. When will we get to see such a thing again? Who can say? In any event it will definitely be in the future, when it happens, and not at all for example last night.

Below you will find frankly excessively informative sections introducing you to each of the NBA’s, hang on, I have to Google something very quickly, 30 teams, in alphabetical order. All that anyone could ever hope to learn about any of the teams is down there, in case you need it later on, if and when the NBA ever returns, which it has not done yet.

WHICH IT HAS NOT DONE YET.


Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young, clutching himselfCredit: Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Hawks went 43-39 in the 2021-22 season and finished with the East’s eighth-best record. This meant the Hawks had to play in the stupid play-in weekend thing; they waxed the Charlotte Hornets in the first game of that, then edged the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second. If there is a less legitimate path to an NBA playoff berth than winning a pair of play-in games against the Charlotte Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to the East’s eighth seed, literally only the 2022 Charlotte Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers were even eligible for it. In any event, the Hawks’ reward for escaping the play-in was a five-game thrashing and dismissal by the Miami Heat in the, uh, first (?) round.

This all amounted to a sharp step backward from the previous season, when they’d gone 41-31, entered the playoffs as the fifth seed, then wiped out the higher-seeded New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers along the way to the franchise’s first conference-finals appearance since 2015. Somehow the Hawks have turned two straight playoff appearances, after a three-year run in the NBA’s toilet, into a cause for mild pessimism.

Who are their guys?
Their main guy is still Trae Young, the fun and tiny and young-ish guard who so delightfully karate-kicked the buttocks off of the Knicks and Sixers in spring of 2021, then spent all of last season seeming weirdly unhappy (while also, I must note, mostly playing very well) before performing about as well in that five-game Miami series as you might expect from your average 12-year-old.

I prefer to think of the good times! And also to let video highlights eat up some of the workload!

Look at him go! And not at the clock, which has absolutely nothing good to say right now.

The Hawks also added Dejounte Murray via offseason trade, presumably on the idea that pairing Young with an ace defensive guard might go some distance toward covering for his apocalyptically bad contributions in that area. Murray is very good and the trade was very good, and then I think about, like, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant and, I dunno, suddenly it just kind of seems like somebody just put a nice new pair of socks on a crash-test dummy.

That’s the wrong way for me to look at it and it sucks! It’s good for sorta middle-class NBA teams to shore up their goodness, even if it’s via moves that leave them definitively shy of championship contention! Hawks fans should be glad their team traded for Dejounte Murray! I shouldn’t be like this! Alas.

Are they good?
They’re fine. Barring Trae Young’s (worrisomely tiny) body exploding, they’ll spend the season in the upper half of the East’s standings.

Are they fun?
They’re probably fun. They can be fun. Even with the league’s crackdown on unnatural foul-drawing motions, Young is one of the league’s most committed and shameless dark-arts practitioners, which can suck the entertainment value out of any basketball game. He’s also, though, a ballhandling wiz with a great eye for creative floor-warping passes and theatrical shotmaking. The Hawks have it in them to play fast, to do cool stuff, to win games that feel like parties. They also have it in them to stand around and watch Young dribble, and to win games that feel like funerals.

Playoffs?
Who can say, really? The future, she is a mystery.


Boston Celtics
Jaylen Brown, looking sort of vaguely perplexedCredit: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Celtics went 51-31 last season and claimed the East’s second playoff seed. Big whoop! They’ve done basically that for what feels like 15 straight years. The exciting part is, they finally broke through all the way to the Finals; they’ve been falling short of the annual expectation that This Is The Year for so long that it’s sort of weird to remember that they’re still, at their core, pretty young. They crashed into an infinitely more experienced and motivated Golden State Warriors team there at the end, and went out in a dignified six games, but still! This is the start of something special! It’s all coming together for the Boston Ce—

Well. Hang on a second.

Who are their guys?
Theoretically their guys are Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the splendid pair of big, athletic, multifarious superhero wings who carried the Celtics to the 2022 Finals and figure to be at the heart of all their efforts for the next handful of years, at least. But the guy who defines Boston’s 2022-23 season may well end up being Ime Udoka, who coached them to those Finals in his first season on the job and then got himself suspended for the entirety of this season for, er, well … it’s still not entirely clear. Some kind of inappropriate workplace relationship outside of his marriage. The Celtics are now in one of the league’s weirdest and most seemingly dysfunctional situations, playing the season with their absent head coach’s fate hanging over their heads: If they crater without him, because he fucked around irresponsibly at work and got himself suspended, then he cannot possibly come back with any credibility—but also, if they do not crater without him, then he also cannot possibly come back with any credibility! Why reinstate the asshole with (at best) atrocious professional judgment if the team can get along fine in his absence?

Anyway it’s very weird, and bad, and I can only assume there’s still lots to learn about what happened and why exactly the Celtics’ top honchos chose a year-long suspension over an outright firing. Oh right, and there are also 82 regular-season games and probably some number of postseason games to focus on. If anybody can!

Are they good?
Yes. Probably a bit distracted, but good.

Are they fun?
Sure. The Celtics’ greatest strength in that Finals run was their ability to play huge lineups that could not be scored upon but that also could shoot and move the ball when they had it, a strength the key to which was and is Tatum and Brown packing guard skills into roughly power-forward-sized bodies. That’s cool and fun unless they’re playing against a team you like.

Playoffs?
Hey, anything can happen in the National Basketball Association.


Brooklyn Nets
Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets)Credit: Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

What is their deal?
They fuckin’ gross me out, is their deal!

