What's the theme for this year's defending champs?
Sure, the 2013-14 NBA season is still a few months away, but it's never too early to start picking out each team's theme song.
The idea here isn't to choose a bunch of random pump-up songs, but to find a song that (hopefully) will really capture the tone of each team's season. Suffice to say, you can expect to find a few selections here that will never, ever be played in an NBA arena.
I'm armed with a not unimpressive knowledge of classic rock and Rocky music, so without further ado, let's pick out some theme songs.
Even without Josh Smith, Horford and the Hawks are likely to be competitive.
Song: "Don't You (Forget About Me)"—Simple Minds
Now that Josh Smith is suiting up for the Detroit Pistons, the Atlanta Hawks have seemingly slipped through the cracks as far as NBA teams go. But make no mistake, this is still a solid squad, and it wouldn't be entirely surprising if they won around the same number of games as they did last year (44).
Al Horford has been quietly brilliant for years now, Paul Millsap is a great Smith replacement, Jeff Teague is still coming into his own and the Hawks have a good bit of young talent waiting in the wings. Don't sleep on Atlanta this season.
Rajon Rondo will still be around, but this is a brand new era for the Celtics.
Song: "Changes"—David Bowie
The Boston Celtics are clearly playing for the future. Who knows if Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green or maybe even a stud rookie will be leading this team in one or two years' time? Whatever the case, Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are gone and so is everything the Celtics have been about over the past six years.
It's time to face the strange, Celtics fans.
How far can the Brooklyn Nets go this season?
Song: "The Gambler"—Kenny Rogers
The Brooklyn Nets have pulled the NBA equivalent of going all-in.
With Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Andrei Kirilenko all in tow, Mikhail Prokhorov's squad will indeed be competing for the championship he promised. But the Nets have just one or two years until their championship window slams shut, and with a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd—and some questions as to how all the pieces fit—it's impossible to predict how it'll all play out.
If health permits, the Nets could be a top title contender this postseason. They've got tons of top-shelf talent and a deep, well-rounded bench. Prokhorov made his move, and soon we'll get to see if the gamble pays off.
Al Jefferson is a great player, but he'll hurt Charlotte's lottery chances.
Song: "Hurts So Good"—John Cougar Mellencamp
A good kind of pain. That's pretty much exactly what Charlotte Bobcats fans will be experiencing with Al Jefferson this season.
On the one hand, Jefferson finally gives the Bobcats what they need—an efficient, high-usage scorer that will take pressure off of guys like Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson. So that's good. But on the other hand, every hook shot Jefferson sinks—every win he leads Charlotte to—just pushes it further out of the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes. And that hurts.
The Bobcats will probably be in the running for a top-five pick regardless, but without Big Al in the post, their chances would be a whole lot better.
We've missed you, Derrick Rose.
Song: "Back In Black"—AC/DC
It's been seemingly forever, but Derrick Rose will finally be back this season. And that makes the Chicago Bulls a whole new team.
Through sheer necessity, a few of the Bulls stepped up their game in Rose's absence. Joakim Noah is now someone you can run an offense through for long stretches at a time. Jimmy Butler is one of the league's premier “three and D” wings. Throw Mike Dunleavy's outside shooting and a healthy Rose in with the current Bulls, and you're looking at a very, very dangerous team.
No longer is Chicago the scrappy city that could only win through defense and sheer effort. The Bulls are coming to play this year.
Can Andrew Bynum stay healthy?
Song: "Keep Yourself Alive"—Queen
This one goes out to Andrew Bynum, who the Cleveland Cavaliers are hoping will be alive and well this season.
The Cavaliers made a couple of really strong additions over the summer, but it's Bynum's health that will ultimately decide the team's ceiling. If Bynum can stay on the court and play at the level he did in the 2011-12 season (19 points and 12 rebounds per 36 minutes on 60 percent true shooting via Basketball-Reference), he'll give the Cavs an inside-outside attack that few teams in the league can match.
The Cleveland defense (27th in the league last season per Basketball-Reference) figures to be bad no matter what, but a healthy Bynum would give the Cavs enough offense to compete for the playoffs and maybe even make some noise if they get there. Pretty high stakes.
At the very least, the Ellis-Nowitzki pick-and-roll will be entertaining.
Song: "Mercy Mercy Me"—Marvin Gaye
Things aren't what they used to be, that's for sure.
