By Omar Rodriguez
The NBA is back. The basketball gods are alive again.
Since the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Miami Heat to claim their fourth ring, a lot of things have changed. The biggest news of course is the return of the “King,” LeBron James, to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The return comes after his rocky departure and the debacle that was The Decision, where he announced on national television that he will be taking his talents to South Beach.
Along with James, Kevin Love was added to the Cavs roster. So now with Love, James, and young gun Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers are now the favorites to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy come June.
And there are more new faces in new places. For example, Paul Pierce to the Washington Wizards, Pau Gasol to the Chicago Bulls, and Chandler Parsons leaving the Houston Rockets to join their Texas neighbor, the Dallas Mavericks.
Andrew Wiggins, the first overall pick of the Cavs, had not even played one minute on the team before he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Kevin Love trade. It’s a good time to be a fan of basketball. With that said, here are some of the questions for the new NBA season.
Will the Cavs Take it All?
Before LeBron James’ announcement, the Cavs were among the bottom 10 teams in terms of winning the NBA championship. After the announcement, they jumped up to the top five.
And after Kevin Love—aka “the Double-Double Machine”—was traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Cavs, Cleveland is now the favorite to win it all. James, arguably the best player in the league, can make any team a contender.
Now, with an impressive supporting cast including Love and Irving, they are clearly the best team on paper. The Cavaliers will still have some kinks to work out. They will still need to decide on a starting lineup, and with James and Love getting plugged into the offense, the players will have to adjust to one another.
Throughout the preseason, the Cavs showed glimpses of what they can be—or are going to be—this season. The team should only improve as its plethora of superstars mesh with one another. Kevin Love is coming off a double-double average season with 26 points and 12 rebounds. In Minnesota, he was the lead scorer and the go-to guy for the Wolves. Can he still be a force now that he will not be the go to guy anymore? The claims that his defensive skills are lackluster will certainly be under the microscope this season.
Kyrie Irving, the star player before the arrival of James and Love, will have to adjust to being the third option instead of the primary option. He will still get his touches and his points this season, but will he be what we know he can be this season? LeBron James will now take those last-second shots for the win, and Kevin Love will be down low attacking the paint. Will Irving be playing the clean up crew and still be able to be one of the best point guards in the game, or will he be overshadowed? Only time will tell.
With all that being said, the Cavs are still the ones to topple in the East. But with the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, and hot young teams like the Washington Wizards and the Toronto Raptors on their tails, it should be an exciting Eastern conference shootout.
Can the Spurs Repeat?
The reigning NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs took care of business and beat the Miami Heat in five games. The previous season, with the Heat and Spurs playing in the Finals again, the Spurs fell apart in the final two games.
It all started with the debacle that was Game 6 where they were up by five points with less than 30 seconds left. They would eventually tie the game and send it to overtime after Ray Allen and his three-pointer. The Heat pulled away in overtime and eventually won game 7 to claim their second straight NBA title. This stuck with the Spurs, who would soon get their chance to take on the Heat again for the championship.
Of course things would be different.
The Spurs outplayed the Heat and the rest of the Western Conference in the playoffs in 2013. They finished with the best record in the league. They were hot.
Along with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker the Spurs still had most of their core. In the background, Kawhi Leonard was slowly developing and improving with the best team in the NBA. Leonard had a great playoff run last year, nabbing the NBA Finals MVP.
He is one of the best all-around players in the league. He is one of the young stars on the aging Spurs. He is the future of the team. The core of the team Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker all returned for the Spurs this season. The most notable free agent for San Antonio this season was not a player this season, but a coach.
The Spurs were happy to announce that head coach Gregg Popovich would return for a few more seasons. Along with Duncan and Boris Diaw, who decided to return to the team after signing contract extensions, it was obvious that Popovich would stay as well. The core of the team is still there so they will always be a threat. Yet nobody talks about the Spurs during the regular season, even though they always finish either first or second in the tougher of the two conference.
Teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trailblazers, Golden State Warriors, and the Los Angeles Clippers are always in the mix as well. San Antonio is not a glamorous team that always catches headlines, and they are ok with that. They let their play do the talking.
With a great coach, seasoned veterans, and a young star, the Spurs will always be in the mix to be in the playoffs, and most notably the NBA Finals to claim their fifth title. They now have to deal with a new revamped Cavaliers team that has LeBron and Love.
Should Games Be Shortened?
After the NBA announced that it would experiment with shorter game times, the league was unsure what to expect. The new game would be played in 44 minutes instead of the usual 48. The first game played with the new time was between the Brooklyn Nets and the Boston Celtics.