With neither James Harden (injured a lot, unhappy, then traded to Philadelphia in February), nor Kevin Durant (also injured a lot), nor Kyrie Irving (a huge asshole) available for more than part-time work—and Ben Simmons, acquired in the Harden trade, too brain-broken to take the court—the Nets went 44-38 last season, finished seventh in the East, and clinched their playoff spot by dispatching the Cleveland Cavaliers in the stupid play-in tournament. The Celtics promptly swept them into the toilet in the first round of the actual playoffs.

Then Durant demanded a trade and (reportedly) issued them-or-me ultimatums around head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks despite having no leverage with which to back any of it, and predictably got none of it, and then did the annoying and very characteristic thing of sullenly insinuating there had been a whole lot more to the story that the media simply had not wanted to tell, without saying what any of it might have been. And now here we are. The other Nets have every reason to believe the team’s best player doesn’t want to be there and doesn’t trust the coach or GM. Irving is always, at best, deeply ambivalent about continuing his basketball career; at any moment he could decide to take a heroic stand against, like, traveling on asphalt, or inside of anything with circle-shaped wheels, and punt another season. Ben Simmons might be more indifferent to basketball than anyone who has ever drawn an NBA paycheck. And the Nets may very well be the best team in the league.

Who are their guys?
I already said who their friggin’ guys are!

Are they good?
I will go as far as saying that they certainly have the roster to be very, very good. It just happens to be that the three best players on it have prior commitments to compete for medals in the Cheesebutt Olympics.

Are they fun?
Only in the degraded and degrading way that, like, Days of Our Lives is fun.

Playoffs?
Ugh, probably.


Charlotte Hornets
LaMelo Ball, P.J. Washington (Charlotte Hornets)Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Hornets posted a 43-39 record in 2021-22, good for 10th best in the East. That got them into the play-in tournament, where they promptly got football-spiked into hell by way of a 29-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Between the above-.500 record, the “postseason” appearance (brief and humiliating as it was), and the blossoming of some of their young guys, you could be tempted to sum this up as the Hornets’ return to relevance, or at least relevance-adjacency, after years in the dump. But how true is that, really? The Hornets have finished in either 9th or 10th place in the conference for five straight years, after all; last year, once again, nine other East teams finished with better records. Maybe the main thing that changed in 2022 is simply that the play-in tournament was there to make 10th place look a little nicer, like a maraschino cherry plopped on top of a stinky turd.

In any event an alarming contingent of the Hornets have spent the offseason getting arrested for and/or charged with crimes, in case the previous paragraph had not cast a sufficient pall over this season.

Who are their guys?
Their main guy is LaMelo Ball, the 2020-21 Rookie of the Year and 2021-22 All-Star. As an antidote to all the bleakness in the previous section, he truly is extremely cool and fun. Here is a video of him doing extremely cool and fun stuff.

Charlotte’s clear second-best player last season was Miles Bridges, presently facing several felony charges related to horrifying injuries the mother of his child says he inflicted on her, in front of their children.

Are they good?
Not really, no.

Are they fun?
LaMelo Ball is extremely fun! He is a fun NBA team unto himself: You could throw him on the court with any four replacement-grade bozos and … well, they’d suck, but whatever buckets they got they probably get in fun ways. That’s cool.

Playoffs?
Who can say, really? The future, she is a mystery.


Chicago Bulls
DeMar Derozan in pretty red lightCredit: Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images

What is their deal?
For big long chunks of the 2021-22 season, the Bulls looked like they might very well be the class of the Eastern Conference. Then their two lynchpin guards got injured and they kinda fell apart, dropping to sixth by the time the playoffs rolled around and receiving a crisp first-round dismissal at the hands of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.

That’s all great, genuinely terrific! It’s good to see what ought to be one of the league’s flagship teams bobbing up to respectability after years of mismanagement and waste. What’s doubly cool about it is that the Bulls did it by simply acquiring better players who made them better, thus giving the idea of improving a team by simply improving the fucking team its 11 trillionth W in the history of professional sports. This makes them, in my reckoning anyway, one of the NBA’s easiest-to-root-for operations at the moment.

Oh hey, speaking of operations.

Who are their guys?
Well, the thing is, one of their key guys last season was Lonzo Ball. Ol’ Lonzo hasn’t ever cut the most impressive box-score figure and likely never will, but his terrific passing, versatile defense, and steady shooting(!) were hugely important to the Bulls before his left knee went kablooey in January and he got meniscus surgery. Then his knee was still bad in the spring when he started working toward a return, and he missed the rest of the season. Then it came out a few weeks ago that he needed another knee operation, that he’s in pain all the time and walks all fucked up, and that he’ll likely be out for months to come. That’s all bad and ominous and I hate it.

Let’s focus instead on DeMar DeRozan, who had maybe the best campaign of his career last season, his first in Chicago, and mid-ranged his very cool way into the MVP discussion. Hell yeah!

It’s 4:40 p.m. on Oct. 18 right now. God help me.

Are they good?
They’re probably OK. They’ll be OK-er if they get Lonzo Ball back at some point and he isn’t shuffling around in constant pain.

Are they fun?
Sure. Just in the sense that they have a lot of versatile veteran dudes who are good at basketball and that gives the team a certain craftiness, an ability to just sorta figure out how to win a given game, and that is cool. But like, no, the basketball generally is not very pretty.

Playoffs?
Anything can happen in the National Basketball Association.


Cleveland Cavaliers
Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland Cavaliers)Credit: Lauren Bacho/NBAE via Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Cavaliers rode a truly weird lineup—two huge goofuses, two tiny guards, uh a fifth guy I guess—to a 44-38 record last season and a ninth-place finish in the East. I don’t think I’d ever noticed before just now how front-loaded the alphabetic NBA is with Eastern Conference teams. Trenchant analysis!

