I hate to be a buzzkill, but the Warriors are going to win the title this year.
Anyone entertaining a different outcome for the NBA season is either deluding themselves, or might think basketball is played six-on-six.
Usually, I wouldn’t express this much certainty about a season before it even starts; and on the rare occasion I did, I would throw in a caveat like “barring major injuries”. But the Warriors are so damn good that even a major injury to one of their four stars would leave them as the prohibitive favorites. They are insane.
And not fun insane. Evil, I am not to be trusted around small children, insane.
They are the monster of the NBA. The dark secret lurking beneath every word spoken around the league. Teams may not say it aloud, but the message is clear: they are scared shitless of the Warriors. The unstoppable killing machine, capable of taking any form. The team that can go big, go small, that in theory, could wear clown makeup.
Last offseason, Kevin Durant followed his most glutinous instincts out to the Bay like a fat kid following eggs. He was quickly swallowed up by the Warriors monster, thus ending his life as a likeable player.
Since then, the rest of the league has scrambled. Doing whatever they can to understand how such an atrocity could take place in their quiet, NBA town. Teams have made trades, reshaped their identities, and tried to get healthy. They’ve done everything in their power to try and stop it.
Tonight, the regular season will begin; and for the teams that have decided to fight, they will enjoy the luxury of life this new beginning affords. But the feeling will be fleeting. In the back of their minds they know – death will come. And when it does, it will arrive in the form of their greatest fear.
This is a list of those fears.
THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Their Greatest Fear: Hoodie Melo
Hot take, but the Paul George trade for OKC was excellent. Not only because they got him in exchange for an old Nordic Track that was collecting dust underneath Chesapeake Energy Arena, but also because George is the perfect player to pair with Russell Westbrook. He’s an A+ defender who can score with limited touches and make a huge impact on the game without the ball. Because, who are we kidding here? Russ is gonna have the ball.
Melo on the other hand?
Well, that depends.
As the picture above clearly (and factually) depicts, there are two sides to Melo. And which one the Thunder get will ultimately determine their chances this season.
The hope for Thunder fans is that they get “Olympics Melo”. The team player who tries on defense and can still get crunchtime buckets with the very best of them. Olympic Melo is Carmelo Anthony evolved to his highest Pokemon form.
However, the fear is that the more sinister, Hoodie Melo, will raise his covered head. This Melo has bad intentions. He will refuse to play the small-ball four. He will demand isolations plays where he dribbles the hardwood until it dents and then chucks a long two. He will suck the lifeforce out of the entire state of Oklahoma.
This Melo will lead to a very unhappy Russell Westbrook; the one who stands around on the court making his “Wait, is my car being towed?” face.
Or even worse, his NBA Live face.
Inevitably, this will lead to a Russell Westbrook vs Hoodie Melo, post-game, battle royale that takes place in the garage where they kept the Paul George Nordic Track. And that will help no one.
Say what you want about KD (I said that he ruined the NBA), but during his tenure with Westbrook he was an unselfish, extremely efficient player. Carmelo, on the other hand, not so much. These two might have put up similar numbers in their scoring heyday, but Hoodie Melo’s methods of isolation madness won’t fly with his temperamental teammate.
My feeling about the situation is this: old habits die hard. And when the Warriors turn it on in the playoffs, I won’t be surprised if Carmelo pops the hood.
THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Their Greatest Fear: The Original IT
As in, Isaiah Thomas; and whether or not they can get him back to good health and his 2016-17 form. If they don’t, let’s be real, even with the greatest player on the planet and his best buddy Dwayne, the Cavs don’t stand a chance.
Because, as I’ve said before on the pages of this platform, the Cavs were freaking dope last year. In fact, they were the best team LeBron has ever had. And yet, in the Finals, they were treated with a level of seriousness reserved for adults who are attacked by small children. Like, the Warriors basically did that thing where you put your hand on a kid’s head and hold them at a distance while they punch air.
Which is funny if you’re the Warriors. And sad if you’re Cleveland or one of the NBA’s 28 other children (teams).
While I think, in a vacuum, this current Cavs roster has the potential to someday be better than last year’s, it seems impossible to believe that it could happen this season. The Cavs’ turbulent summer produced too many moving parts for me to think they’ll be in high gear by the time the playoffs roll around.
More damning still, is the fact that I don’t think Isaiah Thomas will return to his 2016-17 form. Obviously, I’m not doctor, but I have been to many doctors, and this injury just sounds too weird and troublesome to think he’ll be able to duplicate a career year. Not to mention that if Thomas doesn’t return until January, that’s even less time for the Cavs’ starting five to find a rhythm.
History shows us that it takes players a little time to adjust playing with LeBron, and that they usually take a leap in the second season. Unfortunately, the Cavs don’t have that kind of time.
The Cavs will make it to the Finals again, but don’t expect a better showing than before. It will require every superpower King James possesses just to steal a game.
THE HOUSTON ROCKETS
Their Greatest Fear: The Point God Isn’t Point Good
If I were trying to beat the Warriors, I gotta be honest, I don’t know if Chris Paul is the superstar I’d go searching for.