Just a little over two years ago, the Dallas Mavericks were coming off an NBA championship and dreaming of guys like Deron Williams, Dwight Howard or Chris Paul someday donning the blue and white. Fast forward to the present, and those dreams haven't quite materialized. Unless some misguided Mavs fan really was hoping that the team would ink Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon to four-year deals. That guy's got it made.
The Mavs are going to be entertaining this season, but it's hard not to look around and wonder what happened over the last two years.
The Ty Lawson-led Nuggets should still be very competitive.
Song: "You Can't Always Get What You Want"—The Rolling Stones
The Denver Nuggets were so close last season. So close. Had Danilo Gallinari not gone down with a knee injury in early April, they would have been a serious title contender. They were steamrolling teams by the end of the year.
Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out that way. Andre Iguodala, George Karl and Masai Ujiri are all gone now, and the Nuggets simply aren't the same caliber team they were. Denver did bring in some solid players to bolster the bench (Randy Foye, J.J. Hickson, Nate Robinson, etc.), and if talented young guard Evan Fournier can handle a bigger role, it'll still be pretty good.
It's not quite what Nuggets fans wanted, but it should be enough to hold them over until the organization figures out what direction it's going to take.
Josh Smith and the Pistons should be competitive this season.
Song: "Glory Days"—Bruce Springsteen
Remember when the Detroit Pistons were relevant? When year after year they steamrolled to the playoffs with a grind-it-out defensive style that opponents just couldn't seem to crack? Those days may not be back just yet, but the Pistons are certain to be competitive again, and that seems like enough to justify this choice.
Detroit certainly has some things to figure out this season, first and foremost how to squeeze spacing out of a frontcourt that can't shoot from anywhere outside of 10 feet. The team's overall talent level has increased dramatically though, and they'll finally be enjoyable to watch again.
Just like the good old days.
They don't make players much more entertaining than Stephen Curry.
Song: "Shoot To Thrill"—AC/DC
The Golden State Warriors are going to be one of the most exciting teams in the league this season, and it's mostly due to their sharpshooting backcourt. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson literally thrill people with their shooting. See how perfect this is?
Obviously, Andre Iguodala is an exciting addition as well—Draymond Green was a surprisingly solid stopper for the Warriors last season, but he's nowhere near the all-around player Iguodala is. Still, the reason people love the Warriors is because Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson can do stuff like this and this.
That's tough to top.
James Harden is going to have an awful lot of fun playing alongside Dwight Howard.
Song: "You Make My Dreams Come True"—Hall & Oates
This one goes out to Dwight Howard and James Harden, who on paper are just about perfect for each other.
Dwight Howard is a pick-and-roll monster and efficient post option who's at his best when he's surrounded by great outside shooters. James Harden is a pick-and-roll monster and great outside shooter who's never played with a truly dominant roll man. You see how the pieces seem to fit together?
Paul George and the Pacers are likely to be even better this year.
Song: "Eye Of The Tiger"—Survivor
The Indiana Pacers are on the hunt this season.
The Pacers proved they can go toe-to-toe with the Miami Heat in last year's playoffs, fighting all the way to Game 7 in an absolutely grueling series. But this is the season that they feel truly dangerous.
Paul George is a year older. Roy Hibbert is 100 percent over his wrist injury. Danny Granger is set to add a potentially potent scoring punch, and Luis Scola and Chris Copeland will help lead a revamped bench.
The Pacers are going to be dangerous come playoff time. They have the look.
Chris Paul's finally got some shooters to play with.
Song: "Hammer To Fall"—Queen
This one is dedicated to all the defenses the Los Angeles Clippers are going to shred this season. Sorry, guys.
The Clippers' offense was extremely potent last year (fourth in the league via Basketball-Reference), but now that they've added J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley to the rotation...it's just unfair.
The Clippers hit 37 percent of their spot-up threes last season (via Synergy Sports Technology), not a bad mark at all. But Redick and Dudley are almost certain to kick that number up into the 40s, and if opponents can't sag off the Clippers wings at least a little bit, how on earth are they supposed to stop Chris Paul and Blake Griffin?
At least the Lakers still have Kobe.
Song: "Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)"—Cinderella
Dwight Howard got a lot of flak after posting a (for him) subpar season with the Los Angeles Lakers, but now Lakers fans are going to see what this core looks like without him. And it won't be pretty.
The Lakers' defense was 20th in the league last year (per Basketball-Reference) and only because Howard is so good on that end. When Howard was on the bench, the Lakers allowed 111 points per 100 possessions—just a half point away from the league-worst Charlotte Bobcats' defense (per 82games.com). Can guys like Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Chris Kaman fill that defensive void? Only time will tell.