Anyway the Cavs did not escape the play-in games, which is only fair for the ninth-place team. Then they traded a bunch of guys and stuff to take Donovan Mitchell off of the tanking Utah Jazz. That’s cool, I guess.

Who are their guys?
Their guys are Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen. Do you know how many teams I still have to write about??????? Like 24 or whatever!!!!!!

Are they good?
Eh, not really. Certainly not in the way that, like, the Bucks are good. They’re fine.

Are they fun?
They’re young. That’s something. Darius Garland is cool.

Playoffs?
Who can say, really? The future, she is a mystery.


Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)Credit: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Mavericks went 52-30 last season, the fourth in a row they’ve bested their previous season’s winning percentage. They won their first playoff series since drafting Luka Doncic, knocking off the Utah Jazz in six games and booting that miserable team into a disassembly. Then they won their second playoff series since drafting Luka Doncic, a seven-game triumph over the top-seeded Phoenix Suns, who’d represented the West in the 2021 Finals and were 2021-22’s best regular-season team by miles. The Mavs didn’t quite unmake the Suns like they unmade the Jazz, but the upset did kick off an apparent offseason of even more whiny discontent than usual in Phoenix. Very exciting stuff. The run ended in the conference finals, with the Mavs eliminated in five games by the Warriors. But still! A resounding success, all around. There simply is no time to search for ambiguity in it.

Who are their guys?
Why, it’s Doncic, of course. Silly! I mean we don’t even need to talk about it! Also it’s nearly 5:30 p.m. now!

Last season Dallas’s second, uh, most(?) guy wound up being waterbug guard Jalen Brunson, who’d been basically Fine but not Great to that point in his career and whose ability to get himself and the ball wherever he wanted to go on the court made him a terror for opposing defenses in the playoffs. The absolute most natural series of words that could go after that sentence is this: “He signed a very large free-agent contract with the New York Knicks over the summer.” And it’s true!

Are they good?
I think Doncic has now reached the level at which, given basically any normal-grade rotation of players around him, he is sufficient to set that team’s baseline at a playoff berth. Unless his body melts down or he forces his way to some other team or goes back to Europe or decides he wants to take up chain cigar-smoking, you can probably just go ahead and expect the Mavs to be good or at least fine every season between now and, at the soonest, the end of the 2026-27 season, when he is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency. That will make writing next year’s edition of this blog a bit easier for me, I think. Maybe I will just copy-paste this paragraph.

Are they fun?
Sadly, not really. For all of his wondrous gifts as a scorer and nifty passer, Doncic is a bit of a drag to watch, and has trended ever more dragward as his career progresses. He pounds the ball too much, punts a lot of possessions on step-back threes (exciting three years ago, deadly dull now), and keeps up a running fight with the referees in most games. His teammates do a lot of standing and watching. It’s a bummer.

Playoffs?
Ugh, probably.


Denver Nuggets
Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets)Credit: AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Nuggets went 48-34 last season; their .585 winning percentage was their lowest in four years. They took the West’s sixth seed into the playoffs and won one measly first-round game off the Warriors before succumbing. I suppose in a strict sense that’s a big step backward for the Nug Men, who’d finished the previous three seasons respectively in second, second, and third place in the West and won at least one playoff series after each. But they played the entire 2021-22 season without their second-best player and talisman, Jamal Murray, as he recovered from a torn ACL suffered in April of 2021. It’s been dang near a season and a half since they had their second-best player! Only a very tiny number of teams even have a second-best player of Murray’s quality; of those, I’m not sure any could sustain the loss of that player for a full season and still hope to win 48 games and make the playoffs. That’s an enormous credit to the defending two-time MVP who carried them in Murray’s absence, and to the broader, uh, program or whatever in place around him, none of which I now have time to describe in detail, so you will just have to take my word for it.

In any event, Murray is back now. Hurray!

Who are their guys?
I think I gave away the Jamal Murray part. Jamal Murray is one of their guys! At his best—which he’s notably been in several playoff series—Murray is an absolutely electrifying bucket-getter, with a rare capacity to catch fire for a quarter or a half and ruin an opposing team pretty much by himself. Everything in Denver tends to whirr pretty smoothly around Nikola Jokic (the aforementioned two-time MVP), but smooth whirring sometimes isn’t enough; what turbocharged the Nuggets during, for example, their run to the 2020 COVID-bubble conference finals was Murray’s anarchic brilliance, which I guess in this disaster of a metaphor is, like, uh, when that guy in Mad Max: Fury Road was like spitting mouthfuls of gasoline into the intake on the big truck? Whatever, man. The point is he makes the Nuggets better, in a way that none of his otherwise upstanding teammates quite can match. Whether (or how quickly) he can recover all of what made him so good before the knee injury is one of the big questions of the season, for the Nuggets and for everybody who might have to face them in the playoffs. But also for anybody who just likes extremely cool basketball shit.

Nikola Jokic won the last two MVP awards. By blog law that means I do not have to tell you who he is.

Are they good?
Sure. Yes. They’re good. Barring some kind of terrible injury to Jokic, their floor is the dreaded play-in.

Are they fun?
They’re extremely fun. At least partly by necessity Jokic, the finest passer anywhere near his size in basketball history, had to be a bit more of a possession-eater and scorer in Murray’s absence, and did it fantastically—but even so, everything the Nuggets do is juiced by the danger that Jokic can find any even slightly open teammate, anywhere on the floor, from anywhere on the floor, with either hand, at any time. And everything they do is also geared to give him opportunities to do that. That’s cool.

Playoffs?
Anything can happen in the National Basketball Association.