The average time for a regular game is two hours and 15 minutes. The new game was played in one hour and 58 minutes. The quarters were now only 11 minutes, and the second and fourth quarters only used two timeouts instead of the usual three. The time could benefit some players to take some ease off of them for the long season.
Another suggestion around the league would be to shorten the season instead of shortening the games. The season consists of 82 games for each team. Now the possibility of the season getting shortened is unlikely. There are clear financial issues that would stop both the owners and the players.
It would not benefit either financially, but will benefit the players giving them more time to rest and play harder with fewer games on the schedule. It would ultimately benefit the fans of the NBA since the players would be better rested and not as fatigued.
The last time the season was shortened was the 2011 NBA season, and that was cut by means of a lockout that lasted from mid-July to Christmas Day. The season was now 66 games instead of the regular 82. The loss of the 16 games cost the owners, league, and its players over 400 million dollars. So the likelihood of the season being cut down is pretty low.
The time shortage will be more of a possibility but not much of a difference in the eyes of the players and the fans. The difference of only 17 minutes is not that drastic, so the likelihood of the four-minute shortage is not likely. The league should try to look at things that can be cut down during the game.
Some of the things that can be worked on is enforcing when timeouts are done, times of free throws, analysis of replays, and delay of games. Stricter rules should be implemented on these things before moving on to cutting the actual game and season.
Which New Face in a New Place (Besides James and Love) Will Have the Biggest Impact on Their Team?
The reason that James and Love are not included in this section is that we all know that they will succeed.
As stated earlier, the Cavs are the new favorites to win the trophy. But who else has a shot to have the biggest impact on their team? Pau Gasol with the Bulls? Gasol was one of the most sought after free agents this past season. After rejecting the Los Angeles Lakers’ contract extension, Gasol decided to take his talents to the Windy City to join Derrick Rose and the fan favorite Joakim Noah.
The Bulls, now looking healthier than ever, sit behind the Cavs to win the East after adding Gasol and with a healthy Rose.
Then there is “The Truth”—Paul Pierce—joining the high-flying John Wall in Washington. The Wizards are a little short-handed, so Pierce will most likely be starting this season, unlike like last season where he came off the bench with the Brooklyn Nets.
Another aging veteran who has been moved around is Vince Carter joining the Memphis Grizzlies. Carter will likely still be coming off the bench, but his services will help the Grizzlies be an even bigger contender in the West.
One of the biggest stories was the previous Houston Rockets’ team being imploded. Chandler Parsons left for one of the other teams in the Lone Star State. Then there was Jeremy Lin partaking in the Hollywood lifestyle by joining the Los Angeles Lakers, and most likely being the starter after Steve Nash announced that he will be out for the rest of the season due to lingering back injuries.
Then there is Omer Asik flew east to join the New Orleans Pelicans and their young star, Anthony Davis. Parsons is one of the best small forwards in the league right now and should have an instant impact on the aging Mavericks squad. It’s interesting to see players with new teams, with some leaving entire conferences. So they will then have to adjust to a new conference and a new team.
Finally, there is Andrew Wiggins, who technically is not a new face in a new place since he has not played one NBA minute yet, having been was traded from the Cavs to the Wolves in the Love trade.
So he changed teams within a few months, and before officially playing one regular-season minute this year, he is still considered the front-runner for rookie of the year. His Minnesota Timberwolves seem to be taking shape with the Spainiard Ricky Rubio and the former UNLV star Anthony Bennett backing him up.
Wiggins was the first overall pick for a reason. He now knows where he will play this year, after he was unsure whether he would be a Cav or not. He now has some additional fire after the Cavs traded him to show them what they missed out on with their first overall pick.
This year’s NBA season should be a good one, with the new big three formed in Cleveland, other teams stacking up their rosters to combat the Cavs, and of course the reigning NBA Champs in San Antonio. As the season plays out, some of these questions might be answered, some might not.
Can they come out swinging or will they stumble out the gate? Or will the stumbling happen at the end of the season come playoff time? The Spurs, no longer the favorite to win, even though they won it all last year, want teams to underestimate them.
They know who they are, and with their mixture of veteran and young talent, it looks like they have the formula to do it again. The league can also continue to try out the 44-minute game to see if it can actually work. Now that the crazy free agency has come to an end and we see familiar faces in unfamiliar places, we get to see what they can offer to their new clubs. Let the threes fly, the dunks slam, the trash talking begin, and the nasty crossovers commence.
The NBA is back.
Omar Rodriguez is a writer for Scouts Alley.