But no. No they can't.
Miller's shooting could be vital for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Song: "Mama I'm Coming Home"—Ozzy Osbourne
With all due respect to Kosta Koufos, Mike Miller is the Memphis Grizzlies' most important new addition.
Miller isn't quite the same offensive player he was in his last stint with Memphis, and there's no way he can handle big minutes without breaking down halfway through the season. But he's a career 41 percent shooter from outside and will give the Memphis offense some much-needed spacing.
Miller's going to be a headache for defenses hoping to smother the Grizzlies' offense by crowding the paint, and he'll help position Memphis for another deep playoff run. Great homecoming.
The Heat will be counting on another historic year from LeBron James.
Song: "Going The Distance"—Bill Conti
Because “We Are The Champions” would be too easy a pick.
For the fourth year in a row, the Miami Heat are set for a season in which literally every team in the league will be gunning for them. Everyone plays a little bit harder against the defending champs, and even though the Heat have breezed through the past few regular seasons, there are never any guarantees in the NBA. Especially when you consider the relative age of the Heat roster.
Miami's still likely to pile up a bunch of wins this season (obviously—it does have LeBron James), but there's no question that every game's going to be a real battle.
No matter what happens with the Bucks this season, Larry Sanders is still awesome.
Song: "The Show Must Go On"—Queen
As ESPN.com's Kevin Arnovitz recently covered, the Milwaukee Bucks have no intention of tanking towards a better draft pick. The show that is mediocre Bucks teams will continue.
The Bucks are going to trot out the best team they can no matter what—even if that team can do nothing more than chase an eighth seed in a suddenly strong Eastern Conference. It's certainly a noble gesture (well, to everyone but Bucks fans), but will it pay off? Probably not.
Still, the Bucks have some exciting young players, and that should make the year more than bearable, even if there is no big payoff at the end.
It's been far too long since Kevin Love was on a basketball court.
Song: "Knockin' On Heaven's Door"—Guns N' Roses
This might just be the year Minnesota Timberwolves fans have been waiting for.
Now that Kevin Love's back and totally healthy, the Timberwolves are set up nicely to knock on, and maybe even bust down the door to the playoffs—something that's seemed totally out of reach for almost 10 years now.
The Minnesota roster has some flaws (even being average defensively would be a huge accomplishment), but they'll score like crazy, and that should be enough to push them into the playoffs.
This guy is going to be very, very good someday.
Song: "Gonna Fly Now"—Bill Conti
The New Orleans Pelicans' next few seasons are really just going to be an extended training montage for Anthony Davis.
The Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans acquisitions were big for the Pelicans, but there's no question that the future of the franchise lies on Davis' shoulders. Davis has a legitimate chance to be one of the best five or six players in the league, but even if all goes well, he's still a few years away from fulfilling that potential.
So while the Pelicans will probably still be competitive, this season is about working out the kinks in their new lineup and getting Davis some more experience. The best is yet to come for this group.
The Knicks need Chandler to be incredible next season.
Song: "You Raise Me Up"—Josh Groban
This one's going out to Tyson Chandler, who's basically going to be responsible for the entirety of the New York Knicks' defense next season.
The Knicks finished 18th in the league defensively last year (per Basketball-Reference) but did curiously little to improve on that end of the floor. The acquisition of Metta World Peace (still a plus defender, even if he's nowhere as good as he used to be) was solid but was offset by the trade for Andrea Bargnani—an interesting piece for the Knicks, but a defensive sieve if there ever was one.
Chandler is going to have to be incredible for the Knicks to stay afloat defensively this season. He's the only man capable of raising them up to true contenders.
Think these guys are ready for the season to start?
Song: "Heart's On Fire"—John Cafferty
The pump-up song from Rocky 4 seems appropriate here.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are coming off a 60-win season in which they posted a ridiculous point differential (plus 9.3 points per game via ESPN.com). Had Russell Westbrook not gotten hurt, there's a very good chance they would have been playing the Miami Heat in the Finals last June. There's no question they'll be motivated.
Say what you will about their relative inactivity this offseason—losing Kevin Martin doesn't hurt all that much when you have two of the top 10 players in the league and an up-and-coming super sub (Reggie Jackson) waiting in the wings. The Thunder are still one of the best three or four teams in the league, and you can bet they'll be eager to prove it.
Vucevic was a revelation last season.
Song: "I'll Be Alright Without You"—Journey
Last year proved it. The Orlando Magic are going to be alright without Dwight Howard.
