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A Timely Preview Of The 2020-21 NBA Season, Which I Feel Confident Is Not Underway Yet

Old-time basketball players, in what appears to be an alley in Los Angeles maybe
Archive Photo/Getty Images

Well hello there, casual basketball fan. Wouldn’t you know, it’s that time again: Time for the NBA season to begin, somehow simultaneously way too early (what feels like three weeks after the Los Angeles Lakers won the Weird Bubble Finals), and way too late (a couple of days before Christmas), and when it shouldn’t be happening at all (in the absolute darkest depths of COVID-19 winter), and, judging by the clock, likely several hours, if not days, before I was able to finish writing this blog.

This seems like a great moment to look ahead to the upcoming season, is what I’d say if I had started writing this blog nearly a week ago, instead of at 8:56 on the morning of the first games of the season. But the task remains, for both of us: to list the teams in the NBA, to share some thoughts about each of them, to double-check the list for the purpose of ensuring it has the proper number of teams on it, to realize that we have forgotten about the Charlotte Hornets, and then to add the Charlotte Hornets to the list with as little fuss as possible. That, my friends, is the work of sportswriting.

Below you’ll find the NBA teams, in alphabetical order. Personally, I aspire to put more than that in the blog, but then again it’s already been six—seven! Oh God!—minutes since I typed “8:56” in the previous paragraph. Let’s get on with it.


Atlanta Hawks

Trae Young, Atlanta HawksCredit: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Hawks missed the cutoff for the Orlando pandemic bubble last season, leaving them with a final regular-season record of 20-47, good for second-worst in the shitty eastern conference. Given how bad the bubble sucked for the teams in it, that seems, in retrospect, like it was the wise approach. It also seems like it must have been 10 thousand years ago. Hawks? Atlanta Hawks? Hm. Never heard of them.

Who are their guys?
You and I are meant to believe that in some combination of Kevin Huerter, Clint Capela, John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, and Kris Dunn, the Hawks have assembled a group of guys around third-year guard Trae Young that can finally help him climb out of this toilet conference’s smaller inner toilet. I dunno, man. Do any of those names really do it for you? None of them particularly do it for me. Then again, I was not exactly like mint their asses, baby when the Golden State Warriors got Andrew Bogut back in 2012, and not only because that’s a weird thing to say and I’d never say it about literally any group of people. So what the hell do I know. Let’s revisit this evaluation of the Hawks’ supporting cast the day after the end of the 2020-21 regular season.

Trae Young is Atlanta’s guy. Here is a video of him doing some cool stuff last season.

NBA via Youtube

That is a lot of cool stuff for a tiny little guy who only played 60 games on a horrible team that won less than 30 percent of the time. Trae Young is cool, and good.

Are they good?
Unfortunately for him, the Hawks are not! But there is reason to hope that, over the course of however many games the NBA is able to squeeze out of this shameful, inexcusable farce of a season, the Hawks will make their way to a kind of respectable night-in-night-out competence. That’d be great. And in the dogshit East, what the hell, it might make them a fourth seed.

Should I watch them?
Trae Young is good watchin’. Then again, he is just as good watchin’ in abbreviated highlight-video form as over the course of a full Atlanta Hawks game, the latter of which will also tend to feature the rest of the Atlanta Hawks, who are not good watchin’.

Playoffs?
Maybe? The East sucks real bad, man.


Boston Celtics

Jayson Tatum, Boston CelticsCredit: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
This man’s arms truly are incredibly long. (Photo: Getty Images)

What is their deal?
The Celtics went 48-24 last season (5-3 in bubble seeding games), good for the third seed in the East. They swept the Philadelphia 76ers into the trash in the first round of the playoffs. In the conference semis, they bumped off the defending champion Toronto Raptors in seven games; theoretically this was the first best-of-seven series in NBA history in which the road team won each game, but of course all the games were held in the Orlando bubble, so both teams were on the road for all of them, so this historical distinction is meaningless. It’s been over nine months since a home team won an NBA game.

In any case the Celtics thumped into the tougher and more versatile Miami Heat in the conference finals, and went out in six. This counted as a great step forward for the team, which had ended the previous season in the second round, amid disarray and internal strife and very fun postmortem articles about how they all hated each other’s guts.

Who are their guys?
This has been the second straight year in which the Celtics’ biggest offseason roster changes were clarifying subtractions. Last time around it was Kyrie Irving and Al Horford leaving, clearing room for Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart to step forward as the faces of the team. This time around it was Gordon Hayward departing to Charlotte in a big sign-and-trade deal that frees coach Brad Stevens from the apparently irresistible temptation to shovel crucial minutes and touches in the direction of a not particularly good player whose personal connection to him goes back to their run together at Butler University nearly a decade ago. All of this is to say, it was already Tatum and Brown’s show, and now it’s even more their show.

Apropos of nothing, here is a video of Tatum getting his dunk attempt absolutely stuffed into hell by Miami’s Bam Adebayo.

NBA via Youtube

Ha ha ha! Ha HA!!!! Ah ha ha ha ha ha!

The Celtics also have Kemba Walker.

Are they good?
They’re good. Barring catastrophic injury, pencil their asses in to win somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of however many disgraceful games this misbegotten travesty of a season ends up having in it.

Should I watch them?
No. But there won’t be many alternatives, if you like watching nationally broadcast NBA games earlier than 10:30 p.m. in the Eastern time zone.