Detroit Pistons
Babies in a nurseryCredit: Michel Gile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry and Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors)Credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

What is their deal?
They’re the frickin’ champions, is their deal! The Warriors went 53-29 in the 2021-22 regular season and entered the playoffs as the West’s third seed. They wiped out the hobbled Denver Nuggets in the first round, handled the game but overmatched young Memphis Grizzlies in six games in the conference semis, gentleman-swept the Dallas Mavericks out of the conference finals, and put down the huge and athletic Boston Celtics in the Finals. It was a stirring and inspirational moment: Years removed from the pinnacle of their dynasty, an aging core that had hung together through years lost to injury and attrition recovered enough of its greatness to snag a fourth championship. Good for them. Also, they can go to hell!

Who are their guys?
Their guys are Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. I have written about them, together, in the “who are their guys” section of so many freaking season- and playoff-preview blogs by now that the very idea of trying to find some new way to introduce them makes me want to spit in your freaking eye. How dare you ask that of me! You can go to hell!

Here is Jordan Poole, the extremely cool young guard who broke out as one of the league’s deadliest shooters, and the owner of one of its (figuratively) itchiest (figurative) trigger-fingers, in 2021-22; who incinerated the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs; and who certainly seems poised to be the future of the Warriors franchise:

Oh haha right, also, Draymond Green punched him in the face in practice a couple of weeks ago. So there’s that.

I guess there is also James Wiseman? After their lost 2019-20 season—Kevin Durant had left in free agency, Klay Thompson had blown out his knee, Steph Curry had broken his hand—the Warriors drafted him second overall in the subsequent draft. They’ve gotten virtually nothing from him since then. I don’t even know why I included him in this section. It’s damn tomorrow already! I don’t have time for this shit!

Are they good?
They’re the defending NBA champions, buddy. Get with the frickin’ program here.

Are they fun?
They’re extremely fun, the fuckers. They move the ball and themselves quickly and constantly and creatively and with impish joy; they bomb threes and make them; at their best they play as if supernaturally mind-melded at both ends of the floor; a focused Draymond Green playing defense is downright electrifying to watch. They’re a gas.

Playoffs?
Who can say, really? The future, she is a mystery.


Houston Rockets
A burning landfillCredit: James Wakibia/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Indiana Pacers
Ted Danson buried up to his neck in sand, being menaced by a crab, in the movie CreepshowCredit: Screenshot via YouTube

Los Angeles Clippers
Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers)Credit: Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Clippers went a meager 42-40 last season, finished ninth in the West, lost two play-in games, and that was that. They did all of that without Kawhi Leonard, who missed every minute of the season recovering from ACL surgery (he hurt his knee in the second round of the 2021 playoffs, against the Utah Jazz); and most of it without Paul George, who played 31 games due to a couple of different injuries. That makes it actually pretty impressive, in my opinion! When you consider their atrocious city-mates, whomst we’ll get to presently, the Clippers are practically superheroes.

Not to skip ahead a section, but Leonard and George are back for this season, apparently healthy. Add in a couple other additions to the roster, and you can expect the Clippers will regard themselves (and many observers will regard them) as title contenders. It may now be that for the first time since the blockbuster moves that brought Kawhi and Paul George to Los Angeles, that all comes with an uncomfortable sense of urgency: Kawhi is 31, has missed pretty huge chunks of his pro career due to major lower-body injuries, hasn’t come close to playing a full NBA regular-season since he was 25, and is in mild but real decline; George is 32 and has missed big chunks of the past three seasons. To paraphrase, uh … the crappy and unloved sequel to Terms of Endearment … there are not that many shopping days left ’til Christmas.

Who are their guys?
We don’t have to do this! It would demean us both! I just listed the Clippers’ guys one paragraph ago!

Hey, the Clippers added John Wall this summer. That’s cool. Ol’ John missed all of last season as the Houston Rockets, unable to trade his gigantic salary off their books, paid him to stay away lest he interfere with their tank job, but now he’s back. He’s had his career pretty well blown off the rails over the past five years, as injuries—including the catastrophic Achilles rupture that took away his entire 2019-20 age-29 season and ended his time as the face of the Wizards franchise—augmented his natural erosion and turned his “supermax” contract into the sport’s biggest albatross. I prefer to remember the happy times. Here’s John Wall doing lots and lots of cool shit back when he was the damn coolest:

It would be very lovely if he could contribute to the Clippers and do some vintage cool shit. That is all I have to say about that.

Are they good?
Almost certainly. It will be a big mess if they are not.

Are they fun?
To an alarming degree, that depends on whether Wall can give them anything. Kawhi is hell on the eyeballs and Paul George is not exactly a barrel of thrills.

Playoffs?
Anything can happen in the National Basketball Association.


Los Angeles Lakers

What is their deal?
God, they fucking suck so bad. The Lakers just suck absolute shit directly from the ass of hell. They went 33-49 in 2021-22 and missed the playoffs by light-years. They had, taken altogether, the most disgusting roster any NBA team has had that I can remember. Even when they won they played atrocious, reprehensible basketball. They shit so much butt that it makes me angry at each of them individually, like they are stealing something from me personally. They can truly go to hell.

Who are their guys?
Their guys are LeBron James and Anthony Davis, in the abstract two of the sport’s, what, top five players? No matter. Neither of them has seemed even 25-percent engaged in their work since the moment the Lakers clinched their deeply accursed COVID-19 Bubble Championship in the autumn of 2020. On a personal level, really, that is fine. Coast in your job if you want! But also, man, it makes for appalling television, which will make me hate your guts.

