So long, offseason. Hello, NBA basketball.
Although we're still a few weeks away from the 2017-18 campaign tipping off, media day is the unofficial "mama, we made it" moment where the summer ends and real-life basketball reappears on the horizon. Press conferences are held, players are in uniform and all 30 teams share why their outlook is nothing but positive. (Some even mean it!)
One of the major focuses at media day was the sports-politics crossover that came to a head this past weekend. LeBron James, as he has been throughout much of his career, was outspoken on the issue, saying, "I'm not gonna let, while I have this platform, to let one individual—no matter the power, no matter the impact that he should have, or she should have—ever use sport as a platform to divide us."
Considering how much more he and the rest of the league went on to say, the issue isn't going away anytime soon. But during these polarizing times, the show must go on.
As far as the NBA is concerned, 2017-18 is going to be one heck of a show. Throughout media day, we heard James talk about his basketball future. We heard Chris Paul say he's never played with anyone the caliber of James Harden.
We even heard Lonzo Ball declare he's focused on the Los Angeles Lakers making the playoffs.
What can we make of all this? For starters, this season isn't lacking storyines. But for a deeper look at each soundbite, we now turn to some of B/R's top basketball minds.
LeBron James said he'll make a "business decision" on his contract despite his intent to stay in Cleveland. What can we read into that?
When LeBron says "business decision," this no longer means what it used to in the days when "business" was synonymous with "off-court." For LeBron, who admitted to "doing pretty well for himself," business is inherently tied to competing for championships.
Anything we look for in the way of clues throughout the season will be speculation, as even he doesn't know what he's going to do in July 2018 when he and his team assess the situation.
Market-focused scribes (as well as fans in Los Angeles) won't like this, but his intentions regarding Cleveland are real. The only variables worth monitoring are the win column as well as how those wins ultimately translate to success in the NBA Finals.
Fewer athletes do better at insulating themselves from the noise. I would expect status quo until July.
Carmelo Anthony said anyone who didn't think he wanted to play in OKC "didn't know me." Did that surprise you?
Let's not get silly here. No one in the NBA, and certainly no one who knows Carmelo well, ever would have predicted he'd land in Oklahoma City, at least not by choice.
From the moment he forced his way out of Denver in 2011, Carmelo's preference has been crystal clear: He's always wanted the biggest market and the brightest spotlight, and the greatest chance to raise his profile. He wanted the Knicks for a reason. As a free agent in 2014, Carmelo entertained offers only from big-market teams: the Lakers, Bulls, Rockets and Mavericks. And when the time came to break up with the Knicks, he informed management he'd waive his no-trade clause for just one team: the Rockets.
Indeed, if not for the Rockets' lack of trade assets (or at least, any the Knicks wanted), Carmelo would be in Houston today. With all of that said, the Thunder have done an incredible job making themselves an attractive destination. It's a winning organization with smart leadership. Top players should want to play there. But Oklahoma was never Carmelo's top choice.
When the path to Houston closed, he simply needed a landing spot that gave him the best chance to win. He found one in Oklahoma.
Melo said he'll embrace playing the 4. Is that where OKC Thunder should want him?
When the New York Knicks won 54 games in 2012-13, many of their best lineups included Anthony at the 4 spot. Though he admitted he's more of a natural 3, Anthony agreed that in today's NBA and on this Thunder squad, he's a 4. Expect to see him log most of his minutes at that spot, moving to the 3 when bigger lineups are needed. Today's NBA doesn't feature many bruising, low-post-oriented power forwards, so Anthony should be fine.
Lonzo Ball said he's focused on the Lakers making the playoffs this season. Wait, playoffs?
Everyone enters training camp with an overabundance of optimism, but Lonzo Ball is a special kind of hyped up for the Lakers' 2017-18 crusade.
After watching video of his comments, I can confirm LaVar Ball was not off to the left, pulling strings attached to Lonzo. He said this on his own volition, under no duress whatsoever.
Whether that's good or bad, we don't know. We don't even know how real he's being here. This could be cliche athlete-speak, or it could be his hyperbolic genes showing, or it might be that team president Magic Johnson's unfairly high expectations are infectious.