Playoffs?
Probably!


Brooklyn Nets

Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and an NBA refereeCredit: Sarah Stier, Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Nets went 35-37 last season (5-3 in the bubbled end of the regular season), entered the playoffs as the East’s seventh seed, and promptly went down in four games to the Toronto Raptors. None of that matters even one little bit. Kyrie Irving played 20 total games—11 at the beginning of the season, nine scattered across January and early February, and then none in the bubble—and Kevin Durant played exactly zero. As I write this blog (it’s 10:28 now), it’s still possible that they will acquire James Harden via trade. The point here is that the team that did that stuff last season essentially does not exist anymore.

Who are their guys?
Hm. I guess I already gave away that part. Their guys are Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, and then possibly James Harden if he and they can make that happen. If they cannot, then in theory the Nets’ list of guys also includes Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and Spencer Dinwiddie, some combination up to all of whom would likely be shipped off to Houston if the Harden trade happens.

Here I would like to detour for a second to note that for all his famous Tedious Galaxy-Brain Doofus characteristics, Irving was right in his skepticism regarding restarting last season in the bubble amid deeply urgent anti-police-violence protests (and of course the pandemic). This may not stop you from finding him broadly tiresome as both a player and a public figure, nor from clenching up each time he speaks to the press in fear that this will be the time that he, like, denies the Holocaust or denounces vaccination as a conspiracy to implant tracking chips on behalf of the Illuminati, but he was right about the bubble.

As for Durant, hell, you probably remember him. One of the big unanswered questions for both the Nets and the broader NBA this season concerns just how much he may have been changed—diminished—by blowing out his right Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the, holy smokes, 2019 NBA Finals, right around 18 months ago. I can’t believe it’s been that long! The range of possible outcomes goes from the league getting back one of the greatest talents in the history of the sport, to the league getting an athletically diminished Durant who now resembles Dirk Nowitzki more than he does an actual tornado, to the league getting a depressing shell of the player Durant used to be, and who’d still be, by miles, better than anyone who has played for the Washington Wizards in this millennium.

Are they good?
My, this blog is getting long already!

Should I watch them?
You should think for yourself, dammit!

Playoffs?
Probably!


Charlotte Hornets


Chicago Bulls


Cleveland Cavaliers


Dallas Mavericks

Luka Doncic, Dallas MavericksCredit: Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Mavs finished last season 43-32; after three years wandering the wilderness, they returned to the playoffs in the West’s seventh seed and pushed the Clippers to six games in the first round. Their ludicrously young star forward posted numbers no 20-year-old has approached since LeBron James. All in all it was a pretty good season.

Who are their guys?
Luka Doncic is their guy!

via Youtube
NBA via Youtube

I have a prediction to make. Not to bag on Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, a great player and delightful character who has been preposterously good over the past two regular seasons, but the past two league MVP awards pretty plainly were just as much about the league ushering in a post-LeBron basketball deity—one who could be more palatable to casual audiences than James Harden or Kawhi Leonard, less frequently injured than Joel Embiid, and who could be the eastern tentpole of the national broadcast schedule for years to come—as they were about affirming Antetokounmpo’s actual stature within the sport. And given that his Bucks teams have now crapped out embarrassingly early in the playoffs after each of his two awards, and that Giannis himself has looked clumsy and limited and fairly easily flummoxed in each of their premature exits, those MVP awards now look rather silly in retrospect, both as basketball awards and as part of a marketing campaign. It’s clear Giannis has never yet surpassed LeBron, and probably hasn’t been more valuable than Harden, either. Ah yes. Right. I was making a prediction. The prediction is that, barring freak injury or the Mavericks imploding or Giannis averaging 40 and 20 on a team that wins 74 games, Luka Doncic will get more MVP votes than Giannis Antetokounmpo this season, if not win the award outright. And as with Giannis’s awards, there will be all kinds of Other Reasons for it!

Are they good?
I don’t know that they are good. They might be good! Luka Doncic is extremely good. And he’s freaking 21 years old! Disgusting.

Should I watch them?
The safe prediction is always that any given young player will not turn out to be one of the best players in history. That probably applies to Doncic, too, if only because of the immutability of shit happening. So maybe the reason to watch him isn’t necessarily so that you can tell your grandkids or whatever. Instead, watch the Mavs because he does lots of cool fun ball-fakes and no-look passes and shit, and it’s good TV.

Playoffs?
Yeah, I think so.


Denver Nuggets

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets celebrateCredit: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Nuggets went 46-27 last season. They had to make do with a comically misshapen roster during the enbubbled seeding games, at one point playing with virtually no guards, and went 3-5, but held onto the West’s third seed anyway.

In the first round of the playoffs, they came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Utah Jazz in a spectacularly entertaining and hard-fought seven-game series. Game 4, in which Denver’s Jamal Murray and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell became the first pair of 50-point scorers in a single playoff game in league history, was one of the most thrilling basketball games I can remember watching.

NBA via Youtube

In the second round, the Nuggets became outright folk heroes, once again overcoming a 3-1 series deficit, this time to knock off the hugely favored and broadly unlikeable Los Angeles Clippers and kick that putative superteam into an offseason of turmoil. In the conference finals, the Nuggets once again fell behind 3-1, this time to the Los Angeles Lakers, and then, ah, got their butts kicked off in Game 5 and went on vacation.