For better or for worse, no matter how desperately anybody else in the organization may wish this were not so, because his gargantuan salary, cratering skills, and personal cantankerousness make him effectively untradeable, Russell Westbrook is also one of the Lakers guys, due to the hilariously improvident choice to trade a ton of useful shit to the Washington Wizards in exchange for him in August 2021, after he spent a year demonstrating that he was totally washed up. Russ is all but unplayable now, which is awkward both because he hates and resents not-playing and also because he is due to receive $47 million in salary this season, which as the Lakers have seen leaves very little room under the league’s salary cap for hiring anybody else worth a damn to play his position. To that end, in July the Lakers traded two not-completely-useless young players to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Patrick Beverley. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

God how I hate this team!

Are they good?
They fucking suck so bad man! I predict that the Warriors will whomp their asses by two touchdowns in the opening night game that definitely has not happened yet as I am writing this. I “fore”see that Beverley will not produce more than three of any box-score counting stat except personal fouls.

Are they fun?
It would be incredibly fun for me if every member of the Lakers had sudden uncontrollable explosive diarrhea at the same time during play in the fourth quarter of a nationally televised game this season.

Playoffs?
You can go to hell for asking me that!


Memphis Grizzlies
Ja Morant (Memphis Grizzlies)Credit: Nic Antaya/Getty Images

What is their deal?
HELL YEAH BUDDY, HELL YEAH. HELL YEAH!

Who are their guys?
HELL YEAH, JA MORANT, FRIGGIN’ JAREN JACKSON JR., HELL YEAH, DESMOND BANE, BRANDON FRIGGIN’ CLARKE, HELL YEAH. HELL YEAH BUDDY! HELL YEAH.

HELL YEAH HELL YEAH. YEAH!

Are they good?
HELL YEAH THEY’RE GOOD, BUDDY, HELL YEAH. HELL YEAH!

Are they fun?
OH HELL YES, YEAH, HELL YEAH, HELL FRIGGIN’ YEAH BUDDY. FUN AS HELL BUDDY, HELL YEAH. HELL YEAH.

Playoffs?
Who can say, really? The future, she is a mystery.


Miami Heat
Udonis Haslem and some other members of the Miami HeatCredit: Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Heat, you may recall, are the team the Lakers beat in the Finals of those horrible, dystopian Orlando bubble playoffs back in autumn of 2020. Like the Lakers, the Heat played the following season under dark clouds: They’d simply played a lot more bubble-basketball than all but a couple of other teams, and thus had an even more abbreviated offseason in which to address their greater need for recovery. When they hobbled through 2020-21 to a sixth seed and a quick first-round sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, it made sense. Along those same lines it also made sense when, this past season, they got back to kicking mondo ass, posted the East’s best regular season record, and won two playoff series. Alas, then they ran into the younger, bigger, more athletic Boston Celtics in the conference final, and went out in seven tough games.

One of the very coolest things about the Miami Heat organization is its steadfast collective refusal to go backward on purpose—its organizational view that each next championship is or should be within its reach. If the team falls short one season, the people in position to make changes simply attempt to make it better for the next season. That makes the Heat a near-model sports franchise. I suppose it also means, though, that when the Heat win a conference-best 53 regular-season games and a pair of playoff series, but then fall short of the Finals, implicit in the idea that the Heat are in pursuit of each season’s championship is the idea that the conference-final finish must be viewed as a disappointment. Whereas I, a deranged longtime fan of the Washington goddamn Wizards, would regard that season as, basically, having won the freaking Mega Millions lottery. Whereas for me, the only Wizards seasons that can count as disappointments are the ones in which I am not reduced to ash by a bolt of lightning.

I guess that’s a long way of saying that the Heat fucking blew it last season. They fucking blew it! Great job, assholes!

Who are their guys?
It’s the same guys it’s been for the past couple years: Jimmy Butler, who fits so well in Miami that it’s kind of weird to think he spent most of his career elsewhere, and Bam Adebayo, the very excellent do-everything center. The Heat added Kyle Lowry to play point guard before last season, a move that mostly worked out fine except by the ludicrous standard to which the Heat hold themselves, but of course he is 12,000 years old now, and so the Heat also gave Tyler Herro a big-ass multi-year contract a couple of weeks ago. He’s a lot of fun, and maybe even a star someday.

Fun fact: The Heat also re-signed Udonis Haslem this past offseason. The 42-year-old has not played more than 83 total minutes across any season since 2018—not because of injury, but because of not being remotely useful on a basketball court—has not been anywhere in even the outermost orbit of “good at professional basketball” since literally like 2011 (and possibly not ever), and is one of these exhausting blowhards who likes to think of himself as a high priest in the Church of Toughness, like Kevin Garnett if Kevin Garnett had been born without fingers or wrists. I can only assume he is in possession of high-definition videos of Heat top honcho Pat Riley engaged in truly breathtakingly evil crimes. I hope never to mention him in a blog or anywhere else ever again.

Are they good?
They’re terrific.

Are they fun?
Not in the way that, like, the Warriors are fun, no. Or, well, yes, in one of the ways the Warriors are fun—it’s great fun to watch a smart and cohesive veteran team configure itself on the fly to figure out how to win a given game—but not in the sense of, like, doing a lot of cool shit with the ball or playing at a pace and tempo that make you feel like you are riding a carnival ride. But sure, yes, they are fun.

Playoffs?
Anything can happen in the National Basketball Association.


Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)Credit: Stacy Revere/Getty Images

What is their deal?
By the end of the 2021 playoffs, when the Bucks—when Giannis Antetokounmpo, really—had finished flattening everyone and everything placed along the path to the championship, I felt sure I was witnessing the beginning of a dynasty. I couldn’t imagine how anybody would beat Giannis in a seven-game playoff series in the next decade. That may yet (mostly) bear out. A weird feature of the modern three-pointer-crazed game, though, is its fickleness—its wild variability. The Bucks won 51 regular-season games in 2021-22; they flattened the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs; they battled the Boston Celtics to a seventh game in the conference finals. And then they shot 1-for-23 from three-point range over the final three quarters of that game, lost the second half by 23 points, and were eliminated.