Sure, the Magic don't have a superstar anymore, but their collection of young players—Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson and Maurice Harkless—are the envy of every bad team in the league. They're going to be very good someday.
It might take some time (and some luck in the 2014 NBA draft), but the Magic will get there. They've already rebounded nicely. They're going to be just fine without No. 12.
Meet the future of the 76ers.
Song: "I Wanna Be Sedated"—The Ramones
Sorry, Philadelphia 76ers fans. Your team is going to be near unwatchable next season.
Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams should provide some entertainment, but the overall outlook...not too good.
Eric Bledsoe should make the season a bit more bearable for Suns fans.
Song: "Waitin' On A Sunny Day"—Bruce Springsteen
I only half chose this one because it has the word “sun” in the title.
Like every bad team in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns are basically just hoping that the lottery gods will favor them come May. They've got a few nice players, but they won't be doing much winning until they get a real franchise changer like Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker.
LaMarcus Aldridge and the rest of the Portland starters will finally get some help this season.
Song: "Help Is On Its Way"—Little River Band
This one goes out to the Portland Trail Blazers' starters, who have to be a little relieved to know that for the first time, they'll have a legitimate bench to back them up.
Last season, the Portland reserves ranked just about last in every single statistical category. Points, rebounds, assists, shooting percentages...you name it and Portland was probably at or near the bottom of the barrel among NBA benches (per hoopsstats.com).
The Blazers made a conscious effort to address that problem over the offseason, and it paid off. Look at the roster now, and you'll find tons of potential contributors. Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, C.J. McCollum, Earl Watson and even Thomas Robinson should be able to give the Portland starters a breather without getting totally blown out.
What on earth are the Kings going to do with DeMarcus Cousins?
Song: "No Easy Way Out"—Robert Tepper
This season is all about DeMarcus Cousins for the Sacramento Kings. The Kings' big obviously has enormous potential, but it's hijacked by his lackadaisical defensive approach and pension for taking (and missing) long jumpers.
The Kings are in a tough spot with Cousins. They can roll the dice that he will suddenly understand how to defend pick-and-rolls and stop chucking up jumpers, or they can get rid of him for little (considering the position they're in) or nothing in return. It's the worst kind of conundrum a team can face, and it will define the Kings' future one way or another.
Expect Duncan and the Spurs to be right in the thick of things for yet another year.
Song: "The More Things Change"—Bon Jovi
The San Antonio Spurs are the one constant in the NBA. The league's changed quite a bit since Tim Duncan and Gregg Poppovich first teamed up in the 1997-98 season, but the Spurs have never once slowed down. They rip off 50-win seasons year after year.
Eventually, age has to catch up to San Antonio (right?), but predicting it to happen this season seems silly, all things considered. Another deep playoff run is a safe bet.
Valanciunas has a very bright future with the Raptors.
Song: "Beautiful Day"—U2
No, the Toronto Raptors aren't title contenders. They're not really even a team on the rise—not this season anyways.
But the Raptors now have one of the best general managers in the league in Masai Ujiri. And after seeing the way he squeezed three draft picks (including a first-rounder) out of the New York Knicks for Andrea Bargnani...what could be better?
Things are looking awfully bright for Toronto, and if Jonas Valanciunas continues to develop the way he has been, it could become relevant quickly.
The Jazz won't be great this year, but they're flush with young talent.
Song: "We Are Young"—Fun
The Utah Jazz are going to have an ugly year (particularly offensively), but of all the teams in rebuilding mode, they have the most talent.
Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter have All-Star potential (Favors is going to be a defensive monster in a few years), Gordon Hayward is one of the league's best young forwards and Trey Burke could end up being a very good point guard someday. It's youth, not a lack of talent, that's holding the Jazz back right now. Give them a few years (and maybe another lottery pick or two), and this will be a scary core.
John Wall and the Wizards are poised for a big year.
Song: "Feels Like The First Time"—Foreigner
For the first time, John Wall is surrounded by talented players, and that makes the Washington Wizards a team to watch this season.
It's not as if the Wizards weren't decent last year—following Wall's return they went 23-25 and ranked just out of the top five defensively (per NBA.com). Adding a fully healthy Nene and a potential impact rookie in Otto Porter should only serve to make them better.
Don't get me wrong, the Wizards won't be competing for a championship this season. But a playoff spot isn't at all out of the question (in fact, it's likely), and watching Wall and Bradley Beal grow together will make this team fun to follow for what feels like the first time.