Still, great season! More importantly (to me anyway), I love them! I’m a Nugs Man now. My strongest recommendation is that unaffiliated basketball enjoyers try out Nuggets fandom.

Who are their guys?
Their guys are Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, the most delightful pair of complementary stars in the sport. Jokic is a perennially doughy, slow-footed seven-footer who also happens to be one of the deftest and most creative passers in the league; Murray a fiery, ferocious, and conscience-free scoring guard liberated to hunt buckets by Jokic’s ability to direct the offense and move the ball from the mid- and high post. Each is both extremely good and super easy to root for. Yes, I see that we are still in the upper half of the alphabet, here. It’s important to me that you appreciate and like these two dudes!

Are they good?
They’re terrific.

Should I watch them?
You should only watch them.

Playoffs?
Yes, absolutely.


Detroit Pistons


Golden State Warriors

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors jumps very highCredit: Ezra Shaw, Getty Images
Oh great, he’s literally levitating now. (Photo: Getty Images)

What is their deal?
The Warriors went a gruesome 15-50 last season and were not invited to the bubble. They came into the campaign having just lost the Finals (to the Toronto Raptors), Kevin Durant (to free agency), and Klay Thompson (to an ACL injury that kept him out all of last season). Four games into the season, on Oct. 30, Phoenix’s Aron Baynes fell on Steph Curry’s hand and broke it, and Curry didn’t suit up again until logging 27 pointless minutes in a loss in what turned out to be Golden State’s third-to-last game of the season, on March 5. For long portions in between, the Warriors ran with lineups that would not be locks to win G-League games. All they got to show for it was the second pick in the draft and the healthy return of the greatest shooter who ever lived.

Who are their guys?
Poor Klay Thompson will miss yet another full season, at least, after rupturing his Achilles tendon in a practice this offseason. That’s just incredibly awful. In the very best case scenario he’ll end up having missed two years of what should have been his prime; in uglier ones, he will never be close to the player he used to be by the time he comes back, and the league will have lost a phenomenal shooter and two-way player who should have had years of greatness ahead of him. For the purposes of this blog, I guess that means he is not one of Golden State’s guys.

That leaves Steph Curry and Draymond Green, out of the Warriors’ once-invincible core of superstars. For Curry I suppose there’s some reason to hold your breath until you’ve confirmed with your eyes that he can still lay waste to opposing teams. He’s 32 now, an age that (like pretty much every other over 28) traditionally has not been great for point guards, and has been all but totally out of action for a long time. Plus, prior to last season, he’d gone to the Finals five straight years, which, accounting for the added physicality and intensity of playoff basketball, probably adds up to the equivalent of an extra season or two worth of wear and tear on a body that he’s struggled to keep un-injured pretty much throughout his career. For Green, I dunno, I’m sure he will be fine, and also that he will be a psycho.

Someone in the comments will say that I should list Andrew Wiggins, the former first-overall pick whom the Warriors acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves in a trade last season, and James Wiseman, the very bouncy and intriguing rookie center the Warriors took with the second overall pick in this past draft, among Golden State’s guys. Someone else will say that Kelly Oubre Jr., the useful but annoying former Wizard the Warriors acquired from Phoenix in a trade a little over a month ago, should also be considered for this honor. To this I say, holy smokes, this blog is already like 7,000 words, please leave me alone.

Are they good?
That remains to be seen! They certainly have good players who have made them good in the past. But jeez, they’ve lost a lot since, like, Game 3 of the 2019 Finals, and the West has at least a few new good teams since then. Probably they will be fine. I can’t conceive of a team with a healthy Steph Curry and Draymond Green and basically any three other replacement-grade dudes on it winning fewer than like 43 games, which is far short of “great” but is almost certainly “good.”

Should I watch them?
That is none of my damn business and you know it. I will watch them, whenever their games are on earlier than the absolute middle of the night here on the east coast.

Playoffs?
Going out on a limb here and predicting that—oh wow, would you look at the time, I’ve really got to move on.


Houston Rockets

James Harden dribblesCredit: Carmen Mandato, Getty Images
This photo oozes commitment. You can smell it. This man will give his all to the Houston Rockets. (Photo: Getty Images)

What is their deal?
It’s a real big mess, man!

The Rockets went 44-28 last season, claimed the West’s fourth seed, and won a seven-game first-round series over the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was their eighth straight trip to the postseason and the fourth year in a row (and fifth in the past six) in which they’d won at least one series. That’s a remarkable run. Then the huge and physically overpowering Lakers drop-kicked them straight into the sewer, where they reside now and for as far into the future as anybody can see.

Daryl Morey, the team’s front-office mastermind for 13 years, left to run the Philadelphia 76ers. His replacement(s) traded a disgruntled Russell Westbrook for John Wall, who has not played in an official NBA game in two years and who, at best, resolves precisely none of the mechanical basketball issues that made Westbrook a weird fit next to Harden. Speaking of which, Harden (reportedly) wants out, and certainly appears to be trying to make this happen via a campaign of bridge-burning and weirdness. It’s all but impossible for the Rockets to get anything close to equal value in a trade for a player of Harden’s quality and star-power, which, like, who cares, except that the owner is also a fake-rich cheapskate who isn’t going to let the new front office spend its way into contention, whether it eventually offloads Harden for peanuts or not. For an added bonus, the sequence of trades that brought the Rockets their present roster have also all but totally depleted the team’s ability to build through the next couple of drafts.

