Preseason games have already started trickling in and international exhibition games will soon be here and gone. When the dust of roster cuts and preseason prognostications settles, we'll be staring down the barrel of the 2014-15 NBA season, complete with brand-new storylines, highlights and drama ready to fuel discussion and rooting interests.
The problem with the regular season, though, is there are so many games. It's hard to keep up with everything on a nightly basis, especially when a random 13-game Wednesday schedule mocks your lack of a social life and dares you to keep track of every player and team you're interested in.
(If only there were a guide to each team and why you should want to watch them this coming season ...)
Luckily, I'm here for you. As you prepare for the season and load up those five-team League Pass subscriptions, here are reasons why you should be watching each team in the NBA this season.
Any basketball hipster will tell you how fun Hawks basketball is, because it is. Mike Budenholzer's offense is all about ball movement, passing and those basketball secrets Gregg Popovich passes down to anybody who has worked with him. Budenholzer was in San Antonio for nearly two decades, so he certainly picked up some stuff here and there. Look at how the Hawks pushed the Indiana Pacers in last season's first-round playoff series despite not having Al Horford, their best player. This team knows how to play and maximize the skill on the roster.
One more good reason to watch the Hawks: You get to become extra knowledgeable about Horford and lead the good fight on how he's an actual center and doesn't need to move to power forward.
He's been a center pretty much his entire life. He just happened to play the same position as Joakim Noah in college, so some think that he has been out of position his entire career. He hasn't. If he had gone to the University of Texas and played next to power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, we'd be saying, "Hey, that Al Horford is a heck of a center!"
Catch some fun Hawks games and join the good guys.
Assuming he's able to get one of those no-slip pads for his shower, Rajon Rondo is a really fun player to watch play basketball as a profession. There's always going to be this idea that he's not an elite point guard, simply because his shot hasn't been the most reliable. But the defense, the passing, the creative ways of getting to the hoop -- all of these are spectacular to watch. And you also don't want to miss the weird things he decides to do when the Celtics win the opening tip.
Because he had a fantastic agent a few years ago and signed a monster contract with the Atlanta Hawks, we've focused on Joe Johnson's bank account far too much. In reality, the six-year, $119 million deal he signed in 2010 shouldn't have anything to do with how much we enjoy watching him on the basketball court, even if you're terrified of it being on your team's books. Johnson has one of the best crossovers in the league and his handle is so low to the ground and deadly you'd think it was a clone of Dr. Evil (timely reference!).
Just watch this showcase of 10 great moves by JJ over the years. Seriously, the time he made Paul Pierce look like he was struggling to do some basic yoga is one of the best crossovers in recent years. Johnson is also one of the more reliable clutch shooters in the league and this Nets team will be in a lot of tight games. Everybody loves a good game winner.
The teal is back! Hugo is back! The buzz is back in the Hive! No longer must we let Bobcats futility (with a couple of fun years sprinkled in) damper our eyes. We get to be excited about the makeover happening with the Hornets, Steve Clifford's beautiful coaching, a defensive team that can really get after it, Kemba Walker's step-back filthiness, and Lance Stephenson taking his opponent-cooling methods to Charlotte. This team is on the verge of being incredibly fun for the casual fan.
Let's be confident in saying this together: Derrick Rose is back.
I know. That didn't work out so well last year. We were given a big buildup about how good he looked in practices and scrimmages. We were told he was going to be even stronger and more explosive than before. We were treated to 10 awkward games and then he was done for the season.
But trust me on this one. After getting more time to work off the rust, around Christmas we should (I hope) be treated to an incredible Bulls attack spearheaded by Rose rounding into form. As an added bonus, the big-to-big passing between Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol will be a treat. This is not last year's Bulls team by any means.
In the meantime, you should really start sending this to your friends.
I don't want to be a downer, but Dirk Nowitzki is not going to be on NBA courts forever. He's not at the end of his run, but he's been preparing for a very productive twilight to his career for a couple years now. The front office has done a great job the past two summers building a great complementary core to help Dirk. Now we're close to seeing a Mavs roster that is as talented as what we saw in 2011, and they still have one of the best coaches in the league.
On top of that, those who have NBA League Pass are hip to the fact that Dallas has arguably the best local broadcast in the NBA. From top to bottom, it's a fun and informative viewing experience and Mark Followill is one of the best play-by-play callers in the business.
You're going to want to be ahead of the curve on anything weird JaVale McGee does on the court.
Besides, last year's Nuggets team was a bit of an aberration. They suffered a lot of injuries and still managed to win 36 games. They have a full complement of players this season, making them one of the deepest rosters in the league. Ty Lawson is a blur on the court, Kenneth Faried earns every bit of that "Manimal" nickname, and Brian Shaw came to grips with playing fast.
I don't know if they're a playoff team in the West, but I know they're a problem for those hoping to make the playoffs.
Joe Dumars had been putting together a terrible roster and selling it as playoff-caliber for years, then throwing the latest coach under the bus when the Pistons weren't able to make the playoffs.
