The 2013-2014 NBA Season: A Few Thoughts for Opening Week

Steven J. Chandler


For years, the de facto beginning of the regular season for casual fans has been December 25th, when the NBA schedule makers cram together five marquee games to be coupled with your eggnog and Christmas ham. It’s the league’s version of initiation by inundation and, at the very least, a viable alternative to all-day reruns of A Christmas Story.


Paying attention before the holiday season, however, is the only opportunity to view the league in complete parity. For at least a day, the Charlotte Bobcats and the Miami Heat will be level in the standings. Teams do not yet have to hit the panic button and make a desperate trade or discard the season all together and begin the process of tanking for better draft position. There’s still hope for the likes of the Bobcats, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns, among other potential cellar dwellers.


If you’re a casual fan from Phoenix, the season may already be over for your team by the time you tune in on December 25th.  Actually, let’s be honest, the season is likely already over for Phoenix. The Suns just made a trade headlined by Marcin Gortat, their starting center, going to Washington for Emeka Okafor, a player who will be sidelined indefinitely with a herniated disc in his neck. The Suns also garnered a protected first‑round draft pick in the trade. I will say for the Suns that next year’s draft class is looking to be rather impressive. I suppose Phoenix is taking the long view.


Here are a few thoughts as we embark on the beginning of the 2013‑2014 NBA season.


The Miami Heat versus the Field


The Heat, a team made up of three of the league’s stars (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- the latter players, however, have certainly shined brighter in past seasons), one of the better shooters in the league (Ray Allen), and interchangeable spare parts, are again odds-on favorites to win the NBA finals for a third year in a row. The prediction is appropriate. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that James is the best player in the world. The comparison to Michael Jordan in regard to the NBA’s greatest player of all time is perpetually made.


Although James doesn’t play with the fluidity and grace of Jordan, he may ultimately surpass his numbers. James makes any team a contender, whether it be the 2006 Cleveland Cavaliers, the 2012 Miami Heat or your local team at the Boy’s and Girl’s Club.  He’s that great. The Heat’s championship team from a season ago is mostly intact, but it will be interesting to see if the signings of Greg Oden and Michael Beasley, two former first-round picks who’ve failed to live up to their draft slots, improve an already capable squad.


The most substantial threats to the Heat in the East are the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. The Pacers, a physical team, always play the Heat well and pushed them to seven games in the last season’s Eastern Conference Finals. This year, the Pacers will get Danny Granger back from injury to couple with burgeoning star Paul George. Although Wade was the offensive star for the Heat in game seven of their series last year, James’ defensive prowess almost erased George completely.

Derrick Rose is back for the Bulls after missing all of last year with a left anterior crucial ligament tear. The normal timeline for recovery foresaw Rose back with the team sometime around last year’s playoffs. Rose chose not to play, however, opting instead to utilize the entire season for recovery. Many questioned his toughness, especially considering that his team earned the fifth seed in the East and, after beating the Nets in seven games in the first round, squared off against the Heat in the conference semifinals. The Heat and Bulls don’t like each other. Fans in Chicago and in many other parts of the county clamored for Rose’s return, which would have certainly intensified what was to be an impassioned series. Without Rose, the Bulls lost in five games. Rose’s decision to sit out the playoffs may have upset many, but the added recovery time should alleviate any lingering effects of the injury, both psychological and physical. Knee injuries are devastating not solely for their orthopedic consequences, but also the hesitancy and fear of further injury that they can instill in a player’s psyche. With a healthy Rose, the Bulls match up well with the Heat and, although not as talented at the top, have a far more balanced lineup.


The Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks will also compete, although they are on the fringe of contention. The Nets signed Boston Celtics’ aging stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.  Though on the career decline, they should compliment a relatively talented, albeit expensive, lineup. Center Brook Lopez will continue to develop and provide steady play on both the offensive and defensive ends. The pressing question for the Nets will be whether Deron Williams can return to his all‑star form and whether first-year coach Jason Kidd is up to the task of making this team greater than the sum of its parts.


The cloud hanging over the New York Knicks has less to do with the actual product on the court and more to do with Carmelo Anthony’s desire to become a free agent after this season. After pushing his way out of Denver to play for his hometown team, Anthony will likely hold the Knicks hostage much in the same way he did the Nuggets. There aren’t many players in the league with Anthony’s individual skill set. He’s a volume shooter, however, and often fails to incorporate his teammates into the offense. Play him alongside guard J.R. Smith, and you have essentially a two‑man show on the offensive end. Tyson Chandler, although limited offensively, is the anchor on defense and will keep the Knicks in most games simply by protecting the rim.


No One is Afraid of the Lakers


Who knows when Kobe Bryant will return from an Achilles injury, which he suffered against the Golden State Warriors at the end of the regular season. The Lakers will be starting the season without Bryant for the first time in seven years. Pessimists in Los Angeles and beyond may doubt whether Bryant can return to elite form, especially considering the nature of his injury and his age (Bryant will turn 35 next year). Bryant, drafted out of high school, has played professional and international basketball, including multiple playoffs, world championships and Olympics, for 16 years. His legs have recorded more miles than most players still playing at his age and one must question whether there’s any tread left, especially after the Achilles injury. Still, he’s a five‑time NBA champion, two‑time NBA Finals MVP and 15‑time NBA All‑Star. Until you actually see otherwise, you have to assume that when Bryant steps onto the court, he’s going to succeed.