It’s bad!

Who are their guys?
I sincerely have no idea. I mean clearly it’s Harden, and absolutely everything about the Rockets’ present and future depends on how that whole mess sorts out. But whether it ends with Harden still on the Rockets a few weeks or months from now, or shipped off to Brooklyn in exchange for their young guys, or to Philadelphia for Ben Simmons, or what, feels very much undecided at this point. Oh hey, by the way, the Rockets play their first game of the season tonight at 8:00 p.m.

Are they good?
Hm. Let me get back to you on that.

Should I watch them?
It’s going to be miserable. Maybe you are curious to see whether Wall can still play after rupturing his Achilles? Otherwise, stay away.

Playoffs?
How dare you ask me that.


Indiana Pacers

Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers, surrounded by team staffersCredit: Getty Images
This photo feels richly metaphorical to me. (Photo: Getty Images)

What is their deal?
Oh, hey, speaking of NBA teams in the middle of both the country and the alphabet whose best players reportedly want to be traded but haven’t said so publicly: The Indiana Pacers!

The Pacers went 45-28 last season (6-2 in the bubble seeding games) and claimed the East’s fourth playoff seed, all with a roster ravaged by injuries and not all that impressive to begin with; they got swept out of the first round by the eventual East finalists, the Miami Heat. Apparently standards are so incredibly high in Indiana that this type of season gets you fired. Or anyway that’s what happened to head coach Nate McMillan. Don’t look at me, man, I think it’s stupid, too!

Who are their guys?
Victor Oladipo, who blossomed into an almost terrifyingly good player in his first year with the Pacers and has played a grand total of 55 games across the two seasons since then, has sort of mildly denied rumors that he wants to be traded away from the Pacers. I dunno, maybe he doesn’t? I could not blame him if he did. On the other hand, he will be a free agent at the end of the season either way. If he stays healthy and produces at anywhere near the level of his 2017-18 season (before he ruptured his quadriceps and entered the injury hell he’s been in since), he’ll certainly have options. Anyway he is Indiana’s main guy. For now.

Here is a video of him doing lots of cool shit back in that amazing 2017-18 season:

via Youtube

After that, there’s Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, the pair of young big men who both seemed a lot more exciting when I was doing this same blog prior to last season. Sabonis made the all-star game last season but then missed all of Indiana’s bubble games while he dealt with foot issues; Turner regressed last season and may in fact be just kind of a modestly above-average rotation big, rather than the star and DPOY candidate he looked like in 2018-19.

Oh and hey, then there’s T.J. Warren, who appeared for all the world to just be kind of an awkward, oddly-built tweener forward of no particular note prior to the eight bubble seeding games, across which he averaged 31 points and eight rebounds, including blowing up the 76ers to the tune of 53 freaking points in a win. Here’s that!

Now instead of being the kind of Guy you Remember, he is the kind of guy you mention in your NBA season preview blog.

Are they good?
This largely depends on what happens with Oladipo, and how the team takes to new coach Nate Bjorkgren, a name I swear I have not invented in order to get off a burn at the Pacers’ expense. Probably they will be some degree of feisty and competent, because they pretty much always are.

Should I watch them?
No.

Playoffs?
Maybe.


Los Angeles Clippers

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George of the Los Angeles Clippers sit hilariously far apart on the sidelineCredit: Harry How, Getty Images
LOL. (Photo: Getty Images)

What is their deal?
Listen. By any sane reckoning, even after their incredible implosion and face-plant in last season’s second round, even after they absorbed more Twitter clowning than previously thought possible, even after they fired head coach Doc Rivers and lost several key rotation players, the Clippers enter this accursed and shameful season as extremely strong contenders for the championship. That’ll likely remain the case for every season they can keep Kawhi Leonard and Paul George together on the roster. If you can add two all-NBA swingmen in the prime of their careers to your NBA team’s roster, that remains a smart thing to do and a quick way to turn your team into a championship contender.

But nothing, not even the Clippers storming their way to the next three championships, could steal the joy of that second round bed-shitting from those sour and miserable cranks, like me, who witnessed it with rapturous glee. The fun was never that it proved the Clippers sucked (they don’t), or that Leonard and George are frauds (they’re not as good as their reputations held prior to last season, but they’re both fantastic players nonetheless, and often deadly in combination), but that it broke up and shattered the illusory certainties that had attended the team since it added those two: That the theoretical brilliance of putting them together could supersede the power of messy reality—in the person of the perfectly rollicking and weird Denver Nuggets—to upend the way smart people expected things to go. That a championship could be won in the offseason or by a scan of two teams’ respective rosters, rather than on the court, where what each team’s assortment of fallible human players could do would matter less than what they did. That the Age of LeBron was over and the Age of Kawhi underway. That the Los Angeles Clippers could escape being the Los Angeles Clippers quite as easily as all that. Not yet!

Who are their guys?
Their guys are Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, of course!

via Youtube

Montrezl Harrell and Landry Shamet are gone; Serge Ibaka and Nic Batum’s mummy and, uh, Luke Kennard are in town. Frankly, on a team with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, none of that really matters all that much. I don’t know why I even listed those doofuses. It’s time to move on.