Now Stan Van Gundy is in charge of the front office and the sidelines. He'll bring his beautiful offensive and defensive systems to Motown and allow Andre Drummond to be the catalyst for it all.
One thing you'll definitely want to keep an eye on is how Van Gundy chooses to use Josh Smith. It's been a long time since fans of the team that employs Smith have felt good about watching him let a 3-point shot fly. With Van Gundy loving shooting teams and Smith loving to shoot regardless of how hopeless his chances are of making it, we could see either one of the best reclamation projects in NBA history or one of the biggest perimeter collapses on any level. Plus, who doesn't love their nightly dose of "Deeeeeeeeeeeee-troit Bas-ket-ball!"?
Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry has become must-see television. Curry, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, David Lee and Andrew Bogut form one of the best starting lineups in basketball. The bench is improved, anchored by the never-silent mouth and motor of Draymond Green. New coach Steve Kerr has a lot to work with.
But Curry is the show. He'll drop a dagger in your heart at any moment from anywhere on the court. He has all-over-the-gym range. He also has one of the sickest handles in the game and can turn your ankles into dust. He uses all of this, along with one of the quickest releases in basketball, to set record after record from behind the 3-point arc. He's going to end up the greatest 3-point shooter in NBA history and you don't want to miss watching history on a nightly basis.
There are two ways to look at this Houston Rockets team.
Their two stars seem fed up with the criticism and are ready to prove their doubters wrong. Dwight Howard is sick of being passed over for the "best big man in the league" title. James Harden is so tired of the jokes about his defense that he becomes a passable defender, which maximizes the impact of his incredible offense. The young core of role players steps up to prove Houston shouldn't be overlooked as a contender in the West, and we get some brilliant basketball.
Or Howard is a mess and continues to alienate the national media and NBA diehards, while Harden's defense is so bad that a YouTube account is updated nightly with his most embarrassing narcoleptic moments on that end of the floor.
The Internet will feast on whichever scenario presents itself.
I'm not going to lie. This is a rough sell. A lack of young talent and Paul George's season-long absence leave huge holes the Eastern Conference runner-ups could not have foreseen. They have more outside shooting than they did last season, but I'm not sure if it matters sans-George.
The two things you can count on, though, are Roy Hibbert's ability to protect the paint (it really is an art) and David West's passing and overall attitude fueling this team as far as it's capable of going, even if that ends up being not that far.
Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin has quietly become a player who can, and will, be considered among the top five in the game. Chris Paul is like a television show serial killer at point guard. DeAndre Jordan is capable of dropping a casket on anybody foolish enough to be around the rim the same time he is. And Jamal Crawford has one of the best handles we've ever seen in this league. Lots of fun from the Clippers and they're capable of pushing anybody in the league.
Los Angeles Lakers
I'm banking on Rose being healthy and savoring Dirk's final seasons -- and I'm doing both with Kobe Bryant.
Whether you like him or can't stand him, Bryant has been one of the greatest players to ever step on the court. He's also had one of the most aesthetically pleasing games we've ever seen. It sounds like he's fully healthy once again. Although his team isn't going anywhere this season, Bryant is still ascending in the record books. Let's enjoy his game as long as we can.
The Grit 'N Grind philosophy is fun and the Memphis crowds really buy into it. It's great watching Tony Allen stalk his prey on the perimeter, and Mike Conley has one of the best hesitation moves in the league. Watch as Zach Randolph straight up bullies people, and tune in to see Marc Gasol sling the ball all over the court. I don't know if I feel comfortable calling him the best passing big man in the league, but I wouldn't scoff at you doing so.
Um ... things have changed a bit since you last saw the Heat. They got Luol Deng. They signed Danny Granger. Josh McRoberts took his super-impressive passing talents to South Beach. Shabazz Napier was drafted. And they lost a long-term contributor to the Cavs in James Jones, along with some other guy, I think.
Perhaps you're not going to tune in to their games as often as you used to, but if you try to cut off your nightly dose of "Dos minutos!" then you might start suffering from withdrawal. Also, Erik Spoelstra is an excellent coach and you can learn a lot from watching his game plans.
Say it with me now: Giannis Antetokounmpo.
OK, that wasn't great pronunciation from everybody but you'll eventually get the hang of it.
The Greek Freak's impossible wingspan and endearing demeanor have made Twitter all, well, twitterpated. Jason Kidd is going to use him in odd, unconventional ways, including playing Antetokounmpo at point guard and having him lead a lot of fast breaks. He can cover 75-80 feet of the floor in like two dribbles.
There are plenty of fun parts to this bad Bucks team -- Jabari Parker, for instance, is someone you'll want to watch -- but it's all about Giannis when it comes to viewing pleasure.
We had half a dozen teams this past season tanking/suffering through unexpected injuries and execution issues in order to have a shot at getting Andrew Wiggins. All it took for the Wolves was employing David Kahn.