The Celtics were a genuinely great defensive team last season, but still: Plenty of those 22 missed three-pointers were perfectly fine looks and clean releases. They simply didn’t go in. And because of that, the Bucks couldn’t stay close enough for Giannis’s greatness to make any difference in the endgame (which for all practical purposes turned out to have been in the second quarter, when nobody was thinking about it). And that might just have been the only reason why the Bucks aren’t two-time defending champions right now.

In any case, the Bucks are real friggin’ good, and Giannis is terrifying.

Who are their guys?
Giannis!

Giannis!!!

Giannis?

Frickin’ Giannis!!!!

Are they good?
I already covered that. It’s like you’re not paying any attention at all.

Are they fun?
Giannis plus any four pieces of IKEA furniture would be a fun team to watch. Which is great because his Bucks teammates are pretty dull.

Playoffs?
Who can say, really? The future, she is a mystery.


Minnesota Timberwolves
Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert (Minnesota Timberwolves)Credit: Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

What is their deal?
Hey! Get a load of these guys! After three seasons in the landfill, amid, well, basically an entire existence of not mattering all that much to the main events of any NBA season, the young Wolves posted a modest but totally decent 46-36 record in 2021-22, knocked off the Clippers in the abominable play-in game to nail down the seventh seed they’d already rightly claimed by finishing the regular season in seventh place in the West, and played (and lost, but still) an absolutely delightful six-game first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies. Heck dang yeah!

Then they went out and made a huge splash trade for three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, more-or-less mimicking (smartly and coolly) the Chris Paul trade the Phoenix Suns pulled off a couple years prior to crystallize their own return to competitiveness from years spent wallowing at the bottom of an outhouse for no good reason. That’s great. I love it. Good for the Timberwolves, and for their fans, who are due for some good shit at last. Their team is young and bursting with talent and now they have a humongous one-man defense to shore them up at that end of the floor while their young guys try stuff and figure shit out. That’s all good.

Now for the bummer part.

Who are their guys?
One of the real joys of the 2021-22 season was the clear ascent of Anthony Edwards, the personally and technically unpolished but phenomenally gifted wing whom the Wolves took first overall in the 2020 draft. If he wasn’t quite a star-grade player last season (he wasn’t, I don’t know why I wrote “if” there), he was nonetheless an extremely promising 20-year-old whose trend in the direction of stardom couldn’t be missed. And, as a huge bonus, he was incredibly easy to like and root for, a font of charming quotes, a guileless, seemingly good-natured young goofus who seemed not to take either himself or basketball all that seriously. He made a couple of bonehead plays in the Grizzlies series, but also flashed a thrilling eagerness to do cool shit on the big stage—unmistakable signs of being That Guy. The future was—and probably in many respects still is—bright and lovely for him and the Wolves.

It’s just, well, also, in September he revealed himself to be the kind of guy who rolls down a car window to yell homophobic slurs at people, and makes a video of himself doing it, and posts the video online, and doesn’t see anything at all wrong with any of that until after it has been done. He’s 20, and plenty of 20-year-old ignoramuses have gone on to mature into perfectly fine and conscientious actual adults—but also a 20-year-old man, no matter how guileless or unsophisticated, who rolls down a car window to yell homophobic slurs at a group of strangers is a gigantic fucking asshole. It sucks to learn this about Anthony Edwards.

The Wolves also have Karl-Anthony Towns, who is terrific.

Are they good?
They’re probably good! I know only too well, as a fan of the John Wall–era Wizards, how transient last season’s grade of modest success can turn out to be for a long-moribund operation like the one in Minnesota. So maybe they will slob their way to 34 wins and the front office will decide to pull the stopper out of the drain yet again. But also maybe not. Maybe not is not nothing. It’s something, dammit.

Are they fun?
This is a sort of tough question to answer. The basketball, I think, will be fun, in the ramshackle way that a talent-stuffed, eager, and energetic young team can be. I just also think it will be tainted a bit. It will not be much fun to watch Anthony Edwards for a while; I will find myself thinking about what he decided to do with himself over the summer, and what type of total dickhead chooses that, and how skeptical I am of that type of dickhead’s sudden and professionally convenient moral conversion on the subject of how to treat other people.

Playoffs?
Ugh, probably.


New Orleans Pelicans
Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans)Credit: Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

What is their deal?
In 2021-22 the Pelicans swung a big midseason trade for the type of good, skilled, possession-eating veteran scorer who could make sense of the rest of their team. They won a meager 36 games (against 46 losses), but in a depleted Western Conference this was good enough for eighth place and what would have been an automatic first-round playoff berth in earlier seasons. They won a pair of (abominable!) play-in games to confirm that eighth seed, then—to their legitimate credit—peeled a pair of games off the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the first round. Over the summer they signed their fabulous young star—who, uh, missed the entire 2021-22 season due to the kind of foot injury that seems alarmingly likely to be a natural and thus repeat consequence of a guy with his body playing basketball the way he does, but shut up this is a time for optimism dammit—to a giant long-term contract extension; in his subsequent press conference, he made a funny stink-face in response to the dorkiest question of all time. All in all that amounts to a fantastically successful season for the Pels. I am sincerely horrified by how long I have been working on this blog.

Who are their guys?
The fabulous young star, of course, is Zion Williamson.