Are they good?
They’re extremely good.

Should I watch them?
Look, it will make the job of writing an eventual playoff preview blog a lot easier for me if you familiarize yourself with the Clippers between now and then.

Playoffs?
Playoffs.


Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers pursue a loose ballCredit: Christian Petersen, Getty Images
This is just a fantastic photo. (Photo: Getty Images)

What is their deal?
They’re the champs, is their deal! The Lakers went 52-19 last season and entered the playoffs as the West’s top seed. Then they did a fun thing where they lost the first game in each of the first two rounds, and for 24 hours afterward in each case the blogs were like “The Lakers’ Roster Sucks And They Can’t Run A Professional-Grade Half-Court Offense And I Hope They Burn In Hell.” Then in each case they reeled off four straight wins and made their opponents (the Portland Trail Blazers and then the Houston Rockets) look like helpless babies and the blogs were like “Oh God, How Will Anyone Ever Score On The Lakers Ever Again?”

By the conference finals they were tuned up enough to jump out ahead of the exhausted and overmatched Denver Nuggets, and dispatched them in five. And by the time the Miami Heat got on the board in the Finals, the series looked like a formality to all but the most spiral-eyed of Heat sickos (Luis Paez-Pumar). The whole thing doubled as a transfiguration of Anthony Davis; by the end of the Finals it seemed clear, to me at least, that he is the mountain the rest of the NBA will spend the next five years climbing on the way to where the trophies are. Naturally, this meant that the Finals MVP award went to LeBron James; it doubled, all but officially, as a Best General Manager award, for his having brought Davis to L.A.

Who are their guys?
Well jeez, it’s LeBron and Anthony Davis. It’s entirely possible, pending however good Kevin Durant looks, that the Lakers have the NBA’s two best players on their team. The supporting cast will be different this year, but to be frank the supporting cast mostly sucked last season, and they stormed their way to rings anyway.

Are they good?
Hm.

Should I watch them?
I don’t see how you have a choice. It’s the law.

Playoffs?
We don’t have to do this.


Memphis Grizzlies

Ja Morant, Memphis GrizzliesCredit: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Grizzlies played well enough across the season to earn a bubble invite, which emphatically isn’t nothing for a team with a young roster being carried by a tiny rookie point guard who didn’t even turn 21 until just before the end of the bubble seeding games. They fell short of the playoffs, but, like, again: Extremely young team! Coming out of two straight years of being miserably shitty! Rookie point guard! At least their entry in this blog is not an embedded video of an outhouse being hit by a bunker-buster missile! Get off their case!

Who are their guys?
Their guys are Ja Morant, the aforementioned extremely young point guard, and Jaren Jackson Jr., an also extremely young big who, infuriatingly, will miss at least the first big chunk of this season after tearing his meniscus in the bubble. This should be one of the coolest and most exciting duos in the league; the sooner they can both be healthy and on the court at the same time, the better for everybody.

In the meantime here is a video of Morant doing insanely cool dunks.

NBA via Youtube

Some other Grizzlies of note are: Guard Dillon Brooks, jarringly slow-footed forward Kyle Anderson, Swiss Army forward Justise Winslow (who’s injured), and giant beef man Jonas Valanciunas. You can look up their highlight videos for your dang self!

Are they good?
It’s all relative. Which is to say no, they probably are not good. But they’re encouraging, which is something.

Should I watch them?
Morant is electrifying. He’s good TV all by himself.

Playoffs?
I predict not.


Miami Heat

Various Miami Heat players surround Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2020 NBA FinalsCredit: Douglas P. DeFelice, Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Heat, with their stable and deeply entrenched internal culture, the depth of their roster, and their fanatical organizational commitment to conditioning, were something like the perfect team to flourish in the bubble playoff conditions. And so they did, outperforming their modest fifth seed in the East to sweep their way past the fourth-seeded Pacers in the first round, take a 3-0 lead over the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the second and finish them off in five games, and booting the third-seeded Boston Celtics in the conference finals. They only ran out of gas in the Finals, against a Lakers team that nobody was going to beat.

Crediting the Heat with a special facility for excelling in weird bubble conditions is not in any way an attempt to append an asterisk to their Finals run! Strength of culture, depth, and commitment to physical fitness are good, winning traits for a basketball team under any set of circumstances. Heat fans are not allowed to get mad at me for saying that stuff favored their team inside the bubble more than it had on the outside!

Who are their guys?
Every damn year there is a team whose guys are basically everybody on the roster, and it’s always friggin’ annoying. That’s the Heat. Every dude on the roster is deserves mention here. I hate it! I won’t damn do it! Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are the main guys! Everybody else can go to hell!

Butler, a floridly cheesebutt personality who’d left three previous teams on less than great terms before joining the Heat prior to last season, turned out to fit so well with Miami’s program that it’s now inconceivable to me that he ever played anywhere else. He was an absolute superhero throughout the playoffs, and stirringly tough and competitive even in defeat in the Finals. He’s just the absolute perfect star for this team. Adebayo, a do-(nearly)-everything center and astonishing athlete who took the Celtics apart in the East finals, nearly had me convinced I was watching the new best center in the league until he crashed into Anthony Davis in the Finals and, I am sorry to say, looked just as much like a little kid as pretty much everybody else on the court who wasn’t Anthony Davis.