We get to see if Wiggins is the real deal, we get to watch Zach LaVine fly through the air for big dunks, and Ricky Rubio's passing is on another level of entertainment. Sure, this team is terrible, but they're fun terrible. When you catch their local broadcasts, Jim Petersen is also the best color commentator in the business.
New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis is about to take over this decade like follicles have in the space between this young big man's eyes. This team has plenty of interesting and intriguing parts to its roster, but few shows can top what Davis does on a nightly basis. Watch him swat shots that seem to be clean looks at the hoop. Watch him throw down tip-dunks. Watch him fly down the lane on pick-and-rolls for big two-handed flushes. Just watch him.
New York Knicks
The Knicks have assembled a basketball culture and system that require Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith to be unselfish while Andrea Bargnani is asked to be a decent defensive presence on the interior. How could you not want to watch what happens next?
Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook didn't leave the organization this past summer. Until Durant is back from his fractured foot, we get to see the Westbrook solo act that he and his personal stylist have been waiting to unleash on the basketball world. You also get to watch Steven Adams take elbows like he's Homer Simpson in a boxing match. Throw in a couple of Kendrick Perkins' post-ups that the rest of the basketball world likes to call "turnovers," and you have yourself all the entertainment you could want in a game.
The Orlando Magic have been rebuilding in the post-Dwight era for a couple of years now, and they've managed to assemble an extremely fast and athletic roster with a couple of veterans sprinkled in. Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo could be a terrorizing defensive backcourt. Aaron Gordon is going to be one of the best dunkers in the NBA.
If this team can get any kind of outside shooting, we'll get to watch the start of something special. If they can't, we'll still get highlights.
Literally any of your friends or coworkers could end up in a starting lineup for the Sixers on any given night. It's like the best game show on television except all of the contestants are guaranteed to lose.
Most thought the Suns would be part of tank-a-palooza last season, but they ended up missing the West playoffs by one game. Jeff Hornacek is coaching a ridiculously versatile rotation that is predicated on getting to the hoop or shooting 3-pointers. It's some of the most enjoyable basketball in the league, headlined by the likes of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.
Any casual fan can get a lot out of checking out the Suns, and the basketball nerds will try to hook Suns games into their veins.
Portland Trail Blazers
If you're not sold on watching Damian Lillard at this point, I don't know what to tell you. The Blazers have a great offense with passing, shooting and LaMarcus Aldridge. But most important, Lillard seems to be as cold-blooded as they come and wired in a way that makes you fearful whenever he takes the court against your favorite team. You just can't look away because he's dropping hammers, dimes and 3-pointers at every turn.
DeMarcus Cousins is worth the price of admission. Whether he's complaining about any and every call against him, keeping teammates from shaking hands with the opponents, or playing like a monster only the machines from "Pacific Rim" could take down, Cousins is the real deal when it comes to NBA entertainment. There are other good parts to this team, too, but mostly it's Cousins or bust when tuning in to a Kings game.
San Antonio Spurs
We're done pretending the Spurs aren't loved, cherished and appreciated now, right? We've moved past that? A fifth title and one of the most convincing NBA Finals victories of all time has ended the idea that the Spurs' dynasty will walk quietly into the night.
Whether he is going with his full rotation or hiding his top players from nationally televised games, the players Gregg Popovich puts on the court run the best basketball system in the NBA. If you truly love basketball in its purest form, you're going to watch their games no matter who is playing for them.
Also, we don't know how much longer Tim Duncan is going to play so let's soak that up while we can.
Kyle Lowry is a problem. DeMar DeRozan is a problem. When he gets to the rim, Terrence Ross is a problem (he also dropped 51 points in a game). Jonas Valanciunas is a problem on both ends. Add in that insane home-court atmosphere we witnessed during the first round against the Nets, and the Raptors are only going to get more fun as their season builds toward another playoff appearance.
For a couple years, we heard about this mystery international import coming from Australia named Dante Exum. He was a point guard in a shooting guard's body. He was going to be the latest and greatest young guard to step into the NBA. But we hardly had any footage of him. The little there was available showed Exum going up against competition that looked like the younger brothers of the high school kids Al Jefferson destroyed in his pre-draft footage.
Now we get to see this lanky, slippery combo guard navigate lanes and angles in the NBA. He won't be an acquired taste like Vegemite (also, you shouldn't have to acquire a taste for anything, so the Vegemite supporters need to stop claiming its greatness). He'll be the future of Utah Jazz basketball.
John Wall and Bradley Beal say they're the best backcourt in the NBA, and they're willing to talk trash to anybody who claims otherwise. We'll need to wait a little while for Beal's wrist to heal until we see it though. Marcin Gortat and Martell Webster are trying to look like each other, possibly in preparation for auditioning for season three of "True Detective." Paul Pierce and his late-game daggers have joined the squad, making the sight of him in a Wizards uniform as dizzying as spinning around with your forehead planted on the handle of a baseball bat. You can't miss the Wizards this year. They're no longer capable of being slept on.