Man, just look at all the breathtaking shit he did in the 2019-20 season, which was the last time he appeared in any NBA games that count, due to his foot going kablooey and costing him his entire age-21 season. I endeavor not to give a frig about NBA contract stuff and would not bother trying to imply any criticism of the choice to give Zion a long and lucrative contract extension, on the simple principle that that is reprehensible nerd shit. Zion is an incredible basketball phenomenon when he is healthy, and anyway Steph Curry was bedeviled by ankle problems for years before the timely extraction of some crabmeat unlocked his capacity to change the sport forever. But also, man, what if Zion just kind of always is the intriguing part-timer he’s been up to this point? What a bummer that will be. Here is another video of him doing cool shit more recently.

The veteran scorer for whom the Pelicans traded is C.J. McCollum, who wasn’t ever quite enough for what the Portland Trail Blazers needed Damian Lillard’s best teammate to be, but he improved the Pelicans immediately. Sometimes, often even, a young team really has need for the kind of smooth accomplished veteran who doesn’t just have the impetuous confidence of youth, but actually knows how to go get buckets, for himself or for others. Everybody else can fit more easily into simplified roles around the veteran guy. Chris Paul, a better player than C.J. McCollum, did a better version of this for the Phoenix Suns; DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic did it for the Bulls; once upon a time, washed Paul Pierce did it for the Wizards the one season he spent in Washington. You get the idea. For all the noise that people make about the virtues of defense and rebounding, and at the risk of revealing my inner Ball Don’t Stop, the most valuable and transformative thing for a basketball team is knowing—knowing—how to get a bucket. It takes time for even very good young players to figure that out; in the meantime, a C+ veteran who can supply it can work wonders. I’m moving on now, dammit!

Are they good?
I mean, I kind of don’t think so? But they’re fine. If Zion can stay healthy for, let’s say, somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 or more games, then maybe they are good.

Are they fun?
If Zion is healthy, they are fun.

Playoffs?
If Zion is healthy, they are playoffs.


New York Knicks
Julius Randle, R.J. Barrett, Mitchell Robinson (New York Knicks)Credit: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

What is their deal?
Ugh. Uuuuuugh.

The Knicks were the happiest story of the 2020-21 regular season. Under Tom Thibodeau, and operating within his lunatic playing rotations, the Knicks won 41 games, finished with a winning record (NBA teams played shortened 72-game schedules that season, remember) for the first time since freaking 2013, and entered the playoffs with first-round home-court advantage, as the East’s fourth seed. Moreover they did all of that with an actually likable team of feisty young guys and, if I’m remembering correctly, no indolent mercenary 31-year-olds who’d come to New York to semi-retire on max salary on the back of a single good season in some other town. For once.

Then it all kind of went to shit: The Knicks melted down in that first-round playoff series, against the more dynamic and less fraudulent Atlanta Hawks, and got danced and/or booed off their own home floor in the clincher. And it kept right on going to shit: a 37-45 record in 2021-22; alarmingly flat-like development for the promising young guys; weird vibes; no progress. But at least they promptly cut a multi-year free-agent deal with the son of one of their assistant coaches, on the back of one good season in another city! That’d be…

Who are their guys?
…Jalen Brunson, son of Rick Brunson, Knicks assistant coach. Jalen Brunson is fine! He was terrific for the Mavericks in the playoffs. And anyway the alternative seemed to be making some kind of huge trade for Donovan Mitchell, which probably would have meant parting with some of the cool young dudes who made the Knicks so easy to root for during their return to the playoffs in 2021. So truthfully I cannot dump on the Knicks for signing their assistant coach’s kid for more than any other team was going to pay for him. It’s just, if this type of thing was going to blow up in any team’s face and make them look like total clowns for having done it, that team would be the frickin’ ‘bockers.

Also they have Julius Randle, R.J. Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and several other guys whose names probably no one would know if they did not play for either the Knicks, Lakers, or Celtics. That’s enough. Once again, I must remind you that it is freaking tomorrow right now.

Are they good?
Apparently not. Thibodeau tends to burn teams out pretty quickly; they peak fast and then decline, and the Knicks seem to have peaked over a season ago. But there is always hope.

Are they fun?
Mmmmaybe? Actually, no. I am reaching for reasons to feel good about them. They are not fun. Also they are not good and there is not always hope.

Playoffs?
Anything can happen in the National Basketball Association.


Oklahoma City Thunder
Sewage protesters with funny signsCredit: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Orlando Magic
A rustic outhouseCredit: Bernard Friel/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Philadelphia 76ers
James Harden, Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)Credit: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

What is their deal?
After the debacle in the 2021 playoffs—in brief, the 76ers were eliminated early because former first-overall draft pick Ben Simmons, who’d been posed as the triumphant capstone of a multi-year tanking project, was literally afraid to try to score baskets in basketball, the game of scoring baskets—the 76ers wanted to be rid of Ben Simmons, and Ben Simmons wanted to leave the 76ers. Somehow this perfect agreement was a fight between them. Simmons refused to show up and play; the team that quite literally did not want him to play for it anymore also somehow wanted him to show up and play. After a while they traded him for James Harden, who had not wanted to play anymore for the Brooklyn Nets, for whom Kyrie Irving also did not want to play. Somewhere in all of that, the actual Philadelphia 76ers basketball team went 51-31, took the East’s fourth playoff seed, and won a first-round series over the Toronto Raptors. Joel Embiid won a scoring title and was a strong contender for both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. I guess I must have been looking the other way at the time?

Who are their guys?
I am not here to argue over anybody’s claim to last season’s MVP award. For one thing who cares; for another thing that is not what this blog is about; for a third thing my editor at this very moment is menacing one of my dogs with a large knife as motivation for me to work faster. I don’t think history will look unkindly on Nikola Jokic’s second consecutive MVP award: By many measures he was the NBA’s best player by quite a large margin last season, and his Nuggets won only three fewer games than Embiid’s Sixers in a tougher conference without ever trading for one of the greatest scorers in basketball history.