Are they good?
They’re terrific. They’re the single team in the East likeliest to figure out a way to win a playoff series against any other team in the East.

Should I watch them?
Yes. They’re cool and infinitely configurable and tough and sharp and smart.

Playoffs?
Playoffs.


MIlwaukee Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee BucksCredit: Mike Ehrmann, Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
Their deal is they are frauds until further notice. You can only enter the playoffs as the top seed with the reigning MVP on your team and then crap out shy of the Finals so many times before the Taint of Fraudulence descends upon you. And it just happens to turn out that “so many times” equals “two times” when I am only like halfway into a blog and it’s, oh god, 4:14 in the afternoon. I don’t make the laws!

Who are their guys?
I am not really interested in exactly how many good-but-not-great supporting teammates the Bucks put around Giannis Antetokounmpo. The dude has won the past two MVP awards. He is also the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. I’m like 27,000 words into this damn thing. He’s the only guy on the Bucks!

(I have bagged on poor Giannis 250 percent too much in this blog. The truth is he is one of my favorite NBA players and has been downright historically good over the past two regular seasons. The fact that defending him in the playoffs is a fairly straightforward proposition [set up a wall behind the free-throw line and watch him Eurostep helplessly into it 25 times] does not lessen the incredible stuff he’s done over those two MVP campaigns. But we all have lived through like 12 years of various doofuses calling LeBron James a pretender even as he singlehandedly dragged some appallingly shitty teams—teams way worse than either of these last two Bucks squads—to Finals after Finals, and won four rings, and nigh-singlehandedly beat the greatest team of all time. By that standard Giannis is a Cool Whip sculpture of a butt.)

Are they good?
They’re outstanding. They’re near-mortal locks to win 60-plus games, and Giannis is all but sure to put up numbers that would make prime Shaquille O’Neal barf in terror. And I will be looking at them with the side-eye until they turn it into a dang Finals appearance.

Should I watch them?
I mean, yeah.

Playoffs?
Sure.


Minnesota Timberwolves


New Orleans Pelicans

Zion Williamson and New Orleans Pelicans teammates huddle on the courtCredit: Michael Reaves, Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Pelicans went 30-42 last season, earned a deeply silly bubble invite despite having no realistic hope of making the playoffs, went 2-6 in the bubble, got eliminated from playoff contention pretty much the instant they arrived in Orlando, and fired their head coach. I feel this recap fails to capture the excitement and optimism around this team, which can best be summarized as “They have Zion Williamson.”

I guess you can probably tell where the next section is going.

Who are their guys?
Zion Williamson is already one of the very coolest and most exciting players in the NBA, and he hasn’t really even figured out how to play yet. I don’t think it’s even remotely clear what position, if any, will be his main one, or whether he will ever be able to do normal basketball stuff like shoot and dribble particularly aptly. He just does a crazy amount of cool shit that nobody else can do.

Here’s him just doing lots of cool shit.

NBA via Youtube

That’s a lot of cool shit, man! He only played 24 games all season, and still did all that cool shit. Instead of fretting over his worrisome struggles to stay healthy, I have decided to be an optimist and think about the truly mind-exploding amounts of cool shit he will be able to do over the course of full seasons of good health.

The Pelicans also have Brandon Ingram, a very smooth and gifted scoring forward who made the all-star game and won the Most Improved Player award last season. That’s quite a second guy! He’s very good.

To a somewhat lesser extent, Lonzo Ball and the newly acquired Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams also are guys for the Pelicans. Don’t expect me to mention J.J. Redick here! I won’t do it! He’s too old now!

Are they good?
I don’t know. But, other than the Warriors, who don’t count, the Pelicans seem like the non-playoff West team likeliest to jump up and storm the playoffs this season. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. I really just want Zion Williamson to stay healthy, man.

Should I watch them?
You must. Even if they stink!

Playoffs?
It’s like you’re not even listening to me.


New York Knicks


Oklahoma City Thunder

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drives toward the basket between Houston Rockets defendersCredit: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
After an unsuccessful attempt at pulling their own plug last season, thwarted by Chris Paul’s insistence upon “competing” and “trying to win basketball games” and “having dignity,” the Thunder went ahead and traded him away to Phoenix for a handful of lesser players, the two best of whom (Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr.) the Thunder then shipped along to other destinations in exchange for even less immediate help. They also traded Steven Adams off to New Orleans for, no offense to George Hill and whoever else came along in that deal, but pretty much nothing. That’ll do it. They have Al Horford for now, but almost certainly just for now, and anyway he’s washed up. You can be fairly sure the Thunder will not be making a surprise run to the playoffs this season. Not if their own front-office can help it!

Who are their guys?
I invite you to peruse Oklahoma City’s roster. It is the very talented young Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, and then a bunch of Also Borts. I do not doubt that some of them came very highly regarded in various recent drafts. But this is not a team built to win anything this season. This is a team built to be unable to win anything this season, no matter how hard anybody on it tries.

Here’s a video of Gilgeous-Alexander doing cool stuff.

NBA via Youtube

I predict he will have a frustrated look on his face a lot this season.

Are they good?
They’re real bad!

Should I watch them?
No.

Playoffs?
C’mon.


Orlando Magic

Members of the Orlando MagicCredit: Ken Levine, Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
Every website I have checked claims that the Orlando Magic made the playoffs back in August; that they even took their first game off of the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks before folding in five. I remember precisely none of it, and frankly have my doubts.