Don’t get me wrong, I get what the Rockets were thinking. In these dark times you have to take what you can get and figure the rest out later. But to me, Chris Paul landing in Houston doesn’t move the team’s post-season needle enough to make a difference.
Statistically, Paul has matched up pretty well against Steph Curry and the Warriors over the years. At the same, over the last few seasons, this matchup hasn’t been close and I worry that Chris Paul has been mind-fucked into oblivion by Golden State’s roster.
I don’t think he can guard Curry anymore (see: above) and I’ve always questioned the limits of Paul’s post-season ability. Not because he hasn’t gotten further (I think there are simply limitations to how far a player of his size can carry a team when he’s the best player), but because Paul’s combination of intensity, perfectionism, and controlling ball-dominance has a tendency to put a stranglehold on his teammates.
Chris Paul’s teams aren’t known for their easy, breezy, Covergirl attitudes.
So while I’m not saying that Paul won’t work in D’Antoni’s free-flowing, definitively loose system – I’m just wondering, will it work for him?
I could see a world where it doesn’t. One where he gets frustrated by his lack of control and tensions rise. One where things get sticky in a playoff game where every possession counts, and a few errant, pull-up Houston 3’s drive Chris Paul to the brink of insanity.
Which is a problem, because outside of Paul and Harden, the Rockets are a collection of nice players who will be total non-factors against a team as talented as the Warriors. The Rocket’s need peak Chris Paul to have a chance. Unfortunately, the Rockets are a team poorly constructed to get the most out of their new star.
Paul’s greatest strength is not in his ability to light up a scoreboard with points and assists, it’s inside his brain and the way he uses it in the halfcourt. Whether he can be just as good playing a different style will make all the difference. If Paul is only 80% as good as he can be, and the Rockets are left pointing to players like P.J. Tucker to make up the difference, the Point God is as good as dead.
THE BOSTON CELTICS
Their Greatest Fear: Kyrie Irving’s Galaxy Brain
Second to last, but also least, I include the Celtics. Not because I consider them a legitimate contender, but because so many people seem to think they already are. Never mind the fact that this team has never played together, or that 14 of the 15 players on the roster have never done anything. Pencil them in for 55 wins! They’re the Celtics, dammit!
The Celtics will now turn to Kyrie Irving as the one player on the roster that has done something. They believe in him. But I have questions.
I question his maturity. I question his ability to lead a team by himself. And I question how the rest of the Celtics will react when their undisputed best player/leader never tries on defense.
Maybe I’m wrong. It’s been known to happen on occasion. But I have a sneaking suspicion that the Celtics would’ve been better off keeping Isaiah Thomas. In fact, I’ll go one further. I think they would have preferred to keep Isaiah Thomas if they weren’t so worried about his hip, and how it would affect the lifespan of a 5’9” point guard (who, in real life, is probably closer to 5’7”).
I understand the people who are saying that Kyrie is just a younger, better version of Isaiah Thomas. Statistically, they’re right. But stats aren’t everything. And I don’t think people are giving Thomas his proper due for the effect he had on the franchise and its culture. Remember, the Celtics were generally pretty ass before he got there, and his determination and grit seemed to permeate every aspect of the team. I don’t think that can be overlooked.
Looking to Kyrie, well, let’s just say he doesn’t scream toughness. And I’m interested to see how Boston fans feel about him after he’s died on five consecutive picks during a high-pressure home game.
I don’t know how good I would feel if the captain of my ship thought the Earth was flat.
THE SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Their Greatest Fear: Gregg Popovich Runs for President
Old Gregg is really upping the ante on his hatred for Donald Trump. (Aren’t we all?! HAHAHAHAhahaha– *weeps uncontrollably*)
On Monday, he called him a “soulless coward”, and at this point, no one can be 100% certain that Gregg won’t cut his coaching duties short to go on a Taken-style rampage where he takes down the president single-handedly.
Personally, I hope he runs for President instead; because an unfocused Pop is the only thing that will put a halt to the well-oiled Spurs machine.
Every year, people doubt San Antonio, and every year, they drop 60 wins. So I will save myself the embarrassment and say that I really like this Spurs team as the season’s top contender. I think the style-clash they’ve created to combat the Warriors is interesting, and in typical Spurs fashion, smarter than what the other teams have done who are trying to beat the Warriors at their own game.
If you remember back to the 2016 playoffs, back when Kevin Durant was on Thunder, before he was eaten, you may remember that the size and length of that team really bothered the Warriors. So much so that the Thunder got within one Klay Thompson blackout from the NBA Finals.
The Spurs can duplicate that size. They did so last year with some interesting results. This year, they can do it even more; trotting out a lineup with Aldridge at center, Rudy Gay at the four, along with Kawhi, Danny Green, and Dejounte Murray filling out the rest. That group would be absolutely huge with athletes at every position standing 6’5” or taller.
Ordinarily, such a collection of scrubs and one superhuman ballhawk wouldn’t stand much of a chance against the Warriors’ all-star team. But in the hands of my President? Let’s wait and see.
Otherwise it’s four more years of the same old mess.