I just want to note here that Embiid was absolutely bananas in 2021-22. His average box score line went something like 31 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, a block and a half, and a steal. He shot 37 percent from three, as a damn seven-foot DPOY candidate who won the scoring title. He shot 81 damn percent from the free-throw line. If he never has another season anything like that, that will only make sense: 99 percent of even extremely good professional basketball players will never have even one season anywhere near as good as that. That he came out of it without an MVP award or Finals appearance, and only a measly trip to the second round to accompany his scoring title … well, it’s not quite a tragedy—Jokic deserved his MVP and the Warriors their championship—but it’s gotta be pretty dang bitter.

The Sixers also have James Harden. Supposedly he is in very good shape for this season, so that’s cool.

Are they good?
They’re very good. It seems kind of sad to me that they threw away like five seasons just to get to a point where they have not-quite-enough around their star player to claw their way into a Finals appearance, despite having taken not one but two other players first overall in the draft after they already had him. But then I remember that Philadelphia sports fans would throw a car battery in response to even the most reasonable thoughts about their teams, and that transforms the Sixers’ persistent disappointment into something funny. Anyway the Sixers are good, and certainly ten trillion times better than the Washington Wizards.

Are they fun?
Listen. The fact of the matter is, good sports teams are fun, or anyway there is almost always something rewarding in watching a team of people do something skillfully and successfully. That is true precisely one thousand percent more often than there ever are shitty teams that are actually fun to watch. The Sixers are fun because they are good, because Joel Embiid is extraordinary.

Playoffs?
Who can say, really? The future, she is a mystery.


Phoenix Suns
Deandre Ayton, Phoenix SunsCredit: Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images

What is their deal?
Wow, there really are a lot of NBA teams. A lotta frickin’ teams! Are you sure we need this many? Couldn’t we combine a few?

The Suns went 64-18 in 2021-22. Had the regular season turned out as predictive as they NBA regular seasons tend to be, Phoenix would have strolled to a championship. Instead they ran into a mushrooming Luka Doncic in the second round and were undone at least in large part by their own weird, stinky vibes. It’s weird for a 64-win team coming off a Finals appearance the previous season to have stinky vibes! But the Suns have stinky vibes. The vibes simply stink real bad.

Who are their guys?
Their guys are Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and, for now, Deandre Ayton, who evidently doesn’t get along with head coach Monty Williams and resents the organization for declining his rookie-contract extension before last season and doesn’t want to be there. If they wanted me to write any more than that about them, they should have picked a city name closer to the front of the alphabet.

Are they good?
Yes. But like, in a weird and gross sort of way where they seem aggrieved and pissy at all times and so it’s impossible to like them even a little bit.

Are they fun?
They’re good, which is one type of fun, and they’re oddly hateful, which is another kind of fun. They’re fun.

Playoffs?
Ugh, probably.


Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)Credit: Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Portland Trail Blazers are like watching an incredibly long funeral procession drive by very slowly. Sorrowful and sad but before too long also stultifying in a way that makes you feel dirty and ashamed of yourself; you wish they would get it the hell over with already. Each car in the procession is a season of basketball, and they are all going to the same place, and whatever might be good or bad about that place was just as good or bad about it the previous 10,000 times the cars in this procession arrived there. In any case it is not the NBA Finals, you can bet the dang farm on that.

Who are their guys?
There is only Damian Lillard, alone. Do not even try to talk to me about some damn Jerami Grant!!! Get out of my face!!! Jerami Grant does not change where this procession is headed!!! He is just a passenger in one of the damn cars on its way there.

Are they good?
They are the quality of making you acutely aware of the futility and meaninglessness of all things.

Are they fun?
I’m fucking sobbing right now. I wish you’d leave me the hell alone.

Playoffs?
You’ll pay for this. Do you hear me? You will pay.


Sacramento Kings
A gravediggerCredit: via YouTube

San Antonio Spurs
A gross skeleton bubbles up out of a lake and then goes back downCredit: via YouTube

Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors mascotCredit: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Raptors went 48-34 last season, good enough to clinch the East’s fifth seed and earn a six-game first-round dismissal at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers. Honestly I had to look up every single fact in that sentence. I don’t think I saw a single Toronto Raptor even one time in the 2021-22 season or if I did I erased the memory instantaneously and forever.

Who are their guys?
Last season was Toronto’s first without Kyle Lowry since 2012. In all sincerity it is a really profound credit to the Raptors’ whole deal that they just keep trucking along pretty much just like this, year after year, no matter who leaves or how humble-seeming their replacement appears to be. Kyle Lowry was never supposed to be the cornerstone of any team’s decade-long run of playoff success in the first place, back when the Raptors scrounged him out of the refuse of the series of clubs that had rejected him as a surly pear-shaped malcontent. Now he’s gone and the team immediately won 48 games in his absence with Fred VanVleet, a minuscule former undrafted free-agent who played his way out of the damn Summer League into a contract, as its unquestioned pilot. That’s remarkable. I love everything about it. And yet I routinely forget that the Raptors exist. Ah, cruel fate. Maybe it’s the uniforms.

Anyway Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam are their guys. Toronto fans really like OG Anunoby, but Toronto fans in my experience are characterized by spiral-eyed lunatic optimism about every one of the team’s players. Also I guess Scottie Barnes had a pretty good rookie season? I had to look up whether he spells his first name with a Y or an IE just now.

Are they good?
They’re always good. Which, as we have established, answers your next question as we—

Are they fun?
Goddammit. I’m not going to stand for this.

Playoffs?
No, you know what? No. I am sick of this. I’ve had it!


Utah Jazz
The wreckage of a building that explodedCredit: Kurt Desplenter/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images

Washington Wi—

This blog is over!