Who are their guys?
Do they still have T-Mac? Man, T-Mac kicked ass.

Are they good?
I take offense to this question. If they were good, surely I would remember them.

Should I watch them?
I will watch them for both of us.

Playoffs?
Maybe?


Philadelphia 76ers

Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ersCredit: Tim Nwachukwu, Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Philadelphia 76ers appeared to have leveled off in 2019-20, after their rapid ascent to what at least appeared to be the upper reaches of the East. They posted their lowest winning percentage in three years, finished sixth in the conference, and (without Ben Simmons, it must be said) got swept straight out of the first round by the Boston Celtics. Then they fired coach Brett Brown, who’d led the team through the tanking years and Simmons’s and Joel Embiid’s development into all-stars but looked pretty clearly tapped out as a motivator and in-game tactician by the time the Celtics sent his team home. Then they hired Daryl Morey to run their front office, and Doc Rivers to coach the team—two of the biggest and most credible names in the sport at their respective jobs.

And I do not want to question those two incredibly successful basketball leaders’ judgment or anything, but some of their big offseason moves at their new spot were to add aging doofuses (Dwight Howard, Danny Green) who mostly spent last season making the Los Angeles Lakers worse. It’s a real scene, man.

Who are their guys?
The 76ers have been linked by reporters and scoopsters to Houston’s efforts to trade James Harden; though Morey says he’ll never let it happen, bringing Harden to Philadelphia likely would involve sending back Ben Simmons. I doubt it’ll happen. In the meantime, and barring what would be an earth-shaking blockbuster, Simmons and Joel Embiid are Philly’s guys.

By now you may have already heard about Simmons’s and Embiid’s awkward fit as teammates. In short, each of them needs space on offense—Embiid because he’s the NBA’s best low-post scorer and putting any non-shooters around him makes it too easy for opposing teams to double-team him without paying for it; Simmons because he’s a non-shooter to a cartoonish extreme and does his best work rampaging downhill toward the rim—and neither is well-suited to provide it. Ideally a team should be able to play its two best players at the same time without either of them having to set aside what he does best or make things more difficult for the other. This is awkward basketball stuff and I have no idea how the Sixers will resolve it. Simmons and Embiid are also both known to be proud and not always easy to get along with. I don’t know how they’ll resolve that, either.

But in the meantime, they have two fabulous star players. That’s a pretty good thing to have. They have some other guys too but I’m ready to move on now.

Are they good?
They’re good. Doc Rivers is a better coach than Brett Brown. They ought to be better this season.

Should I watch them?
I think you’re watching too many teams already.

Playoffs?
Playoffs.


Phoenix Suns

Some Phoenix Suns players sit on the benchCredit: Christian Petersen, Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
This blog is getting real long! A really very long blog. I think it is time for us to practice the virtue of letting things go. Such as the idea that every team would get a full and thorough discussion here.

The Phoenix Suns mostly sucked last season, as they have mostly sucked each of the past 10 seasons. But then they went 8-0 in the bubble seeding games (hilariously, they missed the playoffs anyway, calling into question just why the hell you’d invite to the bubble seeding games a team that could win every single one of them and still not get, y’know, a playoff seed) and decided that this meant the time had come to shoot their shot. Frankly, I’m into it! Just not into it enough to expound upon it at length at… oh God, I’m not even going to tell you what time it is right now.

Who are their guys?
They traded for Chris Freaking Paul! I know that he is old now, and just as tiny as ever, but this is basically the same dude who just last season dragged a team that was trying to tank into the playoffs behind his indomitable will. For the Suns, this is big. You will just have to take my word for it.

The Suns also have Devin Booker, a very young volume scorer nobody here at this website actually believes is any good, and Deandre Ayton, a broadly fine young center the Suns were unforgivably fucking insane to select ahead of Luka Doncic in the 2018 draft. Will Chris Paul transform these young knuckleheads into the core of a winner? Reader, look at how long this fucking blog is, and be merciful to me.

Are they good?
Probably not.

Should I watch them?
Never.

Playoffs?
Doubtful. The West is very deep, and sooner or later a very tiny point guard has to get old.


Portland Trail Blazers

C.J. McCollum and Damian LillardCredit: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
Did you ever just stop and think about how 30 is actually a really huge number? Man. That’s a lot. I don’t think anyone or any organization has ever actually needed 30 of anything.

The Blazers went 35-39 last season and snatched up the West’s eighth playoff seed. They took the first game of their first-round series off the Lakers and for a second there it looked like they might expose LeBron and company as a bunch of clowns. Then they lost the next four games by, if memory serves in place of the 12 seconds it would take me to look this up, 900 points. That’s just kind of how Blazers seasons have gone lately.

Who are their guys?
Damian Lillard had yet another fantastic season in 2019-20; for the first time he averaged 30 points a game, he set sterling career highs in field-goal and three-point shooting percentages, and he dished out more assists than ever before. I do not want to be like “All for naught,” because I am a firm believer that good, competitive, entertaining basketball is its own reward. But it must be frustrating to be as good as he is, year after year, and then just kind of routinely bounce off a ceiling in the playoffs without leaving all that much of a dent in it.

