Ranking the Best NBA League Pass Teams to Watch for 2013-14 Season
USA TODAY Sports
To be a killer League Pass team, one must appeal to both fans and haters. There has to be something about the team worth watching even if a group of individuals despises a player or shade of laundry.
The team must provide something reasonably new to NBA fans. Nobody wants to watch the same movie over and over again, unless it is "Muppet Treasure Island" or "He Got Game." It also helps to be relatively hard to find.
We've seen the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs' song and dance on repeat for a long time now; it is time to hit shuffle. The Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder are also easily seen on national television with great regularity and SportsCenter ad nauseum, making League Pass almost unnecessary.
Instead, we are looking for new-look teams and diamonds in the rough. Teams that will make casual fans catch on to their excitement, while deeper fans see them as a breath of fresh air into a stale league.
The Cleveland Cavaliers fit most criteria for a great League Pass buy, but there are still too many question marks.
Kyrie Irving is a superstar worth watching with regularity, but until he submits close to a full season (missed 33 games in two seasons), there are no promises. The same goes for Andrew Bynum, who already doesn't have great health news coming out of Cleveland. Anderson Varejao has the same injury concerns, if not worse.
If those three are healthy and a host of early first-round picks pop, the Cavaliers could quickly become worthy.
With the Washington Wizards, we are talking about a franchise that hasn't had a winning percentage above .354 since 2008.
As much as we all want to see whether their second-half charge was a fluke, I'm going to wait. After playing just 49 games last year, John Wall has a put-up or shut-up season approaching, thanks to his looming max extension.
For now, the Wizards are relying a bit too much on guys named Nene, Martell Webster and Emeka Okafor for me to be confident in a League Pass-worthy season.
When healthy, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are two of the most exciting players to watch on the planet. During their short time together, they have clearly developed a chemistry that makes their games even more intriguing to watch.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have had some unbelievably bad injury luck in recent years, though. I'd hate to make them a League Pass choice only to have Rubio or Love miss significant time. The two played a combined 75 games last season!
Individually speaking, the Detroit Pistons could be a very exciting team to watch next season. Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Luigi Datome are all players I want to know more about in 2013-14.
However, how do all those pieces fit together, and will the product be worth watching regularly or sporadically? How much faith do you put into retread head coach Maurice Cheeks (career record of 284-286, fired twice)?
Close but No Cigar
As a basketball fan watching games on television, it is always a treat when you can sense that the players on the court enjoy one another.
No team gave me that feeling last season more than the Indiana Pacers. From top to bottom, that team and coaching staff went to war for each other. The Eastern Conference Finals "David vs. Goliath" storyline certainly didn't hurt, but it was generally a pleasure to watch Indiana play.
A new bench with more than one meaningful player should also be a great study in what head coach Frank Vogel can do. The additions of Luis Scola, Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson should help balance the Pacers out.
Indiana is also returning a player who, not long ago, posted back-to-back seasons of more than 24 points per game. Danny Granger managed only five games last season due to injury. His return is another lineup shaker for Vogel to deal with.
Considering that the league's No. 2 defense in 2012-13 is getting an offensive player of Granger's caliber back, they should be able to score more than 94.7 points per game again.
The one team that unseated Indiana from the top defensive spot of last season was the Memphis Grizzlies.
They also fell in the similar position of the Western Conference Finals, though it was by a sweep.
The Grizzlies similarly lack a ton of offensive firepower that makes League Pass games so exciting. To enjoy Memphis games, one must be a fan of basketball chemistry and defense. Memphis excels at both.
Unfortunately, their biggest offseason addition is a 33-year-old Mike Miller. That isn't great in terms of grabbing national attention.
There is little in terms of star power to draw in casual fans to watch these great teams, shrinking their League Pass necessity. They should also both be put on national television more now.
6. New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans professional basketball franchise took new and exciting to another level when they changed their moniker from the Hornets to the Pelicans.
They went a step further by pulling off two of the bigger trades to take place this offseason.
On draft night, the Pelicans announced they would be sending the No. 6 overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday. Holiday brings a slightly more exciting game to the table than the steady distributing hand of Greivis Vasquez.
Later, the team sent Vazquez and center Robin Lopez away for Sacramento Kings scorer Tyreke Evans. The 2010 Rookie of the Year should set up a killer offensive triumvirate with Holiday and Eric Gordon.
Members of the core, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson are exciting players in their own right. Davis could be in store for a monster sophomore season, while Anderson's 557 three-point attempts were second only to Stephen Curry last year.
If Austin Rivers ever figures things out, he could add another element of excitement. Even if he doesn't, it can be exciting to see just how bad he can be.
The roster was fairly hastily put together and hinges on a lot of different angles working out. Still, a new logo, mascot and look should be intriguing enough to earn some League Pass looks.
5. Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets made the offseason's biggest splash, making it difficult to ignore them on League Pass.
The addition of Dwight Howard to Jeremy Lin and James Harden means the team now boasts three of the league's most worldwide recognizable faces. Lin is still a huge deal overseas. Howard is one of the league's great polarizing characters, and Harden's beard, with aid from the London Olympics, has become a well-known symbol of the game.
Chandler Parsons is still a really cool guy with a really cool story. There should be season-long drama with Howard and Omer Asik, two mammoth human beings trying to share a space about the size of a clown car in the paint.
Unfortunately, they get knocked back a few pegs because folks generally seemed to dislike and grow tired of Howard. The Rockets may not be appealing to fans of the league's 29 other franchises because they are sick of his act and flip-flopping to a third team in three years.
