Well, this sucks. Opening night came with a bang and it ended with a whisper. Just six minutes in, Boston Celtics All-Star forward Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome injury when his ankle decided to bend in a not-natural direction. Additionally, the reigning champions, the Golden State Warriors, suffered a two-fold loss last night: the game and forward Draymond Green to what’s being called a “left knee strain” for now.
Opening Night is supposed to be a real cool time. It’s supposed to symbolize the beginning of a season-long, eight-month journey. Yeah, we’re not expecting crisp offense or lockdown defense, but the air of excitement is supposed to drown those criticisms because we’re just so happy to have real basketball back.
That’s dead right now. Instead, we’re collectively cringing. But as humans do, we will move on, and that’s what tonight signifies. As a matter of fact, I’m just going to forget last night and start the season tonight.
That’s the thing, though: we’re just getting started. The NBA is ripe with interesting subplots that have the potential transcend the actual sport being played on a nightly basis. The combination of on-and-off-court dealings is what makes this one of the most exciting NBA seasons to date. Let’s take a look at 17 (maybe 18) things that are going to make this 2017-18 NBA season one of the greatest:
1. Celtics-Cavs Drama
Last night’s game was just the beginning of what will likely be a year-long narrative. We’ll look for updates on Isaiah Thomas‘ injury all year as well as Gordon Hayward. We’ll be tracking the #NetsPick. We’ll be waiting for Danny Ainge to turn into a dark alley to find Thomas watching . . . waiting (joke).
The Cleveland Cavaliers won round one last night, but even though the teams were on opposite sides of the scoreboard, they were all united to support Gordon Hayward. That’s the really cool thing about sports: although competition can pit us against each other, sports also serve as a great unifier. It’ll be interesting to see what happens (and who suits up) the next time these two meet.
2. Timberpups -> Timberwolves
Adding Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves sped up their timeline. With two young #1 picks in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wolves underperformed last season with Tom Thibodeau, especially on defense. How much of that changes now that they’re expected to make the playoffs? Will they make the jump?
3. Westbrook and Friends
Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are more than just the “and Friends” part of the team, but make no mistake: this is still Russell (super max) Westbrook‘s team. It’s a tired talking point to talk about Westbrook and ball-hogging (and also Anthony and ball-hogging and George and ball-hogging), but the preseason games showed that they can share the ball. Will they? We’ll see.
4. Denver Aiming High
With the addition of Paul Millsap, like Minnesota, the Denver Nuggets will be looking to leap into the playoffs and out of the lottery. Nikola Jokić emerged as the mascot for Analytics Twitter, and no matter how you feel about him, his ascension has positively impacted Denver and their guards. Adding Millsap may be an awkward fit at first, but having a go-to scorer (which Millsap can do) will be good for the team. Is it enough to make the playoffs?
5. Lonzo Ball
If LaVar Ball read this article, he’d be outraged that Ball fell to 5th on this list. That’s all I have to say about that.
6. Spurned Heatles
I’m ashamed that I said “Heatles” but I was going for the whole “spurned lovers” angle. The Miami Heat thought they were getting both Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving when those players became available. They got neither.
Regardless, the Heat will be better this year than last, especially in the standings. They’re still very talented, and the East got weaker. How well they do depends on the ceilings of Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside.
7. Raptors Reloaded
The Toronto Raptors went all in last season to beat LeBron James. Literally, that was their only goal, and they fell very short, getting swept in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Retaining Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry means that the Raptors don’t feel that they’ve reached their limit with this group. Watch out for a potential midseason trade to either push them a little forward or blow things up if the season doesn’t go as planned.
8. #1 Pick off the Bench
This is something that likely isn’t a thing that’s a big deal but because of the optics, it’s a thing that’s a big deal. Markelle Fultz, the guy Philly traded up for, will start the season on the bench whereas Jayson Tatum, the #3 pick, will be starting for an Eastern Conference contender. Let that sink in.
9. Joel Embiid vs. Everyone
This season is infinitely better because the Philadelphia 76ers are healthy (more or less). Not necessarily for on-court stuff but because they’re just a fun group of guys. Joel Embiid’s personality and his Twitter/real life rivalries make the NBA so much more fun to follow, and that’s without mentioning his on-court contributions. He has the opportunity to be very, very special (even more than he already is).
For the first time in a while, the Brooklyn Nets are not far and away the worst team in the NBA. For the first time, the Cleveland Cavaliers own the famous #NetsPick after the Isaiah Thomas-Kyrie Irving trade. With the East being the polar opposite of the war zone that is the Western Conference, there’s an outside chance that the Nets could sneak in, rendering that pick very not valuable. Wouldn’t that be interesting? *twirls mustache*
11. Twin Towers
After half a season of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins playing together, I’m still not sure if that experiment is going to work the way they envision. Maybe if they had any semblance of wing depth, it would be more convincing. They have Jordan Crawford, though, so that’s all they really need, honestly. We’ll see if talent overrules everything else when these two giants take the court this season.
12. Whatever Orlando is Doing
I’m still not sure.
13. Passing in Houston
After one season of James Harden being a point guard in both name and practice, the Houston Rockets brought in All-Star (and so much more) point guard Chris Paul. How they mesh has been heavily covered and even addressed over their preseason slate. Will that still hold up in December? March? The playoffs? If it does, we could look at an upset in the West in May. We got our first look last night in their comeback win against the Warriors, but that happened with Paul on the bench. Also, Andre Iguodala was out as well as Green in the second half. I’m not exactly sure what to make of this yet, but it likely means something.
14. Run it Back
Several teams have decided to more or less run back the same squads they had last season with the hopes of better results after retooling. The Washington Wizards have committed a lot of money to their core and little to nothing to their bench. The Milwaukee Bucks look similar to last year. The San Antonio Spurs kept their core and added Rudy Gay. How successful will these teams fare against the newer teams and established giants?
15. All-Star Game
With a major change happening to the format of the game this weekend, it’ll be interesting to see which captains pick which players. Is Russell Westbrook petty enough to avoid picking Kevin Durant if he’s captain? Will LeBron James be okay with playing with Kyrie Irving? We’ll probably dramatize things much more than necessary, but it’s fun to speculate anyway.
16. Oh Yeah, the Warriors
They’re still good. In fact, they’re even better than last year. Losing Green for a long stretch of time might impact them negatively, especially since he’s probably the one guy who can’t be replaced easily with their insane depth. Still, without Green, this team is a juggernaut.
17. Bad Teams Being Bad
Phoenix, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Indiana, the L.A. Lakers and potentially more teams could be simply awful. With a top-heavy draft in store for teams in the 2018 lottery, we could see a transition to full-out tanking start around March. Will any of the aforementioned teams jump into low-seed playoff contention? Who finishes with the worst record? Which fan base will refresh tankathon.com the most? We need answers.
Bonus: 18. Albums
“I swear sports and music are so synonymous . . . because we wanna be them, and they wanna be us.” -Drake
There are more questions than answers at this point. We have eight months to fix that, so buckle up and stay tuned. The journey begins tonight (again).