Whatever Ball's motivation, the Lakers aren't making the playoffs this season. They have every incentive to try, since their draft pick will head to Boston or Philadelphia, but the Western Conference is stacked. They're also expected to start two players, Ball himself and Brandon Ingram, who aren't yet old enough to legally order their own pineapple-grape mojitos.
If Ball is approaching this year with a playoffs-or-bust mindset, we can dig it. Chasing the unattainable keeps guys motivated. But reality will set in eventually—at which point the Lakers better hope Ball finds another source of inspiration.
Chris Paul said he's never played with someone of James Harden's caliber. Is that true?
Few standouts are afforded the opportunity to throw on the same uniform as an MVP candidate, since those players are in high demand but limited supply during any given season.
Chris Paul, the NBA's resident point god, has teamed up with a handful of All-Stars—David West with the New Orleans Hornets; Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan for the Los Angeles Clippers. But James Harden is in a different category as one of the league's MVP front-runners, asserting himself as a player who can legitimately carry a squad to one victory after another.
Consider this: Paul's previous teammates combined to earn a grand total of zero first-place MVP votes, though Griffin did ride a second- and third-place wave to finish behind only Kevin Durant and LeBron James in 2013-14. Harden, by himself, earned 22 such votes last year alone.
Kristaps Porzingis said he'll be an All-Star this season. Are we buying that?
KP could play the season blindfolded and on one leg and he'd still be nearly guaranteed to earn his first All-Star nod. With Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap now in the West and Isaiah Thomas out for a while with his hip injury, who else is there? He's going to be the Knicks' No. 1 option now, which means his per-game numbers are likely to rise.
Put it this way: If he isn't an All-Star come February, something has gone terribly awry.
Hassan Whiteside said Dwyane Wade would help the Heat: 'It would be great to have an All-Star back.' Should the Heat really want a reunion? And do they not already have an All-Star-caliber player on the roster?
The #feelz are strong for a Wade-Heat reunion after their first go-round spanned 13 seasons and yielded a trio of titles. And Whiteside could've stopped his quote one word earlier—it would be great if the Heat had any All-Star, since they're paying All-Star prices (five eight-figure salaries this season, six the next and possibly seven in 2019-20).
But unless Miami is desperate for warm fuzzies, this looks like a good-in-theory, wonky-in-actuality situation. The Heat already have a glut of young guards to develop, and this roster isn't a 35-year-old Wade away from contending. Plus, Whiteside should scratch his own itch for an All-Star representative in the picked-apart East. Don't be shocked if he's joined by Goran Dragic or Dion Waiters.
Mike Malone says Nikola Jokic has lost 10-12 pounds. The NBA should be very afraid, yes?
Nikola Jokic could weigh 726 pounds and have more passing ability in his pinky than most every big in the NBA. If he's truly slimmed down during #MuscleWatch season, the benefits won't show up on the offensive end, where he'll continue serving as a primary facilitator for the Denver Nuggets who refuses to miss touch shots around the basket.
It's on defense where he'll reap the rewards of hard offseason work.
The young center, who likely isn't drinking as much Coca-Cola, won't ever be a true defensive stopper since he lacks the vertical game necessary to thrive as a dynamic rim-protector. But if he's slightly quicker on his feet and can beat players to spots within the half-court set, he'll blossom into a two-way player by building upon the fundamentals he began to display throughout his sophomore season. Some players are bad defenders, and others are simply overmatched. Jokic falls into the latter category, so every physical advantage he can gain will inevitably help.
Magic Johnson said Brandon Ingram "needs to step up and be the leading scorer." Is that possible?
Johnson likes to give his players lofty goals. On Monday, he declared he expects second-year forward Brandon Ingram to average at least 20 points a game this season.
Ingram agreed that he's capable and said Ball "is going to help us score a lot of easy baskets this year."
It's a stretch to believe Ingram will double his 9.4 points a night in his second season. For one, his minutes per game aren't likely to jump significantly over last year's 28.8. The Lakers have a long list of forwards like Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma, Luol Deng and Corey Brewer.
Ingram also shot just 40.2 percent from the field and 32.9 percent from three-point range during his rookie year. He'll have to get up more than 8.7 attempts per game and convert at a much higher clip.
Ingram has to prove he can impact a game consistently this season. If he gets closer to 14 shots a night and converts at around 48 percent, he should near Johnson's goal with a few three-pointers and free throws.