Bored of soccer’s theatrics? Or of hockey’s obnoxious staged fights? Or maybe even of football’s stop-start nature and showmanship? The answer is basketball with the start of what promises to be another thrilling NBA season just around the corner. After a summer of blockbuster trades, big free agent signings and coaching changes left, right and center, the San Antonio Spurs will tip the new season off as defending champions, having produced a master class in basketball by dominating the Miami Heat in last year’s finals.
The Spurs had a quiet summer, keeping the team that played with such spectacular cohesion and flair largely intact, in line with the franchise’s history of consistency, trust and team values. However, in their typically discrete manner, the Spurs made history this summer by appointing former WNBA star Becky Hammon as assistant coach, making her the first full-time female coach in any of the four major US professional leagues. Fair play to the Spurs organization as a whole for seemingly always being one step ahead.
Nevertheless, the headlines during this off-season were dominated by one team and one team only. The City of Cleveland and the State of Ohio as a whole got their prodigal son back. In a decision that surprised many and was discussed and dissected by seemingly everyone, LeBron James opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat to re-join the Cavaliers, the team he famously left for Florida four years ago. James took his game to a whole new dimension with the Heat and now returns to Cleveland as one of the most complete players the league has ever seen. Under the guidance of David Blatt, one the most successful coaches in European basketball, James will have no problem performing his superstar role within a well-drilled system.
As always, whenever a team signs such a high-profile free agent, they acquire additional selling points to bolster the roster. Joining LeBron James in Ohio is former Minnesota Timberwolves All-star and the league’s best scoring big man, Kevin Love. The Cleveland executives understood that the acquisition of LeBron means they automatically have a shot at an NBA championship in the near future and as a consequence, have abandoned long-term planning in order to win, and win in the very near future. To acquire Love, the Cavs lost the last two first drafts picks, Canadians Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. Teaming up the best player in the world in James with Kyrie Irving’s flair, Dion Waiters’s huge scoring potential and Kevin Love’s reliability and ability to produce huge numbers in every statistical department is too good of an opportunity to turn down. It automatically makes the Cavaliers my favourites to reach the Finals from a much stronger Easter conference.
Numerous teams have the potential to challenge Cleveland for top spot in the East but each of those teams has issues. Will Indiana be able to compensate for Paul George’s season-ending injury? Will Derrick Rose ever show the level that made him MVP following his recovery from two seasons out with injury to fire Chicago to the top? Can Toronto build on last season’s exploits or will that be a step too far?
On the other hand, the Western Conference will be much more open. The Spurs show no signs of slowing down despite their ageing stars. However, this might well be a season too far from the likes of Parker, Ginobili and Duncan. Behind the Spurs, a group of teams made some interesting moves in the off-season. The Dallas Mavericks managed to snatch Chandler Parsons, one of the league’s most improved players last season to team him up with future hall of famer Dirk Nowitzki and defensive specialist Tyson Chandler. Having suffered last season, outspoken Dallas owner Mark Cuban has managed to assemble a dangerous team with many different assets. They certainly are the most improved team in the West.
Having booted owner Donald Sterling after some of his racist comments were made public, the Los Angeles Clippers can safely put this saga behind them and focus on their basketball, which wasn’t easy for them at times last season. Led by the league’s best point guard Chris Paul and one of the most explosive players Blake Griffin, their pace and counter-attacking ability might spell trouble for the Spurs and their ageing stars. Teams like Oklahoma City and Golden State will hope to do better than last year and certainly have the talent to do so. Whether they have the squad depth to match the league’s best teams remains to be seen.
Whatever happens during this upcoming season, a lot of storylines will be written. LeBron James will return to Cleveland and aim to bring a Championship to Ohio for the first time in history. Kobe Bryant will aim to make a successful return from injury and continue his climb towards the top of the league’s all-time scorer list. The Spurs will keep on producing an entertaining, team-oriented brand of basketball and will strive to build on from last year’s success and build a dynasty that will be remembered for years to come. It will all tip off on October 28th when some of the world’s best athletes come face to face in the hope of hoisting the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy in May.