A Slew of Contenders in the West


The Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors are all viable candidates for winning the Western Conference. The Thunder will be starting the season without point guard Russell Westbrook who suffered a knee injury in last year’s playoff series against the Rockets. Without Westbrook in the conference semifinals, the shorthanded Thunder lost to the Memphis Grizzlies. There is likely not a guard in the league as athletic as Westbrook. His importance to the Thunder’s championship aspirations was evident in the series against Memphis who were able to focus their defensive efforts on Kevin Durant. Durant is a top‑five player in the league and is more than capable of steadying the ship, at least in the regular season, until Westbrook’s return. The Thunder will begin the season, as they have the last few seasons, as the team to beat in the West.


Each year we point to the aging roster of the Spurs’ and predict that their run of success will finally end. Over the last few seasons, however, head Coach Gregg Popovich has artfully managed the minutes of his players, eliciting maximum performance from aging stars that should be in decline. Last year, Tim Duncan continued his steady pace to the hall of fame and put up incredible numbers for a big man who’s been in the league since 1997. Manu Ginobili has seen better days, but his performance in game five of the NBA Finals last year (24 points, 10 assists) suggest that if Popovich manages his minutes appropriately, there may still be some gas left in the tank. Tony Parker, at age 31, is at the apex of his career. After leading the Spurs to the NBA Finals last season, Parker went on to lead the French National Team to a gold medal at FIFA EuroBasket.  Third year pro Kawhi Leonard will be expected to continue his development and play a larger role in the Spurs’ success.


The Clippers and Grizzlies both made coaching changes with Doc Rivers heading to L.A. from Boston and Dave Joerger taking over for Lionel Hollins in Memphis. The Clippers are more or less the same team as a season prior and are hoping that Rivers can coax out of their starting five, which includes the best point guard in the league in Chris Paul and the athletic dunk champion—albeit blatant flopper— Blake Griffin, the type of success he had in Boston.

The Grizzlies hired Dave Joerger to instill their analytical vision. They are akin to the Oakland Athletics in Major League Baseball, taking a “Moneyball” approach to free agency and the draft. Last year, they hired ESPN basketball stats guru John Hollinger as vice president of Basketball Operations. Hollinger’s direction has led to both the trade of Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors and the above-referenced coaching change. Hollinger’s task is to find hidden value in low‑cost players. The signing of Kosta Koufos solidifies an already deep front court. Mike Miller will hopefully give the Grizzlies the outside shooting presence that they’ve sorely lacked. Center Marc Gasol is a legitimate MVP candidate and will be called upon to anchor this team on both ends of the floor.


The Rockets signed center Dwight Howard, the prize of this past off‑season’s free agent class. He will instantly make point guard Jeremy Lin, who struggled last year, a better player by commanding double teams and providing the point guard with a legitimate pick‑and‑roll partner. Coupled with slasher James Harden, the Rockets’ blockbuster off‑season move last year, Howard gives the Rockets their best front‑court/back‑court combination since the Olajuwon‑Smith‑Drexler team of 1995. Many have picked the Rockets to at least reach the Conference Finals. That is predicated, however, on whether the Rockets get the Dwight Howard of last year’s Lakers or the Dwight Howard who led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009.


The sexy pick this year in the Western Conference is the Golden State Warriors. Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe of have ranked the Warriors first on their “Watchability” scale. They have one of the more appealing uniform kits in the league, they play to a raucous sell‑out crowd whose energy seems to radiate through your television screen, and they are led by the new darling of the NBA, Steph Curry. Curry’s range is boundless; he has the capacity to make baskets running off screens and to create his own shot off the dribble. He’s one of those shooters where even when he misses, his shot looks pretty.



The Warriors recently signed often‑injured center Andrew Bogut to an extension. Bogut, when healthy, is one of the best defensive centers in the league. The Warriors don’t need Bogut to score but rather bang with the Howards, Duncans and Gasols of the league. The Warriors also signed Andre Iguodala in the off‑season, giving them the best wing defender in the league and a Swiss‑Army Knife type player that doesn’t command the ball but will inevitably end the year with a double-digit scoring average. Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes are young players who should continue to progress. Barnes proved that he is capable as both a wing man and a stretch four, the latter exemplified as he filled in for the injured David Lee during the Warriors playoff run last season. The concern for the Warriors will be the loss of reserves Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry. Landry’s production may be replaced by the combination of Jermaine O’Neal and Marreese Speights. Curry’s ankles the past few seasons, however, seem to have been held together by duct tape and oblige a serviceable backup point guard to keep him from playing under 40 minutes a game. Currently, the Warriors have Toney Douglas and Kent Bazemore behind Curry on the depth chart. Iguodala can also run the offense, but not for long stretches of time. Another question will be whether the loss of assistant coach Mike Malone to the Sacramento Kings (Malone was hired as head coach of the Kings) will impact a much improved Warriors defense. Warriors head coach Marc Jackson is the team’s motivator, but it was Malone during timeouts diagramming plays both on the offensive and defensive end.



There are too many variables during an NBA season to make any sort of accurate prediction as to how it will all turn out. I suppose smart money is on the Heat. But unless you’re from Miami, rooting for them feels like rooting for Walmart to continue to expand or for Starbucks to take over your local mom and pop café. Maybe one should root simply for their team not to be mediocre. A last-place team means improved draft positioning for next year’s touted draft class. A first-place team or somewhere close to it will obviously be competing in the playoffs. In the NBA, there’s nothing worse than mediocrity.


Author Bio:

Steven Chandler is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.


Photos: Basketball Schedule; Justin Tho; Keith Allison (Flickr).

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Basketball Schedule (Flickr)
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