Then again, for the second straight season he managed to dance all over the ignominious end of Paul George’s. In 2019 it was by hitting the 37-foot game-winning buzzer-beater that broke the Thunder and ended both George’s and Russell Westbrook’s times in Oklahoma City. In 2020 it was by firing off some good social-media owns while George and the Clippers were barfing down the front of their jerseys against the Nuggets. Look, it was something, OK?

The Blazers still have C.J. McCollum, but frankly I do not want to write about him. If he wants to be discussed in this blog, then next year he should move to a team whose city name begins with a freaking A or B or C.

Are they good?
They’re probably fine. For as many games as this horror of a season lasts, Portland fans will get to watch a proud and competitive team with one of the league’s best players on it for all of them.

Should I watch them?
Sure. Lillard is a lock to vaporize at least a few opponents this year, as in every other.

Playoffs?
Maybe? The West is tough, at least a few teams (the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Suns, and Warriors come to mind) seem like they have designs on moving up, and, pending any possible James Harden trade that puts the Rockets into full-on tanking mode, the Blazers seem more vulnerable than just about any of last season’s playoff teams but the Thunder.


Sacramento Kings


San Antonio Spurs

Here is a trailer for the great 1932 Boris Karloff movie The Mummy.

The San Antonio Spurs missed the playoffs last season for the first time since fucking 1997. Nothing on earth could make me write more than that about them in this blog.


Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors players shake handsCredit: Michael Reaves, Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
The Raptors were always extreme long-shots to defend their 2019 championship: Kawhi Leonard, that team’s best player, left it in free-agency immediately after they won their rings, and they hadn’t exactly cakewalked their way to the Finals even with him. The 2019-20 Raptors went 53-19, took the East’s second seed, won a series, and pushed the younger and deeper and more athletic Boston Celtics to seven games in the conference semis. That’s pretty damn good.

The team they’re bringing back this year is similar enough that I can move one without having to be like “And then they [did whatever].” I swear! OK, fine, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka left, and both of those departures are going to hurt. There.

Who are their guys?
Their guys are Pascal Siakam, the ageless Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and probably OG Anunoby. All of them are good and tough and smart two-way players. Siakam is the gem of the group: You can think of him as being a member of whatever subset of graceful superhumans gave us Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bam Adebayo, and Ben Simmons: Dudes who are built like centers but can defend five positions, handle the ball, and are absolutely terrifying when they go coast-to-coast off defensive rebounds. Siakam made his first all-star team and all-NBA team last season, and still has so much room to grow his skills. I would bite any two of my toes off to magically put him on the dang Washington Wizards.

Are they good?
They’re good. It’ll be a pleasant surprise if they’re still among the East’s very best teams, but they’re good.

Should I watch them?
Hm. No.

Playoffs?
Almost certainly.


Utah Jazz

Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz shoots over the outstretched arm of Jerami Grant of the Denver NuggetsCredit: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
I have an apology to make. In one of our unnamed Defector basketball Twitch broadcasts earlier this year, I bagged on Utah’s Donovan Mitchell pretty rudely. I do not recall the exact wording, but the gist of it was that in my estimation he’d settled in as a guy who was an awkward fit at either guard position and subsisted on a diet of too many bad, inefficient shots, and just wasn’t very good. Then he played like an absolute hero in Utah’s seven-game loss to the Denver Nuggets in this past summer’s playoffs, and I felt like an asshole pretty much throughout. Maybe he’s not friggin’ Steph Curry, but he’s terrific. I probably should have put this whole thing in the “Who are their guys” section. Oh well.

The Jazz went 44-28 last season and entered the playoffs as the West’s sixth seed. That’s probably just where they fit into the West, a slaughterhouse of a conference where a very good team that lacks a truly transcendent superstar type of guy will just have a hard time breaking through. (The Jazz, to be clear, are that team.)

Who are their guys?
Well there’s Donovan Mitchell, for one! I believe we’ve discussed him.

Then there is also Rudy Gobert, the huge one-man top-10 defense whom the Jazz just signed to an absolutely gargantuan five-year, $205 million contract extension that ought to keep him in Utah through the end of his prime years. This, I think, is an illuminating example of the constraints the Jazz face as a team in a less-desirable market in a league in which the salary cap and max-contract systems wind up leveling off contract offers and amplifying the importance of picking a cool city for free agents: The Jazz simply cannot afford to part with the stars they find and grow for themselves, even if, as in Gobert’s case, keeping them probably means paying a bit more than most other teams would for them, because it takes years to wait out their development and that’s the only way a place like Utah will ever get ahold of any. It’s also, less pessimistically, a demonstration of Utah’s delightfully countercultural approach to team-building in the pace-and-space era: Gobert cannot shoot and never will be able to shoot, but the Jazz as an organization are all in on defense, and he’s one of the great defensive centers of this or any generation. So he’s worth more to them than to, like, the Rockets. That’s cool.

I will not mention any other Jazz players here. I can’t even feel my fingers anymore.

Are they good?
Sure, they’re good. They’re actually very good. If they were in the East, they’d be in the running for a top-three seed, I think. In the West they will not get to host the first game of a playoff series unless some shit goes wildly awry.

Should I watch them?
It’s now my opinion that basketball is bad and no one should ever watch it or discuss it or write blogs about it ever again.

Playoffs?
Yes.


Washington Wizards

Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, of the Washington WizardsCredit: Rob Carr, Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What is their deal?
This blog is over!