Thursday I was reading pregame notes, preparing for that night’s exhibition between the Hornets and the Miami Heat.
Glancing at the Heat’s roster, it struck me: Dwyane Wade really isn’t a Miami player anymore. He signed with the Chicago Bulls, and I couldn’t remember the last time Wade and Heat weren’t synonymous.
It’s going to be that kind of season. No more Wade in Miami, no more Derrick Rose in Chicago, no more Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City.
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A lot of reshuffling but in the end, all things might lead back to last season’s conclusion: A collision course between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
Ten storylines worth considering with the regular season starting Wednesday:
Will the new Warriors thrive?
Eventually, for sure. One of the great traits about the Warriors is their focus on winning, not personal accolades. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson will be happy to share the ball with Durant, and Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala already understand how to play complementary roles.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be transition. If I were coach Steve Kerr, I’d ask Curry to be a bit more concerned with ball distribution this season. Also, Andrew Bogut’s defense will be missed. But who wouldn’t make some compromises to add Durant to such a talented unit?
Are the Cavaliers a lock in the East?
It’s become a given that the course to the Eastern Conference title runs through whichever team includes LeBron James. That doesn’t automatically mean the Cavaliers will be the top seed in the East playoffs.
If I were coach Tyronn Lue, I wouldn’t stress too much over whether the Cavs are top seed in the playoffs. I’d manage a veteran roster as much for health and rest as record. There are two teams in the East – the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors – that could steal that top seed from Cleveland. Even so, I’d be surprised, barring a key injury, if Cleveland didn’t advance to the Finals.
Will Wade do well as a Bull?
I think one of Wade’s great strengths is being collaborative: He won titles playing with Shaquille O’Neal and James/Chris Bosh. He doesn’t let his ego get in the way of blending into a winning formula.
The Bulls are Jimmy Butler’s team now, which was a factor in Rose being traded to the New York Knicks. I have no doubt Wade understands that and will fit the task.
Are the Lakers back on track?
It was totally understandable in a marketing sense that last season would be all about bidding farewell to future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant. But until Bryant actually retired, the real work of rebuilding one of the NBA’s great franchises was going to be in slow motion.
Guard D’Angelo Russell has had a strong preseason, suggesting he could be a big piece of the future. I’m a fan of rookie forward Brandon Ingram, the former Duke standout. He so needs to add bulk and strength, but his length and skill level are the direction NBA teams are headed.
Is the East better?
The conference is certainly deeper. The only two teams with seemingly no chance to reach the playoffs are the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. The Bulls, New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks have enough to hang around the playoff race into late March, if not April.
Having said that, the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets took hits in free agency that will require some adjustment. The Hawks lost Al Horford, and I’m not sure Dwight Howard is a great fit as his replacement. The Hornets had a fine bench last season, and that’s no longer as big a strength.
A sleeper in the West?
The Utah Jazz has a lot of young talent, and Quin Snyder has done well as a first-time NBA head coach. Center Rudy Gobert could be a candidate for defensive player of the year. Gordon Hayward is the do-it-all connector the Hornets envisioned in 2014 when they signed him to that offer sheet the Jazz matched, and Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson will provide veteran savvy this team needs to step up into playoff contention.
Are the Timberwolves all that?
Certainly, the potential is there. Karl-Anthony Towns is as versatile and talented as any young big man in the league. Zach LaVine entered the NBA as more a great athlete than a rounded basketball player, but now he has a jump shot to complement all that explosiveness.
The Timberwolves now have a proven coach in Tom Thibodeau to bring all the pieces together. It’s time to end a 12-season streak of no playoffs.
Who is the best young coach?
I think you have to give serious consideration to the Celtics’ Brad Stevens, who will turn 40 this month.
It was considered unorthodox when general manager Danny Ainge hired Stevens out of a college background at Butler, but he has great chemistry with players and is considered one of the league’s best at in-game adjustments.
He’s coached the Celtics into the playoffs two of his first three seasons, but has yet to win a round. This season, with Horford as a major roster upgrade, the Celtics should advance.
Best news of the preseason?
Easily, that the NBA and the players association are close to agreeing to a new collective bargaining agreement.
That agreement would avoid a lockout, and with business so good, who needs a lockout? The growth in league revenue is huge, thanks to the new national television deals. To not find a fair way to share all that wealth would have sent a terrible message to the fans.
Who wins it all?
Curry, Thompson, Durant? I’m fine with going with the obvious choice. The Warriors take it over the Cavs.