The Rockets scored 106 points per game last season without Howard. They also gave up 102.5 a night. If healthy, Howard can be one of the league's most dominating interior forces at both ends. If that happens, this team is elevated to must-watch status.
4. Chicago Bulls
Basketball fans young and old, big and small, post and perimeter, have gone too long without seeing Derrick Rose play competitive basketball.
All of that is righted this season, when the NBA's 2011 Most Valuable Player retakes the floor after more than 18 full months without playing a real professional basketball game.
The Chicago Bulls captured a lot of hearts and eyes toward the end of last season. Their fantastic run through the Brooklyn Nets and Game 1 win over the Miami Heat were pure magic. Though that underdog mentality is gone with Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli moving on, they have massively upgraded the backcourt with Rose's return.
There is also fascinating competition elsewhere on the floor. Luol Deng is on a big expiring contract and technically could be dealt at any moment. The emergence and subsequent overreaction to Jimmy Butler last season made Deng's playoff ailment easier to bear.
Deng and Butler are both clearly capable of playing an insane number of minutes. They are also both defense-first small forwards by trade. When paired, with Tom Thibodeau pulling the strings, they are a fan of defense's dream come true.
Joakim Noah is as much a threat to spar at midcourt as he is to put up a truly remarkable triple-double.
The Bulls will be good, and it will all seem relatively new, considering the gap in Rose performances. At the very least, Adidas must be sending out an employee memo for everyone to watch Chicago on League Pass in order to make those premature #TheReturn ads seem worth it.
3. Golden State Warriors
Basketball fans were treated to a lot of things last season. Perhaps the most thrilling was Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors going on a playoff run.
Those of us on the right coast, both directionally and by what Chris Columbus intended, are sometimes left in the cold, figuratively and literally, when it comes to West Coast teams. Once the Warriors landed on national television each night for postseason games, the rest of the country caught up with what the Bay Area already knew.
The point is, this team is fun to watch, and now that it has broken out into the national spotlight, Golden State should become one of basketball's top League Pass teams.
Joining the excitement of Curry and Klay Thompson's three-point barrage, David Lee's unique skill-set, and Harrison Barnes' late rookie explosion, is Andre Iguodala. On top of being one of the league's most fascinating athletes, Iguodala spent his first eight seasons playing in the Atlantic Division. The East Coast now has even more familiarity with this roster.
The Warriors scored 102.2 points per game last year, good for seventh in the NBA. They also shot 40.3 percent from beyond the arc as a team, the league's best mark since 2009-10.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
As a proud resident of Sterling, MA, the original setting of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," I can honestly say that jealousy does arise when talking to friends who live in more glamorous parts of the country.
The star power of Los Angeles Lakers games is slowly turning into celebrity sightings at Los Angeles Clippers games. Hollywood's front-running famous folk are slowly migrating to the better of the Staples Center brothers. That alone would not be enough to elevate them into the stratosphere of elite League Pass candidates, but what follows does just that.
Though it won't be as fun not being able to second-guess all of Vinny del Negro's moves, the Clippers have a successful NBA coach again. Not only does Doc Rivers bring championship cachè, he also happens to be one of the league's most likable coaches. He gives great quotes, is fantastic on television and walked out on the Boston Celtics without catching much flak.
I've lived in Massachusetts nearly my entire life, and that just doesn't happen (see: Francona, Terry).
That is nearly 200 words on why the Clippers are League Pass darlings, and we've yet to get to a single player.
Chris Paul has re-signed, allowing Lob City to still be in full effect with all participants having much more to play for this season. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan return, as does Jamal Crawford's unending ability to score with ease 14 years into his career.
The team brought in entertaining role players like J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. Redick gives the team a bit more flair from the perimeter, while Dudley does a little bit of everything, endearing himself to hardcore NBA fans.
1. Brooklyn Nets
During my last visit to Brooklyn on my way to sleeping in an apartment the size of my dad's van, I drove past the Barclays Center.
The place just radiates cool, even from the outside. Unfortunately, the Brooklyn Nets were away that weekend, displaced by Disney on Ice. Though I proudly have the "Mulan" soundtrack in my CD binder, I am an unwed 24-year-old male. Visiting Barclays wasn't in the cards, but through League Pass, anyone can witness the awesome interior from your own van-sized apartment.
To reiterate, in order for one to be a killer League Pass team, one must appeal to both fans and haters. There has to be something about the team worth watching, even if a group of individuals despises a player or shade of laundry.
No matter which way you look at the Nets, there is excitement and intrigue. A host of new players, including the once wildly exciting Andrei Kirilenko, join what should be a very good team. Fellow newcomers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce bring talent and veteran leadership at two positions Brooklyn sorely lacked last year.
One of the greatest players of his generation, Jason Kidd returns to the franchise as a rookie head coach.
Since Pierce and Garnett left on good terms, Celtics fans will be keeping an eye on Brooklyn. Those New Jersey folks who felt a bit betrayed by the move will flock back to watch their hero coach. All of this still neglects the national appeal of stars Deron Williams and Brook Lopez.
The team has four guys—Williams, Lopez, Pierce and Joe Johnson—who can go off for 30-plus points on any given night. Throw in Garnett and Jason Terry, and you've got six players capable of hitting a game-winner.
They've even got something for the international crowd with Mirza Teletović and Tornike Shengelia representing Bosnia and Georgia, respectively.
There is also the always thrilling possibility that Garnett loses it on Andray Blatche and leaves him in a weeping puddle at the end of the bench, while Glen Davis nods from his Orlando couch watching League Pass. Even Washington Wizards fans will delight at that.