Hey, remember basketball? It once existed before all these Dwight Howard false starts. There was a game, a game we quite enjoyed. Coverage was based on what happened in this said game, and not on what some secret source told us about Howard's intentions.
Crazy, I know. Crazier still, we might be getting back to that point soon. When summer turns to fall, we will have a new, exciting season. The landscape is different now, especially in the west.
Let's start with the East, though. Why? Well, because it's easiest to peg Brooklyn as a future playoff team, considering how mediocre the Eastern Conference is. The Philadelphia 76ers got worse, cutting Elton Brand and losing Lou Williams. The Knicks are Lin-less, and Iman Shumpert is coming off knee surgery. The Hawks have lost Joe Johnson (I think they'll make it on account of Lou Williams, but still, they could fall).
Oh, and Orlando? That disaster has fueled 50 percent of all offseason articles.
The door is open for BK. They re-signed Deron Williams, wresting him from Mark Cuban's hopes and dreams. Joe Johnson was acquired in exchange for salary sanity. Gerald Wallace was also re-inked. This should be a formidable offense and productive backcourt.
There is one concern, however, when it comes to the Nets.
They should be horrid at defense (again). When your big man is Brook Lopez, the rim is less protected than a stray cat. I believe that Brooklyn has enough offense to crack the top-eight, but unless they get Dwight Howard, I wouldn't bet on a second-round playoff series.
Okay, get the jokes out of your system. When a team plays Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Chase Budinger, Greg Stiemsma, Andrei Kirilenko, Alexey Shved and Nikola Pekovic, it's not politically incorrect to simply point out, "There are a lot of white guys on this roster." This "Great White North" aspect may overshadow how the Wolves improved from last season. While I certainly wouldn't pay $10 million per year for Andrei Kirilenko that Yahoo! Sports reported, it's better to have him on the roster than not. The money is off, but AK-47 is a plus player for a frontcourt that badly needs defense.
Ricky Rubio is recovering from a torn ACL, but the strength of his game was never in his quickness or bounce. Ricky demonstrated early on that he's a passing savant, and that the high screen-and-roll with Kevin Love can be unstoppably beautiful.
Even when the play breaks down, this can happen:
Kevin Love receives a brief mention here, only because we're now used to his superstar status. There aren't many (read: any) elite rebounders who also happen to be elite shooters. Love is perfect for the modern NBA "stretch four" role. Zone defense has required bigs to open more space on the floor, and K-Love does that better than anybody.
The Wolves also discovered a key player last year in Nikola Pekovic. The burly center plays with a reckless violence down low. He doesn't block shots, but Pek scores efficiently and provides sturdy low-post D.
Like the Nets, defense will be a concern going forward for Minnesota. It has been since Kevin Garnett left.
Do you dare indulge in Warriors' optimism? The Bay has been burned by hope in the past, but this time I believe the hype. The 2012-2013 Warriors roster makes sense for the first time in roughly two decades. They have a tall, defense-minded center in Andrew Bogut. They have a scoring power forward who rebounds and hits the pick-and-pop jumper (David Lee). Brandon rush is a "3 and D" wing who rarely makes mistakes.
Unlike the traded Monta Ellis, Klay Thompson is of regular 2-guard size, and he won't take the ball out of Steph Curry's hands. Curry, for once, gets to actually run this offense. It's also quite helpful to get rookies Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green far higher in the draft than they had any right to expect.
The Warriors are an "if healthy" playoff team to be sure. That "if" is massive, considering the injury history of Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry. But it's a nice change of pace for Dubs fans to have a roster that can make it if healthy, as opposed to one that never had a shot in the first place.
Stephen Curry is someone to watch this year, mainly because basketball fans have forgotten just how incredible he can be. How good is Curry?
Curry's per minute production is elite, as he regularly claims ridiculous true shooting percentage in the 60 percent area, and notches a PER in the 20 range. This could be the breakout year, or at least, the season that isn't undone by his Grant Hill ankles.
This is my long-shot team, but don't scoff. Monty Williams is one of the game's best coaches, having designed sturdy defensive units from Chris Paul and a sack of potatoes. Pair Monty with Anthony Davis and we might have nuclear fusion. Doubt Davis at your peril, because few rookies have entered the league so equipped to excel quickly. AD is the ideal check of a league of Kevin Loves (stretch fours) because he can block shots far from the perimeter. Just ask UNC fans:
The newly bought Hornets were without Eric Gordon for nearly all of last year. Gordon returns a bit reluctantly, since he favored Phoenix in restricted free agency. This could all be forgotten if NOH is good right out of the gate. I have my doubts about Austin Rivers, but I do believe that AD and EG can combine to escape the lotto.
Miami and Oklahoma City should still be favored next year; that much isn't different. But if you look at the bottom of the playoff picture, you just might find that "parity" the NBA owners so fetishize.